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News and information, interviews, weather, upcoming events, music, school news, and many special features. North Shore Morning includes our popular trivia question - Pop Quiz! The North Shore Morning program is the place to connect with the people, culture and events of our region!

 


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Moments in Time: The Grand Portage Passage sled dog race

The Grand Portage Passage was a long-distance sled dog race that was held from 1999 through 2003. In this edition of Moments in Time, WTIP’s ongoing series, Doug Seim, Curtis Gagnon and Matthew Brown reflect on the meaning of the name and why the race was special…..

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Pink snow at dawn (Tracy Rosen via Wikimedia Commons)

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: January 15

The upper Trail winter has taken positive steps forward since our last meeting. A bleak seasonal character, by usual north-country norms, has shaped up lately with freshening of the snow cover and serious ice making.   

Snow accumulations have not been extreme, but nevertheless, cleaned things up so that new critter tracks are more easily distinguished. Meanwhile, enough January subzero settled over the area to really get the old “Zamboni” cranked up.

With frigid temps in the forecast, enhancing ice development for the coming trout season opener couldn’t have come at a better time. It would appear safe ice for pedestrian traffic could be secure here on the Gunflint and most all area lakes by Saturday’s opener. Further, it seems a reliable surface for snowmobiles and ATVs might be questionable on a few lakes where icy acquisition occurred only recently. 

To preface this next story, I share with you the final freezing of Gunflint Lake favored the smoothest ice I’ve seen in my 17 winters here. The glass-like surface could allow uninterrupted skating for miles, and the lake remained free of insulating snow cover for three days of clear ice observation.

The charm of a Gunflint winter was never more evident than it was for yours truly on one pre-dawn day last week. Out early, as “old Sol” was making its daily debut, I was up on the Mile O Pine looking over the two day old lake ice.

The sunrise was on fire once again as it begun to light up our lives in this northern paradise. To compliment the celestial infinity, wispy clouds were floating aloft drawing on the awesome fiery rays. This heavenly interaction rendered a spectacle of pink cotton candy vapor. In turn, the vaporous veil was picked up in reflection by the mirror perfect hard water surface.  

There are not adequate descriptors to pictorially celebrate the magic of this rosy dawn in concert with “pink” Gunflint ice. Such radiance probably has happened before on countless water bodies in this great land, but for me, winter elegance of this magnitude has never been so visually consuming. This wilderness panorama was a breath-taking work of unmatched art.   

Additions of snow over the miracle glaze, minus something temps and north-northwest winds have since, put the Gunflint Gal in a grumpy state. As I key this week's report, she is murmuring tones of uneasiness. I’m not sure if her new coat isn’t a good fit, or she is shivering in the frigid air. Regardless, of the curmudgeonly attitude, her solemn dialogue is entertaining.       

More northwoods enchantment took place at Wildersmith recently when a moose tromped through the yard. Although such occurred during darkness hours, tracks in the fresh fallen snow, and broken branches along its path, confirm it was, what it was.

With so few moose remaining throughout the territory, coupled with the fact it’s been years since one has been seen around our place, this nocturnal visit reenergizes hope for this iconic herd to regain a healthy population status. The thought of a visit from one of the herd more often than once every few years would be welcomed at Wildersmith.  

The sudden turn to real winter character was equally appropriate this past weekend for the Gunflint Mail Run sled dog races. Racing conditions last Saturday morning were excellent. Enthusiasm was at a high pitch. Ten entries started the 12 dog (long race) while 13 teams made up the eight dog (shorter race) field, all finishing up on a sunny, but bitter cold, Sunday afternoon.

 To stage such an awesome event has to be a ton of work! Organization of the happening was top drawer. It seemed all phases went off without a hitch. Hats off to planners, sponsors, volunteers, mushing teams and Trail Center Restaurant personnel on a job well done! The Gunflint community looks forward to seeing the GMR become a premier post-holiday occasion in years to come.  

