I, like many others, have a goal of climbing the 50 state high points. My wife and I decided to add some interest to the otherwise unchallenging high points in MN, WI, and MI by snowshoeing them in late winter. Minnesota’s Eagle Mountain, on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area near Lake Superior's North Shore, was the most remote and appealing of the three. We stayed in Duluth (2.5 hour drive) and drove up in a rental car, although there are resort accommodations along Lake Superior closer to the mountain. The drive in itself was quite worthwhile. Photo opportunities were numerous, as Lake Superior’s north shore is gorgeous. On the way, we passed a massive iron ore processing facility, the surprisingly large Lutsen Mountains ski resort (home of Cindy Nelson, a world class alpine skier from the 1970s), and the picturesque Split Rock Lighthouse. Slowing down a little to take in the scenery has a side benefit: we saw more than one police radar trap on our drive northward.
The road inland to Eagle Mountain was plowed and well marked, with ample parking at the trailhead. The climb itself felt relatively long (3.7 miles each way) given that our legs weren't accustomed to snowshoeing, but otherwise was not difficult. There were only a few moderately steep sections, mostly towards the summit. The snow actually made the climb easier in a couple of regards: the rocks noted by others were deeply buried, the bogs were frozen, and, of course, there were none of the bugs that infest the area during the summer months. One caveat: there are absolutely no paint blazes to follow, so the only indication of the trail was the track left by prior snowshoers. It apparently had been a while since others had climbed because there was 5 or 6 inches of untracked powder on top of the packed trail. In a few wind blown areas, we lost the trail, but we picked it up again quickly. If the recent snowfall had been heavier, the track would have been more difficult to follow. How the first snowshoer of the season finds the trail is beyond me given the absence of paint blazes or other trail markings.
The snow depth increased as we ascended, easily exceeding 3 feet at the summit. This made for stunning scenery and excellent climbing. We were lucky to enjoy comfortable temps (25-30 degrees), bright sunshine, and no wind. Climbing in January or early February would surely have been less pleasant. The deep snow made it impossible to find the summit marker as wind on the semi-exposed summit had previously erased any sign of the trail towards the top. We looked in vain for the marker but settled on climbing to what looked like the highest point, taking pictures, and turning back.
If you enjoy solitude, winter is clearly the time to hike Eagle. We saw not one person during our entire hike. Hiking midweek certainly helped, but we were still surprised to be alone
given the perfect early March weather.
All in all, snowshoeing Eagle was a really good call - a great way to turn an otherwise routine high point climb into a more special experience.