03 Aug 2016

Gooseberry

Hike Date: July 22-24, 2016

Trail: Superior Hiking Trail

Trip Plan: Big miles over a weekend–from Gooseberry State Park south to home.

Day 1 – Hike south from Gooseberry State Park to Crow Creek Valley Campsite (~8 miles)

Day 2 – Hike south from Crow Creek Valley Campsite to Fox Farm Pond Campsite (~38 miles)

Day 3 – Hike south from Fox Farm Pond Campsite to home (~29 miles)

Stats:

  • Total miles: 41.6
  • Time hiking: 13:30

Gear and Food: 7-22-16

Weather:

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Trip Synopsis:

Day 1 – Friday, July 22, 2016

Garmin Data:

Diamond and I left with my brother Matt right after work to get dropped off at Gooseberry Fall State Park right after work on Friday, on the hottest day day of the year, to replicate my very first backpacking trip just a few years prior. It took four full days to hike around 80 miles from Gooseberry Falls to home near Hartley Park, and this weekend I was to hike it in just two full days plus this Friday evening. In peak fitness, this would be a good tester to see how just two days in a row averaging around 35 miles would feel on the body. I’ve narrowed in on 35 miles per day as a reasonable goal mileage for the final through hike (putting me at 9 days total to cover the 300+ miles).

During the final work day on Friday, and as I weighed in right before leaving, I knew the weather would be a factor. Again, it was late afternoon on the hottest day of the year, and around 92 degrees as we left. Just two nights prior, Duluth got whomped by a vicious thunderstorm that brought extreme winds and widespread blowdowns throughout the city. The majority of the Duluth population–tens of thousands of people–had no power. Some didn’t have power restored for a week! This meant that there would likely be storm damage, certainly hiking into Duluth. Also, there looked to be another round of thunderstorms on the tail end of the heat wave. Diamond and I left anyways.

When we got to Gooseberry, Matt dropped us off and drove away. I must have looked like a crazy person in long pants and a long shirt in the brutal heat and humidity. And it was pretty miserable. I had no semblance of where the trail was, so we just started hiking towards the bridge on Highway 61 over Gooseberry, and quickly got onto some trail leading up to the Gooseberry River. A blue blaze was not hard to find after that, and I was dripping sweat on my first step onto the SHT.

My initial thoughts were of the discomfort. I thought it was stupid being out there given the forecast, and regretted it already. Diamond’s tongue was about a foot long and we stopped to get water in the Gooseberry as soon as possible. A few steps away and she would be panting again. Sticky, wet heat. It was like a sauna. Once we got out of the park and up along the Gooseberry, the deer flies came out. I neglected to get Diamond a bug repellent strap like the last trip. They were swarming her and it was rough. After Gooseberry, we encountered a lot of mud. Just as dusk was giving way to complete darkness, we arrived at the campsite. Luckily, there was a water source, but it was shallow, grimy and dark. Either way, Diamond drank up and I filled my water bottle.

I was testing my DIY tarp setup and bugnet, and it went up easily. I was so hot, and really looking forward to the cool night. I stripped down and we hit the sack.

Day 2 – Saturday, July 23, 2016

Garmin Data:

We woke up decently early after a crappy night sleep. The tarp on the exposed ground wasn’t bad at all. It was pretty comfortable, really, albeit most dirty than a tent, but I felt like I didn’t sleep at all. I didn’t even bring a sleeping bag and figured that my bag liner would be enough, and it did get chilly at night. As always, the first few steps out of camp were great, and Diamond and I were excited to be on the trail.

The morning was fantastic! It wasn’t too hot yet, and we expected another scorcher, although the forecast was to be cooler. I wondered about the forecasted thunderstorms, too, and how there was a flood warning for Saturday evening the last I checked 14 hours prior. The Castle Danger section to County Road 301 was great. The bridge out on the Encampment River was no problem and I found blueberries. Diamond and I were doing fine. Maybe a little tired, even already, but it was smooth sailing.

By the time we got to Silver Creek a few hours in, I had to stop. My legs were already tired and I was surprised at my sub-3 MPH rate. Usually we are 3.5 MPH plus stops. Were we stopping a lot? Not really… I ate a bunch of food and was coaxing Diamond to wade into the creek. Upon packing in the morning, I realized I’d forgotten my lighter. I consolidated my emergency kit from a baggie into a pill bottle for some protection, and the last item that didn’t fit was the mini Bic. That means that I wouldn’t be able to start my stove or a fire or anything. It’d be hard enough in a thunderstorm or flood!! In Silver Creek, I found a cool agate that I could potentially trade someone… That is, if the forecast looks good. I decided I’d hike another few miles to County Road 2/Reeves Road Trailhead and check my phone and reassess from there. I made all these benchmarks. If the chance of rain increases, I’d bail. If it decreases, I’d stay. If I find a lighter, I’d stay. If the flood warning is still present, I’d bail.

The walking wasn’t any easier even after the short break. I was curious why we were slogging along. Perhaps the lack of sleep? It was muddy, getting hotter, and getting buggier past Silver Creek. The only bugs were deer flies and mosquitoes. Deer flies are incredibly annoying. Diamond luckily does not seem to mind, despite these annoying creatures bombarding her head and butt.

We got to County Road 2, I found a patch of raspberries and grabbed my phone. The 60% chance of rain was the same as Friday, when I decided to leave. There was still a flood warning. What made me call my roommate Jack for a ride was the little blurb on the weather app that said “Severe Thunderstorms Likely”. The hourly forecast called for rain at the worst time: around 8pm as I’d be finishing the hike, setting up camp and trying to cook. Jack said he’d leave in a while and drive to pick me up.

I walked down County Road 2 and thought that Diamond and I could get some ice cream, stop at the gas station, and maybe even visit the Superior Hiking Trail office in Two Harbors. With my phone out, I was very surprised to see that the trip down to Highway 61 was over 5 miles! Jack would probably have to travel up the road to get us, then.

It was a dull walk on the side of the road. After an hour and a half, Jack called and picked us up. I enjoyed a root beer and Gatorade as mud-caked Diamond sat on my lap. The agony of pulling the plug was in contrast to the feeling of relief sitting in the car. There were no storms in Duluth until I went to sleep. Maybe some light rain, but I was jolted awake in the middle of the night with an extremely loud thunder clap. Who knows what it would have been like, but I do know I would have been very hungry without the ability to cook a third of my calories planned for the weekend.

Day 3 – Sunday, July 24, 2016

Garmin Data:

I slept it kind of late and was happy with my decision to pull the plug on the backpack trip as I was able to get a few errands done in the morning. I decided that we could do a nice hiking trip in Duluth to see how the conditions were after the blowdown and to recoup some miles. Three hours out and back would be plenty for a Sunday. If we could get 20 miles in, even better.

Sunday was cooler than Saturday yet, thankfully. It was a beautiful day, and I could see the pep in Diamonds step from sleeping at home, and I could definitely feel the better night’s sleep in my own self. Despite widespread damage in the city, there was hardly any indication of a storm the last two days in Two Harbors. In between, at the Normanna Road parking lot where we parked, there was evidence. It didn’t seem too bad at first–just some sticks across the trail and a few branches strewn about. We had to climb over a downed tree or two. Right away, Diamond continued to get bombarded by deer flies. Out here in the bog, it was worse. She didn’t seem to mind, but I couldn’t stand to watch them feed on her. I’d pick a few off of her ears and they’d explode with blood.

Past the first campsite, there was a huge blowdown. Several massive birch trees fell like dominoes, exposing their massive root systems and they laid down flush with the ground. It was really incredible. How can wind just topple these huge trees, roots and all? Luckily, we crossed this disaster zone and back on track. The next blowdown area was over an unnamed crick where a tree fell directly on an SHT bridge and smashed the handrail. We’d walk a mile or two without any obstructions, and then see three downed trees in a row.

We got to Sucker River and paused for a moment. I decided I’d jump in on the way back. The trees were definitely the worst in the mile of trail that the Sucker River is in. Carnage. We made it through, but I’d let Diamond off the leash completely because it was too hard to manage with her going under, me going over so many downed trees. We made it to the Sucker River spur trail in no time, only stopping at an expansive raspberry patch to forage for berries. At the Fox Farm Pond, the deer flies became terrible. They were almost comical, almost scary (like a horror movie) with how many were buzzing around Diamond’s head, and they started to bug me, too. We passed the Fox Farm Pond campsite with a half hour left to walk before turning around, but I couldn’t do it. Flies were biting me through my shirt, despite a lot of bug spray, and I turned around prematurely in frustration and anger.

The walk back went quickly. We stopped at Sucker to swim, and I simply dunked my head in and rushed back to my clothes to shield the mosquitoes. I wondered if they named it Sucker because of leeches… Luckily, the deer flies were easing off of me, and it still wasn’t too terribly hot in the middle of the afternoon sun.

We saw a few other hikers, and it was arduous to go through all of those downed trees a second time. Feeling strong and fresh, we rounded out a good day of hiking to salvage a botched weekend trip. I’m happy about the miles, but still frustrated how the weather is always going to be never perfect.

18 Jul 2016

Normanna

Hike Date: June 25-26, 2016

Trail: Superior Hiking Trail

Trip Plan: Hike long on Sunday with my friend Dave Schuneman

Day 1 – Two hours out north, two back from Lismore Road Trailhead

Day 2 – Hike from Normanna Road north to ??

Stats:

  • Total Miles: 45.8
  • Total Time: 13:56
  • Time at Camp: 0

Weather:

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Trip Synopsis:

Day 1 – Saturday, June 25, 2016

Garmin Data:

Saturday’s hike was a spur of the moment foray into the woods. The weather for the weekend, again, was looking really stormy and I decided since I had this big hike planned with my friend Dave Schuneman on Sunday, it would be the best decision to sit tight on Friday night and sleep in my own bed. Saturday came around, I was twiddling my thumbs and decided to take Diamond out to the Lismore Road Trailhead with the intention of doing two hours out and back northbound. This section is particularly crappy, with most of the trail from Lismore to Normanna Road north being on the North Shore State Trail. I was curious how that weedy bog was shaping up into summer, so we hit it.

The forecast was calling for thunderstorms, but it appeared to be holding out and was actually sunny when we started. Sunny and hot. We walked Lismore Road itself until it crossed Jean Duluth Road, and we got onto a rare section of singletrack trail. That was a mere blip, and in the blink of an eye, at the swat of a fly, we were onto the State Trail. I brought just a water bottle with the Sawyer filter screwed on and a few snacks, figuring that we’d be walking the whole time and I wouldn’t burn too much up. Also, I tried the trekking poles for once. I wanted to make sure they’d be a wise thing to carry for the next day.

The bugs were definitely on Diamond, but the thick brush actually provided a little relief from the buzzing insects. The mosquitoes seemed to be the worst. They didn’t seem to be able to penetrate her coat, but they were crawling into her eyes and she looked infested at times! Meanwhile, I was wearing a tshirt and basketball shorts, really regretting my choice of not using bug spray.

It was definitely hot out, and I was worried Diamond would get dehydrated, but we were chuggin’ along and made a stop at the creek near the Lone Creek Campsite. It was still sunny and no indication of storms. We stopped at the creek for a bit and then kept on walking. Not long after, at 2 hours on the dot, we turned around.

We got back to that creek in no time, and I had sweat through my shirt. Diamond had a very long tongue, and the water was surely a nice reprieve. The clouds rolled in not too long after, and with it were the mosquitoes. I don’t know if it was a drop in the pressure with an incoming storm, the lack of sunlight, time of day or what, but the mosquitoes started bugging me BAD. I couldn’t use the trekking poles because I needed a spare hand to swat my triceps. Why they were going for the triceps, I do not know!

I was praying for rain at this point. Please rain out the bugs, I was shouting to the sky! Diamond was being pestered, but I didn’t care about her anymore, I was miserable! I’d slap my calf every now and again and it looked like I’d cut my hand with all the squished mosquitoes only briefly full of my precious blood. I started running. It was really terrible, and I decided I was wearing long sleeves and long pants the next day for sure.

We got back to Lismore Road with lightening on the horizon. The sky turned really dark and we could hear the thunder rumbling in towards us. We kept running once we got to Lismore so we wouldn’t get caught in a lightening storm, and got back to the car with time to spare on the two hours back.

On the ride home, I picked two ticks off of my bumpy leg. Meanwhile, I didn’t even have to look at Diamond to get the ticks. I’d simply lay my hand on her, anywhere was fine, and touch a tick. I pulled almost 10 off of her before the car ride was over, and then at least 20 more from the two of us once we got home and showered. That is the NSST for ‘ya! A tick infested, swampy mess. I prefer single track…

Day 2 – Sunday, June 26, 2016

Garmin Data:

Dave and I initially decided that we’d hit the trail at 4:30am. By 9pm on Saturday, we both decided that 6am was more reasonable. I left at 6 to pick him up, running late. I brought the trekking poles again, as well as long sleeves, long pants, and bug spray. I almost brought the headnet as well, but decided that was overkill. My legs were feeling great after a nice sleep in my own bed, and I was ready to rock.

Dave hopped in the car and I had to chuckle at his running shorts given my extreme bug experience the previous day. I warned him, but also said I had bug spray. We got out to the trailhead at Normanna Road at about 6:30am or so and set right off.

Dave was hiking strong right out of the gate, and it was pretty quick into some really tall and really wet weeds overgrowing the trail. We hiked mile after mile of these soaking plants. I was happy to have long pants on, and Diamond was nice and cool under the 4-foot canopy.

We hit Sucker River in no time at all and stopped for a snack and refill. I tried my water bottle with Sawyer screwed on top again, and coaxed Diamond into the river to drink. We set off and were really trucking. We ran the easier sections and hiked any uphills or really technical parts. The trekking poles were working nicely, and Diamond and I were pretty unfazed by the 12-miler the day before. It was nice to have someone else to hike with just for the conversation. Hiking alone doesn’t mean you don’t have conversations, but they’re much more one-sided. Diamond doesn’t care much for discussion, neither do trees. Conversations with myself are too predicable. Chatting away with Dave made the time just fly by.

Next thing we know, we’re at Fox Farm Road for a quick stop. Another section down and we stopped again at Rossini Road. I sat down to eat a few snacks, but we didn’t dwell on the beautiful day and were never stopped for very long. We stopped again at a creek to refill, and Dave was using a similar method to filter water, but he had a Life Straw that he simply submerged into the big Gatorade bottle. Dave was getting chewed up big time every time we stopped, but I knew the feeling! My bites were still itching, and I was just happy that I wasn’t adding more to my inflamed skin.

Time started slowing down a bit on the way to the Lake County Demonstration Forest. We were running pretty good, as this section was really nice, flat and non-technical, and in a picturesque forest. I started feeling a little rundown at this point, perhaps 6 hours and 20 miles on the day. Passing the spur trail at the Lake County Demonstration Forest parking lot, we saw an older guy running his dog who told us it was pure mud and wet up ahead. Up to this point, the trail was in great shape. Overgrown in many places, but not too muddy given the storms not 18 hours before. But sure enough, the trail started getting muddy. Dave called his wife Sonja and actually got phone reception. He asked her to pick us up at the Reeves Road/County Road 2 trailhead just north of Two Harbors. That would put us over 30 miles for the day easy. The next trailhead past that would have meant nearly 40, but we were both pretty beat and ready to be done on a Sunday afternoon.

