I did it! This was the week I finally made it out onto the ski trails! After driving by the professionally groomed trails looking oh so perfect, I decided I needed to get out skiing this winter.
I didn't actually start skiing until I moved up to the Gunflint Trail. The only experience I had prior to the Gunflint was during high school. We were forced to strap on ancient skis to mis -sized boots and attempt to ski in 4 inches of not groomed snow on the football field. Needless to say, I spent more time on my butt on the snow then I did actually skiing and I wasn't impressed with the sport.
My husband and his family had always been cross-country skiers so we borrowed their equipment to give the ski trails a try. We started with the trails in the Upper Gunflint, just because they were closest to our house. I fell in love with the cross-country skiing on the Gunflint Trail. We hardly ever saw anyone else when we were out and the peace and quiet were unbelievable. I really enjoyed heading out onto the trails even when it was below zero. There really isn't anything else to compare cross-country skiing on the Gunflint Trail with, but if heaven is a place on earth, it's got to be close to here.
I really didn't get to ski much from 1999-2002 and I really missed it. I became pregnant in 1999, in 2000 I had a newborn, in 2001 I had another baby, so needless to say, there wasn't much spare time. Now with the help of our new nanny Joyce, I can get out and enjoy the trails again.
And that is what I did last week. On Wednesday I parked at the Gunflint Lake overlook and headed out towards Rabbit Run. I hadn't been on the trail since the blowdown and was pleasantly surprised with the spectacular views along the whole trail. Prior to the blowdown you couldn't tell where you were because the snow covered trees blocked everything else out. Now with the bare spots it allows for an awesome view of Gunflint Lake and Canada to the North. Rabbit Run hooks up to Aspen Alley, rightfully named so and then hits the Highlands Trail. Wipe Out Hill leads you up to more spectacular views of Gunflint Lake and the surrounding area. The trail runs parallel to and above Rabbit Run and Aspen Alley. It's a great trek through the woods and the trails were in tiptop shape right back to the overlook.
I had so much fun getting my skis back on that I decided I needed to go out again on Friday. This time my friend Shari Baker and I decided to ski the brand new North Star Trail. The old trail was replaced due to private property along it. We started out at the overlook and skied the Highlands Trail to get to the Ham Lake Trail. From there we skied until we found the beginning of the 6-mile North Star Trail. The trail meanders through moose areas, towering pines and birch trees and dense woodlands. It circles its way back across the Gunflint Trail and over to the West End Trail.
The West End Trail is probably the most spectacular of the trails on the Upper Gunflint area. It covers hilly, wooded terrain and offers an awesome view of the high cliffs and Gunflint Lake. The sun was starting to set and the tops of the trees were bathed in a glowing orange color. It looked as though they were on fire and as I skied up the hill I thought I was in a Terry Redlund print. It was one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen! I came around one corner to view 7 deer on the trail in front of me. The moon came out just as we were making our way back to the overlook and the vehicle.
On Saturday I even had the opportunity to ski the Mid-Gunflint Trail ski trails. Living at the end of the trail I had never skied at Golden Eagle or Bearskin before. Mike and I decided to visit Patty at Golden Eagle. She helped us choose the Red Pine Loop. There were wonderful vistas of Flour Lake and West Bearskin Lake. Even though the weather was crisp and windy we had a great time skiing through the woods.
So, I am officially back at it and loving every minute of it. I know why I love to ski on the Gunflint Trail. The scenery is beautiful, the peace and quiet is unequalled, and there are so many trails to choose from. It isn't like skiing on a football field or a city park. There isn't traffic going by, there isn't exhaust in the air, and there aren't people around every corner. Just the beauty of the surrounding woods, the solitude of the winter season and me and my skis, together again!
There are a number of fine resorts for cross-country skiing on the Gunflint Trail. The Gunflint Trail Information Center in Grand Marais or the Gunflint Trail Association can help you find what you are looking for 1-800-338-6932
Living at the end of the Gunflint Trail there are so many beautiful places to see and such little time to see it in. I love winter where the snow covers the ground and the only noise you hear is the cracking of the ice on the lakes or the birds chirping in the trees. I love to glide across the frozen expanses of ice on cross-country skis or trek through the woods under towering pines with my snowshoes strapped on my feet. There are many ways to travel in this winter wonderland and I tend to choose the silent sports that exhilarate me and surround me with peace and tranquility. But every once in awhile my husband convinces me to go on a snowmobile ride.
