With the semester over, and an art project looming, Minna and I decided to go away for a few days to work on the script, and i though this would be a good opportunity to do a little backpacking afterwards.
We stayed near Ontonagon in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, right on the shore of Lake Superior, and planned a three day walk in the Porcupine Mountains State Park.
For some reason I always just assumed that Minna liked backpacking. We'd travelled around Portugal, Romainia, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland together after all. But she told me this was the first time she'd spent any length of time actually in the wilds. She also confessed to being a little nervous of the bears.
I was pretty sure we wouldn't see any, but this presented me with a nice opportunity - to hike in the park and stay at the wilderness cabins instead of in a tent. And in so doing, I'd be able to travel light without having to carry a shelter (which would have been the Haglöfs Genius again, as she didn't really have the gear for the SpinnTwinn).
The only problem was that we had the dog with us, and you're not technically allowed to take dogs into the cabins. I asked the owner of our cottage about that, and the first thing she said was, "Yeah, how many people break that rule?" Feeling somewhat like an arch-criminal, I booked us a couple of cabins. Shhh. Don't tell anyone.
I loaded up my as-yet unused Granite Gear Vapor Trail, enjoyed it's pleasant lightness, slipped in on my shoulders, and off we went. (Note: more extensive gear commentary to follow in the next post.)
I chose what I hoped wouldn't be a too strenuous route from the rather inadequate State Park map. Apparently the decent topo map was out of print, but I wasn't really worried; we'd be staying on trail and it's a well-visited park. Plus I had a GPS with me just in case.
Our first stretch was about 10 miles, mostly, I hoped, along the shore of Lake Superior.
However as we progressed it was clear that the path would be taking us a little way inland through dense thicket, so views of the lake were limited. There were a few stretches which provided a more open view, and we took advantage of one near Lone Rock for some lunch.
It was the first time since a disasterous hike in Pyhä, Lapland that I'd taken the dog on a trip of any length or number of days, but thankfully the weather was cool and he seemed to be enjoying things.
At least until he collapsed of exhaustion.
It was a shame the trail took us inland again, and we started to get a little worried that the entire hike would be along muddy paths without much to see.
Fortunately, the trail climbed a couple of ridges and led through more open forest cheering our spirits, before we arrived at the cabin. 10 miles has never felt so short.
I'd read in a guide book that the cabin we were staying at had something of a mouse problem. I was more worried about this than about bears after my night of hell(!) in a Urho Kekkonen park wilderness cabin. However, when we arrived, I found the Mousepocalypse.
A mouse lay on its back on the steps, greeting us with its screams. I hastily relocated it into the woods, only to find about 6 more in various states of decay in buckets and bows scattered around the room. Someone had put poison down. I didn't know whether to be disgusted or grateful. Having 7 less mice to deal with did give us a pleasant night's sleep, but at the cost of a quite gruesome death scene.
Well. Enough of this macabre talk, we had a meal to cook, and a sunset to enjoy.
To our joy the next day's 7-mile hike followed the high banks of the Little Carp River, offering us nice views into the forest on one side, and waterfalls on the other.
The sun was shining, the air was fresh. A butterfly decided to hang out with us while we stopped for a tuna burrito.
The trail had turned muddy, but not in an unpleasant way. The mosquitoes, however, were beginning to get annoying, but we were at least armed with head nets.
And it wasn't long before we arrived at cabin number two.
Oddly placed in the forest instead of next to Mirror Lake, it was nevertheless a charming, even romantic, two-bunk cabin - and pleasantly dead-mice free.
I chopped wood for the stove, carried water from the stream and filtered it, and regretted not bringing the ingredients for s'mores.
The darkness that fell that night was complete. I awoke in the cabin at night unable to see anything - not even a window. From outside came a haunting call; deep and tuneful, cascading, flutelike. An owl - large by the sound of it. The woodwind section of the forest symphony. I tried to spot it but there was only the inky black of a moonless, cloudy night outside.
The morning started off well. A pleasant breeze, some distant clouds. I marvelled at the lightness of my pack - especially now I'd figured out that it needed to be packed 'tall' for greater comfort.
It may not be the lightest pack around, but it'll do - at least until I get my hands on one of those super-nice
Soon after we left however, a storm blew in. A really heavy storm of the torrential rain variety - and because we were staying in the cabins, I had no shelter with me. We had no choice but to continue, and be satisfied that at least we only had 5 miles to hike to the car.
I was trying out a pair of trail running shoes, as well as some new rain pants and a Marmot Super Mica jacket. Everything seemed to be working well (again, more detail coming soon), but the shoes we soon soaked. I could cope with that as my merino socks were keeping my feet warm, but Minna wasn't faring so well. She was tired after the previous days, and rain was getting through her waterproof trousers somehow. I tracked down the problem to her raincoat which had risen above her pack hip belt and was channeling water under the seams. By then it was too late.
At least, as far as the walk went, we had reached a lovely section of spooky forest.
We trudged on as the wind grew stringer and the rain heavier.
Normally, we would have stopped to admire the view at Lake of the Clouds, but the weather was so grim, and with it Minna's mood, that we just snapped a photo and moved on.
Near the car park, Rufus spotted a family of baby Raccoons who screamed in alarm at his presence before one brave member stood up and moved to tackle the terrifying beast that had disturbed them.
We didn't stick around for any close encounters, and made a dash for the car, towels, and dry socks.
In the end, even with wet feet, it was a good few days, and I was pleased that my pack load was much lighter than usual, and hopeful that on the next trip it will be lighter still.