Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Little Ice Cave

I wish I brought my camera. But, of course, I was "just going for a little walk to the lake." You know, nothing exciting ever happens there.

The first thing to catch my eye out on a north-facing shore of Lake Superior, was that pack ice had huddled together along the whole coast for 100 yards out! This is the first time I saw ice on the big lake this winter. Any wind will whisk it away, so I'm glad I saw it while I could.

When I look out at this ice, it always looks solid at first glance. But when I stand still and watch carefully, I can see the waves undulating slightly underneath, making the squooshy swishy sounds. Oh, is that marvelous!

To the east I saw a big boulder covered in ice. Nothing major. I had been there before in the summer. But it called to me, so I carefully travelled the icy shore.

When I got to my destination my eyes widened and my jaw dropped. Here before me was a beautiful natural wonder. This "boulder" makes an arc over the water. I remembered sitting on it in the warm months (one of my favorites!). But now, icicles hung from every part of this structure. It was an icicle cave!

I just had to go down into it. The ice below looked solid enough to hold me. I could definitely slide down into this cave, but I had to clear a couple hand-holds so I could pull myself back up.

After I slid down, I got my footing and just marveled at the wonder around me. I wanted so badly for someone to share this beauty with me because who knows how long it will last? White and blue and clear icicle hung 360 degrees around me. I was standing on ice and surrounded by it. I was truly enchanted.

I even crawled down more to the other side of the arc, but I didn't think the ice below was too trustworthy for too long. It was so calm in that hole, I could have had a tea party!

The way up was another story. My hand-hold broke off when I tried to use it, so I had to crawl up on some hanging ice -- fingers crossed that it would hold my weight. From there it was a quick scramble off the slickness to the rocky shore. Whew. I made it. And I'm definitely going back again. Want to come?

Three Snowshoes in One

I ventured out for a few snowshoes that I haven't told you about yet. Three are worth mentioning.

The first was two Saturdays ago. I planned to hike South across Lake Fanny Hooe and climb up the ridge. But the winds were howling something fierce, and my curiosity pointed my boots toward Hunter's Point, where I figured the waves would be raging.

I am usually one who tries to look for the glory in the mundane, but let me tell you, snowshoeing through Copper Harbor on the flat land is pretty lame. My path options for this three mile trek were: cross country ski trails (on which Duce would make his own tracks over the groomed ones), the road, people's yards or areas with dense trees.

Holding hopes of a worthwhile journey I made it to that magical Point. Frozen splashes of waves pelted my face. The wind almost knocked me over in some spots. It was pretty brutal, but worth the excitement. I love the roaring waves. Here is an example of how consistent the wind was blowing. See the trunk in the background? That is standing vertical. The pines froze pointing south.

Luckily a couple friends came by to give me a ride, so I didn't have to walk the three miles home on the road.

Then I took a trip with the girls and a girlfriend for Duce. Not just any girls, however, some tough chicks. We crossed Clyde's field in a straight shot sinking through 7 inches of the two feet of powder. We looked up for a good spot to climb, and hand-over-footed it up ridge number one. That ridge was probably 82 degrees at its steepest, but standing and fallen trees gave us just enough grip for the ascent. At the top, we felt like we accomplished a feat.

We climbed two more ridges this way, and seeing that we would be descending if we kept heading straight, we decided to go back down -- the best part of all! Pick a clean line, and ski on our shoes or slide on our buns. Squeals of joy could be heard by the birds.

The snow was so thick up there. Below is a shot of a tiny pine tree holding probably twice its weight in a giant snow ball!

Then yesterday Aaron took Duce and I across a ridge by the Garden Brook as he scouted for new trail options. For most of this hike we walked parallel to Brockway Mountain -- West then East. That's always a majestic view.

My favorite part of this journey was the cedar bogs. Have you ever been in one? The trees are so close together, and so thick on top that they close you in the dark. I always think of the words dingy and murky, but still full of awe.

It's hard to really traverse the cedars when the ground isn't covered in three feet of snow. Your feet just get so wet, and you have to walk over so many fallen trees. But in the winter, it sure is a treat!

That's enough about snowshoeing for now, but I want to let you know, if you don't already, that the night all the ice blew out of the harbor, a new layer formed on top! Here's hoping it will stay!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Ice Removal

I was seriously only gone from my house for two hours. Guess what happened in that time. The two weeks worth of ice that was freezing up on the East end of the Harbor is GONE! Gone I tell you! It all swept away in TWO HOURS!

To experience this phenomenon, you can check out the webcam pics from my neighbor's house. Look below the big picture to see the numbered rectangles, and check the slides on 1/22/11 from 10:11 am to 12:19 pm (you may have to do some searching). The ice disappears before your eyes!

