Thur. May 16
Trail Day: 048
Miles hiked: 22
Judge C. R. Magney State Park
An amazing thing happened last night. As I was about to doze off I decided to check my phone and I had a signal in my tent! That has never happened before this far up north. A new tower must have been put up recently. I took the opportunity to send a few texts to some friends who are planning to come visit in a few days before I finally dozed off.
When I awoke in the morning the sun was shining. After a hot breakfast I hit the trail and after a few miles I make it to Hellacious Overlook. Isle Royale is clearly visible in the distance and I once again think back on my adventure there last summer. Soon after this the trail becomes dotted with many obstacles; blowdowns and patches of deep snow, some up to two feet deep. At one point right at the base of a hill I encounter a four-foot deep drift and without snowshoes to navigate over it I sink up to my waist. Coming down the other side a bridge over a stream has been washed out and the only way to cross is to carefully pick your way across slippery boulders. I make it across without any trouble and for most of the day trail conditions improve. After descending some steep steps the trail comes out only a dog sled training trail and follows it for several miles allowing for a brisk pace. After this the trail flattens out and emerges onto gravel Camp 20 Road, which the SHT follows for four miles to the boundary of Judge Magney State Park. The trail through the park is fantastic, paralleling the Brule River, allowing access to great views of many waterfalls. One in particular is known as Devil's Kettle Falls. In the summer months the river forks at the top of a bedrock cliff, one fork flows over it and another plunges down into a large kettle never to be seen again. The saying is that scientists still have no idea where the water from the kettle comes out, I would imagine it would be somewhere underneath Lake Superior. Unfortunately because of the recent snow melt the river is raging and the Devil's Kettle is completely submerged, but the raging falls are still impressive. Leaving this spot the trail climbs several hundred stairs almost straight up to the top of the canyon ridge and there leads to the campground where I will be spending the night. When I arrive I take a look around and many more memories flow over me. The last time I camped at this park I was seven years old. I remember meeting Mike and his family at the campsite next to us who offered us shelter under their tarp when a rain storm came in. I remember Mike joining us for a hike to the kettle and him and his family leaving shortly after. I remember our car dying at Grand Portage the next day and having to get towed back to the campground and then to Grand Marais to await repairs for a few days.
I check my phone again, I got a decent signal so I call home to confirm plans for a pickup tomorrow near Grand Marais to start slack packing for a few days. I also get a call from some friends that are planning on joining me on the trail in a few days, it'll be nice to have some company for once. I set up camp and crawl into bed excited about the days to come.
Fri. May 17
Trail Day 049
Miles hiked: 25
The Family Cabin "Shack" near Finland, MN
I'm up early this morning and hiking by first light. The scenery today is some of the best the SHT has to offer. For the most part the trail follows the ridgeline of the Sawtooth Mountains overlooking Lake Superior but today for about a mile and a half the trail comes right down to the shore on the "Lakewalk." I stop here to have breakfast as I did not eat before leaving the park. Next I descend into the Kadunce River Gorge. This is one of my favorite spots on the SHT though I don't come here nearly as often because it's so far north. A spur trail leaves the main trail and follows the rim of the gorge for a mile, allowing a hiker to witness a narrow but incredibly deep canyon. Bypassing this trail and passing by several good campsites I arrive at the next trailhead and see a familiar vehicle. As soon as I appear my mother Roxanne emerges from the driver seat and gives me a big hug. She is overjoyed to see me as she has not seen me since dropping me off near Sibley on Lake Ashtabula almost two months ago. I stop here to take a break as she has some trail magic for me, cold pizza and fresh fruit. I spend the next few minutes recapping my journey through the Boundary Waters. Soon I must push on though as I have still have alot of ground to cover today. We make a plan to get picked up outside Grand Marais near Pincushion Mountain. I switch my pack out for a nice light day pack that makes me feel like an astronaught as I continue down the trail.
