It’s been an unusual September when it comes to the weather. I generally look forward to September because the weather can be some of the best of the year. Dry, cool, windless days with brilliant blue skies. This year we’ve seen little of that. It’s been cloudy with chances of rain more days than not, and windy. I’ve been less motivated to get out. Sunday, after being inside all day I forced myself out the door for a bike ride around 4:30. That’s late in the day even for me to get going. It was well worth it. I did some exploring of the old industrial river front. It’s mostly abandoned, polluted super-fund sites nowadays. Duluth was established as a town to support the mining and logging industries. These and other heavy industries spent the next hundred years using the harbor and polluting it. It is slowly being cleaned up and areas, like Canal Park, are now tourist attractions. Here’s pictures I took during this ride:
Thursday I was motivated to get out for a late evening ride. After a week of clouds and rain it managed to clear off about 5 in the afternoon. Seeing that crisp blue sky is all I needed to get me outside. It’s also the night Susan is gone to St Paul for a night class. I was free to stay out as long as I wanted. Here’s a few pictures from that ride:
Today, Friday, I was off from work. It was another cloudy, windy day. No rain though. It took me all day to get myself outside. When I finally went I decided to walk some of the trails near my house including some of the Superior Hiking Trail. According to today’s DNR report our Fall colors should be in the 50-75% range.
Some places it appeared this was accurate, other places it didn’t.
As always, once I get myself out the door I rarely regret it. This is a lesson I learn again and again and again.
I was told today I’m not needed at work on Monday. My current job is a part-time position. I work when they need me. With the day off I made some camping reservations for Sunday night. I’ll be doing an overnight bike camping trip. Really looking forward to it. It’s will be only my second bike camping trip of the 2016.
My friend Jeff had contacted me a few weeks ago. He needed to get out on a overnight adventure. I seem to be the one he calls for bike and backpacking get-aways. This time he wanted to backpack. Plenty of backpacking opportunities in the region. For shorter overnights I tend to head up the north shore of Lake Superior and do a section of the Superior Hiking Trail. Jeff asked if I’d ever gone to, or knew anything about Eagle Mountain. Yes and yes. Eagle Mountain is Minnesota’s highest peak. At 2,301 feet above sea level it’s nothing to brag about. But, it can only be reached on foot. It’s located in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW).
The BWCAW is a designated Wilderness and lies within the Superior National Forest. It is one of the most remote areas in the lower 48 states but is one of the most visited National Wilderness areas. The attraction of the area is the hundreds of lakes contained inside this area that is on the border with Canada. The Wilderness itself is over one million acres in size. It can be navigated only by canoe through a system of portages that connect the lakes. A few hiking trails also give access. As a designated wilderness, no motors of any type are allowed into the wilderness.
The hike to the top of Eagle mountain is about 3.5 miles in length. The first three miles is mostly flat. The climb up Eagle mountain is not very steep and only gains about 500 ft. The most difficult part is the footing. The National Forest Service ranks this trail as “Difficult” due to the rough trail. Rocks and tree roots fill the trail the entire way. So a 3.5 mile hike with a 500 foot elevation gain sounds easy. It’s not easy, but very do-able for any one with some basic fitness.
There are two designated campsites by Whale Lake at the base of the climb. An overnight permit from the National Forest Service is required to stay there. We stopped at the Tofte Ranger Station for our permit. One was available. From there it’s about a 20 mile drive into the the Superior National Forest via gravel forest service roads to the Eagle Mountain entry point. Despite the hike to the campsite being only 3 miles, by the time you make the drive and walk in you are nearly 25 miles from the nearest main road and any services. It feels very remote. The Forest Service warns any rescue from this area is very difficult.
We navigated the rocks and roots and arrived at Whale Lake around 2 pm. Both sites were taken. That probably meant one group was camping without the proper permit. We didn’t try to “police” the situation ourselves. We were able to share the best campsite of the two with a father and his three sons (who had a permit). They were gracious enough to let us encroach on their weekend in the woods. After we set-up camp we decided it would be a good time to make the climb up to the peak of Eagle Mountain.
The hike up was not steep, but very rugged with lots of rocks and a stream running down the trail most of the way. The area had received 2 inches of rain the previous night.
The mountain is mostly tree covered with a few openings in the trees near the top. The actual peak is hard to find if you haven’t read about it or heard about it from someone else. The trail that runs the last 100 yards or so to the peak is not marked (signage is kept to the absolute minimum in Wilderness areas) and is not obvious if you’re not looking for it. Here’s some of the views from the overlooks. All of these views are looking Southeast or East. Trees and lakes as far as you can see:
After marveling at the view we found our way to the summit. A geological marker and plague mark the spot.
