Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Photo of the Day: Jay Cooke State Park

Another great day of skiing at Jay Cooke State Park. This is a photo of the overlook I skied to today.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Book Across the Bay

At around noon Noelle and I packed up the Subaru for yet another Northland adventure. This time our destination was our very first ski "race". We decided we would head over to the Ashland, Wisconsin area for the annual Book Across the Bay, a 10k ski race across Chequamegon Bay from Ashland to Washburn.

We made it to Ashland by around two, registered and then headed over to the nice Upper Great Lakes Visitor Center to check out the exhibits. From there we drove to Washburn where we parked the car and then caught the shuttle back to Ashland. We arrived in Ashland with about 2 hours to kill, which we spent milling around in the registration/warming tent. Finally it was race time.

The start was marked with a huge, warming bonfire. I hadn't planed on really going fast, but as the start approached my competitiveness got the best of me. I quickly started to pass other skiers staying on the skating track for the first kilometer. Finally I headed over to the set tracks where it was certainly interesting passing other skiers.

The skiing went remarkably well. I felt like I skied strong and could have gone faster if I really had wanted to. The finish was interesting in that it featured the only small hill on the entire course.
It was difficult to finish fast because the hill slowed many skiers down with a few even falling. I finished in 1:12, not bad considering it was my first race and I skied on my waxless, touring skis. Noelle finished about a half hour later.

The post-race festivities featured live music, great beer from Ashland's own South Shore Brewing, and free chili, hot cocoa, and soda pop. We plan on participating again next year.

Music Review: Wilco in Duluth

Last night Noelle and I went to our first concert since we saw Pearl Jam in Cincinnati about 3 years ago. I, not being a huge PJ fan, was quite surprised at the excellent show that Pearl Jam put on then. Last night Wilco delivered as well. They played for just over two hours and sounded great. The DECC auditorium was an excellent location for the show, being not too big. In this respect it was definitely a far cry from the PJ concert where our seats were in the very last row of the cavernous US Bank Arena.

Anyway, Wilco played a great mix of music. They played the best tracks off their new album, opening with Wilco (the song). What I enjoyed most though was that they played several songs off what I consider to be their best album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Other favorites played included Impossible Germany and Wishful Thinking. Overall a great music experience!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Skiing and Snowshoeing Voyageurs

After a quick continental breakfast, we packed up the car and hit the road headed south back towards Duluth. We did, however, have some fun planned for the day. Our first stop was in the Kabetogama Lake area where we decided to ski the Echo Bay Trail. The difficulty was not noted on any signs or literature and the start of the trail while not well groomed seemed easy enough. The skiing would get quite difficult later though.

The difficult skiing included skiing over downed trees, over rocks, and down very steep grades with sharp turns at the bottom. While I had a difficult time but was surviving well enough, Noelle was having a terrible time. She spent a lot of time pushing herself up off the ground. I felt bad for her. If I had known the skiing was going to be so difficult I would never have brought her there. We survived the skiing, but it was slow going. It took us close to 2 hours to ski 3 miles.

After the ski, neither of us was ready to go home and so we drove over to Ash River to snowshoe the Blind Ash bay Trail. While we had no need for the snowshoes on the Olberholzer Trail yesterday, I was glad we had them today. There were some tracks to guide us but they were covered in about six inches of snow. The ranger at the VC yesterday said that they had no measurable snow in two weeks, so it was obvious that we were the first people back there in a long time.

The trail felt remote. Every now and then you could hear the whine of a snowmobile off in the distance, but I got the feeling snowshoeing there that if one of us got hurt, it would be difficult to get out or find help. Noelle was moving pretty slow as well. She had used up quite a bit of energy on our ski trip.

At about the halfway point of the hike, it started to snow. At first the snow was light and pleasant, but then it started to snow pretty steadily. I was actually quite relieved when we made it back to the parking lot. It was only a 2.8 mile hike but breaking trail in the snow made for some tough hiking.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Voyageurs National Park

Last night Noelle and I packed up the ol' family truckster (in metallic blue raspberry) and headed north to the "Icebox of the Nation" International Falls, Minnesota.
International Falls Smokey
We spent a restful night in our trusty Super 8 motel room before a day of snowy adventure in the Rainy Lake area of Voyageurs National Park.

This morning our first stop was the only park visitor center open for the winter where we obtained the obligatory park passport stamps and looked at the exhibits in the visitor center all the while dodging snowmobile clothing and helmets which reeked of exhaust. From the VC we had a nice hike on the packed snow Oberholzer Trail which starts just outside the visitor center. The trail was not all that exciting but we enjoyed being outside and walking on a beautiful, cold, winter day.

After our hike and a bathroom we pointed the old Civic right into Rainy Lake and drove on the frozen surface. I think with the experience of driving an ice road Noelle and I can now truly consider ourselves to be Northlanders! Our destination on the ice road was the trailhead for the Black Bay ski trails. After a wrong turn and a few dodges of ice shacks and snowmobiles we had safely arrived.

