Hiking Dude Blog
2021 - Jan
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Finally preparing for a real hike this year!
Like the vast majority of hikers, I've been doing the #stayathome #staysafe #stayhealthy #socialdistancing #recreateresponsibly and all the other hashtags encouraging us to minimize our impact on the spreading of covid-19. I've been walking about 6 miles each morning since March and have started doing an hour or so of hill hiking with a pack on for the past couple weeks. On August 3, I'll be heading out for a week of backpacking.
Since my first trek in the Cloud Peak Wilderness near Buffalo, WY 15 years ago, I've wanted to hike the complete Solitude Loop Trail but each year I've led a group instead. This year, there's no group going so I finally get to give it a try to hike the 60-mile loop solo.
A backpacking friend is driving with me and will do his own solo trip for a few days while I scurry all the way around the mountain. Then, we'll drive home together. So, the only pandemic impact we should have is any stops we make on the drive.
We are packing our own food and the drive will be about 13 hours. So, our only stops will be for gas and bathroom. Using credit cards, there's no risk of exposure getting gas. That means 3 or 4 minutes in a gas station bathroom every few hours is our only opportunity to contract or pass the virus. I feel that is a miniscule and socially responsible risk.
My trek plan is to start at Hunter trailhead on the east side of the wilderness area. We'll arrive Monday evening and I'll hike in a few miles north to find a campsite before it gets dark. If all goes well, I'll make it the 8 miles to Elk Lake where I meet the actual Solitude Trail 038 but I don't expect to make it that far.
The next morning, starting around dawn, I'll hike counter-clockwise to the west, covering the section of trail that I've never been on. This way, I'll have the more familiar sections later so I'll have a good idea of how long they'll take. I plan to walk 20 miles, or until I get tired. If that doesn't happen, and the weather is clear, it's a full moon so I might just hike into the night for a little excitement. I hope to reach Duncan Lake at the northwest corner of the loop to camp.
On the second full day of hiking, I head south over Geneva Pass and then a long, downhill section. At the Paintrock Creek ford, I head east and up into the higher part of the loop past Lake Solitude and to the base of Cloud Peak. If I reach this spot late in the day, I'll camp here. If I arrive early, I have to make a decision. I could stop for the day, do a summit climb of Cloud Peak on day 3 and then hike out on day 4. Or, I could push on east over Florence Pass and camp at Medicine Park then complete the loop on day 3 and have a short hike out on day 4.
And, as you experienced folks know, as soon as I set foot on the trail, the plan changes. So, we'll just see what adventure the trail provides.
If you'd like to follow along, my tracker will be plinking my location here on my blog throughout the days of hiking. I'll write each day, but I doubt there will be any coverage to post until I get off trail.
As part of my commitment as a 2020 Granite Gear GroundsKeeper, I'll be picking up any trash I find and packing it out. Hopefully, I'll find more the last day and not the first. I'll let you know how it goes. So far this year, I've gathered over 350 pounds of trash on my local hikes around town.
I just completed my SECOND thru-hike of the year! I'm so proud! :-)
I admit that when I posted about my virtual SHT thru-hike back in March I figured life would be normalized by now. Oops! With the pandemic persisting, the National Scenic Trail organizations continue to recommend local hiking.
So, I continue to put in my 5 to 7 miles most mornings and that has finally added up to 800 miles - the length of the Arizona Trail. You can see in the image above that I've covered and re-covered most of my local area. The red circle is about 6 miles in diameter. I hiked for 90 to 100 minutes 5 times a week for 27 weeks.
I know it's not as interesting as a long trail, but better than nothing. Now, I'm working on either the Pacific Northwest Trail, ice Age Trail, or Florida Trail - I haven't decided yet but they are all similar lengths. And, I have about 350 miles or so to complete them.
By the way, I've also picked up over 350 pounds of trash over my 800 miles as a 2020 GroundsKeeper through Granite Gear. Might as well accomplish something while walking.
You can do a Virtual Thru Hike too!
You can virtually hike your trail of choice while staying safe and doing some good where you live. Here's how:
- Get up early while it's still cool and the trails are less crowded. Around 7:30am, our trails just fill up, so I go at 6:30.
