Traffic was rerouted off Highway 61 into Knife River, where I passed the candy store and thought, "Man, I always want to shop here, but they're never open!" It was 4:30 AM. Timing is everything some days.
The plan had been to climb some 2000 foot peaks, including one of the harder ones. I wanted to be sure of accomplishing something and felt I needed to ease into the hard bushwhacking, so I picked off four relatively easy peaks (one of which was much harder than expected) and then, finding I had forgotten my map of Peak 2210b, decided to attempt Peak 2266, the second highest peak in the state. Waiting until I was tired from these climbs - and in the heat of the day - was a big mistake. It was supposed to be 55 degrees in Grand Marais, as opposed to 90 back home, but I'd forgotten the temperature change one gets when one gets away from Lake Superior and up in the hills.
I knew of at least three previous summits, the most recent being almost exactly a year earlier. That climber had used a route from the north off Forest Road 325 which involved a bridge I didn't know existed - this route would halve the distance of the bushwhack and cut the approach by even more, so though I didn't know just where it was, this was the way to go. There's a snowmobile/ATV route that crosses the road and that should lead to the bridge.
|A sign at the ATV path start.|
|This would later seem a walk in the park.|
Driving back to the Lima Grade, I looked for Forest Road 1422, which my old State Forest road map said was the one I wanted. This map has never failed to fail me. 1422 no longer exists. Just before the road to Pine Mountain is the only marked road, 1475 (there's also a sign for 1473, which branches off of it). I decided to follow this, as it seemed to follow the route I wanted to take; it is just passable in a heavy-duty truck, but my car was no match for it and a three mile approach doesn't phase me like it seems to do to others (later, I would realise that saving one's energy for the bushwhack should be a bigger consideration).
|This particular sign is a mile in, where 1473 branches.|
|Miles of this.|
|Bear track and truck track.|
I started thinking about quitting. I hadn't even entered the woods yet! I decided to "suck it up" and went on. The road got much, much wetter. As I got close to Circle Lake, I had to cross Junco Creek, which at the time was just a narrowing of the lake. I was essentially wading, following the clearing of trees that showed the roadway and trusting my GPS. Once clear of all the water, I was finally ready to climb into the woods.
I set another marker on my Garmin and plunged into the (thankfully dry) brush. It's all tumbled-down brush. Each step took forever. The approach goes due north, which makes for a very gradual climb; then, when one hits the ridge, goes northwest to the peak. Previous climbers had taken 4 hours to go the 3 miles from here to the peak and back.
I was out of drinking water already. I had not planned for a trip this long. [Major major mistake.]
An hour or so in, I stepped on a rotted fallen tree that crumbled beneath me and I fell. My body went left and my shin went right. Oh God, I thought, I just tore a ligament in my knee... Suddenly, the gravity of the situation hit me: it might not be possible to get back. I took off whatever clothes I could to wrap my knee tightly. I stood. I walked a few steps. I was going to be okay, if... if.
Do I go on or go back? I was right at the ridge line, where the woods actually open up a bit. I was close to the summit, but there was still a hundred feet of climb and it would get steeper, though easier. I considered how long it would take to return to the car and how much daylight I had (I hadn't brought lights, because the original plan was to start at 6 AM and be done by 11 AM).
I went on. It was slow going and my mouth was dry, so dehydration was a problem. My Garmin read "approaching goal" and I started looking for the actual high point. There was a mini-cairn of three rocks where some previous climber decided the peak was. A short walkabout convinced me I was there.
[I'd stopped thinking about niceties like getting photos.]
Now I just had to get back!
I set the Garmin to find the marker I'd left and headed back. Dehydration was really a problem. I was still sweating, was not turning particularly red or pale, nor getting goose flesh; for me, mental derangement always comes first when dehydrated.
Then I got a pine branch into my eyes. "Is that all you got?! Sick, tired, hot, wet, dirty, injured, half-blind, fly-bitten... you think this is tough? You've been through worse. YOU ARE NOT GOING TO DIE OUT HERE. Move!"
I straightened my back, adjusted my bandage, cleaned as much gunk out of my eyes as I could and marched out twice as fast as I came. When I got to the road and knew I had enough daylight to get to my car, I knew I had this in the bag. I no longer cared about all the water. If need be, I could drink ditch water - giardia doesn't kill, it just makes you want to die. I went straight ahead, not trying any more to stay out of the worst of it. I hadn't thought about the flies in hours.
How could it be uphill this way too?
When I got to the car, it was 17 hours after I had started climbing that day, 8 spent on this one hill. I jumped into the car (and sat on my glasses, bending their frame... of course) and cranked the air conditioning for the first time in a year. My shoes were wet, so I took them off, but kept the socks on, as they were keeping the swelling down in my calves.
Then I went to buy gas for the trip home.