BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
July 28 2021
Number of Permits per Day: 3
Elevation: 1432 feet
Duncan Lake - 60
Fishing on thin ice....Spring 2010
February 23, 2010
Number of Days:
I left Chicago at 3:00AM and drove to St. Paul to meet Mark.[paragraph break]
Holy Crap. His Toyota Sequoia 4X4 had a trailer attached and a fair amount of gear loaded and ready to go. The last time I went winter camping I had a 30 degree summer bag, a pup tent, an external frame backpack and snow shoes. Mark, however, seemed to have enough stuff out outfit the Minnesota National Guard for an invasion of Canada.[paragraph break]
We drove a bit North and met up with two other brave BWCA.com folks in a suburb North of St. Paul - loaded their gear into the giant trailer and we headed North.[paragraph break]
I personally napped in the far back seat, catching up on the sleep I lost by waking up at 2:00AM and driving 400 miles.[paragraph break]
I woke up somewhere South of Duluth and tried to join the conversations already underway. Dr. Luke was in his residency at the University of Madison and Craig - his Brother-in-law - is a banker. A fifth member - Greg - was going to somehow meet us up there. Where ever that was going to be. Dr. Mark fortunately seemed to have a plan - ice or no ice.[paragraph break]
I glanced out the windows of the Toyota - no snow - anywhere.[paragraph break]
Would there be actual ice in the promised land?[paragraph break]
We stopped at a legendary outfitting store in Duluth where I realized how out of my element I was going to be on this trip. Ice grippers for your boots? Ciscos? Walking Poles? Sleds? I had a CCS portage pack and 40 pounds of gear, including my food. Oh boy.[paragraph break]
I resisted the siren song of buying more gear and figured I'd depend on the generosity of these strangers. [paragraph break]
We reloaded the now near military grade Toyota and trailer (think invading hordes) and hit Highway 61 seeking the promised land. Mark activated his 'in vehicle' movie system and I got to watch a very small screen HD versions of the movies everyone else had already seen as I sat in that far back seat. Eventually we reached Grand Marias in the dark and headed up the Gunflint Trail to the lodge where Dr. Mark has wisely reserved us a heated cabin for that evening.[paragraph break]
We pulled into the essentially empty lodge and moved our personal gear to the warm cabin, then quickly adjourning to the lodge for beer, drinks and strangely enough a 'all you can eat' Crab leg feast. [paragraph break]
At some point during the evening we were joined by Dr Mark's sister and Brother in law. I think I had a salad as Mark, his brother in law and Luke tried to break the Lodge record for crab legs consumed in a single sitting. His sister may have been involved too - I was quickly losing track.[paragraph break]
We settled the bills and I was ready to stagger back to the cabin when Drs. Mark and Luke decided to buy a case of beer to go to bring this rolling party back to the cabin. I think late night poker was involved. [paragraph break]
A harbinger of things to come.[paragraph break]
At this point Mark unveiled absolute killer beer can cosies customized for each member of the group, made from heavy leather and handtooled with our names - courtesy of Dicecupmaker! Wow!
From my perspective it was 11:30 and I was beat. I drank one beer using my new cosie and quietly retreated to my assigned bunk. Fortunately I can sleep thru almost anything. And did.
I awoke at 6:00AM and started the coffee, after stepping over bodies and coats on the floor. There was a single beer left from the case. Groans were heard when I flipped on the light in the cabin - dimmers weren't part of the décor. Coffee perking, I tried to awake the sleeping bodies - Dr. Mark was the last to stir, draped as he was across two adjacent chairs with a blanket tossed across his frame. [paragraph break]
"Rise and shine Ladies" I called out turning on the rest of the lights. We ate something for breakfast and somehow the rest of the crew staged out to the vehicles in the muddy parking lot. We'd arrived in the dark, but the lodge hosts thought that there would still be ice in the lakes we were headed to. For a while, anyhow.[paragraph break]
We headed to our designated entry point and began to unload the impossible pile of gear onto the EP parking lot. OMG.
[IMG]http://i54.photobucket.com/albums/g96/Beemer10/P3230003.jpg[/IMG] Duffles, packs, a wood stove, 5 gallon pails, racks of rods, sleds, slabs of plywood, more duffels. We moved this pile down and started to load the sleds. We must have had 600 pounds of gear spread out if we had a pound.[paragraph break]
I had a portage pack that weighed 40 pounds including my food rations for 4 days. My head was spinning as we loaded the sleds on the slick ice. Thanks to borrowed ice grippers I wasn't slipping as I moved around on the polished ice trying to be helpful.
