When you own an outdoor outfitter shop that’s open 7 days a week and you don’t employ much outside help at all (this summer was the first time we hired anyone and it was just for the busy season) then it often feels like you’re a REMF. You spend a lot of time making sure the shelves are stocked, that you’re making sure people are getting the gear that fits what they want to do, and that there are enough pennies in the till to make change. What you’re not doing is slipping off for a lot of long hikes, or even short ones.
I’m not whining about it; this is what we chose, and choose, to do. But man, you get envious. EVERYONE is going out to do awesome things, and you’re just helping set them up for it. I bet this is what it feels like to work an airline ticket counter if you’ve never flown anywhere and have always desperately wanted to, or even apt – if you once got to fly all the time and now you’re grounded. So we spend a lot of time dreaming about what we’re going to do, how we’re going to do it, and what gear we’re taking. And how we’ll kick ass, despite being shop-fat and out of shape to boot.
My Fall ’16 hike was going to be to get out and do 100 miles of the NCT. I carefully looked over various sections, with my heart set on avoiding roadwalks and getting lots of gorgeous views instead. I picked out a section that would do nicely: I was going to do a section from Solon Springs to just North of Copper Falls State Park. It’d be about 117 miles or so and it would ROCK!. I bought the NCT maps and started figuring out distances and desired campsites. Doing 100+ miles in a week means you plan your sleeping locations mainly according to the criteria of how far you can get in a day and where near there is permissible and acceptable for your dead carcass to lie until the sun rises. Especially when you’re diving in to those miles with no warmup. After looking at things a couple of times, I flipped directions and came up with a plan I liked. I’d start at the east end, hike down through the park, pass through Mellen and sleep in a shelter the first two nights. That would take some of the time and trouble burden off me setting up and breaking camp my first couple of days. And the park looks to be very pretty so I’d immerse myself in protected scenery on the first day. I was salivating. This is pretty much the section I would be hiking/enjoying/experiencing:
I wanted to park my truck in Solon Springs and get a shuttle to start my hike. That’s the most convenient way to do things, usually. If you can’t have someone drive you to the trailhead, drop you off and then wait for you at your destination to pick you up, then you need other arrangements. Since my mom lives 16 hours away from this hike, I needed other arrangements. (She would totally drop me off and pick me up from all hikes, for the record.)
I contacted some folks at the local chapter of the NCT.
“No can do.”
“Trail closed. Damage from summer storms has sections of NCT and indeed whole sections of the national forest still closed.”
(These are mental impressions, not actual verbiage.)
Thunderbolt from the blue. This hike wasn’t happening. Period, exclamation point, insert curse words. Fudge, fudge, fudge.
Drop back. Punt. Rethink this. Dude said something about where the closures ended. I could start about 35 miles west of my planned start and still do this thing.
I called places, got things mailed to me. Maps, permit applications for county forests. I re-planned miles. I downloaded GPX files from various places on the internet and tried to piece together an accurate path of the trail West of Solon Springs. I wanted detail. I got detail. The more I looked, the less I liked. Essentially I would miss Copper Falls State Park, and both shelter areas I had originally planned for my first two nights. I would replace these miles with a hike South, West, and Back North out of Solon Springs into much less scenic area and would find myself needing to either hike or hitch back to Solon Springs to get to my vehicle. This was like planning a trip to Disney World and being told that the best 5 exhibits are all closed, but we’re happy to charge you full price and let you in the park. My elation became deflation.
For a couple of days, I toyed with hiking from Iron River back to Eagle River via the National Forest and just making myself like it. There’s a lot of interesting miles out there that I haven’t done. But the last 5 miles would all be roadside bleh back into Eagle River. I looked a couple of different ways and never came up with any way to make the finale of the hike anything but unappealing.
So, I fell back on The Porkies.
