Saturday, July 17, 2021

Porcupine Mountains 2021, Day 5: Rest day at Little Carp

 All backpacking posts - Last time: Pinkerton, or The most beautiful trail of them all.

Little Carp River Cabin hiding in the trees

Wednesday May 26, 2021: Wednesday's goal was nothing more -- nor less -- than relaxation and rest at the Little Carp cabin. In line with that, I have no clue when Sarah and I woke up, but it was well after the sun rose. We finally got out of bed around 10:30 and continued our lazy morning with oatmeal and quiet contemplation of our tea.

Things had cooled down considerably overnight, with more rounds of rain and wind. The day was dry but breezy, so we bundled up for our late-morning run to the leaning-outhouse-of-Little Carp.

Oh yeah, did I mention the outhouse? It looks for all the world like it's about to sink into its own pit, and comes with a couple of boards propping it up:

Careful where you sit.

Not long afterward, we saw our first "lost" hikers of the day. A couple walked right past the big bank of cabin windows, where I was standing and looking out. They also must have walked right past the "Cabin users only" sign at the start of our spur trail. They eyeballed the outhouse, with its large and clear "Cabin occupants use only" sign. They looked back at the cabin. They decided to go for it. We stayed inside and didn't bother them.

If I sound a bit skeptical, it's because of the sheer number of signs they had to ignore to end up where they wanted. I can understand the desire to use an outhouse instead of digging a cathole, but in that case -- own it, rather than trying to sneak around!

Steps down to the bridge

After breakfast, with no specific plan in mind, we walked down the huge bank of steps to the Little Carp river bridge. We chatted with a family of four (plus a very active dog) who were hanging out and fishing. They were enjoying easy fishing with the spawning fish, but had no more idea than we did about what they could be. "Uh, carp, I guess?" one said, referring to the river's name.

As several guide books point out, the Big and Little Carp river were not named for fish -- they seem to have been named for Carp Lake (renamed Lake of the Clouds in the early 1900's, for tourism purposes). That name survives in the name of one of the townships covering the park, Carp Lake Township. But the lake in turn was named after a shortening of the French word for the Escarpment that towers above the lake. In short, the "Carp" rivers don't seem to have anything to do with fish.

The family packed up and continued on what looked like a day hike, and we wandered up along the river, checking out several waterfalls and the pools below them. Above the 3rd waterfall, we found some good flat rocks and spent a long, beautiful afternoon soaking up sun next to the babbling river.

Pink Lady's Slipper

We briefly got motivated to check out the Little Carp River trail, our route for tomorrow. The trail ran up a big hill almost immediately, and we decided that we didn't want to see the trail that badly. We did find a grove of Pink Lady's Slippers sunning themselves along the side of the trail, so that made the (minimal) effort worth it. We settled back down by the river, reading, sunning, and cheering on spawning fish.

Eventually, even we couldn't come up with an excuse to linger any longer, so we headed back up the steps towards our cabin. At the cabin trail's intersection, we passed a familiar looking couple... the outhouse bandits from earlier! They were probably planning to use the tilted outhouse again until they saw us walking down the trail.

Little Carp River from the bridge, looking towards the mouth

Our next step was to take showers. We had filled up the solar shower and set it out in the morning, but the filtered sunlight and cool air temperatures didn't do much to warm it up. After 5 days on the trail, we decided that "not teeth-chattering cold" was good enough.

The solar shower hangs from a tree branch, using a long length of nylon rope -- much like you would hang a bear bag. We found a likely branch on the Hobbit Hemlock (the magnificent hemlock near the river bluff). I tied a rock to the rope and managed to get it over the branch with just one, or maybe two dozen throws. The shower turned out to work amazingly well here, and both Sarah and I enjoyed the rinse. It was definitely better than submerging ourselves in near-freezing Lake Superior waters.

The only downside was that we had somehow managed to set up the shower directly above an animal dropping of unusual size -- probably from a fox, by its shape. That required some careful stepping as we rinsed off, because I was most certainly not going to manage another dozen or more rock throws just to move the shower.

