Devil’s Kettle – Snowshoeing the North Shore

grand marais
Andy Baldwin, Grand Marais, MN – Dec 31, 2010

Including Jay Cooke State Park in the south, and Grand Portage State Park in the north, there are nine parks along (or very close to) the northern shore of Lake Superior. During the winter months, Lake Superior, the regions up and into its tributaries and its shore all have a certain elegance and harshness about them. While some folks try to escape the ice and snow of the region – heading to places where the sun shines during the month of December – I would rather take advantage of fewer people and a chance to see some of the North Shore’s highlights in a different, physical state.

Snowshoeing season seemed in full swing and ventures out onto the ice of the St. Louis River (west of Boy Scout Landing but east of Fond Du Lac) have been frequent. With the University on break from December 23, through January 3, I would have even more opportunities to go winter wandering. Melissa was to be gone most of the week after Christmas and early, on Christmas morning, I lay in bed, thinking about where I could go snowshoeing up the shore.

If you are familiar with the recent movie, Despicable Me, the lead character, Gru, when struck with a bright idea, will say, “Light Bulb!”. I had a light bulb moment while lying in bed – The Devil’s Kettle.

devil's kettle
Devil’s Kettle, Brule River, Judge Magney State Park – Dec 31, 2010

One-hundred thirty miles up the shore from Duluth, Judge Magney State Park surrounds the Brule River just before the river heads into Lake Superior. The park is neatly maintained with minimal amenities, several summer cabins, and on site camping is also available during the summer months. The park’s cabins are the remnants of what was originally a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp from the 1930s. A mile or so up a trail, you will find the Devil’s Kettle. The Devil’s Kettle is a bit of a freak of nature. The Brule River flows along until it hits a large mass of rhyolite rock jutting up; the rivers splits and forms two branches. The eastern branch flows over a nice, two step, fifty feet tall fall; the western branch falls into a sink hole (the Devil’s Kettle) and flows to some unknown location.

My light bulb moment also included me elbowing my wife in the ribs at 3:00 AM to tell her my idea of snowshoeing in to photograph the Devil’s Kettle. She did not quite grasp my excitement; she swore at me and told me to go to bed.

I decided to head to the Kettle on Friday, December 31st. After I told my wife my idea (but she was awake this time), she suggested that I ask a friend who happened to be back from Montana (where he is attending school). A few text messages later, and Andy was in for the adventure.

Andy and I headed out for a day of snowshoeing well before dawn. We passed the small town of Two Harbors before 7:00 AM. Shortly after passing Two Harbors, we had two timber wolves run across the road in front of us. They paused on the other side of the ditch; two black silhouettes made stark contrast with the brighter snow covered field behind them and the tree line.

It rain very hard in Duluth the previous night, and upon arriving at the park, we found that there was far less snow and much more ice on the ground than in the Duluth area; but, no worries, the snowshoes had crampons.

Upper Falls, Brule River, Judge Magney State Park
Alex Jokela – Upper Falls, Brule River

The trail to Devil’s Kettle was more or less uphill the entire way and completely covered with ice. The snowshoes and the crampons made the trek very doable, however. Periodically, a pair of sitting benches would appear on the trail – usually at points that afforded a spectacular view. Even though it was overcast and mostly gray, there were still many opportunities for photography. Besides the pair of wolves, wildlife was few and far between. A couple woodpeckers and a few chickadees and that was about it. All in all – it was a grand day-long-adventure.