I wanted a little adventure. I got an ordeal.
Good maps are essential. Unfortunately, the topo maps I'd ordered hadn't arrived, the MN DNR website was down (government shutdown) and online resources were a little out of date. I got the latitude and longitude of my goal from trails.com (starting from 30 miles away) and printed out a little map to carry with me, which I waterproofed with a bar of wax. Just before heading out, the DNR site was back, I got more data from the BWCA site and I felt I had a handle on things.
I stopped at the Tofte Ranger Station to see if they could give me additional info. "Never heard of it," was the official view. I said it was only a few miles away, west of Crescent Lake. That she knew well; she pulled out her topo map and the Forest Service map and I pointed it out, asking what the little white box marked "2045" meant. "Private property," she said. "Well, I guess I won't go there, then," I muttered, purchasing a copy of the map ($9, the map's from 2003), as it was what would be used by the people who'd have to find me if I got lost. As I got in my car, I realized I had told the rangers I wasn't going there, when what I meant was that I wasn't going to that tiny patch of private property, which was the shorter south peak of the hill whose north peak I was climbing. Now it was official that no one knew where I was going but me.
Driving up Sawbill Road (County 2), I came across a bear crossing the road, so I pulled out my camera and tried to take a picture. The button for snapping a photo and the one for turning it off are right next to each other, so I pressed the wrong one and the bear was gone before I could get the photo. I drove north to Forest Road 170, "The Grade," the main route through the area and headed east. At Moore Lake, I could see the mountain to the south; I should've taken a photo [will, if I ever go by there again], but noticed that it was a true 200+ foot climb and just as steep on that side as the maps suggested. There was no way to reach it from the north.
I continued to Forest Road 1274 and headed to the Crescent Lake Campground, which is less than half a mile from the peak. I had an idea that someone might have created a path from the camp to the hill, but there was no sign of one. The hill itself is not visible through the trees at the campground, though it probably is from some places on the lake. A bushwhack from this side would mean finding a place to put the car (I'd stopped at the toilet facilities there, but couldn't leave a car there all day), crashing through someone's campsite, looking for a spot to get across a creek - which probably didn't exist, skirting around an unnamed pond while staying just outside private property and then going up a moderately steep slope to the peak or skirting all the way around the base to the south side and the shallowest approach. Maps showed a forest road and then a path going within 1.5 miles of that opposite side, starting from the west rather than the east, so I abandoned any idea of starting from the campground and hoped I wouldn't have to go up the steepest route.
I drove back onto 170, back onto Sawbill and saw the bear again! I grabbed the camera, tried to get a photo set up and then a truck coming the other way scared it off. I was not going to get lucky with photos this day. I stopped to look over all my maps, none of which agreed with any others. The one thing I noted was the privately owned peak was indeed the one I wanted to climb; though the peak to the south of it was listed as 2046 feet on topo maps and the Forest Service peak was 2045 and not the 2093 on the topo map, it was due east of Sober Lake, making it my peak. I couldn't legally reach the top; the official high-pointers rule is: you can claim it if you go as far as you can legally.
An approach that looked good on topo maps was shown by aerial photos to stop at a creek. This left an approach that would be about 6 miles, at least 1 bushwhacking. By Sawbill Creek, one turns on Forest Road 339 (Rice Lake Road), then immediately turn left on Forest Road 1278. There's little signs with the numbers of the roads and one of a bicycle, which made me feel better, thinking that people may actually use the road. This road was much wider than expected, though rough and I drove only until I reached a point where I could safely turn around; it quickly became apparent that this road was being currently used for logging, which explained it's being in relatively good shape. There's supposed to be another branching road to the left (1278A) that I didn't see and, which if I took it, would be a long detour to a dead end; I would wonder for some time if I'd accidentally taken that turn.
When I stopped the car, I saw 20-30 deer flies on the side view mirror. If they were that thick where there weren't any animals, they were going to be BAD. I reapplied insect repellent, had a bite to eat and swallowed a lot of fluid, filled my water bottles, and checked that I had my Garmin, maps and compass. I wrote a note to place on the window of where I was headed and when I left; when at the last minute I added what DAY I started, things became quite serious. I double-checked that I had the keys to the car and headed out.
It was hot and sticky, with some high clouds and a huge swarm of flies. I thought as long as I was on the road, I could run fast enough to keep the flies mostly at bay. It seemed to be a low-lying area and wet, which surprised me. There were several hundred butterflies (common, monarch-sized, brown with orange fringe. Added: two weeks later, I saw what looked like the same butterfly and it was a black and yellow swallowtail, making this the worst description of a butterfly imaginable) drinking from some puddles, which swarmed me, wanting the minerals from my sweat. I couldn't selectively swat flies and not butterflies and stopped caring once a butterfly tried to drink from my right eye. I was swatting my head like Curly of the Three Stooges.
