It had already been a busy day by the time I drove through Big Bay. I had started with an early morning drive from Appleton and then gone onto long hikes up by Island Lake and Panorama Hills. By now the afternoon was slipping away into evening, both Logan and I were feeling a little sleepy, and I was impatiently thinking of settling down at a quiet camping site.
Before we could find a place to spend the night I wanted to check out the end of the Yellow Dog River's path to Lake Superior. All of the waterfalls along the river had been visited, from Bulldog to Wylie Dam to Pinnacle, and I had one last place to check out. I had to make sure there wasn't a waterfall on the outlet of Lake Independence, somewhere along the short Iron River section.
The road to the outlet was annoyingly windy and slow. It's only three miles from the town of Big Bay, though the loose sand and dozens of cabins along the way forced me to drive at a slow, cautious rate. When I finally reached a pull off I eagerly jumped out and looked around. There didn't appear to be much here. I left Logan in the car and headed down to the outlet.
Lake Independence poured over a few breaks in the craggy cement dam to create some mediocre splashes of whitewater onto dark rocks. It was old, that was clear, and there were pilings from old docks stretching out into the lake. There was never a real waterfall here, though. I took one quick glance downstream the swampy-looking outlet before heading back to the car and starting on the slow drive back to Big Bay.
While the sun seemed high in the sky the clock betrayed how little time I had left to get to my planned campsite. I drove quickly to 510 and the Triple A, bouncing along the rough tracks on my way to Pinnacle Falls. I reached the parking spot near the trail with maybe an hour left of daylight.
There was no time to spare. I left the tent and gear in the car and headed down the path to the falls. At the bottom I took a cursory photo of the rocky and rushing drop before skipping across the Yellow Dog on the downstream rocks. This was not the main attraction for the evening.
Once on the south side of the river I led Logan to a cluttered and muddy little tributary and started following it upstream. This little creek drains north from Mulligan Plains and barely flows for most of the year, with only Stag Lake and a few small ponds feeding it. It was surprisingly marshy today and really slowed down our progress. After a few dozen frustrating yards I cut up one of the banks and started on the eventual climb directly.
I was heading towards a clear spot that I had noticed from a satellite view. This rocky outcropping sat on a little spur on the north end of Mulligan Plains, across the Yellow Dog River from the pinnacle of Pinnacle Falls, and could offer a view that I had been dreaming of for months. A view of the Yellow Dog Plains.
While the Huron Mountains are interesting and relatively tall compared to Lake Superior, very few of them are higher than 1400', making them shorter than this sandy plain. The Peshekee Highlands get close to 1800' but there are few open views north. If there was a rocky clearing here, even at a meager 1600', I could finally get that view.
The climb through the darkening pine forest was a hard shock to my already tired body. Every once in a while a dim rocky wall would show up and force me to work a way around to continue uphill. By the time I broke free of the trees and tripped onto the open rock I was sweaty and out of breath.
Looking south was impressive enough, with acres and acres of green forest stretching out between the two low sides of Mulligan Plains. Darker spikes of pines marked the swampy creek that we followed up, the swampy drain that emptied into the Yellow Dog, and plenty of leafy trees filled up the sides. (Four years into the future and all this would be logged, much to my disappointment, but I never would have guessed that back then). The north view was a less interesting.
Remnants of a fantastic sunset was disappearing far to the west and some tall pines blocked the view to the north. All Logan and I saw was dim shadows and faintly colored clouds. I wandered around for a brief time, hoping to get an unblocked view north, and found nothing. We were too late for the sunset and there was no fantastic view of the plains.
We rested for a short time, swatting away a few bugs and watching the day die, delaying the inevitable return to the campsite. When I finally pushed myself up and we re-entered the woods it was almost pitch black. I had a small hand flashlight that I used sparingly, hoping to save what poor night vision I had from the harsh white glare, and we hobbled slowly back down to the river. A sloppy crossing and long climb and we were back at the parking lot.
It took a long time to set up the tent in the dark between my tired body and Logan's worrisome attitude. He wasn't used to this camping thing and paced around the perimeter with anxious eyes and tail. We had a quick cold dinner in the tent, as the bugs were getting bad, before settling down for the night. The day had been a full one, even with a few waterfalls visited, and we still had plenty of adventures over the next few days. Tomorrow we would be hanging out with Faith up by the Mouth of Huron and, with any luck, there'd be a few mountains to climb along the way.