» the chapel loop, with ice
have you ever been sitting at work on friday and thought that you should drive 400 miles to the northern boundary of the united states that night, sleep for 4 hours, wake up, spend 11 hours skiing and hiking 20 miles in the cold snow the next day, and then drive home immediately afterward?...if not, then you don't know what fun is. you don't. i mean, unless you've been to disney world. but let me introduce you to a new kind of fun, a kind of fun that is painful and torturous. not really. read more...
seriously? you don't have anything better to do than read this?...okay...
my co-worker, kai, and i originally planned to head up to munising on saturday, camp in the snow overnight, and hike about 10 miles per day along the remote lakeshore cliffs of pictured rocks. due to scheduling conflicts, we couldn't do that, but we were set on going so we decided to drive up on friday night and do the entire hike in a day. then, if we had any extra time, we were going to work on a cure for cancer.
we left ann arbor at about 8:30pm and the drive, which normally takes about 6 hours, took about 7 because we ran into snow storms most of the way. the snow covered forests made for nice scenery, especially the evergreens around grayling, and it always feels like you're in starwars when you drive in the snow at night with snowflakes zooming past like stars, but it also makes sliding off the road into a snowbank a very real possibility. as you get more tired this thought changes from scary to appealing because you're like "well, at least i could just fall asleep then". i mean you'd freeze to death for sure, but when you're that tired you get less picky, be it sleep or death, whatever lets you close your eyes sounds good.
we arrived at our hotel at 3:30am and intended to wake up 4 hours later, at 7:30am, to begin our journey. i tried asking the hotel lady if they just rented the rooms by the hour but only got a strange look. that was right after i asked her if "brokeback mountain" was playing in the local theater. there actually is no local theater, not for many many miles. it was a new hotel with big comfy beds and it was tempting to just forget about the whole hiking thing and just sleep the following day away, but we only had about 9hrs of daylight to work with so even just sleeping in wasn't an option. but just 10 more minutes won't hurt anything.
we awoke the next day at 7:50am, after hitting the snooze a couple of times, found out our hotel would be free due to a billing issue (i love computers and people who can't use them!), grabbed some free breakfast at the hotel, and we were on the trail by 8:30am. we expected the ski to the trailhead to only be 3 miles but after skiing for about 15 minutes we came across a sign saying there were 3 more miles to the trailhead. i double checked to make sure i was on real skis, and not a "nordic trak", and i came to the conclusion that we were moving, the trailhead was just more than 3 miles from the car. still, we got to the trailhead pretty quickly (~45min) and we headed on to chapel falls which was another 1.4 miles.
there were no fresh tracks, and we wouldn't see another person all day, but there were some old footprints in the snow which probably made the going a little easier and aided in navigation when the trail wasn't obvious. there was only about a foot of snow on the ground, there was no wind, and the temp was around 31F, so conditions couldn't have been better. just your typical dream vacation weather.
we finally got to chapel falls and it was more iced up than i was expecting but it was also flowing with a generous amount of water. after viewing the falls from every angle, we headed on to chapel beach, 1.8 miles further. once we got to the beach we were greeted with ice covered cliffs. so i walked out on the snowy rocks right near the shore to get a better look and, in my tractionless ski boots, slipped and fell on my ass because the rocks were completely ice covered under the snow. so, i went back and got my ski poles for some added stability, walked back over, and fell on my ass in the exact same spot. then i was like dude, this shit is slippery, you could slip and slide right into lake superior which is not even an appealing thought in the summer due to the lake's constant coldness. so, then i put on my snowshoes which have crampons and i did not fall again.
winter time brings a whole new dimension to the area with various ice formations occuring all over, offering beauty and intellectual stimulation for those who dare to postulate about how they occurred. after exploring the beach area a bit, we re-evaluated our planned hike and decided that we were going too slow to make it to spray falls, which would have added 4 miles, although i actually ran down the trail towards spray falls for a little bit and got a glimpse of the bottom of the falls from far far away. i have still never really seen that waterfall, though, which takes a 70ft plunge over the cliffs into lake superior. it will not elude me for much longer.
so we headed on to grand portal point with our skis on our backs because the trail was kind of narrow for skiing, and it was along a cliff. you don't want to fall off here. even if you survived the fall, which you wouldn't, unless your body is 90% rubber, you would have to swim for miles in the freezing water to a beach where you could make it back on to land.
hiking with skis on our backs was kind of annoying because the trail along the cliffs has lots of overhanging branches that the skis were constantly getting caught on but the views along the cliffs in this area are never boring, always giving you a new view around the next bend.
some storms were developing over lake superior and we got hit by at least one short-lived snow squall. this made for a really pretty view with storm clouds moving over the lake. when we got to mosquito beach it was nearly dark and after checking out the beach we headed back into the woods to return to the car (6 miles away).
we tried skiing again but the snow was really sticky so it was more trouble than it was worth so we hiked the rest of the way to the trailhead on foot. following the trail in the dark woods would have been a real challenge if there weren't old footprints to follow.
we ran out of water during our break at the trailhead so i found the nearest stream (never far away) and filtered us some more. this was the only time i got remotely cold. it was nothing serious, just enough to remind me that i was in the middle of nowhere with no opportunity to hop inside and warm up if the clothing i brought had not provided enough warmth. i put an extra layer on my cold hands and then we cruised the final 4 miles back to the car on our skis. the car was a welcome sight and our next priority soon became getting to the subway in downtown munising for our first real meal of the day, at 7:30pm (you can only survive on protein bars for so long). then we had to drive home.
i can't wait to go back. the feeling of wilderness is much stronger in the winter because in the summer you can hike miles through the woods only to see a cruise boat full of people waving at you from the lake which kind of kills the whole backcountry feel. oh, and for those of you who were counting on us for the cancer cure, sorry, we were tired after the hike.
it's about 4 miles in and out on the unplowed road to the chapel trailhead (skiable in about 45 min), 3.2 miles from the trailhead to chapel rock (skiable), 4.7 miles from chapel rock to mosquito beach (not so skiable), and 1.9 miles from mosquito beach back to the trailhead (not so skiable).
