#31 of my 2021 52 Hike Challenge
This hike took place on the traditional territory of the Anishinabewaki ᐊᓂᔑᓈᐯᐗᑭ. I respect the histories, languages and cultures of these peoples, whose presence continues to enrich our vibrant and changing communities. To learn more about the tribes and these lands, please follow the links provided.
Trash Collected: 0.7 pounds
After a few days of dry conditions I felt spoiled. Hiking on dry trails on the North Shore always feels like luxury to me. No slipping around on rocks or boardwalks. No mud. As I prepared to take this hike I knew it had rained overnight. How much I wasn’t certain because I’d slept warm and dry in the tiny cabin on the lakeshore.
It had rained. Oh how it had rained. I didn’t realize how much until decided to hike both sides the Cascade River trail to finish off a “small” section of the Superior Hiking Trail. My plan to hike the east side and then loop back at the CR45 parking lot on the west side of the river. It wasn’t until mid-hike I would realize how I’d underestimated how much rain had fallen overnight. Where there had been dry ground the day before it was now wet and slippery. Everywhere.
Rising quickly from Highway 61, the east side spur trail narrows as it follows the Cascade River along the bluff next to the river. I found the first mile deceptively simple. As the trail leaves the state park, the trail changes significantly. Each time I hike any part of the Superior Hiking Trail or it’s spur trails, I get a reminder most of the more difficult sections hug the river gorges. This trail was no exception.
Near the Trout Creek Campground I came upon a hiker heading in the opposite direction. We stopped briefly and I asked about the trail conditions. He noted he’d basically slid down a hill just a bit further up trail. I assumed he’d overstated the difficulty. Thanking him for the information, I continued on. It wasn’t long and I came to the spot he mentioned. He wasn’t kidding. I could see the skid marks of his boots down the curved surface of the rise. Going up was a bit easier, though it was not as easy as it would have been had the trail been dry. My boots slipped a bit, but I was steadied by my determination and trekking poles.
I continued on navigating the deeply undulating trail. Steep climbs followed by steep drops in elevation. As I moved along the four mile section I noted how heavily traveled the trail appeared. Volunteers with the SHTA as well as the park rangers of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources typically do annual maintenance to clear downed trees and replace rotting steps and boardwalks. Even so, well used sections can degrade more quickly than can be repaired. This section was showing the use. Rail ties held with rebar are used to hold earth in place to create staircases in many places along the trail. In some places all that was remaining was rebar sticking out of the ground. In others the dirt had washed out from under the ties completely. The places where rock steps were in place, it too had become slick from water and leaves.
The conditions forced me to slow my pace. In some spots to talk myself through each calculated foot placement. My trekking poles became my source of support and safety. Hiking like this can be tiring. I was, for the moment, grateful I’d left my backpacking pack and opted for my day pack. And then I wished I’d brought the larger pack for some of the contents. I stopped often to take in the views while having a drink and contemplating the next traverse. About halfway to the CR 45 parking lot I came on a couple heading in the opposite direction. We chatted about the trail and they noted it wasn’t “that bad”. Another reminder – every hiker’s perspective of ease is relative so don’t base your hike solely on what others deem easy or hard.
Arriving riverside after another steep decent I decided it was time to rethink my plan. I rested and had a snack, deciding that when I arrived at the parking lot, I’d seek a ride back to my car. It had taken me nearly three hours to get this far. Another three and the day would be transitioning to dark. I simply didn’t have the energy. The trail was kicking my butt. While finishing up my snack and finding comfort in my decision, a couple with their two dogs walked by. We briefly said hello as they passed. I saw this as my possible opportunity for a ride so I got to my feet, following behind as quickly as I felt I could. They’d disappeared from view, but the parking was just under a mile ahead.
The trail leveled out a bit which helped my spirits and my pace. I passed near the river again and then under a bridge, which I knew meant the parking lot was just to the right. An empty parking lot greeted me at the trailhead. Then just out of the corner of my sight I noticed the couple. Sitting at the edge of the road, they appeared to be waiting. I said hello and asked if they were waiting for a ride. Their response stopped me in my tracks.
