Sunday, January 31, 2010

The deer have come down...early

When the snow on the North Shore ridges is deep and the snow right by the lakeshore is thin, deer move to the lakeshore to feed. It's normally in March that the deer really move to the lakeshore, when early spring sun has melted the snow off the south-facing slopes.

The great deer slaughter on the North Shore has already begun. With the weird rain/snow blends we've had, the snow inland is as deep as ever and the snow by the lake is almost absent. The deer have come down. Early.

Yesterday there were at least five fresh carcasses between Duluth and Grand Marais.

Personally, I don't mind the loss of deer. There are too many deer on the North Shore and not enough white pine or cedar trees. I'd rather have way fewer deer, so that the pine and cedar trees can grow again.

I just worry about the cars and their drivers...including myself!

Be careful out there!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Come chat with me!

Party time, Ski People!

That's a rough translation of "Volks Ski Fest," the name of the annual event celebrating Cook County's great North Shore ski trails.

At last year's Volks Ski Fest, I had one learning experience after another after another. I learned about discretion, valor, family dynamics, and a certain surly stretch of ski trail.

Volks Ski Fest got underway again last weekend, in the middle of the rain and snow. Fortunately, the storm left Cook County with more snow than rain and the trails have been groomed into great shape.

I'm doing two programs this Saturday, January 30th.

From 1:00-3:00, I'll be at the Lake Superior Trading Post in Grand Marais, signing copies of Skiing the North Shore and Camping the North Shore and swapping tales of great cross country ski adventures. I've met some great folks at the Trading Post, and owner Eric Humphreys is a tireless advocate for North Shore adventures.

From 6:00 to 7:00, I'll be at Lutsen Resort doing a Fireside Chat guessed it...Skiing the North Shore. This is an informal gathering in Lutsen's great homey lobby, where we'll sink into big chairs near the fireplace and share tales about nearby ski trails.

Please PLEASE come to one...or both!...of these events. As much as I enjoy researching and writing these guidebooks, I enjoy even more talking with other skiers and hikers and campers and North Shore aficionados.

After all, it's party time, ski people!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

17 (chicky) reasons to Cross Country ski

This list is from the website for Athleta, a mail-order company that specializes in groovy outdoor/exercise clothes for women. I see my lovely active wife on every page of the catalog, romping outdoors, off at yoga class, and it was she that sent me this link.

Enjoy...and get inspired to get out there. The snow is back on the North Shore and the skiing is great from Duluth to Grand Marais and beyond.
  1. Cross Country skiing is the best FULL BODY workout — arms, legs, core, heart!
  2. XC skiing is low impact on your body. If you have joint pains or injuries, Nordic Skiing is body-friendly.
  3. No lift lines!
  4. You won’t get cold on the chairlift ride up.
  5. It’s way more affordable than downhill skiing.
  6. At certain trailheads you can even take your dog.
  7. It’s peaceful and allows for an opportunity for stress relief and/or self-reflection.
  8. It can be fast-paced and daring if you want it to (steep hills with big turns on skinny skis and no metal edges!!!).
  9. Spandex while skiing is fun (but also highly optional).
  10. Skiing in fresh tracks feels like cutting through silk.
  11. It’s a great family sport for all ages.
  12. There are many places to do it – established areas with groomed trails, a neighborhood park, or a Forest Service trailhead.
  13. There are two totally different techniques to choose from – skate or classic.
  14. Cross Country skiing is aerobic (it will work your heart!) but it will also work your muscles!
  15. You can ski and pull a small child in a Chariot (the skiing equivalent of a jogging stroller).
  16. You will have earned your glass of red wine and cheese at the end of the day!
  17. XC skiing is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Planning to ski the shore? Connections are down

Thanks to a broken steampipe in Duluth, long-distance telephone and internet service has been out most of today on the North Shore.

Funny, I noticed just last week that's not the only connection that's missing.

Here's what used to be the ski trail from Oberg Mountain east to Lutsen. Deadfalls cross the trail and raspberry canes have filled it in.

Here's the trail connecting Lutsen Sea Villas with the rest of the North Shore Mountains XC system. Actual trees are growing where skiers once glided back down to the Sea Villas swimming pool.