- Use gmap.pedometer.com to figure out an 8-mile route around your community.
- Hike this route in 2.5 hours.
- Get home by 9am for a shower.
- Repeat 5 times a week, making new routes.
- Take a bag along and pick up litter.
- Easy Peasy
When you're all packed and just waiting to start a trek, but you don't leave until tomorrow... Time moves sooooo slow just like this turtle on the trail. This is when you have to refrain from adding just this one little item or that extra food. It's not needed and just makes more weight. As long as I don't forget my toothbrush, I'll be fine.
I finished hiking for today. You can check out my current location on the map and I'll post about my day when I am in coverage.
Last week, I solo hiked about 65 miles around the Cloud Peak Wilderness in Wyoming on the Solitude Trail. It was a great, grueling adventure that I said I'd never need to do again, but am already looking forward to trying as soon as someone says they want to go with me. :-)
I just finished the writing and you can read about it on my 2020 Cloud Peak Solitude Trail hike page.
I finished hiking for today. You can check out my current location on the map and I'll post about my day when I am in coverage.
(Click any photo to see original size)
On this adventure, I took my wife and my brother-in-law on a 36-mile loop hike to touch both the highest and lowest points in Minnesota. This is a hike I've been wanting to do for a few years, just to see what it is like since I've not heard of anyone else doing it.
You can see a track of our walk HERE
We drove to Duluth Saturday evening and stayed overnight with the BiL, otherwise the day would be half over before we started hiking if we drove all the way from the Twin Cities.
On Sunday morning, we left at 7am and drove up the North Shore past Cascade River state park, onto County Road 7, and then wiggled our way up to the intersection of forest road 157 and 158, also known as Cascade River Road and Bally Creek Road. This is about the halfway point of our planned hiking adventure.
Just a hundred feet or so north, the CL Ramstad snowmobile trail intersects FS158 and that is where we parked.
Just as we were leaving our car to head north up the dirt road at 9:36am, we heard a shotgun blast very close. We quickly changed into our orange and yellow shirts. Less than a hundred yards up the road, we walked past a pick-up truck with three hunters and a dog. As I'd find out throughout the day, driving a pick-up along forest roads is a preferred method for some 'hunters' around here. But, it probably has some success since we saw four or five grouse along the road.
The first 6 mile leg of our route was simple - follow FS158 to the northern end. The road Ts and at the intersection is the trailhead for Eagle Mountain. The road walk was easy, and it was nice for a morning walk through the forest, but there's not much to take pictures of.
We weren't the only ones that thought a Sunday hike to the highest point in Minnesota was a good idea. Over 20 cars in the parking lot, and 52 people on trail, but it didn't feel too crowded.
I self-registered and got our permit at the trailhead kiosk. The locked box where I deposited the permit was so full, I had to crush it into the slot on top and hope it stayed. The permit is mandatory but free since we're doing a day hike in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
There's one nice picnic table at the trailhead so we stopped for a snack and used the pit toilet. If you visit here, be sure to bring your own toilet paper - there were 6 empty rolls and 2 usable when we started our hike - they were all empty by the time we finished.
The trail starts at about 1750 feet elevation. About .9 miles in, you enter the BWCA at Whale Creek - the sign is kind of obvious.
At 2.1 miles, a wonderful view of Whale Lake opens to the north with a hill (excuse me, mountain) across the lake that is just 100 feet shorter than Eagle Mountain.
At 2.4 miles, the Brule Lake trail splits off the Eagle Mountain trail to continue west for another 5 miles or so. It stays flat, but here is where we start our climb up Eagle Mountain, rising from 1900 feet up to 2301 feet in a little over 3/4 mile. That's only 400 feet with a few steep spots, but mostly a nice, consistent ascent.
OK, so what's at the top?
Well, I was very surprised to see such a memorial here! There is a geodetic marker embedded in the summit rock as I expected, but there is also a very large metal plaque installed by the MN Historic Society - Read It. There is also a large old first aid case acting as a geocache, full of Clif bars, bandaids, and a couple trail registries. I did not sign in, but did leave a couple stickers for anyone to take.
