Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) – Judge Magney to the Otter Lake Road – October 2017
TL;DR – This was a great trip, we covered quite a few miles in less time then we expected, the trail was super muddy, didn’t see many other hikers out, completed early, and had a great time. Would love to go back and do this section again with additional days (and additional food).
We planned this trip earlier in the year when Race, Scott, and myself visited Tettegouche in April of 2017. As a followup we planned this trip over Sushi using the maps published by the Superior Hiking Trail Association (link) and the book “Guide to the Superior Hiking Trail: Linking People with Nature by Footpath Along Lake Superior’s North Shore“.
The SHT website’s Trail Sections (link) was also very useful in planning parking areas and estimating where we would camp on this trip.
This is some text from one of our original plan:
- 0300 meet at Scott’s House
- (optional) Obtain “world’s greatest doughnuts” in Grand Marias
- Drive to the last parking lot at the northern terminus (Otter Lake Road)
- Circle back with other car to Judge Magney State Park to County Road 70
- Begin the death march to the northern terminus
- Camp somewhere in this section: County Road 70 to Arrowhead Trail
- Slightly over 10 miles to get to first campsites
- Camp somewhere in the “Jackson Lake Road to Otter Lake Road” section, this starts 20.2 miles from where we begin hiking
- Buffer day, we should have less than 10 miles to get back to the car at this point; ideally get to the campsite at Andy Creek by the end of the day, leaving 1.5 miles to the car
- Hike the 1.5 miles to car
- (optional, if we are pressed for time) Hike the 2mi round trip to the “270 degree overlook”
- Return to Judge Magney State Park to retrieve the other car
- I assume we will get back to the cities sometime before 6pm, though I really don’t care as long as I get back Sunday night sometime
I picked up some new gear for this trip;
- Petzl – TIKKA Headlamp (200 lumens, soft red LED) (link)
- BearVault BV500 Food Container (link)
- FOHOZ: Titanium Backpacking Stove (link)
My pack weighed in at 37lbs with fuel, food, water — though I suspect I was down around 31 lbs when I actually left because I had swapped out my MSR Dragonfly stove for the ultralight Titanium Backpacking Stove, I swapped out a Nalgene for a smart water bottle, and made a few other substitutions and subtractions after that weigh in.
Basic overview of my gear (not exhaustive):
- ULA Catalyst
- ENO Doublenest Hammock
- 20 Degree Slepping Bag (Thermarest Sarros)
- ENO Blaze Underquilt
- Clark XL Rain Fly
- Petzl – TIKKA Headlamp
- BearVault BV500 Food Container
- 3 MH Biscuts and Gravy Pouches
- 4 Entrees (3 dinners, 1 lunch)
- Epic Venison Bars
- Quest S’Mores Protien Bars
- MH Astronaut Ice Cream
- Prepackaged Almonds
- Prepackaged Cashews
- FOHOZ: Titanium Backpacking Stove
- 2 medium sized jetboil isobutane tanks
- Quick Clot Trauma Kit
- Basic First Aid Kit
- Mora light my fire knife
- DeLorme Satellite Communicator
- MSR pump water filter
- 5000mAh external battery
- Headphones \ Hearos Ear Plugs
- Charging cable w\ USB C adaptor
- Extra clothes (leggings, tshirt, long sleeve tshirt, hooded sweatshirt, down vest)
Day 1 (Thursday)
Scott and I met at 330am at his house in the north metro; this was negotiated a couple of days prior to the trip as we felt that 3am was too early for kicking off this trip. Race set out from his house in the northwest metro at some time around 4am (though we had planned on him setting out at some time around 4am).
The drive up to Grand Marias was uneventful, we chatted and I listened to audible’s new “The X-Files: Stolen Lives (ORIGINAL)” highly produced, full cast, audiobook.
Scott and I first had breakfast at South of the Border Cafe, 10 out of 10, totally recommend this place. We hung out there for quite a while as Race was running behind, we drank the coffee there which was pretty good. After finishing up at the Cafe we went over to the World’s Greatest Doughnuts shoppe and I picked up a blueberry turnover, it was amazing.
Scott and I then walked out to the Grand Marias lighthouse, took some photos and then circled back to the car and hung out for a couple of minutes as Race came into town.
We then headed out to the Otter Lake Road parking area for the SHT.
We arrived and the parking area and Race asked Scott and I if we had seen any of his text messages – of which we hadn’t. Turns out, Race’s car was totally empty of gas, so we headed back into Grand Marias where Race purchased a $25 gas container and a couple of gallons of Gas and we headed back to the Otter Lake Road parking lot; Race then fueled his car and moved his bag into my car and we headed back down to Judge Magney state park.
We left my car at the Judge Magney state park parking lot and began our hike back to Race’s car up the SHT.
The first point of interest that we encountered on this trip was Devil’s Kettle Falls, the first part of this trail was really groomed as Devil’s Kettle Falls is a frequent destination of tourists; the fall’s claim to fame is that the water fall is nearly divided down the middle, with half of the falls proceeding down a pothole — for years this was an unexplained phenomena — though now it appears to have been explained as of 2017.
