Saturday, November 6, 2021

Porkies Solo 2021, Day 4: Escarpment and home

All backpacking posts - Last time: A day of many adventures.

You can find links to all of the days of this trip at the bottom of my post. Links to all of my hiking and backpacking trips are in the adventure index.

Lake of the Clouds

Thursday August 12, 2021: Although yesterday had been breezy and pleasant, the wind dropped off around sunset. That left me to toss and turn through a hot and stagnant night. For some reason, as I rolled over half-awake, I kept worrying about bears (despite the fact that I was in a cabin!). That even kept me from getting up and going outside to enjoy the remarkably clear night sky.

Nonetheless, I still woke up at 6:30 am, ready to enjoy the sunrise. In fact, this was the first time this entire trip that I could actually see the sun rise!

Looking at the West end of Lake of the Clouds

I made a cup of tea, picked up my Serious Camera, and wandered all of a dozen yards from the front door of the cabin down to the shore of Lake of the Clouds. What a beautiful setting! I had a panoramic view of the Escarpment to the east, the interior highlands to the south, and the Carp River valley to the west, all framing the placid waters of Lake of the Clouds. The sky was just starting to glow in the east, behind the Escarpment. I sat on the overturned rowboat and enjoyed the world around me as I sipped my tea.

As the glow of the rising sun slowly intensified, a family of trumpeter swans chose the perfect moment to cruise past on their morning tour of the lake:

Trumpeter swan parade

The sky was mostly cloud-free, which is a problem for sunrises and sunsets. A few well-placed clouds can really catch the light and turn it brilliant colors. That didn't happen, but the lake was still its usual gorgeous self as the sun rose, shining directly along the lake's length.

I spent nearly an hour sitting along the shore, enjoying the scenery, taking photos, and watching the swans tour the rest of the lake.

Sunrise over the Escarpment

Eventually, I went back inside for a quick breakfast of mush and a second round of tea. As I ate, I wrote in the log and philosophized about my solo trip. Today was the last day of the trip, and I had just a short hike to do before meeting up with Sarah.

I packed up and bade the Lake of the Clouds cabin a fond farewell. Despite my poor sleep, I loved the cabin and its amazing setting. I was already mentally planning a return visit -- with Sarah!

The hike up the Escarpment was just as invigorating as it was last night. I turned east at the top and started along the Escarpment itself. The Escarpment trail winds in and out of the forest, popping out to breathtaking views of Lake of the Clouds and the upper Big Carp river, and then diving back down into the trees on rocky and cobble-strewn paths.

I've hiked the Escarpment many times, but it had been quite a few years since the last time. It was good to get back on the Escarpment, the premiere Michigan hike (in my not-so-humble opinion), and enjoy its beauty all over again.

Looking back at Lake of the Clouds with the Escarpment

There were a surprising number of hikers out on this early morning. I ended up playing leapfrog with several of them as we all chose different times to stop and enjoy gorgeous views. Oddly, many of them seemed to be walking (or in some cases, carrying) Corgis along the rocky path.

The Escarpment played its rollercoaster game, dodging in and out of the trees. I made my way slowly down the steep descent near the middle. At the bottom, I passed the remains of the Carp Lake mine and paused to examine an old well hidden in the trees. Then back up the other side, even more steeply before popping out into yet another gorgeous view.

I stopped frequently to take photos and enjoy the views. One of the best parts of the Escarpment is that you get to see Lake of the Clouds from so many angles, as you walk along and then beyond it.

Plus, I was making great time and felt no need to rush. In one open area, I turned off my phone's airplane mode and caught one bar of service. I texted Sarah to let her know about my progress.

Upper Big Carp river

I also spent time chatting with hikers and groups, as I had done all of this trip. One couple was originally from Michigan but had moved to Maine. They were back visiting the Porkies for the first time ever. Others were on dayhikes and asked about my backpack, often with a sense of awe: "Did you carry that the whole way?" (By this point, my already lightweight pack felt almost fluffy. I could get used to these short trips...)

Eventually, I left the last overlook over the Upper Big Carp valley and started a long, long descent back to the Government Peak trailhead. In this direction, it was a mildly knee-bending walk through a rocky tunnel of green. Hiking the other direction, this was a long, long uphill that often surprises and demoralizes hikers starting out on the Escarpment. It's the reason that I usually recommend people hike the Escarpment as a there-and-back, starting at Lake of the Clouds and turning around 2 or 3 miles into the trip.

I arrived at the Government Peak trailhead about 15 minutes before our agreed-upon meetup time. I dropped my back, sat at a bench, and enjoyed a brief rest.

