|The cozy Speaker's Cabin|
Despite the weird half-dreams, I felt well rested when I woke up at 8 am. The weather had cooled down significantly overnight, and we found it difficult to convince ourselves to get out of our cozy sleeping bags and into the chilly day.
None of our hiking days were planned to be particularly long or strenuous, so we took it slow and enjoyed our morning at this beautiful place. I boiled water for one of my favorite camping rituals: Hot tea on the shore of Lake Superior. We sat at the Wolf Seat, sipped our hot tea, ate hot oatmeal, and soaked in the astonishingly beautiful view from our cabin. We had not a care in the world. It made me incredibly homesick for my UP days.
The Last Porcupine Mountains Companion says, authoritatively, "We consider curiosity and sloth worthy excuses for not going as far as originally scheduled. A summer afternoon spent alongside a tumbling creek or frolicking along the shores of Lake Superior is time well accounted for." We took this to heart, but after cutting some firewood, pumping water, writing a short note in the cabin's logbook, packing and repacking our packs, and sweeping out the cabin, we could no longer come up with excuses to linger. So with a sigh, we reluctantly left for the next leg of our journey.
Today's hike was very simple: Continue walking the Superior (aka North Country) Trail eastward until we reached the mouth of the Big Carp River. Waving goodbye to Speaker's Cabin, we climbed the steep bluff carved out by Speaker's Creek and headed east.
|Yet another gorgeous view along the Lake Superior Trail. Ho-hum.|
After about half of a mile, the aptly named Speaker's Trail split off to the right, where it would hit the Boundary Road in another half mile. The state park is quite narrow at this point, and so we were very close to the Boundary Road. This makes Speaker's Cabin popular with non-backpackers looking for a nice base of operations. Despite all this, we still felt like we were completely alone in an endless forest. For the first 4 miles of the trip, the only other hiker we met was one woman with a small and extremely happy doggie (complete with its own doggie pack).
Near the Speaker's Trail branch, we came across another unusual feature: A private cabin. There are still a few small "inholdings" in this part of the Porkies, where the original landowners (at the time that the state park was formed in the 1940s) were allowed to maintain private ownership. The cabin was tiny, very run-down, and looked like an old hunting camp. It was located on a small rise just above a 2-track trail, probably used as an access road to the cabin. There was no sign that anyone had visited the cabin this year, much less in the last decade.
We faced a few small (and mostly dry) stream crossings, but nothing like the ravines of yesterday. At the bottom of one crossing we stopped for one of my favorite backcountry snacks: rice cake sandwiches. These are, simply, rice cakes with a ton of peanut butter smothered on them, clocking in at 200+ calories in about 1 ounce. Yes, those calories (and fat) are a good thing in the world of backpacking! The rice cakes serve no purpose other than being a crunchy platform for the peanut butter. Being incredibly lightweight is a big bonus, too.
Soon, we started to see a change in the woods. In some areas, older trees had fallen and allowed a bit of light to reach the ground. Hundreds of young maples took advantage of the light, growing in dense knee-high thickets as they tried to out-compete each other.
|Beautiful view of a dry creek bed. Another one.|
After a few miles, we came to the first real ravine of the day. The ravine cut out by Pinkerton Creek is decently deep, at 65 feet deep (where the trail crosses it). Despite the dry season, Pinkerton Creek was actually running a respectable amount. The trail was covered in slippery muddy patches all up and down the hillside, some fed by small springs. The gorge was ridiculously picturesque, with boulders hiding beneath tall hemlocks. We hopped across the stream bed on scattered rocks and climbed again, steeply, to follow a razorback ridge that would be our high point (in a literal, elevation sort of sense) of the day.
One curious thing about the Lake Superior Trail is that it's rarely in sight of Lake Superior. While the trail parallels the lake shore, it's always at least a few hundred yards inland, sometimes up to a quarter mile. While our walk in the woods was quite lovely, even at this high point we weren't getting many lake views.
This changed as the trail made a long sweeping turn towards the lake. We arrived at the edge of a high bluff with yet another deep ravine on one side, and a beautiful view of Lake Superior on the other. Below us on the shoreline was a spectacular backcountry campsite. There were also campers, who would probably be slightly annoyed with us gawking at them. We continued down the hill quickly, crossed the wet stream bed, and continued on.
