3 AM departure, driven by the knowledge that Platte River is becoming ever more popular. As always, I sleep poorly before a trip, and last night was no exception-only about 4 hours total-and frequent dreaming and disorientation as well-something that has been going on for some weeks now. I need a vacation, but again, as always, it is a matter of some tooth-gritting and crabbiness before relaxation sets in. Platte River is becoming a victim of its own success.
Empire Bluff trail after lunch, then swimming for a couple of hours at the mouth of the Platte River. Evidence everywhere of the incredible gully-washer last night. At check-in everyone is warned that there are no refunds, and maybe it would be a good idea to play it one day at a time. Not likely. I can count on one hand the number of times I've been truly soaked during the night-in 20+ years of this. I find I still have trouble being minimalist enough to satisfy me. I guess I have the tendencies of a monk in a modern world. I'll have to ask the rangers if the deer population has boomed this year. The woods at Empire Bluff were pretty well stripped to about seven feet. We've seen more deer today, at all hours, than we have in whole weeks in the past.
After dinner we drive to explore the backwoods around Otter Lake and Otter Creek. Esch Road Beach is where Otter Creek enters the lake. This is the site of the town of Aral-abandoned in 1918 when the area was logged out. We waded thirty yards or so upstream and found that the banks of the stream were lined with logs-clearly placed there for a purpose. It is possible that this was a wharf of sorts, or the spillway of a dam for a sawmill. (wrong-turns out the mill was steam-driven)
A long day today. At long last made the dune climb/hike to the lake. Signage says about 1-1/4 miles to the lake, but I suspect that with all of the ups and downs added it's closer to double that. When you factor in the loose sand, then it's even more. Rained like mad most of the way out. Cleared while we snacked on the beach. I find this year that I am woefully out of shape. Briefly, at least, the beach was ours alone.
Two weeks ago we all went up to the Straits for a long weekend. This year we ended up staying on the north side of the Straits, because Wilderness Campground was full. One of the highlights was a new addition to the historic district-Mill Creek. The park people have done a superb job of reconstructing a working 18th century sawmill-the vertical frame type. For all the times I've seen drawings and reconstructions of these things, this is the first time I've really understood it. They actually cut boards with it. What a truly wonderful din it created. Probably the best historical reconstruction I've ever seen. The area is also home to a small beaver population-which seems to fascinate Nancy in particular. Somehow the idea of a fifty pound rat chewing down trees really entranced her. The fort, of course, was Nate's favorite. The work there seems to be going slowly forward-it is obvious there is really no hurry. This year they had a good example of a bark-covered lodge with furnishings that I especially admired. A wet day, but still dry and snug inside.
We explored the area north of the Straits about ten miles out-lots of old logging roads. Found the North Country Trail head, and a CCA camp location now preserved as a sort of memorial to the program. We've started a policy of checking out all of the State Forest Campgrounds in any area we're staying in to get a feel for the options and to provide backups for emergency use-last year's experience with commercial campgrounds really turned us off.
In one day this year, we saw more deer than in the whole week last year. The vegetation is looking a bit overbrowsed as well. Everything wild seems to be more prevalent. We've stopped counting the turkeys we've seen-but again, many times more than last year. One fawn seems to have staked out a clearing along the road about a mile from the campground for his very own. We've seen him in almost the same place both days we've been here-I'm certain it's been the same one.
Sore lower legs today after yesterday's dune climb. We spent the day filling in the blanks on Nate's Junior Ranger workbook. It rained again last night, so with a dry afternoon, we took the opportunity to air out our stuff. The new tent (Trango-3) is a real winner in the rain, though the floor is just a bit prone to moisture seeping through. I'll have to cut an actual ground cloth for this one, unlike the others I've got. With that one exception, this is probably the best designed and constructed tent I've ever had. I'd like to try a cold weather trip with it this fall or early winter.
As much as I love this, I recognize that I simply don't do it enough to really keep in condition. I really do have to fix that, and soon, before my age becomes an issue.
Nate has expressed some interest in what scouting is all about. I wonder if I could become involved with the program again, given some of the disagreements I have with it today.
Tomorrow will be a day of preparation for our time on the island. With luck, we'll get to Pyramid Point today too. The bug of choice this trip is some sort of small biting fly. We've seen almost no mosquitos. The fly bite, briefly uncomfortable, does not itch, and is far less annoying even when occasionally sharp enough to make your jump.
