Segment Hiking the SHT

#43hike of my 52 Hike Challenge

Every fall I head to the North Shore of Minnesota to take in a few days of relaxing and hiking. Some years, it’s hiking just a day or two, some it’s a hike nearly every day. Because it’s vacation and I’ve got a cozy resort to stay in at night, I get to decide each day if I’ll head to a trail or not. This part of Minnesota is special to us hikers because it holds so many hiking options: more than 12 State Park and Waysides, the Superior Hiking Trail and the North Shore Trail are just a few. The only challenge is picking one for a day hike. They all have something special to offer.

I’ve hiked in all of the state parks, some many times, so it was time for a new twist on things. One of my challenges in taking on these hikes is that my trip includes a wonderful partner in crime who does not enjoy hiking. He’s game for a walk in town or to take a nap at the cabin. So I’ve always dropped him off somewhere in Grand Marais for an afternoon and picked a hike nearby or left him at the cabin with promises to return with the car within a couple hours. Doing so requires me to do a lot of out and back hikes, which limits what I can really experience of a trail.

So for my first hike of the trip, I decided that I really wanted to take on a short segment of the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT). I convinced him that I would be fine hiking, he could go into town and enjoy a few hours to himself and then come to meet me at the end of a 5 mile segment. On a county road…that he’d never been on…looking for a sign that is about the size of a postage stamp against the miles of trees he’d be passing. The reality I knew was that I’d need to be standing on the side of the road or he’d miss me. But more on that later. He agreed and off we went to the trailhead.

Superior Hiking Trail: The “Purple” (or “Maroon”) Map

For anyone who’s done any hiking in this part of Minnesota, you know that there will be a few guarantees: steep and rocky trails, mud, unexpected bridge outings and more mud. The section I picked didn’t disappoint. The segment between Pincushion Mountain and County Road 6 sits directly above Grand Marais. There is a trailhead just off the Gunflint trail that provides great views of Grand Marais and Lake Superior as well as a starting point for north or southbound segment hiking. I would be heading “southbound” which would take me south for about a mile, then due north, west and north again. I’d be ending before the trail took it’s next true south bearing.

With a bit of uncertainty on his part, my dear man dropped me off and headed into town. I started the decent from the parking lot and then across the Gunflint Trail. On the north side of the road, the trial gains about 400 ft of elevation in about a mile. It was an unrelenting push for me and reminded me of the importance of training hikes. I’d been a bit lax lately. The trial didn’t let me down in reminding me exactly where I was hiking. Between the rocky terrain and the mud it was clear I was on the SHT.

As it turned out, I hiked nearly two miles of mostly steep uphill, including one portion where a bridge had obviously slid from its original placement and the additional “fix” had also moved, requiring my short legs to do a rather long stretch. That spot was soon followed by a large swath of mud. This year has seen an unusually large amount of rain across the state and it’s resulted in mud on nearly every trail I’ve hiked. I’ve taken the attitude that I must be “home” hiking if I find it. And it doesn’t bother me in the way it used to. The only question is how deep is it? Pro Tip: Trekking poles are great way to find out before plunging knee deep.

Once I’d hit about halfway on what would ultimately be my 2 mile uphill journey, the trees cleared in a few places allowing for a glimpse of Grand Marais directly below me. I love that the SHT offers these little snapshots of the shoreline below. They aren’t often so that makes them all the sweeter.

Once the trail started to level out and head directly north, away from Grand Marais and toward the North Shore Trail, I found myself on a lovely boardwalk through a rather boggy area. This summer I’ve developed a stronger love for bogs and their myriad of plant life. The efforts to minimize trail use impact on the SHT are also pretty amazing considering the remote places the trial covers and the effort it takes to get supplies to those spots. It wasn’t long before I’d found the next junction and was headed on the shared portion of the SHT and North Shore Trail (NST).

What I found interesting is the emergency markers I’ve not remembered seeing before on the SHT segments. I love that this is an option and it provides a level of comfort for hikers to know that the proximity of help is possibly that much closer. They are found (not always, but often) at points where the SHT crosses a road of some kind.

The trail at this point offers a beautiful hike amidst abundant flowers and grasses. The day’s bright sunshine and cool breeze made this section particularly enjoyable. This part of the trial is wide and grassy. I was making great time so I stopped often to take pictures of all the different plants and mushrooms. I may have to do a separate post on Minnesota mushrooms there are so many different kinds!

Then came more mud. Really deep mud. As I looked around, I noticed that the trail runs parallel with the Little Devils Track River for quite a bit of this section. The river was high so the trail was often very wet in places. It was also about this time that I started coming across piles of bear poop. With the abundant berries everywhere and the water nearby, it made sense that I’d come across bear evidence. At that point I started some very loud conversations with myself and singing loudly. Doing so made me feel a bit safer. It also made me reconsider that I carry a small canister of mace or bear spray. While black bears don’t typically attack humans – they tend to run from us – I felt more comfortable making plenty of noise.

Right before this section of the trail parts ways with the NST you’ve got to watch closely for the trail itself. This is a logging area that has seen recent use and is well rutted from the trucks and equipment. From the logging area, it’s a short mile to the crossing with County Road 6. I’d made the full segment in an hour less than I’d planned. So I had the choice to text John for an earlier pick up, to hike the next smaller section to the trailhead parking lot another mile further and come back or to let John know to meet me at the parking lot.

I opted to let him know I was going to meet him at the parking lot, which I assumed would be better marked than it was. I made it to the parking lot entrance just as he was calling me to say he thought he’d overshot our meet point. Of the whole day, I knew this would be the toughest part. He was talking about a named road crossing that wasn’t on my map so I couldn’t confirm it until I pulled up a map (fingers crossed I could get google maps to work!). In the end he found me, but I know it stressed him out. He’s used to having signs and addresses. When you’re looking for SHT crossings, you’ve got know what you’re looking for and even then an experienced pickup driver can miss the trail at first.

We headed back into Grand Marais and landed at Voyageur Brewing where I could get a beer and some food because, while it was a short hike, that uphill stretch had worked up my appetite. I stuffed myself full, we wandered around, stopped for coffee at the Java Moose and celebrated this new adventure in a time tested place.

I don’t say it nearly enough, but I’m most grateful for John’s support of my adventures. And while it stressed him out in the moments of coming to find me, he’s open to doing it again so I can tackle a different section. My heart was full for this beautiful start to my north shore hiking adventures.

GEAR: Vasque Talus Mid UltraDry Hiking Boots, Marmot Kompressor Pack, Dueter Dirtbag, Kula Cloth, Leki Lhasa Lite AS trekking poles. Want to know more about my gear selections? Head on over to Gear & Gadgets.

Next Post Preview:  John and I headed north to see Minnesota’s highest waterfall via an accessible trail at the U.S./Canadian boarder.

Copyright Ruth Wikoff-Jones, | No Use Permitted Without Prior Permission

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