Sunday, February 22, 2015

2014 in Review

Here we are, almost 3 months into 2015 and I am just now putting up the 2014 Retrospectravaganza.  I blame it on all of the changes that have happened in the last few months.  Don't worry, faithful readers, we'll get the end-of-year stuff up before we start the 2015 hiking season!

2014 by the numbers:

  1. Total miles logged on this Blog in 2014: 40.8.  That's kind of puny, really. We plan to up that number a bit in 2015.  We blogged about 19 trips to Minnesota State Parks, 13 of which were new Hiking Club Trails.  We achieved both our 125 mile and 150 mile patches this year.  Two more patches to go and the backpack will be full!
  2. Alas, I have left my beloved Superior Hiking Trail behind.  No more mid-week trips to Fantasia Overlook!  From here on out any hiking on the SHT will have to be of the Weekend Trip variety, like everyone else who lives in the Cities.   
  3. Out of state trips:  we didn't go on one single out-of-state trip, other than a weekend in Milwaukee in which we didn't do any hiking.  Have we exhausted our regional vacation options?  I don't think so! 
  4. We only picked up 11 ticks this year.  That's nothing!  I've picked up more than that under a single sock in a single hike!  Perhaps Joe really IS the tick-bane.  I think I'll keep him around.

Favorite Hiking Club Trail:

Joe: Beaver Creek Valley gets the honors this year. I didn't spend any time on the Superior Hiking Trail in 2014 but parts of the Beaver Creek hiking club trail really remind me of it- narrow footpaths running up and down ridge lines over deep, forested valleys with little wooden bridges across streams. This is one of the longest hiking club trails, but it makes the MOST of it- you see pretty much every aspect of the park, and it's beautiful.

Honorable mention: Carley State Park. Overshadowed by its larger neighbor Whitewater, Carley is a lovely hike alongside a quiet creek and then above it on a bluff. Gives the Southeast hiking experience without the crowds.

Pretty Carley State Park

Elly:  I also really enjoyed Beaver Creek Valley.  Yes, it was long, but it was great.  We were even cool with making it LONGER by straying off-trail to check out the springs.  This would be an awesome, awesome, awesome park to visit if you really want a good hike in the mid-summer but are just not down with the amount of mosquitoes that you'd deal with in the rest of the state.

Co-winner: William O'Brien.  I was really impressed with how remote and in-the-woods the park felt, despite being in spitting distance of the Cities.  I'm glad that there'll be some nature nearby our new base camp in town.

Honorable mention:  Great River Bluffs was also a neat park.  The Hiking Club Trail was interesting and the views were good, but I was also intrigued about the sections of the park that we didn't get to visit.  For example, I wanted to check out the hiking trail along the bluff on the other side of the river.  And the goat meadow!

Least Favorite Hiking Club Trail:

Joe: Lac Qui Parle lands squarely at number one on this list. We were excited about seeing the huge lake full of migratory waterfowl. Instead, we got a trail that led us along algae filled backwaters and never approached the namesake lake, and that's after our experience with some very poor maps and signage at a few levels (county road, park road, and trail).

Dishonorable mention: Upper Sioux Agency. I am starting to think we should not hike on the 4th of July... I am sure if we went to this park at another time of the year it would be great, but flooded trails covered in mosquitoes just aren't very appealing.

Elly sitting down on the steps of Latsch
and not wanting to talk to anybody

Elly:  Yeah, Lac Qui Parle just ticked me off.  What were the Hiking Club Trail planners thinking?  Why would we go to Lac Qui Parle and not get to see the Lac itself?  And the map/direction situation was just stupid.

Dishonorable mention:  It's not legally a Hiking Club Trail, but I'm going to nominate it anyway: John A Latsch State Park's one long, long, stairway of a trail.  It nearly killed me.

Awesomest Waterfall:

Joe: I'm beginning to realize that our waterfall count will likely never equal 2012 again. So, I'm going a bit unconventional and choosing the springs that are the source of Beaver Creek Valley for this honor. The springs are right next to the campground and a short spur from the hiking club trail. You can jump from rock to rock to see them from different angles, and overall it's a very worthwhile experience.

The springs at Beaver Creek Valley

Elly:  the only waterfall that I remember was Benkowski Falls at Big Stone Lake.  I guess they win.

Most Exceeded Expectations:

Joe: Number one with an icicle is the Apostle Island Ice Caves. I won't go on further since they're not in Minnesota, but wow, were they AMAZING!

Number 1A was Savannah Portage. This park benefited from my expectation that we would be wading through a bog populated by all the mosquitoes in Minnesota (based on multiple first hand accounts). Instead, we hit it at the perfect time (reverse 4th of July syndrome?) and had a great hike in the pine and birch woods, and even got to learn about the history of the portage as a trade route- neat!

Apostle Island Ice Caves - an amazing way to start of 2014!

Honorable Mention: Mille Lacs Kathio. Another case of perfect timing, we hit this park near peak color and the leaves were incredible.

Elly:  I guess I agree with Joe that Savannah Portage exceeded expectations, because our expectations were so low!  I was also surprised at how cool Mystery Cave was.  I'd go back there in a minute!

Totally Not Worth It:

Joe: Once again, I don't really have any experiences for the year that I would say are totally not worth it. I guess the park that fell short of expectations for me was Great River Bluffs. We'd had a great time winding our way down the Mississippi and hitting Frontenac and John A Latsch the day before. I thought Great River Bluffs would top them (based on the name alone!) but instead all it was was a perfectly pleasant flatland hike through the woods to a couple scenic overlooks. The views were nice, but a challenging bluffland hike with more varied scenery would have been nicer.

Elly:  You know, I have no "totally not worth its" but I do have a few "caveat hiker" notes. John A Latsch has a gazillion steps and although the views are nice, they're not mind-blowing. Whitewater had a carnival atmosphere, which is not what I look for in a park.  I'd recommend staying at the nearby mellow little Carley and popping over to Whitewater for the day.

Picture posts coming up soon!

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