Winners of the two races were Ward Wallin of Two Harbors in the 110 mile section, and Dusty Klaven of Togo, MN in the 70 mile chase. Congratulations to the winners and thanks to all the teams for making this a great weekend. A tabulation of all race finishers can be found on our WTIP website.  

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith!  Trout season is open, happy angling!
 

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Superior National Forest Update

Hi.  I’m Steve Robertsen, education specialist, with the National Forest Update -  information on conditions affecting travel and recreation on the Tofte and Gunflint Districts of the Forest. For the second half of January, here’s what’s happening on the Forest.
There has been a lot of headway made in clearing roads and trail systems of the trees that fell during our ‘snow down’ event.  A three day effort cleared the Eagle Mountain trail, and the Banadad Trail is about half cleared, up to the yurt on the northern road.  But, trees continue to fall under the weight of snow which just doesn’t seem to be falling off the branches.  Even on routes which have already been cleared, you may find these “delayed” trees blocking your way.  In addition, roads and trails not open in the winter have not been cleared, so there will be more to do in the spring when they become accessible.    Travel safely.
If your reason for travel is to reach a lake for ice fishing, be sure to check the ice thickness.  The Boreal website has a good updated list of ice depth on many lakes, and it is widely variable.  There are only 3 in. of ice on some lakes, which is not safe for even foot travel.  The DNR recommends at least 4 in. of ice for foot travel, and 5 inches for a snowmobile.  If you do venture onto the ice, be prepared with ice picks to haul yourself out and a change of clothing you can leave on shore.  Better still, bring a friend with you.
You may be waiting for summer before you venture on to the lake.  This is the time of year to start planning Boundary Waters expeditions.  Reservations for entry points start on January 27th, so be sure to put that on your calendar.
Another date to put on the calendar is this next Monday.  It is Martin Luther King Day, and in his honor, government offices, including ours, will be closed.  It is a good day to reflect on how far our country has come in equal rights, and how much farther we still need to go.
One of the ongoing jobs of our biologists has been to monitor lynx populations.  We are learning more about this wild cat every year through radio collaring, scat collecting, and citizen observations.  If you see a lynx, or verifiable tracks, call or stop in at a Forest Service office and report the location to the biologist team.  We’d like to know.  If you have your camera or cell phone with, snap a picture too.  If you’re photographing tracks, put a coin or a ruler or your foot in the picture so the size can be estimated.
As for tracks being left by trucks, there is a little less log hauling on the Tofte District this week.  Forest users may see log trucks on The Grade (FR 170), the Sawbill Trail (CC2), the Trappers Lake Road (FR 369), and the west end of the Wanless Road (FR 172).    On the Gunflint side of things, log hauling is taking place on FR144 (Old Greenwood), Shoe Lake Road, Greenwood Road, Firebox Road, Pine Mountain Road, Bally Creek Road, Caribou Trail, Ball Club Road, and the Grade.  Log trucks of course use Highway 61 as well, and I was reminded yesterday by a passing truck that I really need to check my washer fluid more often.
Whether you are skiing, snowmobiling, ice fishing, or just going for a drive in the woods, we hope you get out and enjoy your national forest during the next week.  Until next time, this has been Steve Robertsen with the National Forest Update.
 

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Lutsen’s Hazel Oberholtzer feeds a sled dog while visiting Amy and Dave Freeman on Wood Lake in the BWCAW

West End News: January 14

 When Hazel Oberholtzer from Lutsen, who is in 7th grade, woke up in a tent in the BWCA Wilderness last weekend, when it was more than 20 degrees below zero, the last thing she expected was to be too warm. Hazel found herself in this unlikely position while visiting Dave and Amy Freeman on Wood Lake near Ely. Hazel traveled into Wood Lake with her brother, Cy, who is 10, her dad, John Oberholtzer, and a friend, Andy Keith, from Grand Marais.
 
Dave and Amy Freeman are spending a full year in the BWCA Wilderness without coming out even once, to call attention to proposed sulfide mining that threatens to pollute the water in the wilderness.  They’ve been in the wilderness since late September, traveling first by canoe and now with the help of three sled dogs, Tank, Tina and Acorn.
 
