Porcupine Mountains, May 2004

Day 5

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Despite being very tired, I was awakened a couple times during the early morning hours by the blustery conditions outside the tent. The wind sounded like a freight train barreling through the forest. It started off in the distance and moved closer and closer to the campsite. When it reached our site the trees would shake, the leaves would whistle and the tent would shudder under its fury. Then, as quickly as it arrived, it would disappear; the loud noise giving way to an almost eerie silence as the wind raced through the forest and faded away over a distant ridge somewhere out in the darkness. Several seconds later the whole process began again, only this time, the wind had shifted direction and it just passed by our site instead of directly through it. This pattern repeated itself over and over as I attempted to go back to sleep. At approximately 3:30 a.m. I was awakened again but, this time it was by the sound of steady precipitation pounding the tent's rain cover and an occasional barrage of water drops falling off of the leaves as the wind blew through the trees.

At 9:30 a.m. the wind was still blowing strong and water was still falling off the saturated leaves, so much so, that it sounded like it was still raining. The weather didn't appear very favorable for hiking so we stayed in the tent until 11:30 a.m. When I finally unzipped the tent a wall of cold air invaded the once warm interior. I looked at my thermometer and noticed that the temperature was between 40 and 45 degrees. As I stared out over the lake all I could see was a gloomy, gray sky and sheets of mist and water blowing horizontally across the surface from one end of the lake to the other. When I stepped out of the tent it was immediately evident that the short sleeve shirt and hiking pants I was wearing would not be warm enough for today's conditions. I put on my fleece top, raincoat and rain pants and we began to discuss a change in plans. We certainly did not want to hike all day in the cold and rain, arrive at our destination with wet gear and then have to sleep in wet clothes and sleeping bags. We had planned to hike west from Mirror Lake to one of the campsites near the intersection of the Correction Line and Big Carp River Trails, however, after a little discussion we changed our destination to the Union Bay campground off of M-107 on Lake Superior. If it continued to rain we could at least stay dry by sleeping in the car, and we would have access to bathrooms with running water and warm showers. The combination of rain and wind made our fingers so cold that they slowly became stiff and hard to move. We packed as quickly as possible, ate a small snack and were on the trail by 1:00 a.m.

We made our way over to the North Mirror Lake Trail and began our hike toward the Union Bay campground. A short time after starting down the trail we came across a large swampy area that appeared to be the remains of a vacated and partially drained beaver pond. The only way to get to the other side was to walk on the two parallel planks that dissected its length. In several places the planks were completely submerged under water and made for tricky walking while other places were elevated enough to keep our boots dry. The beavers that lived here had been very busy because there were dead trees and tree trunks scattered over a large area. The skeletal remains of what were once large, magnificent trees made this area look like a tree graveyard. Now, many trees, still bearing the beaver's deadly gnaw marks, had been reduced simply to large trunks protruding from the swamp. Some trunks were still upright, but others had fallen on their sides in the water leaving their hulk-like root structures sticking vertically up in the air to dry out and turn a pale shade of gray from the bleaching effect of the sun.

I guess Murphy's Law even works in the middle of nowhere because by 1:40 p.m. the wind and rain stopped, the sun began to shine, blue sky started to appear through the breaking cloud cover and the temperature rose to just over 50 degrees allowing us to shed a couple layers of clothes. If we had known the weather was going to turn out like this we would have stuck with our original plan and hiked west on the Correction Line Trail. As luck would have it, this change of plans actually allowed us to have more time for sightseeing on Friday than we would have originally had. So, in the end, it all worked out for the best.

The trail crested a ridge a short distance past the intersection with the Government Peak Trail. From this point the trail began a long, steep descent of approximately 500 feet in elevation over roughly ½-¾ mile. We were glad to be heading north on the trail because coming from the south would have definitely been a quad-searing ascent. Not only was the trail steep in this area it was also covered with slippery mud, exposed tree roots and jagged, loose rock. Together, these conditions made for an interesting route down. Even though quite a few sections of trail in the park were wet and muddy this section took the cake because it combined all the normal nuisances with a very steep grade. Actually, my description of this trail could sound like an excerpt from a twisted Dr. Seuss book, "Tan mud here, brown mud there and slippery red mud everywhere. Tree roots in the trail and large trees over the trail. There are many types of rocks, how many do you see? I see small rocks, big rocks, dry rocks and slippery rocks, and even a few jagged, injury waiting to happen rocks". This steep descent was approximately 1-1½ miles from Lake of the Clouds. On the way downhill we passed a deep gorge several yards off the trail to the west that was probably 30-40 feet deep. Scott Creek, a branch of the Big Carp River, flowed through the chiseled gorge and created a nice waterfall as it rushed over the jagged rocks at the bottom - it was quite a sight!

By 3:30 p.m. we had arrived at the bridge over the Big Carp River where it flows out of Lake of the Clouds. We contemplated staying at one of the campsites near the lake instead of going to Union Bay, however, when we walked past the sites we discovered that most were close to the lake and were pretty wet and muddy. Had we stayed at Lake of the Clouds our gear would have most likely become soaked and caked in mud because the sites were so waterlogged from all the rain. We walked over the bridge and began the final push up the steep grade on the north side of the lake. After a couple switchbacks and a few rest stops we topped out on the Escarpment Trail, roughly 150 feet higher than the lake below. We hiked west for a short distance until we were once again at the Lake of the Clouds overlook. The view was much better than it had been on the first day; it was now sunny, the sky was blue and the trees and vegetation below showed off vibrant shades of green. We walked back to the car, drove over to Union Bay campground, picked out a site, set up the tent and began to spread out the wet gear to dry before the sun set.

We cooked dinner and drank some hot tea to help fight off the chill that was descending upon the campground as the last sliver of sunlight disappeared below the horizon. It was now about 45 degrees but the weather report for tonight predicted lows in the 30's with a frost warning. A peaceful silence crept across the campground as people began to settle in for the night and the only sounds I heard as I lay in the tent were the muffled voices of people talking around their campfires and the waves crashing on the Lake Superior shore.

Final count for the day: Several small birds, a few chipmunks and two people on a day hike.

Miles covered today: 5
Total trip miles: 28.75

Day 6

This page last updated on 02-25-2016 @ 11:24 AM