The dogs trotted down Knife Lake pulling us silently across the last patches of snow lining the southern shore. In the spring, dawn is usually the coolest time of the day and offers the best traveling conditions. In a couple hours the sun’s powerful rays would cause the dogs to pant, the snow and ice to soften, and our pace to slow, but for the moment we were cruising through the heart of the wilderness reveling in the perfect conditions.
We were headed south toward the wilderness boundary to meet Frank Moe, a local musher who had loaned us Tina, Tank, and Acorn for the winter. Tank is going to join us for the final six months of our Year in the Wilderness, but in a few hours we would have to say good-bye to Tina and Acorn. Tina and Acorn were all business, listening to every command as they rocketed down the lake. It is easy to see that running is their favorite thing in the world and this was most likely their last run on snow and ice until next winter. Spring is slowly winning its annual tug of war with winter and as the ice begins to deteriorate, we must follow nature’s lead and begin our transition as well.
The patches of snow disappeared and pools of water expanded until the lakes were covered in a thin film of melt water. The wind pushed tiny waves across the watery surface, foreshadowing the white caps that will rock our canoe after the ice is gone. We stopped often to let the dogs rest in pockets of shade, lap water from the pools, and slowly say goodbye to our traveling companions. During one of our rest stops we heard dogs barking on the next portage. A few minutes, later Frank appeared with a small dog team. Warm greetings, lots of barking and excitement were followed by silence as Frank departed with Tina, Acorn, and the rest of his team. With watery eyes, we headed north once again, back to our campsite on Knife Lake.
Another dog team was headed in with the 150-pounds of food and supplies that will see us through the spring break up. It was pushing 45 degrees when we reached the winter portage between Ensign Lake and Vera Lake. The skim ice at the mouth of the creek that we had gingerly skirted across to access the portage a few hours before was deteriorating quickly and would surely buckle under the weight of the freight sled hauling our supplies, so we decided to wait and help our friends around the open water.
The combination of a warm, sunny day and the pool of open water at the mouth of the creek provided the perfect opportunity for my monthly swim. I quickly stripped down and plunged into the cold water. After more than six months without a shower, and five months since the water was warm enough to comfortably swim in, these monthly dips have proven to be quick, but refreshing.
As I was drying off and getting dressed, a dog team appeared on the horizon. After a little searching we found an old, very rough trail that bypassed the open water and connected with the winter portage. Patches of snow still covered shaded portions of the trail and north facing slopes, but the team of large freight dogs was undeterred by the lack of snow, steadily pulling the heavy sled over rocks, dirt, and semi-frozen bogs that connected the lakes.
It was wonderful to laugh and visit with our friends as we traveled together. After unloading our supplies and visiting for a couple hours the sun’s low angle signaled it was time for our friends to depart. They had 15 miles to travel and it would likely be dark by the time they reached their dog truck. In an instant the barking and friendly chatter was gone. We watched them grow smaller and merge with the horizon. We returned to our familiar routine of hauling water and cutting wood. Our party is down to three—Amy, Tank, and me. We are almost ready for spring. In a couple days friends will haul our canoe in over the ice and take out most of our remaining winter gear. We are looking forward to having our canoe. Then we won’t have to worry about weather, we can watch spring unfold, travel over the ice as long as we can, and then wait for the ice to break up.
Amy 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.