Monday, August 10, 2015

1992 Backpacking Michigan's Porcupine Wilderness

The Porcupine Wilderness State Park (affectionately called the "Porkies") is a true wilderness, one of the largest in the midwest comprising 63,000 acres. Of these 92 square miles, over 51 square miles contain virgin hardwood forest. Twenty-five miles of Lake Superior shoreline border the park. Established in 1945 by the State of Michigan, it has over 90 miles of trails. The first Indians noted the eroded slopes of the escarpment and the gentle northern slope to Lake Superior and described the area as "crouched porcupines," coining the area's name. The Porkies are located in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, on Lake Superior's south shoreline near Ontonagon, Michigan.

Sixteen rustic cabins are available inside the wilderness, requiring a 1 to 4 mile hike to reach. At-large camping is permitted off-trail, and a fee is charged both per night of backpacking and for parking.

The terrain is rugged by midwest standards, comprising undulating ranges, one after another. The highest point is Summit Peak, altitude 1958 feet, 42 feet below the minuimun height needed to be classified a true "mountain" according to geologists. However, it is still one of the highest peaks between the Black Hills of South Dakota and the Adirondacks of New York. The four lakes are magnificent, with names like Mirror Lake and Lake of the Clouds. Their waters then rush through a series of rapids and waterfalls down deep-cut gorges to Lake Superior. In this photo we are approaching Government Peak.

Wetlands and low areas are protected by boardwalk systems, just like on Isle Royale.

Yes, this is Michigan. Not the usual scenery you view in the midwest of our country. Next to backpacking Isle Royale National Park, this is the best the midwest has to offer!

This is Mirror Lake in the interior of the wilderness park, a favorite location for the resident black bears which abound in the area. In all my backpacking, this is the only place where I have been kept up much of the night by a bear after food. Around dusk, a scout troop had hiked past our campsite. The last in line was one of their leaders who apologized to me, saying: "One of our scouts fed a Kudo bar to a bear a few miles back, and its been following us ever since. Sorry!" They then left, but the bear obviously stayed.

Twice the bear came to our tent after midnight, walked around us sniffing the tent, and then left. We have never had food or attractants in the tent, so there were no tempting odors to entice the bear.  I can attest that black bears have really bad breath -- obviously they don't brush or gargle -- because we smelled his breath as he sniffed the tent. Afterwards, I always thought it strange that its breath registered in my memory instead of my fear that its razor sharp claws would decimate the tent fabric. I also was glad I had my .357 magnum revolver in my hand as the bear circled our tent.

It did locate our bear bagged food hanging high in a tree a hundred feet away. The next morning when I retrieved the untouched food bags, I noticed fresh bear claw marks on the tree bark. It had tried to break my parachute cord and failed. It did not get my food, although another backpacker in the area lost his entire food bag to the varmint. The next morning, I looked at the mess the bear had made of his food. It had even ripped open several packs of dehydrated food and licked out the contents! We were about to exit the park, so gave some of our extra food to the guy so he could continue his trip.

This is a view from a high point on the trail, looking down at the river which forms the magnificent Lake of the Clouds.

Lake of the Clouds


Michigan's Porcupine Wilderness State Park by Jim DuFresne: Pegg Legg Publications, 1993,
Thunder Bay Press, Lansing, MI, 160 pages.

Backpacking in Michigan by Pat Allen and Gerald DeRuiter: University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, MI; 188 pages.

The area was featured in Backpacker Magazine, August, 1992, page 41.

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