Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Hiking Club challenge continues

Early this summer, I challenged my two sons, Hans and Noah, to hike every Hiking Club Trail in every North Shore state park, from Jay Cooke to Grand Portage. We did the third of the eight trails today, at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, and it was a doozy!

I really can't imagine how the boys still tolerate this. I am a total dork out on the trail, with layers of gadgets around my neck and shoulders. I GPS every trail, I photograph the most bizarre things, and I'm writing notes as I go. Plus I wear the clothes of El Dorko himself, including a floppy wide-brimmed hat that the boys used to wear for their cowboy Halloween costumes. I must look like the Park Ranger from Dweebland. Fortunately, Sally came along today.

The first third or so of the hike was pretty fun. The Split Rock shoreline is so much more than the's one secluded cove after another, separated by dramatic, climbable headlands. Here's Hans scouting out the upcoming trail.

But much of the trail is ski trail in the winter, which makes it wide, grassy and sometimes wet now in the summer.

For the middle third of the Hiking Club Trail route, the ski trail kind of goes on and on, through a lot of dead and dying birch. Then the last third, as we did the loops, was on the wide, paved Gitchi Gami bike trail, which was absolutely no fun in the midday heat and sun. I had anticipated this and we had stashed bikes by the Split Rock River; Hans, Noah and Sally rode the rest of the trail while El Dorko hiked it.

Three trails down, five to go...that's almost halfway!

The Lupine are blooming

Come to the North Shore for the colors! No, not the fall show of red and orange, but the early summer show of purple, pink and blue. The lupines are at their peak right now, all along Highway 61, and it's gorgeous.

This photo was taken from the passenger seat of the car as we cruised back from a hike at Split Rock today.

I've heard some folks say that the lupine is their favorite North Shore wildflower. I can see why. Old fishermen's homesteads are ringed by them. They are virtually untransplantable and difficult to grow in a Twin Cities garden.

Of course, they aren't a native flower, but who cares? In lupine season, it feels like we're all native.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A break from the boys

Don't get me wrong, I love hiking with the boys. All else being equal, I'd rather hike with someone else than hike alone. But sometimes I just gotta go. So yesterday I just went, up to the Two Harbors area to scout two potential hikes for the upcoming hiking book.

I'm looking for new hikes, not the same old same old, not the ones that have been in other hiking guidebooks. And I found two good ones.

First is this new set of trails north and west of Two Harbors, in the Lake County Demo Forest.

The trail itself is fairly typical, with no great views and basic Superior Hiking Trail style construction. What puts it over the top though is a very nice interpretive guidebook, keyed to numbered signs around the trails.There are four loops, all intertwined; combining them all you get about a 3.2 mile hike. The guidebook goes into history, ecology, forest management and more.

The next "hike" was from the Burlington Bay camp-ground around Lighthouse Point, connecting the two "bays" of Two Harbors (Burlington and Agate).

It turns out that the Sonju Trail is just the beginning. The wide gravel or paved path is nice for kids on bikes or the elderly with strollers. But for the adventurous hiker, the official path is just an excuse to get to the unofficial, unmaintained trail right above the lakeshore...or to reach the breakwater with its wide surface inviting a stroll right out into Lake Superior.

The North Shore state park hiking club trail challenge picks up again this Thursday, with a multiple use attempt on the Split Rock Lighthouse State Park of the longest Hiking Club trails in the state!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Hiking Club trail #2, done!

The Slade boys family challenge continues, this time joined by the extended family. Hans, Noah and I conquered the Tettegouche State Park Hiking Club Trail, the very fine outing to Shovel Point. We invited my brother George and his extended family along, including cousins Juliet and Laura and partner Stephanie and her two boys Milan and Amory. The picture here is of the whole clan at the cool platform at the end of the trail, at the exposed and weathered tip of Shovel Point itself.

Hiking with a full crew like this is completely different from one of my solo sprints out from the Gunflint Trail. I'd forgotten how much work and how much fun a three-year-old can be. Good thing I brought a first aid kit and water for the little one. He tried running down the trail, but ended up with a good bloody knee bash.

The Hiking Club booklet says the hike is 2.0 miles long. My GPS said otherwise, around 1.3 miles total, or about 0.65 to the tip of Shovel Point.

But at 1.3 it a hike? Well, for a three-year old it was a challenge, but for me the challenge was mostly crowd management. We started with the rambunctious poodle on a leash, but that was just too much, so she and I sprinted back to the parking lot and she stayed in the car.

