Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Beautiful weather and one bad ankle reign at Porcupines Wilderness State Park

Jacci and I spent our weekend in the Porcupine Wilderness. The trip was fantastic, and with the exception of a bum ankle, it was all smiles.

We started at the ranger station in the park's northeast corner. We hiked south on the South Boundary Road and entered the trail system at the Union Spring Trail. From there, we hiked through the swampy terrain generated by the spring (it was full of algae) and ventured north to the Escarpment Trail.

The Escarpment Trail runs east to west on the hills above Lake of the Clouds. It rises approximately 450 feet from the swampy terrain of the Union Spring Trail. Up high, the trail dried out significantly with some drainages cutting through the hills. However, there was little water up high. As expected the views were fantastic and the weather helped. Weather was fantastic; temps bottomed out in the low 40s and likely never got about 75 degrees. And it was sunny, all day, everyday. A lot like the photo at left. We camped not far from from this vista, approximately a miles east of the eastern edge of Lake of Clouds.

The state park forms the western edge of the Eastern Time Zone in Michigan's upper peninsula. As such, the sun set at 9:45 p.m. and rose just before 6 a.m., for an incredible amount of daylight, especially that late into the evening Had we been just a few miles west, those times would be kicked back an hour. It made of interesting in-camp time. We would arrive at camp at approximately 6 p.m., cook dinner and set up, and be done by 7 p.m. After bear-bagging (on a big pole with a slightly smaller pole) and finishing miscellaneous camp chores, we were ready for bed at 7:30 with 2.5 hours to go before dark set in. So we took a nap. And then woke up again. And then went to bed, once and for all. It is a similar sleeping time setup that I had on the SHT last spring.

Jacci put together the menu from recipes from TrailCooking. We carried a UL Freezerbag Cozy for cooking in freezer bags. My cozy weighs 20 grams, approximately 0.705 ounces. This style of cooking makes life easier - no dishes, just boil, add water and mix. Wait 5-15 minutes and you're done. Because of limited material, Sarah at TrailCooking has a limited supply of UL Cozies. When they're gone, they're gone. We ate well, with a homemade cereal mix in the morning, beef jerky and a bar at lunch and a pasta or rice-based meal for supper. Add in the mandatory chocolate bar for desert and I was fat and happy. (I will be posting separate review of our menu in a future post within the next few days.) My brother thinks the cozy is unnecessary, and it likely is because you can use your fleece hat for the same thing and is a multi-use item. But the cozy weighs so little and is so efficient that it is hard to keep it out of non-SUL gear lists.

The cozy was stored in my cookpot, and we cooked on an alcohol stove, a Gram Weenie Pro from End2EndTrailSupply. Although the stove is designed to boil 16 oz of water, we boiled 24 oz of water on 1 oz of fuel, with at least a minute of burn time to spare (non-scientific testing).

On day two, we hiked past Lake of the Clouds and down to its outlet for water. There, we ran into our first problem of the trip. My pre-filter on my MSR Sweetwater clogged. I removed it and pumped a few liters of semi-silty water through it. It clogged up the filter and it started to kick out carbon pellets. I backflushed the prefilter and replaced it. After cleaning it twice, the prefilter worked and the water was clear again, but it continued to kick out carbon pellets for the next five or so liters. Now home, I ran about a gallon of tap water through it after an additional cleaning, and it turned out fine. So what gives? I'm not sure; I believe the filter is OK, but I contacted MSR/Cascade Designs to be sure. I received word back from MSR today, and they said it is likely a warranty issue and I am in the process of getting an Return Authorizations Number and will be sending the filter in for repair/replacement.

After leaving the Lake of the Clouds area, we walked on the Lake Superior Trail, all 10.5 miles of it to the mouth of the Big Carp River. The first section of trail was rocky down to the lake, and then muddy as we walked on the lower elevations by the lake shore. But eventually as we neared Big Carp River, we trekked back into the forest. The trees were large coniferous trees with little undergrowth. It is places like these that make me feel small, a person of minimal importance in such a large world. Drainages were filled with ferns. Other areas were packed with little pine trees, the greenest plants we saw. You could not see the ground in these areas, it was a lush mat of green.

