Thursday, January 29, 2009

Getting ready for Volks Ski Fest

I am all about the skiing. This weekend is the start of Volks Ski Fest in Cook County. Does it get any better than that?

If,like me, you can hardly wait, here are some teasers. Enjoy it all from the comfort of your computer, but come out this weekend too and enjoy it in person!

On Saturday, January 31, I'll be doing an interpretive ski of 3-4 km up the Onion River Road. Meet me at Lutsen Resort at 10:00, earlier if you need to rent skis. Check out the terrain in this YouTube video from Greg Fangel of the Sugarbush Trail Association.

Later on Saturday the 31st, at 1:30, I'll do another guided ski at Cascade Lodge. For a look back at my recent experience on the Cascade Trails, check out this blog posting from earlier this season. I especially like the comments that got going.

In case that's not enough, I'm headed up the Gunflint Trail Sunday morning for another guided ski at Bearskin Lodge, Here's some photos of the Bearskin trails from Flickr.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Tettegouche in winter

Tettegouche State Park is one of the North Shore's great wilderness destinations. It's a huge park, reaching from the steep cliffs of Shovel Point and Palisade Head back past the rustic cabins at Tettegouche camp all the way to the outskirts of Silver Bay and Finland.

On the North Shore in winter, those back hills of Tettegouche get covered in snow, including some massive lake-effect snow dumps. If you like to snowshoe or cross country ski, there are some amazing trails and destinations. If, however, your idea of winter fun is a quick jaunt from the heat of your car, maybe some heated restrooms instead of frozen outhouses, the Tettegouche shoreline calls.

Right on the shore of Lake Superior, the snow is always less deep than inland. Plus, people are walking and snowshoeing around packing the trail.

Right out of the free parking lot (no state park permit required), it's just 100 yards to the first overlook, and a wide, safe path leads down steps with sturdy railings. Everytime I've been there in winter, this trail is packed down. I don't think the park shovels it, but there are enough people using it that it stays accessible.

I remember one winter, 20 years ago now, when I was living up in Ely and came down to the shore for a weekend. After rolling down Highway 1, this was our first stop. With the icy cliffs and the steaming open water and the distant views, it was a dramatic contrast with the quiet boreal forest from which we'd come.

Follow the trail to the right, toward the Baptism River, and you get great views all along, out on little projecting decks. In winter, you can see through the trees to the park's famous sea arch.

The mouth of the Baptism feels quiet and remote.

In the summer, this is a favorite place for swimming, as the warm river water pools up before breaking through to the lake. As the sign might say, "People have drowned here," but not as far as I know in the winter. Still, just in case, there is a life ring:

From the mouth of the river, head upstream to the park road and back to your car. Or stop in at the visitor center and talk with Gary, Phil or Jim at the desk. They are always good for a story or three about what's going on in the park.

Enjoy winter...go to Tettegouche!

Monday, January 26, 2009

In my spare time...

... I am researching the unpleasant topic of death on Lake Superior. I came across this mighty fine image today, and I'm sorry to say I was excited to see it.

I feel a bit like Lemony Snicket, like I should warn you to turn off your browser right now, or switch to the Disney Channel.

But should you insist on looking at this picture more, you may find that it shows the Ojibwa of Madeline Island slaughtering a group of invading Fox Indians, somewhere off the Montreal River. Apparently, the Fox had come down the Ontonagon River and snuck onto Madeline Island a few days before. They had, well, dishonored a few of the Ojibwa women. Although the call for vengeance was hot, cooler heads prevailed, and the Ojibwa waited until a fog had descended. Then they followed the Fox upshore until the lakeshore banks were steep and unclimbable. Then they pressed the advantage of their larger lake canoes against the small and tippy river canoes of the Fox. The party of 400 Fox was lost, apparently, "to a man."

Pleasant, huh?

Just ask me about some Lake Superior lighthouse keepers! Now there are some great stories of dead people. And heroic rescues, too. Something about 400 people dying in one attack on Lake Superior is extra creepy and extra sad.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The eagles and the ice

I went out on the beach this morning for a short walk with Chloe the psycho poodle. Right away I saw one bald eagle and then another, both cruising the ragged edge of ice and open water. The eagles returned, talons empty, to a perch in one tree and then another in the dunes.

The fresh Lake Superior ice was groaning under the breeze and warming morning air. I love this sound. I used to think ice noises were most like whale calls. But what I heard today was almost the same sound as the squeaking unmelodic call of a bald eagle.

For a few moments, walking down the beach, I had it in stereo. The ice gro-moaning on my left, the eagles squa-squeaking on my right. Oh, and the bass boost of the dumb dog's paws padding on the ice mounds, dragging me forward.

