The shuttle deposited us in a sea of deep white snow. Just me, Susan and our snowshoes, and a big sign marking the entrance to the Superior Hiking Trail adjacent to Sugarloaf Road. “It’s well marked,” the driver told us. But once in the woods, the trail was just a vague indentation in the snow.
She promised us we’d need our snowshoes, as opposed to the other trails near the highway. “Those are so well used, you can walk them in your boots.” We went for virgin territory, and we got it.
Ahead, tall tree trunks cast long shadows, crisscrossing the soft white snow. Baby pines, the next generation of towering trees, added green décor complimenting the deep blue of the sky beyond. The enticing scene beckoned.
This was a cross-country ski trip, but we had abandoned our skis for the day. The day before, the cold temperatures and chilling wind tested our mettle skiing the frosty trails, speed whipping away our meager warmth faster than we could generate it. So we decided on a day tromping through the woods instead.
We didn’t have to go far before we had tracks to follow. Animal tracks. Plenty of deer scampered around. Rabbits left their signature imprint. Some tiny critter stamped out a precise symmetrical trail, a perfect wintry zipper. But it was the wolf imprints that held our gaze. Impossibly large, they forged ahead on the trail. Other padded feet came and went, but these tracks stayed with us for the duration of our hike. I hoped our canine companion knew how to read the blue blazes to keep us on the right trail.
High in the sky, the bright sun delivered warmth whenever it reached us. In the dark shadows of the trees, the temperature plummeted. The deep silence of the woods was broken only by the plunge and shuffle of our snowshoes. Gasps of delight, and “oh this is so beautiful” escaped our lips, confirming the choice we’d made for the day’s activity.
Reaching the ridgeline, the trees thinned and we had the promised expansive views of the lake. Traveling high above the shoreline we could see for miles, a full 180° or more. Each creek we crossed had some form of a wooden bridge – a reassuring sign we were still on the trail. Crossing Crystal Creek was the most challenging, scrambling down a deep ravine to reach the covered bridge at the bottom. Climbing back up the other side proved to be easier.
The sudden appearance of numerous snowshoe tracks marked our approach to the Caribou River. The spur route down to the parking lot was impossible to miss. Already missing our wilderness route, we followed the river and admired its icy formations as we returned to our car.
I’ve hiked bits and pieces of the Superior Hiking Trail through the years. It’s a treasure that’s easily taken for granted. This winter excursion reminded me how the seclusion of the trail works its magic. During that trek the rest of the world fell away. My mind rambled as I paced. I reveled in the nature surrounding me. And I never regretted skipping skiing that day.