Saturday, November 27, 2010

Porcupine Mountains | Day Three

Little Carp River Trail: Greenstone Falls to Mirror Lake

It had stopped raining the night before, and it was in the low 60's as we left the Greenstone Falls area at 9:45 on our third morning. We continued to follow Little Carp River Trail as it swung northeast toward Mirror Lake.

Yesterday's rain had made trail conditions muddy and a little slippery, but the terrain of this segment of LCRT was mostly easy, with a steady ascent at the beginning and a few minor ups and downs throughout. Once again, we passed more spectacular backcountry camp sites. The most impressive were two adjacent sites located at a spot where the trail crosses a shallow section of Little Carp River as it trickles over a wash of rocks. We stopped for a break and thought about how nice it would be to end the day there, pitch a tent, cook over a fire, and fall asleep listening to the river running quietly alongside us.

Backcountry campsite on Little Carp River

Little Carp River Trail ends at Mirror Lake. We arrived at 1:45 and found the small 2-bunk cabin at the end of a short spur west of the lake. Perfect for two people with the desire to spend time in seclusion, Mirror Lake's tiny 2-bunk cabin sits right in the center of the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness. While exploring our surroundings, we were struck with the awesome feeling of being alone in a huge forest. Thick with enormous pines, the low mountains stretched for miles behind the cabin, and the complete silence impressed upon us the enormity of our satisfying loneliness. Only when a dog barked in the distance did we remember that there were two other cabins near the lake, and other hikers were doubtlessly out there among the trees, discovering that same feeling of solitude.

Mirror Lake 2-bunk Cabin

After removing our packs and changing into warmer clothing, we left the cabin to explore the lake. Mirror Lake earns its name from the perfect reflection it gives on a calm day of the forest surrounding it and the sky above. Unfortunately, the wind had picked up throughout the day, rippling the lake's surface and eliminating our chance of observing the water's mirror-like quality. A canoe is available to those using the Mirror Lake cabin, and we paddled out in order to collect water and try to catch a fish.

Although the air was cold, the sun shone brightly and was obscured only by the occasional fluffy white cloud. We were dressed warmly and enjoyed paddling around aimlessly, casting a line here and there, and letting the rocking motion of the canoe lull us into relaxation. We had no sense of time and no obligation to be anywhere else. Our only concern was starting a fire as soon as we returned to the cabin because it was going to be a cold night in the deep forest.
After fruitlessly floating for an unknown amount of time, we found ourselves at the far end of the lake. As soon as we began paddling back toward our cabin, the wind started blowing with purpose. Paddling with all our strength and making little progress, our relaxing afternoon on the lake became an impromptu and torturous upper body workout. If we stopped paddling for one second, we were immediately blown further from our destination. Exhausted from nature's treachery, we eventually arrived back on our side of the lake and returned to the cabin to collect wood and think about dinner.

Summer sausage cooked over a fire. Best food ever.

Since we didn't have to worry about hanging our food on this trip, I brought along an item that I have always wanted to eat on a hiking trip, but have never packed due to its tantalizing, guaranteed bear-attracting aroma. A stick of summer sausage, courtesy of my grandmother and purchased from a butcher in my family's hometown in Wisconsin, was ceremoniously unwrapped from its protective tinfoil and cut into chunks. It was intended as a snack, but we ended up grilling half of it over the fire and calling it dinner. Dripping fat and grease sizzled in the wood burning stove as we roasted the hunks of meat on sticks over the flames and watched the edges become charred and crusty. Later, we made Packit Gourmet's banana pudding for dessert – a new essential item for future trips.

Super-awesome instant banana pudding

As usual, we went to bed early, but I laid awake reading by headlamp for quite a while until I drifted off.

(Note: This cabin is spacious despite its size, but the sucker who volunteers to sleep on the top bunk is not able to sit upright due to its close proximity to the slanted roof.)

Miles: 6.3

To be continued in: Day 4 - Mirror Lake to Buckshot Cabin

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Porcupine Mountains | Day Two

Little Carp River Trail:
From Lake Superior to Greenstone Falls

I awoke in the cold semi-darkness to the sounds of light rain and rough Lake Superior surf. After firing up the Jetboil and making a cup of coffee, I retrieved the first aid kit in order to deal with my blister. One safety pin, alcohol swab, moleskin donut, and band aid later, I was ready to brave Kilimanjaro once more to go to the bathroom. (Might not look like much in a photo, but it was nearly vertical and slippery with mud in the morning.)

