Sunday, October 16, 2016

Eagle Mountain, Minnesota (2,301 ft)

28th High Point Visited
37th Highest State Highpoint
18th Most Difficult
Superior National Forest

It's been almost exactly two years have passed since my last high point adventure.    Once again in conjunction with a marathon adventure the day after running a marathon in Wisconsin I will venture to the neighboring state of Minnesota for my first visit to it's highest natural point.

My marathon Saturday morning was 176 miles away from the closest town to Eagle Mountain called Grand Marais.   Little to my knowledge, in 2015 this quaint, friendly harbor village was named a top 100 adventure town by National Geographic Adventure Magazine and won the title of "America's Coolest Small Town" by Budget Travel Magazine.   That's all well and good however mistakenly I was unaware of this combined the area was in full fall bloom finding a hotel was nearly impossible.  I hadn't booked a room because I wasn't how far up the coast we would be able to drive after the race.  Not only hard to find a hotel in Grand Marais, but every small town between there and Duluth was sold out.

Not that the 3-4 hour drive after just completing a marathon wasn't long enough the thought of sleeping in the car wasn't much appealing.   Finally a stop at a motel and the receptionist was kind enough that she had called every other hotel/motel in the town and said there is a little place up the street that has some small cabins with one still available.   A quick call to very and then a quick drive back to the entrance of town to snatch it up.     I asked the owner if I got a prize for the furthest traveled (from California), however, he said the couple that just checked out just came from Germany.    So moved our gear into the tiny cabin, turned on the heat, and headed out for dinner.

The next morning I was still moving slow, had some left overs from the marathon for breakfast, and were on the road heading to Eagle Mountain.   The weather had been suspect but we woke to perfectly blue skies.   Couldn't ask for a nice day to climb a mountain in northern Minnesota!

I have three different guide books so assembled all the directions to figure out which combinations of roads we should use to attempt to find the trail head.    I think it was roughly 15 miles of dirt roads with 3-4 turns before we arrived without never have been being lost.   Actually the route there was pretty well signed, so it wouldn't have been hard to follow the signs and end up in the parking lot without the trail guides.   I didn't anticipate many on the trail, but by the time we reached the trail head about 10 a.m. there were already many cars there.   We even followed a pickup truck most of the way down the dirt roads who pulled into the parking lot just ahead of us.   Hard to believe they were a young couple that asked the local townsfolk of a "challenging" hike and this is where they sent them.  The were vacationing from Iowa, which is a relatively flat state, so they were excited what the 2,301 foot mountain (hill) had to offer.


At the trail head there was a registration system, no fee, but each party had to fill out a form and leave one copy in the box and carry one with them at all times on the trail.   The trail guides described a 7 mile round trip route, so only 3.5 miles to the summit.   The first 2.6 miles of the trail were mostly flat and the last 0.9 miles the trail makes a turn and heads straight up the mountain (hill).    After 26.2 miles on my feet the day earlier, the hike actually felt great, often getting a change to stretch my calf muscles.  (a good kind of pain).   


You've heard the saying, it's a small world, right?  Well in 2001, yes 15 years ago I followed in my friend Greg's footsteps by climbing Mount Elbert (14,433) in Colorado a few days after Greg.   What I wasn't aware that on his trip from Ohio to Colorado he drove a northern route through Canada and believe it or not had stopped by Eagle Mountain and climbed it.    When I told Greg I was heading here as part of my Wisconsin marathon he shared with me he had been there.   I guess he remembered tripping over numerous tree roots and rocks.

Shortly on the trail we were welcomed by this sign.   So far the trail had been pretty clear of rocks, roots, and mud, however not for long.   There are 3 different bogs that the trail has been improved and wooden walkways over the bogs.   These were fun to cross!   All I could think is that my girls would have loved this hike!


The trail is pretty wooded so there was not much viability the first two miles, well that is until you come upon Whale lake.   The hill straight ahead is not the Eagle Mountain, but it's only a slightly lower elevation.   Our hill sits to the left of the lake and no where is there good visibility to see the summit from the base.  

There was a second clearing as we hiked around the left side of Whale Lake.   The reflections on the perfectly still lake were suburb!   There was one warning in the guide is that it was easy to miss this huge sign marking the turn to the summit.   This part of the trail was so rugged that all you could do is stare at your feet to make sure between all the small boulders that you were on solid ground.  Of course we nearly missed the turn off.   I took one last glimpse over my right shoulder to see if I could still see the lake and that's when I noticed the back of the sign.   I walked back to see what it said and sure enough that was the sign.     

There were the bogs which were nicely improved with the planks but the trail still was challenging, even on the steep slope up to the summit.   Here's and idea of how rugged and in this case how moist the ground was in many spots. 

There are two lookouts on the way to the summit.   The first view looks south east and you can see Lake Superior.   I think I read the high and low point (Lake Superior 600ft) of Minnesota are only 15 miles apart.   Also it's interesting that Eagle Mountain is the northernmost US highpoint in the lower 48 states.  

The trail to the summit wanders around the left side of Eagle Mountain and the highpoint we discovered is a slight scramble to the top off to the right.   The trail wasn't super defined, too many rocks, but it was clear that this was the the "up" direction.   Sure enough hidden in some small trees/brush was the marker indicating we made it to the summit.

We passed one group on the flats with a a few young kids in tow then a couple more groups on the way up the steeper section.   Even ran into two groups on the summit.   The second clearing on the top we actually spotted on the way down from the top.   They say Minnesota is the land of 10,000 lakes, from the top we could see at least 6 of them.

The trail home was basically a repeat of everything we saw on the way up.   When you get to these mossy boulders you know you are close to the trail head.  Not needed, but as a bonus the rental car for the weekend was a 4x4 so we had fun getting it a little muddy up and down the road to our hike.

Traveling up and down the coast of Minnesota we stopped to play tourist at three road side attractions.  

Attraction #1:  

Split Rock Lighthouse

On the way north,  we were needing a break from the long drive and had read there was a light house that is now a state park which is called Split Rock Lighthouse.   The day was already getting short but we sneaked in just before doors were closing.  

View from top of the hill by the lighthouse

View from the bottom of the trail looking back up at Split Rock Lighthouse

Not that running a marathon earlier in the day was enough challenge!

Hiking back up the trail to the light house

Great Sunset #1

Great Sunset #2

Attraction #2:  

Cascade Falls

Cascade Falls is a rushing river right next to the coastal highway 61.   It appeared as if there were many trails, but we just walked about 5 minutes and had great views of the root beer colored water flowing over the black rocks.   The water looks as if it could be polluted however there is no man made contamination upstream, the water's color is brown because of the swampy water that flows over decaying and decomposing organic trees and plants. 

Attraction #3

Gooseberry Falls

While visiting Split Rock Light House a day earlier I visited the gift store and they had a calendar of nice scenic locations in Minnesota and one of the first pages had a beautiful picture of Gooseberry Falls.  I remember we had driven by the sign a few miles back the down the road so we had put in on the must see places on the way home.   Again just before sunset, we made it to this attraction.  It must be much more brilliant in the spring, but even late October I was still very impressed!

Attraction #4

While not quite an "attraction" the coast was lined with "Pie" stores.   This one seemed to have a good reputation so stopped in to see what they had to offer.   After a long day of running on Saturday and a long day of hiking on Sunday, this place was just what I needed!

Eagle Mountain (2,301), Minnesota - State Highpoint #28

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