The most interesting thing about the summit was the geodetic marker. It was cemented in place in 2002 and gives an elevation as 2298.15 according to the stamped brass marker. That's 3 feet short of the 2301 feet advertised height - what's the deal??? (actually, the marker is so defaced that I had to find an older image to read.)
I looked at the past few days in the trail registry and it looked to be an average of about 20 new sign-ins each day. This is a POPULAR trail!
One thing missing at the summit is a view. It is covered in forest, but a wonderful view is just a few feet down from the summit where a rock plateau makes for a wonderful rest spot to scan the forest below all the way to the vanishing horizon with 4 or 5 lakes in the woods below.
We visited a week or so too early for great fall colors at this spot, but the sea of green below us will be brilliant yellows around the end of September.
After a short rest, we headed back down the trail at 1:15pm to make room for others at the top. The trail itself was a mix of easy flat tread, roots, and rocks. So much traffic tends to wear trail tread down, increasing erosion and making it a rougher hike. I'd recommend using hiking poles if you're used to them.
We had a nice lunch at the trailhead picnic table, very surprised that it was not being used. That was followed by a brisk 6 mile hike back to our car. Since we were back by 4:30, we decided to 'glamp' and drove into Grand Marais for dinner at Voyageurs Brewery instead of cooking our own.
Just before sunset, we returned and set up camp for the night. We just pitched our tents on the snowmobile trail since we were on the Superior forest. It was a warm, dry, breezy evening with no bugs and the stars were brilliant.
Our second day started with another brisk 6-mile hike along dirt forest roads. Since today was Monday, there were only a couple log trucks and no hunters out. Most of this section was across the higher Minnesota forest, with a few rises and falls over hills as we slowly dropped only a hundred feet towards Lake Superior at the very end.
The hills closer to Lake Superior had more color, so we were treated to many red, orange, and yellow trees along the way.
Since we started hiking around 7:30am, we reached the Superior Hiking Trail at about 9:30 and headed down the last 3.3 miles to the lake. Well, it was actually down, and then up, and then down, and then up, ... as we hiked into and out of every side gully that drains into the Cascade River. Here's what I mean...
Since the SHT runs up both sides of the Cascade River, this 7 mile loop is very popular. It is a great example of the SHT being loved to death by thousands of hikers like us visiting it each year. With so many footsteps, the trail tread, erosion structures, and steps eventually wear out, as you can see here. This part of the SHT is in great need of some maintenance. Once the developed trail erodes, people tend to create their own paths and everything breaks down even faster.
The lowest half mile or so gets the most traffic since it has beautiful waterfalls, constructed bridges, and a nice parking area directly on Highway 61. We encountered about 40 people, and there were people waiting to get a photo at this spot - probably the most photographed spot on the Cascade River. :-)
We played Frogger to get across Highway 61 to reach Minnesota's lowest point at 602 feet on the shore of Lake Superior at 11:45am. So, we made it from the high point to the low point in about 22.5 hours. We enjoyed lunch, lake, sun, and breeze for a half hour and then started our climb back up to our car.
Instead of hiking up the SHT, I decided to take an alternate route using the cross country ski trails in the park. What a great idea! Insted of PUD after PUD, the ski trails made a constant, gradual ascent. Going this way, we were treated to an easy walk through quiet forest with many grouse, fall colors, and no tourists.
Our ski trail connected to an old forest road which brought us back to the dirt road we had walked down, but this new route cut off about a mile of road. To get more off-road miles, we followed two sections of the CL Ramstad snowmobile trail back. We hadn't taken them at first because I was concerned they might be swampy and overgrown. As it turns out, the trail was a wonderful walk even though it cut through a logging operation for a half mile.
We reached our car at around 3:45pm for a total Shore to Summit loop time of 30 hours.
(Click any photo for full size)
After we completed our Shore-2-Summit Loop, we took a day to give the Superior Hiking Trail a little TLC.
Last year, we participated in the Blue Blaze Blitz to repaint all the blue blazes along the entire 310 mile trail. This summer, the SHT Association asked me if I'd be able to touch up a section that was in need, so I said, 'Ya, sure, you betcha!'
