Sunday, June 2, 2024

Porkies Solo 2024, Day 2: Mirror Lake to Lily Pond

Last time: Too many brassicas (link to all of my adventures).

Lily Pond in gray, heavy weather

Monday May 20, 2024: I woke up groggy after a fitful night of sleep. I had woken nearly every hour from a combination of rain on the Mirror Lake 2 bunk cabin's metal roof, squirrels rummaging around in the forest, and other critters large and small outside my window (or so they sounded). My first night in the woods is often liked that, and I could feel the lack of quality sleep.

One thing I didn't hear was mice inside the cabin. While mice love cabins and the food scraps left by messy humans, I've found that putting food in the cupboards and cleaning up after myself makes all the difference.

Yesterday's warm and sunny weather had been replaced by gray skies and cool, humid air after the overnight rain showers.

It was a slow morning. I slowly steeped tea, then slowly made oatmeal (mushy and gray like the weather), slowly packed up, slowly swept out the cabin, slowly wrote an entry in the mostly empty log book, slowly put on my bug net, and slowly walked out the door. I felt like I was moving through molasses, maybe a relic of yesterday's blues or last night's poor sleep.

Today was to be an easy day: Just about 2 miles to the Lily Pond cabin. My original plan for the trip called for me to go as far as the Section 17 cabin (near Greenstone Falls, closer to a 5 mile hike). This would let me start closer to the legendary Cross Trail the next day, which I expected to be slow and difficult. But alas, none of the cabins in that area were available, so I had to go with the beautiful Lily Pond cabin instead.

I headed west from the cabin and took the turn-off for the Little Carp River trail towards Lily Pond. I was now re-hiking this stretch of trail for the first time in 12 years. The trail and woods were thoroughly wet from last night's rain.

Roller coaster boardwalk on the Little Carp River trail

Each day, I had some particular goal or something new to do or see. Yesterday's minor goal was hiking the North Mirror Lake trail in a new direction. Today, I wanted to look for something I once read about in Jim Dufresne's Porkies guidebook: "The [Little Carp River] trail then rounds the base of a 1600-foot high rocky knob that hikers can scramble up for a view of the Mirror Lake area". Scrambling up a remote outcrop for a good view? That sounded right up my alley. I had missed out on finding that knob on my first hike here, 12 years ago, so now I had another chance. This was also why I decided to rewalk the Little Carp River trail, rather than taking a different route that would cover a small spur that I'd never before hiked.

I kept a close look out for likely spots, stopping often to investigate possibilities. While there were plenty of hills, none looked particularly rocky, and none had anything like a volunteer trail running up them. I couldn't see so much as an outcrop. In the end, I passed through again without finding this mysterious overlook.

The Little Carp River trail in this area is pretty flat, so I made good time. I soon reached the turnoff to the Beaver Creek trail, which leads up to Summit Peak's parking area. Having missed out on one goal, I decided to accept a different, smaller goal: Throw away my trash. While I was only carrying one day's worth of trash, every ounce off my back sounded good.

So it was that I turned onto the Beaver Creek trail. It immediately follows a long boardwalk over a swampy, wide part of the Little Carp river. This boardwalk was in rough shape. There were broken and even missing boards. Several boards appeared solid but were loose, ready to turn an unwary hiker's ankle. Several trees had fallen over the boards, forcing me to climb over or around them.

Luckily, the bridge that crosses the river itself was intact, and the trail improved dramatically after that. The weather, however, kept declining. The sky remained an undifferentiated gray, and occasional short rain showers blew through.

Just past the bridge, I met a man whose outfit couldn't have screamed fisherman any louder. He was also carrying a rod and net, which helped I suppose. He asked if he was close to the river. While he was, I encouraged him to walk a bit farther to reach the bridge at Lily Pond, which has a perfect fishing platform built right into the middle of it.

I finally reached the Summit Peak parking lot, newly expanded and repaved over the last year. I gratefully dropped my bag on a bench, then threw out yesterday's trash. I pulled out lunch (a meat stick and a rice cake-and-peanut butter sandwich) and ate them in small pieces, pushed up under my bug net. The bugs still weren't biting, but they also weren't leaving me alone.

Speaking of not leaving me alone, there sure were a lot of chipmunks at Summit Peak. They seemed to spend their lives chasing each other around, then stopping and staring at me from close range, before chasing a bit more, then stopping at even closer range.

So what do you have to offer me, human?

I found that I had one bar of cell service up here on the "mountain", so I sent some quick texts to family, including Sarah (all the way in Korea!). I also checked the latest weather forecast, which showed an increasing chance of rain on each day. Joy. At least the nighttime lows were looking nicer -- around 50, rather than in the low 40's.

At this point, I had a choice: There was one small side trail up here, a spur that goes down from the Summit Peak tower towards the South Mirror Lake trail. I had considered making a loop with this trail, or even just going out and back on it. But as I sat in the gray day with spritzing rain, I decided that I wanted nothing to do with even more steep and rocky hills, especially when I'd just have to immediately retrace my steps. I once again wasn't feeling into this trip. I'd have to cover that one odd side trail some time in the future.