The mud was getting to us, and things were sloppy in more ways than that. Dave tripped a few times, I was becoming entangled in Diamond and getting tired of carrying the dumb sticks. I started thinking of food and drinks. Mostly drinks. Luckily, the day was windy enough where the heat wasn’t a major factor in the meat of the day. The forecast was for 80s, however, and truth be told, it was uncomfortable. Given the end of June, it could be much, much worse. Diamond was doing good on the heat and still pulling on the waist leash.

That last section, 11 hard miles, took forever. We were both getting tired, but still cruising along pretty well. For better or worse, we weren’t running much in the muddy conditions. It was kind of funny how the last little section of trail just happened to be by far the muddiest! It was a sight for sore eyes to get to Reeves Road, and we knew it was a small jaunt to the car. We saw Sonja in the distance, and that was even better! It would have been a bummer to get done with a grueling hike just to sit and wait and swat mosquitoes! The muddy dog Diamond lumbered in the car, spreading mud and dirt everywhere. I precariously sat on the seat and couldn’t help but pick several ticks out of Diamond’s crusty fur. She was out, my eyes felt heavy as well, but it was fun to be in the car after an awesome trip.

I picked another 20 ticks off of Diamond and even I had a tick or two in my long sleeves. I submitted to my craving of root beer, white Gatorade, and stopped to get fruit brats from the meat market on the way back. Those were really good, and it was great to get a long weekend of hiking in the books but still able to sleep at home and get some other life things done with. However, only perfect practice makes perfect! If you want to be good at backpacking, you have to backpack.

Hike Date: July 8-10, 2016

Trail: Superior Hiking Trail

Trip Plan: One weekend (after work Friday until Sunday), Temperance River Wayside to County Road 4 in Beaver Bay

Day 1 – Hike south from Temperance to Fredenburg Creek Campsite (6.2 miles)

Day 2 – Hike south from Fredenburg to Section 13 Campsite (~34 miles)

Day 3 – Hike south from Section 13 to Beaver Bay (~23 miles)

Stats:

  • Total Miles: 68
  • Total Time: 41:42
  • Time Hiking: 20:50
  • Time at Camp: 20:52

Gear and Food: 7-8-16

Weather:
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Trip Synopsis:

Day 1 – Friday, July 8, 2016

Garmin Data:

What a weekend. It’s getting real. It’s one thing to say 65 miles or write it down or type it and plan the route. But to take that first step means that it’s real. And real scary!

This weekend started in Beaver Bay, where I caravanned from Duluth with my friend Max Elfelt. I dropped up the trusty and rusty Subaru and me and Diamond hopped in Max’s car. Just 30 minutes previous, it was raining in the Two Harbors McDonald’s parking lot. Luckily, the sun was shining and we kissed the car behind! It was a fun ride up to Temperance as I hadn’t seen Max for a long, long time and we were laughing and joking. We both cringed as it began to rain again. Temperamental weather! Max was planning on going up to Tofte on a fat-bike bikepacking trip through the great north woods of Minnesota for the weekend, so it happened to work out perfectly. We hopped out of the car right on the side of Highway 61 at Temperance River State Park, Max gave me a juicy peach for the walk, and we were off! I couldn’t see much for a trailhead, and as not to walk around in circles, we jumped into the woods pointed to Temperance River Road just to the west.

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Photo credit: Max Elfelt

We were off! It looked like a multi-use trail, and I knew exactly where to go from Temperance River Road and figured this mystery trail would spit us right out. It was a perfect night, we hit the trail at the exact moment that the rain broke for good. The clouds cleared just enough to see a cherry sky in the waning sunlight. Beautiful. And a few steps in, I became entangled in Diamond trying to take a whizz. Well, I hope this isn’t a precursor for the whole trip!

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We bumped out to a definite snowmobile trail and I wondered if it were the North Shore State Trail, on which Diamond picked up about 30 ticks two weekends prior and about 100 miles south. Before I could decide, we sure enough spit out onto Temperance River Road. A buggy 5 minutes on this road and we were on the main Superior Hiking Trail. 2.9 miles until the Cross River.

I began to calculate the time to the Fredenburg Creek Campsite, and figured we’d be in the dark. Oh, well, better tonight in the dark than an extra hour on Sunday. It just made the most sense for spacing out Saturday’s campsite and the weekend hikes. I also pondered how this was the 5th time in 2016 I’d hiked this stretch of trail. It’d be quick through the Cross River compared to two separate out-and-back trips already this year, one over Memorial Day and one in the winter. Good thing I liked this section! And 5 times on this bit of trail between Cook County Road 1 and Temperance River seems like nothing compared to the 100+ loops I’ve done on the Superior Hiking Trail in Hartley Park, my home turf!

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We crossed the first campsite on the Cross River and it looked booked up with four tents. We clicked off the other three sites and it seemed like there were more people out camping this weekend than I’d seen this year so far. I pulled out my headlamp, but it wasn’t dark enough to make any difference and my eyes gradually adjusted to the twilight. Luckily, Diamond seems magnetized to the trail, so I just needed to keep my legs churning and she’d pull us in the right direction. We went into a deep pocket of woods and it suddenly became very dark. I used the headlamp the rest of the way to Fredenburg.

By 10pm, we’d reached the empty campsite. I quickly set up the tent right on the mosquito infested spur trail, which looked like the most comfortable swath of ground, chugged the rest of my water and refilled it in the creek. I simply strapped Diamond’s pack with my food stuffed inside on top of the Fredenberg Creek bridge’s handrail. Not the most reassuring bear hang-up, but it was quick! To avoid getting eaten alive my mosquitoes, I coaxed Diamond in from bounding through the pitch-dark forest, and we clamored into the little tent.

I was curious to test a new sleeping pad, and I quickly realized it was really warm. In the humid conditions, I developed a glistening layer of sweat, and I kicked my quilt to the foot of the tent in a hurry. I nixed the rainfly, having faith in the weather forecast, and before long drifted off under the stars.

Day 2 – Saturday, July 9, 2016

Garmin Data:

I woke up to a restless Diamond at 5:30am. It was too early, and the only thing to shut her up is to give her what she wants! Food. So I cracked open her morning ration, measured into a plastic baggie, and she scarfed it down as if her backpack was ravaged by a bear in the night and that was her only food! I forced her back down and we both slept a bit more until around 7am when we decided to hit it. I flicked a few slugs off of the tent and we packed up in no time. Luckily, the morning dew wasn’t too bad, and we felt as good as new! It was another gorgeous day with the sun shining bright in the early morning hours. We crossed the Fredeberg Creek Bridge, grabbed the food that was luckily NOT ravaged in the middle of the night, and hit the trail hard for a very long day of hiking.

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We zipped through the beautiful forest near Tower Overlook, which gave Diamond and I the first sweeping Lake Superior overlook of many for the day, and were at Cook County Road 1 in no time.

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We saw a big group of young kids in the Cook Road 1 parking lot and they pet Dimey and commented on her nice pack. I ain’t gonna carry her food! We kept on truckin’ past Dyer’s Creek and the really muddy section to Sugar Loaf that we’d hiked over Memorial Day. Luckily, it was substantially drier and we were able to dodge the mud nearly altogether! The sun was definitely out, high in the sky, and we were feeling the heat of that day even in mid-morning. There were plenty of water sources along the way, Dime was slurping it up at every crick. I rolled my sleeves up, happy that the bugs weren’t terrible, but could feel my back slick with sweat and completely saturating my shirt.

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We crossed Sugarloaf Creek, next stop Caribou River.
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I fondly remembered from a month ago this section being stunning. We buzzed across a very scenic ridgeline studded with bare birch trees. The overgrowth of mid-summer was apparent as we were bushwhacking previously cleared areas. The dew felt nice, though, and Diamond was happy about the shade low to the ground. We stopped for a drink and I sat down for food once we got to Caribou River. I noticed a water filter laying there and nobody to be found. Then, a lady yelled from a few rocks over. We munched a bit, didn’t leave too much time at Caribou, and were off. Diamond lunged at this lady’s dog and so I had to poke her in the butt to move on!

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Next stop, a big climb up to Horseshoe Ridge in the hot heat, but we’d be afforded spectacular views if my memory served me right. At about 4 hours and 13 miles in for the day, we made it to the top and could see the encircling mounds lead towards the Big Lake. Spectacular! However, it was at the expense of a lot of energy. It sure was hot, and the water was being filtered frustratingly slow. I can only suck so hard! Diamond was not impressed by the views and so we kept on. I wondered if she remembered the nearby campsite from late May, but we didn’t spend any time investigating the site. Once we passed it, though, it was exciting because we were entering a large section of the trail that I had not been on. Once today is done, I’d have done the whole trail from Jay Cooke to Lutsen. That leaves me around 90 miles of unexplored Superior Hiking Trail from Lutsen north, and 6 miles to the new Southern Terminus south of Jay Cooke.

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I figured that we walk a ways, then get to the Manitou River, then through Crosby Manitou State Park, then some inland lakes, a bit more walking and we’re at Section 13 campsite. That was a good way to break it up, but it’s still 22 miles away. In a frustrated state, I decided we’d have to stop at the Manitou River for lunch. It was… 4 miles? No 4 hours. No, no, maybe like one hour or two hours away. I ate a Shotblok or two and a lemon Larabar, then sucked on my dumb water filter. I’d peed just once and it was about the same color as the creeks from which I was getting the water. I was hoping for clear… for my pee and the creek water.

The hiking was getting pretty hard at this point. Up to Horseshoe was a grinding climb, but on the way to Crosby Manitou State Park was an unrelenting up and down and up and down. So many rocks. My body seemed to holding up just fine, but I could tell I was bashing myself going down the steep descents. Diamond, meanwhile, has the agility of a mountain goat and was ashamed at my cautious pace. The tiredness was a general fatigue, like standing in line for a long time or being at the airport or a lengthy trip to the fair. No real reason why you should be exhausted, but you just want to sit down for a second. I said that we’d sit and stop at the Manitou River, and it was great to hear the rushing sound of a big river. We went on a long, steep descent to the river, and it was great to take off the pack and relax.

I drank as much water as I could, no matter how slow it was to drink one liter. I ate most of one bag of meat ‘n cheese, a bunch of trail mix, and shoved some snackables into my pockets. Diamond wanted to just run around and explore, but I wrangled her in, got her back suited up, and we entered through the state park. Next stop were the lakes. We encountered a lot of groups now that we were in the State Park, but we were zinging along just fine, reenergized by the food. In fact, I got turned around by not reading the signs. It was maybe a 20-minute mistake, but frustrating nonetheless. We exited from the woods to the hot, exposed parking lot of Crosby Manitou State Park, and walked on the road towards Sonju Lake Road. This was a nice piece of trail, and I was happy that the sun had faded behind the clouds. It looked cloudy on the horizon and I envisioned complete cloud cover. Maybe some cool breeze, too. We passed Sonju Lake Road and figured we were right around the corner to the lake itself. Maybe we’d jump in, I thought. Hmm. Or we can jump in at Egge Lake. I wondered which one is more accessible. I thought about if either of them had a beach. Hmm. An hour passed and we were drudging on. I was so confused why there was no lake. WHY? I consulted the map and realized that there’s a large section of trail between Sonju Lake Road and the lake itself as the trail nearly parallels the road. CRIPES.

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We finally passed a Sonju campsite. Things were tough going here. We had over 10 miles left to go and it was hard. All I was thinking about was how dreadful Sunday would be. Bean and Bear Lake and Tettegouche and Silver Bay are so hard. I’m so tired right now and we still have to climb up Section 13 to go to sleep. Why? I made up my mind that I wasn’t going to do the through-hike anymore. Well, maybe I’d still do it, but there is no joy in it. Camping is fun and backpacking is fun but to walk continuously on and on and on for hour after hour and counting every single mile just wishing you were done… it’s terrible! It’s not fun, it’s really rigorous. I thought about how I could even cop out of this trip! I knew that I could call for a ride. Maybe if we just hike to Finland, I thought. Maybe we can do one big day, like 40 miles, and then get picked up at Tettegouche? I thought to myself how that is still a really big day and a really big weekend.

We got to an trail sign, Lily Island, and followed it out to Sonju Lake. It was beautiful. The wind had picked up a little, and even though the sun was back out, to take off the pack, take off the shirt and sit down for a minute was truly wonderful. I took a few more handfuls of trail mix and filled up my water bottle. I sucked water through the filter as much as I could, taking advantage of the lull in the action to focus on hydrating. I closed my eyes and just heard mosquitoes and Diamond rootin’ around in the bushes. She jumped in the water and it was a welcome shake-off nearby. Without getting too comfortable, I slowly stood up, put the freaking pack back on my back, and we headed off. Diamond didn’t seem to be too bummed about getting back walking, anyways!

We passed the second Sonju campsite, next stop Egge Lake. Walkin’, walkin’, walkin’. I’d sometimes consider my posture, and realize my head is completely pointed down staring at the trail. Then, I’d trip as I tried to walk upright, chin out, spine aligned. I tried some different grips on the trekking poles, definitely glad to have them along. Despite hating them, those poles saved a lot of wear and tear on the ol’ legs, I say.

It was slow to Egge. Our pace was nearly unchanged, we weren’t stopping much, but the perception of time was much different than this morning blitzing trailhead to trailhead. One, two, one, two, one, two, the endless march. Egge came and went and we didn’t stop. Where are we, I wondered? Next stop, Finland. Gettin’ close. I figured we’d hit camp at around 6. Wait, how far out are we? I pulled out the map, unable to decipher the distance midway through the monster 11+ mile section.

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We hit County Road 7 and walked on the road a bit. Surprisingly, Diamond slowed down. Or maybe I sped up compared to my klutzy trail speed with only two legs. We popped back into the woods, and we conveniently stopped at the Finland Rec Center trail sign and nearby creek. I filled up water and sat on the bridge as Diamond drank. It was the home stretch. Unfortunately, this section was hard if I remember correctly as Section 13 is atop a huge cliff, and it was near the end of the 7.6 mile section. Even 6 miles away puts us at two more hours of hiking. It was getting towards 5pm, and 2 more hours sounded impossible. Well, not that impossible, but strenuous. As not to lament, we just kept walking. I started chomping on a Clif Bar that I’d rationed for the day. I should’ve eaten it earlier, but figured that it still wouldn’t ruin my dinner appetite to have an evening snack.

