Sea Smoke, Ice Shards, and Rivers. Oh my!

By Mark
Ships & Seasmoke

Over the years, Lake Superior has become an obsession of sorts for me. It has provided me with beauty, solace, peace, chaos, anger, confusion, challenges, cooperation, love, hate, warmth, cold, and many other emotions. As I am sure, it has done for plenty of you. It has even tried to show me who is boss a few times. I'm happy to share those stories at another time.

I have traveled all over and seen many things. Bodies of water that are bigger and, in theory, more mean and far less manageable. Any of you that have seen the oceans vs. Lake Superior know what I am talking about. That theory is wrong. Superior has them all beat.

I have left and come back to the lake several times in my life, and when I am away, my time-off and weekend visits would all be to Lake Superior. This, to me, always said that I should never have left, and surely enough, I would always find my way back.

I know I don't need to explain why you need to come back to Lake Superior but let's talk about that anyway. Specifically, winter on the big lake.

Sea Smoke over Lake Superior

The season of cold, wind, snow, ice is arguably the best time to be near Lake Superior. Ever heard of sea smoke? Sea smoke is not actually smoke, and it is not on our sea, so don't let the name fool you. Sea Smoke is simply fog that hangs over the top of open water on the lake. The warmer water meets the colder air, and there you have it! Sea smoke. It is by far one of the most beautiful and eerie phenomena that happen on the big lake.

If you have the means to take pictures, the absolute best time to grab a shot of the sea smoke over the water is at sunrise when the temperature is at its lowest for the day. The combination of a Lake Superior sunrise and sea smoke is truly a sight to grab and hold onto.

Early enough in the season, when the ships are still out there, you may just get a picture of what you can tell everyone is a ghost ship. These super-cold mornings are indeed worthwhile, even though your common sense might tell you differently.

As always, dress warmly. Make an effort to see the sea smoke while you can. The closer you get to Duluth, the more sea smoke there will be, so add a few minutes in the morning for a little drive to Brighton Beach or the Duluth harbor, and I promise you will find it worth the effort.

The ice floes on the lake also can be an excellent sight to take in. I am often asked, "Does this lake ever freeze over?" Yes and no.
Lake superior does freeze over occasionally.

Historically once every forty-five years, and when it does, it doesn't happen for long. It could be just a matter of hours when it does. Lake Superior just doesn't freeze the way smaller lakes do.
It creates smaller ice floes that "bunch up" and create the appearance of solid ice. A fascinating thing happens on the far west end of the lake as all the floes make their way in that direction. From Stony Point and on down to the Duluth harbor, the floes make a slow journey and eventually make their way up on shore. As they do, they produce an almost unworldly sound as the ice scrapes against ice, and as it pushes up on shore, it makes a large pile of what almost looks like huge shards of glass. This happens on the other great lakes as well but not in nearly the same amount, and the beauty of this lake makes it all the more interesting. Truly a sight and experience to behold and remember.

Let's take a few steps back from the lake and talk about what feeds it, The rivers. You don't even have to leave the lake's view to see some of the frozen waterfalls that provide the winter splendor to the rivers along the shore. You choose! Dozens of rivers make their way into the lake, and each of them will have a waterfall at some point.

A lovely, frozen waterfall is one of nature's most beautiful tricks, and there is something really cool about being able to walk on a river. Just ask me, and I will point you to one of them so you can take it in for yourself, and no, there will be no ice climbing involved. I will save that for another post.

There you have it. Just a few more ways to enjoy the amazing splendor that is Lake Superior in what I think is the very best time to be here. You have seen it in the spring and summer plenty. Now it's time for you to make some memories of what Lake Superior has to offer you in the winter. Again, dress warm and take a few short trips. A few smaller doses of adventure add up to one larger one.

See you along the lake. I'll be the one staring at it or maybe fighting with it. We'll see.
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