It's my 50th birthday today (I know, it doesn't make sense to me, either) - and apparently the 50th birthday for the nation of Jamaica and for Target Stores as well.
I decided that I had to make up for a glaring deficiency... I'd never been to Minnesota's Iron Range. I pretty much hit it all in one day, with 5 more peaks climbed.
Pike Mountain (1955 feet, #23)
The first report I'd read of this being climbed read, "I can't imagine anyone doing this in the summer." How about during the hottest summer in 75 years? The weather was actually perfect; it felt cold at first, as I wasn't used to it and the wind kept the flies at bay.
I drove to Duluth, then took 53 to Virginia to 169 north to county road 305, which dead-ends at a gate just before a taconite pond. The route is essentially featureless for three miles to the bottom of the mountain. I took the clockwise route around the berm of the pond, then a double-track south and then west until it dead-ends at a T; you can tell the trail left goes up the mountain. The trail's in good shape and has had some ATV traffic (a pile of beer cans shows who goes there). The footings of the tower are right where three enormous glacial erratics meet and these would appear to be the high point, if you didn't know better - they couldn't be climbed, but I got a hand on top of each of them, just in case they someday turn out to be the high point. The true high point is 0.8 miles along the ridge line and I thought this was going to be a long bushwhack, but there's a trail that's fairly easy to follow that gets one to within 0.2 miles. From there, it was the easiest bushwhack; the trees just opened up for me; the peak being another huge erratic, which I'd heard described as "8-10 feet," which I thought oddly vague until I saw it. The height depends upon which side you're standing on. It's mossy, but can be climbed and someone's built a small 4 stone cairn on it.
Round trip from the car took 2:50, much less than planned.
Fail. The peak is under the wind turbines on the MinnTac iron mine. It can't be reached without permission. It's only a few miles from Pike Mountain and you see it on the way.
Wynne Lake Lookout (1844 feet, #30)
This is a few miles from Biwawbik. Head east on 135, north on County 138 to Giant's Ridge ski area. I parked at the chalet and walked straight up the hill, which is steep even by ski hill standards. The footings of the old lookout still remain at the edge of a woods, with a nice cairn built there. The actual high point appears to have been created for the end of one of the chair lifts.
This is only a few miles from Wynne Lake.
Fail. This is also on mining property and, while it looks like one could do a mad scramble of a mile to get to the peak, they look serious about trespassers. I mean "If you don't die out there, we'll make you wish you did" serious.
Big Thunder Peak (1752 feet, #37)
This is the highest point in Itasca County. From Grand Rapids [where Tall Timber Days and heavy road construction slowed me way down], one goes south on Hwy 169 to County Road 17, then west CR 449 which will take one to condominiums where there used to be a ski chalet. Previous climbers have used Shingle Mill Rd and then ATV trails to the summit, but the road has been closed because of damage ATVers had been doing. From the backyard of the condos, one can see up a ski run, but I couldn't find a way to cross some swampy water in front of it (a local suggested I try the beaver dam). To the west of the condo parking lot, one can see the remnants of the ski area and an outhouse; once closer, one can see a building that has a map of the ski trails. The route is all left turns, going (literally) from Point A to B to C to D to the summit. Signs show that this area is maintained, but the trails haven't been cut for more than a year. The trail is not too hard to follow and is easy in places, but also has 6 foot weeds in places and is full of flies and ticks. The trail gets one to within 10 feet of the summit, which is in some fallen-down trees. When I got back to the car, I was entirely coated in a film of plant seeds.
Quadna Mountain (1595 feet, #41)
Getting back on 169, I headed south to Hill City. How could I climb all these peaks and not visit Hill City? There's a sign for Quadna, so I just followed it and suddenly found myself in a crowd of 500 people. They were having a cyclocross race there, which had just ended, so I could get in without paying, pretend I belonged there and park where someone else had left early and get onto the course looking purposeful, so no one would question my being there. Up and down the ski hill in 6 or 7 minutes, full-tilt running when someone on an ATV looked like they were going to stop me. There's communication towers and a ladder-type lookout tower at the top, but the high point is slightly south in a clearing. Had I not had to wait for traffic in Grand rapids, I would've been too early!
Arrowhead Lookout (1610 feet, #40)
From Quadna, I went back north on 169 to 200, east to Hwy 2 and past Floodwood several miles to Maki Rd/County Road 849 (both clearly marked). This land seems to be parceled out as private lands, but also appears to be Fon du Lac Indian Reservation. The trailhead's just past the pond. It's posted "No Trespassing. Violators will be prosecuted." I chanced it. It's an easy run up a gravel road to a communications tower. The high point is a mound of dirt scraped up at the end of the road. Flies and mosquitos were numerous.
I saw a porcupine on the way back to the car, the first I've ever seen in the wild.
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