I made it all the way to the summit, only to find the outhouse was occupied by someone from a nearby cabin. The worst part: it was occupied by a male. Who knew how long he was going to take? Should I stay and wait? What kind of situation would I find in there when it was my turn? I felt too awkward lurking outside the door, so I decided to descend the mountain and wait the situation out. Upon my second death-defying ascent, I found that the previous occupant had not only left the lid open (an obvious violation of common sense when using a pit toilet in the woods), but he had also left the door to the outhouse wide open―a serious breach in outhouse protocol. Most people prefer not finding a family of raccoons or a bear inside an outhouse when armed with only a crumpled, slightly damp roll of toilet paper. I count myself among them.
After blister first aid came equally important peanut butter squeeze tube repair
We hit the trail at 11:30 a.m. in full rain gear. The weather was chilly, and waves crashed along the shore as we followed the lake for a little over a mile. This short stretch of trail includes a few spectacular campsites quite close to shore. Over the years, hikers have altered two of these sites to make them more inviting. Slabs of rock have been collected and arranged to form chairs with supportive backs around the sites' fire rings. One of these sites is referred to as “The Hilton” in the hiking community. Though this practice conflicts with Leave No Trace principles, the stones were likely collected from the rocky shore directly in front of the campsites, and nothing appears to have been damaged to create these primitive camp chairs.

Non-LNT, but very kick-ass

The rain persisted as we reached the junction at Little Carp River Trail. We headed southeast, away from the lake and back into the forest. Though the day remained cold and rainy, LCRT provided a very interesting hike. Similarly to the day before, we followed Little Carp River and enjoyed scenic views of the river valley. The trail difficulty was moderate, with slippery, somewhat muddy conditions due to the rain. We encountered a fair amount of ups and downs, lots of rocks and roots, and two unaided river crossings. We saw many more huge hemlocks and passed three or four small waterfalls.
Crossing Little Carp River

One of the most impressive elements of this section of LCRT is the backcountry campsites. Situated for maximum privacy, the sites are spacious, with an abundance of flat tent space. We stopped for lunch at a nice site overlooking the river and enjoyed peanut butter and jelly in the cold drizzle.

Lunch break in the rain at a nice backcountry campsite on the river

By the time we reached our destination, we were worn out and hoping that whoever had used our cabin before us had stocked it with firewood. Although we were perfectly warm from exercise, it was a chilly day and we knew the cabin would be cold. We were anxious to unload our packs, remove our rain gear, get a fire going, and eat something warm.

Trappers Falls

Section 17 Cabin was originally a ranger patrol cabin and is located across the river from the trail in a secluded spot. A wooden footbridge guided us across Little Carp River just downstream from Greenstone Falls. The cabin is not much to look at from the outside, but it is close to the river and within earshot of the small waterfall. A sign on the door informed us that we would have to go back across the river to use the newly constructed outhouse near Greenstone Falls Cabin.

On Little Carp River Trail. Cross the bridge to find Section 17 Cabin.

We entered the small cabin and were very happy to find a big pile of dry firewood in the corner. We removed our muddy boots and hung our wet rain jackets, rain pants, and pack covers on some pegs on the wall. Within minutes, we had a fire going and the cabin warmed up instantly.
Inside Section 17 Cabin

For dinner we prepared Packit Gourmet's “Austintacious Tortilla Soup” (they are based in Austin, TX), which lived up to its reputation as a tasty, satisfying camp meal. We also had their cheddar jack cheese spread with crackers, which was very garlicy and could have been a meal by itself.

Tortilla soup ingredients. Lime and Cholula are essential components.

We replenished the cabin's wood supply as well as we could, although the new wood we brought in was wet. Exhausted, sore, and feeling the effects of a relatively big meal, we retired early. Despite the cold, we left a window open so that we could hear the river as we went to sleep.

Miles: 7.3

To be continued in:
Day 3:
Little Carp River Trail - Greenstone Falls to Mirror Lake