Ad”van”tures: Volume 3, Search and Rescue and Manitou Island

This past Saturday I got the opportunity to travel to one of the more remote regions of the Keweenaw that I’ve always wanted to travel to: Manitou Island.  Manitou Island is a small island off the very tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula.  On the far eastern edge of the island lies the Manitou Island Light Station, sitting on a 93 acre parcel owned by the Keweenaw Land Trust.

My friend, Nathan, is a member of the KLT and needed to head out to the light station to note any items of maintanence that needed ot be taken care of.  We had to watch the forecast quite closely to ensure that the currents and winds would allow us to get out there.  Late Thursday night he got in contact with me and told me Saturday looked like a promising day to head out there.  I planned on meeting him on campus and we would head up to Copper Harbor.

At 6:30 that morning I was awoken abruptly to my pager going off.  After clearing the early morning fog in my head, I listened to the page for a second time.  A search!  I scrambled into the driver’s seat off the van and took off towards Calumet.

I was one of the first to arrive at staging.  I grabbed my gear, and after being briefed, took off into the woods.  The leave on the brush hung low, damp with the dew and rain from the past few hours.  We assembled in a line and took off into the woods.

Making our way through the brush, we searched for any sign of the missing fisherman, but despite our efforts, did not yield any evidence.  After making our way back through the thick underbrush, we debriefed.

The search manager decided to send us out to search the surrounding harbors.  As I was headed to Manitou Island, I would be searching the state harbor at Copper Harbor.  I planned on meeting Nathan at the snow thermometer and from there we would head up north to launch the boat.

After picking me up at the snow thermometer, we drove up to Copper Harbor, commenting on how the rain that rolled in wasn’t forecasted to be here. With no sign of the fisherman, we launched the boat, parked the truck and made our way out into the water.

Mount Brockway disappeared behind the fog as clouds and rain continued to roll in from the west.  Heading east, we avoided the rocks in the shallows around Copper Harbor and made our way onto the lake.  As Copper Harbor left our view, the motor sputtered and died.  Nathan and I nervously laughed as the lake started pitching us up and down.  We pumped fuel into the motor, started it, and headed back to the harbor.


Copper Harbor – After the Rain Cleared

Nathan decided that the issue was with the fuel line, and headed to a friend’s house to borrow a new one.  After a short time, he arrived back to the dock.  We quickly transferred the nozzles on the fuel line and headed back out.

At this point, the clouds had started to break and we were once again at the same spot when the engine sputtered and died.  Noticing that the fuel tank was not properly vented, I opened the vent.  The engine roared back to life as we set course towards Manitou.

Circling around from the north, we reached the eastern tip and began photographing the lighthouse.  After taking enough pictures, Nathan pointed the boat towards the calmer waters of the bay, docking with the island a few minutes later.


Nathan and his Lighthouse

We walked along the trail into the woods.  Nathan pointed out he various botanical interests on the island like Devil’s Cane and copious amounts of Spanish Moss.  The undergrowth of the forest soon gave way to the lake, a clear blue sky, and a light house.  We arrived!

The rhythmic chopping of a helicopter grew louder.  We sprinted towards the of the island, pulling our cameras out.  The coast guard helicopter, searching for the missing fisherman, made a slow pass over the island.  The crew members waved as Nathan and I shot photos of the passing chopper.  It soon vanished out of sight and we walked towards the lighthouse to check out the inside.

First, we explored the fog house.  A dilapidated building, the fog house held the fog horn on the island to warn ships of the rocks and shallow waters in the area.  The building was falling down, which revealed a very interesting paper insulation designed to minimize noise.  Nathan revealed that a historical architect had only seen this insulation used in one other location- the gas chambers of Auschwitz….

We moved onto the main light station next.  With boarded up windows, the first and second floors were difficult to see and photograph in the dark.  However, I was surprised at how pristine of a condition the light house was in. The KLT keeps supplies there, as does the Coast Guard, for any worker has to spend an overnight trip to service the light station. We made our way up the winding stair case to the top of the light house.  Words don’t really describe the view, so hopefully this picture helps.


Looking back towards the Keweenaw.  Mount Brockway and East Bluff are partially visible in the background.

After lingering and discussing the lighthouse Nathan was working on purchasing with his non-profit organization, we slowly made our way back to the boat.  After departing the island, we attempted to head around the south side, but as we left the lava flow that formed the Keweenaw and got on a more open stretch of water, the waves picked up.  Wisely, we pointed the boat towards Copper Harbor and dispelled any thoughts of continuing further.

But that didn’t stop us from doing a bit more exploring.  We circled Gull Rock, taking photographs of another lighthouse in the area before making our way into the harbor.  After loading the boat on the trailer, we drove down US-41, satisfied with pristine wilderness adventure that we were fortunate enough to experience.


Parting shot – Gull Rock Lighthouse


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