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Tag Archives: Minnesota

Twice in the space of a week!

Really? You must be a lucky guy Dave! I know…I was pretty excited about it myself; I haven’t done it this often in a long time. It was worth all the money, time, exertion and effort too. I know what you’re thinking…is he really talking about this on his blog? Isn’t that a tad inappropriate? Money? Isn’t this a family blog? Well, of course it is…what is it that you think I’m talking about? Oh, I know, you’re confused. Well, that never happens here right?

So we’re here at the end of October and I am totally out of gas. It has been a crazy fall! Between everything that has gone on in my family life and work, I am very surprised I am still alive. No really…I’m not joking. It is a huge struggle to keep my head above water and I feel like I am not on the ball when it comes to teaching. I am behind in my marking and my planning isn’t as sharp as it usually is; I’m not focussed. I really need that sabbatical.

Football is winding down for another year. Noah and his Alouette teammates played in the TBMFA Atom championship on last Saturday and came away 25-6 winners. He played well in the victory, recording several tackles at his outside linebacker position. This week was the start of playoffs in high school junior football, and after finishing third in the standings we took on Superior in the quarterfinals on Thursday. It was a tough 20-6 win and we now move on to play Hammarskjold next week. I am very proud of this group as they have come along way since the beginning of the year and they have accomplished a lot no matter what happens from here.

Speaking of busy, this month has been very active for me on the railway front. On the 4th the historical society held its annual History Day at the Silver Mountain Station. This year’s edition had a very special guest, Harold Alanen, who was launching his new book, “They Came From All Around.” This was of great interest to me, since I’ve worked with Harold at Gunflint Lake in the past and his book covers a lot of history associated with the railway. I look forward to finish reading his book once things calm down.

Since I already brought it up, let’s talk about Gunflint. The weekend after History Day was Thanksgiving here in Canada and as I’ve done for the past few years, I spent it in Minnesota with the boys. It is some great father-son time, but also an opportunity to get field work done with most of the leaves down and the ground fairly dry.

Our adventure started bright and early on Friday morning as we packed up and made our way to the Cross River Lodge. After a short stop in Grand Marais for provisions, we arrived at the lodge by 9:30 or so. It was nice to catch up with John and Rose…it’s become like a second home for me. Shortly after noon we were heading across a very rough lake for the 11km ride to the site of Camp 4.

My objective for the day was pretty minimal, with just some minor explorations of the area. I did find a few interesting things, but no major breakthroughs for the time being. On the way back we took a short detour to Gunflint Narrows since the water on the lake was very low (not extreme, but one of the lowest I’ve seen). The boys climbed around on the rocks while I photographed the remains of the railway trestle.

Gunflint Narrows, October 2015.

Gunflint Narrows, October 2015.

One of the highlights of our trip was the spectacular evenings we experienced. The winds were very calm, the lake like glass and the sunsets were amazing. After the difficult times we’ve had over the past little while, I felt like it was some great therapy for the boys and myself. I really hope it repeats itself when we are there next year!

Sunset, Gunflint Lake, October 2015.

Sunset, Gunflint Lake, October 2015.

Sunset, Gunflint Lake, October 2015.

Sunset, Gunflint Lake, October 2015.

Sunset, Gunflint Lake, October 2015.

Sunset, Gunflint Lake, October 2015.

Sunset, Gunflint Lake, October 2015.

Sunset, Gunflint Lake, October 2015.

Saturday was expected to be the big day. My goal was to travel across the lake again, this time to the site of Bridal Falls, and explore the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad south toward Crab Lake. I had done this last year, but this time I had a better plan and hoped for better results. Armed with my metal detector (which I had bought specifically for this purpose), I hoped I would find some physical traces of the line and determine its exact route to Crab Lake.

After a much nicer ride on the lake in the cool fall air, we made our way up past Bridal Falls and on to the railroad right of way. My first big surprise was the state of the grade; last year it had been completely flooded by a beaver dam on the Crab River right at the top of the ridge. To my surprise the water was gone! I didn’t bother checking to see if it was a result of the dam being broken, but I really didn’t care…it made my life much easier!

The line was easy to follow in this area, with corduroyed logs very visible under the grade. Half way across the 180m stretch we made our first find-a small spike (one of the smallest I’ve ever seen), which told us we were on the right path. Continuing southward we entered a wooded area and immediately found another spike, keeping us pointed in the right direction. But this was all to be expected; it was further south that the route of the line was in question. After 140m, we reached another low, open section.

G&LS rock cut, October 2015.

G&LS rock cut, October 2015.

G&LS grade, October 2015.

G&LS grade, October 2015.

Corduroyed logs, October 2015.

Corduroyed logs, October 2015.

Last year it was here that I lost the line, but not this time. It didn’t take me long to find a spike, which told me my hunch was right, that the grade followed the course of the river. I crossed the low area and came into a wooded section where I immediately found yet another spike. As the grade curved around this ridge, I began finding many traces of the line. I came across a railway related object (might be part of a switch) and then several fishplates and spikes. The grade was clearly cut into the ridge as it swung from a south-westerly to southerly to south-easterly direction. Another fishplate told me I was still on the right “track.”

Switch part?, October 2015.

Switch part?, October 2015.

G&LS cutting, October 2015.

G&LS cutting, October 2015.

G&LS fishplate, October 2015.

G&LS fishplate, October 2015.

