The Beaches of Trout Lake

People go to the Boundary Waters Wilderness for varying reasons. I’m sure I don’t even know the half of them. I personally go for the fishing, the exploring, and the discovery. Other people seem to really enjoy the solitude, the quiet, and solo trips. Yet others want to push their physical limits, and see how far they can go in a certain number of days. One reason to visit the BWCA that I don’t hear mentioned so often though is to enjoy a beach vacation. The truth is, there aren’t that many sand beaches in the BWCA. In fact, vast swaths of the wilderness are just endless rocky shores. And let’s face it – the climate up here can be less than compatible with lounging on the beach. But there are exceptions. Our recent trip to Trout and Oriniack Lakes proved it.

We headed in on Thursday, July 15, from Moccasin Point on Lake Vermillion with our friends Tim and Daley. We were extremely fortunate that Tim had a 4 horsepower 1974 Evinrude motor that he was able to mount on his Grumman canoe, and use it to tow our canoe with me, Vanessa, Adriana and Stella and all our gear across Vermillion (outside of the BWCA), and up the entire length of Trout Lake (completely within the Boundary Waters, but with a special 25 horsepower motor limit). Needless to say, getting a tow was an absolute luxury!

Living the life of luxury! Getting a tow from a motorized canoe was a first for us. and it worked great.
Vanessa: “This is amazing!”

Tim’s tow meant I could dedicate my time to keeping Stella in the boat (1 year, 10 months old), and take the pressure off Vanessa and Adriana to help me paddle. It felt like a real vacation! The tow also meant we could take a cooler, and lots of other extras, since we only had one 60-rod portage to do from Vermillion to Trout. We put in at 12:15 on Vermillion, and soon Tim had us cruising at 5 miles an hour with the motor, all while pulling our huge load!

Our day 1 route in orange.

We all stopped for lunch at the base of the falls coming down from Trout Lake – a beautiful spot.

The base of the falls from Trout to Vermillion.

We continued north on Trout Lake with Tim’s tow system after completing the portage. We stopped for a nice swim at the very same beach we had enjoyed with Jim and Andrew and Otis a year ago. It felt so good to know a special beach on the lake already. We cooled off, then motored up to the far northwest end of Trout Lake by 5:00.

We had done our campsite research before the trip, and we knew there would be three nice campsites close to the portage to Oriniack Lake. My main goal for the trip was to make it in to Oriniack, since we never made it that far a year ago after getting hit by the vicious storm. We found that two of the three sites we were interested in were taken, but the peninsula campsite was still open. According to the Paddle Planner website: “The campsite is on a point. It has great views. Numerous flat tent pads. Ideal for a large group. There are landings on either side of the peninsula. It is mostly red pines. Long walk to the latrine (100 yards), but it is a nice hike. It could be windy depending on the wind direction.” Well, there was no wind for all four days of our trip, and this campsite was to be our prime home base!

Our basecamp for three nights. The bug tent was critical every night. The mosquitoes came out in droves at 9:30 p.m each night, right as we were eating dinner. We would have been toast without the screen shelter.

We set up camp, had a great dinner, and got in the tent by 11:00. Not bad for day 1, considering we started in Duluth.

My dream came true on day 2: we made it in to Oriniack! We took our time packing for the day trip in the morning, and left camp about noon. It was just a short paddle to the portage, and we stopped at the beautiful sand beach (#2) just before the portage for our second swim of the trip. I bought us a new snorkeling mask to share the day before we left, hoping to take advantage of the clear water on Trout Lake, and Adriana wouldn’t take it off! She transformed into a dolphin for this vacation.

Adriana with her mask, and two little ones in the background.

The portage trail to Oriniack is one of the best I’ve ever seen. At a 170 rods, it’s not short, but it goes through beautiful oaks and maples, and there are some more open sections as well. A nice mix of terrain. Stella was able to hike all the way to the peak of the portage, about 10 minutes of climbing, then took a little spill and decided that was enough. I took the canoe off my shoulders and carried Stella down the second half.

When we got to Oriniack, it was time for snacks, then I went back up the trail to grab the canoe. Once I got it down to Oriniack, and we loaded it up, I saw an enormous snapping turtle watching us from five feet away. It looked me right in the eye – a spirit turtle that had come to tell me this was the right place for us to be. It swam slowly away after giving us its message.

We caught two nice northern pike trolling from the canoe. The second was particularly big and powerful. Thankfully we had just met up with Tim and Daley at their canoe as I caught it, and Daley was able to net it for me. A keeper for dinner! We were the only party on the entire lake! Oriniack fulfilled all my wildest dreams, and then some…

We continued heading east down the lake, looking for a lunch spot. Finally, about 3:45 p.m. we found a fabulous sand beach! Number 3! I was surprised – I wasn’t expecting to find any beaches on this relatively small lake. We got fabulously lucky – or maybe we just reaped the rewards that all explorers inevitably do. I cooked us all a hot lunch on my camp stove while all the kids swam. It was an idyllic setting, just like the rest of the trip.

Stella finally fell asleep for her daily nap in the canoe about 5:30, and we got back to our portage close to 6:30. We let her sleep a while longer, then I portaged her up the hill, and Vanessa carried her down to Trout. I returned to the canoe, and had a moment alone to say goodbye to this amazing body of water. Oriniack was generous to us – we had 2 walleyes and 3 northern pike on our stringer to bring back to camp.

We got “home” close to 8:30, and Daley and I went to fillet all the fish on a nearby island. Tim then conducted a massive fish fry, and we all ate so well in the bug tent. There were lots of dishes, but it was worth it.

Saturday just felt like a bonus, now that I had already achieved my main goal of reaching Oriniack. We headed out for the day around 1:00, and went straight to the huge beach campsite down the shore from our peninsula. Beach #4 for us! As luck would have it, the group that had been camping there packed up and left just as we were approaching. As Paddle Planner explains this site: “The most distinguishing feature of the campsite is the large, long sand beach. It is so big that you can pick it out on satellite photos.” We went on to enjoy swimming here for a good hour, before setting off for the North Arm of Trout Lake in our canoes. There was still no wind, and we were able to navigate the big water of Trout Lake quite easily. The incessant heat became somewhat of a problem for Stella. She started crying for the first time on the trip. But soon we pulled in to an island campsite, and I made another hot lunch of spaghetti and pesto and hot dogs, and all wrongs were righted. The kids ate a ton!

On our way home we stopped at beach #5 – an absolute gem that will go down as my favorite of the trip. We played a lot of water frisbee here, and the late-day-light was just perfect on the big west-facing rock ledge. The little cove was so protected and serene.

The obligatory Trout Lake frisbee – two years in a row now.