At this point the trail mostly kept to the low-lying lakeshore, with only one last big ravine: The Little Carp River. Unlike the previous ravines, the Little Carp is actually cut through solid bedrock. The trail crosses the river at a point where this rock forms sheer cliffs of 10 to 20 feet. Luckily for us, the state park long ago built a series of wooden steps leading to a bridge across the river. While the river was pretty, we knew that we would be coming back this way to see it again in a couple of days. After a brief conference, we agreed to push onward, past the pretty waterfalls and inviting wooden benches. After all, it was just one more mile to our real destination of the day: The Big Carp River.
Strangely, that one mile seemed much longer than the previous ones. We crossed no more ravines -- boardwalks covered even the smallest stream crossing or dried-up muddy area. We were also now in thimbleberry central. There were enough ripe berries that we didn't even have to leave the trail to feast on them, and feast we did -- taking frequent breaks along the way. Nonetheless, the mile seemed to stretch on and on.
At long last, we arrive at the mouth of the Big Carp River. Last year, we stayed in the Big Carp 6 bunk, which is right on the river and Lake Superior. This year's cabin, the Lake Superior Cabin, was ironically neither directly on the lake nor on the river. Instead, it is pushed back up against the base of a big bluff. The lake is barely visible from the front windows, but the trees, thick thimbleberry plants, and bluff combine to give the cabin much more privacy than the 6 bunk. Not to oversell it, but these thimbleberry plants were at least as tall as me and completely surrounded the cabin -- earning the Lake Superior Cabin my unofficial nickname of "Thimbleberry Hut".
We killed two birds with one stone by stringing up a clothesline directly across the volunteer trail, and hanging our sweaty hiking clothes on it. It simultaneously acted as a clothesline, privacy screen, and very strong hint that this was not the main trail. It was a very good deterrent, gently (if stinkily) encouraging everyone to reconsider their path.
After we took care of basic chores (pump the water, unpack the sleeping bags and pads, eat the gorp), we settled in to relax. Sarah sat down to stitch (yes, she brought cross-stitching). Never one to waste an opportunity to wander in the woods, I picked up my camera (yes, I brought my full-sized DSLR) and took a walk along the river.
|Big Carp River|
I cavorted all about these rocks -- yes, cavorted, in a manly backcountry adventurer-photographer-mathematician fashion -- taking pictures of the rocks, waterfalls, water, sky, plants, and anything else I could find. I was like a kid in a candy shop, all memories of weary backpacking lost along the beautiful river. Did I mention that I brought two lenses with me on the trip? The camera plus lenses and filters together accounted for nearly 3 pounds of pack weight. But I'm a sucker for photographing the Porkies, so it was completely worth it.
|Sill life: Ultrawide lens with centuries-old white pine|
This brings me to another point: Every backpacking trip I've ever been on has followed a schedule roughly like this:
- Day 1: Hike hard, get sweaty, feel slightly icky.
- Day 2, morning: Wake up feeling like the most disgusting, stinky, greasy, unpleasant person on earth. Hate self.
- Day 2, rest of day: Gradually get used to the smell, feel like a completely normal person.
- Days 3, 4, etc.: Cavort about the woods without a care in the world.
- Final day: Walk out of the woods, wonder why people are fainting everywhere I go, take two showers and unexpectedly feel like I'm back in civilization.
After drying off (hanging the clothes on our trail-blocking clothesline, of course), we ate a freeze-dried dinner and headed out to the beach to watch the sunset. A breeze was kicking up, bringing clouds with it across the lake. Sadly, the clouds were too thick for a good sunset, but it was better than our gray-out from last night.
We decided not to have a fire tonight, knowing that we could make one on our (hopefully less windy) rest day tomorrow. Instead, we sat inside the cabin, reading and stitching by the light of our headlamps. It was, again, fantastic.
|Not a bad sunset -- but the only one we would see all trip.|
In the middle of the night, I woke up to the sound of steady rainfall on the roof.
Miles hiked: 5.5
Total miles: 7.0
To be continued in Part 3: Waterfalling on the Big Carp