As the grade turns easterly the river widens to form a small lake, and the railway curves along the shore of the lake. Last year I found corduroyed logs in the water in several places in this 300m stretch. This time around I turned up a metal object at the northern apex of the lake and then several spikes at the southern end where the lake narrows again. A short 150m walk took me down to Crab Lake, finding more spikes along the way. While the boys took a break on the shore, I followed what turned out to be the grade a short distance confirmed by yet more spikes. There’s still another kilometre to explore to the east end of Crab Lake, which I hope to get to next year.

G&LS Grade, October 2015.

G&LS Grade, October 2015.

On the walk back to the boat we stopped to take some photos of the beautiful Bridal Falls. The trip back to the lodge was much nicer than the previous day and it felt good to have a shower and relax. It was a tough day of hiking so I decided to treat the boys to dinner at the Gunflint Lodge. This has become a tradition for us on these trips and it’s a great opportunity for us to just hang out.

Crab River, October 2015.

Crab River, October 2015.

Bridal Falls, October 2015.

Bridal Falls, October 2015.

Bridal Falls, October 2015.

Bridal Falls, October 2015.

Bridal Falls, October 2015.

Bridal Falls, October 2015.

Bridal Falls, October 2015.

Bridal Falls, October 2015.

Sunday dawned bright and sunny again and after breakfast we were off across the lake for our last hike. I didn’t expect this one to yield any great breakthroughs since it was a section I had walked last summer. Our starting point was going to be where the railroad crossed a small creek 700m south of the boundary. With the water low, I was forced to paddle the boat in the last hundred metres to the shore. The remnants of the bridge were very visible in the water and I spent some time photographing them before proceeding ashore.

Bridge remains, October 2015.

Bridge remains, October 2015.

Bridge remains, October 2015.

Bridge remains, October 2015.

It did not take us very long to follow the grade as it winds its way along the lake up to the narrows separating Little Gunflint and Gunflint Lakes. After stopping a little while, we made our way back south. Things that I had previous seen along this stretch were much more visible, such as the corduroyed logs underneath the grade. With the leaves down, it was easier to follow the line and photograph its features.

G&LS grade, October 2015.

G&LS grade, October 2015.

Rail, October 2015.

Rail, October 2015.

Corduroyed logs, October 2015.

Corduroyed logs, October 2015.

G&LS cutting, October 2015.

G&LS cutting, October 2015.

Bridge remains, October 2015.

Bridge remains, October 2015.

Our last night at the lodge was another great one. The mercury that day had risen to an unheard of level; the thermometer at the lodge was showing 91F, or 32C! It was gorgeous barbequing supper on the deck of the lodge and then enjoying the very warm evening. The next morning we were up early and after breakfast we had to sadly bid farewell to John and Rose and Gunflint Lake. I booked next year’s trip while I was there, so the countdown is already on to Thanksgiving 2016!

So, I guess after all of this blabbering I should mention something about the title. Well, one of things that came up during our time at Gunflint was the fact that I had not been hunting in a long time-eleven years to be exact-and that the boys had never been before. Hunting was a part of my youth. My dad hunted, not avidly, but rather I think he just enjoyed being outdoors and walking (I wonder where I get it from). I have some very fond memories of those times and I want the boys to experience that too.

The plan was that the following Sunday, if the weather cooperated, we would head down to North Lake to do some hunting and explore the railway at the same time. I had not walked this portion of the PAD&W since 2010 (I think) so I would be an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone, if you pardon the pun. It would also be the first time in a long time that I did field work twice in a week!

We left early for the 100km or so drive down to the lake. Once we parked the truck we started on the long walk, almost 7km, toward our destination at Trestle Bay. Luck was on our side again and it was shaping up to be another fantastic day.

PAD&W embankment, October 2015.

PAD&W embankment, October 2015.

After about a kilometre of walking, we came across our first ruffled grouse, or partridge as we call them around here. I was a little nervous about actually shooting, as it had been such a long time since I had last fired a gun. Thankfully, my aim was true with my dad’s old Mossberg .410 and we bagged our first bird of the day. Unfortunately the shotgun blast scared the bejesus out of poor Noah!

This trip was a bit of nostalgia for me. Way back in the fall of 1990 I made my first trip to North Lake; I was all of 16 years old and it was also my first time moose hunting. Friends of the family had just purchased the former Bishop’s homestead on the lake and I was taken by all the history in the area. Walking the grade, finding spikes and exploring the remains of the North Lake Station really captured my imagination. This is where it all began.

PAD&W rock cut, October 2015.

PAD&W rock cut, October 2015.

Back then the grade was only clear for one kilometre past the property where it crossed a swamp. I had a lot of success in those days finding birds along this stretch and luck was on my side once more; by the time we reached the swamp we already had 3 of them. Continuing on we netted our limit by the time we arrived at the site of Greer’s logging camp, some 2.5km to the west (5 shots, 5 birds). The gun was then unloaded and shouldered, the dog cut loose and I could now concentrate on walking the grade. The hike was so picturesque and relaxing; I had forgotten how beautiful this area was. I also came to the realization that while enjoyed the time hunting, I’d much rather be focussing on the railway.

PAD&W cutting, October 2015.

PAD&W cutting, October 2015.

PAD&W cutting, October 2015.

PAD&W cutting, October 2015.

PAD&W rock cut, October 2015.

