I love winter camping for the challenge. Each trip makes its own demands. Cold and snow are always part of the equation. Add a lack of time, and a burning desire to go as far as possible in 24 hours, and you get the trip my friend John and I did to Found Lake on February 16 and 17, 2019.
This trip was sandwiched in between my other duties for the weekend. Friday evening I had my regular shift at Chester Bowl until 9:00 p.m. Saturday morning we attended Adriana’s parent observation ballet class from 9:00 to 10:00 a.m. On Sunday I knew I had to do homework for professional development as well as translating. That doesn’t leave much time for winter camping… But the desire to get back to the Boundary Waters overpowers any time constraints in many cases.
John wrote to me at 9:30 on Saturday morning about what my plans were the weekend, and I invited him to come with me spur of the moment, and soon I had a partner for the trip to Ely and up the Fernberg Trail to Moose Lake. I had to do all my packing and grocery shopping in an hour, which is never a good thing, but we still managed to leave Duluth by 12:30 in the afternoon.
The drive through the snow-filled tunnels that cut through the north woods in February was fabulous. We stopped at Snowshoe Country Lodge to meet the owner and log-cabin builder Brodigan. John and I enjoyed talking to him about wood-building craftsmanship. This guy is a Minnesota legend. But we still had to get deep into the Boundary Waters before sundown, so we hit the road, and got to Moose Lake at 4:00 p.m. Then we began the long ski in. I was pulling my heavy pulk complete with woodstove and firewood, and John also had a saucer sled in tow. We skied up Moose, to Newfound Lake, and then across a short portage to Found.
When we got to camp, we met my friend Jeff and five of his friends. We were eight altogether! Hanging out with a bunch of like-minded fishermen and winter adventurers was a cool thing. This was also the third winter in a row that I’ve been winter camping with Jeff. It all started with him!
We were served fresh brook trout right off the bat upon arrival, and I made an awesome bean soup with lime and cilantro for dinner while John dug out a large area in the deep snow for our tent. No canvas wall tent on this trip, but my mountaineering tent was plenty adequate. There’s no heat source in my tent, and temps were right about zero at night, but we slept just fine.
Next morning a dogsled team came racing by our camp early in the morning. It was my first time seeing a dogsled team in the BWCA. I watched the team run across Found Lake, and also noticed they left the lake at a spot where no portage trail was indicated on our map. Hmmm…
Little did I know that there are certain dogsled routes that aren’t marked on any maps because they’re not maintained by the US Forest Service for summer use. I’m guessing these routes go through a lot of marshy, boggy territory that can’t be easily portaged in summer. But once everything freezes up in winter, conditions for dog-sledding are ideal.
We went ice-fishing for brook trout on Found Lake after breakfast. Brook trout are my favorite species of fish, and I dream about catching them through the ice. At the same time, I also love to ski, and I realized after watching the sled dog team pass in the morning that they had made the perfect track for us to ski to Basswood Lake, a huge body of water on the border with Canada. After fishing for about an hour and a half without any fish, I suggested to John and a new friend, Dan, that we go for a ski. I didn’t regret it.
Our ski expedition took us out Found through a beautiful young birch forest and into a series of beaver ponds on a stream. The boggy environment had lots of open nooks and crannies to ski through. We saw beaver tracks and beaver lodges. The stream we followed entered Manomin Lake, which we skied across, and continued down to Basswood. The scenery everywhere was breathtaking. This is true wilderness, and it was a pleasure to be out exploring a trail that’s not even marked on the map.
The route we took was like entering a different world. I was really learning a whole new part of the BWCA, and it felt great.
When we got back to Found, I spotted a pine marten checking out our camp. I wonder if he was as starving as we were? We were already running behind schedule, but I got my woodstove cranking, and cooked wild rice and chorizo sausage for an awesome lunch. There was no way we could ski out of the BWCA without a big meal first. We broke camp, and started the 4-mile ski back to our car.
The final ski out was a lot harder, now that we were pulling our heavy loads again. Plus we were exhausted from having spent the whole weekend skiing in deep snow. We were totally gassed by the time we got back to the entry point. My whole body was sore from pulling the pulk. It was all worth it though. I added another fine Boundary Waters experience to my quiver! The BWCA can only be called paradise in winter.