Snowmobiling from the end of the Gunflint Trail provides us many route opportunities. Even though there is not much snow up here yet this year there are still places to snowmobile. Last weekend we had some summer employees up for a winter visit and they were all excited for a snowmobile ride. Mike took them up onto Saganaga and traveled over thirty miles back to Gunflint Lake where I met them for lunch at Gunflint Pines. They were thrilled with the vistas they saw and the trails they encountered.
Mike also loves snowmobiles for their fast transportation to his favorite summer fishing holes on Saganaga. Last night Mike took our 3-year old daughter out, complete with her new Christmas helmet, and snowmobiled to a summer portage. They then walked through the snow and out onto the lake to test their skills at winter fishing for Walleye. We didn't have fish for dinner, but they had a terrific time in the outdoors.
One of my favorite snowmobiling experiences was last winter. We headed North through Saganaga and onto the Canadian logging roads. We zoomed across vast lakes and meandered through towering pines. There were no other snowmobile tracks to be seen only the tracks of the ever-abundant moose. We passed over a bubbling brook and around great stands of birch. From the top of a hill we spotted an animal in the middle of the trail. We approached it slowly and could tell it was some type of a cat. When we got closer we could see that it was a Canadian Lynx. He slowly sauntered into the woods and sat down to check us out as we stared at him in awe. We finally continued on and then I had the opportunity to hike across portages and explore a lake I had never been on because it is too difficult to reach in the summer. I was thrilled at the miles we could cover in such a short period of time and with such little effort. I could ski for days and still never cover the miles we did on that winter ride.
Sitting inside by the fire I hear the snowmobile pull up outside. Mike comes inside looking refreshed and smelling like a snowmobile. Some people love this smell, others, well, lets just say it isn't my favorite part about the sport. But, if you can block out the noise and focus on the beauty around you while travelling across the frozen tundra, then you can have an awesome winter experience without much effort. You can travel to places you have never been and see areas you would never be able to find if you relied solely on your own horsepower. Whatever way you choose to travel, it doesn't really matter because we all have the same reason for heading out in temperatures sometimes well below freezing. The beauty and the solitude of these wonderful northwoods we call home.
Winter is here on the Gunflint Trail! Snow is covering the ground, the lakes have turned solid and best of all, the sleigh rides at Okontoe have begun. Over the weekend I had the opportunity to experience the winter wonderland with the Patten Family at Okontoe.
We began our journey on the Gunflint Trail and headed towards Okontoe. The wildlife on the Trail this time of year is abundant. We saw several moose, deer and a fox on our way there. When we arrived at Okontoe we received a warm welcome from the Patten family. Nancy Barr Patten has lived at Okontoe since 1971. Her father was a Presbyterian minister and bought the campground with the desire to have a "church without walls." She met her husband Mark when he was working at the neighboring camp. They were married on the Okontoe property and will celebrate their 30th anniversary in May of 2003. They have raised 4 children, Chrissy, Andrea, Jake and Ben on their piece of heaven a little over twenty miles from Grand Marais on Bow Lake. Andrea and Ben have both married and moved off of property, but Chrissy and Jake are still at home and working at the family business.
Chrissy and Jake took us outside to begin our sleigh ride adventure. They introduced us to the two new horses who would be pulling our sleigh that evening. Bob and Bill were our two Belgian horses as Cap and Dan were enjoying their night off. We were helped onto the sleigh by Diane and Sonia and bundled up in warm quilts for our journey. Jake was a gracious host and stopped at all of the points of interest along the way. One was the "kissing tree" where the Pattens have their initials carved in the tree. Another stop was to view the chapel that now sits where the Pattens were married. Next stop was where Andrea and her husband were married last fall. Are you getting the idea? It is a very romantic ride.
The setting at Okontoe and the trail we were taken on were unbelievable. The stars were out in full force providing the perfect backdrop to the winter scene. The trail meandered through towering pines and tall birch trees. It winded its way past the lake and over a bridge with bubbling water underneath. There were one hundred lanterns lighting the way on our 45-minute ride through the woods. The snow sparkled like diamonds in the moon's glow. The bells on the sleigh jingled as we glided over the snow packed trail.
The time passed all too quickly and before we knew it we were back at the Patten homestead. They helped us off of the sleigh and invited us into their cozy home to warm up. We all sat around the kitchen table drinking home made hot chocolate and enjoying peppermint tootsie roll pops. The talk was about family and friends and we were invited to sign their guest book. We felt more like friends than customers and never felt rushed. Gas lanterns lighted their home and the fire was warm and bright.
