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)
- Total miles: 41.6
- Time hiking: 13:30
Gear and Food: 7-22-16
Day 1 – Friday, July 22, 2016
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
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
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.