Winter Camping ~ Take 2

After my first successful winter camping trip last year, and pouring over plans with my friend Bre for several months on another trip this year my husband also became highly interested in the idea of winter camping and suggested we go winter camping ourselves this winter as well! Two trips in one year? I’m in!

So – on Wednesday February 15 we schlepped the kiddo off to my moms and the dogs off to Jason’s parents, and took off for the north woods – Ely area to be exact on an overcast Wednesday morning.

When we arrived to Ely we stopped by Piragis first to pick up our negative 30 degree sleeping bags and a Nemo Moki tent. We set it up at the store to ensure we knew what we were doing. It was a little clunky, but got it figured out fairly easy.

After we checked everything out  we drove by Whiteside Park where they had these amazing snow sculptures! I walked through, snapped some photos, and marveled at their creators handy work.

Next we checked into the Adventure Inn, a divergence from our usual bunkhouse lodging. It was a basic, but snug hotel with the most delightful (elderly) host Louise.  She was a doll, and was always so excited whenever she saw us. We promptly decided this would be our new go-to place when we stayed in Ely.

FINALLY, we ended the night by having dinner at Insula. I ate here twice with KC back in 2015 and fell head over heels in love with the joint, but hadn’t made it back since. After an a great hamburger (with Ghost pepper cheese) we went back to the hotel, got settled, and snuggled in for a night of RoboCop while I read my (William Kent Krueger) WKK book, Blood Hollow.

Deciding where to go on this trip was quite the challenge. I longed to see any kind of pictographs, so I had been thinking a nice and easy trip to Hegman Lake – with camping over on Little Bass Lake to provide a bit of solitude might be nice. After all – we probably wouldn’t do this trip in the spring/summer/fall months, so this was really interesting.

Another thought was Wood Lake – this was an easy one with the plethora of Northern available in the lake and we hadn’t been there before.

Finally the idea of heading to Snowbank and camping on Parent or Disappointment was also really intriguing. With Snowbank being a popular trout lake and us not having fished for trout before this was really really interesting.

All in all – we decided on Snowbank to Disappointment.

Thursday February 16

brittons
So – our alarms were set for 6:30 a.m. Thursday morning. Enjoyed a leisurely breakfast at Britons,  and were on the road by 9:00, and crossing Pickerel Bay of Snowbank by 10:00 a.m. The crossing proved mostly uneventful, but more tiresome than we expected. We finally found an ice road which was much easier to walk on since the snow was all packed down. I decided against wearing my life jacket when I saw cars on the lake, but still had my ice awls around my neck as we tromped across with my Frost River Isle Royale Jr pack strapped to me, and Jason pulling our sled.

We decided to take the shorter portage from Snowbank to Parent, and give up on Disappointment all together. In the future we agreed we’d both take a sled to spread out the weight a bit more. It was piled high, and heavy.

Crossing over by the portage to Parent we noticed a plethora of houses. Something new that we haven’t experienced before (houses so close to a portage). We got on the portage and immediately took in all of the devastation from last July’s blowdown.

There were trees down everywhere. Some of the pines were only blown over at the top making them look like they were straight out of Whoville and a Dr. Seuss book.

whoville

The portage was a bit up and down, but manageable.

Once we arrived on Parent we were completely alone. No boot, ski, or animal tracks. We were alone.

Jason wanted to camp on the ice, but I wanted the bathroom nearby since I was a bit shy to just – go on the ground. (Perhaps Quetico wouldn’t look good on me…) so we settled for a campsite taking care to not disturb it too much.

The site was full of blown down trees, including one that fell over right over the… modified fire-pit/kitchen area.

Someone had gone to great lengths to create a full size bench that could easily accommodate 6, and carved in the back to make it look more… luxurious. We were taken aback quite honestly.

bench

Then we saw on the tree that had fallen across the fire pit folks etching their initials in the wood. This made us sad, and equally less guilty feeling for camping at this summer site.

tree

Jason went to work drilling some holes nearby to get some tip-ups in and I organized our supplies.