After the royal treatment we received, we didn't want to go. We had such a fabulous time on our sleigh ride we could talk about nothing else on the ride home. It wasn't my first sleigh ride, but I enjoyed it as much as my first one. We have made the sleigh ride an annual winter event, a way to kick off the season. If you haven't tried it, then get out and do it, because once you do, it will surely become an annual event for you too.
The sleigh ride is appropriate for people of all ages. On our ride we had our 18-month old son and a 65-year old grandpa. It's a great get together for friends, family or just for you and that special person. Reservations are necessary and can be made by calling 388-9423.
The beauty of the Gunflint Trail in the winter is breathtaking. The trees and their branches are covered with sparkling snow, making it appear as though there is a magical canopy covering the woods. The stark white snow sparkles in the sunlight in contrast to the sharp blue sky. One cannot help to feel awe-inspired by the pure beauty of this winter wonderland.
Last weekend a childhood friend of mine came for a visit. Diane and I grew up next-door to each other as small children and bonded like best friends do. I hadn't spent much time with her in the ten years since I moved to the Gunflint Trail, but she called and asked if it was ok for her to come up for a visit. I was pleasantly surprised to hear from her and was filled with excited anticipation at being able to re-connect with her.
When she arrived, by foot, I was a little bit shocked. "Where is your car?" I asked. She replied, "At the public landing." Whoops, with the temperatures finally warmer, the roads were a bit slippery. I wonder what someone would have thought seeing her walking up the hill with her white fashion jacket and her purse in hand? Anyway, she wanted to explore the Trail so I was able to experience the Gunflint Trail through the eyes of, Diane, my city slicker friend!
We set off for a drive on the Trail, in my 4-wheel drive Suburban and I tried to think of my favorite spots to show her. I decided to take her to the end of the Trail and when we saw the Voyageur's Highway Sign, it inspired her enough to warrant a photo, from inside the car. We then headed down the Trail and I thought I would take her down Round Lake Road to show her the Cross River. Unfortunately the river was mainly frozen and the bubbling brook I hoped for her to see did not exist. We went back out to the Trail and I showed her one of my favorite spots, my mountains, right before Magnetic Rock Trail and the Kekekabic Trail. The trees were covered in snow and it was a beautiful sight.
On down the trail we stopped at Gunflint Lodge and Gunflint Pines and checked out their expansive selection of quality northwood's gifts. I wouldn't let her buy anything though, since my store was stocked from the summer still! The ski trails looked so inviting and had been freshly groomed; I could hear them calling my name. I had my skis and boots in the back of the vehicle so I suggested we go skiing and to this Diane replied, "Are you nuts?" Even though I hadn't been around her much in the past 10 years, I determined that meant no.
I then told her about the time I went on a dogsled ride, seeing if that would spark her interest, but she wasn't biting. So on we continued and after leaving the resorts and heading back onto the Trail we spotted the scenic overlook sign and determined that we really couldn't see anything from there. But down the trail we stopped at the Laurentian Divide scenic overlook. This view was worth actually getting out of the car for a picture.
I really wanted Diane to experience the solitude of this wilderness area and tried to think of what we could do. Since she was interested in taking pictures I thought of one of my favorite viewpoints on the Trail. Honeymoon Bluff. I asked her if she wanted to hike up to Honeymoon Bluff and she asked me how long of a hike it was. I told her it wasn't long at all and in the summer there was steps to go up. We didn't have snowshoes, but I figured with the snowfall being less than average this year, we would be able to make it up with ease. When we got to the bottom of where the steps began, it appeared steep enough covered in snow for another photo opportunity. If you haven't been to Honeymoon Bluff before it is definitely worth the hike. From the top you feel as though you are on top of the world looking down on Hungry Jack Lake in all its splendor. The silence in the woods was powerful, just the crunching of the snow underfoot. The crisp fresh air was invigorating and according to Diane, the trek back down would have been a thrill ride with a sled!
Back at the car I decided no visit to the Gunflint Trail was complete without a visit to my other favorite spot on the Gunflint Trail, Trail Center. When we entered Trail Center Diane was immediately made comfortable by the Trail Center Trio; Sarah, Sue and Diane. We ordered a burger and fries and Diane confirmed they were indeed the best burgers and french fries in the world. A special piece of homemade french silk pie Fudge was the perfect end to our meal.
On our drive back to my place, Diane told me how she thought she could live up here. I said, "yep, it's a great place to live." And, then I thought to myself.
It was fun to show Diane around my stomping grounds and to experience the Trail through the eyes of my childhood friend. After being up here for 10 years I realized there were some things I was taking for granted or that I had quit noticing. Sometimes it is beneficial to take a look at our lives and surroundings through the eyes of someone else. It helps us to realize just how lucky we are.