But hurry, those archived pictures won't last forever!

Covered Stretch Driving Hazards

I don't want to worry you, but I do want to tell you about the unique experiences I have on my commute from Copper Harbor to Lac La Belle for work. All the possibilities listed below may not happen on the same trip, but they have all happened at some point.

This commute is on the "Covered Stretch" of Hwy. 41. Covered because the tree branches touch each other from above on opposite side of the road, creating a tunnel effect. If you've ever driven this stretch in the winter, you know it can be treacherous.

Two areas of this 17 mile drive are on the lake shore. The first (on the way south) is at the lighthouse overlook spot, where the north winds rip off Lake Superior and into the Harbor. The second is at Lake Medora, which is frozen, creating snowy plains for the wind to whip over.

Before I go into more detail, I would like to add that I have been driving this route with extreme caution lately. I won't even shift the vehicle past forth gear.

Here are some examples of what I (or anyone) encounters on the Covered Stretch:

Widowmakers. These are limbs that hang above the driven part of the road. They get extremely heavy with snow. Often the snow is four times as thick as the branch! And since the old limb isn't used to bearing so much weight as it sinks lower and lower in the air, it can snap off at any time either landing on a passing vehicle or on the road for someone to run into with their car.
Unplowed roads. I admit Keweenaw County usually does a great job keeping the roads clear. But on weeknights when the snow is pummeling the earth, they may not always think the tip is a priority. So, one might expect to barrel down the curvy roads with 5-7 inches of snow under their tires. This is a great time to follow someone else's tracks.

Whiteout. "Oh, my God, I can't see a thing!" And it's even worse at night time. Sometimes 15-25 miles an hour will be the top speed when visibility is nilch. This is when you take your time, and definitely keep your lights on during the day.

Tire whiteouts. This occurs when the person ahead of you is driving just fast enough where you can't pass them, but slow enough for you to be somewhat on their tail. (NEVER drive too close to the car in front of you, by the way.) The snow from their tires creates a mini-blizzard for you to drive through, and you can't see anything... sometimes not even their tail lights. This also happens when larger vehicles pass you from the other direction and kick up a cloud of snow, and it lasts a few scary seconds.

Ice. Cripes. Luckily it usually snows enough to keep this category at bay. But when it thaws, and the sun melts the snow, ice is the product. I would go even slower on this around those curves than I would in the snow... snow at least has traction.

Drifts. Oh, this is the most oxymoronic item to tackle. So you're driving past the lighthouse lookout shore or Lake Medora. The wind is picking up every flake of snow and setting it in neat piles intersecting your lane. That blowing snow is also impeding your vision. You have to go fast enough to bust through the drift, but you have to go slow enough, so you can see where you're going. This is where I always white-knuckle it and pray that I will make it through without being stopped cold by one of these sleeping polar bears or miss a curve because I'm pushing the limit. I tell you, after I make it through these sections, I thank my lucky stars.

So, who wants to come visit me?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Are You Down with OPP?

A couple times this week I have had the opportunity to volunteer at Ocha Potter Terrain Park up at the Keweenaw Mt. Lodge. Aaron is pretty much in charge of maintaining this hill, so I've gone to help him out.

It's kind of a unique experience. You know how people shovel their sidewalks -- take the snow off and put it in a pile out of the way. Well, we found the snow off the beaten path and dumped it where there just wasn't enough! I literally helped move tons of snow.

My first day I shoveled loads into a dump bucket, started the motor on the cart, drove the cart to the dump spot and dumped it on the pile. Kinda neat, hey? I'm not really a fan of motorized equipment, but after a few loads, I found a soft spot in my heart for the little caddy. I was yankin that pull cord like a champ by the end of it -- just like I always watched Dad do on the lawnmower. And hey, I didn't have to haul 20 pounds of snow shovel by shovel 30 yards to my pile.

The second day, though, I skipped the motorized hauler. Okay, so I didn't have that big of a spot for it in my heart. I opted for the Otter sled. This thing can fit Duce and me inside with room to spare.

So I filled it halfway up with snow each time (so I could lift it) and slid it down to the rail whose legs I had to cover. The rail was one that snowboarders would ride a ramp up and onto, and slide across. The metal poles on the bottom, however, stuck out sideways like feet. I had to cover those up and pank them down in case anybody falls off. They sure wouldn't want a steel corner in their back! Just a guess.

It was pretty fun, sweating voluntarily. It was hours of labor all together. I was getting my exercise in the white woods, and helping others too. I don't know how adventurous you feel, but the terrain park is ready to go, if you need some excitement in your life. Maybe someday I'll even try it myself....

