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Michael Barnes

Close encounters of a moose kind

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She blocked the path. All 1,000 pounds of her.

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Our stubborn moose.

The moose didn’t threaten us. She did, however, slow our progress down Eagle Mountain in the wilderness of far northern Minnesota for about 30 minutes.

Moments later, a ruffed grouse, all puffed up, tried to do the same thing, less successfully.

This was, all told, our third trip to the North Shore of Lake Superior with dear friend Rob Kendrick. Last year, we trudged through early spring’s melting snow. This year, our five day hikes benefited from ideal late spring weather in southern and northern Minnesota.

Even the one rain day that kept us in our cabin above Grand Marais was timed to give us a break from moderately strenuous day hikes.

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Hidden Falls in Nerstrand State Park.

We started, once again, where Rob teaches in St. Peter, about 90 minutes south of the Twin Cities. Our first hike took us to the gentle hills and hardwoods of Nerstrand State Park, not far from Mankato.

Here we headed out from Hidden Falls on several well-blazed and well-tended trails. We heard plenty of birdsong, but only at the last mile did we spot a pair of scarlet tanagers, quite a treat.

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Wild mushroom crepe on a bed of crisp polenta at Scenic Cafe.

The trip from St. Peter to Grand Marais takes about five hours. Up and back, we stopped just north of Duluth to take in the Scenic Cafe. This spot with a view of the lake serves inventive cuisine that would feel right at home in Austin — sashimi tacos, wild mushroom crepes, baby kale salads, jalapeño BLTs.

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Our cabin’s brook.

Our A-frame cabin opens up on a storybook babbling brook. With a healthy dose of DEET to ward off the giant mosquitos, we could relax to its everlasting burbles.

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Lake Superior from Pincushion Mountain trailhead.

Our first hike up north took us along confusing trails on Pincushion Mountain, some part of the Superior Trail. We like to take advantage of snowmobile, snowshoe and cross-country ski tracks after their season has ended. We got lost several times, but found our way to the trailhead on an iPhone battery’s last vapors.

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A lake on the way up Eagle Mountain.

We had hiked Eagle Mountain two trips ago, but didn’t reach the summit that time. This rocky, muddy, seven-mile trip is just right for the moderately fit. No rock climbing, but close as we passed several splendid lakes and admired the south views from the summit.

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Foreshortened view from the Eagle Mountain summit.

That misty night, we ate out at Harbor House Grille, which offered fine roast duck and fresh Superior whitefish.

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Rain day.

Though rustic, our cabin included a baby grand piano, which Rob lit up on our rain day, as I read New Yorkers and Paul Bowles‘ novel “The Sheltering Sky.”

For dinner, we hit the Crooked Spoon, another fine Grand Marais spot, this one with chill-defying French onion soup, salmon pate and roast rabbit.

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Terrifying Cascade River falls.

The skies cleared for our last day up north. We made our third trip to Cascade River State Park with its spectacular falls near the park HQ. This time, however, we followed the muddy tracks, made into little streams by the rains, up to the top of Lookout Mountain.

Though vertical, this is not a particularly challenging hike. On our way up, two little girls coming the other way with their parents assured us we were near the top. I asked one if I could borrow her galoshes. She smiled and said “no.”

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Working out the kinks in Flandrau State Park.

Back south the next day, we worked out the kinks along the river and forest trails of Flandrau State Park, made jungle-like by spring rains. The lost trail, oddly, took us to the old brick structures of the August Schell Brewing Company complex. We didn’t indulge, but what a good way to end a day hike.

Back to the moose. She finally trotted off when hikers approached noisily from the other direction and we hid in the underbrush. As we emerged, we heard a hiss from the bracken: “Stay away! Moose! Moose! Coming your way!”

IMG_2981We shared a relieved laugh with the young couple. Their faces fell, however, when we admitted that they were only a third of the way to the summit.

BEST OF THE TRIP

HIKES: Eagle Mountain, Nerstrom State Park, Pincushion Mountain

MEALS: Scenic Cafe (near Duluth), Harbor House Grille (Grand Marais), Crooked Spoon (Grand Marais)

BIRDS: Ruffed grouse, scarlet tanager, bald eagle

MAMMALS: Moose, chipmunks, red squirrels

BOOK: “The Sheltering Sky” by Paul Bowles

TV: “All the Way,” “Veep,” “Behind the Candelabra”