Solo Stove Fireside Stories: Pictured Rocks State Park

Tell Us About Yourself.

I’m a free-spirited designer and entrepreneur that’s passionate about the environment. I love the energy of living in Chicago but need to break away from the city to reconnect with nature and myself. Finding a city and backcountry balance can feel challenging. I love sharing my mini backcountry getaway tips to help inspire others to reconnect with the forest and parts of themselves that are suppressed by routines and daily grinds.

Where Did You Go?

My trip began with a bright and early six-hour drive to upper peninsula Michigan into Pictured Rocks State Park this past weekend. The pictured rocks has been a destination on my bucket list ever since I saw a picture from the water at sunset of the incredible colors formed by minerals along the cliff sides. My journey would start here and then take me away from the tourist crowds to a secluded beach under a full moon at the most northern tip of Grand Island.

What Did You Do?

After an unexpected storm blew through while setting up camp our first night, morning broke to a clear sky. Kayaking the Pictured Rocks coastline on an angry Lake Superior was both an incredibly rewarding and challenging experience. The lake behaves as an ocean in so many ways, that it feels like you have been transported to an unpredictable far away land. Now it was time to leave the tourists behind. My fiancé and I boarded the 2pm ferry to Grand island with our packs full of gear and a ten mile hike ahead of us to our planned backcountry campsite. We only took a few short water breaks as we were chasing daylight to set up camp before the sunset. The coastline and scattered islands took our breath away as we trekked along the western coastline of the island. After a 5.5 hour hike we reached our dream campsite and started collecting driftwood for our campfire as the sky started to burn even brighter than deep red and oranges of the cliffsides. This would be our secluded beach oasis for the next two days.

What Was Your Essential Gear?

Our gear consisted of our 75 liter Deuter and 65 liter Osprey backpacks, carbon trekking poles, our broken in high top hiking boots, headlamps, Sea to Summit travel towels, my favorite Marrmot 3-season tent, thermarest foam pads and neo-air inflatable sleeping pads, silk Sea to Summit sleeping bag liners, a 4- season double sleeping bag (since UP temperatures can drop unpredictably at night) and my trusted camp stove with a travel sized fuel canister to boil water.

What Did You Eat?

We packed plenty of snacks including Kind bars, trail mix, chia seed gel, applesauce, and Stinger energy chews filled with vitamins and electrolytes. Breakfast started with water boiled from my camping stove and Starbucks travel instant coffee, followed by Mountain House dehydrated sausage breakfast skillets and bacon and eggs. Lunches consisted of pita pockets, albacore tuna salad packets, and travel mayo, along with a few apples. We had a hearty dinner of dehydrated Parmesan Chicken fettuccine, Mac and Beef, chocolate fudge dessert, ice cream sandwiches, and a small flask of Makers Mark whiskey.

How Did You Sleep?

We carried in my favorite Marmot 3-Season tent because it has a fail-proof 360 bug screen, which comes in handy especially during summer months when mosquitoes and flies can be a nuisance. The optional waterproof rainfly allows for sun, rain, and wind protection while the tent remains vented during summer day heat. On a beautiful calm night, I don’t attach the rainfly so that I can sleep under the stars.

What Were Your Challenges?

Having a long drive ahead of us to Upper Michigan meant trying to optimize our outdoor time as much as possible. Packing a lot into our first full day left us a bit exhausted on our trek to the northern tip of Grand island. Unpredictable variable weather, means more gear required and more weight to carry. Finding the balance of necessity and extra luxuries to bring along can be difficult. I’ve found that the balance lies in trial and error and leaving things behind that weren’t used or needed on your previous trip. Upper Michigan is black bear country. It was difficult to find all the information I was looking for about bear bag precautions. I was unable to find a store in Munising that solder rented exactly what I was looking for, neither bear bags or bear canisters surprisingly. Locals in the area just hang their entire packs on the scattered bear poles in various camp sites. These poles are challenging to use if you are under 5’7” so allow yourself plenty of daylight after cooking dinner to maneuver your pack or smaller bag onto the top of the pole. My shoulders and arms were quite fatigued from kayaking through waves all day. It took two of us working together to hang one of our emptied packs with just our food, bug spray, sunscreen, minimal hygiene products and toothpaste. While some campsites have community bear boxes in Pictured Rocks, the backcountry campsites do not. I packed rope and carabiners as a back up in case a bear pole was not accessible from our campsite. We did have some furry visitors throughout the night, so I’d reccomend ear plugs if you are a light or cautious sleeper. Mosquitos and flies were also problematic especially around sunset. We treated our hacking clothes with Sawyers permethrin, which lasts for six weeks, and our skin with permethrin cream and we did not get one mosquito bite! They did swarm the outside of our tent constantly though, so I would have added an extra precaution of treating my entire tent prior to the start of the trip. Blisters are bound to happen without proper hiking socks or broken in boots when carrying weight. It’s also important to bring blister treatments in the event that they are needed even with the proper footwear. Treat hot spots before they get worse and allow plenty of time for breaks to let your feet rest. Chasing sunlight over rocky terrain and trails can leave your feet a bit neglected. I’d reccomend starting this trek in the morning and taking a longer lunch break on one of the western beaches halfway in.

What Was Your Favorite Moment?

After waking to the sounds of birds singing pre-sunset, my fiancé and I walked a few steps from our campsite to the completely secluded North Light Beach to make our morning coffee as the sun begain to rise over the cliffside. After an extremely long day prior, being able to just take in such a quiet and peaceful moment together in appreciation for the beauty surrounding us felt blissful and surreal. Lake Superior was like glass, perfectly flat and still, and so clear we could see every stone and grain of sparkling sand. As the sun met the sky, the water gently reflected the clouds and the cliffs like a mirror. I couldn’t tell where the sky and the water met because they blended like a blue watercolored hazy painting stretching out infinitely before us. As we dipped our feet in the clear freezing water, we felt alive and ready for all of life’s challenges ahead of us. Time moves slower when we’re fully in the moment and equally connected to ourselves and the world around us. Our secluded sunrise reminded us how lucky we are to have found each other and to be sharing this moment.