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Everything is quiet in winter.
In winter it is as if you get a fresh start every time it snows. A new story can be told, a narrative reworked if you didn’t like the way it came out.
I had spent the day everywhere but in the state parks.
That is, until late afternoon when I had to again chase the sun. Right into Tettegouche State Park. I had plans to ski a little bit as I needed the exercise, then wrap it up to hike out to High Falls to photograph the falling water in the dim light of a fading day.
I hoped the morning’s snow would have left it a veritable winter wonderland.
I would love to tell you that it was, but I never made it. A few things got in the way.
It reminded me of the time we accidentally dropped an entire snow cradle’s worth of snow on the unsuspecting Snow Queen…
The parking lot leading up to High Falls is a short drive into the park, passing under Highway 61. As I was about to go under, a plow of some sort pushed a bunch of snow over the edge and I was treated to a view of a sparkling falling cloud. It reminded me of the time we accidentally dropped an entire snow cradle’s worth of snow on the unsuspecting Snow Queen during a performance of The Nutcracker. Those were different times.
In the parking lot you could see the plow had done a loop around the outer edge but left the middle full of snow. I parked and began tamping down the space around the car for ski preparation. It was warmer today, hovering just below freezing so waxing the skis was less of a pain. Literally.
I tried a different spots on the skis for the sticky wax, to see if that would help traction. Then I found myself in a light misting of large snowflakes and I had to pause to try out my macro lens.
Finally, I was ready to hit the trail. This was the first time I encountered a trail that had been groomed, but without the traditional two-track lane.
If my body had been cold to start, it sure didn’t last long. The trail was a never-ending uphill to start. At the top I soon realized that something about my wax job had gone terribly wrong. Nope, no grip at all. Perhaps it was the fresh, new powdered snow on the ground. Temperature? Or wax? Who really knows these things.
The first trail sign came up giving me the chance to keep going or…keep going. I didn’t realize until this moment that the trail was a one way. I knew no one else would be coming up the hill but I felt obligated to follow the rules. Safety First! This meant making the loop.
The entire loop. I roughly looked at how far I’d come, how far there was to go, and pondered. Of course I could make it, I’d just ski hard and fast, get back by 4, grab cameras, then hike up to the falls before the sun was gone.
At the top of another rise, there was a discrepancy in the snow.
I settled into a rhythm, and my mind began to drift. At the top of another rise, there was a discrepancy in the snow. A crossing that was more distinct than any others. Momentum propelled me past it initially but I stopped and almost fell turning back around. I had to know. Standing over the tracks I knew. This was the sign of a wolf. At that moment, the grooming snowmobile went around me while I was bent awkwardly over the snow, and put in those classic grooves.
By the time I reached what I had been thinking of as the halfway point…it was 4 o’clock. What made it worse, was that the second half was going to actually be longer than the first. Additionally, this section had not been groomed AT ALL. It was totally fresh powder. Deep powder. Perhaps I could go backwards. No, rules are rules and forward I must go.
Up until this point I had been cursing the curled tips of my old skis. They were like shovels that caught on any loose snow, pulling me down to join them on the ground.
Now in six inches of powdery snow, they allowed me to plow through perhaps a bit easier. The going was slow, and grip was nonexistent. On hills I would fall at the bottom, take off the skis, then trudge along to the top and reattach.
Though it was frustrating to know I was too late for photos, I felt positive I’d reach the car before sunset. Worst case scenario, the trail was pretty obvious and I could make it after sundown. I would plan to treat myself to a hot meal in Silver Bay for succeeding. Pushing through the fresh powder made more of a whooshing sound and less crunching, and I took breaks to cool off, and listen to the silence. Positivity grew when I hit a couple of long downhill runs, gliding with little to no effort. It felt as if all was well with the world going downhill. Maybe I should stick to downhill skiing.
Up ahead, I rediscovered an old discovery
Tracks headed off into the woods, larger again than the squirrels and deer that were everywhere. It was the same deep, four padded prints with claws in the holes I’d seen earlier. They had followed the ski track for awhile before they appeared from the woods in the same direction as the first tracks. It was all I could do to keep myself from ditching the skis and trying to follow them. They were old though, fresh from the morning but prior to the afternoon dusting we’d had. A wolf with a couple hours lead on me in deep wooded snow? Good luck Ian.
