Some time during the wee hours of the morning, the winds calmed. When I awoke the lake was calm and beautiful. Much easier to scoop some water. I cooked oatmeal inside the tent.
Cooking inside your tent is generally disrecommended. Fire, lightweight flammable material, your only shelter going up in flames and flaming bits adhering to your skin – you probably get the idea. However, it felt really decadent on this particular morning and I did it. I half-wrapped my quilt around my back, put my piece of Z-lite seat on the floor in front of me and set up my stove right there in the tent. A few minutes later I was having oatmeal and hot coffee in the comfort of my shelter. AND I hadn’t put any weight on my ankle at all.
My poor ankle was feeling like someone had been using it as a handle to pick me up and swing me about all night. I purposely avoided examining it while slipping on my hiking socks. I already knew that this was an Aleve day and a bunch of prodding just wasn’t going to help anything about the situation. Fortunately this would be one of my shorter mileage days and it looked like it wasn’t going to be too tough of terrain either.
I packed up and was on the trail by 8:45. Then I walked 3/4 of a mile in the wrong direction. I had only glanced at the map and I remembered there being a trail junction a ways before I came into Todd Harbor and I incorrectly concluded that I needed to hike back to that junction and take the other fork. I remembered it as being 1/2 mile outside of camp. Wrong, wrong, wrong. That was Hatchet Lake trail, and 1.4 miles back. What I needed to do was hike through the Todd Harbor Camp and continue east towards McCargoe Cover. Eventually the dim little light bulb over my head went off and I stopped and checked my map. My legs were pretty damp from vegetation dew, my ankle was grumbling and I truly hate realizing that I’ve made such a dumb mistake. I allowed myself a few seconds of self-derision. Then I decided to blow it off. I turned around and went the right way. Problem solved.
Now heading in the right direction, I blew right through Todd Harbor campsite and followed the Minong for 5.8 more miles to McCargoe Cove. I was there in time for an early lunch, partially because I decided not to take a side trail to see the Minong mine. I’d seen a few mines and they all were pretty similar. Rocky holes in the rock. And damnit, my ankle hurt. McCargoe was a pretty little area, complete with dock and shelters. I had lunch at a picnic table in front of one of the shelters, and got a little more water in my bladder down at the dock. Foil pack chicken on tortillas – tasty. I could have filled up with good clean Lake Superior water but I chose to only get 1.5 liters and keep the weight down to make life easier for my ankle. This was a decision that I would later come to rue.
It’s less than 2 miles from McCargoe to East Chickenbone, which was my planned stop for the day. I was pretty stoked to get there. This would be my shortest mileage day and I’d be able to kick back and relax. I went through some boggy areas but nothing very tough. There were walkways and it was pretty easy. The last 1/2 mile of trail ascended fairly steadily and there was a side trail marked for ‘Water’. Ominous. Every other campsite I’d been to on the isle had a good water source. I’d been warned by a friend that years ago he had issues getting good water at East Chickenbone. This had flown out of my head in the meantime and I only had the 1.5 liters I’d picked up at McCargoe plus 20 oz in my secondary stash in a water bottle.
As the trail ascended towards the Greenstone it regularly dipped into lowland areas, which were now bridged with boards. I continually spotted amazing views.
I arrived at the East Chickenbone campsite and checked it out. There were three campsites and they all were pretty austere. I chose #3, farthest back from the trail. Of the three sites, it appealed the most. It had a tree. The other two sites had scrub trees but this one actually had a tree-tree. That, and a small patch of soft grass that looked large enough to pitch the tent on. Oh, and no water. I resigned myself to trekking back to the side trail for water. It would be a good 1/2 mile each way but at least I wouldn’t be burdened with a pack. I went about my camp chores at a luxuriously slow pace, secure in the knowledge that I had hours and hours of daylight left and the weather was nice and dry.
I set up camp and then filtered all of the water from my bladder into my cooking pot and mug. Then I grabbed a trekking pole for support and set off to the water trail. Water trails away from camp are pretty much the norm on the AT but after over a week of not going more than 100 feet to fetch water this felt like punishment. I’m on an island in the biggest lake in the world and there’s no water handy, WTF?
