After 5 years on the trail, we reached the border of Canada this year, making for a trip of ~220 miles, from Two Harbors up to the Canadian border. At the time that we started the trail, the southern portion near Duluth hadn’t yet been connected to the rest of the trail. It’s also, well, less like a backpacking trail and more like a nature trail. For that reason, we opted not to do the southern section of the trail. Personally I would rather either find a new place to go or I’d rather re-hike favorite segments.
So what follows is a recap of the trip. It’s basically just going to be a brain dump that covers most of what I can remember of things at this moment. I also have notes from two years ago that I haven’t posted. I will assemble them both into a more readable summary at some point but, for now, I want to get this stuff written down before I forget it.
Leading up to departure
Standard approach to the trip. It felt very relaxed this time. We put together a basic list for meals which included lots of tortillas, peanut butter, and some ramen. I also made and froze eggs & sausage to be eaten on the first morning, and noodles to be eaten with packaged tuna on the first night. We also brought cliff bars, homemade energy bars (1c honey, 1c PB, 3c oatmeal), crystal light, and coffee. Lots of coffee.
Unpacked most things the weekend before the trip. Dad arrived at about 8:30 or 9:00 on Monday and we sorted out our gear and hit the sack.
Tuesday, October 13th
Left home at about 4:15. Made it past Fremont when I realized I forgot my phone. Anger ensued, along with a trip back home and a 60 minute delay. Stopped at Wal Mart and Culvers and we were only about 30 minutes late to our shuttle driver’s RV repair shop / antique store. As usual, Harriet was a trip. We walked through the door and she asked us if I was the real John Mayer and then she introduced us to her parrot. Before long, we drove up to Otter Lake Rd and dropped off our car and then drove back down to Kadunce River with Harriet. She told stories about the insane politician who rearranges the rocks around his house and the hippie who runs a beaver skin hat shop with the “open 10-4, unless I’m not here” sign on the door.
Dropped off and hit the trail. We only went about 5 miles the first day, but it was a tough 5. Part of it took place along the Lake Superior coast in the sand. We abandoned that section of the trail and just road walked it up to the next trailhead. It was brutal. Walking in sand is hard enough without a 45lb backpack on your back, and we were pressed for time.
We made it to the South Little Brule river campsite at about 5:30 without too much excitement. Unpacked, gathered wood, ate dinner, sat around the fire, and went to bed at about 8:00. The weather was great. The fuel canister seemed light so we weren’t sure if it had been full or not. Uh oh.
Wednesday, October 14th
Long day ahead of us so we tried to get going early. Ate a few breakfast burritos and enjoyed a few cups of coffee. Hit the trail at about 9:30 with ~14 miles of trail ahead of us. We hammered out the first 6 miles in about 2ish hours and stopped for a rest and snack at the Devil’s Kettle falls at about 11:45. Very very cool, and it was listed as one of the most dynamic falls on the entire trail. There were quite a few campers there from the Judge Magney state park campsite. We warmed up in the sunlight and rested up for a bit before moving on. We were both awestruck by the way the river drained into a huge sinkhole (the Devil’s Kettle) and I still have no idea where that water was going. I’ll be uploading a video to youtube before too long.
We were both exhausted by the time we rolled into camp at about 5:00 (I think). I was 100% ready to say that I needed to stop for about 20 minutes to eat and just relax without my pack on. We were very very happy to see that this site (Hazel) had a bear cable, so no need to hunt down a place to hang the rope up. The one downside was that the water source was 1.8 miles away. Thankfully, we read the book beforehand and knew that was coming, so we filled up an extra 64oz jug and threw it in my pack so we wouldn’t have to skimp on the coffee.
We were running low on fuel during dinner and had to leverage the fire. Looked like we’d only have enough left for a pot of coffee in the morning and that would be the end of it.
We heard a wolf pack howling at night. Twice I heard them all sound off. There had to be at least 6 or 7 distinct howls in the group. It was awesome and scary at the same time. We also heard a massive crashing in the brushes just outside of the firelight as a deer (we think) ran around our camp. Poor guy, he was headed straight for the wolves.
Lots of road hiking today and trails that cut through private land. It was kind of a bummer. Road hiking is way worse than trail hiking because it’s super boring and not necessarily any easier to do.
Thursday, October 15th
Last full day on the trail. We had only 12 miles today so we took our time getting on the trail. Exhausted our remaining fuel trying to warm up water for coffee. We ran into another hiker on the trail who had just stayed at the Carlson site a few miles north and was heading in the opposite direction. Very nice guy and it was nice to chat with him. He gave some tips for places to get some water, and we gave some tips to avoid the very sloped South Little Brule river campsite down near Kadunce.
