Sunday, May 6, 2012

Ely's Peak and Train Tunnel: May 5, 2012

Cinco de Mayo dawned cold and rainy.  Two days previously I had enjoyed endured a personal training session, resulting in Legs of Jelly and Lead.  It did not seem like a good day to go out for a hike.

Joe, however, was undeterred.  He had heard about an abandoned railroad tunnel south of Duluth - and it just happened to be next to one of the premier day hikes on the Duluth Sections of the Superior Hiking Trail, Ely's Peak.  A train tunnel?  Hiking?  A scenic overlook?  I packed up my creaky bones and exploring we went.

Choo choo!
In order to get to Ely's Peak, we had to walk for a short while on the paved Munger Trail.  It's a bike trail that goes all the way to Hinckley - it's built on an abandoned Northern Pacific line.  Joe is thinking about biking up from St. Cloud to see me this summer, and if he does, he'll be following this trail.  The Munger Trail has a nice little bridge that crosses over some Canadian National tracks (formerly the local DM&IR).  We were lucky enough to see several trains chugging by.  The one in the picture above is actually heading towards us, even though there's a locomotive at the far end.  It's a Helper Locomotive that is pushing the train from the back.  The tall cars are stacked three-high with automobiles: must be heavy.

Once we got over the bridge, it was just a short walk to get back on the "hiking" part of the Superior Hiking Trail.

Superior Hiking Trail: head straight up
Immediately we were scrambling up a very steep, very rocky hill.  In the past, I've mentioned that a steep hill is a good thing: that means there's something good at the top.  We plugged along with that in mind, knowing that there would be a great view at the top.

What in blue blazes...
An interlude:

The Superior Hiking Trail, like many other trails, helps to keep the hikers on track by putting blazes on the trail.  The Appalachian Trail has its plain white blazes, some countries have elaborate blazes, and the Superior Hiking Trail has aqua blue blazes.  The spur trails have white blazes.  Some backpackers and hikers don't like them - they interfere with the natural feel of the trail, people should be using maps and compasses instead of relying on blazes, blah blah.  I like them because I don't like getting lost.  I even appreciate blazes on straightforward trails because they remind me that I'm on the right track.

Anyhow, most Superior Hiking Trail blazes are painted rectangles onto trailside trees.  When there are no trees (like in the above picture), the blazes are painted onto the rocks.

Joe and the climbers
We reached the top and enjoyed a fantastic view of the surrounding area.  It's really starting to green up out there.  We were not alone on the trail: we passed two other groups of people, and (you may have to squint your eyes at the picture above) we also saw some rock climbers.  Being a total chicken, I felt squeamish watching them and had to walk where I couldn't see them.

Ah, no climbers here.
We then headed back down the mountain (hill?) and attempted to find our way to the train tunnel.  Joe got out his handy smartphone and did a little searching.  He found these folks' blog about it:  Ely's Peak and Tunnel, and their description of how to get there lead us easily to the tunnel.  Thanks, Eric and Noelle, you random people who have a blog so similar to mine.  I hope that Joe and I (and Thunderdog, who stayed home today) have just as many fascinating adventures as you.

It's a big tunnel!
The tunnel is from an old Duluth, Winnipeg & Pacific line that was abandoned in the mid 1980's.  The tunnel was built in about 1912.  We entered the tunnel and the wind picked up.  I felt as though we were standing in the midst of ghosts of steam engines.  It was very eerie, very cool.  There were rocks that had fallen from the sides and roof of the tunnel over the last 30 years, and condensation dripped down onto us.  There was no point in which we could not see the light from either end of the tunnel, but that was fine with me.  We just had Joe's phone flashlight to see where we were going.

Joe at the mouth of the tunnel

What a sweet hike.  We got to see lots of trains, a neat old train tunnel, scramble up a very rocky section of the Superior Hiking Trail, and see great views from the top.  This creaky old lady had a great time.  And there was nary a tick to be found.  Can't complain about that.

Many, many thanks to Joe for contributing to this blog post.  His knowledge of trains is staggering as well as completely charming.

Total miles hiked today:  3

Total miles hiked (in 2012): 32
Total ticks today:  Joe - 0; Thunderdog - n/a; Elly - 0
Total ticks (in 2012): 13

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