I really enjoyed being able to truly relax at this spot, and just dive, swim, play and splash. This was the pinnacle of the trip for me. We took a lot of photos, and let the spot sink into our souls.

Beautiful times on Trout Lake.

Eventually we all got our fill of swimming, and felt so relaxed. It was heaven.

Our special crew in the special cove.

I found a leech swimming in the water as were leaving, and Tim baited my spinner rig with it, and soon we were trolling down Trout back towards our campsite. Stella fell asleep almost immediately as Vanessa and I paddled the canoe. We caught two smallmouth bass on the way home, and the second was a true beauty, which I released.

Panorama shot of beach #5.

We had a nice last night in camp, and Stella napped until almost sunset. She could have slept right through the night, but I had to wake her up to feed her dinner, or else she would have woken me up at 4:00 a.m…

Our last morning was the inevitably sad packing up phase. The job was done by 12:45, and we headed back down Trout, Tim towing us once again. He had just enough gas for two full travel days. We did a little trolling in deep water on the way home to no avail, but stopped at beach #6 (another one we had found the year before with Jim’s family). Adriana swam the most, as usual, and from there we headed back to civilization knowing that we had just experienced the best beach vacation a family can possibly have in the BWCA.

Learning from the Legends

There’s a guy named Bob Cary, whom I never met, but I owe him a lot. His article “Border Lakes Silver Strike,” which I scanned from the Spring 1988 issue of “The Boundary Waters Journal” at the Duluth Public Library two summers ago, inspired me in multiple ways. It opened my eyes to the possibility of catching whitefish with hook and line, instead of netting them, as I’ve done the last three Novembers. It got me thinking of trying a canoe trip right after ice out, before the crowds come in. And it inspired me to visit a part of the Boundary Waters I hadn’t seen before – Prairie Portage. These inspirations all came together this spring for a trip with my buddies Joel and Brett. Little did we know how phenomenal it would be.

We left Duluth on Friday at 5:00 p.m. It had been such a busy week, seeing Inna and the girls off to Russia, and having so much work to do besides. I was dying to leave town and hit the woods. I had been dreaming of taking this trip ever since I read lines like “as the fish tore out broadside to the current, the rod bent over in a sharp arc, line whistling through the guides. In a flash of reflected light, a streamlined form broke the surface, revealing the silver sides and tell-tale forked caudal fin of a three-pound lake whitefish; then it pointed its nose toward International Falls, ran to the end of the line, and ripped the hook loose.” This was my kind of fishing! This was what I wanted to be doing on the last day of April in northern Minnesota.

We reached Moose Lake – entry point #25 to the wilderness – at 7:40 p.m., and set off in a northerly direction in my canoe, which was loaded to the gills. The guys had been poking fun at me the whole way to Ely about how late we would be setting off. But with three guys paddling, and a bit of a tailwind, we flew up Moose Lake, and passed through the channel into Newfound Lake. Reading the map by headlamp was fun, and we found our desired campsite by 9:15. The site was beautiful, and it was a great night for sleeping to the haunting calls of loons – they were back to their favorite place as well!

The first day of May dawned like this – unbelievable.

We had an awesome paddle on Saturday morning to the place of my dreams – Prairie Portage. This is the international border with Canada, and there was even a big sign on the Canadian shore.

Temptation… Thought long and hard about making a dash for Canada!!

Then we walked down to the falls of the Knife River, which would be our fishing grounds for the next two days.

About as picturesque a fishery as one could ask for.

I was able to hook into a beautiful whitefish on my third cast. The game was on!

We spent the next three hours standing waist-deep in 48 degree water. I can’t say we landed any more fish, but I also can’t say we weren’t getting any action. We were getting hits – we just weren’t hooking the fish. It was time to take a break for lunch and regroup.

The thundering Knife River falls and a bright, sunny afternoon made a blissful setting for our shore lunch. I had fun cooking hot soup on my gas stove, and we relaxed in the shade. My arms were already pink.

Joel tanning on May 1st. Also one of the few places where you’ll find a dock in the BWCA.

Not long after we went back out to try some more, a local old-timer showed up. He was in waders, while we had switched to fishing from our canoe. We were happy to finally see someone – the first person we encountered all day. I also saw this as an opportunity to learn from a local fisherman. We assumed he must have lots of experience. We went for a long paddle and let him do his fishing (meditation?) alone, but we were hoping he would still be there when we got back from our jaunt to Rice Bay on Basswood Lake. As we came back around the last bend, there he was, just packing up to go home at 8:00 p.m. We paddled as hard as we could, landed the canoe swiftly, and raced up the portage to catch him before he left in his motor boat. We caught him at the landing, and tried to nicely interrogate him on how to hook these wily whitefish. He turned out to be a really nice man – and a DNR fisheries biologist. We struck the jackpot! The half hour we spent talking to him made our whole trip. We learned a lot about whitefish, and Ely-area fishing in general.

We returned to our campsite under the cover of darkness, and I cooked the lone whitefish for our dinner. It tasted incredibly delicious after an extremely long day on the water. We started making our strategy for Sunday’s fishing around the campfire. We had learned from the “DNR guy” that the whitefish were eating walleye eggs. I had one tiny egg pattern in my fly box. I tied it on.

Sunday morning dawned sunny and beautiful, and we made our way right back to Prairie Portage after breakfast. We had this route memorized well by now, and 35 minutes later we were putting on our waders for another try at the Knife River outlet to Basswood.

The deep beauty of the BWCA.

It was instant action on my first cast with the tiny egg imitation on a size 12 hook. My bobber literally hadn’t been in the water a second! It vanished, and I was immediately into a nice whitefish. Brett helped me land it, and the game was on – again! This time we were determined to “match the hatch” of fish eggs, and did much better at establishing a pattern and working it. I got two more whitefish, and two suckers, all in quick succession. It was a thrill battling those big fish in the heavy current. One of the suckers was edging five pounds. One of the whitefish pushed four pounds. Both were a great fight on my light spinning tackle in the rapids!

Brett hooked into several big fish, one of which was a whitefish, and we landed two suckers for him as well.

Brett was feeling it as well.

Landing the fish in the net can be almost as much fun as fighting them on the rod. The net person has to run back and forth, up and down stream, chasing the action. It’s a real challenge to chase the fish over all the slippery underwater rocks in the fast current.

Got it!

We rounded out the day with some more misses – I had a nice fish break my line after I failed to loosen the drag quickly enough. I think it was a whitefish, judging by the flash of silver I saw in the current as it broke me off.

Yet another unforgettable day of fishing in the BWCA.