Porcupine Wilderness State Park, located on the shores of Lake Superior, was created in 1945 and at 60,000 acres is Michigan’s largest state park. It’s gorgeous. There are multiple rivers with waterfalls, there’s some elevation change, sections of virgin hardwood forest exist to be boggled at, and there are a good 18 miles of trail right close to the shoreline of Lake Superior so you can just devour those views to your heart’s content. It’s also only 2.5 hours from our home so I could hike full miles from day 1, no shuttle needed.
I downloaded the backcountry camping map and went to work. After a couple of tries, I put together a 6 day, 5 night plan. I would park on the western edge of the park and hike a big set of intersecting loops through the park, seeing as much of the virgin forest and escarpment ridge as possible on my journey. 60,000 acres sounds like a lot but following the plan I created I would only hike 70 miles in my time there. Some of this would certainly be offset by the extra effort created by the mud. The Lake Superior trail is known for being muddy. Hey, it’s at water level, what do you expect? Also, 2016 has been a wet year, period. Last I checked, 4th wettest year on record for our area. With a rudimentary plan together of what I now *wanted* to do, I called the park. After my 4th or 5th call, on the second day, I spoke to a live person and asked the questions I hadn’t been able to absolutely answer for myself already.
Were there any problems on the trails? Well, the Lake Superior Trail was kind of muddy. Bit worse than usual.
Any other issues? Blowdowns, etc? Well, Cross Trail has a lot of blowdowns. The state crew was through a couple of weeks ago clearing out blowdown damage and we didn’t even send them down Cross Trail.
Could I check in at the West side? Nope. Main office only.
None of these answers changed my plans much but they’re important to ask before you arrive at your final plan. As a matter of fact it came down in favor of a slight detour into Ontonagon the morning I would start. I could grab breakfast there and a real sandwich to carry in for my first day’s lunch. Woohoo!
I went online and made my reservation. $15 a night to go camp in the woods. Ouch. Ah well, could be worse.
Next, was gear and meal revisions. Turns out I didn’t need to make much of any changes. I dropped my meal count down to match 6 days instead of 7 and that was it.
I have been using an online tool someone once linked to on a forum to help plan my packing and it makes it easy to keep track of such things. Of course, I also put things in a spreadsheet, cause, well, you HAVE to keep everything in a spreadsheet. This tool is called Lighterpack, and it’s been saying Beta for like 3 years now so I suspect it’s not changing any more.
Here’s a snaphot of my load in Lighterpack:
I was leaving home with 25 pounds total on my back. This was going to be a good hike.
Flash forward a few days.
I woke up way too early: 3AM. I tried to go back to sleep for about 45 minutes before throwing in the towel. I was just so ready to get going. So I got up, dressed and made it out to the car without incident. Then I stopped by the shop in town and picked up the confirmation letter for my camping reservation that I forgot to bring home yesterday. Memory is not my strong point. Score one for using a checklist.
The drive up to Ontonagon was easy and quiet though there were at least a dozen deer standing roadside grazing in various places. I didn’t have to dodge any, so that’s something. I did see a fox on Hwy 45 close to home, right after I got started driving. He was sitting beside the road, right in the gravel past the white line, intently watching a house. Talk about getting your priorities wrong – watch the house from the roadside at 3AM in Wisconsin. Talk about drunk-driver bait. He did move as my headlights got nearer, so maybe he was savvier than I gave him credit for.
I bought gas in Ontonagon after the drive, which was about 2 hours. There’s 4G service in town if you have Verizon which is nice. The park opens at 8 and I arrived before 7 so I am sitting outside Syl’s Cafe waiting for it to open. A good breakfast will make for an easier first day. I sure hope I am warm enough this trip – I noticed air temps on the car thermometer down to 34 while driving.
Breakfast was great. Good portions and decent price. Coffee cup never ran empty. Eat at Syl’s.
From town it’s a half hour drive to the park. I stopped and picked up a sandwich: just plain meat, bread and cheese the way I like it, along the way which will be lunch.
