Today is the official start of our trek! Everyone is up early & down at the dining hall for our last prepared meal.
Back at the cabins, we’re met by our interpreter who guides us in getting our sleds packed with our personal gear as well as splitting up the group gear for our trek into the wilderness.
It’s amazing how such a small change in latitude has a profound effect on the amount of daylight. The sun comes up an hour later here than back home, and sets 45 minutes earlier. We’re not more than 100 miles West, relative to where our homes are, but the 400 miles North is all the difference. In the summer, the West can glow some nights until past 11PM and the East shows first light in the 4 o’clock hour. Not now, however. 9 hours of light per day is about all we get on this trek, and much of the long nights will be spent in our sleeping bags.
There are several cross country & snowshoeing trails in this little finger of non-wilderness surrounded on 3 sides by the BWCAW, and many of them are maintained by Northern Tier. We take the trail that goes out of base towards Flash Lake, maybe 2 or so miles away. It’s our first camp destination. Weather-wise, it’s gently snowing out, not too cold, and just beautiful to see the woods in winter.
We arrive at our site on Flash to find it previously occupied, most likely last night by a different group from Northern Tier. The kitchen wind wall doesn’t need to be constructed, and the site has several wind breaks and quinzees for sleeping. The fresh 4-5″ of snow that fell overnight has covered everything with a fresh layer of white. So much for needing to set up camp!
Mr. Fout then takes a couple Scouts out to establish our hole in the ice which will be where we collect all our water for drinking and cooking. Interesting note about winter high adventure trips through Northern Tier – only your staff guide, called an interpreter, is allowed to handle or do anything with the stove or white gas fuel due to frostbite risk. All our Scouts have to do is deliver fresh water from the hole for him to boil to purify.
Once camp is situated, Alex decides he should take advantage of the fresh snow and creates a snow angel.
This afternoon we have a couple planned activities – an ice fishing demo and a dogsled “experience.” The dogs will be on Snowbank lake, about a mile to the East of us, and ice fishing is happening near the portage from Flash to Snowbank, so we head in that direction. I didn’t get any photos at ice fishing, and other than learning what the point of a dark house is it wasn’t terribly enlightening. We also didn’t really have much of an opportunity to ice fish before it was time to head over to Snowbank for dogsled.
In hindsight, we should have stayed at Flash. Our crew was the first to Snowbank, and ended up standing around for over an hour and a half before the portage trail erupted with yips and barks signaling the dog teams’ arrival. While we waited, we did the boot dance, ate some snacks, and generally just kept moving to stay warm. While we waited the snow decided to kick up again too, so we had the open expanse of Snowbank Lake providing lots of fetch for wind driven snow whenever we turned to the Northeast.
By the time the dogs arrived on scene there were 5 or 6 crews waiting. Each crew stayed in their own line and the sled dog experience was basically a ride in the sled on a quarter mile or so long loop in the bay. During our ride we were encouraged to ask any questions we might have about mushing, the dogs, or the musher.
Gavin wasn’t really ever a dog person, although he liked to play with them on occasion once he got to know them. I think he was a little apprehensive before it was his turn, but the expression on
his face here right after he had his ride says everything you need to know about his ride.
When it’s my turn to ride in the sled I ask a few questions, which you can hear on the video below. Also, the tan and dark dog in the rear left position is named Jedi.
Later that evening, we go on a night hike as a way of kicking up our metabolism and generating some heat before settling in for bed. We end up doing an evening reflectional as a group where we each talk about the things we appreciated about the day and what we hope to encounter tomorrow.
Our interpreter gives us all chocolate squares and M&Ms as a pre-bedtime snack during the hike. Once we’re back at camp he comes back around and checks on everyone once we’re settled in to our bags. As a “reward” we all get a package of cookies or some other treat to nibble on in the middle of the night in case we wake up and are cold. One feature of winter camping, especially winter high adventure, is they are practically forcing the calories on you. A typical person burns 4,000-5,000 calories per day just trying to stay warm while out winter camping. Add in things like snowsnowing, cross country skiing, or just plain trudging through the snow and a person’s daily needs could easily be 7,000-10,000 calories.
The stars are out and bright tonight. One thing I never tire of in the Northwoods are the stars. I just wish my electronics could keep up with the low temps of winter to take more photos! Tonight we expect the low to be in the low teens to upper single digits. We need one night of below zero to earn the “Zero Hero” award…..