Porcupine Mountains, Night 4

As my wife and I waited at the Buckshot Cabin, we started to hear the telltale sound of thunder again. I walked over to the lake and saw that there were some small thunderheads moving in from the lake. Nothing too terrible, but we were concerned that Mike was going to get soaked again.

Thankfully, the rain didn’t last long, and for Lisa and I, the cabin was a beautiful place to wait it out. There wasn’t any wind, so we were able to keep the windows open and enjoy the smell of fresh rain in the woods. Soon the rain let up and we started checking out what time it was. It was then that we realized that Mike should be back any time now, but we weren’t seeing any sign of him. I realized that we never made any plans for how to handle an emergency, without any cell phone connection, so I made the decision that if Mike wasn’t back by 7pm we would pack up the cabin and hike back out to the car. The assumption was that if something had gone wrong and he wasn’t able to hike down after his run, he’d just wait in the car.

Soon enough though he came down the trail, ready for some supper. He had managed to get back to the car just as the rain started, so he decided (wisely) to just wait out the rain before heading out on the hike. After almost 18 miles of running, and a 2.5 mile hike to the cabin, he was justifiably wiped. We started up a dinner of pancakes and sat down at the table to enjoy one final camp meal. I enjoyed a beer while we ate, and then headed to bed to finish my second book of the trip.

Morning came, and I was awake early (as usual). I headed down to the lake to get a nice sunrise pic (in the header above), and then we started our packing for the trip home. Maybe it was a bit of caffeine in my system, but the hike out to the car went super smooth, and I was feeling on top of the world. We managed to hike UP the hill 12 minutes faster than it took Lisa and I to hike down. We arrived at the car and drove back to the modern campground for a quick shower before the long ride home.

IMG_20180806_090941.jpgI feel like I learned a LOT on this trip. Mike was an excellent guide, and taught us solid Leave No Trace principles. I also learned about what I like and don’t like, and how I’d plan the next trip that we take.

Some of the lessons:

  • ALWAYS pack for rain. It doesn’t matter what the weather forecast said two days ago. Always bring your pack cover.
  • I know how to poop in the woods now.
  • Packing gear for both back country camping and running is tough. Many things are shared, but when you’re running long distances in the woods, you need the right gear.
  • There’s a lot you can do for food beyond just dehydrated camp meals.
  • You don’t need as much as you think you do, and you can get by with a lot less.

Overall, this was an amazing adventure. It wasn’t much like a vacation, because we were working hard a lot. But, it was something incredible and memorable. I commented to our group that it felt like running an ultramarathon. It was tough and difficult, but incredibly fulfilling. I just needed a few days to recover when I got done!

I’m not sure what the next back country trip for us will be. We’ve got some camper trips coming up soon, but at least we have all the right gear for when we want to venture out again. I’ll be posting some reviews of our gear in future blogs, as well as a list of all the things we brought. I’m very happy with almost all of our gear, and frankly, I don’t think we need to change much.

This was an incredible adventure, and I’m so happy that we did it. It’s OK that it was tough, because the memories will last for a lifetime.

Porcupine Mountains, Night 3

We awoke on day 3 to the sound of light rain. In reality the rain had pretty much stopped at that point, but the tree canopy was continuing to drip water on us from its water laden leaves. We had decided, the night before, to start our hike early and then eat a later breakfast when we got to the other side. We grabbed some snacks to tie us over, and then started packing up. Unfortunately, I forgot my pack rain cover in the car, so we arranged our things so that anything that could get wet was in my bag.

As we headed out the rain stopped, and we thought that perhaps we’d be spared a completely wet hike. However, I managed to catch a sliver of cell signal and the weather report informed us that more rain was on it’s way. All of the water overnight had made the trail much more muddy and soft than the day before, so the hike became a bit more of a slog. The gullies that we had to cross were slick and difficult to climb out of, but we managed to get through it. A few spots were showing signs of pretty bad erosion, and hopefully the park can take care of that sooner rather than later. I doubt parts of this trail will be usable in the near future if they don’t do something about the washouts.

One of the most memorable parts of our hike was a couple of miles in. Right before the rain started to pour again, we heard a cracking sound. I looked to my right and saw a tree starting to sway. I pointed and yelled to everyone to “Look out!” We jumped off the trail as the tree fell about 20-30 yards from us. Thankfully, it fell towards the direction we had just come from, and we weren’t really in any danger. However, it certainly got our blood pumping, and kept us on high alert for any cracking sounds for the rest of the hike.

