Fastest Known Time: North Country Trail, Upper Peninsula Section of Michigan
Completed by: Ian Nostrant and Clayton Barker
Mileage: 543 Miles
Self-supported Time: 11 Days, 7 Hours, 34 Minutes, 51 Seconds
(Start: 10/18/21 @ 5:51:00am EST, End: 10/29/21 @ 1:25:51 EST)
The North Country Trail (NCT) Upper Peninsula (U.P.) section of Michigan was beautiful. Ian and I went Eastbound on this 543 mile hike. Starting at the Wisconsin/Michigan border early in the morning, while everything was dark and the noise of wolves echoed over to us from the woods. This hike started off with about a 28 mile road walk. Ian and myself wanted to capitalize on this factor and try to push a big day out of the gates, which we did hitting around 50 miles that day according to my Strava, though according to maps 47 miles (we used the maps to record all of our daily mileages but want to acknowledge the fact that they may not be 100% accurate). Both of us were in good spirits that first day and we eventually rolled into the Porcupine Mountains, one of Michigan’s fabled state parks.
The Porkies, as nicknamed, offered good trail shaded by towering hemlock trees, the ground offering us cushion between the fall leaves and wet ground. Though as most FKTs go, we were out of the Porkies in less than a day and into the Trap hills, located in Ottawa National Forest. The trap hills provided us with challenge, especially when it became dark. Quick and steep up and downs, covered in wet rocks, roots and nicely placed leaves to hide all of the above. Hiking the Trap Hills in the dark, or in the light consistently challenged our footing and endurance to maintain high mileage while also succumbing to a slower pace due to the technicality of the trail. Though, we found solace here, as it was remote, quiet and covered in pulchritude as the leaves brilliantly transcended the forest into a painting of color.
To both of our surprise, the Upper Peninsula was more technical than imagined as well as hilly. Though the hills may not be large, they were consistent and as steep as a hill could be, this took a toll on our Achilles, and knees but progression was inevitable.
A particularly hard day came to us after the end of day 3 as it started down pouring. This to us was possibly the lowest point in the hike. The rain came down so hard and both of us couldn’t seem to stay dry through the night. Lackluster sleep, wet sleeping bags and the shivers surely exhausted us for the next day though we proceeded to gun it forward.
We passed by many of Michigan’s waterfalls and eventually made it into Craig Lake State Park and the McCormick Wilderness. Craig Lake State park was nice, smooth and with wide trails, easy to follow with plenty of water around. On the other hand the McCormick wilderness follows true to its name of wild. There were no blazes and frankly both of us were very pleased to have gotten through this area in the daylight as it would’ve been very messy to follow the leaf buried trail in the dark with no blazes. The McCormick offers a truly wild feeling to it though, if I were to run into a mountain lion or bear in Michigan that would be the location. As daylight faded and darkness succumbed we found ourselves in a moisture dense environment around the Silver Lake Basin, west of county road 510 in Marquette. To us, this was a frustrating end to the night of day 5. These mountains offered no beauty as we could see nothing due to the time of day, but in return were offered a great amount of steep elevation change, rocks, and roots with the occasional, “Hey, cross this river on a wobbly wet log!”
We bounced back after this rough night though and it was somewhat easy to do knowing we’d be going to town for the first time in 6 days. The morning was cold, probably below freezing and we both patiently waited on the sun to come up. I was excited for day six because this would be the day through the U.P. where’d we’d get to hike through the Marquette area, which is where I reside. The familiarity of trails and the possibility of running into someone I knew in these more popular areas of hiking gave myself a boost of energy, as well as the thought of domino’s pizza later that night.
After passing through Marquette we started feeling good, imagining ourselves on the shoreline of Lake Superior walking through Pictured Rocks National park- just a day away. The National park proved itself beautiful. Fall colors, a lake overcome by whitecaps and wind and even the occasional tourist which at this point felt good to run into as this hike had been one of solitude. We cruised through the park and continued to hike along the lake for another day or so on and off, through jack pine forest, sandy trails and even a few burn areas.
Eventually we passed through Tahquamenon Falls State Park, this waterfall is big and tainted with colors from mineral deposits. The trail through here was also much more difficult than anticipated though this was due to overuse and erosion, but surely vexed me.
It was during this time period when we started heading south towards the bridge rather than just east, as we had been consistently been doing. Ian and myself felt exhausted during this time period but got the urge to push, and ended up doing 83.5 miles straight to the finish. This took us around 28 hours and we managed to take around a 20 minute nap at some point in the middle of the night. The push through the night was difficult, and what seemed even harder was once the sun came up as we had about 10 miles left. We kept pushing though, exhausted, sleep deprived and in pain eventually making it to the visitor parking lot for the Mackinaw bridge, the end of our hike.
(as per the mile markers of the official NCT maps on Avenza)
- 10/18: 47
- 10/19: 45.5
- 10/20: 41.5
- 10/21: 45
- 10/22: 45.5
- 10/23: 47
- 10/24: 42
- 10/25: 45
- 10/26: 51
- 10/27: 51
- 10/28: 70
- 10/29: 13.5* (Part of continuous 83 mile push to finish)
This is incredible! Do you guys have a background as competitive runners or have you done a lot of thru-hiking before? Amazing accomplishment!
Very inspiring, this is something that has been on my bucket list to attempt just to finish, not an FKT ;)
if you wouldnt mind reaching out in support please email me, firstname.lastname@example.org, i would love to hear from someone with first hand experience!