This is a hike that I will always remember because it was a tough one! It was tough because of the weather, but mostly because I was just carrying too much ‘stuff.’ It was also a great hike because I brought along my new dog, Kolby. Kolby, now deceased, was a big old rescue dog (over 90#), a continual runaway, and an overly friendly British Black Lab. In fact he got off his leash the day I brought him home, and ran away; it would not be his last disappearance. He was indeed a ‘free-spirit’ who enjoyed ‘doing his own thing,’ as can be seen below.
The hike took place in May, 2009 up along a northern section of the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT). We started in Grand Marais (a great place to visit if you’re in the area, also a good destination for a weekend getaway). We drove up to Grand Marais (about 5 hrs. from Mpls./ 2 hrs from Duluth), dropped the vehicle in a motel parking lot where my wife, Judy and I had stayed a few weeks earlier.
After dropping the vehicle, Kolby and I hiked north through town, then up the highway (the Gunflint Trail) a couple of miles to catch the SHT going south to the Cascade River (about 18 miles).
I’d planned to spend three or four days getting to Cascade River, where Judy would then pick us up. I’d have cell service in Cascade River State Park, but likely not along portions of the SHT, and I planned to call her to schedule our pick up. She came up a couple of days behind us and would enjoy a day or two in the Grand Marais/Lutsen area while Kolby and I hiked.
Kolby carried his food and a half liter of water in his dog pack. I carried about 60#, including a steel chain for Kolby, the runaway expert. I didn’t want to loose him out in the wild, and knew a rope wouldn’t hold him around the camp site should he decide to leave. I have to admit, I didn’t consider him a smart dog, given his propensity to run. I did carry extra food for myself, just in case I had to hang around for a dog search and rescue.
Carrying all that weight through town, then up the highway was no easy task. It was all uphill, and when we finally reached the trailhead I stopped for a rest and gave Kolby some water. Leaving the Gunflint Trail we began climbing up Sawtooth Bluff following the SHT. Kolby immediately seemed to enjoy hiking, even when on a leash. Thus began our hike on a somewhat overcast day in May.
As the trail leveled off above the Bluff I suddenly found myself off-trail. It was early spring, so early growth was thin along the trail in spots. However, Lake Superior was plainly visible so there was worry. I looked at Kolby and asked him, ‘where the hell did the trail go?’ He turned around and started leading me in a series of turns, and in a few minutes we were again back on the clearly defined trail. I suddenly had a good feeling about this dog, and thought maybe he’s not so dumb after all!
It wasn’t long and the trail turned right and followed a section line north, thru a mixed forest, as the elevation slowly dropped. We crossed a long boardwalk over some wet areas. Another left and we crossed a road (Co. 64), and entered a large wetland as we continued westward. It soon became a swamp.
There was a roadway of sorts, the North Shore State Trail, actually a snowmobile trail, that went on for several miles through the swamp. Frogs, bugs and swamp on both sides of the trail, and it was raining. I put on my rain jacket and pulled the hood over my head. Kolby looked happy hiking; the proverbial ‘happy camper.’ I wondered if he had ever done this before, since he’d only been with us for a few months; had he ever camped in a tent, I wondered? The rain didn’t seem to bother him (he was a Lab) and his tail was wagging continually as we hiked down the trail.
The rain stopped after a short time. It was starting to get dark, as we turned north again and then west, crossing a couple of roads. We were out of the swamp lands, and on dry land. The threatening weather was all around us, but no rain yet. I was watching for a campsite which we should be approaching, but the thunder and lightening were getting worrisome. I noticed that Kolby was walking closer to me now; he too was getting nervous. Lots of thunder and lightening, and a light rain started again. No campsite in view. I thought we’d better stop and get set up for the night.
I watched for a spot to set up the tent and decided to just set it up along side and on the trail. We were running out of time. I looped Kolby’s leash around a nearby tree, and began setting up the tent, tossed my sleeping bag and mat inside along with my backpack. It would be crowded! I left the bear canister outside in some brush. Then the rain began to pour down, the thunder was cracking, and lightening was flashing all around us. We got into the tent just in time! Amazing!
I inflated my mat and unrolled my bag, tossed my boots in the corner along with water bottles and other misc. items. I tossed Kolby’s pack in another corner and tossed an old rug down next to my sleeping bag for Kolby. The rug was big enough for him to lay on and still fold up and over him to keep him warm.
It was now dark and the lightening would suddenly flash, and the thunder boom! Kolby was scarred, he was shaking. I crawled into my bag and he lied down next to me. I covered him and began petting him and rubbing his head. When I stopped petting him, he’d nudge me for more. Big nudges, he’d wake me up! This went on for hours. Finally the storm passed and we got some sleep.
In the morning I was in no hurry to get out of my warm bag and pack up the wet gear. Kolby looked very comfortable laying next to me. Eventually I got dressed, rolled up my bag and mat and got everything out of the tent to pack it up. I fixed Kolby a bowl of dog food, and got everything packed up. I had a couple of energy bars and we hit the trail again.