Brett and Joel kept casting, and we no doubt could have fished all day, but we forced ourselves to leave at 2:30 and paddle back to camp for lunch. We had a leisurely lunch, packed up our three tents, and set off down Newfound Lake at 6:00. We were back at the launch by 7:05, rounding out an amazing 48 hours of border water silver strikes. Thank you Bob Cary. Without you and your article, I never would have known. We truly appreciate you.

First North Shore Steelhead

Steelhead trout are not known for being easy to catch. I had only tried fishing for them once before, on the Sucker River in a snowstorm on April 27, 2018. That day was memorable because it gave me a strong sense that never, ever would I catch a steelhead. I just felt way out of my league. Steelhead fishing is incredibly popular on the North Shore of Lake Superior in April and May, but I just assumed it was not meant for me.

Fast forward three years, and things have changed in certain ways. I’ve become more connected to the local fishing community, and have gotten to know quite a few people in the Trout Unlimited organization, which has a chapter in Duluth. I’ve also learned more about our local area and what it takes to fish for steelhead. Lastly, and most importantly, mom is here in Minnesota this spring, and she was interested in trying fly fishing for the first time. It felt to me like an opportunity for us to try a new kind of fishing together, and when I happened to win a drawing held by Trout Unlimited (hand-tied flies and a gift certificate to Great Lakes Fly Shop) at their last meeting of the spring, the day before my birthday, I decided this could be a good year to give steelheading a try again.

This time we did it right – we hired a local guide whom I knew already (the same person who tied the flies I won), and he organized a morning trip for mom and I on April 19. Mom rented a pair of waders and a fly rod, and we got up at 6:00 a.m. to hit the river on a cold, grey morning. Conditions seemed stacked against us, but at least it wasn’t snowing this time.

Fishing together on the Baptism River – a tributary of Lake Superior.

We met our guide – Jason – on the side of Highway 61, and made the short jaunt up a beautiful hiking trail to the first big and accessible pool on the Baptism River in Tettegouche State Park. Maybe it was to our advantage that the day was raw and overcast – there was surprisingly little competition from other fishermen on this prime river.

We spent an hour or so learning to cast with fly rods, and got some excellent tutoring from Jason. He measured the water temp, which was 40 degrees. The air temp was more like 26 F. The guides on our rods were building up with ice within minutes, and I needed to stop fishing occasionally to warm my hands up.

The pool that will be etched in my memory forever.

It was 10:00 a.m., and I was in the Baptism up to my knees, when a North Shore miracle happened. I was using a 6 weight, 9 foot fly rod, and was drifting a plastic chartreuse bead as my lure. That’s it! The bead was smaller than the size of my fingernail. Jason had put an indicator (like a bobber) about 6 feet up the leader, and tied a split shot dropper to get the egg down in the current. As one of my drifts was coming to an end, the indicator kind of disappeared in the foam, and I thought it was the weight of the sinkers on bottom pulling as my line went taught. I gave the line a small jerk to free the sinkers, and next thing I know the line starts pulling back! It was a fish! I never really set the hook – it was complete luck!

Moments before “the Baptism Miracle.”

I had a great fight with the powerful steelhead, which took 6 or 7 strong runs to the far end of the pool, pulling line off my drag. Jason was yelling directions at me for how to fight the fish, and I was holding on for dear life. It was a huge relief when I finally guided it into the net, as I knew how common it is for steelhead to get off during the battle. I couldn’t believe my eyes – what a spectacular fish! This was a hen (female) pushing 30 inches. That’s about as long as they get on the North Shore.

Great pillar of heaven!

First Mom, then Jason, took photos, and I held the fish for no more than 15 seconds. It was enough time to feel a deep satisfaction and sense of accomplishment. The kind of thing that fishing dreams are made of.

Unforgettable mother-son experience.

A MN DNR fisheries biologist friend of mine would later go on to tell me that this hen had (likely) already spawned. If she hadn’t, she could have been 9 to 10 lbs.

I was so impressed by the size and power of this fish. Steelhead look and feel like a salmon, leaping over waterfalls up to six feet tall to satisfy their migratory urge in early spring. The broad tail fin on this hen reminded me of a beaver tail – it was huge! The fish had dark olive sides, which suggest it had been in the river a while. Steelhead have silver sides when they’re in Lake Superior, then darken once they come in to spawn. It was a beautiful feeling to release it back into the wild.

We didn’t catch any more fish on the day, but this one steelhead was a sort of culmination of a lifetime of fishing together with my mom.

What a memory for both of us.

Taking a guided trip was a very wise decision. It made steelheading suddenly more doable, more understandable, and the results are evident. Some people fish for steelhead for 7 years, for 10 years, without ever getting one. To catch such a beautiful fish on my second attempt was incredible beginner’s luck. Thanks Mom!

The Night of Northern Lights

This weekend was the beginning of my spring break from two schools. What I most wanted to do to start it was go to the woods. Spend the night. And take the girls with me. My idea of a perfect winter weekend. Plus it gets even better: camping in March means longer days, more sun, warmer temps. This weekend we hit it just right.

We drove to BWCA Entry Point #25 (Moose Lake) on Saturday morning, loaded our pulk (I mean really LOADED it), and headed north on our skis. The day was beautiful sunshine and close to 45 degrees. The perfect March ski day. The lake had some slush, and was a little slow, but nowhere near as bad as I thought it might be.

Might need to check ice thickness before taking this behemoth on the lake.

I wore shorts and a T-shirt for the ski in, knowing that pulling a sled that weighed over 100 lbs would take some serious exertion. I was still sweating soon enough, but nothing like I would have been in winter gear. I felt great. The girls skied hard, and we made it 3.5 miles in to Found Lake in just under two hours.

My skiing companions. Ages 8 and 10.

We were bushed upon arrival, no question about that.

Chilling on an island on Moose Lake.

We hadn’t been on Found Lake for long when two sled dog teams promptly came through, adding an even more rustic northern charm to the wilderness.

Furry visitors on the lake.

I cooked us soup for dinner on the woodstove, then we had to choose where to set up our tent. The one campsite on the lakeshore was already taken by some acquaintances of ours, so we decided to set up our tent right on the ice.

As we headed out to make camp, we realized there was an intense green glow boiling up on the nothern horizon. It was 7:30 p.m., and the sky had only just turned dark. For the next four hours we were made speechless by greens, yellows, purples, and even pinks dancing back and forth across the sky.

Taken by a friend on Little Iron Lake, about 30 miles west of where we were on Found Lake. This is a collection of 455 photos taken between 9:00 p.m. and 12:30 a.m. We found the most impressive lights were between 8:00 and 8:30 p.m. The show went on and on.

The feeling of witnessing that display together, in a pefect wilderness setting, with two of my daughters by my side, was exceptional. The girls feel asleep on the ice, and I stayed out to admire the lights as long as I could. They were still active when I went in the tent. A once-in-a-lifetime experience for us.

