Saturday, September 24, 2011

Superior Hiking Trail (Section Hike): Introduction

Trip Planning and the Journey to Duluth

View from Mt. Trudee, Superior Hiking Trail

Permits are not required, fees are not charged, and reservations are not needed to hike and camp along the Superior Hiking Trail in northern Minnesota. This volunteer-maintained trail begins near Duluth and runs north, following a ridge above Lake Superior and finally ending near the Minnesota/Canada border. It is currently 277 miles long and growing, as a segment is being built to link Duluth with the small town of Two Harbors – home of the Superior Hiking Trail Association.

Port of Duluth

Choosing a segment of trail to cover on this trip was difficult. We had heard that it was nearly impossible to go wrong with any part of the trail, as it winds through several state parks, follows rivers and streams, climbs ridges above small lakes, and reveals many other interesting features along its entire length. We considered hiking a segment at the far north, beginning at the end of the trail near Canada, but ended up choosing a segment closer to the middle that would include several inland lakes, panoramic views of Lake Superior, and a waterfall. A few different shuttle services are available in the area, and we made arrangements with Superior Shuttle to drop us off at the trailhead at Crosby-Manitou State Park. From there we planned to hike southward over 6 days, ending at the trailhead in Silver Bay where our car would be waiting. Total, we would end up hiking only 42 miles or so over 6 days, including the main trail and miscellaneous spurs and deviations, but the hiking proved challenging enough without having to cover major mileage on any given day.
The SHTA publishes a guide book, which we ordered online to help plan the trip. Although its table of contents directs readers to both day hiking and backpacking opportunities, the book is divided into short segments, which is more suited to planning day hikes, and a bit tedious to use for planning a long-distance trip. It is also geared toward a south-to-north hike, the direction that proved most popular based on our findings later. Though the book walks hikers through each trail segment and includes information such as mileage between campsites, number of tent pads (more on that later) at each site, etc., I found it somewhat confusing, especially since we were traveling in a direction opposite from the book's descriptions. At first glance, these issues seemed easy to deal with, but as we delved further into the trip planning, and occasionally once we were on the trail, we found ourselves scratching our heads. Still, Guide to the Superior Hiking Trail is the only detailed guide available, and it does provide helpful information, such as what water sources are unreliable in dry conditions. Luckily, we paid attention to this and were able to use the book to determine alternate sources, which proved to be valuable knowledge later. My gripes about the book aside, this is a wonderful trail, and the non-profit Superior Hiking Trail Association deserves much respect and admiration for its efforts in building and maintaining this long footpath for the enjoyment of so many.

Traveling from Metro Detroit to Duluth: Friday, September 9 – Saturday, September 10

Mackinac Bridge

We began the drive north at 9:30 am, crossed the Mackinac Bridge at 1:45 pm and stopped at Lehto's on US-2 for pasties. A few hours later, we took a break and had coffee at Falling Rock Cafe in Munising, then continued westward to Marquette. This was a good stopping point and we decided to stay at the Cedar Motor Inn, despite having tentatively planned to camp somewhere nearby. The motel was very nice, and our room backed up to the woods, with the smell of evergreen trees drifting in through the open windows. We were lucky to find a room, since it was the night before the U.P. Fall Beer Festival and the Friday before school started at NMU. Although we were sad to miss the beer fest, we stopped in The Vierling and had a few pints of one of their specialty beers – Citral Imperial IPA, which was excellent!

Marquette Ore Dock

RV Lake Char - Research Vessel, Michigan DNR Fisheries Division

Middle Branch of Ontonagon River, just upstream from Agate Falls. We filled our Nalgene bottle here and dropped a purification tablet in it for drinking in the car. Bottled water is for suckers.

The next morning, we continued through the western half of the U.P., cut through northern Wisconsin, then crossed the bridge that connects the cities of Superior, WI and Duluth, MN where the Port of Duluth is located on Lake Superior. While in Marquette the night before, we were lucky enough to hear from friends who had moved from Michigan to Duluth several years ago. Fellow lovers of the outdoors, they invited us to their house, made us a snack, showed us around town a bit, took us shopping at an outfitters (not that we needed anything, but there is always an excuse to look at gear!), bought us dinner at Fitger's (a local brew pub and restaurant) and set us up in their guest room. To top it off, they knew we planned to get an early start the following morning, so they got up at 6:00 am and made us a breakfast of blueberry pancakes, bacon, coffee, and espresso! They did all this despite the fact they now have a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old (and a golden retriever – can't leave her out), and didn't even know we were going to be in town until late the night before. They were amazing, and it was really great to spend time with them.

A freighter waits in the moonlight outside the Port of Duluth
We pulled out of their driveway at 7:00 am, wound our way through their neighborhood toward Highway 61 and began heading north, with Lake Superior on our immediate right, sparkling in the bright morning sun. It was Sunday, September 11, and we would be hiking through Friday, September 16. When we last checked the weather forecast for the coming week, high temps were expected to be in the mid-60s to low 70s, with lows in the 40s and 50s – great hiking weather, with the exception of one possible rainy day. We were prepared mostly for this type of weather, with long underwear, fleece jackets, winter hats, and gloves for chilly mornings or overnights that might get colder than expected. We would end up needing every item of clothing we brought, and my +15 down sleeping bag would be put to the test, as the weather took some very interesting turns throughout the trip.
Left: The Harvest Moon Wild Rice Burger at Fitger's.   Right: Lily. (Hopefully she won't mind showing up in this blog post.)

To be continued in: Day One – Crosby-Manitou State Park to Sonju Lake


Kerry said...

Woohoo! We made it in BC@S! the pleasure was ours :) can't wait to read about the rest of your trip!

Adam said...

The Falling Rock Cafe in Munising is one of our favorite places. It always ends up to be the first and final stops on our Pictured Rocks hikes.

Adam said...

The Falling Rock Cafe is usually our first stop into Pictured Rocks and after a few nights on the trail it becomes our final stop before hitting the road home. I'm thinking the Superior Trail will be a trip for the 2013 hiking season for my family. Thanks for the insight.