North Mirror Lake Trail, Lake Superior Trail
(Mirror Lake to Buckshot Cabin)
I reluctantly left my warm sleeping bag at 7 am on the fourth day to make coffee and put on a few layers of warm clothing. It felt like temperatures had dropped into the low 40s during the night, and we were in for a cold start to the day. The wind had stopped, so I followed the path to the lake hoping I would be able to take a decent reflective photograph. Mirror Lake was almost completely hidden in fog, but with the sun rising above it, the effect was just as amazing. I lingered at the water's edge for a few minutes, then returned to the cabin to eat a quick oatmeal breakfast, pack up, and get ready for the day's hike.
I overheat easily while hiking, even in winter, so I usually wear the lightest clothing possible. When we left the cabin at 9 am, however, it was so cold that I wore a fleece pullover over a long-sleeved hiking shirt for the first hour. North Mirror Lake trail follows the northwest edge of the lake, and we passed two other cabins situated off the trail. A few people were up early, enjoying cups of coffee and the beautiful view of Mirror Lake, which was finally beginning to emerge from the fog just as we were leaving. We crossed a stream that feeds into the lake before the trail veers north, heading toward Lake of the Clouds.
The trail descends steeply along the edge of an amazingly green and very scenic stream valley. I had developed some pain in my left knee, so this long descent was as torturous as it was beautiful. The steepest stretch of this segment descends about 500 feet in ½ mile, and in a particularly interesting spot, the trail becomes a gnarled network of tree roots that tangles its way down the valley.
We stopped partway down to look back the way we had come. Like something out of a Tolkien novel, the trees looked like they might start creeping in on us using their tentacle-like roots. We were very glad to be traveling north on this trail instead of climbing it in the opposite direction.
At 11:45 am, we arrived at Lake of the Clouds and the end of Mirror Lake Trail. Before reaching the scenic overlook, the trail crosses a stream via a long footbridge, then climbs steeply through a series of switchbacks. The clouds hung low in the overcast sky, which gave credibility to the lake's name. We took advantage of this highly visited spot by emptying our garbage, using the nice bathroom, and taking a long lunch break at a picnic table. We decided to live a little and mixed gatorade powder into our water and made a few quick dehydrated meals instead of peanut butter & jelly. At 12:45, we left Lake of the Clouds and walked east on M-107 for a mile until we found Lake Superior Trail.
The three miles from the trailhead to Buckshot cabin include a lot of steep terrain, much of it a fairly sharp descent. The trail itself consists mostly of loose, jagged hunks of shale, which makes for a somewhat slow progress. Only a few times did the trail break out of the trees to provide views of Lake Superior. For the most part, the big lake was just beyond view. A sign marks the spur to Buckshot Cabin and warns hikers to stay away from the structure unless they are staying there, as paying guests make their reservations well in advance in order to enjoy the quite, private setting.
We arrived at the cabin just before 3 pm and found about 15 college-aged kids in front of it, their pack contents spilled out everywhere, a fire burning in the ring, and even more kids in bathing suits coming up the short path from the beach. We asked them if they had stayed the night before and were getting ready to leave, and were informed that, no, they had not used the cabin and they planned to hang out for the afternoon.
We want to be cool to anyone we meet on the trail, but this was very bad etiquette. Hikers do not invade others' campsites, and this was no different. The situation was extremely awkward. We unlocked the cabin, and Craig let them know that we preferred they didn't stay long. After about 15 minutes, the cabin crashers packed up and left, apologizing on their way out (past the previously ignored sign telling them to keep away from the cabin).
Bad start aside, Buckshot Cabin was the best location of the whole trip. In fact, someone had written “Best Place Ever” on the cover of the cabin logbook. Windows along one side look out onto the lake, and the cabin is open and spacious inside. Since it is located at the edge of the forest and close to the lake, the windows let in plenty of sunlight, delaying the need for headlamps and candles. A short path leads to the rocky shore, where large slabs of rock provide excellent spots to lay in the sun. We soaked our sore feet in the freezing cold water, and Craig was actually brave enough to go for a very quick swim.
Buckshot Cabin would be the perfect spot to spend a whole week, and I knew that I was going to be very sad to leave the following day. If we could do the trip over again, we would plan to stay here for more than one night. The woodpile in the corner to the left of the door was a mess, so Craig spent some time cleaning it up and re-stocking it while I started a fire in the wood burning stove. After dark, we walked to the lakeshore to lay on the smooth rock under a black sky filled with an unfathomable number of stars.
Miles: 7.5 (approx)
To be continued in: Day 5 - Buckshot Cabin to Lake Superior Cabin
The video below is of Lake Superior just after sunset.