Thursday, July 15, 2021

Porcupine Mountains 2021, Day 4: Speakers to Little Carp

 All backpacking posts -  Last time: Speakers cabin awaits us at the end of an exhausting day like a glowing beacon. Also fish.

Speakers Creek in the morning sun.

Tuesday May 25, 2021: The cold breeze overnight gave way to a clear and warm morning, with the promise of a hot and muggy day. My heart was light this morning, knowing that we had figured out a way to avoid the misery that is the Lake Superior trail.

Our endpoint for the day was the Little Carp River cabin, a brand new cabin for us. Our original plan was to backtrack on the Lake Superior trail, but after yesterday's exhausting bushwhack-mud slog-tree climb, we had found a better plan: Walk down Speakers trail to the South Boundary Road, walk the road for a couple of miles, and then hike in to our cabin on the Pinkerton Creek trail.

After a pleasant breakfast (oatmeal and tea, like always), we packed up at a leisurely pace and enjoyed watching birds flying circles in the sky over Lake Superior. We finally left around 11 am.

Note the trail running along the side of the bridge.

Our walk out was uneventful. The short stretch of the Lake Superior trail we had to walk today wasn't bad, and the only event of note was when we scared up two turkey vultures near Tiebel Creek. We turned on to Speakers trail, an old two-track that is extremely easy to hike, and reached the trailhead in no time flat.

We stopped for a quick water break, and to take advantage of another benefit of changing our route: throwing away trash! Every trail head has a bear-proof trash can, and I took the opportunity to ditch the weight of three days worth of freeze-dried food bags, used tea bags, and other such cruft.

We ate a quick snack while leaning against a small swing gate that blocks cars from the two-track trail. As we leaned back, the gate suddenly swung open, and we both fell over backwards onto our backs! It hadn't been latched, much less locked.

Oh boy, a road walk!

Uninjured but slightly embarrassed, we packed up and continued on to the road walk segment of today's hike. Road walks are never fun, although the margins of South Boundary Road turned out to be filled with beautiful forget-me-nots, with monarch butterflies flitting between them.

There wasn't much traffic, but what traffic there was covered a surprising range: Besides the expected cars, trucks, trailers, and RVs, there was a garbage truck and even a fully loaded double-trailer logging truck. South Boundary Road is a wiggly, hilly, and narrow road, but it's also the quickest way between a few (very remote) points.

Selfie with bugs and Pinkerton Creek sign

The Pinkerton trailhead is located about 1.8 miles down South Boundary Road from Speakers trailhead. When we arrived at the trailhead, we took off our packs, sat down on a log just inside the woods, and got out meat sticks and rice cakes. The bugs were thicker than we'd yet seen, so we ate lunch by shoving bits of food up under our head nets.

I also discovered that I'd reached the inevitable point in the trip where I started to daydream about a rich, greasy hamburger. This inspired some food-daydreaming between us. Sarah's lunchtime meat stick inspired her own craving -- for a Lunchable, of all things!

After we had thoroughly discussed our cravings, we strapped on our packs and headed down the Pinkerton trail, a direct access route to the mouths of the Little and Big Carp Rivers. It is a very popular trail for people looking to stay at the campsites and cabins between the two Carps, but it was brand new territory for us -- one of the few remaining trails in the park that we had never hiked.

Sarah on the Pinkerton Creek trail.

The Pinkerton trail is a dream. It is by far the best maintained trail I've hiked the Porkies. The trail climbed over only mild rolling hills, with puncheon bridges over every area that looked even slightly muddy, and many that were wholly dry. There was a bridge over every stream, no matter how small. The worst hazard was an occasional tree root.

The trail wound through lovely woodlands and soon started following a small seasonal creek. After about a mile, we came to the most scenic spot on a very scenic trail: The Pinkerton Creek bridge. Pinkerton Creek was just as broad and red-bedded as it had been yesterday, when we waded across it on the Lake Superior Trail. Here, it is spanned by a lovely wooden bridge. A bench, in dappled sunlight, sits on a small rise overlooking the bridge. We spent half an hour resting and enjoying the sights and sounds, and not another soul interrupted us the whole time. Why rush when you're surrounded by such beauty?