More road walking today but it wasn’t as bad because they were logging roads/trails and not normal gravel roads. Really nice morning. The weather was a little colder than yesterday, but it was still very sunny in the morning.
This was the first day on this trip that we got some great views. Some high points gave us nice scenery of the lake and surrounding area. After descending from a peak into a lower valley in which most of the trees had been knocked down, I heard a bunch of crashing in the woods. I signaled to my Dad and we waited for 5-10 minutes to see if we could see it. It was definitely BIG. Either a bear or something. We didn’t hear anything else so we though maybe it was a beaver pulling a tree through the woods. The sky looked ominous and it was starting to rain a bit, so we went on our way. At the clearing we saw fresh moose tracks and realized that we had missed an opportunity to see our first moose. We were bummed.
A few minutes later and it was raining hard. We scrambled to get rain gear on and then kept hiking. It only rained for a bit and then quit. We arrived at camp mid afternoon and started to set up right away. First priority was getting some pine boughs to lay beneath the tent to help keep things dry, and then to set up the tent. Second was firewood, which took forever. Third was to get water. It started to rain while we were getting water so we hoofed it back to camp to get our stuff covered up. It rained for about 30 minutes and then got very cold. We were super soaked, so we built a fire to try and dry off. Overall morale was a little low but we were able to get a fire started easily enough that it picked right back up. Glad to go bed and get warm.
Friday, October 16th
Woke to weird looking water droplets on the tent and very cold air. Eventually sat up and started to get moving at like 7:30. We realized the water droplets looked weird because they were frozen. Also my shoes, which had been left outside of the tent in the vestibule, were frozen solid. Everything outside was covered in frost, which persisted (even in the direct sunlight) until mid afternoon. We got a fire going again and did our best to get warm. Thankfully we had dried our gloves the night before or we would have been in sorry shape.
We shook all the ice off the tent and worked hard to collapse the frozen poles. Hit the trail around 10:00 with only 7ish miles to go on the day. We both hiked in our new Marmot jackets, which were actually rain gear, but stayed extremely comfortable in the cold weather. They were a huge surprise. We took our time on the way out and stopped for lunch to eat our last few tortillas. Not a lot of excitement on the trail, other than the cool sight of falling leaves and frost & ice covered ground. The rain seemed to have frozen on everything before evaporating the night before. We reached the highest point of elevation on the trail (1850 feet) but there wasn’t anything super spectacular about it. There were a few good views along the way.
The last leg of the trail was on an old logging road. As we got near the cars without knowing it, we saw a mini tornado / whirlwind of leaves on the road. It looked cool and when we realized it wasn’t stopping after a few seconds, we both stopped and stood and watched it. It approached slowly and dissipated at our feet, which was very awesome. We took a few more steps and realized that we had made it to the car.
We loaded up the packs and started the mile trek up to the 270 degree overlook. Walking without a pack on seemed so easy. Before long we were at the overlook and it was really awesome. We found the border marker and stood with one foot in Canada and one in the US. Lots of great pictures with some very cool sights in the distance. We couldn’t believe the landscape into Canada. It was a great way to end the trail.
After this we headed up to Thunder Bay where we were totally underwhelmed by the town. We decided to head back to Grand Marais to get a hotel as that was more of our scene. After literally hours of searching, we FINALLY found a hotel room in Silver Bay. The AmericInn gave us the “hospitality suite” which, as it turns out, is a super great room that borders the pool, has no deadbolt, has no actual beds, and costs $100. Haha. But it served the purpose and we slept on a pullout couch and roll-away bed. It was a nice change from the ground, and there were hot showers there. It went just perfect with a belly full of nice hot pizza.
Saturday, October 17th
We enjoyed breakfast at the hotel and grabbed some shirts in Two Harbors before we hit Duluth. We spent another few hours looking for a hotel and couldn’t find anything. Apparently this is a tourist hotspot in Minnesota and there isn’t a single hotel room available for hundreds of miles of highway. We had a few beers at the Broken Paddle brewery and went into Superior. Here we found a single room available at an old run down hotel. But hey, it was within walking distance of The Thirsty Pagan Brewery, which is where we spent the next 6.5 hours drinking beer and eating pizza. We had a good time, got drunk early, and were in bed by 10:30. It was a great way to wrap up all the years of effort out on the trail!