Blane Klemek: Memorable Outdoor Adventures – Detroit Lakes Tribune
Old Man Winter is getting long in the tooth, as some might say. What started in mid-November hasn’t slowed down much, and it’s already April, with plenty of snow on the ground and persistent below-average temperatures. That said, the forecast seems to be pointing towards more spring-like weather.
I recently visited the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness with a group of friends. We get together every year for a wilderness trek in late March for our four-day winter camping and lake trout fishing trip. We have been doing this for many years.
What is normally a trip to a remote lake several miles west of the Gunflint trail, was abruptly changed to a not so familiar lake east of Ely. Deep snow in the Arrowhead and an untimely winter storm that dumped more snow on the area just days before our trip began, forced a detour. So, steadfast and determined, we changed plans and attitudes and opted for the second option.
The forecasts, however, were not favourable. While the forecast for the first day was expected to be balmy, sunny and in the 40s, the forecast for the rest of the trip was for freezing cold, more snow and strong north to northwest winds. And it turns out that Mother Nature did open the door to Old Man Winter for one last hurray.
Mindful of Minnesota’s wintery habits, we pulled our sleds laden with gear and other items an extra two miles, just so we could look for a campsite on the protected south-facing shoreline. It turns out we were lucky. Not only did we locate a secluded bay sheltered from the wind, but the spot where we pitched our tents, built our campfires and erected a tarp shelter was buttressed by a towering granite wall that blocked the wind. implacable. The site was an outright godsend.
Arriving early in the day at our destination, and exhausted from hiking nearly four miles on skis and snowshoes across the large frozen lake, we wasted no time setting up camp. Some of the men set off with empty sleds to gather enough wood for the first night’s fire, while others set about scouting tent sites, shoveling snow and drilling holes in the ice . Shortly after, water had been collected, tilting fishing platforms installed, wood split and a campfire lit. The sweetness of the hearth.
Then the weather started to change.
By the second day, the north wind started to howl, temperatures dropped, and snowfall soon followed. A total of about four inches of additional snow accumulated and drifted onto the lake. We didn’t see the sun all day until a glimpse before sunset. Day three started with patches of blue sky, intermittent sunshine, but sub-zero temperatures to start the morning. Hot coffee with hot chocolate powder mix has never tasted so good.
Wildlife in the Boundary Waters winter wonderland is hard to come by, although new tracks in the snow have revealed a host of life forms – wolf, fisherman, pine marten and snowshoe hare among the most common. Birdlife is even rarer, but three common species have made their presence known both by sight and song: bald eagles, crows and redpolls.
As I was inside my puppy tent, snugly wrapped in my army surplus down sleeping bag, I heard a ruffed grouse drumming nearby throughout the first night before the cold, snow and blowing wind which dominated the trip. After that first reminder of spring, I heard no more grouse. No wonder, I thought, the grouse was definitely in survival mode, just like us. We also heard a lone wolf howl across the bay the second night. We even spotted a wolf, possibly the same wolf, skirting the opposite shore of our bay during the afternoon hours of day three.
As anyone can attest, all outdoor adventures are memorable, no matter the conditions, duration or location. The fact that this trip is different from all the others makes it particularly memorable. And yet, what has remained unchanged are the rekindled friendships and the familiar sounds of laughter, the clean air and the smell of cedar fires, and the plans to start all over again next year, as we go out and enjoy the great outdoors.