A cabin on the shore (owned by Greg's family) would provide a cozy base of operations. Plans were made, equipment readied, food lists prepared, shopping done (done by Mark, who also cooked) and a departure time was set. We would meet at our house at 9 AM Friday and head north, hopefully missing the morning rush hour and reaching Tofte by mid-afternoon.
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Mother nature had other plans. Thursday afternoon and night brought freezing rain, thunder and lightning and 12 inches of heavy wet snow. Friday morning dawned on streets choked with snow and stuck cars. Mark and Greg eventually made it to our house, and trucks were safely stowed in the driveway, but not without some tow straps, shoveling, pushing and pulling. The Tacoma performed admirably as a tow truck in its first such endeavor, showing remarkable traction while pulling a smaller 2-wheel drive truck through the snowy mess in the alley and into the driveway. We finally got underway at about 11 AM.
The highways were in terrible condition, with a slick layer of ice as the driving surface. Speeds above 35 mph were not safe, although many drivers seemed oblivious of the danger. According to the Highway Patrol, there were over 1200 accidents, 2300 vehicles sliding off the road and 74 jack-knifed semi-trailer trucks from Thursday through Saturday afternoon. By all rights we should have stayed home. We discussed turning around while underway. We consulted driving condition reports on the smart phone. It looked like the roads would eventually improve. The lure of adventure overcame our caution and we pushed on. With the skillful safe driving of Mark, our chauffeur, we avoided mishaps and reached our destination safely at 5:30 PM. A four hour trip in normal conditions took six and a half hours! We had dinner, spent a nice evening in conversation and planned a ski excursion for the morning.
We woke to temps in the single digits, a mix of clouds and sun, and a stunning landscape of frozen and jumbled ice laying before the cold grey water of Lake Superior. Sun glinting off the shards was reminiscent of arctic scenes. The extent of ice on the big lake is greater this year than in many recent years as a result of the unceasing cold winter. Watching the changing lake landscape became an endless source of interest.
After breakfast, we drove to the trailhead for the day's skiing. The Sugarbush Trail Association maintains 65 kilometers of cross country ski trails through beautiful and remote Forest Service land in the Lutsen-Tofte area. The trails wind through the woods above Lake Superior, a mix of maple, aspen and pine.The trails are groomed often and we found them in perfect shape for skiing- freshly groomed new snow. The tour though the woods was marked by exertion, exhilaration and the special quiet known only in the winter woods of the north.
In the afternoon after lunch, we took a snowshoe hike along the Temperance River, which flows into Lake Superior just south of Tofte. The combination of snow, ice, flowing water and bright sunshine was intoxicatingly beautiful. We explored the river gorge and a slot canyon carved over eons by the water. Ice formations on the rock were like renaissance cathedral gargoyles, looking down at us and overseeing their icy domain. The river thundered above and below us, hidden under the ice but present through vibrations and sounds. A truly special experience. We followed the river for a time and then bushwhacked through the woods back to a trail, testing our snowshoes and our balance in the waist-deep snow.
A day of outdoor fun was winding down. Time for a beer, appetizers and dinner. Another evening of conversation by the fireplace followed, with scotch for sipping, before we drifted off to sleep.
Sunday morning brought another great breakfast, a ski for Mark and Greg and a short snowshoe excursion out into the ice of Lake Superior for me.
We packed up and headed for home with our dreams of winter adventure fulfilled and our desire stoked for more such adventures to come.
Many thanks to Mark for sharing some of his pictures with me.