A clear, pure and very forte whippoorwill wakes me just as the sky lightens. The view out my tent (through an army of mosquitos awaiting the unzipping) is of shades of sherbet – orange, lemon, lime – on the big lake through birch. The air is cool.
And everything is damp. How does this ridge create so much moisture? I pack wet hoping to find somewhere to spread out all my gear, garage-sale style, and dry out. But now is my favorite part of the day, and I’m ready to move.
I really love the girls who run by my tent a dozen or so times carrying bags of food, rope and anxious advice. We need bug spray right now! followed by a few high pitched stage whispers of She’s trying to sleep! to which all I can do is laugh. I’m cozied in and happy with the ruckus. It’s such a tiny spot so I warn them about one stake reaching slightly into the trail, but no one whacks a toe on it.
The frenzy is a direct result of their asking if they should hang their food away from bears. Meanwhile, I can’t find a branch, so end up sealing everything – including garbage – tightly in an odor-proof bag and stick it under my head. Some expert.
No one’s awake as I pack up and I see dozens of shoes piled in the tents’ annexes. One girl has slumped into the side. The bear hang was a failure and it appears they settle for storing the bags on top of stumps, one bag left unzipped with food spilling out. Thankfully, all seems undisturbed.
I cross a covered bridge, some trail worker’s folly, then find another in a random bench faced towards the view. I follow it through this lovely wood, a red eyed vireo in conversation with himself.
It’s forest for a long way, but past ponds of zingy red winged blackbird and snappy croakers, before I reach a favorite place in Alfred’s Pond. A boardwalk leads over a fen, which I step on for a moment to avoid mud feeling its juicy bounce like a pool cover.
Two triangular benches give me space to have a snack and observe this perfect north woods environment. A few purple irises nod their heads in the sun, but most interesting are large blood-red pitcher plants on bendy stems.
I love another swamp flower, the lady slipper, but these have more whimsy – and a touch of menace. Did one just say, “Feed me!”
I follow a ridge with views up the shore where I’ll walk. There’s Carlton Peak soaring like a tidal wave above the rest of the Sawtooth Mountains. I will be up and over him later today, but there is s lot of forest in between.
At gorgeous Dyer Creek, where the girls told me they bathed and were attacked by leaches, I stay clear and just collect water. I’m fine on the bridge.
The river is full and racing, but a few months ago, it raged eroding several feet of bank, including part of the trail. I walk on a newly hacked out path giving some idea how hard trail building/maintaining must be.
A man dressed like me covering every bit of body passes by. Jacob is SOBO on his first thru-hike. He stopped in Grand Marais for water proof shoes. I find waterproof only succeeds in keeping water in the shoe without drying out. I hope they work for him.
I pass a girl wearing a suit of bug netting before Boney’s Meadow, the mosquito breeding ground. This whole morning is a series of gentle ups and downs through forest filled with birds. Views open to the lake and icy air (“Bring it!”) but my head net stays on.
Cross River feels soulful on smooth rock in the sun. Water races down rock slabs before funneling into fissures in bubbly whiteness. I eat snack nuts and lean against my backpack enjoying dry air for a change.
I head steeply up a ladder missing its lower rungs as an older woman comes down making me feel pretty wimpy.
I’m all alone with views through Aspen and tall, slender red pine to the lake. Icy air makes the going easier as I climb up, then carefully down on tiny stones that make it their life’s work to send me skidding.
The skidders lead to large rock and I repeat a sensation I feel often of this hike of looming over s precipice so vertical, I can only guess how to descend until I place a trekking pole and gingerly step down. It’s tiring ascending, but going down is dangerous.
I hear the crashing of the Temperance River, one of the wildest on the north shore filled with screaming cascades, deep pools and finally, a tight, high walled chute.
I find smoothed rocks to sit on and soak my feet. The water is surprisingly warm. I look towards cliffs where a man prepares to jump. He moves in position, then backs off rubbing his arms as if chilly. I get his attention to show I’m taking his picture, and off he goes, launching out in a run with arms high.
The rock so smooth I find a perfectly formed seat for my butt. I gather water and eat an unpleasant store-bought dehydrated meal leftover from the Arizona Trail before heading up to the peak I saw from the ridge 13 miles back.
It’s named for an early trader and made of hard granite in large slabs. I’ve climbed its single pitch and the rock feels good under the fingers.
The first time I came here, I had never seen forest like this. Now, especially after this thru-hike, the edge of the boreal forest is my home. I’m surprised there’s so little mud and the trail is gradual, up until a straight up bit on broken rock.
Many tourists come down, one asking my average mileage. The summit is accessed by walking up on rock slab, trusting in friction to hold you upright.
I’ve been here many times, but today, the light is astounding. Perhaps lack of humidity makes it clearer. I also have a new relationship to all that forest below me having walked around 200 miles of it.
I’m 1500 feet above sea level but only 900 above the lake. Still the height affords grand views and the rock’s clinginess gives me a feeling of invincibility.
Still, I avoid the edge.
The other side is a bit shorter beginning with a fast rock descent. My walk now rolls gently through sugar maple forest shared with mountain bike trails
It’s been a long but magnificent day and I set up at the first site, sharing it with a lovely, quiet couple Nathan and Melissa on their first backpack trip un rental gear. The fire is going and sweet Yuri the dog comes over for scratches.
Until Nathan accidentally sets the stove on fire (rookie mistake). Fortunately the fire happens in dirt and we’re far away when the gas can pops. But Yuri doesn’t seem to trust me anymore.
We’re all tucked in before dark as birds continue singing and a high pitched whine of mosquitos stand sentry at my tent door.