The Shovel Point trail has terrific views up and down the shore, including a number of very pleasant viewing platforms. A lot of the trail is boardwalk or wooden steps, to prevent damage to the fragile vegetation. Maybe not a hike, but still a fun outing. Just bring enough Band-Aids.

Monday, June 16, 2008

One down, seven or more to go

I've laid down the challenge to Hans and Noah: Hike the "Hiking Club" trails in all the North Shore state parks, from Jay Cooke to Grand Portage. This summer. 

With some grumping and a bit of grinning, we've finished one already. Two days back, on Saturday June 14th, we hiked the Silver Creek Trail at Jay Cooke State Park. First though, we stopped at the visitor center and picked up the official Hiking Club fanny packs and club handbook. 

The Hiking Club is actually a pretty cool gimmick. Each of the state's state parks has one trail designated as the Hiking Club trail. Most are in the 1.5-3.o mile range. They may not be the most popular trails, but they generally are very nice hikes. Many are loop trails. You follow "Hiking Club Trail" signs from the trailhead through any intersections. Somewhere along the trail, a sign is posted with the "password." The password is typically some rock or bird or flower or fish that is symbolic of the park or the trail. 

When you finish the hike, you write the password in your handbook, along with the miles. Then you start to add up the miles. At 25 miles, you bring your handbook in to a park staff person, they check your passwords and miles, and if all is in order you get a 25-mile patch and sticker. The stickers and patches go all the way up to 200 miles. 

The Silver Creek Trail is a ski trail in the winter. That's an immediate red flag for me. Ski trails tend to be wide, grassy and muddy. And sure enough, this one was all that, in spades. And some early mosquitoes were buzzing. 

Muddy: so much for Hans' new white sneakers. 
Buggy: Not awful, but who needed it?

A family group that left on the trail soon before us came sloshing back at us, the 3-4 year olds pointing back down the trail and saying "Don't go that way!"

In retrospect, this is definitely not one of Jay Cooke's best trails, at least not in spring and summer. There are very few views, and the trail bed is consistently wide and often wet. The trail does take you right by an amazing "grove" of yellow ladyslippers. 

And unfortunately, as the first hike of the great challenge, it set a poor precedent. Maybe tomorrow we'll do the Shovel Point trail at Tettegouche.

Oh, and by the way, Noah said he'd find a way to post the passwords on line so others don't have to suffer like he did. I forbade it, but kids are smarter about this than I am!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Be very very afraid

...that you will lose your favorite North Shore campsite. As of this week, Minnesota state parks are taking reservations for campsites a full calendar year in advance. It used to be 90 days. Now, if you really have to have that terrific site by the beach at Temperance River State Park for Memorial Day 2009, reserve it now.

The reservation website is here. 

Do it. Do it now!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Escape from Lake Superior

A big old lake wind kicked in overnight off of Lake Superior, plunging all of Duluth back into a familiar spring feeling. Not only "colder by the lake," but rawer and more forceful. Part of me really loves these big blows. But after a few days of it, I get pretty itchy. The wind is a constant nagging. I remember being windbound while on long canoe trips in northern Ontario. After a day of wind, it takes on an evil presence. Here, in town, I can still go about my life. But walking the dog isn't the same stroll down the Park Point beach; it's a exercise in survival. The wind blows right off of that scenic 300 mile fetch right into our backyard.

So for the dog's exercise and my own sanity, I did the nearly unthinkable: I drove to a dog walking trail. In day-to-day life, I really dislike driving in order to walk or bike. Duluth of course is full of hiking trails, but I wanted one nearby and, importantly, out of the wind. So we went to Chester Creek. It's about a three-mile drive there. I parked on Fourth Street near the old food coop (now the Burrito Union). It's gorgeous in there, with tall white pines, fresh little waterfalls, and more. A volunteer crew was clearing brush and regrading trails, led by trail-worker extraordinaire Judy Gibbs.

Chloe and I had a great walk up around the loop. I don't run or jog, but with the dog in the lead we had some good quick steps both uphill and down. The creek discharge has dropped significantly from its snowmelt peaks of a few weeks back. There was a nodding trillium just off the trail, and a few huge spruce had fallen down across the trail. One of the big spruce had been cut off the trail by someone using an axe...I'm guessing it was local trail angel Dan Proctor.

I know people flock to the North Shore to enjoy the oceanic views and the power of big water. But sometimes I need to get away from that power and the view that turns into a storm.