BWCA Lake One to Insula Boundary Waters Winter Camping and Activities
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      Lake One to Insula     

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tonyyarusso
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01/07/2022 05:12PM  
I'm looking at attempting a trip to Insula Lake next weekend, starting from EP30. Anyone have tips for that route in winter? Is it easier to follow the bigger Lakes One-Two-Three-Hudson, or stay on smaller water to the north through Rifle-Four-Fire, cutting of part of Two and all of Three?
 
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ericinely
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01/11/2022 01:12PM  
I would strongly suggest a shorter route with less moving water. Lakes one through Insula are basically a river. You will be dealing with thin ice, slush, drifting snow in addition to the 15+ miles of travel. Unless you are going fast and light and have over a week (and a dry suit), I would not attempt to do this route. I don't think I have ever heard anyone winter camping that Lakes one-four change, for those reasons.
tonyyarusso
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01/11/2022 01:31PM  
Noted. Some extra details: There is a particular reason for Insula being the goal (an amateur radio thing that nobody has done from within the boundaries of the Insula Lake State Forest yet, so I'm looking at ways to try to get back there). If we don't make it that far, so be it (and I won't be at all surprised - there's a reason nobody's done it before). If this doesn't work I may come back and attempt it either through Thomas to the north or with some semi-foolish bushwhacking from Isabella at a later date. For the distance it's very worth noting that I will have the assistance of two sled dogs. Whether only two is enough to actually haul me for miles is highly condition-dependent, but they'll certainly be hauling all of the gear, so I'd be skiing or snowshoeing unladen unless one of them got injured, so it's not *quite* as crazy as it sounds otherwise - just partially. :)

The moving water and slush are definitely concerns. My plan would be to follow the portages over land for any of the narrow areas where people have to portage when canoeing for sure, but I'm not sure just how bad things are beyond those. Slush would be the big factor that determine what kind of mileage we can cover - that makes the difference between 3 miles and 30... The dogs have encountered lake slush before and can handle it for a while, but it can't be all that pleasant if it's all the time and certainly slows them down, and if my skis are icing up too that really cuts down on my pace.

Tips on what line is likely to snake across the safest ice and least likelihood of bad slush would be great, but since as you said few people go there that kind of info has proved difficult to come by.
01/11/2022 02:16PM  
I say go for it. While I have not winter camped on this route in winter (I have plenty in other areas), I paddled it this summer and seem to recall photos of people winter camping on 1 and 2, and maybe 3. I wouldn't be surprised if there was a dog sled track running out there. If there is, follow them whether its the longer or shorter way. There isn't that much moving water until you get to the section between 4 and Hudson - then its smaller and moves much more. This area deserves some respect, but I bet it is manageable with caution. It's also not that long of a section. Then watch the area's on either side of the portage from Hudson to Insula, but I don't think the water there is moving much more than many places that get travelled in the BWCA in winter. Just hug the shoreline until you are away from where the creek flows in or out. Slush can happen anywhere on any lake - it comes and goes with the snowfall. There's no telling in advance.

How long it will take you I could not say - totally depends on how much gear you bring, whether or not there is a trail or if the surface snow on the bigger lakes is hard. I could not say how much two sled dogs will speed you up. Really depends on their size and constitution. If they are just pulling your gear, you need to be sure to have a means to stop them - especially when you get around any sketchy water.
TuscaroraBorealis
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01/11/2022 06:10PM  
Something to consider/look into....

I believe there is a winter trail (Snowbank - Thomas) used by dog sledders. I would think it would offer much easier, and safer, travel if Insula is your ultimate destination. Then dropping down to Insula from Thomas would be the only 'sketchy' area. At least on the map, Thomas - Kiana - Insula looks much less troublesome.

...unless, for some reason, you need to start at Lake One.
tonyyarusso
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01/11/2022 06:27PM  
There is a winter route to Thomas on the map, and that’s definitely a possibility. I have no idea how much traffic it actually gets and whether it’s with dogsleds or just pulks, but someone does it at least occasionally, presumably because Thomas is a trout lake. It’s a bit longer by that route, but it’s possible conditions could still make it easier.
ericinely
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01/12/2022 02:00PM  
I've only met one guy up here who has taken that route (to fish lake trout in the winter) and he said it really depends on conditions. The map resource on this site shows the winter trail route to Thomas via Snowbank, Disappointment, Muzzle, Kobe, Thomas-I have no idea how accurate that is. A lot of it is through a swamp and finally reaches Thomas along a creek. He mentioned it can be a nightmare if things aren't frozen in the swamp (I am assuming they won't be close to fully frozen until the end of January). As far as he knows, he is the only one who has been going back there in the last couple of years, so it might not be blazed at all depending on when you go.

It is certainly a safer route to Insula, but I would be concerned about navigation if you are not familiar with the route. It is my hope to get in there in early March when the days are longer and the ice safer but that 8+ mile trek is going to be tough with or without dogs...I will be bringing a GPS map resource to avoid getting lost, but really don't know what to expect. Let us know if you make it!
TuscaroraBorealis
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01/12/2022 02:51PM  
Wouldn't hurt to talk to the forest service too. I know they dog sled gear (new fire grates etc) in the winter. Stands to reason they would have some info.
Snowbound
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01/12/2022 10:19PM  
I’ve been to Lake Three in the winter with no issues, at least the year I was there. I also skied the winter trail to Thomas and beyond last February. It had been packed part of the way and we ran into one other group out there. Conditions are everything when trying to cover that distance. I would at least consider the route through Thomas because of the possibility of a packed trail. Also travel later in the season can sometimes be easier because of crustier conditions.
Finnboy
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01/13/2022 06:03AM  
I would recommend going later in the season. Going through Thomas would be easier once a trail was broke. Without a trail it can take several days even with a pair of sled dogs. I know people that have done it that way. This year the smaller creeks like on this route might have some shelf ice so be aware of that.
 
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