Ow, ow, ow. The State of Michigan stuck it in me pretty deep for this hike. $83 for 5 days of back country camping PLUS now another $61 for parking. I would have hoped to see the park roads in better repair for that kind of filthy lucre. OR maybe even their CC terminal in working order. I had to tap my emergency cash fund to pay for the recreation parking pass since they couldn’t even take my card. Seems perverted that paying to camp here doesn’t allow my car to camp in the parking lot. Ah well, I will hike that much lighter, given that they took the skin off my ass on the way in. Maybe Michigan can buy those poor folks in Flint some water pipes.
I drove from park HQ around the south boundary road to the Presque Isle side. Changed, dumped all my stuff in the car trunk, grabbed a couple of snapshots of the trailhead, pit toilet, etc and finally started hiking around 9:45. The red stroke on the map shows what I planned to do.
I met 3 girls a few miles in and talked a bit. They are up from Madison and had hoped to do a week but seemed discouraged. From their pack sizes I assume that they are in a cabin and doing out and backs. We exchanged a bit of trail info and went our ways. Passed a guy who said nothing but hi and kept moving and I saw a crew of prisoners that unloaded from a boat at Big Carp and headed out with a ranger.
They’re doing trail work I assume. I also met a fisherman as he headed from Big Carp to Little Carp. He came in Pinkerton and will be back out tonight. Said the fishing was better on Little Carp.
Big Carp is where I set up camp. The trail has been fairly busy with people today. I saw a group of 4 headed East and a group of 2 headed West after I set up. I arrived with plenty of time to set up; sometime around 2. My first tarp rig I tried blew chunks but the second time around I think I done good. It’s higher and wider than any tent we own. I’m using the windbreak logs that so many of the camps along Lake Superior have to elevate one side. It’s airy and snug at the same time. We’ll have to see how long that opinion holds tonight. Waves breaking on the shore are very nice to listen to.
I had my ham and swiss sandwich for lunch and am not hungry @ 3:15 as I write this. Shop fat strikes early! I got ass chafing after 8.7 miles today and had to soothe it with some lake water. Or maybe it was all the fees I paid to be here that chafed so much. Potato, potato. Lake Superior water sure is Chilly.
I just tested the Dexshell waterproof socks. They work well. They do balloon a little when you first put them on, but hey, they’re waterproof, what would you expect? They do not fit like Darn Tough Vermont socks. Forget that, these babies have 3 different material layers so it’s just not gonna be that kind of fit. But – I stood in the lake calf deep several minutes and feet came out of socks dry. Test passed. I now have river fording socks. We will have to poll people a bit to see how much interest there is. I’m feeling like we should have these in the shop.
Had Wise potato casserole for dinner. Didn’t quite get water to boil before fuel ran out. Let it rehydrate for 25 mins and still had hard bits. Tasted decent though. Got one more serving to try again.
Sundown over Superior at 6:30 was gorgeous.
All in all a decent first day.
I slept fitfully the first night. It was too hot. There were mosquitoes (a few). Is that a raccoon? Or a bear? Super stuffy head, couldn’t breathe, which was incredibly annoying. Endless repeat. Also I burned too much phone battery by not turning it off; instead I finished the book I was reading.
I had oatmeal for breakfast this morning. Two packets, brown sugar and maple. Plus a pack of Via. I’m using an Optimus Terra Solo pot set, which I am quite pleased with. The bottom pot holds oatmeal, top pot holds coffee. Perfect fit for one. I have to wash it since I’m eating in it, but very easy since it’s not actual cooking. Boil water, add ingredients.
I topped off my Nalgene last night before cooking dinner and between night water, dinner and breakfast I killed 36 ounces, leaving just 12 ounces in my tall bottle. I killed that before leaving camp. My next water would be from unknown streams on Cross Trail but water here is so plentiful that it makes no sense to carry around to much extra weight. I had 1 liter in my Propel bottle for general hydration so that was about right.
Packing up – nothing wanted to dry this morning. Not pots, not stove, not poncho/ground sheet. I finally realized I was gonna pack some damp stuff out. Plan is to wind up at North side of Mirror Lake.
Waterproof socks were still damp from yesterday. No longer do I blame them so much as I was when I woke. It’s clear that the shore is HUMID.
