Tag Archives: north shore

Over the next hill, around the next bend

I coast across the trail intersection to look at the map mounted on posts on the other side. When I stop, I hear nothing except the pounding of my heart. The distant whine of snowmobiles that had periodically reached my ears while skiing the last kilometer from the trailhead are absent now. So is the soft clatter and crunch of my skis against the snow.

The leafless woods are perfectly still and silent. Then a crow squawks from some distance off, calling three times, then pausing, then three more times, then pausing again, and then a final three times. Then all is quiet again and I am left with the feeling that the crow’s caws were of a rhythm very similar to that of my heartbeat.

Sugarbush Trail - Bridge Run

It was late on Saturday afternoon and I was squeezing in a couple hours of solo skiing before heading back to the lodge where Rosie and 12 of her family would be waiting. We had rendezvoused at Lutsen the previous night for a winter weekend on the North Shore. Some had spent the day downhill skiing, others at a cooking class at the Folk School in Grand Marais. Her uncle Dan opted to wood carve at the condo and her dad had taken cousin Lori and her little Julia for a brief snowshoe hike in the morning and was surely now enjoying the resort’s hot tub.

Rosie and I and her cousin Scrubs and her husband (and my good friend since the third grade) Wrench had come north on Thursday night. In Duluth, we got together with Sam and his girl Sarah and headed down to Fitger’s Brewhouse, hoping to catch Alan Sparhawk‘s Los Besos at their regular Thursday gig. The Besos didn’t show, but we still had a fine time socializing and sampling pitchers of the Brewhouse’s beers. Sam was gracious enough to give over his apartment to us for the night and the four of us slept in one room, reminiscent of slumber parties none of us had partaken in for many years.

We woke late and moved slowly, finally getting to Amazing Grace in Canal Park for breakfast late in the morning. Not long into breakfast, Wrench pointed out that the cafe must have been serving some potent coffee, as the pace and energy of our conversation had picked up noticeably.

It was at Amazing Grace that Katie’s brother Brian and his fiancee Ruthann joined us after driving up from the Twin Cities that morning. After breakfast, we headed up the shore in a caravan and got to Sawtooth Outfitters in Tofte mid-afternoon. There, we rented snowshoes from the friendly proprietors and got a recommendation to check out the Onion River.

We checked in to the condo, quickly changed into suitable attire, and headed out for a little adventure. In case you’re curious, the snowshoe trail on the Onion River is not anywhere near the Onion River Road intersection with Highway 61. Being ignorant of that fact, and to the amusement of several snowmobilers who happened to pass by and park at said intersection as we strapped on our snowshoes and went in search of the river, we spent a bit of time on the wrong snow. But we had a fun little trip down to the lake, slipping down through pines and cedars, over rocks and embankments, ending up on the icy shores as the water lapped its eternal waves against the rocks.

Wrench and Rosie on the shores of Lake Superior

We turned around and went back up the hill and back to the cars, which we loaded into again and shortly found the wayside we were seeking just a couple more miles down the highway. There, we strapped the snowshoes back on and headed up the river. On the river.

It was a new experience to me, but something I had been wanting to try for a while. Just last month, Stephen Regenold had an article in the DNR‘s Conservation Volunteer magazine about “rivering” on the Onion, where he actually skied down the river. So here I found our motley crew.

Snowshoeing up the Onion River on Minnesota's North Shore

The ice on the river was generally a foot or two thick, with occasional spots where it was barely there at all and the water could be seen flowing underneath. But, by following the well-packed snowshoe trail, we were able to access the river gorge that must be nearly inaccessible at almost any other time of the year. We hiked beneath looming red cliffs up the twisting stream, finally arriving at the foot of a 30 or 40 foot waterfall, which was frozen solid.

The group standing at the foot of the first big falls on the Onion River.

We picked our way up a narrow trail alongside the falls, then were soon at the foot of another that we didn’t care to ascend. We stood at the bottom and admired it, noting a thin spot in the ice where the falling water could be seen behind it, eerily silent. In the failing light of the afternoon, we turned back and headed downriver again.

Wrench heading back down the river.

In the morning, Rosie and I and our soon-to-be sister-in-law Ruthie started out our day with Lutsen Mountain‘s “norpine” skiing, wherein the skier takes a chairlift to some summit and then gradually descends a four kilometer trail. It had been my idea, but I was disappointed in its realization. Only one trail was open and it was poorly groomed and not terribly exciting. Perhaps my opinion was based on knowledge of just how fantastic the Sugarbush trail system was — just eight miles away near Tofte. I hadn’t been able to find anyone who had skied Lutsen’s trails before we headed north, so to anyone who might consider it, I’ll say it seemed like they only offered the cross-country trails as a last resort for those who got dragged along to the ski resort but refused to downhill. Just my opinion and experience, anyway.

