Christmas in the Keweenaw; camping style

Having some time off and being home for a week over the holidays I decided to celebrate Xmas in my own personal way, a little excursion up to the Copper Country, aka the Keweenaw Peninsula. For those not in the know, the Keweenaw is a large peninsula that extends up off the Upper Peninsula of Michigan north into Lake Superior. It is an area rich in mining history, old towns and some unique and spectacular scenery. Here are some images and descriptions from the trip.

Driving west out of Marquette and across up to the Keweenaw on Xmas morning, the skies were dark, and snow was falling. Typical UP winter day with lake effect snow bands coming in off of Lake Superior. This shot is taken in Bete Gries, a small outpost where I was leaving the pavement.

No one had even been done this road today as a light blanket of snow was untouched. My theory was that if I stayed close to the Lake Superior shoreline, the snow levels would be low enough that I could pass on some of the dirt roads with the Land Rover gaining access up near either Mt Houghton or Bare Bluffs to setup camp and enjoy some winter activities. My theory proved correct as the snow levels got dramatically deeper the higher up in elevation you climbed and the more inland you travelled from the shoreline. This area is right up near the tip of the Keweenaw peninsula near Lac Labelle and Mt Bohemia (a pretty incredible ski area nestled up near the northernmost point of the state).

Smith Fisheries road, a narrow dirt road that winds north following the coast from Bete Gries. Luckily it had been plowed, barely one lane wide recently, whether for logging activities or by a landowner I wasn’t sure but it was a nice luxury.

I turned off of the plowed road and took a side road that leads to Mt Houghton. As I gradually gained elevation and moved inland the snow pack started increasing. No one had been down this trail yet this winter and the untracked, unpacked powder made for fairly easy travel. Eventually though the snow reached bumper height, a set of snowmobile tracks had driven down the route making a challenging mix of semi packed snow which started to make the truck work hard. Roughly a half mile from the access trail to Mt Houghton I decided to turn around rather than risk getting stuck so far in and wasting valuable daytime extricating myself. Being late December this far north, daylight is precious commodity.

I back tracked and ended up choosing a nice location closer to the Bare Bluff’s trailhead. With the temperatures dropping and a stiff northwind blowing I wasted no time getting to work on setting up camp. Since the Camping Labs lower changing room enclosure is three sided with no floor, I needed to get creative in an effort to create a more weather proof area of protection of which I could heat. I shoveled snow up under the truck to create a snow wall on the inside of the enclosure.

With the RTT and enclosure setup, I used a tarp and a ridgerest to creat a floor on which I could actually even take my boots off on. Using a portable, compact propane heater I was able to get the changing room up into a comfortable temperature and setup the kitchen. It was already 4:30 at this point and daylight was fading. Temps were dipping into the teens.

My version of silent night.

It was a cozy place to relax and read a bit, with a mug of hot coccoa to complete the mood.

While normally known for subsisting off of freeze dried foods when camping, possibly indulging when friends are along, I pulled out all the stops on this one.. Grilling up a big fat New York strip and some brocolli rice. Ahhh, one of the best Xmas dinners I remember. After relaxing for a bit and cleaning up I secured things for the night (from the prying paws of furry friends) and moved up to the tent. I vented a window and fired up the heater which made short work of the cold tent creating a warm, cozy bunk in no time. I turned the heater off for the night and had a great night’s sleep. Morning time came late with a sunrise around 8:30am. Again the heater fired up to have a warm place to stretch out and change before heading down to make breakfast. Then time to do some exploring, of which I missed out on the previous evening due to the short day.

I strapped on the snowshoes and hiked up to the top of Bare Bluffs. A nature conservancy preserve that features dramatic, 200foot cliffs that tower over Lake Superior give great views east across the endless expanse of the mighty lake.

Rays of light can be seen in the distance casting golden columns upon the water. Mixed in between lake effect clouds forming from moisture being pulled off the lake by the cold air begins the snowmaking machine that carries the moisture south towards the mainland and deposits it in thick dumpings.

Careful, one slip here and they aren’t finding your body till spring.

Self portrait. Just in case they find my body come spring at the base of the rock, this will just give evidence of how I ended up down there. haha

I headed back and began packing up camp after making lunch, warming up a bit, and enjoying some hot cider. It took a solid hour to repack and stow everything, mess with frozen zippers, and get back into mobile mode.

I worked my way back out to the pavement and got on US 41 and took it north to the northernmost outpost of civilization in the UP and Michigan. It feels like the last place on earth, especially in the winter. Copper Harbor

Copper Harbor is the northern terminous of US 41, the south end is in Miami.

Taking the scenic lakeshore drive down the west side of the Keweenaw you would think you were on the Maine coast in areas due to the rugged nature of the coastline and the small coastal villages of Eagle Harbor and Eagle River. This is the natural Harbor of Eagle Harbor with ice forming.

I stopped in the historic town of Calumet, once considered for the state capital due to its booming history when the area’s mining industry was thriving. Now part of the Keweenaw National Historic park, many of the old run down buildings are being preserved and finding new life. I grabbed dinner at the Red Jacket Brewing Company. I must see place. The brewery is adorned with the original painted murals on the ceilings from the 1800’s which are breathtaking. You could spend an entire day in this small town marvelling in the history and the architecture. By this point is was dark, snowing and I needed to beat it back home. There is somthing comforting about travelling in your self contained home, with the heater blaring, good music playing as snow whips against the windshield and you realize things are pretty good.

Categories: camping, Discovery, Lake Superior, Land Rover, Overlanding, Skiing, Upper Peninsula | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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