Caribou Rock Trail

     Last Wednesday was a beautiful day and although I had a million of things I had to accomplish I decided to take the day off and go for a hike.  I had always wanted to hike a section of the Border Route Trail that traverses the ridge of Rose Lake.  This area is known for scenic vistas and its special beauty during fall.  To get to this section of the trail a hiker must either enter on the South Lake Trail or Caribou Rock Trail.  I had hiked both of these spur trails before and I knew the Caribou Rock Trail was challenging, but I must have blocked something out because it turned out to be somewhat of a "hike from hell."

     Don’t get me wrong, it was a great day for hiking and I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to be outside all day long while Don and Marilyn took care of Voyageur and my kids were being taken care of at school.  I just wasn’t prepared for the degree of difficulty I encountered during my hike.  

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   I decided to access the trail via the Caribou Rock Trail which is a 3.5 mile spur trail.  I remembered this trail to be quite difficult with constant elevation changes and I knew it had taken my sister and I a long time to get to Stairway Portage.  I remember her complaining about it and accusing me of trying to kill her and I also remember her refusal to hike back out the way we came in.  What I didn’t remember was not being able to follow the trail.  In many places the trail was obscured by 5-7 foot tall pine trees that had grown up along the trail and were now covering it.  In other places the blowdown had left trees on top of the path and I lost my way a number of times.  It had rained the night before and with every step I took water would pour down on top of me.  The rocks were slippery from being wet and I lost my balance way too frequently.  By the time I finally made it to Stairway Portage I had been hiking for over 3 hours!

     Ok, another side note here.  I consider myself to be in pretty good shape.  I have been running with friends this summer, up to 10 miles at a time, and I spend quite a bit of time exercising and walking.  When I determined how long I thought it would take me to hike this route I thought maybe 5 hours since I had figured the distance to be around 12 miles.  Thirty minutes a mile is what "most" people hike and I figured I should be able to do that easily.  So, when I left Voyageur around 9:30 a.m. I told Don and Marilyn that if I wasn’t back by 4:30 p.m. then they should call Search and Rescue.  I had also made early dinner plans and didn’t think it would be a problem to get out of the woods and home to take a shower before dinner.  

     It was after 1:00 p.m. when I made my way along the ridges of Rose Lake on the Border Route Trail.  The fall colors were beautiful and the scenic vistas incredible.  I could see Rose Lake, Arrow Lake, Rat Lake, South and North Lake from various points along the trail.  It was a gorgeous trail but I was a bit concerned about the time.  I knew this section of the trail was around 5 miles and the South Lake Trail that I was to hike out was 3.5 miles, and my car was parked back at the Caribou Rock Trail.  This section of the trail was in a little better condition and I was at least able to follow the trail without getting lost.  There were areas of blowdown and places where the trail had been overcome with scratchy bushes that clawed at my legs.  I was hoping to make up some time on this part of the trail but by the time I reached the intersection with the South Lake Trail almost 2 hours had gone by. 

     I knew I had another 3.5 miles of trail to hike and I knew I wasn’t going to make it out to the Gunflint Trail much before my 4:30 p.m. "call in the troops" time.  I wondered why I had to say that to Don and Marilyn when I knew I could easily spend a night in the woods if I had too.  I wasn’t in any danger and I certainly didn’t want anyone coming out to look for me.  So, on I went with as much speed as I could muster.  By this time my feet were wet and sore and my ankles were beginning to give out.  Rugby, my 10 pound dog, was more than tired and I felt guilty for bringing him along.  I carried him off and on throughout the day for fear he would break his leg on the blowdown or die of exhaustion!    

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   I had planned on catching a ride back to my car but decided I had better just walk over to Rockwood Lodge and ask for a ride.  My watch had quit on me sometime during the last section of the trail so I had no idea what time it was when I called Marilyn.  She informed me it was 4:06 p.m. and I was grateful they weren’t worried.  Needless to say, I didn’t have time to go home and shower, but I was thankful I was out of the woods and wouldn’t need to be responsible for a search. 

     This is an awesome wilderness trail, but it is a wilderness trail.  It isn’t a manicured trail through a State Park and the maintenance of the trail appears to have been quite minimal over the past few years.  I am sure I would have enjoyed myself more if I didn’t have to worry about the time, but it was a great hike anyway.  The next time I go for a hike I will be sure to tell someone where I am going but that they shouldn’t worry about me or come looking for me until the next day.  That way I will be able to take my time and really enjoy the wilderness hike.

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