As I approach the daunting age of 50 years there is nothing I really need as a gift other than a trip to the piney Northwood's. Headed out Wednesday late afternoon for the 4-hour drive to the Oberg Mnt. Trailhead. Arrived around 8 PM and hiked a half mile south to a camp on the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT). As I followed the blue blazes I knew in an instant that the walking would be arduous. Ice, water running on trail, huge puddles, blow-downs and corn snow faced me and I accepted the challenge for some wood time. Conditions were said to be so …so I needed to see for myself these conditions in the first of May on SHT.
Drenched ground made me thankful that I had my DIY hammock with straps and BlackBishop Bag (16oz.), 1/2 sized down under quilt (UQ) 10 oz., weather shield (7 0z.) for bottom protection and added wind block and warmth. To boot I was bringing a new MacCat type tarp I made to test (15oz. with lines, tensioners, snakeskins).
Leavoux Mountain hang.jpg
Suspension was polyester webbing from Ed Speers, Jacks R Better (JBR) tri-glides and one lightweight carabineer. Worked flawlessly and the tri-glides work well as rain drip inhibiters. Also easy to adjust the taughtness of the hammock hang. First night got down temperature wise to 34º and sleep was sound in the hammock. Warm and snug. I slept with a Thermarest Ridgerest CCF pad cut into a short piece for foot end and torso for torso. Had the torso pad in the hammock with me and got some condensation. The next two nights I used only the footpad and 1/2 UQ and slept so well. It is nice to just get in and maybe tweak the footpad and snooze away with no fuss. Of course if need be in colder weather I will add the torso pad but even in near freezing weather this system worked wonderfully. Since I had the weather shield under me I tossed the torso pad in that. It was hanging low and not touching the UQ so I really am not sure if it contributed to warmth at all.
Woke to a cold morning at 5:45AM and got to see were I slept because I set up in the dark. Cedar and pines in a shady grove. Even at night I make sure to really take the time to check for widow makers or any tree that looks dodgy and could fall on me. Looking for the direction of which most have fallen helps and checking overhead and the actual trees that I am hanging from give me a more secure gut feeling. That is the scariest event in the forest to me and with the strong winds on this trip plus all the downed trees from winter laying everywhere, I am vigilant on making sure that I am as protected as can be. But the wild will do what the wild does!
So breakfast was had… grits, pop tart, bacon that I cook at home and bring and instant espresso. M-m-m-m. *Sitting in the hammock as a lounger/seat while I cook under my tarp is the best. Easy on my aging body being up off the ground and not down on my knees. I like that part of hammocking immensely.
Broke camp and set off by 6:30 for a long day. Shooting for 20 miles….. But the trail had set up an obstacle course for me.
My ULA Catalyst was around 26 lbs. as it is still shoulder season and I felt I needed to be prudent and bring extra warm clothing and also was testing some extra gear. Let me mention and give credo to my Black Diamond Flick Lock trekking poles. I am rough on them and they always perform to my standards. It is nice to employ the various walking techniques with them and also use them as tarp supports.
Shug and ULA Catalyst.jpg
The walk from Oberg through Moose Mountain And Lutsen Mountain is some of the most challenging on the SHT and the blow downs were constant along with ice/snow/water on the trail. Had to actually post-hole through the snow in spots on the north side of ridges. Slowed me down but I managed to get in 16 miles to Spruce Creek Camp.
The weather was nice and cool. No rain but windy. The wind made me really appreciate my GoLite Wind Shirt (3 oz.) as it adds warmth with out getting too hot and it dries really quickly. And yes, it cuts the wind. Kudos to this garment!
Stopped for a hot lunch at around 1:00. Fired up a wood burning, light weight stove I am testing and boiled up some soup with only a small amount of dry twigs. I cannot divulge the details of the stove yet but it is fun and works really well with minimal fussing. I like the smoke and warmth. Carried a new item as well for the first time… the ULA Amigo Pro water filter. At 7.5 ozs. It is worth the carry.
