Saturday, June 15, 2024

Porkies Solo 2024, Day 4: Rest at Big Carp

Last time: Slogging through the Cross trail -- Links to all of my adventures.

Churned up lake with clearing skies

Wednesday May 22, 2024: I slept hard after being kept up late by the thunderstorms. I woke briefly in the early morning, rolled over, and didn't wake again until 10:30 am.

Out the window, I could see puffy white clouds zipping past in front of a bright blue sky. The weather had changed tremendously overnight, with the rain and thunderstorms leaving, replaced by what looked to be a beautiful day.

My first thought -- inspired by last night's anxiety-inducing storms -- was to check out the river. It had risen noticeably overnight and was flowing rapidly, but it was nowhere near flooding. What was noticeable was its color -- the river had turned a chocolatey brown, probably from the clay that forms much of its banks.

The newly installed (by mother nature) Big Carp Bridge

I continued out on a morning walk around the Big Carp river mouth area, wincing at my still-sore knee. It hadn't improved overnight, and every downhill step I made with my left leg gave me a shot of pain.

Lake Superior was churned up and choppy, with a strong north wind still blowing. The lake was the same chocolate-brown as the river for the first few hundred yards out from shore. There was a distinct cut-off where the lake turned a deep blue-green.

It was so late that I skipped over breakfast and went straight to lunch -- rice cakes and a meat stick. As I did, I sat to think about what I should do. My painful knee worried me, and I wondered how I'd hurt it. It's not like yesterday's hike was especially long or difficult compared to others I'd done. During the pandemic, Sarah and I started walking a lot -- 3 or more miles every day. We'd discovered on our first backpacking trip in 2021 that we were much better prepared for backpacking than we'd ever been before. Since then, my prep for backpacking has mainly been doing a lot of walking, every day, sometimes with a loaded backpack. But I realized that this year, I'd gotten a bit lax. While I still walked 3 or more miles per day, I hadn't done many practice hike on rough trails. I'd also failed to add in leg exercises like squats. Together, my knee muscles probably weren't as strong as they needed to be. That brought me to today.

The muddy Big Carp from the newly installed (by humans) Big Carp Bridge

This was my day off, a day of rest, but my knee was injured and I knew that I should take it easy today. That's why I decided the best course of action was to hike upstream to check out the waterfalls along the Big Carp river, and especially try to find my way down to the gem of this area, Shining Cloud falls. Right? Right. If you know me, you know that I don't do a good job of "resting" or "relaxing", especially when I have a whole day off at a beautiful place like the mouth of the Big Carp River.

I packed up a day pack and headed across the river. I spent some time along this lowest reach of the river, playing around with my camera (aka phone, although one I specifically bought for its fancy cameras). Then I climbed the steep hillside leading up to the junction of the Lake Superior and Big Carp River trail and... ooh, that hurt too.

Mini-waterfall near the mouth of the Big Carp

I continued until I reached a big downhill, where I realized I wasn't going to make it any farther today on this knee, and there was definitely no way I'd be making the steep, tricky descent down to Shining Cloud falls. Plus, this was exactly the route I'd be taking tomorrow on my way out of the park -- so why retread the same trail? I should have thought of that before. I turned around and slowly made my way back to the cabin, favoring my left leg.

I sat inside the cabin for a while, then moved to sit outside the cabin and read on a bench. I tried limping my way to the shore and looked at the brown water. I stretched my knees and imagined that the left one felt a bit better.

So I hatched another plan, an even better place for a day hike: the mouth of the Little Carp River. It was nearby (just over a mile), along very flat trails, and there were lovely waterfalls there that I wouldn't otherwise see on this trip. A win all around!

Little Carp river

I will admit: This actually worked pretty well. My knee was OK on flat ground, and the Lake Superior Trail between the Big and Little Carp Rivers is nothing but flat. The hike was beautiful, often in view of the lake with its striking combination of muddy water near shore and deep teal beyond. The sky was a mix of clear blue with puffy clouds racing in the brisk breeze. The lake was getting choppier with whitecaps as the wind increased.

The trail itself, like much of the Lake Superior Trail, was basically mud. Last night's rains didn't help, but the trail also runs at the base of tall shoreline bluffs, right in the middle of their drainages, so it's pretty much always wet. Indeed, in many places, the trail was a stream, where a drainage found the trail's tread to be a convenient temporary path. Luckily I didn't care about the wetness, since my lightweight trail runners are perfectly happy to get soaked and dry out quickly. I did have some trouble keeping my footing on the slippery mud, but hiking poles helped with that.