The Oberholtzer party pulled four toboggans into Wood Lake via the 180-rod portage along the Fernberg Road northeast of Ely.  The portage is mostly downhill so Hazel and Cy took the opportunity to ride their toboggans down the slopes.  They not only had their own tent, woodstove and camping gear, but also brought in some people food, dog food and equipment for Dave and Amy.
 
The dog team, accompanied by Dave and Amy, met them at the wilderness boundary.  Dave suggested that all four toboggans be hooked into a train to be pulled by the dogs.  It was an open question whether the dogs could pull such a large load, but they took off so fast that Dave and Amy had to sprint and dive to catch the train before it left the station unaccompanied.
 
As the group traveled to the campsite it was 28 degrees.  By the second night of the trip it had dropped to -24 degrees.  With the help of the dogs, a good supply of down and dead ash firewood had been gathered, bucked and split, for feeding the wood stoves in the tents.  Everyone had a winter weight sleeping bag, but John, being a careful father, made sure the stove was stoked every two hours. That, along with a hot water bottle in her sleeping bag, was the cause of Hazel’s overheating.
 
Aside from the risk of heat stroke, the group had great fun skijoring, exploring, visiting and playing with the dogs. They particularly enjoyed absorbing the Freemans’ manner and mindset after they’ve spent more than one hundred straight days in the wilderness.
 
The Oberholtzers’ adventure is the perfect example of why the BWCA Wilderness is a national treasure and deserves to be fully protected.  The adventure, fun, peace and comradeship experienced by the Hazel and Cy will enrich the rest of their lives.  In fact, it was the wilderness that first brought their parents to northeastern Minnesota to establish their careers and raise their family. It creates an economy and community that are sustainable and enriching.
 
If you want to know more about the immediate and very real threats to the wilderness, the organization that is sponsoring the Freemans, “Save The Boundary Waters,” is hosting a community conversation in Grand Marais on Thursday, January 28 from 5:30 until 7 pm at the Community Center Social Room. You can find more details online at: savetheboundarywaters.org.
 
Speaking of the wilderness, it is slowly dawning on everyone with a connection to the wilderness that a quiet disaster has occurred.  The phenomenon is being called the “snow-down” or the “bend-down” as opposed to the “blow-down” that occurred in 1999.  A couple of heavy, wet snows, followed by cold weather, have bent or broken untold numbers of trees into portages and campsites in large swaths of the wilderness.  As trail maintenance workers have slaved to clear the snowmobile and ski trails outside the wilderness, it has become apparent that the clearing effort required to open the wilderness for the 2016 canoeing season is going to be massive.
 
The Forest Service has scheduled one of their Beaver aircraft to fly over the wilderness soon in an attempt to map the scope of the problem.  It is already clear that the work required exceeds the ability of the existing wilderness crews to do the job in a timely manner.  Either outside crews will need to be brought in or a huge volunteer effort will have to be organized – or both.
 
There is never a dull moment, here in the wild and wooly West End.

(Photo courtesy of Dave and Amy Freeman)
 
 

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A Year in the Wilderness: January 14 - Guests

Cook County adventurers Dave and Amy Freeman are spending a year in the wilderness. On a regular basis they’ll be sharing some of their experiences traveling the BWCAW.

(Photo courtesy of Dave and Amy's Facebook page)

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North Woods Naturalist: Under ice

With the lakes frozen over, many life forms lead a controlled existence under the ice.  WTIP’s Jay Andersen talks with naturalist Chel Anderson about living under ice.

(Photo courtesy of Marshmallow Molly on Flickr)
 

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School News from Oshki Ogimaag: January 12

Biidash reports the latest School News.

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Winter Hexagon {peter jones /Flickr}

Northern Sky: January 9

Deane Morrison is a science writer at the University of Minnesota. She authors the Minnesota Starwatch column, and contributes to WTIP bi-weekly on the Monday North Shore Morning program through "Northern Sky," where she shares what's happening with stars, planets and more.