In both the ski trails and the communications cabling, lack of ongoing maintenance has led to the loss of connections.

The North Shore ski trails were once a interconnected network of 200 kilometers of trails. Lately, major hubs like the Sugarbush trails and the Cascade trails have been very well taken care of by community groups and resort owners. But the interconnections have broken down. Who grooms the Lutsen connector trails?

If you're planning a North Shore ski trip and hoping for a big point-to-point adventure from say Tofte to Lutsen, inquire before heading out. Those connector trails may not be groomed or even cleared.

If you want to make a phone call...well, those connections should be fixed a lot sooner than the ski trails.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Zoetrope Mountains

Yesterday, I skied through a 19th-century optical illusion. Skiing the 1800s? No wonder I couldn't get my wax to work.

A zoetrope is a spinning barrel, invented in the 1830s, with slits in the side and a series of "moving" images inside. By spinning the wheel you see the images appear to move and become real.

That's exactly the sensation I get when I'm skiing through the maple ridgelines of the North Shore, and distant ridges appear through the trees. If you stop and look, you can't ever pick out the whole mountain. Ski along, keep looking, and as you move you can see the whole thing.

I skied the Oberg loop, up off the Onion River Road in Tofte, Minnesota. It's part of the Sugarbush trail system. Though I hadn't skied it for years, I think of this 8K loop fondly. The trail heads off the Onion River Road, snaking between Oberg Mountain and Oberg Lake.

I never had a full view of Oberg Mountain itself, just a series of views through the trees. After passing below Oberg, the trail climbs up to a ridgeline that, typical of the North Shore, is blanketed in sugar maples. With the leaves off, the maples couldn't fully hide the distant ridges, and I got tantalizing, incomplete views of Oberg, Moose, Eagle, Leveaux mountains and even distant Carlton Peak.

Of course, it's dangerous to combine seeking the zoetrope views of the mountains with skiing curvy downhill runs. I had to give up my hunt for more peaks as I came down off the ridge, for fear that I'd end up plastered to one of those same maples.

Monday, January 18, 2010

River Season with Bryan Hansel

It's frozen river season on the North Shore. People are snowshoeing the Onion River and exploring other winter cathedrals tucked into the forest just upstream from Highway 61. North Shore river skiing is an extreme sport, especially when there are waterfalls to descend or open water to skirt.

The Devil Track gorge is frustratingly inaccessible, even invisible in summer. as I discovered hiking it this spring.

I am so glad there are people like Bryan Hansel (above) and Ilena Berg, who can not only head up beautiful North Shore canyons in winter but can post photos like these to share with those of us stuck in town. Through Bryan's lens, the Devil Track River can be seen for the deep, wild and challenging gorge it is. Check out his pictures and read the labels for a sense of the adventure.

Thanks for sharing the pix, Bryan!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Good Harbor, Good view, GREAT geology

In a land full of amazing geologic stories, this might be the best and most easily understood geology stop on the entire North Shore of Lake Superior. It's right at the big curve that swoops down about five miles west of Grand Marais, with the new Cutface Creek wayside down below.

I'm sort of colorblind. For decades I've driven by this rock face at Good Harbor. Maybe I was distracted by the big view of the Grand Marais harbor just up the lake, but I never EVER noticed how deep and luscious RED the lower layer of rock was. It's a 120-foot thick layer of sandstone, siltstone and shale, turned red, I assume, by the oxides of the billion-year old rock below it (Law of Superposition: look it up).

Driving there earlier this winter, before the big snows, I had to stop. Perhaps the gray overcast sky made the difference, but that red rock was really red.

Stop by yourself sometime. Read the plaque that explains the formation of the red rock and gray rock. This is may be the coolest, easiest geology spot on the entire North Shore.

Monday, January 11, 2010

This is embarrassing

From the DNR's Conservation Officer weekly reports: "CO Matt Miller checked ice anglers, skiers, and snowmobilers during the week. Cold weather hampered the recreational efforts of many. Cross-country skiers continue to log a much higher violation rate than any of the other user groups checked."

Thanks to Sam Cook for pointing this out on his blog.

I'm glad the skiers are out there in the cold, but...


Saturday, January 9, 2010

Skiing with Yo Mama

Yo Mama so dumb, she got locked in a grocery store and starved to death.

