The Border Route Trail section, immediately after the Superior Hiking Trail, brought me my dusting of late MN snow. While I had just come off trail to resupply; Nemo was dropping one of our friends off to SoBo the SHT, so we kicked it for a night and he brought me a ration box. Found several unopened beers in the woods, still good even; not in the same place either, like 3 different beers in 3 different places. Hope I didn’t wreck someone’s caches for a drunken FKT attempt… Saw lots of wild life up close, all the baby animals that aren’t afraid of people, or are otherwise foolish. From the moose at a safe distance, to grouse chicks and fawns that try to hide right in the center of the trail. (or worse, under the arch of my boot.) Met Problem Bear briefly on the Kekekabic trail, He’s Triple Crowner who attempted the NCT east bound in 2016. I think he got off in MI around when the trail gets overly civilized. People who can really relate to long distance hiking are pretty rare the farther you get from the Triple Crown Trails, so I think we both enjoyed taking an hour to commiserate.
I caught both the BRT and Kek before many of the volunteers had been out for the heavy trail maintenance necessary. Many dead-falls and Aspen were bent across the trails; likely a hold over from heavy snows or a fall windstorm; slowing progress about as well as any of the steep elevation jumps of the AT and the LT, as following the trail became less walking and more tracing a tread path through a thicket that grows sideways. Leaving the Kek and the boundary waters I was able to connect with a group of volunteers who put me up in a boy scout camp near the Kek’s terminus, and also fed me pretty decent before I set off on the next decent road section. MN was good to me, even on roads; people offered me rides, food and drink multiple times a day between Ely and my next trail section just after Grand Rapids. (These great lakes states seem to share town names pretty frequently…) Good to have “Minnesota Nice” be more true than just a series of passive aggressive jokes.
This road section is about when I really got on top of this iteration of the blog, and I think when I got onto instagram. The next section of established trail is well supported by trail volunteers and came and went quite breezily. Here I found my first morel mushrooms, which at the time I thought were quite sizable, as well this section was where I had to step over a fawn that failed its hide check. (or maybe just balance…) I ran into an encryption error, and accidentally erased all the pictures I took in Minnesota to this point, so the ones that have made it here I have found because as luck would have it; I didn’t back up anything in that time, but I did transfer files around a little so there were a few survivors. You’d think that afterwards I would’ve learned my lesson and developed good habits around back-ups and data management, but I actually recently had another near catastrophe… maybe I ought to get around to that…
Overall, winter seems to only come in a few flavors on trail. Some such as while crossing the Inyos for this look into Saline Valley, are amongst my favorite hiking conditions, and it might be a stretch to even call them winter. Cool air, comparatively warm sun. I’ve said it before, but this kind of weather inspires big mile days more than any other.
Similar weather abounded in the desert sections of the PCT, especially after I came down from the high points near San Jacinto and Onyx Peak; where conditions dipped into another flavor of trail winter, too windy and wet to stop and fiddle with Cameras. Luckily it didn’t stay that way for too long. The overarching plan to spend winter in the Southwest is working out, almost too well. Its maybe a bit hot for me at these lower elevations.
Herein upon Muir Pass I having had a bit of this second flavor of winter, but was also determined to try to photograph my surroundings. It helped that I could hop in and out of the Muir Pass Hut for refuge as need be.
Another, more literal flavor of winter camping is while snow may not be present, temperatures are low enough that you can pack ice cream out from town for you first breakfast. I would encourage this universally, everyother non-cooked meal you eat will already be equally cold.
While still quite early for the Superior Hiking Trail’s season, my delays found me on trail with atleast one other thru hiker according to the registers. A little slack packing out ofy parent’s cottage in duluth, compliments of my father, (who seems to like slack packing quite a bit, seeing as he offers to do so not infrequently.) and I was back up to speed. The eastern most 400 miles of the NCT in MN are truly a joy; minimal roadwalking enough elevation change to stave off boredom, without being particularly difficult, plentiful and beautiful waterways. I may be a bit biased, as the SHT was my first thru-hike, and is in my home state, but this is the best section of the NCT; barring maybe the High Peaks area of the Adirondaks, which was nowhere near as long, but more spectacular, and not the official NCT route.
After the long and lonesome winter, having the occasional company at camp was nice, on trail as well although I seldom stop to chat for long. I passed several different trail crews all out for their first outings of the season, and even met Lars again and nighted with his family near Oberg Mt. (Which was fortunate, as I forgot my trekking poles with him when he ferried my back to the Twin Cities.) Shortly thereafter I happened to camp with another thru hiker which I hadn’t quite expected. I figured I would probably pass them at night while they were camped out. It was their first thru, and they were having some minor struggles regarding a hiking partner getting back on trail after having gotten hurt. I think I shared some cookies with them, hope they managed to finish
The atmosphere this time through the SHT was wholly different from my previous thru, in which it was much drearier, was also off season. I don’t recall this bridge being as sketchy then (heard they’ve already fixed it even) but I have a kind of fixation on failing trail infrastructure. When I previously passed thru, overcast skies lent a certain mystique to the riverwalks. Low visibility lent the rock formations additional gravitas, as they disappear into fog only 10 feet away. This time I had few clouds, although for a couple days they showed up bearing a dusting of snow in the far north. I’ll count that, and with it I had snow in every state of the NCT save ND.