Jupiter below Leo; the winter hexagon and winter triangle; a new moon on January 9; and Venus, Saturn and Mars in the morning sky.

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: January 8

The Gunflint winter in this New Year continues in a “funky” mood. The area has a decent accumulation of snow although none has been added since our last radio gathering, and not much is foreseen in the immediate future.         

Meanwhile, temperatures throughout our northland are way out of whack. With only a few nights in the Wildersmith neighborhood seeing the mercury dip below zero, making ice on the “Gunflint Gal” from our mid-lake location has been difficult. Whereas the western third of the lake took up solidarity sometime before Christmas, we had seen only a momentary skim one morning in the past week, and that scant crinkling was soon whisked away by daytime winds.

Since that time, persistent northwesterlies kept things in turmoil. The rolling icy surf ate away at edges of the eastern iciest advancement (the Gunflint always freezes from west to east) sending huge chunks crashing and grinding into the shore down our way. These floating mini-icebergs not only create intriguing sound bites against the granite shoreline, but also whip up unusual lake surface textures as rollers and ice cubes unite. This "liquidscape” often takes on the look of dancing waters, and in a case or two, one would think there might be school of hungry “bass” attacking at Mayfly hatch.  

Then in an unexpected happening, winds calmed last Sunday evening and by the morning of January fourth, Gunflint Lake had totally put on her winter coat.  Lifetime residents around here cannot remember such a tardy arrival of hard water. The new late date “ice on” will be recorded in my winter facts data as the old mark of December 29, 2001 was obliterated to a distant second.

On a related note, I heard of some gutsy ice skaters who tried the Gunflint ice a little over a mile west of here out from Heston’s Lodge, January 2. Guess there were no issues but they’re surely bigger risk takers than yours truly, particularly when chunks of the surface were breaking off not far from where their blades scarred the frozen surface.  

In another ice related story, a friend tells of meeting, and playing peek-a-boo with an otter along a narrow ice shelf at his shore line. The aquatic, carnivorous mammal was doing a little fishing at the edge of the ice formation and came up a time or two to show off its catching skills. It makes one wonder if the fun loving critter might have been teasing this on-looker in regard to already being able to ice fish, or was just playing a little “now you see me, now you don’t" game. 

Although wolves aren’t at the door, the Gunflint/Loon Lake Pack has been seen at any number of places along the south shore of Gunflint lake in the past week. From reports it’s a “five some” making the rounds.   

There have been no known confrontations between people and/or pets as these great hunters just want venison. With few white tails left in the upper Trail reaches, wolves are ranging in all directions to find even a whiff of their favorite meal. As confirmation of the low deer population, I know of only one buck being taken in these parts during the November 2015 rifle season. Since the Gunflint’s completely frozen now, I’m wondering if deer might matriculate from Canada, or will the wolves make their way in that direction for better hunting grounds.   

The first spectacle of northwoods dog sledding competition gets under way this weekend with the Gunflint Mail Run.  The 110 mile (long race) and a 70 mile (short run) commence at Trail Center Saturday morning, 8 am. Race observations can be viewed at any number of back country road intersections along the snowmobile trail network, and at turn-around points (for the long race at Blankenberg Pit) and (at King’s Road above Gunflint Lake for the short race).

Born to run and pull, these canine athletes display boundless energy as they get harnessed up. Their enthusiasm goes unmatched from start to finish. If you have not seen such an event, the Gunflint Mail Run is a good opportunity to cross such an event off one’s bucket list.   

While on the dogsledding subject, riding in a sled behind the dogs is an adventure everyone with wilderness spirit should get to experience. Bearskin and Gunflint Lodges both offer dogsledding rides in the snowy woods. Give them a call to make a reservation. Take it from yours truly it’ll be a timeless memory!  

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith. The Trail's going to the dogs, see you at the GMR, it’ll be a “woofing” good time! 

{photo courtesy of Gunflint Mail Run on Facebook}
 

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Great Expectations Charter School

School News from Great Expectations: January 7

Kaleb and Sienna share the latest news from Great Expectations Charter School in Grand Marais.

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