To Alex -

To Alex...who is far away in person, but never far from my heart. I miss you. Enjoy these snippets of everyday family life here in the states.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Towab Trail to basecamp

Last night we christened ourselves Camp Gourmet on account of all the fabulous food that was prepared. I made a Japanese Hot Pot, someone made a huge pot of campfire stew, chicken was grilled and other delicious foods just kept coming. And then, ah yes, we were those people last night around the campfire. You know, the ones who pass the bottle of whiskey round and round as the stories start to flow and the laughter gets louder and louder. There were new people to the group and it really was a great time getting to know everyone, but when we thought to check the time it was 12:30am, long past quiet time and we needed to get an early start on the trail. Shhh, time for bed. We didn't mean to be so loud, but we just didn't realize.

A quick breakfast and clean up before heading over to Frater Road and the trailhead. In all, we made it on the trail by 9:30. Not bad considering the fun we had the night before.

Let's begin...
The first third of the trail was beautiful and easy. Is this a boreal rain forest? It sure seems like one. The trails, oh, glorious, winding along through old growth forests, crossing streams, gentle undulating climbs and descents, opening out onto the Agawa River at times. The further we went the more rocky it became, but it's quite easy at this point. Ha, I had read exactly this about the trail. That you think you're making good time and you'll be to Agawa Falls in no time, but don't be deceived because conditions will change quite quickly in here. And so they do.
Look at those happy hikers. We stop for breaks, but we don't dawdle, we know we have tough trails ahead and we need to keep moving. But the trail is like eye candy--we can't get enough of the sites and marvel at the beauty.
We stopped here, at Burnt Rock Pool to grab a bite to eat, drink and rest our feet--see that mountain across the river? Yeah, that's just the sort of thing we're going to have to tackle in a little bit. We don't know it at this time, but it's coming. We'll dodge those rain clouds all day as well. 

So the next third, mm hmm, I couldn't take pictures because it was imperative that I watch my step or I would have twisted my ankle or fallen. I had time to glance about at times so I know we were surrounded by beautiful, awe inspiring scenery and towering canyon walls, but mostly I had my head down watching for my next footfall. We quickly settled into climbing mode and the stony path was replaced with wet rocks on which you had to chose your step from one slippery rock to another while holding onto anything you could grab for stability. Still, the rocks would roll out from beneath your feet and the handholds would give way beneath your grip. We climbed up, through and down the other side of an incredible boulder garden. I so wanted to take pictures, but I didn't want to slow the group for photo ops, and to try to take pictures while I hiked would have risked tumbling over the side of a cliff. We climbed, and we climbed, and we climbed. Somewhere, around the periphery of my brain, the realization that this was not the hardest part of the trail was beginning to invade my thoughts. Oh my...

I'm jumping ahead because I think, when faced with strenuous exercise, one simply settles into moving forward and your focus becomes about taking the next step. We eventually descended back down into the canyon and came out onto our destination, Agawa Falls. Well, this is why we hiked out here, but it's not our final destination. Oh no, the, um, best is yet to come.

We arrived at the falls near 5pm with the idea of eating and taking an extended break. We ate, but the long break didn't happen. I think everyone knew we still had to climb out of here and that would be the difficult part. As tired as we were, we really wanted to get at it because once we got out of the canyon, we still had 5 miles of hiking the railroad tracks to base camp. But then, then the fun began. It was difficult hiking prior to this, but this part of the trail was damned hard. We're already tired from the hours we've been on the trail and now we're walking narrow paths along the gorge, crossing over mossy streams that cascade over the side of cliffs and if you slip, you'll go over the cliff. We're scrambling up cliffs on all fours only to have to descend the other side on our butts because it's so steep, and all the while we risk knocking rocks loose to have them go tumbling down on the person below. And you know what happened? We missed...the trail...that would have taken us out...of the canyon. We missed it by so far that some wouldn't risk going back the way we came because they were concerned they wouldn't make it through again. Well let me tell you that I hike with some pretty bad ass people and so the topo maps came out, we had a bit of radio communication with one of our crew who had gone ahead and taken the correct trail out, and in the end we picked a course and bushwhacked straight up out of the canyon, hand over fist up the side of the cliff. We climbed until we heard our teammate up above us singing his bawdy Irish drinking songs and, by god, we knew we were close. That climb was unbelievably difficult and we had to stop to rest every couple steps, but his singing was the best sound in the world to me at that point. I love Irish drinking songs!

