Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

3 month solo freeze in trip on Knife Lake
by walltentjon

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 11/01/2016
Entry & Exit Point: Moose Lake (EP 25)
Number of Days: 85
Group Size: 1
Trip Introduction:
I paddled into knife lake with three months worth of food and my wall tent. I built a toboggan and other winter gear while the lakes were freezing over, then I base camped around on knife lake. Finally I pulled my canoe and gear out over the ice with the toboggan that I had built.
Hello. I’m Jon and this is my first time posting on the home of the flying moose! I have been befitting from the wealth of information on this site by reading posts since I first started paddling the boundary waters, but I have never posted myself. I know a lot of the members here from meeting you all out on the water, but I wanted to give an introduction for those of you whom I have never met. Thanks to everyone who has contributed to this awesome recourse and made it possible.

In 2013 I did a similar trip to this one where I spent a month paddling the Boundary Waters solo, and then resupplied and spent two more months base camping on Seagull Lake as the lakes froze over. This time I wanted to challenge myself by trying to do a three month freeze in trip in the center of the Boundary Waters without resupply. I planned to paddle in, and then freeze in while I built a toboggan, mukluks and other winter gear that would be used on the snowshoe trip out. Finally I planned to pull my gear and canoe out on a toboggan, that I would build in the woods, once the ice was safe to travel.

In October I paddled the Hunters Island Loop with Nate and Brittany, and then I pulled out with them to resupply and get my winter camping gear. This gave me a bit of a late start, but luckily it ended up being a late ice in year. I started off in November with my canoe, as much food as I could carry, my wall tent, and hopes of a good challenge. I didn’t quite pack enough food but I defiantly ended up getting a good challenge...

I decided to take a tandem canoe since I had to haul so much gear out. As you can see in the picture I had my wall tent, portable sheet metal wood stove, snowshoes, winter camping gear and a LOT of food in tow. I even had a couple of fresh deer hides that I had bought from a butcher and planned to use to make snowshoe lacing and buckskin for mukluks while I was out. Obviously my load was quite heavy! I filled out my off season self issued entry permit and felt sort of silly writing down and February 1 as my planned exit date. I started off on Moose Lake, with plans to paddle the border route through Carp Lake up to Knife Lake. I got fairly lucky with the wind on the paddle out. It took a lot of trips across the portage trail, and what is normally an easy half day paddle and portage between Birch lake and Knife lake turned into a very long day of portaging. Even though the water as low, I was able to sneak my way up some of the rapids between Birch and Knife by lining and poling up them, which helped a lot. I also was lucky to have a warm November, so I wasn’t worried about running into ice like on some November trips. Here’s a picture of me portaging the woodstove with a tumpline. 

I got my first base camp set up on Knife Lake, and was pretty tried by this point from moving all my gear into knife. The heat from the stove in the wall tent was very much welcomed at this point!  But I was going to need a sled to pull my gear out on, so it was time to dive right into building an 11’ toboggan with primitive construction methods. I started by constructing a bow saw frame, and then I needed to find two solid dead and down logs to make the two halves of my toboggan with. Most importantly I needed to get them back to camp before the lake started to freeze over, so time was of the essence (as you know, during the freeze up period travel is not possible by canoe or over the ice, due to the thin and unsafe early season ice). It took a while to find my logs, and one of them ended up being a little rotten in the very center of the heartwood, but I was able to work around the rotten part so it all worked out.

This time of year is an incredibly dangerous time of the year to be on the water, due to the cold water temps, so I was careful to choose a calm day for hauling my lumber back to camp. Next, with an ax, crooked knife, the bow saw I made, and a pump drill that I constructed on site, I built an 11’ toboggan. 

I dehaired one of the deer hides that I had brought out and then cut it into rawhide lacing, which I used to lash the toboggan together. I used the rest of the rawhide to lace a pair of snowshoe frames that I built on site. I smoke tanned the other hide, and then used the buckskin to sew a pair of mukluks. 

This is me on a not so calm day when I got caught out in bad wind on knife during a day trip to thunder point.  Water surface temps were down at 36 degrees since it was right before ice in. Not a good situation at all...

It was an awesome privilege to watch Knife Lake as it froze over as well. There was an intense east wind for three days that created amazing frost formations on the shores near my campsite. I made some other gear as well, and by this time the lakes were finally starting to get walkable. Once the ice was safe I base camped around on Knife Lake, and even made it down to Kekekabic Lake for a few nights. 

One of the nights when I camped away from the warm wall tent happened to be the night when it made it down to -35. 

I practiced recovering from falling through the ice in subzero weather. (I always carry an emergency kit when I’m on the ice, but I’ve never fallen through accidentally yet.  Occasionally I practice jumping through a hole in the ice and getting a fire going.)

To kill some time I decided to see if I still had what it took to start a fire with a bow drill in subzero weather. Other than some cold fingers it went pretty well.

It was awesome to get a chance to see lakes like Knife and Kekekabic frozen over, and by the two month mark I still hadn’t seen a single other person since I left the moose lake landing. Once opener came I had some fun with the lake trout on Knife lake, but even on the second week of January there still wasn’t any other sins of humans having made it out to knife lake yet. I had expected to see at least one of the mushers out that way once the lake trout season started. 


I had been exerting a lot of energy making gear and trekking around, so I was burning a lot more calories than I had expected too. This meant I was eating up my food supply a lot faster than I had expected to. I ate tub after tub of lard, melting it into everything I ate, but when you are out in those extreme temperatures your body burns a ridiculously large number of calories every day. I rationed my food rather heavily, but it was still running out fairly quickly, so it was time to start pulling out. I made the trip out in two trips since I had my canoe, wall tent and stove to haul out. I would pull half of the load a few miles, and then go back for the rest, repeating this process over and over again. The canoe was the easiest part of the load to pull!

I took the winter route back through vera and ensighn to moose. I had to cut trail since the mushers hadn’t been out that far yet. Finally after two and a half months I saw another party on ensighn. I ran into Shawn from White Wilderness, mushing with his dogs. It was very nice to have trail cut for the second half of the trip. By the end of the trip out I was down to my last loaf of bannock bread, and I was getting pretty hungry!

It was an awesome trip, and I’m glad that I got to experience it. It will defiantly be nice to be paddling in some warmer weather again in a few months though. I’ll look forward to see you all on the water, Wall Tent Jon