Saturday, June 21, 2014

North Country: A rainy loop

June 21 2013

Warning! No photos. Too much water falling from the sky to get the camera out today.
First day of summer. . . It rained all night, was 50 degrees this morning and made it all the way up to 52 for the day. Sure am glad I’m not tenting it! To sum it up, yesterday was wet and buggy, today was wet and muddy and buggy; weudyugy.

News people said the rain was moving east and would clear out through the morning but be back for the evening, (They were wrong! It never left.) so I lolly-gagged around until 9:00 when it seemed to be at least slowed down, before heading out for the day.
Since I was going east I caught up with the heavy rain about the time I got to the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center in Ashland Wisconsin, the new and improved center on the west side of town not the old one right in town, which I suppose is closed up now. This is a really well put together place with lots of displays and a really cool 10 minute film all about the people and activities of the area for the past few hundred years. They also have tons of maps and other info for planning a visit to the area.

By the time I exhausted the inside stuff the rain had sort of eased up but showed no signs of actually stopping. Not to be thwarted I donned rain-gear, still damp from yesterday, and wandered the nature trail out back for a while. Even with the rain I had to double up on the bug juice out there! Rain or bugs, either one could have been keeping the smarter folk away which probably explains why I had the trail to myself.
Thoroughly moisturized, I climbed in the back door of the van and shed rain-gear in order to minimize spreading the damp around inside, then moved a few miles up SR13 to the town of Washburn. They have a trail starting at the West End Park (Beach, boat launch and campground.) and wrapping part way around the town, hugging the shoreline. It was a pleasant and solitary walk but not spectacular. Might have been spectacular if there was any visibility to see across Chequamegon Bay towards Ashland and the Bad River Reservation over on the other side, but there wasn’t. The cold air is keeping things pretty foggy despite the persistent rain.

Repeating my shake like a dog/climb in the back door/shed rain-gear/towel off head (I have got to replace my old, worn Tilly hat some day!), I continued up SR13 which wraps right around the Wisconsin peninsula that faces Minnesota’s north shore (The northwest side of the Wisconsin peninsula is known as the south shore.  ) There are several little towns along the way; and several road construction projects too since it’s that time of year; as well as a mainland piece of the Apostle Islands National Seashore.

The rest of Apostle Islands is - well, islands and, given the conditions, the thought of parking the van on the mainland and taking a ferry across to do some hiking just didn't seem worth it, though sitting there in damp underwear might have had some influence on that decision. . .

There is only one mainland trail to be found in this park and I headed for it. On the northwest side of the peninsula the park encompass' a sliver of land along the lake shore. The trail traversing this is accessed at the Meyer's beach kayak launch on Squaw Bay. For some reason my parks pass was only good for a 50% discount on the $3 fee here, usually the park pass covers the whole fee. . . Oh well.
I suited up for a serious hike out to the cliff caves area a few miles away and began slipping and sliding and sloshing and clumping and wading my way down the very muddy, often water covered trail. I was only about a half mile in when I came to a stream crossing, OK, more like a river crossing. I looked down where the trail ended on my side, I looked across the 10 or 12 feet to where it started again on the other side, I looked at the rushing, churning, muddy water in between, I poked at as much of the bottom as I could reach with my hiking stick, I wandered upstream then ambulated downstream, I tested the birch tree that had fallen across between the banks, I tested a couple rocks and another log that were poking up out of the water, though not by much – and I turned around.
That dang thing scared me! And since I make up one of the safer hiking demographics, (The most dangerous being two young couples where both guys are trying to be alphas and the girls think it’s cute. The safest being a single mature couple that have been together long enough that they don’t have anything to prove to each other, though a single man old enough to have some experience under his belt is a close second in safety since he knows what he’s capable of and there’s no one around to see him back down.) So anyway, in order to hold up my end of the hiking demographic risk table, I had to turn around. Sorry, that's the rules.
Not yet ready to give up completely, I backtracked a little to get away from the swollen stream (According to the news guy tonight the past two days have been record rains.) then bush whacked my way down to the shoreline itself. Carrying a GPS along with a paper map makes doing things like this way more comfortable. I start each hike by marking on the GPS where I’m parked then every move I make is automatically recorded, making a track. When I do something like bush whack or come to a fork in the trail I set a waypoint, another mark on the GPS, so I can keep track of what I’m doing and get myself back to where I was without having to worry about memorizing landmarks, (Yeah, like that works! ‘This must the tree marking the turn – or is it that one – or was it even a tree??’) or having critters eat my breadcrumbs. (Just my luck I’d mark a trail with survey ribbons and a ranger would come along and tear them down on me!)  And yes, I carry spare batteries; and still carry a compass and matches and extra food and a poncho/shelter and thermal blanket and . . . well . . . if you get the idea that I might be a little overly careful, too bad. I call it taking responsibility for myself rather than expecting someone else to come along and pick up the pieces if I get into trouble.
Between the rain from above and the wind pushing all the lake water that was supposed to be over there on the Minnesota side over to here, there wasn’t much beach where I came out at the shore. In fact at points the waves reached right up to the base of the bluffs along here.  Because my boots are only waterproof up to the top I switched over to my water-shoes and gave the sand a try anyway.

Even though the sand looked reasonably firm, and under normal conditions is, there's this thing call liquefaction where earthquakes or wave action or some other disturbance breaks the friction bond between sand particles and turns it into a soupy concoction that is anything but firm! My first step was knee-deep, my second thigh-deep!

I did manage to move sideways 30 feet or so and get to dryer sand furnished with an old snag to use as a seat. Notice I said dryer, not dry.
I sat there for a while keeping a wary eye on the waves to make sure they weren’t creeping closer and a couple times the fog pulled back far enough that I could see s shadow of the coastline for a half mile or so in each direction, but soon it, the fog, would come right back in.
Given the saturated nature of the beach I decided it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to try to get back to the trail head by walking the shoreline, especially since there was so much water coming down from the soaked land and fresh streams were probably cutting through the beach all over the place, so after putting up with the rain and limited visibility for as long as I cared to, I whacked my way back uphill to the main trail.
Shortly after I got there a couple rangers came by from the direction of the flooded stream. Since they hadn’t passed me along the way they assumed I was outbound and informed me the trail back behind them was washed out and they were going to close it so I would have to turn around and follow them back to the trail-head. I was kind of glad to hear that. Now I knew for sure that I wasn’t just wimping out when I turned back at the flood-waters.
Other than the drive to complete the loop and get back to the campground that was pretty much my soggy day, and now I’ve got to dry my boots and socks and underwear and ears and - well, you get the idea.

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