Gunflint Lake finally froze over on the night of December 17th. There was a section in the middle of the lake that just would not skim over. Here is a picture Sheryl took on the morning of the 17th. You can see the open water. As a result every time we got a little wind, we would lose a little ice. Finally we had a night with below zero temps and no wind. That is all it took. Now we can start to make ice.
For the past ten days we have had signs up all over warning about unsafe ice. In fact a measurement by the dock showed that we had only a couple of inches. All the incoming guests are told to stay off the ice. We are not quite paranoid but it is close.
Imagine our panic this morning when we saw 1 skier and three dog sleds going down the ice. They were about 50-75 feet from shore and going down to the west end. Then around lunch time we saw two of the dog sleds going back to the east end.
So how do we know when the ice if safe? Years ago Charlie Cook or George Plummer (two Native Americans who lived on the north side of the lake) would come over to tell us the ice was safe. I am not sure how they determined this but we always waited to get the OK from them.
Today Don Kufahl and Bruce will decide when they are absolutely sure the ice is safe. Then they wait a couple more days. Don puts on his dry suit and gets an auger. We tie a 50’ rope around his waist and he starts walking out. Every 50-75 feet out he will stop and drill a hole in the ice to check its thickness. We want at least 6” of solid ice. While the testing is going on, a crowd (well 3-4 people) gather in the lodge to watch and help if needed. Luckily help has never been needed.
A some years ago, two snowmobiles came off the public landing and started out towards Cross River Lodge (old Borderland). One of them slowed down as they got to the north shore. That machine went right through the ice. Eric Thompson was still at Borderland. He ran down with a long extension ladder and pushed it out to the man in the water. As soon as the man grabbed the ladder, Eric pulled him in. It just luck that Eric was there and knew what to do.
Even when the ice is frozen over 6”, there are still dangerous situations that can occur. When the temperatures get really low (20-40degrees below zero), at that point the ice starts to expand but the shoreline will not let it expand enough so a press ridge explodes straight up into the air. It can be 5 feet tall. Water flows up and then freezes over.
Sometimes, however, the pressure ridge goes down. The water quickly skims over and looks solid. If anyone walks over it for the next few days the ice will break and the person will go through.
Ice can be very dangerous so be sure to check with locals before you go out on it.