Yo Mama so slow she can't even catch her own breath.

With all apologies to my own Mama, who is neither dumb, fat, or mean, that's what I tolerated from Noah as we drove to and skied around the ski trails at Boulder Lake this afternoon. The trails, by the way, were lovely, with a few inches of fresh fluffy snow in the woods.

My other son and my wife Sally, knowing how slow and goofy we will be, take off and leave us. Noah starts skiing carefully and end skiing goofy. Impersonations start to roll out. The Yo Mama jokes spout from his imagination and from the Yo Mama gadget on his iGoogle homepage.

I couldn't really do Yo Mama back at Noah, especially since his Mama is fit and smart and was outskiing all three of us guys. So I teased him a bit with a new nickname today: Pokey-man (like the videogame, get it?).

Hey, Noah: Yo Mama so fast she beat you back to the car after skiing nearly twice as far as you.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Faceplant therapy

A few days back, I took a spill on the ski trail at Hartley Field in Duluth. It was a decent faceplant on a totally flat trail. Embarrassing? A little bit, but I was alone out there.


Viewing this video from the World Cup race in Duesseldorf was quite therapeutic. Caution: the soundtrack is...well...therapeutic as well.

If I fall in the woods all by myself, no one needs to know. Especially when I was on the flats, so there was no great story to tell about, say, whipping down a huge turn and avoiding the moose.

But when you're on an artificial ski track in the middle of a major European city and there's six other skiers and twice as many cameras beaming you live across the continent...well, that's hard to keep a secret.

When you catch a ski tip and spin out like a rag doll...

When you are on the ground only a few seconds from the starting gate...

May as well let the whole world know.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Camping: Stuff White People Like

This is a great entry from the hilarious, tongue-in-cheek "Stuff White People Like" blog. Enjoy, and join the conversation in the comments!

For example, "In theory camping should be a very inexpensive activity since you are literally sleeping on the ground. But as with everything in white culture, the more simple it appears the more expensive it actually is."

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Hanging the midday sun

In a North Shore winter, in early January, the sun is low all day long. At noon today, the Duluth sun was 27 degrees above the horizon. We're ten days past the equinox, but the midday sun hasn't climbed more than a degree.

No, I was not out there at 2 below with a sextant to measure the angle. I looked it up at NOAA's Solar Position Calculator. I was out there at 2 below, but with skis and a camera instead.

I skied the 5K of trail at Hartley Field (that's page 42 in Skiing the North Shore) at midday. Halfway around the Outer Loop, I noticed it had suddenly become dark. I scanned the sky for a cloud, thinking a big dark one must have passed overhead. But it was only blue sky as far as I could see.

Instead, I'd skied alongside a small Duluth ridgeline. Here, at 11:30 AM, the sun had already set for the day and the snow had turned a dusky purple.

The low sun makes for high beauty. As I skied along, camera ready, I kept looking through the trees and snow for shots of sunlight working its magic. Doing this reminded me of a favorite Japanese poem from Steve Van Matre's collection The Earth Speaks:

I hung the moon
on various
branches of the pine.

I imagined the ancient Zen poet doing exactly the same thing as I was doing, using the forest to frame the light, "hanging" the sun like another Christmas tree ornament off in the woods.

Maybe I'm a performance artist after all.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Seen along the trail

It's been a long cold stretch here on the North Shore. Even when the high temp for the day is 3 below, I'm getting out for an hour or so each day, just enough to ski a loop at one of my local favorite XC trails.

After a blizzard that turned to rain and back to snow, you find funny things in the woods.

At the Piedmont Ski Trail, it looked just like someone had been ice-fishing in the middle of a trail junction. The hole was just the right size for a tip-up, right down to the open water and slush. The groomers came through the next day and the icefishing hole was still there. The forest fisherman must have re-augered the hole. Maybe there's a trout that feeds on ski wax shavings.

Still at Piedmont, there's a great sign for the truly lost. If this sign doesn't orient you, what ever would?

Then, at Bagley Nature Area at UMD, the Superior Hiking Trail got a good a joyriding snowmobiler. Note the blue paint blazes that mark the SHT all the way up to Canada. Could it be the SHT's first thru-Skidoo?