Porcupine Mountain Traverse

This was our third time around what we’ve started calling the Porkies Traverse. Last fall Allison and I put the loop together to hit the three Summits on the Air (https://www.sota.org.uk/) references in the park: Summit Peak, Peak 1496, and Cuyahoga Peak. We were amazed to find some of the most remote mountains we’ve had a chance to visit in the center of the country, and almost a playground of hill climbs and (very) technical trail running. When we started getting interested in FKTs, this was one of the first I routes I checked for an existing time (there wasn’t one), and when we decided to submit a route, it was the first on our list. If you want to see what midwest trail running has to offer, this route should be on the list.

We made another trip up to refine the loop a little, and then came back this past weekend to run it with purpose. We learned something important about the Porkies: timing is huge. Two weekends ago, the trail was relatively dry, trees were at their peak (so the leaves were still on them!), and it snowed off and on the whole day. In the following week, the leaves mostly fell and it rained a bunch. This meant that we were going to be running  insanely muddy trails that were completely covered with a nice thick carpet of golden leaves. 

We got underway about an hour before daylight, deciding to once again do the loop counterclockwise. The disadvantage of this is having to do the 4.5mi of the Escarpment Trail at the end of the loop. One advantage is going down the back of 1496, the steepest section of the loop. The Escarpment Trail is also prettier going counterclockwise, in my opinion, as you’re looking out over Lake Superior as you proceed. 

Within the first couple of miles, we could see we were going to be in for a long muddy day, as it was even muddy before we descended off the starting ridge. Temps were nice, and it dawned into a brilliant fall day. Just before heading up Summit Peak, I took a hard spill while crossing an icy boardwalk, but luckily landed on the walkway, not in the creek. We saw nobody for the next ~10 miles after leaving Summit Pk. We opted not to filter water at Trap Falls, the last running water going counterclockwise. I ended up running out a couple miles from the end, so that worked well.

The mud only disappeared on the climbs (and sometimes not even then), so by the time we were heading up 1496, we were ready to end the slog. Fortunately, the Escarpment Trail is south facing, so it was not only mud free, it was dry! Conscious that we were trying to make good time, we skipping standing around and gawking at the views. With two miles to go, and on a particularly steep and rocky descent, Allison took a header that I thought was going to result in a hospital visit. The rocks missed all her essential organs, however, and she popped up and continued on. I am more sore today than she is. 

We got back to the start/finish overlook, and clicked our watches for a total time of 7:52. The time wasn’t spectacular, but I didn’t feel like I could have moved much faster given the conditions. We had a nice chat with a couple who were on the board of the Friends of the Porkies (https://porkies.org) then headed to the van for the long trip home. Solid weekend of trail running!

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