Around 5 p.m. on September 5, Andrea Larson reached the northern terminus of the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) in record time. She’d departed from the southern trailhead around 7 a.m. on August 30, with a backpack weighing 24 pounds, packed its brim with food and supplies. When she finished, 6 days later, that pack weighed a scant 8 pounds.
Larson had never attempted an FKT before. In fact, she’d never even tried thru-hiking a trail like the 310-mile SHT. She’s no stranger to endurance objectives, though — she started ultrarunning in 2008 and started competing in adventure races not long after that — even competing in adventure racing on Team GearJunkie, at one point.
But when the Wausau native started considering taking on the SHT, and attempting to do it faster than anyone previous to her, she was still hesitant to dive in head first.
“It was an idea that I came across my radar in early 2021 and something that I put in the back of my mind. Maybe that’s something I’d like to do one day,” Larson told GearJunkie.
Andrea Larson’s Superior Hiking Trail FKT
The Superior Hiking Trail is a lesser-known long-distance trail, often overshadowed by the Pacific Crest Trail, the Appalachian Trail, and the Colorado Trail. But around 50,000-100,000 still hike the SHT every year.
It’s a rugged, root-filled route that climbs a total of 41,000 feet and passes through eight State Parks, beginning on the MN/WI border and running up the shore of Lake Superior to the Canadian border. For most who finish the entire thru-hike, it takes 3 to 4 weeks.
Originally, Larson thought she’d give it a try in spring 2024. But she ended up giving it a try this fall, instead; almost as a test run. She did some scouting hikes with her family in the months leading up to it. Then she started training and planning.
She made two last-minute decisions. First, she’d planned on running this FKT attempt self-supported — meaning she’d drop off supplies at predetermined caches, and then pick them up along her route. But 3 days prior to the FKT, she changed her mind.
“The logistics for all that is pretty challenging,” Larson said. She realized that it would be a lot simpler to just pack a backpack with everything she’d need and go. “So, I did it unsupported,” she said. “I carried everything with me the whole time.”
That change of plans resulted in another last-minute change. When she’d been planning to do the self-supported FKT, she’d wanted to end up in Duluth because she’d have ample access to supplies there. But after deciding to go unsupported, she says that motivation was moot. Then she checked the weather forecast and her mind was made up.
“Duluth had record high temperatures on Monday when I’d be going through,” she said. In fact, that Monday would end up being the hottest day in Duluth on record. “It was supposed to be about 15 degrees cooler on the north side when I looked at the forecast 6 days out.” So, she changed her route to hike it northbound. And she said hands down, that was the right choice.
Embarking on the Superior
When the day finally came, Larson says she was loaded “to the gills.” Her pockets were all so stuffed full of snacks and supplies that her pants were falling down. She had freeze-dried meals strapped to the outside of her pack. The inside was full of gear, and more food.
Larson hit the trail early that morning, and embarked on what she thought was more than likely a “first attempt.” She says she thought she had a 50/50 shot at successfully finishing and was fully mentally prepared to try again in the spring. But, she didn’t need to be.
The first night Larson says she did Adventure Race style. She didn’t sleep at all and did 68 miles in the first 24 hours. Her pace started to slow after that, even though her pack was getting consistently lighter.
The final stretch was a slog, she says; admitting that the last 37 miles took her 27 hours. But when she finally reached the northern SHT terminus, she had claimed her FKT. Larson had hiked the entire 310 miles of the SHT in just 6 days and 10 hours.
“Not only was the trail itself awesome, to be able to do each and every mile, but then to set out and do something that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to even finish, much less do it in the time that I was hoping to, that was the cherry on top,” Larson said. “It was a fantastic experience.”
Inspiration in the Era of FKTs
Larson’s hope with all of this is to inspire people to get out and try something that might feel intimidating, and to make healthy lifestyle choices. She’s the director of IronBull, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting outdoor adventure sports in Central Wisconsin. So this is perfectly in line with her work off the trail.
She’s also a mother of three. And Larson said that seeing her own children inspired by this adventure is one of the most fulfilling aspects. “It’s awesome to see my kids starting to gravitate towards these things,” Larson said. “My oldest daughter can’t wait to do her next adventure race.”
In the busy bustle of recent FKTs on the Pacific Crest Trail, Colorado Trail, and Continental Divide Trail, Andrea Larson’s Superior FKT stands out. Not only because Larson had never tried a thru-hike before, or because she had no prior FKTs to her name. (“I had no idea if I would make anywhere close to 310 miles,” Larson told us afterward.) But to her, this accomplishment shines a light on a spectacular trail that most people have never heard of before.
“I think a lot of things in the Midwest get overlooked, and the Superior Hiking Trail is just absolutely gorgeous. There’s so many scenic vistas there’s so many waterfalls, it’s out in the woods, and obviously Lake Superior,” she said.