I've thought about compiling better maps of the park area than are generally available. I feel more and more that USGS maps are chiefly for landforms, but miss so many of the things which matter. I think I'll get the plat books for the area and start by compiling the public/private overlay for them.
Packed in the rain. 5 days of rain already. Uneventful ferry ride, and still drizzling. 5 plus miles via Centerline Trail to the site of Crescent City. Set up on a small bluff to the north of the dock site. Not as far back as I should be, but much better than most others in the area. Warm and drizzling, with rain in the late evening.
Rain again this morning. Decide to try the cut-off trail from Swenson's Barn to re-join the south trail. The trail simply vanishes, so we have to turn around. Get to Fredrickson's and decide to push across to Stormer Dock site instead. It's still raining as we climb the Cat Hole, but begins to clear as we near the area of Stormer's.
One bit of excitement; as we walked the trail north of Johnson's, a tree went down not more than fifty feet away. A tense moment as we decided whether we'd have to run. Fortunately it fell parallel to the trail.
There is a small cemetery at the Stormer Dock area. One of the stones is a cenotaph for Ken Rusco, who died in 1988. Rita Rusco is the last island resident, and her rights to the property end in 1998.
Went south to explore Bournique's. A lovely old cabin now falling to ruin, and like most of the other structures on the island, the end will come quickly.
Camp tonight is about out 350' inland from the dock ruins. This is a huge clearing. We are in a small grove of maples. Without knowing it, we set up camp about 60' from a fresh hawk's kill. We hadn't realized what it was when we scared him up while moving to our site, but I quickly found out when I went scouting a latrine. Under a tree was the half-eaten remains of a squirrel. When we came back from a look at the beach, the hawk had returned. He looked at us, we looked at him, then went about our separate business. We watched him for several hours.
Just now, Nate spotted a raccoon near the hawk. He flies off, and the raccoon moves in for the scraps. Looks like we'll have to hang the food tonight.
This is the least perturbed raccoon I've ever seen. Our voices don't bother him at all, but he does stay about fifty feet out. He's a fat and sassy fellow, with clear markings and lovely fur, but I don't look forward to shooing him off in the middle of the night. The weather has improved-a bit cloudy, but drier and cooler, with a lovely breeze to help dry things out. The new tent works wonderfully but there are a couple of spots I'll have to seam-seal; but the leaks are minor compared to others I've had over the years. Mostly it seems I failed to realize that because of the slope of the windows, a leak in the fly would leak into the tent, but it's minor. All in all a very successful day. The only problem is that the lake is far too rough and the silt too stirred up to filter water. I'm hoping we can tank up in the morning, but even if we can't, the reliable water supply is only 3.1 miles away, and I can last that long without water if I have to.
I find that I am now fighting the volume at least as much as the weight of my equipment.
On a more general note; I've sworn to eat the liver of the next person I see doing their dishes in the Lake. For all the granola-crunching birky-wearers out here, there are still a few who haven't gotten the message.
Pitching and striking and cooking in the rain have been an educational experience. It's nice to know that I can do it well, and that Nate seems largely impervious to the problem. He complains little. I'm not sure if this is due to some innate hardiness, or the fact that Nancy and I show remarkably little sympathy for idle whining. Nate recognizes that the goal of the trip-solitude and wild places-must be paid for with a certain amount of discomfort and inconvenience. Small sacrifices for larger goals.
A clear, dry night and a lovely sunrise. We walk along the beach back to the village. Not a very long way at all, maybe 3-1/2 miles. By keeping to the top of the surf line we get firm enough footing. On a less pleasant note-by the time we get to the village I'm carrying about ten pounds of other people's trash with me. In fairness, I suspect much of it was from boats-there was a boat cushion in the load after all. The most distressing I suppose was the remains of a birthday party on the beach. We found dozens of balloon remains with the attached ribbons-perfect seagull bait. There were also the nose cones of fireworks, and beer and pop bottles. Decided to walk without a shirt, as sunburning today wouldn't be as much a problem, with nothing to carry tomorrow.
A bold ground squirrels considers moving in on our dinner leftovers and dirty dishes-not quite up to raiding within just a few feet of us. As night falls, a raccoon circles the campsite-munching on apples fallen from the trees we camped near.
Return to civilization.
All images and text Copyright Dale Austin, 1962-2008