The ski trail was very nice. It was a challenging ski, but not too much so. We had skied the first two loops of the trail when we made our way back to the frozen water parking lot. At this point we were in the mood for more adventure. I had heard that a small island just off the mainland had the remains of a gold mine and some mining equipment and so we headed to a nearby boat ramp where we planned to ski to this place called Little American Island.

The ski to Little American Island was fun and easy on the frozen snow covered lake surface. We first skied to a cluster of two very small islands close to shore. One of the islands was posted as private property but we found an old rock wall poking through the snow on the other. Was this Little American Island? I wasn't convinced and so I talked Noelle into skiing over to another nearby island.

As we approached the other island and skied around it I noticed what appeared to be man-made trenches blasted into the rock and I also noticed a lot of human foot traffic evidence in the snow. Sure enough as we turned a corner we found a large sign announcing that this island was indeed our destination.
Little American Island
We ditched the skis and spent a few minutes poking around before skiing back to the mainland.
Eric at Mine Hoist
It was a great day to be in northern Minnesota!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Jay Cooke Ski Trip

Went back to Jay Cooke State Park again. This time was different however, in that today I skied the trails instead of walking them. It was such a gorgeous day I just had to get out. I checked the trail report and the conditions at Jay Cooke were listed as "fair". The trails were listed as fair not because of lack of snow or icy conditions, but because they had not yet been groomed.

The potential for skiing some ungroomed trails excited me. I hadn't done this type of skiing before. Well the conditions were in actuality great. I think I like skiing ungroomed trails better than the groomed ones. The going is a little bit slower and it's a little bit more work, but I think it is a more satisfying experience. It is also easier to ski downhill when the trails are not groomed.

I skied the Spruce Trail Loop today under brilliant blue skies. I also skied a spur to an overlook called the High Trail. In all it was 10.6 kilometers. Pretty tough work in the powdery snow and I overdressed. I got a bit hot and sweaty much like I had spent the day in a sauna. I felt like I had accomplished something though, when the day was over.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Jay Cooke in the Snow

Today Noelle, Mom and I headed back to Jay Cooke State Park for a short hike along the Ogantz Trail in the snow. It was nice to stretch our legs and the Cozy Melts for lunch were delicious as well!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Superior Hiking Trail: Splitrock River Loop

Today Noelle, Mom and I decided to head out to do some snowshoeing. We decided that our best bet for a close but new snowshoe was the Splitrock Rover Loop which lies mostly within Splitrock Lighthouse State Park. We drove north on Highway 61 through Two Harbors to our destination only to discover that there was not enough snow on the ground to justify snowshoeing. Everything turned out okay though, we just hiked instead.

The trail started out very icy and soon we were at the location of a beautiful, large frozen waterfall. Icy conditions did not improve and the walking was slow going. For once in my life I wish we had some of those Yak Trax things I've seen advertised in the Campmor Catalog. Eventually we made it to a section of trail with a short side trail that led onto the Splitrock River itself. Because we had seen some people skiing on the river, we decided to give river hiking a try.
This decision made the traveling much easier and faster. before we knew it we were at the river's supposed namesake, a rock formation known as the "split rock".
Noelle at Split Rock

After the split rock we quickly moved on to the halfway point of our hike, a bridge crossing over the river. At this point we elected to return to the trail. Luckily hiking this section of trail was much easier than going than the previous section we had hiked. There was much less ice on the trail. We moved pretty quickly to an overlook of Lake Superior and then dropped down to the highway and the start of our hiking adventure.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Chequamegon National Forest: St. Peter's Dome Snowshoe

Today Noelle and I headed over the bridge and into Wisconsin. This time, however, we headed a little farther east than Superior. This time we headed into the Ashland area to do some snowshoeing and winter hiking. Our first stop was in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest to snowshoe the St. Peter's Dome/Morgan Falls Trails. The snowshoeing was amazing. Yesterday's two inches of snow left everything covered with a fresh, powdery coating of white. After about 30 minutes we had made it to Morgan Falls. The falls there are reputed to be amongst the most beautiful in Wisconsin. Today's view, however, was of a solid frozen white mass.

After the falls we retraced our steps to the trail junction and made our way along a beaver pond and creek valley. Slowly we ascended to a snowmobile trail which we crossed before climbing in earnest. The walking was wonderful with quiet and peace, other than the noise and fumes of a few snowmobiles that sped past on the snowmobile trail. The last section of trail had been illegally ascended by snowmobiles which made for some easy going, before ending at a wonderful overlook of Ashland and a distant Lake Superior.
Noelle on St. Peters Dome
From the overlook we quickly retraced our steps back to the parking lot and made our way further east to Copper Falls State Park. Unfortunately, many of the trails were closed to walking and snowshoeing since they had been converted to ski trails for the winter. We made the most of the situation though and walked to Copper Falls and Brownstone Falls along the Bad River. I'm not really sure why it's called the Bad River though, the views all seemed pretty good to me.

Finally, when our walk at Copper Falls was over, we made our way up to Ashland itself where we ate and drank some delicious beer at the Deep Water Grille and South Shore Brewery. A great end to a great day!