hike blog

Water, water, everywhere…

The waterfall falls but shamelessly and joyfully.

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Celebrating our twentieth anniversary, Richard and I head “up nord” where the Boundary Waters drain into Lake Superior.

Over the long Memorial Day weekend, Richard and I celebrate our twentieth wedding anniversary in a place we love – Minnesota’s North Shore of Lake Superior. A very generous friend loans us her house on-the-rocks above this monstrous inland sea. And even though it rains and hails for more than half our visit, we relish that perch as if captain and skipper at the prow of our own private love-boat above the crashing waves. (I’ll let you work out who’s who in this scenario)

Knowing full well the weather will not be conducive to much outdoor activity, we cram in walks and bike rides between the raindrops and take in some of the most dramatically overflowing cataracts we have ever seen, beginning at Gooseberry Falls, where a lovely young man patiently snaps photo after photo of us near the root beer-tinted water in varying degrees of sensual and silly.

Somehow our absurd posing convinces a few other couples to line up and that poor guy is left snapping their photos too.

Located on the Canadian Border, the Voyageurs took a nearly ten-mile portage to climb around these massive falls and access the inland lakes superhighway.
The spectacular view from Mount Josephine looking towards the Susie Islands and Thunder Bay. Out of the frame is the lump of Isle Royale, rising like a sea serpent from the cold depths.

We walk over muddy and exposed roots on an undulating path lined with tender green shoots. White Throated Sparrows and Veery Thrushes sing loudly, both to establish territory and to show off for the ladies. Narrow falls carve through ancient volcanic basalt and rhyolite, dark but for a lace of fluorescent green lichen inches above the waterline.

Cedar, Red and White Pine plus Birch thrive in this humid, fog-drenched climate – at least now, after the long cold silence of winter. A spray of Spring Beauties catches my eye, trillium still in tight buds. This is the Superior Hiking Trail and I feel an urgent pull to walk its 310 miles all at once, even after ticking off those miles piecemeal over the years.

At “Middle Falls” on the Pigeon River, we realize why the Voyageurs named this area Le Grand Portage, since it required a nearly ten mile hike to avoid impassable rapids. Those intrepid little men carried 100 pounds of compressed furs by tumpline at their forehead, a birchbark canoe like a hat. We only carry lunch and eat it on the rocks right above the boiling cauldron.

It’s a steep and muddy 5-mile hike to these rapids on the international boundary Pigeon River, but you can sit right above the action.
The trails are muddy, rooty and steep – a bit like New Zealand, but on a far smaller scale.
200 stairs down and back up to Stair Step Falls in Northern Minnesota, dumping millions of gallons of water a day into Lake Superior. What a sound!!

The ranger warns us we will get wet at High Falls, and so we do, the mist in our faces the same mist that creates a perpetual rainbow. “I wonder what this looks like from the Canadian side?” I query and we attempt to enter, only to be thwarted with a crashed website and long line of cars.

Fortunate for us, as it gives us the time to bag Mount Josephine. Likely the best bang-for-the-buck on the North Shore, it’s a 1,000-foot climb in a single mile that brings us to a perfect sitting place of exposed granite above the sapphire lake dotted with the uninhabited Susie Islands and the beast that is Isle Royale, 12 miles off the coast.

In our four days, we visit more rivers in spate – the Devils Track, Baptism, Cascade and Kadunce – and end the celebration atop a favorite – Lookout Mountain, the scene now back to thick boreal forest as the weather clears for just a moment before we need to retreat to our ship-at-sea deck and the sky above the “Big Lake” Gitcheegumee fills with lightning.

Lookout Mountain high above boreal forest in early spring.
Hidden and winding around on itself, the Kadunce River in Northern Minnesota enters rocky grottos that can be scaled in drought.
Part of the Superior Hiking Trail in Northern Minnesota, the Devils Track River rushes through steep canyons to Lake Superior.