Monday, August 27, 2018

Day 24: Soaring with Eagles!

June 23: I woke up and took one last shower before hitting the trail. It would, I knew, be my last shower until I finished the trail.

Blueberry's flight didn't leave until June 30th, a week away, but we had only about 40 miles until the end of the trail. Even poking along at a slow 10 miles per day, we could be done a few days early, so we decided that there was no reason to rush out of the hostel and start getting  the miles under our feet. Blueberry decided to hang out and watch TV shows on his smartphone, but I had other (more exciting) plans--to hit the high point of Minnesota at Eagle Mountain, 2,301 feet above sea level.

I thought this--Whale Lake--might, perhaps, be the highest lake in Minnesota. Later, some Google searches would tell me that that was not the case.

The SHT passed a few miles from the Eagle Mountain trailhead, and from the hostel, it was maybe a half hour drive away. I asked Nula the day before if she'd be interested in hiking to the high point of Minnesota. Nula had recently moved to Minnesota from Washington state and didn't have a permanent place to stay yet, which was why she was hanging out in the hostel. Knowing she was new to the area, though, I thought maybe she'd be interested in a hike and--besides having company on the hike--she had a car and could just drive us there. Win-win! =)

So we piled into her car and to the trailhead, which followed several miles of gravel road and took a bit longer than we expected but we weren't in a rush.

I had heard a lot about the trail from other people who reported that the trail was mostly flat until the last half mile when it climbs steeply. The trail was remarkably flat considering that we were hiking to a high point for a state, but I didn't think the last half mile was particularly noteworthy. Maybe by Minnesota standards they considered the trail steep, but I considered it a cake walk. There was none of that mad scrambling like you'd find in the White Mountain of New Hampshire which is what I tend to think of when people tell me a section of trail is steep and difficult.

Say hi to Nula. Hello, Nula! =)

Not to mention that I left most of my gear in Nula's car so I got to slackpack to the top. Life was great! It was easy!

What was a problem, however, were the bugs, which were absolutely dreadful!

Near the top, Nula stopped to pee so I continued on and reached the summit where I waited for probably a half hour wondering what the heck happened to her. The summit itself was boring. There was a plaque marking the high point, but it was in trees without any views. There was, however, a viewpoint just under the summit and I figured Nula must have stopped there.

Since Nula never showed up, I took this photo of myself at the summit by stting the camera on the ground and using a 10-second timer. =)

I went down and sure enough, there she was. She actually had no interest going to the very tippy-tippy top of Minnesota, despite it being a mere three or four minute walk away on relatively easy ground. She wanted the view, but bragging rights to the top didn't interest her.

Additionally, she reported that she felt blisters on both feet, so she was good.

We admired the views along with several other people nearby, and the view was genuinely wonderful with several scenic lakes spread out below us. Lake Superior actually wasn't in view, but there were some clouds and haze in the sky and I wondered if that was obscuring the lake or if it was just too far away to be in view.

I counted five or six visible lakes--it was hard to get an exact count because some of the lakes were very close to each other and it was hard to tell if they were one lake with several "lobes" or if each lobe was a separate lake.

Being the troublemaker than I am, I announced, "I'm counting about six lakes here! I heard there were 10,000 of them! Where are the rest? From the high point in Minnesota, wouldn't you expect to see all 10,000 lakes?" Exactly. *nodding*

They laughed, knowing I wasn't from around there and was just teasing them.

The viewpoint near the top of Eagle Mountain was gorgeous! But I don't see no 10,000 lakes... do you?

Eventually Nula and I started back down the mountain, but Nula was walking considerably slower and with a more pronounced limp than she had coming up. The blisters were bugging her.

But expect for the bugs, the trail itself was uneventful. It was an out-and-back hike, so we retraced our steps back to the trailhead, passing by a couple of small lakes (probably the highest lake in Minnesota, I said to Nula, but nobody makes note of that!)  and quite a large number of hikers heading in the opposite direction.

We arrived back at the parking lot, which was completely packed with cars now, including some overflowing the parking lot onto the gravel road that went by it. I was glad we arrived earlier and beat the large crowds!

When Nula took off her shoes, I saw the blisters on her feet for the first time and was stunned at their sizes. They were an inch or two in diameter, on the backs of both feet, and both of them had already popped. It was ugly and I felt a little bad that the hike I suggested did this to her feet. Round trip, the entire hike was something like 7 miles which I didn't think was particularly problematic. I didn't realize that she wasn't much of a walker at all and that seven miles would cause her so much trouble. But it might have just been the shoes as well, not sufficiently broken in. (Or, as I joked with her, her feet weren't properly broken in. "You don't break in shoes. Shoes break in you!")

We piled into the car and headed back. We stopped in Grand Marais--it was on the way and I wanted to grab a real lunch while I could rather than live off the food in my pack. I offered to buy lunch for Nula as a thank you for the ride to the trailhead and the company, but she wasn't interested and instead dropped me off at Hughie's Tacos while she ran out to the co-op to run her own errands.

While waiting in line, I bumped into Jeremy, the proprietor of the hostel. Which wasn't as much of a surprise as you might have thought because his wife, Kate, was the new owner of the restaurant and bought it just a couple of weeks earlier. They planned to change the name of the restaurant to Hungry Hippie Tacos, but that hadn't happened yet.

So I finally met his wife, Kate, who was cheerful and seemed to be enjoying herself and the customers.

I got my taco and dug into it. It was delicious, and I finished it off and was walking toward the door to leave when Nula walked in to find me. Looked like we were both ready to leave at, quite literally, the exact same time!

