Day 1 of 3
Friday, January 17, 2020 I drove up last night and arrived at our cabin at around 10 pm. The temp was -15 degrees, so it was a chilly night in the seasonal cabin with only a few heaters to try and warm things up. I woke around 7:15, ate breakfast, loaded up and headed for the Moose Lake Entry Point. We're "Gopher Adventure!" I arrived at the EP at about 8:15 and there were no cars in the lot, I mean none. I got a little nervous so I called the ranger station to see if maybe they were not recommending travel out of Moose Lake due to bad ice. The ladies at the station asked if I had ice picks and said not many people have been out on the Moose chain due to slushy conditions and spotty ice because of the exceptional amount of snow that they've had. This made me nervous, but I really wanted to go to Wind Lake, so I decided to brave it and just be cautious. I got my skis on and pulk sled down to the lake and glided out onto the ice. I skied across to the island with the BWCA sign and drilled a whole with the auger and I did encounter a hard crust on top, followed by a slushy layer a few inches thick, and then only about 8-10 inches of ice which is pretty thin for this time of year. Still, should be safe for travel on skis. I made it across Moose and switched to snowshoes for the 175 rod portage between Moose and Wind lakes. The portage was steep and tough, but I managed to get across in good time. At the Wind end of the portage, I should have put my skis back on, but I decided to snowshoe and let me tell you, it was much harder on snowshoes. My skis give so much more loft then my snowshoes and I was trudging through a good 4 inches of snow so travel was slower. I should back up here and mention that I was breaking trail this whole time because it was clear that nobody had been out this direction in weeks. I came around a point to find site 1665 had been previously used by a winter camping group so there was chopped wood, a shoveled out tent area and trails heading back into the woods for wood harvesting. They had even dug out the latrine! Wow, camp set up was going to be quick and easy. Another plus is that this campsite face north and the wind was out of the SE so I was sheltered from the breeze. Having never winter camped I wanted to keep things simple. I brought a hub ice fishing house that weighs about 28 pounds, a zero degree sleeping bag, sleeping pad, lots of clothes, a few fishing items and food. That was it. I had a 20 pound hiking pack and a pulk that weighed about 65 pounds. I drilled a few holes out from my camp, set my tip up and got some water from the lake. It was only noon and I had everything I needed since I didn't have to find wood for a fire. After eating some lunch and relaxing in camp I decided to get the skis on and go explore some of the other nearby campsites. I found the island site (1662) to be probably the coolest on the whole lake, but it is so hard to tell what these sites would look like in the summer. Things look so different when covered by a few feet of snow. I saw some animal tracks on the lake, but it was impossible to tell what most tracks were as they were partially covered in snow. After bumming around for a few hours I came back to make an early dinner over the fire. My plan was to eat at 4ish and then again (eating my leftovers) just before bed to help keep me warm overnight. I checked the tip up and adjusted the depth and then got a fire going. That felt amazing, the warmth from the fire coupled with the silence of the woods and the beauty of my surroundings had me overcome with appreciation for the Boundary Waters. Once my fire settled down a little I boiled up some water and had some Mountain House Lasagna followed by a cup of hot cocoa. As darkness settled in I could hear some wolves howling off in the distance and I sat and soaked in the sounds. I brought a book to read anticipating long hours of darkness and wanted some things to do in the tent. I read for a while and ate a little bit before turning in at 8:30...I haven't gone to bed at that time since I was a kid. I got hot in my new sleeping bag, and had to vent it in the middle of the night. It snowed like crazy and around 2 am, the roof hub caved in on my shelter, I had to get up and pop it back out and I could hear the snow falling down the sides when I popped it back in place. No harm done.
