SHT: day 12, Springdale Creek to Lookout Mountain, 26 miles

The light is mysterious in the maple forests. Shining low yet somehow from above on these rolling hills, it glows on individual leaves. The ferns appear larger, more ancient. A lightning designer would kill for this. 

I’m really dirty. There is so little water in the creek, I don’t bother rinsing and have just gotten used to my brown toes, my oily hair, my greasy pants. It’s good for everyone that I’m alone. 

An ovenbird begins the morning chorus joined by the sucky knocking of goldfinch in stereo. I pass the next sites below Leveaux Mountain, right next to a beaver pond and full of damp. 

I’ve climbed Leveaux and the view is much as I’ve seen along trail looking out over bird-filled forest to Lake Superior. So, I skip it and move on to the Onion River to collect water. The bridge is seriously beat up and I have to wade across. 

I walk the road to a parking lot – a large one for the crowds who head up Oberg Mountain. It has some of the best views of hardwood forest, so jam packed in Autumn. I’ve also walked it, so skip along. 

I think mosquitos are less happy in the maple forests, because the second I leave, thousands descend. My head net is sealed tight and I’m covered head to toe to nearly tips of fingers. They only seem to find the tiny bits of bare skin when I stop. Which is why I don’t stop. 

Looking back, I see the giant basalt pillars of Oberg before the trail begins to climb. It’s a long climb, a surprisingly long one through the green tunnel to gain the ridge. Beautiful Rawlins creek tumbles down through the forest and several backpackers pass. 

My views are obscured but the lake peaks out, as do more mountains to my left covered in trees. Still, I love the ridge, high and aerie. Though it’s not flat but instead rolls with a few sharp rises and falls before a sign points toward Moose Mountain where gondolas ferry hikers to Lutsen Village. 

Not this hiker, heading straight down now, out of water and ready to collect more at the Poplar River. I meet Aaron and Tannon wearing seriously bright colors for the woods – and, in day one, still spotless. They ham it up for a picture. Why does everyone like having their picture taken? 

I hear the roar of the river and it’s massive falls under a sturdy bridge. I can see it, but can’t touch. I sip what’s left and head back steeply up where eventually I hit the Poplar far more placid. 

Another thru-hiker named Kevin passes maybe a bit too kitted out. He tells me he’s tired and carrying too much, though it’s mostly food. I dunno, I spy a couple of heavy bits of gear strapped to his pack. 

He gives me beta on what’s ahead then tells me he’s rating every campsite. That’s not always easy since some require a bit of walking in to get to. I assure him I’ll keep in touch so I can share his notes with everyone. 

I pass a gorgeous bald – a bit of exposed granite with a view towards mountains, then head steeply down ready to get to the water. Just then, I hear a bizarre screeching. An raptor? An owl? An animal is distress? 

No, it’s a child. I ask him what he’s doing and without so much as an eyebrow lift, he emits an ear shattering screech just through his teeth. He tells me they’re eagle screeches and he is doing them to scare away the birds. 

Knock it off! 

Before I have a chance to actually say what I’m thinking, his mother arrives and moves him along. Either a kid with a superb imagination and curiosity or a pain in the ass, I’ll never know. 

I get my water and find the perfect tree to lean on and have lunch watching the river in its tranquil state under cerulean skies. I have eaten a bit lopsided with a bit of cheese, four packets of tuna, a few wraps and bars and one embarrassingly fat summer sausage remaining until I meet my friend’s brother near the Kadunce River. 

I feel good though, and move on through a marshy section where the boardwalks have seen better days. There’s bouncy ones, flimsy ones, some that lean or stick up like a ski tip. Others seesaw as I move forward,   make a dippity doo or clatter with each step. Nails stick up in inopportune places. Some appear to have teeth rotted out or missing all together, leading to trap door deal breakers. 

Truth is, after all the mud south of here, it’s pretty dry now and I don’t need the boardwalks. Still, a big pile of new boards await stacked off to the side and beautiful newly constructed walks still have that fresh cut smell. 

Soon, I climb again and a view opens to the Poplar River making smooth S-curves far below. I pass three women – Jill and her two daughters, Hannah and Britta. Adorably dressed in tights and a bit of July 4th gear, they’re day hiking the highlights of the SHT. Sounds good to me right about now. 

