Thursday, July 22, 2021

Porcupine Mountains 2021, Day 6: Little Carp to Greenstone Falls

 All backpacking posts - Last time: Everyone loves the Little Carp cabin's tilt-a-potty!

Cold morning meets hot tea

Thursday May 27, 2021: After tossing, turning, and burrowing deeper into the sleeping bag all night, I managed to string together a few hours of sleep. Sarah and I woke to a cold, gray morning outside the Little Carp cabin. We put on as many layers as we could find (including, in her case, wrapping herself in my quilt!) and made multiple rounds of hot tea with our oatmeal. We later learned that it had dropped to 34 overnight, and the puny fire in the cabin's wood stove barely lasted an hour.

The day didn't feel much warmer than the night and it looked like rain, so we piled on layers and rain gear before saying goodbye to the Little Carp cabin. In the end, we did enjoy the Little Carp cabin and its private setting -- despite the number of interruptions from nearby campers.

Little Carp River cabin on a gray day

Today, we would hike the Little Carp River trail into the park's interior, ending at Greenstone Falls cabin -- another new cabin for us. The Little Carp River trail started just across the Little Carp bridge. We waved at the still-spawning fish as we crossed.

At the trail intersection, we found a sign: 6.5 miles to Greenstone Falls cabin. Great! ... except that the Little Carp River trail is also part of the North Country Trail, which has its own set of maps that put the mileage closer to 5 miles. Mileage signs are often like this in the Porkies: As best I can tell, the signmakers just make their best guess and stick with that.

The Little Carp River trail is a contender for the most beautiful trail in a park where all of the trails run through nonstop beauty. The trail runs all the way from Lake Superior to Mirror Lake, the heart of the park's interior highlands. We planned to hike nearly all of it in the next two days, starting with the big hill right in front of us. We climbed it... and then quickly came right back down to river level. 

Traders "falls"

Shortly afterwards, we followed a sign for a short spur to Traders falls, one of the few waterfalls marked with a sign in all of the Porkies. I have no idea why this tiny collection of river rocks got a name, much less a sign. The whole river looks like Traders falls, and many larger waterfalls go unnamed and unsigned.

For the first few miles of the Little Carp River, the trail is right next to the river, with constant amazing views. I tried to capture many of them, but really... you have to see them in person. The trail crosses the river several times with no bridges to be found, but the river is almost always shallow, rocky, and easy to ford.

Sarah at the first Little Carp crossing.

On of my favorite parts of the river is the "Tree Alley", a long straight stretch deeply shaded by overhanging hemlocks. Tree Alley ends with a beautiful waterfall -- surely one of Trapper's or Explorer's falls, but I honestly have no idea because unlike Trader's falls, it has no sign.

Along this stretch, we started to meet some more hikers. First came several solo hikers who seemed excited just to be in the Porkies. Next, we met a couple of hikers sitting in a campsite, looking unhappy as they peeled off their socks. They warned us about the upcoming unbridged river crossing, which must have caught them by surprise.

After crossing the river (again, I waded right in without changing my trail-running shoes), we paused for lunch. The day had hardly warmed up at all -- it was in the 40's at most -- and rain occasionally spritzed down on us.

A real waterfall!

The trail soon cut away from the river and ran through a broad open forest. We met a group of 5 guys, looking for all the world like a cross between lumberjacks and college students. We guessed, from long experience, that they were students at Michigan Tech (where both Sarah and I attended college). The flannel and beards were a dead giveaway.

A nice feature of the Little Carp River trail is that how slowly but steadily it gains elevation. There aren't too many steep segments of the Little Carp, but most of them happen at this point, as you climb over knobs of bedrock leading up to the interior highlands. The trail runs high above the river, which is still visible and audible far below. Near the top of one of these knobs, we passed the turnoff to the mysterious Cross trail -- the only major trail in the park that I've never touched. After that, we quickly found the Greenstone Falls cabin. In the end, the hike felt closer to 5 miles than 6.5, but we didn't verify the distance with a GPS.