I counted 27 blow downs on Cross Trail. Ten in one place. Also, there’s lots of shallow mud and the trail is under shallow water for lengths up to a couple of hundred yards at a time.
Lost track of the trail? Easy – look for the wettest place you can find and there’s probably a trail marker right over it. There’s so much clay here and no real place for the water to run so when something like a trail exists – it’s a place for water to gather. Yay. Saw a bear print. By being fairly careful and moving slower than I usually would I kept water from going over the top of my boots at any time but there were lots of close calls. Trekking poles saved me from crashing in the slick mud at least a dozen times. Those poles were the difference between “My feet are damp. I hope I didn’t just tweak my back” and “OMFG I am covered with mud from head to foot – is that my femur sticking out of my leg?” Poles for the win.
I stopped at a campsite by the Little Carp for lunch. Had minor trouble getting water to boil with a fair amount of wind blowing. After 2 runs with the stove I just said screw it and used twigs in the fire ring. Of course, this got my pot sooty. But it boiled water though. I wanted to be absolutely sure I gave my meal every chance to be properly re-hydrated. This time my Wise potatoes re-hydrated better. Still not perfect. Maybe if I boil water a little longer and let it sit 20 mins…
Lily Pond Lake was gorgeous. If you rent a cabin in the Porkies, consider that one as a potential great place. Here’s the view across the lake from right past the cabin.
I arrived at the North Mirror Lake campsite at 3PM. It’s on top of a hill and there isn’t a flat spot in sight. Also, all the trees are wrong for my tarp. Decidedly meh. Lots of wind off the lake, too. But I had a plan and it was to camp at North Mirror Lake. I’m at North Mirror Lake. I’m gonna camp here. Cause that’s the plan.
Cooking dinner was a little tough with all the wind. I found myself wishing I had brought a windscreen. Only found 2 rocks at campsite I could use for windscreen. A wet log made the 3rd side and the package of Mountain House Beef Stew made the 4th. Sad that I didn’t get the windscreen piece right, but hey – I got water to boil. Another failure came to light, though. My alcohol fuel bottle is leaking a bit around the cap; experiment fail. I used an aluminum beer bottle for its ultralight properties and it’s just not a very good fuel bottle. I’ll ditch it after this trip and find a better replacement. I have been sealing it in its own ziploc baggie so even the small amount of seepage isn’t causing me any issues other than the disappointment.
The Beef Stew was awesome. I ate dinner at 4:30. Trail hunger had kicked in and I felt like I was starving since about 3.
One real nice thing about camping in the Porkies: toilets. All the campsites have one within a couple of miles, if not right there by the site. If you can clench your cheeks with any sort of personal fortitude, you can always make it. The North Mirror toilet was maybe .2 miles from my campsite. I headed over and used it, and I must admit I was favorably impressed. Composting toilets usually smell like – composting toilets. This one smells like cedar shavings instead of rotten poop. Yay. No TP in there, that’s something you should always be packing.
On the way to the toilet, I saw a ‘praying chipmunk.’ Little guy was poised voer his hole in the praying position and stayed that way through my whole approach until I stepped over him. Then he finally dove for safety.
I set my tarp up on a plane against the wind which was blowing it right into my face regularly. I was pretty sure it was gonna be an annoying night. Looking at the clouds coming in from the South I spent all my hope for no rain.
After I was all settled in and near asleep, maybe 30 mins before dark someone showed up at the campsite. It was one of the three girls from yesterday and asked if I had seen two girls. Then she recognized my Southern drawl. Her group was supposed to have met at the South camp on Mirror Lake but when she got there the others were not there so she had come to check here. She headed out to go see if they had arrived. From conversation I learned that the others had gone off to see some different sights. It sounded like everything was fine and she had a headlamp. I assured her that I’d be glad to help out if there was an actual problem and wished her well. I didn’t hear back from her so I assumed the group all met up as planned when she got back there.
