Porcupine Mountains, September 2012

Day 2

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Iwas up for the day at 8:30 a.m., and even though I awoke several times overnight, I still felt completely rested and eager to see what the new day would bring. Each time I woke up I heard wind shaking the trees as it raced through the forest and waves crashing on the rocky shore 500-600 feet away. It sounded like Lake Superior was in a very ornery mood, so I was thankful we had not camped along its shoreline.

I had a pop tart, some oatmeal, and a mug of hot chocolate for breakfast as we stood around in layered clothing attempting to stay warm in the frigid, early morning air. With full stomachs and the realization that movement would help produce warmth, we began to dismantle our site. After returning the grounds to the way we found it last night, we shouldered our packs and headed out.

Prior to hitting the trail, we made our way back along the river to the shoreline to investigate the ruckus emanating from the lake. As we neared the water, the wind and crashing waves became increasingly louder, to the point where we had to yell to each other even though we stood only a couple of yards away from each other. The wind was so strong that it sent ripples—almost like a visible shock wave—racing across the mouth of the Big Carp River, and the waves out on Lake Superior were quite a bit larger than yesterday. Whitecaps appeared and disappeared on the lake, like bubbles peppering the surface of a pot of boiling water. As the pale-colored waves rushed the shore, they reached heights of three to four feet before curling in on themselves and crashing onto the rocks in a frothy, turbulent, white mass. Gichigami (the Ojibwa Indian name meaning, "big water") was showing her temperamental side. It was an awesome sight!

By 11:10 a.m. we were heading down the Big Carp River Trail. The sound of crashing surf faded quickly as we moved deeper into the forest until only the rhythmic sound of footsteps broke the stillness of our surroundings. As we left the lakeshore we immediately felt the slight tug of gravity as the trail began to rise, although, for now, it was a gradual incline. As a matter of fact, we would spend much of the day going uphill, but it would not become noticeably steeper until we hit the Correction Line Trail. With roughly 0.4-mile behind us we came across what we had searched for last night—the campsite. If we had walked a little further we would have stumbled upon it early enough to set up camp and eat as the sun was setting instead of working in complete darkness. Hmmm, the faintest pencil mark…

Bathtub Falls appeared just around the corner from the campsite and we stopped here for several minutes to take photos and admire the rushing water before continuing. The one impressive sight that remained constant from yesterday through today was the sheer number of large-diameter trees. I realized this park has a lot of old-growth forest, but being around so many huge trees was impressive, especially since most of my hiking has been in much younger forests. Some of these trees were just ginormous!

As the sound of the Bathtub Falls faded off behind us, the trail began a slightly more intense climb toward the Shining Cloud Falls and the next campsite. We were not able to get to the falls, however, because they were rather far from the trail down in a gorge. We located a small clearing at the edge of a bluff where we stopped to take a breather and check out the view of the falls through a small window in the tree canopy. Right next to where we were standing was a large tree with a split down the middle of the trunk. On either side of the split were darkened areas that almost looked like char marks. We wondered if lightning had struck the tree or if there was another natural explanation for the blackened areas.

From here, the Big Carp Trail took a distinct left turn and the ground remained mostly level for a distance as we were now traveling between two contour lines in the terrain. After roughly 0.5-mile the trail began a wide, sweeping right turn as we once again began to increase our elevation before crossing the Big Carp River further ahead. The topography leveled off again for a short time before we reached the intersection with the Correction Line Trail.

Correction line is a term that was used during the early days of land surveying. Back when the country still had large plots of land to divide into county and city subdivisions, surveyors would refer to magnetic north as they laid out east and west boundaries (lines running north and south). Since the earth is not flat, all north-south lines converge at the poles, meaning that along the way, the distance between east-west parallels shrinks slightly. As a way of compensating for this fluctuation, the surveyors would add a new base line from which to take measurements, thus, a correction line. I cannot say with absolute certainty how this trail received its name, but one of the topographic maps references the 5th Correction Line in the general area of the trail, so I’m guessing that’s how the name came to be.

At only three miles in length, the Correction Line Trail is fairly short, but that does not make it any less significant than the other trails. The trail serves as a connector between the Big Carp River Trail and the North Mirror Lake and Little Carp River Trails. By adding this trail to the mix, a backpacker instantly opens up several different routes for their trip and the ability to see more of this amazing park.

Several yards from the trail junction we discovered the remains of an Eastern Hemlock lying on the ground and cut into sections. It provided the perfect place to stop for lunch because we were able to set our packs on the logs and lay out our food and drinks. We ate some salami sticks and trail mix and then relaxed for several minutes, using the giant logs as seats.

This tree was massive and was representative of many of the trees we had seen over the past two days. From the center of the log, I counted outward toward the bark until I reached 50 rings. I then measured that distance and continued to measure out to the last visible ring near the bark. I know I did not have a precise age for this tree when it fell, but my calculations had to be somewhat close. My quick survey revealed that the tree was about 225 years old—this tree was a mere twig when the United States was in its infancy. I wondered what stories this tree could tell us if it were able to speak.

This felled tree was quite an enigma. From what we were able to see, the tree appeared healthy and without scars or damage. The lack of other downed trees left us at a loss to explain why it met this fate, but we figured there had to be a good reason why it was taken down. During my correspondence with Bob Wild I learned that the tree had blown down during a major wind storm. The tree apparently blocked the trail and the sign at the intersection, causing a hiker to become lost. Nature had caused the tree to fall and the trail crew simply cut it up to open the trail and clear the remains from in front of the sign. Bob said that my estimate of 225 years was about right for an Eastern Hemlock of that size.