So, after meeting up with much of the group for lunch slopeside, Rosie had heard the siren call of the hot tub and Ruthie decided to ski up the trail we had just come down to actually get a workout. Leaving me to my devices. Which brought me to that lonely intersection in the Sawtooth Mountains.

After soaking in the silence a minute more, I found myself on the map and determined which path was mine. It took me to the crest of a long hill that cut straight down through the woods. I pulled my hat down over my ears, pushed off with my poles, got into a tuck and reveled in the wind on my face and the crescendo of the whine and buzz of my skis in the tracks. It was only the wind, but tears came to my eyes anyway.


We just took a four day vacation to Minnesota’s North Shore, staring at the awesome expanses of Lake Superior, skiing, snowshoeing, reading, sleeping, eating and doing nothing at all. Aside from playing outdoors and relaxing indoors, we also visited some old friends of my parents who have found a wonderful place for their retirement in Grand Marais. And we saw a singer-songwriter who I used to be friends with in high school but who I haven’t seen in several years, during which time she has done quite well in the past year or two. There’s a good chance those two facts are related. Or possibly it’s just that she has it all: an amazing voice, a talent for songwriting, great confidence on stage, and passion. She put on a wonderful show Friday night in Grand Marais.

I don’t have a lot more to say about the vacation, but we did snap a few photos that I thought were worth sharing.


Some inconsiderate moose walked right down the groomed ski tracks. I tell ya…


One Foot
On a river in the Superior National Forest off the Gunflint Trail.



At Temperance River State Park.




Taconite plant.

Driving through Deb‘s neck of the woods on the way home. It was a real snowstorm by our standards and it was a lot of fun to drive along barely-plowed roads on a quiet Sunday afternoon with the pine trees blanketed in snow.

Bottom line: after a non-winter in the Twin Cities, it was good to spend a few day somewhere with snow and everything that winter should be. It was far too brief a time spent up there and we both realized even more how much we love the north country of Minnesota.

A Story to Tell

“Ponder now these past days as I solo hike upon the shared ground of two great ecosystems of how in-tune with self and nature one can become if they let go of worry and face hardship and discomfort head on.”

My friend Sam hiked the entire Superior Hiking Trail in May and has put his journal and photos on the Web. It’s a fun read with lots of great pictures.


“The sunshine coming overhead, the sky lit up like a cigarette.”

We were having a hard time deciding how to spend our anniversary. We had some ideas, some small desires, but nothing stood out in the week leading up to it. We wanted to be outside, or close to it, to forget the stresses of our jobs and life, to make a memory, to be together. There were the usual minor disagreements about the details which conspired to stall the larger decisions. And there was unfortunate pressure we put on ourselves to make it perfect, to meet some vague self-imposed romantic standard.

So Friday came and I professed my love on this site and then met her at home. We went to dinner at a restaurant new to us just a mile away, brought a bottle of Syrah with that we brought back from our honeymoon in California and which turned out to be excellent, ate delicious food — risotto, pork tenderloin, chicken, cheescake — and drank the wine. Afterwards, feeling the warmth of wine and a fine meal, we strolled down the dark leaf-covered sidewalk to the car.

After dinner, we saw “North Country,” a new movie about the groundbreaking sexual harrassment class action lawsuit on the Iron Range of northern Minnesota in the 1980s. It was difficult to watch at times, but very, very good. A rare movie that can show you a dark side of your home, but somehow you leave the theater feeling proud that it’s your home. It’s a totally fictionalized account, and I hope I’m not the only person who saw it and felt compelled to learn more about the reality of the events.

In the morning I woke up early and dropped my car off at the Tires Plus a few blocks away for an oil change and some other maintenance that would take about an hour. I walked home, stopping to get a cup of coffee along the way, enjoying the cool gray morning. I walked down the middle of a quiet street for a short ways to admire the tunnel of red and orange created by the maples.

I thought about writing and thought that as much as I want to write stories, stories about people and the landscape in whch they live, I tend to treat my characters as nothing more than part of the landscape, and often, not a very complex or interesting part. It came to me that I am scared to write truly human characters, or to even try. Before I could figure out why, or how to fix the problem, I was home.

Back in the apartment, with bluegrass on the radio, we packed a week’s worth of stuff for a trip out of town that we weren’t sure would last longer than the afternoon and then we hit the road north.