Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Winter Adventure Gaskin Lake
by DanCooke

Trip Type: Snowshoeing
Entry Date: 12/26/2013
Entry & Exit Point: Lizz and Swamp Lakes (EP 47)
Number of Days: 7
Group Size: 3
Trip Introduction:
Ski / Snowshoe to Gaskin Lake
Winter Adventure December 26 2013 to Jan 1 , 2014

Dec 26 Left Home around 6 am Met up with trip mates Bear and Eddie at te Subway in Grand Marais, and then headed up the Gunflint Trail. We drove into Boundary Country Trekking, checking in with Barb and Ted before parking our Vehicles. We unloaded and began the process of putting the gear into sleds and one toboggan. Final count 12 sleds and one toboggan. Eddie and Bear chose snowshoes and I chose skis for the pull in. I did not bring any snowshoes as I had had done several long snowshoe trips and much prefer skiing. I hoped that this decision would not come back to bite me.

Following the edge of the ski trail so as to not disturb the set ski tracks we pulled down to the portage into Swamp Lake. (If you choose the snowshoe trail, be aware it is a twisty windy hilly trail, experience gained from last years trip) A group of 4 skiers had left before us with aspirations for Gaskin lake, they were all skiing with backpacks. We were able to follow their tracks across Swamp Lake. As seemingly typical the slush was bad as you got mid lake and toward the portage into Caribou. We made several trips shuttling gear to the portage to Caribou. After getting all of our loads to the start of the portage the shadows had lengthened to epic proportions.

Headlights were put on before we had crested the height of land between the lakes. One deadfall to lift over and one to crawl and scoot under were the only major obstacles. I was walking in ski boots when the hills were too steep to ski walk up. By the time I had made the end of the Portage bear had gone ahead to the campsite just to the west of the portage and had stomped down a tent pad. As I was skiing over to the campsite a meteor streaked across the southern sky with a trail of embers following it. What a wonderful start to the first night out. When I got over to the campsite, Bear had chosen to push on and break trail onto horseshoe taking a number of sleds with him that would be used in the final campsite location Bear had selected on Gaskin. Eddie and I went about setting up the Hexagon tent and then I sent out Eddie for firewood. Bear returned from his setting trail a while after I had thought he would. We had not spoken about how long to expect that he would be gone, so I had begun to worry about his return. Bear told of deep slush in many areas. It was an absolutely clear night, Stars sparkled brilliantly in the new moon sky; and tamps dropped off quickly to 21 below.

Supper was slow that evening as we were trying to remember where everything was. A hole was punched water was boiled in preparation for the morning. As we readied for bed a bout of panic ensued as I could not find my ExPed downmat.(it hid behind another stuff sack) as I spent time kicking myself on how could it not have been packed. Dec 27 Morning came and it was a slow start. Breakfast Bear style is a grain supper like meal for me; very filling for a breakfast. Many quart Nalgenes were filled and put into their insulating covers. Bear had realized he had forgotten the floor canvases for his tent so he went back to Boundary Country Trekking to make a phone call back to his sister so it could be brought up on the 28th when she and 3 others would be skiing in together. Eddie and I began our slog across Caribou and down Horseshoe. Bear’s trail from last night had drifted completely over and required a bit of imagination to follow. I re re-broke trail, and sometimes deviated as I could see a less slush filled path. I finally came to where Bear had dropped the 3 sleds last night. I thought how they looked so alone and forgotten with the snow drifted to the point where they were indistinguishable as a man made object. I felt a bit like the first one to see this area this season as I rounded the corner to look down the southern east wet arm of Horseshoe Lake, with no tracks before me I came across a section where the wind had scoured off many inches of snow and breaking trail was a bit easier. It would not last long as the snow depth increased and a open slush hole was visible a bit out from the northern shoreline.

My straight trail soon took a sharp turn to the southern shore where deeper snows and deep slush convinced me to take only my trailer sled while breaking trail to the lakes end; where the portage to Gaskin began. The lighter sled load was much easier to lay the first trail down, and much easier to change course quickly as the slush has deep.

