Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Porcupine Mountains 2021, Day 7: Greenstone Falls to Lily Pond

 All backpacking posts - Last time: 5, or 5.5, or 6, or 6.25 miles to go...

Greenstone Falls cabin with its shutters all closed up

Friday May 28, 2021: Our last full day in the Porkies dawned clear and cool at the Greenstone Falls cabin. As always, we felt a real difference between being on the lakeshore versus inland. When half of the horizon is clear, uninterrupted Lake Superior water, much more light can reach you. You're lucky to see a sunrise or sunset at all from the dense forest of most inland campsites.

Today's hike would be a short 3 miles, an intentionally easy day as we reached the end of our trip. Sarah and I spent a lazy morning reading and enjoying breakfast. Eventually, we could delay no longer (cabins do have a "check out" time: noon), so we packed up our bags, swept out the cabin, closed and latched the shutters, and headed east on the Little Carp River trail.

Today's goal -- and our last cabin of the trip -- was Lily Pond Cabin. Many years ago, on my first backpacking trip in the Porkies, I stumbled upon Lily Pond Cabin and was immediately taken with its beautiful setting, huge banks of windows overlooking the pond, and magnificently situated bridge. I vowed to stay there some day -- and that day, at long last, was today.

Picturesque segment of the Little Carp river

After a mile of flat but rocky-and-rooty trail, we passed the turnoff for the Little Carp River trailhead. After this point, we were hiking new ground. The Little Carp River and Little Carp Trail parted ways here, and we spent most of the rest of the hike in a tunnel of trees.

The trail quickly started climbing and didn't let up. Despite our packs being super-light after 7 days of travel, we took a few breaks to catch our breaths. I was surprised at just how hilly this part of the trail was, although I shouldn't have been too surprised -- we were continuing to climb into the central highlands of the park. This also seemed to be a less-maintained and less-traveled segment, with brush growing close along the sides.

The Little Carp River trail is one of the few non-muddy trails in the park. We found only one big mud bog, at a low point in the trail, although it took us quite a lot of work to get through. But, compared to entire miles of the Correction Line or Lake Superior trail, those few dozen yards really weren't a problem.

Little Carp river, from the middle of the crossing.

Another mile or so later, we came back to the Little Carp river. This was our last unbridged river crossing of the trip (the 4th!). The trail ran between two campsites (LC-3 and LC-4) that are directly adjacent both to each other, and the river. We paused here for a snack and for Sarah to change to sandals. The bugs were bad enough, unusually for this trip, that we kept our bug nets on as we ate.

As we sat, a large group of college-aged backpackers came up to the opposite side of the river and started to cross. They took every conceivable route across the river, with no coordination whatsoever: Hopping between big rocks, tip-toeing across small rocks, wading in sandals, just trudging through the deepest bit. A few tried to help each other, most just did their own thing. After they crossed, they sat down at the other campsite in small groups, eating snacks and chatting. The way the group splintered into many small subgroups made us think that they didn't know each other well, and so we guessed that they might be here as part of an "Outdoor Adventure" class from Michigan Tech.

With our snack finished, we crossed the river too, each in our own way. On the other side, we paused to dry off and decided to go all out and actually eat lunch as we enjoyed the beautiful and very shallow river.

Another view from the river crossing. Mystery students on the right.

The trail continued on, soon passing the turn-off to the Lily Pond trail (which, oddly enough, never actually makes it to Lily Pond). Quickly we started to get distant views of the pond, and suddenly poof! -- There was the cabin, right next to the trail.

From the outside, the Lily Pond cabin looks remarkably similar to Greenstone Falls cabin. It is right on the trail, with the fire pit across the trail from the cabin. It is so close to the Little Carp river that you can hear the river at all times, even indoors. Because it's so close to the trail, it also has shutters.

View out the front window featuring fire pit and (just over the edge) the river

As soon as we opened the shutters, we could see that the interior of the cabin was quite different. It was beautifully paneled and well maintained. The cabin was a bit smaller than others and felt cozy (like Speakers cabin) rather than large and empty (like Little Carp). The smaller size meant that bunks were arranged differently from any other cabin I've been in, with some of them separated from others by a privacy wall, and others right next to a window.

Despite the superficial similarity to Greenstone Falls cabin, we ended up loving Lily Pond cabin. We will definitely be returning in the future. Besides the pleasant interior, one of the biggest reasons we loved it so much was its setting -- and especially the bridge.

View from the bench in the middle of Lily Pond bridge.

The Lily Pond bridge crosses the Little Carp river's outlet from Lily Pond, and it's just a few steps down the trail from Lily Pond cabin. The bridge is probably the most elaborate bridge in the park, with the possible exception of the Lake of the Clouds bridge.  Two logs with some planks this is not. The bridge is long and beautifully constructed, but its best feature is a bench set right in the middle. The railing opposite the bridge is cut away to give a beautiful view of the pond (and, perhaps, to fish from).

There were two log books in the cabin -- one filled, and another almost brand-new -- so we took them and our water filter and walked down to the Lily Pond bridge to read and filter.

The view from the bridge was spectacular, and the bench was the perfect place to enjoy it from. Lily Pond itself is a wide spot in the river that has been converted into an enormous beaver pond by a long and industrious line of beavers. This year, the beaver dam was a few yards downstream from the bridge, although we could see remnants of older dams on both sides of the bridge. The lake was ringed by grassy marshes and the skeletons of long-dead trees, while the water reflected the perfectly clear blue of the sky.

