First, I have a confession to make, perhaps you were lured into starting to read this blog by the title. I will remove the suspense by saying that, unfortunately, I do not have much of an incident to report. However, when I found on a map of Wisconsin that there was a place called “Rat Lake Swamp” in the general vicinity of the Nicolet National Forest, I decided that I needed to go there. I mean, who could resist bragging rights for saying that they had been to Rat Lake Swamp? I conjured scores of rodents, exceedingly large rodents, paddling sinisterly through the lake, threatening to attack the unwary hiker.
Regrettably, reality often diverges from the best fantasies. But more on that shortly. Having recently moved from Maryland to Wisconsin, I’d started exploring the local hiking scene. Based on the advice of a ranger stationed in Eagle River, my first backpacking foray in Wisconsin was to be a two day – one night trip at Hidden Lakes. With a loop distance of about 16 miles, I planned on a leisurely 10 miles the first day, a relaxing evening in camp and then a short 6 miles back out to a rendezvous with my wife. Things didn’t necessarily go as I had planned. I discovered an important fact of life about hiking in Wisconsin – mosquitoes. They are miserable creatures. I did know this already but still was surprised by their numbers and persistence here. As I searched for a spot to camp that day, each place seemed to teem with mosquitoes and they all wanted a piece of me. So, I moved on, and on, and on. Pretty soon it was 7:30 PM, I had hiked 16 miles in about 5 hours (far above my normal pace) and I was almost done with the entire hike. I pitched my tent near the park road and got myself into my tent as soon as possible and waited for the morning.
In the morning, my wife picked me up and we proceeded on to our next expedition – visiting Rat Lake Swamp. With map in hand and our destination marked with an X, we proceeded out from Hidden Lakes. First we were on a State Highway then we were on a Forest Road (FR 2168), then FR2167. Did I mention that calling these “roads” is a generous thing? Finally we were looking for FR something with an “A” attached to the end. We found what looked to be an unmaintained hiking trail and drove our car cautiously down the path. Finally we were there – a modest sign announced that we had arrived at … Bastille Lake. What?? I turned to my wife and looked at her – where is Rat Lake, if not Rat Lake Swamp I bleated?
A quick check of our crummy Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest map showed a small blue dot to the west of where we were. We suspected and then confirmed that this was Rat Lake (depth 3 ft – not much scuba diving there I suspected). True, we were officially in the Rat Lake Swamp and Popple River Headwaters area and Bastille Lake was part of that. I guess the ranger back at Eagle River thought that was close enough. But what about Rat Lake – no forest road, even with additional alphabet letters attached appeared to go near it. It looked like it would be a bushwack to get there. So, I did the next best thing, I got out of the car, and walked down to the shore line of Bastille Lake, and pretended. Tragically, I did not see any rodents swimming in the water or scuttling about on land. Oh, but did I mention, that there were still plenty of mosquitoes …