And the winner of the ice guessing contest is: alas, nobody!

Well, that was a short-lived “ice-out” contest!  On Saturday, April 3rd, the ice went out of East Bearskin Lake. Bob watched it go and as always, it was an amazing event to watch.  Of course, Bob and Quinn have already paddled all over on the lake.

We didn’t have an “ice-out” guess that came even close.  I thought I was being radically aggressive in my own early  “ice-out” prediction of April 15.  Most people chose dates in late April or early May, often optimistically pushing the “ice-out” date a couple days earlier than the typical May 8th. Then there was Shane Mossman, who suggested July 24th.  That seemed about as probable as April 3rd, honestly.

One of Bearskin’s regular fans, Catherine Woods, watched the ice go out on camera Saturday. She  didn’t get the usual forewarning we generally give our regular webcam viewers for this event.  Normally I set the camera to record pictures much more often, and then we hype it a little.  Because the ice out date and the fishing opener have often been in a “neck & neck” race, we always get a huge viewership of the webcam as the ice melts.  This year I was away for Easter and didn’t even suspect that the “ice-out” was already occurring.  Catherine was lucky to spot it!

It’s pretty surprising that the ice is gone, not just because it’s so early but also because of how thick the ice still was. From far away our ice looked just like early May ice, but it was more solid than it appeared.  Bob and I were out by the campground picnic grounds on Wednesday, lobbing big rocks out onto the ice to see if they’d go through.   They didn’t.

At this point, not every lake is like East Bearskin.  Bob, Quinn & Kate were on Pike Lake Sunday (a few miles more south and a bit closer to Lake Superior), where the ice on the south shore still looks walkable.  It will be a while before the ice is gone on all our area lakes.

There’s always a good reason to visit the Gunflint Trail but, realistically, April has never been a top month to be here.  Too late to ski, too soon to canoe or fish, trails could be covered in snow or covered in mud — April’s biggest selling point has been the solitude, not outdoor activities.  This year, however, could be quite different.  Hiking on the ski trails  has been fantastic lately, and now canoeing or kayaking is also an option.  Cabin rates everywhere on the Gunflint Trail are always at their all-time low in April.  We know anything could happen with Minnesota weather in the spring, but this just might be a great time for an April getaway in unusual spring conditions that probably won’t routinely occur in the future.

Could winter really be over? Nah…. Time to start guessing the “ice out” date!

The Bearskin bear, overlooking the snow stick–and no snow!

Winter disappeared on the Gunflint Trail rather suddenly.  We didn’t expect that.

The last two winters went on far too long, with snowfalls in April, May, and even early June.  The ice barely went out in time for the fishing opener.  This extended winter made it very difficult to deal with the seasonal transition at Bearskin.  We can’t put in docks when there is ice on the lakes or take off storm windows when a cabin is surrounded by two feet of snow. We assumed it would be more of the same this year.

So now suddenly the snow is gone.  It happened quickly, during a time when skiing is normally fabulous.  Guests handled the peculiar change well.  Midwesterners are so thrilled by the first budding days of spring that it offsets the disappointment of saying goodbye to winter activities.  The combination of frozen ground and no snow makes hiking on the ski trails this March exceptionally nice — there’s been much less of the “caked mud on shoes” experience that often defines spring.

We aren’t so naive as to think that we won’t get hit hard with snow again in April.  Check out the pictures from April 2009 and April 2008.  The Gunflint Trail has a history of April snowstorms.  But this has been a pleasant reprieve, even if it doesn’t last.

We’re all wondering how the warmer temps will affect the ice.  Ice fishermen reported very unusual March ice conditions when they drilled holes in some nearby lakes — in places, they said,  the ice looks “rotten” or “like a snow cone.” A car went through the ice near shore last week on a Gunflint Trail lake north of us.  Yesterday East Bearskin Lake was covered with huge patches of water.  Today the patches seem to be frozen again, but ridges are forming across the lake. Near the lodge, East Bearskin lake looks like a teacher demo for an 8th grade earth science class about plate tectonics. Each night the lake makes huge, loud booming sounds.

Ice ridge forming on East Bearskin Lake

A little of the past “ice out” history is documented in this blog from last spring.  The date the ice goes out has been fairly consistent, but we’re wondering how the warmer temps and lack of snow cover will affect the ice this year.  Last year we had a fairly informal “guess the ice out date” contest through this blog; a few guests came remarkably close.

Guessing this year might be more of a challenge!  We’ll offer a T-shirt prize this year to the person who comes the closest to the date.  The guess has to be posted 5 or more days before the actual ice out date. No fair watching the ice go out on web cam and posting “now, now, now!”  (Although last year many people called to say they did see it go out on the web cam — it was really quite absorbing to watch.)  Post your guesses as comments on this blog or, if you have a Facebook account, on Bearskin’s  Facebook  fan page.

If you’re seriously into date guessing games, there’s also a contest on the Gunflint Trail Association Facebook fan page.  Facebook users can make a guess for East Bearskin, Gunflint, and Saganaga Lakes. To find the guessing game discussion, look for the tab near the top of the GTA page labeled “Boxes.”


