Tag Archives: winter

Images of a Minnesota winter weekend

In lieu of a real post, I submit some photos from this wonderful winter weekend. After last week’s bitter cold, it was great to get out snowshoeing two days. Both trips featured big, fluffy snowflakes and a real sense of the wild within a short drive from my door.

One outing was an exploration of a wonderful Wildlife Management Area with she and she, the other an adventure up some railroad tracks along the St. Croix River with Brian and Rachel, a very fun visit to an area I know well by canoe in the warmer months but had not experienced in the hard water season.

Click on the photos to go to the respective galleries for the two outings.

Katie and Lola playing in the snow

Katie and Lola playing in the snow at Hardwood Creek WMA.

Snowshoeing along railroad tracks near the St. Croix River

Snowshoeing along railroad tracks near the St. Croix River

Saturday Ski Sojourn

Yesterday the forecast predicted imminent hibernation (windchills today of -30) so I set off for the woods while I still could.

I like this park because it gives you immediate gratification. The trails for the most part go up and over the many ridges, rather than along their spines. So if you go up a hill, you go down a hill.

It was still cloudy when I started out. By the time I was done the skies were blue and the hard cold air had arrived.

As I skied, the wind thundered through the treetops. This blocked out the distant sound of the highway that I can usually hear anywhere in the park.

A week ago, skiing here would have been impossible, it was nothing but ice. This day, the trails had still not seen a groomer, but a few inches of fresh snow was enough to make them passable.

This is the park where I skied four times a week when I was on the ski team in junior high and high school. It is 284 acres of hilly hardwoods with the trails packed tightly in so that you can ski and ski, deciding at every intersection which way to go, knowing that you’ll be presented with another option just around the next bend.

You just have to commit, that’s the secret as much as there is one. To paraphrase Alan Sparhawk in Cross Country with the Snakes, you gotta put your foot down, just like when you’re on stage. You gotta put your foot down and mean it.

There’s a powerline that runs through the middle of the park and it is a big wide cut. It separates the front from the back. The time it takes to get there is about the time required for the mind and body to settle down. In that back half of the park, that’s where you find things.

Things like the rhythm of skiing. Poles crunch into the snow, skier strides, skis glide, so on. You start to see that that it is not unto itself, but just another pattern in nature.

But there isn’t anything ahead or behind, just the snow under your skis.

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.


Lola in the snow

Forgive this longer-than-planned absence… I got sucker punched by the flu on Saturday, I’m just now emerging.

Our second major helping of snow in less than a week fell last Thursday as Rosie and I escaped the city to Chateau du Her Parents’ for a little winter getaway while they were vacationing in warmer climes. That meant enjoying the privilege of breaking trail on Friday at Afton State Park. Rosie on skis, me on snowshoes, Lola breaking a zig-zagging trail ahead of us through a foot-and-a-half of snow.

Rosie forging a trail

Winter in the Woods

We got snow. Three or so inches of the lightest, fluffiest snow fell last night and suddenly the world which had been brown and sickly for so long was white and soft. Corners were rounded and in today’s sun it sparkled like infinite diamonds. As the breeze tossed it from the trees, the very air shimmered in the sun.

To honor that great man of peace and justice, Martin Luther King, Jr., my workplace was closed. Rosie’s, unfortunately, was not. As such, Lola and I tagged along with Rainier and Sleepy and their friendly dog Quercus for a hike at Crosby Regional Park along the Mississippi River.

I had never been to the park before, but it is a favorite of theirs. I was very glad to be introduced to it today. When we arrived, there were perhaps 10 or 15 cars in the parking lots, mostly exultant cross-country skiers finally out on their boards on a glorious, bright winter day. Rainier and Sleepy were shocked at the number of cars, though I didn’t think it was that many. Apparently it’s usually much quieter.

With temperatures in the single digits, a distant southern sun in the sky, and the world bursting with pure, sometimes blinding, light, many people were very happy that it finally looked and felt like winter should.

We left the parking lot and walked along a trail with a small lake on our right side and a steep, wooded bluff above us on our left. Once off the leash, Lola was in heaven. She loves the snow. It is great to shove her snout through it, coming up with a muzzle coated in white, her whiskers frozen. And she ran and ran and ran. Up the hillsides, just to see what was up there. Ahead on the trail until I called her name and she would run back, stopping to smell something under the snow, then running ahead again, forging our path.