The trail immediately plunges down to the banks of Kimball Creek and then back up again as it takes to the ridge top. I encounter a large group of hikers on a weekend escapade, about ten people most of whom have too much gear. I pass them by and keep bounding down the trail with my astronaught pack making good time through gorgeous trail. I pass through a patch of nice mature pines along the rim of the Devil's Track River Gorge before descending into the gorge past a group of campers and out the other side toward Pincushion mountain. I'm surprised when I get close that the entire area is a maze of multiple use trails so I have to keep a careful eye out for blazes. A spur trail leads out to a bald rock outcrop overlooking Grand Marais where I take a few minutes to rest before finishing the final stretch along a ski trail. It is here that I hear something scampering quickly down a tree and a get just enough of a glimpse of it to tell that it is a pine martin trying to avoid detection. Roxanne is waiting for me in the parking lot and we head down to Grand Marais for a good Subway dinner, which I have been craving since leaving Ely. Then it's an hour drive down scenic MN-61 to the family cabin which has come to be known as "The Shack", and is how I will refer to it here after. For the next week this will be base camp as I slack pack the SHT and hopefully make up for some lost time.
Sat. May 18
Trail Day 050
Miles hiked: 17.5
It was nice to wake up inside a heated room this morning. It's drizzling when I get back to the trailhead in Grand Marais and it continues to rain all day. I'm hiking along the North Shore State Snowmobile Trail for a good distance today and it's here that I encounter the first distance-hikers of the season. Bob and Mike are out finishing the entire SHT after hiking half of it last year. I tell them where I'm headed and they seem very enthusiastic about the concept of the NCT. We exchange greetings, talk for a few minutes about gear and planning, and then part ways. The rest of the day is pretty uneventful until I reach Cascade River State Park. Like most of the parks on the North Shore, the main attraction is a big river gorge with the SHT running parallel to it for many miles. The sides are incredibly steep in places and the trail is very narrow. At one of these points I encounter a very large ice flow. I stop and take several minutes to study it as there appears to be no way around. With closer examination I find a route that is possible using tree branches as handles to climb around the inside edge of the canyon. I make it around without incident and continue on without further issues. I arrive at the trailhead quite early in the afternoon and I would like to go further but the next road crossing is ten miles away so I probably could not make it there with this terrain before dark so I call it a day. After heading back to "The Shack" and having some dinner I hear a car horn outside. My friends Tony and Ashley have arrived to hike with me tomorrow. This is the first time I have seen them in two months and I am overjoyed to be with them again. We spend the rest of the night talking about events back home, having a few drinks, and planning the hike tomorrow.
Sun. May 19
Trail Day 051
Miles hiked: 21.5
Everyone is up fairly early this morning and we are excited for the day. Last night we decided to drop Tony and Ashley's car at Lutsen which means they will be hiking with me for about 15 miles today. Everyone packs raingear as it is drizzling when we depart. After dropping of the first car we all hop in Mom's car and we head for Cascade River State Park where I left off yesterday. After taking a group picture at the first waterfall we depart, making our way up and out of the gorge. After only a short distance the rain intensifies and thunder starts rolling in. As we are ascending one of the higher peaks a bolt of lightning crashes across the sky near us as an instantaneous flash and loud boom is heard. We all cower down for a few seconds in terror and then cautiously continue on our way. Before long however, the thunder rolls away and the rain stops allowing for a more comfortable hike. The trail is now following the ridge again and a fog has rolled in obscuring most of the view of the valley below but also provides a unique opportunity for good pictures. Eventually the sky clears and it's good hiking the rest of the day. Eventually we reach a gorgeous section along Lake Agnes, where we pause for awhile to take in the scenery and beauty of the place. After a few more miles we arrive at the trailhead where Tony and Ashley's car is parked and it's time for another goodbye, as I am pushing on another 7 miles to Oberg Mountain. Alas, I had so short a time with these friends before they had to leave, but I'm grateful they were able to make it up here, even if only for a day. Take care dear friends, you will be missed. After parting ways I make my way through Lutsen ski resort, up Moose Mountain and down the other side ending the day at the Oberg Mountain trailhead where Roxanne awaits and it's back to the cabin to rest for the next day.