I woke with a bit of a sore throat about 6:15. It didn’t get light until around 7. The wind blew all night long and got at me no matter what I did. I drank a lot of water and still felt dehydrated first thing. I sure was hopeful that the kinks would work out in a couple of hours but I was stiff and sore. Shoes were soggy from yesterday still, too. At least steady wind all night meant no mosquitoes.
I had oatmeal for breakfast again – it packs well and we had lots of it that needed using up at home. I made it on trail at 8. Skies overhead were really gloomy. The plan was to take a really roundabout path and wind up at Government Peak. An hour in I found myself beginning to wish I took the 3 mile route instead of the 13 one. Oh well.
At the Big Carp River crossing I ran into 3 guys with a dog. Really nice guys, and a nice dog too but they all hiked much faster than I do. They passed me up and then we all figured out that we were following a false trail. This spot is one you ford. There’s no rock hopping here. It’s 30 feet wide and about a foot and a half deep. No rocks even close to the surface. The guy with the dog just went right on in and waded it. The other guys went looking for a log crossing.
*I* pulled out my Dexshell waterproof socks and then felt a little chagrined that there was no one around to appreciate the moment except me. I was about to cross the river AND have dry feet on the other side. This was momentous. Then I took one step on the shore and my feet went right out from under me and I landed square on my back. My dignity, oh my dignity. At least no one was there to appreciate the moment except me. And nothing was broken, or so I thought at the time. This moment would haunt me later. I dusted myself off, waded the river, changed back into my hiking socks and boots, hung my trusty Dexshells (See, now I considered them trusty, just a couple of days in) and hit the trail again.
For a long while the trail ascended a bit here and there with very little descent to offset the incline. I leapfrogged the three guys (a log was eventually found a bit east so they crossed dry) a couple of times before they eventually pulled away and out of sight.
I followed the trail upwards to the cliffs over Lake of the Clouds as the wind picked up and rain began to spit and spatter fitfully. By the time I crossed the highest area the winds were around 30 with much stronger gusts. I was being pushed as I walked and occasionally thrown off balance. Trekking poles really paid off. I vaguely remembered this area from when Jess and I climbed it many years ago. Even in high winds and raindrops it’s beautiful.
When I hit the observation platform two of the three girls were there. We said hi and I continued down the trail and they hit the parking lot road – maybe they were done? After descending a lot and crossing the bridge at Lake of the Clouds, I passed the three guys at the first campsite having lunch. I had decided not to stop for lunch or water refill unless I really needed them badly. The sjy just looked too much like rain for sitting still. I kept on going and as I did, I thoroughly jinxed us. I yelled back, ‘At least the rain has held off!’
North Mirror Lake trail got really muddy and nasty. Not as bad as Cross Trail but worse than anything else I have hit. And EVERY trail has been awful muddy and awful wet at points. As careful as I have been I still got water over the top of my Salomon Quest 4Ds more than once. Doing these trails without a waterproof mid or higher is an invitation for disaster.
Once I hit Government Peak Trail it started a long ascent. Still muddy though. I was wheezing pretty bad when the three guys plus dog passed me with some encouraging words. My answer to the encouraging words was that I was too old and too fat. I eventually made it anyway. But I had to stop and put on my poncho after my wheeze break because the rain that had begun spitting down turned into a deluge. Me: flat rock. Sky: cow.
Water ran everywhere but mostly down the trail because it’s the easiest path. My legs and socks got soaked. The rest of me got damp. Addition of the visor to my poncho worked great. No more hood down to nose. I moved my phone to dryer quarters after I realized it was also getting wet in my pocket. No damage thankfully.
I passed by the first Govt peak campsite as it is a ways before the peak area. I took the second one, #6, which is down a long descent and lakeside. Someone had messed with the signs a bit but if you check them from both sides it was pretty clear what was trail and what was side trail to campsite.
I got my tarp set up with one side over a big log. NO flat spots at this campsite either. Fail – it’s very clear that no one does any sort of work creating tent pads in the Porkies. But the site has a bear pole and a fire ring, so not total fail. I had been watching closely for widow makers with all these blow downs around. Clear sky above my tarp.