The wind had picked up something fierce, and I started getting very – very cold. I made the very silly mistake of putting on too many tight layers, which is exactly what you DON’T want to do. There was no room between layers to warm me up. Luckily we had a bunch of handwarmers.   Jason and I started looking for firewood, and it appeared that down the shoreline there was a good deal of downed deadwood, so we hauled it back over, and started to get a fire going as we got our tent ready to set up.

This tent, while somewhat “easy” in the store to set up, is a total a$$hat in the field. The internal poles would not set up where they were supposed to. We had no trouble in the store, but they kept popping out of place in the field. Eventually we got them to stay after taking a little break, and trying again.

The fire was a bear to keep going. It was starving for oxygen, and the wood would not catch. We got it started enough (or rather threw enough small stuff at it) to boil some water and heat up our food and that was about it. While tending to – said “fire” we heard a mans voice behind us. We turned suddenly to find an old man and a dog in our camp thanking us for blazing a trail. He was on a day-ski to disappointment with his very large black Sheppard.

He was a local guy, and warned us that with the warm up, the whole area could be a nasty slush field. We shot the breeze a bit, and he was on his way.

Dinner was a super easy Prego Ready Meal, and enjoyed some hot cider with it. After the dishes were washed we went to bed around 6:00 p.m. since keeping a fire going was futile and listed to the wind howling as we tried to get warm in our sleeping bags. I definitely need to get different mittens. My hands, and frankly entire body was dangerously cold, and it was thanks to hand warmers that kept me going. I put some down on my femoral arteries, and the others in my armpits, and I was golden!

We both agreed that winter camping wasn’t exactly for us. Perhaps too much effort for the reward… No fish, no fire on day 1.

Friday February 17
After a fairly amazing night sleep in the woods (the best so far) we slept in a bit, and woke up around 8:00 a.m. which is crazy for us since we’re always up early in the field. Perhaps no kid- no dogs really did the trick! I read my WKK book and waited for the sun to come up higher and warm us up.

I noticed some frost on the ceiling of the tent, and it wasn’t until it started dripping on us, that I realized it was inside from condensation.

tent-frost

Shortly after our little “condensation rain shower”, we got up, loaded the sled, and went to the other side of the lake to do a little day fishing. Thought I heard some wolves howling. It started out as one. A long howl. Then eventually more, and more. Strangely I was not scared. Not even at all. I was curious. They were getting closer. In the end we decided it was most likely a dog sled team.  Out to the middle of the lake we brought our stove, some wood, and our breakfast out with us.

This. Was. Awesome.

I read my WKK book, and we enjoyed some coffee, and a Kind Breakfast bar in the middle of the lake while Jason worked the fishing.  Brilliant blue skies, and a silence that was the biggest comfort of the entire trip.

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blue-5

As the day lagged on – and fishing proving futile, and our stove which was a pistol to boil water (never had such a hard time in our lives).. we decided to actually head back to Ely around 4pm, get a hotel room at the Adventure Inn again, and call this trip good.

So. That’s exactly what we did. We bused everything down, loaded everything up and headed back. The slush was getting pretty significant by now after a 50, or near 50 degree day on the lake, and we were glad we pulled the plug early. Peace out Parent Lake. May you give the spring and summer anglers better luck than us. And folks  – treat your campsites better.

We got back to the car with no trouble, and luckily Adventure Inn had one more room. A last minute cancellation! We took it, and actually got the same room we had two days before. From there we walked up to the Ely Steakhouse, and enjoyed a nice meal with some adult beverages.

We spoke at large about our summer trip, and our keen interest and excitement to get into the world of Hammock camping! This will be a good way to distribute our tent weight which is currently 12#, and will be very helpful for me in the summer as I hike the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT). Lots to explore here, but we’re about 97% sure we’re going this route starting this spring!

The service at the restaurant was pretty poor/slow, so we will probably not be back. We were there on our first trip with the same issues. O’well.

After we got back to our room we promptly fell asleep and set no alarm.

Saturday February 18
Woke up leisurely around 8:30 a.m. grabbed the hotel coffee and pastries, and headed up the Echo trail to the Hegman entry point. Pulled in and two other cars were parked. A leisurely day trip out to the pictographs.

