The morning feels cold and that makes me happy. Too cold, though, to linger much and I’m glad I sat out on every available bank in this incredible site.
I walk on pink rock in flat and mostly triangular, heading up to a long ridge above the lake. The historic Split Rock Lighthouse sits in profile, squat and stalwart on a high cliff. Warblers sing in the trees and a gentle breeze cools. Can you tell I love it here.
Everything feels slightly turned up a notch, rock appearing under my feet and the ascents more aggressive. I’m a mountain goat on the ups, but take care on these ridiculously steep downs, like those narrow and slightly askew steps to your grandma’s basement.
I leave the lighthouse and enter forest. Frogs twang like thick rubber bands. A pileated woodpecker and son do a flyby right in front of me. How do they manage without whacking a branch? All they do is cackle hysterically, the older seeming to instruct the younger.
A sign tells I’m entering the area that was once a logging railroad. It’s flat and straight for a few minutes, then dives right down to a mud pit.
There’s a bridge over a stream just the right height for a seat. I’m thirsty in the humidity and hope it doesn’t stay hot all day again. A broad winged hawk makes a crying call and I head right back up, this time to Chapin’s Ridge.
All this way through forest, up exposed rock to views and down deep through wetlands, a frustrated deer fly buzzes my net. His wings moan as he circles and circles. I must admit, I don’t feel that sorry for him.
I walk on more exposed rock as if a beautiful floor has been laid for my feet. Moss and lichen cling to its surface and flowering plants work apart the cracks. Some is worn and nubbly from moisture. Others are smooth except for scouring lines of glacier.
The ridge delivers me to a magical meadow, hawkweed and daisies leaning their faces towards the sun. The trail sort of floats up here high above the lake with a buffer of forest below. The lake is calmly gray but I can see the the dark blue lumps of the Apostle Islands growing out from the horizon.
I meet a beaver pond where red wing blackbird trill and slap, frogs still snapping their rubber band guitar. A higher bridge on stilts over a narrow but deep spillway leans this way and that as though being wrung out. Thankfully someone’s affixed chicken wire and I cling in place.
The low bass drone of my deer fly found a friend in a first tenor whining mosquito. They don’t seem deterred by netting or permethrin, happily high on my exhalations.
I spy on bench on rock below a white pine with welcoming arms. There’s just so much rock now. It’s hard to remember sloshing through the lake that was the snowmobile trail, and now climb on this sticky rock. Funny how the rout leads me down it as it slopes sharply, fully expecting I’ll simply adhere (which I do)
I eat salty olives from Sicily, manufactured in League City then bite off a hunk of hard salami. A downy woodpecker giggles shyly competing with the highway which has become ever present. One of the drawbacks even if remote on the trail, civilization is just below.
I pass campsites near a beaver pond and the bugs get vicious. In one I hear a bug netted hiker talking to himself.
Only a half mile from the road, I meet a group of Outward Bound kids, everyone big with big backpacks. That doesn’t seem to spoil the mood ad they ham it up for a picture then head for the particularly buggy site.
At the road, I meet a couple and ask my standard, “You wouldn’t happen to have a beer you could sell me?” They don’t, but they go one better, offering me a very special vodka.
Julie and Mark are following their daughter and her friend with a camper as they thru-hike the SHT. I have yet to meet them, even though we’re very close. Eva and Victor come trotting across the road just as I finish seconds. We talk about the trail, Walking Distance podcast and their strategy for today which includes Julie joining them for one of the best sections.
I need to get more food, hoping I can walk to Grand Marais – about 100 miles away – before having to stock up again. So as they march on, Mark takes me to shop at Zup’s in Silver Bay. He needed to go anyway – and needed a guide – so timing is perfect. And who should I see at the store but Sandy, my host two days ago.
The sky is looking grayer and rain is predicted. I’m trying out a poncho and hope it does the trick or I could be in big trouble. It’s only four miles, but after Beaver River and the amazing sites right next to rapids, the trail goes up and down, so steep I need my hands for balance. The views are magnificent of the huge taconite plant on the bay and thick forest.
I’m moving well, but it’s a circuitous route and just when it feels like I ought to go down, I head straight up. The final view shows a shortcut, but it’s all private land and the ridge was much more interesting.
I cross the road I was just on for shopping then head towards Bean and Bear Lake, one of the most extraordinary bits of the trail. The deep lakes sit in bowls below high basalt cliffs, the classic look of this region.
It’s one of the first trails I backpacked, bringing my precious cat Sasha’s body with me to bury. He rests deep in the forest and just as I placed him ten years ago, a lightning strike and thunderclap occurred nearly simultaneously.
I remember Sasha, his nicknames, his quirks and how much I loved him as I climb up then down and back up to an overlook of Bean Lake. Not a soul is here as I break for a snack.
I was a bit of a Debby Downer telling the thru hikers Bear Lake is nearly always full. I slept their twice on a soulful early fall night and in early spring with deep snow and highs in the 70’s. Nothing can beat those times, so I plan to press on and wonder if they will too.
Even from high above, I see (and hear) a good crowd at the perfect site on the eastern shore. It’s up some more to a lookout with both lakes joined as if an hourglass.
More views follow and sites are close. I take a look at the first two which appear a bit scruffy. At the final one there are five tents set up. Eva and Victor are here and three young women. At first, I’m not sure if I prefer to stay alone but one tells me storms are coming.
Am I ever glad I stayed as a stupendous storm is hammering down right now with strobe lightning, growling thunder all around and a downpour. I feel better knowing my mates are right next to me.
Are they sleeping? Will I?