Friday, July 30, 2021

Porcupine Mountains 2021, Day 8: Lily Pond to Summit Peak

 All backpacking posts - Last time: Lily Pond cabin, at last!

Lily Pond in the morning sun

Saturday May 29, 2021:
Our last day of our longest backpacking trip dawned... well, I don't know how it dawned, because I slept through it! We slept in longer and longer each day, enjoying a slow slide into relaxation and laziness after a seemingly unending school year.

Once we were awake and making tea, however, I saw that it was a sunny, clear, and cool morning. Sarah and I took our tea down to the bridge and enjoyed the beautiful view on a beautiful morning in the most beautiful place I know.

In addition to being beautiful, it was cold. We had to wear all of our layers, and Sarah wrapped herself in my quilt.

Sarah, cozied up in my quilt!

As we sat, we started to do what all backpackers eventually do: Daydream about food. We were both so excited for a big, greasy hamburger. We agreed that fries would be a good side, but onion rings would be the best. We had our eyes set on getting all this delicious greasy food from the old-fashioned drive-in we'd seen just outside of Baraga.

With that in mind, we packed up our packs, closed and latched the shutters, and departed on the last leg of our trip. Lily Pond cabin was definitely a new favorite, and we agreed that we would return there on our next Porkies trip. We spent quite a bit of the next few miles discussing what that trip might look like, and how we could arrange for a rest day at Lily Pond.

We crossed the Lily Pond bridge one last time, heading north on the Little Carp River trail. This segment of the trail was flat, well-maintained, and pretty dry. It took hardly any time at all to reach the intersection with the Beaver Creek trail, but by that point the day had already warmed up enough that we had to stop and take off some layers.

Goodbye Lily Pond cabin, you were one of our favorites!

We turned on to Beaver Creek trail, a new segment for us. This is one of several short trails that surround Summit Peak and make popular day hikes. The trail was well maintained as it crossed a large swampy area on boardwalks. Soon the boardwalks became a bridge, and we crossed the Little Carp River one last time at a small and picturesque beaver pond.

Immediately after the bridge, the trail stared to climb the shoulders of Summit Peak. The bugs came out and didn't let up, and mud followed the same pattern.

Long boardwalk at Beaver Creek

We met many groups of day hikers coming from Summit Peak, and every one of them commented on our bug nets with envy.

Beaver Creek trail was quite nice, running (sometimes) near its namesake creek, other times along low bluffs or other interesting bits of topography. But after the beaver pond, it was mostly a walk through a green tunnel, and we were ready to be done with it. The mud kept increasing, as did the bugs, as we trudged onwards.

Little Carp River and beaver marsh.

After a mile or two, we came out of the woods at the Summit Peak parking area. The parking lot was almost completely full on this holiday weekend. We only saw two open spots, and several cars coming in.

We had not parked here, but that's where the trail took us, and so we had to walk another mile or so along the shoulder of Summit Peak Road in order to get to the South Mirror Lake trailhead. As we did, a steady stream of cars came up the road, surely over-filling the parking lot.

The road walk was hot, buggy, and unpleasant, but we had made it this far, and so we made it work. When we finally arrived at the car, the South Mirror Lake trailhead's parking lot was almost completely empty. We made it!

Our official exit from the wilderness.

We got in the car, stopped at the Visitor's Center to drop off our keys, and then headed east towards Baraga with dreams of hamburgers and onion rings dancing in our heads.

An hour later, we arrived in Baraga and knew immediately that something was terribly wrong: There were no cars at the drive-in. We pulled in and saw the hand-scrawled sign: "Closed today". Our dreams were dashed, our hopes crushed, our taste buds left tasteless!

We conferred, got out our last meat sticks, and decided to continue on for another hour and a half to Marquette, which certainly had some greasy food options to satisfy two just-out-of-the-woods backpackers.

As I drove, Sarah worked her smartphone magic and discovered the "Burger Bus", Marquette's hottest new food truck... er, bus. 

The bus was exactly where it claimed to be, so we put in an order and enjoyed a quarter hour walking around a Marquette residential district. With fresh burgers obtained, we drove out to Presque Isle Park (yes, the same name as the campground in the Porkies -- those French voyageurs did not have a lot of creativity in their naming of things), purchased some pops, and settled in at a picnic table.

Sarah with the best burgers (and fries, and pop) ever. At least since our last backpacking trip.

There, surrounded by Lake Superior's beauty (and seagulls), we ate the best burgers in the world. At least I think so -- you should never trust the food judgment of a backpacker who's just come out of the woods after a long trip. The burgers and fries really did hit the spot, though.

Satiated and happy, we got back in the car and drove to Sarah's parents' house in Newberry. We got in, immediately took showers (also the best in the world), and then walked down the street to the nearest ice cream shop (also also the best in the world). It was glorious.

We slept in a strangely soft and comfortable bed. The next day, we finished the 5 hour drive back home.

Yep, went for the bad pun again.

Final reflections: This was the longest backpacking trip we've yet done, and one of the few that we've done in the spring. Spring in the UP is a fickle thing -- it lasts late into May, and can swing from 80's and humid one day to 40's and rainy the next. In fact, that's exactly what happened at the start of our trip. The only thing we didn't experience on this trip was snow, but it was well within the realm of the possible.

Sarah and I agreed that 8 days was just a hair too long for us. We would have been perfectly happy to leave the woods on the 7th day, although some of that may have been because of the disappointment that was Greenstone Falls cabin. We did end on a very high note, though: Lily Pond was fantastic.

After a full year of COVID-related disappointments, we had needed a way to get out and escape from the world for a bit. The trip succeeded wonderfully at disconnecting us from a world gone crazy. I didn't miss social media, news, or email a single bit while in the woods, and I dreaded reconnecting with them when we came out. (I put off checking social media for several extra days, in fact, and eventually dropped one platform entirely after realizing just how little value it brought to my life.)

Last, but not least, I was reminded (not for the first time) how much I enjoy backpacking with Sarah. We work well together (despite occasional mice-related freakouts), have similar tolerances for terrain and distance, and enjoy silence and solitude that we can still somehow find together.

That said, next up on my agenda is a return to the Porkies -- a solo photo trip. Watch for the report!

You can also return to the Introduction to this series.

The final trip: Magenta to green to yellow to blue to red to orange to cyan.

Miles hiked: 3.3

Total miles: 34.5

Gear reviews: Way back at the beginning, I mentioned that I had done some unusual gear upgrades. While I wove my "reviews" into many of the blog posts, here are the key points, all together in one place:

Superior Wilderness Designs Rugged Long Haul 50 pack: As I said before, this ultralight internal-frame backpack is simple, streamlined, lightweight, and very well designed. It is clearly designed by long-haul backpackers, for long-haul backpackers. The pack does everything I want it to and doesn't do what I don't. It avoids the unnecessary extra frills that you only really understand after (not) using them for many trips in a row. It's just as comfortable as my old pack, too, with padding in just the right spots (and nowhere else). I do have a few complaints, but nothing that would make me go back to an older, heavier pack. The roll-top closure took some time to get used to, and was sometimes hard to seal securely enough. I eventually learned to pack the pack "wider" which made this a bit easier. With 8 days of food and gear, I was probably at the high end of its capacity. Also, the small hole that lets my water bladder's tube escape from the pack is placed bizarrely low, with a rain-protective overhang that forces the tube to point downward. It took me quite a while to figure out how to make it work. Most packs place this "escape" high enough so that a water tube can come out over your shoulder. I could only get it to work by running the tube under my arm and back up to my shoulder strap. In the end, it worked, but I sometimes wonder if there was a mistake.

Enlightened Equipment Revelation down quilt: Camping quilts truly are a revelation for me, and this one was so nice and quite lightweight. I bought it with the intent of using it for summer camping and brought it (instead of a warmer sleeping bag) almost on a whim, knowing that we might be at the edge of its warmth rating some nights. Except for the one night when I couldn't keep a fire going, it was cozy and snug. The best part was that as a side-sleeper toss-and-turner, I was comfortable in a way that I've never been in a mummy bag. If that's your situation, I encourage you to consider a quilt. Plus, Sarah loved wrapping up in the quilt on chilly mornings and evenings.

Altra Lone Peak lightweight trail running shoes: Another big win. The shoes performed exactly as promised: Lightweight and quick-drying. They grip all kinds of surfaces just as well as boots (better than some), and their convenience in crossing mud and rivers was astonishing. They offer essentially no ankle support, but that's not a problem for me. They are also not as rigid as boots, even though the shoe does feature a rock splint, so on uneven terrain my feet could "feel" the ground a bit more than I'm used to. I am definitely going to stick with trail runners for future trips. The main downside for me is that they wear out much faster than boots. After about 300 miles of hiking on these shoes, they are losing support and footbed cushion. They'll soon get downgraded to everyday walking and around-town use.

Leaving my Big Fancy Camera at home and using a Google Pixel 5 phone instead: A big, but situational, win. For the most part, the huge weight savings (3 pounds!) outweighed any concerns. The battery lasted a remarkably long time -- I only recharged the phone from a power pack once, and even then it wasn't fully discharged. The camera was easy to use and always in my pocket. With no need to hang a heavy DSLR around my neck or have to pull it out of the pack, I was more comfortable and also more likely to actually take photos (rather than deciding I didn't want to stop and haul the camera out of my pack). There were only a few times I felt the lack of my big DSLR. Taking photos of waterfalls was the worst: Phones just don't have the level of control necessary. In other circumstances with tricky lighting, such as sun-speckled views from underneath dense foliage, the phone tried very hard to do clever stuff that ended up looking overly-edited instead (and this from a Google phone, famous for their Clever Photo Stuff). I'd rather have the manual controls of a DSLR in those cases. Finally, there was absolutely no chance to do real star trails or Milky Way photos, even though the phone claims to have such a mode. In the end, I'll have to evaluate each trip for whether it is to be a photo trip or not. This trip was not a photo trip, and I quickly got into the mode of just doing "snapshots" rather than taking a lot of time to carefully seek out and compose photos. But my next trip -- coming up soon! -- will definitely involve the Big Camera o' Doom.

Thanks for reading! You can go back to the beginning of my Porkies 2021 series, or check out all of my adventures.

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