When I unpacked I discovered a minor disaster. My fall back at the ford across Big Carp River ruptured my alcohol fuel bottle. It was in a baggie but some alcohol (and its smell) managed to get out into the stuff sack anyway. I had maybe 2 ounces left – or enough for 1-2 small boils without any wind. I decided that I was going to save it for tough times, assuming it didn’t just leak away and evaporate. I made a fire in the fire ring to boil the night’s dinner: Alpine Aire pineapple chicken. Very tasty though I had to gather more wood to get enough of a fire. The rule about gathering 3x what you need – make it 8 times. Then you might gave enough. I gathered for a breakfast fire as well. Of course everything was either birch or evergreen, so there was lots of resin in the wood – my poor pot was gonna need a super cleaning after this.
I sat in my camp chair and enjoyed the last rays of sun and thought a bit about the current situation and generally assessed the state of my union. So – loss of fuel was an issue but not the end of the world. Even after the afternoon’s flood I got stuff to burn. As long as there’s some birch around I knew it was something that I should be able to do every day. I would need a little more time for food prep is all. Also, you CAN always rehydrate meals with cold water. Hot is faster and tastier though so that’s the goal. I decided that this was still a very doable/enjoyable prospect and that while I might seize upon an easy ride back to the car to get more fuel, I didn’t NEED one. My planned miles were plenty short enough to have time to see everything I wanted, cook my meals with twig fires and generally follow the same plan I started with. So I leaned back in my chair, stretched my legs out and just let that little mountain lake vista crystallize into my mind.
When the sun sank I was standing behind a fallen tree which made a great shelf for my accoutrements as I washed my butt since it was still getting chapped daily. Wasn’t that supposed to be done after a day or so? Maybe I am a little too shop fat? Washed underwear also even though they look and feel fresh. MyPakage products really do perform well. But three days is enough to not have washed them. Helinox chair has been worth having despite the ground being so soft that I could never just pick it up – I had extract it. Comfy and dry whenever I need a seat. Good decision to bring it.
Very windy all night long. Huge gusts followed by still moments. At first I worried about the tarp. Then I worried about me. just because there was no limb over me didn’t mean a tree couldn’t fall this direction. It was still very windy at 3AM when I woke solidly, not sure if I could do a fire. Got up again at 5 to pee. Saw tarp had shifted during the night, and was lying lower. Good. Undies had blown off clothesline but socks were nice and dry. The wind put a chill in me, and I had to get back under quilt. I slept with no socks or long pants that night. Feet and hands stayed chilly for a while early on but not horribly so. Wound up toasty comfy except for drafts. When the wind starts picking up your quilt under your tarp you know it is windy.
The plan was to loop back around Escarpment trail and camp West of Lake of the Clouds.
At 6:45 it was still dark and still windy. Looked like breakfast would be delayed. Decided to get dressed and pack up at 7. I was out of camp before 8 and the miles felt all wrong. I was going to have breakfast at the first convenient place but with the wind no place felt convenient. When I hit the campsite at the actual peak there was no water (and I knew that, so not sure what I was expecting) so I kept on trucking.
The trail hung a hard right out of the campsite and I began to wonder if I had turned to go down Lost Lake trail. Crossing an underwater section of trail beside a lake seemed to confirm my suspicion. Yes, that’s the trail.
I was annoyed since I had just come a long way down hill. I did NOT want to go back to check for missed turns since I had seen no other way to go. The more I thought about the idea of being on Lost Lake trail though, the better it seemed. I could hit South Boundary road and go to the car. I could then take the car and go get fuel. I’d have to reschedule my hiking a bit but it would completely salvage this whole fuel situation. I’d also wind up skipping the section of Superior trail I’ve done before and was reported to be extra muddy at the moment. Perfect!
So – about a mile later I came to the actual junction to turn onto Lost Lake trail.
