Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Suspended due to blueberries

This blog has been temporarily suspended due to a relative abundance of blueberries in the Ely area. The blog's author has been blinded with greed and cannot maintain his normal schedule of blog posting. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Carlton Peak: Because it's there

We bagged Carlton Peak this week. In the fog.


Asked why he wanted to climb Mt. Everest, George Mallory is supposed to have said, "Because it's there." He did not say, "For the M&Ms on top."

Ask each of our four hikers and you'll hear different reasons why they climbed Carlton Peak.

Older son, just turned 13, "Because my pesky little brother was complaining about it and I had to show him up with Albert."

Albert, older son's friend, 13, "Because he's here and it sounded cool."

Younger son, 11: "Because Dad made us. And there might be some licorice on top."

Me, age 45, bedecked in my tech gear: "Because it's a great hike and I need to GPS it for Hiking the North Shore."

It's a good thing we didn't climb it for the view. This is the best view we got:

The summit of Carlton Peak, with its bare rock expanses, was pretty busy for a Wednesday. and there were three or four hiking parties scattered about the top, all adults. I think most adults climb for the view and for the reward of accomplishing a goal. They're a bit more like Mallory, who was 37 when he disappeared on Everest.

Back when our kids were little, 4 or 5 years old, the main motivation on hikes was M&Ms, judiciously doled out every half mile or so up the trail. We have a great photo of the younger son at Delicate Arch in Arches National Park with the arch in the background and a big peanut M&M in his fingers. That's Abraham Maslow in his hierarchy of needs, all about the need for food and comfort.

As our kids get older, their motivation has changed. Now it's peer pressure, or what Maslow identified as the need to belong. That's why we invited Albert along, to be the peer providing challenge. He wasn't the parent doling out rewards or setting the goals. Younger son, at age 11, hasn't quite made that transition and was still thinking about the licorice as we approached the foggy summit.

It's too much to expect that our tweens and teens will climb a mountain "Because it's there."

More like, "Because my friend's here."

And if that's what works, I'm all for it.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The South Shore: You...complete...me

How cool is it to float down a river of crystal clear water? What if that water is flowing OUT of Lake Superior? And INTO Big Bay slough, powered by a seiche that cycles as regularly as a sine curve. I haven't found a slough like that on the North Shore.

How cool are ferries? They lift you, your family, your worldly goods and worries, off the land and carry you across the water to some place no roads reach. The views expand as you leave shore. Climb up to the top deck and you can see in one great sweep where you came from and where you're going. Basswood Island is nearby, but the North Channel out past Stockton Island calls out for big adventures sometime. The only ferry on the North Shore is to Isle Royale.

And how cool is it to play on a beach you played on as a child? Right next to the marina in a tiny South Shore town? As a kid, the days disappeared into a haze of sand and sun and water as your father waits in Cornucopia for a part for the Chris Craft. A Chris Craft named after you, Sally B.

I am a rugged North Shore person. To me growing up, Lake Superior was something to fear, to look at, but never to experience first hand. Cliffs and stony beaches and the cry of herring gulls through the fog. There is a clear line between land and water, a line most people do not cross.

But on the same damn lake, there is this whole other experience. On the South Shore, people and water merge and mingle. You float with the seiche into the slough. You boat, not drive, to a town, then build stick houses on the sandy beach you reached. The lake water is warm and inviting. In Bayfield, sailors talk about secret coves and perfect days, not about wrecks or ruins.

Fortunately, I married a South Shore gal. Sally knows the back beaches of Bayfield, the warmth of Lake Nebagamon and Julian Bay, the fastest way to Washburn and its underground DQ.

Okay, it's like this scene from Jerry Maquire:

Without the South Shore, Lake Superior would just be this cold depressing place. Same thing for me without Sally. One....completes...the other.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The North Shore: Have you seen it all?

Yesterday, I had a huge view of the North Shore. I could see all the way from Gooseberry to Tettegouche.

We were at the beach at Cornucopia, on the Wisconsin South Shore, after a fun-filled overnight in Bayfield. Sure, the North Shore was just a dark line on the horizon.

Here's a bit more detail of the Gooseberry area:

Gee, I can nearly pick out Split Rock Lighthouse.

If you're getting a little blase about the North Shore, you deserve a trip to the South Shore. Instead of steep foggy cliffs, you'll find gentle sand beaches. You can swim on the South Shore much of the summer, instead of just a day or two in August. Tourism has not turned the South Shore into one big t-shirt shop yet; instead there are villages like Herbster and Cornie, littered with abandoned fishing boats and not a cappuccino joint in sight.