PAD&W rock cut, October 2015.

Greer's logging camp, October 2015.

Greer’s logging camp, October 2015.

PAD&W rock cut, October 2015.

PAD&W rock cut, October 2015.

PAD&W rock cut, October 2015.

PAD&W rock cut, October 2015.

By noon we reached Trestle Bay, and after a break for some food we started back toward the truck. We paused several times along the way to take some video of the many rock cuts in the area. We arrived at our starting point around 3:30, just in time to get rolling home, but not before we cleaned the partridge. I don’t think the boys enjoyed that part very much, but neither did I when I was their age. It did feel good to share this icky part with them though, especially teaching them how to do it properly just as my dad did with me. I think that he would have been proud of the day we spent together…hopefully we can do it all again next year.

Trestle Bay, October 2015.

Trestle Bay, October 2015.

Well, I think I’ve said enough for now. This post has taken a lot of time to write and put together…twice in a week is more exhausting than I thought. Anywho, I better go; more news and info coming soon. Until then…

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Posted by on October 30, 2015 in Hiking, History, Railway

 

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Three times is not a charm!

We’ve been here before right? This is now the third year in a row that this has happened. Déjà vu? (from French, literally “already seen”, is the phenomenon of having the strong sensation that an event or experience currently being experienced has been experienced in the past, whether it has actually happened or not). A very clinical answer from our friends at Wikipedia, but it seems to be the best way to describe what has gone on. Unfortunately this is not the good type of repetition and it is very frustrating, in my opinion anyway. Cryptic? For sure…I haven’t done that in a while.

So what’s new and exciting Dave? Well, there’s not a lot of “new” stuff, but there’s certainly a lot of “excitement” going on. I guess I should clarify, for “excitement” may not be the correct term to use…maybe controlled insanity is better. Ya, let’s go with that. It’s now June, obviously, but this generally is one of the busiest times of the year for me. So many things going on!

Work is a big part of the current craziness. There is the ever-present marking that I can never seem to get ahead of (the only time you’re ahead of your marking is at the end of the year). We’re down to our final 10 days before exams and there is the usual rush to get everything wound up on time. Isn’t it supposed to get easier as you get older and more experienced? I’m finding it gets more challenging!

This week we started into the annual spring football season, though it began on a sour note on Monday, which led to a cancellation of that first session (ya, it ties into to the title). That left us with only two days of camp, but it still turned out to be very productive nonetheless. Now my time on the grid iron is not over though; our whole program (junior and senior) will be travelling to Duluth, MN at the end of the month to take part in the annual University of Minnesota-Duluth team camp. So I’m staying on the field for two more days to help get the kids ready to participate in that event.

Well, I should get to the title of the post shouldn’t I? What’s your best guess? If you said the weather, you’re the grand prize winner…cheque is in the mail! The end of May was absolutely fantastic; it was sunny and very warm. June unfortunately hasn’t been so kind, especially with regard to the rain. In May 2012 we had a pretty massive storm that dumped a lot of rain on the city and caused some flooding. Last year it was the same story; almost the same itme of the year, but with a little less rain. It was like a broken record this past Monday, with a good dose of rain that put a damper on just about everything. It is so frustrating! We had such a long and terrible winter and things were just starting to look up. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the end of the world, but the ground is still very wet and it’s been a long wait for it to dry up. Now we’re starting all over again.

Why am I so concerned about how wet everything is? Well, as someone who likes to spend a lot of time in the outdoors, it makes it very challenging to get out there and hike. I was hoping to go out again this weekend to North Lake, but I had to push my plans back another week. Fortunately I was able to go on my first walk of the year a couple week’s ago and it was great to get out.

This hike took me to the Minnesota portion of the railway and I had been planning this for quite some time. I was really anxious to try out my new video camera and capture the grade in the grandeur of 1080p! The boys accompanied me on the hike, along with my old friend Terry (our hiking adventures go all the way back to high school) and my friend John from the Cross River Lodge. I actually needed some help on this walk since I had been itching to shoot some wireless footage of the 400-foot trestle near the Paulson Mine.

It was a nice drive down to Gunflint Lake as it usually is. After a brief stop at the Lodge to pick up John (and for Terry to get his caffine fix), we made our way to the southern trailhead of the Centennial Trail. After a short walk the trail merges with the former right of way and then it is about 600 metres to the trestle. On the way I decided to re-shoot a few areas that I previous taped in the fall (I really wanted to see what it would look like with the new camera). When we arrived at the trestle location I was already sweating; it was a beautiful, sunny day with temperatures already pushing the mid-twenties before 11am. The sweat would become profuse very quickly!

We set everything up and John would man the camera as I made my way into the valley and then up the fairly sheer face of the western side of the trestle. My biggest concern was if the wireless mic would work at such a distance (I tested it to over 450’ at home); thankfully it performed flawlessly. The leaves had yet to open on most of the trees, so it made for a pretty clear shot across the valley. After the filming was done, we all headed over to the western side to resume the hike. It was pretty interesting trying to get everyone up that cliff safely, especially the boys, but we able to do it without any incidents. On the way we came across a lot of metal bridge remains, even a spike still embedded in a piece of wood.

