Photo: Miner's castle.
For whatever reason I did not have the best night's sleep. I don't think my spot for my campsite was the issue. I just did not sleep well. The camp, now slightly diminished with the departure yesterday afternoon of Gail, Sue, and Julie (they left at Chapel Beach), was dealing with morning chores by 06:30. It was a light gray morning and hints that it could rain were in the air. By 07:30 we were on the move heading towards Potato Patch and then our planned first stop at the eastern end of Miners Beach for a "second breakfast" and first break. The morning began to warm and clear as we walked. The wildflowers, most of which I still really did not see, caught the attention of others. We spread out a bit and within two hours we all found ourselves walking down to the beach. Joni decided to stay along the tree line and walk to the picnic area (not necessarily any easier walking as the trail is sandy up there too) while the rest of us found a shady spot at the base of the bluff by a small pour-off to get water and have another bite to eat.
Photo: The eastern end of the beach just west of Potato Patch has places to sit and easily fetch water from either Lake Superior or this pour-off. Last year we found people nit only camped near here but having a camp fire(double no-no). No one was around this year. In fact, until we hot close to the visitor center at Miners Castle we didn't really see anyone.
Walking the beach is a chore and pleassure. Andy was probably the smart one having shed his socks and shoes and going barefoot. That way when the inevitable happened and Lake Superior caught us unaware he at least only got his feet wet; we soaked our socks and shoes (well at least Elwira and I did). The going is slow but when it isn't hot with a bright high sun blasting down upon you walking along the beach is particularly enjoyable. In time we reached the stairs that take you to the picnic area where Joni had enjoyed her respite. We took a break here to get sand out of our shoes and watch a couple kayak guides bring kayaks down from a parking lot to the picnic area preparing for a day trip tha runs people up to Mosquito Beach and back again. The clouds were still pretty much wholly present and it still looked a little iffy but I am sure they pay atention to the weather and know when they can and cannot safely run a trip. We left them to their work and hiked on.
You leave the picnic area and wander through a forest and past a stream before beginning the last serious climb of the trip. It is a modestly steep climb but in reality it isn't that long. Sure you feel it as you ascend but anyone in even modest shape can manage it. Last year the trail in that area was covered in lots of slick mud and I took a nasty fall just after summitting the climb narrowly missing hitting my head on a rock. This year the trail was dry. It's probably about a mile from the picnic area to the visitor center at Miner's Castle and I think we arrived there around 11:30. We had already taken some nice long breaks and we woulld do so again at the visitor center. We snagged a couple tables for our final lunch and some went to explore the gift shop and do other chores before we topped off our water (which we did treat as the well had not been tested yet and confirmed safe). By this time the temperature had warmed considerably and the sun was gaining dominion in the sky chasing the clouds away. We had a little over 5 miles to go and wanted to be sure to get to Sand Point with enough time to visit park HQ to talk to the rangers about the people who had been making fires at 7 Mile and Trappers Lake (not to cause trouble per se but because the park staff do need to know).
Joni took off ahead of the rest of us and that was the last we saw of her until Sand Point. She must have zipped down the trail. Andy, John, and Dennis pulled ahead of Elwira and myself even though they stopped often for Andy to gather photos of the many wildflowers. Elwira and I trailed behind, though only 5 or so minutes according to the guys, as we snaked our way through the forest on what was now a very warm and humid afternoon. This year all the little streams that had been flowing last year were all but dry. A couple times El was able to get some water to wet her bandana to wrap around her neck. I never bothered. I think this section of trail is alright but it lacks the good Superior views you see so much of east of Mosquito Beach. Why anyone would choose to stay at The Cliffs campsite which is waterless and devoid of nice views is beyond me.
About 3 miles in there is a stream with small waterfall that makes for an excellent place to gather water (again all hale the camp bucket) and take a break. With sweat pouring off of us taking a final break of about 30 minutes was a real pleasure. We topped off our water with much better tasting stream water and struck out for the steps that take you past a large rock overhang with a stream gushing under it that take you down to the level of Lake Superior and mark that point where you are about a mile from Sand Point. As we approach those steps we noticed the temperature dropping and the wind gaining speed. Clouds were rolling back in and we were developing a sense of deja vu. Last year we scurried down the steps and hunkered under that overhang worrying about a storm blasting us. This year the change in weather though noticeable wasn't as pronounced and though the temperature would drop a good 18 degrees rain did not arrive for quite some time. We spread out somewhat as the end neared. I ended up being last in line which is hardly a surprise as I really don't go quickly down those "steps." You could hear the tolling of a harbor bell buoy and I think people did speed up knowing the weather could be readying itself to be nasty and knowing that our pizzas at Main Street Pizza awaited. By 15:35 we were all at the cars changing into fresher clothing and getting ready for the visit to park HQ. They were very interested in what we had to tell them and I expect sad things will happen for some people but given those people were in the wrong I don't feel sympathy for them. Once that was done it was time for the end-of-hike dinner at the pizza joint. The rain that had been holding off began to come down in sheets as we stuffed ourselves with pizza before we said our goodbyes and all began the long drive back home.
It has been a very good long weekend of hiking. I do wish we could make the drive back less stressful and tireing for everyone, especially the drivers, but without actually stopping for several hours at a hotel I suppose that just will not happen. John depositied me home at 03:30 and I am quite thankful to him for the ride.