Lori from Handberg’s Marine and G. from Ely and I went on our annual backpacking pilgramage Sept 14 – 16, 2007. We planned on tackling the whole length of the Sioux Hustler Trail in the BWCAW.
(this weekend we are hiking the Cruiser Lake Trail on the Kabetogama peninsula in Voyageurs National Park – I’ll have an update on Sunday. For now this is the trip we took last year – the weather was quite different in 2007)
The Sioux Hustler Trail is a 35 mile loop. There are several lakes and campsites along the hiking trail. We were warned by the US Forest Service that it is a wilderness trail that is not maintained and there are no signs in the BWCA wilderness. They advise you to take good topographic maps and a compass. They go on to advise you to be prepared and bring extra food. Of course this put us on edge a bit, but added to the excitement of trekking into the unknown.
We started out on Friday morning with temperatures somewhere in the forties. The forecast did not look good – it was going to be extremely windy with periods of rain and snow showers. Yes, snow showers! We donned our raingear and set out about 8:30 a.m. My pack weighed in at 25 pounds and my hip pack weighed another 6 pounds. The other girls had slightly bigger packs and theirs weighed between 30 and 35 pounds. We knew that each day our packs would get slightly lighter and that gave us hope!
We walked through several light rain showers and then about noon it started to snow. We decided that this would be a good time to cook up some soup so we stopped by the trail for our lunch. At this point we were about 5 miles in; close to the Devil’s Cascade falls and campsite. We planned on hiking 13 miles to our campsite on Pageant Lake the first day. We needed to make some time on our first day as we didn’t know what lay ahead of us on the remote back side of the loop where we would go through some wetlands.
The trail up to Devils Cascade is very well travelled as people hike in there to view the falls – it’s a nice day trip of about 12 miles round trip. The trail was very well maintained – Thanks to the volunteers that clear the trails in the spring. But after the turn-off the trail was another story.
The section from Loon-Heritage Lake portage south to the beaver ponds was littered with deadfalls. Trees that had fallen across the trail had to be negotiated by either climbing over the top or crawling underneath. Neither is easy when toting a heavy backpack.
We reached the portage to Loon Lake in good time and the trail improved greatly. We started traversing hills going up and down making us a bit anxious to reach our campsite at Pageant Lake. We made good time making it to camp by 4:30 pm. This gave us ample time to set up camp and find firewood. It was going to be a cold night, the temps had been falling ever since we experienced the snow. The skies had cleared but the wind was still whipped up making it feel downright chilly. We had brought our down winter parkas and we were now appreciating the added weight of carrying our jackets along. We enjoyed a leisurly dinner of steak and wild rice cooked over the campfire. We didn’t need to worry about refrigerating our steaks on the first day out – I don’t think the temps rose above 40 degrees.
In the morning after a quiet night, (except for the beavers slapping their tails during the middle of the night, if I hadn’t known in advance what that noise was, I would have been scared out of my wits! They slapped their tails at least 30 times making a huge thundering clap in the dead silence of the dark night) we awoke to below freezing temperatures. There was frost on the backpacks! Thankfully we had stocked enough wood for a warm fire in the morning. We quickly packed up camp and headed out. We were planning on a 9 mile hike today to end up at Agawato Lake.