Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Pyramid Point on Lake Michigan

The sign at the trailhead said to be on the alert for cougars, which are on the prowl in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on Lake Michigan. But not to worry. There was no way we would be seeing a cougar on this hike. Or a deer. Or a raccoon or fox. Or a chipmunk. Not with the shrieks emanating from my two year old granddaughter, who was in the middle of a tempestuously terrible temper tantrum on the trail. She had been excited about going on a hike with her grandpa and her mom, but for some reason, once we started hiking, within seconds she pitched the mother of all tantrums. My daughter-in-law Sarah and I just looked at each other in frustration and wonder. The only solution seemed to be to carry her, which we ultimately did.

My granddaughter has a happy moment near the start of the hike while making a wish

The hike up went through beautiful northern forests, including these iconic trees of the north, white birches

Sarah told me that Pyramid Point is one of her favorite spots on earth, and she wanted to show it to me and to her daughter. Despite the tantrum, it is a beautiful spot with stunning views of Lake Michigan. We hiked about a kilometer uphill to the point, and decided – for obvious reasons – to not do the 2 mile loop.
The lake was 280 feet below us down a very steep sand cliff. Views were somewhat overcast, as weather was moving in, but we could still see North (pictured below in the distance) and South Manitou Islands.According to a Chippewa legend, a mother bear and her cubs leapt into Lake Michigan long ago to escape a raging forest fire in what we now call Wisconsin. They swam continually eastward, the twin cubs lagging behind until exhaustion overcame them and they drowned. The mother bear dragged herself on shore and climbed a bluff to wait in vain for her offspring. The spot where the mother bear waited was transformed into massive sand dunes and cliffs, and is called Sleeping Bear Dunes, and her cubs were turned into the two Manitou Islands. It is a strikingly beautiful place.

From Pyramid Point, we watched some kids clamber down to the lake, sliding and walking down the steep (close to 60 degrees) sand cliff. “They are nuts!” I said to Sarah. She said “I went down there when I was 18. You should do it! I’ll wait.” I looked at the lake so far below with its tiny beach, and thought, why not? How tough can it be? Hell, it will be a good way to remember my last day at my current age. So I stepped off the edge and was at the lake minutes later, snapping this shot just before reaching the beach.

I explored briefly on the small beach, grimaced as I stared back up the steep slope to where I had to go,
then started back up.

That is when I learned how tough it could be. I was on all fours coming back up, and with each step slid 6-12 inches back down the slope’s soft sand as I pushed off. It was literally two steps forward and one backwards. After 5 minutes, my legs felt like mush, and my lungs were heaving, so I stopped to rest. After that point, it was climb for 1 or 2 minutes, then stop and sit, lungs working like bellows, quads and calves burning, for 5 to 10 minutes. It took me a full 45 minutes to climb back up, and it was one of the most tiring things I ever did. When I got back Sarah said “I was worried you were going to have a heart attack the day before your birthday! I was wondering how I would explain that.” I told her, “Believe me, the thought occurred to me as well. My heart was beating so fast I am sure that it exceeded the maximum heart rate for my age. I can’t believe how tiring that was.”

Several kids who started back up after I did passed me on the climb. But there is no substitution for young legs, plus none of them weighed over 70-80 pounds so that is a lot less foot pounds of energy to burn. There were lots of adults at the top when I got back up, but I was the only one brave, or stupid, enough to go down to the lake. It was a great way to mark the last day of my 57th year! On the hike out, my granddaughter walked cheerfully and without shrieking, her tantrum in the dustbin of terrible-twos temper tantrums. But we still didn’t see a mountain lion, or any other wildlife.


  1. Happy Birthday a day late Art. We are the same age!
    That sounds and looks like a very steep climb up the sand. I probably would have done it too!!
    The photos sure are beautiful.

  2. Thanks HappyOne! It feels good to reach another birthday, each is a nice milestone as a cancer survivor.

    I bet you would have done it. I am glad I did, but it was tougher than I imagined - not at all like just hiking up a big sand dune because it was so steep.

    It is a breathtakingly beautiful spot.