Outdoors blog: Taking what the season will give you
By: Sam Cook, Duluth News Tribune
Taking what the season gives you
This early meltdown of snow has made for some unusual travel conditions. Virtually all of the snow is out of the woods, and yet, as of last weekend, the lakes still had plenty of ice on them. All of the snow cover has melted atop the ice and refrozen. Some of the lakes are as smooth as a skating rink, at least in the cool of mornings. Later in the day, the sun softens the lake surface slightly. On land, the woods look like they would in early spring -- snow cover gone, no leaf growth on the deciduous trees, all of the portage trails open and dry.
This past Sunday, a friend of mine in Ely and I took off and made a seven-hour loop in the canoe country. We walked the lakes wearing Yaktrax or cleats on our running shoes, as travel on that smooth ice would have been treacherous without additional traction. Once on land, we would shuck the traction and just walk the portages.
We started at 9 a.m. and walked until 4 p.m. Only once did we have to bushwhack, when we came to a creek that was ice-free and too deep to wade. We did have to jump a bit of open water along the south-facing slopes where we went from land to ice. Once, we fashioned a small bridge of downed logs to make that transition.
Along the way, in the few patches of fresh snow that had fallen since the meltdown, we saw the tracks of wolves and one otter. We moved a few deadfalls on the portages, doing our best to help the U.S. Forest Service. We stopped for lunch on a patch of sun-splashed pine needles, and I had to work pretty hard to ward off a nap.
Mostly, we just walked and talked and gawked at some of the nicest country around. We inspected campsites. We peered through perfectly clear ice that had refrozen along some shorelines. We admired the moxie of a small Norway pine growing horizontally from an invisible crack in a lobe of rock. At one point, we found ourselves on a promontory of rock overlooking several fingers of forested ridges jutting into an expanse of frozen lake.
I don't know if I'd make the same walk this weekend. Conditions on the lakes are changing rapidly. Those gaps of open water along the south-facing slopes are bound to widen this week.
But we took what conditions allowed last weekend and made the most of them.