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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. πŸ™‚

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!!!

Monica

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Winter Trekking – Sawbill/Alton Lake Entry #38 Boundary Waters Canoe Area

After deciding on a winter trip to Sawbill Lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (β€œBWCA”) of Northern Minnesota, I started working on my DIY pulksled to help with the heavy weight of my winter gear. It was not the biggest sled, but I knew it would do the job. I had a great time constructing the sled, and I was excited to start packing and venture out.

My friend and I started our adventure at Sawbill Canoe Outfitters near Tofte, MN where we could leave our cars at no cost. The outfitters gave us great information on conditions and permits. This Sawbill Lake entry point is located about 4.5 hours north of the Twin Cities

Sawbill Canoe Outfitters, Inc.

After loading the sled with my gear, I hooked up and started toward the lake. The permit kiosk is right next to the Sawbill Lake entry point. There is a latrine near the permit kiosk, which is the last chance for a real bathroom – take advantage if you can!

Right away I realized that a braking system for the sled would be helpful. Until I add brakes I need to make sure and not let the sled run me over going downhill – lesson learned. After getting the permit, it was time to see how this sled would handle.

Permit Station at Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Entry Point #38 Superior National Forest

With the sled attached to my backpack waist belt I was ready to cross the lake. Using my Garmin In-Reach Mini and EarthMate, we headed across Sawbill Lake toward the portage to Alton Lake. Weather was decent and not much wind. We had the lake to ourselves except for two ladies snowshoeing with their dog; they were all having a blast.

Setting out on my first pulksled adventure. Pure joy!

We made it to the portage. It was a little less than a mile, but I will tell you pulling the sleds with snowshoes is no easy task. It was hard work, and the hard work paid off. The portage to Alton Lake was like a big puff ball. The snow was light and fluffy, kind of like cotton candy. It was a winter wonderland. I have been looking for a new trail name and this is where I found it.

Say hello to Candyland!

Portage between Sawbill Lake and Alton Lake

We snowshoed out of the snow-filled portage to see beautiful Alton Lake. I was getting tired at this point, so we made the decision to head straight across the bay in front of the portage and check out the shoreline of the peninsula for a spot out of the wind to set up camp. We landed on the east side of the nearest peninsula, adding another .5 miles to our day. Total trip miles 1.5 one-way.

This spot was just right, as it was out of the wind and full of beauty.. It was time to set up camp! We hauled firewood to camp because we’re not ready to chop wood yet – baby steps. The wood was purchased in the same county in accordance with the United States Forest Service guidelines. The wood was heavy and made my sled tipsy. I could not wait to get it off my sled.

It was time for my NorthFace Mountain 25 four-season tent to go up. I rented the tent from REI to see how I liked the four-season option. This tent was like a winter castle. Setup was easy after my practice round the night before at home, in my own backyard. I didn’t put down any stakes, as I was on a lake and the stakes didn’t want to go into the ice -go figure. The tent is a free standing setup, and it was just fine.

Free standing The North Face Mountain 25 4 Season Tent – Only because I couldn’t get the stakes into the ice.

My favorite part is to set up my home for the night. I used a ground cover that is waterproof for under the tent. It actually was waterproof. I was impressed. I used a wool blanket with a soft shell on one side on the bottom of the inside of my tent. It’s nice to have the floor covered with wool. It makes a good barrier between my sleep system and the snow.

I feel like a kid when i set up my tent. I LOVE gear. More pure joy!

My sleeping mat setup for winter is a Big Agnes Q-Core XLS wide mat which has an R-factor of 4.7. I put my Thermarest closed cell mat on top of the Q-Core. It makes for an extremely comfortable bed. I use a Nemo 15-degree sleeping bag with a 0-degree quilt inside of the bag.

After camp was set up, it was time to make the fire. I made sure to review guidelines on having a winter campfire to confirm I was in compliance. I started my first fire on a lake and it felt good, as I had done my research this time out. My first attempt at starting a fire in the winter was a failure. Getting this fire started was a win and put an even bigger smile on my face.

Mel and I – Talk time

We had dinner by the campfire with a cup of hot cocoa topped off with mini marshmallows. Then we started the water boiling marathon. The best way I have found to warm up my sleeping bag quickly before I climb in is to fill my Nalgene bottles with boiling water and throw it in your sleeping bag. It warms me up and I can layer down for bed. I was able to sleep in my base layer Ice Breaker 160 top and bottom. And I did not even need to keep my sleep socks on. Toasty warm all night long, even after my midnight outdoor latrine break. You know it’s going to happen every time! The temps dropped to about 10 degrees with a windchill of zero.

Hot Cocoa and Chicken Noodle Soup

I slept in until 9 am, and it was good sleep. It was time to pack up and head back across the lake. Thanks to my Garmin I could check the forecast and see temperatures were going to start dropping. I could see the wind blowing across the lake and it looked chilly. The sun was out and five inches of fresh powder fell from the sky while we slept; it was beautiful.

Waking up to fresh powder and sunshine.

Packing the pulksled back up was quick and easy. No wood to haul – yay. Hot tip: if you want to bring a fancy metal fire ring into the backcountry just know that it will melt into the lake and you will have to chop it out with your handy shovel if you leave it overnight. Another lesson learned.

