Snow-Stomping in a Spruce Bog

A quick little hike about two hours long…

It’s late February, and after a long winter with mere moderate amounts of snow, we’ve had a good series of heavier accumulation.  With six or so more inches fallen on Saturday night, and a 40F forecast for Monday, I saw Sunday as the opportunity to get out in the woods before it all started melting…

Back into the woods, down a familiar ravine and back up the facing hill, I made very slow progress… with over two feet of very fluffy snow, my snowshoes seemed to do nothing. The path I was cutting sank a good foot below the surface. Yet, I’m sure without the snowshoes, I would have found it even considerably harder (but softer?) to trudge.

I checked my owl house. Still no residents, judging from the snow accumulated at the entrance and on the perch. Yet there seemed to be no residents in the woods as a whole. Where normally I might see a network of animal trails on the fresh snow- deer, squirrel, rabbit, fox, and the like- I saw no tracks at all. With all the deep fluffy snow, I imagine it was too much effort for the animals to travel, and so they were all hunkered down. No doubt that evening they would take advantage of my freshly carved trail making for easier passage.

31A1A4CA-C18B-47BA-AD71-3042F4F6FB9FI went deeper into my familiar woods into one of the black spruce bogs. There’s no tranquility like a sleeping spruce bog in the winter.

At one point, I heard the Phoebe-like call of the Chickadee. Later a raven flew over. Finally I crossed some deer tracks on high ground that looked to be from that morning. There was life awake in the forest after all.

I circled back out of the bog and found my way back to crossing my trail in. The hike out was a breeze comparatively, as I could enjoyed the freshly cut trail I had earlier stomped out. I’d like to return in a day or two and see what tracks took advantage of the new thoroughfare.

Five Guys Follow-up

Here’s a small world follow-up to our Five Guys in a Three-Man. …

Today picture popped up in my newsfeed- a picture of a canvas tent that looked very much like the tent of the campers we passed hiking in on our 2018 BWCA winter camping trip. Of course, a lot of views of white canvas tents on the edge of a boreal shore are going to look vaguely familiar; but this caught my eye as one that looked very much like the guys we saw hiking in. I gave them a passing reference as ‘We passed another crew of chionophiles on the way in‘ during the recanting of our adventure.

Well, as I read through the article, it listed Wood Lake as their location, the same lake we camped; and it listed temperature conditions that were very similar temperatures to what we encountered… I have no doubt, these were the fellow campers we passed on Wood Lake, but he wrote his story better than I wrote ours:

Re-Joycing for a Return

I was ashamed to admit I had never been to the Joyce Estates. I grew up about 10 minutes away from the site (not including the three mile trek in), I love spending hours in the woods, and I work in the log home industry. How I had not yet visited this historic wilderness site of log buildings sitting in my own back yard is a mystery.

4C701A7D-B119-4E21-B4EE-4BF9B656D9CFA day arose with good weather to ski, and so off I went. I hit the trail late afternoon, so had limited daylight left and a hurry ahead of me. I wanted to get pictures taken before the sun set, and I had a meeting to get out of the woods and into town for at 5:30… so I tried to make good time on the hilly terrain.

The shadows were already lengthening and cast zebra stripes across the double-tracked trail through the woods. I met one couple on their hike back out, but otherwise it was solitude.

It was windy, yet warm enough that I soon shed my gloves and stuck them into the right pocket of my jacket. I may later regret this.

Finally, three miles in, after crossing a creek of open water and a couple of nice campsites for future reference, I reached the Joyce Estates. Numbered marker posts signal the sites of features once comprising of the century-old retreat. I passed some concrete foundations of buildings long-decayed or demolished. At the point and pinnacle of the resort, however, some nice buildings are still intact. Unfortunately, broken windows and other damage from some vandals with no sense of respect, but other areas freshly restored on the buildings.


The main lodge: open, empty, but still standing nicely. I could imagine roaring parties livening up the place on summer nights a hundred years ago. Next door, the master’s private cabin.


