Sunday, October 04, 2009

Madeline Island

On Madeline Island, I drove to the Big Bay State Park, filled out the self-registration forms and located a good spot to set up camp. After a well needed shower and band aids on my toes, I headed back into LaPointe to find some food. Tom's Burned Down Cafe was closed, I actually chatted with the owner for a few minutes and he gave me a few other suggestions. Evidently after Labor Day, many of the businesses close early during the week - so I was able to have a wonderful burger at the Beach Club, before heading back to camp.

Day 3. September 21, 2009 - The Hike Back

There's nothing quite like waking up to the sound of water splashing on the shore, knowing that this moment is mine to savor. Amazingly, I didn't feel sore or stiff. I sat on the rocks and washed my face with the cold water from the lake. I made myself eat a few more bites of my Clif bar, even though I had no appetite. I had not brought my pan with me, so I sipped a little bit of water, knowing that I needed to ration it for the hike out. It didn't take long to take down the tent and pack up my bag. Leaving the site just as I had found it, I started following the Lake Superior Trail east. According to the map, the trail would follow the Lake and connect back with 107, which then led to the parking area where I had started the day before. I knew that I didn't want to follow the same trail, since it would be all uphill. Fortunately I didn't know what the Lake Superior Trail would be like or I might have started to cry.
I crossed back over Big Carp River, past the cabins and up the bluff. This area seemed to be more prone to being swampy and muddy in the spring. The trail worked it's way around a few rises and then followed the shore for about 2.5 miles. The trail was literally on the rocky shore in several places, so I took advantage and splashed my face to cool off. The trail was pretty rough with many rocks and tree roots. At two different places the trail becomes a boardwalk, two boards across, so only one person can cross at a time. The trees tended to be smaller than the ones I saw yesterday, many birch and tall grasses. I heard a loon call out and then heard the flapping of wings as a pair flew from a nest way up in a tree.
About half way there is a large camping site, good for several tents. I believe this is called Lone Rock and it's the last place to access the lake on this trail. For the next mile, the trail moves away from the lake and starts to climb from the 600-700 ft level up to 1,220 over the next 2.5 miles. The trail was covered with loose rocks and at one point you have to maneuver up sheer rock, maybe 12 feet high or so. The sun was getting high up in the sky and my water was almost all gone. By the time I made it to the crest of the mountain, there was a wooden bench and an amazing view of the Lake and The Apostle Islands, but I dared not stop and kept moving along. The last half mile was back in old growth forest of pine, which was quite refreshing. Finally I made it to the pavement. I dropped my pack and left it on a bench, while I walked on to the parking area - about 1 mile ahead. The last half mile was pretty steep, as the road rises to 1,400 ft. This trail took me about 5.5 hours.
Once I picked up my pack, I felt rejuvenated and headed back to HWY 28, then followed HWY2 west to Ashland, MN then north to Bayfield. From Bayfield I took the ferry across to Madeline Island, the largest of the Apostle Islands. The area reminded me of many small towns that dot the Connecticut shore along Long Island Sound - fishing towns with a rich heritage and lots of charm.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