Sunday, January 9, 2011


Yesterday was the grand re-opening of Mt. Bohemia. They closed over the holiday week due to rain. But they are back in action, and the snow is pretty good. Actually, yesterday, it was pretty phenomenal. Even the front runs had knee deep powder on them early in the day. And back in the woods, it could be thigh high!

I only got stuck a couple times, and not for too long. I have learned from many mistakes over the years how to avoid having to cartwheel out of the powder. Man, that is a lot of work.

But the hill was packed with people. Looking at the chair lift from 11 am to 2 pm, each chair was full on the way up. I rode by myself most of the day while my skier friends looked for some pow in the back country. But then I found a snowboarder chic friend for the rest of the day. We had a great time until our brains and legs gave out. We made it the whole day!

So I'm pumped for another ski season at Mt. Bohemia. But when Mr. Butters needs to get some exercise, I'll stay home and take him out for a walk.

Like today! We went out to a couple north-facing beaches and watched the waves roll over the glossy rocks. Oh, that Lake Superior, she gets me every time. I was pumped to actually get to snowshoe out to the lighthouse. I got to break a sweat on a relatively flat walk. That's always a good thing -- then I get to eat more food!

The ice is back on this side of the Harbor. I don't know how long it will stay, but I'll give it a week before I test it for a crossing. Oh, I can't wait for that! But I will wait, so I don't die. You're welcome!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

It's Winter, alright

Hey! I just wanted to update you that it is snowin and blowin up bushels of fun here in da Keweenaw. Yup. Snowin and blowin. It's pretty stinkin cold out there right now. But, whatever is takes to open Mt. Bohemia and fill in the cross country ski trails is fine by me.

The ice floats on the harbor that were almost formed into one mass have all broken up again. But those always make a mystical sound when they rub together. If you have never heard it, you should really come out and listen!

Let it snow!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Predator and Prey

This morning I felt like I was on a Safari without even leaving my house.

While grooming myself in the bathroom mirror, I caught some action reflected out on the ice. I watched in the mirror as an eagle swooped down toward the ice. I didn't know why until a little brown critter dove from a small ice float into the water, just escaping death. Whew. If the ice was solid, that puppy would have been a goner.

Then I turned around to gaze out the window itself. The dissatisfied eagle made a couple more passes around its victim's grounds then flew up into the same tree and the same branch that one did this summer. I knew it had to be the same eagle because they both had immature markings. Same branch and everything, though. It was my little friend.

The predator sat quietly and peered at the ice floats in hopes its prey would return. Just after a few minutes we saw the victor swimming and diving on the other side of the tree, closer toward the middle of the Harbor. I thought, Geez, the ol' eagle eye doesn't work if you're looking the opposite way!

It was a little otter. So sweet, just swimming along... out of sight. The eagle took off about fifteen minutes later.

Some time went by, and I went to peer out the bathroom window again, in case my eagle friend came back. Nope. But I heard a buzzing noise coming from Aaron's electric beard trimmer. I knew the thing couldn't just turn itself on, so I listened and looked closer.

You know that sound a dying fly makes? That buzzzzzz and ehhhhhhhhh, I'm dying sound mixed together? That's what it was. I moved the beard trimmer stand and expected to see the usual fly buzzing around in circles on its back. But it ended up to be even cooler than that.

The fly was trapped in the web of a spider. The spider was only one third the fly's size. I love it when spiders catch flies. I don't know why, but I always let them build webs in my house so they can eat the flies.

I must have been feeling particularly morbid, perhaps just curious because I watched these two for quite a while. The fly's back legs were all tangled up in the web. The little spider would climb down to meet the spider face to face and start boxing its victim. The fly would box back and buzz its ebbing buzz. It was pretty amazing to see how fast their little arms could combat.

Then the spider would climb up, turn 180 degrees, revisit the spider and kick with the same speed at the fly's arms, so the spider wouldn't tire out, but the fly eventually would. This pattern continued until the spider was victorious. I would imagine this would have to be the tactic since the fly was so much bigger.

The spider wrapped up the fly a little more in the web, just in case it was just playing dead. I wish I would have had a magnifying glass for the rest of the action. The spider came belly to belly with the fly, and, to me, it looked like it embraced the fly and planted the long kiss goodnight on the fly's lips. There's a romantic moment for you!

I was hoping to see come carcass munching, but the spider wandered off after a while. Back to the web to spin some more.

Boy, if these things come in threes, I wonder what I'll find the next time I'm in the bathroom!