I have to say how nice the weather and conditions were for this trip. Daytime in the high 60’s/low 70’s. Night time temps in the upper 50’s. It can get below freezing this time of year. And it probably did a few days before our trip because there was not a single mosquito around. Minnesota north woods with warm weather and no bugs is like heaven. And very rare. We did have a few clouds spitting rain at us during our dinner. But it was a minor inconvenience. It mostly cleared off by sunset. Sunset on Whale Lake was very nice. After dinner we assisted our campsite mates with their attempt to start a fire. Like I said earlier, 2 inches of rain the night before. It left everything extremely damp. We almost had a fire going twice, but eventually failed. The family retired to their massive 6 or 8 person tent they had brought with them while Jeff and I sat at the edge of the lake until well after the sun was down. I snapped quite a few shots of the lake as the sun slowly fell below the tree line.
After sunset we sat at the edge of the lake in near darkness for a while until the moon came up. It’s hard to describe, but we sat and listened to the sound of silence. The Boundary Waters is known as one of the quietest places in the lower 48 states. Quiet being defined as the lack of human made sounds, like car traffic for example. There are very few places left where you can experience this. Even here our silence was broken a couple of times by far off planes. It can almost be disorienting to try and hear something when there are no sounds. It was a still night with few animal sounds, so there wasn’t even the sound of the wind in the trees. There are three places I have personally experienced this kind of silence. Here in the Boundary Waters, on a backpacking trip down in the Grand Canyon, and on a backpacking trip in to the desert and Chisos Mountains of Big Bend National Park in Southwest Texas.
As always, I slept great in my tent. I tend to sleep better in a tent in the woods then I do in my own bed at home. I was anticipating the lack of bugs, or at least hoping there wouldn’t be many. I had heard a freeze had happened in this part of the state. In order to pack a little lighter I left the body of my tent at home. I only use tents for rain and bugs. If there’s no rain or no bugs I prefer to sleep under the stars, even in winter. But since we had a slight chance of rain I brought my ground sheet, tent poles, and rain fly. Without the tent body it’s more like a tarp tent then a tent. No bug netting.
I think I slept about 10 hours. Something I can never seem to do at home. We took our time with breakfast and packing up. Sometime around mid-morning we headed out for the rugged three miles back to the car. Our route took us about half way around the lake.
It was a great overnight backpack trip. We drove a longer way out of the National Forest then the way we came. But basically it’s drive south till you hit Lake Superior, turn right and drive about 90 miles of scenic highway along Lake Superior to Duluth.
Near Finland, Minnesota along the North Shore we stopped to check out the views from Palisade Head. Palisade Head is a 1.1 billion year old lava flow. It has some dramatic cliffs along Lake Superior. It was a perfect day to be up there. Quite a few rock climbers thought so too.
I’ll count my Friday evening post-dinner, pre-sunset ride as part of the weekend. It was another one of those beautiful late summer evenings. We were sitting on our porch when I got the itch to go ride about 30 minutes before sun down. I grabbed the Brompton and went. It’s really become such a great bike for this kind of last minute grab-and-go kind of rides. This time I was on a bit of a mission to turn down any alley or neighborhood street I’d never been on. Above is the alley behind the local snowmobile/atv/motorcycle/small farm implement store. You can see the squiggly route I took here.
Saturday was 100% about getting our “canning share” of tomatoes processed. Along with our weekly summer share of veggies from our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm, we order up a bulk share of tomatoes for canning. We’ve done this for 4 or 5 years now. That’s about how long Susan has been learning to can. And now I’m learning as well. I spent nearly 7 hours standing in one spot skinning, de-seeding and chopping tomatoes. While I did that Susan used the tomatoes I had finished to make salsa and pasta sauce and then canned those. It’s only one day a year we have to work on tomatoes like this, yet we reap the benefits of that labor all winter long. It is some good stuff. In paste years we received more tomatoes. So we’d make tomato-basil jam and can some plain tomatoes for making soups and stews.
No bike rides or hikes on Saturday.
When we bought our house in West Duluth in 2003 there were no official recreational trails anywhere nearby. Since then the Superior Hiking Trail has been extended across the ridge above our house. It is now, as of this summer, a 300 mile trail that runs from the Wisconsin border with Minnesota all the way up to Canada. It follows the ridge of Lake Superior. It is a premiere long distance hiking trail modeled after the Appalachian Trail. As I’ve mentioned before in this blog, there is also miles and miles of mountain bike trails being built all over the hills above my house.
