Sunday, July 22, 2018

Porcupine Mountains 2018, Day 2: Presque Isle and the Little Carp River

Last time: Tea and hiking

Detail of Manabezho Falls

Saturday, May 19, 2018: I woke up at 9:30 am after 10 straight hours of deep, restful sleep. Nothing puts me to sleep -- and keeps me that way -- quite like a cold dark night with Lake Superior's waves crashing just feet away from my bed.

After a quick breakfast (the usual -- oatmeal, but with freeze-dried blueberries to substitute for the fresh berries that we would usually pick fresh during an August trip) we packed a daypack and headed out for a day of adventures.

The sky was thickly clouded, the air was cool, and a brisk breeze came off the lake. These were perfect conditions for our big goal of the day: to photograph waterfalls on the Presque Isle River at the west end of the park. We could have hiked 2 miles along the lake shore to reach the river, but instead we chose the option that would give us more flexibility later: We walked a lovely mile back to our car and drive to Presque Isle.

The Lovely Sarah hiking out to the road

The Presque Isle River is the largest river in the Porkies, although unlike the Big and Little Carp Rivers, it flows in from the south and has only a few miles within the park itself. It is also (as with most Porkies rivers) practically made of waterfalls. The west side of the river is heavily built up with boardwalks and a large suspension bridge overlooking Manabezho falls. The east bank has a more rugged trail that runs for much of its length along a high bluff, with only occasional river views.
Manabezho Falls

Before we could hike the trails, we had to get through the crowd. For a day very early in the season, there sure were a lot of guys with enormous cameras and tripods the size of... well, themselves, slowly moseying they way along the boardwalks. I guess everyone saw the perfectly gray sky and decided to come out to photograph waterfalls. (Gray days are great for waterfall photos -- too much sun casts shadows that make it hard to photograph running water, while the lack of sun makes it easier to take longer exposures to give the water that lovely "milky" look you see in most of my photos here.)

We tromped right past 3 photographers who had set up on the suspension bridge, probably ruining their carefully composed waterfall photos as our footsteps shook the bridge.

The east bank trail started with a steep uphill that got the blood flowing nicely, after which we were high above the river and could barely see it. The trail came back down the hill to river level now and then, but always went right back up again. We took our time composing photos and generally enjoying ourselves. We saw few other hikers -- it seems they all stayed on the bridge with their tripods.
Fallen trees lined up above a waterfall

We ate a quick lunch (peanut butter on rice cakes, a meat stick, and gorp for dessert) at a bench overlooking a lovely waterfall -- name unknown, probably not named at all. Soon after we reached the South Boundary Road. Our trail crossed the river on the road and started right up again on the other side of the river, here picking up the North Country Trail. Woohoo, I got to add another mile to my 50 mile challenge!

Geometry and chaos
My first thought on setting foot on this trail was... what an incredible smell we've found. The carcass of a not-too-recently dead deer greeted us from right next to the trail. We skirted it and continued on. The west river trail runs right next to the river and gave us a lot more to see than the east river trail. We continued our slow way, photographing everything from tiny rapids to thundering falls.

A long boardwalk led us down a steep bluff to Nawadaha falls, but ended well before we could get a good view. I shimmied out under the railing and waltzed out onto the exposed rocks of the riverbed. What a perfect spot for photos!

Nawadaha falls

I wasn't the only one out here today, and I ended up trading spots with another photographer who had also slithered under the railing and was geeking out at the beautifully sculpted rocks, the sharply contrasting water, and the feathery mist. We carefully waltzed around each other, trying to stay out of each other's shots, then nonchalantly trading places and pretending that we weren't taking exactly the same photos.

Manabezho's more interesting side

We continued along the riverbank to Manido, then Manabezho falls. When we couldn't justify any more time spent along the river (quite a high bar to pass -- it took us 4 hours to walk 2 miles!), we headed back to the car. Both of us felt great, so we decided to take advantage of the flexibility that the car gave us -- we blasted right past Speaker's trailhead and continued all the way to the Little Carp River trailhead.

Twice in past years we had hiked the stretch of the Little Carp River Trail that runs near this trailhead. Both times we walked past a large handful of waterfalls (Overlooked and Greenstone being the only two that have names). But neither time had we been able to stop and smell the, er, falling water. Once the trail had been busy and the weather hot, the next time it was raining and we were miserably just trying to get to our car. This time, we'd see the waterfalls and enjoy them!

The day was turning much windier, and a few cold raindrops splattered on the windshield as we parked. The temperature had dropped into the high 40's by this point, so we bundled up with our fleeces and rain coats and headed down the steep hill towards the river. After passing a family returning to their car with two extremely squirrely small boys, we were completely alone -- we didn't see another person for the rest of the day.

(One side of) Overlooked falls. This photo overlooks the other side.
The road soon crossed a wooden bridge over the Little Carp. The Little Carp might be my favorite river in the park. It runs through some of the most lovely, evergreen-shaded, and downright rugged parts of the park. It is almost always a rich red color, a combination of the river's tannin-rich waters and the pinkish bedrock it runs over. The Little Carp River trail climbs hills shaded by hemlocks while staying within earshot of the burbling river. It's magical.

We spent a few more hours slowly cavorting about the river, photographing Overlooked and Greenstone falls (and many others in between), wandering out onto spits and outcrops of rock, and enjoying the serenity and solitude of the river.

Greenstone falls

We spent most of our time trying to take handheld long exposures of the river, which gives that fetching "creamy" look to the waterfalls. It takes some practice and a lot of attempts. Sure enough, and soon enough, both of our camera's batteries were dead from the long exposures. We hiked back to the car, cranked up the heat, and headed back down the road to Speaker's trailhead.

The hike back in to the cabin was cold but uneventful. We built a fire in the woodstove right away to start heating up our cold limbs. After some hot tea, we boiled up tonight's freeze dried dinner: chicken noodle soup with dumplings, a favorite old standby.

Late evening hillside
The gray sky started to clear up shortly before sunset, leaving only a light haze high overhead. The late evening light lit up the hillsides around the cabin with a spectacular glow. I wandered around with my camera in hand, constantly finding ordinary scenes turned into the magical. Especially lovely was the trail that leads up the steep hill to the outhouse. In this light, it looked far more beautiful -- and less smelly -- than at high noon.

This trail leads to the outhouse.
As the sun dropped below the horizon, I sat along the shore and enjoyed the breathtakingly beautiful stars and the sound of the surprisingly calm lake. Because of the light haze, I decided not to attempt star photos tonight. Maybe tomorrow?

Sunset over Speaker's creek, Lake Superior, and oh yeah, a sunset too

Next time: A little too much hiking

Miles hiked: 6
Total miles: 7


Pink: Speaker's Trail. Green: Presque Isle waterfall route. Blue: Little Carp.


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