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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Send Positive Vibes NORTH

For those of you who haven't heard, a member of the Grand Marais community is up near the top of the world right now, on the slopes of Denali. Local polar explorer Lonnie Dupre is right in the midst of a solo summit attempt on Mt. Denali in Alaska, and if successful would be the only person to do so in winter.

http://lonniedupre.com/


Turns out, Lonnie is also a talented carpenter and was hired as one of our crew members in the fall of 2009 and helped raise our timber frame. Lonnie is the guy in the red hooded sweatshirt and beard, waiting out a passing snow flurry at the entrance to our garage up on Cascade Bluff with Brian Bennett on the left and Peter Hendrickson on the right. This was taken in October of '09 when the guys and Tom Healy were waiting for a bit of a break in the weather to start assembling the timber frame that was carved (in part by us) in Tom's shop in
Whitefish, Montana. (See earlier blog entries for a recap of all this...)

Lonnie's facing way more difficult circumstances tonight! I have linked his blog which has up to date info on how he is doing in 40 to 60 below zero weather with 100 mile an hour winds... yikes!

Please, everyone reading this blog, send lots and lots of positive energy up to Alaska and Mt. Denali. Come home safely, Lonnie!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

What Isn't White Is Blue...except when it's not...

Oh baby it is cold again! Not sure exactly how low we dipped overnight, but at least 20 below F, 'cause our new electronic outdoor thermometer once again read "OF" this morning...
(Translate however you wish.) We laid another old weather myth to rest today too. It certainly can and does snow when the thermometer reads 20 below!
Which makes this activity a necessity when you want to encourage
your electrons to come from above...


Yesterday we explored in our newly outfitted bright blue Jeep AKA "Babe" whose tracks are taking the unplowed road in style.



Here is Val with Babe, parked near our property number/fire road sign (nice blue), wearing (of course) her bright blue matching ear band and showing off her blue snowshoes, blue leg gaiters and blue poles! Hmm, gotta get her a blue parka and a blue fleece neck wrap!
We 'shoed down the road that heads east and turns north, toward the rest of the private properties in our little Cascade Bluff "development." We'd skiied down this road over the New Year's weekend, but another 12 to 16 inches has fallen since then... The low winter sun casts a lovely blue color onto the pure white snow...


After a while we gave it up! Deep snow gives a whole new meaning to the word "schlogging"... and I needed to conserve a little energy for "blogging"...

Okay, so everything isn't white and blue up here after all. Some things are red and black. Who was that masked woman? I wanted to thank her...or maybe tell her she's whacked to be walking around outside when it is 14 below... But I was having fun!

And a few more exceptions to the "white" and "blue" rule: pink cliffs on Cascade Mountain...

Peachy aspens in the early morning sun...

...and 'alpenglow' from the snowy deck at Cascade Bluff.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Xtremely Cold, Xtremely Cool, Xtremely Fun!


In addition to the feet of new snow we have up at Cascade Bluff, we're in the midst of a deep freeze. Last night our new electronic thermometer reached its lower limit (not as billed on the package, which said the device was good to 39 below...) and this AM said "OFL" which could mean "Oh! Frightfully Low!" or "Off Line" but essentially, too cold to register. Our old fashioned analog thermometer read (-)26 F. Any way you phrase it -- a bit chilly! But sunny today too, as is often the case in the Northland. With frigid temps come bright clear skies. So we are making electrons today, for free, from the sun!

In the meantime, we are determined NOT to ever be unable to access our New World, regardless of the temp, snow conditions, or mud (yes, mud season isn't far away...) So Val's done lots of research, and we've had good advice from our neighbor Stan Tull (see his blog about Murmur Creek Observatory, located a few miles from us) and have the Ultimate Xtreme Solution. We've got Tracks!! Read on and watch the process unfold!

Stan has been a true friend in all of this. He broke trail with his own set of tracks for access to his observatory and cabin on a nearby lake. After getting a ride with him in his tracked vehicle we decided to go ahead. The tracks replace each wheel and are sized for different cars, trucks and SUVs. Luckily for us, the most common size fits our Jeep Wrangler. We had the traks delivered to Stan's garage. Here he is "deploying" one of the tracks.

A close up view of one track...
Stan is getting ready to jack up the Jeep. Val's recording the event and giving a helping hand when needed...


The Jeep wheel is off, ready for the track...

Lining up the track lug nuts...

Stan tightening the tracks onto our Jeep...


Front end up...

One track on, one to go!

Almost ready!


And here she is -- that is, Babe, the Blue Jeep -- with Val in the driver's seat enjoying herself very much! Don't those tracks look like they'd go just about anywhere? Poor Dimples (the red Ford truck in the background) is feeling a little abandoned at the moment. We plan to put her in the garage for the duration of winter once our road can't be plowed... which will be very soon.


Here are a couple of juicy clips of Babe with her new tracks, running around the property. And Val looking extremely pleased with herself --- as we will both be (and any guests we shuttle up) for trips to Cascade Bluff between now and when the mud has settled down!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Lots of White Stuff


We arrived on Jan 16 to lots more snow and more on the way! It is brilliantly beautiful...but I think we've got enuf now...

Our access road is beginning to look like a long winding tunnel. Casey the Wonder Guy with the Plow Truck has done a fantastic job but he is running out of room to put the white stuff!

Our nice sunny deck has some new decor... Those aren't fluffy white pillows on the chairs!

