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An Outdoorsman's Journal

IceScape (1993)


Mark Walters and his golden retriever Star with her 12-week-old pup Pearl on their Lake Superior ice trek back in 1993.

By Mark Walters

I am trying to do my best to deal with the loss of a beautiful person "Michelle Chiaro" who was my partner in life. This week's column is one that I wrote almost thirty years ago after a 180-mile ice hike on Lake Superior. Thanks for your patience!

Hello friends,

This is the third of a 4-part series. I am writing on the experiences that happen while myself along with a golden retrievers, Star and Pearl, hike the Wisconsin shoreline of Lake Superior. Both Star and I are pulling sleds.

When completed, this will be roughly a 180-mile trip. Our starting point was Superior and our ending destination is Saxon Harbor near Hurley.

Sunday, March 6th

How 40 low 18

I made camp last night on York Island. York Island is one of the 22 Apostle Islands and is about two miles off the mainland. My plan for the day was to take the day off and rest my body. The weather changed that plan this afternoon. About noon I was down at the lake getting some water from one of the many puddles on the top of the ice when I noticed open water where there wasn't open water an hour earlier.

A strong west wind had been blowing since last night, the wind was along with the warm air taking out the ice at this part of the lake real fast. A mild panic took over. I took a quick look around and realized if I was going to get off this island without help, I was going to have to do it soon. I broke camp and packed the sleds in record time. The mutts and I were about 100 yards off the island when we came to more open water.

My mild panic was getting stronger as I thought of sitting on the island for days before help came, or even worse, falling through the ice. I'm proud of the fact that I'm a brave man, but suddenly I feel very vulnerable, very alone.

With the mutts following, I kept searching for a way out. I finally realized I was going to have to take a two-foot jump across the open water while pulling my sled. My main concern was that the ice may break when I landed on the other side. With a 30-yard head start and an order for Star and Pearl to stay, I started running with my sled following 10 feet behind me. All went well. I then told Star and Pearl to come, and they also made it across.

The next two miles or three hours we were jumping lead after lead. When we finally made it to Raspberry Point, we were on a shoreline protected from the west wind and we came across much better ice. I put another three miles behind me and stopped for the night on a sand beach in Frog Bay.

Completely blocked from the wind, I made a tarp shelter and cooked a pot of tea. After dark there was moose steak to eat and Northern Lights to watch. My day went from near panic to perfection. I have not been as scared as I was today since last fall when I fell from a tree while bowhunting.

Monday, March 7th

High 34, low 12

Yesterday's strong west winds picked up more strength today and made hiking tough. There were times when I had to get as low to the ice as possible to really concentrate on every step just to go forward. There is no snow on the ice, so my ice spikes are the most valuable tool I have. When the wind is at our backs it blows our sleds ahead of us. When it is in our face, every step is bullwork.

Star did an excellent job of pulling her 80 pounds without a complaint. I made camp just south of Red Cliff. I found a deep snow drift and dug an 8x10 foot hole down to the ice.

Thursday, March 10

High 36, low 18

Our night hike went well until I came to an expansion crack that appeared to go all the way across the Chequamegon Bay. It had open water in the middle about a foot wide and bad ice for about five feet on each side of the water.

With my flashlight I figured out my newest challenge. A slight panic came back just like Sunday... All went well for man and beast. I decided I had had enough fun for one day and headed towards shore.

Right away I found an excellent rock wall with huge icicles hanging down from it. Then I found two rocks each about the size of a pickup and flat on top. One would be my bed and one would be my kitchen. High and dry on Lake Superior! Its's a good life!


Star and Pearl


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