I passed several campsites, all with fantastical structures of driftwood built up by years of hikers looking to protect themselves from Lake Superior's nasty winds. Several of them appeared to be flooded after last night's storms. At another point, I came across a fairly large fish -- I don't know what kind -- just laying next to the trail. Did a fisherman drop it? I don't know.

I reached the Little Carp bridge, which crosses the river between two rocky cliffs. I dropped my pack on the bench at the top of the bridge and carefully lowered myself down some of the rocks (ouch!) into the humid, cool shade of the river. I sat on a ledge and spent the next half hour relaxing, watching the waterfalls, taking photos, and enjoying the beautiful scenery. Bugs were almost nonexistent, thanks to the north wind and corresponding cooler air. There were no spawning fish, unlike three years ago when they'd been piling up to climb the waterfalls.

Little Carp bridge with waterfalls

Eventually I myself climbed back up, picked up my pack, and reversed course. My knee was OK on the flat trail, but I could still feel twinges every now and then. It had been a lovely day trip to a special place.

Back at the cabin, I unpacked and decided to spend some quality time reading the log book outside on a bench. There were no entries yet from 2024, although the cabin had been open for a week (most are available starting May 15th). I doubted that I was the first person to stay this year, but again, people must have not left logs.

Watercolor (?) and Ecuadorean log. Sadly I didn't take photos of the surveys.

Reading log books is one of the joys of staying in a cabin -- you can get useful info, but you also get jokes, philosophy, sketches, stories, and, in this log book, a bunch of surveys written by 10 year old kids ("Would you rather sleep on... the ground? a bunk? a real bed?"). There was a full page written in Spanish by an exchange student from Ecuador, and I was pleased that my long-disused Spanish was still good enough to follow it. Other highlights included quite good bits of artwork done with watercolors (that somebody packed in?!) and highlighter pens, and the usual collection of griping and sniping about people who leave behind too much junk, or not enough firewood. Plus gems like this:

Short and sweet

I sat on the bench, enjoying the log book, and didn't notice how the sun had dropped low behind the hills, and how cool the wind blowing off the lake was. Then some sprinkles started to fall out of the now-gray sky. That brought me back to reality, and I suddenly realized that I was deeply chilled and shivering. Thus began Operation Warm Dave Up: I moved into the cabin and put on a few more layers, but that didn't help a whole lot. I boiled some water and made decaffeinated tea, which was nice but also not enough. I moved on to doing jumping jacks in the cabin, which helped only briefly. At that point, I climbed into bed with my 0 degree quilt and shivered under it for a while, trying to take a nap.

As I laid shivvering in bed, I thought about how cold I often get on other camping trips, and how that hadn't happened yet on this trip -- until now. I also thought about how I'd skipped breakfast today. Then everything suddenly clicked in my brain: Calories! Calories are literally a unit of heat. I'd been eating more calories than usual on this trip, especially because I was eating freeze-dried dinners meant for two people. But today I'd skimped, and I was paying for it now.

Another view down the Little Carp river, from its bridge

I got up and grabbed some gorp and a meat stick. Then I boiled water for dinner and made good old Mountain House Chicken and Dumplings. I also (not so wisely) opened the can of beer that I had backpacked in with me all this way. Together, the food and extra calories finally warmed me up. Lesson learned... and I'll be packing more calories on future spring trips.

Meanwhile in the outside world, the rain had settled in as the sun set -- a cold rain, paired with that chilly north wind. I was feeling better and enjoying a pleasant warm glow, and I wanted to keep that going. So for the first time all trip, I actually built a fire in the woodstove. Between bouts of rain, I ran outside with an axe (the only functional cutting mechanism in the whole cabin) and split some of the larger logs to use in the fire, which also kept me nice and warm. I was a bit skimpy while feeding thefire -- with all the rain, I wasn't able to bring in any actually dry wood -- so the fire limped along for most of the evening, but it did take the edge off the chilly cabin air.

Once I was convinced that I could stay warm, I crawled in to bed. It was still quite early, but the rain and dense gray clouds led to a lack of light made it feel later than it was. I was probably asleep by 9:30 pm.

View from my bunk

A few hours later, I briefly turned over, looked out the window, and realized that the rain and clouds had cleared and left the nearly full moon shining in. As I sleepily enjoyed the view, I was jolted more awake by the scream of some woodland critter -- probably a raccoon -- scouting around the cabin. It took me a while to get back to sleep.

Miles hiked: 3.6 (all dayhikes)

Total miles: 21.0 miles

Today's dayhikes in blue

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