The grade on the west side of the valley had been blasted right out of the side of the cliff. The valley is over 100 feet below the railway (I approximated 50-80’ in the video) and the cliff above is rough 30 feet above the railway. It is really something to see! In the past 122 years many large boulders have fallen from the blasted cliff face and now sit on the grade, making it very challenging to walk. From the western side of the trestle it is approximately 300 metres to where the Centennial Trail re-acquires the grade; at points it is very heavily grown-in and not easily navigated. We ended our hike here, and slowly made our way to back to where we started. The video turned out great (with the exception of me repeating myself a lot); you can watch it here.

Lower grade from the Centennial Trail, May 2014.

Lower grade from the Centennial Trail, May 2014.

Looking west at the 400' trestle, May 2014.

Looking west at the 400′ trestle, May 2014.

Spike in wood, May 2014.

Spike in wood, May 2014.

Metal bridge parts, May 2014.

Metal bridge parts, May 2014.

Blasting hole, May 2014.

Blasting hole, May 2014.

Looking east at the 400' trestle, May 2014.

Looking east at the 400′ trestle, May 2014.

John graciously invited us to stop in to the lodge for some lunch and it was nice to relax for a bit. Afterwards we headed farther up the Gunflint Trail so Terry could take a look at the Chik-Wauk Museum. The visit also gave us some time to walk around on some of the trails at the site. From there it was getting close to supper time, so we drove back to the Gunflint Lodge for what would be a great meal. The temperature was now topping 28C and it was almost *gasp* too hot to be outside! It did cool off considerably as we headed home and got closer to Lake Superior. In any case it was a great day and I’m looking forward to my next opportunity to visit Minnesota.

Gunflint Lake, May 2014.

Gunflint Lake, May 2014.

Anyway, I better get rolling. I was planning to add more recollections from my twenty years of railway work, but I’ll save that for my next post. Until then…

 
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Posted by on June 5, 2014 in Hiking, History, Railway, Writing

 

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It’s about time!

Yes, yes it was. Talk about venting months of frustration. You know, when you can’t wait to do something and it finally happens you’re so giddy with excitement that you cannot contain yourself? That was me on Saturday. And no, I’m not talking about doing yard work, ‘cause we all know my feeling on that subject (besides, that was Sunday’s agenda). It wasn’t a stroll in the park and I was pretty beat afterwards, but it was well worth it. No, I’m not some addict getting my fix, but then again I could be since I can’t wait to do it again. Not making sense? Obviously you’re not visiting this blog on a regular basis…read up!

So we’ve arrived at the end of May. There are only 17 days left before exams…yikes! That’s not a lot of time kids! There is still so much to do, and to top it off, I’m out of the classroom for 6.5 days in these last few weeks. Talk about craziness. How I am going to get everything done? I guess I will manage like always, but I’m really finding it hard to plow through all of my marking. Besides, no teacher is ever caught up on their marking…ever!

One of the things that is going to keep me busy over the next week is our annual spring football camp. Yesterday I travelled to our feeder school Pope John Paul II (or PJP) along with another coach and a few players to plug the camp to prospective Grade 8’s. It should be a good three days of football skills and fun. Hopefully we will be joined by a couple former Fighting Saints alumni who are currently playing university ball here in Canada; I think these young athletes will really enjoy the experience.

Things have been both quiet and busy on the railway front. I worked on a few small items for the historical society, though I do need to get cracking on the poster and website. The website is of particular importance, as it will be one of our main means of providing information to the public. We’re also planning to have a page for society membership, which hopefully will attract more people to our organization.

So the biggest news of the past week and the obvious title of this post, involves the hike I did on Saturday in Minnesota. It was so good to get out and do some hiking on the railway (actually, it was great to get out period). I had been looking forward to this outing for quite a while, really since my visit to Gunflint Lake in March (I’ve written about it so many times over the past month or so). Unfortunately I left my usual hiking partner Loki behind, but I was joined by my oldest son Ethan, as well as my friend and Cross River Lodge owner John Schloot.

After an uneventful 2.5 hour or so drive from Thunder Bay to Gunflint Lake, I stopped at the lodge to pick up John. From there we proceeded the approximately 5km to the southern trailhead of the Centennial Trail. Once we were ready, we headed back up the Round Lake Road (County Road 47) to where it intersects with the Gunflint Trail. It was there that we picked up the old railway grade, and proceeded to follow it for about 200m to the east (it eventually disappears under the Trail).

Grade near the Gunflint Trail, May 2013.

Grade near the Gunflint Trail, May 2013.

We then headed back to the west, retracing our steps until we crossed back over the Round Lake Rd. From there the grade skirts a ridge as it makes a large arc through a swamp and begins to climb the opposite ridge. The engineers did this as the railway needed to climb about 200 feet as it leaves the valley of the Cross River and heads toward the Paulson Mine. It also required an elaborate double trestle switchback to make the grade sufficiently low enough for the trains to negotiate the climb. One can actually see a rock embankment almost 100 feet above the swamp on the southern ridge of the valley.

Cutting, May 2013.

Cutting, May 2013.

Railway embankment on the ridge, May 2013.

Railway embankment on the ridge, May 2013.

It is rather interesting walking the round edge of the loop as it curves through the swamp. The grade has obviously settled into the ground, but beavers have conveniently used it as the base for a large dam. At the southern end of the curve, the line passes through what looks like a large hill, but what is in actuality an esker. From there the slope of the grade becomes very noticeable as the line ascends the ridge passing through several cuttings and rock cuts. The distance from the esker to the western side of the first trestle is 230m, while the rise is about 11.5m (38ft); that makes the slope near 5%. Craziness! I can’t image how the trains would get up that grade, but worse, how loaded ores cars could negotiate the decent and curve.

