Fall Hiking on the Superior Hiking Trail – West Kennedy Creek & Sect 13
The Superior Hiking Trail was something I wanted to hike. My sister has been going there for a couple of years now, and even guest posted on the blog about her first trip on the SHT. After much begging and pleading, the stars finally aligned, and I had a free weekend to join her. What I didn’t realize is we were going during the start of Fall hiking on the Superior Hiking Trail.
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Planning Fall Hiking on the Superior Hiking Trail
Backpacking isn’t much different than the hiking and adventures that I normally go on. The only difference is the distance and the pack. Thankfully I’ve been acquiring gear for some time now, and what I didn’t have, I was able to borrow. The only shopping I needed to do was to buy more clothing. You need a new outfit for adventure, right?
The plan was to sleep in hammocks. I splurged and bought a $40 hammock setup that came with an attached bug and tarp. It turns out it more economical to buy a secondary hammock that comes with everything, then to buy attachments for my inexpensive black Friday purchase hammock.
I hate looking like a newbie. I’m not sure why it’s such a stigma. Before I left, I spent an entire morning setting up my hammock and figuring out everything. It probably only took about 2 minutes to get the hammock set up, the tarp on the other hand I’ve never felt so stupid.
I kept running back inside the house looking at videos and diagrams of how to get the knots to work. I kept giving up and then having an epiphany. And for that reason, you should always do a dry run of your equipment before you leave.
A few days before my sister and I met up to split up gear meals and other stuff so we didn’t have one person carrying all the weight. To make dinners easier, we decided to cook our food in ziplock freezer bags.
She also had a few Mountain House meals she wanted to try on this trip. Some people will pour their boiling water directly into the Mountain House zipped bags. She found that those backs are too pokey and can cut through ziplock bags you’re storing stuff in.
So we decided to split up the two meals into individual portions and each carries our own. After pouring the water in, the meal would sit in a cozy to cook.
Before going I downloaded the official map of the Superior Hiking Trail on my Avenza Maps. You can purchase all maps for the entire trail, or just a bundle of maps for the section you are hiking.
Others will save Google Maps offline, or take snapshots of the map from the SHT Book or just buy the Kindle version and use it for reference. You can also purchase mini maps of each section.
I really liked my decision to get the Avenza Map. It gave specific GPS tracking and gave me a sense of comfort along the way. The Superior Hiking Trail is so well-traveled and marked, it’s almost impossible to get lost along the way.
Fall Hiking on the Superior Hiking Trail Day 1
After a few work meetings wrapped up, we jumped in the car around noon from the Twin Cities and headed straight north.
We stopped at Tetteguche State Park’s visitor’s center to fill up our water, something I would have a love-hate relationship with along the trail. Parking at our end location of Lake County Road 7 we arranged for the Cadillac Cab to drop us off at our starting point, County Road 1.
We got on to the trail around 5pm. Somewhat late by hiking terms, but our campsite was only two miles away.
I started on the trail and realize we must be camping on the top of the mountain because it’s all straight up. As we went along, we found a few overlooks of Superior.
What I didn’t realize, was this would be one of a few chances to see Lake Superior on the entire hike. The trail is quite a ways in from the lake and features overlooks and points of interest inland. I actually enjoyed the overlooks inland, more than I did of Lake Superior.
The first big accomplishment was getting to the Wolf Lake overlook. After climbing what felt like forever and reaching the top, we found a stunning lake that looked to go on forever.
I immediately took my pack off to enjoy it a little. I also had great reception up there and was able to send a photo home to the husband and kids.
My husband likes to worry, so I wanted to make a point to share my progress as much as I could along the way, without opening up any other app. The whole point was to disconnect.
Camping at West Kennedy Creek
In less than an hour, we stumbled upon our first campsite. Unlike the BWCA or any State Park, there are no fees to hike the Superior Hiking Trail. All sites are first come first serve.
There are some other rules like staying on tent pads at designated campsites, but everyone in the area understands things come up and you have to be flexible. In our case, we were the last people to arrive at the campsite that night.
To my surprise, I had just walked into a campsite filled with 10 other men. I found out this was a rarity, as normally there are plenty of women on the trail. You usually see couples and other groups of people there. They were all very welcoming.
Setting up camp
The first thing to do, besides get off my pack, as get the lay of the land. With hammocks, we have more flexibility and restrictions on getting a site. You don’t need a designated pad, which is a plus. The only problem is, you need to have two thick trees near each other. In my case, 4 because there were two of us. This campsite was lacking.
There were some suitable trees in the main part of the campsite but were all right next to people’s tents. We ended up making something work far away from the rest of the campers, which I didn’t mind because it gave us a little privacy.
Because of the way the trees were set up, our tarps ended up covering us like a wall with little to no angle on them at all. It was fine because the temperatures were falling, and having it closer gave us a little more protection.
Around camp, there was a stream running right through it. On the Superior Hiking Trail, it’s a luxury to have water at your spot. Most water needs to be brought in miles away. Everyone at camp was saying not to drink it and turned their noes up.
At this point, I started to ration my water. Dehydration symptoms were already starting. I suffered heat exhaustion earlier in the year and never recovered. Now the slightest bit of getting too hot sends me into a downward spiral.
My sister and I each made our Mountain House meals. The dishless method of cooking and eating in a Ziplock bag worked out great! If you aren’t cooking for a family, I highly recommend doing it.
After a little small talk with the guys, I decided to turn in early and try and recover a little from the adventure. I was getting so cold, probably a combination of overheating and my head, I just didn’t want to put on a good face for it. I couldn’t even keep my eyes open anymore because the light from the fire was causing me head to pound. I think I went to bed at 8.
Sleeping in the Cold
Fall hiking on the Superior Hiking Trail comes with great perks during the day, but nights can be unpredictable. The forecast said temps would dip to the upper 30’s. This would be the real test for my sleeping bag and setup.
There are two options for keeping warm with a hammock, use a sleeping pad or an underquilt. The week before the trip I kept waffling with my sister on what to do. We had sleeping pads already but could make a few underquilts quickly.
All the research said they provide the same level of protection; the biggest difference is coverage of warmth. With a sleeping pad, you have to stay on top of it to stay warm. We decided to not spend the extra money and give the sleeping pads a try.
The mental game
I wore long underwear, a heat shirt, leggings, wool socks, a down coat, winter gloves, and a hat. Before turning in I grabbed an emergency blanket in case it got too cold. I laid there shivering for so long.
I told myself I just need to calm myself down and I’d warm up eventually. Using the emergency blanket would be a failure in my opinion. But really, who am I trying to impress? After a couple of hours, I think I finally calmed down enough and warmed up.
The other issue I was facing was getting comfortable. The sleeping pad is only so big, and in my case very narrow. If you slip off it, you are faced with instant cold. Next time, I’m making an underquilt.
Sleeping in woods is nothing new to me, but the feeling of being all by yourself suspended from trees is a little eerie, especially when you hear a noise.
I’m not sure where it was coming from, but I kept hearing grunting and other sounds. I convinced myself that it was probably some wild animal right next to us. In reality, it was probably one of the men snoring in a tent a little ways away. When you are tired and cold, your mind plays tricks on you.