Judy and I headed for the North Shore of Lake Superior this past weekend, in search of some fall colors. The weather forecast called for cloudy skies and possible rain showers, with temps ranging from mid-upper 30’s to the mid-upper 40’s. We left the tent, camp stove and sleeping bags at home! Day-packs, light jackets, rain gear, hats and gloves would be all we needed since we had found last minute lodging reservations near both Tofte and Lutsen, both about 100 miles north-east of Duluth, MN on Hwy 61 (revisited) -sometimes I just can’t help myself!
Friday night, we enjoyed a great dinner at Moguls Grille and Tap Room in the Caribou Highlands Lodge at Lutsen -Minnesota’s premier downhill ski area. Then on Saturday evening, we dined at nearby Bluefin Bay, always excellent! We packed a lunch for Saturday’s hikes, thus the weekend entailed little effort on the trail, but lots of fun!
Approaching Duluth we crossed a large bridge over the St. Louis River, then climbed a few large hills/small mountains, and as we came over the top, viewed Duluth and the St. Louis River again below. The St. Louis River is the largest U.S. tributary of Lake Superior. The Nipigon River is the largest Canadian tributary. The River has some wild sections with good rapids, if you’re into that kind of thing- and several local businesses that will help you run them!
The St. Louis River watershed drains 3,634 square miles in the U.S., and 263 square miles of watershed in Wisconsin. The river delta encompasses many back bays and forms large bodies of water as it nears Lake Superior. The Duluth Harbor is very large, and is visible on the horizon with it’s large Lift Bridge which allows large ships to pass beneath when it rises, thus stopping vehicular traffic in both directions until the ship(s) pass.
Driving north-east out of Duluth about 30 miles on Hwy 61, the first town encountered is Two Harbors, originally a iron-ore based shipping town located on the shoreline of Lake Superior. It should be noted that the Superior Hiking Trail Association is located right on the main drag, Hwy 61, also known by locals, as Seventh Avenue.
It is about 40 miles from Two Harbors to Silver Bay, with it’s well known SHT Trailhead along Penn Blvd., just north of town. Silver Bay is another town whose economy has been closely related to the ups and downs of the iron ore/taconite industries for decades.
A few miles north of Silver Bay, is Palisade Head – a large rocky formation along the shoreline of Lake Superior. It’s a nice spot to visit and take some pictures. And any radio enthusiast would appreciate the soaring radio/communications tower located on the point -it’s lights can be seen for miles along the Superior shoreline. Looking up the shoreline from Palisade Head, Shovel Point is clearly visible several miles away. Shovel Point is part of Tettegouche State Park, and it’s near the outlet of the Baptism River. For decades, Tettegouche was my favorite State Park on the North Shore – even statewide. For years, I didn’t tell folks about it. Alas, others blabed and the crowds grew. A couple of years ago the old visitor center was torn down and replaced by one five times larger… and the crowds continue growing. What can I say? I finally started backpacking as the time became available, and never looked back. I haven’t camped there in years, but I pack through the Park on occasion, taking note of the crowds. I even wrote a poem about it over twenty years ago, when it was a really cool place. There’s just too many noisy folks running around there these days! Too many steel-shell campers with generators running at all hours, TV’s and loud radios blasting, kids screaming… yada, yada. My back yard is quieter!
Both Palisaide Head and Shovel Point are excellent examples of the basaltic lava flows from beneath what is now Lake Superior about 1.1 billion years ago. These lava flows spread inland for up to 18 miles from the current Lake, forming what are now the Sawtooth Mountains of the area. The North Shore landscape also owes it’s character to glacial erosion over the past two million years. Fire and ice, indeed! The area was once covered by glaciers up to a mile thick! And all that melting had nothing to do with people burning fossil fuels. Imagine that!
We had an early breakfast Saturday morning, and headed for our first hike of the day. The day was brisk and beautiful. Partly sunny as they say!
Some of you may remember that I’m a relatively new Ham Radio operator. I received my FCC Technician Class license in late December last year. With some initial help from Don -KBØDGD, a fellow Ham and President of one of the amateur radio clubs I belong to, I finally got my cheap TYT UVF1 handheld radio programmed, and it seems to work pretty well – hell, I bought two of them! I included some local metro repeater frequencies and some simplex frequencies, along with some located in rural areas I frequent – including several along the North Shore of Lake Superior which runs somewhat adjacent to the SHT, where I’ve spent a lot of time over the past decade or so.
One of my goals on this trip was to verify my ability to connect with these North Shore repeaters which I hope to use when hiking the SHT next spring. The repeaters simply extend the more limited range of my handheld transceiver, which is useful since much of the SHT does not provide for cell phone coverage. So this was a test of sorts, for me and my handheld. While our hiking would be limited, I would get some long overdue practice with my handheld radio. This coming Saturday I’ll attend a four-hour AERO 100 introductory class, sponsored by one of my radio clubs, to be followed by half a dozen more dealing with introductory emergency communications. Practice, practice, practice is the name of the game!
Our plan was to hike Oberg Mountain and Leveaux Mountain, both along the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) on Saturday. We decided to do Leveaux Mountain first. A word of caution -please note that these mountains aren’t really mountains -only in Minnesota would they be called mountains… or maybe in Iowa! Don’t confuse the terminology with the Rockies, the Sierras, the Wind River Range, the Sangre De Cristo Range or the White Mountains of New Hampshire. These MN mountains are about 1,200-1,400 feet, while Lake Superior sits at about 600 feet. 1,800 feet is high around here! But you might hike up and down these little mountains six or more times a day when hiking the SHT!
