As the Keweenaw Ridge stretches south of Greenland and Rockland it begins to twist west meander around. By the time it passes Norwich there are multiple lines present. The northern ridge has plenty of great hiking destinations, like the Trap Hills and Cookout Mountain. The southern ridge is a bit less traveled. I've had my eye on some outcroppings off of FR-400, some promising spots that overlook West Branch Ontonagon, for quite some time. Today I was heading for an easier destination on the south ridge, though. Today I was headed to Merriweather.
The Gogebic Ridge Trail starts in Merriweather and joins up with the North Country Trail in the Trap Hills. I've been on sections of the Gogebic Ridge before. That's the trail that leaves M-64, crosses Hidden Falls near Weidman Lake, and peaks at Cookout Mountain. I never really knew where it started. As I swerved around the visible potholes on FR-250 I hoped that the trailhead would be easy to spot. It wasn't.
Maybe I shouldn't say that. The NCT, which is what I kept comparing this trail to, has visible and well-maintained areas at significant junctions. O Kun de Kun, Algonquin, Norwich, Cascade - all of these had gravel parking, large signs, and helpful mileposts. This trail had a grassy pulloff separated from the road by a deep ditch. I pulled off to the side of the road and circled back, wading through the ferns towards what I hoped was the trail. If I hadn't been watching my odometer I might have messed this altogether.
Ferns and grass reached waist-high along the footpath, tickling my sides and forcing my arms to unconsciously lift above their grasp. The trail was maintained, with most of the downed branches either pulled to the side or cut through, but the vegetation betrayed a lack of traffic here. I didn't mind. Only the loudest engine sounds filtered through from nearby M-28 and soon I was walking through giant trees and open woods.
The clear woods presented a bit of a problem: the path completely faded away. There was a few white blazes here and there, sporadic enough to confuse me in spots. I continued meandering east, grasping at the few markers to keep going, worried that I'd stumble into the swamps on either side of the woods. The path helped me through just fine, teasing me at times yet eventually leading me to the north side of Weary Lake.
I had wondered how the trail would pass through this section. Weary Lake drains up to the Iron River through a series of swamps and streams and I didn't know if there'd be a footbridge or beaver dam to cross. A whole boardwalk? Now this was fancy. It swayed a little as I passed over it, boards giving with age and the entire structure rocking, but it beat a half-flooded beaver dam.
The boardwalk is split in half by a small island, though the first half was the only really shaky part. There was a wide gap of dark, deep water under the old walk that could easily swallow me up, though it would only take a stretch to reach grassy swamp on either side to get out. As I passed over walk and admired the marshy lake to the south I couldn't help but pause to enjoy the open view. After yesterday's long hike, trapped on a narrow shoreline by the thick Keweenaw undergrowth, it was good to be back in proper woods.
Beyond the lake the trail made a sharp turn south, a beeline over to the ridge. The thick pines were cut back with vigor here, making me wonder if this used to be an old logging road. It was just wide enough to be a two-track, though there were no tracks to note underfoot.
Steep rock and woods rising up was a real shock to see after so much gentle woods. Yet this was what I was here for, to climb up Maple Ridge for a good view over Lake Gogebic. I leaned into the climb, ignoring the sore muscles from the weekend's varied adventures, and quickly scaled hundred-or-so feet to the first view. The trail kept to the thick woods so I cut off, heading to the open air, and got a good view of the western hills.
I wasn't really sure what I was seeing. Beyond the carpet of flat green were distant hills, far to the north west. Were those the backside of the Porkies? Or maybe the ridge near Wakefield and Bessemer? Whatever that distant rise was it was quite distant, beyond my normal explorations. With a shrug I continued up the climbing outcropping.
As I climbed more of the lake opened up below me. The flat head of Lake Gogebic was very present, not even two miles away, with the long, snaking tail reaching out of sight to the south. A few cabins were barely visible along the shore, right near Bergland bay, but none of the buildings of Merriweather or Bergland itself showed up above the trees. It was a peaceful view, only a few large trucks breaking the silence.
Eventually I decided to head back in to the trail. It had kept climbing with me, just chose a safer route up away from the cliff edge. Together we walked a short distance and I contemplated my route. I didn't expect to get such a great view from here, nor did I expect the woods to be this thick. I had marked another ridge some distance to the southeast, off trail, in case I couldn't find a view. Bushwhacking through this thick stuff when I had already gotten several good views in didn't really seem worth it.
When the trail began to curve and my views started to dip down again I decided it was time to head back. I had a long drive back home to tackle still. As I headed down the trail I caught one surprise view, a glimpse through branches to the north, Lake Superior was some twenty miles to the north… maybe on a clear fall day? That would be a nice view. There are a few spots on the northern ridge, in the Trap Hills, that offer such views. It'd be great to find one from here, too.
The walk back was easy, trotting down the slope and cruising through the open woods, remembering where the trail's weird angles were. As I crossed back over Weary Lake, swatting a few mosquitoes away, I got a weird sense of deja vu from a hike several years ago at Ajibikoka Falls, where I had seen a pair of swans on Sucker Lake. Had to look twice to make sure they weren't here today. No swans, just bugs and shimmering lake. It was still hard to leave.