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We started trucking down towards Section 13, our final destination for the long day, and I was feeling great! The trail was nice and wide, devoid of large rocky scrambles and technical root formations, and it was good to be out! What a change in the mood!! I realized that the Clif Bar likely had caffeine in it. No way just caffeine can have that sort of effect… but I guess that’s what drugs do. The effects seem to wane as Section 13 came into view. I knew it was close, and we passed the buggy Sawtooth Bog to the base of some large hills. Up is the only way.
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I kept telling Dime that we were right there. I heard voices in the woods and knew we were close. Also, I vaguely remember the book saying something about the water source at Section 13. No way there is no water source, but I made a note to keep my eyes peeled. Then again, it’s allegedly at the top of a cliff… how would there be a stream at the top of a cliff, I thought? We climbed and climbed and climbed. I was using the poles heavily, as if I wouldn’t be able to ascend this rooty climb without them. Then we went down. Then we went up more, up and up and up. We passed two little cricks that looked promising, and both times, I was alert to the upcoming campsite, thinking it would be situated nearby a crick. Up and up, climbing further and further up, and we made it to the top of Section 13. No site. Around a rock, with open outcroppings just waiting for photographers to capture the beauty, but we had no energy to gawk at the landscape. Finally, we hit the spur trail and was relieved to finally ditch the pack for the day. There were two people at camp, and I asked about water. They didn’t know. So, first things first, I set up the tent and went way back down the the water source. What a terrible walk. It was only a 15 minute round trip, but not one I wanted to repeat after nearly 35 miles. I unpacked the rest of the gear and was appalled to find that my recently purchased fuel bottle unscrewed itself and there was alcohol over everything. Terrible. My two new friends were kind enough to lend me their little stove and I cooked the most delicious and hearty meal possible in that little kettle. Cheesy queso rice and vegetarian taco filling mix and cheese curds and Fritos were very delicous. I tried to eat it in the tent, but the rainfly was on and it was sweltering. I heard more people come into the campsite, and ate around a fire, bugs at bay, and chatted with the other groups at Section 13. It was cool to meet Jared VanderHook, current self-supported SHT fasted known time dude at the campsite, who was just out with his son for the night. What a random meeting! But great to chat about nerdy things like pack weight and miles per day. We seemed to agree that 35 miles per day is probably the top end when carrying camping gear and food. And 300+ miles is a lot different than 200 when it comes to planning and packing food for an unsupported go. And on that note, Dime and I crashed.

Day 3 – Sunday, July 10, 2016

Garmin Data:

When Diamond woke up early for her food, I fed her and did not go back to sleep. We hit the trail early, packed up quickly and were off just after 6am. The legs and feet were feeling pretty decent, but there were some definite tender spots, notably on my left hip and left shoulder. I broke my left clavicle years ago and still have a protruding bone that can get a little finicky. It sometimes feels like the nerve gets rubbed, which is just a little weird. Meanwhile, the hip belt was in no way comfortable, but I was able to cinch everything down and forget about it. Diamond and I got turned around almost immediately in the cliffs of Section 13, maybe still asleep, but righted ourselves and made the descent, after briefly regaling in the spectacular, overcast morning.

 

 

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)

Stats:

  • Total Miles: 50.44 miles
  • Total Time: 13:06

Weather:

Duluth Weather June 4

Trip Synopsis:

Day 1 – Saturday, June 4, 2016

Garmin Data:

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

Garmin Data:

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.

Hike Date: May 28-30, 2016

Trail: Superior Hiking Trail

Trip Plan: 2 nights, not well planned at all. Park at Sugar Loaf Road lot and yo-yo with a long middle day Sunday.

Day 1 – Hike north from Sugar Loaf (~10 miles)

Day 2 – Hike south from a campsite, past the car, and continue south (~30 miles)

Day 3 – Hike north from a campsite to the car (10-25 miles)

Stats:

  • Total Miles: 46
  • Total Time: 30:18
  • Time Hiking: 14:51
  • Time At Camp: 15:27

Gear and Food: 5-28-16

Weather:

Schroeder weather 5-28

Trip Synopsis:

Day 1 – Saturday, May 28, 2016

Garmin Data:

As Diamond and I drove up Sugar Loaf Road into the fog and mist, I was happy it wasn’t raining, like the forecast suggested. Once we got out of the car, I realized that the parking lot was pretty muddy. It then dawned on me that the trail is probably quite muddy. In fact, I could see water on the trail 50 feet away!

Rewind 5 days, and everyone at the ol’ office was really excited for the long Memorial Day weekend. The forecast for rain was set in stone, so to speak, as Friday drew near. My initial plan for the weekend was to take Friday off of work, and try to roll big miles–120 by utilizing Thursday night and all the way through Monday. I realized far out that it was probably not my best use of time off, and so I figured I’d still have 3 full days of hiking, plus any mileage I could get on Friday after work. With rain for four days straight, I was rethinking my plan quickly. I ultimately decided on Thursday night that I would not go out until Saturday at the very least, if at all.

Luckily, by Friday, the meteorologists were predicting less rain and more of a dreary, foggy and cloudy weekend. That is OK! I made the plan to go out on Saturday at my convenience. No rush as to let the rain clear out. On Friday night, I became completely absorbed in a down top quilt DIY project (which is another blog post for another day), and I didn’t get in gear until the afternoon. With no plan in place, I figured Sugar Loaf Road would be a great place to park for a yo-yo- style hike. Up the first day, down past the car for the big second day, then back up to the car. I knew I wanted to try to rake up 30 miles on Sunday, so the other two days just have to add up to 30.

So we parked and got out, and I thought of the mud and water… a thought that hadn’t crossed my mind yet. Diamond and I set off, and what a good feeling to be on the trail! In 15 minutes, however, my socks were wet. Oh well, they won’t be getting much drier from here! We were heading north, and I figured we had at least 4 or 5 hours before it got too late to hike and set up camp and such. Given my 3 MPH target, that translates to 12 to 15 miles. Unfortunately, there were no campsites in that range. The last site that would be plausible to hit was North Cross River at ~11 miles. Beyond that, I’d have to hike up and over Carlton Peak, one of the biggest climbs on the SHT if I’m not mistaken, and another 5 miles or so. I was looking at 20 or so miles, and that wasn’t possible. Back to Cross River I guess! In the winter, that was an awesome campsite, but it seems ridiculous to camp at the same site twice with all of those option!
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I saw one girl backpacking with her dog almost right away, and then didn’t see anyone else until another solo hiker along the Cross River. We’d done this whole section not 5 months previous, but in the wintertime (see link above), and it was just as stunning in the summertime.

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The variety in terrain in just 8 miles is incredible, from following bubbling cricks to swampy pond areas, to large forests, to the powerful Cross River, you get a great mix. The trail got more and more saturated as we went, to the climax near Dyer’s Creek where the Superior Hiking Trail had a stream of water literally flowing right down the direct center. I think it was technically the west branch of Dyer’s Creek. After that, mud over my shoes. Dimey was truckin’ right through.

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We were feeling good past Cook County Road 1 and into the woods. The Tower Overlook was really pretty boring because of the dense fog. Every overlook or break in the trees brought the same grey view. No bugs was nice, though.

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The section beside Boney’s Meadow went quickly, and we crossed of Fredenburg Creek soon enough, and jetted right past the campsite there. Another few minutes and we were already at the Cross River. What a roaring, energetic river! Just hearing it and watching the water rush down towards Lake Superior was energizing to me.

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The rocks and boardwalks were very slick, and I was happy to keep my feet below me. Just as I was expecting, we descended a rocky hill into the Cross River Campsites. In the interest of staying at a different campsite, I scoped out South Cross River, but opted to hike another 50 feet to the North Cross River. Diamond was not fatigued at all and was running around like a nut when I unleashed her. I set up camp quickly and had a nice meal of dehydrated refried beans and rice and cheese and chips. Before it was dark, we were huddled in the damp tent, everything damp. I had high hopes that my socks and shoes and pants would dry out completely by the morning.

Day 2 – Sunday, May 29, 2016

Garmin Data:

The day started off very early. What time, I do not know. It was light, and Diamond was looking for her food. I leashed her and we got the food from her pack in the tree. She ate in the tent and then both dozed off. When we woke up next, I actually checked the clock and it was 7:30 or so. Time to go! I let the beast out of the tent, and was sad to see that everything was still very wet. To top it off, there were slugs everywhere. Pretty simple to flick ’em into , but to see slugs dragging their slimy butts all over my stuff was nasty at 7am. We got packed up and ready to go quickly, and Diamond finally slowly walked over to me to I could slide on her soaking wet and muddy doggie pack. Sorry!

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The night before, I’d done a bit of brainstorming, and thought I could do an out-and-back quick to Carlton Peak, past the car until Dime and I were tired. That way, it would be a nice and short walk to the car on Monday. The goal was 30 miles. The weather had not changed whatsoever, and it was still foggy, damp and dreary. We set off feeling good. I ate my breakfast bars quickly and before long, were on top of Temperance River, awaiting the long decent to that deep gorge. Diamond was keeping a good pace and was pulling my hips with every step.
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Down the large hill–not looking forward to going back up that thing–and we were alongside Temperance River. The mud was out today! Maybe it was the time of year or the recent rain, but that river was raging! The waterfalls were incredible, and it was hard to keep walking with so many great overlooks to the deep gorge that the Temperance has carved. We started seeing people now that Diamond and I were in the state park.

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We crossed the bridge, went up the opposite side of Temperance River, next stop Carlton Peak. I did some quick math and realized that we’d be at 12 miles or so when we get back to the Cross River, plus 11 miles back to the car, which meant that our Monday was going to be puny! I was kind of bummed that I didn’t plan it out better, but didn’t want to turn around or anything. I wanted to get up to Carlton, and really, the short day on Monday wasn’t the worst thing in the world. It would be very nice to get back into civilization at a reasonable hour.

It was slow going up to Carlton, but worth it for the sweet view. At this elevation, we were slightly above the fog, and could see it crawling between peaks and valleys in every direction. The big Lake was completely obscured, but I saw the slightest break in the clouds to the north, and hoped it would clear out so we could dry everything out at camp. But that was another good 24 miles away. For now, we eat. My shirt was soaked in the back.

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The climb down from Carlton Peak was worse. Everything was slippery. Then it started raining. I judged when I should put on my rain jacket by how wet my shirt looked. In the sprinkles, there was no indication that water was falling. By now, I could see the raindrops. It sounded like the rain was coming down harder up above the trees, so I put on the sweltering rain jacket. What a relief, though, as the rain did indeed get worse. I had the hood up, and before long, Diamond was soaking wet and trying to shake off every 15 minutes to no avail. My pants were soaked besides behind my knees. There were day hikers here and there, and everyone was in the same boat… wet.

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By the time we started climbing back towards the Cross River, it was still rainy. The climb wasn’t as bad as I’d expected after the grueling Carlton Peak, and I started counting worms. There were worms all over the trail, and Dime would step on ’em and they’d squirm and shrivel up. I got to 38 or so and figured that counting worms was a stupid game. It was hard to think of hiking for many, many more miles when we got back to Cross at around noon, but kept hiking anyways. The day was still dreary as ever, and we stopped for lunch at the Ledge campsite on the Cross River. I let Dime off for a bit and she was doing circles in the dirt. You’re not tired?!?!? I yelled at her.

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Before long, we’d done 8 more miles and was back at the Dyer’s Creek mud pit. By now, the day had completely changed and it was sunny. It was short lived, however, and the sky would turn grey quickly and sprinkle a bit, then clear out. This happened a few times during the afternoon. I had the idea of dropping out heavy on my mind. I figured that if my pants were completely dry by the car, I’d keep going. If not, we’re done. When we got to the car, I didn’t stop, didn’t think of anything except to keep walking. We barely looked at that ol’ rusty Subaru!

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There was a campsite atop Horseshoe Ridge, and the sign near my car said Horseshoe was 6.1 miles away. That seemed like the ticket, as Dime had dropped back and wouldn’t hike in front of me, and I was becoming very tired. The site beyond that was perhaps another five miles. Another hour or two… nah. Right past the car, we entered into a pine forest. I told the forest that I liked pine forests. I was in good spirits despite the fatigue. Just to push past the car and NOT drop out was plenty to be happy about.

Through the pine forest, we came to a great section traversing the hills high above the big Lake Superior. Everything had cleared out, and it was really nice to have some scenery to break things up. We were walking through some nice and easy meadows, and seemingly out of the mud. The Caribou River came and went pretty quickly, and I saw some signs of other hikers on the trail for once. The map said it’s a huge climb for about 3 miles up, up, up to Horseshoe Ridge and our campsite for the night. Up and up, then mud. It was slow going, and this part of the trail did not seem very well maintained. Trees were encroaching on the trail, and mud.

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We climbed up a steep hill to be rewarded by a fantastic view from Horseshoe Ridge. It must be close. I saw a through hiker who was taking a break, passed a crick, and there we were! I noticed we were sharing a campsite with another group, but nobody was in sight. I saw a tent and trekking poles. We took our backpacks off, and Diamond ran right to the tent and jumped! She must have seen its inhabitants and was spooked. Crap, now I have to make sure that she doesn’t terrorize these people. She’s taken my shoes off into the woods and I can forgive her, but that would be terribly embarrassing to have to go find someone’s old muddy boot that Diamond is swinging around in circles. Why she wasn’t tired, I don’t understand.

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I took off the boots, set everything up, and walked barefoot back to that crick for water. Bad move, as it was really rocky. I made the freeze dried lasagna and it was delicious. By 8pm or so, we were in the tent with bugs surrounding the entire exterior. I opted for no rain fly, and we slept under the starts. The DIY down quilt I’d made just a few days ago was very warm and seemed perfectly dry. Before long, it was dark, and we were out. A muddy dude and a really muddy dog crammed into a tent.

Day 3 – Monday, May 30, 2016

Garmin Data:

Diamond woke up early in the morning as we both heard rustling from our neighbors. I remembered to bring her food into the tent this time and she ate it in seconds flat. We laid back down to bed, and woke up an untold number of minutes later. A beautiful morning with the sun shining, I flicked a few slugs off my stuff and packed up quickly. Knowing that it was either downhill, or nice scenic hiking, and that we only had 6 miles to go, morale was high. I shrieked “MORNIN’!!” out upon Horseshoe Ridge. It was a blur before we hit Caribou River, and we really enjoyed the final section to the car.

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Unlike the last few days, it was hot, even early in the morning. The sun really makes a difference. By the time we got to the car, Diamond was panting and drank a lot water. I switched out my clothes and we set off. It was a nice short hike on the last day, for better or worse, but overall a great weekend. The inclement weather really did not play too much of a part. We slept great, and it was nice to have the cool, bug-free hiking weather, even if that meant fog and drizzle. There really isn’t much to say about mud and wetness, as that is just part of summertime on the trail. When is the next trip?!?

Hike Date: April 29-30, 2016

Trail: Superior Hiking Trail

Trip Plan: 2 nights, 40 miles. Park at Rossini Road and hike home.

Day 1 – Hike south from Rossini Road to Big Bend Campsite (3 miles)

Day 2 – Hike south from Big Bend Campsite to Bald Eagle Campsite (24 miles)

Day 3 – Hike south from Bald Eagle Campsite to Home (near Hartley Park)(11 miles)

Garmin Data:

Gear: 4-29-16

Weather:

Two Harbors Temp 4-29

 

Trip Synopsis:

Day 1 – Friday, April 29, 2016

The journey to hike the entire Superior Hiking trail officially starts here. I’ve planned out ten backpacking trips, of varying distances and time, to prepare me for the long haul. The very first one is now. The plan was to start off relatively easily—I’d get the whole weekend to hike just 40 miles. It seems ridiculous, because the Superior Hiking Trail guidebook and maps recommend planning 1-2 miles per hour, and 40 miles is a long way to walk in a weekend! However, based on the time off of work and the time I’m willing to spend in the woods to complete the entire SHT, 35 miles per day is the least amount I can do. That sounds pretty grim for a hike of nearly 320 miles!