We piled into her car again and started driving back toward the hostel. Nula stopped at the SHT trailhead a mile before the hostel where I hopped out to begin the day's hike on the Superior Hiking Trail. It was about 3:00 when I arrived, so it would be a late "start" for my day's hike, but Blueberry and I had agreed to stop at a campsite only 8.5 miles up the trail so I didn't have far to go.

Back on the Superior Hiking Trail! Which is actually more steep than it was to the high point of the state!

Blueberry, undoubtedly, was already on the trail and ahead of me somewhere. Depending on when he left, he could already be in camp!

I was maybe an hour into the hike, when I approached an older woman hiking with her unleashed dog, which I didn't think much about until the dog went into attack mode when it saw me, barking and snarling, sharp canines bared and looked ready to rip my throat out.

I pulled up my trekking pole to defend myself, pointing the sharp end at the dog and backing away. The dog backed off a bit when I pointed the pole at it, but he continued growling and clearly looked like he wanted to attack.

The dog's owner shouted, "Throw down your stick! He's scared of your stick! He'll leave you alone if you throw down your stick!"

What the f*** is wrong with you? I want him to be scared of my trekking pole! It's all I have to defend myself with!

She came up behind the dog, grabbing him by the collar and started putting a leash on him.

My heart was beating fast--it was a scary encounter and the adrenaline was pumping through my body.

And I was angry. Absolutely, blood-thirsty angry.

"Keep your dog on a f***ing leash!" I yelled at the woman. And I yelled. I was angry. "You do NOT have your dog under control and it NEEDS to be on a leash at ALL times."

She shook her head, as if I was being totally unreasonable and didn't know what I was talking about.

I'm always a little amused when people who are scared of the woods ask if I'm scared of bears or wolves or whatever wild animals capture their imagination, but what scares me most aren't bears or wolves. It's people and their so-called domesticated pets. This wasn't the first time I've had a problem with dogs, and it's not wild dogs that I've had problems with--it's the domesticated ones. The ones that have no fear of humans. This moment was the scariest moment of my entire hike.

Fortunately, I didn't get hurt from it, but it could have turned out badly. I could have been severely injured or killed, and I might have severely injured her dog defending myself. All of which could have been prevented if the woman just kept her dog on a leash.

And to blame me for the attack because I carried a trekking pole? On a trail? In the woods? That woman and her dog running loose are a threat to every single person (and animal) hiking the trail.

I continued onward, anxious to leave the scene behind me.

This bridge looked like it was installed just yesterday!
Another hour or two later, I followed the trail across Highway 61 and to the shore of Lake Superior. For 1 1/2 miles, the trail followed along the beach. It was the only place on the entire trail where the trail followed directly along the lake the trail was named for. (Except for in Duluth--which doesn't seem like it really counts since it's in town rather than a wilderness experience.)

The walking was difficult, over sand and small rocks where each step felt like two steps forward and one step back, but I enjoyed every minute of it. The views were wide open and beautiful! The air was crisp and cool! There were no bugs--not any! I loved it!

The fact that Lake Superior was a freshwater lake still fascinated me. Looking across it, I couldn't see the other side. It looked like an ocean or a sea. You'd think there must be salt in the water, but nope, there isn't. Or is there...? It suddenly occurred to me that I never actually tasted the water. I should check that it really is fresh water. I stopped long enough to partially fill one of my empty water bottles and took a chug. Yep, it was fresh--and absolutely delicious! And cold, too. I was told the average water temperature of the lake is about 40 degrees year round--cold enough that I wouldn't want to swim in it, but a great temperature to drink. (This is also the reason the air temperature near the lake was so much cooler than it was just a couple of miles away from the lake. The lake effect. It keeps temperatures along the shore cool during hot weather and keeps temperatures warm during cold weather.)

The start of the infamous Lake Walk. (A lot of hikers complained about it because it's so hard to walk on, which is true, but I loved the Lake Walk anyhow!)
I did try to walk over sections with larger pebbles--the larger the pebbles, the easier it was to walk on--and kept my eye open for when the trail would head back into the woods. I was a little concerned that I'd miss the turn and keep hiking along the beach in the wrong direction.

But I didn't miss the turn, and headed back into the woods. I wish more of the trail was alongside the lake.

I continued onward, finally reaching the North Little Brule River campsite where Blueberry had already set up camp and had a roaring fire. And it was roaring! His campfires are usually small, modest affairs, and this was the biggest one I'd seen on the trail.

I was tired by the time I arrived in camp. Blueberry hiked a mere 8.5 miles to get here, but I did another 7.5 miles to Eagle Mountain on top of that had therefore had walked closer to 16 miles and was pretty beat.

The weather forecast called for a slight chance of light rain, but it looked clear right now and I decided not to put my tarp up. I set up camp at a location where I could easily get a tarp up quickly if it did rain, but I figured if it did rain, and if it was light, I'd just throw the tarp over me like a blanket and wait it out. I didn't feel like setting up my tarp if I really didn't have to.

Then I joined Blueberry by the campfire, cooked some dinner and we caught up with our day's adventures in the next episode of... the Campfire Chronicles!

More photos from the Lake Walk--it was the most spectacular section of the trail all day!
I didn't create this line of rocks, but I liked it! =)

It looks like a bunch of fur on the ground. What the heck happened here?!


GG said...

When I run into unleashed, dogs, I don't care how under control they may seem, I take off my backpack and hold it in front of me.
I don't turn my back on the dog and human until they're out of sight.

Karolina said...

That fur on the ground might be another ‚dog affair’ - it looks like someone combed their dog’s fur right there.