Explore Before the Thaw

Minnehaha Falls is a popular park in south Minneapolis. Springtime finds prom couples taking photos, summertime means crowds at the park restaurant and fall makes for colorful picnics and piles of oak leaves. The real attraction shows itself when the crowds disperse and the temperature drops.

The water of Minnehaha Creek falls 53 feet from a limestone ledge to the pool below. If you follow the creek 3/4 of a mile downstream, you reach the Mississippi River. Take it 20 miles or so in the other direction and you’ll find yourself in Lake Minnetonka. During a freak storm in 2014, a kayaker paddled over the falls (on purpose) to take advantage of record rainfall. The same falls I sat behind with a few beers at 2am when I was 21, though they were much more tame that day.

I first saw the frozen falls three years ago. A local paper posted a photo gallery from someone who ventured behind. When I saw the deep shades of blue of the ice pillars, I knew I needed to see it in person. So I put it off. I’ve visited the falls a couple times every winter, but never went behind. “I’ll do it next time,” I would usually tell myself.

Then I made a decision last weekend. It was -10F that morning. Cold enough to ensure firm ice (and limited visitors). We geared up and followed the creek east.

When you arrive at the falls, you’re greeting with signs warning you of trespassing fines and stairs that are chained off. Follow the icy stairs and you’ll find yourself at the pool beneath the falls. A gap in the frozen cascade is your entrance to the wintry world, at the end of an uphill-skating-rink of a trail. Stay low and rely on your friends to help you up.

Glimmers of blues welcome you inside. A trail takes you around the icy limestone rim. Awe fills the seasonal cavern as other explorers get a peak inside. The color is like nothing you’ve seen. My only regret was not bringing a flask.

When I made my way back down the icy slope of a trail, I wondered why it took me three years to explore this place. What was I so busy doing that I couldn’t find an afternoon to explore? I was busy taking this place for granted.

Starting this year, if I make a decision to explore a new place, I’m going to see it as soon as I can. No more taking a place for granted. No more putting off adventure. I’m going to do it now.

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