The SHT is A Winter Wonder
November 25, 2019
Think of what is not to love about the Superior Hiking Trail this time of year: no mosquitoes or stinging bees. No mud! No dripping and clawing vegetation. And no big crowds — it’s just you and the occasional rabbit.
Winter-only vistas of the big lake emerge on the SHT when the leaves are gone.
What you will find are beautiful ice-covered rivers and falls, vistas of Lake Superior that are hidden during the summer, and a full picture of the surrounding lay of the land usually obscured by trees and brush. That glorious yellow-ish light at the end of the short day.
No need to go out and spend a paycheck stocking up on special equipment — just dress in layers. Trail runners swear by trail running shoes year-round, so you may be able to get by without clunky boots. (This is subjective.) If you’re not a snowshoer, not a problem: the SHT is definitely hike-able and run-able with up to 10 inches of snow. (This too is subjective.) A winter backpacking trip, while it requires more thoughtful planning and serious winter gear, will reward you with supreme solitude and quiet unlike any other time of year.
Wait a few days after a heavy snow, and you’ll often find snowshoers have helped pack down the Trail.
You snowshoers already know what a delight the SHT is in winter. For you non-snowshoers, give the snowshoers a couple of days to get out there to pack down the Trail for you, and you’re good to go. (Snowshoers, thanks for grooming the SHT for us.) Note though that most snowshoers won’t go much past a mile beyond the trailhead. Further than a mile, be ready to posthole. (Postholing is objectively not fun.)
Some downsides: yes, you’ll generate a lot of snot. Using SHT latrines can be more inconvenient in winter. The Trail can be a bit harder to follow if blazes aren’t evident. (This should be better this winter, as volunteers re-painted scores of SHT miles this summer.) And watch your time: dark descends quickly in December and January.
There’s already a dusting of snow on the SHT, a signal that winter will be here soon. Embrace it — you’ll feel challenged, refreshed, and pleased by what you find.