Storming the Porcupine Mountains

I wish I could say we got lost on this trip, but we just didn’t. But you don’t always have to get lost to have an adventure… Being lost helps because it creates unknowns and forces you into survival mode. But these conditions can come about in other ways too.

Andy and I love the randomness of life, weather, and this season of popular TV. Although we make rough plans and sometimes bring a map, we love overcoming things that we can’t control. On this trip, the unpredictable factor was the rainy weather.

Each of us has been to the Porcupine Mountains numerous times, and we were keen to share the familiar yet adventurous experience with two good friends, Thomas Wargo and Tierney Bougie. Thomas and Tier are great people who love adventure and don’t mind getting lost. Tier is also a scientist and can tell you ANYTHING about nature, and Thomas smiles a lot and carried 15lbs of beer for close to 15 miles just so we could have warm beer at our day-2 campsite.

How can you not want to get lost with this crew?
How can you not want to get lost with this crew?

The trip started like any other: breaking fast at Mickey’s Diner with a 1000+ calorie, world famous in Madison scrambler, going to the grocery store to buy beer and food, then jamming out to ‘90s music on the four hour journey. Sunny skies, beautiful scenes, no phone service. On this three-day, two-night trip, day one was by far the easiest. Just a few miles to our cliff-side campsite; we hiked there in less than an hour and began setting up our hammocks, tent, and fire. Between gathering firewood, setting up camp, and popping our bottle of champagne (not sure why we decided on that, but we did), we managed to make some friends! I already forgot their names, but we met two girls and invited them to hang out with us. They took one look at Thomas’ smile and said, “yes…we’d love to.”

The cliff-side campsite is great. It overlooks the valley, you can see Lake of the Clouds in the distance, and you are just a few summersaults from falling off the cliff to your death. The wind was sorta crazy up there, but that kept some of the flies off and cooled us down from the hot sun. Speaking of flies, Thomas killed possibly 200,000 of them with a strip of birch bark. Good on ya, Thomas! Annoying buggers, them flies.

Tier sitting on the cliff at the edge of camp.
Tier sitting on the cliff at the edge of camp. Lake of the Clouds in the distance.

Our dinner was SPAGHETTI WITH BRATWURST AND MEATBALL SAUCE! Sorry for yelling but it was so good and definitely worth hauling the glass sauce jar and the bag of leftover brats. We cooked everything over the fire of course, because that’s what Lewis and Clark did, and we spent some time getting to know our new friends and eating the popcorn they popped over the fire. Also they had s’mores. Making friends pays for itself!

While the fire died out we decided to lie down on the side of the cliff and stargaze. We lay there contemplating the cosmos until the clouds rolled over and the frightening lightning frightened us, forcing us to retire to our hammocks. Andy and Tier didn’t bring hammocks so they were in a nice dry tent, but Thomas and I had hammocks set up between a few trees next to the cliff. The two girls we met set up their hammocks next to ours forming a protective barrier around the Heine-keg to keep it safe from bears (by this time we had strung up our food into high trees far from our camp to make sure bears couldn’t get to it). The two girls had a good backup plan though, and had a tent set up not far away just in case it rained. Sure, whatever.

I guess Thomas and I figured the lightning would evaporate all the rain or the wind would blow it away before it hit us, but it soon became evident that we don’t know how wind and lightning work. Within about 30 minutes of hitting the swinging-sack, it began to drizzle. It was crazy windy on the cliff, lightning was off in the distance threatening to illuminate how poorly we had planned for this weather, and the two girls ditched the hammock outpost for their tent at first raindrop, leaving the Heine-keg’s flanks vulnerable (Cowards!). After about 10 seconds of light rain, I hear the lump in the hammock next to me muse, “well, I guess I’ll see if this hammock is waterproof.” And that was that. No attempt to set up the tent, or change plans. We made our beds and now we had to swing in them.

Tent Cliff

At least we didn’t stick with this plan.

It actually didn’t turn out too bad! I didn’t sleep much, even though MY hammock was waterproof (Thomas’ was NOT, turns out). The waterproofness made it too hot and the bugs and rain would get me if I opened it up. Despite a poor night’s sleep, I loved the experience and got to wake up to the sunrise over the mountains… not bad! But then I fell back asleep and woke up to more rain. I should have just gotten up with the sun…

Thomas and I rushed to pack up in the rain anticipating that it would get worse. Once we packed up, though, it basically stopped raining. Andy and Tier packed up the tent, and we headed out before the two girls finished packing up. We hiked for about an hour before stopping at a river for some breakfast. We laid the Heine-keg down in the river while we ate to help him cool off after the morning hike, and we set to work on creating the breakfast of champions: ramen soup with eggs (yes, we backpack with RAW EGGS), beef jerky, and trail-mix. We continued through the forest, which was beautiful and alive with color (and worms, probably). Not much happened through the hike, just good conversation with good people. You’ll have to come on a trip with us if you want that experience, it can’t really be blogged about.

Keg Bath

Nature is beautiful.

After a few more hours, we reached the OCEAN! Or Lake Superior, not sure if we ever found out what body of water it was. But it was a great expanse of water, possibly a Lake, which was Superior to all other lakes I’ve ever seen. Either way, this marked two things: our first toilet sighting in over a day, and that we were two miles from our campsite destination. I use the work “toilet” lightly, because it was just a wooden shed with a port-o-potty toilet seat and a punch of poop piled up underneath. But we preferred that than pooping in a hole in the ground (stay tuned for actual pooping on the ground later).