The first backpack trip should be pretty easy, then, since I had all Saturday and Sunday to hike, plus I could get a few miles in on Friday. I made a plan to hike home. I’d drive out to the Rossini Road trailhead on the SHT and hike south around 40 miles straight back to my house. When I split off from the hiking trail in Hartley Park, it’s a bit less than two miles back home. It would be a bad omen to bail on the very first trip, so I figured it would be slightly easier to complete the full 40 miles without an easy option to pull the plug and walk back to the car.

I was trying a few new things on this trip. One was a new backpack I’d bought: the Granite Gear Lutsen 35. I hadn’t really given the inline water filter a shot, so I set up my 2 liter Camelback bladder with a Sawyer Mini water filter in between the hose. Fill ‘er up with water, and just suck it through the filter to purify. I brought a coffee filter along in the case of some skuzzy water. Finally, over the long, lonely winter, I sewed up some hammock gear. I had a custom-designed, DIY underquilt, top quilt, and tarp. Based on the ratings on the Climashield synthetic insulation, I thought I’d be plenty warm in the mid-30’s low temperatures that were forecasted for the weekend. In fact, I skipped the sleeping bag liner. I set the entire hammock up, tarp and all, in the backyard a few times and knew it was pretty simple to put it together.

Without my dog Diamond, packing was a bit easier. I tried to be diligent with my gear, but there are always the things you think you need, probably won’t need, but definitely want to have in a time of distress or emergency. I took the new backpack, and everything was fitting in easily. I planned to leave on Friday right after work to get to the trailhead around 7pm. The hike in is from Rossini Road south to the Big Bend Campsite on the West Branch Knife River. The next day is a long haul to the Bald Eagle Campsite, the most southerly official SHT campsite, good for around 24 miles. The last day, Sunday, is a leisurely trek home expected to be around 11 miles. I packed enough food for two days, banking on the fact that I can eat dinner after work on Friday, and lunch and dinner at home on Sunday. I didn’t really pack a ‘lunch’ for Saturday, either, but had plenty of food (7,750 calories worth according to my calculations).

Jack agreed to come along for Friday night and peel off at the Sucker River trailhead. We dropped his car off on the way to Rossini, and he was in for an 8-mile hike on Saturday. I knew 8 of 24 miles will be nice to have some company.

With everything ready and prepared on Thursday, we loaded up the car on Friday and set off. It always takes so long to get the hell out of the house… and the solemn nature of hiking itself is in stark contrast to the stress and rushed feeling of packing up the car to go. I ate cold pizza on the ride out, and it was a great ride out as the sun sank lower in the sparsely clouded Duluth spring evening sky.

We got to Rossini Road and locked the car, time to go! I started my watch and we set off. Within a mile is 12-Mile View, a lookout towards Lake Superior 12 miles away. My timeless joke is that ¼-mile view is much more scenic. 12-Mile View boasts a tiny sliver of Lake Superior that you can barely see through the trees. The novelty of it much more impressive than the lookout itself.

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I asked Jack to see the map. It was on the top of the car. Oh, well, ought to run back, I thought. I set down my pack and went back to my old rusty Subaru one last time for the weekend.

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It was a beautiful night on the trail. The sinking sun was making the clouds turn pink, orange, and indigo. We passed some signs of beavers with ponds and downed trees, heard frogs croaking, and saw pile after pile of moose scat.

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Jack and I presumed that a moose momma and child likely tromped down this same trail in the wintertime, and the melting snow left a lot of poop piles. We couldn’t think of what else it could be besides moose… these were no deer pellets!

After a fast hour, we saw smoke, signs of people, and a barking dog. The dog ran out from the trail to make sure we were friendly. Around the bend, Jack and I saw two other tents, and then two fellow hikers sitting around a smoldering fire. We asked if we could stay for the night, and looked for a good spot to set up. Jack set his tent right onto the trail itself, and I hung my hammock nearby. It went up quick, but Jack’s tent went up faster.

Starting dry, I brought my new water contraption down to the Knife River. The spring melt meant the crick was rushing pretty good, and as I kneeled towards the river bank, fiddled with the coffee filter to let it sit over the opening. I tried to hold the bladder and coffee filter in place as the rushing water fought to take it downstream, when the cap of my bladder came off. Time seemed to slow down as it bobbed in the water, then caught the current. I grasped for it, but the cap was in for a ride. Immediately realizing the scope of the situation. I dropped everything to run for the cap. With a brambly bush up ahead, I had ten feet to reach for it. At the last possible minute, I dropped to my knees and lunged for the cap. I’ll take a wet sleeve over dehydration any day. To lose the bladder cap would be detrimental. I didn’t really have a backup plan.

I got back to the fire pit, and Jack had his whole gig set up. I told my new friends of the bladder cap debacle and took a large sip of water. The filter worked perfectly. The rest of the night, we stoked the first and engaged in general chit chat. Emily was likely in her 20s, and worked at a church in Duluth. Randy had adopted two campsites on the SHT (Big Bend being one of them), and was up to clear brush from Waterloo, Iowa. At 10:30, we all decided to hit the hay.

Day 2 – Saturday, August 30, 2016

It was a cold night. Uncomfortably cold, thanks to the a underquilt. I wondered if I actually slept at all. But then, next thing ‘ya know the sun was up. I had an hour until my alarm was to ring, so I figured I’d try to adjust my very drafty underquilt. That was the ticket, and I could feel my body warmth collecting under me immediately. I closed my eyes a bit more, and decided to get up a half hour late, at 7:30am. I’d told Jack on a few occasions of my plans to leave before 8:01am under any circumstances. If I have to pack my bag while walking, so be it! Well, he woke up around 6am to make eggs and coffee, and we still couldn’t hit the trail until 8:10! The extra shut-eye was nice, but my breakfast consisted only of a few Lara bars while walking.

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I was pretty chilly still walking, but it was a perfect day to be on the trail. With abundant sunshine, and light breeze, and the awakening of the entire northern Minnesota woods in early spring, there was no better place to be, and I felt very energized because of it. I must’ve slept last night, I thought…

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We agreed to stop for lunch, and after a couple hours, we sat down on a few stumps to eat. Jack and I both were feeling really good, fatigue-wise. We spent a solid 10 minutes or so basking in the sunshine and taking down some tasty calories. I was gearing to go, knowing that I had a pretty big day ahead of me, and soon enough, we were back on track. I was spitballin’ with Jack about my plans, and briefly thought about hiking the whole way back today. After a cold night, thinking about a good night’s sleep in my own bed seemed to outweigh the arduous 36-mile hike. That is a long way. I told Jack I’d be back at night, in the case I walk the rest of the way in one day. Soon enough, we passed Fox Farm Pond, and the spur trail to Jack’s car was right ahead. He wished me good luck, and offered me a good luck slice of toilet paper. So long, friend!

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The heat of the day was upon me as I kept hiking, and I definitely cranked down my pace once Jack peeled off. I decided I’d stop again at the Sucker River campsite, eat lunch and fill up the water bladder. It was a quick hour, and I stopped and sat down on the banks of the Sucker River around 10am. At this point, I was feeling pretty good. Five hours in the hike, and I started to do some calculations. I told Jack that I’d probably just take it all the way home if I got to the Bald Eagle campsite before 4pm. That way, I’d be able to get those last 10 or 12 miles in by 8pm. That sounded like a good plan, barring extreme exhaustion. To stay on track, I’d have to get to the Normanna trailhead by noon. With a plan in mind, I stashed some food in my pockets and set back out.

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Things were going good between Sucker River and Normanna. I didn’t feel the need to stop and rest and could manage my pace really well. My spirits were high, and it was a perfect day to walking in the woods! An hour passed and I felt like I was on the home stretch into Normanna with maybe a half hour until the trailhead. Another hour passed and it was in the afternoon. I didn’t really recognize where I was at, but knew that I’d pass the Heron Pond campsite about a mile before getting to Normanna. No campsite. The miles started showing their effect on my body and I got a little tired, and little frustrated, and a little concerned that I’d missed my noon target. I couldn’t remember how far it was from Normanna to Sucker… was it 3 miles? No, pretty sure it was 5.6 miles. Or 6.5? No… 5.63?? It doesn’t really matter, anyways, I walk and I get there. But why did I think noon was a reasonable estimate to arrive? ‘Just get to Normanna’ was my mantra.

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A clearing in the woods, and I saw a large pond off to my right. I saw a familiar bluff with some tree cover and recognized the area. In a few minutes, I passed the Heron Pond campsite and contemplated stopping. Well, I just didn’t stop. I couldn’t think fast enough to make a decision to rest at the campsite and it just passed me by! 20 minutes later, and I saw a large rock in the sun where the SHT conjoins with the North Shore State Trail. I took my pack off, took my shoes off, took my socks off and ate as much food as I could. Boy, the Havarti cheese was good. My socks hadn’t even gotten wet, and I was blister-free! Sitting was a great reprieve from walking, but 5 minutes was all it took to munch and get going again. Onto to the wide open state trail.

The CJ Ramstad/North Shore State Trail is a MN DNR-maintained snowmobile trail in the winter, and a multi-use trail in the other months. The SHT conjoins with the NSST quite a bit, especially in the sections just north of Duluth. I’d walked through this section before, and knew it was a lot of state trail. This is good and bad. The good is that it’s just something different. It’s generally easier walking… no big rocks and roots, and not technical. However, it’s wet and swampy, and pretty boring. There are plenty of times where you see the bend in the trail to take, only to then see a very, very long and straight stretch ahead. I figured I could make a good pace on these sections, so set off pretty hard.

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I was playing games. I tried to estimate how many steps it would take to get to a sign ahead of me. The first one, I figured it was 600 steps. Nope, 300. Way off. I saw an overhanging branch up a small hill and guessed 550 steps. 551. Better! Then, I saw a large pine tree way off, and guessed 880 steps. I got to 880 and stopped counting. When I got closer to the tree, it was indiscernible which tree I was looking at 880 steps previous, and I decided that this is a stupid game. I found a tick on my butt. Luckily, it was the only one that stuck onto me.

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The 6.9 mile section from Normanna south to Lismore Road went by really fast. I could feel my legs getting heavy, and I could feel a few twinges in my knees and hips and feet. Also, the bottoms of my feet were getting sore. I thought I may have a blister forming on my left long toe, but nothing was too serious. The final half-mile road walk into the Lismore parking lot was tough because I knew I was close, and hadn’t stopped at all since Normanna a few hours earlier. Once I got to the Lismore trailhead, though, I took off my shoes, soaked through with water and mud, and peeled my socks off like the skin of a banana. I hoped the wicking tech socks would be able to dry on the rock by the time it’d take me to eat as much as my body would allow. That wasn’t the case. This time, the salty trail mix and chunks of Snickers really hit the spot. No blisters, and my feet were looking OK, despite being white and wrinkly from the swamp water. When I put my socks back on, not 10 minutes later, it didn’t feel good. Standing up felt worse.

Heading south from Lismore Road, I knew I had around 3 miles to the Bald Eagle campsite, or around 15 miles all the way back home. Based on my mileage and pace so far, I was looking at either one hour, or five additional hours. It was around 4pm at the time, so I definitely missed my 4 o’clock cutoff to continue on from the Bald Eagle Campsite, but the idea of hiking all the way home had been building in my solemn mind for hours since Jack left me. I ultimately pondered, out loud to myself, the pros and cons of hiking home today. The pros were that I could be home tonight, sleep in my bed, and wake up tomorrow with the whole day to recover, eat, naps, do whatever. Also, there is a benefit of hiking big miles. If I can do it all, nearly 35 miles in one day, that is a big boost of confidence knowing that I may be capable of 50+ miles for consecutive days later in the summer. The downside was regarding my body. What if I push too hard? What my legs are busted after this one? For months?? How terrible would those additional 12 miles be? The con is going against the plan. Also, camping is fun! It’s nice to wake up to the birds chirping and get back on the trail. However, the sides were stacked resoundingly in favor of going home tonight.

South of Lismore enters some singletrack trail, which is a nice change from the state trail, but it was the muddiest section of trail I’d been on! Well, my shoes and socks didn’t dry out at all, so there really wasn’t any point to pussyfoot around the mud. I was walking fast at this point, but definitely noticed some soreness and pain increasing as I hit 20 miles on the day. I got to the Lester River and Lone Pine campsite very quickly and kept on truckin’. I passed another hiker… I scared him. He said he saw a person at the Bald Eagle site.

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Passing two massive beaver ponds was cool. I knew I was getting into town, but it still feels like the middle of nowhere. I looked at my watch and saw 5pm. I’d been hiking for just about 9 hours, nearly straight, and saw the trail to the last campsite on the SHT. I passed the Bald Eagle site without even thinking twice.

Once I passed the Bald Eagle, fatigue set in. Yes, I was feeling some sore spots during miles previous, and it is arduous, but I finally felt the sun and the mud and endless walking and poor night’s sleep really catch up to me. I just felt tired. I thought it out, and figured I’d be back by 8pm. Only three more hours of walking. Three hours is so much walking. I exited the woods and was back on the state trail. The rest of the trip consists of state trail, then singletrack trails, then some roads in Duluth, then into Hartley. Hartley is the final stretch, where I peel off onto a spur trail and beeline it home.

I had to stop on the state trail. My shoulders and back were getting so sore, and I couldn’t find a comfortable position at all. The best way was to hitch it down, right on top of the worst friction areas, and just forget about it. My feet were not feeling happy, and my right foot hurt to flex. I worried about plantar fasciitis. I was talking to myself, taking stock of my situation.

“Ok, legs feel ok. Hm. Shoulders hurt. Mind is still good. Well, except I’m talking to myself…”

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I took my pack off, which felt incredible. I knew I was about 6 miles out. I sat on the ground, ate some food, and tried to forget about my pace or time. This is supposed to be fun, after all, I thought. I ate any food that sounded good, and started to think of what I’d gorge on once I got home. It took a few minutes to get back up and going, but I knew I was getting into town. I’d run these snowmobile trails plenty.

I did more calculations, and confirmed my initial 8pm estimate. The last of the NSST sections were over soon enough, I crossed Martin Road, and started towards Hartley Park. From the Martin Road trailhead into the official Duluth sections of the SHT, it is about 3.1 miles south to Hartley Park. My estimates were around 1.5 or 2 miles from there back home. When I got back into the singletrack, I was feeling good. A runner passed me, and I thought about how I’d look to my own self as I passed by, running at a smooth 8 miles per hour.

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Into Duluth, the SHT is sandwiched between Vermillion Road and Amity Creek. The trail is very rugged with irregularly shaped boulders and rocks jutting out at all angles, just inviting one’s foot to get stuck and twisted. I took it slow and easy, though, and the trail soon bounced me right onto the gravel Vermillion Road. I tried to shorten my steps as to ease my busted joints and tendons. I could sense the sun lowering in the sky. The road turned to pavement, the graveyards on either side changed to a neighborhood, and here I was, a scraggly backpacker walking through peoples’ neighborhoods as they play with their kids on the swing set. I wanted to let them know I was from here, but didn’t say anything at all, just kept on a-walkin’ and a-hikin’.