I reversed and headed back down the Beaver Creek trail in light rain. I re-crossed the missing boards and climbed over the fallen trees, then turned back onto the Lily Pond trail. I quickly came to the Lily Pond bridge, and immediately after it, Lily Pond cabin itself.

Summit Peak selfie, featuring bug net and color-un-coordinated hiking gear

This had been one of our very favorite cabins on our 2021 May trip. The cabin is hidden in the trees, but just a few feet outside of its door are spectacular views of the river and pond. Then there's the long bridge across the Little Carp river, with a bench and viewing platform built right into its middle. The river is close enough to the cabin hear it rushing past at all times, even with the windows closed.

I gratefully dropped my pack and started unpacking. I noticed two log books here, too, and this time I was in luck: They were both nearly full! In fact, the newest log book held my May 2021 log on one of its first few pages, and a few blank pages still remained (there must have been a lot of cabin renters who didn't leave a log over the past 3 years!). The other log book was from before that, beginning way back in 2016. I was guaranteed some good reading during my stay.

Log books are sort of the social media of the cabins, giving you both a steady stream of useful info (are the mice in the cabin? Is the wood dry? any wildlife?) and a chance to observe others' good and bad decisions at a safe distance (like the couple who backpacked in a wheeled cooler filled with a week's supply of food).

There is a vigorous debate in the log books about where you should get water at Lily Pond. Many, many entries talk about a mysterious spring on the opposite side of the pond. The log books contained multiple maps attempting to show the best way to find this spring, and many stories of success and failure. Person after person insists that you should take a rowboat across the pond to this magical spring (which some say can't be found at all) to enjoy its perfect waters. Others, like me, trust their water filters and grab water straight from the pond or river itself (plus, you should really filter any water in the Porkies, including water coming out of a mysterious spring). That's exactly what I did next, plus hauling in some firewood. There was no way I was going on another boat adventure after yesterday's experience!

Gray Lily Pond from a bench above the bridge

The day had remained gray, breezy, and occasionally rainy, but I didn't want to stick around the cabin. Once I had unpacked and finished my chores, picked up one of the log books and headed down to the bridge. There I found the fisherman I'd talked to earlier, taking a break on the bench. I learned that his name was John, he was from Brooklyn, and this was his first ever visit to the park. He'd had little luck with fishing, but was enjoying the new-to-him wilderness.

We had a pleasant chat as we both rested, but I didn't end up reading any of the log on the bridge. That's because a steady drizzle set in and chased us both away from the bridge, while low clouds and a distant fog slowly rolled in.

I took the log book back into the cabin and sat at the table, enjoying the stories in it. As I did, I boiled water for my freeze dried meal du jour - Alpine Aire Homestyle Chicken Pot Pie, another new one. It was just OK, although better than yesterday's broccoli-fest. My notes say: "More like pea pot pie" because that seemed to be the main ingredient. On the upside, this was a small 2-serving bag, and it filled me thoroughly with lots of calories that helped me stay warm. 

On past spring trips, I've often felt quite cold while sitting around in Porkies cabins, but that hadn't happened yet this trip. It occurred to me that one reason was probably that I was getting lots more calories than usual. Sarah and I typically share a 2-serving freeze-dried meal for dinner, but now even my single-serving meals had more calories than half of a 2-serving bag. I felt no chill at all.

Lily Pond Cabin's big bank o' windows

More or less trapped in the cabin, I laid back on my bunk to read, and had another small nap -- or maybe just a rest, I wasn't sure. I came awake to hear a huge and brassy ruckus outside the cabin, briefly making me think I was back in the city. Running outside, I was just in time to see two Trumpeter Swans taking off from the pond, their honking sounding remarkably like car horns at a busy intersection.

The drizzle had settled in as a steady rain, the sky was gray, and as a result night was falling early. I prepared some kindling in the woodstove but didn't end up lighting it, since I didn't feel cold enough to burn some of my hard-won wood.

I continued to read the log book and my own book as night set in. Near dusk, I heard loud voices on the bridge, apparently dayhikers trying to decide what to do next. This is one of the disadvantages of Lily Pond cabin -- it's right on the trail.

Their loud voices eventually faded away and were replaced by the patter of rain, the pleasant rush of the river, and spring peepers in the pond.

As I re-read and edited this post, I have to apologize for what must seem to be a very boring trip report. That's because it was: boring, dull, gray, even a bit foggy. Probably the high point of the whole day was meeting fisherman John (how'd he come all the way up here from Brooklyn?). That or the chipmunks. The day matched my mood, which was generally blah and lacking energy. Nonetheless, I promise more interest and excitement tomorrow...

Next time: The Cross Trail!

Miles hiked: 4.5 (2.1 to Lily Pond, plus 1.2 each way to and from Summit Peak)

Total miles:  9.5

Day 2 route in green, including spur up to Summit Peak

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