There were now approximately three miles separating us from Mirror Lake, and most of that distance was uphill. Along the way, we crossed Landlookers Creek and an unnamed tributary of the Big Carp River. We took several more breaks along this section of trail because the incline was beginning to wear on us. Further ahead, we came to an area where the trail stopped climbing and left us standing directly next to a sheer rock face at the very edge of the trail. We were now standing somewhere close to the 1,600-foot mark; we had gained about 1,000 feet in elevation since leaving the Lake Superior shore. With Mirror Lake in sight, we began a rapid descent to the water far below and the intersection of the Little Carp River and Correction Line trails.

When we bottomed out at the lake, we found a signpost with a map of the Mirror Lake area. The map displayed the mileage from here to several other trails, locations, the three cabins (2-bunk, 4-bunk and 8-bunk), tent sites, and bear poles. We now had a choice to make—turn to the south or the north. We chose to go north.

The first of three tent sites was near the North Mirror Lake Trail intersection one-half mile away. The first cabin we passed was the 4-bunk cabin. It was occupied by several older men, one of whom was sitting outside and two of whom were out on the lake in a rowboat. We stopped momentarily to be courteous and say hello. We learned that he was here with three of his buddies. They had been renting this cabin around the same time every year for many years as a guy’s weekend away for visiting, fishing, and relaxing. It seemed like the perfect place for such a trip. As we walked away, I took one last deep breath of the intoxicating aroma rising from their fire ring. There’s nothing quite like the smell of a campfire in the middle of the woods and I knew that soon we would be sitting around a crackling fire at our own site.

The 8-bunk cabin came into view before we were barely past the 4-bunk cabin. Unlike the 4-bunk, this one was unoccupied and locked up. A little ways ahead we stepped over Trail Creek where it emerged from the forest and flowed over a small pile of rocks; the gurgling sound was peaceful and relaxing. Soon afterwards, we arrived at a wide clearing with a nice view of the lake and discovered that a husband and wife had apparently arrived shortly before us (packs on the ground and no tent set up) so we moved on to the next site.

It was about 4:20 p.m. when we finally strolled into our site, which turned out to be the last one of the three—we had somehow missed the first one. The site was quite spacious and open and had a fire ring not far from the shore.

The first order of business was to set up my hammock and officially try it out in the outdoors. I found two sturdy trees back where we planned to set up the tents, strung my hammock between them, and lay down for a few minutes. It was very comfortable and the slow, swaying motion would have easily sent me off to sleep if I had not kept thinking about helping Derek and Ken set up tents and gather firewood.

We cooked some cheese tortellini with tomato sauce for dinner and ate around 6:00 p.m. as we sat around a warm, smoky fire. After dinner the three of us scoured the surrounding area for more dead and down wood for our fire, but suitable pieces had pretty much been picked over by who knows how many previous visitors. Regardless, we managed to find a small pile of twigs and branches that, as it turned out, lasted us for several hours.

There was a small clearing at the water’s edge only a couple of yards from our site that provided an awesome view of the entire lake. The sky was mostly cloudy when we arrived but the sun managed to find a break in the clouds and graced us with its presence, saturating the entire area with brilliant golden light which was awesome for evening photos.

The cloud cover fluctuated over the course of the day, but overall the weather was very nice. The day began with a cloudy morning, cleared up and became sunny for much of the afternoon, and finally, grew cloudy again as we approached Mirror Lake. The temperature probably reached a high of 60 degrees while the sun was out and the wind remained fairly steady all day at 15-20 mph with slightly stronger gusts. All day we heard the wind whipping through the treetops, at first, far off and muffled, then gradually getting closer and becoming louder, before fading off as it passed us. The forest helped temper the breeze at ground level but still allowed enough to get through to keep us cool. We had to deal with a few bugs and mosquitoes but they were not bad enough to warrant bug netting or DEET.

Did I mention that the trees were amazing? When we stopped for lunch, Ken went and wrapped his arms around one of the average-sized trees nearby. His arms only made it about half way around the trunk; that tree was about 12 feet in circumference. It was a monster.

By 9:00 p.m. the evening chill was quickly becoming the downright cold of night. With our supply of firewood exhausted the only way to ward off the frigid temperature was to retreat to the warmth of our tents and sleeping bags. However, a tent was not in the cards for me tonight. My wife had bought me a hammock for Christmas and I had yet to try it out, except for a few minutes when I rigged it up in the garage earlier in the spring—definitely not an official “hang”. I figured this would be the perfect time to give it a shot.

Ken and Derek zipped themselves into their tents and I, wearing a fleece hat and a couple layers of clothes, crawled into my sleeping bag and zipped it up to my face, leaving only my eyes, nose and mouth exposed to the elements. I wiggled around until I was finally able to get myself positioned correctly and then laid still. Even though cold air permeated every square inch of the forest, I was warm as could be in my sleeping bag. I laid there, suspended two feet off the ground, as my hammock swung gently back and forth in a hypnotic-like motion. The last thing I remember was a peaceful calm, a moonlit sky above me, and the dark silhouettes of ancient trees standing guard around us.

Final count for the day: Seven backpackers and one day hiker on the trail, a couple chipmunks, red squirrels, a partridge, and an unidentified bird swimming out on Mirror Lake.

Miles Covered Today: 7.6
Total Trip Miles: 14.6

Day 3

This page last updated on 02-25-2016 @ 11:29 AM