That night, we camped just upstream from Shining Cloud Falls. The white noise of the water was relaxing and tuned out the forest noise. Although the ground was soft from the forest duff, I was uncomfortable on my torso-length generic closed-cell foam pad. My hips were hurting where they were in contact with my pad. I rolled the pad on itself, but it was in vain; my hips hurt from the pressure, and rolling to my side was of no help. On the next trip, it's getting replaced with a cushier torso pad.

On the morning of day three, it was more of the glorious same. We walked amid giant pines and followed the Big Carp River upstream toward Lake of the Clouds. Jacci even did a stream crossing when the log bridge had washed out. On her feet were low-cut Merrel shoes with a Gore-Tex liner, and my eVent shortie gaiters from Integral Designs. Despite the water rushing up and over her shoes, her feet stayed dry and she was enjoyed the trek.

We made it 90 minutes out of camp Monday morning before a trip-ending set back kicked in. Jacci's right ankle was throbbing, and it hurt to walk on it. She did not roll it, or otherwise cause trauma to it, but it was hurting. Bad. She had previously taken 500 mg of acetaminophen at 7 a.m., and took another 500 mg at 9 a.m. She couldn't take more meds then, so we had to trek on. We planned on hiking the Correction Line Trail to Government Trail via Mirror Lake. From there, we would meet up with the Union Spring Trail and hike out the same way we came in. This was approximately a 16 mile day, the same as the day before. But now we were three miles in with pain while walking. Our pace necessarily slowed down, but we kept walking.

We modified out trip plan: we were going to walk the Correction Line Trail the 2.8 miles to Mirror Lake. From there, we would trek north the approximately 4 miles to Lake of the Clouds parking lot. We could then walk the road the 8 miles to the ranger station, call a ranger for a ride or hitch a ride out.

So we walked on, stopping when necessary. Hiking down 400 feet along the North Mirror Lake Trail presently difficulties because of Jacci's ankle and trail conditions. There was no clear trail, and the roots of trees clawed up the path. The hill up from Lake of the Clouds was especially difficult, a 200 ft. rise from the bottom of the hill. We stopped at least three times. Now at the top, we needed to mosey down the paved walkway, through the parking lot (also paved) and down the winding asphalt road to the permit station.

Not wanting to walk the eight miles to our car, we asked the woman running the permit station if she could get in contact with a park ranger, who could then give us a ride to our vehicle. She got on the walkie, but could not get reception. So we waited. Shortly thereafter, a pair of hikers whom we had seen earlier passed us, heading up to Lake of the Clouds. I explained the situation, and they said their car was parked at the lot near Lake of the Clouds overlook, and that they would give us a ride.

Back at the car, we headed into the ranger station and got a refund, $14, for the night we did not use. We also purchased two permits for the showers; at $2 a piece, we couldn't go wrong considering the six hour drive ahead and our anticipated stop at Grandma's in Canal Park in Duluth, MN (my traditional post-hike eatery).

In general, the trail was in moderate condition. There trees strewn across the trails, and there often noticeable spur trails around these fallen trees. There was no sign of recent trail maintenance, and we often verbally cursed the Michigan DNR to the ears of the trees whenever we passed a blowdown.

Now home, Jacci's right ankle has healed over the course of two easy days and plenty of 200 mg doses of ibuprofen. Her lower left leg gave her some trouble Tuesday due to overcompensation. This has since resolved.

As for gear, I'll get to that in a separate post; the report is too long in itself for anything more than little snippets here and there. I'll also have an extended initial review of the trekking poles I used, a pair of Lightrek 3's from GossamerGear.


Chris Wallace said...

Has she worn those shoes before? I've tried a few models where they didn't line up right at the ankle and I could see them causing pretty bad bruising at the joint.

Andy said...

Nice mention of the cozy. I've wondered about the same usefulness aspect...

George Carr said...

Glad Jacki is healing. Hope you can find the culprit of her ankle problems.

Looks like an awesome destination, Matt. Anymore pics?

samh said...

The Porkies are just so dang beautiful. What were the conditions of spring blooms? Lots of wildflowers and fresh buds on the trees?

As a postscript I'd like to recommend you check out the Brewhouse (on Superior Street at about 7th Ave E in Duluth) as your next post-hike food choice over Grandmas. The Wild Rice burger gets 11 out of 10 stars.