Our course took us along the lake and then another that adjoined it. The trail which had already been marked by a few cross-country skiers went the other way and we walked on through untracked snow. I took off my hat, my scarf, even my gloves at different times during the hike, it’s amazing what the pumping of the heart can do to keep you warm in cold weather.

Above us, out of sight over the top of the hill, we could hear traffic, but not too loudly. I don’t think I was alone in feeling far-removed from the world of the concrete and steel along our path in the snowy woods.

After a mile or so, we crossed an unplowed park road and went on into a bottomland of beech and cottonwood trees, with as many laying on the ground as standing. It was apparently very swampy under the snow but you wouldn’t know it with everything frozen.

It wasn’t long before we emerged on the banks of the river. To our left was the I-35E bridge, which I have driven across to work every weekday morning for more than two years. Every morning I look down at the river, it is always beautiful, always a different view, and it is always a brief, welcome escape from the artificial world I am driving toward. Every day I wonder what it is like down along the river. I watch as the water levels rise in the spring and reach the edge of the vegetation, as it sinks back down over the summer to expose more and more beach.

Now I was standing on that beach for the first time. I couldn’t believe I’d never come down here before. Again, I felt so very far from that rusing world of the highway. I will definitely have a new perspective on the view when I drive to work tomorrow.

We walked along the beach for quite some time, still not seeing anyone. Lola ran ahead and would disappear into the woods briefly, then come galloping back to my call.

Shortly after we went back up into the woods it transitioned from the big cottonwoods and the such to a tight forest of small pines. It was thick and impenetrable. Out of the tangle of wood a form suddenly emerged, the giant frame of a teepee, dozens of logs leaning into each other in a circle. There was no covering on it and no inner area, just a pyramid of logs.

Sleepy explained that this area had been home to the Dakota American Indians for many hundreds, if not thousands, of years. When the whites came, they eventually made a prison on an island out from us where they imprisoned the Indians before expelling them from the land altogether. How awful, to be prisoner in your own home, then driven from it with no hope of having it back. Neither Sleepy nor Rainier knew anything about the teepees, they said they’d noticed them in various stages of construction, but never seen anyone working on them.

We slowly worked back toward the car, and slowly started to see more people. Never many, but here and there a skier or a couple hikers. We hiked through some more hardwoods and then came to the far side of the lake that we had walked next to on our way in.

Two skiers were crossing the lake length-wise and we watched them and then decided to walk back across it so we could walk out on the trail we’d come in on. Underneath the snow, the ice was hard, solid and perfectly smooth. Rainier and Sleepy said the previous day, before the snow, people had been ice skating on the lake.

It felt good to walk on some hard water. The warm temperatures of this winter have made that impossible before now. Being in the middle of a frozen lake, everything so white and flat, is a good feeling.

It wasn’t long before we were back at the car, having walked about four miles. And it wasn’t long before we were right back in the heart of the city, with bustling traffic and noise. My cheeks were flushed from the cold and the wind and I felt purified by the clean winter air.

I can’t wait to look down on my drive to work tomorrow morning and see my tracks on that snow-covered beach.

[tags]hiking, winter, minnesota, mississippi river[/tags]

Arctic Skies

ColdAs a coworker of mine just packed up to head home for the day, I noticed her knee length wool coat with the thick, furry collar. I said to her, “That looks like a warm coat.”

She paused, then said, “It is… but it’s still Minnesota.” She laughed, pulled on her gloves, and left for the day.

No amount of warm clothes seem to be able to keep us warm this week. Winter arrived with a real cold snap. It was about zero degrees when I came to work this morning, it’s 15 degrees right now. It will get colder this winter, but the first arrival of such frigid air is always a shock to the system. I won’t deny I’m looking forward to forecasted highs in the 30s this weekend.

Sadly, there is no snow on the ground. As I stood on the curb last night, waiting for the dog to do her business, I lamented the fact. I wish we had snow, but for the past several winters, dry, dead grass in the middle of winter blankets the ground far more often than does fresh snow. Every season, the hope that winter will be a series of blizzards like I remember (if slightly exaggerated) from my childhood lessens a little.

Huddled inside my coat last night, hat pulled low and scarf pulled high, I realized the hope was still there, and it would be until I no longer could even remember the sight of the big snow banks along the street after the plows came through, of feet of snow on the driveway, of the woods in that soft purity of winter.

* Edit: I know a lot of Minnesotans who consider talking about the weather one of their primary hobbies. But I enjoy what Randy has to say more than most (and it doesn’t hurt that he’s a meteorologist!). He just posted up his own thoughts on the cold weather and his hopes for a snowy winter.