Hauling canoe across frozen lake
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Amy, Dave, and Tank haul their canoe, toboggan, and gear across Ottertrack Lake. Photo by: Dave Freeman
Hauling canoe across frozen lake

A Year in the Wilderness: Hauling our Canoe Through Blizzards – Week 29, Post 13

As the first stars appeared, we trudged the final mile to our campsite. After 25 miles and more than 11 hours on the move, we were ready for a hot meal and a warm sleeping bag. The day’s persistent snow had slowly accumulated until our canoe, which was riding on top of our 11-foot Black River Sled toboggan, was dragging on the snow. Tank, who is our only remaining sled dog, had pulled hard all day, but his energy was waning as our load became increasingly harder to pull. At this point all three of us were leaning into our harnesses as we labored to pull our awkward load.

Skiing through a snowstorm to pick up our 19-foot canoe, which we had now hauled deep into the wilderness, seemed like an especially unfitting activity as we lugged the canoe the final miles down Knife Lake through ever-deepening snow drifts. However, every spring storm seems to be followed by a melt, so we did our best to remind ourselves that sometime soon the the lakes will thaw and our skis and toboggans would be the out of place items.

Our reward was a bounty of fresh food that our friends had hauled into the wilderness with our canoe. We gobbled down authentic Minnesota tuna casserole complete with a calorie-dense layer of crushed potato chips, as well as brownies, crisp apples, salad, and variety of other novel and tasty treats.

As if on cue, winter returned with gusto. It has been a week since we hauled our canoe into the wilderness and it has snowed almost every day. We are now tucked in our tent as 35-mile-per-hour winds shake our nylon home and rage across Saganaga Lake. It feels more like January than April, but in a week projected highs in the 60s and possibly 70s may bring winter to an abrupt end.

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Dave and Amy Freeman chop a hole through a foot of ice to get water during an April snowstorm; Photograph by Dave Freeman

Once the winds die we will break camp and travel for a few more days before looking for a place to hole up for the spring thaw. With a little luck, it will be a place with an ample supply of dry firewood and a pine-studded south-facing slope where we can lay in the reemerging duff and soak in the sun’s warmth.

Sometimes the transition from traveling across the ice to paddling over the lakes lasts only a couple days. Other years the ice is too rotten to walk on, but too thick to paddle through for several weeks. Only time will tell how the break up will unfold this year. We feel lucky to be unhurried and are content to watch spring awaken the land around us. In all likelihood a few days from now we will be cut off from the outside world. Even as the blizzard rages around us, the rivers and creeks are opening up and travel is becoming more difficult. The ice around shallow points and south-facing shorelines is rotting and pulling away. This rare opportunity to be truly cut off is a unique moment which we enjoyed during freeze up four months ago and look forward to reliving in the coming weeks. The moments when we are most alone and vulnerable, farthest from civilization’s grasp, remind us why we journey through wild places and often supply the memories and lessons that urge us to continually seek out untrammeled wildness in all its forms.


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.