I'm laughing right now because the moment we broke out of the canyon we were on the railroad tracks and 8 people dropped their packs and collapsed right there on the tracks. It really was a funny sight. We did it, 10 miles in that canyon and we were out. What an amazing accomplishment...

5 more miles of hiking the tracks to base camp. Now, if you've hiked on RR tracks you know they bring their own special kind of hell, but after what we just did I was energized by the flat hiking and set a quick pace to camp. I wanted to be done with this day, with this pack, with these boots. I wanted to get my tent set up and just sit...and that's exactly what I did. I sat and moved only enough to cook some food and help myself to a much deserved celebratory glass of port. Here's to accomplishment. Here's to rising to the challenge. Here's to realizing I could have gone further, but ever so grateful that I didn't have to. We made base camp at 8pm--10.5 hours on the trail and we did it. Now we get to play for the next few days, but that's tomorrow. Tonight, we rest.

By the way, here's an excellent (longish) video of the Towab Trail hike.

Carp River to Agawa Bay

There were 11 inveterate backpackers along on this trip. We planned to hike the Towab Trail, an expert trail and all the trail reports I found said as much...and then some. Difficult and challenging were also used to describe the hike. I was prepared as best as I could be. This trip was about trying new things, difficult terrain, repelling, recipes for camp food...I know you're supposed to stick with what works when you go back country, but I just can't seem to. I always want to try new.

Some of us met up Tuesday evening just over the bridge in the U.P. at a small, primitive camp where we would spend the night before continuing into Canada on Wednesday. I rode up with a friend, arriving well after dark. Those who would be rendezvousing with us were already there, having pitched the tents and built a bonfire with which we were cheerfully greeted. I rather like the idea of showing up to camp and finding the tent set up so all I have to do is lay out my mat, fluff my sleeping bag and climb inside. I awoke early and ventured out to explore the area around the campground. Quiet, peaceful, pretty. Good choice.
Excited about our trip, we broke camp early and headed for the border for what was a mostly uneventful, but beautiful drive to Agawa Bay Campground on the Eastern shore of Lake Superior. Ahhh, I was going home.
The first thing I noticed about this beach was how red the rocks were...and no agates, I looked! And since I was here I had to swim, but oh, was it ever cold. Took my breath away when I tried to swim under water. Brrr.
Someone suggested a short hike out to the pictographs on Lake Superior. Apparently, we were given a tiny taste of what we could expect on the trail the next day.

The trail through the woods and to the lake was a beautiful change from what I'm used to hiking in Michigan what with the slots, steep terrain, rock paths and huge boulders that you know fell from up there. It's the Canadian Shield, it's rocky, but it was also incredibly green with moss, and ferns, and water dripping everywhere. It felt like a rain forest and I would keep that feeling all through the wet it was in this area. It was wonderful and wild--so beautiful! But still, the trail seemed easy enough...I really had no idea.
I believe there is a warning sign that read something like, "people have died on this trail, use caution." It's easy to see how that could happen if you were careless, especially if you foolishly ventured out onto the rocks during rough water. Being swept off with no way to get out of the frigid water would certainly be a recipe for disaster.
Tomorrow, the Towab Trail.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Towab Trail - Agawa Canyon

My best hike. My most difficult hike. The most physically exhausted I have been to date. The most incredible feeling of accomplishment. That's how I describe my last backpacking trip into Agawa Canyon via the Towab Trail and the subsequent climb back out after we lost the trail. Never once did I think I couldn't go further, of course I could.  One foot in front of the other. Never once did I think I couldn't finish, of course I could. Just walk. Now that I'm back and I've had time to think about this trip, the realization is beginning to sink in that I haven't hit my wall. I haven't pushed myself to the limit and I'm scaring myself to think that maybe I should, just to see what I'm made of. Is that nuts?
This is MY world....and there is so much more to come.
More posts to follow...