After spending what felt like all day relaxing and showering, there was still a ton of daylight left. This far north, and this close to the summer solstice, we had over 16 hours of usable light. We spent late afternoon walking along the Lake Superior shore, enjoying the cobble beach, searching for agates (still no success), and reading on the giant driftwood tree. I took a long walk along the beach until I was out of sight of everyone and everything, enjoying the feeling of even deeper solitude.

Narrow cobble beach

Dinner time arrived eventually. As we climbed the river bluff and headed back to the cabin, we ran into yet another couple who had wandered past the "Cabin users only" sign and were eyeballing the outhouse. I decided to play happy-and-dumb with them, always a fun tactic. "Hi! Can I help you find the trail?" "Oh, we thought this was..." "Oh, I see. You must have missed the sign. This trail is just for cabin renters. Where are you headed?" A bit flustered, the two halves of the couple came to different conclusions. She said "the lake" as he said "Carp Big River" (yes, in that order). Taking that as my cue, I gave them turn-by-turn directions to get headed towards the Big Carp, in the process learning that they were very confused about which direction they were facing. I continued to stand happily in the middle of the trail with a huge smile on my face (while mentally daring them to tell me what they really wanted), and they finally turned around and headed back.

Back in the cabin, we prepared one of our favorite freeze-dried meals: chicken and dumplings! We save the best meals for easy days. When we've hiked a dozen miles uphill, it doesn't matter what dinner is -- we'll eat it! But on a quiet rest day like this one, it's nice to have a meal that you actually like.

After dinner, we climbed back down the river bluff to sit and read on our favorite driftwood log. In case you haven't gathered it, we found it absolutely worth the effort to be at our favoritest place, near the lake. This time there were a few groups at the tent sites across the river, also out on the beach to watch the sunset. We were all disappointed as the sun set behind some dense clouds -- they looked like rain headed our way -- so we packed up, turned on head lamps, and climbed the hill one last time.

Another view of the river, since I didn't take any more photos!

We did the usual nighttime chores: taking medicines, brushing teeth, going to the angled outhouse. Sarah returned breathless from her outhouse visit (and not because of the smell): "Quick, go look at the sunset! The sky is glowing!" Sarah proclaimed that she didn't have another hill climb in her, but I ran out to look at the sky from the Tolkein Tree. Sure enough, the entire sky was aflame with a bright orange glow. I quickly scuttled down the bluff to the beach. There, I could see that the sun had come out into a tiny gap between the rain clouds and the true horizon and was lighting up all of the clouds into a magnificent sunset of molten orange metal, fading to rich red and then a deep purple.

In my haste to run down the hill, I'd left my phone behind in the cabin, and so I have only memories of the sunset. Lesson learned: Never give up on a sunset!

Finally back in the cabin for good, we switched our bedding. Sarah and been eying my camping quilt and wanted to give it a try, while I was interested in her Big Agnes sleeping bag -- the style has no insulation on the back, instead including a sleeve for an air mattress. Her bag is also semi-rectangular, leaving more room than a mummy bag (which have always made me feel too constrained).

Cabin windows

With the promise of a cold night ahead of us, I started a fire in the wood stove, something that I had done many times before (including almost every night on this trip). This time, a combination of wet wood and too much ash in the firebox gave me endless trouble. I could  barely get the fire to stay lit, much less grow. I tended the fire until midnight, at which point I thought I had it going well enough to keep us warm for a while.

The night was indeed frigid -- 34 degrees, we learned later -- and Sarah and I both had trouble keeping warm as the fire died down. We added layers and curled up, trying to get to sleep in the cold, drafty cabin.

Next time: Onward, upward, inward to Greenstone Falls! - All backpacking posts

No new hikes today, so here's what we've done already:
Pink to Green to Yellow to Blue!

Miles hiked: Basically 0, unless you count a whole lot of up-and-down-the-bluff

Total miles: 22.2

Notable animals: Thousands more fish

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