My first encounter with Lake Superior was rather unassuming. I had gone camping with my family before but it was nothing more than a night or two. Despite my lack of experience, my three friends and I set off on our 2000+ mile trek with the goal to make it to Thunder Bay, Ontario, the name alone promising excitement and eliciting a lot of ACDC on the 15 hour drive. We planned to camp along the way but I really did not know what to expect and figured it would be just like any other camping trip. Needless to say, Thunder Bay was a forgettable side note on an overall incredible journey. After 10 days of hiking, camping, frigid swims, dune climbs, a bear encounter, way too much Ramen noodles and Gatorade and a lot of frisbee on the beach, I had fallen in love with the outdoors. And with Gichigami.
Six years later, my girlfriend and I were able to experience Superior on a different level. Backpacking through the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (the same park I had stayed in previously) for 40 miles was all that it took to remember what a treasure the largest of the Great Lakes is. I had built this trip up since we had it planned, and it certainly did not let us down.
Kayaking around Miner’s Castle provided a unique perspective of the caves and rock formations that dot the cliffs. It was a gorgeous day and much calmer water than is normal for late summer. We paddled back and forth along the rocks and soaked up a postcard day with break taking views. It was the perfect way to get reacquainted with the waters that had treated me so well before.
Our four day hike was a mesmerizing combination of deep woods, calm beach, rocky cliffs and everything in-between. One second we would be surrounded by pine trees with only the fresh smell of Christmas present, the next we were seemingly at the edge of the world. It is at this point where the enormity of the lake can be comprehended (almost). These spectacular views of the hike were not entirely new to me but Lake Superior didn’t seem to care, as not one bit of wonder was lost in that fact.
The stars are what I remember most. Maybe it is the “Last Gas Station for 100 Miles” sign on the drive in that makes you feel secluded, but it’s not until you see the stars, and I mean a lot of stars, that you realize how isolated and pure the Upper Peninsula is. On my first trip, I remember thinking that I had never seen anything like it. When I returned, it was the same feeling all over again. Carolyn and I were even lucky enough to catch a meteor shower.
The Native Americans, specifically the Ojibwe, named Superior Gichigami, meaning “be a great sea”. If Lake Superior isn’t great, then I do not know what is. While the Upper Peninsula is certainly not easy to get to, it is absolutely worth the effort. Whether you go once or make it a regular spot, you will never be disappointed by one of our great national treasures.
Not to be forgotten on a backpacking trip is the first meal afterwards, which we were lucky enough to enjoy right on the lake. Great company, great view and great french fries.
We will be back, Gichigami, but in the meantime, stay great.