25 January - John Beargrease Sled Dog Race 1 February - Apostle Island Sled Dog Race 13-16 Feb - Great Backyard Bird Count 14 February - Book Across the Bay ?? February - Makiwake Sea Caves 21 February - American Birkebeiner
plus area snow depth and local ski areas, what a bonus!!
John Beargrease Sled Dog Race.
I completely spaced on the running of the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon, the 26th annual race is this weekend.
The John Beargrease is the longest sled dog race (411 miles) in the Lower 48 and is a major pre-qualifier for the Iditarod race.
The weather last year was brutal (freezing rain followed by blizzard conditions with windchills down to -50) while this year has brought almost perfect weather... albeit some cool windchills (sunny with windchills of -20).
I'll post this year's results at the completion.
Last year's winner:
Jason Barron from Lincoln, MT. Finished with 11 dogs. Finish time: 34 hours and 43 minutes on the trail (32 hours 04 minutes of rest at checkpoints).
Last year's racers:
At the start line: 27 Finished: 9 Still racing: 3 Withdrawn: 15
This year there are only 21 teams entered, from as far away as Montana, New Hampshire, and Ontario. I would imagine that last year's weather frightened a few mushers away.
My posts from last year's Beargrease Race (here and here).
The AISDR is not nearly as long as the John Beargrease, but is also an Iditarod pre-qualifier and can be a lot of fun for spectators. There are 4 categories: 80 miles (8 dogs) 60 miles (6 dogs) 40 miles (Sportsman) 10 miles (under 16 years of age)
The race begins (and ends) a few miles west of Bayfield on February 1st. The starting line has a bonfire with hot chocolate, as well as the ability for spectators to be a few feet from the starting line.
Book Across the Bay is the upper Midwest's most unique winter event, open to skiers and snowshoers of all ages and ability levels. The 10-kilometer course, which is groomed for both classic-style and skate skiing, starts in Ashland and ends in Washburn, and follows a route not on land, but over the frozen surface of Lake Superior, the world's largest lake. The event is held at night, and the course is lit by the stars above and up to 1,000 candles in ice luminaries that line the entire route.
Their website says that last year was the biggest year, so far, with 2,300 participants. This year they are preparing for up to 3,000.
The race begins at 18:00 on Valentine's Day from the marina in-front of Hotel Chequamegon in Ashland, WI. The finish line will be in Washburn, WI near Thompson's West End park.
The Great Backyard Bird Count by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society.
This is actually a nationwide event, but it's worth posting since the Chequamegon Bay area is huge for birding -- the Chequamegon Bay Birding and Nature Festival (link) is held in May, which attracts birders from around the country.
For anyone who has a backyard birdfeeder, the GBBC is easy and fun. Only 15 minutes of time is needed on any (or all) of the count days. Count volunteers submit their observations online, allowing the organizers to tally the numbers and get an excellent view of how/where all the bird species are doing this year.
I keep an eye on the birds around my feeder, but this count allows me to pay closer attention for a few days. For example, I had Dark-eyed Juncos last winter, this year I have not seen a single one yet.
Once the count is tallied, all the information on each species can be viewed online. If I don't have Juncos in my backyard this year, did anyone in my region? Is the population declining this year? Or are the Juncos simply hanging out in a different location this year?
Mawikwe Sea Caves of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.
Every year thousands of people flood to the northernmost tip of Wisconsin to see the ice caves. It is a several mile walk on the Lake along the shoreline to access the caves (there is no beach along the cliffs).
The ice does not freeze deep enough to be safe some years.This year has brought a very cold winter, which has allowed plenty of ice to build up on Western Lake Superior. With good conditions already so early in the winter, it looks like this year will definitely be a sea cave year, and earlier than most.
The best only way to know if the ice is safe is wait for the signal from the National Park Service. They walk out on the ice daily, checking for fissures and cracks, and measuring the ice depth. When the ice is safe enough the NPS lets us know on their voice recording (715.779.3398 ext 3) and on the Bayfield's Chamber of Commerce website (here). As of 21 January, the caves are not yet accessible.
And honestly, the caves are dangerous year-round with accidents happening both in the summer and winter. Personally, I wouldn't want to fall through the ice in such a remote location. Windsled is the only way to rescue anyone and cell phones do not work well along the cliffs.
In good years the ice is safe by the end of February or the beginning of March, only for a week or two. I check the Daily Ice Maps (link) for Lake Superior every other day and I believe that by Valentine's Day the ice will be safe. It might be a very early year!!
In the meantime, I found plenty of websites concerning the caves, many with personal pictures (including mine from last year):
From JohnDee.com (an excellent source of winter conditions) I pulled this map (to the right) of snowdepths across northern Wisconsin. I'm proud to say that one of those dots is me :)
The deepest I've measured in northeastern Bayfield County was 23.1 inches on 20 January. Currently I'm sitting at 20.3 inches with sunny skies and no new snow in the forecast until later this week.
Cross-country and downhill skiing.
Mt.Valhalla is in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, Mt. Ashwabay is just a few miles south of the city of Bayfield. Mount Telemark is located in southern Bayfield County near Cable, and Whitecap Mountain is southeast of Ashland in Iron County.
Mt. Ashwabay has a 317 foot drop over 65 acres, for both downhill and cross-country skiing. Mt. Ashwabay Ski & Recreation Area (link) (blog) reports that they have received 120 inches of snow this year with 13 runs open, the longest is 1,500 feet long. On Wednesday they reported a 30" base on their slopes.
Mt. Valhalla is on public land and therefore has no commercial facilities. The Forest Service's contractor maintains the cross-country trails, but not as often as a private ski area. It is rustic and quiet while not too far from the beaten trail. A major snowmobile trail runs near Valhalla with Mt. Valhalla Lodge (link) and Mt. Valhalla Pub & Grub (link) close by.
The Pub & Grub maintains a webcam (link) of their parking lot, aimed towards Mt. Valhalla. Both are up the road from my location.
Mount Telemark is located a few miles outside of Cable, WI. It's also the highest point in Bayfield County at 1700 feet above seal level. Telemark is the start location of the American Birkebiner (link) coming up on 21 February, which is the largest cross-country ski marathon in North America!
Telemark Resort (link) reports excellent cross-country ski conditions as of Wednesday. They have a base of nine inches of snow and 20 miles of trails open.
Whitecap Mountain is located southeast of Ashland, WI and just west of Ironwood, MI. Whitecap Mountain Ski Resort (downhill only) is running full blast with excellent conditions. Whitecap has a vertical drop of 400 feet and 43 trails on 500 acres. The longest run is 5,280 feet!!
Whitecap (link) has received 124 inches of snow this winter and 16 inches in the last week.