Mon. May 20
Trail Day 052
Miles hiked: 24
The next two days I'll be hiking trail that I've already hiked in the past. There is a loop around Oberg Mountain that I have hiked multiple times, and I've hiked all the sections of the SHT between here and Tettegouche State Park in their entirety. Never the less it will still be a very enjoyable hike, I never get sick of the trail up here. It's like my home.
The trail today brings me over Leveaux Mountain, Britton Peak, and Carlton Peak before heading into the Temperance River Gorge. I pass a few people out for a day hike despite the wet and chilly weather. Once I'm down in the Gorge I'm not surprised to find the place fairly busy with people. This park is very popular with tourists, easy access off Highway 61. The trail here parallels the gorge on both sides of the river with old walls built by the CCC between the drop off into the gorge and the trail. After leaving the gorge the trail meets up with the Cross River and follows it for several miles displaying gorgeous river-front scenery. The trail eventually leaves the river and wanders southwestward and this part of the trail is very wet from the recent snowmelt. This slows my pace down somewhat and as a result I don't reach the trailhead on Sugarloaf Road until much later than I anticipated, and I decide to bail off here instead of pushing on to Caribou Falls where I originally intended to end the day. It'll be nice to get inside The Shack today and warm up as it was a very wet and chilly day.
Tue. May 21
Trail Day 053
Miles hiked: 26
It's raining again this morning as I begin my hike and continues to rain all day. I make the few miles from Sugar Loaf Road to Caribou Falls pretty quickly and take a few moments to enjoy the view of the falls. A spur trail leads to a large winding staircase that leads to the base of wide river gorge where the falls pour over a tall cliff. It's a very impressive site especially from the fresh snowmelt. As I continue on I am displeased to find most of the trail in this area is completely flooding. Most of the boardwalk I encounter today is either floating or completely submerged depending on how it was constructed. This makes for a very treacherous journey as everything is extremely slippery. I don't even bother trying to keep my feet dry because it's not possible. Most of the hike today takes me through George Crosby Manitou State Park which has some very steep climbs now slushy with mud. Even the larger bridges here are flooded, separated from land by a few feet of water on both sides. I don't think I've ever seen this much flooding up here. The rest of the day is a pretty relaxing hike with rolling terrain, nothing too steep. I pass a fur trapper's cabin and several nice campsites, including one right across from Lilly's Island. This is a unique feature of the SHT as it is simply an small island connected to the main trail by a narrow boardwalk. On it can be found several stone platforms to allow access to the lake for swimming or filtering water and there is also a trail register, which I make sure to sign before moving on. After a few more miles the trail starts to go uphill again and the trail finally drys out somewhat. I pass a familiar spot on the trail and another memory comes into my head. One of my first solo hikes was when I was 14 years old, and it was on this very section of trail. I had been gone for several hours and was on my way back to The Shack when at this very spot I encountered my first black bear. Being a 14 year old kid I wasn't quite sure how to react. It was a smaller bear, so I was a little worried that Momma Bear might be around somewhere. It knew I was there but took it's sweet time leaving the area but once it was out of sight I continued on and made it back to the cabin soon after. With this memory running through my head I emerge from the woods onto a gravel road, turn and take a short walk down the road and reach my cabin, a perfect place to end the day.
Wed. May 22
Trail Day 054
Miles hiked: 23
Today I get an earlier start as I don't have to drive anywhere, I just walk out the door and begin my hike. Today I'm hiking a portion of the trail know as Section 13, the first section of SHT that I ever hiked. When my family purchased the land back in 2003 and we built our cabin, the first thing we did after finishing was take a day hike on this section of trail. Now it's ten years later and I'm finally hiking the whole trail in its entirety. Section 13 has alot of highlights. There is an old logging camp, a large beaver dam with a boardwalk built over it, a large glacial erratic the size of backhoe, and several bald mountain peaks with no names. This section also passes through Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center. To add even more history to this trail... every year the sixth graders from the middle school I attended come to this very environmental center for a week in February to learn about different aspects of the outdoors. As a sixth grader I was here in 2002 for a week with my teachers and classmates, and then a year later my family buys land literally across the street. How does that happen?
