Sierran Masthead

A Picture-Perfect Outing in Michigan

by Geza Csapo

Four Sierrans met at the campground at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore to backpack at North Manitou Island in Michigan.

The next day Ken Kovach, his companion Zeta, Charlie Day, and I boarded the ferry to the island. The ferry took 1 hour and 15 minutes on a remarkably calm sea.

After orientation by the ranger and acquiring backcountry permits, we struck out on the perimeter trail and ended up camping 5 miles later along the southern bluff of the island overlooking the beach. Off in the distance stood South Manitou Island with its strikingly beautiful lighthouse.

We camped near three women and engaged in shop talk. I also got fed as they had “too much food.” Like back home! The next day as Charlie and I prepared to leave, the women wanted our picture. They must have been surprised to see two “over the hillers” out backpacking. Ken Kovach and Zeta went on to their own excursions.

The trail along the west coast was very easy to hike because it was all flat and shaded by old-growth forest for the most part. Charlie and I wanted to see Svenson’s barn and the old pier, so we left the trail. Along the way, we smelled the distinct odor of ripe strawberries! They were underfoot! Off came our backpacks, and we ate our fill.

Then to Svenson’s barn, which was in a remarkable state of preservation. It had 10 cow stalls, an area for about 4 horses, a hayloft, and various old farming tools.

Then we went to the beach across some wetlands (a marsh, really) to draw water, swim, and check out the old pier. The marsh had interesting plants and a profuse stand of wild rose in bloom, along with blue flag irises. We could have spent the day there botonizing. The swim was refreshing, and the beach area had a wonderful campsite.

But we pressed along the “old grade” heading north. A truly delightful hike--again well shaded.

On a rest break, we heard a loud crashing sound. A giant tree toppled nearby! Then another crash--another tree toppled. I can report that it was really loud. So we were there and heard a tree fall in the forest. I can report it was really attention grabbing.

The old grade was really a railroad bed. This is where the famous Shay locomotive pulled log cars to haul out timber. The timber served the hybrid sailing ships as fuel and was shipped out for lumber.

We continued along the old grade, which had very few signs to indicate where we were on the trail. We camped in a meadow of deep grass at Stormer Camp, and the evening brought out a few mosquitoes as we were near the swamp at Polebridge. Out came the repellent.

The next day our trail took the south fork so that we could draw water from Lake Manitou--a surprisingly large, beautifully clear lake.

There I swam while Charlie used his new state-of-the-art filter to provide water. Then we hit the trail again for the main camp--the village campground.

On the trail were young volunteers from the Student Conservation Association (SCA). I was thrilled to meet these earnest volunteers taking a break from their trail work. I’m a supporter of SCA, and now I could see them actually at work. We had an enthusiastic conversation, and they thanked me for my support of their organization. And you guessed it! They wanted our picture.

The rest of the hike was uneventful, and we ended up in the village campground, which had very few amenities. Again took a swim in Lake Michigan.

The next day we hiked to catch to boat and as we were about to embark, the young lady ranger asked for--guess what? Our picture for the park bulletin board.

One other thing before we embarked: We saw tradesmen at work restoring one of the historic structures. They happened to be on break, so we asked questions about their restoration work. And guess what? They wanted our picture.

After catching the ferry loaded to the gills with backpackers, we learned that it was not headed back but to South Manitou. And we were told there would be a 4-1/2 hour layover there first. The ranger lady said we could access the facilities and make ourselves comfortable.

So we did, cooking our remaining extra day rations. I took the time to join a tour of the lighthouse with its free-standing spiral staircase, which took me up to the top of the 100-foot high structure. What a view!

So I got back to finally catch the boat. And guess what? Three women came up and asked for our picture “for inspiration”! All three had cameras. What can a couple of over-the-hillers do? We obliged.

We had an easy 17-mile hike. Our companion was the book Exploring North Manitou, South Manitou High and Garden Islands of the Lake Michigan Archipelago, by Robert H. Ruchhoft, Pucelle Press, PO Box 19161, Cincinnati, OH 45219.

Copyright © 2007 Hoosier Chapter Sierra Club, all rights reserved.[7/1/02]efp

Winter 2001-2002