After Devil’s kettle falls we encountered only a couple of day hikers within a mile of the park, and then encountered no one else. We moved pretty quick on the trail though we were frequently having to trudge through mud or attempt to avoid mud on the trail.
We ended up at campsite “Hazel” as the sun was setting.
None of this first section really stood out to me after Devil’s Kettle Falls, it was really enjoyable to be in the forest even in spite of the mud, there wasn’t too much of an incline or decline on this section of the trail that I remember being challenging.
I setup my ENO doublenest hammock without the rainfly, but with the underquilt and with my sleeping bag.
We pumped water from the water source slightly north up the trail from the campsite, this was the clearest (and best tasting) water we encountered on the SHT.
I had backpacker’s pantry Chicken Alfredo for dinner (…it was amazing).
We cooked dinner and hung out around the fire pit (we didn’t have a fire though). The night was really clear and the moon was super bright that night, it was almost like a spotlight that would intermittently light up various parts around the camp as the moon moved through the sky.
We planned out our following day, which meant a more aggressive hike with a possibility of rain on Saturday we wanted to push as far into the trail as we could; we targeted being at the Jackson Creek campsite Friday night.
Retired to my hammock and listened to some podcasts before falling asleep.
Day 2 (Friday)
Slept well, but the night was pretty cold — there was frost on my sleeping bag and on some of the gear that was left around the fire pit at the campsite.
Ate MH Biscuits and Gravy for breakfast with Four Sigmatic’s mushroom coffee.
We then broke camp fairly quickly and pumped water at the stream near campsite hazel (that good tasting water) and headed into our day.
We covered 17 miles of the SHT on Friday.
After leaving our campsite the first point of interest we encountered was the South Carlson Pond campsite, I would like to come back to this campsite and hang out for a day or two; it was very serene with older growth forest and the pond itself is beautiful.
We decided on targeting the Jackson creek campsite by end of day to make up for some of the lost time with Thursday’s late start and with the risk of rain on Saturday\Sunday.
Leaving the South Carlson Pond camp the forest rapidly changed (which was a theme of the entire trip) to a new growth forest. The variability of the forests in Minnesota is amazing and the landscapes in Minnesota is amazing.
We got to the point called “Hellacious Overlook” which was a pretty brutal incline up to some amazing views on the trail.
This section of the trail is likely the most brutal section of the entire trail because of the elevation changes, the mud, and the highest point of the entire SHT is a part of the Grand Marias to 270 degree overlook.
After leaving the Hellacious Overlook we continued on the trail, we refilled our water and kept hiking. We had to stop for snacks a couple times to keep everyone’s strength up.
We covered quite a bit of trail and got to a section right before the Jackson Creek campsite where the SHT volunteers had made a boardwalk through a mossy section of the forest.
The Jackson creek campsite was really nice.
Retired to my hammock and listened to “What doesn’t kill us” that covers some of Wymm Hoff’s training methods for cold weather and essentially knowing his limits, which allowed him to climb Kilimanjaro without a shirt or shoes. somehow fell asleep within 30minutes of starting the book and didn’t turn off the book until 4 hours had elapsed.
Day 3 (Saturday)
Slept good, we did get some rain during the night — because of the clouds that moved in the night seemed more warm than Thursday night into Friday morning.
Ate MH Biscuits and Gravy for breakfast with Four Sigmatic’s mushroom coffee, I also ate a couple protein bars. I discovered placing a “hot hands” pack in my bear canister kept my protein bars more malleable.
Saturday meant a shorter hike for us given how far we pushed on Friday, it was decided by the time we left our camp at Jackson Creek that we would be leaving the forest, rather than camping at Andy Creek and risking getting rained on.
We hit the highest point of the entire SHT on our hike out on Saturday.
We encountered quite a bit of mud on our hike out, part of the logging road that connects with Otter Lake Road was washed out with all of the recent rain. Ironically, I rolled my ankle on the logging road on the way out of the trail — with all of the mud and crap we encountered and as hard as we pushed on Friday, somehow I found a way to roll my ankle on relatively level terrain within a mile from the car (…such is life).
After Sven and Ollie’s we checked out the Benjamin Franklin store and parted ways with Race, we ran up to the gas station to get some snacks and drinks for the ride home and started south on 61 toward Duluth, and then onto 35 toward Minneapolis.
Day 4 (Sunday)
We had originally planned on hiking out on Sunday and going to the 270 degree overlook, this didn’t happen this trip as we left on Saturday, and were itching to get back into town to eat at Sven & Ollie’s Pizza in Grand Marias and have a couple of beers.
More entrees, if we would have stayed out the prescribed amount of time that we had planned on originally I would have been relying on Race for some of his extra food that he had brought. I had been sharing some of my snacks with Race, which depleted those more quickly than I expected — but I should have had a few safety calories built in.
The BearVault Bear canister is heavy, but it doubles as a chair and it also is a nice peace of gear to consolidate [stuff] into that you want to keep dry overnight.
Link to the joint google photos album from Race, Scott, & Nate.