PRNL Day 1 (July 6): Grand Sable Visitor Center to Benchmark

Getting Back into Hiking Mode

Miles hiked = 11.2

Direction = West

Weather = Cloudy, hot, high humidy, rain and thunder in later afternoon/evening

Alarms went off at 6:45am, giving us time to finish getting ready with a nice sunrise view over the bay…

The hotel had designed a method for serving breakfast in Covid times, mainly that we reserved a time to go down to the lobby and get some to-go items. Truthfully, the famous Upper Peninsula pasty from the night before hadn’t agreed too well with my stomach, so I personally didn’t really eat, but even so, couldn’t resist adding some goodies to my food supply for later. Once stocked up, we took off for the Munising Falls Visitor Center blasting Yanni’s “Santorini,” one of our celebrated on -trail songs, to get us pumped up.

At 8:00am, we had our packs ready to go as we masked up and boarded the shuttle bus. We’d reserved a spot on the bus to take us to the far end of the park and so we’d essentially be walking our way back to the car from the Grand Sable Visitor Center at the eastern end to the Munising Falls/Visitor Center…

(https://www.nps.gov/piro/planyourvisit/upload/BackcountryPlannerUpdate2020-final-accessible.pdf)

Such a nice resource the park offers! It was a somewhat lengthy ride, bumping along on winding roads though pine forests. I had a vivid recollection of riding the bus to school as a young lad. Half awake, then and now, I rested my head against the cool window pane and looked outside as the scenes passed by, nearly falling right back asleep.

Once at the Grand Sable Visitor Center, about 50 road miles distance, we got off the bus along with the last of the other remaining hikers. We made the final adjustments to our packs, chatted with the nice park ranger lady, and did our best to stretch and get ready to get back into hiking mode once again. I feel that the rules for surviving Zombieland often apply to backpacking as well. For instance, “Rule #18 Limber Up.”

And just like that, utilizing the old 9:37am start time, we were hiking once again! The feeling was wonderful. We both were so excited to be back on a trail once again.

All was going just as we’d planned until we went around the first bend of the trail…and were swarmed by mosquitoes!!! At first, we tried to ignore them and hike through. I mean, we dealt with mosquitoes on the PCT, how bad could these be? Turns out, at least in this first stretch, they could be real bad. It wasn’t long before I went for the full rain gear, gloves, and head net setup, covering my entire body with a protective shell. Calzone is a smarter human being than I and certainly better backpacker and thus already had versatile long-sleeve gear on. Meanwhile, I was sweating profusely, even after opening up a few vents here and there. After making it to our only road walk of the hike, a short section along the northern shore of beautiful Grand Sable Lake, I eventually took off the rain gear and discovered the nasty bugs weren’t as bad as before…as long as I kept moving!

After turning off the road, we found ourselves immersed in a very scenic setting, walking along the forested backside of a dune complex. Everything was so green…

After covering just over 5 miles, we got our first glimpse of Lake Superior at the Log Slide landmark!

It was clear to me at this point that the trail was kicking my butt! There hadn’t been tough terrain or really much elevation gain at all, so it wasn’t that. But, whether due to me not living a very active lifestyle prior to the hike (like most folks, this past Spring I’d been doing a lot of staying at home lounging around), the heat and humidity, or because I hadn’t really eaten anything that morning and had a bit of stomach illness, the struggle was real including feelings of fatigue and sweating far more than usual. Looking back on it, I think I was probably pretty dehydrated.

We took a nice long break here to rest up before pushing onward. The Log Slide is spot in the dunes where a chute used to exist. Loggers back in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s used to dump trees down to Lakes Superior for transport. Looking down about 300 vertical feet to the lake, which is just about the height of the Statue of Liberty, it’s pretty impressive, especially if you’ve never seen something like it before. There are signs all over the place warning of the dangers of running down the dune…the striking steepness, loose sand, and weather that can change quickly and dramatically…but even so, people can’t resist. My buddies and I ran down it in 2007, and flashbacks of the climb back up made me not too keen to repeat the expedition. Instead, we sat at the top and soaked in the views.

While sitting, we witnessed a guy struggling to get back up. We’d later find out that he apparently thought he could go down and make his way up at a different spot, but unfortunately discovered that this is the only access for miles. And so, a team effort commenced by the folks gathered around to help get his water bottle down to him, offer encouragement and assist in the climb as much as possible. After some good long rest breaks, he eventually got himself up alright.

Eventually, we pushed on. The trail continued with a general trend of down for about two miles meandering along roughly parallel to the lakeshore for a while, before reaching Au Sable Point and the Au Sable Lighthouse. We were looking forward to the opportunity to have another break. Just as the lighthouse buildings came into view, however, we became swarmed by the infamous Northern Michigan biting black flies! Even so, we (or at least I) needed another break. We found a spot on the porch and had some food to give us fuel to keep going. I counted 12 dead flies within my arm reach upon leaving.

We managed to fight them off, mainly by keeping covered up. Then, after filling up some water via drinking fountain, we trekked onward along the gravel path that leads to the Hurricane River Campground. I still wasn’t feel great here, but we took a late lunch break and rested up some more. While hanging, we heard some thunder off in the distance. Not too concerned, we took our time investigating the river and skipping some stones before moving on. I have always loved rivers that flow naturally into the lake or ocean!

At 4:00pm with thunder growling a little louder now and 2-ish miles still to camp, we finally left Hurricane River Campground.

41 minutes later, we felt the first rain drops.

“Let’s keep going, it doesn’t seem too bad yet,” I stupidly suggested.

Not a minute later, as we climbed up a hill, the rain picked up turning into a steady downpour! We stopped and quickly got on our rain gear and pack covers.

Through the rain we hiked…all the way until rolling in to camp. After taking a quick look around at the available spots (it seemed we were maybe the last of the various groups we’d been seeing on trail earlier in the day) we picked a spot and set up in rain and wind, struggling a bit.

Before hiding out in the tents, we went down the dune (a lot smaller than at the log slide thankfully, but still it took some effort) to fill up water from Lake Superior as the small, choppy waves crashed the shore. Might’ve gotten just a few sand grains in the water!

At 5:30pm we both took shelter in our tents and started organizing and trying to get dry.

It rained until around 8:00pm ish. I think we both ended up making our dinners in our tent vestibules and I listened to a podcast. When the rain let up, we escaped outside to try and hang up some stuff to dry and I had to fill up on water again. The flies were back and everything was still wet, so we called it an early night. Before doing so though, we got some nice views of the sunset colors.

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