September 20th, Big Carp River Trail

A few days before leaving on my trip, a dear friend gave me some books about Porcupine Mountains so that I could get a better overview of what to expect. Even with all the information, you never know how it's going to be until you get out there and experience it firsthand. I guess life in general is like can talk about it, plan it, study it...but you'll never really know, unless you take the risk, become vulnerable and put yourself out there...
The trail begins at the Lake of the the Clouds parking area, at about 1246' and climbs along the escarpment for about 2 miles, offering amazing vistas and almost a desert like habitat. At 1460' the trail drops off steeply into the deep woods of virgin hemlock. It's about a half mile descent to 1100' in the midst of amazing maple, beech and hemlock. It was cool in the shady woods and quiet. There were old trees fallen over, some crossed the path in places. Around mile 4, the trail meets the Big Carp River where you cross over on a log bridge - See photo above. I stopped here and splashed cool water on my face and arms, it felt amazing. After another mile I came to the crossroads, where the trail meets with the Correction Trail.At one point, the trail descends to a place where you must cross the river. Fortunately this time of year, the water was low enough that I could step on rocks and fallen logs to get across.
Lake Superior was still another 4 miles to the north. I felt pretty good about the time, but I knew that I had pushed myself pretty hard and needed to slow down a bit. I kept doing calculations in my head to determine how much farther I had to go and how much day light I still had, at which point I definitely did not want to still be in the deep woods.
The trail winds down into a low lying area and then ascends the bluffs above the river. I wish that I had more day light and energy at this point, because it takes you to the edge of a steep gorge where you can look up at the Shining Cloud Falls. At more than 800 feet, the falls are the highest in the park. For the next half mile you pass a dozen or more cascades. Another mile down the trail you come to "Bathtub falls", as series of one-foot drops and pools. The trail hugs the edge of a bluff until it finally descends to the mouth of the river. A 6-person cabin sits on the trail and I followed the Lake Superior Trail about a quarter mile west until I finally found a campsite.
The last 4 miles of the trail were beautiful, but difficult. I was tired and felt that I pushed myself so hard, focusing on getting to the end of the trail while it was still day light and making sure I saved enough water to get myself back in the morning. Hiking with a loaded pack for over 9 miles is quite an undertaking for a moderately active person and to do it under 5 hours was quite ridiculous.
I barely recognized the campsite at first. The bear pole was just off the trail, so I knew a camp site had to be close. Then, there it was...right along the shoreline. Fallen trees had been piled to create a wind and privacy barrier for the tent area, as well as the fire pit. The fire pit was made of piles of stones and surrounded by flat stones, made to look like a sofa. A few minutes after arriving, I heard a man and two kids come along the trail. Evidently they were staying at the cabin, but were out checking the area. They were very helpful and collected sticks and branches for me to start a fire. The kids wanted to sleep outside with me, but I told them they could have the place when I left the next day. Once the fire got started, I put up the tent, had a few bites of my Clif hiking granola bar and watched the sun set on Lake Superior. It was breathtaking. Well worth the hike to get to such a secluded spot, away from everything.
After putting my pack up on the bear pole and making sure the fire was dying out, I snuggled down in my sleeping bag and drifted off to sleep, to the sound of water splashing on the rocky shore of the Lake. I slept well for the most part, woke up twice and wondered what I should do if a bear decided to visit me. In the end I prayed for protection and slept through until day break. Absolutely incredible.

September 20th, Day Two

I woke up to a chilly morning in the mountains... dawn had not quite broken through...grabbing a change of clothes, I headed to the showers and enjoyed a nice hot one. Once back to my campsite, I started a fire with wood saved from the day before and fixed some coffee - two scoops of ground java right in the pan - no filter out here. I took down the tent and packed things up, then sat down with my notes and coffee to go over my plans. Although the campground was offering pancakes and sausage for breakfast, I decided to head on down the road - eating an apple I had purchase at Growing Power market the day before.
There are hundreds of waterfalls scattered around Michigan. I had planned to stop at three different ones on my way north, but ended up stopping at two since time started getting away from me and I still had a long hike ahead of me. The first waterfall was at Chicaugon Falls. I had checked out Google Earth before leaving home and had a pretty good visual of where I was going. The path was off the main road a way and poorly marked. After parking the car, I followed a rough path for about 1 mile and came upon it. It was like those falls that are hidden in the country where you would go with friends for a long hike. Peaceful, unmanicured,unpretentious.
From there I continued west on HWY 2 until SR45, where I turned north. Just outside of Pauling is the wonderful Bond Falls. The lake is huge and probably is a popular place for camping and boating, although it was very low at this time. Access to the falls is along a well maintained boardwalk, which makes it nice for people of all ages and abilities.
Finally I was on my was to Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, which sits right on Lake Superior. During the drive I thought about several different options, taking into account time and resources. The trail I wanted to hike most of all is called the Big Carp River Trail, about 9.1 miles long. Initially I thought about setting up camp at the Union Bay campground, which sets at the eastern entrance to the park. I would go hike and come back at night to sleep. As I started doing calculations in my head, I quickly realized that wouldn't work with the time frame I had. The trail started about 11 miles in from the campground, so that didn't make a lot of sense. In the end I decided to load up my backpack with enough for one night and camp along the trail at one of the designated rustic campsites.
Upon arriving at Porcupine Mountains I stopped at the Visitor Center to register for the hike and overnight camping. I purchased a 32 oz nalgene bottle at the store, to carry along with me.
At the parking lot, I loaded up my backpack with all the essentials and filled my water bottle to the brim, after taking a few drinks. The pack looked nothing like the Patagonia catalog or Hudson Trail...nope, this was sure a sight. It was almost 2:30 pm EST when I headed off on the trail.