The hike from the parking area to Chapel Beach was anything but challenging--fairly flat, 3.5 miles, plus the weather was spectacular and the company superb. But tell that to my back! Even though we went through our gear the night before and ditched some things we knew we wouldn't need and extra food, I'm pretty sure my pack was still near 40 pounds--not too heavy by backpacking standards but a ton of bricks to one who's never carried that much that far. Add to that the back spasms I'd been having for two days prior to our hike and I was really struggling.
The hike to the beach was gorgeous, of course, and followed the Chapel River. While the river was not visible much from the trail, the ridge could occasionally be seen, like in this shot of gnarly tree roots clinging to the thin soil on the cliff's edge.
While we took our time on the hike, we were still the second campers to arrive, so we pretty much had our pick of sites (there are only seven). This gorgeous view of the Chapel River seemed like a no-brainer.
After setting up the tent and laying out camp we walked down to the beach. Amazing how feather-light our bodies felt unburdened from our packs! We very nearly skipped to the beach.
Karin had been hoping for north winds to help keep the black flies at bay, but we had warm off-shore (southerly) winds the whole trip, which made for very pleasant weather but very active black flies. (I learned on this trip that black flies are the major pollinators of wild blueberries--makes sense since blueberries are native but honey bees are not. At least the little buzzy-biters are good for something!)
While we sat on the beach a group of four common mergansers came swimming down the shore. We watched as they'd put their heads down in the water and zip and dash through the shallows, obviously chasing minnows. Occasionally one would come up on the beach, flat on its belly, looking very much like a penguin.
I loved the look of the water, so clean and clear, plainly showing the different depths and colors of the bottom.
Chapel Beach is so named, I suppose, for Chapel Rock, a large sandstone formation with an enormous white pine sitting on top. Along with Miners Castle this is one of the most popular formations in the park.
We broke out the gorp for a snack and were soon joined by this little scrapper, who may have had a home under the logs we were resting against. Karin held up peanuts and he posed very nicely.
Chipmunks are cute but can do tremendous damage to the unsuspecting camper. They are quite bold and will chew through just about anything if they think there's food to be found. These backcountry campgrounds are furnished with bear poles for hanging your food on, but I think it was more for protection from the microbears than the black bears!
The night was quiet and unnervingly dark, even thought the moon rose around 11pm. I was awoken at one point to the sound of some smallish animal "barking"--I am guessing some type of weasel, not as big as an otter but maybe mink?--and running towards our site. There seemed to be two of them, and they pitter-pattered right past the tent, down the bank and splashed through the river across to the other side. By morning I had forgotten about the incident and didn't look for tracks.
I was surprised at how well I slept, altough I did take a few Advil before turning in. My back spasms persisted for a while, then seemed to let up some. I got up before sunrise and headed down to the beach to catch the warm morning light on the bluffs along the shore.
Once on the beach my eyes are always drawn downward, looking for treasures--bits of driftwood, feather, stones. What I found on Chapel Beach were myriad tracks, from mink to coyote, mouse to gulls. This was perhaps my favorite find--the track of a crow with a dew-covered feather nearby.