Winter Camping – Take 3

Ah – my last and final winter camping trip!

My co-worker Bre and I decided to head up north again for another addition of Winter camping. This time we were fully outfitted with CCS Pulks, a winter tent and hot stove. Along with additional friends NingA & Canoearoo, we made the most of our cushy winter camping experience.

We ended up choosing the Clearwater entry point for the amazing vistas, high recommendations, and general feasibility. Starting back at the end of September we poured out ideas for various locations which included Wood Lake, Sawbill, Missing Link Lake etc. But in the end we decided a base-camp on Clearwater would be the right choice for us.

A new staple in my wilderness packing is Melatonin. I am/was a horrific wilderness sleeper. I absolutely LOVE my days out in the wild, but at nightfall my imagination runs dangerously free. I imagine wolves, bears, and weirdos surrounding us waiting to kill… and I usually get zero sleep at night, which often causes me to feel sick the next several days after the trip to lack of sleep… so again this time I was armed… with good old fashioned pharmaceuticals.

My trip just two weeks ago proved to me that I could sleep peacefully in the woods.

Thursday March 2, 2017
Thursday afternoon we pulled out of the Twin Cities and embarked on that wonderful four hour car ride up Interstate 35 all the way up to Grand Marais. Once we neared Tettegouche State Park there was no end to the amount of deer we saw crossing, and along side of Hwy 61 all the way to our bunkhouse! This would be the highlight of our wilderness viewing.

Once we arrived in Grand Marais, we swung into Voyageur Brewery for a bite to eat, however with some various dietary concerns, and lack of options we relocated over to the Harbor House Grille. An adorable restaurant built out of an old house. We cozied up next to the fire place, and shared great conversation for the weekend ahead and had burgers 4 ways!

After dinner we shot a bit past Grand Marais to sleep at the The Hungry Hippie Farm & Hostel that is popular with Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) enthusiasts as it is shortly off the trail. In many ways I would have been happy to just set up shop right here for the remaining days.

The drive up CR-14 was long and dark. We passed the SHT and began wondering if there was going to be a sign directing us to the hostel. Eventually, through the trees,  all light up in the dark was the outline of the barn – obviously our turn.  We parked, knocked on the house door, and were greeted enthusiastically by the owners and their children. She showed us around, the downstairs common area, including the individual rooms that go for $50 (they were pretty nice), and brought us to the upstairs of the barn where the -cheaper-  bunks were. They were absolutely adorable, and in chalk had noted our bunks!

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We all snuggled up in our beds, donned our headlamps and read our books, or Skyped our husbands for the last time before our real wilderness adventure began! In the evening the barn got pretty hot. Our one trip-mate stealthily jumped down from the top bunk and turned down the heat. From here on out she earned her trail name ~ NingA.

We dozed off to sleep, thankful that we were sleeping in the bunkhouse tonight since the temperatures dropped down to -6 degrees.

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Friday March 3, 2017
With temperatures hovering barely to zero, we woke up semi-lazily, and headed back in towards Grand Marais for coffee & breakfast at Java Moose. The view back in towards Grand Marais was absolutely spectacular with clear skies you could see for miles and miles down the coast. I am absolutely kicking myself now for not pulling over for a photo opp.

At Java Moose we enjoyed tasty oatmeal and breakfast sandwiches, and then were soon on our way up the Gunflint Trail where we saw more deer on the side of the road. I immediately threw off my fears of wolves since there were so many deer for their picking.

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The drive down Clearwater Road was so pretty. Eventually we came to the Clearwater entry point at the end of the road to a non-parking lot, and ended up driving out onto the ice by accident.

Backed up the trailer, and parked on the side of the boat launch where others instructed us to park.

We unloaded fairly quickly, thought at times it looked like a yard sale in the middle of the parking lot, since two others were going on a winter adventure ahead of us, and then 3 more pulled up behind us.

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As we crossed the ice – the ice was absolutely BOOMING! It sounded like this for the entire day and into the night. At first it was a bit unnerving when a big boom thundered underfoot, but eventually I got used to it, and rather liked the sound.

Eventually we passed from the public areas into the wilderness towards our camp off the BRT (Border Route Trail).  The banks up to the campsite were very steep and ice laden. I wonder how tricky it is in the warmer months…

We found a nice spot for the tent that was protected from the wind by some trees. Unfortunately the snow was kind of crummy for snow anchors, so we had to anchor out to the surrounding trees.  Canoearoo and NinjA went off to gather wood while Bre and I got the tent and stove set up.

Later that night I took my Nils ice auger out and drilled through 2.5 feet of ice for some water. We all spent time cutting wood,and using the axe. After Bre went to town with the axe we gave her trail name to her – “LumberBre“.

Canoearoo and I got our holes drilled for tip-ups hoping for some legendary Lake Trout. We used huge frozen minnows on treble hooks and waited eagerly for the monsters to bite while NinjA and LumberBre gathered some more wood down the shore line far away from camp.

The day was cold, but with the position of the sun, and lack of wind it felt pretty warm. Everyone was in high spirits.

Later that night we pulled in our tip-ups, and set off to make dinner, but not before we took in the breathtaking views of the sunset on Clearwater Lake.

Since one of my trip partners is a vegetarian, and the others have a bit of specific needs of their own we all decided to pack our own meals.

After Basecamp Dad and I’s trip two weeks ago I discovered I HATE doing dishes in the winter, due to frozen hands so I packed in delights that required no dishes to be washed.

Tonight’s meal was a Good – to – Go – meal. I had the Classic Marinara with Penne. They are vegetarian and gluten free, and delicious! They took about 20-minutes to set after we spend a while boiling water.  Bre charged her iPhone off my Biolite stove.