If you're starting to think you've seen it all on the North Shore, come to the South Shore, where you can look to the North Shore and literally see it all. While you're swimming in warm water. Or picking strawberries. No pie shop to be found.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Climb every mountain

I received a great e-mail the other day:

"Hello Andrew,

"I've been reading your Camping the North Shore book and have a question. On p. 65 (Climb Carlton Peak) you say that Carlton is the state's tallest mountain, at 1,526 feet. How can that be, when Eagle is 2,301 feet? Does it have something to do with where the base is?

"Thanks, and thanks for a nice job on the info in the book."

To my untrained eye, Carlton Peak sticks out from the surrounding landscape more than any other "mountain" in Minnesota I could think of, at lease when I wrote the camping book. This is especially true on the lake side, where it's a steep run down to North Shore.

Eagle Mountain is the highest point in Minnnesota, but it rises out of much higher ground.

After we printed the camping book, I climbed Mt. Josephine in Grand Portage. Mt. Jo beats Carlton Peak in terms of sticking out from the surrounding terrain. Even though the elevation at the summit is lower yet at 1300 feet, it nearly hovers over the shoreline.

For an in-depth look at MN peaks and their measurement, visit Brian Rachford's website.

Over the next two weeks, I am going to climb Carlton Peak and Eagle Mountain, doing research for Hiking the North Shore and keeping our two sons busy. Their level of complaining as they hike may be the ultimate measure of how high those peaks are. I'll let you know.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

FREE DAY at Grand Portage

The Grand Marais Dragon Boat Festival is next week. Two Harbors Heritage Days was last week. Without the big festival crowds, this is the perfect mid-summer weekend to head up the North Shore. All you can do is hike, fish, shop, and enjoy the views. No mini-donuts to spoil your appetite for herring.

Plus, there's a great deal to be had this weekend. Entrance at all national parks July 18-19 is FREE. This includes our very own Grand Portage National Monument.

Grand Portage is a real treat for visitors of all ages. Set aside at least two hours to experience the rebuilt fort and the excellent historical reenactments. The interpreters are top-notch. Plus you can visit the new Heritage Center with its exhibits and bookstore. Hike up Mt. Rose while you're there for a great view of Grand Portage Bay.

Granted, normal admission is just $3.00. So you can apply those dollars for a purchase in the new Heritage Center bookstore.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Nothing finer

There is nothing finer than a Lake Superior sunset.

Well, actually...

There is nothing finer than paddling a canoe with my life partner, as we've done across boundary lakes and wilderness desert rivers. Our first big date was a 10-day trip across the Quetico and our one big wedding present was a 17-foot Old Town Penobscot canoe.

Plus, the sunset gets a little finer when it's got a sun dog glowing rainbow colors off to the side.

And it's mighty fine to have all this in our backyard. Instead of reading the latest Time magazine last night, I went out for a paddle with Sally.

So here's the truth: There is nothing finer than a Lake Superior sunset and sundog viewed with my wife from our canoe just out our back door.

Except maybe that kiss on the beach afterwards.

Monday, July 13, 2009

MPR noticed us!

We've known about this pattern for years here on the North Shore...had a great 95-degree day here in mid-June, if you recall. Be sure to read all the way to the bottom, where they also describe the wind shift that dropped the temp in Grand Marais 24 degrees in one hour.

Unusual weather pattern: North Shore warmth | Updraft | Minnesota Public Radio

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Friday, July 10, 2009

Life in the cracks at Artists Point

Artists Point in Grand Marais is a wonderful North Shore destination. If you're in Grand Marais and you've had your fill of t-shirt shops or microbrews, head out along the east, or left, side of the bay, through the big parking lot to the big old white house. Artists Point awaits.

Last year, our family was hanging in Grand Marais on the Fourth of July, escaping the bugs of the Sawbill Trail. We had a great visit to Artists Point. We went to the right, toward the lighthouse along cement retaining walls. A week or two ago, I went back to Artists Point, going left into the woods instead of right to the lighthouse.

At first glance, it's a smooth surface of bedrock. The glaciers did a great job smoothing down billion-year-old basalt. Waves wash off Lake Superior and flood away most soil development. Gale-force winds of November storms strip off any tree or shrub that is not fully surrounded bu other trees.

But look in the cracks and you'll find all sorts of life. In those cracks, there's just enough shelter for a bit of lichen to form, a bit of soil to gather.

