Up in Da U.P. Michigan
My brother Jason and I had been checking out the many waterfalls in Munising and the crystal clear springs of Kitch-iti-kipi. We were ready for the
pièce de ré·sis·tance of our Michigan Upper Peninsula road trip, kayaking to the Pictured Rocks on Lake Superior. We were excited to see the color streaked sandstone cliffs and caves.
Pictured Rocks From Above
I had needed to make the reservations months in advance, because the season is so short they sell out. We were given the choice of a 2 hour, a 4 hour, or a 6 hour kayak ride.
“Two hours doesn’t seem like nothing.” I said, looking at the Paddling Michigan website, while planning this adventure. “But six hours seems to be a long time to be sitting in a kayak and not have a bathroom break.”
“Yeah,” Jason responded through the phone, “I wanna go far enough to be able to see the good stuff but six hours does seem like a lot.”
We settled on the four hour tour and I booked it. We had briefly thought about bringing our own kayaks and forget about the tour. I began reading that Lake Superior is more like an ocean than a lake. Dangerous winds can create 5 foot waves in a matter of minutes in calm water and there is nowhere to pull off due to the cliffs. The weather can be unpredictable and they recommend that wet-suits be worn and a spray skirt fitted on the kayak.
“Wait…what?… I kind of thought it would be like kayaking around here…on semi-smooth lake.” I told Jason what I had learned.
“Um…wet-suits mean we are highly likely to get wet or go under.” Jason remarked…”Maybe it’s better to go with the group.”
What..You Got a Bus to Catch?
Lake Superior water, even in the summer averages around 45°F. It had been raining on and off for most of the day and the sky was not looking friendly.
When we arrived at the location given to us to catch the shuttle, we parked among the other cars in the grassy field. Rain was coming down steadily so we waited in the car. A bus pulled into the lot and we ran to find out if it was the shuttle to the launch area.
“No…wrong shuttle.” The older man yelled out the open bus door. “Your bus already left, you’ll have to meet them down there.”
Jason and I looked at each other…but then quickly got directions and made our way down to the water.
Kayaking Pictured Rocks-The Rubber Skirt
Our group was already suiting up and getting the safety talk. We were helped into the spray skirt which looked like overalls with a hula hoop skirt at the bottom. We waddled like dinging bells towards the kayaks.
“After you get in, stow all your belongings below, or they WILL get wet.” The guide shouted to the group. “Then take the edge of your skirt and stretch it over the lip of the kayak to seal out the water.” He continued.
I tossed my bagged up camera down below and grabbed a hold of the skirt and stretched it like a rubber lid on a Tupperware, sealing myself in.
The dark clouds were still swirling over the lake but the rain had stopped.
Off We Go-How Deep is Lake Superior Anyways?
The guide then shoved each kayak one by one off the sand and into the water and then joined us in his own kayak.
“It’s a good thing the waves settled a bit,” He started. “On the tour this morning the waves from the storm were going up over the top of the kayaks, we thought we might have to cancel this afternoon. The water is only about 46 degrees and it’s up to 1332 feet depth in places.”
“Hoooo boy…” I thought nervously. “Waves over the top of the kayak…that can’t be good.”
We began to paddle towards the rocks. Jason was doing the bulk of the paddling in the back of our 2 person boat. My legs were already a little antsy from being out straight in front of me and tucked under the rubber lip. A few waves sloshed over the front of the kayak, giving us a brisk splash.
Where’s the Bride? Kayaking up to Bridal Veil Falls
“Up on our right you will start to see Bridal Veil Falls.” The guide announced.
Jason paddled like crazy and we found ourselves in front of the rust streaked sandstone cliff. A thin ribbon of water fell from a narrow opening at the top of the sandstone but fanned out near the bottom. Another kayak group was taking turns backing into the cove at the bottom of the falls and letting the water wash over them.
Several minutes later, the rest of our group joined us and some partook in the spray-down.
Threading the Needle
We continued our journey and made it to a freestanding rock close to the cliff.
“We are going to thread the needle here,” the guide announced. “When you get close, you have to put your oars parallel to the kayak or you won’t fit. Use your hands on the walls to push through to the other side.”
One at a time, we lined up and inched through the narrow opening. We lurked on the other side as the rest of the group slowly went through.
The water was shining a shimmery green and the tan rocks were streaked with vibrant shades of red, orange and brown.
“I bet if we paddled at our normal speed and weren’t waiting on the group, we could have done the 6 hour tour in like 3 hours.” Jason whispered up to me.
“No doubt…there is a lot of waiting on the slower paddlers.” I agreed, lounging back and undoing the rubber skirt briefly to bend my stiff legs.
Once everyone was through we got a few handy facts about Pictured Rocks from our guide and then we began to head back.
And…It’s a Race for the Finish
The group stopped a few times for photos and we were leading the pack, but when we rounded the cliff for Bridal Veil Falls, there was a new contender vying for 1st place.
A man and woman kayak duo came splashing around the bend and were gaining on us in rapid fashion. Their paddles were a blur of motion and water as they motored towards the shore.
We could hear, “I gotta peeee!” Coming from the woman as they sailed past.
“Wasn’t that the slow paddler we’ve been waiting on all day?” Jason laughed.
Once we were safely ashore and stripped of our rubber hula hoop skirts, we headed west towards Marquette for dinner.
The Perfect Little Cove-A Surprise Michigan Beach
There was no sign of the earlier storms of the day but the sky held a low fog and we stopped several times to photograph the fog and a beach along the way.
Back on the road, we passed a perfect reflection of clouds on a little inlet.
“Pull over!” I shouted.
“What?” Jason asked frantically…looking for the reason for my abrupt outburst.
“It’s pretty back there…stop and back up.” I said, craning to look back.
“We can’t just stop…”
I insisted and we backed to a safe area and I leaped out and hurried down the road to check it out.
The lake was a deep blue mirror showing every cloud and tree in pristine detail. I stood in amazement at the gift of this sight before me.
What a Ride…
We then continued west, passing a number of amazing cloud formations on the way and a bonus double rainbow.
After dinner and picking up a growler at Ore Dock Brewing Co, it was dark, really dark. We had over an hour drive back to our hotel.
Magic In the Sky
After about a half hour, I gazed up and was shocked at how many stars peeked back at me.
“Check out the stars!,” I shouted out. “You can see practically every star in the sky.”
Jason tried to look and drive but was unsuccessful. He pulled to a stop on the dark road and we stepped out, looking up.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many stars in my whole life.” I breathed in awe. The crickets chirped around us. We stood silent in the cool night air.
“That is incredible…” Jason agreed.
We stood for a while in the road, gazing upward, marveling at nature’s light show.
Lawn Chairs and a Lake
We reasoned that we could sit outside at the hotel and do this some more… somewhere that’s not the middle of the road.
Back at the room we grabbed sweatshirts and filled cups with our growler of stout and headed outside to the Adirondack chairs that sat along the shore. A man was looking through a telescope on the large lawn and we were able to have a little peek. We sat near the water in the dark, sipping our stouts. The millions of stars sparkled on the lake in front of us and blanketed us overhead. It was a perfect end to a very close to perfect day.
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