Lake Superior Trail:
Lake Superior Cabin to Presque Isle River
“Mud hole? Slimy? My home this is!” - Yoda
It had rained all night. I woke up around 6 am, burrowed further into my sleeping bag, listened to the rain which continued to fall, and cursed the fact that I had to go to the bathroom. I ignored this problem for as long as I could, and when it stopped raining at 7:00, I climbed down from the top bunk, got dressed, and went in search of a Sherpa to assist in the ascent of the hill to the outhouse (see day 1 at Big Carp 4-bunk cabin).
We left Lake Superior Cabin at 9 am wearing our rain gear. Although it had stopped raining, all of the vegetation was wet and the sky was still overcast, so we decided to play it safe. The first mile and a half was a repeat of our hike the morning of our second day, so again we passed a series of outstanding tent sites on the lake as we headed in the direction of Little Carp River. Instead of turning left here like we did earlier in the trip, we crossed the river in order to continue following Lake Superior Trail to its end at Presque Isle River. The stretch of LST west of Little Carp River merges with the North Country Trail, a 4600-mile multi-state trail that travels through the Porcupine Mountains on its way through Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
The trail conditions were extremely muddy and slippery, and we were in for a rough day of hiking. This final stretch of LST features a lot of descending and climbing due to the many stream valleys and ravines along the way. The slippery conditions made some of these areas treacherous, and I took each step with extreme caution as I did not want to risk falling and getting injured. In a few spots, my boots could not grip the unstable, muddy ground, and I had to give up on my trek poles and pull myself up the steep slopes by grabbing onto exposed tree roots. On his way down into one of these steep stream valleys, Craig slipped in the mud and fell, sliding down several feet before the ground leveled out. Luckily he was not hurt, but he was covered in mud on one side from shoulder to foot, another reason rain gear was a good idea. I had fallen a couple of days before, not due to mud, but when I lost my balance climbing down a ravine. I over-corrected, and the weight of my backpack pulled me backwards, causing me to roll around like an upside-down turtle.
Having to be so careful made for slow progress. Despite our lack of speed, we both became tired quickly from the frequent ups and downs. It eventually warmed up enough that we took our rain jackets off, but continued to wear rain pants because our boots were constantly stepping in puddles, getting sucked into deep mud, and sloshing it up onto our pant legs. Naturally, it began raining again shortly after we removed our jackets, and a light rain continued for the last 2-3 miles of the trail. I thought of Yoda on his home planet and was determined not to whine like Luke Skywalker (Craig wasn’t so successful).
Just before the end of Lake Superior Trail, the path emerges from the trees and into the Presque Isle River gorge. The trail actually crosses a peninsula that divides the mouth of the river ("Presque Isle" means almost an island). For someone interested in geology, the exposed layers of shale found here make this an ideal spot for a long break. This was one of the places I was most looking forward to on this trip, but unfortunately for this rock nerd, the threat of more rain and the irritability of my tired hiking partner prevented any long-term exploration of the area. After lingering for a few minutes, we moved on, walking across the layered rock on our way to the main crossing of the Presque Isle River, just upstream from its mouth.
The Presque Isle is considered a formidable whitewater river whose rapids are an attraction for canoeists and kayakers. A suspension bridge provides a way to cross the river safely. From overhead, one can watch the fast water rushing over the layered, eroded rock and swirling in circular pools that have been carved by the water’s destructive force over many millennia. I remembered standing in this same spot six years ago. The water level had been a bit lower during that visit, exposing more of the rock’s interesting eroded patterns. Short trails along the river allow park visitors to see a series of three interesting waterfalls a bit further upstream (Manabezho, Manido, and Nawadaha Falls). Just downstream, the Presque Isle flows into Lake Superior.
After crossing the bridge, we found ourselves back in civilization, with people heading toward the riverside trails from the parking lot where we had left our car six days before. Three deer were hanging out near our parking spot; this was the most exciting wildlife we had encountered all week despite the high concentration of black bears in the park. It was 2:00 when we limped across the concrete to our vehicle, peeled off our muddy layers and went in search of the biggest cheeseburgers we could find. We ended up at Ma's Place Cafe, a small restaurant on US 2 in Wakefield that probably sees its fair share of grimy hikers. I enjoyed the rarest, juiciest, most amazing burger I had eaten in a long time before we began the long drive home.
Videos: Presque Isle River