Rudi Hargesheimer grew up in Rochester, Minnesota, in the 1950s and 60s, unaware of the North Shore’s beauty.
“We never went up there. I really didn’t even know about it, or even about Lake Superior, until I went to college’’ at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, Hargesheimer said.
“Growing up in southeastern Minnesota, I was into caving, spelunking, more than hiking. But I joined the Minnesota Rovers outdoor club at the U and I was introduced to the joys of the North Shore,’’ he added.
The club got Hargesheimer into rock climbing, biking, nordic skiing and hiking, including several trips to the Border Route trail in the Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness where he worked as a volunteer trail builder.
“That got me into hiking and backpacking and it stuck,’’ said Hargesehemer.
Hargesheimer, now 69, eventually became a passionate Superior Hiking Trail enthusiast. He serves as a volunteer trail maintainer and spent 12 years on the Superior Hiking Trail Association Board, including six years as president.
An accomplished photographer and freelance writer, Hargesheimer recently published his first book, “The Superior Hiking Trail Story.” The new coffee-table style book has 160 pages with 400 photos and is the first comprehensive accounting of how the beloved trail came to be. But it’s also, with Hargesheimer’s often-stunning photos, a pictorial documentary of how beautiful the route is.
“My first thought was to do a pretty book with pictures to show off my photography and to show the public how beautiful" the hiking trail scenery is, Hargesheimer said.
But Hargesehimer’s project morphed into a more personal telling of the trail’s tale, including the history of the trail and, especially, including “Sentiments From The Heart,’’ quotes, quips and comments left along the trail by hikers over the years to share with fellow travelers along the route.
“The Sentiments From The Heart (passages) really needed to be in here. People share so much about their experience and then leave it’’ in a box along the trail for everyone to see, he said.
It’s hard to believe now that the state’s most famous hiking route, and among the longest and most visited hiking trails in the nation, didn’t exist just 35 years ago.
“I think a lot of people who hike the trail now sort of assume it was always there, or has been there forever. But there was nothing before 1986 and now there’s 310 miles of really incredible hiking,’’ said Hargesheimer, who lives in Marine on St. Croix, Minnesota.
The trail started with a segment built by the U.S. Forest Service in 1985 between Britton Peak and Oberg Mountain. It finished with the last segment of the Superior Hiking Trail extending from Jay Cooke State Park to the Wisconsin border south of Duluth, in 2017. Backpacker Magazine named it the second-best long trail in the nation.
In between, the Superior Hiking Trail Association was formed in 1986 to shepherd the idea through what became a gauntlet of bureaucratic roadblocks and the quirks of multiple local, state and federal layers of government. Hargesheimer’s book details the work of dozens of volunteers who served not just to plan the route and raise money but also to map routes, grub trail, build bridges and attend countless meetings.
Hargesheimer was Superior Hiking Trail Association member No. 85 out of now more than 5,000 members.
The trail started with paid trail crews but then morphed into an almost all-volunteer effort, organized by a volunteer-run association, following the model of the Appalachian Trail. While still a separate entity, the Superior Hiking Trail has become a key segment of the North Country National Scenic Trail that will someday run from New York to North Dakota.
Hargesheimer even helped plot a few miles of the trail himself. Hargesheimer’s career goal while at the University was to become a mapmaker, a cartographer. But the only job available when he graduated, in 1973, was a government job in a place he really didn’t want to go.
“They wanted to send me to Vietnam to map the country. I didn’t go,’’ Hargesheimer said with a laugh.
Instead he went on a summer-long journey on bike, hopping rail cars and bumming around some of the most beautiful places in America. The trip instilled in him a sense of outdoor adventure, and when he settled back in Minnesota he became a manager at Midwest Mountaineering outdoors stores in the Twin Cities where he spent 40 years before retiring. His love of the outdoors has taken him on climbing, backpacking, biking and other journeys to far-flung destinations like Nepal, Alaska, South America and the Alps. But he has always come home to Minnesota.
Now known for his North Shore nature photography (northshorephotoart.com), Hargesheimer said he has been drawn more to hiking in recent years because it allows him to keep his eyes open to everything around him while he’s outdoors, not just the rock above him while climbing or the road in front of him while biking. He started carrying a camera decades ago to document his trips for himself. But as he got better at the art, more people started asking for prints.
“It’s not for exercise or health for me. I hike because I love feasting my eyes on nature,’’ Hargesheimer said. “I like hiking better than biking or climbing because you can go real slow and pay attention to nature along the way.”
Indeed, Hargesheimer’s photos reflect his great attention to nature’s details, like the swirls in a North Shore river’s eddies or the spray from a waterfall.
“Waterfalls are my favorite thing along the trail... Caribou Falls is probably my favorite,’’ he said of the feature not far from the Cook/Lake county line. “It’s just beautiful in there. And if you hike it — it’s an easy day hike — you get to see the covered bridge and on to the old copper mine.”
Hargesheimer said he wrote the book as both a keepsake for people who have already made the trail part of their outdoor life but also as an inspiration for new people to venture out and try hiking the hills along Lake Superior’s North Shore.
“It’s such a stunning route,’’ Hargesheimer said. “And Minnesota needs to know how fortunate we are to have this right here at home.”
Buy the book
“The Superior Hiking Trail Story” by Rudi Hargesheimer is available at northshorephotoart.com for $34.95 plus $5 shipping. It’s also available at several locations in the Northland, including Zenith Books, The Bookstore at Fitgers and TrailFitters in Duluth; Cove Point Lodge in Beaver Bay; Drury Lane Books Grand Marais; Piragis Northwoods Company in Ely and REI stores in Roseville and Bloomington.
Other books on the Superior Hiking Trail include:
Trail Atlas of the Superior Hiking Trail, $24.99.
Guide to the Superior Hiking Trail: Exploring the 300-Mile Footpath on Minnesota's North Shore by Andrew Slade, 8th Edition, $15.95.
Thru-Hike the Superior Hiking Trail by Annie Nelson, $14.95.
All are available through the Superior Hiking Trail Association at superiorhiking.org.