Lightning, thunder and snow – an odd combination for sure. I sit at my desk, watch the storm’s fury and ponder the recent Super Moon and the Ides of March. To the ancient Roman calendar, it marked the middle of the month and a time of the full moon. To Caesar, the Ides of March was an ominous warning that his death was imminent. Modern calendars mark the third month as the start of spring and a break for students.
That brought to mind an upper Great Lakes March blizzard nearly four decades ago. It was 1974 when boyhood friend Ron Hvizdak and I, together with my bird dog Buck, spent time off from school to backpack into the 58,000 acre Porcupine Mountain Wilderness State Park in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. While the majority of college students headed for warmer climates, we opted for a little winter camping.
After snowshoeing 12 miles into the wilderness park’s interior with 50-pound backpacks, we found ourselves smack dab in the middle of one of the worst spring snowstorms in UP’s history. Sub-zero temperatures and 60 mile per hour winds, compounded by several feet of new snow covering a fifteen inch base, turned a pleasant trip into a nightmare.
From my journal; “We snowshoed up an unplowed section of Highway 107 - only 3 miles that first afternoon because of a late start. Our initial camp was situated at Cloud Peak, overlooking massive Lake Superior. The wind was piercing off the lake, but after a good warm meal, we spent a comfortable snug first night.”
On day two, “We made good time to Lake of the Clouds and there we stopped and soaked in the magnificent view. Rocky bluffs and sheer cliffs overlooked the lake. The sight was breathtaking. Standing on the edge of the cliff, one can see for miles over a vast, unspoiled expanse of wilderness. However, looks would prove to be deceiving.”
“As we descended the Escarpment Trail, snow began to fall and temperatures dropped. We headed for a three-sided shelter on Carp River. Half-way there, we crossed a small feeder stream that provided us with a fresh supply of water. It was about at this point that my leather snowshoe straps failed and several times I ended up face first in the snow. Ron never seemed to get tired and broke trail the whole way. Life in the Rocky Mountains as a forest ranger during the summer months had made him tough and durable. By late afternoon we made it to the shelter, started a fire and had a warm meal before settling down for a long, cold night’s sleep.”
“We woke the next morning to find a foot of new snow on the ground. It was twelve miles back to the car and snow was getting deeper by the minute. The winds were coming off Lake Superior at 60 miles per hour and after five miles in blinding snow, my snowshoe straps broke. I struggled to keep up to Ron and Buck in drifting snow that was at times, waist deep. Had it not been for Ron’s stubborn determination and encouragement, I doubt that I would have made it out alive.”
Seven miles from the car, “we made camp, shared a sleeping bag with the dog and “slept” for fourteen hours. At daylight and nearly frozen, we struggled back to Lake of the Clouds – where we were rescued by park rangers in a caterpillar-type type snow machine patrolling the unplowed highway. A roaring fire in the ski-lodge at the end of the road helped to thaw us out, but we both found our toes and fingers were frost-bitten. My bird dog Buck, on the other hand, endured the ordeal unscathed.”
Oh, the Ides of March, indeed!
Ken M. Blomberg is a freelance writer and longtime resident of the Town of Eau Pleine, northeast of Junction City. A 1976 graduate of UWSP in Resource Management, he is currently Executive Director of the Wisconsin Rural Water Association.