Five years ago, around this time of year, my friend Andy and I ventured up the north shore of Lake Superior. Andy is the fellow that I ventured and adventured with, to the Canadian arctic. In the time since my first snowshoeing of Judge C.R. Magney State Park and then the arctic wandering with Andy, we both have physically moved. Melissa and I are now in the metro region of Minnesota and we have been here for what is now approaching four years. Andy now lives near Seattle and has moved a few times — each time more westward — in the in-between time.
I have stayed in contact with Andy since the arctic undertaking; I last visited him on a pass-thru Seattle on the way to Tokyo. He has since moved from his apartment in Kent, Washington, to a more permanent place: he and his girlfriend bought a house in Puyallup. Needless to say, my past compatriot for wanderings in North America is no longer readily available.
Melissa is not one to green-light my wanderings by my lone self. She much prefers that I wander and adventure with a willing associate. She is not available for venturing, however. She has been spending nearly all of her time away at a friend’s kennel in southern Minnesota raising her first litter of basset hounds. She has been home to Saint Paul for only three days in the last month.
It was a bit of a whim and bit of a wanting to get back to Duluth and North Shore that I thought of snowshoeing to the Devil’s Kettle once again. A friend from the office, who is somewhat new to Minnesota, seemed keen to the idea of snowshoeing. He and I share similar interests – chickens, bees and gardening. We also happened to have the same first name: Alex. It was an easy sell, and we picked a weekend.
From St. Paul to Grand Marais, and then on to Judge Magney State Park, is just shy of a five hour drive. After a stop in Duluth at Duluth Grill for breakfast, we continued up the shore. Alex had been up to the Iron Range with me in fall of 2015, but he had never been up the shore of Lake Superior. He liked it – having lived in Boston and Vermont prior to moving to Minnesota, he was missing hilly landscapes.
Judge Magney park is about fifteen to twenty minutes up the shore from Grand Marais; we made a stop in Grand Marais for snacks and bottled water. A swing thru the Coast Guard Lighthouse parking lot where the sound of ice crushing against the breakwall was the dominate feature. A collective effort on our parts, we pushed an enormous ice hunk back into the harbor, had a good laugh and were on way to the park.
The park was how I remembered it, with the exception of the road being completely plowed back to the parking area this time.
I had read the air temperature reading in the car several times on the drive to the park from Grand Marais, but it did not register: 42° F. Very warm for January, very for January in this park of Minnesota. I left my outer jacket in the car and opted for just a heavy sweatshirt.
With camera, tripod, snacks and water in my backpack, we strapped on snowshoes and began the trip in. It’s about a mile hike back to the Devil’s Kettle. It’s nearly all up hill, until you get to the Upper Falls, at which it is nearly all down a very steep set of wooden stairs.
It was a fantastic day for snowshoeing and hiking. Perfect weather, perfect temperature, and only a few people on the trail.
Even though we snowshoed in to the falls and to the Devil’s Kettle, which was nearly completely frozen over with ice, we ended up carrying the snowshoes on the way out. The above freezing temperature meant the snow had started to melt and collapse a bit. Besides, the hike out was all down hill.