Swamp loop, May 2013.

Swamp loop, May 2013.

Esker cutting, May 2013.

Esker cutting, May 2013.

At the eastern end of the ridge, the engineers were confronted with a valley opening to the north directly in their path. The simple solution was to build a 150 foot trestle across the expanse, but they would have to cross this valley a second time. From the east side of the trestle, the railway skirted around to the south side of the ridge for 250m, passing through a very large rock cut. Previously overgrown, this area has now been cleared by the US Forest Service and will probably become part of the Centennial Trail. Eventually the grade merges with the Round Lake Rd next to the Cross River.

Lower rock cut, May 2013.

Lower rock cut, May 2013.

At this point was located a switchback, which meant that the train now changed to another track and reversed its path along the ridge at a higher elevation. The grade continues for another 200m, through another large rock cut until it reaches the valley once again and crosses a second 150 foot trestle. Portions of this upper line have also been cleared and we made an interesting discovering. Previously obscured by the brush and part of what I assumed was the grade, was an immensely large pile of blasted rock lying between the upper and lower lines. Likely taken from the two rock cuts, it is a bit of a mystery as to why this pile was created and left in that spot. My best guess is that it would eventually have been used to replace the wooden trestles with rock embankments.

Rock pile, May 2013.

Rock pile, May 2013.

Upper rock cut, May 2013.

Upper rock cut, May 2013.

One of my goals of the hike was to shoot some new video of the area, and in particular, with John’s help, film the double trestles from the far sides. It must have been something to see those wooden structures one on top of the other on the side of the ridge (I’d love to find someone who can do some sort of drawing or CGI of what it would have looked like). My attempt was partially successful; I sort of underestimated how much forest growth was in the area. The upper trestle turned out okay, but at the lower one I was obscured by the trees. I was able to get enough footage to create two videos which have already made it to YouTube (Part I & Part II).

Loop and switchback in Minnesota.

Loop and switchback in Minnesota.

After concluding our very enjoyable “walk” through the bush, we headed back to the lodge to drop John off. Ever the gracious host, John invited us in to share some lunch and conversation with him and his wife Rose. I know he really enjoyed the hike, and I hope to get to visit him in the summer. If I can wrangle it, I’d like to spend a few days at the lodge in the fall and hike the Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad. We’ll have to see how things play out at that time.

After saying goodbye to John and Rose, Ethan and I drove the 17km farther up the Gunflint Trail to the Chik-Wauk Museum. It’s a very beautiful old building (it used to be a lodge) and has some great historical displays. I did have an ulterior motive however, which was to drop off one of my railway posters to the museum director Ada. Gotta sell the website right? From there it was back to Grand Marais, dinner and then home. We rolled into the driveway at about 7:45, which made it almost a 12 hour round-trip. Boy was I pooped, and so was Ethan; he uncharacteristically slept in until 8:30 the next morning!

I’m really hoping to get out again this weekend. I’d like to go to North Lake with both of the boys and see if we can find ourselves more telegraph poles and maybe some insulators like we did last year. Right now Mother Nature doesn’t look like she’s going to cooperate however, but things seem to change very quickly around here. Let’s hope for the best.

Anyway, time to get rolling. With any luck I’ll have more adventures to talk about next week. Until then…

 
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Posted by on May 28, 2013 in Hiking, History, Miscellaneous, Railway, Writing

 

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Okay, now it’s just getting stupid.

That about sums it up. I (and pretty much everyone in the 807 area code for that matter) am tired of the ridiculous weather we’ve been experiencing of late. It actually sucks. For every step we take forward, we end up taking two back. Is this a sign of global warming? Well, it has to be something. I can remember as a kid being out at camp (we’ve had this discussion before-cottage, the lake, whatever) and getting snow in May. However that was very isolated and it disappeared fairly quickly. This is a completely different animal.

Confused? Well, it is now April 16th, the winter snow still has not disappeared, and every time we get a nice day that melts some of it, we’ll get a dump of fresh stuff and have to start all over again. That was the case on the weekend. Then yesterday we got a pile of snow, so much so that they cancelled the rural buses to our school (the day becomes a write off, since many of the “city” kids don’t bother to come). Our normal temps should be above 10C, but we’re not even close to that. Everyone is wondering when spring will show up; I think there are a lot of cases of SAD out there, myself included.

Melting snow, April 2013.

Melting snow, April 2013.

Blizzard, April 2013.

Blizzard, April 2013.

Forecast, April 2013.

Forecast, April 2013.

Okay, so enough about the weather, though ranting about it makes me feel better. Ya, take that Mother Nature-you’re being a real cranky @#&%^! Let’s focus on the positive though. We’ve successfully arrived at midterm, which means the end of the school is approaching. Hard to believe exams are only 9 weeks away. Wow…it’s going by quick and there is so much to do! I’m not sure if the craziness outdoors is keeping the kids in check or driving them batty like the rest of us. I know I’ll certainly be glad when it’s all over.

The railway front has been fairly busy this past week. Once again a lot of the focus has been on the Silver Mountain (and Area) Historical Society. We’ve been trying to plan a board meeting ahead of a society general meeting and it’s proving quite an undertaking. We have six directors, spread out over a wide geographic area and with quite different schedules. Trying to find a convenient time for everyone is not very easy to do. We are gathering tomorrow night with a fairly lengthy agenda. It’s going to be both busy and exciting.

