Through a very strange series of events my wife and I found ourselves at Tettegouche State Park, on the North Shore of Minnesota, this past weekend. We had originally planned to make the trip on March 19th-20th but received a call on the 17th at 4am from our son in Japan indicating that he was ordered to evacuate the country. We spent that weekend arranging tickets and picking him up at the Twin Cities airport.
We decided we would make the trip the next weekend. On Tuesday there were reports of a major storm headed for the upper Midwest. Duluth was supposed to be hit by a blizzard including strong winds from offshore. We were only going to receive a couple of inches of snow. As late as the 10pm news on Tuesday evening the weatherman was sticking to this story. I was a little concerned when I looked out the window after the weather report and saw that we were in the middle of a blizzard. It turned out that we received 15 inches of heavy wet snow and were snowbound on Wednesday. Duluth didn’t receive any snow.
By the weekend the roads were clear and we headed up to the Minnesota North Shore. We made our normal pit stop at Tettegouche State Park. I asked the ranger about trail conditions which ranged from snow to ice to bare ground. The only thing they didn’t have was mud. I was complaining about the lack of ice. The lake was open and shipping was underway. The ranger got excited and said we have ice and showed me a photo taken a couple of days earlier. It showed pine trees completely encased in ice. Although the North Shore didn’t receive any snow they did experience strong winds from the Northeast had created huge waves that slammed into the cliffs. He gave us directions to the ice formations and we headed out.
We walked across the bridge over the Baptism River and took an ice covered trail leading to the cliffs overlooking Lake Superior. On the trail we met another photographer returning from the cliffs and I asked him if it was worth the trip. Talk about pumped, he got really excited and started talking about the storm. It turns out he headed to Tettegouche as soon as he knew the storm was going to hit. He knew that the storm would create huge waves that would spray water over the cliffs. This in combination with the cold weather created ideal conditions for photography. On the day of the storm he was out photographing dressed in a wetsuit. He had been out photographing every day since and had taken over a thousand photos as well as video of the event. He also mentioned that this was a very rare event. The last year something like this happened was in 2004. This was the second time it happened this winter. He then went on to tell us how to find some even better photo locations.
About that time the sun broke through the clouds so he decided to walk back to the cliffs with us and take some more photos. He was glad to see that we both had traction devices on our boots because the cliff tops were covered in ice. At one point he had slipped an spun around several times before he was able to grab an ice formation to prevent himself from going over the cliff. Had he fallen into the lake he would have been dead in a few minutes.
We spent about a half an hour carefully walking around the Ice encrusted trees. It was a surreal landscape with very strange ice formation. Many of the tops of the trees looked like the twist on a soft ice cream cone. Just as we were about to leave the area another group came. they had no traction on their shoes and had little kids in tow. All we could do is shake our heads.
We then drove north of the park entrance for about a mile and parked along the road. The directions were to take a faint trail in toward the cliffs, make a left then a right to reach the cliffs. The trail seemed to disappear so we worked our way toward the cliffs bushwhacking along the way. We found ourselves north of the Shovel Point Overlook. It was a wild scene. In places the ice covered trees that were thirty feet high and in other places the ice stretched several hundred feet inland from the cliffs. We worked our way back south toward Shovel Point until we reach a gorge. At that point we decided to try and find the car and then drive back into the park and take the Shovel Point trail in from the visitors center. It took a lot of bushwhacking to make it back to the car.
The trail from the visitors center to Shovel Point was in a little better condition although it was ice covered in many spots. When we reached Shovel Point were able to look north along the coast and get a Birdseye view of the alien landscape we had been hiking in earlier in the day.
This was clearly one of those rare occasions that a photographer encounters. It was just luck that we asked the park ranger about ice and even better luck when we encountered the local photographer on the trail. The photos really don’t capture the experience but I hope they give you some idea of the landscape we encountered.
More photos from the day can be found on my website.