Lots of three-toothed cinquefoil was popping up in the cracks:

In an old crack in the narrow strip of woods, where deep soil had collected moisture and created a little micro-bog, I found this Labrador tea, in bloom:

In the picture on top, did you see the kids popping out of the cracks?

Artists Point. Life in the cracks.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Temptation and tragedy at Temperance

There is no place finer on the North Shore than the mouth of the Temperance River, where you'll find a gravel beach and some very scenic campsites. The river has run through the deep gorge and rounded kettles and completes its path to Lake Superior in a last push of current. When the river was first named, there was no "bar" at its mouth (hence the no-drinking name), but now it does. It was right here on Saturday the Fourth of July that divers searched for the body of Ari Sommerfeld.

You'd think with a name like Temperance, a famous North Shore river would be a place of modesty and caution. But the Temperance River took another life this weekend. Overly brave men take risks there all the time, and in a few cases, the odds turn against them and the power of the river wins. The temptations at Temperance are too strong.

At least eight other people who have died in the Temperance River over the last 25 years. Four of them were men in the dangerous age range of 14 to 31. Statistics show that young men are by far the mostly likely to be drowning victims, probably because they overestimate their abilities and feel immortal.

But tragedy has struck older men and also women at the Temperance. Two young women drowned last year when they were carried into the current above the gorge.

Ari Sommerfeld, the victim this weekend, was exactly my age, 45. He was not saving a child's life; he was jumping into a whirlpool he'd jumped into numerous times before just for fun. His widow urges that no one go there again. But they will.

When I was young and immortal, my cousins and I used to jump off the cliffs just upstream from the highway, at the mouth of the main gorge. It was a thrill. We all survived. Once as an adult I met up with a group of teenagers from Duluth for an educational program on Lake Superior. They were polite but restless, asking their leader during most of my program "Can we go jumping now?" As a liability-conscious grown-up, my only response to that was, "After my program."

For me, the saddest tragedies at Temperance came in 1999 and 2000. Twice, fathers age 48 and 50 found their child in trouble, went in and saved the child, but then drowned themselves. Not even swimming themselves, taking no risks for themselves, they were drawn into danger by the tragedy of their child. As a now-cautious dad, I totally understand that.

You can't ban swimming at Temperance, any more than you can ban hiking on steep trails or crossing wide highways. With the temptations, there will always be tragedy.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Take the Scenic Route!

Fourth of July has come and gone, so summer on the North Shore is in high gear.

To me, one of the main indicators of summer on the shore is the big pick-up truck RV swaying and bouncing along Highway 61 at 45 mph leading a train of 5,6,8,10 cars through the curves. If you're in a hurry to get somewhere, it's frustrating to be caught in the train of cars. Passing on Highway 61 is a risky endeavor at any time.

But, hey, you're on vacation. If you're headed up or down the shore and the traffic is looking heavy, don't stress---relax and take the scenic route!

All along the North Shore, there are secondary roads that parallel Highway 61 and can get you from almost whatever Point A to nearly any Point B you want.

Last week I drove Lake County Road 3 from Two Harbors to Beaver Bay. It's a beautiful stretch of road through a variety of terrain. 30 miles of paved and gravel roads bypass 23 miles of Highway 61. The roadside was littered with wildflowers, from towering cow parsnip to meadow rue to fields full of daisies.

County Road 3 is really easy to find. You turn left (north) just past Bettys Pies and you're on it.

The first 8-10 miles are in lovely agricultural landscapes, with old barns and open fields, dark green ridges of the Superior Hiking Trail in the distance. Stop for pictures, but use caution as the road is narrow.

The middle 8 miles are on gravel and are very wooded. You're on old logging railroad grades here. Scattered through the woods are run-down tarpaper shacks left over from the railroad and logging days. You cross the upper reaches of familiar North Shore rivers, like the Gooseberry and the Split Rock; here they're just gurgling brooks.

The last 7 miles are paved again and bring you back through scenic fields and ridges, like this view near the Silver Bay airport:

One of the best parts of the drive is also one of the hardest to find. About 3.5 miles past the Silver Bay airport, with a hillside full of crushed boulders on the left, the road dips down and back up again. At the top of the far side of the dip, an unmarked clay dirt road turns roughly to the right and leads to a field. Below that field is Glen Avon Falls, a watery playground on the Beaver River.