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Hartley was a welcome sight. The park was eerily empty, but that is generally the case in the wet and muddy spring. I didn’t stop to take in the beautiful sun peeking from behind a few clouds over Hartley Pond, as I had my sights set on the driveway. After 35 miles, I left the Superior Hiking Trail main trail for a spur up to Rock Knob, my favorite place in the world. It is one of my favorite past times to run up to Rock Knob and yell “MORNIN’” to the great city of Duluth. It took me three times as long to get up to the bald rock face, and given the time of day, I opted to yell “EVENIN’!!!!”

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I jumped down the steep gorge on the other side of Rock Knob and knew that I had just a small little bit of trail left, and one that I’ve been on hundreds of time before. Luckily, COGGS (Cyclists of Gitchee Gummi Shores, the local mountain bike source) had been working on some new bridges and it was mentally stimulating to see a different trail than I was used to! In fact, it was probably my first time through Hartley since the winter. I popped out of Hartley onto the street, and it is a quarter mile to the driveway from there. The excitement started building.

I was all smiles, and probably looked like a crazy person to my neighbors. I got to the very end of the driveway and just said “YEAH” loudly, and clapped my hands once. I took off my shoes and socks, released the backpack from my tender back and shoulders, and knew I was done for the rest of the day. I arrived just before 8pm, finishing nearly 37 miles in about 12 hours total.

After sitting a while, my legs were really sore. Parts of my knees and hamstrings and all sorts of tendons were inflamed and tight. Parts of my body that I didn’t notice as being stressed were sore now, and I was movin’ slow. A few days is all it took to recover fully, and I was pleased to complete the hike in one day after all.

For the next hike, I need to get the weight of my pack down. At over 15 pounds, I felt each gram more and more as my mileage increased. That is a sure fire way to make things easier. The next trip will involve some bigger mileage for multiple days, and I’m already excited for that next chance to walk through the woods!

Hike Date: January 22 – 24, 2016

Trail: Superior Hiking Trail

Trip Plan: 2 nights, 17 miles, park at Cook County Road 1
Day 1 – Hike South to Dyer’s Creek Campsite (1 mile)
Day 2- Hike North to North Cross River Campsite (6.5 miles), then day hike to Temperance River and back (4 miles)
Day 3 – Hike South to Cook County Road 1 (5.5 miles)

Gear:

Weather: (from Weather Underground)

Grand Marais Temperature 1-22 to 1-24

 

 

 

 

Trip Synopsis:

Day One – January 22, 2016:

I woke up on Friday, having stayed up late the night before packing and planning my food stores, and questioned whether or not I’d really go to work, leave at 5, bike home, pack the car and leave for the woods in the dark. If I don’t go, I could make sure my gear is on lock, I could enjoy a nice sleep inside, and hike while it’s light out. If I stick to the plan, I get the satisfaction of sticking to a plan. The choice seemed pretty easy, but I kept the option open. When 5 tolls of the bell rang through downtown Duluth, I was off on the bike. It was a beautiful evening and was finally light enough to bike home without a myriad of blinky lights. A few wispy clouds and a pink hue was shining over the hillside. Yep, I had to go out tonight.

It’s been a goal of mine to embark on a true multi-night backpacking trip. Overnighters are so easy, and great fun, but two nights would surely provide a few different challenges and that is the natural progression. Not that I’d be out of the winter camping game after this, but I really wanted to get a two-night excursion in winter under the belt. The New Year’s two-night trip went south, figuratively speaking of course, and it would truly be a shame to see the snow melt having not done a three-day, two-night trip in the wintertime.

I got home and felt disorganized. Diamond looked up at me so longingly, like she’s been patiently waiting all day for this moment for when we could play or go run. She had no idea what she was in for! I quickly ran to the grocery store to get dinner to eat on the road and few snacks. Jack was home, and we agreed we’d meet at the North Cross River campsite, the last one before Temperance River, on Saturday night. He was thinking about hiking from Temperance southbound to the site, which was about 2.5 miles from Temperance State Park. A last minute measurement of my pack weight, I changed into my hiking gear, and Diamond and I were off into the starry night.

The plan was to hike near Temperance River. I’d not been that far north on the SHT, and I found a perfect route from the Cook County Road 1 parking lot, which I saw on the SHT website was plowed for the winter. (Now that I look back, it’s not on the list of trailheads being plowed. I don’t know what I read…). Diamond and I could yo-yo south the first night, double back past the car to the Cross River or maybe even to Temperance,then back southwards on Sunday to the car. The drive up on Friday was looking like an hour and 40 minutes given good road conditions, which was putting us at 8 o’clock or later to start hiking for the night. There were two campsite options: 1.1 miles to Dyer’s Creek, or the next site 4.5 miles south from the lot. From the car, north to the last campsite on the Cross River, but before Temperance River, was around 5.5 miles. We have options, and the plan was to play it by ear. If we were looking at really tough hiking like the Demonstration Forest, there’s no way we’d be trudging 4.5 miles until midnight or later the first night…

The drive to Schroeder was easy. The moon was nearly full and just beaming. It was pretty serene driving along the big Lake with the moon reflecting a silvery glow off of the massive Lake Superior to my right. Around 8pm, we parked. I had a tough time finding where the trail was and where to park, but we found it. I struggled to get everything in order, and Diamond just hates wearing her dog jacket, so it was frustrating to get set up. The anxiety of just getting on the trail escalated the situation. I locked up the car, put on my snowshoes and hoisted the backpack upon my shoulders. By now, I was shivering! I reassured my companion, “Ok, Dime, we’re walkin’!”

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My hand were freezing within one second of hiking. We easily found the trail and entered the dark tunnel of trees. I had my headlamp on its lowest setting, and wondered if the moon was enough to light the way. It seemed like my headlamp was doing nothing, but turning it off was scary, as it turned out! It was picturesque night. The snowy evergreen forest reflected moonlight at every angle. The only sounds were our footsteps, breathing, and crinkling of water-resistant nylon. Before long, we bumped out to Dyer’s Lake Road. If my memory of scoping out maps served me correctly, we were already pretty close to the first campsite and had been hiking for no more than 15 minutes. Not bad! Next, we joined paths alongside a creek. This must be Dyer’s Creek. We followed the contours of the crick–up, down, around the bend–and at 26 minutes on the watch, we came upon the Dyer’s Creek campsite and a bridge. That was too fast! 8:30pm is pretty early to get to bed, so I decided we’d try for the next campsite over 3 miles further. We were cruising along at least 2 miles per hour, so I figured we’d be there by 10. Quickly set up the tent, crawl in and go to bed. I tried to do some quick calculations as we crossed the bridge past the campsite: we’d be snuggled in by 11 or so and very comfortable, according to my calculations! Around a bend, through a thicket, and then Diamond stopped. The trail seemed to lead to a huge steep mound. I looked around, but we were on the right track. I convinced Diamond to continue upwards, and I followed. This hill was so steep it look liked a scramble during the other three seasons. Each foot step was just to lift my foot upwards as much as possible. Another footstep and I got a good look at my new gaiters, new shoes and snowshoes I was wearing. Since they looked puffy, I reached towards my ankles and felt the gaiters packed full of snow! Crap… I looked up, looked down at my feet, and kept scanning my eyes down towards the path we’d just tracked. I told Diamond we’d just go back, about one minute past the first campsite. How valiant, I thought sarcastically.

Frustrated with these faulty, dumb new gaiters, we bounded down the 30 vertical feet we’d just climbed. Back across the bridge, I stomped down a trail to the Dyer’s Creek campsite. I let Diamond off the leash, relieved her of her pack-carrying duties, and then took my pack off, too. Her dog jacket was already caked in ice balls. Maybe that’s why she hates wearing it so much… I opened my pack to reach the essentials. First, tent. It went up pretty easily, but the snow was very granular and I had issues setting stakes tightly into the ground. Diamond came back around and decided to bark at me. Perfect, Diamond, this makes my life so much easier. Yep, yep, thanks for the feedback. Shrill barks as to say “screw you, dad”.

I yelled, “SHUT UP!!!!! Quit fucking BARKING!!!!!!” Not that I’m a very foul-mouthed person, but I didn’t think anyone out there would hear me, and yelling at the top of my lungs is the only way I can compete with this loud and annoying beast. Maybe I misinterpreted and she was saying “dad, I’m cold!”. I took off my rain pants and stupid new gaiters, which I’d have to revisit the next day.

I set the items I’d need for overnight in the tent, and left everything else in my backpack right outside the tent door. I shoved that freak animal inside and took one second to mentally prepare for the struggle of getting myself and Diamond in a comfortable position to sleep. I was worried I’d push a misshapen divot into the soft, snowy ground. I grabbed my huge bag of snacks and started munching a bit. I added my wool hat and wool sweater, then situated my puffy North Face jacket, packed into its own pocket, in the hood of my sleeping back. With nothing else to do, I turned out my lamp and laid down. I was a bit chilly that night, but Diamond provided a great source of heat.

Day Two – January 23, 2016:

I fed Diamond early in the morning, then got up around 7:30am. With a full day of hiking planned, I started getting ready as early as possible. I ate a few snacks, let Diamond out of the tent and looked around at the mess, plotting out how to shove it back in the pack. Well, I just started shoving things in. It was not long before Diamond got bored with exploring the campsite and peeing on trees and came back to bark at me. I told her to scram. She spun around in a circle and kept barking. I reiterated, with no regard for her feelings. “Scram, bitch! AHHHHHH!” Why I was screaming, I don’t know. It’s so easy to snap like that when you’re out in the woods in the middle of winter, trying to complete a simple task like rolling up a tent. I thought to myself: my hands are cold, this is dumb, I’ll stomp Diamond into the ground, oh, nice, she grabbed her water dish and drug it into the snowy woods. “FUUUUUUUUUU!”

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One of my favorite mantras while racing is “things can be positive or negative. It has to be all positive from here on out.” To say, pretty much, you can have a positive mindset or a negative mindset. The later is not constructive and does nothing for you, so one might as well be positive. However, I found that yelling and screaming at Diamond was kind of fun and relieving. A dog trainer would say differently.

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I hoisted the pack onto my back and we were off. I started my timer and was excited to see what the hike last night looks like in the daytime. We got back to the car in about the same time… a tad under 30 minutes. I barely looked at the car, simply acknowledged the fact that I didn’t get towed during the night. We came upon the actual SHT parking lot, covered in deep snow, and the sign said .8 miles south to the campsite we were just at, and 5.5 miles north to our destination. Between that one, the North Cross River campsite, was four other campsites, which makes it easy to track our progress. So we set off truckin’.

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I pulled out my phone and tried to warm it. Jack requested I call him first thing in the morning, but I had no cell service. I kept checking periodically. The hike was through a huge deciduous forest. We snaked up a hillside, providing a great view of the woods. A few more steps northwards and I saw the grey lake in the distance. Also, I saw a big radio tower, checked my phone and had full service! I called Jack with no answer. Then, I saw a sign “Tower Overlook.” Nice.

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We kept on truckin’. I tried again to reach Jack, and he answered. I noted the time at around 10:30am, and was surprised to hear that he’d just woken up! Jack told me he should probably get his ass out of bed, and we disconnected. I turned my phone off. Walking across a lowland crick, I did a few calculations. If Jack left immediately, drove straight to Temperance River State Park, he’s looking at 3 o’clock or so to get to the campsite. And that’s hiking pretty quickly, too. I’ll give him until 4pm.

We came to the first campsite at 1 hour 20 minutes in, give or take. I figured it was a tad less than half way, and we’d been hiking really well so far. After passing the site, we followed along a bog for a mile or more. It was flat, but the snow had blown around and we went through a few sections of crusty drifts right in the middle of the trail. Everything was still holding up well, and my careful gaiter tie job was keeping my feet dry. Then all the sudden, I lost the trail. Not again! I remembered what had happened last time I lost the trail: I figured the path turned around the trees towards the widest pathway, but it actually just went straight through a thicket. I tromped around, thinking about where the trail could possibly go. Luckily, I wasn’t very far from the last marking. I stood near the tree that was emblazoned with a blue streak, then looked straight ahead and walked that straight path. It went under an evergreen branch, and I was back on track! When in doubt, just go straight.

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Soon thereafter, Diamond and I met up with the Cross River. The landscape changed from the boggy lowland to the dynamic riverside. We saw a sign for Cross Falls and the first of four River campsites. These sites were pretty close together, so I figured we were right around the corner.

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The Cross had plenty of rapids where the water would appear from upstream, exposed to the frigid air, only to disappear under massive blocks of ice a few feet further downstream. The shapes and formations were cool, no pun intended. We climbed, climbed, climbed, then down, down, down. With snowshoes, the downhills were fun to ski down. We clicked off each campsite. I remembered the Ledge campsite looking really cool… that may be a good spot to check out during the summertime. Time was moving slow and I was ready to set down for lunch. I counted three campsites and knew we had one more.

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We crossed a river bridge and headed up a steep set of stairs, then more uphill to a trail intersection. One way was to a spur trail and Adirondack shelter. The other sign was the main trail towards Temperance. I checked my map and realized we bypassed the campsite. I thought back and remembered reading ‘North Cross River’ on the site sign, but didn’t think anything of it until now. So we climbed back down, down the steep ladder-style steps and across the Cross River bridge. Luckily, that last North campsite was right across the bridge. We found quickly that the site we missed was just a few feet south on the trail, tucked away on the banks of the Cross. I set down my pack, let Diamond roam free, and went looking for water. I had been sipping on my water bladder since last night and was running a bit low. I took my 1.5 L plastic water bottle to the Cross. It looked like a glacier and I realized that I didn’t want to die by being trapped between gushing rapids and ice. We carefully traversed the banks, looking for a safe opening in the ice. I found a good option where the water was barely moving and wondered how it was exposed without freezing. I dunked the bottle down and impatiently waited for it to fill with cold hands. Back at the site, I put iodine in the bottle, prepared for a day hike by grabbing an aluminum foil-wrapped PB&J sandwich.

As we set off, walking over the Cross River bridge for a third time towards Temperance, I wondered if we’d catch Jack. My watch read 12:47pm. Weird. Time moves differently when you’re by yourself in the woods! I figured that if Jack was very hasty in getting up and out of Duluth, he could potentially be at Temperance River State Park at this exact moment. But there is literally no way he’d have made it any farther than that. I also thought to myself how I’d like to be back to the site by 3pm. We set off. Diamond was off the leash with nothing on her besides a collar. I had my water bladder with a half liter of water or less and a PB&J sandwich, most of which, at the time, was being chewed. I thought I could run to Temperance. The sign at the spur intersection said Temperance was 2 miles away. A quick 4 mile run would be nice! So I started running, but quickly realized that it was completely exhausting. I’d even ditched the snowshoes… but the 3-hour hike and snowy conditions were too much. I reverted back to walking. Oh, well, it’s still good practice. The first mile of our day hike was relatively easy. It was a beautiful day, we had left the Cross River completely and seemed to be atop a ridge. We curved to the left and stopped at a wonderful overlook. Neglecting to bring my camera was a mistake… I could see Temperance way off in the distance and it looked like a road. From there, it was straight down. This was fun, but I then realized I’d have to hike all the way back up this huge hill.

