Backpacking North Manitou Island.

I spent Fathers Day weekend on a wilderness backpacking trip to the Manitou Islands in northern Michigan with a few close friends and my youngest son . One of those friends, Bill, holds Technition License KE8LHT.

North and South Manitou Islands are part of an island chain that extends north from Sleeping Bear Dunes to the Straits of Mackinac. South Manitou is approximately 16 miles west of Leland, and 8.277 square miles in land area. North Manitou Island lies to its north, approximately 12 miles from Leland, and has a land area of 22.346 square miles. They are part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lake Shore.

Our track around North Manitou.

South Manitou is a more family friendly island with available day trips and designated camping spots with vault toilets.  There is a lighthouse and several buildings to see and numerous miles of beaches and trails to explore.

North Manitou has several buildings and historical places to visit however there are only one set of vault toilets and one potable source of water right up front by the dock.  After you enter the trees, you’re in the wilderness area and very much on your own.

My son Jensen.

We started out at 3:30am on Thursday from my house in order to make the morning day trip boat to South Manitou at 10am.  Manitou Island Transit is the government sanctioned ferry service to the islands, and they run a regular schedule all summer into the fall.  They run round trip on Sun, Wed, Fri until July 1st, then twice a day every day.

The Mishe-Mokwa

This is where things derailed.  They canceled the boat!  Winds were 40 plus on the water, and they won’t go out.  A quick phone call to my loving wife and she sprang in to action finding us a nearby state park to camp in.  Leelanau State Park was our spot for the night. We were unable to camp on South Manitou thus cutting out one of my SOTA activations. I made the best of it. zzzzzzzzzz.

The next morning, we headed back to the docks and success!  We left the dock on the Mishe-Mokwa towards South Island.  After a quick stop to unload and reload, we were off to North Manitou for 3 days and two nights.

South Manitou Dock: Several People had been stuck overnight on the island because of the boat cancelation.

My plan was to activate the SOTA summit, W8M/LP-0031 and K-0767, K-6728 POTA entities at the same time on North Manitou.  

We left the docks for a 7.5 mile stretch of the legs to the west side on the island.  We hit the beach with a thud!  After a short time we found a nice camping spot overlooking the beach and set up camp.  

Tired Hikers.

We had a wonderful time sitting on the shore watching the sun set and eating our evening meal.  What a peaceful night.  The weather had been perfect and would continue throughout the trip.  65-70 in the day and 50 at night with not many bugs.

Jensen enjoying the view.

The next morning I awoke to a trail of gear that I recognized as my sons.  He has a habit of leaving a trail of stuff everywhere he goes.  He had taken a cold dip in Lake Michigan and a walk down the beach.  I awoke to my cooking set up laying outside my tent. This child is definitely an early riser.

We folded up camp and headed north through the forest to reach the high point where I could set up and operate.  Bill and I split from the group and headed up to the summit while they went on to get water from the north coast.

Some of the trails are maintained and some are not.  This one was not.  We climbed over a ton of deadfall and ducked under tree limbs to get to our destination.  Of course I being the tallest had the hardest time with the trees.

K8DRT in the natural operating environment.

My radio choice for this trip came down to weight and size.  With my KX2 in the capable hands of the Elecraft technicians, (I recieved it after 5 months) I was left with only one choice, My LNR Precision MTR4B-V2.3.  Weighing in at a svelte 7.9 oz it was the best choice in my arsenal of QRP radios.  

By comparison the FT-817 came in over two pounds without a battery and the KX3 was well over a pound with the mic.  Add in a key plus accessories and neither of those would work out.  besides, those two as well as the IC-705 are too bulky for the pack.  

LNR Precision MTR4B V2.3 and the N0SA SOTA Paddles.

My kit consisted of the MTR4B, N0SA SOTA Paddles, a 450mah Lipo Battery, Packtenna 20/40 EFHW, 25’ of RG-316, (I later tested 3′ and 10′ lengths and found the 10′ worked equally as well) SOTAbeams Carbon 6 and various other accessories including an N6ARA emergency paddle set.  All in the kit weighed in at 2lbs ish.

For main power I brought along my Powerfilm Lightsaver Max.  Weighing in at 1.5 lbs it was my first choice.  It has a 5.5ah 12v battery capacity and is capable of charging two USB powered devices while at the same time putting out 12v for my radio.  The built-in panel is a 10-watt, high efficiency design that outputs at least some energy even in lower light than monocrystalline panels at well under half the weight.  

PowerFilm LightSaver Max

It can recharge the battery in 8-10 hours depending on the light.  I’ve found that unless you keep it pointed directly at the sun, this is not a reliable figure. While hiking and camping, the best I could expect is to recharge my phone, GoPro, GPS and a couple of hours of radio over the weekend.  I rarely had it in optimal conditions and it ran out of juice on my last morning after charging my devices.  

Other options included taking along a 30-watt panel which when plugged in to the Lightsaver Max should charge it in about 3 hours under optimal conditions.  I own a Bioenno 30-watt foldable which is substantially heavier than the Powerfilm rollable or foldable versions, but one third the price.  

Just taking along a larger battery would not have been pleasant. Even a LiFePo battery and accompanying USB connections of the size needed to do all of that would have been heavy by comparison.

In the end I was able to make 11 contacts one day and a failed attempt with 5 contacts the next while waiting for the boat to pick us up. Thus completing the activation of the SOTA summit and both Park references for one day. We arrived on the main land late in the afternoon on the final day and headed home.

Night 2 at Lake Manitou.
Jensen fishing Lake Manitou.

It was a great trip. Not a Amateur Radio specific trip, that was an afterthought really, but a great trip. Friends out camping in the wilderness enjoying nature and telling stories. Time to unplug and unwind, reset and recenter yourself. I was able to spend quality time with my son and help him discover his ability to live without modern conveniences and amenities. Mine to I guess.

If you’re looking for a great adventure to “Get away from it all” so to speak, this is the trip for you. You won’t regret it one bit.




2 responses to “Backpacking North Manitou Island.”

  1. Fantastic trip!


    1. It certainly was. We are in the process of planning next year’s Father’s Day adventure. Possibly Pictured Rocks. The 42 mile section of the North Country Trail starts in Grand Marais and you get off the trail in Munising. They have shuttles from Munising to any portion of the trail. Drop you car in Munising and hike back to it.


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