I know this blog is called Four Season Cycling. It turns out my first camping trip of 2017 was not on a bike. But I thought it might be of interest to some of the readers of this blog anyway.
One year ago my friend Jeff and I were planning to go on an overnight camping trip. It would have been his first winter camping trip. For me it would have been my first winter camping trip in 8 or 9 years. I used to try to go once or twice each winter. The trip ended up getting postponed. I described why we postponed it in a post on this blog. We were never able to re-schedule it before an early Spring took over.
A few weeks ago we worked it out to go this weekend. The plan: finish what we started last year. Last year’s plan was to head up the North Shore of Lake Superior about 60 miles to Finland, Minnesota. It is about 5 miles inland from the big lake. We’d access the Superior Hiking Trail from a trail head at the Finland Rec Center. Head “North” on the trail to either the first or second lake depending on how we were feeling and how far we wanted to go. The weather was about as perfect as it gets for winter camping. Highs in the 20’s on Saturday, low’s in the single digits at night, and warmer for the second day. A high near the freezing mark. Winds were expected to be light and variable. Abundant sunshine. Clear skies at night with a nearly full moon. Wow! Completely different then the harsh weather the previous year.
We set out from the trail head sign above in the first picture. There were some snowshoe tracks to follow as we started down the short spur trail towards the main trail. We were thinking this would be great if we didn’t have to break trail. Well, when we reached the main trail the snowshoe tracks turned right. We happened to be turning left. No sign of the trail in the snow other then a slight depression left from some old footprints or snowshoe tracks that had since been buried by at least a foot of snow. We turned left and continued on knowing our task at hand just got much harder. We now had to break trail in the snow. Snow deep enough that our 30 inch long expedition snowshoes were sinking at least a foot into it. We also had to try and always be careful we were still on the trail.
Thankfully Susan and I had blue blazed through here back in 2007 when we were hired as contractors to paint trail blazes on trees for over 200 miles of the trail. You can see a fading blue blaze on a tree in the above picture. It was very reassuring to see a blaze whenever we were starting to wonder if we were still on the trail. However, if we had to blaze this section again I would tighten up the distance between the blazes just a bit in some areas.
Jeff and I tried to switch the lead fairly often to give each other a rest from breaking trail. It was slow going and draining. But the day was so gorgeous it was a pleasure to be out in the woods despite the about of energy we were exerting.
Snow depth ranged from 1 foot to 2 1/2 feet. It depended on which side of a ridge we were on and the amount of drifted snow. There was winter beauty every where we looked. This section of trail takes you up a low ridge. At the top you can see a ridge that sits between the ridge we were on and Lake Superior. It almost looked mountainous at times. After we came off the ridge there were several small creek crossings with some ups and downs in between.
This creek crossing doesn’t look as menacing as it did in person. You can see Jeff has taken off his hip belt and had it in his hand. That was as a precaution in case the snow broke loose on the bridge and the sled slid off with the snow. If we had our hip belts still on we would have been pulled over the side with the sled. It was an 8 or 10 foot drop off this bridge and there was flowing water under it.
We struggled to pull our sleds up and out of the steep ravine from the last creek. That’s when we spotted our destination for the night. Egge Lake. We had worked hard for four and a half hours to get there. The distance traveled? 2.6 miles! And we were exhausted. One mile of snowy travel like this equals 3 or 4 miles of normal summer travel. Any thoughts of traveling an additional 3 miles to the next lake disappeared. It could have taken us 5 hours to travel another 3 miles….if we had had the energy to keep going. We were done for the day.
We arrived at an established back country backpacking campsite…..or we thought we did. All the campsites on the Superior Hiking Trail have a fire ring and benches. We found what looked to be the opening of where the campsite should be but could see no signs of benches or a fire ring. But we did find a deep snow drift running through the campsite. We theorized the benches and fire ring were in there somewhere. The lake is long and narrow. I think the lake creates a wind tunnel effect. There were signs of drifting all along the lake and snow drifts on the lake. The campsite juts out into the lake and the wind comes right across it.
We went about setting up camp. Picking our sleeping spots, unpacking, collecting firewood, and digging out a cooking area in the snow drift. The winds were blowing a little harder then predicted. I think it was because of that wind tunnel effect. They never did die down at night.
Here’s Jeff in the morning heating water and preparing his breakfast in our snow drift cooking area. We have our pulk sleds propped up for additional wind breaks. The winds were higher then we were expecting, but really not bad in our protected area. It didn’t take long to dig out the area since we both packed in lightweight collapsible avalanche shovels. You can see I even dug out a shelf to do my cooking on.
We ate dinner after dark. Jeff got a fire going. A fire in these conditions is a lot of work to keep going. I was getting colder faster then the fire was warming me. We decided to call it a night at 7:30 and retired to our sleeping bags. The moon was not up yet when we went to bed. A head lamp was required to see. But once the nearly full moon came up it was so bright on the white snow a head lamp was not necessary to see. It was so incredibly bright.
First light. Winter camping means long nights in a sleeping bag (unless you’re really good at keeping fires going with wood you gather yourself). The mornings are very welcome. I often spend 12 to 13 hours in the sleeping bag. For me it’s the hardest part of winter camping. The flip side is I sleep really well in a sleeping bag in the woods. Mornings consists of heating water for breakfast and packing up. The packing up part always warms me up while I wait for my water to boil. Jeff and I both used either a tarp or tarp tent to sleep in this trip. In the past I have always used just a bivy, no tent or tarp. The bivy makes me a bit claustrophobic. So I opted for a tarp tent this trip. Here’s our set-ups:
Jeff’s on the left, mine on the right.
After breakfast we finished packing up. We were looking forward to following the trail we broke the previous day back to the trail head. We could simply snowshoe along without worrying about whether we were still on the trail or not. Not having to break trail saved us an hour and half on the trip back. We were exhausted none the less. The temp warmed into the low 30’s. We could feel the warmth of the sun on our faces. We were able to stay very comfortable with one or two light layers. Here’s some of the pictures from the hike on Day 2:
I love winter. Whether I’m on a fatbike, commuter bike, snowshoes, X-country skis, or camping, I love being outdoors in the most beautiful season.
Excellent! So glad you guys were able to get out and take advantage of a great weekend for camping. With the right gear, and an experienced guide, I’d be willing to try sleeping outdoors in temperatures much colder than normal for me…especially if I could experience the beautiful surroundings you guys found. Thank you for the story and images.
@Pondero I acted as the experienced winter camping guide on this overnight. I’m happy to say everybody came back and apparently fun was had by all.