The last two miles of the journey were no problem, and led us to one of the best sites I’ve ever camped at. Our camp was right up against a steep hill to the south in a small clearing flanked on the east and west by forest; to the north was a huge expanse of water and sky that gallantly keeps Canada at bay. The water was welcoming, the sun warm, and the firewood plenty. We set up the hammocks, one of our tents, got a fire going, and put Heine-keg in a safe place against some rocks, submerged in the cool lake water in hopes that the beer would cool down for dinner.

Of course we went for a swim, and although the water was cool, it was refreshing and delicious (once filtered). We soaped up and cleaned off, then found an old, wooden signpost and floated it out to some rocks so we could have a partially submerged bench on which to sit and watch the sunset. It got cold sitting in the water after a while, so we moved the bench to an upturned tree the four of us relaxed while watching the waves, sunset, and clouds.

Can't beat this view from camp. Not the
Can’t beat this view from camp. Note the “bench” on the end of the half-submerged tree.

Then comes the good part. The Heine-keg was done cooling off in the lake and we got it tapped and distributed…and it was…frickin…delicious! Warm, and a bit fizzy, but when you are 15 miles from the closest parking lot and 50 miles from the closest city, warm Heineken is as good as anything. We got a bit tipsy, threw some throwing knives at trees, cooked some dinner, and kept the ‘90s tunes pumping.

This really sums up our night...makeshift cooking stove, Tier swinging in a hammock, Thomas looking good, and Lake Superior keeping the Canadian's off our back.
This really sums up our night…makeshift cooking stove, Tier swinging in a hammock, Thomas looking good, and Lake Superior keeping the Canadian’s off our back.

Towards the end of the night, we sat down on the ground, leaned up against a few stones and downed branches, and watched the lightning and clouds race towards us from across the lake (Canada on the attack again!). We knew we were going to get hit, but there was nothing we could do about it but enjoy every second of it. By this time, Thomas and I accepted the fact that hammocks would be a dangerous game in this wind and lightning, so we had set up our tent in a nice flat nook. When the rain started, we finished cleaning up camp, slung the food over a bear pole away from the camp, and got in the shelter of our tents.

And so the fun began. Thomas and I were in one tent, Tier and Andy in another. After diving into our tents to avoid the light drizzle, we got settled and laid there listening to the lite pitter-patter of rain on the tent and the whirl of wind through the trees. Gradually, the wind picked up and reignited the smoldering coals in the fire until a blaze of orange illuminated the entire camp, sending shadows of whipping branches dancing against the canvas of our tents, showering sparks out into the soaking wet, dark forest behind us. Fortunately our tents weren’t in the path of the sparks, because we already had enough water coming into our tent without burning holes in the side…

When the rain first hit, Thomas and I were feeling good about our decision to ditch the hammocks and opting to tent it…but when the wind started to pick up, we realized it may not have mattered much. We were getting wet anyway, and we weren’t sure if the roof was leaking or if the floor was leaking or if the rain was blowing in sideways under the rain fly. The wind was howling now, and our tent was bending in half and almost reaching our faces in our prone position! We had to sit up out of our sleeping bags and brace the tent poles with our hands so the tent wouldn’t break in half!

To recap the scene…outside the tent: howling wind sideways rain, glowing orange campsite, pitch black forest. Inside the tent: Thomas and Tim, getting wetter by the minute, sitting up in our sleeping bags, bracing the tent against the wind, laughing out loud at how ridiculous the situation was. We looked out the mesh window next to our tent to realize we were in a few inches of flowing water, that we were basically blocking the hill-runoff. We made a quick decision to throw all of our stuff into our bags, jump out of the tent, drag it across camp to a higher point, and get back to bracing against the wind. Two minutes later, I’m standing out in the rain wearing just boxers and a garbage bag poncho, dragging my tent across a soaking wet campsite to a small hill with a giggling Thomas. We place our tent, then go to check on Andy and tier…who had a way better tent and rain fly but were still in a few inches of standing water. They weren’t going to move. Their tent was standing up to the wind and they weren’t being sprayed like we were. They just had to hope the bottom of the tent held up… Apparently, silently sobbing, “we’re not gunna die, we’re not gunna die,” over and over again worked out for them.

It eventually did stop raining and the wind died down. We got some sleep and woke up to a beautiful, clear-ish day. I wandered into the woods with my machete and some toilet paper and went about making myself a hole. To poop in. Best way to start the morning. Pooping in the woods is a fun adventure in its own! You should try it sometime! If you are itching to try this out but aren’t planning to go to the woods, I’m sure your neighbor has a tree you can lean against while trying this.

This was my morning bathroom and accessories. Even pooping is an adventure!
This was my morning bathroom and accessories. Even pooping is an adventure!

After some breakfasting and camp cleanup, we hit the trails for a short 6-mile hike back to the car. The hike wasn’t too muddy, and we didn’t encounter anything out of the ordinary. Oh, we did find an apple tree, which had some delicious mini-apples. Very tart.

Heiny Lives

Bent but not broken.

That’s pretty much it. Basically, the adventure boiled down to avoiding society for a few days, pushing the limits of how much weight in food and beer one can backpack with, and clutching to sanity during some stormy weather. But hey, we weren’t asking for a walk in the park. Like I always say: If nothing goes wrong, you’re doing it wrong. The four of us sure did things right that weekend… er… wrong. Right? You get the idea.

– Tim Eiter


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