On a recent cloudy day, Greg asked if anyone wanted to take a snowmobile ride to North Lake. I had never been there in the winter, so I took him up on the offer. The day had warmed up enough to make riding a comfortable possibility. Still, I felt like I had on a ridiculous number of layers, in order to assure that I would stay warm.
Greg steered the machine on to the ice and headed to the east. With little snow to hamper us, he drove us quickly towards the first obstacle. Approximately a mile down the lake, a pressure ridge runs from the south shore to the north shore. It first appeared a few days after the ice formed, and it is likely one of the reasons that we have been hearing so much noise coming from the lake in recent days. As a side note, one night the lake was rumbling continuously, and we could hear the tempest of the waves below the ice. It was almost like a movie soundtrack, and I half expected to see a giant creature come leaping and crashing through the ice, in true Hollywood fashion.
The pressure ridge showed signs of change this particular day. Greg had crossed over it in the morning, and with the rising temps and shifting ice, cracks at the ridge had caused water to flow on to the ice. This created slush, which does not mix well with the tracks on the bottom of a snowmobile. We drove along the ridge for several hundred yards, and got off a couple of times to test the ice for a good place to cross. There were several inches of thick ice below us, as evidenced by the cracks visible in the black ice itself. We just wanted to avoid the fresh, wet spots. Soon we found a good place, and we were once again veering down the lake.
As we approached the East End beach, Greg drove towards the northwest corner. Soon we were close enough for me to see the large patch of open water, and the current running through the narrows where Little Gunflint feeds into Gunflint Lake. It always strikes me as incongruous to see so much water, but I am used to living on a lake in the winter, not a river. It also helped to explain one of the reasons why we still are seeing an eagle around. This would be one of the few spots still open for an eagle to do some fishing.
We continued on the land, past the flowing river stream and through the bulrushes. The ice of Little Gunflint was covered in more snow, indicating that it had been frozen for many more days than our lake. Again, as we neared the area of the rapids, Greg slowed down, and gave wide berth to the ice shelf where current meets lake. We took the portage trail that once served as a means to transport boats easily across the land. The railway tracks were still visible, and it felt odd to be traversing this spot with such a modern-day machine. It's doubtful that the fellows from the CCC who had installed those very tracks ever had a clue as to the kind of machine that someday would be running over them.
Little North was as beautiful as ever, untouched by the fire or windstorms of the last several years. Tall pines, spruces and cedars line the lake, providing a richly beautiful shoreline. For some reason, Little North Lake always feels serene to me.
After one more "portage", we were winding our way into Big North, and the wide open icy view of the whole lake. We did a complete tour of it, west to east. When we turned to come back, the wind had increased and was kicking up snow devils all around. We paused for a brief moment at the west end, and I was able to snap a quick photo, which illustrates the grey of the day surrounding us.
But that was soon to change. As we re-traced our path, the sun began to set. We crossed back over the portages and around the open waters, watching the first glimmerings of orange. When we reached the railroad portage, the sun was sinking quickly. The sky was illuminated with the oranges and reds that winter brings to us. We stopped for some photos, and to enjoy the painting of the clouds.
Going back always seems faster than going in, and again this was true. We found a good spot to cross the ridge, the ice skimmed speedily below us, and soon the sauna came into view. We got off the snowmobile just as dusk was falling.
For anyone who is considering a run down the lake by snowmobile, be sure to ask ahead of time how the conditions are. Things can change on a daily basis, and so it is wise to gather as much information as possible. As we head into the trout fishing season this weekend, we will see more snowmobile traffic on the lake. The trails they blaze will freeze more solidly with continued use.