Speaking of the society, I did receive a much awaited email yesterday. I spoke last week about a letter that I sent to the Ontario Heritage Trust regarding property for sale along the North-Gunflint Lake Corridor. It was mixed news however; unfortunately the Trust does not manage land outside of southern Ontario. However, the gentleman who emailed me graciously offered to speak with me about other possibilities for land preservation. I will be calling him tomorrow afternoon, so hopefully it will provide some useful leads.

To go back to the topic of this blog, the current weather issues are having a detrimental impact on my planned hiking schedule. Last April 29th I did my first railway hike of the year; at the rate we’re going at, I’ll be lucky to get out by the middle of May. I was hoping to walk portions of the grade in Minnesota on the first Saturday of next month, but that seems a bit ambitious. I’m very anxious to take another look at the double trestle near the first switchback located just off Tuscarora Road (County Road 47). Fingers crossed I’ll be able to get there at some point before the trees fully leaf out.

Anyway, I have a thousand and one things to do right now, so I should get rolling. Definitely more to say next week. Until then…

 
 

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God my legs hurt!

It simply amazes me the things that the human body can do…what a wonder of engineering we are! The body’s ability to take abuse and then bounce back is astounding. Unfortunately, there is always a price to be paid for such resilience, and it usually involves pain. It’s just a not so subtle way of saying to you that you’re a dumbass for putting yourself through some sort of self-imposed torture. I’m seemingly a poster-child for this type of stupidity!

Needless to say it has yet again been a very busy week, and it appears that it is shaping up to be even worse this week. How can it be the second of week of the new semester and I’m already burnt out? Maybe work, a new class, open house, football and railway stuff might have something to do with it. Hopefully next week is a little more sane.

So much of my stress has been generated by the new class that I am teaching which is an online, “eLearning” class. I spoke about it last week, but I haven’t really been able to get a real sense of it until yesterday when it officially began. It’s not that it’s overly difficult, but the content is new and it’s a very different medium than I’m used to. Probably most of my headaches stem from the fact that I am a worrier and I am constantly wondering if I am doing a good job or handling things correctly. Hopefully I will feel more comfortable as the semester progresses.

There are two big events on tap this week that will be absorbing most of my attention (and unfortunately leaving very little railway time). Tomorrow is our school’s annual open house, an opportunity for us to showcase our fine establishment to next year’s new students. It all over in an hour or so, but it takes quite a while to set everything up. There is also the challenge of trying to incorporate new ideas and keeping things fresh; no wonder I feel like I’m totally bagged! I’m sure it will all be fine, but I will be glad when it’s done.

Immediately after the open house is done I have to rush home and pack for another out-of-town excursion. On Thursday after school, myself and my fellow football coaches will be departing for Minneapolis to attend the annual Glazier Football Clinic. Glazier is probably the largest provider of coaching clinics in the US; the event in Minneapolis alone has over 150 sessions delivered by coaches from many different levels right up to pro. I’m looking forward to some great information on 3-5 defenses and linebacker play.

If you read last week’s babble you’ll know that the big event in the past week was the presentation I gave at Gunflint Lodge. I had been invited by Sue Kerfoot to give the talk back in September, so it was a long time in coming. I was very excited for the event, but as I normally am with things like this, very nervous too!

I decided to leave from home early on Saturday morning as there was a chance of snow and I wanted to take my time in case the roads were bad. It’s about a 2 hour, 45 minute drive to Gunflint on a good day, so I figured I’d have plenty of time to get there. I had time to burn lest I arrive too early, so I stopped in Grand Marais to snap some photos of the harbour. Pulling in to Gunflint I stopped for the first time at the lake overlook just off of the trail and got some good shots of the narrows between Ontario and Minnesota.

Grand Marais Harbor, February 2013.

Grand Marais Harbor, February 2013.

Gunflint Narrows, February 2013.

Gunflint Narrows, February 2013.

When I arrived at the lodge my cabin wasn’t quite ready, so I chilled out in the Red Paddle Bistro, sent some emails, updated my Facebook and had a bite to eat. The lodge is quite the beehive of activity, even if it is winter. There were a lot of people coming and going, heading out on the lake to snowmobile or snowshoe. It made me think of how we take our surroundings for granted too often and how people pay a lot of money to experience what we have.

Gunflint Lodge, February 2013.

Gunflint Lodge, February 2013.

After lunch and settling into my cabin, I decided that since I had an entire afternoon to kill by myself that I would walk across the lake to Gunflint Narrows and take a poke around the railway. I don’t normally hike the railway in the winter as it difficult to get around (I like to walk) and the snow covers things on the ground that I want to see. It’ been a long time since I’ve walked over a frozen lake so therefore forgot how the ice can play tricks with you; it make stuff look “just over there.”

Cabin 20, Gunflint Lodge, February 2013.

Cabin 20, Gunflint Lodge, February 2013.

So I began my little journey in good spirits, happily trudging along the snow covered ice between the fishing shacks and snowmobilers. The going was a bit tough, as there were a few inches of snow on top of the ice that made each step a challenge. My GPS told me that the Canadian shore was a scant 1500 metres away…child’s play! That’s the distance I cover when I walk the dog and I’m not worse for wear. As I tromped along I became acutely aware of how much colder it was on the open expanse of the lake, and how my legs were becoming tired punching into the snow. However everything was tempered by the beauty of my surroundings; the high, rocky hills were more defined in the snowy landscape.

