Jacksprinter’s Sunday post is valuable. Something we find and hold near and dear to our hearts. It could be money. It could be land. It could be freedom. Or it could be memories. For me, there is nothing more valuable than my childhood memories of our annual fall trip to climb Eagle Mountain. A tradition that started a lifelong love of nature, togetherness, family, and hiking.
Eagle Mountain, the highest point in Minnesota, will always hold a special place in my heart. Located in the northeastern part of Minnesota at the start of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and Wilderness, it is one of the best kept secrets in the Midwest. Pristine forests, magical untouched lakes and impressive wildlife are all the wonderful things you will find along the trail.
As a child, I hiked this trail every single fall with my family, until I moved away to college. It was a family tradition that I will never forget and is held deep within my most precious, sacred memories of childhood. The fall colors once we reached the top were an artistic tapestry of brilliant hues of pumpkin orange, golden yellow and crimson red. If I close my eyes, I can almost see it now. Almost.
Given the specialness of Eagle Mountain, of course we had to do the hike when we were visiting the North Shore in early June. I knew my five-year-old daughter Sophia could not make the entire hike. Luckily my mom was able and willing to take her for half a day.
However, it was time to introduce my seven-year-old son Max to Eagle Mountain and share with him the joy of this beautiful place. For Eagle Mountain is the hike that began my lifelong passion for trekking around the world.
The drive to the trailhead is a long and bumpy gravel road into the wilderness. Once you leave highway 61, there is no sign of civilization save the random passing car sputtering a thick layer of brown dust throughout the air. An hour later, you reach the trailhead and the start of the Boundary Waters Wilderness and Canoe Area, some of the most pure land in all of the country.
As the trail map says, leave no trace behind….only your footsteps.
The hike would be our second three-generational hike. Last year, my dad, me and Max all went hiking in the White Mountains to see the 500-year old Ponderosa pines native to that part of Northern Arizona. It wasn’t a real long hike but enough to give Max a taste of adventure and nature.
Eagle Mountain was different. It was a real hike which involved over three hours of trekking over rocky, sometimes slippery trails with not a lot of opportunities to turn back. My childhood memories of the hike made me a bit concerned as to whether or not my seven-year-old son could handle it. I had remembered of course loving it yet feeling like the hike lasted forever. There were even times when my dad had to carry me on his back.
Little did I know, not only would Max be able to do the hike, he would put the rest of us avid hikers to shame! Once we started, we could barely keep up…
The trail meandered for an hour of so through thick, wooded forest until we reached the first sign of Whale Lake. There is a beaver dam that still remains in the same place after thirty plus years! As a kid, it was always our landmark that we were close to the lake and the start of our ascent up Eagle Mountain. It shocked me that everything remained completely unchanged, even after thirty years. It reminded me of how little our existence bears on the weight of the planet.
As we approached Whale Lake, my heart began to race with anticipation. Would it be as beautiful and pure as my childhood memories? Or would I be disappointed? Judge for yourself…..
How can your memories of so long ago remain untarnished and untouched? Memories that no money could ever buy. Memories so valuable and dear to our hearts that they last a lifetime.
Memories of taking our shoes off and wading in the fresh, icy cold waters filled my soul. I laughed when I remembered the time a leech got stuck on the bottom of one of the kids foot. Was it Johnny? Or was it my brother Stephen? I can’t recall yet the thirty-four year old memory lies as fresh in my head as if it happened yesterday.
A last farewell to Whale Lake. I sure hope it isn’t another twenty years until I marvel at your beauty.
The sun was heating up. It was at least twenty degrees warmer here than on the shores of Lake Superior where we were staying. The last hour of the hike headed up and we were dripping wet with sweat. Max continued to amaze us by leading the way to the top, even in a pair of long pants. Once we arrived, the view did not disappoint. We could see lake after lake upon the horizon. Imagine what this would look like in fall!
We continued on to that old ragged plaque. The same plaque that my brother posed on for a picture over 37 years ago…..
I looked at the lakes off in the distance, imagining how pure and beautiful they are. This is a special place indeed. One that remains untouched, even in modern civilization. We left no trace behind except our footprints and our hearts….
As we drove along the dusty, gravel roads back towards civilization, we noticed a pick-up truck pulled over with its passengers out. I wondered what on earth they were doing until I saw it, off in the distance. A moose. I could hardly believe it. Just that morning I was saying how in all my years of coming here I’d never ever seen a moose in the wild. And there he was, in the swamp, eating lilly pads. It took my breath away….
For me, memories are priceless. I am so lucky to have so many of them that are wonderful and filled with joy and love. Not much more could be more valuable than a happy life.
To read more entries for Jacksprinter’s challenge, click here.
Stay tuned…I’ll be back.