Taking the road less traveled is always best when it brings you to Pyramid Point’s secluded beach. Follow Tim Mulherin as he shares his past boating adventure from Leland Harbor, past Whaleback Natural Area, across Good Harbor Bay and finally anchoring at Pyramid Point.
In my home office desk in Indianapolis rests a special keepsake: a palm-sized triangular piece of limestone. Intentionally, it’s been placed next to a copy of naturalist Loren Eiseley’s collection of essays, “The Immense Journey,” a personal favorite. The stone commemorates an afternoon in the summer of 2010 when my Traverse City friend Craig, my wife, Janet, and I ventured out to Pyramid Point, not by the usual route—exiting M-22, parking at the foot of the hill and hiking up to see the breathtaking vista of Lake Michigan and the Manitou Islands—but by making landfall via boat on the beach below. The stone bears an inscription I made with a black Sharpie on four of its five sides (leaving the base untouched): Pyramid
Point; Good Harbor Bay; Tim, Janet, Craig; 7.12.10.

Back then, Craig owned a used but well-maintained Boston Whaler Montauk, and he wanted to take the 17-foot watercraft out on Lake Michigan to see how it would handle. On that July day, the Great Lake’s surface was animated by 1-to 2-foot waves, well within the unsinkable Whaler’s capability, and calm enough for a decent day trip. Craig called me around 7 a.m. with an invitation to join him “We’ll motor over to the beach in Good Harbor Bay beneath Pyramid Point. Never been there before. Why not?” “Why not” is the only reason we ever needed to do anything adventurous together.

We launched out of Leland Harbor, leaving the protection of its U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-constructed stone piling breakwater and entered open water, the ever- beckoning Manitou Islands to the west. The summer day was splendid, with a light northerly breeze and plenty of sun giving a bejeweled glaze to the surface of the lake. We stayed within a quarter-mile of the shoreline, passing Whaleback, the hill resembling its namesake that makes up the Whaleback Natural Area, as we made our way across Good Harbor Bay toward our destination: Pyramid Point’s secluded beach.

Janet and I have hiked the just-over-a-mile Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Pyramid Point trail many times over the years. It takes about 20 minutes to traverse the uphill path through the remnants of a spent orchard and the beech-maple and pine woods surrounding the trail. Then, almost suddenly, you’ve reached the top of the bluff. And below you are Lake Michigan’s aquamarine waters stretching off into the horizon.

During one Pyramid Point hike about five years ago, Janet and I made the ascent and emerged into the small clearing that opens up to the dramatic Lake Michigan panorama. As happens during the summer in such precious havens of tranquility, they become more public: we were not alone. Already there—we were the intruders this time—was a group of Mennonites taking in the view. It appeared to be a family: a mother, father, grandparents and five girls, ranging in age from perhaps 8 to 16.

As is their way, the Mennonite girls were wearing plainly beautiful pastel-colored summer dresses in yellow, green, blue, violet and pink with white bonnets. Unlike some tourists with their other-people-be-damned behavior, the girls were politely reserved as they gazed at the islands, pointing at features on the Manitous and out in the water, including the navigational Crib in the Manitou Passage, several sailboats, seagulls and cormorants winging by. This was a Norman Rockwell painting come to life. Their serene appreciation for the moment enhanced that of our own. If only all visitors would leave this type of impression: loving it all while disturbing nothing.

We were about 50 yards offshore when Craig cut the motor. “There are some huge boulders around here. So we’re going to have to swim in,” he explained.

I hurled out the fore anchor; Craig tossed the aft. They easily found purchase in the sandy bottom. Flippers, masks and snorkels on, we slipped into the opaque wave-driven water, careful not to be knocked about by the bobbing boat. The water was shallow, perhaps 5 feet deep, as we propelled our way in, hands searching blindly for and finding large rocks immediately below, careful to avoid an unforgiving painful surprise. Within minutes, we were standing on the beach, removing our snorkeling gear. Several hundred feet above us was Pyramid Point.

Near our beachhead, a large tree limb had washed ashore from the Manitous or Wisconsin or who-knows-where and rested half-submerged in the sand. “This is a fine place to chill for a while,” Craig announced as he sat down. I joined him while Janet walked the beach.

“I said a few prayers as we swam in,” Craig confided.

“They worked,” I said with relief.

“I’m surprised none of us got hurt,” he added. “Those waves could have shoved any of us into one of those boulders and made an orthopedic sur- geon’s dream.” Then Craig resounded his proprietary got-away-with-it- again victory laugh.

Yet, even knowing the challenge, I didn’t agonize over the prospect of our return swim to the Whaler. Here, for the moment, was serenity, so precious and rare to Janet and me, desk jockeys out on liberty.

It took a few minutes longer going against the beachward-insistent waves, but we made it back to the Whaler unscathed. Back across Good Harbor Bay, past Whaleback and into Leland Harbor. Back up the boat launch with the Whaler, securing it to the trailer. Back into Craig’s pickup truck to retrace the seven miles down M-22 to South Good Harbor Bay Trail. Back safe and sound at our cabin in Cedar. We had made it all the way back—accomplished and pleasantly fatigued once again.

Perhaps someday we’ll get another opportunity to motor over to the Pyramid Point beach, though I doubt it. The degree of difficulty is beyond my comfort zone now that I’m older and more risk-averse, having made it this far relatively intact. But I can look back fondly on that day, that very short chapter in my own immense journey, whenever I glance at the Pyramid Point rock on my desk. And that will do just fine.

Tim Mulherin and his wife own a seasonal home in Cedar and have been visiting the lower northwestern Michigan region since the mid-’80s. This essay is excerpted from Tim’s book “Sand, Stars, Wind, & Water: Field Notes from Up North,” which was published by Mission Point Press in June and is available in stores and on Amazon.

Searching for More from Northern Michigan Outdoors?

From articles and tips on boating to the best local beaches, we’ve got everything you need to plan your adventure. For more tips visit our Northern Michigan Outdoors page, preview and purchase our digital issues or subscribe and get Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine delivered to your door each month.

Photo(s) by Allison Jarrell