Sunday, February 12, 2017

July 11 2016 Litchfield /Watkins Minnesota Tornadoes

See the full chase account with pics and video clips HERE

Some days everything comes together.  Some days everything comes together in your back yard.

When your target is 30 miles away from your front door, the chase day takes on a different form.  I'm used to driving hours and states away in hopes of getting on the storm of the day.   Today, driving on back roads I am way too familiar with, it was a cross between being at ease and being on edge knowing the communities people I know live in were going to be under a serious risk.

Tornado #1 just grazes the west side of Litchfield MN in Meeker county.  I have to say the locals on the east side of Litchfield who were watching did everything right.  No one was blocking roads, driving crazy, etc.  Had no problem moving north to stay with the storm.

#2. Something I never like to see.  A tornado going through a town I am familiar with.  Watkins MN.

#3.  At least I'll call it number three as this was a little west of track of the Watkins tornado. South of Rockville looking due west.

Thankfully no one was killed or injured by these.  What ended up being the tornado day of the season ended up with about as good of an outcome as you can get.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

January 7 2017 Pigeon River Provincial Park Finger Point...In The Winter

With the wife in Florida visiting friends, I took the opportunity to make what would be my longest trip for a day hike every.  The goal was to climb Finger Point in the Pigeon River Provincial Park.  The park is about 6 hours one way from my house so I was out the door before 5am and reached Duluth about 7:30 as first light was beginning to show in the eastern sky.  With the northwest winds and temps about -12F, a thick layer of fog, clouds, and sea smoke blanketed the eastern shore of Wisconsin and the UP of Michigan in the distance.

Another shot looking east while coming down the hill into the Duluth harbor area.

Although all of the drive along Lake Superior is interesting, my favorite area is north of Hovland.  In my opinion it really gives you the feel for how rugged and for the most part, desolate, this area is.

The objective for the day.  The wife and I have hiked this in the summer but I saw some winter pics on Google Earth from the lookout on the top of the hump.   Border crossing was no problem but parking was a little tricky at the trail head.  You park at the Canadian Tourism welcome center right when you get through customs.  However it is closed in the winter and they only make one pass with the plow around the center and through what is usually an ample sized lot during the rest of the year.  I tried my best to park in a way someone could get around me if needed but wasn't too worried about it as no one else was around.

The trail follows the shoreline of the lake for a while.  I was surprised the  bays weren't frozen over more than they were with string of -20's and -30's we have had.  Just goes to show how difficult it is to get Superior to freeze.

The lower portion of the trail was pretty well packed thanks to someone who had snowshoed their way in using bear paw style shoes.  Further up the trail I think they regretted it as I saw a lot of slip marks (no cleats) and butt prints from having to slide down on their rear to avoid a certain nasty fall.

Selfie as the climb to the top starts.   The abruptness of the elevation change on this hike is one of the things I love about this hike.  Just use caution as they are a lot of loose rocks under the snow.  Poles help quite a bit as you can kind of feel your way up.   I was just using my winter hiking boots at this point.   I had ice spikes in my pack and my cleated snowshoes were also lashed to my pack just in case I needed them.

This is why I love  hiking.  I can see pictures of places like this whenever I want.  However, the reward is seeing pictures like this and knowing my own two feet have stood in that spot also.

Looking northeast over Pigeon Bay.

Looking west / southwest back to the mouth of the Pigeon River.  Where I am standing is there the outlook is.  The bump in front of me is where you come out at the end of the climb.  There are about a dozen or so switchbacks to navigate to get to the top on that bump then you have to cross a fairly steep but short draw to get to where I am standing at.

Looking east / southeast.  That is the very northeastern tip of Minnesota in the foreground and Isle Royale National Park in the back.

One shot for my memory scrap book.  The iron artwork around the outlook depicts many scenes and items associated with the history of Lake Superior and the surround area.  There is also a nice bench which is cut in the shape of the lake.   didn't want to disturb the 12"-18" of snow covering it just for a photo but trust me, it's there.  The winds were gusting 20-30 mph up on the top and it was still below zero so the windchill was somewhere around -30F.  Hung out for about 45 minutes just taking in all in before heading back down.  I did put on my ice spikes at this point as after seeing all the butt time the previous hiker spent descending with snowshoes, I opted for solid footing.

On the way out I stopped to gawk at the ice along the shore of Pigeon Bay.  Perspective doesn't do this justice as it was 3-4 feet high and had a great blue glow but the back light killed it.

