Thursday, July 24, 2014

Porcupine Mountains 2014, Day 1: Lake of the Clouds to Buckshot Cabin

There are links at the top and bottom of this post leading to other days of this trip, or check out this list all of my backpacking trips.

Sarah reading on the shore near Buckshot Cabin

Last time: Intro and Planning.

Sarah's last day of school was Friday, June 6th. Friday evening and most of Saturday was spent frantically packing up her classroom and the last of her school materials. Finally, the day was here: Bright and early on Sunday morning, we packed up the car and headed north!

The trip from St. Paul to the Porkies takes about 6 hours. Our plan was to arrive in the afternoon, register at the ranger station, hike a short 3 miles to our first cabin, and relax for the rest of the evening.

Start of trip selfie

The trip took a bit longer than expected, because we had to make a special detour to Louie's Finer Meats in Cumberland, Wisconsin. Part of our meal plans called for summer sausage and landjager (a type of jerky) as well as cheese. This combination could only scream "Wisconsin" louder if it involved beer and perhaps a Packers jersey. We wandered around in awe of the countless number of variations on dried meat and cheese... and wondered why they were "finer" and not, say, "finest". What's going on there, Louie?

Back on the road, we made it into Michigan before stopping for lunch at an out-of-the-way diner in Ironwood. We made it to the Porkies by 5 pm, pulling in to the park headquarters to pick up our keys. Because we were arriving relatively late, the park staff left our keys and paperwork in an envelope tacked to a bulletin board at the park headquarters. We pulled in just after another group was leaving for the Visitor's Center, concerned because they couldn't find the keys to their cabin.

When we inspected our packet, sure enough, we had an extra key. As much as we might have liked to stay a night at the highly-in-demand Lake of the Clouds cabin, we thought that the true renters might not be so happy. We raced over to the Visitor's Center to try to give them their key, only to discover that it wasn't their cabin either. We never did settle that mystery.

Green spring woods

With everything prepared, we drove down M-107 to Lake of the Clouds and parked at the overlook, which was very close to the end of our last day's hike. We would have to hike an extra half mile to get to our first trailhead, but we figured we'd be more willing to do that on the first day than on the last.

After one last gear check, we backtracked along M-107, but this time with 30-pound packs on our backs. Half a mile later, we were at the Lake Superior trailhead and ready to truly start our adventure. The sky was clear, the air was cool, and the mosquitoes were thick.

The first few miles of the Lake Superior Trail, beginning at M-107, are almost entirely downhill. The trail begins in a beautiful pine forest, clear of undergrowth. Quickly, it starts to follow several ridges -- the back side of the Escarpment. There are a few beautiful overlooks along the way, some with benches that we thoroughly enjoyed -- not only to rest, but to touch up our bug spray.

A hint of things to come

Due to the late spring and heavy snowfall, there was a lot of water running along the trails and down these ridges. Between ridges, the trail was often rocky and uneven. But one long stretch was different -- long, open, and extremely muddy. Seasonal streams and springs were doing their best to obliterate the trail, cutting deep swaths along it or across it, leaving the whole trail a muddy mess. We hoped that it was a fluke. As we would find out the next day, we were very wrong.

A few miles later, we came down almost to the lake shore and very quickly ran across Buckshot Cabin, our home for the night. Buckshot is built in the narrow flat area between the Escarpment and the lake shore. This area is filled with ferns, birch, and low brush. A fire pit, some makeshift benches (made from fallen logs), and an axe waited in front of the cabin. After some fumbling with the lock, we made our way inside, far more achey and tired than we should have been after a mere 3 miles. Clearly, our city practice hikes hadn't trained us for the real trails!

Buckshot Cabin from Lake Superior

Buckshot is a beautiful cabin. The inside is cedar and pine, with a wood stove for heat and four bunks. It smells exactly like a cabin should -- a combination of cedar, wood smoke, and age. The cabinets contained a surprising variety of cookwear and other items left behind by past visitors -- a roll of toilet paper, matchbooks, a pack of cards, pens and pencils, and of course the cabin log book.