It wasn’t long before we came to a small creek with a wooden foot bridge. I always like these spots to take a break, drop my pack and top off my water supply. When hiking in the mountains I look for a flat rock to sit on with my pack, or not with my pack, and take a break. It tends to keep me hiking -looking for these rare rocks, and makes my day when I find one. On the SHT it’s these wooden bridge crossings that I watch for when I need a break, and water!
Always filter your water when on the trail, and avoid potentially serious, yet avoidable problems. I’ve used my First Need purification system since 2002, and never had a problem with it. I change the filter element every year or two depending on use. I also back flush it annually. It is a relatively heavy system, weight-wise, but has exceptional filtering capability, combined with a high pump rate. It is not cheap (about $100-120) but it is a quality system. Replacement filters run about $50.
We soon crossed a long board walk over a beaver dam, then went by a couple of campsites and beaver dams just north of Baily Creek, where Forest Rd. 158 crosses the SHT. There are also a couple of parking lots in this area with good trail access. As we crossed 158, I decided to drop the heavy chain I’d been carrying for Kolby along the side of the road, figuring someone would stop and pick it up. It was just too dam heavy, I don’t know why I brought it in the first place. I bet it weighed 15# minimum. After what we went through with the big storm, I figured Kolby wouldn’t run away… hopefully!
We passed another creek and topped off our water. I gave Kolby a bowl of dog food and water, and I had some beef jerky washed down with cold fresh water from the stream- filtered! That was lunch! We rested a bit, then continued on.
There was a large group campsite a few miles ahead -located a half mile N of the trail intersection with Co. Rd. 45. I decided to camp there, and relax a bit, since we didn’t get much sleep the night of the storm. The campsite overlooked the Cascade River gorge, but we were still about 5 miles upstream from the State Park. I built a small campfire and fixed a great dehydrated meal for two -just for me. I shared a bit of my food on top of Kolby’s dog food and he seemed to like that. We were camped high above the Cascade River and the overlooks were very scenic. There was no one else there. We sat by the campfire together, while I enjoyed a cigar and a few sips of brandy from the small flask I carried. It was pretty cool, just Kolby and me camped above the river. We hit the sack early and quickly fell asleep to the sound of the river below.
Late on the third morning, we broke camp and headed south down the E side of the Cascade River. It was a rigorous hike; down to the river then up to the top of the gorge, then down again, only to climb back up again. It was a real workout, no cake-walk. I was glad I had my hiking poles along!
After a couple of hours of hiking up and down -from the river back to the top of the gorge, and back down again, I decided to look for a site near the river to take a break and top off our water. It was very beautiful country and the river was really wild given the heavy spring runoff.
I found a nice spot to take a break, and it was a sizable clearing right along the river. We rested a bit, and I decided to make camp right there, and explore the nearby area. It was a fantastic place, right on the waters edge. Snow remained in the shaded areas right across the river. It was a noisy place, yet a peaceful place.
After making camp, we hiked around the local area, skipped some rocks, then I cooked dinner using our camp stove… another dehydrated meal for me and more dog food for Kolby. After dinner we relaxed along the river together. I wondered if we’d be able to sleep so close to the river, given it’s high water ‘roar.’ It was noisy!
I got our gear loaded into the tent for the night. I left my backpack outside, up against a tree. My food was in a bear canister, which I just placed in some bushes nearby. It had been a beautiful day and we had relaxed and enjoyed the beautiful surroundings. No sense breaking your rear on the trail everyday when there’s so much to enjoy along the journey.
I’d like to hike upstream from the State Park and camp in this spot again sometime- maybe in the fall, when the river would be more peaceful. Perhaps there would be some small trout pools to fish; that would sure make a tasty meal!
I slept like a log, even with the river roaring twenty feet away. I’m sure Kolby did as well. It must be a combination of all that fresh air combined with the exercise. In the morning I cooked oatmeal for breakfast, and enjoyed a big cup of tea with an energy bar, before we hit the trail again.
We were headed a few short miles into Cascade River State Park. I had no reservation, but had no trouble getting a site this early in the year and relatively early in the day.
If you’re willing to take your chances with the weather, the shoulder months are definitely the best time to hike/camp in many parts of the country. Before school lets out for the summer and after the kids return to school in the fall, the family vacations are largely over, and everything seems to slow down dramatically. With the bugs and the crowds largely disappearing in the fall, it becomes much easier to enjoy the journey.
We set up camp in Cascade River State Park, cooked lunch and did some hiking. Early next morning, Judy showed up to give us a lift back home. What a trip!
This was truly an exciting trip for me with Kolby along. We bonded on that trip in an amazing way. He never ran away again, and I didn’t need a leash to walk him. He’d walk the trails with me no problem. At home he’d sit next to me when I watched TV, with his head on my lap staring at me. It was an amazing bond that developed between us over that four days on the trail together -day and night! This bond remained constant… until cancer took him several years later.
So sad! What a dog!
Next time I hike in the Grand Marais area, I’ll have my radio(s) along. There is a repeater up there and quite a few people live in and around the town, and up along the Gunflint Trail. Between using the repeater and the simplex band, I should be able to meet some new folks up in that part of the state… maybe even some QRP, low-power operators who like to hike! Isle Royale National Park and Canada are also nearby! Life is good!
73, Mike, KEØGZT… Clear!