Monday, September 22, 2008

Blitz successful - 61.2 miles completed

I have arrived home, trip modified and spirits lifted.

The initial plan was beautiful - I was going to drive to Duluth and meet a friend who would serve as my shuttle. We would then drop my car off at Highway 1 and haul north to drop me at Forest Service 336 near Mt. Oberg. I would then hike the 60 miles south to my car, hoping to be at the car by 2:30 Sunday in order to get home by 6 p.m.
Well, the best laid plans of mice and men... As we neared Two Harbors, we watched a thunderstorm to the north of us. My ride said she heard on NPR/MPR that there was a severe thunderstorm warning and later a tornado warning for east/central Lake County. We pulled off and ate at Culvers to wait out the storm. The goofy thing is that I was listening to the radio all day and heard nothing about a storm on any such warnings. After some butterburgers, we watched the sky again. Forty-five minutes later, we could not see any such storm. A phone call to my brother revealed the storm was mostly over the lake and it had effectively passed. Weather clearance notwithstanding, my friend backed out and decided to drive home. She didn't want to be on Highway 61 that late and night, and I think she didn't realize how far it was going to be. Looking back, it was probably the right call to stop even though if we had kept driving, we would have missed the storm.

Not to be discouraged, I drove north the additional 30 miles to Lake County 6 and turned up the road and away from the lake. I nearly blew past the parking lot; I had to double check the trail sign in my reverse lights. The white light displayed the SHT's North Shore logo. The lot had an island in the middle, and a brush-filled field to the northwest. The wind stirred trees continuously, and I even killed a mosquito on my leg. Mosquitoes cannot fly in winds exceeding two mph; it was one tough mosquito.

The trailhead was 0.2 miles away - the campsite, my goal for the evening, was 1.5 miles past that, up a variety of hills to Section 13. My brother and I had stayed there last May, but the hike up was brutal. It was scary as hell; my headlamp, a Tikka Plus, isn't the brightest in the world (nor it is the lightest, but that is beside the point). The wind rattled the trees and creaked trunks. The trail attacked my toes and preventing my poles from getting good purchase.

The wind rattled louder as I rose to the top of the rocks, and got louder when I trekked up the path to the campsite. It was 10:30 p.m. I was alone under the shadow-creating half moon. The wind was coming off the lake, and I set my tarp up with one long end to the ground. I set my poles on the lee corner and the middle of the long side; all other ties were staked to the ground somehow.

I slept poorly and did not eat the food, 750 calories of it, that I brought with me for the hike in. The wind kept me up, mostly from noise through the leaves. My watch woke me at 5:36 a.m. Dawn had not yet come, but as I packed up an orange layer of light peaked over the lake's horizon. And I started walking via headlamp down the other side of Section 36 toward the Sawmill Bog. I turned my headlamp off 30 minutes later.

I had a goal of hiking at least 30 miles that day. When I initially conceived this trip, I thought I could do at least 50 miles in a weekend, but less than 100. These figures were semi-arbitrarily based off of traditional ultramarathon trail runs. My dad figured I could do 40 miles. He reasonably based this off my 20-mile/day average from May. My brother said 45 miles, and that 30 miles in one day was "out of the question."

Breaking the weekend down, I figured I could hike from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m. on Saturday and 6 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. on Sunday. I also figured I could hike two hours Friday night. My brother and I averages approximately two miles per hour, counting stops. I figured I could hike between 2.5 and 3 miles per hour and had approximately 24.5 hours to move. This put my reasonable mileage between 61.25 and 74.5 miles.

When I finally got hiking, I realized my initial time estimates were a little off. I could not hike for two hours on Friday night, and I did not want to hike until 8 p.m. on Saturday. Also, I was on the trail 45 minutes earlier than I anticipated on Sunday. So, I was down to 21.25 hours to move. Again, averages move to 53.125 to 63.75 miles. In the end, I hiked 61.2 miles - near the high end of the spectrum. I believe that I could have cleared 70 or even 75 miles had I kept going until 6 p.m. or so on Sunday.

As for the day, I got to Aspen Knob at 11:45 a.m. In May, I stayed at the Knob and then Section 13 the next night. Although my brother and I got to Section 13 early that day, We still got there in middle of the afternoon after starting out in the early morning. I did it in under six hours. I was now 1.2 miles away from Crosby Manitou State Park, a section of trail I had set out to conquer.

The Manitou River bisects the state park, and it is guarded on both sides by the steep and knobby bones of the earth. They stick out and form irregular steps into and out of the valley. In Crosby, the arrows pointing ahead do not merely point to the direction of the trail - they also point up. Go this way, they say. Hike over the ridge to the sky. And is it painful.

But I slogged through the park, and it was approaching 2 p.m. On Sunday, I needed to be able to get back to my car by 2:30 p.m. in order to get home by 6 p.m. As such, I opted to stay Saturday night where I was at approximately 2 p.m. At 1:45 p.m., I arrived at Horseshoe Ridge, a campsite just outside Crosby park boundaries. I had hiked approximately 23 miles down in 8.5 hours. Not too shabby. Because I needed to get back to Horseshoe Ridge and I wanted to hike until approximately 6 p.m., I could hike for another two hours before I turned around. I could travel six miles in that time.

One hour later I came upon the Baptism River. The spur trail on the west side of the river was closed, but the east side was open. I wanted to hike down it to Highway 61, but it was only 0.7 miles away. I still had one hour to hike, and that was three miles worth of time. Highway 61 was just too close. I kept moving north on the trail.

