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Are we done yet?

We’ve all been there before. You know what I’m talking about…that feeling. What feeling you ask? It’s that I’m at the end of my rope, there’s nothing left in the tank feeling. I am so there and beyond. I’m like a little kid waiting in eager anticipation for something that cannot come soon enough. What is it you ask? Well, here’s a hint-rocker Alice Cooper wrote a pretty great song about it 😉

So if you have not guessed it (and you should since I’m a teacher), I’m talking about the end of the school year. Hallelujah! Yes, we have finally reached the end of the year! I know, poor teacher right? Such an easy job and now you get two whole months off to relax. Well, if you’ve never done it before, you don’t know how mentally (and physically) draining it can be. I am pooped! As I’ve mentioned before in this blog, I’ll be using this time to “recharge the batteries” and prepare for the start of another year in September. For now however, I am not thinking that far ahead and I’m focussing on the foreseeable future.

Even though we are days away from the end of the year, my work is not done yet. Yes, all my exams are done and marks have been submitted, but I still have one more thing to do. Believe it or not, this task is actually going to involve me putting in some overtime. I am supposed to be done on Friday, but I will not officially be done until Saturday night. Confused? Let me explain.

So I’ve mentioned several times on this blog that I would be travelling to the University of Minnesota-Duluth with the football team to participate in their team skills camp. Well, that time has arrived! We leave tomorrow morning bright and early (7am to be exact) for the 3.5 hour drive south to Duluth. We’ll be taking 23 players (4 Gr. 9’s, 17 Gr. 10’s and 2 Gr. 11’s) down to the camp, along with 7 coaches on a charted bus. I’ll be taking my own truck though as I need to pick up a few things on the way home. It’s been four years since we’ve gone to this camp, and based on our past experiences, it should be a fantastic opportunity for everyone involved.

So if everything goes to plan, it will be a short turn-around once I get home from Duluth. My wife is scheduled to do the Advanced Placement Math course in Toronto on July 1st, so we decided to make a trip out of it. She’s flying down on June 30, and I’ll follow her down a few days later with the boys in the van. Ethan and Noah are really looking forward to the trip, especially since were planning to go back to Wonderland (Noah couldn’t do much last year because of his broken arm), visit the Medieval Times and watch the Toronto-Calgary football game.

If anything, this trip will be a good start to my much needed vacation, but it will also get me away from the depressing weather around here. Now I’m sure you’re probably tired of me bitching about the weather, especially since I’ve been doing it for the past year. I can’t help it though…it’s bloody awful! All it does is rain. The ground is still very wet from all the snow we got over the winter and it hasn’t really dried out. It’s rained the past few days and I’m sure everything is saturated by this point. I don’t really care if this summer is really hot, but it would be nice if it could just dry out.

Now you know why I want things to dry out…it makes it really hard to do any hiking if the bush is wet. Right now all the creeks and rivers are high, as are all the swampy areas which the railway does run through. I’m hoping that by the time I get back from Toronto it will have dried out a bit. I’m scheduled to do a presentation on the Paulson Mine and the railway on July 20 at the Chik-Wauk Museum and I’d like to get some field work in after that. Fingers are crossed.

Now speaking of hiking, I did get some in a couple weeks ago. I was back in Minnesota with the idea of exploring some of the mines and test pits along the Centennial and Kekekabic Trails. I had not been to one mine shaft, located (ironically) at Mine Lake, since 2010.

I was up bright and early on Friday the 13th for the 2+ hour trip down to Gunflint. I would be by myself for this hike, since the boys were on a PD day from school and wanted to spend the day at my mom’s house. I was a bit concerned about how things would go, since it did rain a bit the day before and the ground was very wet. By 10:30 I was on the trail heading west toward the Mine Lake shaft, 3km away. It was a bit cool that day, but the strong wind mercifully kept the swarms of black flies and mosquitoes away. It was nice to be out in the bush, especially as I passed by all the history in the area.

After about an hour of walking, I arrived at the west end of Mine Lake; during the time of the railway it was known as Akeley Lake. On the way in I had attempted to look for a series of test trenches that were supposedly located at the east end of the lake, but I was not really sure what I was looking for. I did make one surprise find about 50m from the shaft, which was an adit along the north side of the trail (I had been there in 1998 and 2010 and missed it both times). That led me to explore a mass of rock work that was located just west of the adit and on the opposite side of the Kekekabic Trail from the shaft. It appeared that a whole section of the ridge had been subjected to a massive amount of blasting.

Railway grade near the second switchback, June 2014.

Railway grade near the second switchback, June 2014.

Adit, Mine Lake, June 2014.