The SHT runs through Lutsen, and Oberg Mountain is just seven miles south of Lutsen. There is a large common parking lot that serves as Trailhead for both Oberg and Leveaux Mtns. It can be found just off Co. Rd. 336, which is just N of the Onion River on Hwy 61.
Both are short hikes from the Trailhead -about a 2.5 mile loop for Oberg, and about a 4.5 mile loop, including the Leveaux Mtn. spur trail, off a short section of the SHT, about seven miles total. We did two trips around the Leveaux loop, since we missed the second and smaller loop around the SE face of the mountain overlooking Lake Superior on the first trip. That added another mile or so, but it seemed longer than the first loop. 😉
[ Note -Judy and I snowshoed from the Leveaux Trailhead up and around the Mountain and continued south on the SHT, past Britton Peak and Carlton Peak, to Temperance River State Park in January, 2011 – about eleven miles total. On that trip in fresh powder, we followed a lone wolf tracking a deer along several miles of the Temperance River before losing the trail in other tracks near the State Park. There were no other prints in the fresh snow. It was pretty cool! See below. ]
Back to our fall color hike to Leveaux Mountain. Lots of leaves were already on the ground. Winter is just around the corner, we just don’t want to admit it! Well, the weather was good on this trip and we made the most of it. The temperatures are dropping again later this week.
It was a great day to be hiking. The colors were good (probably better last weekend though) and would have been better with bright sun, but we get what we get! No complaints. I did make a couple of contacts on my radio, and confirmed that the three repeaters I worked were operational. That’s worth something! And tomorrow I’m headed to a different part of the state to help a friend clear some dead timber… real work for a few days -with chain saws, a tractor and an excavator! There are a couple of repeaters in his neck of the woods, that I’ll also be checking. There’s more people living in that area as well, especially during summer time, so I expect better contacts up there, than along the N. Shore of Superior much of the time – time will tell. However, I’m also interested in making contacts across the big Lake into Michigan, Wisconsin and up into Canada as well. As I learn, I’ll experiment more.
I have a new toy to keep me busy over the winter… yes, it’s a new radio, and I’ll be learning just how the controls and menus work, and how to fine-tune it for good results. And I’ll be buying ancillary parts. I’ve decided to focus on low-power ops (QRP) because of the challenge involved, plus the lesser weight of low-power batteries on the trail -that’s important. The new radio has a much broader bandwidth (frequencies available) than the hand-held TYT unit.
Another goal over the winter will be to obtain a higher-level FCC license -General Class, which will allow me to work some of the additional bands available to me on the new radio. I’ve already got a DC switching power supply to operate out of my office over the winter months and learn how to run the new rig. I’ll also need a portable 3-4 element yagi antenna, which I could use with both radios. And maybe a light-weight, End-Fed wire antenna for some 20 m. (14MHz) and higher initially, possibly a single band dipole or two if they make sense, and a tuner. I’ve got lots to learn about antennas/tuners. One of my favorite sources of good information in many of these areas is Bob, KØNR who has excellent information gained over years of amateur radio operation, much of it in ‘portable mountaintop all-mode VHF ops, especially Summits On The Air (SOTA) and VHF contests.’ Check out his blog for great material.
My interests remain primarily working regional (5-6 states) and to a lesser extent other domestic areas (and possibly some Canada/Alaska given my location in MN, relatives in Anchorage, and my love of the wilderness.) Regional emcom is a primary area of interest, however. I’ll likely join ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service) within the next 3-6 months to fast-track my skill-set. Yes, it’s going to get more complicated fast! Complicated, but interesting!
One of my very next purchases is going to be a good set of headphones with a boom mic to free-up both hands. My hearing is not good, and I wear hearing aids in both ears, which could prove to be a serious limiting factor in radio communications. I may need to examine some of the newer digital modes in order to successfully pursue my new hobby. This is a primary area of concern for me, and I welcome input from anyone with pertinent information. In fact, I solicit such information. Technically, I suffer bilateral tinnitus, and bilateral loss due to noise exposure and acoustic trauma. Thus, I plan to do some testing over the winter with the new rig and good headphones. I may even try a low-cost, higher-power rig such as a Yaesu FT-7900R, a mobile rig that offers up to 50 watts on 2 m. and 40 watts on 70 cm., plus a few lower power levels -just to see what, if any, difference it makes.
So, if you’re an experienced radio operator with a year or two of experience, you may have already guessed that my new radio might be a Yaesu FT-817ND. If so, you’re correct! It’s a multi-mode portable transceiver that covers HF, VHF, and UHF bands. It’s also known as the ultimate backpacker, as radios go. I’ll have some steep learning curves regarding portable power supplies and light-weight antennas, a portable solar charging system to extend battery life, as well as numerous other operational considerations. But I’ve met some great radio folks in recent months, so I’ll have some help along the way. Hopefully, the fun is just beginning!
Ain’t she pretty! I’ve added the Tactical Carrying System (Escort Series) by Portable Zero LLC. I first read about this protective gear in Chris Warren’s Off Grid Ham, and then I saw it at a Ham Fest last spring and thought it to be a good protective addition for the radio when I’m hauling it around out in the backcountry boonies. It supports safe and easy portability of the radio by adding some control panel protection and carrying strap attachments in both front and rear. I even got a sale price from Yaesu on the radio, as part of their 60th Anniversary Sale, plus that fashionable ball cap as part of the deal! Do I sound like a happy camper yet?
A new radio and a new license to study for, batteries and solar chargers, plus my old snowshoes -sounds like a good winter coming my way!
This is Mike, KEØGZT 73 and clear!