Sometimes I miss the good spots on a hike. I often head into an area with little more than a topographic map and a rudimentary understanding of the area. Depending on how the hike goes my rough plans can change rapidly to avoid rough sections or check out an interesting side destination, but many times I don't recognize the better routes until the adventure is over. This can get frustrating when I'm considering revisiting a mountain. I've climbed Bald Mountain by Big Eric's bridge almost a half dozen times thanks to bad weather, over-exertion, or just plain curiosity about that one spot I never noticed before (and yes, I do plan on returning to Bald Mountain again in the future). This afternoon I ended up tackling a particular tough climb just north of the Yellow Dog Plains after a surprising discovery.
The hills of Blind 35 is a spot I had hiked before. Two large, varied mounds of rock rise up around a dead end road west of Big Bay. I've been to different sections of the northern mountain a few times and have enjoyed the sweeping views and rugged outcroppings, but the southern one was disappointing. A single obscured view north to Lake Superior (and an encounter with a bear and her cub) was a big letdown compared to the broad ridges less than a mile north. When I last left Blind 35 I wondered how two hills so close together could offer such different hiking experiences.
There are a few small rocky hills located between the start of Blind 35 and the Triple A road. One of the hills is frequently used by Northern Michigan students for rock climbing. After seeing some promising photos on a geocaching site I decided to check the hills out, parking just off an unnamed two-track on a cool spring afternoon. There were some young adults playing on the first hill so I continued down the worsening road, stepping over ruts that would have seriously hurt my little car, on my way to a tiny rise of rock just high enough to offer some views of my surroundings. My route was an easy walk that meandered for close to a mile before a slight outcropping peaked out from the trees. What I saw from here changed all my plans for that day.
This tiny rise gave better-than-expected views east towards Lake Superior, but the real shock lay to the west. A huge mountain rose up with a sudden south-facing cliff amid multiple prominent outcroppings. Realization slowly dawned on me… this was the southern Blind 35 Hill that had appeared so ordinary before. On my previous visit I stuck to the north slope and never climbed all the way to the peak. The north side was a slow, gentle slope with a few scattered bumps, and I had assumed the entire mountain was forested and tame. Seeing what I had missed on my last visit, I quickly decided to take on the challenge and I reviewed my maps, plotting out the new hike.
I knew a swamp lay between us so I headed northwest first along a logging track from my little rise. This track looped back around to Blind 35 but took me within a half mile of the mountain first. After this easy sandy walk I cut into a young forest, crunching and snapping through the undergrowth. Thankfully I was far enough north to avoid the swamp and ended up at the base of a towering, humbling wall of rock sloping out of sight above me.
Excited to tackle this I veered slightly to the left before starting up the steep climb. Scrambling up on all fours I made it up the first rise and was greeted by some amazing views east and south. I took a quick break to catch my breath, then continued west, up another sudden rise onto the second outcropping, with more and more views opening up with every couple of steps. This was the type of climbing I truly enjoy, a tough, rugged slope with no trails and exciting discoveries every couple of yards.
After the second outcropping the slope lessened a bit. I was still heading uphill quickly, but now I was surrounded by huge pines and thick woods. My early aggressive approach started to wear on me. Using trees and a walking stick I pulled myself higher and higher up the mountain, ignoring my tired legs, until I suddenly came out onto the edge of the cliff I had spotted before. The wind whipped around me, threatening to toss my hat over the edge, as I stumbled over to a bench. Wait, a bench?
Somehow a bench had shown up on the edge of a steep cliff with no trails or reasonable explanation. I didn't bother to puzzle over it too much and sat down, enjoying the eastern view. I could make out many unnamed hills and outcroppings but could just barely make out Big Bay and Lake Independence in the distance. To the south a jumble of different mountains and hills slowly rose towards the flat line of the Yellow Dog Plains.
The cliff led to the west and I followed, getting occasional new views south and west. The sun shone brightly to the west, obscuring some of Huron Mountain Club mountains, but the closer Snake Creek Hills and Ives Hill felt close enough to reasonable tackle today if it wasn't for the late hour and my tired legs. I ventured close to the south edge a few times to peer down, cautious of the rounded edge and stiff winds. When I reached the western end of the cliff and I was tempted to turn north and follow the next ridge. I suspect I'll be back in this area to tackle more of the Snake Creek Hills, so today I started heading down the steep cliff carefully on unsteady legs.
I reached a saddle south of the cliff and headed east, back to the logging roads. This time I circled south around the bog, along sandy roads, and made it back to my car in a respectable time. On the way I planned for future visits to this area. I'd like to make a serious attack on both the south and north hills of Blind 35, searching out all the outcroppings on this hills, and still need to hit up the little spurs in the area. While today was a brief visit that I'll be repeating eventually, I was still incredibly pleased with the change of plans and being proved wrong about how ordinary I thought the southern Blind 35 mountain was.