Posted on April 13, 2019
Hey everyone! In my last post, I told you a little about my connection to Grand Marais and my history of hiking around the nearby Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Today, I thought I’d continue with that idea, and tell you about an experience I had fairly recently. Four years ago, to be exact.
I was visiting Grand Marais all by myself. I called it my “mom-cation”. Being a mother of two teenagers, going anywhere without my family in tow was a novel idea for me. It had been a long time since I’d ventured out on my own and I had a lot planned for those four days: attending a wedding, a funeral (obviously NOT originally on my agenda, but, y’know, shit happens), and my hometown’s graduation ceremony. In between all these activities, I planned on getting out in the woods as much as I could. It was May, it had been a warm spring and the snow was gone, even in the woods – and I had a bad case of cabin fever. I get that way every year. By the time spring rolls around, I just want to be outside (and not freezing my butt off) so, so bad.
Although my dad, my sister (and her kids) and my best friend (and her kids) all live in Grand Marais, I decided to go for a solo hike one day. It was a beautiful sunny day, but not warm. I layered up, packed my camera and lunch in a backpack, and drove out to the Sable Falls parking lot. My plan for the day? Head down the falls trail to get some photos, then go hang out on the sand dunes where I would find a nice sunny spot to eat my lunch.
Due to the recent snow melt, the river was running high and the falls were overflowing. It made for some gorgeous photos. I had the trail to myself, it being so early in the season, so I was able to hang around and take as many photos as I wanted. I played around with my tripod, and the various settings on my camera. Finally, I headed back up the trail. Going down the falls trail is easier than coming back up. Why? Steps. There are lots and lots of steps. To be precise, there are 168 steps to climb. I know, because I’ve counted them, every time I’ve climbed them, and I’ve climbed them many, many times since I was a kid. Do you do that? Does anyone not do that? Are there people out there who actually climb a ton of steps like that, without counting each and every step?
To get to the dunes, I followed the trail through the property my family still calls “the farm.” It was family property back when my dad was a kid, along with quite a bit of sand dunes. When the park was created in the 60’s, the property was purchased from my great-grandpa and he ended up buying a house and lovely beach property in town instead. My dad and his siblings can still walk around and point out where the buildings were and where the gardens were. When I was little, we found a frying pan where the cook shack used to be.
Up on the dunes, I looked around, just taking in the calm, the beauty, and the view that stretches on forever of dunes, woods, and the beautiful Lake Superior. Except, I realized the view did not stretch on forever……there was a fog rolling over the hills. It was thickest closer to the water. I could still see the lake, but barely. I picked a dune in the distance for my lunch spot, and started down the trail towards it. Half an hour later, I realized the trail veered in a different direction, and I decided to blaze my own. Right here, I’m going to pause a moment and remind everyone that blazing your own trail is typically not a good idea. We all know that, right? It’s easy to get lost when you don’t have a trail to follow. Especially if, like me, you don’t carry a compass. Dumb, I know. And yet I was confident I would reach my lunch spot. I just had to make sure to check my location every time I crested each hill. Easy, peasy, right? Well, usually yes. If it had remained a beautiful sunny day, it really would have been an uneventful walk. But the fog just grew thicker and thicker. Before I could reach my chosen spot, it had completely closed in on me. I could barely see the top of the next hill.
In my previous post, I told you about the tree that could lead you back to the farm. Well, fog is a major problem with that navigation plan. I was suddenly lost in fog in the middle of the Sable Dunes. I’m not gonna lie, I was a little scared. The Grand Sable Dunes cover 3200 acres -that’s a lot of land to get lost in. I had to talk myself down from the rising panic attack. The me-to-me conversation went something like this:
- Breathe, Rachel, breathe. What do we know?
- OK, ok. (taking deep breaths). OK. I know that I can’t see the tree at the farm. My phone doesn’t have service here, so no GPS, and no way to call for help.
- What did we observe earlier, about the fog?
- The fog? The fog…..(I looked around)…..is thicker, closer to the water! So….I have to walk INTO the thicker fog? (my inner voice was getting a little panicky, so I took some more deep breaths). I have to walk into the fog. OK.
The fog may have been thinner, away from the lake, but I had completely lost track of the trail, and I knew that meant I would have a good chance of getting more lost…..lost-er? Yeah, I would have been in a worse situation. Like I said, 3200 acres is a lot of land to get lost in. So, into the fog I went. It was only about 10 minutes later that I came to the ridge leading down to the beach. I’m not the praying type, but by golly I was thanking God at that sight! I was a bit premature in my thanks.
“The Grand Sable Banks rise to heights of up to 300ft, at a 35-degree angle from the shore of Lake Superior.”
~ Wikipedia ~
I don’t know how high this particular spot was, but it was heavily eroded. My first step down the side of dune, I sunk into ultra-soft, freshly eroded sand, clear up to my hip. Cue the previously-avoided panic attack. Every step was a hip-deep struggle, accompanied by the constant flow of panic driven thoughts that sounded something like this:
“Oh my god, this is how I’m going to die. This is it. I’m going to be buried in sand and suffocate to death.”
Now, put that on repeat, and you have some idea of my mindset. When I reached the bottom, I actually had to take a few minutes, sit down on the rocks and cry, out of relief. I did take a few pictures of where I had come down, but the pictures don’t do it justice. If I had been in the right frame of mind, I would have made use of the tripod that was strapped to my back, and gotten a picture of myself standing near the erosion site. I drew me in there for scale reference. Hahaha!
The rest was easy and thankfully, uneventful. There were a few spots here and there that sand and trees from erosion blocked the whole beach, forcing me to walk in the water. But I couldn’t have cared less at that point. I was alive!! Below are some photos of other erosion sites along my walk, as well as other foggy photos from later in the day, when I got back to town. In the comments, tell me about a mis-adventure you’ve had! And remember to follow this blog and find me on social media to keep up on my adventures!