The next three miles took me past Crystal Creek and the birch forest that surrounded the ridge the creek passed through. In May, I burned the left sides of my calves because there was no leaves on the trees. This time, the birch trees provided modest shade. At no time on the weekend did I use sunscreen.
Eventually, the trail opened up and I came upon Sugar Loaf Road - it was 4 p.m. and time to turn around. Sugar Loaf Road also provided me with some perspective on the mileage I had traveled that day. I was now at about 29 miles with 6.1 miles to go to get back to Horseshoe Ridge.

On the way back, I ran into a fellow I passed earlier. He was wearing a work glove and carrying a Sawvivor packing saw. He said he recognized me from earlier, and that I was moving pretty fast. I agreed, but kept moving.

Back at the Baptism River, I needed to get water for the evening. There was little water on Horseshoe Ridge and I needed 16 oz. for supper and probably the same amount for drinking during supper. Again, I broke out the Aqua Mira and filled both bottles. I used 15 drops of each chemical despite the remarkable clarity of the water. It was the best-tasting water all trip.

The push back was long. I found myself calculating mileage and taking myself out of the hike. My feet were sore and a good-sized blister had formed under the ball of my right foot.

But I got to camp at 6 p.m. I had gone ~35 miles in 12 hours. Not bad, me thinks. Supper was approximately 4 oz of instant mashed potatoes. It was a little much, but the potatoes held their temperature well. As usual, the chocolate bar was fantastic.

Sleep came exponentially easier Saturday night. I was tired from the hike and was not wired on adrenaline from an ascent in the dark. However, it was colder that night. Cold air settled into the valley I was in, but I remained warm after pulling the face muff tight.

Morning came early - I woke up at 4:40 a.m. to nature's call; my watch was set for 5:20 a.m. I crawled back into my sleeping bag, and did not fall asleep in short succession. Instead, I got up and got moving and was on the trail at 5:16 a.m.

The morning hike was done via headlamp and was done at a slow clip. I got to the Manitou River at 6:40, 86 minutes to go three miles or so. It was four miles from campsite to parking lot. I got another liter of water, so now I had almost two liters. It would be the last water I gathered all day, and it was a mistake I would pay for in the final miles and on the way home.

Like Saturday, I came upon multiple hikers, including passing a couple carrying ULA packs, one a Catalyst and the other a P2. They looked much bigger than I thought they would look like, but they looked magnificent. I was traveling much faster than them and the lady of the pair thought my homemade pack was interesting.

I also came upon many, many day hikers, especially toward Section 13. Most of them looked prepared for the trek. Many were carrying poles and every group had some backpack that looked relatively full.

I was sore toward the end of the hike, something I link to my dehydration, lack of easy bottle access and urgency to get home. It was an odd ending to the trip.

The trip was unique for a variety of equipment variances from prior trips.

I was not using a water bladder for the first time since I purchased my Vapor Trail. The adjustment was jarring. My packs pockets are built tall and I needed to take off my pack to get water. Went I stopped, I found myself gulping larger quantities of liquid than normal and urinating less. However, I was still peeing clear.

On the same note, I was not using a filter for the first time. On Isle Royale with in 1999, we used filters plus Polar Pure, but we still had a filter. On Saturday, my Gatorade ran out near Sonju Lake. The water I gathered was slightly tinted and the water tasted like it had pollen in it. It probably didn't help that I only put 7 drops of Aqua Mira A and B in. I should have put 15 of each. But hey, I did not get sick.

Stopping for water was also welcome. I was trying to put on mileage for mileage's sake. Stopping meant not getting miles on. All told, I only had one dedicated stop for the weekend, and it occurred at 4 p.m. on Saturday. (Water gathering is not a dedicated stop; it is a necessary one.) I took 10 minutes at the West Caribou River site to swap socks, check blisters, eat etc.

The tarp worked as planned. I pitched it with one of the long end to the ground to block wind. I did not deal with rain or other inclement weather. My father mentioned this when I talked to him post-trip.

I also carried my sil-nylon pack for this trip. The main problem with the pack is that the shoulder straps are too short (padded section) and this could have been solved by making it longer or putting more distance between between the pack and the starting of the strap padding. The after-model hipbelt was OK, but it showed that the pack is too small in the torso to be really useful. The side pockets allow for large water-carrying capacity, and the huge rear mesh pocket is great for holding everything. I carried my rain coat, FAK, Aqua Mira, hat, sunglasses, extra food, TP, etc. It carried very well, but it is clearly a first-generation model. I have been working on a replacement, but my sewing machine is on the fritz.

In the evening, I left most everything in the rear pocket and put my feet on top of it. My feet were fine as a far as insulation goes. This went against my prediction, but I am OK with that.

My camera worked just fine. I took wide shots, and macro shots. I even took a movie with it.

My shoes worked excellent, except for the blisters. I got three, all on my right foot. One on my heel, a pinching-style blister on my pinkie toe and one on the ball of my foot. Otherwise, the shoes never felt like a burden to my movement. I did not like the lack of toe protection. I frequently punted rocks and roots because of the frequency of them on the trail, and regularly was in pain because said punting. I need to really test these shoes in rain to determine if my friend is correct.

My titanium folding spoon was a let down - it frequently collapsed at the hinge. I'm going to try and bend it to make it work.


Next up are more training trips. I need to more experience with my clothing systems to truly figure out how I'm going to swing SHT January '09.

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