Hike Date: June 4-5, 2016
Trail: Superior Hiking Trail
Trip Plan: 2 days, 50 miles, park at Ely’s Peak, hike home and then back the next day.
Day 1 – Drive south to Ely’s Peak/123rd Avenue trailhead, hike home (near Bagley Nature Center)(27 miles)
Day 2 – From home, run to Enger Tower and hike back to the car (23 miles)
- Total Miles: 50.44 miles
- Total Time: 13:06
Day 1 – Saturday, June 4, 2016
On a foggy, dreary and chilly Saturday morning, I laid in my bed, dog Diamond by my side, and was hoping to do anything besides go outside and hike for an untold amount of hours. Eventually, I got my ass out of bed, much to Dimey’s delight and we went hiking.
Rewind a few days, and the weather forecast for the upcoming weekend was again rain. What a bummer. When Thursday came around, I had no plan for the weekend, but did have a looming appointment scheduled on my calendar that read “50 Miles”. I kept thinking to myself, “don’t want to camp in the rain, don’t want to camp in the rain, don’t want to hike in the rain.” I fell asleep on Thursday with nothing packed, no provisions, no plan to go backpacking the next evening. All day on Friday, I gave this trip more thought, while frequently checking the meteorology reports. It’s kind of a cop out, but it would be much easier to mentally commit the miles if I could sleep in my own bed and eat whatever I wanted after a long day on the trail in the rain.
So I put the plans in motion. I decided I could drive towards the southern section of the trail. My house is nearly a half mile from the SHT in Bagley Park on the University of Minnesota-Duluth campus. 40 or 45 miles south from there is the southern terminus of the Superior Hiking Trail (currently at Wild Valley Road), and 250 or so miles north is the northern terminus at 270 Degree Overlook. I’d never been to the newly completed 6 mile extension south from Jay Cooke State Park to the new southern terminus, and this would be a good opportunity to check it out. I did some calculations, and figured it’d be around 40 miles or perhaps a few more to park at the southern terminus and hike all the way home to a trail split in Bagley Park, then another half mile home from there. If I could do that on Saturday, then somehow get another 20 miles in–maybe get a taxi to a choice trailhead–back to the car, I’d be in business.
Fast forward to Saturday morning. I set my alarm on Friday night and we awoke at 6am. This is Diamond’s breakfast time and I had no choice to get up and feed the beast. It surely looked rainy out, and had been raining for 15 hours prior. Nice. I reset my alarm for 6:38am. That came and went. Next thing I know, it’s 9am and still very foggy, and my motivation at an all time low. I somehow came to terms with what I wanted to do and we got the hell out of the house. Map in hand on the freeway, I did some calculations and figured 40 miles at 3 miles per hour puts us at 13 hours and change. We’d maybe hit the southern terminus and park by 10am, which puts us at 11pm to arrive back at the house. Nope. No way. That’s stupid! I thought about Palkie Road on the north side of Jay Cooke. Nah, still too far. What about Ely’s Peak? That will work. I figured it was 25 miles or so, which is about 8 hours of hiking, and puts us at a cool 8pm arrival time back at the house. A good, long day, and then we can just hike right on back the next morning, getting the perfect 50 miles in! Boom.
So we parked in the fog and got to hiking. I didn’t track my gear, no gear list, no plan for this one. I ate a large breakfast a few hours earlier, took rain pants and my rain jacket, a lot of snacks and a 2L water bladder full. The rain had luckily subsided and it looked like we’d maybe get sprinkled on, maybe a thunderstorm, but it no surefire drenching rain like Friday had brought. Diamond didn’t even bring her pack at all, I packed a baggie of a few treats.
We started off walkin’, and I immediately got nervous because all I was thinking of was how I parked directly in front of a sign that said “NO PARKING 10PM-6AM”. Eh, who will be in the lot past 10 anyways? Well, police officers, for one. Oh, well. It started sprinkling, and we didn’t see anyone for a long time.
A few hours in, I pulled out the rain jacket as it started to rain enough to make my shirt wet. I was pretty warm already and regretted taking so many clothes. I had a bamboo short sleeve and a long sleeve tech tee with basketball shorts. The short sleeve was off quickly, and it actually wasn’t too bad with the rain gear on. Meanwhile, Diamond was getting drenched. Maybe three hours in, we stopped for lunch and sat down on a very wet bench alongside Keene Creek. I had a large burrito that was full of just peanut butter and jelly. FULL of peanut butter and jelly. It was too much… I gave a small bit to Diamond and started walking again with the last bit in my hand. The jelly was sticky and too much peanut butter was kind of gross. The thing weighed a half pound!
Soon after Keene Creek, we went past Magney-Snively and the rain had subsided. We were on Skyline Boulevard for a half mile road section, and I saw two ladies putting up signs. They joked how it is such a nice day. Actually, it really was! I told them how there are no bugs and I can’t complain! I think it was a unique perspective they hadn’t considered. They were putting up signs for a horse ride. We went back down into the woods, and I quickly realized that my tee shirt sketchily shoved into my hydration pack had slipped out. Crap! I started walking back and decided it was stupid to do so. This is motivation to come back tomorrow no matter what.
I started getting a bit tired, but Diamond was still tugging on my waist. We were maybe 4 or 5 hours in. I think that is the threshold where the body starts to give out a little bit. It’s mostly the feet, knees, and general fatigue. The questions arise in one’s mind why one is doing this. It was so foggy and any overlook was just grey. That was kind of nice, because you can see Enger Tower from so far away, which is a little frustrating to know that’s how far you have to walk. Crossing Cody Street was kind of dull because it seems like its just half way. Luckily, the walk to Enger went really quickly and next thing we were there! I looked at my watch to get an idea how far we’d want to hike tomorrow, and we’d hiked 18 miles.