Before long, we were at the Temperance River. Diamond and I passed an SHT parking lot, then a road that looked like it was for strictly snowmobiles in the wintertime. Across the road, the trail joined the Temperance riverside. Beautiful, and with a markedly different flavor than the Cross, Diamond enjoyed being near the icy spectacle. I recognized some areas of the river that I’d explored a few summers previous, doing some lazy river swimming and cliff jumping. I peeked at my watch, and it was almost 2pm. We’d made it to Temperance, and it was probably a good idea to turn around since we had a big valley to hike out of to make it back in an hour. And still no Jack…

The uphill trek wasn’t as bad as I’d thought, but my breathing was definitely heavier! Diamond was having a blast, and we were both happy to be hiking without packs on. In a flash, we were back to the site. I hoped my water bottle from two hours before hadn’t completely frozen over. A little slushy, yes, but luckily not a block of ice. My plan was to gather firewood, set up the tent, get food going, and then start a fire. I bundled up and looked for good burnables. I thought I was finding good wood, but I’d snap a few twigs and see green. I know I got a few good ones, though… I was having trouble finding nice thick branches for fuel, yet there were plenty of flaking birch trees to harvest the tinder I needed. I made a large pile and then started with the tent. Again, since we weren’t moving or doing anything, Diamond became bored and started barking. Um, I’m doing something, here! And again with the yelling and screaming. “You aren’t TIRED?!?!?!”

I got the tent set up, I got the stove set up, and now I started on a fire. I had a terrible base for it, and figured I could build up a platform with the green twigs, layer birch bark on top of that, and then add some of the dry twigs I’d found. I lit it, the birch bark went, and then the twigs took. I could see my small fire struggle to succeed, but offered some large lungfuls of oxygen. Then, “HEY THERE!!!”, and it was my long lost friend, Jack! I peeked at my watch: 3:58pm. Funny. He crossed the Cross, and we regaled of our respective hiking stories. Jack was dressed in his blue rain suit and looked pretty sweaty. He began setting up his area, and I looked back at the fire. Out. Dang. Jack made a confused remark about his tent. He misplaced his poles. They were on his bed and he was sure of it. I offered some solutions how we could string his tent up along the trees or look for branches. He’d taken my 30 degree down sleeping bag, my 20 degree synthetic bag had a bit of water and ice on it… Jack decided it wouldn’t work. He said he was going back, and offered me a ride. A compelling choice, but it was an easy decision. No, bro, we can string something up, I offered. But then, I realized and agreed to how uncomfortable that would likely be… a 30 degree bag in 20 degree weather. Or a a 20 degree bag frozen in my breath. And a ramshackle tent setup… probably not smart. However, it was already 4:30pm or so, and that meant Jack would be hiking back during dusk. I declined his offer, and just as soon as he’d arrived, he was gone and I was again left by myself. Oh, man. At least I have this restless beast as a companion. Not…

My food was almost ready, and my second attempt at a fire while Jack was there had already failed. I ate while Diamond watched carefully from the tent. I’d shoved her in there after her incessant barking drove me to the edge of sanity. The food was Ramen, half of my stroganoff mix, a few pieces of block cheese and summer sausage. It had all blended to a brothy, cheesy, noodle mixture that was unbelievably good. The cheese really added a fantastic element. After that, I packed the kitchen up and focused on getting a fire up once and for all. This time, however, I’ll do it right. My other attempts had burned a hole to the ground, so I have the advantage of a solid base instead of snowy sticks and half burnt, half frozen logs providing the ledge on which my fire would sit atop. I broke the tiniest and driest sticks into small pieces and made a pile. I gathered my tinder and compressed it into a ball, then made a shapely teepee with the kindling and had some bigger burnables nearby. One match, and the fire took. Then, I saw the twigs take a flame. I carefully put the larger sticks in a teepee formation, and kept blowing the whole time. I finally had a bonfire! I sat back, only to see the beautiful warm fire wane, the flames reduced to embers. I kneeled again to the freezing cold ground to blow and blow and blow. The fire started back up, but I quickly realized this was going to take drier wood and more effort to be a self sustaining, chillin’ fire. Screw this, I thought. My feet are freezing. I’m sick of blowing on these dumb twigs and getting smoke in my eye. The frustration set in and I decided to skip the fire and simply entertain myself inside the tent.

I snuggled in with Diamond and jotted down some thoughts in my trail log. I read some past entries to kill some time, and let my mind wander a bit. Becoming increasingly uncomfortable leaning on one arm, I laid my head down. What am I doing, I thought? I’ll just turn the light out for a bit, I figured. I checked my watch, which read 6:53pm. Jeez… I was going to be in this same cramped position for 12 more hours. But then my mind switched to a positive note. Here I was, night two in the dead of January in northern Minnesota, in my sleeping bag and tent in the middle of woods. And I was warm, dry and comfortable! I wasn’t going to die! Well, back up… I wasn’t warm, dry or comfortable at all. But I was warmer, drier, and more comfortable than someone who was to surely perish in the frigid Minnesota winter from hypothermia! To clarify, I was warm, dry and comfortable enough. I figured, from here, I’d just hang out for a while lying down in the dark. During the week, back in the real world, all I ever want is the time to do nothing… deliberately nothing. I yearn for the ability to stare at a wall. Work, dog, social life, exercise, chores… there is always one more thing on my list before I can do nothing for once. And here I was, with literally nothing else that I could or should do besides look at the top of my tent. It’s not so bad after all! Against my plans to hang out, I effortlessly eased off to sleep.

In typical camping fashion, I woke up periodically through the night. A warmer night, I shed my socks and long underwear and was truly warm snuggled next to Diamond. Maybe my bag stretched out or something, but I found many more sleeping positions that were comfortable, and the sleep was revitalizing after a full day on the trail.

Day Three – January 24, 2016:

Hearing snow, I rustled in the morning, wondering if I was to wake up with my gear buried. I arose again at 6:30am to feed Diamond. I rested my head as she scarfed her breakfast from the cramped corner. I realized I had indeed been cooped up in here for about 12 hours, and decided it was a fine time to pack up. So I hastily started organizing. Knowing that all I needed to have access to was some relatively dry hiking apparel, some food to fuel me on the 5.5 miles back, and water, I shoved as much as I could into the backpack, leaving a nice slot for the tent. Everything came together quickly as the morning light slowly illuminated our site. It was a cloudy day already, and halfway through rolling my tent back up, I was able to pack away my headlamp for good.

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Everything together, we started hiking back south to the car. The first stop was the water hole. Again, this was the most dangerous part of the whole trip. How tragic would it be to survive a two-night backpacking trip and then perish on the last day trying to refill my water bottle in the aggressive Cross River? Would I be stuck under the ice until an unassuming early-season backpacker spots my icy fingers grasping a vial of iodine tabs on the half-melted river bank in spring? These are the thoughts I had as I precariously walked along the river in hopes to get a water refill and a cool picture of the frozen cliff a bit upriver.

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We set off at a nice pace and knew that the first hour would be pretty tough walking. Past the Cross River section, though, the hiking is relatively easy, especially given that we’d packed down the big snowbanks along the bog the day before. Walking was surely easier this day, and my body felt great. 10 miles the day before really hadn’t worn me down at all, and I couldn’t decide if the long rest was good or bad. One way or another, I did feel good, even considering I spent half of a day of laying on the cold, hard ground.

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Soon enough, we climbed out of the Cross River valley.

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Into the boglands, we were trucking. We hit that last campsite at around 2 hours, and I knew we had less than an hour left. I was munching on a few snacks, but it wasn’t even worth the effort to refuel my body knowing we’d be out of here in a few hours and able to eat a large breakfast at a roadside cafe or wait for a big ol’ greasy lunch at Culver’s in Two Harbors. We passed the real Cook County Road 1 parking lot and I knew we were close.

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Sure enough, there was the car, peeking through the woods. I took a shortcut across a gravel pit access road, and we were back! I switched my shoes, packed it all in the foggy car, started her right up and we were off! An hour of driving and I decided breakfast was the ticket, and I stopped for a tremendously tasty meal of eggs, sausage patties, pancakes and coffee at a diner in Two Harbors. Judy’s Cafe was the spot, and it was great.

Planning and packing-wise, this trip was pretty much perfect until I look at the food I didn’t eat. My clothing setup was planned perfectly, and I had two pairs of socks, a pair of boxers, and a pair of gloves that I didn’t even touch. However, I wouldn’t want to keep much less than that out of my pack as backups. I never felt like I needed more insulation. Everything stayed relatively dry, and my 25 pound pack was svelte given the conditions. I did have a ton of left-over food, though. That’s tough call, because it would be a bleak existence to run out of food. And if worst comes to worst, I can wear my clothes, dry them out as needed, indefinitely. My sleeping bag can dry out if it became soaked. I have everything I need for an endless supply of water, and so realistically, my food would be the first thing to be depleted in an emergency situation. Then again, if worst comes to worst, I’d be able to walk to civilization within a few hours. And if it was truly an emergency in which I couldn’t walk out of (like the river ice scenario), I definitely would not be worried about having enough food to survive! So I think I can definitely work on being in tune with exactly how much food I need for future trips. Less, I guess!

This trip had its frustrations, but the happiness of success trumps the feeling of anger that arises as a beast of a dog is barking in your ear. And I can’t wait to go back.

 

Hike Date: January 1st – 3rd, 2016

Trail: Superior Hiking Trail

Trip Plan: 3 nights, ~50 miles, park at Lake County Demonstration Forest
Day 1 – Hike North to Silver Creek campsite (15 miles)
Day 2 – Hike South past Demo Forest parking lot spur to Big Bend Campsite (25 miles)
Day 3 – Hike North to Lake County Demonstration Forest

Gear: 1-1-16

1/1/16GramsOuncesPoundsTotal OZTotal LBS
First Aid21.521.34
First Aid Kit31611.150.70
Reflective blanket
3/4 full hand sani (2 oz)
6 band aids
2 large gauze pads
small roll athletic tape
Iodine
Iodine taste tabs
Chap stick
4 AA batteries
15 matches
In a quart baggie
Quick Kit331.160.07
Full size Bic
Book of Matches
3 band-aids
In a quart baggie
Energizer lamp light combo2619.210.58
Multitool
Kitchen20.101.26
Red fuel canister9.50.59
Msr Stove40.25
Blue Spork100.350.02
Kettle1776.240.39
Clothes26.811.68
3 socks1445.080.32
1 boxer
Long Underwear1675.890.37
Dark Blue Wool Sweater31511.110.69
TNF Thermoball jacket
Fleece Hood1344.730.30
Work Gloves
Leather Choppers
Comfort Items13.210.83
Pack towel3.40.21
Composition Book w/ pen2789.810.61
Sleeping170.1810.64
Triple pad: al ccf, 2/3 ccf, Gander self inflator117341.382.59
TNF Cat's Meow and compression sack45.22.82
Fly Creek UL 1 tent99835.202.20
Bag liner12.050.75
Diamond's Bag36.352.27
251.8115.74

Trip Synopsis:

Day One – January 1st, 2016:

A new year is here, and what better way to spend the first three days than backpacking? The more I think about a Superior Hiking Trail through-hike, the more amped up I get. Therefore, I’m pretty dedicated on training myself as best possible to hike big miles day after day. Yeah, triathlons are very fun. Also, to be able to run really fast is great. However, I’m putting everything on the wayside (including, largely, my social life!) to best prepare myself for long distance backpacking. Long and slow, baby! I think it’s kind of funny talking to my running buddies… “nope, I’m going for the slow and long training approach this year. Really slow, like walking.”

Anyways, I knew I had a three-day weekend for the New Year, and started planning routes a bit out. I wanted to do a yo-yo style where I could just park in one spot and sandwich a big day between two shorter ones. Also, I wasn’t really getting any takers to come with for the whole trip, except my roommate Jack wanted to get out there for a night. Truth be told, a winter multi-day trip is pretty intimidating. I wanted to do one last year and didn’t get to it, and was super excited to face a whole different set of challenges. So without the ability to go point-to-point, I planned a 30-mile trip from the Demo Forest outside of Two Harbors, MN. Then, I started thinking…. I can do more. 25 miles in a day is possible, but it would take all day, sun up to sundown. I have to go out on a limb here, I have to put myself through the same rigors of Ironman training but for backpacking. I mentally prepared for some big miles, and decided that this is definitely the way to go.

Looking at my gear, I decided that the best bet for water would be a mid-layer water bladder carrier worn backwards on my chest. I used that for the Heck of the North bike race and it worked great. I can fill up using an empty 1-gallon jug and iodine purification tablets. Melting snow is slow and uses a lot of fuel and can result in nasty tasting water. Not that iodine is delicious… because it’s not, but I figured I can melt snow if push comes to shove, too. I got food that would probably not freeze, and the real mystery was pb&j sandwiches for lunch. As long as they’re not rock hard, they’d be edible. My last real concern was Diamond. Would she be able to haul ass for 8+hours a day? How much abuse can her teats sustain before they freeze off?? I’d just picked up a really nice dog jacket, though, and thought that would really increase her comfort levels at camp.

So on Friday, New Year’s Day, I loaded up the car and got ready to head out. I told Jack “I’d be there” in regards to meeting up on Saturday night at the Big Bend campsite. We were kind of slow getting going, and we left maybe an hour later than I was shooting for. It was no issue, though, and I was simply hoping to get to the first camp at Silver Creek before 4. If we can hike 3 MPH, that would be easy.

I thought I was going to get stuck at the hardly-plowed Demo Forest parking lot. I found a spot without getting stuck, but pondered the terrible situation of hiking 50 miles, then not being able to leave the lot, stuck in a rut all by myself!

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We set off walking at around 10am and headed north out of the 1.2-mile spur trail from the lot. I decided to use snowshoes, cloth gaiters and lightweight trail runners. With the multiple pairs of socks, I knew I’d be able to have dry socks at night and to start the day, but I also knew that there’s probably no way around stone-cold frozen shoes in the mornings. The snowshoes were pretty clutch because there was a decent amount of powder on the ground, I’d say 8-12 inches, and I was breaking trail right off the spur trail.

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I quickly noticed that the heavy snow had bent any weak limb in towards the ground with the aid of gravity. In sections of bramble or tight tree-lined corridors, the trail would be nearly entirely blocked. I could shake away the snow and the trees would spring back to their vertical stature, but to be shaking snow off and lifting trees many times each mile made for slow going and cold hands. And when the wind blew, or if I slightly nudged a branch, or perhaps an earth tremor occurred, I’d be at the risk of a cold dump of snow down the back of my neck. On the flip side, Diamond was having a blast.

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I was making my way along and actually feeling pretty cold. Diamond’s sleeping bag and mat didn’t stay on her pack for one second, so I was carrying it in my hands as a warmer. I could already feel my feet soaking wet, but luckily not cold at all. I got to a section where it looked like a cross country skier made their way through. That must have been rough… all of the sticks and bramble were tough enough for my little running snowshoes. I couldn’t imaging getting through that thick with long, cumbersome skis on.