No pumping gravity filter and the bag and handles make it a snap to fill and carry to camp. Couple of times had to scoop water with my cook pot and pour it in the bag when the creek was so shallow but not a bother. I detest pumps, as they always seem to break on me in the woods. Also have been using Aqua Mira drops on most trips and they serve me well but I am impatient when thirsty and I do not carry extra water on me, only what I may drink to the next source. The Amigo is quick and easy and light. Kudos to this item. Had a cigar après lunch and feeling refreshed commenced the hump. Many of the designated campsites on the SHT are in rough shape after the winter. In particular the Little Indian River site. LOTS of trees down. Looks like giant pick up sticks. I would not want to pitch there! Arrived at Spruce Creek camp at 6:30PM and it is a really washed out camp
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but is by the rushing and quite large Spruce Creek, hence the name, in a steep little defile. Thaw waters rush through here and it shows by the exposed roots. Since I was hanging in the hammock it was no dilemma. Finally found suitable trees that felt safe and dangled away. Had I been tenting and planning on going to ground it would have been less than ideal. Rivulets everywhere. But my site was sublime and I snoozed with the tarp set “lean-to style” and woke in the patter of rain around 6:00AM. Hard to get out of the comfort of my hammock. But rise I did and retrieved my food from the bear hanging limb and chowed. Morning espresso gave me the boost I needed as my legs felt a wee tired and one knee was creakin' a bit. Feeling my age after pushing like a younger man…or dude. It was a cold rain so I donned my DIY Kinsman Pullover (14oz.) from a kit from Thru-Hiker. This was its first time on a trip and I must say I was very happy with it! Kudos to this item! The way it slides right on and off with that Momentum 90 fabric is fast and slick. No clinging whatsoever. Undoubtedly warm and packs down small. I love it and it will be on all cold to cool trips with me from now to the end of my time. Seriously.
Glad that I brought assuredly quality raingear. The morning rain never stopped and was steady all day. Coupled with high winds and cold temperatures around 40º it made for a bone-chilling walk at times. I got to walking at 7:30 and although I kept a brisk pace on good trail sections, the horrendous trail conditions slowed me and I definitely felt the cold. Wearing my Marmot rain jacket with pit zips (10 oz.) and Sierra Design rain pants with full side zips (12.9 oz.) I was able to control sweating and the chilling of high winds. Sounded like a freight train coming at me at times. They both are actually waterproof but if you walk all day in the rain you will get moist. They also cut the wind. My trusty Prana pants were worn under the rain pants; they dry quickly in most cases but nothing dries when you hang them in camp in that rainy moisture. Tough pants though, I always wear out right knees on pants and after 2 years of rough duty they hold true. Not even a sign of wearing through yet.
Around 1:30 I was feeling cold, especially my hands. This was the failure in my system. I put on thin Manzella gloves but they got soaked and after awhile did not hold any warmth. Then I put baggies over my hands and constantly squeezed my hiking poles as I walked. That helped. I had fleece gloves for camp but did not want to get them wet at all as I know they would be impossible to dry out. (Since I got home I ordered over mitts from Brian Frankle at ULA.) I was now tired and I knew I needed to stop and get hot food and beverage in me gut. Stopped at North Cascade River camp and pitched the tarp to block that relentless wind and made lunch. Glad I had with me my Snow Peak Giga Power Stove. It lights right up with its own igniter and boils FAST! Got soup, cocoa and shortbread in me and started slowly to warm a bit but that dang wind will rob a body of heat. Let me say that I was aware of the situation and know the danger of hypothermia. The weather that was around me is far more threatening than dead of winter camping as the combo of cold, rain and high wind is serious in my opinion. I am so grateful that I took the time while walking to plan my next logical move and did not let my inner desire to “keep pushing forward” to prevail. So we continue…. Another 7.5 miles and I was at a sheltered place to set up. I say sheltered from the wind. Many places I wanted to stop earlier but the wind was just too much in these places, so doggedly I moved on looking for windbreak. Put in around 15 mile. Not bad in those conditions … and do not forget about all those blow-downs! They really slow a feller down. Made camp at North Bally Creek Pond.
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A truly charming beaver pond/creek site. Fresh moose tracks all over the wet, muddy ground. Also lots of wolf scat along the trail. Some bear as well but I did not see any. Nor the moose. Or the wolf but seven or so years back in this same stretch I did come face to face with a wolf. It was a brief encounter but I think I startled him as well. Cool moment. I could tell by the rapid staccato of my heartbeat.
First thing was to change out of wet clothes and boots and put on dry stuff. Thanks to my ULA Catalyst pack with pack cover all was totally dry. Wonderfully terrific backpack. Knowing the weather was going to be wet I also had sleeping bag and clothes in trash compactor bags as added protection. Very worth doing in these conditions in early May in Minnesota. Put on dry Smartwool zip top, poly long underwear, Smartwool socks, Gortex socks over those then into my Crocs. Usually do not carry camp shoes but since I was aware that the trail would be submersed in water I brought them along. Am I glad I did! Comfy and dry feet now. Also pulled on my Mont Bell Thermawrap synthetic pants. I debated bringing them and at the last and final moment tossed them in and I am so fortunate that I did. They saved me! Kudos to them! It was very chilly … to the bone chilly and still raining and windy although not too bad in this camp. Finally pulled on my Kinsman Pullover and my down vest and JRB down sleeves. I love those sleeves. Balaclava and Possum Down beanie and I was good. Put back on the raingear to set up tarp and camp. Once the hammock was hung safely, I took off the raingear and pulled on the wind shirt over all the top layers. Later I put it on still wet under my Kinsman and it dried quickly. But I was warm by then and felt safe to do so.