Before the portage an open hole in the ice was only several feet off the southern shore. I was skiing almost into the trees near there. I left that sled along shore positioned off to the side so we could get the rest to this point. Skiing back to my toboggan I put on it’s harness and skied it also down to the end of the Lake. Back for another load I skied to the start of the southern east west arm where Bear had left a train of 4 sleds there. He had gone back for more at Caribou. So I skied them forward to about the west most campsite on the southern arm of Horseshoe, where I dropped them to go back to shuttle the 3 sleds ensconced in the snowdrift. As I approached them Bear came around the corner and Joined me as we shuttled our loads forward. I skied and Bear was snowshoeing as we went down that arm of Horseshoe. I was getting pretty tired as we pushed on up and over towards Gaskin. Headlamps were lit before we had our first load up to the Old growth grove at the top of the hill. After many shuttles we had most of the load up to the crest. My toboggan with all of my gear including stove and tent was the last to go up as Bear and Eddie pushed on to the end of the Horseshoe- Gaskin Portage. Making camp in the woods we settled in for a most welcome supper and the warmth of a tent and stove. Venison Sausage from a customer of mine was warmed on the wood stove top and was quite tasty. Bear made a great supper and much water boiled to replenish all the water bottles and bellies.

Dec 28 Woke to a cold and blustery day. A Bear Breakfast and lots of water readied for the day. Bear and Eddie snow shoed off with the first loads breaking trail down Gaskin, setting trail for me to follow. Destination; the third campsite along the southern shore. I stayed behind as I struck the camp taking the stove and stove pipe apart and taking down and stuffing the tent. As I was reading myself to ski my load forward Bear returned on skis for another shuttling of loads. Off we went to the new site. Eddie shuttled another load as well. Bear and Eddie were making camp and getting firewood as I finished the last shuttling of a load.

Bear’s tent was up minus the floor and the stove and stovepipe was readied. Wood was split and stacked in a few empty sleds. We were expecting two separate traveling groups to join us that day. Mike and Sherri were coming in from spending the night near Grand Marais and were anticipating an early start While Wendy, Chris, Marco and Regula were starting their day out of the metro.

Seeing how camp chores were at a point I could ski back to see how our expected campsite guests were doing; I gathered my Rucksack with Mukluks down jacket thermos and snacks. I skied back to Horseshoe where I could see Mike and Sherrie skiing toward me. I skied forward and met them. We stopped and shared some snacks and a long pull or two from the hot water in the thermoses. As we made the portage we took a longer break and some awesome Kaluaha flavored candies and Karen’s flaps made the rounds and brought renewed vigor in our strides. We worked together to get their loads over the portage and quickly made our way across Gaskin. The slush Fields were freezing over by then and were quick to glide over the new “ice”. Camp was made in the waning hour of light. Mike and Sherrie quickly set up their new Octagon Tent and got the tarps on the floor and soon a had a fire going. Wood was stacked and being preheated as water was soon on to be boiled. Supper soon followed. Bear had decided to ski back to see how the remaining new arrivals were doing. Warm water was filled into Nalgene’s and flaps wand snacks gathered. As bear was down below getting ready to push off voices rose as our new arrivals saw the lights of the camp. Mike and Sherri's tent swelled as we all met each other and waited for bear to finish installing the floor canvases etc.

Supper for the latest arrivals went well into the evening, with many stories to be told. Dec 29 woke up to colder temps and windier conditions. Wood gathering and wood preparation was the order of the day.

Everyone brought in wood , cut ,split, stacked wood for the coming days.

Supper was a group event with authentic Swiss fondue from Our resident Swiss nationals. We spent long hours enjoying fondue and each others company as we got to know each other.

Dec 30 The temps were cold this day as well the winds were a bit calmer.

Usually the 20 below days are windless, but not this trip it would seem.
This day the high was 11 below. Getting two tents of folks ready for a day ski at the same time is a lesson in Futility, so rather than another lesson Mike and I headed out when we were ready. As folks were ready they could follow in groups. Following our trail in to the far side of the narrows we struck out to the north where we would take the portage into Jump Lake.
As Mike broke trail leading to the portage an otter had left his tracks, otter tracks always spur my imagination as to what they were doing out on the top of the snow.
The portage to Jump starts with a tall Block of stone that is over waist high. I cleared off the 2 feet of snow on top of that block and found the little toe hold on the left middle of the block to be able to climb onto the top of the block.
A walk down the trial 25 feet to a place to put the skis back on. A quick ski through the woods and controlled ski down towards jump lake. (I was glad I had been through here in October and could remember what was on this portage trail). There was open water where the water was flowing into jump from Gaskin. We headed north to the Allen Lake Portage.
An otter hole by shore and tracks around it led me away from shore. Mike and I skied ever closer to shore as we approached the north end of the lake. A beaver Hogan was on the west shore, quite large and current just screamed thin ice.
As we skied the shoreline open water was at our ski poles as we picked our way to the portage.
Open flowing water had made for huge ice crystals to form where the Cedar fond's dragged in the flowing water.
We took the skis off as we ascended the steep start of the portage to Allen Lake, but we put them on as soon as we got past the steep slope. Skiing the top of the portage led to a bit of a short side step down the steep decline to Allen Lake. Allen Lake brought back memories of last new years trip and camping on Allen. We encountered deep slush as we went past the narrows by the campsite.
As we approached the arm leading to the portage into Horseshoe the ice once again proved to be very thin to non existent under a weak veneer of snow. Several times poles or skies would break through to expose open water. We retreated to a bushwhack through the trees and made the potage safely.

