Saturday, January 1, 2011

Porcupine Mountains | Day Five

Lake Superior Trail:
Buckshot Cabin to Lake Superior Cabin

Lake Superior Cabin seen from the thimbleberries

Although we did not want to, we left Buckshot Cabin just after 10 am to continue on Lake Superior Trail. Most of this day's hike was fairly boring, as the trail did not provide much in the way of scenery. This trail's name is deceptive; with few exceptions, it stays far enough inland that we could not see Lake Superior. Approximately four miles from Buckshot, the trail finally breaks out onto the shoreline, and we enjoyed walking along the rocks and drift logs. This is what I had imagined most of the trail would be like and was a bit disappointed to discover differently. After following the shore for a while, the trail swings inland and climbs a ridge that runs parallel to the lake. The forest drops off on either side of the path, which follows along the ridge's narrow top. We finally managed to see an animal when we inadvertently spooked a doe out of hiding behind a group of trees. Aside from a mouse, a couple of frogs, and a few chipmunks, we had seen no wildlife yet.

Lake Superior Trail along a rare lakeshore stretch

Eventually we found ourselves on top of a bluff over the mouth of the Big Carp River. We descended and crossed the footbridge that spans the narrow river just before it flows into Lake Superior. At this point, we found ourselves exactly where we were the first night of the trip. To our left was the short path to Big Carp 4-bunk cabin (where we stayed the first night), but our destination was Lake Superior Cabin a little further ahead and near the lakeshore.

Lake Superior Cabin

Arriving at the cabin at 1:30 pm, we dropped our packs inside and walked back to the river. Despite our close proximity to rivers and lakes over the last five days, I got into the water here at the river mouth for the very first time on this trip. The water was freezing but it was worth the few minutes of torture. I upset a merganser who must have had a nest nearby. It did not let me out of its sight and quacked at me until I took the hint and got out of its territory.

Lake Superior: A freshwater sea

The day had turned out to be gorgeous – sunny, with a blue sky and temperatures in the mid-60s. We made ramen for lunch, and I spent some time on the beach while Craig took a nap. Lake Superior Cabin is located in a very pleasant spot. A short trail through thick thimbleberry plants leads to the shore, but this late in the season all of the berries had been eaten by bears, birds, and other hikers. Since we arrived so early in the day, we spent a lot of time just sitting on the bench in front of the cabin, relaxing and enjoying the view.

A relaxing cup of coffee outside Lake Superior Cabin

A hiker nearly scared us to death when he suddenly came around the corner of the cabin. He must have wandered off the main trail, which is closer to the lake. He was carrying a couple of containers and explained that he was looking for water. Considering that we were on the shore of Lake Superior, arguably the coldest, clearest source of fresh water in North America, this was a bit absurd. I didn't realize the oddness of this right away and tried to be helpful, explaining that there was good access to the lake just about anywhere. He seemed a little bewildered and headed toward the river. Craig was convinced he was crazy, but I suggested that maybe he didn't want to get his feet wet in the lake and was hoping to have easier access at the river. I was trying to give the guy the benefit of the doubt, but that reasoning sounded weak even to my own ears. (I went for a short walk later and discovered that he was camping with his wife in a great site that was practically on the lake. Why he didn't collect water 10 feet from his tent remains a mystery.)

About 15 minutes later, he surprised us again when he came from the opposite direction, again not on the path, and walked directly toward our fire ring. We just sat and watched him as he contemplated the logs we had stacked up. Instead of walking around them, through the wide open space he had just recently been through, he stepped directly onto a stray log, which immediately started to roll. He flailed around for a few seconds, but caught himself before he could fall. At this point we assumed he was either over-exhausted or just plain nuts. I had a feeling we were going to see a lot more of him throughout the day, but luckily I was wrong.

We haven't hiked anywhere in quite a while where campfires are allowed, so we built a fire and planned to sit outside and enjoy the good weather and excellent view for as long as we could keep the fire going. Since the following day was going to be our last, we decided to indulge in our food. A few hours after our ramen lunch, Craig made beef stew and I cut up the remainder of the summer sausage in preparation for grilling over the fire. We experienced a slight culinary mishap when we were almost finished eating our beef stew and Craig discovered that he had not removed the desiccant packet from the dehydrated ingredients before cooking. We found the grainy contents of the packet had mostly settled as sludge at the bottom of the pot. Since it was natural clay and not silica, we assumed we were not too poisoned and would live to hike another day.

Packit Gourmet's Tuscan Beef Stew served over polenta

Lake Superior Cabin is another place where I could easily spend several days. This trail is a lot less scenic (until the end) than others in the park, so if a hiker wants to use the cabins instead of a tent, I recommend planning to stay at well-located cabins like Buckshot, Big Carp 6, or Lake Superior for more than one night when taking this route. Despite the lack of scenery while hiking, these locations are well worth the effort it takes to reach them, and hikers will get more out of the trip by spending some extra time in these spots if schedules permit. Unless the goal is simply to pound out the miles, that is.

Sunset on Lake Superior

Product review side note: I am extremely impressed with the Ex Officio Dryflite shirt that I had purchased right before the trip. I had been wearing it for four days at this point, and it did not smell like a dead animal (I cannot say the same for the REI Sahara shirt I wore the first day). I rarely wear long sleeves because I get too warm, but this shirt is very breathable and it stopped me from getting bitten by mosquitoes earlier in the day when they came out of hiding to take advantage of the nice weather. I wore it the following day as well, and could have gotten away with packing only that shirt for the whole trip since the weather was mostly on the cool side.

Miles: 7
Wildlife: 1 deer, 1 merganser, 1 bat

To be continued in Day 6: Lake Superior Cabin to Presque Isle River Mouth

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