Trekking the North Country Trail: Finishing the UP

June 26, 2023

Sturgeon River Rapids

Trekking the North Country Trail: Finishing the UP

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. Young, 74, was the first woman to completely hike the NCT, completing 20 years of segmented hikes in 2010. 

She began her trek at the Manistee National Forest’s Timber Creek Campground on US 10 in Lake County. Though she was unable to continuously hike the trail, due to weather, she did complete her trek on June 18, 2023, ending where she began. Joan plans to submit a story about her final stretch in the very near future. But, first, she has submitted her account of finishing her hike of the Upper Peninsula. 

Two friends, Bill and David, and I met at the lovely Bob Lake Campground on an early June day to finish hiking the North Country Trail miles of my quest that I had to abandon to deep snow. 

Hikers Bill Courtois, Joan Young, David Snoek (photo by Connie Julien)

The very first afternoon, we climbed Bergland Hill, the highest single climb on the NCT in Michigan at 700 feet. After that it was all downhill. And if you believe that, I’ll suggest you don’t know the Upper Peninsula. In truth, that climb was nicely graded, and we walked right up it. It was followed by days of 200-300-foot ups and downs at angles that challenged our lungs and knees. But we were rewarded with some spectacular views from the Trap Hills.

The best news of the trip was that there were no longer 40 inches of snow on the ground. That was what had persisted over the winter. Then, just for kickers, the skies let loose with one late snowfall. Herman, Michigan, just barely east of where we were hiking, set a record with 52 inches of new snow falling in one storm, from April 29 to May 2. Since records have been kept, dating from the mid-1800s, this is the heaviest May snowfall ever, east of the Rockies. 

Then, just after this storm, there was a week of record high temperatures melting the snow like ice cream in the sun. The streams and rivers became torrents of destruction, tearing out bridges and culverts. Several access points we needed were no longer accessible. The Governor requested disaster relief for every county we needed to traverse. So, going back to the UP in May was out of the question. Slowly, reports of repairs and trail clearing trickled in, and we decided that the 106 miles I needed to finish would probably be do-able.

June was feasible. Except for the mosquitoes. I said Bob Lake Campground was beautiful. It was also uninhabitable. Halfway through our hike, we moved to a motel. We couldn’t tolerate another evening of huddling in a tent, unable to leave to visit the latrine or get something from a car without letting in a new hoard that would need to be killed upon return. 

Norwich Bluff from another vantage point in the Trap Hills

The Trap Hills is a long rocky bluff that stands to the north of the many branches of the Ontonagon River. It is so named from the “Copper Trap Range,” a term that indicates the volcanic origin of the rocks where the hot gases floated copper and silver up from the earth’s depths and trapped them in the cooling lava. 

Supposedly the highest bluff in Michigan is the Norwich Bluff, an almost sheer face. The NCT climbs leisurely up its back side. However, we apparently weren’t satisfied with the number of hills we had climbed. At the end of one hiking day, we took a spur, called the Mule Trail, down the front of the bluff to reach a parking area. This saved us from a 13-mile day the next day. We think it was worth it even though we had to climb back up the next morning. 

The eastern portion of our hike was nearly flat. Rare plants, lovely wetlands, more mosquitoes, the Sturgeon River, and Canyon Falls dotted our pathway.

Other than the airborne menace, the hike was wonderful. We even got to remove the head nets and gloves on the final day. Under six miles of this hike remain. I’ll share the conclusion with one more tale in this series .

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This story is copyrighted © 2023, 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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