Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Love on the Superior Hiking Trail

poplar river superior hiking trail lutsen 
"This is one of my favorite sections." Only for a old hiking couple like us could that have been words of love. 

When Sally said just that to me this week as we hiked from the Caribou Trail to Lutsen on the Superior Hiking Trail, I felt as warm and gooey as if she'd reached across a fancy restaurant's white linen to hold my hand. She likes it. She really really likes it! I'd wrapped up a virtual present for her and she was delighted with it.

We'd already enshrined this hike as one of the "50 fabulous day hikes" in our book Hiking the North Shore. But it was Sally's first time on this particular section of the Superior Hiking Trail, and...she likes it! We'd sent our kids off to school in the morning, zipped up the shore, and now we were back in our element.

We weren't the only couple appreciating the trail. It seemed like everyone else on the trail was a couple, mostly a man and a woman, once a woman and her dog. It was like that old tourism ad for the Commonwealth of Virginia, "Virginia is for Lovers." New marketing slogan: "The Superior Hiking Trail is for lovers." Who else would be out on a longer hike during the school week at the peak of fall colors?

Andrew poodle lutsen overlook
Of course this was a work trip as well as a date, so I took careful notes of the book's description and where we could improve it. Sally wasn't the only girl who liked the day's adventure; the poodle Daphne was pretty into it too. Except when the wolf scat on the trail was fresh, and then she'd tuck her tail in and carefully follow right in my footsteps. 

Hike summary
This is a 6.4 mile one-way hike from the Caribou Trail west on the Superior Hiking Trail to Lutsen Mountain. It's Hike 36 in our book. The best way to do this is by arranging a shuttle, so you can hike back to Lutsen for your car or your hotel room. (Or see below for reserving a spot on the Superior Shuttle.)

Finding the trailhead 
From Highway 61 mile marker 92.0, take County Road 4 (the Caribou Trail) 4.1 miles to the Superior Hiking Trail parking lot just off the road on the right, at the Caribou Lake boat launch.

The hike starts with an short optional spur to White Sky Rock, a lovely overlook of Caribou Lake. From there, it's a walk through cedar forest and rock formations to Lake Agnes, Caribou Lake's wild and undeveloped sister.
Lake Agnes SHT hunters rock
The whole 6.4 miles is fairly level overall, with stretches on top of maple-rich ridges alternating with  stretches in conifer-dense lowlands. After passing Lake Agnes, the trail reaches a series of three dramatic overlooks of the Poplar River valley, including a lovely view of curves in the river. In this week's fall colors, the entire scene was just breathtaking.

After the three big overlooks, the trail descends to the river valley and a long stretch of thick woods. Soon enough though you're hiking alongside the Poplar River as it turns from a sedate curvy quiet stream into a classic North Shore rushing river. Then it's another climb to Glove Overlook, where you can look back at the land you've crossed, and more beautiful maple woods. Finally it's a rocky descent back to the river and the busy world of Lutsen Mountain ski area. 

As we finished that last downhill, we passed an older couple, even older than us. They asked us to take their pictures. We guessed later that they were newlyweds, exploring the North Shore and getting to know each other in a new and beautiful place. Sort of like us, I guess. Yes, the Superior Hiking Trail is for lovers. 

Use the Superior Shuttle if you're hiking solo
This hike is great for a one-way hike from east to west. You can use the Superior Shuttle service. The shuttle will pick you up at 10:54 AM by the Lutsen gondola and drive you to the Caribou Trail trailhead (weekends only). Reservations are strongly recommended in the busy fall colors season. 

If you're staying at one of the local resorts at Lutsen Mountain, check at the front desk to see if they'll drive you and your partner (human or dog) to the Caribou Trail trailhead.

Climbing Mount Baldy: Through Tettegouche's back door

Mount Baldy view tettegouche
Here are three good reasons to hike to Mount Baldy in the heart of the Tettegouche backcountry this weekend:
  1. Chances are, you've never hiked to Mount Baldy.
  2. The fall colors will be at their peak and the views will be gorgeous.
  3. While hundreds of folks circle the top of popular spots like Oberg Mountain, you can have an equally beautiful view and hike all to yourself. 
The hike
It's a 1.4 mile hike to Mount Baldy from the parking lot on Lax Lake Road, making for a 2.8 mile round trip experience. Before you go, download a map of the park here.

tettegouche hiking road

The first half of the hike in is along a wide gravel road, now closed to vehicles. This is a steep climb through rugged terrain. As you climb, watch as the forest changes from birch and fir to sugar maple and red oak.

tettegouche red oak leaf
Look out for the main trail junction at the top of the hill, labelled "J". Turn left here onto a narrow hiking trail. This trail rambles for about a half mile through a forest of maple and oak, bending around massive glacial boulders. At junction "G" you'll turn left again, and after just about 30 yards you'll reach junction "F", where you'll turn right at the sign for Mount Baldy (actually, with a few letters carefully rubbed off, the sign now reads "Mt. Bad").

tettegouche mount baldy trail

The trail scampers up the rock crest of Mount Baldy and the view begins to really open up. You can see three of the state park's inland lakes, including Mic Mac Lake and a sliver of Tettegouche Lake.

The trail ends at an open overlook with a 240-degree view of inland lakes and glimmering Lake Superior in the distance. In fact, when the light is right you can pick out individual islands in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. At the peak of fall colors, this is a riot of color and light. 

Special secret bonus
Nicado Lake Tettegouche mount baldy
About 30 yards before the end of the Mount Baldy spur trail, an unmarked and unmaintained trail turns off to the left. Just 20 yards down this trail is rocky outcrop with an AMAZING view of  little Nicado Lake. 

