"There's only one hard and fast rule in running: sometimes you have to run one hard and fast."

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Peakbagging Blitzkrieg

"Gonna climb a mountain. The highest mountain. Gonna jump off... nobody gonna know." - Marshall Tucker Band, "Can't You See?"

I didn't tell anyone, but this is what I've been training for.

Gunflint Lookout (2064 feet, #13S)

It's a six hour drive from Minneapolis to this trailhead, shared with the Kekekabic Trail; that's the same as driving to Chicago. I drove all night and arrived at dawn.

 The Kek has recently had a crew go through trimming brush, so the first half of the trail was very easy. They did not do the spur trail up to the lookout, however. The beginning of the spur is still recognizable as trail for a quarter of a mile, then disappears.
 There were blueberries everywhere. They tasted of DEET, as I'd coated myself liberally. Last week, only 50 miles away, they were in bloom, but this is just far enough north that the season is altered.
 I was establishing landmarks and trying to relocate the trail, but had to bushwhack half the way. This is the first view of the top, from a boulder 3/8 of a mile to go.
 At 290+ feet of prominence, this is a "soft" peak, but I did it to be thorough. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Peak 1990 Hungry Jack (#20)

I hate hate hate hate this peak. I hate it with a white hot intensity bordering on madness. I loathe it.

About a mile from the previous peak, this was an obvious next choice for something to climb. I wouldn't drive 6 hours up and 6 back just for this, so it was now or never. The Hungry Jack fire had burned all of this hill, leaving skeleton pines, making this the one peak where I could see where I was headed.
It appeared unclimbable (by me, at any rate; at least one person has claimed a summit). My map showed it 1/4 mile from the road, but the approach was 3/4 mile as the crow flies, as there is creek and swamp between the road and hill and the face toward the road looks nearly vertical (from the road - it's not quite so bad up close). There is one knob of rock that allows access that is not wetand; on a dry day in a dry year, the way to go would be to skirt the edge of the wetland, but it had just rained. There was a large animal track through the marsh, but it proved impassable. I bouldered my way up the only way to go, expecting to see my route better once I got up. It appeared to be bouldering and deadfall the whole way and my heart sank. There was no way to get down to the marsh and back up, so I just kept moving along the rock, as my topo maps showed an easy general grade to the top that way. Eventually I got to an area of more (burned) trees and fewer boulders and the climb got better.

This peak is just north of the Magnetic Rocks trail and the rocks ARE magnetic. While the GPS kept giving an accurate measure of the distance, the compass would swing back and forth. If not for being able to see the route due to the fire, I don't see how this could be climbed. As I got close to the top, my fear of heights took over. I did the last 200 yards reaching from one tree to the next, making sure of the stability of the tree and the sureness of my footing. I was shaking and almost crying at the top, so there aren't photos.

Round trip took 2.5 hours.

I f___ing hate this peak!

Peak 2210 a, b (#5)

Some 40 miles back along the Gunflint Trail, I turned on FR309 (sign says Greenwood Lake). Four miles later, turned on 313 (Shoe Lake Rd), then two more miles to 144, where I parked the car. This is a very peculiar case; there are three points one has to reach to be sure one has reached the top - though I believe I'm the first ever to do so.

 Heading east, one gets to 40 feet (!) from one of the points on the road; it's where this cluster of pines are.

See? That's close!
 The next peak is closer to the first one than the road, so it's a 400 yard bushwhack through thick brush. It should be noted that both of these points are on private property, though no one would know.

That's wolf, not dog!
The third peak is west of where I parked. When I got back, I had company. 
Rush hour.
 After refueling and hydrating (it was 85-90 degrees), I hiked the road west to 144G, where I started the bushwhack to the last peak. The topo map shows this as much more varied than the previous area, but it didn't appear that any route was preferable to just going as straight as possible. It's a difficult bushwhack through thick underbrush, about 3/4 of a mile. It was hot; I was covered in flies, ticks and mosquitos; I knew that this was a "first ascent."

Peak 2163 (#8)

It was getting into the heat of the day. I drove back to the Gunflint Trail, back into Grand Marais, which was having a festival, then Highway 61was revisited (thank you Bob Dylan). It had rained here while I was north. Though there are shorter routes, I used paved roads as much as possible. I got to Cook Cty 4 just before Lutsen, then headed north again. At The Grade (FR309), turned left, then right on 326 toward Brule Lake. The next peak is off a minimum maintenance road, 326D, which goes two miles, past Peak 2163.
That's legible. Easy to miss, though.
 At first, it looked like this road had not seen a vehicle in more than a year, though there was plenty of signs of hunters - spent ammo, bottles, beer cans, fire pit. Then it became clear that the brush had been cut and left on the roadway.

Man-made "technical."
 The road skirts wetlands. It was very mucky in places and extremely buggy. Made this guy happy:
Then I saw a moose! Didn't get a photo of him, but here's a hoof print he left:
This peak took some thinking. The side of the hill facing this road is very steep. If one gets to the end, passing 1/2 mile beyond the hill, one can go up the back side, which is easiest, but it adds a lot of distance and time, plus it's very muddy (it did rain, after all - 90 degrees and rainy; Minnesota in the summer). The side of the hill opposite the road is not too bad and the west end is variable, very steep in places. When the mud got too thick, I started the bushwhack and headed toward the "front" west side whenever possible. This was a wet scramble, grabbing hold of slippery vegetation and frequently clearing the muck from my shoes to get better traction. The flies were very bad.

Another 3 hours. I believe this was the second-ever reported ascent.

Eagle Mountain (2301 feet, #1)

I'd climbed this before, but never got the obligatory photo at the top. It's only 4 miles past the 326/170 intersection, so it made sense to do this one, get the photo and never have to go in this area again. The first time I did it, it took exactly one hour. This time, it took 1:10 just to get to the top.

 There's a nice trail the whole way and there were a lot of other hikers, all of whom looked like this was the hardest thing they'd ever done.
My shoe (and hairy, muddy knee) at the highest point in the state.
 I considered adding Peabody Hill on my way back, but decided I couldn't do it before nightfall.

Arrived home at 11 PM. I'd done 5 of the highest peaks, any of which would be consided enough for one day, even without 12 hours of driving!


wildknits said...

Whooo hoooo!!

Guess this answers why you didn't swing into the Zoo to say Hi!

Glad you made it home safe after your adventures.

sea legs girl said...

Wow. That is wild. 5 peaks in one day! And they look treacherous. I am so happy you took picture, mostly because your captions are so funny :).

sea legs girl said...

Haha. Typo. It is hard not to say "I am so happy you took picture" without Chinese accent, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

Impressive! Glad to see you are staying in shape and tackling some tough peaks

Carilyn said...

Awesome, Steve! What a day! And cool "almost" animal sightings - which are exactly the kind I like :)