The next morning was like something out of a commercial. A warm breeze through my tent screen woke me from a peaceful slumber. I stretched, yawned, and made my way out of the tent. Chirping birds greeted me, as I exited, and peered out onto a glorious sunrise over the lake that had been socked in the day before. As I gazed out onto the lake, I half expected a supermodel dressed only in my flannel shirt and panties, to sneak up behind me with a cup of hot coffee, and put her arms around my waist while a cheesy jingle began; “the best part of waking up, is folgers in your”-I could almost hear it- until, a noisy fart interrupted my day dream, from one of my companions still tucked away in their tent.
There was still 2 days and a wake up remaining in the trip, but you could sense the end was near by the mood in the camp. Everyone woke up excited, and ready to get on the trail. Even the climb back up to the ridge we had descended from the day before, was met with an energy we hadn’t mustered since day 1. Because of this excitement, I think, this day’s hike is mostly a blur to me. I do remember another river crossing shortly after we got moving. You would think we had learned our lesson by now, but we wasted a good 10 minutes trying to “reinvent the wheel”, or should I say “reinvent the river crossing”.
We had already proven earlier in the trip, that hiking up the pant legs, and just going for it was the best way, but we were a stubborn bunch. I think it was Ken who, after a few failed attempts at makeshift bridges, used the tried and true roll up the pants, and go on across method. We all followed suit, and were soon back on the path. I also remember a lot of elevation change, in the form of a painfully steep old logging trail. I remember thinking pitifully of the men who had to ascend and descend that logging trail every day, along with a load that surely put my pack to shame, probably near a century before.
I also remember that the plan changed that day; we had intended to summit Silver Peak- the highest point in Killarney provincial park, but after a morning of beautiful weather, Canada proved to be just like Michigan. An old saying goes- “if you don’t like the weather in Michigan, just wait 5 minutes”. I learned long ago that Canada, and Michigan, are virtually the same place, and this day proved no different as the fog we suffered through the day before made a reappearance. The rain came back too, but not as hard as the day before. When we got to the “Y” in the path where we had to turn to go up Silver peak, we realized the weather was going to keep us from seeing anything at the summit, and it would thus be a waste of half a day, that could be used to further our exit from the park. I should probably point out here, that while I love backpacking, and wouldn’t trade any of my experiences on the trail for anything, that a good portion of the time spent on the trail is spent thinking- “Are we almost there yet”. While it’s true that some of the time the views, and the camaraderie, have you thinking you could quit shaving and wearing deodorant and spend the rest of your life on the trail. A good part of the enjoyment of most backpacking trips, is the mental and physical challenge, and the memories you bring back. Which means a lot of the time, to put it bluntly, you’re not enjoying yourself. Lets face it, walking 10 miles a day in the rain, and eating nothing but freeze dried meals, jerky, and trail mix, is not most people’s definition of fun. Suffice it to say, it was an easy decision for us to skip the half day hike to silver peak, in exchange for being half a day closer to a hot shower.
Shortly after the decision to skip Silver peak, we found evidence that we were nearing the end; manmade bridges, and board walks. We hadn’t seen those since the first day. They seemed to do better trail maintenance near the entrance and exit of the trail. I can only surmise the reason is to appease the less adventurous day hikers, who may simply turn away at the first sign of standing water. At any rate, we may be part of the adventurous crowd, but we were happy to have the bridges and boardwalks, as the trail was quite wet and muddy.
The rest of the hike that day was through a mostly flat birch forest. Ever since I was a kid driving through Northern Minnesota to visit my Grandpa in Duluth, i’ve had a fondness for birch trees. Theres just something about them that puts a smile on my face. I think what it is, is there uniqueness. All the other trees you see are green, and brown, maybe with some orange or red tints, but not white. Something about that stark white tree resonates with me. It symbolizes the raw innocence of nature. Nature is cruel, and hard, and awe inspiring, but it carries no guilt, it just is, and the birch tree is there to remind us all of that. It’s a true symbol of the North Woods; a cold, wild, beautiful, innocent place. These thoughts carried me through most of the afternoon, and “are we almost there yet” never entered my psyche. Until that is, we came to another fork in the trail, with a sign announcing a parking lot just a couple miles away. This was a day hikers trail to get to silver peak. It wasn’t the parking lot where our truck was, but the sheer thought of vehicles being that close, had those “are we almost there yet” thought’s flooding back in a hurry. It’s amazing how quickly you can lose steam. Just like that, the wind in my sails died, and all I could think about was how we could hike out to that parking lot, hitch a ride with someone back to our truck, and be at the hotel bar by happy hour. In fact I think we even talked about it. Not with any real sincerity, as none of us would have been able to live with ourselves if we’d of given up that close to the finish line, but it definitely was a thought.
As we pushed on, however, Ken and I slowed down, way down. I remember stopping on the trail at one point, and talking for a solid 20 minutes, while Brad and James forged on ahead. This was probably the biggest gap we ever had between members of the group since we started. When we finally kicked it back into gear, and arrived at the camp, Brad and James already had their tents up.
I don’t remember a lot about the campsite that night either, (my thoughts were probably consumed with nearby parking lots). I do remember that it was on another lake, but the site was elevated above it, making trekking for water a chore. I also remember that the lake was mostly frozen, and there was a good view of some waterfalls on the far side of it. The weather was still not cooperating, but we had learned not to reinvent the wheel already that day, and the lesson must have stuck, because we erected a tarp shelter very similar to the one from the night before. We also learned a new trick or two, as I recall; we made a makeshift table, Lincoln log style, from some logs we found nearby. We tried to use it for euchre, but the seats weren’t dry, so stand up euchre had to do. It did make for a good kitchen for our stoves though. The rest of my recollections for that day consist of a freeze dried dinner, and a relatively quick retreat to the semi comfort of my thermarest and tent, just as soon as I was sick of losing at euchre.
Theres something to be said about my thoughts as I drifted to sleep that night though. They weren’t about the end of the trail or being “almost there”. My thoughts were in that birch tree forest, surrounded by its beauty.
Coming soon- Killarney part 7: The conclusion