Last week I made my first solo winter trip, heading to the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT).
I want to hike the entirety of the trail in my lifetime so my first thought was to start at the Martin Road trailhead, right outside of Duluth and start picking off sections bit by bit heading north. But the Martin Road trailhead was completely full of snowmobilers. After talking to someone in the parking lot I decided to head north a bit to another part of the trail that didnt share the North Shore trail. That way I’d avoid snowmobile traffic and I’d have a quieter hike.
I went north a bit to the next section of the trail at Normanna road. There is a good size parking lot there with a nice bathroom stall. You can also safely park your car there overnight.
From the parking lot you have a short walk to the actual start of the SHT trail section. You share a snowmobile access trail for this first bit from the parking lot.
The trail was slow going for me. Duluth had just gotten a ton of snow and no one else had been on trail recently so I had a lot to pack down. My pack for this trip with food and water weighed in at about 40 pounds for a simple overnight. Most of this was due to my sleep system. I carried two sleeping bags and two sleeping pads. Temps at the start of the day were around 15 F but were predicted to drop to -5 at night, so I wanted to make sure I wouldnt freeze in the middle of the night.
Even with all of the snow the trail was pretty easy to follow for the most part. There were some spots where I didnt see any blue blazes and I had to look around a bit, but I never truly felt lost.
Unfortunately I was working so hard snowshoeing in that I completely missed the campsite on my hike in. I was planning on getting to Heron Pond campsite dumping my pack to setup camp then hiking the rest of the way. I completely missed the campsite though. In the end I hiked all the way to Sucker river where it meets up with the North Shore trail again.
After all of that hiking with a full pack I was exhausted. I decided to head back and try to find the campsite. My plan was to just bail and setup camp on the side of the trail in a spot out of the wind if I couldnt find the site. The sun was starting to set and I didnt want to be setting up in the dark.
Thankfully after hiking some more I did find the Heron Pond site. I dont know how I missed it hiking in. My guess is I was just focused on one foot in front of the other slogging my way through all of that snow.
This is where the trip took a turn for the worst. For the life of me I could not get my stove, an old optimus 8r, to function properly. I fiddled with the thing for a good hour and half and never really got it roaring. My plan was to use it to melt snow and get water boiling. Unfortunately I was hardly able to get the thing melting snow and I ran WAY LOW on water to the point that I was severely dehydrated. I had kept priming alcohol fule and a lighter in my pocket as I hiked in to keep it warm and those lit, but the white gas never started to build pressure and vaporize properly. I think looking back that I overfilled the fuel container on the stove and that I should’ve kept the fuel separate and on me until I was ready to use it.
After messing with my stove and being relatively motionless I called it a day and went to bed COLD. I shivered in my two sleeping bag/pad setup for about 2 hours. After that though my body heat warmed up the bag and I was actually quite warm. I suspect that had I got the stove going and had a hot meal and drink in me I would’ve been warm right at the start.
To give you an idea of how cold it was, a small metal flask of bourbon that I brought with me actually froze solid! Here was the temp on my thermometer in the morning as the sun was coming up.
I was finally warm in my bag and I really didnt want to get up and breakdown camp. But I was also incredibly thirsty and hungry and knew that a good hot meal was waiting for me in Duluth if I was able to get going. So I got up around 6:30 and started packing down and hitting the trail again.
Overall it w as a successful trip.
A few notes on gear and what worked/didnt work:
- Snowshoes – Crescent Moon EVA Foam shoes. A good all around shoe they did a good job. If I was in a hillier area I would of opted for something like MSR ascents that have more grip.
- Boots – Steger Arctic Mukluks. Worth their weight in gold. My feet were never cold the whole trip, even in camp when I was less active. I also took the liners out at night and put them in my bag so that they wouldnt freeze.
- Tent – 15 year old REI Quarter Dome T2. Its starting to show its age. Its coming delaminated. But it worked for the most part. It didnt add any warmth but because of all the mesh and the double wall all of the condensation collected on the outside rain fly.
- Bags – Marmot Never Summer “0 degree” bag and a North Face Cats Meow 20 degree bag placed inside. It kept me warm eventually. If I had the money though I’d invest in a -10/20 down bag.
- Stove – Optimus 8r that I got off ebay. I need to work on getting this going as it just didnt cut it on this trip at these temps.