BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
November 18 2019
Number of Permits per Day: 14
Elevation: 1381 feet
Trout Lake - 1
Snowshoeing Seagull Lake
February 25, 2019
Seagull Lake Only
Number of Days:
We packed our gear and re-checked everything. Hannah lives in a lovely cabin on the camp grounds called "Ledge" where we were able to prep everything. Billy brings his "Seek Outside" teepee tent and I had borrowed a Dan Cooke tent and Four Dog stove from a local friend and former scoutmaster. That Cooke tent is huge and packs down to a very, very small package...perfection. The Four Dog stove is a four star addition to any trip--more on the gear later.
We got all our gear prepped and headed off to Trail Center for dinner, beers and conversation. The waitress said to Billy and Jake, "Hey are you guys in a band?" True, our two friends formed a small band called The Sprigs, and they play gigs up and down the trail. Hannah even jumps in on some vocals now and then. After dinner it was back to the camp and soon to sleep in preparation for the big day. It was completely still and clear with stars filling the sky as we walked to Ledge. We paused to soak it all in and when I turned off the lights in my bedroom there it was completely dark in the room with the window shades wide open--not a single human light anywhere to send even a sliver into the window. I had forgotten how that felt. I woke once in the middle of the night with Billy's words in my head--"This is going to be harder than the ski in two years ago." I suddenly felt nervous about making it all the way but...no turning back now!
The three had actually hiked this trail the week before in hopes of packing it down but the high winds and more snow had covered their efforts. I kept falling behind and tipping off the trail into deep snow. It felt like a scene from "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom" where Marlin Perkins describes how the old and weak get hunted down by wolves at the back of the herd. Natural selection. Every time they waited for me to catch up I would tell Billy to remind me "You wanted this, Jeff." He was happy to oblige. He said it a lot on this trip!
After winding through some swamps and small lakes and one hill where I heard Jake say something about "small victories" (small?) we came to a very large hill. The kind you see when driving up the trail but never truly appreciate just how large they are.
The hillside was full of scrub willow, small jack pines and tight cover. Now and again we passed the blackened remains of tall trees that were burned by the big fire on the Trail. The three pushed on ahead and Billy did truly amazing work pulling that sled up and over while I followed slowly. My pack was much too high and in some places this required me to crawl along the trail and then attempt to get back up as best I could with the millenials cheering me on. These three were hilarious and supportive. Their spirits never lagged, even on the hardest pushes. On the back side of this hill we wound through five or six small lakes and swamps until we came to deep crevice full of blown down pines. We stripped off all our packs and passed them down one by one, skating the edges of the large trees until finally we reached our destination lake. We hiked to an island campsite. I can't remember a time I have been more delighted to take a pack off my back....or more happy to be at such a beautiful site in the winter! This was an amazing spot.
As winter campers know, arrival on site is only the beginning...we had our tents to put up and about four feet of snowdrifts to shovel out to get down to our tent pads. This was real work and it took time. Once the tents were up, Billy, Jake and Hannah set out to find wood and came back toting large, long dry cedars on their shoulders. It was a sight to see. We went at it with the saw and hatchet, cutting and splitting enough wood to lay in for the night. Once all was ready, Billy was eager to get to fishing at sundown so three of us hustled to the honey hole while Hannah organized the interior of the large Cooke tent that was to be our communal area. As we fished, Billy also cut a water hold and hauled water up for cooking.
I caught one trout near dark and when Billy returned I asked, "Is the tent getting warm?" He said "Not at all." And he reported that the tent was full of smoke from the fire! What was wrong? I suddenly realized that the piping held a spark arrestor and wondered if that was holding back the flow of the smoke. Upon returning we found the tent FULL of smoke--pulling the pipe quickly we removed spark arrestor and within moments the tent was warm and smoke free. Whew! That was a moment of panic to start us off on the first night.
