Thursday, May 24, 2012

Otto Lake Loop, Superior National Forest: May 21, 2012

Every once in a while I have to attend a meeting in Mountain Iron, MN.  When the weather is nice, I take the Scenic Route - which includes a section of Forest Rt. 11 through the Superior National Forest.  My drive usually takes about an hour and a half.  There are worse ways to spend 3 hours of a day - driving on a scenic highway through a National Forest.

There are several places to hike near Forest Rt. 11, so when I had some extra time on Monday I decided to go for a little walk in the woods.  Off to Otto Lake I went!  I had read about it - a .5 mile portage to the lake, a 3 mile hike around the lake, and then back to the start of the portage.  Technically, it's the Otto/Harris Lake Trail - the trail goes around Otto Lake, crosses over to Harris, goes around that, and then comes back.  It's 8 miles total.  I decided that 4 miles would be just fine for a sunny May afternoon.

pretty sweet boardwalk...suitable for navigating with a canoe on your head
The Superior National Forest covers over 3 million acres of Northeast Minnesota, including 400,000 acres of water.  One million of the Superior National Forest is the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (where I went for my birthday dogsled and snowshoe birthday trip).  There are campsites, public access lakes, hiking trails, winter activities, all sorts of neat stuff.  The outdoor amenities are less developed than the State Parks I visit, but that makes for an interesting, more backcountry-like hike.

I found the start of the hiking trail...marked by a sign that looked like it was being eaten by an evil tree.

Om nom nom
I headed off to the right, and started around the lake.  I was surprised to discover that the path did not go down by the lake - it was mainly on the ridge above it.  That was fine with me: I saw and heard all sorts of neat things that I might not have seen if I were right by the lake.  For example:

I saw a really big toad.  It was easily the size of my fist.
Starflowers: the only flower that (usually) has seven petals.
Nature doesn't like the number seven.
Tamarack needles growing in against an incredible sky

Things I heard:  A Red-tailed Hawk nest!  I heard the unmistakeable call of a Red-Tailed Hawk and looked around.  It flew overhead through the trees, and landed somewhere in the canopy.  I heard a series of loud keeeeeeeeerrrrrs and chatters - a nest!  Mama Hawk was bringing back some yums for her babies.  Also heard: a Blue Jay that was imitating another kind of bird.  I stared at the Blue Jay as it made its hawk-like sound, wondering if it were some other kind of bird...that just really looked like a Blue Jay?  Apparently, they're very good mimics. 

Things I saw, no picture:  a Trout Lily (a normal one, not a Dwarf one).  Fish jumping in the lake, a black frog that was about three inches long, plenty of poison ivy.  I also picked 23 ticks off of my clothes and body: I more than doubled the season count in one day.  Yay?

I mentioned that the forest was, in comparison to State Parks, less developed.  This was most obvious in the trail itself.  There were times in which I wasn't sure if I was actually ON the trail: in places, it just disappeared into the underbrush.  Huge trees had fallen over the path, with no clear "alternate" path.  It looked like I was perhaps the second or third person this year to take the Otto Lake Trail.  I didn't mind - I liked being on a rarely used trail - but I would have been a bit nervous if I hadn't had the lake on my left.  When I felt a bit uneasy about whether or not I was on the trail, I just looked for the lake.  Was it still on my left?  Yes?  Good.

There was one other thing that I saw that made me feel kind of uneasy.  I came across a tree that had the bark pulled off of it.  "Huh," I thought.  "I wonder what did that."  The disturbed bark was about four feet off the ground, and - uh oh.  I looked on the other side of the tree and saw what was unmistakeably bear claw marks on the tree.  All of a sudden, I felt very small and weak in the Big Scary Woods.

Now, I'm not a total fool.  I always bring water, a granola bar, and bug spray when I hike.  Sometimes I go with Joe, usually I bring Thunderdog, but there are times I really like to go out on my own.  But at that moment, standing in the woods with nothing to protect me other than the rocks on the ground and an out-of-cell-range cell phone...I felt like the greenest of greenhorns than ever wandered into the wild.

But...what would I do if I had run into a bear?  It's cub season, so there are probably cute (curious) cubs out there, being watched over by wary (nervous) mama bears.  I was in bear territory, and I didn't have Bear Spray with me, or even a Bear Bell.  I've also seen more and more coyotes near town: what if I ran into one of them?  Or a pack of them?  What if I had Thunderdog with me?  She's a great dog, but she's a total chicken.

I suppose there will be an upcoming post about Trail Safety.  I don't claim to know everything about hiking - in fact, wandering into the woods in Bear Country with nothing but my backpack and a granola bar kind makes it sound like I know very little about hiking.  Sometimes it's good to be knocked down a notch...all of this Minnesota Beauty at my fingertips makes me kind of cocky.

I mean, seriously: of course I'm smug about it.  This is what I was looking at at 4:00 on a Monday afternoon.  What were most people looking at?  Cubicle walls?  Freeways?  Piles of files?  Neverending work emails?  I was looking at this:

there's a bear in there, I know it
I think it's worth it.  But I AM going to look into Trail Safety, so stay tuned. 

Total miles hiked today:  4

Total miles hiked (in 2012): 40.8
Total ticks today:  Joe - n/a; Thunderdog - n/a;  Elly -23
Total ticks (in 2012): 44

1 comment:

  1. I am jealous of your outdoor opportunities! But greatly enjoy reading about them none the less. Keep enjoying all that MN has to offer and keep posting about it!

    At 4:00 on Monday afternoon, I was stuck in my office, probably seeing a patient. Your view wins...