The next morning we tried some sight fishing through the ice, but never saw a trout. No matter. We enjoyed looking down the hole on the crayfish and minnows below.

Adriana enjoying the sight hole.

Then it was time to ski to Canada. Quite literally up to the border. We turned around when we reached Basswood Lake. The scenery on the way was spectacular.

Skiing in the bush, following the sled dog trails.

We packed up our camp on Sunday afternoon, and skied back to Moose Lake. The ski back took only an hour and a half. Colder temperatures made a perfect crust of snow to ski out on.

What a trip! Yet another experience that will never be forgotten!

Winter Camping with The Girls and Their Guests

This winter has been a good one in all outdoor respects. Plenty of fishing, skiing, and great camping. We did three trips with the girls in November. Then one in December. In January I went with my friends to the BWCA. But you can’t get too much of a good thing. That’s why I took Vanessa and Adriana camping this weekend to an out-of-this-world trout lake in Aitkin County. We were able to arrange to take Vanessa’s friend Silvia and her dad with us, and it was a phenomenal two-family experience.

Skiing in to a beautiful weekend. Silvia pulled her own sled.

We stopped at two different campsites on our scout, and the second one was love at first sight. Plenty of space for two tents, right on the side of the lake, a nice fire pit, and even a latrine back in the woods. There was a steep hill leading down to the site, and it looked skiable… The girls were happy to find a couple of small snow caves to play in. I was happy to find a good log to set my woodstove on.

Cave play at camp.

I headed out with Adriana and Silvia to do some fishing while it was still light out, and we saw some some big trout swim under us through our sight hole. Good sign! We didn’t catch anything the first day, but I was optimistic for day two, when I’d have a lot more light to work with.

I made a big pot of wild rice and cauliflower soup when we got back to camp. We devoured it. Then it was time to set up our new tent, which we had been waiting two weeks to try out in the wild because it had been too cold out previously for a good trip. It was a long process to shovel out a tent pad big enough for a 16 foot tent and 8 guy lines. The girls were great helpers, and we shoveled out a large area and pitched the tent up by 9:30 p.m. The girls were in bed by 10:00, and even I went in my bag by 11:00.

The next morning I woke up to one of my favorite sounds: snow falling hard on the tent roof. It sounded like a symphony to my ears. We were perfectly dry inside. The tents works!

The kind of sight I love waking up to – snow falling on our tent.

Nevertheless, I didn’t wait long in my sleeping bag, because there were fish to catch.

Without going into too many details, I was able to hook two amazing trout on the day. In fact, they were the two biggest brook trout of my fishing career. Considering that brook trout are my favorite fish, it was a very special day for me.

Brook trout are one handsome fish. The most beautiful there are, to my mind.

Catching the fish by sight fishing from the shelter was key to my success. No way would I have hooked these finicky fish without being able to see down into the water.

This is what success on the ice looks like for me. A combination of luck, perserverance, and strategy.

Snow was coming down all morning, and it was fun to cook breakfast outside for the girls, who were still in the cozy tent. Making coffee on the woodstove was a great thing too.

Our idyllic winter camp.

Then after breakfast we all went fishing again, and I enjoyed giving Silvia and her dad time to learn more about fishing from the shelter.

We had to pack up in the snowstorm, but it was a great feeling to know we had pulled off an epic kids winter camping trip, with awesome fishing and fresh snow to make it all the sweeter. I took one last ski to celebrate our good fortune.

Great experiences call for extrending the boundaries a little.

On the ski back back to civilization, I think all five of us could tell we had just been treated to winter bliss.

First BWCA trip of 2021

As my friends and family know, the BWCA is one of my favorite places to be. Any season of the year. In a canoe or on skis. Portaging packs or a pulk. I like it all! I find every time of year here to be equally valuable and satisfying. I would have a hard time limiting my BWCA adventures to only the warmer months! Winter in the BWCA is just as perfect to my mind. Here’s how my friends Joel, Truman, and Becca and I did it this Martin Luther King Jr. weekend.

First of all, we (I?) had an awesome time planning this trip, as usual. I took full responsibility for suggesting dates, routes, activities, etc. Fortunately my young friends were extremely flexible and really came through on all the decision making. They agreed with my MLK Jr. weekend suggestion, and arranged for the time off from all their various jobs. They dedicated themselves to this trip, and I really respected their commitment. We had dozens of e-mails back and forth, plus a packing meeting the night before the trip, and these are some of the best parts of the whole experience for me. I was taken aback by how well we all gelled together, even though we had never been camping as a group before.

Entering lake trout country.

Saturday, January 16, I was up at 5:30 a.m. cleaning and packing gear, preparing to hit the road by 7:30. Of course I didn’t end up leaving till 7:45, as per usual. I arrived at Joel’s apartment after a very slippery drive on the icy Duluth hills. I slid down 6th Av. East perpindicular to the flow of traffic… Good thing there was no traffic early in the day. Fortunately, driving conditions got much better the further north we went.

Joel took his Toyota truck, and we each drove to Truman and Becca’s, and took off from their house at 8:15. Truman and I got to talk the whole three hour drive north about skiing, which is everyone’s favorite topic in our team. Of course there was all the other usual fun chatter, which is part of any drive up the north shore. The trip begins long before you reach the Boundary Waters.

Eventually we came to West Bearskin Lake and the parking lot was packed!! There were at least 15 cars, and we had to shovel out a couple of extra spots to fit our vehicles in. Turns out it was all snowmobilers who had come up for the day to fish Bearskin. When we came out on Monday evening, our cars were the only two left!

A dogsled team happened to come through and show us the path down to the lake as we were loading our pulks. We took it to be a good omen for our trip. Then it was time for us to start hauling.

Bearskin was full of slushy ruts on the ice that had since hardened. The people who tried accessing the BWCA a week or two before us had major difficulties travelling over the ice. We were lucky that there hadn’t been any new snow since December 30. We encountered no wet slush ourselves anywhere on our journey. We walked the 81 rod portage into Duncan Lake, which is entry point 60 to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. By that time we were charting an area of the map that I had never been to before.

Our day in was overcast. We skied for 3.5 hours straight to get into Partridge Lake. The last portage trail was a killer.

