Spring Thaw – Lost Creek Falls

Courtesy: Cornucopia.net
Courtesy: Cornucopiawisconsin.net

I remember it like yesterday. It was spring, 2005 and I had just met this odd duck online named Steve. After dining over Chinese food and cheap beer we determined we liked each other enough to hang out again. Since it was spring thaw and Steve claimed to be an outdoorsman/forester, he suggested we hike to this remote waterfall that is off the beaten path but particularly spectacular this time of year.

An avid hiker and even backpacker at the time, I was delighted by the prospects of heading out on this adventure to something I had never even heard of. On a Saturday morning in April, we made the drive in his ’98 Honda Civic to a remote parking lot next to a cemetery near Cornucopia. It seemed a bit odd to me at the time and I started to wonder just how much do I know about this strange man that’s taking me to this remote location. It turns out that perhaps Steve didn’t exactly know where said place was either.

A snow covered ground and brown and green canopy of trees engulf us. The further we go into the woods, the more my feet squish and break through piles of snow leaving my feet damp and my leg muscles aching. Soon, my visions of murder are replaced with the calm that can only be discovered in the North Woods while one focuses on putting one foot in front of the other. As time progresses, I notice Steve looking around more than usual. I immediately become suspect because while I respect a man who takes in the outdoors, I can also immediately point out a man who is lost. We soon hit a clearing where Steve casually pulls out a satellite map and his compass and looks left and right… and then left and right again. “Hm,” he says.

I begin to panic. I, of course, have been paying absolutely no attention to where I was going. And, since I didn’t drive and was new to the area, I had no clue if we were next to civilization regardless of what way we walked or would spend the rest of our weekend wandering around hoping to find some snippet of life.

Since this was only our second date, I didn’t want to be rude so I refrained from going Erickson on him demanding answers. Instead, I casually question if he knows where we are. The repeated looks around the clearing are answer enough. After what seemed like eternity, he simply folds up the map and heads back into the woods. “I think I know where we are.”

My options are limited. I can either wander the woods in hopes a different random stranger finds me. Or, I can take a leap of faith and follow this stranger to this hidden gem in Bayfield County. I follow my gut, or in this case Steve, back into the dark forest. Soon we hear the trickle of water followed by a deep ravine filled with water, also known as Lost Creek Number 1. As we follow the water that has left its mark in this County Forest upstream the promise of a waterfall grows louder.

The waterfall itself is not that large, maybe 15 feet or so. But, in the height of spring thaw, the water volume is quite amazing. There is also something serene about how quiet the world is around the rushing of these falls. Unlike other falls, this one is out of the way, often overlooked and not easily accessible, allowing you to experience it alone. With no nearby roads, the sounds of traffic and city life disappear.

As soon as we arrive, Steve is ready to move on. Frankly, my wet and sore legs are as well. We make our way back to the car, this time not needing the map. But, something in me said there was something special about this day. I’m not saying I fell in love. But, similar to the river cutting its way into the ravine, Steve made an impression on my heart that day. Now, eight years later, that’s a spring Saturday I’ll never forget.

Unfortunately, I was playing it too cool at the time to snap photos of our first daylong adventure. I hope to return this spring, should it ever arrive in northern Wisconsin. I’ve also been told the fall colors are spectacular in this mix of hardwood and evergreen forest. Stay tuned for photos or find time next time you are in Bayfield County to venture out on this hike where perhaps magic can happen for you, too.

To get there: The route to Lost Creek Falls has changed since I first ventured there in 2005. Today, you can take Highway C south of Cornucopia 1.5 miles and turn right on Trail Drive. There, you will find a marked trail head parking lot. The falls is a solid 25-minute walk over uneven terrain.

Superbowl for the Dogs!

This weekend marks Superbowl 47. Being the sports fanatic I am (or more specifically fan of theatrical half-times, talking animal commercials and chips and dips), I plan to tune in. Truth be told, I had to Google who was actually playing, though. I’ll save you the trouble by telling you it is the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens.

Before the big game, though, I hope to check out a much tougher sport, right here in Bayfield County. The Apostle Island Sled Dog races will take off near Bayfield on February 2 and February 3. While not nearly as long or as competitive as the Beargrease, I find the race much more spectator friendly. There are endless chances to mingle with the dogs and mushers, not to mention get up close and personal to the start. And, unlike Beargrease, mushers finish the same day, doubling your opportunity to see more than doggy rear ends taking off in the snow.

That said, my favorite part of the event is watching the Youth Race (16 and under). There is something to be said about watching kids manhandle a team of sled dogs and race 6-8 miles through the North Woods of Wisconsin. I know I couldn’t. But, it is inspiring just the same.

A few years back, I was truly inspired by just how tough these girls were. It was the start of the race and the smallest of the racers lined her dogs up at the start. She was decked out in pink gear, a huge smile and weighed in at maybe 75 pounds max. A man, who I assume was her father, gave her some last minute tips. She nodded and smiled, ready for her turn to go. But, something went wrong when she was told to go. The sled jerked, causing her to flip off of it backwards. The spirited crowd went silent for what seemed like minutes but was perhaps mere seconds. My heart sank. But, before anyone could even react, she popped up and took off running after her team, jumping on the sled and heading full speed into the woods without a care in the word. Her dad just stood by grinning from ear to ear. I can only hope that I someday raise a child as brave as that.