Come on up and have a cup a coffee when you're done out there!

Deep snow makes breaking trail a whole new experience...

This sign on our west boundary is usually 4 feet high!
Have you ever seen such a brilliant blue?

Mother Nature's been out here with the whipped cream...

Our house in the woods is snug and warm...

Here's the path to the sauna -- carved out of a deep snowbank...

...and the view back to the house from inside the sauna, where it was 165 degrees tonight inside, and 15 below outside!! We call that Xtreme Sauna-ing!

Check back soon for pix of our latest new toy -- and our means to get in and out over all this snow in the coming months!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Hot Stuff Part II


I don't have any particularly thrilling excuse for not blogging for such a long time... Holidays, snow, ice, the usual... But here we are again, and as promised in the last post, here is "Hot Stuff, Part II." For those who have actually visited 556 Cascade Bluffs, you know what I mean... the little extra building out back that gets really hot, really quickly! It is actually true: we have BOTH a hot tub AND a sauna!



Research is the basis for everything up at Cascade Bluffs -- well, research, and stubbornness, and we like what we like, and oh yeah, we have all these blue tiles in the basement already... But this time it really was true. We did research and so did our Wonder Contractor, Chris Norman, and we came to the same conclusion, that a Minnesota made sauna stove was the only one that would do. Here is an article about our stove manufacturer; you can't read it, so I'll tell you that the Lammpa stove (how's that for a good Finn name?) is rated the most efficient and cleanest burning wood furnace in the WORLD.


So, vell you know... One fine day ve drove to Tower, MN, vay up by Ely, all de vay out on Highvay One, you know...


Vell I can't keep that up for too long (thank goodness) so we'll just go back to our "indoor voice." In the mostly Finnish town of Tower, also known as one of the coldest spots on the planet (78 below one winter night not long ago, and the thermometer apparently proceeded to shatter...) we discovered a furnace factory, Lammpa Manufacturing, basically on a residential street in what appeared to be the back of someone's house... And there was our stove, waiting for us!


Mr. Lammpa himself! An extremely knowledgeable guy and very helpful.


Here we are in the back of the foundry, and Mr. Lammpa is about to weld our hot water reservoir onto the side of the stove...


Some guys loading the stove into the back of our truck...


There she sits in Dimples' back end... And the long winding, nauseating journey back on Hwy One from Tower and Ely to Hwy 61 along Superior and back to Grand Marais. A definite Minnesota adventure, picking up your own sauna stove!


Here is the beginning of the sauna. We decided to place it facing out toward the ridge, behind and to the east of the house...


There's that Mr. Holz again, working wonders with a giant yardstick... or maybe it's a divining rod...


What an excellent place to store your drill during lunch break!


The insulated floor going in...


...and walls going up... Notice the weather is getting a bit cooler, Stephen is now wearing a stocking cap...


Here's a view from the unfinished sauna back toward the house and garage...


One of my tasks was to find some interesting gnarly cedar branches and roots that could be used as door handles and such. Oh, darn, does that mean I have to go for another walk in the woods? Oh, rats...


Roof's on!


Inside, we stole an idea from some friends who have a sauna. This small glass inset nook sticks into the "hot" room from the "cool" room and is useful for placing candles or lamps for light inside the sauna. Works really great and is beautiful in the dark, too!


The outside door of the sauna building...


Detail of the door handle, "finished" with a penknife by yours, truly...


The outside door, now open to display another cedar branch door handle...


Here is Lammpa's smallest sauna stove in place in our "hot" room. The interior is lined with nice red cedar paneling and has two long benches, the usual sauna stuff like a wooden bucket and ladle for steam... but no birch branches! Not into THAT! [For those not versed in the minutia of Finnish sauna traditions, I refer you to the Wikipedia link on the right side of the page for full info. Here's the scoop on birch branches: "Occasionally one uses leafy, fragrant boughs of silver birch called vihta in West Finland and vasta in East Finland to gently beat oneself. This has a relaxing effect on the muscles and also helps in calming the effects of mosquito bites." Yeah, well not in December and January... ]

...a shot from inside the "hot" room back toward the door...

Chris found these two ship's portholes on Ebay! They are just amazing. They open by unscrewing the huge brass bolts and the window swings open for ventilation when the sauna gets a bit too toasty. We are really grateful for his creativity! (Wish we knew what ship they came from... that would be even cooler!)


Don't worry... it gets way hotter than this...



Here's a shot of the sauna building nearly done, except for a few finishing touches on the outside...


...and this is the view from the small deck just outside the front door of the sauna. Nice!


Of course, northern MN is nothing if not interesting. The big wind storm in October took down a cedar onto our sauna... no damage was done, amazingly enough. Our neighbors and friends the Boyds happened to come by to check things out and took this photo (and they cleared off the broken limb for us, too! Thanks so much, Jim and Jetty!)

There's that old saying, if you don't like the weather in Minnesota, just hang around for five minutes and it will change... And here's what the sauna looks like about now!



Someone has to clear the path...



Sorry, no photos from inside the sauna when it's nice and hot and the clothes are in a pile and the sweat is running. The camera doesn't work at that temperature anyway.

In case you've forgotten why we decided to build this crazy place in the middle of nowhere, here are a few pix to remind you why...

Morning winter light....


Moon, snow, trees, that gorgeous blue...



...and sunset over Cascade Mountain...