August 11th 2016, to February 2nd 2017.
A far cry from my original plan to complete the PCT within 100 days, but I self sabotaged that plan almost immediately. Second crown in hand, and onto San Diego to complete the coast to coast portion of my trek. The CDT is almost in my sights.
As I am getting back on the PCT post-holiday break it seems that I may have made the wrong choice with regards to weather. Had I stayed on trail I would have finished out SoCal without much trouble, but it seems we’ve caught a few decent storms since then, so I’m coming back in with a pretty similar kit to what I carried thru the Sierra, basically just minus an Ice Ax. Carrying the snowshoes unnecessarily feels a little silly, but I think I may get some use out of them given how low snow line is on San Jacinto.
Although, my kit doesn’t change that much season to season, I try and keep my budget a little too tight for that. Most of this stuff has come a long way, and my use conditions for this trip put a bigger premium on durability (or warranties) than I would if I were doing a single trail. Both puffy jackets were acquired on trail, although the top one I picked up on mile 40 o the AT… the second is perhaps a bit overkill now, I’ve only worn them together a couple times. (namely atop Mt. Whitney) While keeping weight down is important, preventing gear failure (especially in winter conditions) is paramount; both from a sense in that if I am carrying it, then I need it to be not broken, and in a sense that replacing gear cuts into the coffers, which ultimately will be what forces me off trail.
The red and silver sleeping bag liner is a vapor barrier, which really does extend the range of comfort. Although I already sleep quite warm, and early in the trip found that my 20°F bag I could sleep comfortably into the teens. This has since receded a bit as I think I may have worn or otherwise damaged the down. Despite washings it never seems to recover its original loft, it is however still quite warm, and with VBL layers and some midnight crunches I haven’t found too much trouble sleeping below 0°F. Also of note slight modifications to my tent, having added a set tension distributing guy lines, I reduced the number of stakes required for setup by 4, bringing minimum setup to 4 stakes and fully battened down at 6 stakes. I recently modified it further. Using some small plastic rings cannibalized from my backpack, to minimize the cord on cord action, which should prolong the life of the guylines a bit.
Jetting thru WI’s 200 miles in 6 days neither left room for error, nor was a section prone to it, with a gentle elevation profile and overall easy to follow tread. Its greatest challenges came in the mundane challenge of mustering quickly in the morning and bedding down quickly at night. Such sections aren’t the most interesting to recall as a narrative, but are often wonderful in the moments; a simple pleasure, wherein talents learned in previous hardship aren’t tested, but exercised. Hiking the North woods in the spring, preseason to the more crowded summer offers cushier conditions than I think most expect. Cool, but not bitter cold temps, combined with longer daylight hours, keep you up and moving in the day and resting easily at night. The bugs that swarm from the upper Midwest’s many waterways aren’t out yet in any significant force. The woods are most often empty of people, as schools are still in session and vacation season is a ways off; and aside from turkey, hunting seasons are closed. Autumn is still my favorite time to be outside, but trading the foliage for more daylight, and less consideration for being downrange of hunters doesn’t seem unfair at all.
None of that is to say that my way through WI was wholly unremarkable, I trudged long into the night to find shelters that were perhaps overly ambitious targets. Once of which was a small hardly optimally shaped building with a door, and made up my first night in the state. The next, and last was more a standard Adirondack style shelter, but with columns closely spaced instead of wall near the open end, as an architectural flourish to an otherwise simple building. Or finding myself sleeping beside a stream underneath a low clearance bridge, having left the day unplanned and ending with miles of road before the next bit of trail, without knowing if camping is even permitted near that trail head. Or getting mixed results hoping for shortcuts by following jeep trails.
Spring thaw was in full effect as I tromped thru WI, as the contrast between these pictures show. I’m sure I would’ve encountered more places where the trail becomes a pond, had off trail section of WI been weighted more towards the end, but as it was I found myself practically snowshoeing into the state and wading out into Jay Cooke. Where I got spirited away by my friend Lars, first back to his cabin, and then back home to the Cities to have myself a bit of a spring break. I seem to diverge from hiking quarterly, and then inevitably get delayed in getting back to trail, as I often put myself at the mercy of whatever cheap or free transport I can find. (Friends and Family have been super helpful on this front, although I suspect some foul play has perhaps been involved in some of my delays.)
Ever maligned, often deservedly so. Road sections have something to offer, especially if you count making peace with the death that speeds past, not but an arms length away.
In the final section of the NCT, while following the ill fated McClusky Canal; ya gotta take what elevation change you can, and this ten foot embankment is about it.
Finding a roadwalk route from Lake Sakakawea to Glacier NP isn’t too hard, but a little effort and some extra miles to get you off of US2 in Eastern MT is worth it. Even if you do see the rockies for an extra day before reaching them.
The Joys of having left the plains, to the point where turning around yeilds a view to Chief Mountain, instead of the seemingly endless horizons.
Crossing 138, (not walking along it… I know) into Crater Lake NP, even the road caught some of the sunset’s reflection. Climbing Mt. Thielsen that afternoon put me behind enough to catch this here, rather than somewhere in the forest without a clear view to the skies.