Ever since Keene Creek and the lunch stop, by stomach wasn’t feeling right. It was definitely the peanut butter. My stomach probably wouldn’t feel great if I ate a stick of butter or a cup of oil or a large slice of lard, either. Fat is very calorie dense and therefore good for backpacking with such a favorable calorie to weight ratio. However, you can’t just eat fat with out paying for it! I paid for it when I had to stop, then realize I needed to take an emergency dump. No way I’d make it another 10 miles turtle-walking and clenching by butt. It was coming now! I ran Diamond off the trail as quickly as possible and did what I needed to do. Then we kept walking.
It was nice to get to Enger Tower. The day hadn’t broken at all, and it was still drizzling and cloudy and foggy. We descended into the Duluth City, and started running. No sense slow-walking on the flat, paved path through Canal Park. People were everywhere trying to enjoy their Saturday despite the crummy weather, and Diamond and I probably looked like weirdos running with a big, overstuffed hydration pack and caked in mud. We stopped at the very corner of Lake Superior and went down to the lake. I was hoping Diamond would wash off a little bit and drink water, but neither of us really wanted to go into the waves. We sat at a bench and ate the majority of the remaining food. The home stretch is one big climb back home. So we ran the rest of the Lakewalk until the Superior Hiking Trail turns onto 14th Avenue East in the middle of Duluth. We walked up the steep hill, and kept hiking once we got into Chester Creek. It was good to know that neither Diamond or I had slowed down much at all during the long day. Going light helps a lot! Bagley was next, and we were home before long at all. We’d made a really fast hike that day, and celebrated with a lot of food. Pizza it is. I went to bed relatively early and set my alarm for 6am again.
Day 2 – Sunday, June 5, 2016
I actually woke up early on Sunday and Diamond and I both seemed to be fit to walk another big day, which was great. I felt really good, so ate breakfast and we hit the trail without much dawdling at all. The plan today was to run to Enger Tower from home. No sense in hiking all the way down to Canal Park just to be on the Lakewalk and then hike the huge climb up to Enger. This would cut off at least an hour, too. So we jogged to Enger Tower in the beautiful morning sun. It was a much different day with abundant sunshine and warmth. I wondered if this was good or bad, as we both seem to prefer cool weather versus hot heat. A quick half hour and we hit the Superior Hiking Trail and slowed it down to a walk. There was a chance for thunderstorms around 1pm, but did not pack any clothes this time. Just a long sleeve tech tee, basketball shorts, and nothing much else. Also, I didn’t bring any peanut butter today! We packed a similar stock of snacks, but figured I’d be able to hike all the way back without lunch. Starting before 7am helps with that.
There were more people on the trail on the sunny Sunday morning, and we passed (and got passed) by several runners. I could see my muddy footprints in a few spots, but the trail was already drying out quite substantially. The hike back was going fast, and we were in Piedmont before long, soon to pass under I-35, and in the prairie-like section along the freeway. It was nice to actually have a view! In the exposed sections leading to Spirit Mountain, time slowed down. It was getting warm, and the miles were taking their toll. I saw some friends running up a tough climb just outside of Spirit Mountain, and that seemed to break up the walking nicely. We zinged past Spirit Mountain and were nearing Magney-Snively when I found my shirt! Nice! Someone had hung it over a post or stump and I shoved it tightly in my pack.
Walking on Skyline, I found the SHT sign to get back into the singletrack and thought it was funny that there were two arrows pointing different directions. I followed the trail down. Down, down, down, and thought I’d maybe misread the sign and taken the wrong trail. So I kept my eyes peeled for the blue blaze. No blazes. Hmm… I figured it was an interconnected system of trails here and I could catch onto a trail. No, no, we stopped and I grabbed my phone to hopefully orient myself. I looked up the hill, and it was a sheer climb to get back onto the trail. Screw it, we can get back to the car one way or another, it doesn’t matter if we aren’t on the SHT. We kept walking down, down, down, and ultimately met up with the DWP, an old railroad grade that parallels the Munger Trail. Well, we parked right at the Munger Trail so would probably get to where we need to be soon enough. And this is easy walking. Easy, boring walking, though. Flat gravel. So Diamond and I walked on the flat gravel for a few miles. It was getting hot, and poor Diamond had no creeks to drink from. Finally, we went through the dark tunnel under Ely’s Peak and I knew we were close. I got a little turned around looking for the right trail, but soon enough, we crossed some train tracks and got to the car as the clouds rolled in.
What a hike! It didn’t go exactly to plan with the DWP debacle, but Diamond and I both seemed to be in great shape. Yeah, we were tired, but no injuries, no major implosions, and I think we could have gone a few more miles if necessary. With food on our minds, we drove home just as it started sprinkling. Then, on the freeway, and all out torrential downpour slowed my speed on the freeway to just 40 MPH! We got done at the right time!
It wasn’t purist backpacking, but I think this sort of hiking is great for testing the limits and really building some strength and stamina for both Diamond and I. However, I am eagerly looking forward for a few weeks to do another two-nighter.
As a training plan, I’m looking to be able to hike 80 miles in a weekend with relative ease. To build up to 80 miles in a weekend and then do a few of those should get me into good enough shape to hopefully pull 40 miles day after day. Then again, that is a long, long weekend of hiking! Luckily it’s getting fun.