Wow, even earlier than I predicted :) Yesterday the National Park Service (NPS) declared the ice safe enough to access the ice caves.
I took this screenshot (to the right) from the Bayfield Chamber of Commerce's website. Calling the NPS's phone recording will produce the latest message on the ice conditions. 715.779.3398 ext 3.
Pleasant weather on a weekend will bring a plethora of people (and dogs), I've seen a couple hundred people on the ice at one time. It really is a more enjoyable adventure if the caves are visited without a ton of people around.
And as always, I would stress being careful and prepared. A north or northwest wind hits the cliffs at full blast, having only a frozen lake to travel across for many miles. Wind chills can sometimes be dangerous!! Be sure to know the weather forecast in advance, and there is good coverage of NOAA Weather Radio transmitters in the entire region.
Cell phones do not function well at the base of the cliffs, not because of providers, but because the rock walls block most signals from Wisconsin. Only cell towers from Minnesota have a clear line, but are 25-30 miles away and produce a very weak signal.
And finally, the parking situation can be overwhelming during nice weekends. There is a parking lot next to the beach, but oftentimes parking extends up to a mile down the road. The NPS has workers keeping the traffic moving, but be prepared to add more walking time if there might be a lot of people visiting.
Today the North American Ice Service updated its map of ice cover on the Great Lakes (link). This image (to the right) is of Lake Superior from data during the last three days.
The grey color indicates 'fast ice', solid and thick. Orange and red indicate medium thickness lake ice. Yellow is thinner ice that is new.
Blue denotes water with some ice mixed in, but not enough ice to cover the water. White is open water.
It looks like western Lake Superior is completely frozen over, while the eastern third still has more freezing to do. With plenty of winter temperatures ahead of us yet, there are still two more months to go. Normally, the ice reaches a maximum extent by mid-March.
This graph (to the left) shows average ice coverage of Lake Superior (green line) versus measured ice covereage (blue bars).
For the most recent week, Superior has quite a bit more ice than average. Also of note on this graph is the peak around March 12th. I'm hoping that this year will be a complete freeze. Of course, I'll be following the ice and post more on this later.
Tied into this story was the fact that ferry service between Madeline Island and the mainland at Bayfield was suspended a month earlier than the past several years. I posted the article in my blog from 2 January 2008 (here).
John Beargrease race results.
The Beargrease Sled Dog Race this year was just as brutal as last year, but in a different way. 2008 saw freezing rain, blizzard conditions, and terrible windchills. 2009 was calmer but bitterly cold with windchills to match. Each morning temperatures were reported as low as -30 with lower windchill values. Because of this, many teams were forced to drop out.
This year's winner was the same as last - Jason Barron from Lincoln, MT. He departed the finish line at 15:59:09 on Sunday and crossed the finish line at 14:37:08 on Wednesday. He spent 42 hours 36 minutes on the trail and 29 hours and 7 minutes resting at checkpoints.
Jason raced 66 hours 47 minutes last year, but spent 71 hours 43 minutes racing this year. An indication that the cold weather slowed down the dogs and the mushers.