For the first time in quite a while, we “sleep in” until 6:30, and it feels heavenly. Matt has a coffee date with our host, Chris, to say good-bye before we hit the SHT for real. We have lots of packing and real-world tasks to get done before we leave for the start of the next section which won’t be until around 3.
Yesterday, we decided to tweak our itinerary for this first leg to Beaver Bay, and now we are only planning to hike six miles into Lone Pine Campsite today. This is beneficial in a number of ways.
First of all, it has us walking a reasonable amount of miles with our greatest amount of weight, which is always ideal. With two huge blisters on the back of my heels, my feet are really hurting, and it gives them a little more time to rest. It is also supposed to be almost 90 degrees in Duluth today, so we have decided to leave in the late afternoon when the temperatures hopeful will be slightly cooler.
The time seems to fly by as we pack and reorganize everything that we are leaving behind at the Chill-Inn while we are away. We had a carload of canoe and camping gear and backpacking food when we arrived, and it always feels so liberating to whittle that all down to what we can carry in a backpack.
3 pm arrives, and we head outside to get a ride from Kim back to the Martin Road Trailhead. It is super hot for Duluth, and I confess to Kim that the high temperatures are making me feel a little nervous about our chances of finishing the trail, especially with the already tender condition of my feet. She seems worried about our chances, too, and reminds us that she and Chris are only a phone call away if we need them for anything. We pull into the Martin Road Trailhead and get a quick photo together before Kim hops back in the car and takes off.
The trailblaze for the SHT is behind a locked gate blocking the entrance to a snowmobile path called the North Shore State Trail. The grass hasn’t been mowed in a while and is nearly thigh high. There is a faint footpath down the middle, and, on closer inspection, we can see a path around the gate. Against all better judgment, we walk around the gate, follow the path and start blazing a trail through the high grasses. I don’t even want to think about the ticks and chiggers that are probably lurking here, so I hike as quickly as I can with Matt following right on my heels.
Before long, we cross Martin Road and follow the road east for a while. There is a group of Turkey vultures circling in the fields to our left. It definitely feels like an ominous sign for the beginning of a trek.
Before long, we pick up the snowmobile trail again, and, even though we are sweating like crazy, we can’t stop moving for fear of being eaten alive by the swarms of mosquitoes trailing close behind. The trail has occasionally been mowed for short segments, and we are super excited and grateful whenever we hit these stretches.
The sun is high overhead, and I keep hoping that the trail will duck into the woods, but a road’s width of trees has been cleared to create the snowmobile path, and we are walking right down the middle of it. Finding shade is not the primary concern when snowmobiling, I guess. We pass several 30mph speed limit signs that seem to be taunting us as we move along at a snail’s pace in comparison.
After nearly an hour of hiking hard, we find a nongrassy spot in the shade for a quick pack drop and a desperately-needed water break. Here we spy a Hairy Woodpecker working one of the trees nearby. It’s a nice distraction from the heat and our feet for a moment.
We finally drop into woods on a narrow dirt path. We are thankful for the shade, but we find the trail to be more overgrown than what we encountered in the Duluth section. Every so often we encounter signs indicating that timber was harvested here and the year in which it occurred. The Minnesota DNR allows these areas to reforest naturally, which means that the trail is in the bright sunlight and quite overgrown.
Just before the Bald Eagle Campsite, we pass Del’s Pond and catch a glimpse of a doe drinking in the water on the opposite side of the lake. We stop for a quick pack drop at the Bald Eagle Campsite, which has a nice view over a beaver pond. The water is quite low, and it doesn’t look like a desirable water source. We are hopeful that the river that is supposed to be flowing next to the White Pine Site will be better.
We have one more mile through the woods before we see the turn off to the White Pine Campsite where we will spend the night. Hallelujah! We set up our camp chairs, our one luxury item, and sit for a short spell before taking care of the camp chores.
Once rested, we follow the trail directing us to the water and are relieved to find some in Lester River. During this tough drought year for northeastern Minnesota, this so-called river feels much more like a creek, and it’s a little eye-opening for us to see. There is a little flow in the water upstream, so we slip off our shoes and wade in. The water is warmer than we hope it will be, but it does nicely to wash off our sweaty limbs.
It looks like we will be the only ones in camp tonight, so we choose a flat spot for our tent and get settled. There are a few tall White Pines in the area, but we are nestled under a stand of red pines. A trio of noisy black crows jumps from branch to branch above us, cawing back and forth, adding an eerie “Game of Thrones” vibe to the scene.
We make dinner by the fire pit and are visited by a Black-throated Green warbler while we eat. We finish the evening with a blister popping session and a tick check in the tent. The air temperature is finally starting to drop, so we sleep with the tent fly doors open, hoping some of the cool air will filter its way into the tent.
Day 5 Stats
Starting Point: Martin Road Trailhead
Ending Point: White Pine Campsite
Miles Hiked: 6.0
Miles to Canada: 243.5
Bird of the Day: Black-throated Green Warbler