A welcome sun warmed my body after several nights of cold camping. I stood on the shore of the Dead River between Silver Lake and the Dead River Basin on the southern end of Mulligan Plains, looking northeast at my next hike. Even though I was near a major route to these basins with open grassland stretching away from my feet no angry engines disrupted my peace. Silent I stood, basking in the morning rays, and planned my return to the cabin on Lake 8.
On another day a warm sun had welcomed Emily and I to this area to tackle the trip up to Lake 8. A less inviting guest, several feet of slushy February snow, slowed our hike to a crawl and we barely made it to the cabin. We wasted no time in retreating from the highlands surrounding the lake, cutting south to Red Road down the steep south-facing cliffs. The rest of the day was spent on Presque Isle, sliding over the ice-covered Black Rocks and viewing the chunky ice floes in the melting harbor. It was a great day with plenty of pictures… That were accidentally deleted a month later. So now it was time to return to Lake 8.
Recent logging covered the lower slopes of the southeast pinnacle guarding Mulligan Plains. Just as I remembered, a narrow, unmarked driveway leads around this pinnacle to the north, slowly climbing several hundred feet of elevation on its way to the lake. Today an unfamiliar rusty white van was parked at the end of the driveway. Since it only led towards Lake 8 and there's only one cabin on the lake, I decided to proceed with caution.
After a short distance the route quickly degraded to a rutted four-wheeler track with too many downed trees, thick brush tangles, and outcroppings for any motorized vehicle to tackle. I've hacked through the highlands before further to the north, and while I was thankful to be following a trail through the untamed wilds, the constant weaving and bucking of the trail was very tiring. When a rocky bluff beckoned to me from the north, just a few dozen yards from the trail, I eagerly wandered away hoping for a change of pace and break from the thick woods.
A towering rock cliff soared up from the edge of a deep, tiny pool surrounded by wetlands. The view from the top was amazing - I could even make out the hills far to the south beyond the Dead River Basin. Closer to me stretched the highlands, a bumpy, tree-covered wilderness well off the beaten path. The cliff was only a few dozen feet higher than the tall pines around me but it was enough for a breathtaking vista of the surrounding green.
I headed down the eastern edge of the bluff carefully - an odd smell and loud crack below had my nerves on edge. Nothing greeted me at the bottom so I headed around the edge of the water to the south. Leaving the towering cliff and dark pool behind, I buckled down into the thick brush - and tumbled onto a sandy four-wheeler trail. I'm guessing that this path leads up from Clark Creek to the east, opposite of the route I had tackled today, although I'm not sure how it was so well maintained so far into these wilds.
Another rocky outcropping beckoned me to the south, so I scrambled up a gradual rising hill until I reached the top. The east side was steeper and offered a sweeping view of Lake 2 below. There was no northern or western view, so I could see neither the bluff I had just left nor Lake 8. Lake 2 was rather nice, and for a short moment I was tempted to check it and Lake 3 (further to the east) out closer… but I had other places to visit today.
I headed due west in hopes of finding the cabin on the eastern shore of Lake 8. Roughly shaped like an hourglass, two rocky outcroppings reach towards each on the narrow part with the cabin on the eastern rock. As I neared it, though, I heard voices. While I've heard that the cabin is free for usage by any who venture out this far I did not want to interrupt anyone's vacation, so I headed back west away from the cabin. I had suspected that someone was up this way, with the van parked in the driveway and some crushed vegetation along the path up, but was still hoping until now that the cabin remained empty.
The route down was much easier, and I trotted most of the way. My original plan was only to visit the cabin but I had found many more scenic stops along the way. On my way down I planned future trips up from Clark Creek to Lake 3 and along some of the outcroppings to the south, maybe even a return to the cliffs of Red Road. The cabin is an easy place to hit up on a future hike, and perhaps more importantly, a great excuse to lure me so far into the highlands.