Memories of the East End Trail

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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. 

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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.

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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.  

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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! 

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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! 

The January Round Up

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When the clock strikes midnight on January 1, you can often find us at a bonfire that burns hot and bright while the air temp is at least zero, if not lower.  We sing Auld Lang Syne, sending off the old year in proper fashion, and welcoming the new one with lots of hugs and good wishes.  This year was no exception, and when we awoke later that morning, I marveled at a whole new set of days ahead of me.  The cold air was invigorating, as I stepped out to survey the world from our front yard.  How lucky we are to have this magnificent frozen landscape right before our eyes.

While the lake is safe for travel by foot or snowmobile, it is not in condition for any other type of vehicle.  The reports of ice thickness that we have received range from 10” to a rare 24”. The bigger issue is the layer of slush and water, trapped below the big blanket of snow.  If anyone chooses to drive a car or truck out there, they are in for a nasty (and expensive) surprise.  We have had fishermen wetting their lines with favorable reports.  Greg has been taking walks on the ice, particularly during the polar vortex this week.  He has some fabulous gear for staying warm, and we don’t get that many opportunities to put it to the test.  He’s reported that he has been quite comfortable on these jaunts. 

Bear mittens for the warmest hands ever.

Bear mittens for the warmest hands ever.

This year, we have both invested in some new ski equipment, and I have been able to get out on the ski trails a few times already.  The skiing has been awesome, thanks to all of the snow that we have.  Greg got some backcountry skis and boots, and has been enjoying trekking in the woods rather than zooming down the hills on trails.   

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The January sky, as seen in the above photo, has been fabulous.  Though the sun hangs low in the sky, it still manages to paint a palette of lovely color both in the morning and the late afternoon.  I call this the season of pastel skies, as we often see light pink and pale orange.  And now that we are five weeks past the solstice, I also notice that the days are getting a wee bit longer.  Can’t argue with that, can only marvel at how quickly the time goes by. 

Despite the 26 degrees below zero, we had a front row seat to the lunar eclipse.  It was fascinating to watch the moon as it was disappearing, and to see the stars getting noticeably brighter.  I only wished that we had Northern LIghts to add to the scene.  That definitely would have been the icing on the cake.  Alas, it has been quiet for the Aurora so far this winter.  Hopefully that will change. 

For fans of the uni-mogs, Greg got a new plow for his winter mog.  It is a twelve-footer, and he is learning more about its capabilities every time he uses it.  The plow came all the way from Ohio, trucked up here by a very nice fellow who didn’t mind the cold and dark adventure, and even got to see a moose along the way.   

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Finally, when the polar vortex settled itself over us this past week, we made sure the wood bin was full, and we pulled out all of our warmest layers to wear.  At one point, I counted that I had on twenty individual items (socks, etc count for two!).   We haven’t seen a cold snap that deep in several years, so in a way, it is a moment to look for some fun and entertainment only possible in that weather.  Not knowing that it was, according to the news, a challenge for “bored Mid-westerners”, we heated up the water to toss it up in the air to vaporize,  Our video below is the result.  My effort was not near as graceful as Greg’s, so his is the one that I present to you here: 

It’s been much too long since I wrote a blog post, and it’s mostly because I don’t often find the words to write.  I am hoping that will change, now that I’ve been able to tap out this much on the keyboard.  At the very least, I will try to do a monthly round up such as this, to keep folks in the loop as to the activity and shenanigans that we are up to here in the woods.  Do note that you can find us on both Facebook (as Heston’s Lodge Country) and Instagram (as HestonsLodge).  You never know what you might see posted there!