My sister Katie and her friend Libby just got back from an amazing experience on the Superior Hiking Trail. After some convincing, I was able to get her to tell you her journey. I am so proud of what they did! Here is her experience:
The Superior Hiking Trail (SHT), is a trail I had heard about years ago, but never knew much about where, or what it was.
My friend and I had just finished a week-long canoe trip in the Boundary Waters, and she asked me if I was interested in going on a short backpacking trip. Oddly enough, I had purchased a SHT guide book 15 years ago, and forgotten all about it, but in that moment, I was immediately interested in the idea.
I have been going to the Boundary Waters since I was a teen, so I was pretty familiar with wilderness adventures. However, I had only gone on one backpacking trip, and it was when I was younger with a friend through her church. I was by no means, an expert, but I was fairly confident I could pull off five days walking in the north woods of Minnesota, despite the fact that I’m now 15 years older, and not in the best shape!
My friend and I decided we were going to go backpacking on the Superior Hiking Trail. We began to plan a week-long adventure for the following summer. I began to do what I love most—plan! I read through the guidebook I had, found a free class at REI, and joined a Facebook group on the Superior Hiking Trail.
We began to research, look at packing lists, and check the guidebook. We shopped, compared gear, and shopped some more! Neither of us have loads of extra cash, so we decided to be thrifty shoppers for some items, and invested in a few items we thought were most important, like our backpacks, hiking poles, and a lightweight tent. Before we bought top of the line items and invested more in gear, we wanted to be sure this was something we would do again.
Getting to the Trail
This past August, after planning and preparing on and off over the last year, we packed our backpacks, got up before the sun, and drove from the Twin Cities to Grand Marais. There are two common shuttle services for the SHT—the Superior Hiking Trail Shuttle, and one owned by a woman named Harriett. We reserved a shuttle with the SHT Shuttle, and arrived in Grand Marais with enough time to fill our water bottles at the gas station in town, and drive over to the trailhead. The plan was to park our car at the trailhead where we would end our hike, and take the shuttle South to the trailhead to begin our hike, and hike north to the car. We unloaded our packs in the trailhead parking lot, and boarded a shuttle.
The SHT Shuttle van picked us up, and our driver was a friendly older woman who had great stories to tell as we traveled towards our entry trailhead at Oberg Mountain. She told us about a group of people she had dropped off earlier in the week, and how she had to go back the next day and pick them back up because, “The trail just wasn’t what they thought it would be.” My friend and I looked and each other with wide eyes, and looks that said, we definitely didn’t want to be “that kind of people!”
The Superior Hiking Trail
We started at the base of Oberg Mountain, the first of three mountains we would ascend on the first day. In our research, we learned that the suggested daily mileage a person can hike in a day is around 8-12 miles for an average hiker. We figured we were capable of that, because after all, it’s just walking, right? But when you add a 35-pound pack on your back (yes, we over packed on our first trip!), 90-degree heat and humidity, rocky and root-covered uphill terrain, and an insufficient amount of water, you learn very quickly that it is not just walking!
It is sweating, swearing, blisters, bugs, mud, rocks, tree roots, climbing up and down, aching legs, doubt, and repetitive mantras to just keep going, and you can do this! The trekking poles we debated about buying, and deciding to do so, became one of the most beneficial purchases we each had made. By the end of day one, we were aching and exhausted, and extremely dehydrated. All we wanted to do was collapse into our sleeping bags, and cry, but I don’t believe either one of us could have produced tears at that point. The first day of hiking, and having to ration water due to poor planning on our parts, left us with headaches and sick feelings. We were ready to give up. We no longer wanted this, and ached for the lakes of the Boundary Waters. Backpacking wasn’t what we thought it would be, and our hearts were broken.
That night we barely had enough energy to put up our tent, we skipped dinner, barely talked to one another, and curled up in our tent. We found sleep soon as our heads hit our blow-up pillows, and we slept hard for the next 12 hours. When we woke up, we pumped water, made coffee, and filled our tummies with oatmeal. We looked at each other and made a decision that we could do this. We had to do it. We are tough, outdoorsy girls, and we don’t quit. We pep talked each other, got excited, and decided today was going to be a good day. We could do this!
We hiked and loved every part of it. The scenery and overlooks were rewarding and beautiful, and the campsites felt like home. We were in love with the Superior Hiking Trail.
We met fellow hikers on the trail and in campsites. People shared their struggles and successes, and listened as we shared ours. We were encouraged and cheered on, and we were able to encourage and cheer on others. The community that exists on the trail was incredible and inspiring. Our hike ended, miles short of where we wanted to be, and where our car was. On day two, we accepted we would not be hiking 12 miles a day, and we were ok with that! It allowed us to enjoy the outdoors, and hike our own hike.
We had an amazing experience and learned so much on this trip. We were able to go on a second hike earlier this month, and we can’t wait to get back on the trail again!
This adventure was an experience that is hard to explain with words. We are grateful, and encourage all to get out on the trail! If you’re apprehensive to go backpacking, but would like to try, start with a day trip in one of the state parks. Look online for the countless resources for backpacking and hiking the Superior Hiking Trail.
Happy hiking, and hike your own hike!