After a brutal warm-up over the past week almost all the snow had disappeared in the Lower Peninsula. Snow cover was scant at best at the bridge. The insanity of the wind had created a strange fourth dimension that only got better as the drive continued across M-123 towards Paradise. It started with light snow that was magnified tenfold by the wicked West wind. By the time we made Trout Lake we were in a full scale ground blizzard. The snow, coupled with the wind, made visibility extremely low. I personally thrive under these driving conditions and loved every minute of it, but I do admit that it was gnarly at best. The snow was coming so hard that the road was nothing but a wide strip of white under the blackness of night. I tried every few minutes to use my bright lights but it just caused a dizzying effect and I feared vertigo.
Since it was such a tough weather week a lot of people had canceled their weekend plans leaving Paradise a ghost town. By the time I got to my run on Saturday the wind had shifted North-Northwest causing Whitefish Bay to lay down flat while the Big Lake was as angry as I’d ever seen her. I attempted to sneak out on the State Harbor pier for a close up look at the fury washing over the tip of Whitefish Point, but the pier was socked in with several inches of glare ice. I wanted to feel the North wind on my face so I headed towards the end of Whitefish Point Road. As I cut through the lighthouse grounds and scanned over the outbuildings I wondered which ones were haunted; wondered if Ghost Hunters ever found anything of interest that warm August night in 2010. When I got to the base of the tower and made my turn towards the observation deck I expected to see Superior in all her glory. To my surprise, I saw only towering formations of ice, no lake. It deserved a closer look and I knew I would be back later in the day to investigate. I headed back to the South and finished up a nice out and back route. I got passed by a couple of snowmobilers that were absolutely hand feeding their carbides to the asphalt on the shoulder of the road. It was at that point that I felt comfortable with the fact that my sled was still sitting in my garage with $120 of brand new carbides fully intact. Sometimes it just isn’t worth it.
Later in the day I set out with the girls and the Sal to get a first-hand look at Superior's shoreline. The wind was still delivering evil, giving the feel of a real arctic adventure. Scanning the shoreline and walls of ice looming overhead I envisioned myself in an alpine setting. Perhaps Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes. The beach, an outwash plain; the first wall of ice, glacial moraines; the frozen sea of pack ice, the glacier; the thundering waves, sweeping avalanches crashing off high cirques; the final 30’ foot of overhung ice, the summit ridge.
We headed across the outwash plain picking a line through the glacial moraines. Once we found safe passage over the initial lip the girls enjoyed exploring a maze of caves and tunnels. Some areas were glare ice while others had a nice coating of sand offering solid purchase. I paused for a moment and looked over my shoulder to see that we were being pursued by a Red Tailed Fox. I wanted to alert the girls, but he was coming in fast so I turned my DSLR on him and started shooting. I don’t think he saw me at first as he seemed focused on Salomon and the girls. Once he saw me he slunk away towards dunes and disappeared into a Jack Pine forest.
I needed more, needed to see the edge, so I donned my Crescent Moon snowshoes, parked the girls and advanced the slope towards the glacier. The pack ice was as hard as a diamond and as jagged as a heap of rubble in a war-torn nation. As I picked my way along, over my left shoulder I kept on eye on the girls and a lookout for that pesky fox; over my right shoulder, like a shadow, my Aussie, Salomon. As Sal and I advanced the headwall the sounds of the pounding waves left me with an unsettled feeling in my gut.
Another 20 yards in front of us was the summit ridge. I traversed right and then left again searching for the safest line up the icy slope. With his claws fully extended Salomon crossed the slippery slope with ease. The last ten yards of ice had a different appearance. I looked wet and partially unconsolidated; slushy. I looked to the East to see that this last little bit of ice was overhung; the waves carving ice water caverns below. My heart raced as I backed off to more stable ground, Salomon shadowing my every move. I found a more suitable area of higher ground that afforded me my first look at the Big Lake.
As I peered down my heart dropped. Before me was an angry mat of slush and blocks of ice, some the size of refrigerators. This undulating fluid mess was writhing and churning like the agitation cycle in a Maytag washer. Each swell coming into the ice wall was matched with an equally sized swell bouncing off the wall. The result was terrifying. I shot a few photos and looked back at the girls who were sorting rocks on the frozen beach. Every now and then the lake would release an upward spray of ice water and slush which seemed to freeze in midair.
I though how fast I would be gone should I find myself in Superior’s icy embrace. A man wouldn’t stand a chance, much less a dog. I knew if I went over the edge so would my 9-year old Aussie. We’d turn up 3 days later in the garbage chute that is the Soo Locks or the St. Mary’s cutoff jammed in one of Cloverland Electric’s turbines. I briefly soaked in the terrifying beauty and quickly retreated to the warm comfort of my girls. By the time I got to them #2 was crying because the wind had blown sand in her eyes and she was scared. We quickly retreated to the Jack Pine forest and doubled back to the car. Another quality adventure in this pristine land of wonder and natural beauty. Did I mention that Ernest Hemingway spent a summer here and was inspired to write about his experience in his famous book Big Two-Hearted River?