I’m going to go ahead on record and just say that any adventure that begins…
B: On snowshoes
C: Under the first Wolf Moon of a new decade
…is going to be a good one.
A morning of moments breezed past playing with my nephew, picking out a new winter parka, failing to find winter gloves, and dropping off a library book. Soon it was afternoon and I still had a couple hours of driving to get to Jay Cooke State Park. Another task I accomplished was successfully reacquainting my Dad’s old cross country skis to new age bindings. I was ready to try them out before I lost the sun.
The plan was to pull in, learn how to wax forty year-old skis, find a trail, and get going. Once in the parking lot, I asked a nice couple just finishing up where a good first timer’s trail was. “Just across the Swinging Bridge. Take a right, it’s slippery, you can’t miss it.”
Ha, you can’t miss it. They obviously don’t know me very well. Because we’re strangers. I did as I was told, wondering at the potentially innovative idea of using my new ski boots as winter hiking shoes. The couple wasn’t wrong, and I slipped a little going up the slight hill. As it drug on, I began to wonder how I’d missed the ski trail.
Then I was off, the trees slowly whizzing by. My ancient bamboo poles made holes alongside my skis as I barreled down the trail. I tried to make a hilarious video but my phone lasted comically short in the cold weather.
If I’ve learned one thing about about nordic skiing, it’s that there are two kinds of ways to start. Comfortably, with a jacket that will heat up and give you the ski sweats. Or, you can start chilly, then warm up in the lighter gear you’ve chosen. This was a sweaty ride, but thank goodness for the cold it cooled me right off in almost no time at all. There was one small hill and as I slid around the bottom of it back into the tracks I gave a little mental fist pump to the sky.
When finished, I made five trips inside with stuff and tested out all the jackets I had with me. When I finally write the article, you can learn my process in “How I Picked A Parka”. I had time to kill before the Full Moon Snowshoe event.
Finally, the moment arrived. Guests had been trickling in for forty-five minutes, and the room was just about full. Many brought their own snow shoes with them, I myself was finished with buying winter toys so I opted to borrow a set of the park’s. Someone threw some wood on the fire, someone dimmed the lights, a microphone was tested & we were off.
All good activities should have a learning opportunity. This came as a surprise to everyone, but the snowshoeing came with a presentation. Which was great, as they chose to focus on the Wolf Moon and wolves in general. Once Carly the Interpretive Naturalist had gone through the slideshow, she handed us snowshoe borrowers our gear and we headed outside to put them on. The group was split in to two, and we each head our separate ways into the woods.
At one point I must have had a nightmare that winter activities were hard and uncomfortable. I’ve stayed away from them, but in the span of a week I found out I both liked XC skiing and snowshoeing. Maybe I’ll try fat tire biking next! We trudged like a single file marching band, watching each other’s feet to keep from going down. Now that I felt I had the ropes, I wanted to stand still and let the group get away from me. But being a group event we had a nice person bringing up the end to watch for stragglers. Even potentially intentional ones like myself. I kept going and thought of a possible second lap.
At one point we stopped and my group’s leader asked if any of us was new. She invited us to try going through the unpacked snow just off the path. It was fun, your foot sank a little but you didn’t disappear. Then you had to bring your foot back up, without tripping, and keep balance while moving forward. It wasn’t too bad and I moved my way to the front so I could be a Chatty Chandler as I am wont to be.
Due to the varying ages and skill levels of the group, the route was never intended to be particularly long. I felt it was over much too soon, and I was sad to undo the straps I had not-so-long-ago been so proud to have put on. I thanked everyone, and set out to find a place to car camp for the night.
The next morning I was back in the parking lot by 7am, with a belly full of too much bacon and eggs from Black Bear Casino. That had been a brilliant idea though, it seems like casino’s are often good for having some type of early morning food. The coffee was delicious and it was a hard sell to talk myself into going back out to the -22C temperatures. Crawling down into the river bed, I warmed up quickly and crossed my fingers for a sunrise.
Speaking of being cross, I thought no way would anyone else be out here. Photographers are a different breed however, and there was another crazy one like myself. At first I thought it would ruin the shot but then I remembered my “Photographers Photographing” project. So I grabbed a couple and chatted with him while going back and forth between my camera and the bridge. It may have been cold out, but I was keeping myself warm.
The sun never showed. Eventually I left the bridge, for one more round of skiing. Taking the time to wax them again, all heat I had gained was lost and I thought I might also lose my toes. I kept the loop short, chasing a trio of white-tailed deer at one point. Back inside I met a Minneapolis contingent on their first time renting skis and told them everything I’d learned in the previous twenty-four hours. None of which helped them. Then it was time to scrape the branches from my ski wax, and head on to Duluth.
Address – 780 Highway 210
Carlton, MN 55718
Map – Winter
Hours Open – Daily from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m.
Phone – 218-673-7000
Email – [email protected]
Established – 1915
Yearly Visitors – 385,070
Trail Miles – Many, plus SHT starts nearby!
Hiking Club – Completed, Nice Fall Trail
Highlights – Swinging Bridge, Oldenburg Point, Thomson Pioneer Cemetery
Camping – Drive-in, Backpack, Group, Electric
Costs – Camping
Activities – Naturalist Programs, Geocaching, Snowshoeing, Fat Biking, Cross Country Ski
Event Calendar – Here – Just Change Park Location