The hike took around 3 hours, and when we arrived the rain and finished. Our original plan had been to wander around some of the waterfalls on that end of the park, but all we wanted to do was get somewhere to eat and dry out our things. We opt’d for a picnic shelter nearby and spent some time getting ourselves repacked and organized. Unfortunately, I believe that this was the time when I forgot my running hat on a picnic bench, and it got left behind.

The next night was our planned night of comfort. We had a reservation at a yurt near the modern campground. This meant that we got a nice shower, and could dry things out. We brought Mike to the Lake of the Clouds overlook so that he could start his next long run, and we got to look around at this amazing site.

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Mike headed out his run, and my wife and I started to do a short run of our own. However, part way through the run I felt my stomach turn south, and so I headed back to find a bathroom. I’m not sure what hit me, but for most of the rest of the evening my stomach was not feeling good, and I ended up not even eating much in the way of supper. It might have been some exhaustion, or a slight bug of some kind, but either way, it made me glad we had a more comfortable bed for this night.

I managed to sleep pretty well that night, and the next morning my wife treated us to a wonderful eggs and potato breakfast. Mike’s plan for this day was to run close to 20 miles and then meet us at our final site, a remote cabin in the woods, right on the shore of Lake Superior. We dropped Mike off at his starting run location, and then my wife and I headed back for a run of our own. With my stomach I decided to stick to a simple run along the roads, and banged out a 6 miler before cleaning up and packing up the yurt.

Since we had some time to kill before we could begin our hike we headed into a nearby town and got a decent lunch at a small restaurant at a hotel. Because of the way that the time zones work out, the park is split by eastern and central time. That meant that we were checking out of the yurt, but had to kill some time because the cabin was in central time. A meal we didn’t have to cook sounded good to us, so we took advantage of it.

IMG_20180805_150421.jpgOnce we were done with lunch we parked the car at the final trailhead of the trip and began a 2.5 mile hike down to the lakeshore. This part of the Lake Superior Trail was rocky, and it took us some time to work around all the loose rubble. We weren’t in a rush though, and we took advantage of that fact to simply enjoy ourselves. We arrived at the cabin, mid-afternoon, and settled in. This was a beautiful, rustic, cabin right near the shore, and it was the perfect place to simply relax. We unpacked our gear and fell into our cots to read.

img_3232Eventually, Mike showed up, but that’s the story for next time…

Porcupines Mountains, Night 1 & 2

I’ve been off the grid a bit this past week/weekend, engaging in our first back country camping trip. I had done one night on the Superior Hiking Trail, almost 2 decades ago, but otherwise have stuck with car/camper camping since then. We were excited to try out a bunch of new gear that we had gotten, including some new packs, and my wife’s new backpacking tent.

For this trip, we were joined by our good friend Mike B. who is a very experienced back country person, and he served as our mentor and guide throughout the trip. Part of the impetus for the trip was so that Mike could get in some solid trail training runs before his 100 mile attempt at Fall Superior in a few weeks. We were more than happy to join him and help with his training, while at the same time getting some wilderness experience.

We headed out on a Thursday, and our itinerary involved getting all the way to Michigan, and then heading to our first campsite. This first night we would only be hiking in 2.5 miles, and since we had been driving all day, this was fine with us. Our first site was on the banks of the Little Carp River, and the trail leading to it followed along side of it. We arrived by late afternoon, and found a good spot to pitch our tents. We had some neighbors, who I don’t think really liked the company, but such is life in a busy park. In fact, Mike discovered when he was planning this trip, that even the back country sites needed to be reserved now. Our experience bore out this reality, that this park is getting very popular.

img_3175Once we had set up camp, we started dinner and enjoyed a nice meal of couscous and chicken. I got to try out our new Sawyer gravity water system (review coming another day), and overall we had a quiet night in the woods. Because of the drive and the hike we were all tired, and we crawled in to bed pretty early. Much to our surprise we all ended up in our tents for close to 12 hours, giving us a bit later of a start to our second day.

