The kayakers were on a tour of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in northern Michigan, checking out the beautiful sandstone cliffs that tower approximately 60 metres over the lake’s surface.
Van Ouellette-Ballas, one of the kayak trip guides with Northern Waters Adventures, told The Detroit News that he thought they were at a safe enough distance when the cliff came crashing down suddenly.
The crumbling sandstone hit the water with a huge splash, missing the group by only 15 metres.
Nature photographer Jon Smithers was recording footage of the area with a drone when he noticed the collapse and quickly turned the drone toward the cliff, MLive.com reports.
“I was really shocked,” Smithers told the publication. “I have never seen anything like that before.”
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Ouellette-Ballas hardly had a moment to think after noticing one rock fall from the unstable cliff.
Moments later, chunks of debris the size of two vans fell in a small avalanche of rock.
“That entire shelf just fell off right in front of our eyes,” Ouellette-Ballas said. “It was just really incredible. The aroma of old dirt was just ridiculous. Honestly, that was as cool as seeing it fall.”
According to Sue Reece, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore’s chief of interpretation, “releases” like this one are quite common given how prone the rocks are to erosion.
They usually happen in the spring as the soil thaws, she said.
“It’s just one of the risks with sandstone. It’s very soft and always eroding,” Reece said. “But it’s rare to catch it on film.”