I’ve never been one to let the weather dictate my activities. Changing weather patterns are an immutable fact in wilderness travel and, as such, acceptance is generally a better strategy than cursing, fighting, or running from them. I guess that’s why I found myself back in the slop again this weekend, an amalgamation of sleet, snow, and freezing rain. “A wintery mix”, the meteorologists had forecasted, as if it were some delightful blend of the best the season had to offer. Skiing conditions had been glorious earlier in the day, with deep untrammelled powder, but now things were deteriorating rapidly. As I plowed through the heavy, wet oatmeal snow, it clung tenaciously to skis and poles, slowing progress as I pushed towards my chosen campsite for the night.
Miraculously, my wife had given me a weekend pass even though I had been out in Ontario for 4 days last week and would be travelling for work next week. I was only in hock for a week of bedtimes with the girls (we usually alternate) and a night out for my wife. Fair enough. I had made the nocturnal drive to Pictured Rocks, arriving not too long past sunrise to give myself a full day for trekking. I parked on the snowy Chapel Road, skied in to the trailhead, and took off on the Mosquito Falls trail.
Ski conditions were perfect at first, with about two feet of fresh powder snow on the ground. I initially followed in the path of a lone skier until her tracks veered off onto the Chapel River trail, leaving me to break tracks through miles of beautifully untouched snow. I marveled that I should be the only one to have travelled this route in recent days, but I didn’t have to wonder for long. As I approached the Falls, the route became twisted and narrow, with numerous steep ups and downs. I was just in my baselayer and windshirt at this point, but between the exertion and a few falls in deep snow, I was starting to get pretty damp. I tried not to be too disappointed when I reached the sign marked Mosquito Falls. After all of that effort, the river was completely frozen over with not much to look at but some pretty blue ice.
Continuing upriver, I came to the main falls, a little better but not much. I crossed the river above the falls and soon lost the trail in the deep snow. After wasting precious time trying to relocate it, I ultimately decided to cut cross-country in a west-northwest direction until I hit the cliffs. Crossing a frozen creek, I intercepted the remnants of an overgrown logging road heading in the right general direction and life was suddenly good. I was coasting downhill through perfect snow with wide sweeping turns and loving the ride. The logging road eventually connected with the Mosquito Falls trail and soon I was at Mosquito Beach.
I was thrilled to see that an ice shelf had finally moved in. I’m not ashamed to admit that I am something of an ice junkie, and I had been hitting the Superior shoreline as frequently as possible since winter had first set in, hoping to get my fix.
Checking out a huge ice volcano, formed as a result of powerful waves that undercut the ice and force water up through the crust.
Ice formation at the shelf’s edge
Rock and ice
Ice covered cliffs northeast of Mosquito Beach
Entering the petrified forest past Lover’s Leap, created by spray from waves battering the cliffside
Looking out over the tortured landscape
Trees stunted and twisted by years of long winters
An icy portal
Caves beneath the Rainbow Ice
Pancake ice on Lake Superior. These are formed as random collisions and compression by the waves pile ice and slush onto the rims.
Obsidian ice cliffs
A trail of pancake ice leads to Indian Head
A study in perseverance
Atop Grand Portal Point
Singing in the Rain, a yellow ice formation resulting from minerals in the sandstone
The morning’s navigational challenges and the afternoon’s sloppy weather conditions prevented me from covering as much ground as I had hoped. Still, as the rain intensified, I was all too happy to make camp for the night, huddling snugly under my tarp as I waited for the hot dinner and drink that would soon be ready.
Post trip thoughts: I much prefer exploring new places over returning to familiar haunts, but Pictured Rocks holds a special place in my heart. While it would have been easy to sit this one out given the expectation of “bad weather”, one could argue that these same conditions contributed to a trip that was fresh and new precisely because of the weather and the changes that it wrought. The route I followed on this trip overlapped significantly with one that I took just a few weeks ago, so I’ll let you be the judge.
Some other trip reports by Ike Jutkowitz
Lake Superior Provincial Park, January 2013
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, January 2013
Porcupine Mountains, Trap Hills, Sturgeon River Gorge, September 2012
Negwegon State Park, September 2012
Packrafting the Islands of Yakutat Bay, Alaska, August 2012
A self-propelled exploration of Michigan’s Manistee River, May 2012
Saving Sophie and a Trip Gone Badly, Greyson Highlands, March 2012
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, February 2012
24: Tahquamenon Falls, January 2012
Nordhouse Dunes: Where the Wild Things Are, December 2011
Failure to Launch: A Misadventure Along the Michigan Shore to Shore Trail
Huron Manistee National Forest, November 2011
From Past to Present on the Northville Placid Trail, October 2011
Tongass National Forest, Alaska. August 2011
SUL on the Shipwreck Coast, May 2011
Mount Mitchell Masochist’s Trek, Mountains to Sea Trail, March 2011
Huron Manistee National Forest, February 2011
Black River and the Porcupine Mountains, North Country Trail, October 2010