SHT Thru-hike: Part 1

Day 1

270 Overlook to Kimball Creek Camp

I feel eager, scared, and a little hungover as we pull into Otter Lake trailhead, the northernmost trailhead on the Superior Hiking Trail. I don’t recommend drinking the night before a 300+ mile thru-hike, but last night we decided to live in the moment, enjoying our last night in civilization with an abundance of food, drinks, and laughs. After only a few short hours of sleep, our 4:30 am alarm woke us.

As we drive along Highway 61 toward the trailhead the sun starts peeking through the trees, painting the sky orange. We turn onto a gravel road that quickly narrows into what feels like an ATV trail. As we pull into the Otter Lake trailhead there’s no sign of anyone besides a few empty cars.

We grab our packs and pose in front of the trailhead sign for Alex to take our picture, like we’re a couple of kids headed to our first day of school. We’re even wearing matching outfits. We say our goodbyes to Alex and head toward the 270 Overlook.

As we start our hike I start to realize what I’m getting myself into. This is it. Nothing but our 15-pound packs and our two feet for the next 9 days.

It doesn’t take us long to reach the 270 overlook, the northern terminus of the trail. It greets us with a sweeping 270 degree view of the remote wilderness that surrounds us. The sun sits low in the sky painting everything with a warm, golden tint. We spend a few minutes soaking it in and snapping a few pictures. We sign the trail register and officially begin our thru-hike at 6:44 am.

After making our way back down from the 270 overlook we cross some low-lying wetlands. Inevitably, my feet get wet. We see plenty of moose tracks and droppings, but no moose. The trail eventually ascends out of the wetlands and climbs to the highest point of the trail. There’s no immaculate view and we somehow miss the sign telling us we are there.

As the morning passes the day grows warmer. I start to struggle. Not with anything in particular, I just feel tired and lethargic. Tim mentions a hot spot on his foot. My feet are starting to bother me from being wet all morning. What did we get ourselves into? My confidence already starts to squander as I realize just how difficult this is going to be. Just hours before I had set out thinking I would conquer the trail, but I’m already starting to realize there is no conquering the trail. My only chance at success depends on my ability to adapt and become a part of the trail.

My confidence squanders as I realize how difficult this is going to be. I’m already starting to realize there is no conquering the trail. My only chance at success depends on my ability to adapt and become a part of the trail.

My confidence already starts to squander as I realize just how difficult this is going to be. I’m already starting to realize there is no conquering the trail. My only chance at success depends on my ability to adapt and become a part of the trail.

The afternoon turns to evening and we make our way to Magney State Park. The quiet, empty trail is now filled with tourists and day hikers. Tim and I both seem to have bounced back from a rough afternoon and we find ourselves jogging along the Brule River past Devil’s Kettle Falls. As our pace quickens it seems like time does too.

We arrive at the Lake Walk, a 1.5-mile section of trail that crosses a pebble filled beach on the shore of Lake Superior. I have been looking forward to this section along the cool lake all day. The sun sits low in the sky, waves crash against the shoreline and a nice cool breeze makes me forget about how hot I was earlier. The vast views of Lake Superior bring me peace. Walking along the loose pebbled beach probably should’ve felt difficult, but it doesn’t. I enjoy every step.

A group of older ladies is sitting around a camp fire on the beach, enjoying food and drinks. As we pass by they ask us about our hike. We pause to answer their questions and share our plans to thru-hike the trail. They offer us trail mix, carrots and a plethora of positive energy. I leave feeling re-energized. Just a couple more miles to camp!

LakeWalk

The first two campsites we encounter are full, leaving us little choice but to continue. It’s Labor Day weekend so the full campsites aren’t a surprise, but I still feel myself growing impatient. Darkness has set in. My wet feet are starting to bother me. I need sleep.

Finally, at 10:30 pm we find a spot to camp at Kimball Creek Camp. I’m hardly keeping my eyes open as we setup camp. I don’t waste any time climbing into the tent to crash. Sleep feels amazing.

42.5 miles / 42.5 total miles 

Day 2

Kimball Creek Camp to Cut Log Camp (Cascade River)

Our only alarm is a cheap Timex watch I bought at Wal-mart, and we sleep right through it. Luckily only a few minutes pass before the sun wakes us up. Getting up early isn’t our specialty. We eat breakfast, tear down camp and start down the trail at 6:20 am.

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The morning air doesn’t have its usual chill. It’s going to be another warm day. The trail follows along creeks and through Pine forests, and I feel completely recovered from all the aches and pains of yesterday. I’m surprised by how good I feel.

It doesn’t seem to take long before we arrive in Grand Marais at 10:45 am. Our first resupply and a chance to get any other supplies we might want. A day of wet feet has made it apparent neither of us brought enough socks, so we stop into Stone Fitters to buy more. We eat huge cheeseburgers and drink pop and coffee at My Sister’s Place, a local restaurant, before heading back down the trail to get the resupply cache we hung in a tree near the trail.

A few hours after we leave Grand Marais Tim mentions that he is having some tendinitis-like pain in his ankle. It seems to be the same injury we both experienced at Sawtooth last year. That time it took weeks to heal. We have since named it “Death Ankle.” Not something you ever want, especially not on day two of a thru-hike. Tim adjusts his shoe laces hoping that will do the trick. It doesn’t. We pull out the little bit of Duct Tape we brought and try to tape his ankle. That doesn’t seem to help either. I suggest camping where we are, hoping that a good night of rest will help him recover and he’ll be ready to go again tomorrow. Tim insists we continue so we don’t get too far behind, so we do.

We end up stopping for the night at Cut Log Campsite, just a couple miles short of our planned campsite for the night. Tim is convinced he’s done. I try to talk him out of it, or at least to delay his decision until morning. Last night’s sleep seemed to cure me of all my aches and pains, so maybe it will do the same for him. I try to remain hopeful, but he’s pretty convinced he’s done. We start figuring out a ride for him in the morning.

I decide I will go on, regardless. I’ll have a couple extra pounds in my pack from the shared gear (mainly our tent and stove). Not a big deal. Losing my hiking partner would be a little bit harder to swallow, though. It would change the whole dynamic of the trip. Suddenly the weight on my shoulders felt a lot heavier than the two extra pounds of gear I’d have in my pack. I didn’t sleep well that night as I tried to process doing the rest of the thru-hike without Tim…

29.5 miles / 72 total miles

SHT Thru-hike: Part 2

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