Last month a new section of hiking trail was opened on the ridge above us. This section created a loop trail when combined with the Superior Hiking Trail. It is now known as the Brewer Park Loop. I had planned to take a fairly long bike ride Sunday to take advantage of what could be the last shorts and t-shirt weather rides of the season. Turns out it also makes for great hiking weather. I asked Susan if she’d like to check out the new loop trail. Well, I didn’t need to twist her arm. The official trail is 3.4 miles in length when hiking it from a local parking lot/trail head. We chose to walk from our house and enter the loop from another direction. Thusly adding a few miles. Our hike ended up being 6 miles in length. The first and last mile were road walks. Here’s some pictures from this hike that lays completely in our neighborhood. Or at least above our neighborhood. The ridge line is too rocky and rugged to build on. It is mostly wooded open space:
It was a spectacular hike. It’s hard to believe this is a urban hike we can hike anytime right from our front door.
Today was farm share pick-up day. Lots of fresh goodies from the Food Farm. As always it’s the Blue Truck/Xtracycle that gets the call to carry the farm share home. This picture was taken behind our local coffee shop, Beaner’s Central. They allow the Food Farm to use some inside space for the share pick-up by farm members. This is an alley side seating area the coffee shop built. I like the bicycle wheels incorporated into the overall design.
holiday weekend here in the states. We spent Saturday volunteering on the Superior Hiking Trail. It’s our 15th season as Trail Section volunteers. As a Trail Section volunteer we are asked to walk our section of trail once in the Spring and once in the Fall. We then fill out a report for the Maintenance Supervisor and do any trail work we feel comfortable doing.
After more then 30 times walking our section we have the routine down. I drop Susan and our gear off at the starting trail head. I drive to the trail head we will finish our hike at, take the bike and ride back to where I left Susan. I lock the bike in the woods and pick it up later after the hike. An added plus is a nice, mostly gravel, and mostly downhill bike ride.
We carry saws, lopers and an axe. We clear the trail best we can. We leave the really huge trees that have fallen on the trail for the chainsaw crew. Above is a before and after shot of a couple small birches we cleared.
When we arrived at this campsite there was a young couple on a three day backpack trip. They were drinking wine out of stainless steel packable wine glasses. Turns out he had just proposed to her at the waterfall right below the campsite and they were celebrating. She said yes.
The trail along the Cross River. The river was running very low.
Fredenberg Campsite, break spot number 2.
Tower Overlook with a view of Lake Superior in the distance. On a really clear day you can see the Apostle Islands and the Bayfield Peninsula of Wisconsin across the lake.
It was great to be out in the woods hiking together. We have not done enough hiking this summer. Our section of trail, much like the rest of the trail, is very scenic. It follows the Cross River as it cascades down the ridge towards Lake Superior. There is only one place on this section that has a view of Lake Superior. It’s one of the pictures above and is called Tower Overlook.
On Monday, the Labor Day Holiday, I went for a 20 mile ride to the west of my house. One of my regular routes that I like to ride when I don’t want to be around cars or too many people. It is mostly gravel and rail trail with maybe 1/3 low traffic roads. If you’ve read my blogs in the past you’ll recognize some of the shots. I was feeling quite sad after the news of Danny Chew being paralyzed in a bicycle crash. I stopped for a long while and sat on the wall at Bardons Peak to think. Riding my bike helped. Here’s some of the pictures:
Danny has a personal website dedicated to his life’s goal of riding one million miles. Danny has spent his entire life working towards this goal. He is around 800,000 miles right now.
Danny is a two-time winner of RAAM (Race Across America) and an 8 time finisher. His best time clocked in under 9 days.
Danny is the Director and one of the creators of Pittsburgh’s Dirty Dozen Race. A race up 13 of Pittsburgh’s toughest climbs including Canton Street with a grade of 37%.
I had the pleasure of racing with Danny and doing some group training rides with him when I lived in Pittsburgh way back in 1977 and 1978. When my family moved away from Pittsburgh in 1978 I was 15 and Danny was 16. My older brother knew Danny much better than I did and rode many miles with Danny. When I recently re-connected with Danny on-line he asked me if I was Pete’s little brother. Even back then Danny was a unique individual with his own ideas. He rode huge miles even back then. I learned a lot watching and racing with Danny and his older brother Tom Chew. Back before anyone knew who Davis Phinney was, he was 19 years old, penniless and sleeping on the Chew’s couch and racing those Thursday night races with us. Those were the days.