Such a beautiful day!

5.17.09 fishingS
A gorgeous day on East Bearskin Lake

We waited unusually long this year for spring to appear.  Each time we had a glimmer of hope that winter would finally loosen its grip, spring dreams were dashed by unexpected, unappreciated small snow squalls.  Even yesterday, the 16th of May for heavens sake, small pellets of styrofoam-like snow pummeled us periodically all day.

But today is the day we’ve been waiting for, sunny and gorgeous.  The water is sparkling, the sky is clear blue, the birds are singing. Loons have been calling and the Golden-Eye ducks are preoccupied with all sorts of splashing, fluttering, swooping interactions. Ravens are sitting atop trees calling to each other and noisy hawks are building nests back in the woods. Moose are posing for hikers on the paths, unperturbed and fairly disinterested in the excitement their appearance is generating in the onlookers.

Out on the lake a fishing party periodically trolls slowly past the lodge.  Quiet canoeists have been heading into the BWCA for day trips and over-nighters. It’s the kind of calm day on the water that makes canoeing easy and pleasurable.

The fishing has been great.  One guy told us he was actually having trouble getting fish that were small enough for him to keep.  One of the “secret” simple  fishing spots at Bearskin, the Cabin 6 dock, has yielded yet another big catch to a guest who’d read last year’s Cabin 6 fish story and decided to try the same thing.

We have guests right now from as far away as Arizona and Vermont.  Yesterday, when the clouds were  pelting us with ice balls, when the wicked wind was knocking over trees, when everyone arrived at the lodge in parkas and woolly hats, I spent the day apologizing for Minnesota weather.  Today is Minnesota at its finest.  It just doesn’t get any better than this.

Boats by the dock
Boats by the dock

A season of spring chores, packed into one day

Our ice went out yesterday. This morning we awoke to the sounds of loons on the lake.  There have also been several varieties of ducks on the bay today.  It didn’t take the waterfowl long to swoop into the lake once the ice disappeared.

Andy and Bob worked nonstop today on tasks that could only be done after ice-out.  With the fishing opener coming up this weekend, they had 2 days of ice-free conditions to do an entire spring’s worth of preparation. Fishing boats are now in the water and docks are being reattached.  They are placing ramps over lake paths that are temporarily flooded from the melt-water and they’re cleaning up the debris that came ashore after the ice melted.  

The choice job of the day was fishing the old wooden broomball box out of the lake.  The box escaped detection when the other ice rink equipment was removed, and has been taunting us out on the thin ice ever since.  As the ice started to move yesterday, the box sneaked around the bay on its personal ice flow, periodically appearing on the webcam splayed open to flaunt its remaining collection of broomball sticks. This morning the first thing I saw out our window was the gaping box floating right outside the lodge. In just a few minutes it had traveled on its merry way and was completely gone.  Bob and Andy finally rescued it down by the lodge docks, ending an exceptionally long season for the broomball supplies.

Bob went for the first swim of the year this morning.  Not intentionally.  The ice may finally be out of East Bearskin Lake, but Bob can attest that swimming season hasn’t arrived yet.

“Did I just see the ice go out?”

webcam5609826pmaSomebody called around lunch time today to ask, “Did I just see the ice go out on  on the webcam?”

Yes, indeed, that is exactly what he saw.  Just like last year,  it was as if the ice suddenly decided to march eastward down the lake.  A little before noon, the ice began rapidly moving past the the lodge, carrying with it remnants of this winter’s history — a broken tipi pole, bits of dog bedding straw, a mysterious log that had been lodged in the ice, an escaped broomball stick.  By early afternoon, as far as we could see into the distance on East Bearskin Lake it was totally clear of ice.

No doubt there are still some piles of ice on the BWCA end of the lake; the wind could change and send ice charging back to this end of the lake.  Last year an ice flow made a return visit shortly after Bob and Andy had secured the main dock in its correct position, crashing into the dock and causing aggravating  problems. 

Tonight Bob and I sat outside on the lodge deck eating ice cream, watching the mist rise from a totally calm lake and listening to the frogs chirp all around us.  Last night, we heard only the sounds of rain falling on crackling ice. Tonight, we are surrounded by the definitive songs of spring.  

There’s the scent of a new season outside.  For me, winter doesn’t trigger many aromatic connections — maybe I identify the odor of a wood-burning fire or of a balsam tree with winter, but overall my winter memories are devoid of olfactory associations. You don’t “catch a whiff” of winter.  But spring is an aromatic extravaganza, a sudden reminder that that yes, we do have a sense called “smell.”  This afternoon Bearskin had the fragrance of  “just rained”  mixed with the scents of pine needles and moss and moist earth. It felt restorative to smell the outside again.

Spring has finally arrived at  Bearskin Lodge.  It’s about time.