Shug is finally warm!.jpg
Got dinner going … pasta and sauce that I dehydrated in my old Ronco dehydrator. Add some Parmesan cheese, olive oil and pepper and I had a feast by candle light in my hammock dry and warm in the steady rain. The silnylon MacCat tarp that I made worked exceptionally! No leaks and no rain blowing in. Because it is a tarp it does get some condensation inside and will occasionally mist me. Once you understand that there are no worries. I was proud that it held in such wind. At this point I needed water but did not want to venture back out in the rain. The water was running right there off of my tarp and one of the tie outs made the perfect point for rainwater to drip right off in a stream. Put my cook pot under the stream and filled it up. Boiled it and was quite pleased with me!
Well it was late and I was wiped out. Pitched the tarp down tight for the night and dreamed those dreams one only has while sleeping in the forest. I had to rise a couple off times to pee and the rain was a mixture of snow and rain. Slush on the tarp. No matter. I crawled back in the hammock warmed underneath by my UQ and on top by my Western Mountaineering 20º down bag. Ahhh. All night I could hear the raging wind as it gusted through the woods but luckily it was avoiding me for the most part. Just the occasional blast but it was always brief. It was exciting to hear it! I woke to snow at 6:00AM
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Shug 'n' Snow.jpg
It was 30º and still raining/slushing/snowing. Water was running under my hammock but I was high and dry! One of my already soaked boots (Keens) was in a river of water but I laughed. One thing I was glad to really find out was that if I stay moving my feet are fine in soaked boots and socks. I knew that I had to pull on those wet socks from yesterday and shivered at the thought. But once moving all warms fast.
As I had breakfast I had to make a choice. My dilemma was that it was only 6 miles to the town of Grand Marais, my finish point. I was well ahead of schedule so I could afford to wait out the snow and rain. Let us not forget the wind as well. I did not want to face that in droves for the walk ahead was through boggy areas and parts of the North Country snowmobile trail. I looks easy to walk but it is not. Covered in snow that has ice on the edges that causes falls and if walking on it you have to do what I call 'nervous steps'. Melt water runs beneath it and you break though. So I had a leisurely morn enjoying the beautiful snow but was watching the sky and hoping for a break. Although I could have hung out all day (I did bring _ a paperback but never read any) I get bored just hanging out solo. Smoked a cigar, made more tea and waited. Now 9:00. My Prana pants were wet and I dreaded putting them on so I pulled them on over all my layers, right over the rain pants. They soon dried. YES!! My legs were stiff and a bit achy. Popped some Ibuprofen and then did the circle walk in camp ala “Midnight Express”. Warmed them up. Waited more. Got water and tried to make a moose appear by force of will. Failed. I am no Kreskin. Finally saw clear sky and rain stopped. Broke camp and took off. Sun came out and I took off rain gear as things started drying some. Came to the boggy area and had to chuckle. It was totally flowing over and I walked through water up to mid shin for a lot of it. I was not as bad as it sounds though. That area is strangely fetching and was worth the effort.
Got to a part of the trail on a rise in the sun and stopped to dry my feet in the sun. I huge red fox came out of the woods and as fellow redheads we shared a moment. Then he scampered off. Had a cigar and enjoyed the quiet. Back into the woods finally on some very wet trail made deeper by the rain and snow. Came across these cool looking mushrooms in the shape of a paw print. Strangely, they were the only ones I saw. They look poisonous to me.
A guy named Ken Olkers makes bridges and maintains the trail. Hats off to his stellar work. But even his industrious bridges could not keep one dry on this trip. Do not fear wet feet; just have extra socks that you strain to keep dry at all cost. In the distance I saw town. Kind of bummed that I had finished ahead of schedule but was done. I would have gone on after going into town and calling my wife and daughter to tell them my plans but the winds were fierce on the ridges and the cold and trees falling made me be done for this adventure.
It was 4:00 so I had lunch of Bangers and Mash at the Grand Marais Tavern. Really good and nice folks. Tried to call Harriet Quarles to see if I could arrange a ride but she is still gone. All the locals knew her and told me so. Went by the bike store because I heard the owner may give me a ride but it was closed when I arrived. So I went to Ben Franklin store bought a marker and poster board and made a sigh that said “Lutsen or just south”. It worked. An exchange student from Holland and his girlfriend picked me up and dropped me at Onion River Road. I hoofed the 2 miles to my car happy for getting a ride so easily. They told me the sign sealed the deal as they actually turned around to give me a lift.
In conclusion it was a terrific trip. I learned things about the SHT and conditions in this time of year. I have made a decision actually go up and volunteer to repair trail and campsites. In my defense I have contributed financially but after seeing what winter does to it I feel the need to go get hands on. Plus I will get woods time! My hammock was a superb choice for this trip. With the soaked and muddy ground a decent spot would have been tough to find. Believe me, I always look. As I scrub the dirt and mud off me and my gear I am already thinking and dreaming of my next trip out.
A Soggy-Footed Shug