Damp sand gave easily under my insistent footsteps. The logging track was smooth from a recent grading, a soft and even surface that hid years of ruts and potholes underneath. I envied the tires that got to enjoy such a road. Only loggers and the guards of the Huron Mountain Club were allowed to drive up here on the Longyear Tract.
I was on my way to Ives Hill, a monstrous pile of rock that shelters the eastern side of the Huron Mountain Club (HMC). There is one only way to reach the mountain without trespassing, which is the route I was on today. It's a long walk from the Northwestern Road past the red gates through commercial forest land, a long maze of changing tracks and trails that published maps don't even try to keep up with, but it's the only legal way to visit Ives Hill.
Most of the hills of the Huron Mountains are relatively simple peaks, like Bald Mountain or Marquette's Sugarloaf. There are a few more complex ones, mountains that have a few shoulders or multiple highpoints, like Hogsback and Bear Mountain. Then there are the lumpy monsters, the gnarly jumbles that defy typical definitions. Curwood, Ives Hill, and Mount Benison are all confusing piles of outcroppings stacked on top of each other like a madman's layered cake. Climbing these mountains is difficult and finding views is not easy, yet I found myself inching closer to Ives Hill today in hopes of conquering the crazy pile.
One track gave way to another and I passed swamps and forks and thick woods. The air was brisk, warming from an overnight low of a dozen degrees above freezing, and the sun was not strong enough to pour through the clouds above and burn away the remains of an early morning rain. Every once in a while I'd catch a bright splat of color, a vivid reminder that fall was on it's way, and then the wet, lush green would crowd around me again.
When I bumped into the straight road, the odd line that extends south from Ives Lake and the Stone House, I paused for a minute. This was not my first time on this path. A while back I made the long trek to Breakfast Roll and had used this road. Today was a little different, though. I turned south and headed away from Ives Lake. My journey today would take me further southeast, closer to the sacred Salmon Trout River, and I had little interest in the straight road.
Eventually I had to leave the smooth graded tracks and follow overgrown ones. A few trees lay across these old roads and drivers chose to make wide circles through the ditches instead of clearing the way. Each fork I bumped into now seemed a little worse, with my route seemingly taking the least traveled path. I hoped it would make a difference in the end.
A few clearings started to show off the upcoming climb. A tall bank of trees above a distant gray rock outcropping poked up in the distance, towering hundreds of feet above me. I got a bit scared. The land around Ives Hill, the ground I stood on, was maybe 800'. The peak I had to climb was around 1500'. Seven hundred feet (not counting the inevitable dips and valleys nestled up there) was significantly more than my Midwest legs were used to.
There was something off about the way ahead. I slowed down, suddenly aware of just how much noise I was making crashing through the overgrown roads. I was on an old two-track, one that hadn't seen a vehicle for years and had no trail or tire mark on it. The next trail was very different. It extended north-to-south, with my current track ending abruptly on it, and was really old. Saplings sprung up where tire ruts once ran, reaching ten or more feet up in the air. Between the saplings was a well-worn footpath. Footpaths don't just spring up out of nowhere. This was the trail to the Upper Falls on Salmon Trout River.
Sneaking up to the trail like a cat towards a spider I listened to every hint the forest would give me. A slight breeze soothed overhead, rustling branches and brushing through the leaves. No sound came from the trail, no voices or cracking twigs. I was alone. Part of me wished that a club member would come strolling down the path, a friendly voice to swap stories with, maybe a few half-joking warnings to keep an eye out for the property markers (I wasn't on HMC land but I was close). I didn't know how friendly they would actually be, though, so close to one of their favorite locations. I turned quickly and headed north, away from the falls, though I would love to one day visit them.
It wasn't long now. A short distance down the HMC trail, a few random overgrown roads east again, and then I was at the foot of Ives Hill. I picked a steep approach and tackled the climb vigorously, quickly gaining elevation, and soon found myself at an open outlook. I looked around eagerly, barely out of breath, and gazed over the green forest.
Outcroppings on the hill of Section 17 stood out to the west, a bare patch of brown and gray surrounded by green. I could also see the twin peaks of the hill just northwest of Salmon Trout River, though the bare rock up there was hidden by the angle. The most interesting view was up the Salmon Trout River valley, though. I couldn't trace the river, which I expected to be marked by deep green pines or cedars, and there wasn't much of a slope either. If I had to guess I'd say that the river is small and has plenty of minor rapids along it, like Cedar Creek to the west, and that the series of waterfalls (which was less than a mile from where I stood) was a rare occurance.
I turned and climbed, scaling the open rock, looking for more views as I gained fifty, than a hundred, than two hundred feet. Rock gave way to forest gave way to more rock. When I finally stopped and truly gazed out the views had opened up. I could see far to the northwest, over to Homer Mountain and even Huron Mountain near Mountain Lake, and the hills of Snake Creek showed up to the southeast. Now this was a view.