We set up our air pads on top of the rock-hard bunks and started to poke around outside the cabin. The last inhabitants (possibly as long ago as last fall) had left a good stock of kindling and firewood. We walked down a short path to the lakeshore and our breath was taken away. The shore of Lake Superior is always rocky and rugged, but here there was nothing to break the view. Rocks, trees, and gentle waves spread out as far as we could see.

I pumped some fresh water from the lake, noticing as I did that the mouths of our Platypus reservoirs were much too small to fit properly with the nozzle of our old MSR pump. At the same time, our pump wasn't giving anywhere near the throughput that it should have. Hm.

With our chores done and a fair amount of northern daylight left, we settled in to relax. Sarah read a book on the shore, while I wandered up and down the rocks, looking for interesting nooks and crannies. Mini waterfalls tumbled over the rocks, hinting at the huge spring runoff. The shore quickly became overgrown and impassable to the west, so I headed east, back towards the point marked "Buckshot Landing" on the Porkies park maps.

Shore near Buckshot Landing

Not far east was an open area near shore. Inside it were all of the classic signs of a well-established campsite: rocks carefully arranged in fire rings and bench shapes. There was also a fallen metal pole which looked exactly like the bear poles at campsites all around the park. The park doesn't allow camping within 1/4 mile of cabins, and this was well within that radius -- it was probably abandoned when Buckshot became a rental cabin. I almost planted my foot in a giant pile of pretty fresh bear scat, possibly hinting at another reason why the site was abandoned. I hurried back out to the shore and climbed up a large ridge to see what I could see and, uh, get some fresh air.

Once the sun got low, we made dinner (freeze dried) and ate it on the shore, watching the sun slowly set. We decided to call the combination of cabins and luxurious foods not camping, but rather... Clarking.

Back at the cabin, we cut some wood, collected some more kindling, and got a fire started. The fire felt good in the cool lake breeze. As the sun started to set, Sarah suddenly whispered, "Look!" Between us and the lake, a deer -- a doe -- was wandering through the ferns, foraging as she went. We sat silently, enthralled at being so close to the wildlife. The deer wandered past our site slowly, and just as she was about to wander off beyond the cabin... she turned around and walked back. Every now and then, she poked her head up from munching on ferns and stared directly at us.

As we watched, the clearly tame doe started to inch closer than we were comfortable with. Other campers in the cabin must have fed her, or left enough scraps that she had lost her fear. After a few minutes, I got up and started to make noise and hit some sticks together -- to no effect whatsoever. The doe just stared at me! After some louder shouting and arm-waving, the deer moved around to the other side of the cabin, out of sight. We nervously went back to the fire, watching closely to see if she returned. Sure enough, she was just making circles, coming slightly closer from time to time, looking for a handout.

Delilah stares into your soul... and is not pleased at what she finds.

We finally put out the fire and went into the cabin, a bit disturbed by the strange deer. We passed a bit of time by reading the cabin's log book. One enterprising camper had made an index, including numerous entries concerning "Delilah the Creepy-Ass Deer". Sure enough, we weren't the first ones to meet (and be weirded out by) this strange deer.

We crawled in to our sleeping bags in the steadily cooling air, glad to be inside, and quickly fell asleep.

Miles hiked: 3.

Next time: Day 2: The Lake Superior Trail, or, Where did I pack those swampers?


Jacob Emerick said...

Awesome post! Can't wait to read more about your hiking (or mud-slogging, as it may turn out).

Jan said...

Very interesting and entertaining, too. The photos and map are a great help to picture the area you were hiking. Jan

Nina said...

So glad you got here! Can't wait to read the next part.

Unknown said...

Loved reading this! I'll be in the porkies this weekend and our second night will be in Buckshot. We'll have to keep an eye out for Delilah ;)