The road was quite long..miles... and one of my maps showed a branch that could take me a long way to the south of where I wanted to be. Aerial photos suggested that that was the only road, that the branch I wanted didn't exist in 2009. There were overturned buckets with numbers that loggers were using for markers, plus occasional white pines left on the tops of slopes to use as landmarks. I continued until I came upon the logging crew, just over a rise. I wondered how they could stand the heat and flies - and then it hit me that they were inside air-conditioned vehicles, that my thoughts of logging were somewhat out of date. If they saw me, I'd have to quit. If they were on my route, I'd have to bushwhack longer to get around them (or him; I only saw one). There was a peak to my right, but I wasn't sure that it wasn't Manymoon Peak, which would mean I went a long way south of where I wanted to be. I took a photo (see earlier post) and checked the compass, turned on the Garmin and marked the location. The peak was the 2045 to the south of what I wanted and the loggers were where I wanted to go.
I had three choices. 1) Quit. 2) Head due North and then due East. This had its appeal, as if I went too far east or north, I'd hit water and know where I went wrong; if I got turned around and headed south, I'd hit the road again and if I headed east, I'd be going closer to my goal. The contour lines suggested this was a terible way to go; I'd probably hit swamp and then have to climb cliffs. Still, it looked good on paper. 3) Take what looked like the rougher route and head due east, checking often to make sure I didn't hit private property, then head north up the shallow approach to the peak.
The Garmin had about 9 hours of battery life left. I'd forgotten the difference between magnetic north and true north, so I checked the compass versus the Garmin. I used my current co-ordinates and the ones of my destination and had the Garmin map feature decide where I was going.
I enter the wild
The trucks clearing for the road had made the first yards almost impassible on foot with all the debris. Everything shifted and in mere yards I wasn't sure which way I was facing. There was an irritation on my back and I reached back and pulled a handful of flies from the waistband of my shorts; I rolled down the waistband to ease the irritation, knowing there'd be another line of flies there eventually. Every step I took, it seemed there was a branch trying to gore me and I knew that any injury could be potentially deadly. I moved one yard at a time, knowing 2000 yards would get me there.
I heard a rumble. At first, I thought it might be from the logging, then I heard another and knew it was thunder. The weather report said there'd be spotty storms, but the sky above was fairly light. Until it wasn't. It began to rain. The rain knocked down the flies and the temperature, so I felt better about continuing, but it soon became too dark to see. All I could do was huddle and wait for the storm to pass. Not knowing how long it would be, I turned off the garmin to save battery life. A half-hour (maybe) later, it was clearing and I was about to start again when I heard something and thought I saw something. I said out loud, "Probably a deer." That's whan I saw a bear's head whip around toward me. I said a few words ("Go away, bear," I think) and the bear was satisfied as to what I was and that I wasn't a threat and it crashed through the brush away from me. I was rather glad I didn't have any food on me it could smell. A few minutes later, after the garmin decided to lock onto satellites, I started again.
I was expecting that, once I got on the peak itself, footing would be easier. There should be old growth white pine, which once inside the stand, should have no brush underneath and only broken branches and needles to bother me. It was not to be. It was tough going the entire way. When I got near the top hours (yes, hours) later, it was quite steep and I suddenly remembered something: I'm afraid of heights! What the hell was I thinking?! Then I remember Steven Wright's "I'm not afraid of heights. I'm afraid of widths." So I turned my head to the side and said, "That's better." I laughed at my own poor joke and wondered how sure I wanted to be that I was at the top, as it was dangerous to move up there.
Legal disclaimer: The 40 acre plat that contains the peak of Lundeen Mountain is privately owned and reaching the summit would be trespassing. I do not believe that I trespassed, but stayed 200 yards from the peak. I also expect that in a few years, when the statute of limitations expires, my memory may fade and I will claim that I believe I actually did reach the true summit.
Now it was time to use a feature of the Garmin I hadn't used previously. One can retrace one's steps exactly (or as exactly as the technology allows). This made the return trip much, much faster. I got back to the road in about an hour, didn't see or hear the lumberjacks, ran the 5 miles on the road back to the car, got in the car, and drove over the newly muddy road back to civilization. I had far fewer scratches and bruises than expected and most of my bites were under my clothes. I hadn't even picked up a woodtick.
I went to the finish line of the Voyageur 50 Mile and watched a few people come in. I got asked whether I'd done the climb and I started joking about how there's barbed wire and someone's probably buried up there - after all, no one's ever going to check - and then I noticed that, whenever I thought about the thunder, the bear and the cliff, my hands started to shake.
Added: the land became public property sometime between 2003 and 2011, according to tax records. So, I can say I climbed to the top.
Aid Station: Eugene Curnow
2 days ago