We skied to the tip of the far western bay on Duncan, then it was time to take on the 230 rod portage to our destination – Partridge Lake. I had done enough research to learn this portage would be a steady ascent the whole way. Sure enough, it was extremely challenging. Partridge is one of the highest lakes in all of Minnesota, at 1,800 feet. The snow was much deeper in the woods, and there was a never-ending chain of one hill after another going up the portage. I soon took up a place in the tail of our group, as my-top heavy sled tipped over more than once. Again, we walked the whole way. The trail was way too narrow and steep to ski it. There were moments where it felt like we would never make it to Partridge. This is precisely why I proposed this route to my young friends – I knew they would make it no matter what. I just had to make sure I could do it…

We arrived on the dark shore of Partridge at 5:00 p.m., and I asked the group to ski the length of the lake to the farthest northern campsite. I took the lead of our train again, and found the campsite I was aiming for in the deep snow! It hadn’t been touched yet this winter by any human.

The map I made to plan the trip with my friends, Of the two routes we could choose between, we chose the orange route.

Once we made it to the campsite, life got a lot easier. Setting up base camp is always fun – you have a new home in the woods! We were extremely satisfied with our campsite. Truman and Becca set up my tent for themselves, Joel rigged a tarp to sleep under, and I slept out in the open in my new sleeping bag. I made us all a hot and spicy southwestern bean soup, and flavored it with fresh-squeezed lime juice and cilantro. It was what we needed after the long ski. We all slept in the next morning, and awoke to a perfect bluebird day.

Our campsite on Sunday morning – just the absolute tops.

What a day! We made a big breakfast and just stood in awe looking at the amazing hoar frost on the trees. The sun coming up over the hill across the lake illuminated the tree tops perfectly. It was jaw-dropping beauty. We slowly got ready for a day of ice fishing and skiing.

Fishing in paradise.

Then, a miracle happened – I caught a beautiful lake trout on a tip-up just 100 feet off shore from our campsite. I hadn’t even had time to put in my contact lenses yet! The lake trout is a native, naturally-reproducing coldwater species, and we had just found one of the best lakes in Minnesota to fish for them.

Gettng the day started off right!

It was a dream start to the morning.

True north country winter bliss.

Then we set up the 30lb sight-fishing shelter that I had pulled in on my pulk the day before. I knew it would be the ultimate way to introduce my friends to the sport of ice-fishing, since you can see everything happening under the surface. Sure enough, it was an incredible experience, as all three of my friends caught their first-ever fish through the ice! For Truman and Becca, it was their first-ever lake trout as well.

We had plenty of action sight fishng in the dark house.

There just could not have been a better day of fishing. Lifelong memories!

Every one of us caught their own trout.

We made hot lunch, then it was time for me to go for my traditional afternoon ski. Nobody wanted to join me, which was fine. I knew it was going to be a slog in the deep snow. Going uphill to the Canadian border made it impossible to ski. Again, the path (a spur trail of the Border Route hiking trail) was too narrow and windy for my long Åsnes skis. It was worth making the trudge by foot though to get the incredble solitude and views into Canada.

Our second evening was spent around the campfire, and we had more good food. Namely pan-fried fresh lake trout cooked on my woodstove!

Another great night in camp.

I slept in again the next morning, and was the first one up at 9:00 a.m. Everything was covered in fresh snow! The perfect end to a miracle weekend. I never did make it back into the ice-fishing shelter that day, but no matter. The weekend had been a complete success already, and the fish will still be there, beckoning me to come again.

We finally left at 2:30 p.m., and skied the route back an hour faster then we came in – it was dowhill the whole way to Duncan. We were extremely tired and extremely satisfied with this first trip as a team when we got back to our vehicles. A complete beginner’s success.

Heritage Fishing, November 2020

For a third year in a row, I made it my aim this November to keep the Minnesota heritage of whitefish netting alive. This is one of the most low-tech, traditional fishing methods there is. It comes to us from the Native Americans, the Anishinaabe, who fished for Atikameg (whitefish), meaning “Caribou of the Water,” with dip nets.

Previously I accompanied my friend John to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, and we used his two nets. This year I felt the time had come for me to take my own responsibility for the traditions. I went to Duluth Nets in Rice Lake Township in October to buy my first-ever whitefish net.

The net is 100 feet long, and 3 feet deep. It has a floating foamcore rope on its top end, and a sinking 30 lb leadcore rope on its bottom end. There is an art to rigging anchor weights at the two ends to keep the net taught underwater. John and I were able to get by without the weights, because we fished through the ice in previous years, and could anchor the net to the ice. This year my goal was to try netting in open water, setting the net from a canoe. My friend Jim added anchors to the net, and built a buoy to mark one end of the rope, as required by MN DNR regulations. We were set!

We decided to try a new fishing spot, outside of the Boundary Waters this year. We headed north on the 14th, and conditions were ideal when we got to the lake. Temps fluttered right at freezing, but the lake was still open water. The whitefish would hopefully be coming in shallow at night to spawn as temperatures dropped, yet the lake was still canoeable. We set our net without any trouble! It was a big accomplishment for us first-time open water netters.

Heading out for some whitefish netting. “Easy” netting conditions – no ice to contend with.

Vanessa and I spent the night in the tent, and we got a nice wet snowfall pounding the tent roof as we slept. It was cold, but hey, it’s time to tune our bodies to winter camping conditions. There will be colder nights outside to come this winter.

Tenting with Vanessa in the snow.

The next day we all had butterflies in our stomachs as we went to check the net. The feeling of anticipation is overpowering. Your fishing has already been done for you overnight – now you get to find out what, if anything, you got.

I decided to wear my waders on day 2. It ended up being the right decision. Jim and I had a plan to have me steady the canoe while he pulled in the net. Problem was, the wind was whipping, and keeping the canoe steady in one spot by paddle was not going to be realistic. My solution was to get out on shore and hold the canoe steady while I waded out into the lake. It worked beautifully.

Keeping warm in the lake on a windy November afternoon in northern Minnesota.

We made a reconnaissance paddle over the net, and closer to the far (deeper) end we thought we could see something struggling. We couldn’t be sure though. We needed to haul in and find out. All the anticipation reached its peak. Sure enough, it was a beautiful whitefish!

First-ever open water whitefish, and it was a dandy.

The fish was impressive in its beauty, and its size. We felt like kings. We had kept the netting heritage alive.

When you feel like a king.

I was so proud to have Vanessa along for the experience. She soaked it all in, and it looked to me that she enjoyed it. A lot.

Passing the traditions down to the next generation.

The experience was honestly so good, I had to go back again the next weekend. This time with Vanessa AND Adriana. Jim couldn’t make it.

As we approached our lake, we could see both lots of ice on the south half of the lake, and some open water still on our north end, thankfully. We headed out in the canoe and set the net again.

Testing the ice that would just get thicker as the night went on.

I went out paddling twice more at night, solo, while the girls played in the tent. Everywhere ice was forming around me. You could hear the ice howling as more and more of the lake turned solid. It was an incredible time to be paddling – my first experience being on the lake as the water froze all around me.

