Skiing the Onion River

It was a good, early morning as usual. I woke up at 6:37AM, just in time to beat the dreaded 6:45AM beeping of the alarm clock on my watch. I made a cup of Earl Grey tea and prepared toad-in-a-hole for breakfast with homemade bread, eggs from Round River Farm, and plenty of maple syrup.

Our group of twenty-four gathered at 9:00AM, piled into a small congregation of cars and headed North for the Sugar Bush Ski Trails (near Tofte, MN). We left one vehicle at the outlet of the Onion River on Highway 61, while the rest of the caravan transported people and equipment to the trailhead.

Once we arrived, we took a quick group photo (“So that we could take another group photo at the end and make sure we hadn’t lost anyone along the way.”) and began our journey. We were warned that the upcoming adventure might entail open water, waterfalls and vertical drops. We laughed, but that wasn’t far from the truth. We skiied the ungroomed, untracked Onion River, through canyons, over waterfalls and under bridges for the better part of the morning. A brief lunch break afforded us the opportunity to fill our stomachs with crackers and sandwiches, and quench our thirst with box wine. The post-lunch challenge was to carry a glass of wine (plastic, really) in one hand while skiing the remainder of the river. I attempted and succeeded for part of the way, failing only when we were required to remove our skiis and use a rope to scramble down the face of one particularly steep frozen waterfall.

When we reached Lake Superior, we dipped the tips of our skiis into the icy waters to finalize our journey.

Although others were intrigued at the idea, I was the only one to strip naked and swim in the Lake, breaking through the thin layer of ice on top in order to reach the open water just off shore. I dipped under once and came back to shore, where I was immediately taken care of – being clothed in a mosaic of friends’ garments and rubbed vigorously on all sides while sipping hot water from a Nalgene. It was worth it, even if I did leave the experience with plenty of cuts and scrapes from the ice-covered water.

We took our time, then, exploring the lichen-covered rocks of the North Shore (check out Xanthoria elegans!), with Joe Walewski’s Lichens of the Northwoods as a guide.

As the retrieved cars returned to pick up those of us left behind, we said our goodbyes and headed home with a most-interesting Radiolab program to listen to.

Another Great Day.

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