Temps however were a pleasant 40 or so degrees with bright sunshine.[paragraph break]
I discovered that in these conditions a 300 pound loaded sled could be pulled with a single finger. Cool. But only on ice.[paragraph break]
Overnight several of our tip ups had popped and we had Laker filets for breakfast - Luke and Mark did the filleting honors while I refired the wood stove and brewed coffee.
[IMG]http://i54.photobucket.com/albums/g96/Beemer10/P3240068.jpg[/IMG] [IMG]http://i54.photobucket.com/albums/g96/Beemer10/P3240067.jpg[/IMG] [IMG]http://i54.photobucket.com/albums/g96/Beemer10/P3240063.jpg[/IMG]
Craig and Greg were dispatched to fetch more wood. (Fetch wood became a catch phrase)
The tip up pattern showed that the best fishing had been in 14-18' of water. Pop - out of another duffle came an enormous ice shelter - roughly the size of a one car garage. Six holes were bored and a slick Ice saw (I'd been wondering what that was) was produced - we connected all six holes and withdrew the blocks of ice. The now erected shelter was positioned over this open water trench and the effect was amazing - with the shelter over our heads we could clearly see the bottom and our various lures and could watch the Lakers cruise by slowly examining our offerings.
Chairs were set up around the 2.5' x 9' rectangular opening and we amused ourselves watching the occasional Laker attack our jiggling lures. Who needs HD TV?
After a while we decided to head to the far side of the lake and the open rapids - hiking up on the high bluffs to catch a glimpse of Canada. I will say that walking miles across open glare ice uses different muscles than you use in everyday city life!
Fishing improved however and dinner that evening - our last evening - was to be Turf and Surf - filets, baked potatoes and filets of the Lakers we'd been catching all day. Wine and merriment ensued with some very stimulating discussions on recent works by Jared Diamond like Collapse and Guns, Germs and Steel. (BTW, Dr. Mark is also one of the smartest people I know and had gathered a pretty cerebral bunch for this trip).
I noted with a little alarm that there was a persistent and growing pond of water beneath the wood stove - the frequent heat was having a predictable effect and melting that end of the tent slowly into the lake. Mopping it up didn't work. For more than a few minutes.
Add to this the fact that it was clearly getting warmer outside. The evening before had us in a steady rain which was pooling on the ice… and an early Spring continuing it's relentless advance. I walked over to the shelter and our fishing trench - I might have imagined this, but it looked like the previous 18" thickness was a lot closer to 12" thick now.
The flags flew strongly, the water got deeper on the lake (and around our stove) and we kept fishing. Greg and I are not big ice fishermen but he brought his cross country skis and discovered he could skate across lakes and really build up speed. I think he covered 19 miles one day out there! I puttered around and occasionally lifted the poles out of the paws of sleeping anglers or tugged on their line just to see them wake up with a start and a shout!
That ice was definitely looking thinner - what was that safety limit? Did having 8 billion gallons on water on top of the lake ice make a difference? How much did that weigh?
Another crack boomed and went right through our icehouse bisecting our trench. That woke the fishermen up!
Yep, Spring was coming early this year!
The evening before we'd dropped a couple of Ciscos onto the lake floor below our fishing trench - gone by morning. By golly we were chumming for Lake Trout - Lakers are certainly not above free meals off the bottom!
This actually seemed to have little effect on our catch, fishing was clearly slowing down.
That evening someone thought it would be a brilliant idea to walk the several miles back to the vehicles and go to a lodge to watch the March Madness games, eat pizza and drink beer.
Who was I to argue?
We left our basecamp and splashed across the lakes and portages like Jesus walking on water - jumped the open water now clearly visible at the shore (That wasn't there a couple of days ago….!) and found our vehicles. The lodge was happy to have paying customers after a long winter with little snow and less traffic and for our part we were happy to have beer and their frozen pizzas.
Leaving the Lodge in the moonlit dark was another matter.
The standing rainwater on top of the ice was now glazed over - every step involved icebreaking and splashing in the dark. The distant rumble of cracking lake ice was now seemingly all around us. Even with an uncounted number of beers consumed, there was a focus as we followed our earlier tracks through the darkness.
I - of course - slipped and fell, soaking myself to the bone in the icy surface water. Good thing we had all these medical resources - unfortunately I was trailing the group at this point so it was probably a moot point. But I'm sure they would have eventually missed me and probably tried to find me.
I was rather chilled when I stumbled into camp, noting with growing dismay that we appeared to now live in a life raft, not a Cabelas tent. Poker chips were again deployed and after removing everything wet I wiggled into my bunk and dozed off.
Fortunately the weather broke and within a few hours so had our little cramped camp. Dr. Mark lowered the colors, though we left the flagpole fully in place.
We loaded up the sleds, tackled the portage and returned to the vehicles. The rides back were uneventful, thought the Pizza at Svens in Grand Marais didn't quite match Chicago standards!