ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

A chance encounter with the power and violence of ice-out at Tettegouche (with video)

Perhaps Mother Nature wanted to teach me a lesson. Sitting on rocks alongside the Baptism River in Tettegouche State Park on Monday afternoon, savoring the sights and sounds of High Falls raging from recent snowmelt, I dared to take my iPhone out...

Baptism River before ice-out
High Falls on the Baptism River in Tettegouche State Park on the North Shore runs high from recent snowmelt. (Andrew Krueger / akrueger@duluthnews.com)

Perhaps Mother Nature wanted to teach me a lesson.

Sitting on rocks alongside the Baptism River in Tettegouche State Park on Monday afternoon, savoring the sights and sounds of High Falls raging from recent snowmelt, I dared to take my iPhone out of my pocket.

It was a sunny, balmy afternoon, the warmth of the sun's rays winning out over occasional wafts of cool mist from the falls; no one else was around. I had the day off work, no appointments or deadlines. I planned to spend a good amount of time down there in the gorge, just enjoying the show. And I discovered I had a bar of service on my phone. Why not snap a quick photo to share with friends on Facebook and Twitter, and then return to an off-the-grid afternoon?

So I did, taking my attention away from the river. First a tweet, then a Facebook post, and then all hell broke loose.

As I returned the phone to my pocket, I looked up at the falls and noticed they seemed to be growing more intense. What happened in the next few minutes is a bit of a blur, but I noticed a lot more ice moving down the river. Branches cracking as slabs of ice crashed into riverside shrubs and trees. And the turbulent water rising, quickly rising toward where I sat.

ADVERTISEMENT

Ice-out.

I reached for my camera, set on a tripod behind me. Then I scrambled to grab my pack, set on rocks about 20 feet away. And with gear in hand, I took a few quick steps up onto the stairs leading out of the gorge, bewildered and not quite sure just how far uphill I'd need to retreat.

After a deep breath and a quick assessment of my safety, I started taking some photos and video of the spectacle unfolding before me. Somewhere upstream, an ice jam had broken and unleashed this frozen maelstrom to rush downstream. It's an event that may happen each year, but it's impossible to predict and a rare privilege to witness.

I was out of danger, with a front-row seat to witness the power of water and ice. Massive slabs of ice crashing into each other. Large logs floating past, carried atop the icy slurry. All accompanied by the roar of the falls.

The rocks where I was sitting a few minutes before were covered first by swirling water, and then -- as the initial rush of water receded -- by a thick layer of ice chunks and driftwood deposited by the river.

After staying another 45 minutes, I hiked back out of the gorge, crossing the suspension bridge above the falls. On my hike in, I had noticed some 6-by-6 beams stockpiled near the bridge for some future trail project. Now I saw that a few had been tossed about the woods by the rushing water; a few others probably wouldn't be seen again.

Down at the river's mouth on Lake Superior, icebergs and logs bobbed far out in the lake. The plume was clearly visible from the heights of Palisade Head a mile away.

As I enjoyed the view from the rocky cliffs, I wondered what had happened for ice-out to take place while I was there to see it. Perhaps the warmth of the sun had melted the one piece of ice locking everything in place upstream. Or perhaps, as I had turned my attention from falls to phone, the spirits of the north woods wanted to provide a reminder that nothing in the digital world can compare to the awe-inspiring power of the natural world.

ADVERTISEMENT

Next time, I think I'll save the Facebook posts for when I return to civilization.

Andrew Krueger can be reached at akrueger@duluthnews.com .

Baptism River after ice-out
A wave of water and ice from upstream on the Baptism River has swept over High Falls in Tettegouche State Park on the North Shore and caused the now ice- and driftwood-choked water to rise several feet. (Andrew Krueger / akrueger@duluthnews.com)

Related Topics: LAKE SUPERIORWEATHER
What To Read Next
The system crashed earlier this month, grounding flights across the U.S.