The light was dimming as I ski’d up to my car trunk. I vowed to try a different wax approach next time and maybe even watch a Youtube video on how to do it. Maybe next time would be speedier and more pleasant.
The Next Day
I did not want to get up, no matter how badly I needed to pee.
My phone said the sky would be cloudy, so why not just sleep in? Because, I knew I’d regret it. I always regret it. So I pulled everything on, ran to the bathroom to don long underwear and snow pants which are notoriously hard to put on in a sleeping bag in a car seat, and shouldered the shoulder breaking back pack plus tripod. I had to alternate hands to keep the frigid metal legs of the tripod from freezing my finger tips.
Where I was going I wasn’t sure, as I slid down snow-packed stair cases and ducked through brush. Luckily, I tumbled into the actual spot I was looking for! I waited a moment to make sure my knee wasn’t actually hurt.
As I got up and realized the beauty of the little hidden cove I’d found, my heart grew. The sun was filtering through the clouds and its soft light made the whole cove glow with spectacular pastel hues. It was the stuff of Instagram legend, made known to me only by dedicated online research.
Small waves washed on the pebble beach, and in front of me was the replacement for the sea stack that had tumbled in one of winter’s first storms. Framed by frozen stone walls, the free standing rock was a small pillar of strength. To my left opened up a secluded tunnel through rock and tree to yet another tiny beach with a view of Shovel Point. It was a bit of colorful light magic in an otherwise dreary gray week.
I stayed a long while, never wanting to leave. I looked at where I came from and wondered, “Can I even get out?”
By the time I did return to the visitor center, the sun was behind the clouds again. The world had returned to gray, and I spent the morning talking to an older man about wolves and editing images by the fire. A woman guided her toddler passed me and I applauded the family’s dedication to outdoor group activities.
After nursing Visitor Center coffee and gorging on nuts & Christmas sausage, it was time to find the falls.
Back at the parking lot from the day prior, things had been cleaned up a bit. There were more footprints headed up the path. In mere minutes I had hiked up the hill, through the forest, over a bridge, and down to the falls.
Now it was snowing, huge, gigantic flakes. If I’d stood in one spot long enough I think I might have disappeared. My bag certainly did when I set it down. Stepping tentatively, I attempted photos from spots you wouldn’t have access to in the summer when there was no frozen ice. Not being a professional, I did my best to not push too far. The last thing I wanted was to find myself under the ice with no Balto to save me.
The High Falls in Tettegouche are the highest falls in the state, that is completely within Minnesota. The falls at Grand Portage State Park are higher, but they are shared with Ontario. I randomly met MN’s premiere falls photographer Lisa Crayford, and her book “Waterfalls of Minnesota” is my guide to all of them.
Typically, these falls are huge and glorious. Today, after a string of negative temperature days, they were all but gone. Only a gaping hole in the bottom revealed that any water was passing through at all. Here it rushed, gurgled and sprayed, and I was glad for the unique view.
I swam in nostalgia on the walk back to to the car. The first time I’d come through this park was while hiking the Superior Hiking Trail three years ago. What a shift to see it in a different season. It is part of my learning process that you don’t have to visit a place and call it done. You can go back. I’m already looking forward to when I get to do it again.
Address – 5702 Highway 61
Silver Bay, MN 55614
Map – All Season
Hours Open – Daily from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m.
Phone – 218-353-8800
Email – [email protected]
Established – 1979
Yearly Visitors – Many, will update
Trail Miles – 22 hiking, 12 ski, access to SHT
Hiking Club – Completed/Uncompleted & Rating
Highlights – EV charging station, waterfalls, Peregrine Falcons
Camping – Drive-In, Electric, Backpack, Walk-In, Cart-In, Group, Kayak
Costs – Camping
Activities – Nordic skiing, wildlife, camping, hiking, Superior Hiking Trail, fishing, rock climbing
Event Calendar – Here – Just Change Park Location