Early this summer I took a trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The forecast called for the first 70-degree day of the season in Marquette. I had a window with no kids, no work, no responsibilities so I SENT IT.
My first day there I hiked from the Forestville Campground to Hogsback Mountain via the North Country Trail (NCT). It started off as a beautiful hike along a stream until I lost the NCT’s blue trail markers and decided to head towards Hogsback my own way. I used my phone to determine my location and that of Hogsback. I ended up taking some old logging trails to get there.
I popped out of the woods across a road where a clear entrance was marked by a few large boulders. I noticed a homestead nearby and found a trail going downhill in the right direction. I was a little nervous but quickly put space between me and the homestead. I used a creek on the map to help navigate me closer to Hogsback and started seeing signs of the mountain. The terrain started getting rocky and rising higher into the sky. I climbed and I climbed traversing a few false beginnings before actually reaching Hogsback itself.
As I reached Hogsback I realized what I was in for, I had come up the backside of the mountain and there were no trails in sight. I was going to do this the old fashioned way. It was a fun and challenging hike to the first summit, but not as bad as everyone made it out to be. I'm either a beast when it comes to mountain climbing or people like to over embellish their accomplishments to make themselves seem more badass than what they are. I suppose I'm guilty of it at times as well. After climbing more advanced peaks this summer I'd say Hogsback is a breeze for experienced mountaineers, but it's about as challenging as it gets for Michigan terrain.
Either way, it was still a great hike up to the first peak, but I wasn't there just yet. The views were incredible: looking out at the wide expanse of forest, I could see thousands of trees and nearby hills and peaks. There were also views of Lake Superior, Sugarloaf, and a nearby river passing through. I spontaneously cried and released the first wave of emotional discharge for the week. I had come up to address the pain of a recent separation between myself and a very good friend. I soon realized my path led back down and then back up to reach the neighboring peaks that were slightly higher than me. I figured maybe they were the official peak of Hogsback. I was right, although I didn't imagine that it would be two or three over instead of just one. I was also surprised to find small ponds of water on some of these peaks that hosted a diverse ecosystem of life.
I finally made it to the real summit of Hogsback on its highest peak and could hear the voices of other souls. I had thought I was the only one up here and didn't want to disturb anyone but was also validated by their presence.
The views were amazing and it was a lot to take in. Your brain is overwhelmed by all that you’re seeing so it takes a while to soak it in. I encourage you to act like a sponge, don't try to think too much or understand why you feel so amazing just breathe and soak it all in as much as possible. It’s an art that I'm still learning to master. Holding that intention to master is helping me to do so. It works when listening to others in conversation as well.
I talked with a pair of kind women at the summit, captured their picture and they also took mine. I discovered they are locals so I questioned if I could continue onto Hidden Beach from there. Hidden Beach was the next spot on my hit list. They assured me I could make it and since I had summitted Hogsback before noon and was feeling victoriously ambitious and energized I decided to go for it. I mean, I could practically see it from where I was at on Hogsback so what’s the big deal, right?
I found the trail downwards and enjoyed a beautiful section of trail through brilliant cedar trees and boulders towards the beach. This section of trail was much more aesthetically pleasing than the wilderness I had come in from. I quickly found the junction and headed on towards Little Presque and Lake Superior. It was a nice section of trail and a beautifully warm and sunny day. I was cruising and crossed the road onto a section of high rocky cliffs. It took some finangling to find my way as I lost the trail but serendipitously came cruising down a rock face right back onto it. I found a valley with a stream to follow down through the high rock all the way down to Lake Superior.
Hidden Beach is a sultry spot along the coastline of Lake Superior just outside of Marquette and connects to an advanced trail system along the North Country Trail (NCT).
When the pathway opens up you find yourself in a secluded, rocky beach that is held in privacy by a rugged and beautiful shoreline. Immediately you know you have found yourself in a special place due to its remoteness and exclusivity. The few persons also present share a sense of comradery as the only souls sharing this divine experience. I found a nice outcropping of volcanic rock to sit on and refueled on pistachios and water. I even took a naked polar plunge in icy Superior amongst some islands formed by the charismatic volcanic rocks. I bathed in the sun and journaled for a bit to rest and recuperate as I soaked in the magic of Marquette before heading back towards Hogsback & my home for the evening at the Forestville Campground.
On my way back I couldn’t help but notice trail markers for Sugarloaf Mountain. I was feeling ambitiously energized and couldn't resist the call. I set out for it’s summit having done so once before but this time approached from the Superior or North face. I made it to the top quickly, only slipping a little on the all-rock face at the summit. It was a rewarding hike and a marvelous view.
Connecting with the other people at spots such as this is always rewarding. There’s something about sharing these experiences with strangers that’s special and bonding. Still feeling good I headed back down hoping to catch the NCT connection back to the campground.