I always practice leave no trace. It is ok to have a fire on the ice. It is preferred. But I made sure to scatter all ashes and LEAVE NO TRACE that there was ever a fire there.

LNT – Leave No Trace

The fresh powder from the night snowfall was pretty and deep. Breaking trail was tough and the wind was blowing. The sun kept me warm. As we trudged across the frozen lakes towards our cars, I thought about how grateful I was to have had this amazing experience; I began to look forward to my next pulksled journey.

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Hiker Talk – A guide to hiker terms used on the trail

Backpacker’s Midnight – 9pm is backpacker’s midnight. Lights out even if the sun is still up. Lol

Backcountry – A remote area that is hard to get to and not maintained.

Base Layer – This is the layer of clothing you wear next to your skin.

Bear Box – A lockable container you will find at campsites in bear country to store and protect your food and anything with a smell from bears and critters. These are permanent structures.

Bear Canister – Hard-sided containers that backpackers use to protect food and smelly stuff from bears and critters. Backpackers carry these in bear country.

Bear Pole – Some campsites will have a bear pole which will have a cable to attach to your food bag to hoist the bag up to the top of the poles to keep your food and smelly stuff safe.

Bear Bag – Storage bags that are made of Kevlar (bullet proof) material that bears and critters cannot get into.

Bivy Sack– A single person bag that offers a layer of protection from the weather for you and your sleeping bag.

Blaze – Being the first person to break trail after a snowfall.

Boardwalk – A bridge/walkway that elevates you over wetlands, bogs, and mud.

Bog – Wet spongy ground that has poor drainage.

Cache – A hidden location where water or food may be stored for a future date.

Camel Up – Start hydrating days before your trip. And when at water sources on the trail, drink as much as you can to help you stay hydrated.  

Cairn – A pile of stones used for trail markers.

Cat Hole – A hole for human waste disposal. The hole must be at least 100 feet from nearest water, campground, trail. It should be 6 inches deep.

Cowboy Camp – No shelter used. Sleeping under the stars.

Death March – An area of the trail where you put your head down and hike your ass off. Either many miles or bad weather or both.

False Summit – When you see the top of the pass and when you finally get there you realize that it is not the top.

Gaiters – Keeps debris out of your shoes. I highly recommend Dirty Girl Gaiters. Sassy!

Hiker Box – A place where hikers can unload any extra food or gear. Other hikers are welcome to take what they need.

Hiker Hunger – Several days into your thru hike you will get extremely hungry. Bring Oreo’s. Yum

Hiker Trash – Long distance backpackers may use this term describe themselves in a smelly disheveled kind of way.

HYOH – Hike Your Own Hike

LNT – Leave No Trace

MacGyver – Fixing something with nothing

Nero Day – This day you will walk nearly zero miles. Short hiking day.

NOBO – Hiking Northbound

Post Hole – When your leg sinks completely in the snow or earth.

Scat – Wild animal poop               

Scree – A hill or mountainside covered in loose rock

Section Hiker – Completing a long-distance trail by hiking it over several trips

SOBO – Hiking Southbound

Stealth Camping – Camping in an area

Thru Hiker – A long distance beginning to end backpacking trip

Trail Angel – The people that provide trail magic.

Trail Legs – Several days into your hike your legs become accustomed to the long miles.

Tramily – The peeps you meet and hike with on the trail.

Trail Magic – Something that happens on the trail to lift your spirits. Trail Angels provide trail magic!

Trowel – The small shovel to dig your cat hole.

Vitamin I – Ibuprofen

Widow Maker – A tree or branch that is dead but has not fallen. You don’t want to pitch your tent under one of these.

Zero Day – You hike zero miles. R&R day.

Now you are ready for trail talk!

The Joy

Free spirited Joy!

Why I want to blog –

Sharing my experiences on the trail and spread this joy that’s been found. It has really changed my life and outlook on the future. I want to inspire you! And be inspired by you! Our futures look bright.

I am going to drive towards lofty goals in backpacking and in life. Why not. I know this is what makes me happy. I know this is what I am supposed to do. I have a community and family that supports me and that is pretty special.

To you who will get out on the trail with me, I can’t wait to share this joy with you πŸ™‚ And to those of you that may not want to hit the trail but enjoy the story, I want you to share the joy by following my adventures. Β©

Happy Trails,

Monica

Looking ahead

I’m excited to be ready to start planning the 2021 hiking season. My plan is to hit the PCT Section B in California in the spring. I finished Section A in early December. Not a ton of planning will be needed. Airline tickets, travel to and from the trailheads, permits and Food.

It’s a 100 mile section. My plan today is to fly into LAX and stay with a friend who can drive me to Warner Springs which is where Section B starts. I’m going to shoot for 8 days on the trail with a trip into Idyllwide. Stay the night in Idyllwide and resupply in town. Should be a knock out of the park and will be good training for some more Sierra Nevada trekking this summer. I am going to dig into the permits for the section and will add that to my info. Excited to be typing.

#PCT #Backpacking #hiking #womenwhohike #Pacificcresttrail #Hikethetrail

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