Friday, September 5, 2008

Backpacking Grand Island National Recreation Area:

Day Two: Mather Beach to Northeast PointWe prepared for an early start on the second day because there were only 3 campsites at our destination on the north side of the island. We wanted to get there early in case we encountered other hikers and we now knew it wouldn't be easy to set up camp randomly if none of the designated sites were available. Beyond the last of the north sites, there wouldn't be another one for 6.5 miles, so we were counting on getting a good site on the north side. Plus, no good access to water reportedly existed along the East Rim Trail which would be our route on day 3, so we planned to stock up at North Point Beach before setting out the next morning.After oatmeal and a couple of cups of strong coffee, we headed back to Mather Beach to filter some water and refill our camelbaks and extra bottles. Not only did this provide drinking water for the day, but the ice cold water also jolted us awake. A conveniently placed boulder about 20 feet from shore served as a perfect spot to sit and dangle the filter hose into the crystal clear water.

Once packed, we decided to explore Echo Lake, an inland lake that was a half-mile east according to the trail sign. As we headed away from the main trail and into the woods, the mosquitoes gathered alarmingly fast (around me only – they weren't interested in Craig at all) and we began to question whether this side trip would be worth the suffering. One half mile later, another sign announced that Echo Lake was a half-mile ahead. We began to sense a trap and decided to retreat to the main trail asap for fear of ending up in bug cocoons like those loggers in that episode of The X-files in which Mulder and Scully end up in bug-induced intensive care.

For the most part the hike from Mather Beach to North Point followed the cliff edges and both the weather and the view were spectacular. Several overlooks along the way revealed great expanses of Lake Superior, small islands in the distance, and rock formations along the cliffs themselves. Superior's brilliant blue/green/turquoise water sparkled under the clear sky and close to shore the rocky bottom of the lake was clearly visible from 200 feet above.Much of the day's hike was a gradual uphill climb. While not over-taxing, it was just enough to wonder when it was going to stop, which it only did in brief intervals. Walking uphill for any duration of time is one thing; biking a steady incline is entirely different and we both felt much respect for the occasional mountain biker we encountered that day. I couldn't even find it in me to feel annoyed at the gentleman who decided to take a break at the exact same time and place where I was crouched behind a tree attempting to stealthily urinate. He looked nearly unconscious and Craig managed to distract him away from the woods by talking about the view from the lookout point on the other side of the trail. Once he pedaled away and I emerged from the trees we resumed the gentle uphill climb until we reached North Point.

Again, we ended up choosing the last of the 3 sites after a few miles of apprehension over the wisdom of passing up the first 2 and several moments of worry over the high cliffs and the accuracy of my notes regarding water access. At this point though, the trail began to descend and we passed North Point Beach which startled us with its unexpected expanse of sand. After setting up camp at Northeast Point, about ¾ of a mile beyond the beach, we backtracked for a much needed swim and to filter water for that evening's dinner and washing up, plus extra for the next day's drinking supply.

On the way to the beach I got distracted by the sight of a distant rock arch at the tip of North Point and stopped to take a few pictures. I told Craig to go on ahead and that I'd catch up. Naturally, the one and only bear that would present itself during the entire trip wandered out onto the trail in front of Craig during the brief moment we were separated and I wasn't there to see or photograph it. In his excitement, Craig called out to me and the bear tore off into the woods and disappeared. The only animals I managed to see that day were a mink and a garter snake.

North Point Beach was paradise. There wasn't a single other person along the entire stretch of lakeshore and although the water was shockingly cold at first, it took surprisingly little time to get accustomed to it. Altogether we ended up walking around 10 miles that day – 3 miles further than we had intended due to various detours, and certainly a workout for first time backpackers carrying relatively heavy packs. Swimming in the cold lake somehow felt invigorating and soothing at the same time and I didn't want to get out. Later, we enthusiastically enjoyed a dinner of dehydrated chicken and mashed potatoes that tasted so magnificent we declared it one of the best thing we'd ever eaten.To be continued in Grand Island: Day 3

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