Greenstone Falls cabin was another new cabin for us. It's named for the waterfall that's just a few hundred yards farther up the trail. The cabin is so close to the river that you can always hear rushing water inside, even with the windows closed. The trail runs through the cabin's front yard, squeezed between the cabin and the river.  The cabin's fire pit is across the trail from the cabin itself, and almost in the river during high water. If you are a social sort of person, you could do worse than renting this cabin and sitting on its front steps and chatting with the passersby all day.

In the Tree Alley

We are not very sociable people, or at least, that's not why we go backpacking. We must be in good company, because this was the first Porkies cabin I've ever rented that has shutters. The cabin's huge banks of windows -- very similar to those on Little Carp cabin -- can be entirely covered by thick, solid wooden shutters that latch solidly and keep out prying eyes. The cabin is within a mile of a popular trailhead, and even as we unlocked the cabin, several groups came hiking in from that direction, walking just feet from the cabin.

We opened up the cabin, including the shutters, and took a look around. The first thing I noticed wasn't  a sight, but a smell... a whole range of them. Some of the smell came from the mingling scents of literally dozens of candles sitting on windowsills, counters, and the table. We've seen candles left in other cabins, but this felt like we had walked into someone's personal shrine. That wasn't all though, as I caught a whiff of a distinctly urine-ish smell near the counter. Maybe that's what all the candles were about. We quickly opened the windows to air out the cabin, despite the cold air outside.

The smells and candles were part of an overall odd feeling I got from the cabin. The cabin's ceiling and some walls were made from some sort of varnished chipboard, rather than the paneling found in other cabins. The bunks were built in to the back wall (again, much like the Little Carp cabin). Most cabins have small "shelves" built in to the walls next to each bunk, to store items like glasses or a headlamp. The lower bunks here had no shelves at all, and the upper bunk's shelves were so high up that we'd have had to stand up on the mattresses to reach them.

Greenstone Falls interior. Notice the oddly textured roof.

On the positive side, especially on this cold day, the cabin was well stocked with firewood. A big pile of freshly split wood sat directly underneath the wood stove. In the log book, the previous renters said that they had put it there to help it dry.

Inspired, and knowing that we were going to burn a lot of wood to heat the cabin tonight, we headed out to cut even more wood and managed to haul in another big load of wood. I quickly started a fire in the stove, hell-bent on building a better fire than I'd done last night. To help, I carefully followed the instructions in the Last Porcupine Mountains Companion, an invaluable book that the Friends of the Porkies have provided in each cabin (although a few seem to have walked away over the years). The book, plus the excellent dry firewood already stocked in the cabin, helped me start a roaring fire that pushed the chill away as evening started to creep in.

Greenstone Falls

When the fire was old enough to be left alone, we went to check out our surroundings. The river near the cabin is (as always) practically made of waterfalls, including the picturesque Greenstone Falls.

A few hundred yards down the trail, we found another composting outhouse in the style of the one at Mirror Lake. We took turns availing ourselves of its nearly smell-free interior. While waiting, I spent a little while enjoying the view from the Section 17 bridge. This bridge leads across the river to the other cabin in this area, Section 17 cabin. We had stayed there on a previous trip, in much wetter conditions. Section 17 is much more isolated, smaller, and cozier. In many ways, it's similar to the Mirror Lake 2-bunk. Having stayed in both Greenstone Falls and Section 17 now, I will definitely choose Section 17 in the future.

Forest beyond a bank of windows at Greenstone Falls Cabin

As I was coming back from the bridge, I met another pair of backpackers trudging up the trail. They looked like a father and son, and they hiked quietly with hunched shoulders and downcast eyes. They were the only hikers I'd seen who were coming from Lake Superior, the same direction we had come today. It was getting quite dim, so I greeted them and asked how they were doing. The father said, briefly, "It's too darn cold and windy at the lake, so we're going home." It must have been quite a decision that led them to be hiking out after 9 pm.

Back in the cabin, we played some solitaire, read our books, and curled up for the night. The fire kept the cabin toasty warm despite another freezing night outside, and we slept easily.

Next time: The magical bridge of Lily Pond - All backpacking posts 

Day 6's route is shown in red.

Miles hiked: 6 (I guess? We'll go with that.)

Total miles: 28.2

Notable animals: Only humans today, but lots of them.

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