Staying warm back at camp.

We woke up the next morning to solid ice around our campground. We had to portage down to our fishing grounds on the campground road, then figure out a way to break through the ice to get out to our net.

Portaging through the snow.

The next 10 minutes were some of the greatest adventure I’ve ever had by canoe. You’ve got to bring the canoe, even on the ice. It’s your lifeboat if you fall in. That was the first lesson I learned from John two years ago. And speaking of falling in… I tried pulling the canoe over the ice. Got about 30 feet out when the ice broke under me and I went into the lake. I thought I would be able to touch bottom, but couldn’t. I had my waders on, and just hung in the water for a minute as I struggled to think of a way out. I told the girls to move to the opposite side of the canoe, to serve as a counterweight. Then, on the third try, I hurled myself over the gunwale into the boat.

It was all worth it! We eventually made it to our net, and although we didn’t get any fish in the first 85 feet of the net, we got two in the last 15 (the shallow end of the net).

The feeling deep in your soul when this happens…

The feeling as we pulled those two huge whitefish in was just incredible. Most of all a sense of pride that we had overcome all obstacles, and learned such a valuable tradition. The girls were instrumental in making it possible.

Four beauties.

We will hopefully get out whitefish netting for one more weekend this season. November has, amazingly, become one of my favorite months of the year.

Perent Lake: Stella’s First BWCA Trip

We headed up to the BWCA for Stella’s first-ever overnight trip on Saturday morning, July 25. There was rain in the forecast, but we weren’t going to let that slow us down. We made it up to Entry Point 36 by 1:15, and had Inna’s awesome guacamole in the parking lot for lunch. We pushed off down Hog Creek shortly thereafter. No sooner had we started paddling when the rain started as well. It was a quick downpour that did nothing to sour our spirits. You know any wilderness canoe trip is going to be all about overcoming obstacles. That’s just a given.

IMG_0783
After the downpour – all smiles.

Sometimes the obstacles are literally beaver dams on the creek. You’ve got three choices – try to ram right through it at top speed, get out and pull the canoe over the dam, or portage around it. We encountered three dams on the way down Hog Creek, and were able to paddle through two of them (three to five groups of paddlers come through Hog Creek most days, and disassemble these dams just enough to get their canoes through. And every night the beavers build them back up again). One other dam required me to get out and do some disassembly work myself.

IMG_0792
This is our summer vacation: disassembling beaver dams.

Hog Creek is an extremely meandering, narrow creek. It wasn’t easy maneuvering in our big canoe. The creek has so many twists and turns that you start to feel transported to a different world. The sights and sounds around you only intensify that feeling. After 3 miles of switchbacks, stops, and starts, with one piece-of-cake 10-rod portage, we came out to the mosquito paradise of Perent Lake at 1600 feet. It was 4:15, and I was hoping to go explore the lake…

When we emptied into Perent Lake, we were immediately struck by the wind barreling down on us from the west. Perent is quite open, and we were at the very end of the wind’s long trek down the lake. We ventured out into the headwind, but quickly retreated to the first possible campsite in a protected bay. So much for exploring the many campsites out there.

Perent Lake
Our first “retreat” site in orange, our final campsite in yellow, and our Sunday picnic site in green.

Our “retreat” site was nice, with an open kitchen area, and plenty of space for tents. It didn’t have a view of the lake though. The girls found a beautiful big bunch of lobster mushrooms just behind camp that we fried up for dinner with egg noodles and beef jerky. High protein paddling diet. Nice to forage some of the ingredients too.

IMG_0817
Boundary Waters lobsters.

I still wasn’t satisfied with the site though, so after dinner we loaded back into the canoe and did the short crossing to a north-facing site with a view of much of the lake (circled in yellow on the map). Trumpeter swans had been swimming by the site earlier, beckoning us to move. This site was just right for watching Comet Neowise after dark. And man did I sleep good with Inna and Stella in our big tent on night one. I needed it. Playing with Stella in the tent in the morning was a great start to Sunday.

We had the entire day on Sunday to explore Perent. Well, it got windy again. Real windy. Thankfully, with five people in the canoe, we had enough of a load to handle the surf. We took our food supplies, and my camp stove, and headed off for a day of island hopping. We ended up visiting four campsites on the eastern side of the lake, two of which were occupied. The wind got steadily stronger, and it was all we could do to land the canoe for a picnic. Once out of the canoe, it was even harder to pull the canoe up onto the rocks. It would have been gone in a flash otherwise.

The island site was elevated a good 30 feet above water level (circled in green on the map), and the view to the west was exquisite. We got into a very serious session of replenishing fluids and nourishment (aka lunch). I made a fire and grilled the girls some hot dogs, plus made soup on the camp stove. We were dehydrated and worn out from the heavy paddling, the hot sun, and the wind. Some “rest” in the woods made a big difference.

IMG_0916
Chillin’ in the woods, on an island, in the Boundary Waters.

Stella seemed to really like island hopping, and even had a nice sleep while we made and ate our lunch. We brought her car seat along on the camping trip, which it made it easier for her to sleep in the canoe.

While the gale continued blowing, we made it back to our camp with the wind at our backs. I just ruddered most of the way home. We relaxed in camp for the evening,  and I grilled up some rack of lamb on the wood fire to celebrate Stella’s 11-month anniversary and first BWCA overnight. We all ate on the big sloping rock on the water’s edge, where the wind kept the violent mosquitoes down. I did the usual camp chores, and went to sleep at 11:30 with Vanessa in the two-person tent. We slept awesome!

We got up close to 10:00 in the morning on Monday, and did a nice job packing up camp. It started raining as soon as we left our camp, just like it had on our way in. There was thunder and lightning to the north of us, but it passed by. We started the journey upriver on Hog Creek, and enjoyed the beautiful afternoon and the lazy creek atmosphere.

IMG_0956
Enjoying life on the water.

We got one more rain shower on our return journey, and had to all get out on a beaver dam to pull the canoe over. All fun.

IMG_0990
This girl sure loves the water. Any kind of water.

There’s nothing like camping for little kids. So happy baby Stella got to experience the wilds in her first summer.

IMG_1033
Testing her limits. She was ready to jump in at any moment.

This trip at the height of summer on the quintessential family route started a new era of canoe camping for us. It felt good to be passing down the traditions to the new generation. This is our National Forest, and we’re not taking it for granted.

Lobster mushrooms, Comet Neowise, trumpeter swans, and 2 incredible nights of sleep in absolute silence – this is a treasure that we need to protect and pass on to future generations untouched.

 

 

Shelter from the Trout Lake Storm

Another epic Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness trip with my buddies Jim, Andrew, and Otis, plus those two girls who love taking wilderness selfies, took place in the second week of July.