Then I had to make a real decision instead of just telling myself I was making the best of a wrong turn. The hike to the Escarpment trail was actually shorter than taking Lost Lake trail but Escarpment would put me at Lake of the Clouds parking lot and WAY further from getting to the car. A hike to the car along the South Boundary road might last until after dark but it was very doable. And it offered the fuel reset. One way clung to the original plan, the other was a compromise. It’s Fall, the weather could turn nasty. Compromise won. After another 4 miles of trail I hit the road. Another 2 miles of road walking or so and I got a hitch. Fresh socks, clean shoes and a drive to town with devices recharging. Then a bacon double cheeseburger, fries, lemon pie, 2 giant cookies and 5 glasses of iced tea at Syl’s layer I felt human enough to go get that fuel. Yellow Heet, 2 for $4 at the gas station and back to the park. (Yellow Heet is methanol. Burns perfectly in alcohol stoves. Stay away from Red Heet. Red Heet is isopropyl and burns poorly, leaves soot.) Hitting the trail at 3PM is not ideal but I knew that I would camp on the Escarpment that night.
After my meal and fuel purchase I drove in to the Lake of the Clouds overlook area and watched closely for trailheads as I went. I was pretty sure I correctly id’d the one I wanted: halfway between the overlook area and the Govt Peak trailhead. When I hit the Lake of the Clouds parking area I pulled out my wet shoes and took out their liners and put them on the car hood first thing to air out some. Then I pulled some items out of my pack that wouldn’t be needed, like extra meals and clothes. Finally I remembered to put in the bottle of Heet (yellow good, red bad). Then I did what I really drove there to do and used the privvy. All business now concluded, I drove back to the trailhead and headed in. It was a fairly short ascent but it was definitely ascent and muddy with blowdowns so I had to work for it a bit. The Escarpment trail was worth it though. Great views.
As the path approached Government Peak trail it descended into normal muddy forest trail. Then there was a long descent on Government Peak trail as well. I knew then I was gonna have tired legs on the way out. Lots of mud, too. At this point I had grown to expect that everywhere in the park. Just been a wet year. Fueled by the town food I powered through the mud and passed a half dozen unladen hikers who must have all turned back since I didn’t see any of them again. The site I chose was right by the creek. And I kept sayiing to myself, “This chair is fantastic.” I was very happy that I adulted instead of throwing in the towel when things did not go well with the fuel incident. I knew that I would be off this trail by lunch tomorrow. I made a tentative mental plan to go hit Summit Peak if all went well. I’d be home early due to plan changes but I’d have seen almost every mile of trail in the Prokies after completing this hike.
My path today certainly looked different from the plan.
I had Mountain House Chili Mac for dinner even though I didn’t feel all that hungry. Finished it no problem. Surprise – hiker hunger strikes again. Settled in at 7 hoping for good sleep tonight. No wind at all as sleep draped its blanket over me.
Woke at 12:30, unsure of what woke me. Shone around camp a few minutes with phone and saw/heard nothing unusual. Bladder was full so took a pee break. By the time I was headed back to bed I had my answer: rain. I shifted things around a bit as my footbox of quilt and pad were not under the tarp and were getting directly rained upon. And I managed to snooze a little. Then as the rain got harder I woke and moved more things further. I considered adjusting the tarp. Still not sure if that would have been a bad idea. I suspect so though. Fortunately I had pulled in all my clothing before going to bed except my socks draped over the chair.
I started to find I was getting a bit damp, meh. I need a bigger tarp or better skills or both. Wind started to swirl the rain around in multiple directions. My head, feet and it seems at times both were catching some moisture. I got out my camp towel and wiped what I could away but no real gain, unless you count having a muddy towel.
I woke again at 2:35 and it was still raining, only harder. Forecast did show rain for today’s date. I just kind of assumed that since the day before showed 0% that I wouldn’t be dealing with it so soon. So much for Final Awesome Night of hiking.
I snoozed some and awoke at 3:30 and it was still raining. With a twist – I could tell the temp was dropping fast. And I decided I was tired of getting spattered on one end or the other no matter where I positioned myself. At this point I knew I would want out asap at light.