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The Classic Marinara, mixed in with a bit of crushed red pepper, it was pretty darn good. I would definitely have this again. Serving size says 2, and for me, I would say that was right. I had a bunch left over.

After dinner we got our food hung, and Bre got the hot tent – well – getting hot. Once inside we saw the benefit of a hot tent. We all hunkered inside and had some good conversation while contemplating the days activity quietly to ourselves.

That night felt terribly cold. I had a zero degree sleeping bag, and with the forecast calling for a low of 16 degrees it barely felt adequate. During the middle of the night, my head (which was under two hats and a balaclava) became terribly cold, and I clung to my hot packs for dear life.

The hot tent was not hot, though we didn’t keep it prime stoked throughout the night. It was cold. So very cold that night.

Saturday March 4, 2017
To be honest. Last night – was rough. It was SO COLD!

We did wake up to a warm tent however. Bre had gotten the fire going first thing in the morning, and we all woke up pleasantly so after a cold – cold night. We hung out for quite a while in the tent before getting the courage to go out and get our breakfast going. NinjA had brought her food inside the tent, so she got her breakfast taco going/defrosting on the wood stove, and her coffee as well. (Good call).

Eventually we all meandered out of the tent, and re-drilled the hole so we could get some fresh water boiling for everyone’s water/coffee for the day.

Today’s high was supposed to be 36 with a low of 25, but it was absolutely frigid. I definitely packed for the forecast, and not the worst case scenario. I’m not very talented at this winter camping game!

I enjoyed a huge thermos of Starbucks Via – Italian Roast, and some Bailey’s non-alcoholic creamer which I had to warm by the outdoor fire to defrost since it was frozen solid. The Italian Roast is decidedly not my favorite. It is kind of bitter, so you really need the cream to cut it. I also had a Kind breakfast bar. This was about as low maintenance as you can get for breakfast.

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Bre & NinjA packed up a day-pack and hiked up the Border Route Trail towards Rove Lake so they could see Canada, and Canoearoo and myself tried our hand at some more ice fishing, and relaxing.

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We ended up moving down to the lake out of camp for the day since it was sunny on the ice, and warmed us up a bit.

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Later on for lunch I tried my bagel sandwich with turkey, basil and onion. It was the “Bruegers Bagel” of the north woods, but it too froze completely the night before, and it had to be warmed on the fire. After I got it to an edible state it was pretty good.  I have to remember to make these when we go car camping.

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Still cold, and not thoroughly enjoying this whole winter camping thing… I joked to Canoearoo that I bet I could hike out to my SUV, drive to the Trail Center, have a hot meal and be back before the others came back from their hike, but in the end I sucked it up, and enjoyed myself with good company and conversation.

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Eventually the other ladies came back from their hike. While crossing a lake they felt uneasy about it, and heard some uncomforting cracking sounds, so they quickly got off the ice and made their way back. They said the trail was exceptionally groomed as if someone went through with a snowblower making a nice clear path.

We began gathering our stuff up for the hike out tomorrow, and agreed we’d skip breakfast in camp and head straight for Trail Center in the morning for a big hearty meal that we didn’t have to prepare or thaw.

After our evening chores were complete, we got our various dinners going. This time was another addition of Good-To-Go Thai Curry. It was very delicious with peas, broccoli, and green beans, and none of them tasted dehydrated.  Again, there was far too much for me to eat.

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NinjA had the fire going in the hot tent, so when everything was battened down we retreated to the tent which was real warm, and felt good with the wind picking up speed. As the others started fading one by one, I got lost deeply in my William Kent Krueger Book, “Copper Ridge” the sixth in his installment on the Corcoran O’Conner series. To say I’m hooked is an understatement!

I donned six hot packs throughout my body after last night’s uncomfortable sleep, and changed up my clothes which felt much warmer. NinjA kept the fire going throughout the night.

Laying there it sounded like F14 Jets were taking off on the eastern side of Clearwater and roared their way down the runway of the lake. I was surely glad I wasn’t paddling in it as it whipped our tent. I prayed our knots would hold, and they did.

Tonight was much much warmer, and I slept mostly comfortable.

Sunday March 5, 2017
We all arose about 7:30 or so. We laid there not wanting to get out of our sleeping bags with the cool air on our noses, but one by one we sat up. The wood stove was cool to the touch, and looking around I said, “In the words of Basecamp Dad… lets pack this *hit up!”.

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So we did, and in no time we were back down on the ice ready to pull our pulks westbound down Clearwater Lake. We arrived to the car without dramatics, and took off towards Trail Center.

I drank about 6 cups of coffee with creamer, and thee most delicious blueberry french toast with sausage a girl could find on the Gunflint Trail. If you haven’t checked out Trail Center… drop everything you have, and drive straight here. You won’t regret it, or their adorable customer service.

Final Thoughts
Alas, my final thoughts… Firstly- I really really wanted to enjoy this. But… for me it was cold. Maybe my gear was not robust enough, but I found winter camping to me more work than the reward…

We found out once we were back in civilization that Friday > Saturday got down to 10 below zero!!!! No wonder I was so cold!

The silence of the north-woods in the winter is breathtaking, and awe inspiring. It drowns out the sounds in my head… and tunes into the sounds of my soul, making the emotion absolutely deafening.

For this reason, I’m drawn to these spaces, but these feelings I get, I do find during the warmer months as well..

While I probably will not venture out into these snowy months washout the promise of a  sound heated structure, I will venture to these parts again… I long for the defrosting of lakes frozen, into liquid poetry… to chase the silence… to chase the stillness of my soul… 

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