BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
November 15 2019
Number of Permits per Day: 14
Elevation: 1381 feet
Trout Lake - 1
First Winter Trip Completed
February 08, 2017
Seagull Lake Only
Number of Days:
This trip has originally been planned to begin on Tuesday. However, the Gunflint was getting hit by a huge snowfall and I knew I couldn't get there so I had a "layover" day at home waiting to leave. All my gear was double checked and I was ready to roll. I arrived at the Wilderness Canoe Base around 4:00 pm that day to find Hannah and her friend, Bill, waiting for me. Hannah said, "Do you want to sleep in a nice cabin here on the mainland, or over on the island in the yurt?" Hannah was living in a small cabin on the island and I wanted to be near her so I picked the yurt. We hiked across the ice to drop off my gear and headed back to the mainland for dinner--off to Trail Center we went! Over beers, malts and burgers we talked about our trip. Bill had all the experience and specialty gear. Hannah and he had put together all the meals. All we had to do was sleep the night, load up and ski off. After dinner we drove back to WCB, I was off to my yurt (with wood-buring stove to keep me warm) and was soon sleep. I only woke up once, giddy with excitement. This was going to be great!
On Thursday morning at 7 a.m. we met for a quick breakfast, loaded up our gear in sleds and headed to the lakeshore. Once our skis were on, and Bill had our put on our harnesses. I was immediately amazed at how HEAVY my sled was. I could hardly move, and I'm not in great shape but I do work out little bit! I did not expect it to be quite this hard. That fresh ten inches of powder made the ski even harder! With Bill breaking the snow and creating a trail for us, the three partners were off. We headed off across Seagull with a temp of -9 and the wind in our faces. The sun was shining and we were working hard! Bill and Hannah had face masks but I only had my Buff and that was not working really well. With a break now and then, we moved across the lake and into the BWCA (still on Seagull). After two hours we arrived at a really nice campsite in a small cove on Miles Island. We shoveled out our campsite, put up the Snowtrekker for Hannah and me then the Seek Outside for Bill. After that we commenced a long process of gathering, cutting and splitting wood. I had no idea how long it would take to get all the wood cut but it turned out that we really needed a lot. I guess I did know this going in but it was still a lot of work. One thing I learned: in the summer the wood you use does not matter much but in the winter it really does matter. I grabbed a bunch of pine while Bill kept bringing back cedar. His wood, when split, burned much better than the pine. After making camp, we headed down to the water to fish for lakers in Bill's Clam pop-up ice house. Hannah took to fishing more than I ever thought she would (I realized that I had never taken her as I should have, while taking her brother all the time--I regret that, and already invited her to fish with me this spring). Bill suddenly hooked on to a nice, 24 inch laker. It went out on the ice for dinner. At dark we returned to the Snowtrekker for a nice meal--wow did that tent get cold fast! After we ate, we settled in to our tent. I read my book while the my partners played cribbage. It was almost time to turn in and before repairing to his Seek Outside, Bill said, "You have two choices now: either let your fire go out and sleep in a cold tent or plan on getting up EVERY HOUR to keep the fire going."
Every hour? Did I hear that right? Yep. Later, Bill headed out to his tent and we got in our bags. It got cold very fast. The outside temp was still below zero and the night was about to get long.
I don't think the fire lasted even an hour. I was up quick to fill the stove (here's where I learned that cedar out performs pine) and then just about every hour as predicted I was up again, re-filling the stove and (often) re-starting the fire. Hannah was pretty cold all night. I was concerned for her and did not want her to be uncomfortable. Hour after hour I got back up, sometimes by my cell alarm and other times by the cold.
By the time the sun rose, neither Hannah nor I had slept much but we had made it. Despite the fact that we were tired, we met the day in good moods (Hannah is a very positive person and you can't keep her down for long). We were out for adventure one way or the other.
Bill had slept better than we--he had let his stove go out most of the night and done ok with that. I am not sure if I would have been able to do that, but it does not matter. Bill does not have kids and my night was chalked up to parental instinct. I had kept my oldest kid as warm as I could and I was relieved about that.
We had another delicious meal for breakfast (I learned that winter camping makes doing dishes very difficult so we had all our meals in Foodsaver bags, heated in water). I simple plan that worked well. I absorbed this lesson and was grateful to learn it. Hannah and Bill had planned an entree for every meal, plus two granola bars for each of us per day as well as a large chocolate bar each day which we split after dinner. We head eggs each day, hearty soups and chili each evening.
After breakfast Hannah made coffee with the blend we sell at church (we give away the proceeds to outreach like world hunger and such). Then we headed out to fish again. I was not feeling a good vibe and, indeed, I did not get any bites. But Hannah had a couple good strikes before Bill scored another trout. Each of the two fish he caught were added to our evening meal with a bit of butter and lemon pepper. The fish was very tasty.
After our morning fish, we chopped more wood (all cedar this time--live and learn) and we split the wood, readying for the next night. We fished away the afternoon and then went back up the tent again for the evening. This was also the day I learned the the helpful tip of taking my Sorel liners out and drying them by the fire! My feet were better throughout the rest of the trip after that.
The second night went much better than the first. It was warmer and we had laid in plenty of split cedar. The fires seemed to last longer, the cold spells were not as deep and it seemed that every time I was up the cedar logs were just burning down. I little bark and a few split pieces and the fire started right back up. It was funny to lie in my bag and wait for the telltale sound of the fire catching and the flames rising.
Before long the sun was up again and we were more well rested than the first night.
We had our breakfast (and the last of the trout--very tasty addition) and proceeded to break down the tents and stoves. Bill was very efficient and Hannah does a lot of summer guiding so she knows her stuff as well. We loaded our sleds, slipped on our skis and took off.
The going was pretty hard going home, despite the warmer temp and windless conditions. I think we were just tired from the lack of sleep (Hannah messaged me the next day to say she had slept 14 hours that night after I left). We stopped to rest as we needed and soon we were almost back to WCB. At each rest stop, we marveled at the stark, cold wilderness. It truly is a different place this time of year. Each track we crossed told a different story--maybe a fox???? Perhaps an otter? By the end of the trek out my hips, shoulders and neck were aching. But we made it.
After returning to camp, I loaded my gear and shared lunch at Gunflint lodge with Hannah, Bill and Mrs. Bill. At the beginning of our trip we were saying, "Are we really doing this??" And now as we ate our lunch it was, "We did it!" Already, plans were being laid for another winter camp out.
Chances are that Hannah will be in somewhere else in the world by next year. She has graduated from Luther College now with a degree in choral music/ed, and has applied for a year-long global mission position. If she gets her dream shot, she'll be in Rwanda next winter. After that she wants to apply for teaching jobs.....but this summer she'll be back guiding canoe trips at WCB.
I am so glad Hannah and I shared this awesome experience. We learned a lot and came away with a great sense of accomplishment. Having someone like Bill along really helps the rookies. We could have easily faced new situations with no idea what to do but his experience is broad and he always knew what to do.
We will certainly head back in next year. I hope Mike can come then, and we will try to make it on a break from college classes so Colin can come along. I hope that this helps anyone out there who might be considering a trip like this. It is very doable. Winter camping--there's really nothing else like it!