The bath house, in great shape, restored, but looking a little too cold for swimming on that February day of my visit.

And more sites that beckoned a revisit on another day when I could capture better lighting, and again in another season when it could be enjoyed differently.

I imagined… what if a wilderness gala were held within the sleeping Main Lodge. A 20’s speakeasy-themed gala in a rustic setting, that would recall the Joyce gatherings a century ago and raise funds for the restoration and maintenance of this special site. Would people attend? Would the Forest Service allow it? Could it be profitable?

I skied back in a hurry as the sun disappeared and my meeting time drew closer. I was about 2.5 miles out, when I was prompted to check my pocket. Somewhere behind me, possibly as far back as the site of the Estates, a glove had fallen out. I turned back and skied maybe a quarter mile, but I was running out of time. I skied out, and got to my meeting, deliberating… return for a nighttime ski or hike under the stars to retrieve my glove? Return the next day when warm temperatures were expected and daylight would be back? Or cut the loss and leave the glove behind.

In the end, I made a decision to go for a late night adventure. It was around 10:30 and I was hiking between the ski tracks and under the bright stars in mukluks. The sky was gorgeous and it was a fun second adventure, but in the end I turned around and abandoned the glove.

Another day, I will return and revisit this treasure that’s been in my back yard beckoning me for too long. To ski, to hike, to camp, to explore, I will forget the Joyce Estates and Trout Lake trails nevermore.

Five Guys in a Three-Man

Three strikes and I’m out. Uffda. Maybe I’m just wet (and frozen) behind the ears, but my third winter camping trip for the season and we called it early. Again. For the third time this season. Three for three. Lessons learned, experience earned. – once as a solo, once as a trio, once with five.

We got a late start for the short days of winter, but into the BWCA we hiked, pulling our overloaded pulks behind us. We trekked about two miles in- half was a hilly, wooded descent, and half was flat across frozen lake. We passed another crew of chionophiles on the way in. After reaching and choosing our site, we set up camp and set off to gather wood in the few hours of daylight we had left. With many dead-standing birch visible amongst the spruces, it didn’t seem like it would be difficult to find dead wood down.

We had erected two tents for the five guys on the adventure, but we quickly decided to try squeezing us all into the 3-man Snowtrekker canvas tent and leave the dome tent for gear storage. The hike in had been through flurries under a hazy sky, but as daylight disappeared, the sky was cleared and it left a sunset that was well worth standing out in sub-zero temperatures.


Darkness fell and the stars shined brightly. We huddled around a campfire that we were painstakingly babysitting to try and get roaring. It was the same scenario I had already encountered winter camping this season. Wood would smolder and eventually burn down, but never get to a self-sustained roar. We packed in a propane burner to cook supper, which was fortunate with the trickling fire we had going otherwise. Air temperature was -10F and dropping. We kept moving to keep warm.

Finally we gave up on our outdoor fire and started one in the tent stove. The propane Buddy Heater intended for the dome tent was brought in to take some chill out of the Snowtrekker. We stayed mostly comfortable until around 6am when the temperature bottomed out at -27F, not including wind chill. We all felt a little frosty in the feet. The breath of five guys had condensed on the interior of the tent, leaving an eighth-inch of frozen flocking to the canvas. The propane was too cold to get the stove going initially. One of the guys brought a bottle of brandy, which was now frozen solid. When the brandy is frozen solid, you know it’s starting to get cold out. Eventually we got the propane stove going and heated water for hot chocolate and warmed up some pre-made breakfast burritos. A breakfast burrito never tasted so delicious.

Forecast for the day was expected to slowly get warmer, but stay below zero until 4pm. It would peak at one above at 4pm, and then start dropping again with the sun. Our sleeping gear was wet with breath, and we voted to call it a trip after one night. We packed up and hiked two miles back out across the frozen lake, and then up the rolling, climbing hills that exhausted us the second half of the trek out. An adventure indeed, but a little defeating to call yet another trip short this season. Maybe next time we’ll get it right.