From Glen Avon Falls, it's 1.2 miles further on County Road 3 to a T-junction with Lax Lake Road. Turn right on Lax Lake Road for the short drive down the hill to Beaver Bay. There, you can get back on the busy highway and continue on your way,

If you drive straight through, this scenic back route takes about an hour to drive. Plus, instead of getting mad at that bouncy, swaying camper, you can get happy about wildflowers, wildlife, and waterfalls.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Fireworks in Tofte...The Big Oops!

Check out this video from YouTube of the fireworks from Tofte on the Fourth of July. Someone recorded the video on their cellphone from about 350 feet away, but couldn't get the audio to work.

Maybe it was in honor of the 10th anniversary of the BWCA Blowdown...the Blow-Down Blow-Up!

Here's another view, with audio, from the KARE-TV website.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Amazing Maples of Mystery Mountain

After the very European first half of my Lutsen gondola hike, the second half of my hike was very Minnesotan. The trail cuts through one of the North Shore's most amazing sugar maple forests.

The sugar maples of the North Shore ridgeline are a fascinating story of forest ecology, of survival and persistence. The maples came to the North Shore 7000 years ago during a warm dry period, and when the warm climate moved back south, the maples found refuge along the North Shore as the big lake kept the air from getting too cold for them.

The Superior Hiking Trail route goes up and over Mystery Mountain, the least-used of Lutsen's ski hills. I first hiked this section of trail 17 years ago, field checking for The Guide to the Superior Hiking Trail. I noticed then that it was sugar maples everywhere. The big trees were sugar maples. The little trees were sugar maples. The shrubs were sugar maples. Even the ground cover was sugar maple. It's really really unusual to have one species of tree or flower dominant all levels of the forest like that.

17 years later, and I've had three jobs, two kids, and one wife. 17 years later in the maples of Mystery Mountain, nothing has changed. It's still maples everywhere.

I could see "baby" maples, biding their time, waiting for the opportunity to spring up. They don't get enough sunshine during the summer to grow much. I could also hear some of the big old maples creaking in the wind. And here and there in maple-land, one of those big maples had come down. Guess what happens next?

With the new sunshine breaking through the canopy, more maple trees grow up. The little trees make their mamas and papas proud as they grow up into the holes the old trees left when they died.

Ecologists might call this a climax forest. The maples are so perfectly suited to this environment that they replace themselves. One maple tree might not live more than a century, but the forest lives for millenia.

I'm sure there's a life lesson in there somewhere, about finding out what you're good at, being comfortable in your environment, something like that. Maybe as a father of two "sprouting" young men finding their places in the world, I saw some of my family in the forest.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A very European hike at Lutsen

My memories of hiking in Europe include gravity-defying gondola rides, permanently gray skies, and picnics in wildflower meadows featuring beef tongue.

Who knew I'd find almost all of those things right here on the North Shore?

I did the famous "gondola hike" at Lutsen Mountains yesterday. You take the mountain tram from the very Scandinavian village area of Lutsen up to the top of Moose Mountain, then hike on the SHT about four miles back down to your car. Europeans love gondolas, both the airborne mountain kind and the skinny canal boats in Venice.

At the top of the gondola ride is a fantastic view of Lake Superior not so far away but seemingly a mile down. There's also the Summit Chalet. No beef tongue on the menu, but it's an impressive selection given that the clients had to ride the tram to get there. The employees at the Chalet are likely to be real eastern Europeans, on the North Shore with summer work visas.

There are interpretive signs on the deck.

Read closely and you'll find some of the tortured English and bad punctuation that makes travel in Europe entertaining for native English speakers. Here's the text, closer up:

And those heavy gray cloudy skies? Very European!

From the Chalet, the hiking trail takes off along the side of Moose Mountain. It starts with a deck overlooking the steep north side of Moose Mountain. Windy? Rainy? Gray? Takes me right back to hiking the Odenwald in Germany.

The SHT spur has an ambitious trail route, skirting around the base of the cliffs rather than the safe and easy ridgetop route.

It's just a little like the Via Ferrata in the Alps, where they use fixed cables and ladders to get hiker/climbers through really technical terrain. Here they use a cedar branch nailed to another cedar tree. But grooving through, under and around the big rocks is still pretty cool.

Of course, at the end of the hike, back in the Scandinavian village, you can order a beer at Papa Charlies and celebrate conquering the trails.

Lutsen. Named after the town in Germany where the Protestant Swedes beat back the German Catholics in 1632, halfway through the 30 Years War. No beef tongue, but for the North Shore it's the most Euro destination of them all.