Gunflint Lake, February 2013.

Gunflint Lake, February 2013.

When I finally reached the shore I quickly covered the 70 or so metres until I reached the railway grade. I thought I’d walk a bit east until I reached the supposed site of the “town” of Gunflint and then head west toward the Narrows. Along the way I happened to notice something in the bush I’d never seen before…an old truck. For a few minutes I was puzzled as to how it could have got there until I realized someone could have done what I just did and cross over the frozen lake!

Abandoned truck, Gunflint Narrows, February 2013.

Abandoned truck, Gunflint Narrows, February 2013.

Three hundred metres farther west I arrived at the narrows, unfortunately disappointed that the current between Gunflint and Magnetic Lake had prevented ice from forming; I would have to settle for snapping some pictures from the Canadian side only. However, the side effect of a dry fall and the cold winter was the lake level was the lowest I’d ever experienced. I was able to walk out very far into the channel and take some really neat pictures and video. Many of the bridge pilings, which are normally under water, were clearly exposed by at least 6 or more inches. Very interesting to see!

Gunflint Narrows, February 2013.

Gunflint Narrows, February 2013.

Soon it was time to head back to the lodge, but I did not relish the thought of the walk across the lake. It was just as cold as the way out, but the distance seemed a lot longer. By the time I made it back, I was pretty pooped. I only walked about 4k, but I had to work each step of the way…and there’s not even that much snow. My legs were a bit rubbery when I reached my cabin and I was glad there was some time to relax before dinner. The warm shower I had was the perfect remedy for my ailments.

Creeper deer outside the window, February 2013.

Creeper deer outside the window, February 2013.

After a bit of relaxation in the lodge and a great prime rib dinner, it was time to prepare for the presentation. The talk was going to be held in the Conference Center, which was just across the road from the lodge. The air was a bit crisp outside, but I was sure sweating trying to get everything set up. I was scheduled to go on at 7:30, but people started rolling in at 7:00 and so I was kept busy chatting. That helped get my mind off of things.

All in all, everything went very well (or at least I thought it did). There were about 30 people or so in attendance and they all seemed very interested in what I had to say. There were a lot of great questions afterwards and hopefully I did a decent job of answering them. I had a great time and the folks at the lodge were just awesome. Maybe if I’m lucky I’ll get a return invite at some point!

Anyway, I guess it’s time to move along. I’ll be back next week with some new revelations. Until then…

 
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Posted by on February 12, 2013 in Hiking, History, Miscellaneous, Railway, Research, Travel, Writing

 

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Truthahn und Eisen!

How’s your German? Don’t know what it means…well I’ll tell ya. Once again it is one of my clever plays (or annoying) on a famous phrase. The words translate to “Turkey and Iron,” as yesterday was Thanksgiving here in Canada, and I spent Sunday looking at iron mines. So, what’s the connection here you ask? In September 1862 then Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck gave a famous speech where he stated that German unification would come through “blood and iron” (blut und eisen). Since my weekend was spent with turkey and iron, I thought it made for a slick little title. Funny huh?

So jokes aside, I did have a good past week. I even got a chance to get out hiking, which did make me very happy. If you take a few minutes, I will regale you with the details of the past seven days.

Well, we have now moved into October; that’s means there is only 9 more months to go until summer! I have to be optimistic right? Things are trucking along as usual, but I did get some good news. The approval for the 2014 trip came through on Thursday…Europe here we come! There is a meeting scheduled for Friday, so hopefully we get the 18 travellers we are looking for. I know there are a few students in a couple of my classes that are pretty pumped about the opportunity. We’ll see what happens.

Last week we played our second football game of the season and were able to even our record at 1 and 1. It was a tough fight against Hammarskjold, but we slogged out a 37-33 win. Unfortunately the performance of my defence was less than stellar, as we should have won handily. We just couldn’t contain their jet sweep. Thankfully the offense bailed us out, with one of running backs scoring all 5 TD’s (3 run, 1 pass and 1 return). With a short turnaround this week, we’ll have our hands full with Churchill.

Clearly the most interesting part of my week was the trip to Minnesota to hike the railway along the Centennial Trail. This trail was constructed in 2009 after the Ham Lake Fire two years earlier and covers portions of the line near the Paulson Mine. This would be my fifth trip to the area, and the second this year (remember I visited the north arm of the trail back in June). In addition to doing some important research, I would be guiding fellow railway historian Elinor Barr and my research colleague Harold Alanen.

With 2.5 hours of travel time, our journey would begin very early in the morning. Joining me was my eldest son Ethan, but I don’t think he was too impressed with the 7:00am wake up call. Thirty minutes later we were on the road, our first destination being Grand Marais for an early breakfast with Elinor and Harold at the Blue Water Café. After filling up on some eggs, bacon and pancakes, it was off for another hour of driving up the Gunflint Trail.