They ask how far I go each day and I tell them over 20 miles. It astounds most people. It astounded me until I walked the PCT and saw what the title ‘full time pedestrian’ really means. It means you walk all day. I take breaks and enjoy. I don’t go very fast either, but all day, like twelve hours of walking, gets you far. 

I mention my pack is light too and almost out of food, so they pile me up with carrots. I only meant to say I’m carrying less and not ‘Yogi’ for food (I wonder what’s in that pic-a-nic basket!) Still, my diet could use some vegetables. 

I drop down to lovely kidney bean shaped Lake Agnes, the Boundary Waters in miniature with a campsite right on the water. I pop in to get some to drink and sit against a spruce, her long arms creating just the right mix of shade and sun sneaking through. 

The wind blows across the water, waves large enough to catch light in their crests. Dragonflies sun on the long swirl of canadian shield that is my beach. Iris peak out amidst grasses and I shiver, loving the icy air after intense sun on the balds. 

More day hikers pass smelling sweet and clean. I dig in my poles to climb steeply up to another view, and a set of benches with an alter. Talk about a stairway to heaven, you gotta work here to get close to god. Far below on the lake is the Cathedral of the Pines. Explains why this spot is getting overgrown from little use. 

This is the hardest part when hiking: we’re only passing through and have to savor each bit before needing to press on. It’s such a metaphor for life that nothing lasts and everything changes. 

In no time I dive down again and meet a peaceful beaver pond at Jonvick Creek. The grass is high and tight against the thin matted down footpath. Essentially a tick farm.  

I take a mental picture of the sound, smell, and touch of the place before heading up the trail. All along, someone had their chainsaw fired up so it was far from idyllic. I pass the culprits making boards for the trail! Their daughters sell firewood in bundles to passersby but so far, no takers.  

Back up on the ridge, I catch glimpses of even more mountains through the trees. A black throated blue warbler welcomes me to this new ridge with his raspy question, Ha-ving a good tiiiiiiiimmmme? 

A Blackbutnian kchee-kchee’s through a strainer in response. Oh, answering for me, are we? Chunky black beetles make a break through it as my foot threatens to annihilate them.  Run, beetle, run! Not one is harmed. 

Something has changed up here. I see plants I haven’t seen yet, tiny ferns that look like Christmas trees in miniature. I run into a backpacker named Loomi using my same pack – Gossamer Gear Gorilla in bright yellow, though his is noticeably less dingy.  

Af Spruce Creek, the bridge is out of commission and the cold wade feels magnificent. I start to wonder if I set my sights too high hoping to get to Cascade River State Park before dark. It leaves me a manageable day tomorrow for Grand Marais and possibly fireworks.  

It helps when I join the snow mobile route – I never thought I’d write that, but up here, the trail is bone dry. I hit a series of serious ramps racing deep down then back up on repeat, like a smooth roller coaster. Jerry Evjen gets his own honorary view. 

The sky goes gray and soupy and I ask passing backpackers if rain’s coming. Maybe, who knows. It feels a bit oppressive but then I’m down again on ball bearing rocks to the musical Indian Creek. I almost leave without water, then check the site to see if worth staying. 

It’s average and the music doesn’t reach the site, so I head on with water entering Cascade, as was my plan, and camping at the site on top of Overlook Mountain. 

There’s a picnic table, a ‘throne’ privy, even a bear proof locker! No water up here, but I remembered to get it at the last stream. I set the alicoop and eat some food. Just as I lock it up planning to take a look at the million dollar view, I see a sign stating this spot must be reserved at the office. 

Whoops! 

It is after-hours, but suppose the rightful reservation holders show up? I set in the best spot. 

Oh well, nothing to do now, so I pop over to the view point. It’s a cliff with several tall basalt towers shaped like statues looking out on the beauty beyond. 

One of the features is a flat bit of tower top accessible to sit on like a pedestal. I carefully walk out, zipping my phone in a pocket. A veery noisily fills the air, but I can also hear Cascade Falls from a slight indentation in the distance. 

One mountain rises like a wave, and, to finish the day in a kind of synchrony, the sun angles in for a final dramatic flourish of golden glow on millions of trees.  

People are setting of fireworks in the distance and the only rain are a few drops. 

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Published by alison young

Alison Young is the Blissful Hiker, a voice artist and sometime saunterer. 📣🐥👣🎒

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