Adit, Mine Lake, June 2014.

After carefully exploring the blasted area, I moved south to visit the shaft. Unfortunately I was disappointed with what I saw. The Akeley Lake shaft was the best preserved mine shaft in the whole area and now it had become the worst. The 1999 blowdown and the 2007 Ham Lake fire removed all of the forest cover in the area and now it has all begun to grow back. The opening was so wide open and easy to see into before, but now it is clogged with deadfall and trees growing along the shaft collar that you can barely see into it.

Akeley Lake Shaft, June 2014.

Akeley Lake Shaft, June 2014.

Akeley Lake Shaft, June 2014.

Akeley Lake Shaft, June 2014.

Akeley Lake Shaft, August 2010.

Akeley Lake Shaft, August 2010.

On my way back to the Gunflint Trail I spent my time shooting some new video of the test pits alongside the trail. I even went on a little adventure to look for what I thought were some other test pits but came up empty. I am looking forward to heading back down to Gunflint after my return from Toronto. In the meantime you can watch my videos from the hike here and here.

Iron rocks, June 2014.

Iron rocks, June 2014.

Test pit #5, June 2014.

Test pit #5, June 2014.

Test pit #1, June 2014.

Test pit #1, June 2014.

So since it will be a while before I’m able to do more field work, I’m going to be doing a “different” type of field work while I’m in Toronto. What kind of field work could I possibly do in Toronto you ask? Well, the archival kind. Yes, for the first (and only) time since 1999 I am paying a visit to the Archives of Ontario. The Archives has some really important files pertaining to the railway and I can’t wait to take a look at them with a more mature and discerning eye. I’ll be sure to write all about it in my next post.

Anyway, I better get rolling. I’ll be back in a few weeks with the latest news. Until then…

 
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Posted by on June 25, 2014 in Hiking, History, Railway, Travel, Writing

 

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Who gets a cold in June?

Obviously me! I feel like the proverbial bag of poop. I could feel it coming on Friday as I was heading back from the states. I was feeling it on Saturday and I spent a chunk of Sunday morning lying on the couch unable to breathe through my congested sinuses. Today it is in my throat and lungs; I can’t catch my breath and my throat is on fire. I’m dying, but I dragged my butt to work.

So where did I get this lovely virus from? Clearly I have no idea, but I can bet that my boys might have something to do with it. They generally tend to bring home every germ imaginable from school. How I got it and they didn’t it is beyond me, but I guess it’s better now than when summer vacation starts. Certainly the crazy weather we’ve been having doesn’t help. Last Monday I wrote that it was 25C in the morning; the next day it was only 5C. I hope these wild swings settle down into a somewhat normal pattern soon. Unfortunately that doesn’t seem like that will happen anytime soon, since they are calling for another big dump of rain and tonight we even had a tornado warning!

Speaking of vacation, this week marks the final week of classes for the semester and the school year. Exams begin on Friday and then it will be downhill from there. There is still a lot to do before then though, if I make it. Today was the first day of our annual spring football camp and it was rough. I had zero energy and though I did a lot of delegating (the head coach can do that), I still had to do a bit of running. I thought I was going to keel over! My lack of physical fitness coupled with my chest congestion made things very interesting. Hopefully I feel better by Wednesday since we’re having a little scrimmage and the coaches usually play. I don’t want to look like the decrepit old man!

As for the railway, it has actually been a very busy week. In my last post I wrote about my frustration regarding the most famous locomotive on the railway, the Black Auntie. I had sent away for a photo that was supposed to be the Black Auntie, but what I had received was not it. Or so I thought. Almost immediately after I made this proclamation I began to re-consider my decision. The next day I was looking through my files for something when I came across a document regarding the sale of the railway in 1899. It stated that locomotive #1 was a “Rogers” type locomotive with an 8 wheel arrangement (most likely a 4-4-0). This is the locomotive depicted in the photo; thus a new mystery in the history of the railway is born.

On the topic of mysteries, my biggest railway news for the week is related to a mystery of sorts. On Friday I travelled to the Minnesota side of Gunflint Lake to do some examination of the grade near the fabled Paulson Mine. The last few years I have used my one personal day (a paid floater day if you wish) to hike the railway. Can you say obsessed?

I first visited this area back in 1998, before the 1999 blowdown and 2007 Ham Lake fire. Those two events radically transformed the landscape of what is known as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, which lies inside the Superior National Forest. I returned a second time in 2010 and again in 2011, and between the three trips I was able to investigate almost the entire length of the railway and the iron mines. There was one exception though, the area around the second switchback. In ’98 it was rough terrain and high water that stopped me; in 2010 and 2011 it was a lack of time. But I guess I should explain what it is I am referring to.