Ontario on the left, Minnesota on the right, and Michigan (Isle Royale) in the background.

One last look back at the point before turning into the forest and back to the trail head.  It was kinda cool as the ice sheet in the bay wasn't really attached to the shore.  The sheet would heave at times with water squirting up along the shore only to retreat through the cracks along the edge.

Of course I had to stop for one shot over Wauswaugoning Bay south of Grand Portage as the sea smoke was forming before rocketing off to the southeast on the strong winds.

The road home.  Crossing the "summit" of Mount Josephine.

The day ends at it started.  Total trail time was about 3 hours but only about 5k return.  I tend to spend a lot of time looking around or dinging around with photos so if you make the hike, it will likely take you much less time.  As always, if you have any questions about one of my hikes, please email me at

Thanks for reading

Monday, December 19, 2016

July 9 2016 - Eastern ND Chase "The Ice Maker"

See the full chase account HERE

This ended up being one of the most fun chases of the season.  It's not often that Eric Whitehill and I get to chase together anymore so when it became apparent the Devil's Lake ND Basin would be the initiation area for storms this day, I was pretty excited to swing through Fargo and pick him up.

First storm of the day dies out north of Lakota ND

Second storm of the day near Michigan ND.  This had spotter funnel reports but I highly doubt they were accurate as this thing was an outflow machine.  As we sat on US 2, another storm rapidly developed to our south with a definite mesocyclone.

After taking some 2"+ stones on US 2 west of Niagara ND we dropped south as the storm turned hard to the southeast towards Northwood.

Eric and I just made it south in time to avoid the hail core at Northwood.  Nick Elms and Amanda Hill stayed on the west side and came in behind to see what hail fell.  Be sure to check out their chase account with shots of the monster stones they found.

Eventually everything lined out and we called off the chase at Kragnes MN and headed back over the Red River to Fargo.   By far one of the most enjoyable chases of the season.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Sleeping Giant Provincial Park Hiking Trip 2016

Sometime in late September or early October, the wife and I take a camping/hiking trip into northern Minnesota or southwestern Ontario.  We usually find a quiet campground (going at this time of the year makes it pretty easy to find one) and do day trips from there.In previous years we have pretty well covered the areas south and west of Thunder Bay, Ontario and northeastern Minnesota so it was time to knock off a provincial park I have had my eye on for a couple of years:  Sleeping Giant.  I had heard some great things about the scenery and wildlife there.  The original plan was for my daughter and myself to do a 3 day backpack trip this summer but she suffered a knee injury right out of school this year and wasn't able to make the trip so Melinda and I decided to do it as our fall trip but with the base camp plan.  This year's trip covered September 28 through October 2.

Its about a 7 hour drive to the park entrance from our house.  No biggie as we do day trips up to Grand Portage.  A couple of words of advice:

1) WalMart in Thunder Bay will not accept Visa cards.  Have another card ready if that is your method of payment.  We made sure our bank was notified we were traveling to Canada and would be using our cards exclusively for purchases (I have never liked having to deal with currency exchanges) but as it turned out, it didn't matter at Walmart. Everywhere else was fine.  We were told it has something to do with Walmart Canada vs Visa and the fees they were charging retailer.  Ironic two of the entities which make buku dollars off consumers are at odds over a fee which is pretty much passed on to the purchaser anyhow.

2) Thunder Bay has three Walmart locations.  DO NOT go to the one  downtown near the docks.  It is a dive. probably has a shit ton of images from this place.  People there are just goofy and the store itself is a dump.  Keep going up 11 towards the park and go to the one off Dawson Road.  That one is normal.

Anyhow, back to the trip.  No Pants Pierre.  Yeah, the only weirder Pierre on earth is Pierre McGuire.

We decided to split day one so we had time to pick up supplies in Thunder Bay on day two.  We stopped for the night at Judge CR Magney State Park north of Hovland, MN.  We have visited this park many times over the years and highly recommend it.  Spend a day or three hiking this place!

Playing around with the 11-16 superwide and a very cooperative chipmunk at our campsite.  It was probably 6" off the lens.  It obviously has been fed by campers in the past either deliberately or by accident.  Better than a bear at least.

No trip to Magney is complete without the stairs from hell on the way to the Devils Kettle!

Stopped at the lower falls on the Brule for a couple of shots then hiked a couple of miles up above Devils Kettle before calling it and hiking back to camp via headlamp light.

Selfie on the way back to camp.

