Monday, April 30, 2012

Great guided hikes on the Superior Hiking Trail

Small group of hikers on the Tofte Overlook, Carlton Peak.
Have you always wanted to hike the Superior Hiking Trail, but never felt quite ready? Maybe you heard about how difficult it can be, or maybe you heard one of the rare stories of people getting lost on the trail. 

Fear not! If you can follow driving directions to a trailhead, you can join a guided hike this spring, summer or fall on the Superior Hiking Trail

These guided hikes are a great way to get out on an excellent hiking trail. There is truly safety in numbers, and each hike has both a hike leader and a person bringing up the rear (the "sweep"). The hikes all meet at the trailhead where the hike will finish. Then the hikers carpool to the starting trailhead and walk back to their cars.

No need to find your own way on a SHTA guided hike!
The next guided hike on the "SHT" is this Friday, May 4, on a new section of trail deep in the woods between Duluth and Two Harbors. It's a 5.1-mile hike crossing the Sucker River. At 1:00, meet at the Fox Farm Road Trailhead. Like all SHT guided hikes, this one is FREE.

The trailhead is about 8 miles inland from the Highway 61 expressway. Full driving directions are on the flier for the Superior Hiking Trail Association's annual meeting.That same flier has information on five other guided hikes coming up this weekend for the annual meeting, all up in the Little Marais and Schroeder area.

Duluth-area hikers should mark their calendars for Saturday, May 12, when there's another free guided hike on the SHT between Jay Cooke State Park and the Elys Peak area in far western Duluth. Meet at the 123rd Avenue West SHT trailhead. Driving directions to that trailhead are here. It's a 6.9 mile hike that should be full of spring wildflowers.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Canyoneering in Utah, thinking of Minnesota

Hans on the first big rappel. Not as scary as the last one, though.

Earlier this month, the Slade/Rauschenfels clan took our spring break week, added a day on either end, and headed back out to the canyons of the desert Southwest. For the first time, we had two full-blooded teenagers with us. In order to get them off their friggin' iPods and experience the real, wonderful world, we threw in some extreme adventures you can't even do while holding an electronic device. By far the most extreme was a day of canyoneering, outside Moab, Utah. 

Canyoneering is a relatively new outdoor pursuit that takes you safely down and through canyons. There's a lot of scraping along rocks and through sandstone crevices. This was not 127 Hours Reloaded, but a safe guided experience with the small Moab firm Desert Highlights. Hans and I met them at their storefront in Moab, packed our minimal gear into special tough canyoneering packs, and headed up with our guide Herb to the top of the mesa. 

Herb and Hans at the crest of "Granary Canyon".
 Herb, it turned out, is a former YMCA Camp Menogyn guide, so he knew a thing or two about our Northwoods/North Shore background. But he is now fully at home on the Colorado Plateau, and he skipped and hopped through complex slickrock terrain. Desert Highlights calls this trip "Granary Canyon", but it was really a stunning series of canyons, pinyon-juniper mesas, and heart-stopping cliffs that had to be passed.

Hans on the first rappel. Note the Denfeld Nordic ski team shirt.
Hans was a total trooper. He had never rappelled before and really had no idea what he was getting into on his first shot down. On the second rappel, with a big open-air part, once he was hanging in free space he yelled up to Matt, "I'm SPINNING! Is that OKAY!?"

It was the sort of desert experience Edward Abbey would have appreciated. We got sunburned and thirsty and a little scared. The desert winds picked up and blew sand up our noses. I scraped up my leg and pants. We were totally off the beaten path; the only path was in the mind of our guide. 

Now, we've got canyons on the North Shore. People do try to hike through them. The Kadunce River has invited hikers up its stream bank for years. But how many people go down those streams? What if you took a month like August when the rivers are running low and tried to explore the deep recesses of these rivers? Even the most popular rivers, like the Gooseberry or the Cascade, have inner canyons few if any people have seen. 

This is not a totally new idea. In fact, I wrote about it here on this blog a few years ago, sharing a video of two dudes coming down the Kadunce. Another dude tried to explore the Devil Track River from the base, got a ways in, and made plans to come back down it.

Me, inelegant.
Of course, then you might have to see something as gruesome as yours truly, coming down the edge of the cliff toward you.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Make your North Shore campsite reservations now

After six months of repair and frustration, the Minnesota DNR's state park reservation system seems to be up and running. As of today, you can reserve your choice of North Shore campsites as far as 12 months in advance. 

Act quickly: most of the popular weekends are already filling up.For Memorial Day weekend, as of today there were a few sites at Cascade River State Park and a few more at Judge CR Magney State Park, but the rest of the North Shore state parks are already full. For Fourth of July, things are a little more open, but that might just be because the Fourth falls on a Wednesday.

If a Memorial Day weekend trip into the Boundary Waters is more your style, get to the federal recreation reservation site ASAP. Popular entries near the North Shore are already filling up. Sawbill Lake entry is completely taken for the Friday of Memorial Day, and there was one permit available for the Saturday.

Of course, the wise camper can almost always find a campsite near the North Shore. For all sorts of great North Shore camping tips, pick up a copy of Camping the North Shore: A guide to the 23 best campgrounds in Minnesota's spectacular Lake Superior region, using the icon on the upper right side of this blog.

See you on the shore this summer...somewhere!