Four Midwest Highpoints- Eagle Mt. MN, Mt Arvon, MI, Timms Hill, WI, Charles Mound, IL

Four Midwest Highpoints- Eagle Mt. MN, Mt Arvon, MI, Timms Hill, WI, Charles Mound, IL

Four Midwest Highpoints

Eagle Mt. MN, 2.301 ft.; Mt Arvon, MI, 1,979 ft.; Timms Hill, WI, 1,951 ft.; Charles Mound, IL 1,235 Ft.

Wes Chapman

June 5, 2014

Lake Superior Lead

By the shores of Gitche Gumee,

By the shining Big-Sea-Water,”

The Song of Hiawatha, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Spring arrived in the North Country about a week before we did – the leaves were just out and still pale. Eagle Mt. Minnesota is part of a 1.1 billion year old volcanic complex associated with rift activity down the Mississippi Valley. The rocks – mostly basalts – have experienced an amazingly small amount of metamorphic change, given their age, and are host to some of the greatest agates found on earth. Agates are formed by the deposition of quartz in empty spaces in lava flows, producing banded semi-precious stones. These agates have been pushed around by the glaciers which periodically scrape the area, and are commonly found on the beaches and gravel pits of the area.

Lake Superior Agate

A Lake Superior Agate

We arrived in a series of powerful thunderstorms, and were fearful that the trip up Eagle Mountain the next day might prove to be a wet and miserable affair. While the day started wet, it gradually improved into a glorious spring day – clear and breezy. The road in was good – with the requirement to negotiate one blow down – and we were headed up by 8:30. The hike is about 7.0  miles round trip, with a lot of water on the trail. The trail passes by Whale Lake about a mile from the summit (we saw no whales) and the total elevation gain is about 600 feet – it was a fast climb.

Martha at Whale Lake

Martha looking for Moby Dick at Whale Lake

Martha on Eagle Mt

Martha Triumphant on Eagle Mountain

Like most natural lakes, Lake Superior sits at the height of land, and has a very small drainage basin. As a result, the high points of Minnesota and Michigan are both very close to the Lake, and afford much better views than you might expect. The hike up culminated with a moose sighting near the summit.


 View from the summit of Eagle Mt

Eagle Mt. Summit View

“Dark behind it rose the forest,

Rose the black and gloomy pine-trees,

Rose the firs with cones upon them;”

The Song of Hiawatha, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

We had been cooped up in the auto for days at this point, and so stopped by the local ski hill (also named Eagle Mt.) to grab a second hike, and the chance for some views of the Lake and the surrounding country. This is big country, and the views go on forever – it felt like home.

Martha on Eagle 2

Martha on the second Eagle Mt. summit

The Ojibwa or Chippewa tribe makes up most of the Native American population at this end of Lake Superior, and they remain a large and dominant cultural influence throughout the area. Hiawatha was the fictional Ojibwa Chief that Longfellow extolls in his eponymous poem. Ojibwa dominance came late, as they were early adopters of new technologies – including firearms – which they used I 1745 to displace earlier local tribes, including the Dakota.

Split Rock

Views from Split Rock Light on Lake Superior

The spring thaw was still well underway, and the streams were laden with rust-red water, flowing as distinct currents into the blue green waters of the lake. This is the center of American iron mining, and it sure shows in the spring runoff. Superior almost never rises above a temperature of 55°, and turns over twice a year as the surface water reaches 39° (and its maximum density), and sinks to the bottom – bringing with it a half year supply of oxygen for deep water fish.

Fe H2O

Iron rich waters in the spring thaw

The next day was a straight shot around the west end of the Lake, and into the relative impoverishment of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Minnesota and Wisconsin seem to be in good shape economically, but Michigan is still hurting – at least on the U.P. Driving from Wisconsin into Michigan felt like driving from Chile into Argentina – things change a lot at the border, and you see it everywhere.

This part of the world had a brutal winter this year, and there was still ice on the Lake June 5th. The northerly winds had blown the remaining ice pack to the south shore, and we bumped into it in L’Anse, on our way to Mt. Arvon.

M & W by the Ice

Enjoying the cool waters of Lake Superior in June

Mt Arvon in Michigan is also very near Lake Superior, but is a drive up without much of a view. We took a quick shot to the top, and then retreated from the bugs to the comfort of the Ivory Mansion B&B, owned and run by Lynn Ketola – self-described as part Ojibwa, part Swede, and a teacher/principal in the L’Anse-Baraga area schools. Among other things she teaches Ojibwan, and is keeping the B&B for a retirement job. The décor of the Ivory Mansion is an impossibly complex juxtaposition of Swedish and Chinese; the food is terrific, the beds comfortable and it is clearly worth a visit.