We had no problem with the border crossing the next morning and after the Walmart mess, we were on our way up 11 to Pass Lake and the turn back south into Sleeping Giant.  Kudos again to the Canadian border agents.  They are always pleasant and very helpful.

Heading south off 11 down 587 towards Pass Lake and the park entrance.

We made it...

By getting in fairly early on a Thursday, we had our choice of several premium campsites at the Lake Marie Louise.  Note there are different rates depending on where your campsite is located.  The sites on the water with a spectacular view are more than sites elsewhere in the campground.  Don't get freaked out by the cost per night as in addition to the camping,  it includes the vehicle and usage fees.  With the exchange rate from US to Canada, it's like a 35% reduction also.  Very reasonable in
my opinion at about $28 per night US for the sites with the best view of the giant.

Our campsite right on the water.  The sites are really packed into the campground so if you are looking for solitude, you will not find it here.  Get a back country permit and backpack or bike pack in.  The first night here the wolves across Marie Louise Lake sang as we ate supper and as soon as the sun set, the northern lights made an appearance.  There was a guy from Columbia MO who checked in the same time and picked a site on a point up the road from us.  I talked to him the next day and he got to hear wolves for the first time and see the lights. Welcome to Canada!

The view looking due west.  I was really excited for the sunsets and to get hiking the next day to the top of the Sleeping Giant.  You have to admit it really does look like a man laying on his back.  The legend of how this unique formation got its name is interesting.  You can read about it by clicking here.

While we were setting up camp, we quickly realized there was a campground fox.  You had to make sure to pick up everything as this bugger chewed up sunglasses, stole coffee cups and water bottles.  Pretty much whatever it could get a hold of.  It didn't matter it is was day or night either.  Although we didn't see or have any bear problems, the fox kept us on our toes to keep a clean and secure campsite.  Our campground neighbor from Toronto suffered some minor losses to the fox also including one of his coffee cups.  It would be interesting to see all the stuff the fox has stashed over time.

Once we had camp established, we took a drive through Silver Islet and made the short hike out to see the Sea Lion rock formation.  The main trail head in the park is only about 4 km from the campground entrance so you wont waste much time in a vehicle.   The observation area around the Sea Lion is well fenced so if you are hiking with kids, its no big worry.  Just need to use common sense and pay attention.  We climbed out onto some rock outcrops past the observation area to get this view.

A couple of years ago my daughter made me a bracelet to wear on my trips when she can't go with.  I decided to attach it to whichever pack I'm using and get her photos of the bracelet at the places I've hiked to.  I would much prefer it if she could go with on every trip, but it just doesn't work out every time.

The next morning after breakfast and waiting for the clouds and fog to clear, I had Melinda drop me off at the trail head to make the hike and climb to the top of the giant.

She was coming off a nasty cold and didn't feel up to the hike so she opted to hang out at our campsite for the day and pick me up at dark.   The round trip was about 25 kilometers.   One the way up,  the final 2.7 being pretty challenging plus another 1.25km or so out to The Chimney.  Bring plenty or water or a filter (you can filter from Lake Superior).  I figured 2 liters was plenty so I didn't bring my filter and that was a mistake.  I drink a lot of water while hiking and really had to ration it out. I got back sooner than planned and hiked an additional 5km all the way to our campsite (about 18 miles total for the day).  I was plenty thirsty by the time I found the first potable water source in the campground!

 The hike along the Kabeyun trail is pretty uneventful from the trail head to Top of the Giant trail.  It has its moments where you can get over to Lake Superior and there are a few small creeks but for the most part is it just old logging road.   I would highly suggest using a fat tire or mountain bike to get to where the Top of the Giant trail starts.  It's muddy and rocky in places, but not very steep.  There is even a rack to secure your bike to at the trail split.  Straight up, the trail does not feel very wild but once you get to the split it does.

That is where the adventure and climb really starts.  The climb up the giant starts immediately when you leave the Kabeyun.  Be prepared and pace yourself.  The first part levels out pretty quick so don't let the first .5 km scare you off.  Hiking boots are a must and I would suggest poles for on the way down just to take some the strain off your knees.  The image above was taken about 1.25 km up the Top of the Giant trail.  The meadow is actually a lake which self drained.  The view here is awesome and really gives it a wilderness / mountain feel.  See the ridge on the left of the shot?  That is what you are going up next.