The plan for the day was to hike the 3.3 mile trail in reverse, starting along the southern arm as we followed the route of the railway toward the mine. Shortly after 10am we were plodding the rail bed as it climbed westward…it is amazing to see the geography of the area. After passing the double 150 foot trestles at the start of the trail, we began to experience some of the fantastic rock-work that was done. First is a 55m rock-cut, immediately followed by an 83m embankment. Then you enter a beautiful 90m long rock-cut, which is like an enchanted forest with its rocky walls and dark forested interior. From this passage, you then move to another 80m rock-cut which open to the north, which drops precariously about 50 feet to the valley floor.

Rock cut, Minnesota, October 2012.

Rock cut, Minnesota, October 2012.

One of the most unique features of the railway in this area is the 120m (400 foot) trestle that spanned the southern opening of the aforementioned valley. It must have been quite the structure and the quite the effort to construct. The western side was literally blasted out of the side of a cliff, which towers nearly 50 feet above the grade. The valley sits some 100 feet below. The trail drops into the valley and has a very steep ascent up the cliff where a beautiful vista unfolds before you. The trail eventually rejoins the railway 300m beyond the trestle. On several occasions I have climbed the steep cliff and walked the grade as it skirts the blasted cliff to the trail junction.

Trestle crossing, Minnesota, October 2012.

Another 180m takes the hiker through a small rock-cut and short embankment before the railway enters an 85m rock-cut. The trail sits of the east side of the cut, as the ground in the cut tends to be a bit wet. I have distinct memories of my first visit to the area in 1998, walking through this remote cut, soaking wet and filled with trees. Now it is nearly impassable, as it is filled with deadfall from the 1999 blowdown and 2007 fire.

Embankment, Minnesota, October 2012.

A short distance past the cut, the trail continues just to the north of the railway which skirts the north shore of an unnamed lake. It was here that we would begin the most interesting part of our hike, a detour to visit the legendary Paulson Mine. The area was originally explored in 1888 and the mining work began in 1892. The mine “opened” in 1893, but closed almost immediately after only shipping one car-load of iron in September of that year. Many attempts were made to re-open the mine, but all failed. Apparently, the iron is there, but obviously not in the quantity that would make mining it profitable.

The mine site lies some 100m north of the trail, over a ridge littered with deadfall and burned trees. I must say that it was a bit easier to navigate with the leaves down than my August 2010 visit, but mind you I had exact GPS data to work with and it wasn’t 35C either. The mine itself is a bit dangerous, since the old barbed wire and snow fencing around the opening has long since disappeared. However for its age, the shaft looks to be in good shape, still lined with timbers after 120 years.

Paulson Mine, Minnesota, October 2012.

North of the mine on the shore of an unnamed lake are piles of tailings taken from the shaft. Gleaming with mineralization and red with oxidation, they are a testament to the iron in the rock. According to news reports, the mine owners had 5,000 tons of ore ready to ship; I’m no expert, but it sure doesn’t look like there’s that much lying around. It was here that the railway ended, but trying to find its location has been a chore. I walked about 180m along the shore the wet area, but I could not be sure if it was the grade or just rock fall from the cliff.

Filming, Minnesota, October 2012.

Southeast of the mine shaft is a test pit that was dug horizontally into the side of a ridge. There are quite a number of these test pits in the area, dug into the rock to test the quality of the iron content. In addition there are quite a number metal items scattered the area, from metal hoops to iron pipe fittings. The pipe fittings are quite interesting, attesting to the fact there must have been a steam-powered device employed at the mine, probably a winch.

Test pit, Minnesota, 2012.

Back on the trail, we hiked another 550m along the ridge to our next stop, another mine shaft near the junction of the Centennial and Kekekabic Trails. Along the way we passed the site of Gunflint City, which was situated on the western shore of the lake south of the railway. Created as the camp for the mining operations, it was hoped it would blossom into a metropolis due to the iron business. There were apparently several buildings at Gunflint City, possibly even the “hotel” of famous Madame Mag Matthews.

At the junction, I wanted to spend some time looking around for traces of the railway at the second switchback site. This was the goal of my previous visit in June, but I was thwarted by GPS problems and too much leaf cover. With the leaves down, I hoped to find the answers I was looking for. I headed west along the Kekekabic Trail, definitely confirming that it was the grade stretching 325m past the junction. Heading back, I jumped the creek and made my way to a rock cut 25m south of the railway. Looking west, I could see the northern side of the switchback, but I am still stumped as to how the railway got across…it must have been a trestle.

Railway grade, Minnesota, October 2012.

Trestle?, Minnesota, October 2012.

The grade running toward the mine ends abruptly in a swampy area that is delineated by a beaver dam. The dam has raised the level of the water, submerging the grade by several feet. Maybe some day that swamp can be drained to do some investigation work. As the sky grew darker and the temperature dropped, we quickly walked the 2km east to the northern trailhead. Our journey took us past the 5 test pits along that portion of the trail, again littered with red, rusting rocks. From the trailhead, it was another 800m to our starting point. In all, my GPS indicated that I had walked 7600m, which was not bad for a day’s work.

After a short stop to visit my friend John Schloot at the Cross River Lodge, Ethan and I headed back to Grand Marais to grab some dinner. The bison burger at My Sister’s place was great, but the long day was already getting too long. We arrived back home at 7:30, concluding an exhausting but exciting adventure. I can’t wait until I have a chance to go back!

Anyway, I need to go to bed, so enough for today. I have another exciting event coming up this weekend, so I’ll have a bunch more to say next week. Until then…

 
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Posted by on October 9, 2012 in Hiking, Miscellaneous, Research, 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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