Cooling air swam around me as I trudged along the two-track, burdened by a full backpack of camping gear. The air felt good against my skin after the August heat of the day. I was walking a familiar path and soon saw the trademark blue shaft with bat cage on top. Today, though, I wouldn't be visiting Upper Copper Falls. This evening I was heading out to the bluff to watch the sunset over Lake Superior.
Passing the shaft, clearing, and Owl Creek was all easy to do. I had been to this waterfall plenty of times and knew exactly where to go. The bluff was new. After crossing Owl Creek the track turned north sharply and entered a wide field. A few side tracks showed up, curious routes wandering off to east. I stuck to the main one and hoped it would take me to the bluff.
Beyond the meadow I had more options. The trail split again, with one track heading west to Owl Creek and the other east. Now I was just guessing. I headed east along a thickening track and had to duck under branches that reached hungrily for my hat. Maybe I should have checked the map before heading out.
All I was going off of was that there was a bluff somewhere east of Owl Creek. Now I was almost a mile from my car, on a random grassy two-track, hoping that I wouldn't blunder into a backyard from one of the houses on Cutoff Road. Just as I reaching for my GPS unit to try to figure out where I was a clearing opened up in front of me and, beyond, a tell-tale opening of the forest. There was a bluff just ahead.
With a burst of energy I pushed forward through the last clearing and came out through the trees. The view was fantastic. Without thinking of finding a campsite I quickly dropped my gear, grabbed my camera, and took a long look around.
I still had a bit less than an hour until the sunset, leaving my surroundings in gentle golden hues. Far below I could make out Cat Harbor, a tiny bay along the shoreline drive, and the swoop of Great Sand Bay. Otherwise there wasn't much to make out. Neither Eagle Harbor nor Eagle River presented themselves. There was just me, a grassy bluff, and the distant shoreline. This was going to be fantastic.
After a bit of hunting I choose a relatively flat stretch of grass near green shrubs for the campsite. It was relatively close to the track in, giving me an easy exit route in the morning, though the shrubs just about hid my tent from the track. The grass underneath made for a fantastic spring mattress. I was going to sleep good tonight.
After the tent was setup there wasn't much to do but wait around for the sun to set. Making sure everything was squared away in the tent (military upbringing) I circled back to a flat hunk of rock and plopped down. Sipping some water I gazed over the quiet scene. The traffic from the shoreline road rarely drifted up this high, getting lost down below in the woods and distance. The lake was smooth and there was no wind this late in the day. It was an incredibly peaceful area. There was one noise, the rise and fall of a small motor that occasionally broke through but I pushed it aside as a distant ATV. That is, until the Jeep pulled up to the bluff behind me.
There was a brief, awkward introduction; me, hoping I wasn't trespassing and them, a family of locals out for an evening cruise. After that was over we had a good chat about the Keweenaw, this bluff, and life in general. I always find it amazing how easy-going and talkative Yoopers can get once certain protocols are laid down. I'm not a local, and I don't pretend to be, but I'm pretty laid back and know enough about the area to escape the dreaded 'troll' or 'tourist' categories. We talked for a good twenty minutes before the youngest of the group began to whine a bit, and the small family bundled back in the Jeep and headed out.
The sun was just over the horizon by now, with a pink stripe highlighting the lake. With the family gone the quiet really started to seep in. This was fantastic, much better than I would have imagined. US-41 is a few miles to the south and M-28 just down the bluff, with the cutoff road maybe a mile below me, but none of them had a lot of traffic, not this far up in the Keweenaw. What vehicles there were must be muffled by the thick woods. My campsites further south need a lot more buffer, with plenty of logging trucks and other semis roaring between Houghton and Marquette. This, this was nice.
The sun sank and I retired to my tent. There was a good book waiting for me in there and I read for an hour before sinking to sleep. I usually don't stay up late while camping, preferring to hike during the days and sleep during the nights, even though that means missing fantastic starry skies and (this evening) a potential meteor shower. If I'm camping with friends I'll stay up late over a fire, sure, but alone I just like to keep it low.
Thanks to the quiet and soft, springy mattress the night passed quickly and easily. I woke up several hours before dawn to start packing up. I had a great plan for the sunrise and needed some extra time in the morning. I packed up my gear, making quick work of it, and took a quick picture of the brightness in the east. It was still very dark out and I switched on my flashlight to find the track back to the car.
As soon as the light pierced the darkness a deep woof sounded over the bluff, maybe twenty yards away. There was a black bear up here with me. I quickly dropped my pack, grabbed my hatchet out of the side, and began sweeping around looking for the darn thing. I knew a hatchet would be little to no protection against an angry bear but I had to have something, anything.
I never saw the beast, just heard it crashing away down the bluff. Why didn't it startle when I was packing my gear? I'm not that quiet, and the sound of zippers is pretty unnatural. With adrenaline still coursing through my veins I picked up my pack and began the long walk back to the car, jumping at every weird shadow cast along the way.
There was plenty to spook me, too. A slight predawn was picking, creating soft shushing sounds through the woods. The trickle of Owl Creek sounded like a freight train in the dark, silent woods. Then, as I neared the bat cage, swarms of the little guys swooped around me. A handful even brushed past me, wings tickling my chest and head. I was more than happy to finally tumble into my car.
The bluff made for an excellent camping spot, with a sunset over Lake Superior that was one of the most peaceful things I've seen in a good long time. Maybe, though, maybe I should have slept in that morning.