Notice: I've taken a part-time job, and it's definitely affecting my blogging time. I'll continue to add content here as often as possible. Pertinent guest posts are always welcome.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Winter Hike on the SHT

hiker filling platypus
trying to fill a Platypus water pouch (photo by Sean Emery)
by Kurt Papke (excerpts from a post on the hiker Yahoo group which focuses mostly on the Superior Hiking Trail)

Arrived at Sean's house in Roseville at 8AM Sunday morning (Jan 11). Loaded up and took off for the North Shore. Stopped at Subway in Two Harbors at 11:00 for lunch-to-go and arrived at Finland Rec trailhead around 11:30. On the trail headed North by noon, me with my monster (90L) pack, Sean with his pulk sled.

The spur trail was well-broken, but right after the main trail junction we hit virgin powder, 2 1/2 - 3 feet. We took turns breaking trail but it was still slow going, about 1 mph. We had hoped to make Sonju, but we were only to the North Egge campsite by 3:30PM and decided we didn't want to set up camp in the dark, and we were pretty tired from lifting our snowshoes so high. We both had good 'shoes, but the snow was so powdery there was little float so each step meant lifting your feet up over a foot in height. Those muscles don't get used enough...

Set up camp just up the hill from the N Egge site. The wind was blowing wickedly off the lake, so rather than camp in the tent pads and contend with the wind all night we set up behind some fur trees just across the trail. One cold weather camping rule is never set up in a valley nor at the top of a hill. Cold air sinks to low spots, and the wind on a hill top robs your heat. Midway up the hill is good, preferably on the leeward side. Leeward wasn't possible in this case, but the fir trees provided great protection and it was noticeably warmer there.

Since we are both hammock campers, we don't need a tent pad. We just found a couple of sturdy trees with no obstructions between them and set up. We were close enough to use the latrine, etc. Only got to -5F that night.

-20 morning
a -20 degree start in the morning (photo by Sean Emery)
Got up around 7:30AM on Monday but didn't get on the trail until 10:15. Took a wrong turn at about the 1/2-way point (N47 25.682 W91 12.444). The trail was poorly marked there and the obvious trail veered to the left. Found the trail at 2:26PM and started breaking more trail. Arrived at Leskinen at 3:22, but saw this it was too exposed. Headed back across the creek and found a spot 1/2-way up the hill, this time less protected by trees but on the leeward hillside. The temperature was dropping fast so we made camp, cooked dinner, heated up our hot-water bottles for the night and hit the hammocks by 7:30.

It was a real challenge to get settled in. I was using a 0F bag with a fleece liner and a parka draped over the top. Its not easy to use a mummy bag in a hammock in the first place. Spent a reasonably warm night listening to the tree branches crack and pop in the cold wind. The thermometer said -27F in the morning, lower than the -22 that had been predicted.

Crawled out of the sack about 7:30AM on Tuesday morning again. The woods were beautiful in the crisp morning air, but it wasn't easy to keep the fingers warm while breaking camp. It was supposed to be even colder on Tuesday night, and we decided to quit while we were still having fun, so headed West back to Finland.

I learned that it is possible to stay warm in these conditions, it just takes a lot of layers. So many layers that it kinda adds some frustration when trying to get settled in. An unlimited gear budget would be nice.

My bottom line from this trip is that it was a real adventure to camp in these kind of conditions, but I don't want to do it again real soon, at least not without better gear where I could get by with fewer layers at night. I am looking forward to more trips later this winter where it stays above zero!

See Kurt's Flikr album for this hike

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