I made the trek downhill pretty easily and had mostly stopped grumbling to myself when I arrived at the water trail. It seemed remarkably long despite being very straight and mostly level. It was well trimmed and no vegetation was leaning into the path. This wasn’t so bad, after all.
When I reached the shore of Chickenbone Lake I was confronted with unsavory water. I need to describe this unsavory water so that you can imagine it, but I’m not sure if I have adequate words for the task. I’ll try, and please bear with me.
Imagine a lake bottom covered with rocks and sand. It’s a lake that deepens fairly rapidly as you depart from shore, except at the east end where someone made a path to the shore for hikers to get water. At this east end, the lake is fairly shallow all the way across. The winds that caress this lake in its bowl just north of the Greenstone ridge are prevailingly from the west and push the waves towards the east end. So the reason that the east end seems to have shallowed up over the eons is due to all of the suspended and floating items in the water being pushed there in disproportionate amounts, where they settled and eventually decayed, creating a humus-like muck that lays in layers over the naturally sandy and rock bottom. Over decades and centuries this buildup will progress and eventually will turn the area from lake into wetland and at some far future time, just soil.
Enter Tom, not at the soil stage, but much, much earlier in this timeline. The lake waters are several feet deep. They are also completely full of gunk. Gunk, in this case seems to be some sort of algae bloom. Not just floating on the top, nor lying serenely on the bottom, but everywhere. At all levels of water. Floating and bobbing about in big fuzzy undefinable shapes, like green clouds under the water.
I was NOT putting that shit in my water bladder. Not only did it look like a great way to stop up a water filter but it just wasn’t very appetizing.
And just to clarify, let me tell you something: I’m the sort of guy who, when he encounters a skittle lying innocently on the ground in the middle of the trail, wonders really hard if maybe, just maybe, another hiker dropped it 4 seconds ago. Cause we all know the 5 second rule. And it’s not like there’s any OTHER skittles around. So as long as the color hasn’t started running off it, and it’s not actually stuck to that leaf, it’s probably only been 4 seconds. Yeah, just 4.
But that water was NASTY. I moved along the shoreline to the west about 100 yards, checking regularly. Nasty, nasty, nasty. Tried to the east. Nasty, nasty, nasty. I just refused to drink a salad of algae. That thirsty, I was not.
I turned around and headed back to my dry-ass camp, carrying an empty water bladder. Then I had a bright idea. I pulled out my map and checked the topography. Yep, my camp was on something of a mini-ridge and before the trail ascended the rest of the way up the Greenstone there was another low place. I passed the turnoff to camp and followed the trail south and downwards. It turned into boardwalk over bog. I saw several spots of open water, but none that were easily accessible or flowing. After the boardwalk ended, and right at the junction that would take me 1.9 miles to West Chickenbone, I came upon a large clear puddle that was several inches deep. With some careful scooping I was able to get about a liter of fairly good looking water.
This is normally the exact opposite of what I would advise someone to do, but needs must. My trek the next day was going to be about 10 miles with no opportunity to get water until its end. I could do that, just with the water I had back at camp, but not comfortably so. I took some puddle water to allow myself the comfort I desired. It was almost as clear as most lake water I’d gotten, better than a lot of what I drank on the AT, and way better than what was available from the East Chickenbone ‘Water trail.’ I called it good nuff.
Back at camp I made water conserving choices. Dinner was chicken fajitas on tortillas – a meal rehydration that used only 1 cup of water instead of the 2 that most meals use. Also fantastically good. I’ve had lots of restaurant fajitas that weren’t as good as the ones that MountainHouse makes. I definitely recommend the fajitas.
I also chose to put my water bladder in reach for any night thirst that might arise. I wanted to be sure to not be excessively thirsty at any time so little sips from the bladder through the night would be more manageable than drinking from a cup.
About time I finished hanging up my hiking clothes to air overnight I saw another hiker, coming though to check out the sites. I explained where the water trail was and warned him about being sure to not let his pump filter get stopped up if he decided to get water there. Then I hit the hay, while the sun was still up. A couple of Aleve later I was out.