IMG_0497
Camper girls, 10 and 8 years old.

Jim and I decided in June to go see some place in the western part of the BWCAW, and I suggested a very big place – Trout Lake. At over 8,000 acres, this is a menacing body of water, and everyone warns about the big winds that can come roaring across it…

This trip required the usual accountability while packing and preparing for four days of backcountry camping, as well as the ingenuity required to get two young girls into the wilderness and back, happy and satisfied, without excessive blood loss to mosquitoes (which were absolutely insane from 9:30 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. every night), or excessive sunburn (from 7-hour days paddling under bright blue skies). I’ll give myself check marks for both of those two categories.

Then there was that dangerous and unpredictable third category called “luck.” I’m talking about the kind of luck we had at 2:47 a.m. of our second night, when an absolute beast of a storm tried to flatten our campsite, and I get to spend the next two hours lying on my back propping up the tent poles with my feet and legs while 60 mph winds just pounded the tent relentlessly. The whole while the girls were sitting up wide-eyed in their sleeping bags contemplating how the wind can be THAT loud, how the lightning can strike THAT close, and how the rain can fall THAT hard. It was terrifying, but we and our tent made it through somehow. All the while I was imagining the newspaper headlines the next day: “Campers Go From Cooking Pancakes in BWCA to Becoming Human Pancakes After Getting Pulverized By Storm.” The wind was powerful enough to lift my canoe off the ground and move it up the rocky shoreline, and those who’ve carried my canoe know this is no easy feat… Thankfully, Jim was there to help me secure the long boat in the woods. None of us got any sleep until it started getting light out at 5:00 a.m. and the storm subsided. Later that morning, all we could talk about was the power of the storm we had just been through.

In retrospect, I’m so happy  I suggested this big water route for our group of 6. We needed each other to get through that storm. We tested a big lake, and it tested us back.

Meanwhile, little did we know that less than a mile away from us, on the same Trout Lake, the drama was much more intense, as a party of nine people from St. Paul literally made the Star Tribune newspaper after a funnel cloud touched down right in their camp and smashed 20 trees to pieces right on top of their tents. Those campers were lucky too, as none of them were injured, but they had to abort their trip after one night (of a 5-day trip) because their tents and belongings were ruined.

Pfff….

So, that “luck” category gets the biggest check mark of all this time, as it usually does. Making a menu for four days, remembering the water filter, and packing everything as water tight as you can are all important skills, but luck is always even more important.

Trout Lake, folks – it’s a different world up there.

IMG_0188
If you look closely, you can see five tents and two tarps in this panorama. I never thought six people would need five tents, but this was the perfect campsite to fit three solo tents, one 3-person tent, and a bug tent. The girls and I slept in the beige tent closest to the water. I will never forget our night there in 60 mph winds. 

Other than our big storm, we had a beautiful summer trip, full of swimming, exploring, and paddling. Otis, Adriana and I discovered a great sandy beach in a cove behind our campsite where we all played water sports. The boys played “500” while I thew them the frisbee. We also did a lot of fishing, which was very poor on this trip, nothing like what Otis and I experienced the year before in Canada… I guess we got spoiled fishing in Quetico, where we caught bass, walleye, northern pike, and lake trout. This year we only caught little smallmouth bass.

We made up for the poor fishing in other great ways. Like playing “obstacle course frisbee” around all our belongings drying on myriad clotheslines after the deluge of our second night. We measured over 2 inches of rain in our pots that evening, and the wind hadn’t even started yet then…

IMG_0434
Vanessa makes a sweet toss on our recovery day following the storm.

IMG_0427
Otis gets in position for my throw from behind the clotheslines. As Jim said at one point – “I think every rope we’ve got is hanging from a tree right now.” Drying out from the big storm.

IMG_0424
All the elements of a good camping trip in one shot: kids, games, canoe, wood, fire pit, and endless sky blue water.

I also really enjoyed cooking on this trip, as I always do. One of the cooking miracles came on the evening of our big storm, when we got soaked. I got really hungry from building dams and canals and sluices to divert water around our tent during the downpour. It looked like we were going to have to eat cold supper that night, because there was no way to cook outside… But I wasn’t going to give up so easily. The rain finally ended just before dark, and I managed to get out and cook us a delicious meal of spaghetti and clams that we ate in the bug tent to avoid the swarms of mosquitoes. We needed that meal too, because the worst of the storm would come at 3:00 a.m that night.

IMG_0345
A culinary experiment on our rest day in camp after the storm. Taught myself  how to make cinnamon rolls in the bush. Fried them in a skillet on my camp stove. Great addition to my breakfast repertoire.

By the fourth day, we were more or less recovered from the storm, and ready for the long journey out of Trout Lake.

IMG_0530
Great boat mates, great canoe, great sunny weather for our travel days. “I can’t help it, if I’m lucky.” – Bob Dylan

Then came the exclamation point on our trip: we tied our two canoes together and hoisted up the sail that Jim had made in the bush that morning, and proceeded to fly down the lake. This kept our tradition alive from Quetico the year before, when we used a sail to get down mighty Pickerel Lake. Sailing canoes is such an awesome way to be in nature. It’s cheating, but it’s the best feeling in the world.

61611611300__E92F991D-E7B4-4DEA-9A7A-DD95CFEA795D
Sailing home down Lake Vermillion with a perfect tailwind. Homemade sail compliments of Jim.

Lake Vermillion is a heavily-motorized lake, and sailing our canoes past the assorted motor boats gawking at us was an incredible moment. It felt like we were coming from a different world. And in a way we were.

Map of our route
Our route to our campsite on day 1. About 10 miles of paddling, with one short 40 rod portage between Vermillion and Trout. We we got a perfect northwest wind to take us the opposite direction on our exit day.

The wilderness swimming, the wicked storm, the frisbee games, and the sweet sailing – this is what a group of six can do and see and experience on a beautiful summer week in the BWCAW. Always a meaningful experience for me. We hope to be back soon.

Four Winter Camping Trips

This winter has been full of good things for those who like the outdoors in northern Minnesota. We got ample cold in November, making early ice. Then we got 19 inches of snow in a day in Duluth the Saturday following Thanksgiving. Thankfully, that snow is still on the ground, and we’ve gotten more since. This all means that we’re having another great season for ice-fishing, alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, and all the other winter outings that make life good.

Take winter camping, for example. I’m not sure how I’ve pulled if off, but I’ve been been winter camping four times so far this season. That’s once a month, since November. And three of those times were with my girls! Here’s the recount:

November: Winterer’s Gathering, Grand Marais, MN

DSCF3165
The official festival postcard.