Martha on Arvon

Martha on Mt. Arvon

Insouce Success Arvon

Martha’s insouciant success on Mt. Arvon

(Note the mountaineering footwear)

Mt Arvon Memorial

A memorial on Mt. Arvon

 Martha & Lynn

Lynn Ketola and Martha at the Ivory Mansion B&B

“Stood the wigwam of Nokomis,

Daughter of the Moon, Nokomis.”

The Song of Hiawatha, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow



Lynn found us eager students for a quick lesson in Ojibwa culture, and directed us to a local Native American cemetery to see the spirit houses. The houses are provided with necessary supplies for the deceased to use for the 4 day journey to the after-life. As an omen of good luck, on the way to the cemetery we saw a bear – up close and personal.

Spirit Houses

Ojibwa Spirit Houses

We left L’Anse in a cloud of dust, headed for the hiking challenges of Timms Hill, highpoint of Wisconsin. Timms Hill is an unremarkable pile of glacial detritus left as part of the terminal Moraine of the last continental glacier. What is remarkable is that Timms Hill is part of the 1,000 mile long Ice Age Trail, which roughly follows the terminal moraine of the glacier through the State of Wisconsin. The trail was the brainchild of Ray Zillmer, who in the mid-50’s founded the Ice Age Trail Foundation, which was ultimately funded through the efforts of Congressman Henry Reuss in 1980.

On the drive to Tomahawk WI, and our visit on Timms Hill, we bumped into a young bull moose, and a couple of fairly humorous signs.


A young bull moose

Baits Motel

All travelers are welcome to shower here

Uncle Tom

Harriet Beecher Stowe would be proud

Wisconsin Ice Age Trail

Path of the Ice Age Trail

Timms Hill

Modest lookout tower on Timms Hill

Timms Hill is home to a variety of hiking and cross country ski trails, and after a quick trip up the tower, we went out for a couple of mile hike to loosen up after too long in the car. The bugs were voracious, and the repellant that had proved perfectly adequate in Minnesota, was not up to the challenge of the bugs of Wisconsin. We came flying out of the woods – streaming bugs and expletives – and landed at the Hill of Beans coffee shop just across the pond from the parking area; friendly people, terrific pies and screens on the windows.

Hill of Beans

Highpoint Village and Hill of Beans Coffee Shop

Leaving Wisconsin, we headed south to our last stop on this trip – Charles Mound in NW Illinois. Charles Mound sits on the farm of Wayne & Jean Wuebbels, and they allow Highpointers onto the property 8 days per year – the first Saturday and Sunday of June, July August and September. We met two of their daughters mending a fence on our way in – hard at work on a Saturday morning. The walk to the summit is about 2.5 miles round trip up a farm road on their property – really quite pleasant – and loaded with fellow pilgrims.

At the “summit” we met a young couple from Ontario – she was tiny and he was shirtless and looked like a pale version of William “the Fridge” Perry. We chatted briefly, and they said that they were planning to do all the famous 7 summits and were using the 50 state highpoints for training. To date they had done 2 state highpoints, PA and now IL (both drive-ups), and none of the 7 summits. They plan to climb Kilimanjaro in December as the first of the 7 summits. We wished them the best of luck – and told them that I look forward to seeing them on Kilimanjaro; it could be the basis for some good stories.

Martha on Charles Mound

Martha in Illinois hiking attire on Charles Mound

Highpointing is a quest, and like all quests a large part of the story line is the change that takes place in the protagonists along the way. This trip definitely changed my view of the Midwest – it is a lot more dynamic, varied and bigger than I had remembered. Some of the scenery was spectacular – the north shore of the Big Lake in particular. I can say with absolute certainty, however, that none of the hills that we saw would be training hills for any of the 7 summits.

Adios shores of Githce Gumee

Adios, from the shores of Gitche Gumee

Wes Chapman
Written by Wes Chapman

5 Comment responses

  1. Avatar
    June 07, 2014

    Invious! Keep your itinerary… We may need to follow it someday. The names of some of these places are terrific!


  2. Avatar
    June 08, 2014

    Fun trip.
    Rimma lives in Madison.
    Stayed with Whit last night in Brunswick and celebrated Adam’s graduation in Gorham this morning.


  3. Avatar
    June 08, 2014

    Loved the photos and the insouciant model–great photographer and great subject. Keep on traveling so I can keep on reading and laughing!


  4. Avatar
    June 09, 2014

    Fabulous insight! Makes me wish I had spent some time hiking with you, but then again, I would be afraid to become a subject in your story lke the Ontario couple. Martha, you are a true sport. I was LOL with the photos of your WI road signs. thanks.


  5. Avatar
    June 09, 2014

    Please don’t tell me that I’ve been replaced with the blonde with bangs at the Ivory Mansion. And you seem to have forgotten a photo that Martha had texted to me…hmmmm….
    Looks like a blast and Martha is a real sport!