Sunday, July 6, 2014

Porcupine Mountains 2014: Intro and Planning

We didn't know it then, but November 2013 was the start of one of the longest, coldest, and snowiest winters in Twin Cities history. As the first flakes were falling, (the lovely) Sarah and I started to dream of a summer getaway.

Mouth of the Big Carp River
There was no doubt that we would go to the UP. Sarah and I both lived in the UP for many years (she's a native Yooper, I'm just an adopted Yooper) -- the UP is in our blood. It took a bit of work, but I convinced Sarah that a backpacking trip to the Porcupine Mountains was just what the doctor ordered. The "Porkies" (Michigan's Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park) is a remote and beautiful part of Michigan. It is one of the largest untouched wilderness areas in the Midwest -- primeval forest filled with towering pines which have never been logged. While it has been millions of years since the Porkies were truly mountains, their rocky cliffs, deep ravines, and steep hills are still some of the roughest and wildest terrain in all of Michigan.

While both of us have gone on extended backpacking trips before (and we hike and snowshoe frequently), we had never gone on a real backpacking trip together. We both enjoy hiking and car camping, but Sarah is not a big fan of sleeping in a tent far away from the car. If the weather is miserable, tents can start to feel like prisons. Inspired by Nina's Porcupine Mountains hiking trip, we decided to rent rustic cabins within the park. These cabins mostly started life as ranger cabins or hunting camps, and can now be rented for a reasonable nightly rate. They are located throughout the park, usually near some of the most picturesque waterfalls, lakes, and rivers. The cabins have no running water and no electricity -- nothing more than four walls, a roof, and a few bunk beds with rock-hard mattresses. But having a roof over your head and no need to worry about bears poking their noses into your packs makes for a lot of peace of mind.

We chose a 4 day loop which would take us along Lake Superior and the Big Carp river, to Mirror Lake, past Lake of the Clouds, and up the huge Escarpment. We would hike past overlooks and waterfalls, ford a river, see massive old-growth pines, and walk on some of the toughest trails in the park. Little did we know that some of the trails would be even more difficult due to the lateness of the spring.

Buckshot Cabin
I reserved the cabins as early as the Michigan DNR would allow -- November 1st for a June hiking date. After our initial excitement, the trip faded into the background as the school year continued on its hectic way. At the same time, other things were in the works. Sarah's school scheduled major renovations which would require teachers to completely pack up and move their rooms at the end of school. Between us, we planned to teach at 9 weeks worth of summer programs. Multiple friends got engaged and scheduled summer weddings. Snow days raised the possibility of a longer school year. Most excitingly, both Sarah and I both found jobs at a university back home in Michigan -- and with that came the need to find a new apartment, pack up our old place, and move. Suddenly, our summer was 100% accounted for. The Porkies trip would end up being our only vacation together!

We started to seriously prepare for the trip in March. Thinking about and planning the trip far in advance really increased the enjoyment for us, giving us something to look forward to. Living within easy reach of three REIs is a luxury which we've thoroughly enjoyed, and we took full advantage to update and round out our somewhat mismatched gear. Because we were staying in cabins, we had the luxury of bringing foods which we would never bring into bear country otherwise. We intended to bring summer sausage, landjager (somewhat like jerky), and various cheeses on the trip. Besides that, we mostly planned freeze-dried meals and, of course, gorp. (The particular kind of gorp was the subject of much discussion: Peanuts, raisins, and chocolate -- or just bring chocolate and leave the rest behind?)

Sarah crossing the Big Carp River
The winter was even harder up north than it was for us in the Twin Cities. In mid May, about a month before the trip, I heard the bridge over the mouth of the Big Carp river -- a key link getting us to one of our cabins -- was washed away in the melt! The long winter and heavy snowfall lead to a huge spring melt. Apparently this happens every few years (two years in a row, this time) and the bridge takes a few weeks to be rebuilt. Not willing to risk being stuck on the wrong side of the river from our lodging, I called up the DNR hotline and spoke with a helpful (if somewhat confused) operator who gladly changed us to the Big Carp 6 bunk cabin -- on the "right" side of the river. The poor operator kept asking if I realized that we could not drive to these cabins, and in fact that it was a 4+ mile hike on rough trails from the nearest road. I had to wonder what past problems lead to the large number of disclaimers.

We were still a bit worried about our planned route, which still required us to cross the Big Carp River without a bridge (farther upstream), but we figured that we would cross that river when we came to it.

Finally, the school year came to an end, the last few exams were graded and we finished our last practice hike around the neighborhood. The car and backpacks wer packed, and we were ready to head out.
Full map of our hike: 21 miles in 4 days

Next time: Our heroes bravely drive a long way and meet Delilah the Creepy-Ass Deer

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Mouth of the Gooseberry River

Mouth of the Gooseberry River by dcclark

Looking out towards Lake Superior at Gooseberry Falls state park in Minnesota, on a windy, chilly, and sunny spring day.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Wheel

Wheel by dcclark

Detail of a drive wheel at the old White Pine mine's ball mill.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Baker's Oven

Baker's Oven by dcclark

The Lovely Sarah in the "Baker's Oven" at Minnesota's winner of worst-name-for-a-state-park, Interstate State Park. The Baker's Oven is a huge kettle formed in bedrock by the action of the St. Croix river, spinning around stones and gravel over many years.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Between Silos

Between Silos by dcclark

Hey, look -- wide angles!

Another view between the "United Crushers" abandoned grain elevators in Minneapolis.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Winter Biking

Winter Biking by dcclark

A self-portrait showing what I did every day this winter: gear up for honorable battle against the elements!

(Now that spring is finally here, I instead use a nice light roadbike with a light shirt. Oh, how nice it is!)