They had no idea where they were. My heart sank. A long road walk to Highway 61 would now be in my future. We talked about the trail, my original plan to hike back to the car on the west side of the river and my new plan to find a way back road walking. I invited them to join me. They readily agreed. As we walked I noticed they weren’t carrying anything. No pack, no water. I asked as gently as I could if they’d brought water for the dogs. They hadn’t. They had stopped for what they thought would be a 20 minute walk to see the falls and then on to their planned dinner in Grand Marais. They had no idea when they’d gotten out of the car, how long they’d been walking. Instead of turning back when they didn’t find the loop they expected they had kept going. And now, I was the one they were counting on to get them back to their car.
In that moment my plan changed from road walking to finding a car. As we followed the road a series of mailboxes came into view. Coming up on the first, I noted a car in the driveway. I veered from the road up the drive, calling out. A beautiful cabin tucked in the woods near the river appeared. I took a breath, knocked on the door and hoped. In the middle of a pandemic, here I was knocking on the door of a stranger hoping for a ride.
The door opened and a woman stood before me. I told her about the couple waiting closer to the end of the driveway with their dogs. That they’d gotten themselves in over their heads, no water, map or cell service. Could they, and I, get a ride back to our cars at Cascade Lodge? She paused only for a moment and then called for her husband. Yes, of course. But the dogs would be an issue as he’s allergic. I told her I’d see what we could arrange and walked to the couple. She was in tears, sharing she’s pregnant. We determined her husband would stay with the dogs. She and I would take the ride to retrieve the car. I gave him my mobile number. The woman brought bottled water to hand out to us. Her husband introduced himself as mark Mark while he cleared out a spot for each of us in the car.
I chatted with Mark about their cabin, the area, the book he’d been reading when the knock came on the door. How much we appreciated the kindness of a ride. He told us they’d done this many times over the 30 years of owning the cabin. Within minutes we reached the parking lot at the side of Highway 61. I quietly slipped some cash into the cupholder in the car and thanked Mark for his kindness. He briefly protested until I told him it was the least I could do. Turning to the fellow day hiker, I looked her in the eye and asked two things: 1. The next time they stopped for a hike that they go into the park to the ranger station for a printed map and suggestions for tips on hiking the area. 2. No matter when she got out of the car to have a bottle of water for herself and the dogs. I then wished her a safe evening and headed to my car to decompress and rest for a bit. I hoped I hadn’t been too motherly in what I’d said or done. I hoped I hadn’t made the couple feel worse with my choices.
Reflecting on the events of the day I realized all the preparation I have done over the years made it so I felt safe in the idea of having to spend a chilly night in the woods. I long ago got past the chiding of friends and family for carrying my day pack even on short hikes close to home. I appreciated the fact I set a distance tracker and share my location with a few trusted people. This couple reminded me how grateful I am to those who paved the way for me to be feel secure in my adventures.
Of course anything could go wrong when I’m out. What I’ve found is, more often than not, I use the skills I’ve learned and the gear I carry to help others who aren’t prepared. Maybe my role is to be “Mama Ruth” after all.
Post Hike Reflections:
- Do your research, even if you’re just stopping by the roadside
- Be prepared at a minimum with water, navigation and proper clothing; even better is to always carry the “10 Essentials” no matter how far you expect to go
- Help others in need
- Don’t be a hero, ask for help when you need it
Next Post Preview: I join a an art hike which provides me time to relax, reflect and create.
GEAR: Merrell Women’s Siren 3 Mid Waterproof, REI Co-op XeroDry GTX Jacket, REI Co-op 650 Down Jacket, REI Co-op Rainier Full Zip Rain Pant, REI Co-op Essential Rain Pants, Marmot Kompressor Pack, SPOT GEN3 Satellite GPS Messenger, Dueter Dirtbag, Kula Cloth, 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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