Whining about weather

no more rain“There is no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather,” according to a 19th century writer.  Listening to the news reports from around the country over the past week, it’s hard to accept much of the weather news as “good.” Serious floods all over the Midwest; deadly tornados in Iowa and Minnesota; wildfires out west; cows being blown through the air in North Dakota (would have liked to see that one, actually).  On the east coast, they’ve been enduring sweltering temperatures nearing 100 degrees.  Our daughter has been building theater sets in an unairconditioned shop in Auburn, NY, in 90+ degree temperatures; the heat is almost unbearable.   Weather is the news right now.

I’m visiting the Twin Cities for a couple days, slowly packing up a lifetime’s accumulation of memories from our house.  Everywhere I go people ask me about the floods in Grand Marais and whether Bearskin is in bad shape.  The pictures in the news when Grand Marais flooded last week were riveting — logs floating down the road, rocks tumbling down hillsides, Highway 61 flooded. But it is a remarkable testimonial to the MnDOT, Cook County and City of Grand Marais crews that clean-up and repairs of the major damage were accomplished quite quickly.  Continuing rain hasn’t made that job any easier, but the area is actually in good shape — at least when you compare it to everywhere else in the news. 

Bearskin’s main problem from all this weather activity is the high water level.  East Bearskin Lake is in a 4 mile long basin so after a great deal of rain all the rainfall over a large area eventually pours into this lake. The lake level is way up, almost to the flooding levels of last fall.  A few of our docks are underwater and the lake paths are all sloppy.  We’re whining about what the weather has done to Bearskin, but compared to the many weather tragedies in the news right now a few flooded docks and paths seem like very minor problems.  If you are coming up in the next week or two, bring along rubber boots or footwear that can get wet.  With luck, you’ll see the water slip back to more normal levels while you are here.

The silver lining to this: the fishing has been phenomenal.  The guests who came to fish don’t really notice that the paths are wet because they spend all their waking hours in a boat, pulling up their limits of walleyes. And unlike last year, we aren’t spending much time worrying that the forest will burn down — you probably couldn’t set this woods afire with a blow torch right now. Apparently this run of funky weather has at least a few positive results!


Ice update

Amazing news —  it looks like you won’t need to bring your ice auger to East Bearskin Lake for the fishing opener this weekend. 

Yesterday was incredible.  We watched and listened all day as the ice made a remarkable transformation, gradually turning black, then crumbling and disappearing throughout the day.  About 4 PM the remaining ice forged eastward across the lake, knocking around a bit of the big dock along the way–and then it was gone. 

Ice remains around the south shore now, but even that is rapidly disappearing.  Somebody who wants to fish on East Bearskin Lake this weekend must have some clout with the powers above, because the changeover went extraordinarily fast once it started.  Considering that it snowed on Sunday night, a clear, ice free lake by fishing opener seemed impossible.

This is the update we received this afternoon on the ice status of various Gunflint Trail lakes:

ICE STATUS as of 1530, Thursday, May 8, 2008


Cross River to Long Island
Little Saganaga
Missing Link
Two Island


East Bearskin
Hungry Jack
Little Trout
Seagull (especially on western end)


North Fowl
Saganaga (quite frozen, according to the pilot)
South Fowl
Trout (east of Kimball Lake Campground)

The pilot feels that things will change quickly with the exception of the
eastern side of the Gunflint Trail (Clearwater, Greenwood, Duncan, Pine,

Judith A. MacCudden
Information Assistant


More pictures at 






Really, the calendar claims this is spring?

Almost like spring

I went out and about with my camera on April 5th and for the first time since December, randomly walked around the resort in my hiking boots just snapping pictures of the interesting world around Bearskin. 


There was still plenty of deep snow, but my boots were caked in mud from the road and there were many areas of exposed grass and rocks around cabins.  On the hill behind the lodge there were some green leafy plants popping through the soil. If you listened quietly, the predominant noise around the resort was the sound of dripping water running off rooftops or melting off trees.  Andy saw a robin outside the office window. It felt like spring had finally arrived.


Bear in a spring stormAnd then it snowed another 10 inches.  Not 31 inches like it snowed on the Iron Range.  Not even 15 inches like up on Seagull Lake, just 8 – 10 inches. Nothing newsworthy, not enough to even get any respect in a “how much snow did you get” dialogue.  But enough to totally turn the clock back on the seasons. 


Once again it became complete winter.  My car was encrusted in an icy snow case.  When I chipped the snow cover away, it fell off in big car-shaped, jagged-edged hunks that reminded me of a resin pull-apart dinosaur egg Quinn had when he was little. When icicles forming over the web cam had to be scraped away, I gingerly walked out on top of a snow crust to reach the camera.  It felt a little like the miracle of walking on water.  Then when I’d almost made it, I crashed through into thigh high snow.  The anti-spring experience.


The robin is still here.  He is hopping around on the deep snow outside the lodge, looking dazed and perplexed. 


Today the sun is finally shining a bit and I can see the meltwater already rolling off the lodge roof.  The icicles outside our window are dripping and shrinking.  At 7:30 in the morning the front steps are already wet from melting. 


The weather forecast: Hazardous Weather Outlook / Winter Storm Warning.


Spring in the North Country.