I’m sure Superbowl 47 will display acts of strength, stamina and willpower not to mention emotional interludes displayed in 30-second acts. After all, these are supposedly the best players in the league and the biggest show in-town. That said, I cannot help to think how these players would fair in the wilderness of northern Wisconsin. For some reason, I think I’d bet my money of the Musher decked in pink.

Interested in seeing photos from a previous year’s race? Check out this like to the incredible Hannah Hudson and her take on the sled dog races of 2011.

Bucketlist and an unusual but special tree

This past fall I had the opportunity to check another item off of my bucket list. For years, I have wanted to visit the Witch Tree. The tree, which is also called Manidoo-giizhikens, or Little Cedar Tree, is located near the Canadian border.

The area where the tree sits was once open to visitors, allowing for what is potentially the most photographed tree along Minnesota’s North Shore. I first learned of the tree after seeing photos of it by Travis Novitsky.

There was something impressive and humbling about the twisted trunk embedded in an exposed rocky shoreline subjected to the gales of Lake Superior that intrigued me. After doing some homework, I learned that the tree was first written about back in 1731 by French explorer Sieur de la Verendryne. While not a history buff, this little snippet of the tree’s past made me want to photograph it even more.

Unfortunately, not everyone respects nature. Due to vandalism issues, the tree is now on tribal land and is off limits to visitors unless accompanied by a local Ojibwe band member. However, I discovered on a warm Friday morning this past fall, they are quite accommodating and willing to take you out there to photograph the tree and share the historical significance of this tree. For that I am thankful.

The trail is short and unmarked. Due to the rockiness of the area and the fact that it is sacred land, one cannot get up close to the tree from land. Thus, while I have checked one item off my bucket list, I’ve added another: seeing the Witch Tree from water.

The Hike

(I first wrote this a year ago while hiking near Bean and Bear Lake near Silver Bay, MN. But, on this blustery fall day, I cannot help but share again.)

The anticipation was killing me. For months, I had patiently watched the calendar waiting for that brief moment in northern Minnesota where fall comes to life in a vivid, rainbow of colors. As the calendar ticked down to my day off, the gobs of storm clouds grew larger than life. Soon, warnings were out, communities in southern Minnesota were flooding, and the sky was black. For most, this would not be the ideal hiking conditions. Add to this, my husband’s stern warning that should I destroy my new Canon 5D by hauling it through the rain I was not getting a new one. Together, this should have been enough to hold me back. But, the stubborn Fin in me refused to back down. Mother Nature doesn’t wait for the skies to clear. Plus, a gray, rainy day means solitude, right?

The morning goes smoothly. A gorgeous drive along Heartbreak Ridge, accompanied with a perfectly brewed latte and Blueberry Scone from the Coho Café. And then, a quick glance at the map in the trailhead parking lot.

My hike starts out simple enough. Up and down, round the colored bend. Within minutes my underused hiking boots are covered in mud. I look up only to be blinded by needlelike mist piercing my face. Soon, the up and down just become up. Having glanced at the topography map prior to jumping on the trail to Bean and Bear Lake near Silver Bay, Minnesota, I knew what I was in store for. But, the lines always seem a lot less intimidating from the comforts of my car.

One hour, two hours, mist evolving into a steady rainfall, muddy trails transitioning into trails underwater… I’m starting to have second thoughts. Seriously Mother Nature, logic says as you climb higher, the drier the trail should be, right? Soon, the only break in the squishing of my boots is me cursing under my breath as the wind whistles by my face. Having chosen to do this hike solo, I have nobody to blame but myself. What am I thinking?

And, just as the gas in my tank was running out I have one of those moments. You know the ones I’m talking about. The ones where you are huffing and puffing, trying to catch your breath, and then you look up and for just a moment, the entire world stands still. Suddenly, everything is put in perspective. Suddenly, I realize how small I am in the grand scheme of things. And, looking out over the vast, untouched countryside, I can’t help but be in awe of how fortunate I am to experience this beauty—even if it is just for a moment. The moment isn’t perfect. The sky is far from blue and the fog removes the crisp color I had planned on seeing. But, in this haze everything in life seems clearer. One foot in front of the other, and eventually you reach your summit. Is it exactly what I had expected? Absolutely not. It is better. The hike down doesn’t seem nearly as bad.

I am 99.9999% sure I will not climb Mount Everest, hike the Poles, or save Polar Bears. It is unlikely my experience on this day will have any impact on anything other than my knees and my poor husband listening to my pathetic whining when the Ibuprofen wore off. But at this moment, nobody can take this beauty away from me.

Fall is an extremely busy time of year. The commitments are endless. But, we live in this place for a reason. Find time to take advantage of it. The past few years, I’ve stumbled across multiple reports about a decline in young people connecting with the outdoors. A Minnesota State Park survey shows the median age of users is on the rise faster than the median age of the state. The Department of Natural Resource conducted focus groups only to find that young people have their lives just too planned out to find time for visiting State Parks. Hunters, anglers and wildlife watchers are aging. And, some speculate that there is some correlation that this decline is loosely connected to the growing popularity and reliance on technology.

Today, I challenge you to prove “some” wrong and get outside. It doesn’t have to be a four-hour hike in the rain. It can be as simple as turning off your Blackberry, lacing up your tennis shoes and taking a stroll through the park. At the end of the day, life’s commitments will still be there, but perhaps you’ll be able to tackle the day-to-day with a clarity that can only be found in a hazy fall day where heaven and earth intersect in a grandiose view of what matters in life.