Trekking the North Country Trail: Across the ‘Yoop’

December 20, 2022

Joan Young on a promontory at Pictured Rocks. Photo by Bill Courtois.

Trekking the North Country Trail: Across the ‘Yoop’

By Joan Young, MCP Contributing Writer.

On Dec. 1, 2021 Amber Township resident Joan Young began her journey to hike the entire North Country Trail continuously. She began her trek at the Manistee National Forest’s Timber Creek Campground on US 10 in Lake County. The first half of the hike took her to Middlebury, Vermont. She then drove to Sakakawea State Park in central North Dakota to begin the hike back to Michigan. Young, 74, was the first woman to completely hike the NCT, completing 20 years of segmented hikes in 2010.

I’ve entered Michigan on my quest to hike the entire North Country National Scenic Trail. That means I’m close to home, right? Think again. Michigan has more miles of the trail than any of the other states, 1,175 of them to be exact.

Sturgeon River. Photo by Joan Young.

Since I started hiking near home and did some Michigan miles (about 320) then before reaching Ohio, I was still facing 855 Michigan miles (plus a few miles of winter detours) when I crossed the Montreal River from Wisconsin to the Upper Peninsula. I wanted to get to that point by October, but too many days off for various reasons delayed me. It was November 3, but there was still no snow on the ground.

That was almost too good to be true. I managed to complete most of the revised and beautiful NCT route through Porcupine Mountain Wilderness State Park before a big storm moved in. My helper, Sue, and I skedaddled east to try to get ahead of the snow. Instead, we managed to hit the Ishpeming/Marquette area just as they also got walloped. 

For two frustrating weeks, Sue and I attempted to find roads that were open to get to the trail. An early October snowstorm had brought down many large trees on the trail, and cleanup was not yet complete. I was lucky to be able to hike 10 miles a day. Once, the best I could do was 1.6 miles because we just could not get to any other access points. Another volunteer white-knuckle drove his truck to remote trailheads in the dark to get me to the trail.

Then the weather warmed again, and as I walked farther east, real winter had not yet begun. So far, I’ve been able to stay ahead of the serious snow. I might make it to the Mackinac Bridge before Christmas. But I had to temporarily abandon 106 miles in the Trap Hills area. These are hilly and difficult in the best of times. Now, there is also heavy snow forecast for the Straits area.

It looks certain that I’ll have to postpone finishing some of the trail miles until spring arrives. My original plan never included hiking through the dead of winter, and I don’t have the gear or perhaps the will for it. This is disappointing, but I will return. Meanwhile, I’ll keep working my way south through Michigan as long as I can avoid the heavy snow. Snowshoeing cuts my speed by a third and takes significant energy. This forces lower mileage days which is frustrating and increases the resources needed to keep me on the trail. At some point, I’ll need to head home for a seasonal break.

However, in the winter Yoop I’ve enjoyed some amazing beauty that rarely is experienced. Where I could make it in to the remote locations, tracks of moose, wolves, bobcats, snowshoe hares and the ubiquitous squirrels, mice, coyotes, fox, and deer were entertaining and educational.

The Sturgeon River was stunning in blue and white. Pictured Rocks sported ice sculptures as well as the multi-colored cliffs. I was able to hike the recently relocated trail in Porcupine Mountain Wilderness State Park that now takes in the Escarpment Trail and Lake of the Clouds. Of course, Tahquamenon Falls is open year round, so many people have seen it framed with ice and frosted hemlocks, but it never disappoints. 

Be assured that no matter when I have to start my seasonal break due to deepening snow, I’ll be back in the spring to finish this hike. 

Mouth of the Two Hearted River. Photo by Joan Young.

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This story is copyrighted © 2022, all rights reserved by Joan Young, Scottville, MI 49454. No portion of this story or images may be reproduced in any way, including print or broadcast, without expressed written consent.

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