Gunflint Lodge, Boundary Waters, MN


For the past week, Andrew continued his hike along the shores of Lake Superior on the Superior Hiking Trail. He called from Grand Marais on Tuesday, March 22, 2005. He reported that there is a daily freeze/thaw cycle. The morning temperatures are zero to 10F degrees. Everything is frozen and the hiking is easy. By noon, the temperatures reach the low 30’sF, so everything is soft and beginning to melt. Then about 4 PM, the temperature drops and everything freezes. This means that Andrew’s shoes, the straps on his snow shoes and the legs of his pants freeze up (mostly from the sweat on his legs). To counter the wet pants legs, Andrew has started wearing his running shorts during the day so at least his pants are not frozen when he climbs into his sleeping bag.

Spring has a different meaning in northern Minnesota than it does in southern New England. The weather has been sunny and there has been no recent new snow. However, the snow is still three feet deep.

Monday March 21st was cool and there was a clear full moon. Andrew was hiking along a cross-country trail and was able to follow the trail in the moonlit darkness for the last two miles without a head lamp. He has become much better at finding the trail. He looks for signs of the trail such as broken branches, etc. He was hiking in a “boreal forest…think of a forest full of Christmas trees.”

A popular winter activity in northern Minnesota is “river walking.” The rivers are very scenic and have created deep gorges (such as one that Andrew reports as “4 feet wide and 200 feet deep”). These rivers travel to Lake Superior. It is popular to hike along the frozen rivers because it is easier than following the trail at this time of year. One day, Andrew hiked four miles along the Cascade River. He was actually walking “up the cascades, which is a bit nerve-wracking to think that this will be a raging river in a few short weeks.”

Ken Oelkers, a volunteer for the Superior Hiking Trail, has been a great friend and supporter for Andrew on this stretch of trail. Since it is impossible to do trail maintenance at this time of year, Ken has been meeting up with Andrew on a regular basis. Ken hosted Andrew at his home for two nights…and Ken met up with Andrew on the trail near Silver Bay on the March 24th with a birthday cake !!!! It was the high point of the day for Andrew! Andrew’s actual birthday was March 25th, but Andrew was in the remote Boundary Water wilderness area that day. He said that it was a strange birthday since he “did not see or speak to anyone all day.” I predict that Andrew will always remember his 24th birthday and his special birthday cake from Ken Oelkers. On Saturday night-March 26, 2005, Andrew called from the Gunflint Lodge, in the center of the Boundary Water Wilderness Area. The Boundary Waters Wilderness Area is in northeastern Minnesota- with a million acres of wilderness and over 1,000 lakes and streams. On March 26th, Andrew hiked on the lakes, which connect throughout the area. Andrew said “hiking on these lakes was scary at first because in Massachusetts the ice is rarely ever thick enough to be safe. In this part of Minnesota, the ice is 42 inches thick and people park their trucks on it as they do their ice fishing.” The “transition weather” (freezing and thawing daily) has made the hiking difficult. The snow has lost its structure. Andrew called it “bottoming out”. Even with snow shoes, he is often sinking 2 to 3 feet through the snow as the ice has melted from the bottom. In this area, the moose use the trails, so Andrew is falling into moose sink holes as well. Despite the difficult hiking, Andrew said he was “very happy to be hiking the North Country Trail and the Superior Hiking Trail in the winter, because this is the time of year when these areas display their unique qualities.” Andrew is expecting the next 48 miles to be difficult. He will have to stay on the trail instead of hiking on the lakes and the hiking conditions will continue to deteriorate. Andrew expects to be in Ely on Tuesday, March 29th. He is hoping to make it through the wilderness before an expected rain storm hits.

Total miles to date: 4747 (62%

Posted in on March 27, 2005

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