#48 of my 52 Hike Challenge
Trail/Park: NorPine Ski Trail (Hall Road to Spruce Creek)
I want to acknowledge this hike took place on the traditional territory of the Anishinabewaki ᐊᓂᔑᓈᐯᐗᑭ.
Trash Collected: 0 pounds
Each fall I have the blessing to spend a precious week on the North Shore of Minnesota at a little resort I’ve grown to love. My partner and his family have been visiting this spot for more than two decades so when we started dating I was invited to join him on his annual trip. I fell in love with the place. The resort caters to it’s long-time guests and getting a spot is nearly impossible. There isn’t a restaurant, you won’t get daily turndown service, there aren’t trails, bikes, watercraft, or activities. We like it because the cabins are simple and we completely disconnect thanks to the fact that internet and cell service don’t reach our little slice of heaven.
Over the years, I’ve taken a day to drive somewhere further afield to hike in one of the State Parks, on the Superior Hiking Trail or even to bike the Gitchi Gami trail. But like my earlier road trip, this year we decided to stay mostly at the cabin. I would forgo my big adventures for smaller ones within minutes of the cabin. In making this choice I realized I’d never really looked at what was close by.
Opening my maps, I drew an imaginary circle around our cabin to see what I might find and was pleasantly surprised at the number of experiences in the last 10 years I’d missed right out the back door. A section of the Superior Hiking Trail, a section of the NorPine Ski trails and even an overlook or two into the Superior National Forest.
Two days in the cabin relaxing, eating and sleeping had me bursting to get outdoors. The pent up energy of four months in my house followed by just days in the cabin I’ve used as the home base for previous years adventures got the best of me. I needed a change of scenery and rather abruptly took off from the cabin to try and reach a section of the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) that looked to be accessible by car. Heading inland on Hall Road off of Highway 61 things started out just fine. I passed a trail crossing for the NorPine trail and continued on. The dirt road turned to two track on increasingly uneven ground. I forged ahead. It should be noted that I do not have an off-road vehicle.
After a particularly teeth clattering bottom-out I gave in to the fact that my car would not get me where I hoped to go and was more likely to get stuck. I completed a 12 (or more) point turn, taking more care and turned back. At the small parking area for the NorPine trail I considered my options. I could hike up the two-track to the SHT and back or shift my plan slightly and take the NorPine. I decided on the latter, gearing up and switching on my SPOT.
My first choice was to head southwest on the trail. The NorPine is used primarily for nordic skiing so it is not groomed in the summer. Trail signs help along the way, in addition to the wide clearing through the trees. I knew there’d be possibility that I’d need to bushwack through some areas as well. A few yards down the trail I came upon several piles of both moose and bear poop. The freshness told me an encounter with one or the other would be likely. I had yet another decision to make – keep going or turn and try the other direction?
Not really prepared mentally for an encounter, I decided to turn around and head northwest toward Cascade State Park. First though I needed to cross Hall Road and find the trailhead in that direction. I could see the trail through the trees, but didn’t see the trailhead as I walked along the road. So I decided to bushwack to the trail I could see about 300 yards away. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t the way I wanted to go about getting to the trail because I believe wholeheartedly in Leave No Trace Principles, one of them being hiking on durable surfaces. Ultimately I looked for what I thought would be the shortest off-trail distance I could cover and headed into the woods.
It wasn’t long before I was on the wide, overgrown path of the NorPine Trail. There would have been a day where I wouldn’t have known what to look for, but after several years hiking in all kinds of places, I’ve gotten more comfortable recognizing a trail for recreational use from an animal path. I was looking for some challenge in the late autumn with no one else around. I’d found it. Normally I’d be pretty quiet as I moved through the woods, but having seen such recent traces of bear and moose, I decided it was best to make a bit more noise. Talking to myself, signing and clacking my trekking poles made me sure to not see much wildlife by announcing my presence.
I spent the next hour or so picking my way leisurely through large swaths of goldenrod, asters and other wild flowers broken by stands of pine. The trail was washed in the slight yellow glow that foreshadowed the coming change of leaves. I took few pictures, choosing to focus on the beauty around me. An American Eastern Yellow Fly Agaric mushroom here and there. The clusters of pinecones scattered on the ground. The sounds of birds, squirrels, and chipmunks. My mind settled on the gratitude that my body felt at home moving through the woods.
I’d like to say that there was some grand revelation that I found in the woods on this hike, but the truth is what I found was more subtle. Much like my Road Trippin’ series, what I found was me. No need to grab that perfect Instagram image, no profound thoughts to fill my Facebook feed. Just me. Hiking in the autumn on a new trail, close enough to the man I love, far enough from safety to feel alive and hopeful to see one of the region’s great animals from a distance where we could observe each other and move on.
As I returned to the car and cabin I knew that I’d keep finding ways to hike responsibly while still being remote enough to feel like I’d left civilization for a bit in the coming days and months. And again, show my gratitude to the people and lands where I recreate.
Next Post Preview: I convince my partner to take a short, uphill hike to see the fall colors close to our North Shore cabin.
GEAR: Merrell Women’s Siren 3 Mid Waterproof, Columbia® Women’s Arcadia II Rain Jacket, Marmot Kompressor Pack, SPOT GEN3 Satellite GPS Messenger, Dueter Dirtbag, Kula Cloth, and Leki Women’s Micro Vario Cor-Tec TA trekking poles. Want to know more about my gear selections? Head on over to Gear & Gadgets or check out my posts titled “Gear in Review”.
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