I was thinking about when I could stop for lunch and put on a layer. I knew there were a few campsites before the next trail head on Reeves Road and County Road 2 near Two Harbors. That would be a good spot perhaps halfway through the first day. I figured I was 4 or 5 miles in when I got lost. It had happened once or twice already, where Diamond and I got off track in the homogenous landscape–brown trees blanketed in white as far as the eye could see–to feel lost in it was dizzying. So we turned around and found the last blue blaze, then looked ahead. Never mind, we were on the right track after all! We kept trucking. Except it wasn’t the right way… there is no way that was the trail. So we stopped and looked around. I was squinting for a blue blaze on any tree. None! So we backtracked once again. I tried to coax Diamond into leading us to the correct bearing using her trail instincts. Once again, we were bushwhacking. I thought there was huge tree blocking the real trail, we hiked around it, but no nothing! Lost! I felt really panicked for a second. My feet were freezing, hands freezing, this is stupid! What am I doing? Ok, get back on track here. What can we do? There were a few options in my mind: hike back to that last blaze AGAIN and try something different, or keep going forward from here with no compass and no idea where on the map we actually are, or scrap this whole dumb trip. We’d already wasted at least a half hour just walking in circles in this small area in the woods in the middle of nowhere. Yep, we’re going back. I anger-walked back to that stupid last hash. I took one more glance around to see if I could come up with any other ideas on where to go. A straight-shot trajectory puts us right into a pine branch. Maybe that’s the right way, but today it is not. We’re going back. So I continued with the anger-walking and we backtracked. My chronograph said 2:15 or so.

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The walking was much, much easier back through my own tracks. We were making pretty good time given the knowledge that in a few miles we’d be back in the car with the heat blasting. While hiking back to the car, defeated, I thought about staying overnight at a shelter near the Demonstration Forest parking lot. We could still meet Jack. Nah… this is over, we need to recoup. Plus it’s cold out. I figured Jack and I could come up with a totally new route for the next night.

We got back to the car in a flash, perhaps an hour and half or so. Luckily, the Subaru started up with no issue and we got out lickety split. We hungrily stopped at Culver’s in Two Harbors and then Diamond and I embarrassingly headed back to Duluth. It wasn’t very nice to explain to my roommates that I bailed after, like, 1/10th of the journey, and I also posted a valiant exclamation on Facebook about this trip. But alas, we were back. I figured we trekked between 6-10 miles all said and done, which is still 3 hours and 40 minutes of great practice!

Later that night, I talked with Jack and we decided it could work to park one car at Reeves Road and County Road 2, the other car back at the Demo Forest, and do the 11-mile section from the opposite way I was going the day before, camping at the Stewart River campsite right in the middle. This would be great because we would come to where got lost from the other direction, which would be nice to at least know where I went wrong! Jack and I didn’t make a solid commitment until right before bed, and aimed to get on the road by 9:45, stop at the gear shop to get Jack a closed cell foam sleeping pad, and be off by around 10:02 AM.

Day Two – January 2, 2016:

The next morning, we were a little slow to get off. Jack and I drove in separate cars to the Minnesota Surplus in downtown Duluth. When I parked and walked in, Jack was already hurriedly walking out, pad in hand, and said he forgot to go into work! He had to do a few simple work duties, and it would only take 15 minutes or so. We ended up caravaning up north by 10:40 or so.

The plan was to leave Jack’s car at the Demo Forest, drive up with my car to Reeves Road, and hike back to Jack’s car. Jack got terribly stuck in the Demo Forest parking lot and we both got pretty wet and worked up and frustrated getting the car out. Eventually we did, though, and were off in the Subaru. The Reeves Road lot was not plowed and we uneasily parked my car right on the side of County Road 2. Neither of us knew the laws on that and figured that I bike to work anyways! It’s not a huge deal if my car gets towed away. Jack smashed two sandwiches while we were getting ready, we saddled up, locked up, and set off.

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We hiked a quarter mile of snowmobile trail right off the bat, then got into the woods. I recalled my experience with the droopy, snowy trees, and we both got big dumps of snow down our backs pretty quick into the trip. The day was beautiful, however, and it was hard to be in bad spirits! It was great to be back on the trail, warm and ready to get to camp!

I made a few substitutions to my pack over the night at home. I took out a bunch of the snacks, my two pb&j’s and threw Diamond’s sleeping bag into my pack. I may have made a few switch-a-roos with clothes and such, and I packed on two beers, too. A fitting brew for the journey is Bent Paddles Harness Winter IPA. Also, I ditched the snowshoes and trail runners for waterproof hiking boots. I was curious to see what would work better.

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It was tough going, and we realized we were walking pretty slow about an hour in. We passed the first campsite and hiked through some hilly country, up and up and then alongside creek ravines. It reminded me of the mountains out west. The sun was shining and we were doing good. I was surprised Jack was hauling ass with me since he had a 52 pound pack and I had only about 28 pounds on me.

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Jack soon realized his inner legs were chafing pretty bad. He was wearing running tights–nothing else. I was wearing bamboo boxers, running tights, and rain pants over it everything and was getting warm. Also, I threw on a running windbreaker this time, and it made all the difference. Warm legs, yes, but I could regulate easily and for all intents and purposes, perfectly comfortable.

Neither of us brought a map this time. The hike out was 5.9 miles, and we through we’d be doing 3 MPH. At 2 hours in, we definitely weren’t going that fast. Also, both of us were feeling ready to get to camp and relax for a second. It was a textbook trudge through the snow. We made a bunch of wrong turns, but would quickly realize and get back on track. It was so clutch to have someone else besides Diamond to consult with, because again, we were breaking the trail and it wasn’t a very clear path.

Evenutally, I broke away from Jack. Not intentially, but I got into a rhythm, looked back to see nothing, and just kept going. At least he could see my tracks! I didn’t think we’d get separated or go the wrong way or anything. Every now and again, I would hear a shriek. I’d stop, and notice the complete silence of the windless winter day. Stopped, all I could hear was the white noise of my brain’s electrical circuitry. I yelled back, “WHAT?!??”, and nothing. So I kept going, and it happened three other times! At this point, I was just excited to get to camp, so Diamond and I were trucking.

Finally, I saw the Stewart River. There was a big bridge and the river was not the crick I’d envisioned. It was open in some spots, and the ice formations were cool. I knew the campsite was right over the bridge, and we hooked a right off the bridge to find it. My spirits got a boost, I yelled out that we were at the Stewart River but with no reply. I couldn’t find the campsite, though! I was trudging around, and went back to the bridge. I saw the hash to the left, and had to blast past a huge brambly bush covered in snow to get to the trail. There were so many sticks in the way, but a few footsteps away was the campsite. Nice! My watch chronograph said 3:08 or so. I started clearing away and packing down snow and looking for what I needed to find first, a good place to set up my tent and some easy firewood.

My plan was to cook some lunch right away. Since breakfast, I’d just been munching on chocolate and snacks. I boiled some water and tried out my zip-lock cheese noodles and mashed potatoes. It was an experimental recipe. Jack trudged in just a few minutes after me.

Getting camp set up was a low point. Jack immediately went into survival mode because he was chafed, cold and wet. I tried to do my own thing while he frustratingly set up the tent in his hiking garb. It went up and I got a fire lit somehow. He took forever to change in his tent, and I was checking on my food and the fire and trying to set up my tent. Meanwhile, Diamond was terrorizing me by running around like a maniac through camp and barking really loudly. I yelled, “aren’t you tired?!??” I got frustrated when a gust of wind threatened to lift my tent back to St. Louis County, which is when the fire went out. CRAP! This is stupid… there is now way I would be able to hike 25 miles and then set up camp in the dark. I would have been a frozen stiff!

Jack walked out of his tent with a huge parka and a smile back on his grill. He looked like an arctic explorer and very warm and comfortable for once. It sounded like his loins were pretty chafed up from the repeated friction, but I’m sure it was nice to simply get that huge pack off. I got my tent pitched decently well, and then focused my entire world on warming my hands back up! I looked at the small indent in the snow where the tiny twig fire burned out, and check on my noodles. They were freezing cold and crunchy hard. Ok, I guess snow as an insulator doesn’t work in this situation!

I munched on a few handfuls of nuts, and we decided to really go hard on getting some firewood before anything else. The sun was starting to fall behind the ridge line of our gully campsite and we’d definitely need a lot of quality firewood if we wanted to be comfortable outside of our sleeping bags.

We found a tree that was definitely dead, and had a bunch of lodged logs stuck up there. We worked on pulling some down, and within no time had a really big pile of good dead wood. We got the fire back going again, and it was roaring soon enough. I put my noodles into my kettle and shoved that over the fire to heat up. Also, I added my bag of instant potatoes to soak up some of the water. Now things were starting to look up. Before long, we had a roaring fire, food on the stove, and we were finally warm and somewhat dry. And it was dark.

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We ate, which was another warming agent. Despite the snow and the cold, it was sure good to be out in the wilderness. We both kind of questioned our sanity and whether we’d ever do this again. Probably not… The first had burned a big hole in the ground and it took a bit of blowing to get oxygen to the bottom where the coals lay. But we had a lot of dry sticks and could keep it bright and hot with a quick minute of fire maintenance. Just getting up and moving was a chore… once you found a nice dry spot where all your stuff was perfectly placed around you–flashlight, big gloves, food–it was a bummer to have to get up!

Diamond was anxiously barking and stealing my stuff to bring into the woods. Also, she would dig into the snow and circle around and try to lay down, but then realize that it’s all snow and nothing is warm. I tried to bring her into my arms or on the foam pad between my legs, but then have to get up and she’d run away. Eventually, I threw her in the tent, unraveled my sleeping bag and hers, and got everything set up. I wondered how we would be comfortable in the one-man ultralight tent. But she was certainly comfortable, because we didn’t hear a peep the rest of the night!

It was a great night. The campsite was really cool. We could hear a strong wind high up in the trees, but we were in a valley right next to the river and there was hardly a breeze at our surface level. The flowing river added another ambiance on top of a crackling winter fire. Yep, this is fun even despite my wet feet inside these boots that are beginning to freeze solid. It’s risky to get my nice gloves wet, but worth it to be enjoying natures bounties! Or this mentality is my brain’s way of convincing itself I made the right decision. Winter camping is a lesson in cognitive dissonance.

A few hours went by and I made my second dinner, freeze dried lasagna. Backpacking meals are so easy, it’s no wonder why they’re more expensive. Calorie for calorie, and considering ease of use, they’re probably equally expensive! Also, Jack boiled some water for me to fill up my water bladder. Getting water from the river was a bit sketchy. The hot water was really warm on my chest as I hadn’t taken off my reverse chest water pouch.

When every rock in the fire pit was eventually exposed and the fire waned to an orange glow of the embers, we went to bed. It was 9 PM or so. I hit the headlamp, shuffled some things between the tent and backpack and bench, careful to avoid dropping anything heavy! It would be a bummer to have to come out repeatedly in the spring to look for a tool lost in the snow.

Diamond was pretty sound asleep, which made it hard to scoot around and find a comfortable position for myself. She’s a lug. Also, she made a huge indent in the snow. I guess just stomping around and setting up my tent didn’t do much to compress the powder beneath. I started peeling off layers, and decided to keep my water bladder on, but pretty much took everything else off. I had my long underwear and socks nearby, but decided to go no socks and just boxers for now! My feet were wet and this would hopefully give them a chance to dry. It would be very hard to sleep with freezing wet feet, but they actually felt fine getting into the sleeping bag and liner. I wrote my thoughts for the night, and me and Dimey shuffled around to get into a good position to sleep in. The ultralight tent was surprisingly accommodating! It was going to be nice to get some shuteye.

I dozed off pretty quickly. Like any overnighter in the woods, I wonder if I really slept at all. Sure enough, the morning light was there in no time. The night was actually super comfortable. Diamond didn’t really peep, and seemed warm the whole time. I was even sweaty during the night, and woke up to take my legs out of the bag liner! I could feel a very wavy contour under my body where my hips protruded into the snow, but my divot actually felt nice! I was joking with Jack that sleeping on snow is like a memory foam mattress–it conforms to your body, but then freezes solid!

Day 3 – January 3, 2016

I fed Diamond from in the tent at around 6 AM. She ate from where she was sitting and we went back to bed until 8 or so.

When I got up, it was a beautiful morning with a dusting of fresh snow. I was kind of anxious and worried that I’d be so cold with no dry clothes left, but once I got situated and moving, it was just my feet in the frozen solid boots that were cold. Also, I couldn’t really use the gaiters as they were completely hardened frozen, so every wrong step packed more snow into those frozen boots. I boiled some water to make coffee, and started munching a bit to engage my digestive system and get some more blood flowing. Jack got up too, and we contemplated making a fire. I decided to take some pictures instead.

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We thought we could be back on the trail in an hour or so, and started packing up shop. Half of my gear was frozen solid.

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Jack lent me his gaiters, which I initially lent him from home, and he stuck with the plastic bags on his feet. Finally, we were ready to rock, a bit behind schedule. Diamond’s gear was very icy, and I felt bad putting it over hear face! Jack’s pack was huge… to see everything go back into it reminded me.

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We both had the feeling that this was going to be a tough hike out, but it was reassuring to know that once we got to the point I bailed the day before, it would be pretty smooth sailing. Jack said his chafed legs were feeling pretty rough, but we suited up, gave our farewells to the campsite, and headed up the big hill out of the Stewart River valley towards Jack’s car 5.1 miles away at the Demonstration Forest parking lot.

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The theme was just keep hiking, and we’ll be out soon enough. We motorboated through the first few miles, and it was nice to see my snowshoe prints about 55 minutes into our hike home.

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We kept pushing, and seeing the spur trail to the Demo Forest was great. We stopped for a rest not too long after.

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1.2 miles later, I saw a familiar rock, and we turned out of the narrow single track to the Demo Forest parking lot. Then, we saw Jack’s car. I got the moment on camera as we neared the car, and took our packs off for good.

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We got to my car at Reeves Road, and it was doin’ fine! I still don’t know the laws for parking on a road like that… but no harm no foul. We were talking food and decided to go to Culver’s. When in Rome, as they say. The food was great, and we felt good about the trip being in civilization and certain safety.

There are a few tweaks I can make clothing-wise to cut down. Also, there are always creature comforts to make the camping better, but I am already excited to the next opportunity to go backpacking in the snow and the cold! Why it’s fun, I’m still not sure. Or maybe it’s not fun at all. I just don’t know. Regardless, we’ll be back.

Hike date: Thursday, January 15 – Friday, January 16, 2015
Location: Superior Hiking Trail (Lismore Road Parking lot to White Pine Campsite)
Distance: ~1 mile out and back

I am very happy and pleased to go out into the winter for another winter overnight camping trip. I wanted to venture out last year, but didn’t have the gear that I needed and found it hard to plan a night that would be favorable between the big snowfall and extreme cold temperatures of the 2013-14 winter. This year, however, has been pretty good for hiking and running on the trails. With little snow and mild temperatures, it makes planning for even a simple overnighter much easier.

The funny part about winter camping is the fine line between an enjoyable experience and being miserable. I want to go, but then I think of how cold and wet and difficult it can be. Cold hands, cold feet, frozen water, and hard ground. Then, the roaring fire and eating delicious food and drinking a cold beer is so fun! Yet the feeling of hiking back to my car, loading it up and getting back home into the warm shower is glorious.