The trailhead was, again, packed with cars (on a Thursday! Seriously!). The small gravel parking lot was completely filled, and cars were lined up on both sides of the road. Some of them were outfitter vans that had probably dropped off large number of tourists.

Big Carp, looking towards White Pine

Eventually, I recognized a car that drove past -- Sarah had arrived! She grabbed me in a big hug, which was impressive given the level of funk that I thought I'd accumulated over the last four days. She claimed not to notice. True love.

We caught up as we headed back down the road. The first and most important item was to decide on a place for lunch. After four days in the woods, I was ready for something hearty. The winner was Syl's in Ontonagon, locally famous for its greasy-spoon cuisine.

We sat on Syl's "patio" (a table on the sidewalk) and split a pasty, sandwich, and onion rings. As we ate, we caught up on the past four days. It turned out that Sarah had been at the Lake of the Clouds overlook last night for the meteor storm viewing party! It was a busy event, with few shooting stars but clear views of the sky.

Eventually, we finished up our hearty lunch and headed back to Sarah's parents, where I got my first shower since Tuesday's thunderstorm. It was wonderful.

Carp River panorama

Some final thoughts: This was my first solo trip since my 2019 visit to Isle Royale. As with that trip, I noticed that more people seem willing to talk with solo hikers than with groups. Sarah noticed something similar on her separate trips. Perhaps it's something about how each of us acts when on our own? Or is it just that there is social pressure to avoid interrupting a group?

I enjoyed being able to set my own pace on this solo trip, to investigate things I might not have stopped at otherwise, and to hike some new trails and see some new cabins. Especially on my third day, I did a lot of side trips that involved bushwhacking -- something Sarah has no interest in. In general, I enjoy trips both solo and with Sarah, and this one was a nice mix: Traveling up north together, going our own ways for a few days, and then coming back together for stories and laughs.

The Escarpment trail runs through here

Trails: After this trip, I've hiked almost every trail in the Porkies. Indeed, my goal for the trip was to visit some of the last few trails that I've never been on before.

Lost Lake trail was a curious one. Even though I hiked it in sweltering heat and ended up nearly exhausted with heat, I still enjoyed it. By combining Lost Lake with the northern part of Government Peak trail, you can see a spectacular cross-section of the park. Those two trails together pass through both deciduous and evergreen old growth, along (and across) rivers and waterfalls, and of course over lots of hills. The segments along the Upper Big Carp river are especially worthwhile. I would do that cross-park hike again in a heartbeat.

The west part of Government Peak trail was also new, and uninspiring. It was mostly a mildly bumpy tunnel of green, and Government Peak itself had no view, just steep sides. It might be an interesting route to enjoy fall colors, but otherwise I won't worry about taking it again.

The only major trail remaining on my list is the infamous Cross Trail, a 4.5 mile trail that cuts straight through the middle of a swamp. Some day, maybe...

Lake of the Clouds Cabin windows

Cabins and yurts: This trip also checked off a few new cabins for me.

Lost Creek Yurt was fine but not great. It's set in a second-growth forest, surrounded by trees. Among other things, I strongly prefer cabins on lakes or at least rivers, and the yurt barely even has a stream. I would consider staying there again if I needed to, but I wouldn't go out of my way to re-visit the yurt.

Mirror Lake 4 Bunk was a new cabin in an old familiar location. It is a beautiful true log cabin. Being right on the trail has its plusses and minuses, many of which fit both categories: More people pass by, more chances to socialize, and more distractions and noise. On the other hand, while the cabin is closer to the lake, it barely has a view. The windows mostly point into forest and don't even let much light in. That said, there's a lot more room than the Mirror Lake 2 Bunk, which might be enough to get me to stay in the 4 Bunk again next time I visit.

Lake of the Clouds cabin was the clear winner of the trip. What a gorgeous, bright, beautiful cabin in a gorgeous, bright, and beautiful place! For whatever reason, I didn't have any trouble with unwanted visitors poking their heads down the access trail. So many wrote about that trouble in the log book, but I got lucky. I'll definitely make this cabin the centerpiece of some future trip.

There are now very few cabins remaining in the interior of the park that I haven't stayed in yet: Big Carp 4 Bunk, Mirror Lake 8 Bunk, and the new Cotten Cabin are the only ones I can think of. But, there are quite a few larger and newer cabins around the edge of the east end that I've never visited, and aren't high on my list.

Interior of the Lake of the Clouds cabin

All in all, this was a wonderful trip, despite the heat and storms. I would definitely do it again.

Miles hiked: 4.5, all on trail
Total miles: 27.6

Day 4's hike in blue

You can find links to all of my adventures in the Adventure Index. Here are links to the other posts in this series: