Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 46.80711°N / 89.74809°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Jan 12, 2007
Activities Activities: Hiking
Seasons Season: Winter

Hiking through the Porkie's with Dan and Tom

On The Edge

I’ve never hiked in the Porcupine Mountains during the winter before and I’ve definitely never tried winter camping up there, nor have I ever tried winter camping before at all, so this was unquestionably going to be an adventure. We had it all planned out weeks in advance; who was going to bring what, how much food were we going to need, what kind of clothes should we pack so we don’t freeze to death. When we set out, we knew we were prepared.
Lake of the Clouds

Getting There

A great advantage to visiting a state park in Michigan's Upper Peninsula is that it's almost guaranteed to be remote with beautiful back-country settings. The Porkies are no exception. The big cities of the midwest such as Milwaukee WI, Duluth MN, and Detriot MI are all at least 150 miles from these Lake Superior hills. Located 15 miles west of Ontonagon on M-107, this pristine wilderness is truly a must see if you're ever in the UP.

Heading into the wilderness

Picture with the Sign

Planning on hiking the Escarpment trail up to the Lake of the Clouds we promptly arrived at the park around noon and stopped by the Ranger Station to check in and pay for our camping permit for the weekend. Everything went really smooth, the ranger asked us about our tents, sleeping bags, and backpacks so in case they needed to send out a search and rescue team for us they at least knew what kind of gear to look for. She gave us a bunch of park maps and wished us luck. A short drive down the road took us to the trailhead parking lot near Cuyahoga Creek where we bundled up and strapped on the packs. Each of us snapped a few quick pictures by the car then we were off into the wilderness to live and experience the awesome forces of nature in their true glory.

The hike begins

Losing Layers

Well it definitely felt pretty cold when we first got out of the car but as this trip would undoubtedly teach us time and again it was going to be a constant battle between being too hot or too cold. After about a 100 yards down the trail we made our first stop to strip off several unnecessary layers then we were back on our way. At first we feared that this trip wouldn’t give us a true appreciation of winter camping at it’s finest, what with the lack of snow and all we really thought it’d turn out lame…We were definitely wrong on that one but I’ll be the first to admit I’m glad we were. It turned out to be a good foot of fresh powdered snow and it continued to fall the entire time we were there. Talk about the perfect time to go camping.

Lunch time

Setting up for Lunch

Sometime around two o’clock we stopped to have a quick lunch break. If there’s anything I learned about winter camping, it’s that doing things probably takes at least three times longer to do than if it were summer. What we originally thought was going to be a short lunch turned out be about an hour long stop. When considering which gloves to buy don’t sink down to the $20 Wal-mart brand, take it from me, they’re right when they say, “You get what you pay for”. After lighting up the stove to boil water for the ramen, I noticed that I couldn’t feel my fingers anymore. It took about ten minutes of sitting around with the gloves back on until that painful stinging sensation started coursing through them. But I will say it was a good early learning lesson on winter survival and preparing ahead to figure in more time for basic tasks. Overall no harm done and eventually we were packed up and back on our way.

The escarpment

Hiking through the Woods
First Glimpse on the Escarpment

After an hour or two of hiking through the woods, up and down hills, in and out of the constant snowfall, we arrived up on the escarpment. Talk about a breathtaking view. The hills were rolling in the gray mist, the snow was falling lightly, and everything was just covered in beautiful fluffy powder. We tried our best to keep a nice relaxed pace going, always cautious to not start sweating and around four o’clock we reached our campsite for the night. Located right up on the escarpment, a person couldn’t ask for a much better view from their tent considering we’re in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Overlooking the Lake of the Clouds to the south and the river valley to the east, I honestly couldn’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be at that point in time.


Setting up Camp

Everything was going according to plan. We arrived at the site by four which gave us at least two more hours of daylight to set up the tents, collect firewood, and start making supper. Since we had just finished hiking in, getting a fire started wasn’t our top priority so we started with the tents. Tents went up in a jiffy and then we moved into the trees to collect the firewood for the night. Again we operated real efficiently and quickly had a large pile of nice dry wood ready to be burnt. Soon after we got the fire going and made dinner as the last glimpse of day faded into cloud filled night. I never really thought about it before but 14 hours of darkness is a really long time when you’re out in the woods with nothing particular to do except concentrate on staying warm and keeping the fire going.
At the Fire

Sweet dreams?...

