Winter Trekking – Slim Lake Loop, Boundary Waters Canoe Area

The weather looked great and the ice might just be perfect for an end of season winter trek. So, my trekking partner and I decided the Slim Lake Loop is the right adventure for the weekend. This is a 7 mile loop that rounds four lakes, Slim, Rice, Hook and Keneu Lake.

We met in Ely, MN at 8:30am for a last chance bathroom break, then we headed out for the 30-minute drive to Slim Lake Entry Point #6. We hit Entry point #6 about 9:30am, unloaded and we were ready to go. We headed out from the parking lot to the portage and were happily surprised at the beautiful trickling creek and small bridge. I love the sound of moving water.

We made it to Slim Lake, checked our GPS for direction, turned on my Garmin Mini tracking devices and headed across the frozen lake. Pulling our gear and being grateful to be alive. The sleds were having a blast too.

On the way across the lake, we ran into what we thought to be a lame wolf due to the tracks which looked like it may have been dragging it’s leg. Nope! We come to find out that it is a Cougar track. And that is the tail dragging. It was warm out and the snow was melting fast, so we knew the prints must be fresh. Tracking animal prints is one of my favorite things to do in the backcountry. It is so fun to understand whose neighborhood we are trekking through. And then thank them for letting us pass through their turf.

The weather kept warming up and layers needed to come off quick before I start sweating. Jacket and gloves were off and it felt like spring. The sky was blue and full of life. We made it to our next portage which leads to Rice Lake. Lake #2 for the day.

We broke trail through this portage and there were a couple of butt kicking hills. Pulling a pulksled is no joke, especially breaking trail and going uphill. But there’s always some excitement building before getting to the next lake.

We were about 2 miles into the trip and were getting hungry. We trekked across the lake toward portage #3 when we came to the perfect lunch rock. Backpack came off, sleds took a rest and I had a great lunch. Salami, cheese and already shelled pasticcio’s, oh and the Butterfingers for desert.

The clouds were whispering over our heads. The wind was blowing just enough to keep us from overheating. We had some fun messing around and playing with our tripods, as always, making us laugh.

Stomachs full and hydrated, we were at 2.3 miles in, and we were ready for the next portage.

Portage #3 from Rice Lake to Hook Lake. Seeing Hook Lake through natures doorway was so simple and beautiful! Once again, the first view of the lake caused me to stop and take it all in. Oh and of course a few pictures.

When we started across Hook Lake, we noticed that the sun was baking the top layer of snow making it icy and easy to pull the sled on. This raised our spirits even more. But that also means the ice is melting so it’s time to watch where we walk, and where are sled is going, and make sure to stay off thin ice. LOL

We tried to be super safe around all of the melting ice and open water. Following your instinct helps most of the time. Okay, I broke through the ice once with both feet. Good news, I only went in about a foot of water and I blame it on the beaver. My Darn Tough socks to the rescue! They kept my feet warm until we made it to camp and through camp set up. I almost forgot my feet and boots were soaking wet. Darn Tough are Darn good!

We have trekked about 4.5 miles and we are planning to camp somewhere on Keneu Lake. I am getting excited to set up my tent and have some fun with my gear.

Portage #4 from Hook to Keneu Lake is where all the action happened. Thin ice and a very well-made beaver dam.

But first lets navigated around this rock wall at the south end of Hook Lake where the ice was extremely sketchy. But not to sketchy to stop for photo’s.

We made it through Hook dry as a button. The portage from Hook to Keneu was overran by a neighborly beaver. And this, my friends, is where I ended up in the drink. If you look to the left of Melanie, you can see the area where I thought I could just walk straight over the beaver dam and keep on going. Not so much, the ice broke, and this girl got wet. That is exactly why I bring an extra pair of boots. 🙂

After the beaver dam we were over 5 miles and I was getting tired. The wind picked up as soon as we got out in the open on Slim Lake so we started to scope out the best spot to pitch our tents and have dinner. We found a sweet spot on the east side of the lake mostly out of the wing but with a great view of the sunset. By this time, the lake was slushy. Finding a solid spot for our tents was key. Camp is all set up and now it’s time to play with my gear and my tripod.

Home Sweet Home!

Making it to camp releases this great sense of accomplishment. 5.7 miles of carrying and pulling your supplies to stay alive and stay safe in the backcountry is extremely fulfilling. It drives me to make bigger and bigger goals. I will continue to move forward, continue to make lofty goals, and continue to grow. This is what brings my life joy.