Later we sat around the communal tent. I love this part of winter camping. It really draws people together for food, laughs, stories. If you enjoy that part of the outdoors as I do, you'd love a winter trip. The day had been a long one, so by around 9 pm Billy and Jake retired to the Seek Outside while Hannah and I got ready for sleep. Before they laid down, however, they cheerfully cut a great deal more wood for Hannah and me so we could stay warm. Two years ago on our first trip we had been caught off guard by the cold at night and our sleeping bags were too light. This time she had a heavier bag and I had foregone the extra pants in my pack for an extra bag altogether and we cut MUCH wood so we spent a pretty toasty night--and I did wake up many times to feed the fire but who cares? We were warm and comfortable all night long. All and all, it was a wonderful first day--challenging snowshoe trip, lovely scenery, great meal, fun group.
The next morning we awoke to a few inches of fresh snow. We dined on an excellent breakfast (more on food later) and then went fishing. Just a short walk from the campsite was a "honey hole" that Billy had used before and it did not disappoint. We caught a number of nice trout and kept a few for dinner.
After fishing and lunch we trekked across the lake in another direction for more wood. Billy and Hannah are great at this--not only because they can find a lot of wood but because they are very conscientious about making sure that stumps are cut off low so as not to leave unsightly human sign (and they never cut wood from near shore for the same reason). After a great deal more wood cutting (a whole sled full that was bungied to the sled and hauled back to the site by Billy) we sawed and cut a great deal more dry cedar and laid it up for the night in our two tents.
Then we went fishing as dusk neared. Hannah out-fished us all by a great amount--she even caught one that Billy had lost and the fish still sported his jig in the corner of its mouth. We made sure to stop at our limit. Hannah and I went back to get the supper cooking while Jake and Billy fished a bit longer but soon we were back in the community tent for more great food, warmth and comfort. This night held more wind, so a little less sleep but still all went well overnight for both tents.
The trek out was as I remembered--hard! And again I was at the back of the pack train as a light snow fell. Billy commented that the trail now looked like a "sidewalk" by the time I got to it. Still I managed to fall off from time to time and get stuck in the snow. At one juncture I leaned forward to step, my snowshoes hit together and I landed face down in deep snow. As I crawled up the hill and attempted to get up among the tight willow and pine Hannah cheered me on referencing an accident I had back in 2001, "Jeff! He broke his neck but look at him now!" Then she paused and said, "Well not NOW." We all loved that. I did finally get up and Billy kept saying "You wanted this Jeff." Indeed I did. Finally the snow sleds came into view and before long we were back at WCB. The three had much work to do with a group due to arrive at camp for a retreat so we did not linger--I left shortly after we returned and drove happily home.
Thoughts here at the end:
I would never do this without people who are good-natured, willing to work hard and fun. Experienced partners help A LOT.
If you keep your eyes open you can learn a lot from the experienced ones.
These guys cook all winter trip meals in food saver bags boiled in water. All pre-cooked. p All the food was homemade and delicious and the point of the bag cooking is that there is very little clean-up since winter camping lacks large access to water like summer trips.
Double bagging kept me very warm.
Cooke Custom Sewing winter tents are large, ultra lightweight and amazing. One could not pull of a long hard trip dragging a very large, heavy tent. A large space adds to the ambiance, as I stated above.
Four Dog titanium stoves are the perfect fit for this mind of trip. They are very well designed and seems that every little detail has been thought out. They are built like tanks, kick out heat and are easy for cooking as well.
If you want to stay warm use split cedar. It burns long and warm.
Winter in the BWCA is the ultimate in solitude. At one point I heard the flap of one raven's wings as it went over and then let out a call. There's just something about that lit up tent, the smoke puffing out of the pipe and laughter around a hearty meal of delicious lake trout that just came from ice cold water. Can't beat it.
A shout out to the tripping partners: Hannah is a badass wilderness woman who wants to conquer it all and cheerfully accepts any challenge. Billy is our guide, and we always feel confident in his presence. He fillets all the fish, plans the routes and has the final say on all things that matter. Best for me to just listen when he speaks frankly about anything trip-related. Jake is a new friend who was completely positive and funny. Like me, he enjoys passing the time on trail singing any old stupid song that pops in his head. He seemed to know every lyric to every song.
I can't wait to do this again. Thanks to everyone out there who so willingly shares insights, knowledge and encouragement as some of us winter newbies give it a try. I am completely hooked.
"You wanted this Jeff." Yes I did Billy. And I want to do it AGAIN.