#7hike of my 52 Hike Challenge
Adventure Series: Hike with a Waterfall
Trail/Park: Trillium, Deadman’s, Wolf Creek, High Bluff and Quarry Loop Trails, Banning State Park , MN
One of the best gifts I’ve ever given myself is the gift of membership in Women Who Hike (WWH). I may have started my hiking life with a fine group of Boy Scouts, but I’ve found that these gals are the most giving, encouraging group of fellow hikers I could ask for. Each year, my friend and co-ambassador Jen (aka Wandering Pine) get to plan a handful of hikes that are specially curated for the WWH of Minnesota. It’s a true privilege to plan a day where we can hike together.
Every time, I learn something. Something about one of the women. Something about myself.
When Jen and I talked about this hike to celebrate Galentines Day (ok, we know it’s February 13th, but that’s a Thursday this year and some of us have to work), the location was one that we left open. We’ve both got a few Minnesota parks that are on our yet-to-hike list and that we know would be great options for our ladies. But as the time came to settle on the park for this hike, we agreed that Banning State Park was the best option. Located just under two hours from Minneapolis and St. Paul the park is really close to the interstate so it’s an easy access. Add to that that Tobies, home to the most amazing cinnamon rolls, is about 15 minutes away and we knew we had a winner.
It was my first time to the park. I’ve been by it SO many times on my way to the North Shore. Every time there has been a reason to not stop. Having the park be the destination was exciting. I’d heard so much from people who have been to the park. It was so hyped in my mind that I wondered how it would deliver. I’d soon find out.
The first thing I knew for sure was that the trials would be icy. A call to the park ranger had yielded that tidbit. I also knew that we wouldn’t be snowshoeing as we’d originally planned. The weather the past few weeks has been everywhere from snow to near 40 degrees and then cold again. Just about everywhere has a crust of ice sitting on top of anywhere from a few inches to a foot or so of snow. Some places are simply solid ice. Armed with that knowledge I grabbed my bag of traction gear – Yaktrax Pro and Diamond Grips, Kahtoola MICROspikes – I’ve got all three. When I got to the park, I’d decide which ones would suit the conditions.
I listened to a couple episodes of the She Explores podcast on the way. Gale’s interviews always inspire me and the bright sunshine meant that today was going to be special. The road into the park was covered with a thick layer of ice and heavy rutting. Pulling into the parking lot I found many of the ladies had arrived. Others were filling in behind me. I love these moments as I see familiar and new faces in the group. It never gets old. I got out of the car and decided that my Yaktrax Diamond Grips would keep me from skating all over the place.
We have made a ritual of gathering before our hikes in a circle to introduce ourselves, share a tidbit about ourselves and go over our plan for the day. We distribute maps marked with our planned route and make sure everyone is ready before heading on trail. By the time we were ready to head out, I’d handed my Yaktrax and MICROspikes to a couple of the ladies, shared my extra trekking poles with another.
Our route started on the Trillium Trail, heading north away from the river through mostly flat terrain boarded by a mix of trees that include aspen, hardwood, pine, conifers and tamarack. The trail was a single track of hard packed snow bordered by deep snow so our group crunched along lamenting that it made conversations more challenging simply because of the crunch of our feet. We settled into a good pace and managed to converse as best we could.
The Trillium trail loops back toward the river where it intersects with the Quarry Loop trail. We picked up the Quarry Loop trail and headed south along the upper portion of the bluff above the Kettle River. Our pace and the sunshine had us warmed up making the temperature that was in the teens feel less biting.
At our next intersection we conceded via a short trail to the Wolf Creek Trail, again following a relatively flat half mile section toward the southern border of the park and the Wolf Creek Falls. The last bit to the falls has a couple decent that, in better conditions would be simple steps. Today it was an icy traverse, with a few of us taking to our butts to slide down instead of having it happen unexpectedly. I was grateful for my trekking pole and Diamond Grips that made the decent less treacherous.
All that challenge was rewarded by a view of the Wolf Creek Falls that took my breath away. The falls were mostly frozen creating a stunning curtain centered on a section where the water was still plunging over the low fall toward the Kettle River. On one of the overlooks someone had built a tiny snow person which looked delighted to be in its spot greeting visitors as they arrived.
We had fun taking lots of pictures and then headed back up the way we’d come, tackling the icy climb by helping each other. I realized as we hit the spot where we’d slid down that my short legs weren’t going to make the ascent and my Diamond Grips weren’t quite enough grip.
As I surveyed my options I realized that there would have been a day where I’d have turned back before getting to this spot. That there would have been times where I’d been too self-conscious to take help climbing up. All of my hiking experiences have taught me that it’s ok to ask for help. To take time to find a way that works for myself. Most importantly not to feel like I need to do what I need to do the same way someone else does. There above me was Jen. The time we’ve spent hiking together has taught me so much. She approaches hikes differently than I do, but I know that she is always there to lift me, listen and encourage. In this moment she was there as a pair of hands that could help me if I needed it as I picked my route and scrambled up. Sometimes just the presence of someone you trust is enough.
I was pretty stoked to have made that climb and we headed off once everyone had made it. It wasn’t long before we hit another spot that required more careful stepping. This time my hiking sister Kayla was there with a hand. I gratefully accepted her boost. As we all got to the top, I joked that I’d considered asking the gal I’d loaned my MICROspikes to if I could use them and then throw them back down to her. She was beaming having made the climb with ease because of them. That was enough for me.
The two climbs made me realize that who had what gear didn’t matter. I’d loaned gear to others that allowed them to make the hike safely. Everyone had helped and encouraged each other. It’s a large part of why I look forward to these hikes. As we connected with the High Bluff trail, we were rewarded with views of the Kettle River and the Hell’s Gate Rapids. We passed the Banning Quarry ruins and the Dragon’s Tooth Rapids. Parts of the trail overlook hang close to the bluff edge. I reminded myself how far I’ve come in my hiking. There would have been a day that being that close to a bluff would have had me paralyzed with fear. I have a health respect, but fear doesn’t grip me. For that I am so proud of myself and I celebrate it every time.
As we finished up our hike, I was so grateful for the beautiful day, the amazing company and all that I continue to learn on trail about myself.
Next Post Preview: Watch for my next post where I’ll provide a comparison of those traction options. Because as ridiculous as it seems that I have three different kinds, they do each have a purpose.
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