Ken Jacobsen is a nature photographer and a father. When he took his kids for a backpacking trip on the Lakeshore Trail in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and it was raining he thought he had a disaster on his hands. Hardly. In this Trail Talk blog he tell us why it was one of their best outings ever.
You can see more of Ken’s outstanding photography at www.NaturePhotosOnline.com. Need a map to the Lakeshore Trail? MichiganTrailMaps.com has them in its e-shop along with many other maps to Michigan’s best trails.
By Ken Jacobsen
I should’ve known better, but the weather was lousy Saturday morning. I decided to take the kids sightseeing before we hit the trail. We had breakfast in Munising at the Dog Patch, a family restaurant with décor themed after the “L’il Abner” cartoon strip. Although my kids don’t know Abner, Daisy Mae, and the Gang, the place has sentimental values for me.
I’d spent a lot of time in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore doing nature photography. I have also backpacked the 42-mile Lakeshore Trail several times. I was anxious to share the area with my children and wanted them to have a great experience backpacking together. It was 10-year-old Aspen’s first backpacking trip. Bryce, 13 years old, had been to Pictured Rocks with the Boy Scouts the previous summer.
I chose a short, 10-mile loop hike for a long weekend last July. It’s also my favorite part of Pictured Rocks with waterfalls, secluded beaches, and colorful sandstone cliffs. The plan was to park at the Chapel Trailhead and hike to Chapel Beach for the first night via the trail past beautiful to Chapel Falls. The next morning we would hike along the top of the cliffs that tower 200 feet above the waters of Lake Superior to camp at Mosquito beach. On the third day, we would have a short 2-mile hike back to Chapel parking.
Unfortunately, the first morning it was raining. I didn’t want my daughter’s first experience on the trail to be in her raingear. So we ate breakfast, visited Wagner Falls and then headed to the trailhead. It was almost lunchtime by the time we hit the trail.
I wish I had planned that part better. We hadn’t gone far before we started getting hungry. That doesn’t sound like a big deal, but one of my son’s nicknames is Snickers. He’s just like that Snickers commercial where you see Robin Williams coaching a football team. He’s doing one of those acts with all kinds of crazy voices and imitations. Then, one of the players give him a Snickers Bar to eat and he turns back into the coach. You’re not yourself when you’re hungry! That’s my son. Luckily, I had brought water instead of just planning to get it at Chapel. So, we stopped and ate lunch. Once everyone was well fed, we had a good time hiking to Chapel Beach.
The rainy morning had turned into a fog on the lakeshore. I’d never seen Chapel Beach like this, it was awesome! I kicked myself a little because I hadn’t brought my best camera. I wasn’t sure what to expect being the first trip with both my children. So I opted to go a little lighter and that was good because I ended up carrying everybody’s food. We packed mostly dehydrated meals that were my son’s and my favorites from earlier trips. We all ate well.
We stopped at Chapel Rock to take some pictures. Aspen and Bryce were amazed. Chapel Rock is a big sandstone pedestal that is hollow and capped with a large pine tree. It’s an iconic sight and they got to see it shrouded by a beautiful soft fog.
We went to the backcountry campground and chose a site along the Chapel River. Then we headed to the beach. I left a lot of time for loafing in our itinerary. It’s important for the kids to have time to goof off and enjoy nature. They waded around in Lake Superior and the river mouth cascades. We were going to eat on the beach too, but it was a little too windy for the backpacking stove so we headed back to our site.
In the morning, we followed the Lakeshore Trail as it skirted the edge of the sandstone cliffs that is Grand Portal Point. It was a little drizzly, but it didn’t dampen our spirits. At first I tried hiking behind the kids. They were having a great time talking and even made up their own game. It was a talking, role-playing game based on a zombie outbreak. They would pick roles, makeup situations, and talk through them. They were having fun but walking too slow my taste, so I passed them. I headed down the trail until a point where I could barely hear them. Then I’d stop and wait for them to catch up. In the late morning, I actually joined the game. I ended up with the roles of a football team captain and head cheerleader. Aspen and Bryce thought my voice imitations were pretty funny.
We took a lunch break on the top of the cliffs. It was a beautiful spot and we got to wave at the boat tour from Munising. The kids posed for a picture after lunch and then we hit the trail again. Bryce wanted to walk faster and asked if he could hike ahead. He seemed like a different kid from the previous day. He was happy and moving fast. I told him not to get too far ahead and to stop if he came to the intersection. I then had some nice father-daughter time with Aspen. We met up with Bryce at Mosquito Beach. He was sitting with his back against a signpost doodling in a sketchbook.
We checked out the sites at Mosquito Beach and picked one on a bluff over the Mosquito River. We set up camp and went exploring. We visited the beach and watched a large group of kayakers on Lake Superior. Then we went back to camp and ate dinner. After dinner, my son read on his iPhone in his hammock. My daughter listened to some music on her Kindle and played a game. Yes, I actually let them bring electronics. The interesting thing was that they hardly use them except to take pictures. Instead, they explored their environment and hung out with each other. This actually is one of the best times that I’ve seen them have together. No bickering and fighting like a brother and little sister will often do.
In the morning we hiked out to the Chapel parking area where we loaded our gear into my Jeep and headed home. The kids were tired but happy. They had a great time and want to make a backpacking trip an annual event. So do I.