Our goal for day 2 was to get to our next campsite, and then Mike and I planned to run back to our car to move it to a new spot for our hike out. The hike to the next site, where the Little Carp River runs in to Lake Superior, was easy and uneventful. There were some cool water features, and we stopped to take a few pictures as we went. Overall, it was a pretty easy morning, and we had our new site set up before lunch.

Mike and I headed out to do a 6.5 mile run back to the car along the Crosscut Trail and got to have some fun stretching our legs without any packs on. The Crosscut Trail is an interior trail, and frankly, just not that interesting. It’s muddy and just cuts through some basic woods, without much in the way of features. It was still a good run, and we made decent time getting back to the parking lot. Once we arrived we hopped in the car and moved it over to Presque Isle, heading back to our campsite via the Lake Superior Trail.

img_3213This trail was much different than Crosscut, as it ran closer to the lake, and was punctuated by large gullies that we needed to climb down and up. I think in total, I counted 10 or 11 gullies along the way. It was all good fun until I realized we’d be coming back that way the next day and would have to do them all over again.

For the time being, I put that out of my mind, and we enjoyed a beautiful evening near the shore of Lake Superior. We had a nice supper and spent time walking down to the lakeshore to enjoy the view. Soon though it started to get dark, and we heard the sound of thunder in the distance. It was time to hunker down in the tent, and get some sleep while we enjoyed the sound of rain all around us. Never mind the fact that the next day was shaping up to be rather wet, it was still shaping up to be a fun adventure.

In the next entry we’ll continue with the story of the wet hike out of the woods…

Frontenac State Park hiking

Sunday, the wife and I headed down to a beautiful State Park on the bluffs of the Mississippi. Frontenac State Park is just south of Red Wing Minnesota and is filled with beautiful hiking paths that wind through prairies and down steep river bluffs. We did about two hours of hiking along the bluff trails as a way to recover a bit from our run on Saturday.

I also remembered to bring the camera and I got some shots that I really like. In particular this first shot from the Upper Bluff Trail turned out really nice.

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A few more below…

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Grand Portage State Park

One of the places that I visited last week was Grand Portage State Park. I had never been north of Grand Marais before, and since I had an entire Saturday to myself I decided to spend it exploring. I first hit Judge CR Magney Park, but I’ll save that for another day.

Grand Portage State Park is on the border between Canada and Minnesota and is wholly contained within the Grand Portage Indian Reservation. It’s place along the Pigeon River makes for a picturesque setting due to the many waterfalls on this part of the river. There are two waterfalls within the park and I decided to hit both of them.

DSC04266The first was the High Falls, which are located a short half a mile from the visitor center. The path to these falls are completely paved, making it easy for anyone to visit the site. When you arrive you travel up to one of two different platforms that give you a stunning view of the falls. This waterfall was truly spectacular, and its height meant that there was a slight mist in the air from the crashing water. I managed a few night shots of the falls and then decided to embark on the trek to the middle falls, deep within the park.

The hike to the Middle Falls is 2.5 miles out and back from the visitor center, and once you leave the paved path, it’s very rugged terrain, much like most of the Superior Hiking Trail. Additionally, there is a ridge that you need to get over, and to the other side of, resulting in a 300 foot climb in both directions. The path was easy to follow, although the mud got to be annoying after a while.

DSC04293Eventually I made it to the falls, and I have to say, I was rather disappointed. The falls were not very high, forming more of a simple step in the river than something amazing. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind hiking to see cool things in nature, but what really let me down is that directly across the river was a road. Ontario Highway 593 runs along the Pigeon River, and goes directly past these falls. What that means is that I hiked 2.5 miles through semi-rugged terrain to see something I could have driven to. Not exactly what I had planned.

It was still a very nice hike, and it felt good to get a solid 5+ miles of trail under my feet. I finished the hike with a short jaunt to the survey marker right on the edge of the river. There was a nice sign there describing the significance of the border and the treaty that formed it. At first I didn’t even notice the marker until I looked down and saw it embedded in the ground. That was a neat way to end my time at Grand Portage.

This is the closest I’ve ever been to Canada, and at some point I’ll need to come up and cross the border to visit places like Thunder Bay, and various parks on that side of the river. I was happy to have gotten to visit Grand Portage, and if you’re ever heading that far north I’d highly encourage you to check out the High Falls in particular. It’s well worth the stop.

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