When I first came up to the Gunflint Trail, it was a winter like this one, deep with snow on the trails and the trees. I was here with my folks and my youngest sister, to enjoy a weekend of cross-country skiing in the big woods. Prior to this, we mostly skied on trails near my home in Duluth, which were lovely, but not near as challenging.
We weren’t really beginners back then, but we also didn’t have a lot of kilometers on the skis. Wanting to ski something that was relatively flat, we were directed to the East End trail. This lovely trail followed the abandoned railroad grade on the Canadian side of Gunflint Lake. It was single-tracked, and accessible by skiing across the lake, a trail that was recognized mostly by the tree boughs strategically placed to mark the way. The wind on the lake is somewhat of a constant, so any tracks left by a snowmobile and groomer, or by humans, was inevitably being erased on a regular basis. There was never a worry that the ice wouldn’t be thick enough, but occasionally one might encounter a pocket of slush, creating big balls of frozen snow on the ski bottoms. So we always watched carefully and skied as fast as we could when we went through those sections.
Once on the trail, it was awesome. To this day, I still love a tree-lined single track trail, as they seem to be the quietest of all. It’s easy for me to feel totally surrounded by nature when I am skiing down it. It always feels like I am all alone, and it also seems like the ideal time to spot wildlife. I have to report that I didn’t have luck with the latter, but I do recall some pretty impressive otter slides at the beaver pond off of the trail. And there were always Canadian jays waiting for us. They were very friendly, and willing accepted whatever morsel we would hand off to them.
Not far in from the bay, a three-sided shelter stood ready to offer a spot of respite. It was a great location to stop for a break, have a bite to eat, and stretch the muscles that were making noises about not being used as often as a better skier would use them. We were just weekend warriors at that point, grateful for whatever opportunities we had to get out on the skis. It was good that we had chosen such a flat trail to take. I wonder, though, why did I always fall so often on the stretch that was the lake—-so very flat!
Sometime in the mid-90’s, we were forced to shut down the trail, as no one had a work visa allowing the grooming to be done. Shortly after that, the Remote Border Crossing Permit came to our attention, and since very few people were likely to get them just to ski that one trail, we completely stopped using the trail. And of course, by the winter of 1999-2000, the whole Canadian side had changed, due to the infamous blowdown storm on the Fourth of July.
It was a real treat to come across these photos recently, and to take a trip down that memory lane. To anyone else who remembers this wonderful ski trail, I would love to hear the stories of your adventures!