Dive into Summer
Hike, bike, climb, ﬂoat, swim, soak in a hot tub: 34 great ways to experience the state’s sweet season
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Palisade Head, Minnesota’s most prominent precipice, is the only rock-climbing area in the state routinely described as “ominous.” A true sea cliff, it crests 200 feet above Lake Superior’s deep dark blue. Waves pound the boulders below its towering face. Sequestered in Tettegouche State Park, north of Silver Bay, it features dozens of climbing routes, some low-intermediate in grade, but many advanced and expert. Nicknamed the Phantom or Superior Crack, it starts on a ramp of rock in Palisade’s Amphitheater area, where high walls surround to form a horseshoe of vertical stone. At its dizzying crux, the region’s most revered route tapers to a single fist-size crack.
If You Go
Palisade Head offers some of the most challenging climbs in the state—and some of the best views. To learn more, visit www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/tettegouche or call 218-226-6365.
Four Other Great Rock-Climbing Areas
Taylor’s Falls: More than 50 established climbing routes on the basalt stone along the St. Croix River in Interstate State Park
Blue Mounds: A unique Sioux quartzite cliff that rises 100 feet above the prairie of southwestern Minnesota
Shovel Point: This 150-foot precipice, in Tettegouche State Park, is Minnesota’s second-highest sea cliff, after Palisade Head
Red Wing: Bolted sport-climbing routes traverse the 100-foot cliff atop Barn Bluff in Red Wing
Kayaking in the Apostle Islands
By Erin Peterson
THERE ARE TWO TYPES of people in this world: those who enjoy spending time in nature, and those who enjoy nature as it is represented in motivational posters and Ansel Adams engagement calendars. I have always fit into the latter category.
I don’t mind the idea of outdoorsiness. Indeed, I own all manner of clothing suggesting that nature and I are good buddies: sweat-wicking T-shirts, socks made from high-tech fabrics, and jackets with pockets roomy enough to stow GPS gadgets and tent stakes. But the truth is, given a box of matches in the middle of a forest, I’d sooner point out grammatical errors on the package than start a fire.
Though I lack outdoor cred, I am easily swayed by pretty pictures and good marketing (hello: iPod, iMac, and iPhone). After surfing through the photos and descriptions on Living Adventure’s website, I sign up for a weekend of kayaking and camping with the outdoor-adventure-programming company located in Red Cliff, Wisconsin, just outside of Bayfield. Beauty and inspiration are promised, and I am a sucker for such things. I cannot recite my credit card number fast enough.
Of course, I could have prepared for the weekend by testing a kayak on Lake Calhoun. Instead, I buy trail mix. It seems authentic, outdoorsy. It seems like something I could throw to distract a grizzly bear before it tries to shovel me into its mouth.
I arrive in Red Cliff early Saturday morning, where I meet my guide for the weekend, Danielle, and eight fellow kayakers. We change into wetsuits before heading into Lake Superior’s frigid waters. The gear is comforting. I imagine it’s similar to what Superman feels like when he comes striding out of the phone booth in his cape and tights: invincible and slightly ridiculous. We spend the morning at the edge of Lake Superior, learning kayaking techniques that all basically fall into the category of “how not to die.” When we finally push off, the lake is calm and the sun glints off the water. We fall into formation; our brightly colored kayaks make us look like a school of tropical fish.
It is three miles to our campsite on Sand Island, one of the dozen or so Apostle Islands. It’s a distance we can cover in about an hour, but we take time to explore. The water is deep and clear; sandstone bluffs tower overhead. Over thousands of years, the water has carved small caverns in the rock, and many of these sea caves are just large enough for a patient kayaker to paddle through.
Eventually we paddle back to our campsite and unload the gear we’ve stowed in our kayaks: tents and clothing, containers of food and cooking supplies. Unloading our gear is much easier than packing it at the launch site, where each item became a piece in a three-dimensional game of Tetris.
I am about ready to dig into my trail mix, but Danielle says she’s making us an appetizer before dinner, so I grudgingly set aside the bag. She then announces that we will need to put any food we brought into a bear box—a food-storage locker at the site that will keep the bears from sniffing us out. I am reluctant to part with what I regard as my only protection from grizzlies.
While Danielle prepares our snack, I leave the campsite with others to follow a trail through the woods. The only sounds are birds chirping and our footsteps. I’m someone who rarely leaves my apartment without headphones in my ear, but I can see the appeal of this silence: no traffic, no Muzak, no chatter.
When I return, Danielle has prepared the appetizer. I’m not sure what I was expecting—freeze-dried ice cream, maybe?—but she has started up a fire, freshly roasting some cloves of garlic to go with the crusty bread and Brie she’s set on the picnic tables. Dinner, she announces, will include whitefish with almonds, rice, and a salad with tomatoes and peppers. There is berry pie for dessert. Though we have no running water or electricity, the food is better than most of the restaurants I’ve been to recently.
As we sip hot chocolate and clean our plates, Danielle regales us with an epic tale involving a hungry bear, exasperated park rangers, and a gun. Like all good camping stories, it is funny and scary and poignant. By the time she finishes, it is growing dark. Danielle finishes cleaning up, and we crawl into our tents and say goodnight.
It is impossible not to wake up at the light of dawn, and before long, we’ve eaten breakfast, packed our gear, and headed back into the water. The weather is warm and we’re in good spirits. We paddle alongside the island, taking a break to visit a historic lighthouse and to eat lunch. By mid-afternoon, we decide to head back to shore. My paddle slices through the water, and I turn to take one more look at the islands.
As I drive home Sunday evening, with sore arms and sand still stuck to my ankles, I wonder if I’ve reached some sort of milestone. I may not be ready to buy out REI and Patagonia, but I will no longer limit my travel options to big cities and hotels with minibars. I dig out the trail mix from my bag. I look at it for a moment, then remember the crusty bread and roasted garlic. Maybe I’ll eventually acquire a taste for trail mix. Just not yet.
If You Go
Many canoe outfitters rent and sell kayaks. Also: Wearing a wetsuit is highly recommended for venturing into cooler waters.