Cupcake trees and the return of the bend-down

12.18.2015 the pines snow
Gunflint Trail today.

We just returned from the Twin Cities, where we were celebrating the 100th birthday for Bob’s dad.  We left Bearskin at the beginning of the snowstorm, so we weren’t there to watch how much snow accumulated during the two days we were gone.

Quinn and Kate didn’t leave until the next morning; they forewarned us that Bearskin received at least a foot of fresh flakes, and that the trees were heavy with snow.  Then I saw a Facebook post from someone who reported there were at least 20 downed trees on the Gunflint Trail that night due to the snow.

On our trip back to Bearskin today we were somewhat unimpressed with the snow quantities, considering how treacherous driving through the blizzard had been on the way south.  The North Shore mostly has snow with stubble, a pretty coating of white that makes even the trashiest dives along the Highway 61 suddenly look fresh and redeemed.  A sparkling white that is pleasant to view out the car window, but nothing out of the ordinary for December in Minnesota.

And then we drove up the Gunflint Trail. Oh my.

There is something a little magical about the Gunflint Trail when it comes to snow.  Bearskin is the Bearskin because of this winter magic. We’ve been here long enough now to know this happens, but sometimes it’s still awe-inspiring when we see it again.  We drove up the hill and suddenly it was almost as if we had been transported to another planet. This new world was coated in a thick, drooping frosting of white.  Snow depth increased with each mile we drove up the Trail and the pine boughs sagged with heavier and heavier masses of snow the farther we drove. For as often as we’ve seen this, today both of us were exclaiming “wow, look at that” over and over all the way up the Trail.

If you’ve ever wanted to see miles and miles of pine trees that look exactly like frosted Christmas cookies, now is the time to drive up the Gunflint Trail. The downside of this heavy coating is that is looks like we have another “bend-down,” the winter version of the infamous blow-down.  Thousands of the small trees are arched into rainbow shapes and even many of the large ones have a peculiar curve.

best frosted trees
These cupcake trees by the Lodge have a curious curve today.

Dozens of big trees are hanging off the phone lines and some of the line appears to be stretched all the way to the ground. (CenturyLink, where are you? Clearly no sign of any repair activity along the Trail yet.) If you try to call Bearskin and you can’t get through, it may mean that the branch that broke the phone line’s back finally fell.  The whole arrangement looks pretty tenuous.  It’s also kind of entertaining to think that phone communication continues just fine with all manner of crazy contorted limbs and tree trunks dangling precariously from the phone lines.  Now there’s a minor miracle.

While this snow is exactly what we needed to get the ski season off to a great start, grooming after this snowstorm is going to take MUCH longer than expected.  Quinn went out in the groomer Thursday morning before he had to leave for the party, and reported it was very slow-going.  He said it was “groom 100 feet, then stop and cut down trees, groom another 100 feet, stop and cut down trees again.” Poplar Creek in particular appears to completely encased in arched trees.  It will take awhile to get through the tree mess on all our trails. This is the case on both sides of the Central Gunflint system.

We have Summer Home, Campground, and the Lit Loop cleared, and we will be out regrooming those trails first thing tomorrow morning.  The rest, however, could take some time.

But consider driving up to see the Gunflint Trail anyway as soon as you can to view this stunning landscape, before the wind knocks the frosting out of all the trees.  (Drive slowly and carefully, because this snow in the woods has really brought the moose out into the roads!)  And bring your camera, because you’re not going to see anything quite like it anywhere else in Minnesota right now.

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