I picked up a bag full of supplies from the front porch of my SHTA contact in Duluth which included a scraper, paint, brush, stencil, clean-up rags, and a map of the area to blaze. This time, we were assigned a 3.5 mile section just north of Duluth city limits. We would hike 7 miles since we would need to blaze in both directions.
We were blessed with the third practically perfect day in a row to be out hiking. Great temperature, no bugs, no humidity, no weather, and trees in their colorful progression towards winter.
As you can see, the trail here is wide open and obvious. That's because this section runs on the C.J. Ramstad/North Shore Snowmobile Trail which is flat, wide, and brush-free. Blazes are not really needed along here, but many hikers like to see them occasionally just for reassurance.
The vast majority of blazes we made were just touching up existing paint. We counted out 100 paces and would typically find a tree in the area that was easy to see and had an old, faded blaze. On the few occasions where there was no existing blaze, a scraper was used to remove lichen and dirt for a new blaze about 6 feet up a tree. Occasionally, I broke down brush that was growing in front of a blaze to make it more visible.
When the snowmobile trail portion was complete, we still had 3/4 mile to do where the SHT ran beside a road. The trail was obvious and there were very few trees, so we just touched up a couple carsonite posts we could find and one or two trees.
Unfortunately, the trail was so obvious that we walked right past the unmarked spot where the SHT abruptly leaves the roadside at someone's driveway while an obvious trail continues along the road. I had to come back with mineral spirits and wipe off a blaze I overenthusiastically made past the turn-off.
To help make the turn more obvious, we put a SHT sticker with a blue arrow on the only small tree around and added a sticker to a wooden sign in the driveway. We got the opportunity to see if the stickers helped immediately.
A female thru-hiker came walking down the trail just after I got the extraneous blaze wiped off so I stopped to see what she would do. She walked right past the driveway and kept going on the obvious path just as we had done. So, I asked if she was hiking the SHT and pointed out that it left the roadway here when she said she was. Whew, catastrophe averted, but I expect it is a very commonly missed turn.
Speaking of thru-hikers... Besides the one at the driveway, we ran into three others, plus a solo man on a section hike, and a couple that looked like they were on a long trek (but they did not stop to chat). These two young ladies visited with us for a few minutes which was the highlight of the day! They looked way too fresh and energetic to have been on the trail since the Canadian border nearly 3 weeks ago.
It is amazing to me how many people are hiking the entire SHT this year. These two each received a Hiking Dude sticker for their water bottles.
All the thru-hikers we met were female, and two of them were solo hiking the trail.
You can see a track of our walk HERE - it is the tiny bit down by Duluth.
Please consider volunteering to help maintain the trails in your community. And, tomorrow (Sept. 26) is Natl Public Lands Day and there might be a volunteer event near you to join.
This will be our home for a week, starting tomorrow as we head out on a yo-yo hike of the Kekekabic Trail.
The Kek is about 40 miles long and we hope to hike from one end to the other and back to the start - that's 80 miles total. We're probably a bit late for top fall colors, but we should see some.
The Kek volunteer group has lent me a saw to carry and take care of any brush I have time to tackle. I don't expect much since trail crews were just out last month, but we'll see.
You can follow our progress on this Kek Trek page. (there's nothing there until we start)
I completed a yoyo hike of the Kekekabic Trail in Northern Minnesota with my wife this week. We took 5 days 2 hours and 20 minutes to hike from the western terminus by Ely, MN to the eastern terminus on the Gunflint Trail road and back to the start.
It was a great adventure in the solitude of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, walking rather than the usual paddling.
Read all about the trail on my Kekekabic Trail page, or just read my hike report with pictures.
As a bonus, Kelly got recognized for the first recorded Fastest Known Time for a supported Female on the trail - see her FKT page!
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Feb 13, 2020 - Jason Berklund
Getting to the northern terminus is expensive (in my mind). If you can schedule correctly, Arrowhead Transit is cheapest to Grand Marais, but then Harriet Quarles is the only shuttle I know of. You might find a good ol' boy in Grand Marais willing to drive you the 35 miles to the end for a few $$$.
It's a 3 hour drive from Duluth - that's 6 hours and 300 miles round-trip. Maybe your friend would like to drive up the north shore for a day.
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