The section through Wolf Ridge is fairly rugged, but the real challenged today comes in Tettegouche State Park. The trail crosses the Baptism River on a large suspension bridge and then climbs steeply up a gully known as the drain pipe, and it is aptly named as there is water trickling down it as I climb. After this it climbs directly over Mt. Trudee and Round Mountain before skirting along a cliff edge looking out across Bean and Bear Lakes. I pause here for a few moments to take in the beauty before continuing a general downhill descent toward County Road 5 where I am being picked up today. I'm about a mile and a half away from the trailhead when I pass a spur trail to a campsite and see a sign tacked to a tree. "Strider NCT Party" with an arrow pointing down the spur. I take the trail and arrive at the campsite and see a familiar face. Hence I meet for the fourth time Dave Frey, aka "Diablo." He is a fellow SHT volunteer that was also on the Encampment River Bridge project last year and he hiked the AT in 2007. He was hoping to meet up with me when I came through this area and it turns out he timed it pretty well. We share stories of both our hikes while having a few beers. After about 40 minutes I decide to push on as I don't want to be rude and keep Roxanne waiting. We shake hands and then I head back to the trail. I'm exhausted as I reach the trailhead as today was a very tough section.
Thur. May 23
Trail Day 055
Miles hiked: 26
I'm very excited this morning because soon I will have another friend joining me for a few days. On top of that the weather has improved and it looks like it's going to be a very nice day. The hike begins at the trailhead on County Road 5 where I ended yesterday. Just as I am about to begin Diablo emerges from the woods on the way back to his car. He informs me that we forgot to take a picture yesterday and he is right. Luckily there is a guy in the parking lot ready to go for an ATV ride that is able to take our photo. After shaking hands with Diablo again I start off down the trail. After I few miles today I am hiking along the Beaver River which has several fantastic campsites. I pass a few day hikers on this stretch out enjoying the day. Soon the trail climbs uphill to Fault Line Ridge where I get a view a few hundred feet down into a wide canyon. There are quite a few blow downs along the ridge and I pass a trail steward doing maintenance clearing the fallen trees. Thank you sir for your hard work. I take a rest once I reach the ridge above the Split Rock River and I have a grand view all around. I can see Split Rock Lighthouse off to the northeast, the mouth of the river to the east, and of course the grand view of the Lake fading out into the distance. I continue on and the trail descends into the gorge crossing a bridge over the raging river. On the west bank I come face to face with The Split Rock, the land form that gives the river and the surrounding area it's name. It's basically a large slab of rock that has somehow been cloven right down the middle. Littering the forest floor our hundreds of pieces of loose rock, but unlike ballast they are flat and smooth and are not nearly as treacherous to walk on. After clearing this area I have a few more miles to go to reach Gooseberry Falls which is my destination for today. This park was always my favorite as a kid until I got older and the park got more crowded at which point my favorite became Tettegouche, but I still enjoy coming to this spot time after time every year. I get a good video of the falls and then head to the visitor center to await my friend who should be arriving soon. No sooner do I arrive and sit down that I get a text message, she has just arrived and is on her way down. Impeccable timing! Within a few moments I stand up, she comes around the corner and I am face to face with Karlee, a great friend from college. She has decided to come and hike with me the next few days and it will be so nice to have company again. We decide to catch up a little before heading to the cabin so we decide to hike the short loop around the falls. On the way to her car we pass two women coming down the trail and I recognize one of them as Gail Coyer, the Executive Director of the Superior Hiking Trail Association. I say hi and she recognizes me from all the times I volunteered on the trail work crews. We have a short chat and she asks me how the trail has been so far and I talk about the bridges that were washed out and the flooded trail north of here. She wishes me luck and then we part ways.
When we arrive at The Shack I show Karlee around and introduce her to Roxanne who has got dinner ready to go in the oven. We spend the next couple hours enjoying dinner, catching up on events back home, and then planning the hike for tomorrow. Karlee is a marathon runner and did the ultra marathon on the SHT last year, so we decide to do a solid 21 miles tomorrow. I have no doubt she will do fine.