Either way, Nick expressed his interest in joining Diamond and I for an overnighter. We spontaneously picked a night where the temperatures were nice and we had compatible schedules. Thursday night, we had a 14 hour window to do a quick night out, essentially to test gear and get a little taste of the winter camping lifestyle. We left at 7pm in the pitch dark. The White Pine campsite is about a 20-minute drive from home and the hike out is around one mile, making it a perfect site for the application.

The previous weekend, I scored a -30 sleeping bag from Goodwill for $8.99 and a kid’s sleeping bag that seemed to fit Diamond perfectly for $1.99. My bag is a huge synthetic cold-weather bag that probably weighs over six pounds. The tag claims five pounds, five ounces, but I attempted to weigh the bag packed into a compression stuff sack and the scale read over seven pounds. Either way, it is really, really huge and much warmer compared to anything else I have.

The puny one-mile hike in went by in a flash. It was easy walking despite the night and the stars were fantastic. The temperature was warm during the day and perhaps 25 degrees when we left the vehicle, and the overnight low predicted to get as low at 5 degrees. When we arrived to the site 20 minutes later, we set down our packs and let Diamond roam the campsite. We agreed to start a fire first thing, so after gathering some tinder, kindling and bigger logs for fuel, I started a fire. The birch bark started right up and my kindling took well. Meanwhile, I could hear Nick chopping on a fallen log nearby. After I got the fire going to where it would sustain, I continued to gather as much wood as I could. The light from the fire was very helpful in orienting, and I never really thought how exploring for dry wood could leave either of us lost in the dark not 100 feet from the campsite without the guiding light from a fire.

After building up a hearty light and heat source, Nick and I set up our tents. A quick glance over and the fire waned out. The next half hour was spent either stoking the fire or setting up for the night’s sleep. Finally, around 8:30pm, we felt set up enough to eat! I brought munchies and chili, Nick brought brats and buns, and we both brought a few beers. While Nick prepared the meat, I threw on a bunch of sticks and logs and got the fire nice and hot.

The beer was fantastic. The brats were better. What a great night! Clear skies, a roaring fire and some delicious food is what winter camping is all about. We were dry, warm, and content. Diamond’s blinking light would periodically appear out of nowhere, and suddenly beg at our heels for a small bite of brat.

The night was mediocre. The bag was really warm, and big enough to where I huddled underneath it to shelter my face from the cold. Diamond was zipped in to her new sleeping bag for a third of the night. Then, she was all the sudden restless and crawled out. For a few hours, she laid on top of the bag, nestled against me until I felt her shivering. After a slight struggle, I managed to zip her into my big bag. That was not the most comfortable of sleeping arrangements, but it is how we spent the rest of the night. When my alarm went off at 7am, I questioned whether I slept at all.

We hastily packed up camp and left. My water bladder, as well as my water bottle, was frozen solid, which meant that I wouldn’t get a morning drink and that I only drank beer during our trip. Talk about a waste of weight! The hike out took 15 minutes and we were back to civilization in no time.

I think that relying on melted snow is the key. I still haven’t found a good way to melt snow and I desire to get the proper equipment and technique. A lightweight pot would be nice, and I’ll keep searching for a cheap aluminum one. Diamond is still a hassle at night, but I’m sure she is like me–sleepless on one night out.

Nick and I are already planning another overnight trip, but hopefully bumping it up to around 20 miles. I’d really like to do a two-night adventure in below-freezing temperatures this winter, but we’ll see how things pan out.

Key Gear:

  • Gander Mountain -30 sleeping bag
  • Eureka! 2-person tent
  • Gander Mountain self-inflating sleeping pad
  • CCF sleeping pad
  • The North Face Banchee 65 pack
  • Bent Paddle Venture Pils

Hike date: Saturday, December 6 – Sunday, December 7, 2014
Location: Superior Hiking Trail (Normanna Road Parking Lot to Fox Farm Pond Campsite)
Distance: 8.5 miles out and back

“As I sit in my sleeping bag with 5 shirts on, Diamond shivers behind me where my head will ultimately lay for the night.” – trail journal.

Ever since I first became suddenly enamored with backpacking, hiking and camping late summer 2013, I’ve wanted to try camping in the winter. It just seems like the hearty Minnesotan thing to do. Obviously, one cannot just pack up and hike out. This winter, I finally amassed the necessary gear to safely make a winter excursion. Keeping a keen eye on the forecast, December 6th was looking like the perfect weekend to dip my toes in the winter backpacking game.

I knew I had to work Saturday morning until noon or so, and the rest of the weekend would be wide open. The forecast was calling for sunshine in the mid- to high-20’s and nights in the teens. With a 20-degree sleeping bag plus a warm bag liner, that temperature range was perfect. Any warmer and the snow gets sloppy and everything’s wet. Initially, my biggest concern was daylight, since the sun sets at around 4:20pm in early December in the northern reaches of Minnesota. That limits my hike time substantially compared to September, where I could hike until 7pm and still have plenty of light to set up camp.

I hit the road around noon and got to the Normanna Road Parking Lot, which is on the outskirts of Duluth due north, around 12:30pm. I had a thirty pound pack, snowshoes and trekking poles. Most of my clothes were packed away because it was pretty warm and I didn’t want to get all sweaty hiking out. Latched to my waist was Diamond, who was carrying a 5 point pack with her sleeping pad and food.

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I figured that the third campsite northbound from the trailhead was between 7 and 9 miles away, and we could make it before it gets too late to gather enough wood and set up camp in the light. The hike in was truly beautiful–I caught myself bellowing to Diamond, “BEAUTIFUL! JUST BEAUTIFUL!”. As well, the hike was pretty easy going, not too much up and down. We were going through forests, across recently forested land and along the scenic Sucker River. I probably switch this opinion with every change of the season, but I think winter is my favorite time of year to be out in the woods.

I thought the first campsite was around 1.5 miles in, and we reached it after 30 minutes. I was pleased with 3 miles per hour and we kept trucking. There was about 4 inches of snow on the ground, so the snowshoes weren’t necessary to float on the powder and I would have been pleasantly snow-free without them. They were very clutch, however, on the uphills and downhills when I could really utilize the crampons. So I was happy about having those babies strapped on my feet, but the trekking poles were a different story. I had never tried using trekking poles, and I doubt I really will use them again except perhaps during a long multi-day trip where my legs could potentially give out. The poles got in the way and were cumbersome, but handy for poking Diamond in the butt from time to time.

In the trees behind a small bluff, it appeared as if the sun was setting at 2:20pm. I got a little anxious to get to the site at this point, maybe two hours in, especially because we hadn’t been to the second campsite (the Sucker River campsite, which I had stayed at before). I knew our campsite was right past a spur trail to the Sucker River Trailhead, which was a half hour or so past the Sucker River campsite. After passing the spur trail, my spirit was lifted and we were excited to arrive at our destination. Well, I guess I can’t speak for Diamond because she is always excited when we’re on the trail!

Almost immediately after the spur trail intersection, there was a big sign describing the strategic logging operations in the area (cutting down old, decrepit trees to make way for a young, healthy forest) that overlooked a vast, frozen beaver pond. Our campsite was called Fox Farm Pond campsite, so I kept a sharp eye out and figured we were very close. We circled the beaver the campsite trailpost was on the opposite side.

It was a short hike off of the main trail to get to the fire pit and tent pads, which were pretty close to a landing onto the beaver pond. It was 3:30pm–the hike in took almost exactly three hours. After plotting the route ‘ex post facto’, our hike was 8.5 miles, which comes to 2.83 miles per hour. Not a bad pace.

Below is a picture looking back onto our campsite’s spur to the main trail.

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What an awesome site for winter camping! I let Diamond off the leash and we explored a bit looking for firewood. It was intriguing to walk across the frozen pond to the beaver den, on which Diamond was climbing and digging her nose into and investigating like a caged beast let loose. I gathered some prime pieces of firewood by snapping off dead, barren trees from their icy foundation in the middle of the beaver pond; prime firewood inaccessible during any other season.

After gathering enough wood to last for at least 3 hours, I set up camp. Below, I snapped a picture while facing the beaver pond. Note the dead, barren trees sticking out of the pond’s icy surface.

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I started with a fire. I had a lighter and used a punky piece of bark as a base. I found some dry, peeling birch bark and used a ploofed-out cattail for tinder. I carefully sorted my kindling in order to capitalize on a hot flame from the quick-burning birch bark. The cattail nearly exploded! I had a roaring fire in no time. With the tent set up and my snacks on hand, I felt a little overwhelmed with how the sun was nearly below the horizon. Night was certainly setting in.

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I put a garbage bag over Diamond’s small square of foam sleeping pad and settled next to the fire. My shoes and socks started steaming like a huge pot of vigorously boiling water. I took my shoes off and realized that my merino wool socks were soaking wet. I changed to a dry pair and put my shoes back on only to find out that my soaking wet shoes left me with another pair of soaking wet socks. An ember landed on my technical wind layer, burning a small hole into it and I noticed it was pitch black. Diamond was barking at me and I started to question my life’s choices. Why was I out here? My basement is dry and warm and I can sit on a couch.

After eating a bunch of snacks, and attempting, with no avail, to dry some of my wet items and melt snow for the dog, I figured we could go into the tent. She was shivering and trying to move snow out of the way to curl up in the leaves. I gathered some of my items and retired to the tent for the night. Once in the tent, Diamond went straight for my sleeping bag. I guess a 2×2′ foam pad isn’t as attractive as a big puffy sleeping bag. I put my stove an arm’s reach outside of the tent’s zipper and boiled two cups of water for my freeze-dried chili. I started to write in my trail journal as the food was cooking and began to feel pretty cramped and claustrophobic with Diamond hogging my sleeping bag. I couldn’t organize all of my crap. Having a lot of gear is nice, but sometimes is overwhelming! More benefit for going minimalist, I guess.

Once I scarfed down the chili, I wrapped up my journal entry and laid down to sleep. That is easier than trying to get comfy enough to read and write. I turned my lamp off at 8pm. It seemed like I didn’t even sleep, although I think it was more like sleep for an hour, wake up, go back to sleep for two hours, and repeat until 7am the next morning.

I let Diamond out of the tent in the morning to go pee and of course, she wants to play or run around like a nut or something. She was wining as I was rolling up my pad and bag. I stuck my head out and saw her with my shoe, frozen solid, swinging it around in a circle like a bucking bronco. Nice.

I quickly packed up and we hit the trail. I felt good despite the crappy sleep and rock hard ice shoes. I told Diamond that we should really try and push it and hike out fast. It was a beautiful morning, but perhaps a bit colder and windier. Either way, the hike out was equally stunning with Diamond and I completely immersed in the white, quiet and solitary landscape. On a small overlap section with the North Shore State Trail (a snowmobile trail that intersects the Superior Hiking Trail countless times), I came across a couple of fat bikers eating breakfast. They looked like they were on a bike overnighter. We arrived back at the car, 100 feet after passing a girl and her dog who asked about hunters. She was the only person I saw on the Superior Hiking Trail the whole weekend! No hunters, no nobody, except those bikers. We made it back after almost exactly three hours again.

For next time, we need to find out a comfortable sleeping arrangement. I may experiment with making a light and packable dog bed, or just purchase a cheap sleeping bag that I can cut in half and sew back together. Also, I need to figure out how to melt snow. My melted snow tasted like a burnt stick. Either way, the two-day excursion was extremely enjoyable and I’m looking forward to the next one!

Key Gear:

  • The North Face Cat’s Meow 20-degree synthetic sleeping bag
  • Eureka! 2-person tent
  • The North Face Banchee 65 backpack
  • MSR Pocket Rocket stove
  • Dion Snowshoes
  • Hand-knit merino wool hat
  • Mizuno Wave Kazan trail runners
  • Gander Mountain self-inflating sleeping pad
  • Closed-cell foam sleeping pad

For those who are not familiar with Duluth, or for those who are familiar with Duluth but have been deprived, I will enlighten you about Park Point. This long and beautiful beach is said to be the world’s largest natural sandbar. In the summer, it is the perfect place to lounge and relax and catch some rays. That is a different post for a different time, or season, though.

Park Point looks drastically different in the winter. I had never visited the beach in the winter, as I figured it was just cold, sandy and desolate–much unlike the summer where it is a cold, sandy and popular place to hang out. I suppose not as different as it sounds! Well, if the wind is blowing in the right direction, it is a warm, sandy and popular place to hang out.

Thanks to Destination Duluth, I stumbled across some pictures from local photographers who were capturing some amazing winter scenery at Park Point, and I became intrigued. The next Sunday, I wrangled Diamond up and we headed to the beach.

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The first excursion was a nice sunny Sunday. Nice is kind of a misnomer, because it was really cold. The wind was very brisk right off of the lake and there wasn’t much we could do to seek shelter from the biting breeze. As we walked up to the beach, I was instantly amazed with the features. There were huge hills of ice all along the shoreline as far as the eye could see on either side. I noticed a hole in the ice.

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I realized that the hole led to an ice cave. I crawled through the hole and it was so cool! How does something like this form??

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Once inside, the icicles hanging from the ceiling were incredible. It looked like a real cave…the icicles resembled stalactites and there was a chamber. I’ve seen Park Point in the summer and I knew that this feature was made out of entirely ice. That really blew my mind.

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I went a bit further down the beach and found another cave. It wasn’t as low and deep as the first cave, but was really tall, which made for a cool picture.

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After my hands became numb, Diamond and I decided to pack up and go home. Of course, we stopped at the Smokehaus on the way home. When in Rome, as they say. We both had so much fun that I decided that going to Park Point would be the perfect Sunday routine. So next Sunday we went again!

The next Sunday, we had another really incredible time. It was sunny and a bit warmer this week, and the wind was coming out of the south, so being on the lake side in the caves was sheltered. This time, we found two really, really cool caves. The first one was massive–the ice formation was the biggest one I have seen.

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There was a little dropoff, then the ice opened up into a chamber with all sorts of smaller pockets. Also, the ice must have been a little thinner than in some of the other caves, because the light shining through made some really cool colors. It was like a stained glass window. Below is a snowy picture from inside of the biggest chamber looking outside. Diamond is near the entrance.

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I snapped a quick video on one of our later trips. Where the ceiling melted through was were the ice was thinnest on our previous trips. You can get an idea of the contours of the icy cave floor and how many little chambers were there.

The second cave we found that day was almost by accident. The entrance was a really small hole, likely created by the drifting snow. I had to crawl on my stomach down a chute, and I could see that after 10 feet or so, there was a larger chamber. Once I slid all the way down, the ice opened up into a huge chamber. Unlike the first cave, this one was a big room… there weren’t any offshoots or anything. The icicles were really amazing in this cave. This one was dark on the inside and it took a minute for my eyes to adjust.

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Below is a picture of Diamond trying to maneuver through the cave. She was just smashing the icicles off of the ceiling without a second thought, and I am over here trying to be as careful as possible to preserve nature.

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The cave looked something like a lollipop–a narrow passageway that opens up into a big circular chamber. So cool!

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Every week except twice removed, Park Point has been a fun Sunday ritual. I’m hoping to keep it up into the summer!

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