BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
May 14 2021
Number of Permits per Day: 3
Elevation: 1432 feet
Duncan Lake - 60
A Visceral Winter Trip
March 04, 2021
Number of Days:
What a great weekend to journey into the fringes of the Boundary Waters for our (beginners) winter wilderness camping trip. The weather was to be beautiful and the lake trout were to be willing biters......but let's back up first......
What was once a pipedream of going to the BWCA every year beginning in 1994 had now become a multi-trip annual experience. This clearly indicates the love we have for the BWCA, but we have desired something more, a change if you will.
Capt'n Tony had set in his mind to exchange the summer backdrop for a winter one and take a stab at winter camping. Over the course of the early winter we were able to secure outfitter(s) to get all of our gear in order. It also gave us time to round up another outdoor enthusiast, Matt to tag along on one of our crazy adventures.
We compiled out packing lists a few weeks before the excursion, bought all the items we thought we needed and headed north to the first of outfitters on our grand adventure. Our first stop was Sawtooth Outfitters to pick up our Alta Hok's that we had heard so much about. After a quick crash course on how they are used we headed up to Stone Harbor to pick up the rest of our gear which consisted of the tent, stove, -30 degree bags, pulks and cots. A short drive north up the Gunflint Trail and we were are EP60 ready to depart to Duncan Lake, which leads us into our adventure.
Capt'n Tony, Matt, and I began the complex process of figuring out the best way to organize our gear onto the pulks. It was a complex game of Tetris trying to figure out the best way to fit all the gear in the most precise of ways and making sure the weight was properly dispersed.
The doors were locked on the truck, hiking gear put on, and off we went on EP60 to Duncan lake........for about a 100 yards before my pulk tipped over. Well that didn't take long. After a couple more attempts it became clear my packing skills were still green. I made a couple adjustments a made off for Duncan. Overall a fairly easy trip to the portage from West Bearskin to Duncan.
We carefully crossed the portage as best we could with the delicate nature of the weight distribution in our minds. It became evident that we would have to much more mindful of how we packed when exited the BWCA in a couple days from now.
We arrived at rather crowd free Duncan Lake. We were led to believe that the weekend would be crowded from the forest service as we entered at EP60 but we were hopeful we lucked out at they were wrong.
We opted for a spot across the lake from portage and close to a camp spot. We chose to camp on the ice because despite the very mild winter conditions we felt good about the snow staying firm. Like a monkey doing a math problem we pieced together the tent and the wood burning stove and started to unload our gear into our short term lodging.
After the lodging was organized we jump over to an island close by that looked like it may hold the structure that might catch us some lake trout. It didn't take long before found a couple willing biters. Nothing of any significant size but enough remind us what a tug felt like at the end of the line.
Our stomachs began to rumble and decided to retire into the tent for Matt's supper which consisted of ribeyes, wild rice, and green beans. Whooboy that hit the spot and after topping it off with a mug of hot chocolate and amaretto it was time to retire to the sleeping bag after filling the stove with wood.
Unfortunately we chose the wrong night to fall into deep sleeps and forget to fill the stove with wood and it required us to burrow deeper into our sleeping bags as the cold crept in. But all was well as the -30 degree bags did their jobs and kept warm enough to get a good nights rest.
A brisk cold morning had us rushing to get wood to get the stove piping hot. We each decided we would be individually responsible for our breakfasts so while the others made their food I made some coffee and made some rolled oats, with chia seed and walnuts. Boy that warm coffee and oatmeal really hit the spot!
The discussion then progressed on the most important topic of the day, which was where we were going to fish!
Since we hadn't had any prior experience with this lake we decided to start next to the small island and work our way around the lake and fish spots of perceived significance using my GPS and the cartography it provided of the lakes. It wasn't long before we had moved off the island and found a fast dropping ledge that were holding some lake trout. We had some near misses and bites but were able to hook up with enough lakers to give us a nice supper for one of the nights. Meanwhile back near the tents, unbeknownst to us we had a laker take one of our tip-ups for a ride and a larger one that decided to take Capt'n Tony's dead stick rod for a ride before breaking the line. What a nice fish!
We had found that the laker's were quite fond of a quarter ounce fuzzy grub in white/pink so after awhile we moved around on looking for sharp drops from shore to deep water trying to find larger fish. We found a few ;)
We stopped back at the tent for a quick Uncrustable, deer stick, and Cliff Bar before heading to the opposite side of the lake to fish. It was such a nice day to enjoy the scenery.
Tonight was my night for supper so I headed back to the tent to prep. The special for tonight was smoked gouda mac and cheese with andouille sausage, chicken, and fried onions. It really hit the spot and after a mug of whiskey and hot cocoa it was time to hit the sack. I learned my lesson from the first night and we all agreed to keep wood in the stove. I also prepared myself for the battle with the cold. I began by putting my extra wool blanket inside of my sleeping bag and inserting a water bottle full of boiled water at my feet. I doubled up layers for clothes and put two adhesive body warmers on my shoulder blades. In theory this would have been a better setup for the first night because at about 3 in the morning I woke up in a sweat and before I knew it had the heating pads ripped off, socks off, blanket out, and water bottle out of the bag. I was WAY to hot!! Well at least I had one more day to perfect my sleeping arrangements.
Another morning of warm rolled oats and coffee.
Our plan for today was to start the morning off with some fishing and then explore Rose Falls in the afternoon.
We had some limited success fishing in the morning although we were able to catch a nice 19 inch laker that would make great table fare.
After lunch we headed for Rose Falls. Our trek wasn't to far and only required us to travel across half of the lake and down a creek to get to the portage that held the frozen gem hidden within the woods.
We traveled down the winding path and found Rose Falls down a path quietly hidden in the tree's. Being able to see the water running behind the frozen falls was breathtaking and the topping on the cake was the view we found down another pass that overlooked Rose Lake and the Canadian border.
We walked down to take a quick glance at Rose Lake before heading back to Duncan and back towards our camp, but not before we stopped to fish a little bit more. We hooked a few more small lakers and prior to calling it quits Capt'n Tony hooked into a large fish on his deadstick rod and got it half back to the hole before the fish got off. Sometimes that's the way it goes!
The weather was gorgeous that night with little wind and warm weather. We made a campfire on the ice and had chili with a side of lake trout. It was a wonderful final supper in the BWCA!
We woke early in the morning and began to break down camp. The process was an easy one and after much more carefully packing the gear into the pulks we made our way back to the vehicle for the trip home.
It was definitely a great trip and for our first time the weather was perfect. It gave us an opportunity to understand the basics of winter camping and to help us figure out what we would do differently if we were to go again or take a longer trip. We were able to figure things out in a mild climate instead of struggling in the extremes of winter.
I am looking forward to the next winter camping trip and the memories it will provide in the years to come.
Thanks for listening!