Options from the top
From the top of Mount Baldy, return on the spur trail back to junction "G". From there, you can either retrace your steps directly back to the trailhead, or you can make a big loop down to Mic Mac Lake and the historic log cabins of Tettegouche Camp.

How to get there
The "front door" of Tettegouche State Park is in transition. Construction of the new visitor center means a strange new entrance to the park about half a mile west of the regular one. 

For this hike, skip the main entrance on Highway 61 and head to the park's "back door". 

If you're coming up the North Shore from Two Harbors, turn left at Beaver Bay on Lake County Road 4, a.k.a. Lax Lake Road. You'll follow Lax Lake Road the whole way, but it will take some sharp turns. At. 3.2 miles in, you'll reach a stop sign and T-junction. Turn left. After 2.0 miles, watch for a sharp right turn onto Lake County Road 31 (still Lax Lake Road). This will take you past Lax Lake itself. After 3.6 miles, look for a parking lot with a state park kiosk on the right. Note that a state park vehicle permit is required to use this parking lot. 

If you're coming from the traditional park entrance in the area of Illgen City, turn up Minnesota Highway 1 from Highway 61, and drive 4.3 miles to Lake County 31 (Lax Lake Road). Turn left and drive 3.1 miles to the parking lot on the left.


Monday, September 17, 2012

North Shore fall colors on Twitter: Let's have a hashtag!

Twitter is this huge and powerful online media tool. For a company that has a bird for its logo and a bird song for its main product (tweets), you'd think there might be a lot of nature stuff on the site. There isn't. The most popular topics, the "trending" topics, are celebrities, sports and political gaffes, not bird migration or wildflower blooms. 

Let's use Twitter to follow the amazing show of North Shore fall colors. To do that, we need a "hashtag". I'm suggesting this one: #fallcolors.

I do a lot of tweeting. Here's my Twitter page. Sign up to follow me on Twitter and I'll keep you up to date with what's happening on the North Shore.

Here's, briefly, how Twitter works:

1) Individuals like you or me create an account and a username. 
2) You can pick anyone you want to "follow", and their tweets show up on your timeline as they write them. It's sort of like the old ticker tapes that reported stock prices, bits of information coming in one after another.
3) As people write tweets, they can include a word or short phrase with the character "#" before it. That character used to be known as the number sign, and now it's a "hash tag". 
 4) Then, other people interested in the same word or phrase can search for or click on that word or phrase and find every other tweet with that word or phrase in it.

North Shore folks following the fall colors: Let's share what we're learning about fall colors by using "#fallcolors". Everytime you see something happening with those maples or tamaracks, send out a tweet or a link, and add "#fallcolors" to the tweet.

See what's up with the #fallcolors hashtag right now by clicking on this link.  

Together, we can do this!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Duluth's Amity Creek after the flood

When the great floods of June washed over Duluth, we all thought it was the end of our hiking trails as we knew them. I'm happy to report that many if not most of Duluth's hiking trails are back. 

Compare the photo above with this video from the storm:

 It sure helps that, after the flood we've had two months of below normal rainfall. Duluth creeks are all but dried up.

I took the poodle out for a walk around Amity Creek last week. There's a great short walk from the playground area of Lester Park up one bank of Amity Creek, across the footbridge above the falls, then back down the other side. Download the map from the City of Duluth and follow the green trails to "The Deeps".

As you walk along the banks of Amity, you can definitely pick out signs of the storm. Debris is still wrapped around branches easily eight feet higher than the current water level. Freshly compacted dirt shows in a few places where the trail washed away and eager crews have put it back in place. 

But the tall white pines still stand, and the city's improvements from a few years back are looking great still.

Flood recovery still has a long way to go. Volunteers are still needed for important projects including trail repair. But if you've just gotta get out for a hike, Duluth's trails are ready for you. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

Hiking Ely's Secret-Blackstone trail

I had four days of just me and the poodle and the wild woods of Ely, Minnesota. I don't think she'd like a solo canoe ride. The steam bath was not going to work. We had to go to the Secret-Blackstone trail.

Daphne is the second standard poodle hiking partner I've had, and at 20 months old she's still learning the joys and triumphs of good trail hiking. Secret-Blackstone is a small trail system east of Ely. Since it's a Superior National Forest trail, dogs can run off leash. Hiking with any dog on a leash is a hassle, but with a strong, agile poodle with psychotic tendencies on the leash, it's nearly impossible.

The Secret-Blackstone trail winds around three lakes strung in the hilly country between Moose Lake and Snowbank Lake, two popular BWCA entry points off the Fernberg Road. The trail is well-maintained and well-marked. If you're out for an easy hike, just stick to the two-mile loop around Blackstone Lake. But the dog had shown she could stick to the trail and not attract bears or wolves. We were ready for more hiking, so we headed past Blackstone Lake to the cliffs of Ennis Lake. 

Here I am at a highpoint over a pond near Ennis Lake. Longtime Superior Hiking Trail supporters might just notice that my t-shirt reads, "I'd rather be hiking the Superior Hiking Trail." But on this day, that would be a lie. This is a great little set of loop trails and I was delighted to be there. 

After sniffing up a LOT of bushes and waiting patiently behind me on the narrow trail, Daphne was pretty happy to be on this trail, too. 

If you go
Download the map and driving directions from the Superior National Forest. There really isn't a better map out there. The trailhead is very near the canoe launch for Moose Lake, and you'll find restrooms at the canoe launch. 

The hike just around Blackstone Lake is very scenic and is pretty easy going, through some lovely red pines and past two backcountry campsites where you can sit by the lake. It's just under two miles and most hikers can complete it in about an hour. 

Past Blackstone Lake, the trail gets much rougher and narrower. It's just over a three mile hike on the long loop to Ennis Lake and back, but it will take at least two hours to complete the hike, plus you'll want to hang out on top of the Ennis Lake cliffs.