Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Dog sledding the 4 mile portage
by TuscaroraBorealis

Trip Type: Dog Sledding
Entry Date: 01/21/2023
Entry & Exit Point: Fall Lake (EP 24)
Number of Days: 1
Group Size: 2
Trip Introduction:
One of Aurora's Christmas presents last year was a dogsled trip. I must admit, it has also been on my bucket list for awhile as well. I have the good fortune of working with Stu (who runs sled dogs) during the winter off-season so, lining up this trip was pretty easy.
January 21, 2023

Aurora & I meet up with Jeanne at the Chamber of Commerce parking lot to sign some paperwork and settle up. Stu and his daughter Shelby are at the Fall Lake landing getting the dogs ready as we pull in. Another couple will be joining us as well. Ironically there names are Ross and Jessica. We will certainly have no problems remembering their names as I have a brother Ross who is married to a Jessica too.

Stu gives us a quick rundown of how to drive the sled. Primarily where, how and when to slow down & brake. He claims the drop down to the lake from the parking lot should actually be the most technically difficult section so, if we can just get out on the lake we should be home free!

The dogs know exactly what they're doing even if I don't, and we all emerge onto the lake without incident. Instantly we are making quick, steady progress northeast up Fall Lake towards the 4 mile portage. As we stop to make sure everyone is still doing O.K. I learn that these dogs are constantly wanting to run as I don't have enough pressure on the brake and the jerk from them taking off catches me by surprise. Fortunately Stu is just ahead and they don't get too far.

Back on the trail, we climb up out of Fall Lake and begin the overland portion of our journey. The frosted branches laden with snow sure make for an idyllic backdrop as the closeness of the trees and brush to the trail make it seem like we're moving even faster than we were out on the lake. Both Aurora & I are immediately smitten with this form of travel and are having a blast doing so.

Aurora wants to take a turn leading our team but, Stu says we should wait until we get to Basswood before she takes over. Cutting cleaning through the woods Stu points out various animal tracks and the portage to Ella Hall Lake as we trace around the eastern edge of Muskeg Lake which provides us with some breathtaking vistas. As expected for a trail along an old railroad grade, the trail is very flat. However, even here in the depths of winter there are a number of areas where it is easily discernible that we are traversing over beaver ponds and/or flooded sections. Soon we are at the terminus of the overland trail and the pilings of Hoist Bay come into sight.

Aurora is eager to take a turn leading the dogs and does a superb job and is having a blast once she does so. Stu explains the reason the trail across the lake is kind of snaky as they tried to avoid the worst sections of slush when they first broke trail a few weeks ago. Eventually we make our way the the island just south of campsite #2090 to have our trail lunch.

Once everyone pulls in, Stu & Shelby start unhooking the dogs. Aurora & I tromp through the snow and find some decent firewood just up the rise and then drag it back to camp. Exhilaration is the word of the day for us 4 newbies to dogsledding as everyone has had a great experience thus far. Stu breaks out his 'goodie' cooler with meats, cheeses, crackers, candy etc. while he get the tomato & basil soup warmed up. The temperature is in the 20's so, we realistically couldn't have hoped for a much more comfortable winter day. However, it's a little breezy out here on big Basswood so, the hot chocolate & cider sure hits the spot as we get to know each other a little better while warming ourselves by a nice cozy fire.

Soon after, when we start hooking the dogs back up; a couple of whiskey jacks come to insure we leave no trace. On the way back we pull up the rear. Aurora wants to lead the dogs again and, even though Stu is hesitant, I oblige and let her do so.

It takes a bit to get completely comfortable riding in the sled but, eventually I settle in. Of course I'm no expert, but I feel Aurora is doing a masterful job leading out team through the woods. I am now afforded the luxury of being able to completely soak in the stunning scenery we are passing by and through. It's a great day to be in the woods and fully appreciate God's grandeur!

Before we know it we are pulling back into the parking lot on Fall Lake. Aurora lead the team virtually the whole way back! We both enjoyed the experience immensely. I couldn't imagine snowshoeing or skiing that many miles in that amount of time. It would be fun to do an overnight trip having dogs get us deeper into the wilderness, and then spending a couple of nights or so. We'll see what the future holds. But, it was gratifying to at least get this day trip in and cross dogsledding off the ol' bucket list.