I was really looking forward to my hike to Eagle Mountain in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area north of Lutsen. I got up very early and drove up the Gunflint Trail. I had directions, but they didn’t make sense to me. I was lost for a bit, and then, out of nowhere, I saw a sign that read: To Eagle Mountain. For quite a few miles, I saw signs that led me to the parking lot. Because I was so early, mine was the only car in the lot. The trail is well marked, well-worn and steep with lots of large boulders, so the footing can get a bit tricky. With wonderful views, Eagle Mountain is the highest point in Minnesota.
New Year’s Eve 1975
I had been here before many years ago. It was Dec 31, 1975. Barry and I were dating and decided to ski at Eagle Mountain on New Year’s Eve Day. It was a grand adventure! Because there was so much snow, the road was closed to the trailhead.
We parked a few miles away and started skiing. We had our wine flask, chocolate and Barry’s dog Dame, who later became the model for Harriet, the star of my first book series. Actually there wasn’t much of a ski trail — it was more like bushwhacking through deep snow. But it was beautiful and quiet. It took us a long time to get to the summit. I was sick of doing the herringbone; and poor Dame had had enough of plowing through the deep snow! We signed the guest book at the top but missed the view, because it had started to snow and the wind was blowing wildly. Barry became somewhat dizzy from low blood sugar and ate all the chocolate before we could head down. I drank the wine!
Another character inspiration
The way down was much easier. I remember thinking how odd it was to see a group of skiers heading up, although it was getting dark. In that group, I recognized a guy who had grown up in my neighborhood. He was a real bully! I later used him as the model for the bully in Loudmouth George and The Bully. We got back to the little resort on the edge of Grand Marais tired but very proud of our feat. We made pork chops on the Coleman stove we had brought along, drank beer and celebrated the New Year 1976!
Memories now my only companion
Now in 2013, I hiked alone up Eagle Mountain with memories as my companion. It was a damp, cool day with hordes of mosquitos. I almost had to run to keep free of them. Again my planning was bad — I neglected to pack bug spray! I almost turned back, but I really wanted to sign the guest book at the top. So I kept going, slapping mosquitos and half running along the way. At one point, the trail splits with a fork to Brule Lake Trail and the other to Eagle Mountain Trail. Although the trail up the mountain is quite steep, it is a lot easier to hike it than to ski it! As I got closer to the top, the wind picked up – so no more bugs.
There are many great viewing spots but keep going to the summit. At first, I didn’t know where the top was until I came across a plaque located in a small clearing in the woods — but no guest book. I sat at the high point for quite some time thinking about our ski up so many years before. I was so young in 1976, having an adventure with someone I was pretty sure I would marry someday. Barry and I were just beginning our first chapter together!
Let me tell you that at age 60, it is harder on the knees going down than going up! Luckily, I met a father and daughter hiking up the mountain who let me use their bug spray, so I didn’t have to run down from the top. The hike to the top is dramatic, making the trail very popular.
After my hike, I drove to a friend’s place on Devil’s Track Lake. Thelma is a Facebook friend and the mother of a gal I worked with at the Walker Art Center in the late 1970s. When I arrived, I immediately jumped in the lake to get all the bug spray off. It was my first official Boundary Waters swim of the trip! Then we ate homemade fish cakes and talked all afternoon over a bottle of wine.
I am in the process of starting yet another new chapter in my life — this time alone. But at least for today, it wasn’t so bad.