30-Jan-2022 -- Hmmm, where do I begin with this confluence?
It has tempted me for a while, being one of the closest to Duluth. That being said, satellite imagery showed me that the terrain all around it was perilous (most swamps/peatlands give me major anxiety). I really didn't know when the best time would be.
I'd attempted a search in October 2021 but came up short. At that time, I was searching for a way to access it from the north. It seemed the most doable at a glance, and it was the same approach Eric Gilbertson and Ron Hauser took back in 2001. Their log states that an overgrown road meets Romanek Rd from the south, but I could not find any such road. I presume it was abandoned and left to the elements in the years since.
With this in mind, I started looking for another way to access the confluence. I considered snowshoeing across the frozen ditches that run throughout the area, but satellite view showed those were likely too small to be safely navigable. Knowing private property surrounds the US-2 corridor, I decided I was going to follow the line clearing about a mile east of the confluence. From there, I would snowshoe through the peatland the remaining distance.
A day above 10°F was all I needed. After waiting some weeks, I was pleased to look in the forecast and see that January 30th was about 25°F. Not wanting to push my luck with a later date, I chose to go for it. I parked at the end of the maintained section of Romanek Rd (approx. N 47° 00.723 W 92° 58.186) and began walking. I was surprised to find plenty of snowmobile trails running beneath the line clearing. Backcountry skis would have been a delight, but I didn't mind walking. After walking for a bit more than a mile, I entered the forest at about N 46° 59.735 W 092° 58.818. From there it was 0.97 miles to the confluence.
It was pretty brutal at times. I was expecting it to be mostly open with some scattered trees, but some parts were far from it. I stopped along the way many times, sometimes just because I fell down and decided to stay there. On average, each tenth of a mile took about 10 minutes. About halfway in, I ran into a very dense section of forest that had me seriously considering turning back, but I kept pushing on. Thankfully I was finally rewarded when I had about 1000 feet left with a far more open section of forest. About 500 feet after that, I broke through a tree line and finally saw the terrain I had been expecting the entire bushwhack -- scattered, small trees on flat ground. It was much easier to navigate but I still kept tripping over my huge snowshoes.
I finally arrived at the confluence at 3:30 PM. I took a number of pictures, relished the complete silence for a bit, then (after totally dreading it) started the long journey back. I thought it would be much easier with tracks to follow, but I quickly found it was still pretty tough. I kept finding myself completely out of breath, which caused me to stop many times on the way. I finally saw the massive transmission towers that marked freedom with about 2000 feet left. That last section of forest seemed never-ending. Once I finally broke through the final tree line and got back to the snowmobile track I immediately collapsed and stayed there for at least 20 minutes. I only eventually got up because I was starting to get very cold. My legs and hips were very sore so I took off my snowshoes for the last mile back to the car. The snowmobile trail was packed enough to walk without them. As I approached my car, just barely visible through the trees, I wouldn't be surprised if I subconsciously shed a tear in that moment. Funnily enough, as if one last prank was being played on me, my key fob had frozen and the key (which is supposed to flip out from the side) was stuck in place. I had to use a knife to get it out and finally start my journey home.
It really is crazy how every thought in the moment can be negative, but you look back on it with such positivity. These confluence expeditions are really the embodiment of that for me.
...well, that being said, I don't think I'm ever gonna revisit this one ;)