Backpacking North Manitou Island
By dlacher on Oct 01, 2007
As it generally starts out for a backpacking trip with me is an early rise and departure off to our hiking trailhead. We left Midland shortly after 5 am and off to Leland, MI. After a very scenic drive that could have been more if it would have been in the day light we arrived in Leland shortly after 8 am. Checking in to see if the Manitou Island Transit was open yet.. which it was not. So up the docks we headed stopping into the Village Cheese Shanty to ask where where we could get the best breakfast and were informed that there is only one place, The Early Bird Restaurant right up at the corner. Great breakfast special and bring your cash, no credit or debit. As were are sitting eating breakfast we noticed a trunk pull past with a trailer full of backpacking gear... I was a little worried that we were going to be swamped on the island. Shortly after bus roll in from Lansing Christian School, ah so we placed 1 and 1 together... turns out all 29 of them were headed to South Manitou Island for a seniors weekend. Picked up the tickets and paid the park fees.. all aboard. Turns out with the way the wind was blowing the day we headed to the south island first and then to the north which meant that we were on the boat that much longer... a 3 hour boat ride. No motion sickness here but I can't say the same for some of the high school students.
After finally reaching the north island we disembarked and headed down the dock to the shore to check in with the ranger on duty. After a quick orientation with the ranger about the island and a warning that the ferry may not be able to make it on Sunday if the weather is not right but to check in on Sunday about 9 am for a status... note we might be on the island until Monday. With that we headed out but not without watching where the others went. All of the groups headed straight for the north or center trail so we headed south, take not folks you might not always want to follow the crowds. After a very pleasant hike south on the main train we took a side tail to see the cemetery and the Bourniques homestead. After meeting back up with the main trail we headed west across the bottom of the island and set out to camp at Fredrickson Place. Wow, there was a great clearing with a gorgeous campsite on the north side of the field. The site had a wonderful view over the bluff and onto Lake Michigan. After dinner we had a short stroll down the dune and to the water to collect up water for the next day. We then hiked down the shoreline south to reach Donner's point, the geographically southern most part of the island. While hiking down we watched an amazing Michigan sunset that was wonderful blues, white and orange as is sank down on Lake Michigan. Now to hike back to camp in the fleeting daylight and off to bed. End of day one and 10 miles under the feet.
Now Dave and I are really not ones to sleep in on the mainland but we slept in soundly until 8:30. After a leisure breakfast we broke camp and headed north on the main trail. We turned off into the woods to check out Swenson's barn. Not finding right away the secondary trail down to the shore we blazed a bit... well we are glad we found the secondary trail since our blazing was a bit rugged and tight. As we approached the back side of the dune we scared up two canadian geese... where Dave resounded with "that is reason to upgrade right there" in referring to his camera which has a 3 second delay in turing on instead of an instant on. As we crested the dune we were presented with an magnificent site a huge sandy shore that seemed to go on and on and a very blue Lake Michigan. No need to say but we grabbed the camp chairs and had lunch on the beach right at the waterline. We snapped some great shots of the Crescent dock ruins and of the scenery. After a relaxing lunch were headed back across the marsh on the secondary trail back to the main trail and onward north. In enter the opening just north of Swenson's barn we were reminded of several other hikes we had taken on the mainland until we turned around to a panaraminic of the open field and Lake Michigan in the backdrop. As we entered in deeper now into the forest started to encounter mosquitoes... no problem right? Right, unless both of you forget mosquito dope. That is right, we both did not pack the good stuff and faced the hike without protection from the little buggers. After a quick stop at Stormer camp where we thought we would end for the day we were being plauged with those nasty little buggers so we headed Bennon's Place where they were worse... so down the trial to Lake Manitou. That is an amazing site to see the largest lake on the largest freshwater island in the world. Heading up the hill a bit we found a clearing four our site. We setup our tent quickly without the rain flies just to get inside and away from the mosquitoes. It felt great to lay there an let a gentle breeze blow through as I relax, napped and watch the chipmunks forage. After trek back down the hill for water we decided to have dinner and finish setting up camp. After that we headed back down to the lake to just sit and soak it all in. As we were chatting there and the light fleeting more and more, something caught my attentions behind us. Turning my head around slowly I noticed a doe deer 15 to 20 feet behind us walking very slowly out of the woods and toward us and the shore line. We watched her behind us with our necks twisted around as to not spook her. After just sniffing us out for a while she walked up the other hill and off into the woods. After a that we headed off to the tents. Shortly after getting settled in the wind picked up and boy did it pick up. It was like a freight train rolling through the trees. You could hear it start on the east side of the island and roll all the way across in waves. It was soothing enough in an odd way that I fell fast asleep until about 12:30 when at least two deer raced through our camp scaring the ... out of me and keeping me awake for a while. End of day two and 10 more miles under the feet.
Knowing what the wind was doing during the night and heeding the rangers warning, we enjoyed a light breakfast and took tally of the food we had remaining and were confident that we make it if we had to stay over until Monday. I generally break camp fairly fast after breakfast and get my pack ready for the trial, well this morning Dave challenged me and we set out to fast pack as if it were raining. As both of us packed up with a decent pace we finished in almost a tie, I would like to think that I finished ahead but we will leave that up to the judges. After that we broke camp and headed out for the village area and the dock. After a short hike out we reached the village area around 9:15 with no word on the ferry posted from the ranger, well that makes you stop and think. The ferry is suppose to leave dock at 10 if it is coming for the day. So all the hikers were sitting around talking about their treks and waiting to hear from the ranger what the work was. We could look out on the lake and see some swells that were nice sized. About a quarter after 10 the ranger came on by to tell us all that the ferry would be coming and would be in at 11:15. After pick us up at the north island it would head the the south and then back to the mainland. Fair enough, were were headed home and many prayers had been answered. I was ready to stay another night if need be but I did want to make it home on Sunday for various reasons. As the boat became visible off in the distance we all grabbed out packs and headed out the dock. End of day three hiking and 2.6 miles under our feet. As we climbed aboard and stowed our gear I mentioned to the ranger that I thought a group f three that we had chatted with on the ride out had not made it back... sure enough after a head count the ferry was three short. The captain blew the horn and off we went. Now in talking with these three I gleaned that they were experienced hikers, been to North Manitou numerous times and did plan on going home Sunday and not staying the week. We can only speculate what happened with them or if the really did plan on staying the week... I think the ranger would have known that though. Rumor has it that if you miss the ferry the ranger will be glad to take you back to shore in the small boat that he has at a charge of $300 payable to the state of Michigan... don't miss you ferry folks. So as we cruise on down to the south island there were some nice 6 foot swells and the boat was certainly rocking. After picking up the group from the south island we headed for the mainland on a bit of a different route based on the weather. There were again several of the seniors that were not in the best of shape riding the waves. After coming ashore and getting our gear packed up we sought out a place for some lunch. We stopped back into the Village Cheese Shanty and were going to ask for directions to a place when we noticed that they had a great selection of hand crafted sandwiches server up on fresh baked pretzel bread, oh yum. I had the Third Coast sandwich. After a fabulous lunch we hopped into the ride and headed for home, almost. We took a different way home so that we could swing by and pick up some cider donut and cider.
After dropping Dave off I finish down the block to home to be greeted by my loving wife and daughter yelling "daddy, daddy, daddy". That is a welcome home.
Wow, three days, 22.6 miles, six hours on a ferry and a huge hug from my family. That was an awesome hike and weekend.
For what it's worth.
- Manitou Island Transit
- Leland, MI
- Village Cheese Shanty
- The Early Bird Restaurant
Update: Pictures from the hike.