Then some scampy Jack Russell terrier came along and there was much barking. And the eagles headed off somewhere to find dead things. And it was back to the office. But the eagle and ice still echo in my ears.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Goin' where the climate suits my clothes

Couldn't keep that Grateful Dead lyric out of my head yesterday. Noah and I walked over to Canal Park for a January round of minigolf. Our adventures on the mini-links this spring and summer, in Phoenix, Grand Marais and Ely, whet our appetite for this fine sport. So where do you mini-golf in winter? Indoors. In our case at "Thrillz," an all-purpose indoor sports place just down the street from us. Mini-golf in January in a hoodie.

My streak continues: I beat my child, 26-30. But he's getting better all the time.

On the way back, we saw a flock of ducks, probably goldeneye, tucked into the one bit of open water they could find, in the Duluth ship canal. Waves, wind and seiches keep the canal open most days, even as the rest of the lake freezes over. The goldeneye, like us, found a place where they could do their thing. Goin' where the climate suits their little feathery ducky clothes.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Surfin' Superior, dodging ice bergs

I wonder if Visit Duluth will jump all over this bit of national press, from the "Grey Lady" New York Times? Visit Duluth is still bragging about Outside Magazine naming Duluth one of the top 10 outdoor towns, five years ago. The article is about surfing Lake Superior's north shore winter swells, in wet suits and (I love this touch) ski goggles.

I'm a huge multisport North Shore enthusiast, but even this is bordering on crazy. I'd rather ski a frozen river.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Give cold a chance

I got out for one last ski before the cold really descended this week, a night-time loop at Lester Park here in Duluth. It was Monday night, and the temperature was dropping about six degrees every hour.

The deep cold shut things down around here pretty well for the last three days. It's been very scenic out our window as the "sea smoke" wafts above the few remaining leads of open water on Lake Superior, below clear blue skies.

The dog chose to not sit outside on the porch, stare at the lake and bark for hours. Instead, she sat inside the porch door, stared out at the lake and barked for hours. But she was delighted to go outside for short stretches, to run and jump and dig. Burying bones takes on a whole new meaning when it's snow out there and not dirt.

Dogs are okay, but I think people are too wimpy. All I am saying, is give cold a chance.

Or rather, give yourself a chance. If you're protected from the wind and can cover your nose, ears and chin, it's totally fine to be outside at 30 below zero for 10-15 minutes. Keep moving, enjoy the fresh air.

We can walk from our house to Canal Park, and on the coldest of the days lately I've walked to lunch or meetings at the DeWitt Seitz building, about 10 minutes away.

Even better, get out on your cross country skis. Cold snow is slow, which actually makes it better for cold air, since you're working harder and not experiencing headwinds.

Don't sit inside and bark. Get out and play.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Taking the Plunch

One of my favorite ski trails is the one closest to me, the Piedmont Trail here in Duluth. It's just the right length for a mid-day outing and the other skiers are friendly. The signs are unique too, hand carved by trail founder Jerry Nowak.

"The Plunge" is the big downhill right near the end (and don't all great ski trails have a big downhill right near the end?). I skied the loop with Noah this weekend, and he went right ahead and took the plunge.

Every time I'm there I read that sign and it sounds like "Plunch", because deep in my brain I'm quoting the last stanza of Garrison Keillor's great comic poem, "The Finn Who Would Not Take a Sauna", and it has to rhyme with "lunch":

Marriage friends is no banquet, love is no free lunch
You cannot dabble 'round the edge, but each must take the plunch
Though marriage like that frozen lake may sometimes make us colder
It has its pleasures too, as you'll find out as you grow older

Those pleasures of marriage? I'm older now and I've found out a lot about those.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Get thee to a frozen lake

Minnesota is known as "The Land of 10,000 Lakes." That means, in a normal cold winter like this one, Minnesota is temporarily "The Land of 10,000 big beautiful open flat fields" And probably "The Land of 10 million very visible piles of dog crap."

Right here in the middle of Duluth we have Hartley Pond. It's a rare undeveloped lake, with no houses on or near it. It's at least 1/4 mile by foot or ski to reach the lake.

It's magical to transform a shimmering blue ripply thing to this fixed sheet of ice and snow, and then to travel on it.

I love LOVE LOVE being out on frozen lakes, especially if it's a lake I've paddled in the summerThe only time I've ever really tried to skate ski was on frozen lakes in late winter, when the snow had melted and refrozen just right. I hear stories of people in Ely ice skating all the way to the Canadian border, and I get supremely jealous. Here on Park Point there are still ice boaters, and when the harbor ice is right they are sailing faster than they ever could in the summer in plain-old water. What a supreme thrill to glide over the surface like that!