Lily pond's outer edges, with canoe and rowboat.

Near the edge of the bridge sat a canoe and rowboat. We considered taking them out for a spin, but a stiff and cold breeze convinced us that any boat outing would become a fight against the weather soon enough.

The log books were as enjoyable as always -- a glimpse into other people's lives. Some were living their best lives, and others... not so much. Lily Pond is a popular cabin with relatively easy access to trailheads, so it tends to attract people who are new to backcountry camping. As we had seen all through the COVID Camping Craze of 2020 and 2021, people tend to make unwarranted (and uninformed) assumptions about their destinations. Lily Pond's log books did not disappoint.

Many, many logs bemoaned over-packed backpacks. One couple made 5 (!) trips back and forth to the parking lot before they had hauled in everything from their car. The next renters described opening the cabin to discover that the couple had left quite a lot of their stuff behind. There were tales of people attempting to bring luggage, wheeled coolers, and even a wagon to haul in their goods -- over 3 to 4 miles of rocky, rooty, muddy trails.

There are always many logs cursing the previous renters for not leaving firewood. One log mentioned how the renters didn't think they could burn any wood from near the cabin at all, and so they packed in enough firewood for several nights, nearly breaking their arms along the way. To be sure, you can always find firewood from the many dead and down branches that are all around the cabin. Whether that wood is dry enough to burn is another matter.

Reading log books on the bridge

A nearly constant theme was a near-mythical spring of fresh water somewhere far across the lake. One entry had a detailed map, and many others gave step-by-step instructions for finding the spring, but others complained of their inability to find it nonetheless. A large number seemed to think that this spring was their only option for clean water. Some cited the disturbingly brown pond and river water as a sign of Bad Stuff (I personally enjoy the fresh astringency and delicate bouquet of Porkies river water. Seriously.). Others noted that, since you ought to filter it anyhow, just grab some water from the conveniently placed bridge. This was exactly what we did, and the water tasted great.

The final major theme in the log book was: Wildlife! Logs detailed every conceivable kind of bird, from sparrows to cranes to a Bald Eagle that supposedly lived nearby. Waterfowl abounded. Deer and bears came and went in Disney-like quantities. Mice, chipmunks, and squirrels were endless pests.

We sat quietly reading on the bridge for quite a while, and managed to see only the redwing blackbirds staking out territory in the grassy marshlands around the pond. We seemed to be in a wildlife lull.

The bridge and pond were beautiful, the bridge itself was lovely, and the sun was wonderful, but the wind was frickin' cold and so eventually we returned to the cabin, which was somewhat more protected.

Sarah in a smoky cabin

The cabin was well stocked with firewood, but we again expected a cold night to pair with the chilly day, so we headed out to generate some heat by searching for firewood. The area around the cabin was littered with fallen hardwood logs, and we worked up quite a sweat hauling and sawing them.

As we hauled and sawed, we met and chatted with a few dayhikers, all of them amazed by the beautiful setting of cabin -- beautiful even by Porkies standards. Most of them were also confused, since the spur trail to the cabin's outhouse looks more obvious than the real trail through its front yard.

Using the well-dried wood in the cabin, I managed to eventually get a fire started in the wood stove, but as the log book warned: This stove was smoky and hard to light. Dinner was freeze-dried as always, and served with an extra seasoning of smoke.

White pine in light. The beaver dam is in the foreground, then the river bends to the left.

Once the fire was chugging along and the cabin had cleared out a bit, we spent some more time sitting and reading on the bridge. The sky was perfectly clear, and the scene was stunningly beautiful. As the sun lowered, it managed to shine directly down the river, highlighting a large white pine right at the bend behind the cabin. 

When we couldn't handle the cold air any more, we went back in to enjoy the toasty cabin and some nighttime tea. As we laid in bed reading, we heard loud voices from a group heading down the trail. The voices passed... then came back again... then again. Listening carefully, they seemed to be trying to continue west on the Little Carp River trail, which they were doing (the last time they passed, at least). As I peeked out the window, I saw a group of college-aged students, several wearing t-shirts and shorts. Where were they headed? How had they ended up hiking at 9 pm, unsure of where they were going? Why had they ever worn t-shirts and shorts on a day this cold and windy? They had marched off with a certain, um, certainty before I opened the door to see if they needed help.

Finally, the fire's going and not smoking!

I spent the rest of the evening tending the fire, reading, and generally staying cozy. Dusk fell around the cabin, slowly hiding the beautiful scenery all around us. Just before bed, I put on all of my layers and stepped outdoors to use the outhouse one last time. As I stood outside the cabin in pitch blackness, I looked up and saw the sky absolutely filled with stars. It took my breath away.

Well, that, and the really cold temperatures. I took a mental photo, but not a photo photo, and made a run for it.

We slept cozily in our new favorite cabin (well, tied with Speakers).

Next time: The biggest disappointment in the world - All backpacking posts

Day 7's path is highlighted in orange. The loop is almost closed!

Miles hiked: 3

Total miles: 31.2

Notable animals: Red winged blackbirds, a few ducks and geese, a wide range of humans.

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