Superior Hiking Trail Student Invasion

Going with my students on a backcountry adventure has been a dream of mine ever since I started teaching at UWS. The dream became reality April 15-17.

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What it’s all about – waking up at 6:00 a.m., chilled to the bone in your sleeping bag. Observing camp at the stroke of dawn.

The backpacking trip had a very international cast. Vietnam, South Korea, Mongolia, Peru, Azerbaijan, China, Pakistan and America were all represented. I was proud to be a part of this group – one of the more diverse groups ever to hit the Minnesota backwoods. UWS Superior Adventures was in charge of planning and logistics, and my students and I got to take it all in.

Everything went wrong the first night. The leaders couldn’t find the access road to the trailhead. They went in circles, called for backup, and finally found it an hour later. We got to the trailhead and there was a sign stating the trail was permanently closed: “Major Section of Superior Hiking Trail Closed Permanently as of Friday, May 1, 2015 – Detour Around Section *** A 1.6 mile section of the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) is closed from the northern boundary of Gooseberry Falls State Park to Blueberry Hill Road, due to a private landowner closing the trail.” Well, the trip leaders definitely failed to do their homework on that one. No matter, we would turn around and go back to Gooseberry Falls State Park. Except the van got stuck in the mud while turning around.

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Getting stuck in the mud -a rite of spring in northern Minnesota.

It eventually took two staff members seven hours to get the van out using climbing rope and the second school van. Thankfully, the rest of us were given a ride to the State Park for “car camping” the first night.

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Campfires have a way of smoothing out even the biggest failures.

The next morning we started our hike. Except without our packs. Those were brought by van from our campsite up to the visitor’s center. We still weren’t backpacking… But the day turned out sunny and warm, and we took in the beautiful waterfalls by the visitor center on our walk from the campground. There was optimism in the air!

About 11:00 a.m., we actually put on the packs! Finally. We hit the Superior Hiking leading upriver. It was a 70 degree day, which felt like a miracle considering the weather we’ve had this month.

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Finally getting the packs on.

We hiked 5 hours the first day, following the river the whole time. The landscape was beautiful, and the sound of the rushing river permeated our souls that day.  The river displayed the full effects of the late spring snow melt, just as the trail did. The muddy brown color of the water was exactly what we got in our water bottles too, even after filtering it for drinking.

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The mighty Gooseberry.

The trail was an amazing mix of mud, ice, snow, and some very occasional dry spots. Mostly, it was wet and dirty. The ice in the trail added a real sense of extreme sport to our trip, fitting in well with the extreme driving we did the night before. Some of the international students did the whole hike in low-top sneakers, without even having socks on. I give them all the credit in the world. They never once complained, never once asked to go back.

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The trail – really. Big chunks of ice. Impassable at first sight. Very passable once your try it.

We exited Gooseberry Falls State Park about 3:00 p.m., and continued on our way. The Superior Hiking Trail gains a more “backcountry” feel at this point. We didn’t see any other hikers the rest of our trip. We concluded our first day at the West Gooseberry campsite, about two thirds of our way to our destination.

Sleeping outside was excruciatingly cold both nights. That’s what makes it an experience. Still, I woke up feeling energized both mornings. We had some cloudy weather to start our second day of backpacking, which was fine, since this stretch including two nice climbs, one to the top of Mike’s Rock, the second to the top of Wolf Rock. We left the enchanting river behind us to get up those rock faces. They were a beautiful contrast to the valley.

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With my students at the summit of Mike’s Rock. Lake Superior faint on the horizon.

It was nice to leave the mud behind as we went up the rocky peaks of these “mountains”. Climbing rock is my favorite, especially in this wet time of year. When you get out on the rocky tops of these hills, you get a nice hard surface to stand on without sinking shin deep in the mud.

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Finally, a dry spot after sloshing through mud and water much of the second day.

The sun came out again in earnest as we approached the final peak of Wolf Rock. The timing was perfect, as we had a fabulous view of Lake Superior to round out the trip.

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Taking in the warmth, the fragrance of the pines, and the world’s biggest lake.

The trip ended in fine student fashion – with a huge meal at a famous north shore restaurant. Needless to say, we were all starving, and food never tasted so good.

For me it was an awesome inaugural trip with UWS Superior Adventures. For my students too. Even though the trip got off to a rocky start, as adventures often do, we were able to rebound well from the first night’s mishaps. The incredible April sunshine, the overflowing Gooseberry River, and the backcountry campsite made the trip – we had entered a different world, and enjoyed it all together.

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