Now, we're stuck with the psychotic poodle, captured in her full glory here on Hartley Pond:

Yes, she's off leash inside a Duluth city park. I know. But it's that irrepressible joy of a frozen lake that possesses her and must make her free.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A big screamer at Cascade, and a lesson re-learned

I skied some trails I'd never skied before yesterday at Cascade River State Park. That's hard for me to admit, since I write these guidebooks and take pride in the work. I've been on every other trail in the park, but not this one. There's nothing as humiliating to a writer as to be caught in an ignorant lie. I see these readers on a trail with my book saying "This isn't right, HE WAS NEVER HERE!"

Though I'd written about the trail to the top of Moose Mountain in Skiing the North Shore, I had never skied it. With tons of snow this winter and a business trip to Grand Marais yesterday, I had my opportunity. God, I hoped I was not too far off base in the book.

It's a long slow climb to the top. I started at the trail head, which is right in the state park campground. There's one trail going up and 2-3 trails coming down. The trail up weaves along the top edge of some deep ravines of the Cascade River and its tributaries, past big spruce and pine. I was the first one out on the trail after its grooming earlier in the day. Skiing up hill is exhausting and warms me up fast, so I took off my hat and unzipped layers as I went. Here I am at the summit, practically naked:

In the book, I called the last part of the climb "challenging," based on my reading of the topo lines. In fact, it was some of the flatter, straighter and smoother parts of the climb, away from those scenic ravines. Oops.

I also called the view of Lake Superior from the top "worth it." I guess I fudged that one, but here's that view:

Lots of young birch and aspen blocking the view of Lake Superior here, though it was a nice perspective on Lookout Mountain to the west. "Worth it?" Sure, but I really should have seen it first before I made that call.

The highlight of the ski was the ride back down. After switchbacking up the hill, the run down ran literally straight down the hill. I have no photo of this, because to have photographed would have been to die. The snow was soft but fast. I barely stayed on my skis. With my recent ski-related experience in urgent care, and being all alone out there, I was seriously scared. Not a real emotive guy, I heard myself say things like "Erk" and "Oogk" and "Ai-eek" on the way down. I call these big hills "screamers," and even stuffed up old me gave out a noise or two on this one.

Here was my back up safety plan, a note on my windshield:

I could have written, in small print "You'll find me plastered to a pine tree below Moose Mountain." But I would never write that, since I hadn't been there first.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The pleasure...and the pain...of Piedmont

Yesterday, my faith in skiing was totally restored. Then it was dashed in a flurry of paternal pain.

The Duluth city groomer had been fixed. The temperature on New Year's Eve was climbing above zero. After a week of mechanical breakdown negligence, the trails were groomed and waiting. With only a bit of grumbling, the older son (12) and the younger son (11) got their windjackets and fleece on and came with me to the Piedmont ski trails. The sky was blue and the trail was totally freshly groomed. You just don't get "cord" fresher than this.

As we started in on the loop, spirits rose with every little hill and turn. How great to be outside, in the crisp air on beautiful ski trails having physical fun! I love it when the boys' cheeks get rosy and their spirits rise outside on a trail just as my spirits do.

Then, spirits got a little too high. We were a full kilometer into the loop, nearing the great overlook of the Duluth harbor. The older son started goofing around with different postures, gliding with his knee all the way down on the ski and asking "is this posture good?"

It turns out that his next posture, kicking one ski out in front of you so the tail sticks into the snow, can be very bad. In the middle of that one, he fell. Backward. And stopped his fall with his outstretched right arm. His first words? "I think I broke my arm. I'm not kidding."

Am I an awful Dad? It was two years ago I was skating with the younger son and he fell in the middle of a chase game and broke his arm.

I switched into first aid wilderness medicine mode. But what can you do? His hand could move, his wrist could move, but he was in pain. We were 1 kilometer into a 3 kilometer loop.

The victim kept his arm up inside his jacket, supported by the zipper. We evacuated, slowly and carefully, backwards along the trail. He actually stayed on his skis, though I carried his poles and he walked up and down the biggest hills.

After an hour or two at home to warm up and catch our breaths, he and I went to urgent care and got the x ray and the news: broken radius. Below is a image I found online similar to his x ray:

He was a total trooper through the whole thing, right up until he got the final word about the break from the doctor. He'll be in a cast for 6 weeks. He might be done with cross country skiing for a bit, but a good cast will get him back on the downhill slopes soon.

My son will be fine. Me? I'll be okay too, but I'm going to think twice about romping in the winter with my kids.