We walked along a very packed, very noticeable trail from the parking lot, all the way out to the pictos. It was a gorgeous walk, and I immediately regretted wearing my jacket, and hat. My wool sweater was plenty, so I took off my coat and carried it like a baby.

Finally got to the pictographs on the north end, and it was amazing. I was surprised at how high they were up and marveled at the artists drawing. To me – it was God the creator, or the Gitchi Manitou looking over his creation.

pictos

Finally we turned back, and saw scores of people walking in to see the great pictographs too. We estimated about 20 more people were hiking in after us. Definitely busting the rules and regs in the BWCA. The parking lot was completely full so people were parking on the Echo Trail!

Lastly we enjoyed a delicious lunch at the Grilled Cheese Emporium with amazing service, dropped off our gear at Piragis, and headed home.

While winter camping may not be for us, the BWCA and wilderness adventure definitely is.

See ya in the summer Ely! See ya in the summer!

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Winter Camping Review

Last Friday my co-worker and I blazed up I-35 to Tettegouche State Park north of Beaver Bay, MN, near Illgen City, MN.

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We wanted to get into cold tenting, lengthier hiking/snowshoeing and adventuring that perhaps our husbands, and children may not be up for, but chose March to ease into the scene.  Well – here was the weekend forecast!

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So as you can see, it was hardly winter camping, and much closer to the temps I experienced on our Spring BWCA trip!

Upon arrival I was instantly impressed with the Tettegouche visitor center as it is pretty fancy boasting  a gift shop as well as coffee cafe for your morning needs! (I did pack in Starbucks VIA, but just in case, it was comforting to know I could get a hot cup of Joe in a pinch!)

The campsite we reserved was approximately 400 feet from where we parked our car  -or 25 rods for you canoeists on my reading list!  My friend Breanne stopped and said, “Oh Lindsey… oh… is this going to be okay….?”

wolf print

It was so obviously a wolf print… which I am notoriously terrified of (even though it is my favorite animal… ) but I sucked it up and forged on.

There was quite a bit more snow than I was anticipating, so while the temps cooperated in the high 30’s’s-50’s during sunlight, we still had loads of snow to contend with!

yellow tent

After we got the basics of camp set up we hiked out to the High Falls of Tettegouche!

It was probably a a 1.0 mile hike or so from camp, but with the ice and slippery conditions, it felt much further. We had left our snowshoes behind, so the going was very very slow and slippery. The falls were amazing though!

Unfortunately my phone had died due to the cold temps and the listening to Spotify on the way up… so I didn’t get a nice shot. Perhaps I’ll add one of Breanne’s photos in the future!

That night we cooked up some macaroni & cheese, and I heated a brat for some protien. I made sure to buy plenty of wood, so we had a nice fire going as we embraced the stars of the Big Dipper and Orions Belt! As always it was so amazing to see Gods creation on full display in the north woods!

That night I had a hard time falling asleep thinking – “Two girls – alone in the woods on the north shore…” – makings of a horror movie, or the wolf print I had seen earlier in the day sent me into qualms of wolf packs surrounding our tent waiting to devour us!

After much tribulation I finally fell asleep and was ready for a full day of hiking on Saturday!

I happily slept in until 7:30 or so with the sun blasting on the tent!

Though it was in the 30’s the sun made all the difference in the world, and it was utterly pleasant and amazing waking up!

morning tent

Breanne and I had each pre-made breakfast burritos wrapped in tinfoil that we were able to heat up over the fire for a super amazing breakfast. She had her chilled espresso, and I heated up some hot water to add to my Starbucks Italian Blend coffee! YUM!

After we got everything cleared from breakfast after pouring over maps we headed north on Hwy 61 to the Caribou River wayside rest parking lot which meets up with the SHT and Caribou Falls!

We definitely opted for snowshoes and I was happy to also have my ski-poles.

Hiking on the SHT was a new “bucket list” item for me, so I was super pumped after reading Wild & A Walk in the Woods! We hiked up some fairly icy conditions fully trusting in our crampons on our snowshoes to Caribou Falls and were instantly impressed with the sights!

