Superior Hiking Trail Winter Thru-Hike: Days 4-8
Superior Hiking Trail Winter Thru-hike. Days 4-8.
Day 4. Another warmer January day. Temps haven’t dipped below 0 degrees Fahrenheit. While the temps were comfortable the humidity was around 90% and the frost made things wet. My socks weren’t drying out and my sleeping bag was beginning to build up moisture from my body. I tried to bag my feet in my boots to keep my boots dry but I got holes in the bags. My boots “wetted out” during the day.
It topped out around 30 degrees with the sun coming out. I was warm and loved the warm sun on my face. If it wasn’t for my wet feet it would have been perfect. The snow that was in the sunlight became sticky and would clump onto the bottoms of my snowshoes. It would make my footing tippy but I would just scrap them off with my poles once in a while.
Hiking along the Brule River was nice. It was mostly downhill and it was easy to find the trail since there were footprints. I stopped at an open spot in the river to get some water. Later on, I came to a magnificent waterfall called “Devil’s Kettle.” The ice caged falls let out a soft roar as I peered down from a vista. Foam formed at the bottom of the falls as the wild water disappeared under the ice. I passed through Judge Magney State Park and hiked to the Little Brule River for camp.
The Lake Walk
Day 5. I crossed Highway 61 and out to Lake Superior. The morning sun felt amazing as it glistened off the open lake. The waves engulfed the trail so I bushwacked through the brush. Eventually, I came to the open pebbled beach. The rocks were mostly red and small. Two-foot tall ridges of pebbles that were frozen from previous larger waves began to melt in the sun and fall apart.
I took a break and filled my water bottle with lake water and made breakfast on the shore. Time was relative there but I moved on. I came to a couple drinking coffee on the beach. They were winter surfers. I asked them how they stayed warm in the water. “We wear thick wet suits,” they replied. They asked me about my sleeping set up and we talked for a bit about adventures.
I was sad to leave the beach but looked forward to some creek and river crossings. There were many campsites along the creeks and rivers.
I came to a camp by dark. I started a campfire, cooked dinner, and set up for the night. One pair of socks that I had strapped to the outside of my pack was full of snow from ducking under snow-covered branches. I put a stick in the ends of them and tried to dry them off by the fire. They were steaming but still were wet. I wrung them out then stuck the stick by the fire while eating my rice meal. After dinner, I checked my socks and they were still wet so I went down to the creek to get some water for the next day.
I broke through the creek but it was just mud. I continued down the creek listening for running water and analyzing the topography to try and breakthrough to clean water. After an hour and 10 holes of mud. I made my way back to camp. The fire was out and socks were still wet. I changed into my one pair of dry socks and into my sleeping bag. Wearing most of my clothes to bed I took a shot of Fireball for a warm sleepy slumber.
Day 6. I was super thirsty by the time I got to an opening in Durfee Creek. Once I cameled up I hiked slowly in the virgin snow trying not to sweat. I came to Wildflower Hill. The wildflowers were just twigs but the distant views of Lake Superior were beautiful. The sun tried to peek out but the landscape was many shades of gray. The last time that I was here the trees were peaking autumn leaves. What a contrast of seasons.
I was happy to find tracks in the snow as I approached a trailhead. The tracks continued along the Devil Track River. It was nice not having to look at maps. I was now done with map 6 and onto map 5. The precipitous drops in the river valley, high rocky hills, and distant Lake Superior were sights that motivated me to continue to my camp for the night.
Day 7. I hiked into the town of Grand Marias. I ate a sub, washed my clothes, and resupplied at the local market. A nice lady at the laundromat gave me some detergent and we talked about canoeing in the boundary waters. I daydreamed of warm summer days on pristine lakes. After my laundry was dry, electronics charged, and belly was full I hiked back up to the trail. It didn’t take long for my feet to be wet again since my boots were wet.
I soon found myself walking on a snowmoble trail. The SHT runs on it for a bit. My pace tripled. It felt so easy that I took off my snow shoes and attached them to my pack. I kept my snowshoes off when I left the snowmobil trail. It was just as easy.
Day 8. The night was rough. My down sleeping bag was so heavy full of moisture that it didn’t keep me warm. I wore all of my dry clothes and used 3 hand warmers. Putting on my frozen boots and wet wool socks in the morning was torture. I used 2 hand warmers in my boots and broke camp early to get warm.
Breakfast was at noon. My hunger vanished but I figured I needed calories to warm up. I was in a calorie deficit. My body felt strange and I couldn’t stop shivering. That’s when I decided it was time to get off-trail. When I came to the Cascade River I made some hot chocolate. I was finally warm but my feet were wet and sore. My plan was that I could just hike out to the road and walk back to Duluth and catch a bus that could bring me to my truck.
With my new plan, I felt sad that I was leaving the trail. Another failed winter thru-hike. I’ve thru-hiked the trail in the summer in less than 2 weeks. Winter was a way different story. My frustration turned to depression but once I started hiking the road my body started shivering and I felt nauseous. I decided to take a hotel in Tofte. My body was shaking so badly that I could hardly sign the hotel form. As soon as I got into my room I got into a hot bath and spent 4 hours warming up. My feet were white and the skin came off in sheets. Once I felt better I dried out my belongings in front of the room’s heater. I ate and drank tons and went in for a second hot bath.
It took 8 days of hard hiking for me to go only 69 miles on the trail. Once I got to Highway 61 it took only 4 days to go 95 miles to a bus and to my truck. Although the road was boring, the calming view of Lake Superior and the ease of dry feet transitioned my depressing thoughts into the positive moments of the adventure.
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