This “urban” winter camping trip was so good, I even made it on the front page of the local newspaper. We drove up to this winter camping festival on Friday after work, and took Stella, Adriana, and Vanessa with. It was to be Stella’s first-ever winter camping experience, at 2 months, 28 days old. Hopefully we got the good things going early in her subconscious memory.

DSCF3086
Snoozing away in mommy’s sleeping bag on her first winter camping trip.

We had a great time meeting all the other crazy people like us at the Gathering. There’s always a good vibe at the North House Folk School, and I like spending time with people who live further north than we do. The camping conditions are nothing to brag about – in a municipal campground with paved roads… But we do get to boast that we slept on the shore of Lake Superior.

DSCF3096
Sunrise over our two tents on the shore of Lake Superior and the Grand Marais harbor.

Besides enjoying the speakers and group dinner at the Folk School on Friday night, I also enjoyed cooking breakfast for the family on my wood stove lakeside the next morning. It was a surprise to be interviewed by local journalist John Stember at 7:00 in the morning in 30 mph winds for the Cook County News Herald… I guess that’s the way journalists roll up here.

FÄLTOVN_In_Minnesota
The photo that graced (ruined?) the front page of the Cook County News Herald. John Stember wrote a nice article “Northern worlds woven together”. Proud to be a recognized winter camper.

Then the “urban” side of our trip really came through – we went for a celebratory dip in the Grand Marais YMCA sauna and hot tub to mark our first winter camping of the season, and our first trip as a family of five.

DSCF3144
Finally, warming up!

It was a great feeling to make my dreams of winter camping with the baby come true in Grand Marais.

December: With Vanessa and Adriana at Boulder Lake, Fredenberg MN

We are fast developing a tradition of going winter camping with the girls to Boulder Lake (30 minutes north of Duluth) on the first Saturday night of our Christmas break (if you can count two years in a row as a tradition…).

I was psyched for winter break this year, since I worked so hard all fall and winter to that point. A busy time in my life. The weather for our outing was perfect – about 25 degrees, and calm. We didn’t arrive until 4:00 p.m. to the boat launch parking lot. Unfortunately, this is about dusk this time of year in northern Minnesota (we were camping the night of the Winter Solstice).

We set out on our skis onto the snow-covered lake, and, I admit it – I got us lost. It shouldn’t have happened – I had been to the lake many times before. But the copious amounts of snow, the darkness, and the multiple islands disoriented me.  It was also a factor of just wanting so badly to get to our “Wolf Den” campsite and set up for the night. I rushed, and turned us too early, taking us went into the wrong bay.

Boulder Lake 1
Map of Boulder Lake ski trails with our circuitous route marked in orange.

After an extra hour of skiing, we finally found our destination, and had a nice evening in the snow, and a great night’s sleep in the tent together. I learned my lesson for next time – get there while it’s still light out. Our simple one-nighter at Boulder Lake is an introductory winter camping experience to get the girls in the game, and I hope to keep doing it year after year.

January: Woolsock Winter Camp and Dance weekend, Finland, MN

Our next trip was a big step up in our repertoire – camping in a hot tent with a large group of like-minded people at the Woolsock winter camp and folk dance weekend. This is THE premiere event for people who like the northern MN winter lifestyle. My respect to the event organizers. It’s so cool to see people of all ages spending a weekend dancing and camping together at the Clair Nelson Community Center in Finland. This area has the quintessential northern Minnesota flair – a frozen river to ski on (the Baptism), higher “snowbelt” elevations, and more snowmobiles than cars on the roads. Once again I brought the whole family up after work on Friday evening. We rented a tent from the Woolsock organizers, which came with a wood stove, and I spent most of the evening setting up the tent for a night of “hot” camping. We also had the communal dinner with the other festival-goers. The group meals are a big part of the Woolsock experience, and it was nice not to have to do any cooking on this trip.

DSC03507
The old and the new. Traditional winter camping under the solar panels.

The canvas tents do a fairly got job of retaining heat once you get the wood stove cranking. Of course the fire burns out after a few hours, and it gets cold again. Sleeping on the frozen ground, you feel the cold. I got up at 4:00 a.m. to stoke the stove again.

DSC03498
We weren’t the only ones in tents.

On Saturday morning we had breakfast inside with all the other festival-goers, then we took off for a day of skiing at Lutsen. It was great to see Inna and the girls ski together while I walked with baby Stella. Vanessa took advantage of her 4th grade Minnesota ski passport for a day of free skiing.

DSC03542
My intrepid skiers coming down Ullr Mtn.

 

We took the gondola over to Moose Mountain together in the afternoon, and Inna and Stella hung out in the chalet while Vanessa, Adriana and I skied the big stuff.

DSC03545
Winter girl.

Then we headed back to Finland for another evening of dancing. I have to admit I didn’t take part in the folk dancing (bad memories of square dancing at gym class in elementary school), but the girls did. I took the opportunity to use the outdoor sauna.

Saturday night I woke up twice to stoke the fire, and we all slept in till 10:00 a.m. Overall, “hot camping” was great, but I don’t consider it to be any better than “cold camping” in my mountaineering tent. The main advantage of the hot tent is that it’s more spacious, and there is plenty of room to cook inside. The downside is you end up spending a lot of time inside the tent. For me, winter camping is about the challenge of being outdoors.

February: With Jeff and Ruurd, Kemo Lake, Grand Marais, MN

I got in a classic winter camping trip with my friends Jeff and Ruurd on the weekend of February 6-7-8. We drove up early in the morning on Friday, when I had the day off from work. We got to Ball Club Lake Rd. by 11:00, and by noon we were heading off on our skis, pulling our pulks. This is my favorite type of winter camping – pull a big load, set up base camp, and get out in the wilderness for multiple days. This was the fourth straight year Jeff and I have winter camped together, and my second year in a row with Ruurd.

DSCF5240
Heading out with the boys into the wild winter.

The main purpose of this trip was to ice fish for lake trout, and the fish did not disappoint! We had absolutely superb fishing both Saturday and Sunday. I’ve never experienced anything like it for trout. The trout were hitting our jigs before they even reached bottom. The time from 11:00 a.m. to noon was when the bite was on fire. I cooked us fresh lake trout for lunch on Saturday. Then we headed out to Talus Lake, and had a great time exploring this remote lake, even if the fish weren’t biting there.

DSCF5293
Native lake trout. Our shore lunch. Got a lot more that evening and the next day too.

We had a beautiful red fox visit us at camp both nights (full moon, by the way). That was like the icing on the cake to a great wilderness experience.

DSCF5266
This about sums up how happy we were on this trip. Bliss.

I’m eyeing my spring break in March as an ideal opportunity to get in one more winter camping trip this season. Five times in one winter, five months in a row. Let’s see.