Day 2 of 3
Saturday, January 18, 2020 I woke up at about 6:30 feeling fresh as can be. I think yesterday's skiing and snowshoeing took a lot out of me. I got some water from the lake and quickly boiled up water for coffee and a couple packets of oatmeal. That's my go to breakfast when summer camping and it was just as good in January. After cleaning up from breakfast, I thought I had to clear some of the snow from around my hub shelter as it appeared to be about 5 inches of fresh snow on the ground. It was really light and fluffy stuff, but my tracks out on the lake from the previous day were totally covered which meant I'd be breaking trail anytime I go anywhere. After tamping down some snow, I donned my ski boots and headed out to explore Wind Lake. I had grand ambitions to ski out onto Basswood Lake via Wind Bay and check out some sites over there, but breaking trail made travel so slow that I wouldn't be leaving Wind Lake. I ventured west to see if I could locate the portage to Wind Bay, but there's a beaver hut towards the end of the lake with thin ice all around it and I didn't feel like poking around over there. I turned and headed back to find the portage to Washte that is located on the south side of the lake. I found it after a few moments of scouting and it is rarely traveled so it was very overgrown and there's no way I would have been able to ski down it. I was pretty hot and ready for some food after a few hours of skiing, so I made my way back to camp to eat some lunch. GORP , beef jerky and some flavored water really hit the spot and had me feeling fresh. The snow was still coming down and we were up to a good 7 inches total by now. At this point in the trip I started to get a little bored. I sat around and fished over a hole in the ice for an hour or so and just found myself wishing there was more to do. I through my boots on and went exploring back in the woods for a little while and after making it back to camp, I cooked up another Mountain House dinner and some more hot cocoa. Darkness fell, I finished my book in the tent and with the snow falling there wasn't much to see or do outside, so I turned in around 8. Another night in which I slept great in my zero degree bag without a chill. My face didn't even really get cold.
Day 3 of 3
Sunday, January 19, 2020 I woke to find more snow on the ground and knew that my 2 hour ski/snowshoe trip in was going to take much longer if I had to break trail through what appeared to be 8+ inches of snow. I has started packing up as much as I could the night before so that I could make a swift departure this morning because I was going to try and make it back for my son's 4:30 hockey game in the Twin Cities. I ate oatmeal and drank coffee as I packed up my stuff and started loading the pulk. I got everything fastened and locked down by about 8:30 and stepped into my bindings to ski out. Immediately, it was way harder breaking trail on the way out then it was on the way in. I got about halfway down the long eastern bay of Wind Lake when I spotted some snowshoe tracks. It looks like someone came in recently on snowshoes and I wasn't going to have to break trail anymore. As soon as I hit the tracks the relief was immediate as my skis any my pulk pulled so much faster across the snow. The tracks must have been someone on a day trip or someone packing ultralight as they had no sled with them. I swapped out snowshoes for skis again when I got to the portage from Wind to Moose and made it across, taking a few breaks along the way. My sled tipped over on one of the steep downhills heading down to the Moose landing, but everything was strapped in tightly so no cleanup was needed. I got the skis back on and smiled with joy when I saw the snowshoe tracks heading straight back to the Moose Lake public landing. I hit a patch of slush on this stretch and had to scrape the skis off, but made it back to the car uneventfully after that. I had to scrape a ton of snow off of my wife's car before I could load up my gear and then it was off to Ely to hit the Steakhouse for a burger and beer before heading home. It only took 2.5 hours to get back to the landing from my campsite on Wind. I'm sure it would have taken much longer had I not run into some snowshoe tracks. [paragraph break] Things I learned: 1. I could pack less clothes. As long as I don't get too sweaty out there, I should be able to pack less. I noticed that I had multiple shirts, hats and pants that never made it out of my pack. I could trim some weight here. 2. A friend would be nice to have along. I love solo canoe tripping, my solos are usually my favorite trips when I look back on each season, but winter is different. There's so much more down time with darkness setting in so early. I know my dad would be up for trekking in with me. 3. Bring more cards, books and things to keep occupied during darkness hours. 4. Winter travel is much slower.
Overall, I had a good time. I'd do it again in a heartbeat and I'm anxious to give another area a try on my next winter trip. I really liked cold camping, no hot tent necessary. The silence is deafening up there in winter and I find myself craving it more and more each time I visit during the cold months. I apologize for not having any pics, however, I will add a link to a video I am in the process of putting together when it is completed so that you can see what I saw on the trip.
Gopher Adventure - Tony