The photo below doesn’t even slightly do a justice! The elevation on the rocks was impressive, and the water shooting out of the snow/ice was full of strength! I just stared in wonder and awe at God’s creation wondering how on earth I was so lucky to see it first hand!

We snowshoed on for another hour or so north on the SHT until we were blazing our own trail for quite a time, and making little to no forward progress. When we fell through with our snowshoes it was at least knee + deep so we decided to turn back as there was much more hiking right at Tettegouche and we wanted to check out Coho Cafe in Tofte!

After our coffee – etc we headed back to Tettecoughe and headed out to Shovel Point, and down to the confluence of the Baptism River & Lake Superior!

Watching the river hit the lake was absolutely mesmerizing, and if i had a more comfortable chair I could have easily spent hours there.

After some time we decided to head back and hike up to the SHT out of Tettegouch to an overlook. We were very glad we had our snowshoes as hiking was ridiculously difficult, and the hike up to the overlook seemed impossible in the winter conditions. We figured in non-snow conditions it would be a quick jaunt up the hill, but we weren’t able to make it, so we headed north on a Tettegoughe path – but we were narrowing in on 8.5+ miles and I was growing increasingly tired, so we gave up on anymore lookouts and headed back to camp for a fire, wine, and yellow split pea soup over the fire!

Unfortunately due to the very warm temps our campfire was 1/2 flooded with water/snow melt. We had to build up an island of sorts to get a fire going. After some time, we were able to get a fire going to heat up our food, but we lost hope for an evening burn and retired to the tent around 7:30 for reading and camaraderie.

After lamps were turned off I was able to sleep until about midnight or so… then I woke up with a terrible urge to ahem – use the ladies room… but the wind was howling fierce, and I grew ridiculously terrified of the elements.

My campmate was fast asleep so I tried with all my might to rest.

3:50 I woke again  terrified at the sounds around me. The tent was flapping in the wind Blair Witch style, and I could hear branches falling around me. This was not good.

I tried to fall asleep again, but couldn’t so I turned to the Psalms for some comfort.

Psalms 3:3 – But you, O LORD are a shield around me; you are my glory, the one who holds my head high.

Psalms 3:5 – I lay down and slept, yet I woke up in safety for the LORD was watching over me.

Psalm 4:8 – In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, O LORD will keep me safe.

And I drifted back to sleep.

5:00 a.m. rolled around and the wind was whipped up again racketeering in our camp, and we were both up now, so we were able to complain and kvetch in solidarity. She gave me a few tips on falling back to sleep such as playing the alphabet game.

So for example… Name activities to do on the north shore that end in ing- A-Z”…

So I tried it and it did work! I named all (except one or two) lakes in the bwca twice and things to pack/bring with/encounter on a BWCA trip. It definitely did help to fall asleep.

We woke up for the finality around 8:00 am (so 7am pre-daylights savings time) busted down camp, and headed for the car.

I loved our winter camping experience during the sunlight hours- but the evenings were a bit of a struggle for me.

We had a 4 man tent for the two of us, which I thought was adequate for co-worker friends. Perhaps if it was my sister I would opt for a smaller tent, but we had quite a bit of stuff between us that it seemed to fit the two of us perfectly!

Pre-cooked meals or maintenance free meals seemed to be key! I loved the breakfast burrito that was fully cooked and only needed re-heating in the fire- same goes for the soup.

I think in the future – I may opt for a more “in-camp” experience so if I have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night – I might actually get up and go. There was no way I was going out in the “wilderness” to pee with the howling wind and wolf tracks. No way!

Had zero degree sleeping bags with an extra one to spare if I got too cold, but just used the one. Temps were down to 25 or so… much colder than that  and I would need a more robust system.

Slept on a Thermarest closed cell mat, with my Exped 7 on top of that. I was very cozy.

Would I do it again? Probably!

The sights and sounds during the day were such a blessing though – that they combated any fear I had at night! I would make some tweeks I’m sure – such as perhaps staying “in camp” or in a camper cabin… but all in all it was an amazing experience!