17.8 miles total and when you add in the side hikes we did to chapel lake, chapel falls, down mosquito beach, and towards spray falls, we probably did about 20 miles total (11 miles by ski, and the rest by foot).
the unplowed road in that we skied to get to the trailhead (chapel road).
kai skiing, and some trees.
creeks like this are a very common sight in the woods above the cliffs.
unnamed ice falls near the chapel lake overlook, probably at least 20 feet tall.
chapel falls as seen from the viewpoint, the top of the falls, and the view from (halfway) below.
chapel creek above the falls, and kai hiking below the cliff that leads to the base of the falls.
the top of chapel falls from the side.
me next to the falls. it's hard to tell from the pictures, but there was lots of water running over the ice still.
chapel creek, and trees on the way to chapel beach. the forest alternated between conifers and deciduous trees.
icy cliffs, ditto, and chapel rock.
lower chapel falls flowing into lake superior and chapel rock as seen from chapel beach.
iced cliff and vegetation.
snow to sand on chapel beach.
cliffs west of chapel beach.
icicles under a chunk of ice laying on the beach.
icicles on a cliff.
chapel rock, kai pointing out lake superior to me, and me standing next to some icicles at the west end of the beach.
just west of chapel beach.
looking back at the cliffs east of chapel beach. spray falls is in there somewhere (about 85 pixels from the left).
both of these pictures are from the "battleship row" area (a series of small coves). there is a better view of battleship row where you can see more "ships" but when hiking east to west you have to remember to look behind you to see it and i didn't.
the back side of grand portal point.
this ice formation is 100 feet high and ice climbers know it as "singing in the rain".
lake superior going on forever.
me standing on grand portal point.
i think the brown colored ice is from water that seeps over the cliffs from the forest and the blue ice is generally formed from spray from lake superior waves.
the trail going through some evergreens, and the trail going along the cliff edge.
the view west from indian head.
emerald shallows and mineral stained cliffs.
cliffs west of indian head.
indian head from the west.
a tree clinging to the edge.
we've got company. a fresh red fox footprint, and a bird.
an iced cliff next to "lover's leap" arch.
iced vegetation (which can be seen from a distance in the previous picture), at least 50 feet above the lake.
busted up trees (near the iced vegetation). the following is explanation of this specific phenomenon from a park ranger:
"That section of cliffs spawns some really big waves on Lake Superior. The waves actually crash into and up and over the cliffs, coating the trees with tons of ice on a repeated basis all winter. The trees there are stunted because of this phenomena. Since it happens repeatedly, we get trees snapping off - which you saw on your trip."
i guess they had 2 really big wind storms in november. the only thing that made the cause of this damage not obvious is that the damaged trees were in a very localized area, making wind an unlikely cause, and there was no ice on the trees in this area when we were there, making ice buildup an unobvious cause.
more iced vegetation, and a storm brewing over lake superior. we got hit by a few short-lived snow squalls but, in general, the weather was as perfect as we could have asked for.
east of mosquito beach. the cliffs in the background are not too visible because it is snowing over there.
ice on mosquito beach.
icicles on a rock.
lake superior. grand island is on the horizon on the left.
looking back at mosquito beach, and my pack.
icy rocks at the west end of mosquito beach.
where mosquito beach ends.
kai skiing the final stretch back to the car in the snowy dark.
» all photo reports from michigan's upper peninsula
Thinking about traveling to Pictured Rocks yourself? You might want to read my guide to Pictured Rocks.
The Upper Peninsula, Michigan
October 2 - 11, 2009
Enjoying fall in the Upper Peninsula from Pictured Rocks to the Porcupine Mountains to the Keweenaw Peninsula.
Mackinac Island, Michigan
October 3, 2009
Spending a short day on the island and enjoying the views, even without the influence of fudge.
Pictured Rocks, Michigan
March 7 - 9, 2008
Skiing & snowshoeing in the Miners Castle & Grand Sable Dunes areas. We also checked out the ice in Grand Marais & Mackinac Straits.
Pictured Rocks, Michigan
January 27, 2007
Skiing & hiking the Chapel Loop in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on a stormy day.
Pictured Rocks, Michigan
January 7, 2006
A backcountry ski trip to the remote lakeshore cliffs of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
Pictured Rocks, Michigan
July 3 - 4, 2005
Hiking in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, and checking out some of the other sights in the area.
Bare Bluff, Michigan
October 8, 2009
A fall hike to Bare Bluff, one of the more scenic areas of the Keweenaw Peninsula.
Pictured Rocks, Michigan
August 30 - September 2, 2007
Back to the Great Lakes with a rare summer visit to Pictured Rocks to see what it all looks like when it's green.
Pictured Rocks in Fall, Michigan
October 7, 2006
Hiking the Chapel Loop & checking out other sights like Spray Falls, Miners Castle, Miners Beach, Munising Falls, Grand Sable Dunes, etc.
Pictured Rocks, Michigan
February 19 - 20, 2006
Skiing & snowshoeing the Pictured Rocks backcountry. Areas visited include: Miners Castle, Miners Beach, Twelvemile Beach, and Spray Falls.