Monday, March 31, 2014

Famous Ice Tables of Houghton Falls

This year the ice caves at Mawikiwe Bay on Lake Superior went viral.  The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore had record visitors, businesses in the whole Bayfield peninsula had an amazing windfall, and visitors were both pleased and amazed.  The last time people could visit the caves on foot was about five years ago if memory serves.  No one knows how long it will be until the climate cooperates once again to allow foot traffic out that way.  Although five years seems like a long time, it's nothing compared to the exceedingly rare appearance of the Houghton Falls Ice Tables.

No one knows how long it's been since the tables last appeared.  They are created by a perfect storm of miserably cold weather and big dumps of snow.  This combination causes the culvert under the old Ashland to Bayfield railway to plug up with ice and snow and raises the level of Houghton Creek precipitously.  The newly formed pond than promptly freezes.  This condition was noted by the GreenThumbChef as she strolled along the path a week or so ago.  Alarmed, she notified the crack team of culvert unpluggers at the Town of Bayview.  A crew of thawing professionals, led by the town chairman Mr. Charly Ray, arrived on the scene and fired up a steam unit to thaw the culvert before it washed out the entire road bed.  Success was achieved, the water dropped, the rail bed was saved, but the ice remained.  It not only remained but remained in spectacular fashion.

The pond that was created by the plugged culvert was over a dozen feet deep in many spots.  The water all drained out and left large plates of ice, almost a foot thick, some the size of a car.  But the really spectacular thing was the ice that was supported by two or more trees.  It left an entire outdoor patio's worth of tables and benches, all made of ice. I visited the site yesterday with my faithful hound, Monk.  Word must have gotten out because for the first time in my experience there was a car parked on Houghton Falls Road, overflow from the 8 car lot at the start of the trail.  My guess is that the BART shuttle from The Snug, Patsy's Bar, and points north and south will start next weekend.  I would also suggest having Washburn Ambulance on site because the whole area is full of foot thick blocks of tilted ice, major concussion country in my opinion.  If I had been thinking and brought a couple beers it would have been the perfect afternoon, high forties, sunny, and a frozen bar to keep the beer cold.  Alas, forethought was not my strong point that sunny afternoon.

My guess is that the tables will be melted by next weekend given the warm spring weather, although they are kind of 'down in the hole', away from direct sunlight.  This weekend, typically the start of mud month, was anything but.  The ice road from Bayfield to Madeline Island is still intact with a solid three feet of ice.  RangerMark and I were the only skiers at Valhalla on Sunday morning, where there was literally a four foot base.  Sunday night featured some rolling at the salt water pool of the Bayfield Rec Center.  This was preceded by an exciting Badger basketball win Saturday night which sent them to the Final Four, a game I watched at Patsy's Bar while nursing a Widow Maker or two.  Plus I got all our fruit trees pruned without climbing up a ladder.  The four feet of snow in the yard gave me just enough elevation to make a ladder unnecessary.  Say what you will about this winter but the delayed spring ain't so bad at this point from my where I'm sitting