How do I stay warm sleeping on the ice you ask? I start by laying down a regular tarp. I top that with my footing which is probably not necessary. Up goes my Big Agnes Tigerwall UL 2P.

I lay a wool blanket down inside my tent. One side of it is a softshell layer which I put towards the ground. I use 2 sleeping pads. First is my Big Agnes Q-Core XLS mat with a R-value of 4.7. I top that with a closed cell Thermarest pad.

I use a 15degree Nemo bag, inside of the Nemo I have my zero-degree quilt. I stay toasty warm. I normally would sleep in my 260 Ice Breaker long underwear with socks, but I was to warm this trip. Not a bad problem to have when sleeping on a lake.

Pro Tip – Fill a Nalgene bottle full of boiling water and throw that in your sleeping bag with you PJ’s and you will stay warm all night long.

It’s the end of the day and we get to have a fire and chill. A fire on winter treks is the best. Seeing the colors reflect off the snow and listening to the crackle of the wood is the BEST way to watch the sun drop behind the trees. No better place to eat my dinner, Ramen, crackers.

Then let’s roast marshmallows.

I LOVE tent time. After I run around and get some night shots, I climb into my house, mess with all my gear and sleep like a girl on ice. So good!

I could hear the waves crashing underneath the ice laying in my tent. What a cool sound and a cool reality. I’m not in a boat but I still get to feel the waves crashing below. Good Night.

Man did I sleep good. The stars were over the top. Sounds like I slept through the Northern Lights. But, we placed our tents so we can wake up and just open the door and see the sunrise from bed.

I could see the sky and all of her lovely colors. Some people ask, why do you want to sleep outside in the winter? This is why!!!

Up early, knowing we are only a short distance from completing this winter trek, excitement builds and we pack up camp. Melanie get’s out of her tent and let’s me know that we had visitors. Two wolves passed within 10 feet of her tent. It looks like they were just investigating and having some fun.

It must have been shortly after we went to bed because their prints were clearly frozen in the slush. The slush was almost froze when we went to bed.

We do our best to protect the Boundary Waters and all area’s in the backcountry by following the LNT principles. See, clean camp site.

Slide the picture to see the Before and After picture o – LNT

Time to hook up the sleds and pull our way back to the car. The sun was brilliant and inviting. We followed the morning sun off of Slim Lake and our last portage back to the car.

Not much snow left on this portage. We could see how much snow melt there was while we are on our trek.

Total trip mileage about 7 miles.

Thanks to the BWCA and all of the volunteers. You rock!!!


Published by backpackingbeyond

Hi, I’m Monica – I want to inspire you to be your best. For me, that means backpacking. I am my best on the trail and I want to share that experience with you. I have a ton to learn but know enough to be dangerous. I can’t wait to blog from the trail. Sharing the good the bad and the ugly. All of those are sure to happen on any thru-hike. I want to connect with anyone who has an interest in learning about my trips and how to plan trips of their own. My end goal is to get as many people outside and on the trail as possible. I will be working on several beginner weekend trips this year for some guiding experience. Email me with interest. I look forward to seeing all of you on the trail! 🙂

6 thoughts on “Winter Trekking – Slim Lake Loop, Boundary Waters Canoe Area

  1. Sounds like a fun trip. The tracks you found and put two pictures of in the post were not cougar, they are wolf. The close-up is an indirect double-register (rear track slightly off-set imprint in the track of the front paw). You’ll notice the tear drop shaped toe pads for one, that means its a canine. Also, you can see the shape of the snow in between the large pad and the toe pads is raised like a pyramid shape, also indicates canine. The claw marks are clearly visible and robust, again means canine. Lastly, the drag marks you see are in fact from the paws, they were just walking lazily and not lifting up feet completely. A drag for the tail is in the center, only a single track, and does not connect on paw imprint to the other as these clearly do.


    1. I’m not so sure that’s correct. I was with Monica and the prints have been looked at by multiple people. The consensus was that these are cougar tracks. There were no claw marks visible. And the drag pattern is absolutely not characteristic of a wolf. Additionally, canines do not step into the track from there front foot. If it was a wolf, the foot would collapse when lifted leaving a narrower path than what is seen. Wolf tracks look entirely different from the tracks you are referencing. I’d agree the drag mark is probably not the tail, but just the natural marks left by paws. Images of cougar tracks in snow may be found online, and they reflect what I saw with my own eyes.


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