I wrote earlier today about guidebooks, about letting someone else make the mistakes for you.
I have been making mistakes here in Duluth for the last ten months, looking for a hike at Chester Creek.
I'm picky. Here are my picky rules:
Picky rule #1: A hike should be at least two miles long. That's enough to get your hiking mojo. Less than two miles, you feel like you're just getting going and you're done.
Picky rule #2: A hike should be well-marked. You shouldn't have trail junction anxiety, at least not very often. Once you get in the spirit of moving along, you don't want to stop everytime there is a choice of trails.
Picky rule #3: A hiking trail should be uncrowded. We tried "hiking" in Phoenix last year, but every trail was a stream of people. Not peaceful. One person or group every five minutes would be okay.
Chester Creek is a lovely stream running through a dramatic gorge right smack dab in the eastern hillside of Duluth. If you start at Fourth Street and head uphill to Skyline Drive, you can loop up one side of the creek and back down the other side. Two footbridges cross the creek and let you shorten your experience.
This loop is only about 1.8 miles. Not 2. Nearly long enough for a real hike.That violates picky rule #1.
But there must be a hike here somewhere. I've been poking around here since last June trying to figure this out. I know, after a lot of poking around, there are nice trails on the other side of Skyline. The Chester Bowl XC ski trails loop all around and climb to a very nice view of Minnesota Point and the wide expanse of Lake Superior. But the Chester Creek Trail and the ski trails are not connected.
At least not officially.
Desperate, I plunge one of the four or five rabbit trails that cut up from Skyline Drive. It's a renegade trail, never built, just used. Roots are showing where the trail erodes, which is almost everywhere.
Finally, as I knew it would, the rabbit trail links up with the ski trail. Only about 100 yards of near-bushwhacking. But that violates my picky rule #2, that trails should be well-marked.
The ski trail reaches the summit, I enjoy the view for a micro-second, then I decide to let my picky rules get me back down. What is the most obvious way down from here?
Picky, picky, picky. This may not be a hike after all.