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How do you describe the beauty of a place where heaven and earth join seamlessly? Or the mind trap of telling yourself over and over again that this massive body is not the ocean or an endless sea? Or the magnetic-siren-pull of her waters that make you want to jump in and crash like the great ships full of men that lie beneath her waves? How, if you do dare jump into her willing waters, and manage to come back up, you could feel reborn? Lake Superior is a magical sea that draws me and keeps me each time I visit her.
Last week’s post focused on the gear I tested on this trip and some of the ways I prepared for the weekend. This post is full of pictures, a campsite recommendation and love stories of my favorite sea.
Day 1: Returning
Left work at early, picked up two friends, including Jane the dog to break in my brand new Soob. We left around 1 and headed straight up I-35 towards Duluth, with two objectives for the weekend:
- My two friends would meet up with a group of climbers and tackle Palisade Head.
- I would melt my heart deeper into my favorite lake and snag the last of my North Shore section of Hiking Club Trails. Perfect!
We got to camp well before sunset, parked on HWY 61 and unloaded. My friend reserved Split Rock Lighthouse State Park’s Backpacking Site #3, right on a secluded bay of Lake Superior. I was glad my friend knew a shortcut through the service road across from the Split Rock Wayside on HWY 61 when I saw the HUGE bag of climbing gear they had to haul in.
We hurried to set up camp while we had daylight and dashed back to the car to catch the sunset on ‘the Head’.
We stayed until the lake went dark and headed back to camp, meeting the other climbers and having a fire on the beach. My hammock wasn’t too far from the others, but far enough into the bay that I felt alone. We talked about getting up at 4am to try to catch the Northern Lights and said goodnight to the sound of waves.
Day 2: Heaven on Earth
Up at 4am. I didn’t set an alarm, but was wide awake. The first thing I noticed was that my Whoopie Slings (lightweight suspension with a funny name) on my Hummingbird Hammock had slowly lowered me to earth sometime over night. I woke to the odd sensation of being barely suspended above smooth rocks, the size of melons, skimming my back. The links above are affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission if purchases are made through those links. This adds no cost to readers and helps keep the lights on. I will always disclose affiliate links and plan to continue to bring you completely honest and unbiased recommendations.
The first night of camping is always tough. I wake up lots, feeling excited, disoriented and aware of every single sensation around me. It’s probably the city leaving me. I didn’t see the Northern Lights, but heard crashing sounds in the woods all night and some little critter running around under my hammock looking for a something. I brought my Ursack but ended up throwing the whole thing in the bear box at camp before bed. On the third day I would tell myself that the heavy crashing sound in the woods was not a) el chupacabra b) the Lax Lake Bigfoot or c) rowdy campers….but probably ice covered trees from last week’s storm thawing and breaking in the forest.
I finally stopped trying to sleep at 5am and looked out my hammock to see the very beginning of the sunrise.
I took 40 pictures of its progression, a 20 minute time-lapse and had to keep telling myself to just enjoy it instead of trying to document it. I still can’t seem to part with any of the photos on my phone. The two solitary mornings were my favorite part of the trip. 3 hours each day: me, God, and my favorite sea…hanging out together. The hours passed quickly, filling my spirit.
I usually don’t mess around with something as important as coffee, but experimented with instant Cafe Bustelo, and it was decent! Then I packed up my whole camp set up and hauled it out as practice so we could meet the rest of the climbers at the Head at 10.
I hiked around as they prepped their gear, politely declined their invitation to climb off a perfectly good cliff and set out to make my own plan for the day.
Super important safety tip: When hiking or backpacking, remember to tell someone where you are going, when you’ll be back and when to panic. I called my husband and also told the climbers to freak out if they hadn’t heard from me by 5pm and headed on my way.
George Crosby Manitou State Park, or…the toughest 4 mile hike ever…
LENGTH 4 miles
DATE April 21, 2018
MAIN FEATURES Waterfall, conditions ranging from mud to 3ft of snow, predators and lonely times.
Leading up to the weekend, I was excited about completing my final North Shore Minnesota State Park Hiking Club Trail and 20th 52 Hike Challenge Hike. But I ended up doing it alone, conditions were tough and spent most of the time ‘in my head’ and trying to embrace the suck.
The hike started with a full baptism of the new Soob in Red Iron range mud on the dirt road to get in. This was my favorite part of the hike and is how every new Subaru should be welcomed into a family. Note: unlike most of the state parks on the North Shore, the park is about 12-15 miles off the highway inland.
Once I arrived, the road continuing into the park was barricaded and closed due to snow. I was really glad I threw the snowshoes and poles in the car! No snow anywhere else on the shore, but somehow Finland Minnesota had held onto about 3ft of it!
Stopped to read all of the info and warning signs at the self serve check-in kiosk: No ranger at this park, enter at your own risk, bears etc and decided I was going to turn on my Satellite locator, buck up and complete my goal. A couple of backpackers arrived and went the opposite way, so technically I was not alone….there were exactly three humans in the 10.4 square miles of the remote park.
I strapped on my snowshoes and headed up to the Humpback Trail entrance of the Hiking Club Trail loop. About half a mile in, I realized I couldn’t see where the trail was anymore. I pressed on a little further knowing I’d see my tracks to get back, but eventually got tired of unexpectedly sinking up to my knees in snow, even with snowshoes on. Every time I sank, it was like drawing back up a bucket full of snow with my foot. The 60 degree day was causing this instability and was really tough on my ankles. It took about an hour to get this far, so I went back the way I came.