The steepness of the cliffs I stood on were surprising. There isn't too many truly steep cliffs in the Huron Mountains, especially cliffs that extend for hundreds of yards and tower two-to-three hundred feet in height. Could the Salmon Trout River have carved this cliff, sweeping away debris below like Mulligan Creek, or was this purely glacial? Either way I kept a respectable distance from the edge, aware of just how remote and along I was out here.
It was time to leave the cliffs and start north towards the peak. I reentered the woods, making my way through the thick green and tall pines, picking my way around muddy spots and up narrow channels, eventually coming out to open rock again. This outcropping was nowhere as pronounced as the first break. The gentle slope was speckled with tall brush and the occasional tree that forced me to loop around to get unobstructed south.
The view, though, was incredible. By now I was over 1400', a clean hundred feet higher than the Yellow Dog Plains five miles to the south. I could see the plains, a solid line of green, something that I've seen from other hikes in this area, but today I could also make out a jagged line beyond. The Peshekee Highlands poked up above the plains, a second line that seemed incredibly rugged compared to the plains. To the southwest I could even make out the distant rise of Arvon and it's surrounding children. To be able to make out all these spots from Ives Hill was pretty awesome.
Happy I turned and headed towards the peak. This hike was turning out to be well worth the long and relatively dull walk in via the logging roads. I did not know what to expect at the peak, with most of the mountains in this area have overgrown tops with little to no views, but since I was a mere hundred-or-so feet below it I figured it was worth the extra walk. Big trees and needle-strewn ground made for an easy walk northeast and the yards passed by behind me quickly.
When a clearing opened up I made a beeline, wondering if there was another outcropping near the top. Instead I found a tower. Well, the remains of one. Four metal posts grounded in cement made a square that once supported a lookout tower. So that's why some people call this Lookout Mountain. Near the foundation was a benchmark, another unexpected find.
I circled around the peak slowly. There were no views here (though the vista from the tower must have been epic). The remains of the tower were long-rotted, hinting of the age of this place. No trails, either. If anyone from HMC climbs up to the peak they must cut their own route through the brush like I did. Hints of Ives Lake glistened through the trees to the west. I left the peak, slowly wandering north, hoping to get a better view of that lake.
The path I took was not straight. I checked on a few possible views on the way, veering east and west on my northern path. This roughly followed the ridgeline of Ives Hill, which slowly drops from the highpoint towards Breakfast Roll over two miles. A few of the outcroppings held some promise, large patches of bared rock, but the slope up here was not enough to break free of the tall trees around. After climbing a significant slope I looked back south, back at the peak of Ives Hill, and did get a good view of trees behind me.
Continuing north I started to focus more on the next destination, a set of cliffs that I had discovered on my last visit to this area. There is a wide, open view over Ives Lake ahead, one that sits at a mere 1350' yet offers a fantastic view over the lake to the mountains in the west. Last time I approached it directly, climbing up from the roads below. This time I snuck up on the cliff from the rear, breaking through the scraggly brush above the outcropping, and came up above the cliffs. Even though this was my second time up here the view still took my breath away.
The deep green and dark clouds above painted a very different picture from the vivid fall colors I had seen on my trip to Breakfast Roll. A brisk, cold wind whipped around me, emboldened by Lake Superior's waters, and I shivered as I traced the Keweenaw Ridge above the lake and named the mountains around Mountain Lake. Eventually I started making my way down, reluctantly dropping in elevation, not quite willing to tear my gaze off the view before me.
A few quick drops and I was back in the woods on the steeply sloped flank of Ives Hill. Deep channels were cut in these woods, probably carved during snow melts or clear cutting practices from the nineteenth century. Half trotting I bumped into an old road, right where I remembered it, and was back on the two-track maze.
Hoping to change things up a little bit I planned on cutting over to the straight road early. Right now I was standing east of Ives Lake, with most of the tracks leading north to Breakfast Roll and south towards Salmon Trout River. I couldn't walk directly towards Ives Lake (it is surrounded by private land) so I turned south. If I was lucky I would eventually find a road that cut west, over to the straight road, and I could cut a large swath out of my hike.
I did not get lucky. No obvious roads cut west. Too soon I found myself on the same tracks I had came in on, the HMC path to Upper Falls, and ended up retracing my steps.
On the walk back my pace was torn a bit. After ten miles plus of walking and climbing (and now heading back uphill towards the Northwestern Road) I was slowing a bit. Also, I started to find blackberries, surprisingly still ripe, and stopped frequently to nab a few to nibble on. There were some more places to visit today, though, so I tried to push myself up the soft sandy road quickly.
As I walked, alternating my speeds, I thought about Ives Hill. A few years ago Breakfast Roll seemed like an impossible destination (and I sometimes can't believe that I actually made that long hike). Other places, like the shoulder of Mount Ives and Tokiahok Head, were also once-unachievable climbs. And now Ives Hill. Was this the last time I would step on the Longyear Tract? There wasn't much left to explore on the public land, a few spurs by Florence Pond, though Mount Ives itself was awfully tempting. When I finally stepped up to my car I had a bad feeling in my gut, a sad twist that this could have just ended my last hike in this area.