I woke up early with the sunrise, still sore from yesterday's hiking. Dressing quickly, I rolled out of the tent and started a small fire. The coffee didn't take long to make and I was soon standing on the shore of the northern Rocking Chair Lake, watching the sunrise over the tall eastern hills and enjoying the warm aroma and taste of the brew.
Without much forethought I had spent the night halfway up Mulligan Plains on a small DNR campsite. My plan of sleeping on the southern terminus and hiking to these lakes in the morning had backfired thanks to recent logging activity. I was still debating on heading south to follow the southeastern cliffs of Mulligan, but the tall hills and trees to the east beckoned me. After gulping the rest of my coffee I started east to new territory with false bravado - I was heading straight into some of the thickest woods on this side of Superior.
The southern Rocking Chair Lake drains north to the one I was camped on, and so my first direction was upstream along the small channel connecting them. Both lakes had tall elevation towering over the eastern shoreline. A sharp cliff cuts a sharp contrast on the northern lake, while a gradual (but taller) hill is on the southern. This was my first destination. After dallying on the edge of the clear waters, I headed up the rocky hill not expecting to reach a view or clearing on top. I was very, very wrong.
A surprising vista offered views straight over Mulligan Plains to the Silver Lake Basin! The point of climbing up this hill was to gain elevation and make the rest of the hike easier, but I was pretty happy to find this hidden spot. After admiring the view, I turned away and headed east again through the thick forest. The bumpy land was interesting to bushwhack. Far too thick to cut a straight bearing through, I ended up following long ridges covered in thick needles and old growth pine trees and cedars with damp, swampy muck on either side. Occasionally I had to cut through the mud channels to continue east, using old logs or thicker clumps of grass to pick a path.
As I grew close to my main destination, Hills Lakes, the vegetation took a turn for the worse. Low, dry brush clinging to the rocky ground began to pull at me, slowing down my progress. Eventually I came onto a small rocky outcropping sticking out on the largest lake. Near the northern end of the lake, there was a 15' cliff facing me on the eastern shoreline - other than that, the lake was surrounded by low brush and tall grass. There was no sign of any human impact here, and the deep blue water and tall pines and cedars invited me to sit down and enjoy the cool breeze and still-rising sun.
I followed the shoreline south where it turned into an odd, solid, and reedy plain only inches above the water. I'm guessing that due to the poor outflow channels the lake floods here during there spring, greatly increasing it's size. Deciding to skip the other Hills Lakes (which are all smaller in size) I headed back west to my campsite, taking a small detour at a shallower, rockier, and altogether spookier lake on the way.
My route back was not as easy as the way in. I cut an angle towards the northern Rocking Chair Lake which led me through more swamps and thicker undergrowth than I wanted to deal with. Bursting out of the thick woods at the base of tall cliffs that faced my campsite not a moment too soon I quickly began the steep climb to the top.
This was not my first visit to Rocking Chair Lakes. I had learned after a few visits and looking at numerous online pictures that this cliff was one of the most prominent and photographed feature in this area. I had been wondering what you could see from the top for a long time, and the view did not disappoint. While I could not see the Silver Lake Basin across the way, Mulligan Plains, especially north to the creek's entrance in the plains, lay before me.
I clambored down the steep slope on the side of the cliff and took the shoreline around to my campsite. The rocks on the base of the cliff were huge and mostly steady. When I reached my campsite again I felt strangely refreshed and ready to start the day. The entire bushwhack to Hills Lake had only taken a few hours and the views it had treated me to were incredible. While it would have been much shorter to approach the lakes from the east (there's a road that comes up from Clark Creek Valley to one of the eastern lakes), this route was well worth the distance.