I was wearing my trail runners instead of boots so my feet were soaked about 10 steps into the hike. I decided to approach the trail counter clockwise entering the Middle Trail to see if the other side was any better. I found an old set of tracks and started out towards the river. The trail was easier to see here, but the awful feeling of being alone in sucky trail conditions started to make me want to quit. I saw what I thought looked like bear scat….and then what looked like a wolf print. No one was out here with their dog…and it was HUGE.
I made myself keep going, up the hill, down the icy hill on my butt, past the waterfall, down the other icy hill on my butt…where the heck is this Hiking Club Trail Password!?
I tried to enjoy it.
I eventually found the sign for the password.
I turned right around and went the way I came knowing I would be able to estimate my time and be able to find my way back. That’s when I saw what made the hair on my arms stand up: a wolf track in my original snowshoe track. I surveyed my surroundings, grabbed my mini pepper spray out of my pack, looped it around my pinky and got out of there as fast as I could!
I’m looking forward to an entirely different experience of this park in the Fall when we pass through on our Superior Hiking Trail adventure.
I was so worn out by this hike that I barely remember the drive to the Tettegouche visitor center. Temps would be below freezing that night and I was sitting there in my only pair of soaked shoes. I asked the ranger for some newspaper, stuffed it inside of my shoes tight, re stuffed them a while later and left them in the sun to dry. Checked in with the climbers 30 minutes before freak out time, let my shoes dry some more in the sun and returned to camp to set up again–with totally dry shoes! Whew!
Day 3: Ice Ice Baby
I set up my hammock the night before so I could peep out at the lake through the opening in my tarp. At sunrise, I opened my hammock to see a bald eagle flying directly overhead! I shrieked with happiness and it flew over me again, then circled the bay.
Church on the shore.
After the sun came up I headed over to explore the icy formations on the South side of the bay. The heat from the basalt rocks was burning. There I was, surrounded by ice, burning in the sun. I took off a few layers and just enjoyed the heat for a while, staring into the invisible horizon.
I spied two of the climbers heading down to the shore back at camp and hollered “hello!”, surprising them. I made my way back to make more coffee and told them all about the heat from the rocks. I was still so warm, I walked into the lake waist deep and dunked my head under. Gasp reflex is real! I popped back up, making this uncontrollable sound that echoed all through the bay and it felt incredible. There is no way to do that and keep your dignity.
Another super important safety tip. Don’t go into freezing water (or really any wild water) alone. Its pretty stupid and its a good way to drown. Make sure you have a buddy or proper supervision on the shore in case you run into trouble.
I stood on the shore in my bathing suit, dripping wet, red and shivering for a few moments. Just treasuring the feeling of being alive, then realizing how easy a person could get hypothermia. A thick quilt and a cup of coffee in the hot sun felt perfect after that dunk. The climbers were still bundled up in their coats and thought I was crazy.
I found that funny since each climber I met on the trip seemed to have released their fear of death by dangling off some high place by a rope.
We broke camp and made our way back home before it got too late. The conversation was quiet and exhausted, with full hearts from a weekend full of adventure.
If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading this extended post. Have you been to the North Shore of Lake Superior? Completely lost yourself in beauty outside somewhere? Been so scared by something on the trail that your hair stood up? Knocked out by the beauty of creation so bad that you’re still thinking about it weeks or years later?
Tell me about it.
9 thoughts on “Backpacking and Day Hiking on the North Shore – Part 2: Split Rock, Palisade Head and George Crosby Manitou State Park.”
Nice weekend! As to your questions above… a resounding, YES! Nice photos as well… esp. the time lapse sunrise!!
A group of us hiked Manitou State Park back in the fall of ’09. We hiked in from the trailhead at Caribou River Wayside (along Hwy. 61) after staging some vehicles. We camped at Horseshoe Ridge and spent time around the campfire (after hanging bear bags) that first night. We backpacked several days, spending nights at Egge Lake along the SHT, the Section 13 campsite, West Kennedy Creek Campsite (one of my favorite spots on SHT), near Wolf Lake and the Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center -WREL, and finishing up the next day at Tettegouche SP. Great hike! Manitou SP can be rough, lots of dramatic ups and downs. I’ve got a post on it… ‘Caribou Wayside to Tettegouche’ …something like that, complete w/ pictures. 😉
Thanks for the tips Mike! I’ll check out your post
The draw of Lake Superior is REAL! After all of the places I’ve seen and hiked it still ranks amongst my favorites. But Knocked out by the beauty of creation… Hands down the Icefields Parkway located between Banff and Jasper Alberta Canada – so many miles worth of hiking trails with the most spectacular views and glacial lakes and rivers. I took that trip 2 years ago and still dream about when I will be able to get back – Heaven on Earth!!!
Oh wow, I would LOVE to see that!
Agreed, but the Canadian Rockies represent some of the stiffest competition in North America, with the Ice Fields representing just a segment of the overall beauty.
We hiked Manitou last summer and were very surprised with how remote it was. We did the Humpback, Middle and Benson lake trails and the former took us much longer than expected. The terrain was difficult, rocky and wet. The waterfall, river and serene lake made up for the extra effort and I would still highly recommend the park. It’s nice to have somewhat close access such a secluded park.
Thanks for the heads up Breanna, we’ll look forward to seeing it again during our thru hike this fall. I hear such good things about it, especially for backpacking. I also hear the mud there can be pretty epic. Hopefully dry by the Fall. 🙂 Happy trails!
This sounds like an amazing trip! I’ve definitely felt terrified on snowy solo hikes before. I know lots of people love solo hiking, but I’m not one of them. All I can think about is how I’m going to turn my ankle and get hypothermia or something crazy. Great job!
Exactly. Not a huge fan of going solo, but there’s a strength and sense of accomplishment that comes with surviving a solo adventure. Thanks for reading! 🙂