US Topographic Map, 1904.

The railway crossed into the United States over the Gunflint Narrows and after blasting its way along the shore of Gunflint Lake, it followed the valley of the Cross River. After progressing 5 kilometres, the railway was then confronted with a serious problem. The Paulson Mine lay some 200 feet above the valley and shrouded by several high ridges. The only answer was to construct several switchbacks or zig zags which allowed the trains to ascend the steep hills with minimal use of tunnelling or rock work. In my first three visits I was able to trace the route of the first switchback, but the second was proving troublesome. I was hoping that this trip would answer all my questions.

Joining me for this adventure was my 7 year old son Ethan, and we departed home around 7:45 EST. The drive to our departure point would take about 2 hours and 45 minutes, but for this trip I decided to follow the GPS and take the “short” route. Instead of driving to the town of Grand Marais and the turning northwest on the Gunflint Trail, the GPS advised me to take County Road 14 to Trout Lake Road, then on to the Trail. The detour shaved about 15 to 20 minutes off the journey, but led my through the middle of nowhere of Cook County (I was a bit worried about where I was going). When we arrived at the Kekekabic Trailhead I was a bit concerned as my truck thermometer was showing 20C at 10:30! Shortly after we began our 2km walk to the second switchback.

The railway grade lies somewhere below this lake.

Following the 2007 fire, the US Forest Service created a new hiking route on top of portions of the railway and the existing Kekekabic Trail. The Centennial Trail runs west for approximately 2km before it leaves the “Kek” and turns southeast. Along this north leg of the trail can be found five test pits, holes of various depths (15 to 25 feet) used to ascertain the quality of the iron in the area. A short distance later, on the south shore of an unnamed lake, can be found the famous Paulson Mine. The next lake along the route lay close to our destination and running through the lake can be discerned what would appear to be part of the grade. Unfortunately the railway lies beneath several feet of water created by a beaver dam which has flooded the area (it appears that the engineers blasted a channel to drain the lake when they built the line).

Mine shaft, June 2012.

As we left the Kek, our first stop was at a mine shaft located beside the trail. It is apparently 75 feet deep and one can see the timbers that lined the sides of the shaft. This would lend some evidence that it was an actual shaft rather than a test pit. Beside the hole lies a vast heap of tailings, red with oxidation.

We then left the trail and headed cross-country to the site of a rock cut on the opposite side of the ridge. The water was higher than it was in 2010 and we had to skirt the cut until we reached drier ground. We moved about 30 metres northwest where it appeared that the

Rock cut, June 2012.

grade ended and we would start our investigation. Unfortunately my search was handicapped by a technological glitch; all the waypoints in my GPS somehow vanished. I had pre-loaded some likely targets for the continuation of the grade beyond what appeared to be a trestle, but without that data I was walking blind.

We made our way back to the trail and headed west on the Kek to where it appeared the grade continued. Unfortunately my search was frustrated by the missing data and the poor visibility in the forest growth (with the rain the bush is particularly lush). We headed back 230 metres to the small lake hoping to see some traces of the railway, but it was of no use. Without the reference point of the railway through the lake, it is near impossible to determine where the line travels. I plan to return in the fall after the leaves are down and hopefully that will make a difference.

Test pit 3, June 2012.

Attempting to beat the rising temperatures, Ethan and I took the trail back east, stopping briefly at test pit 3 to eat lunch. Ethan seemed quite interested in the test pits so I showed him all five. I promised to take him to the Paulson Mine when he was a bit older and able to handle the difficult terrain.

After the hike, I wanted to make two quick stops. In August I will be making a presentation at the Chik-Wauk Museum near the end of the Gunflint Trail and I thought it would be beneficial to actually visit the museum before then. Recently opened in a former lodge, the museum is quite nice inside, combining history and nature in one location. While there I had the opportunity to chat with Ada Igoe, who is the site manager and the one who invited me to speak there. It certainly makes me excited for the presentation and I am eagerly looking forward to August.

Chik-Wauk Museum, June 2012.

From Chik-Wauk we travelled back east to the Cross River Lodge. I will be staying there after the August presentation and weather permitting, I will be completing some field work on Gunflint Lake. I was hoping to chat with the owner John, but he unfortunately had to return to Missouri the day before. I did have a good conversation with his wife Rose and their employee Doug. I think Ethan enjoyed the lodge and we both looking forward to our August trip.

Anyway, this blog has gone on way too long and I need to get some rest. More news next week! Until then…

 
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Posted by on June 18, 2012 in Hiking, Miscellaneous, Research, Writing

 

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