Thursday, November 5, 2015

Porcupine Mountains 2015, Day 5: Section 17 to Little Carp River trailhead

Last Time: Big Carp to Section 17 Cabin

I woke in that dark hour just before the first light of dawn appears. Wait -- I mean, in that dark hour just after the light of dawn tries to appears, only to be completely snuffed out by tall hemlocks, high ridges, and a good thick layer of clouds. Here on the inland side of the Porkies, not much light crept in through our cabin's windows. And this morning, we could still hear plenty of rain falling on the cabin's metal roof.

Rainy river
It was obvious that the rain wasn't going to let up. Neither of us felt even slightly hungry. All we wanted was to be done with the rain -- which meant that first, we had to hike through it. So, we decided to forget breakfast and make a run for it. The end of our trail was just 1 mile away at the Little Carp River road, and even in the heaviest downpour, we would be back in our car soon.

With that decision made, we packed everything up into plastic bags, put on rain gear and pack covers, and headed out into the dreary and wet world. I looked back at the Section 17 cabin with a twinge of sadness -- my few hours here yesterday in the sun hinted that this was a fantastic location. I'd have to come back some time.

The trail was everything we could have hoped for, if what we hoped for was a steady rain, dreary skies, and slippery rocky slopes. The woods were beautiful in the wet and misty air. The trail stuck close to the river, passing a long sequence of unnamed rapids and named falls which were quite picturesque. The river was running pretty well from the recent rains, and some of the waterfalls were flowing better than we could ever have hoped this late in the summer.

The rain made the trail feel unusually long. At long last, we crossed a swamp on some raised walkways and found the side trail that lead to the Little Carp River Road trailhead. Shortly afterwards, we crossed a surprisingly large bridge (designed to accomodate rangers driving work trucks in the off-season) which spat us out at a large metal gate. We made it! ... almost. The parking lot where we left the car 5 days ago was another quarter mile down the dirt road. That quarter mile was, of course, all uphill, in the rain. We trudged and complained, but we made it.

Textured water on the Little Carp
We left our walking sticks leaning against a sign, tossed our rain-covered packs in the back of the car, climbed in, and heaved enormous sighs. They were sighs of relief, but also of sadness -- our great adventure was at an end, we had survived, but now we were heading back into the real world.

We were mostly silent on the drive to the visitor's center. When we arrived, we took in our laptops to check our email on the center's free wifi, and immediately regretted doing so. To escape the electronic deluge, I wandered around the extremely small gift shop and found exactly what I wanted: A copy of the Last Porcupine Mountains Companion!

This little book kept me company through many rainy nights in the cabins, and I had wanted my own copy ever since I first laid eyes on it last year. While older editions are available in some libraries and bookstores, the heavily updated "Last" edition seems like it was distributed only to the Porkies cabins and visitor's center. I snapped up a copy and have been enjoying it ever since. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in the Porkies. Its trail guides aren't as thorough as Jim Dufresne's excellent guidebook, but the detailed history, flora and fauna guides, advice, warnings, and just plain fascinating insights into the life of a Porkies ranger are worth their weight in gold. But of course, it's hard to make use of the book to plan a trip if you have to go to the Porkies to get it.

The Keweenaw's Great Sand Bay on a windy day
We finally got out on the road to Houghton. We checked in at a hotel, scaring the desk clerk with our greasy appearances, and headed straight to the shower. After two showers each, we felt human enough to be seen in "civilization" again. For the rest of the afternoon, we toured around the Keweenaw, seeing our favorite sights and pausing occasionally to eat at favorite restaurants. No hamburger has ever tasted so good as the Gipp Burger I ate the Michigan House in Calumet. All around, we thoroughly enjoyed being in the Copper Country again.

The next day, we visited friends in town briefly, had brunch at the lovely Four Seasons Tea Room, and then we were on the road again. We made it home that night, after 9 hours on the road.

Despite all of the rain, we both agree that this was our best UP backpacking adventure yet. The Lake Superior swims, the (mostly) great weather during the days, the (almost always) great trail conditions, and the fantastic number of waterfalls all made this trip a memorable one. For me, the hike divided into two parts -- the unbelievable solitude at the start (Speaker's Cabin with its own private cobble beach) and end (Section 17, guarded by hills on all sides), and the surprisingly busy crossroads of the Big Carp in between. Since the solitude and distance from civilization are my favorite parts of backpacking, the quiet bookends to the hike left me truly satisfied with the trip.

On the drive home, we started talking through the possibilities for the next year -- perhaps something in the east side of the park, where the last few trails that we'd never visited awaited us? Revisit the east end of the Lake Superior trail in dryer conditions? Hike the entire Escarpment? No, Sarah said, I know what we should do next year:

Isle Royale!

See you there.


Summary statistics:
Daily mileage: 2.5, 5.5, 2.5, 7.3, 1.0
Total miles hiked: 17.8
Animals seen: A family of mergansers, and not much else.
Waterfalls seen: Approximately 7⨉10^6, plus or minus 5%.

Our final route: Pink, Green, Orange, Blue, Purple.