I was still awake at 4:30 and it was still raining. At that point my quilt wasn’t damp – it was wet. Between both ends getting splatter and there being a leak in dead center of the peak of the tarp, wet was everywhere. But I knew that I needed to stick it out until light so I re-positioned myself again. No dice. There was just not enough dry real estate to work with so I started packing.
By 5:00 the only unpacked things were my tarp, my groundsheet (aka my poncho) and my chair. At least now most of my stuff would stop getting wetter. I set myself up in the chair, dressed for warmth and listened as sleet pellets began bouncing off the tarp in the darkness.
At 7:00 the winds started really whipping it. Still too dark to hike but I was feeling the chill pretty well and knew I needed to start moving. My poncho was muddy in the way that something can only get if a 200 pound man has wallowed all over it for hours in the mud. I pulled it out and draped it over the tarp so that it could get a little rain rinse before time to use it. Also, it covered that leaky spot in the center of the tarp so I put my chair better centered to enjoy roughly 2% more windbreak. You know you’re chilly when you’re looking forward to hiking in freezing rain as a chance to warm up a bit. I sat, shivered, and paid attention to how I felt, in case jumping jacks became necessary.
In a moment of clear thinking I removed my DTV over the calf socks which had been sleepware and which I had reluctantly drafted into being my hike-out socks since they were the warmest thing going and I was shivering and I hated the idea of sliding on my wet micro crews to put my feet into my wet boots. Ta-da! Dexshell waterproof socks to the rescue! Use what ya got, folks. Use what ya got. All of a sudden I felt empowered to stride down down the center of the trail. Screw the water depth. My shoes were already soaked inside and out. Hike faster in waterproof socks and get to somewhere warm and dry was the new mandate.
At 7:30 I declared it light enough to hike. I got my tarp and chair packed, threw on my dripping wet poncho and got my pack on under it with some trouble. Hint: easier to put pack on under poncho than it is to make poncho land right when putting it on over pack. Easier still ain’t easy. Specially in half light freezing your tail off and getting increasingly drenched.
Finally I was off. I made it 100 yards and my chair shifted and then dangled. I had secured it poorly. Took all the stuff off and fixed it. Put all the stuff back on. I had decided during my long wet wait to not follow the Escarpment trail back to the car, for several reasons.
One, going that way was much slower and I needed out. Two, no views anyway in the wind driven rain. Three, safer to take Government Peak trail out to the road and follow the roadway the approx 2 miles back to the car since if the wind knocked me off the road the ditch was only 3 feet or so deep versus the several hundred foot fall off the Escarpment trail. Four, the trailhead at the car had been a tough ascent before the rain. There was a bit I thought might be actually dangerous to try in these conditions. Roadwalk for the win.
I stomped and slogged a couple of miles of trail in gradually lessening rain and slowing winds so that by the time I hit M107 it was only misting and gusty. Then as I made the trek to the car it varied from nasty rain and blowing hard to no rain and mild breeze and everywhere in between. This was a good time to call it done so I hopped in, changed into dry clothes (no sane souls were out to witness my blatant roadside show) and drove into Ontonagon for coffee and a muffin to sustain me on the way home. I stopped right outside the park and paid $1.25 each for 2 twelve oz sodas from a vending machine to sustain me, along with my remaining stock of jerky to Ontonagon. Long drive, you know.
I washed and cleaned up things a couple at a time over several days after returning home and made my list for improvements.
- Waterproof breathable socks are worth carrying unless you are hiking in desert.
- At 2 pounds, the Big Agnes Chair One was a great weight investment. My comfort level was significantly higher because it was along. Easy and fast to set up and break down meant I used it a LOT.
- I need a windscreen.
- I need a good fuel bottle.
- I need to re-seam seal my tarp.
- I want a better ground sheet solution. I liked having the poncho double as ground sheet but there were some moments where that felt dumb. Investigate better solutions.
Overall this trip was very fun and I really enjoyed catching all the trails I never saw before in the Porkies. As an alternative to what I initially planned to do, it rocked. Now, to figure out what’s next…