The portage into Horseshoe is an ankle turner in Summer but is a boulder strewn obstacle for skis. This seasons deeper snowfall made it much easier than last years ski scraper. Soon Horseshoe lake was seen., otter tracks were prominent along the far shore. We head for them and used the firm snow they had made to assist us down the lake. Deep pockets and snow and slush came and went. We had to go through the woods at the narrows where the current was keeping Horseshoe lake ice free.

When we hit the north south part of Horseshoe we mad better time skiing on top of our packed inbound trail.
A quick climb over the portage brought us back to Gaskin. Back to the camp where we were greeted and told of a swim that Bear had taken.

Bear had broke thought the ice on Jump Lake on the Gaskin end by an Otter hole. He had seen Mike and my ski tracks filled with water and skied to the side of them hoping to float over the slush. What he did not see was the otter hole. When he fell through the ice to belly button depth; his skies cross and his top one caught under a branch/ snag in the water. He has able to free himself and get out of the hole himself. Eddie watched this unfold. Time in the water was about 1 minute. Bear decide to not change but ski back to camp (1/2mile?) The others continued on their ski following the tracks Mike and I left. Bear got back to camp (after dark)and got the wood stove fired up good and 20 minutes after getting in the tent was able to get those iced over cloths off of himself. By the time the group he was skiing got back to the camp his clothes were dry.

Dec 31 woke up to 30 below or so. After Breakfast Mike and Sherri were to head out. I had decided to ski with them part way to break some trail and wish them well. Breaking down their camp and getting it in the toboggan was a long process. Feet were too cold to start off so; a light lunch and a warm up in Bears tent got the feet up to starting temps. Bear, Wendy, Mike and Sherri had Vapor Therm socks that seem to really add to the warmth of their feet.

I had made a Thinsulate insulated cuff under my gaiter that seemed to help my foot warmth on this trip. I have since ordered a Pair of the Vaprtherm socks. I Hate Cold Feet!

I skied back to Horseshoe with them. At that Point with the wind still kicking some and the sled pulling like sandpaper in the cold temperatures.; Mike and Sherri Chose to leave their toboggan behind and ski out with packs with sleeping and bivy bags food and pots and get to their vehicle and then for mike to ski back for rest of their provisions. I suggested going to eat at trail center and a room for the night before coming in for their stuff. Skiing back to camp the colors as the sun went down behind the Misqua Hills were so neat. I missed not getting that picture. A fur ruff on my shell really protected my face that day. Night brought on supper and stories of our lives. As Night came I chose to sleep under the stars as I had not set up my tent , and was leaving it for the others to follow. A flat spot off to the side was all it took for sleep to overtake my tired body. I awoke to stars sliding through their course through the night several times. A Neck Gaiter and hat pulled low kept my face warm. I had dropped hand warmers into mukmates that I had used earlier in the evening and I slept warm all night long

Jan 1 The day brought the sled haul out of my and Eddies Gear. Later that day all but Bear would ski out. Mike had come in and got his gear and was home in time for his deadline. He had made smiley faces in the snow. My truck would not start when we got to it, it was 30 below and night was upon us. . Ted from Boundary Country Trekking tried to try to jump my truck but to no avail and then was able to put us up for the night at their Ollie cabin. It was 45 below zero the next morning and a call to trip AAA for a flatbed tow into town by Lisa M. from Cook County Towing, to a heated garage finally got the truck on the road. Thank you to Barb, Ted and Lisa for the rescue. For a few additional pictures see also on Facebook Cooke Custom Sewing