I got back on the trail after getting down from Sugarloaf but soon noticed the trail markers had changed color. They were no longer the blue markings of the NCT which bring me so much comfort and joy. They were an off-white creamish-colored marking. I walked until I found signage for Lily’s Pond loop and decided it was best not to add the loop to my hike and headed back reluctantly.
I ran into an older couple soon afterward and asked about the loop and connecting to the NCT as I thought I could through this way and they confirmed that I could indeed. There was an offshoot from the Lily’s Pond loop that connected with the NCT and back to my camp. I walked with them for a brief time gaining insight from their local knowledge. They urged me to check out the loop and views of the pond from some rocky cliffs that surrounded it.
No doubt it was surely magnificently stunning, but it came at a cost. The hiking was difficult and the trail went up and down and all around, over and under and through boulders and thick brush. All of a sudden I began to fade and realized I was running out of food and water and it was getting late. I opted out of doing the full Lily's Pond Loop and headed back to find the connector to the NCT.
I managed to get to an intersection where Lily's Pond “T’’d into the North Country Trail but I had forgotten which way the couple told me to go. It appeared going right would take me to Hogsback and so I went left towards what I thought was home and safety. I was struggling at this point, battling exhaustion and starting to experience muscle failure in my legs. I knew I needed water. I popped out of the forest for a moment onto a dirt road and some sort of backcountry resort access. There were a few streams running quickly through and I decided to take the risk and drink. I guzzled more water than I should from the unreliable source without a filter but thought it was the lesser of two evils. I needed water as I was sweating in the hot sun and running out of steam. I didn't have any means of filtering water with me (I immediately bought a LifeStraw afterward) and knew that moving water was safer to drink than stagnant water. I pressed up a little further up a hill and realized I was in trouble. I could be walking the wrong way down the endless NCT, at that time my only reliable option to get home became backtracking to Hogsback.
I walked the stretch back to the Lily’s Pond connector, past the pond, back to Hidden Beach, and found the stream I followed in. Anytime you hit a ‘waypoint’ it's an encouraging mark of familiarity and progress. I navigate back up the incline towards the backcountry connection to Hogsback. I was hitting a new level of crisis. My legs were giving out, the muscles in my lower legs were cramping so bad I was unable to walk and I was no longer steady on my feet. I was beginning to lose my balance and started to fall frequently from fatigue.
My muscles tightened extremely in my shins and calves contorting my foot and forcing me to stop repeatedly. I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it but found the courage and strength within to press onwards. It was a beautiful trail up, up, up the mountain, but much easier on this trail than the way I had come in. The beauty and magic of the mountain helped ease my pain, or at least distract me enough to reach the slippery summit.
Marvelous views of Marquette for miles were visible as the sun set over the city and Presque Isle. There were a few friends around and I nearly asked for emergency help but my ego prevented me from doing so. I was fine for the moment and had a strange sense of peace being up there. I decided to go down the backside of Hogsback, no trail to follow just rock and tree. I would search for the creek that I crossed and followed in, the backcountry homestead I passed and the boulders which marked the logging trail I inadvertently arrived upon.
My descent from Hogsback was brutal. I was struggling not to fall down the mountain and risk serious injury or death. My legs were non-operational at times and I was in serious trouble. I fell down a few times descending, it’s always more difficult going down for me than up. It’s hard on my knees and my legs were cramping as I'd never experienced before in my life.
I made it down, but now what? My phone was dead, the sun was hidden behind the peaks of the nearby hills and I wasn’t sure which way to go or what to do. Trust. Faith. Perseverance. Calm. There is a mastery that comes along with this sort of scenario. I find myself relying on intuition as I do my best to stay calm and DECIDE that I WILL find my way back to the stream, to the Homestead and logging trail that will send me sailing homeward bound to rest and sleep peacefully.
I wandered through the forest looking for signs of the stream. Eventually, I start seeing encouraging leads. There is low lying ground around that is wet and seems to be the beginnings of a waterway. I follow the lead through muddy ground walking barefoot. My feet were ripped and blistered and beaten so I tried to think of it like a spa treatment, but I was suffering.
My sensibilities were sound and soon I heard water rushing by. It wasn’t long before I found the stream and followed it towards salvation. I was startled by the presence of a small cabin along the growing stream, cutting its way through the massive hills surrounding me. It was getting dark and I did not want to get stuck out here. I vaguely remember this part now but somehow I stumbled on through the shade of the mountains to the hilltop that held the familiar homestead.
I found the trail and crossed the dirt road back through the two boulders which marked the entrance to the logging trail. I wasn’t out of the woods yet as I had gotten lost in the area earlier tryIng to take the NCT, but I was able to find my connections to the Forestville Campground using the sun, telephone wires, and other markers to find my way.
The last thing that led me home was simple. On my way in I had found a piece of beat-up gear and hung it on a trail post at a junction. This good deed blessed me karmically as it provided me the final marker towards home when it would have been otherwise very difficult to know which way to go amongst the complex network of trails. I trudged in exhaustion back to the campsite and crashed into my tent just as the sun hid behind the horizon and twilight faded.