Now I want to be honest, up to this point I was comfortably warm in all my winter apparel. Two pairs of socks, long-johns, snow pants, a polypropylene t-shirt, two different fleece jacket mid-layers, jacket shell, balaclava, winter hat, and my winter gloves all bundled up and ready to take on the world. But when I crawled into my sleeping bag liner inside of my sleeping bag on top of my sleeping pad inside the four-season tent, after about an hour or so I was really starting to cool down quick. It started with my toes and continued by sending constant shivers down my spine. Even curled into a ball inside my 20 degree mummy bag fully enclosed I still became really cold. This was without a doubt one of the longest nights of my life but I look back on it now and I can definitely say it was one of my most memorable. I learned a lot about winter camping lying there in my tent that night and I’m already looking forward to more experiences somewhat similar to this one. ;)
Happy to be Spending the Night?

The next morning

Good Morning Dan
Running Laps

Yep, we survived the night. There were times when I thought that might not be the case but in the end we did just fine. The call of nature finally became too unbearable for me around 7:30 a.m. and I slowly crawled out of the tent to attend to some business. After spending the next few hours trying to revive the feeling in my frozen toes we eventually got the campsite cleaned up and packed away. Fresh snow was boiled to create more drinking water for the day ahead and several laps were ran around the site to get the blood flowing once again. Our plan for the day was to make it over to the Lake of the Clouds then all the way back out to the car and home. We broke camp and got moving by 10:30 a.m.

Lake of the Clouds

I Love Winter

In order to hike the six miles back to the car before nightfall we decided that wherever we were at 12:30 we were going to turn around and start heading out. We wanted to try and make it all the way down to the shores of the frozen lake but time constrictions prevented us from traveling that far. When 12:30 hit we were halfway around the lake up on the ridge above it. Everyone took some nice scenery pictures then we turned around and started the long hike back. The Lake of the Clouds looked absolutely beautiful frozen over and piled with fresh snow. We got to see what we came for and no one was disappointed with the early turn around. Winter can be so amazing in these hills and I’m thankful for the opportunity to be witness to its majesty.
The Escarpment

A successful adventure

The Fire

I’ve never experienced winter camping before this trip so I couldn’t truly judge or even appreciate the amazing joy it can bring someone who takes the time to respect it’s beauty and simplicity. I’ve come to realize also that with that beauty, hardship and pain can be a real factor to those who don’t prepare. I learned a lot from my time spent in the woods and I will continue to look forward to more adventures in the awesome presence of the mountains.
Hero Shot

Porcupine Mountain Links

Porcupine Mountains Convention and Visitor Bureau
Porcupine Mountains Official Website


Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-12 of 12

Holsti97 - Jan 16, 2007 10:42 am - Voted 10/10

Just raised my vote.

I wanted more pictures for a 10 and now you have added them. Sounds like a very cool hike. I need to get up to the Porkies someday. I hear that it is wonderful. What would you do different to stay warmer at night?


stinkycheezman33 - Jan 16, 2007 2:35 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: Just raised my vote.

the porcupine mountains are quite wonderful indeed!
i had a 20 degree bag with a fleece liner and i was plenty problem was finding a non-lumpy area to sleep :)
also, if we had been able to keep a better fire going (any suggestions on getting dry wood in winter?) we could have stayed much warmer before bed...all in all it was not awful though, and the cold was bearable enough to make it a very enjoyable experience


KRomanIV - Jan 16, 2007 4:59 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Just raised my vote.

Thank you for the vote, this was my first time making a trip report so it took me a little bit to figure out how I wanted to have it layed out. The Porkies are beautiful and luckily right in my backyard. The only time I got really cold was during the night in my tent and I think that was primarily because my feet were touching up against my nalgenes stored at the bottom of the sleeping bag. A few more pairs of thick wool socks or maybe some winter bootys would have done the trick for keeping me warm. Next time, right? :)


TLeFev - Jan 21, 2007 3:42 am - Voted 10/10

Re: Just raised my vote.

