A Year in the Wilderness: Winter Arrives in Earnest – Week 11, Post #6

By the time we were ready to start hauling the canoe across the ice, the packs were covered in a layer of white. The winter’s first blizzard was bearing down on us and our food pack was uncomfortably light. We needed to move closer to the wilderness boundary in hopes of rendezvousing with a couple friends. They were going to attempt to meet us six miles from the wilderness border if they could break through the partially frozen lakes with their small motorboat.

Two inches of snow had fallen by the time we reached the west end of Ensign Lake. A 1/4 mile of open water lay below the small rapids leading into Splash Lake. We carefully hopped from rock to rock along the shore and hauled our canoe across several feet of rotten ice, into a pool of open water above the rushing channel. The canoe slid down the narrow riffle between Ensign and Splash. It was snowing harder than ever as we paddled down the narrow channel into Splash. A beaver swam in the pool of open water in front of its lodge and a raven flew through the snow storm overhead.

When we reached the ice, we paddled as hard as we could and rammed the bow of the canoe up onto the ice, breaking off several large chunks. We reversed and repeated the process. After several tries, the bow was firmly perched on solid ice. We carefully climbed onto the ice and hauled the canoe out of the water.

The temperature hovered around freezing and the wet snow clung to the bottom of our canoe. We lunged into our harnesses but the canoe wouldn’t budge. We had to unload the canoe and use our paddles to scrape the wet snow off the bottom of the canoe, a process we would repeat over and over throughout the day.

The snow continued to pile up as we hauled our heavly ladened canoe across Splash and Newfound Lakes.  A few more inches and we would have to strap on our snowshoes and pack a trail for the canoe to follow. Then, as if on cue, the snow stopped right before we reached our new campsite on Newfound Lake. A 4-inch blanket of new snow made it feel like winter had finally arrived.

We quickly set up our tent and began preparing to pick up our next resupply. We packed up our garbage and a few other things we no longer needed and hiked down to the edge of the ice near Horseshoe Island in hopes of meeting our friends. Soon we saw them in the distance, slowly approaching. We laughed and danced with joy; we wouldn’t have to ration our food any longer!

Beside all of our normal resupply provisions, there were tons of special treats. They brought us apples, oranges, brussel sprouts, broccoli, peppers, salad greens, cucumbers, and an assortment of other fresh foods. My taste buds nearly exploded when I ate my first apple in six weeks.

We carried our haul back to our campsite and hunkered down for several days. A cold wind buffeted our tent for two days. Besides short trips out in the cold to cut more firewood and gather water from the ice hole, we were content to eat, rest, read, and write in our cozy little tipi tent. There is something so simple and satisfying about life in the wilderness. I think Sigurd Olson said it best:

“…the simple life and the primitive….It is an inheritance so deeply ingrained in our natures that it can never be stifled. We are still adventurers of the wilderness and must answer the call in order to keep our equilibrium. Once we lose our perspective, too long a time on the pavements and we starve for the smell and touch of virile earth.” – Sigurd Olson

The 10 degree air caused steam to rise from the open water west of our campsite. This afternoon we walked down the lake to get a closer look. It was a beautiful sight of water and mist and trees covered in snow. The wind is supposed to die down this evening and, with any luck, the remaining open water will freeze over. We are anxious to trade our paddles and canoe for skis, toboggans, and sled dogs so we can start exploring the winter wilderness in earnest.


Amy and Dave FreemanAmy and Dave FreemanAmy and Dave FreemanAmy and Dave Freeman, 2014 Adventurers of the Year, are spending 365 days in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness to call attention to the threats that a series of proposed sulfide-ore copper mines pose to our nation’s most popular wilderness. They are sharing their Wilderness Adventures through regular blog posts throughout their Year in the Wilderness right here on the Beyond the Edge blog. Learn more about protecting the Boundary Waters, follow them@freemanexplore, and connect kids with the adventure through the Wilderness Classroom.