August 10, 2002 around 10:00 am
Ryan Cragun and Debi Cragun
We spent all of August 9th driving from Bismarck, ND to our campsite near Lutsen, MN on the North Shore of Lake Superior. We had hoped to get a little closer to the trailhead, but the campsite we finally found, Lamb’s Campground, was only about 30 miles away and everything else was booked, so we felt lucky just to find that one. We got one of the last 5 or 6 camping spots, set up our tent and headed a little bit up the road to pick up some drinks, marshmallows, and snacks. We had a lovely evening roasting marshmallows by the fire and playing cards. By 10:00 pm I was exhausted and ready for bed. We hit the sack and were up bright and early the next morning. The last twenty minutes or so before I decided to get up, I could hear the intermittent rain on the tent. It wasn’t heavy rain, just slight drizzles, but it didn’t bode well for our hike.
Around 6:30 I nudged Debi awake and we dressed, broke camp and headed to the trailhead. From our campsite, it was about 30 miles or so to the trailhead and we headed up the trail at around 8:30. The hike is not difficult and the trail is easy to follow for the most part. The guidebook I was using (the Winger’s) recommended sturdy hiking boots and I would definitely concur. The path may be level and easy to follow, but it is also chuck full of rocks. Both Debi and I noticed that our ankles were sore by the time the hike was over. We made it to the close edge of Whale Lake at around 9:30. We paused for a minute to see how much further it was then continued on. As we neared the far side of the lake, we heard voices and I realized that there were some people sitting on some rocks at the far end of the lake. I was a little surprised at first, when I saw them, because I realized that one of them was naked. We were still far enough away that any distinguishing features were blurred, but it was quite apparent to me that I was looking at two women, one of whom was not wearing any clothes. A few minutes later, as we were drawing closer to the far side of the lake, I noticed that the naked woman now had on a purple jacket – she had been naked! (More power to her that she feels she can skinny deep out in the backwoods of Minnesota.)
As we passed, we confirmed the fact that they were two women and it appeared that they were getting their gear ready. We came to the crossroads where the trail splits and you can continue around the lake or head up Eagle Mountain. We headed up toward Eagle Mountain and the trail actually became semi-steep at this point. The going was still not that difficult, but it was measurably harder than the trail had been up to that point. Let me see how best to describe it. Prior to this point, though there were a lot of rocks, the trail was level and we weren’t breathing hard at all. As we climbed this last part of the trail, we started to breath hard, but didn’t have to stop to rest. The trail eventually leveled off and we started to look for the highpoint marker. The trail is a bit deceiving at the top. If you stay on the trail, you will likely continue right over the mountain and down the other side toward the other entry point. Our goal was to find the highpoint, so we were hesitant to continue on.
Knowing that mounds of rocks stacked unnaturally are a common tool of highpointers to mark the way when it might not be discernible (a lesson I learned quite well on Boundary Peak), I did happen to notice the mound of rocks to our right as we reached the highest point following the trail. Thinking this might lead the way, I headed toward the rock mound. Behind the rock mound were two trails, one to the right and one to the left. Not wanting to make Debi hike any more than she had to, I told her to hang out by the rock mound and I would explore the two trails to see if I could find the highpoint marker. I guessed right on my first try and headed down the trail to the right. Another 100 feet or so and I came upon the USGS marker and the plaque that is cemented into the rock on the summit. I called to Debi and she followed me up the path. Following Debra Winger’s lead, I had my Debi pose on top of the rocks as though she were an eagle (no malice intended, perhaps just a little mockery). We snapped a few more pictures but really couldn’t see much because the summit was covered by either high fog or very low clouds. This also made it so that any view points along the trail didn’t really give us much of a vista.
We spent about 10 minutes on the summit then headed down. Just as we reached the trail, we passed the two women that had been ‘sunbathing’? We asked them if they were looking for the highpoint and they said they weren’t. They continued on a little bit to a vista and then told us we should go for a dip in the lake. They said it was like a bathtub and very worth it. I said we would think about it, but secretly was I thinking, “I knew it. She was naked.” Perhaps it is just because I am a man and men tend to fixate on something as simple as naked women, but I did want to confirm that I had seen them naked sitting on those rocks at the end of the lake. Anyway, they didn’t seem to want to talk much, so we parted and headed down the hill toward the lake.
As we approached the lake, Debi thought she might want to go for a swim. More naked women! I was hesitant to do so just because I didn’t want to get all wet and dirty because I knew it would be nearly impossible to get clean again when you get out of a mountain lake. We decided we would stop by the lake and see what the water was like. We headed out onto the same rocks the women were sitting on and noted that the water didn’t look too inviting. It was probably fairly clean, but it didn’t look very inviting with the mud and algae build up and it was no bathtub. The temperature was probably in the 60’s. We did sit on the naked peoples’ rock though for about 15 minutes. Ten minutes into our revelry, a man from Wisconsin, hiking alone, stopped by and we chatted. He didn’t claim highpointer status, but he was definitely into hiking and said he had done several 14’ers in Colorado. He was very nice and we talked for a good 5-10 minutes. He eventually said goodbye and then we decided we should head out.
It had drizzled a little bit on us on the way up, but the path is covered with such dense foliage that we barely felt any of it. My legs and shorts were wetter than my hat because the dense foliage that we pushed through next to the path was wet. Also, all the people who climbed that trail after we did should thank me for breaking up all of the spider webs. I was covered with them by the time we reached the summit. Anyway, we didn’t really want to get caught in heavier rain, so we started out. We passed a few more people on the way and gave most of them some advice on finding the highpoint marker. We also stopped by one of the wooden bridges where the black mud was very noticeable and tried to see how deep it was. I shoved a stick into it more than a foot and a half and the stick disappeared. I had thanked the Forest Service on the way up for building the bridges but thanked them doubly when I saw just how deep that mud was. Be glad the footbridges are there. That mud would suck you under and steal your shoes.
We left the summit at 10:10 and also spent about 15 minutes at the lake. We walked into the parking area around 11:30. This made our total trip time about 3 hours. But if you don’t stop and are hiking fairly fast, you are looking about 2 1/2 hours. We were expecting the mosquitoes and had lathered ourselves in mosquito repellent before leaving the parking area, so we didn’t have much of a problem. Also, with the foliage, we weren’t often exposed to the sun. As we reached the parking area, we met another man that was headed up the trail. He seemed a little nervous and pointed out that he was going to be hiking the trail with two young boys and his wife. We told him all about the hike and answered all of his questions. But, we still felt sorry for him when we heard his wife say, “I don’t care if we make it to the top. When I get tired, we are stopping and eating. Then we are coming back. I didn’t even want to do this hike in the first place.” She was wearing sandals and so were the boys. The man was wearing decent tennis shoes. They were in trouble. I hope they at least had a pleasant hike.
Final words… The hike was very pretty with thick foliage and old growth as well as wild flowers and wild berries (blueberries and raspberries are everywhere). The lake itself is worth the hike; it was gorgeous. It may have been a prettier view if we could have seen a view, but the high fog prevented us from seeing very far. Be sure to take mosquito repellent and very sturdy boots, preferably some with ankle support.
As we made it back to US 61 headed toward Duluth, the rain that we knew was coming finally hit. It hit hard. I hope everyone found shelter or made it out okay, because it was really coming down for a while. We stopped at a Chinese place in Duluth then continued to Mt. Arvon in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.