Pictures (just a few) down below. In the meantime, here's a bit of a trip report from my solo trip to Jay Cooke State Park in Minnesoat (south of Duluth) on the weekend of November 5-7, 2010
Jay Cook State Park is a few miles south of Duluth, MN and straddles the St. Louis River on its way north to Duluth. It has some spectacular rapids and falls near the park HQ.
I arrived early afternoon Friday and chatted with the park ranger at the office before selecting one of the park's four remote backpack sites. I picked the "Ash" site overlooking the St. Louis River and asked about water for the site (Should I use the river?) She politely suggested that I'd be better off using one of the creeks that fed the river. Thus forewarned, I hiked a bit more than an hour to my campsite.
After setting up, I backtracked a quarter of a mile or so to a small creek and filled my "dirty" filter bag for the gravity filter. I poked around the campsite, gathered firewood for both the Bushbuddy and a REAL fire, keeping an eye on the sun. Sunset happens fast this time of year! As I worked on my dinner (Chicken Gumbo from Pack-it-Gourmet), the sun dropped behind the hill and the temperature started dropping from a relatively pleasant 45 degrees F. to below freezing in about an hour. Even with the task of feeding the fire, I wound up in the hammock about 7pm with the company of my latest novel to pass the time. I was asleep by 8pm or so, but slept fitfully as my Crow's Nest UQ was not snugging up to my backside as it should. After repeated attempts of shifting around to find a good, warm spot and even some verbal encouragement, I hauled myself out of the hammock about 11pm for some field expedient adjustments. I shortened the UQ suspension shock cord and looped the ends with S-biners in a Marlinspike hitch to create a suspension point about 10 inches inboard from the whipping bundles of the hammock and connected to the ridgeline with the S-biner. Success!!! What I was doing was making a "hillbilly" solution to emulate the triangle UQ suspension things from Paul at Arrowhead Equipment. Warm bottom ensued! The temperature dropped to 22 degrees at its low point, freezing the ground in the campsite and making it cold enough for frost both above and below on my BWDD Winter Dreams tarp.
With the Crows Nest UQ, the Winter weight Burrow TQ (it was coasting at this temp!), and a JRB Torso Pad underneath my legs, I was comfy all night. I stayed in the hammock until sunrise (about 7:20am) listening to the regular sounds of gunfire all around the park (outside its boundaries). Saturday was the opening day of the three week deer season for gun hunters in Minnesota. After breakfast, I left the hammock, tarp and insulation in camp and headed out for an 8-9 mile "dayhike". With the ups and downs, even with a light pack, I got a pretty good workout, lunched at the end of the trail overlooking the St. Louis River from a cliff about 150 feet above it, and followed a circular loop trail back to my campsite arriving about 3:30pm. I puttered around camp (after making sure all my gear was still there) reading, fine-tuning my UQ suspension changes, and generally getting ready for dinner, early turn-in and another longish dark night. Oh yes, and I had to remember to set my watch back an hour in honor of the change from Daylight Savings to Standard time.
I was up and out of camp by 8am Sunday hiking about an hour back to the car and 2 1/2 hour drive home. I saw no other backpackers at all on this trip, and encountered only 4 dayhikers (and 7 dogs) during the day on Saturday.
1. I saw lots of wolf scat on the trails. It's easy to identify because of the large amounts of squirrel fur!
2. I remembered to take a small fanny pack with me to keep my camera, cellphone and other battery-powered gizmos warm and happy. This fanny pack has a buckle on the side so it can be worn with my backpack but the buckle doesn't get in the way. The fanny pack rides in front under my outer top to stay warm.
3. My 1 liter Nalgene bottles filled with near-freezing water actually stayed mostly liquid overnight in the Granite Gear insulated covers. My Camelbak "Unbottle" bladder stayed unfrozen inside my pack (barely), helped out by the insulated bladder cover and warmer (50 or so degrees) mid-day temps.
4. My ULA Circuit Pack was pretty well maxed out with the extra down and other clothing needed for a trip in temperatures down to the low 20's. For even colder weather (more stuff, bulkier clothing, change in stove from Bushbuddy to MSR Dragonfly, and other winter (vs. 3 season) gear) I will need to carry a bigger winter-sized backpack. I have a Dana Design Astralplane (7,250 cu. inches, almost 120 litersl!!!) that is HUGE, and more than I need. Heck, the pack by itself weighs nearly 8 lbs, but it's VERY well made and carries comfortably for all its overkill traits! It'll probably have to do for this winter since I just don't want to spend the money right now to get something else!
5. I actually managed to decapitate one of my Easton Aluminum tent stakes I was using for my tarp! I hauled on the pull loop to extract the stake and the head came away from the aluminum stake which remained firmly embedded in the partly frozen, wet clay soil! I've never had that happen before! The headless stake is now buried honorably in that campsite 'cause it was NOT gonna budge!
6. I used my newly acquired Dachstein wool mittens and hat for the coldest nighttime and early morning periods. Warm and toasty! Other new gear, my Inov8 Terroc 330 trail runners were a dream, though right at the edge of not offering enough warmth in 20-something temperatures if I wasn’t walking.
7. I was reminded again of how little clothing one needs to wear to stay comfortable and warm while hiking…and how quickly you need to layer up once you stop! This gets very dramatic as the weather gets colder, ‘cause sweating when it’s cold is NOT a good or safe thing to do. The temperatures on this trip were no big deal to cope with even with a 8-15 mph wind, but a trip where the HIGH temperature is 25 or less is a different animal and needs a new mindset to deal with water, cooking and staying comfortable (but not hot).
8. Minor irritation: My “dirty” water bladder (from Platypus) that feeds my gravity filter system did NOT want to zip closed. It works well even when it’s open/unzipped, but I expected the zip closure to work better than it did! I’ve decided to replace it with the MSR Hyperflow Gravity Kit bag. This has a standard roll-top closure and should be less prone to malfunction.
View of St. Louis River from the "Swinging Bridge"
Camp above the river in calm section of the river. Tarp is a Backwoods Day Dreamer "Winter Dreams". Hammock is a WB Traveler 1.7 dbl.
Lunchtime view of the river from a high bluff
Beep on the trail