Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Fishing on thin ice....Spring 2010
by Beemer01

Trip Type: Hiking
Entry Date: 02/23/2010
Entry & Exit Point: Duncan Lake (EP 60)
Number of Days: 5
Group Size: 5
Part 2 of 5
Day Two. March 24

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.

"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.

We headed to our designated entry point and began to unload the impossible pile of gear onto the EP parking lot. OMG.

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.

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.

I discovered that in these conditions a 300 pound loaded sled could be pulled with a single finger. Cool. But only on ice.

I hiked very carefully across the lake, my pack on my back, examining the ice step by step as my band of slightly hung over companions pulled their sleds noisily across the endless frozen lake. Too soon we arrived at a formidable and utterly bare (and steep) portage.

Almost without a pause the crew began to drag their loaded sleds and sledges up and over this rocky barrier - I made three round trips hand carrying some of the gear that would have toppled out of the sleds as my companions put their shoulders to the lines and like the huskies of the Iditarod Race mushed their loads up, up and over this portage.

By the time we finished, the weather had warmed up a bit more. And we had warmed up a lot more. Greg and I struck out for what looked to be a good place to pick out a site for the ice bound base camp on what we hoped was the highest and hopefully the most sheltered part of the lake.

Who knows. Anyhow the sun shone and the ice seemed to have enough traction and thickness to walk on more or less safely.

We selected a spot and began to set up the Cabelas Tent system, wood stove, chairs and cots that Dr. Mark had bought. This took no fewer than four hours. I began to see what all this weight had been about. We drilled holes in the ice and twisted in threaded tent stakes covering each of them with piles of ice chips.

Assembling the cots was a bit of a puzzle, but eventually two, two man cots were positioned in the tent with a single man cot in the vestibule, a steel wood stove with an attached water tank for hot water in the corner and …. two ice fishing holes in the 18" thick ice in the corner. (Mark had the tent extensively customized too). Wow.

This looked like a distinct improvement over my previous winter camping trips of huddling around tiny fires with blackened ice and snow, cold sleeping bags, frozen boots, spare food rations and warming up frozen Pop Tarts on a stick over the sputtering fire.

Now the quest for wood - still a nonstop activity when winter camping - and this time the wood sources were hundreds of yards away across the frozen lake. Craig and Luke went to the near shore and labored with a saw to glean a sled full of wood, Bryan and Greg went to an adjacent campsite and found quite a bit of wood already cut and split to order. We quickly filled our sled with solid quality wood and returned to the base camp, handily beating the other team in quality, speed and quantity of wood for the hungry stove.

Obviously Team A cried foul - but we did get that heavy steel stove fired up and the interior of the tent was quickly at a toasty 70 degrees!

Dr. Mark also had an ultra secret plan and he disappeared across the lake and into the forest with a saw in hand. 45 minutes later he emerged from the forest with a 35 foot limbed pine trunk over his shoulder. Looking more than a little like Paul Bunyan.

This was to be a flag pole - to which Dr. Mark quickly affixed a pulley, rope and three flags including a custom made flag that our Packer Friends may not find as fully funny as we did.

Craig used the Ice auger to bore a hole perhaps 16" deep into the 18" ice - and acting like the team at Iwa Jima erected the pole… and the flags snapped noisily and proudly in the building West wind. This - we suspect - was a first ever in the BWCA.

Speaking of that razor sharp ice auger - the team quickly began to drill holes all around the camp, setting complex tip ups and even radio controlled tip ups with a receiver back in the warm tent.

That sharp West wind carried in a storm front - soon blowing snow and rain pelted our tent - however we were snug, warm and cozy in our basecamp tent. I drifted off to the sounds of cracking lake ice that sounded like a distant artillery battle. That would change in the days ahead…..