Pinkerton Creek bridge

The trail, continuing to be awesome and well-maintained, eventually came to the brink of the Little Carp River's deep gorge. Another bench was perfectly situated to look out over the river and forest beyond. The trail made a sharp turn to follow along the edge of the gorge, under the dense shade of towering hemlocks (some of them clinging, as if by magic, to the incredibly steep sides of the gorge).

Pinkerton Creek trail and river bluff

We soon came to the intersection with the Lake Superior trail -- we had been here just a day ago, unaware of the pain about to follow! Just a short jog ahead, we found the turn-off to the Little Carp River cabin, just feet away from the stairs leading down to the Little Carp bridge.

Why did the trail sign have barbed wire? Don't ask me!

The Little Carp River cabin was a new one for us. It had felt a bit like a gamble when we decided to take our rest day here. Little Carp is one of the older cabins in the park, and is located high above the Little Carp River on a bluff. The bluff and its distance from main trails makes it feel much more isolated than some other cabins. There is a partial view of the river, but essentially no view of the lake. Nonetheless, it is very popular with fishermen and deer hunters.

The interior was surprising in a few ways. First, the bunk beds were actually built in to the back wall, rather than being free-standing (and therefore movable). The cabin was a bit larger than other 4-bunk cabins but had only a table, two small benches, and one chair. This left a lot of space, making the cabin feel rather empty. The floor was old, creaky, and in need of a paint job. On the upside, the cabin had tons of windows on three walls with big banks of them facing east and west. If only there were a view, but at least we had a breeze on this hot day!

Sarah found the cabin's log book and sat under a truly Tolkeinesque hemlock at the point of land where the river bluff and lake bluff met. The log gave us the usual warnings of mice, plus some curious stories of first-time campers attempting to haul a wheeled cooler down the Pinkerton trail. It's a nice trail, but not that nice!

Sarah under the huge hemlock

Taking care of camp chores required a bit more effort at the Little Carp cabin. Together we carefully climbed down the steep, steep trail leading down the bluff to the river. There was a small strip of land between the bluff and beach, and an even narrower strip next to the river.

We brought our gravity filter, folding bucket, and water bottles, on the theory that we didn't want to climb down the bluff any more than necessary. As it turns out, we would be climbing up and down that bluff with great regularity for the next few days, but what did we know?

It felt fantastic to stand in the river to scoop up water into the "dirty bag", and Sarah took the chance to wade out into the lake as well. We spent a while exploring the beach and sitting on a huge driftwood tree before climbing back up the steep bluff with our freshly gravity-filtered water.

Little Carp River, looking upstream from near its mouth.

After dropping off the water, we climbed right back down again to do some laundry. The weather was predicted to change for the colder overnight, so we wanted to give our clothes every moment of hot, sunny day that we could.

As we sat on the beach, plunging our clothing into the folding bucket and wringing them out, the day suddenly turned from bright, sunny, and hot to cold, cloudy, and breezy. We raced through a final wash, grabbed clothes that were drying in the sun, hauled ourselves up the hill, strung up clotheslines, and hung up clothes just in time for a rainstorm to drench them. Well, at least they got another rinse!

During the rain, we ate dinner (freeze-dried beef stew -- wholly adequate but nothing special), read more of the cabin log, and set up our bunks. Once the rain had passed, we set out for the Little Carp bridge, which was quite close to the cabin. Once again, we spent a lovely half hour watching fish try to jump up waterfalls.

View through the roots of a giant driftwood tree

As sunset approached, we grabbed headlamps and headed down the river bluff for a third time. We sat again on the huge driftwood tree, enjoying the views of the lake, cobble beach, and forested points of land disappearing into the distance. Even though there were (in theory) campsites directly across the river mouth, we couldn't see nor hear any campers. It felt like we had a private beach all to ourselves.

The sunset ended up as a dud (the sun fell behind a bank of clouds at just the wrong time). But we didn't mind -- we were on vacation in the most beautiful place in the world!

We carefully made our way up the bluff one last time, crawled into bed, and slept hard and well.

Next time: A rest day in paradise - All backpacking posts

Day 4's route is marked in blue

Miles hiked: 5.4 (1.8 of them roadwalk)

Total miles: 22.2

Notable animals: Two turkey buzzards (in a hemlock tree)

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