Monday, December 6, 2010

Enjoying the ice

Ice has a lot of pros and cons depending on our perspective. Its great in a large tumbler of Bushmills but miserable as we slide down I-35 sideways. It makes kayaking very difficult on our inland lakes this time of year but provides excellent access to early winter panfish, the tastiest fish that swim in my opinion. A person can easily wind up on their ass, a fact that's often pointed out to me when people recall my Verizon Center post, but for the folks on Madeline Island in the Apostles, it means free access to the mainland on the ice road for a couple months. This weekend brought both the yin and yang of ice once again. The VOR and I left town in the midst of a snowstorm with icy roads, en route to the north shore of Lake Superior for some R&R and to hike the frozen waterfalls.

The north shore is a wonderful place this time of year. Not an insect in sight, no tourists in bermuda shorts, black socks and sandals, zero traffic, the locals are much more relaxed, and things seem much more 'real' than in the summer months. Heck, there is even parking in front of the Gunflint Tavern! Our first hike Saturday was to the High Falls on the Pigeon River out of Grand Portage State Park, the only state park not owned by the state. Its owned by the BIA in trust for the Grand Portage band and operated jointly between the DNR and the tribe. Our friend Travis works there and if you want images of the park that are far better than mine, please click on his site, which is linked on the right of my blog. There is a brand new interpretive center and the trail has been greatly improved, perhaps even handicapped accessible. We only encountered a couple other people on the trail and they must have arrived after us because the parking lot was empty when we rolled in. In the image of the High Falls at the top of the post, the US is on the left and Canada on the right of the river as the Pigeon River forms the international border at that point. There is a longer, single track trail to the Middle Falls which is not maintained and closed for the winter. We understand, from talking to scofflaws who simply walked around the sign and hiked the trail, that there is several hundred feet of vertical and some spectacular views of Hat Point from the trail. The left image is roughly what it would have looked like, had we actually been able to hike up there. We also took an easy stroll to view the falls on the Cross River right off Hwy 61, and then a more strenuous hike up to the falls on the Caribou River. There were plenty of critter tracks since there was a dusting of snow on Saturday morning, but no people tracks, which was just fine. Lots and lots of deer seem to have survived the Minnesota deer season and are sliding around on the icy trails as much as we are from the looks of things. There was some slipping and sliding on parts of the trail but both of us managed to remain nicely vertical. At all of the falls at least 2/3 of the water flow was in the frozen state. It would be interesting to come back in the spring and see how the snow melt affects the water/ice ratio as well as the clarity of the water. This time of year water flow was pretty low as well as pretty clear.

When we awoke on Saturday morning in a cabin 15 yards from the lake, we wished we had brought the kayaks. My TCS (Time Compression Syndrome) is in remission however, and we didn't even get to use the classical or skate skis I'd thrown in. There were just so many frozen waterfalls and so little time. As Bryan Hansel pointed out however, the water in Gitchee Gumee is still 42F and the air is 20F. That's a solid twenty degree advantage to being on the water. Maybe a long weekend next time with kayaks and skis. What the heck, we might even get a chance to all the gear!

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