This is part 2 of my attempted thru-hike of the Superior Hiking Trail, a story with an ending that wasn’t what I hoped for, but taught me a lot.
The second day began with a quick breakfast before tearing down camp. We managed to head out just as the sun was rising, so we didn’t need to use headlamps for any of the hiking. We were both feeling pretty good and set out at a good pace.
Our biggest challenge of day 2 was getting through Judge C. R. Magney State Park. This stretch of the trail brings you along the Brule River for miles as you head straight south into the main area of the park. However, this also means that we got to climb the infamous stairs up from the Devil’s Kettle. This is a massive stair climb from the base of the river all the way up onto the bluff line. It’s made even more frustrating when you realize that once you get to the bluff line, you follow a nice easy trail that brings you all the way back down to the river’s level and the park visitor center.
Despite being difficult, we conquered the stairs and moved on our way to have some lunch at a picnic bench in the park. We also availed ourselves of the vault toilets so we didn’t have to spend our own toilet paper. It was while we were eating lunch that we realized that rain was coming and so we packed back up and started down the trail at a decent clip to get to our next site
The South Little Brule River campsite was our home for the evening and it was a lovely spot. Mike found a tent pad overlooking the river, while I found a quiet spot tucked under some trees. The skies were starting to darken so we got things set up quickly and climbed into the tents for some afternoon rest. As I relaxed and played on my phone the rain began. For the next couple of hours I just relaxed and listened to it hit the tent cover, perhaps even dozing off a bit.
The day had been about 15.5 miles in length and so we had arrived at camp very early. This allowed us time to have our nap to wait out the rain, and still have some daylight to spend the evening in. As luck would have it another couple joined us at the campsite and we got to know them a bit. Turns out they live in our general area and are interested in trail running, so we hooked them up with the resources that we know about.
Soon enough though it was time for bed. We hung our bear bags and tucked in for the night. I was starting to feel much better mentally and managed another solid night of sleep. However, there was a nagging ache in my back that started towards the end of the hike that would foreshadow things to come. For now though, our plan was to wake up early and get ourselves to the Lakewalk portion of the trail as close to sunrise as we could.
My spirits were really high going in to day 3, and despite the ominous warnings about how bad the Lakewalk was going to be, I was excited to finally get to spend some time next to Lake Superior. Despite being called the Superior Hiking Trail, there are only a couple of places where you’re walking next to the water. I was going to savor every moment of suffering for the chance to hike next to the water.
The reason that the Lakewalk is such a pain is that it’s not a dirt trail but a beach walk. Not a sandy beach walk, but a rocky one. For 1.5 miles you make your way along uneven piles of small to medium sized lake stones; your foot sliding constantly with the malleable terrain. You can’t hike fast on the Lakewalk. It just is what it is.
However, since we had camped so close to the shore we opted to split the Lakewalk into two parts. About half-way down the shore we found a nice big rock along the waterfront and made our breakfast. There’s nothing like having breakfast alongside Lake Superior at sunrise. It’s truly magical (assuming you have good weather). It also gave us a chance to change out of some warmer clothing we had started the day with, as it was looking like the temps were going to continue climbing all afternoon.
Soon our time on the Lakewalk was done, and despite the difficulty, it was one of the highlights for me. All too quickly we ascended back into the Sawtooth Mountains and the ridge line trails. As we traveled the day cleared and by the time we reached Kimball Creek the sky was clear.
The major item of note in this section was how badly the trail was in need of maintenance. Many of the small boardwalks to cross gullies were collapsed or on their way to collapse, causing us to lose balance on more than one occasion. Despite there being a brand new bridge at Kimball Creek the stairs to and from the gorge were rough. Once we cleared the creek we ended up on rugged trail with multiple trees down causing us to navigate some tricky crossings. At this point I really wish I had packed my Silky hand saw.
We stopped for lunch at Durfee Creek campsite, and while we were there we learned that most of the hikers we had passed were planning to camp at the same site as we were that night. We knew we wanted to get a good spot and since Mike was feeling good I told him to go on ahead to ensure we could get our pick of tent pads.
I moved along behind him on the trail as fast as I could, but this is where the story changes and everything fell apart.
To be continued…