Although we missed the 'snowless blizzard' that hit Duluth on Tuesday, the aftermath was still very apparent. Winds measured with 70mph gusts on the Blatnik bridge pretty much blew every piece of ice in western Lake Superior from Silver Bay to Cornucopia smack into the Duluth area and piled it up along lakewalk and Park Point. The ice ridge ran for a couple miles and ranged from 10' to 30' high. The ice pile actually consisted of a couple of ridges with the farthest out ridge being over a hundred yards from the normal shoreline. The peaks of the roofs on Park Point are visible in the image below. Beyond the last ridge was another two hundred yards of pancake and pack ice, ice that undulated like an exotic dancer as the swells rolled underneath it toward shore.
It was fairly treacherous going to get out to the edge of the ice ridge. Daytime temps had been above freezing and nighttime temps below, which ice had frozen the into a solid, slippery, and irregular mass. Right at the edge of the shore there were a few yards of sand laden ice that could simply be crunched through. Then a relatively flat layer of shingle ice shelf led out to the first berm. When we reached and climbed the first berm we noticed that it was covered by chunks of ice in various sizes up to fist sized. These pieces of ice were the clearest ice that I've ever seen, transparent as glass. It was like being in a diamond field and I have no idea how they were formed or how they came to be littered all over this mini ice mountain. I continued on through a flat area out to the second berm. I've surfed in this area in the summer and had a pretty good idea how far out I was and roughly how deep the water was. Going through a soft spot would have not been a good thing given the tons of shifting ice, and I proceeded cautiously. Once on top of the berm I saw that it was beginning to fracture in spots and pieces had calved into the lake, kind of our own little glaicer in northern Minnesota. That was far enough for me. When I looked to the north I figured I was nearly even with the small twin lighthouses at the end of the ship canal. Although I've learned to hate the casual usage of the word 'awesome', especially when followed by 'dude', I thought it apt and appropriate as I looked out over Gitchee Gumee and her temporary ice mountain.
The other thing that I hadn't realized was that the Soo Locks had opened on 25 March. As I dozed in our discount room at the South Pier Inn, virtually right underneath the aerial lift bridge, I heard the bridge horn sound about 5:45am. I was too groggy and lazy to get up and missed the queen of the lakes, the largest freighter on the Great Lakes, the Paul R. Tregurtha as it glided past the window 35 yards away. Once I quit cursing I checked the Duluth Shipping News and saw that the Canadian Olympic and Mesabi Miner, another thousand footer, were due in that day as well. I photographed one from canal level and the other from up on Skyline Parkway. It was a good day in Duluth indeed.
Due to the below freezing weather forecast, 15-20mph east northeast winds, and limited play time, we wimped out on the kayaks. I vowed that will not be the case next weekend and am laying the groundwork for 2011's first Gitchee Gumee paddle. I need to keep my buddy in Cumbria England's motto in mind: "There is no such thing as bad weather, only crappy gear". And I got gear.