Craig Blacklock and Jon Smithers have spent years paddling along the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, but have never seen anything as extraordinary as this before—let alone captured it on camera. On this day, the pair were filming with two drones but it was Smithers’ that was perfectly positioned to record the event.
The Pictured Rocks cliffs are located on the southern shore of Lake Superior, near Munising, Michigan. They tower up to 200 feet tall in places, and stretch for 15 miles along the lake, the colorful streams of mineral stain on the sandstone giving the cliffs their name.
While the view from the top of the cliffs out to Lake Superior is mesmerizing, the view of the cliffs from the water is even more incredible. That’s why there are a few different kayak companies in the area that run tours along the base of the cliffs. Normally it’s a leisurely sightseeing paddle—but on the day Blacklock and Smithers were shooting, a kayak tour group experienced the thrill of a lifetime.
In the video you can see that Smithers’ drone is quite a distance from the cliffs, and is slowly panning right to take in a sweeping shot of them. Then the frame quickly moves right, just as a massive chunk of the cliff face lets go and collapses into the water below. Lakewater launches into the air, spraying out what seems like hundreds of feet from the base of the cliff. And there to witness it, is a group of kayakers.
Smithers and Blacklock say they weren’t sure initially whether the rocks had landed on any of the kayakers, but as the drone flew closer to where the rockslide had occurred and the nearby kayakers, they quickly realized everyone was okay.
Northern Waters Adventures kayak guide, Van Ouelette-Ballas, was leading the group of kayakers. He said he noticed a small rockfall occur just prior, prompting him to paddle away from the base of the cliff. Once he thought they were a safe distance away, the group turned toward the cliffs, only to see the bigger rockfall occur. Ouelette-Ballas said the rocks fell exactly where he’d been floating just moments before.
Watch the video to witness the power of nature that astonished the kayakers and photographers—and the world after the video went viral. For more behind-the-scenes details, you can watch the video Blacklock put together about the event here.