In the next 1.5km you will climb about 800 feet to the top of the giant.  That clearing below is the meadow in the previous shot.  You can also see T harbor in the background.  If you are looking to bike camp or backpack camp, that is an awesome spot.  Just remember to register for a backcountry site at the office first on your way in.  Don't be fooled at this point.  You need to keep going the additional kilometer or so to see the view to the west from The Chimney.  It's totally worth it.  The trail isn't as developed from here on but there was flagging which made it super easy to follow.

You will pop out of the brush and find yourself about 300 meters or 1000 feet above Lake Superior at The Chimney.   Just follow the warn paths (there are several) down to the edge.  There are NO safety fences etc here so if you are hiking with kids or your dog, be extremely careful as a fall means certain death.

It's always kind of surreal when I plan these hikes, look at other people's images, study Google Earth and then I am there.   This hike was totally all that.  The reward at the end of this one on a clear day is beyond stunning.  The view will keep you there for a while.

After seeing a lot of images taken from this spot, I was happy to add one of me to my collection.  I cannot say enough good things about how stunning this place is.

The view coming back down looking over T Harbor.  Again, I would suggest hiking poles as some spots are really steep and it makes it a little easier on the knees.  If it is warm out, bring a water filter.  There is one decent stream and of course the lake you can use as water sources.

This isn't cool.   As I got back to the trail head lot, I saw this family hand feeding a red fox.  Habituating the animal does no good.  Hope the fox doesn't end up as road kill pizza or worse yet if someone gets nipped while it tries to grab a piece of sandwich.

Since I made much better time getting back than I planned on, I decided to walk the extra 4.25 km back to camp since Melinda wasn't going to pick me up until sunset.  I was very thirsty but getting to enjoy the sunset with her was worth it.  View looking west from our campsite.

One our third day in the park Melinda and I did 2 short hikes.   These are the falls on Joe Creek.  Short hike as about 1.5 km return if you go all the way out to Lake Superior.  Honestly after the falls there isn't much to see.  The view of the lake isn't that great and the shore is lined with twisted up cedars.

The second short hike was the Piney Wood Hills Trail.  It's 1.4 km return and ends at this rocky ledge overlooking Joeboy Lake.  This is a nice walk up and down through the pines.

A trip to Sleeping Giant isn't complete without a stop at the Thunder Bay Lookout.  It's pretty cool as the platform extends out away from the cliff.  While not as high as the top of the giant, it gives you a pretty good idea how impressive the cliffs are in the area.  Easy drive into this spot.   We stopped for lunch at Rita Lake before heading back to our campsite for our final evening in the park.

Our final sunset looking at the head of the giant.  The last night was interesting as we had a visit from the campground skunk while eating dinner.  It couldn't have cared less about us as it checked out our campsite and at one point pretty much walked right over Melinda's feet at it went about it's business. Best part was when it went to the campsite next to us and we watched as a half dozen or so girls from the University of Minnesota climbed on top of their Suburban.

I was disappointed with the noise in the campground.  Some other campers on the hill above us pretty much drank for almost 24 hours straight.  Again, this is a campground and not edge of the wilderness campsites.  Be prepared for stuff like this if you choose to stay at Marie Louise Lake.

We packed up pretty early on the 4th morning and started the trip home.  No issues at the border this time getting back into the US.  If you read some of my other blog entries, I highlighted what dicks  border agents have been while coming back into the US.  I get they have a job to do, but come on.  Just be personable and polite.  On thing I always enjoy about our Canadian trips are the people.   Americans (even most Minnesotans) have forgotten how far common courtesy goes in getting along with everyone.  Sad.

The inland colors and up high on the ridges really lit up over the 5 days we were out.  Enough so that we ended our trip home by a couple of hours to take in the views around another area we have frequented for camping over the years.  This is Ninemile Lake north of Finland MN.

Hare Lake off county road 7 north of Finland

Overall it was a good trip with some great scenery and some unique wildlife interactions.   The wolves across the lake the first evening at Sleeping Giant was really cool. We saw no bear sign around the campground but the park staff did warn of activity in the back country.   If you have a fat tire or mountain bike, I would strongly suggest using it where possible to cover more ground to see more.  Especially if you are heading south down the Kabeyun towards Cape Thunder from Silver Islet. I'll likely go back again with the same plan and stay at the campground and day hike some of the other trails which go to the head and the knees of the giant.  There are some sites which are somewhat more remote on the west side of Marie Louise Lake.  They were closed for the season at the time we visited but I would consider them on our next visit depending on the time of the year.  As always, if you have any questions about the areas I visit, feel free to drop me an email at