Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Picnic Loop at Sugarbush Trails, Tofte, MN

I should really be putting in a rest day, but it's just so much fun! I woke up early but dozed in my soft bed at Bluefin Bay, listening to the radio until the daylight bekame apparent. I moved into the boy's room and sat in the brigth morning sun, gazing over Lake Superior. A little after 8:00 I started to rouse them and in expectation of a fun day on the slopes, they were soon up and assembling their gear. While waitig for them to get ready,  I studied the map of the Sugarbush Trail System. Since the the weather forecast for the coming days was sketchy, I decided to frontload my program with the long day and chose the Picnic Loop.
Straight from Parking, right at D, I and J, left at K, L, M, and N,
right at O end E and straight back to Parking
After dropping of James and Joe at Lutsen (and getting their ski passes), I headed for the Britton Peak trail head parking lot. There were a few other cars but not a person in sight. I had spoken to the owner of Sawtooth Outfitters where we had rented canoes for our 2009 BWCA trip. He had suggested to do the loop counter-clockwise. I had my hydration pack with a couple of liters of warm water, a couple of candy bars and a banana as well as some layers of warm clothing in the event of an emergency. I also had my fanny pack with my Canon D10 and Garmin Oregon 450, the latter strictly to record my progress. 
The Britton Peak trail head is connected to the Picnic loop via a short spur of green trails. I could quickly tell that the Sugarbush Trail Association is doing an excellent job grooming. the skating surface was firm and the classic track was well defined. Once I left the spur and moved onto the SE portion of the loop, the terrain became slightly more challenging, with gentle but long slopes. It seemed like the spur from K intersection, leading to an overlook point was not groomed, though some folks had broken their own track. I am planning to do a shorter classic ski tomorrow, maybe I'll check out that trail.

Almost the entire leg between K and L looked as though a herd of bison had stomped along. It looked like 4 or 5 people had decided to walk rather than ski. When I turned north from L, the tracks fortunately seized. After the gentle rise on this green leg, black segment started. Over the next 1.5 km, I gained close to 100 m in elevation. The downhills were steep, too, but never dangerously so. The excellent condition of the trail contributed to its safety, too.

I reached an overlook point just as two women arrived from the opposite direction. they graciously agred to take my picture. One of the woman told me that they had just relocated from Alaska to Embarrass, MN. Judging from their choice of abode and recreational activities they must be suckers for the boreal biome and its accompanying climate. In parting, they assured me that the remainder of the loop would be a walk in the park.

In the meantime I was sucking the last of the 2 liters out of my Camelback bladder. The banana and candy bars were wearing off, too and in spite of my trail acquaintance's assurances I was hitting the wall, literally and figuratively. I ascended a thankfully short stretch of trail so steep that I was tempted to walk. I hooked a ski in the soft snow on the side of the trail and kneed down. I made it. I was grateful when O Intersection came about, signalling the end of the long black leg and promising the end of the outing. When I reached the spur to the parking lot I accelerated on the fairly level trail.

The loop combined with today's weather presented an interesting challenge. For my Rex blue, skiing was fast in the sunny patches, though the snow had started to soften where the sun had been shining longer. In the shade, where the snow was holding the colder temps from previous nights, the skiing was much slower.

All in all a great challenge and a wonderful outing on Sugarbush trails.

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