I actually brought a set of clothes exclusively for sleeping (no sweat or dust), as I was told this was very important. However, I had to store all my "day clothes" in the sleeping bag even if they were a little damp, to prevent them from getting icy. They served as good insulation, so I stayed relatively warm, but it just seemed a little unnecessary to put different clothes on.

I woke up several times feeling a little chilly (because of the slightly damp day clothes?), so I tensed and untensed all my muscles over and over again. It really does help you warm up and get back to sleep for a little while longer (I gratefully got about 7 hours of sleep, in 1-1.5 hour intervals).

One more thing: if you bring any of those handy-dandy "hot hands" heat pads, put one between your liner sock and wool sock BEFORE you get out of the sleeping bag. Let them warm your feet up before you don your incredibly cold boots.

Arthur Digbee

Arthur Digbee - Jan 18, 2007 8:12 pm - Voted 10/10

Great Report

Sounds like a great trip, and it's good to hear an honest appraisal of what went right or wrong.

But what route did you take? Obviously you ended up on the Escarpment. Did you come up Big Carp or do the Mirror Lake route?


KRomanIV - Jan 19, 2007 2:47 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Great Report

Thanks for the vote and the respond, I tried to be as honest about the trip as I could. We originally planned to do the Lake Superior loop that connects with the Big Carp River trail but due to unplowed access roads and our under-estimation of snowfall we quickly decided to change to a nice relaxing trip on the Escarpment Trail up to the Lake of the Clouds. The trailhead started at a parking lot near the Cuyahoga Creek. I think it was about 6 miles in then we returned by the same route. I totally forgot to add a section about our route and getting there so thanks for bringing that to my attention. peace.


dwhike - Feb 6, 2007 8:25 pm - Voted 10/10


report and awesome pics. Its really incredible the lack of snow this year. The Porkies are usually buried under 3-4' of snow by January. I've want to get over to the Porkies or Pictured Rocks this winter but I'm running out of time! Thanks for making it painfully clear what I'm missing out on:) Great report! Cheers,


KRomanIV - Feb 7, 2007 4:21 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Nice...

Thanks a lot Dan. I've always loved the Porcupine Mountains and getting a chance to experience them in the winter was absolutely amazing. I've a good feelin' the snow will come soon...hopefully you get a chance to make it over this way, it's definitely worth it. Peace


catpower - Dec 19, 2007 3:19 pm - Voted 10/10

cold mtn

!!! This is damn random, so let me explain...
One of your pictures from this post showed up on Google when i was at work looking at pictures of MI, the porcupine mtns specifically as suggested to by a friend who was raised in MI. I find it so beautiful! so i saw the picture of you..or whomever standing in front of the fire at what looks to be dusk and i made an account just so that i could tell you what an amazing picture that is!!!! Well all of them really. I've never been winter camping or backpacking in the snow like this. I've done a great deal of hiking yosemite, half dome, around many lakes and into the wilderness up north of here to waterfalls and the like. This blog will be sweet to get going with pictures i have and stuff...but so that you know, you made me do it! Thank you!
The name is Lindsay btw. nice to meet you!


KRomanIV - Dec 19, 2007 6:36 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: cold mtn

haha, that was an awesome message Lindsay, thanks for the comments. Winter camping was amazing and this trip was the first time I actually tried it and i can say i honestly love it. A few friends of mine are going up into the Keweenaw of MI in about a month for another round of winter camping and i'm really looking forward to that. I'd love to get out west and do some hiking up in the "real" mountains someday, so time will tell what comes of that. You'll have to let me know when you get your pictures put up so I can check them out.

Great to meet ya,


eruselow - Jul 16, 2008 12:05 pm - Voted 10/10


Awesome trip report, awesome pics. I grew up in Ann Arbor and always loved going up to the Porkies.


KRomanIV - Aug 19, 2008 9:47 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Porkies

Thanks for commenting, I've been up to the Porkies quite a few times now and I absolutely love it there. This winter camping trip was intense but by far one of my favorite camping experiences. The boys and I weren't quite prepared for extended winter camping but we sure did have a blast giving it a try. We've done a few more winter excursions since then but the talk around the campfire seems to always come back to "remember that one time in the porkies" :)


Viewing: 1-12 of 12



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