I think it’s safe to say that winter is here in Duluth, MN and there is no turning back until the very beginning of spring. So, mid- to late-April. There are a few overnight backpacking trips that stick out to me as some of the most enjoyable times spent in the woods, period. It’s so hard, uncomfortable, cold (duh), but also relaxing, rewarding, and fun!

 

My first time winter camping was pretty tame. That’s how it should be, though. Almost four years ago to the day, I hiked out to the Fox Farm Campsite with Diamond. Click here for the whole story.

The next time I went out, it was with Diamond and Nick. This was a really short trip and more about cooking brats over an open fire and enjoying a couple beers. Click here for the Quickie Overnighter story.

In 2016, I started hitting it hard with aspirations of thru-hiking the Superior Hiking Trail. I also got serious about documenting gear and conditions. This trip was pretty difficult with deep snow and somewhat challenging conditions. In between Duluth and Two Harbors on the SHT can seem pretty remote and rugged. Click here for the next adventure and be sure to check my winter gear list!

It took my a while to make it up to a two-night excursion. There is a little more to lose in that scenario. This was a real backpack trip with hefty mileage and yes, two nights! Check out my Cross River adventure here.

 

Well, that’s a lot of reading but it’s a long and cold winter by the fireplace. Maybe you’ll become inspired to ditch the fireplace and hit the Superior Hiking Trail.

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!

Project goal:

  • Easy to make
  • Covers the whole hammock and pulls taut
  • Lightweight (under 10 oz)
  • Can be set up as a ground tarp with trekking poles
  • Looks super cool with the dual-color design

Final specs (click here to go to finished pics):

  • Total weight (with string up kit): 262 grams, 9.24 oz, 0.58 lbs
  • 10′ 3″ long ridgeline by 7′ 97″ wide at the widest

Materials:

  • 7 yards 1.1 oz Silnylon (3 yards Robin Egg Blue, 4 yards Real Teal)
  • 1 yard 2.2 oz HEX70 ripstop nylon (Vader Blue)
  • 25′ 1.75mm Zing-it
  • 1 yard- 5/8″ Grosgrain ribbon
  • 1 yard- 1 3/8″ Grosgrain ribbon
  • Black 100% polyester thread

Steps:

Lay out and cut fabric:

Cut the Real Teal Silnylon to 10′ 4″ long and lay it out. Cut 2- 20″ wide sections of Robin Egg Blue Silnylon all 3 yards long. Align the Robin Egg strips on each long side of the Real Teal section in the center. That is, leave approximately 1/2 yard of Real Teal on each short side. Stack and pin them so the outside sides are touching.

Stitch fabric together with flat felled seam:

Use a flat felled seam to connect the three pieces of fabric. If you want a better description of this type of sewing technique, go to Google and/or YouTube. To start, run a straight stitch on each side with about 1/2″ seam allowance. Try to keep the layers lined up as best as possible. With the lightweight and waterproof Silnylon, it’s pretty difficult to keep things together. The fabric is super slippery and it takes patience to keep everything lined up.

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Then, pull apart the layers, fold the longer layer (in my case it was the Real Teal) over the shorter layer (Robin Egg Blue), and then fold once more so no rough edges are exposed (essentially a rolled hem… look that up on YouTube if you need to know).

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Cut to shape:

Following a cat-cut design on the Ripstop By The Roll website (click here and look under the Instructions tab), mark out the corners at 2′ in from the very end. This should leave 6′ between each corner tieout. At the middle of the tarp, measure 6″ up. This will be the highest point of the curved cut. Then, stretch a long and flexible PVC pipe along the marks to trace the curve with a marker. Make a mark in the exact middle of the short sides of the rectangle for the end tieouts/ridgeline. For the side curves, just freestyle it! After the cuts, the tarp should be in its final shape.

Sew a rolled hem around the entire perimeter:

Start sewing a rolled hem. If you need to know what that is, Google or Youtube is a great source. Don’t sew the corners or the end without adding the reinforcement corners!

Sew in corner reinforcement corners:

Custom cut triangles of HEX70 ripstop to fit each of the four corners, and rectangles for each long end. When sewing the rolled hem around the perimeter, slide the reinforcement patch under the fold and sew it in.

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It helps tremendously to pin the corners as you sew the reinforcement patches in. This is definitely not the spot that you want a sloppy stitch, and a clean fold will make things much easier!

Cut Grosgrain ribbons:

By now, the tarp has taken shape and is pretty much done. This is the last sewing step. Cut the wide Grosgrain into 12- 2″ (?????) strips. Use two for each corner, and two for each end. Cut the skinnier Grosgrain into 6- 4″ strips for the tie-down loops.

Sew ends:

To make the loops, simply fold the skinny Grosgrain into a loop with and make the same side up.

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With the tarp’s outside layer down, stack a loop and a strip of wide Grosgrain on top. Tack this on, then sew the perimeter, then add a few more stitches for extra reinforcement. Then, sew the second wide Grosgrain right below, with a slight overlap. Be sure to only sew three sides, allowing for a ‘pocket’ for a trekking pole or stick for use as a ground tarp. Repeat for the other end.

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Sew corners:

Use the same loop technique, but sew the wide Grosgrain ribbons to make an L shape/right angle. Make sure to use plenty of reinforcement stitches!

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Tie Zing-it tieouts:

The tarp is essentially done! All that’s left is to attach the tieouts. I used two half-hitches on the loop side, then a taut line hitch to form another loop for the stake side.

DONE

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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: 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

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