Episode 9: BWCA Winter Camping Tips & Tricks
February in Minnesota is a perfect time to plan your winter Boundary Waters adventure. Some of the best winter camping happens from now through March— with the right layers and the right precautions, winter can be a great time for a peaceful, quiet, mosquito-free adventure.
On this podcast, BWCA expert and author Dan Pauly shares his tips for staying warm and dry, and discuss gear and how to keep yourself safe. Join us to learn how to start preparing for your trip!
On this podcast, Boundary Waters expert and author Dan Pauly shares his tips for staying warm and dry, and discuss gear and how to keep yourself safe. Join us to learn how to start preparing for your trip!
Dan Pauly 00:02
The Boundary Waters will often be ice covered over half a year. So if you’re not going up there in the winter, when there’s snow and ice up there, you’re missing a big part of it. And actually, in some ways you’re missing some of the best parts of it.
Chris Knopf 00:18
Winter is amazing. Winter in the Boundary Waters is even more amazing. today’s podcast is about winter camping in the Boundary Waters, and you’re going to love the show. Welcome. This is the Friends of the Boundary Waters podcast. And Chris Knopf, the friends Executive Director. On the show, Dan Pauly tells us everything we need to know about winter camping in the Boundary Waters. Dan is truly a Renaissance man. He’s the author of a popular guidebook to canoeing in the Boundary Waters. He’s a cartographer, publishing Boundary Waters, travel maps. He’s a former chair of the board of Friends of the Boundary Waters. He’s a beekeeper and Master Gardener. He’s a patent attorney. And on top of all that, he’s also an Eagle Scout. I’ve gone winter camping in the Boundary Waters with Dan, and then going again, in about two weeks, we’re lucky to have Dan with us enjoy the show.
Dan Pauly 01:10
Thank you, Chris. As a first note, I mean, the Boundary Waters is so amazing in the summer, but a lot of people never even think of going in the winter. Or maybe they’ll go up someplace near the edge and do like a snowshoe trip or something like that. That’s not an overnight, but it’s magnificent in the winter. And we’re going to talk a lot about it over the next hour. The things places you can go, the things you can do, how to camp, the tents and stuff like that. I think I think about it, you know, the Boundary Waters will often be ice covered over half the year, you know, parts of it will freeze up, certainly in November and not unfreeze until May. So if you’re not going up there in the winter, when there’s snow and ice up there, you’re missing a big part of it. And actually, in some ways, you’re missing some of the best parts of it. So we’re gonna hit a lot of it today. And then we’ll have questions afterwards. And I think hopefully, this will be of use. So I’m going to kind of hit five topics broadly, right, I’m gonna tell you some of the things that I think are great about the Boundary Waters winter, I’ve been going up there for over 20 years overnights in the back country and tell you why I love going up in the winter, and then spent quite a bit of time talking about transportation and shelter, especially the shelter side of things with a lot of different options there. And they vary a lot and I can explain some of the benefits of the different ways of doing it. I’ve pretty much done most of the different ways of camping up there. And then I actually have some route considerations for you. So we’re gonna go over an overview map of the Boundary Waters. And then we’re also going to go over three, three sub areas to think about but I’ll give you some some stuff to think about in terms of the routes that you could put together. And then really, it’s gonna be kind of quick I want to talk about a couple of leaves no trace principles that I think are unique to the winter on some level, but are kind of important because we want to leave the Boundary Waters the way we found it. And so I’m going to give you a couple of things that I think were useful and then just real quickly getting started you know we’re talking about a lot of gearing up with something must be expensive and some of it is expensive, but almost all of its rentable. So you know this the Boundary Waters accessible year round for even if you’re not going to buy all the stuff you’re going to go just want to try it out. That’s how I got going on. I called the guy who makes winter camping tents Dale Lubbock and said, hey, you know, can I borrow your tent? And that time? He said, Yeah, you can borrow it and that’s how I learned so all the stuff we’re talking about, there’s some gear that specializes but you can rent that stuff.
Dan Pauly 03:38
So, hopefully, it’s only February now some of the best Boundary Waters wintertime trips are still available in the sense that you know, days are getting longer, it’s getting slightly warmer, get a lot of snow. So if you don’t have a trip planned, now’s a good time to plan one for later February March. April can be kind of tough, but you know, get up there this winter yet. So now in terms of what’s great about the Boundary Waters winter, truly one of the best things is gorgeous, okay, it’s beautiful in the summer. In the winter, it’s a little it’s a lot different naturally but you know, you don’t need to get the crazy sunsets. But you get the beautiful stars at night but you also get like the trees covered with frost. This is a trail it’s not actually originally trail we just bushwhack back to a lake called Blue snow and you can see the frost on the trees. These are this is kind of a Tamarack swamp. So these are Tamarack trees. Really, really beautiful. You know, just can’t get any better. This is a couple of shots to this is on the left hand side going up to angle worm Lake. If you’ve been up there, that’s one of the best hiking trails in the Ely area. It’s west of Ely. But you can hike that year round and this is in a winter ship. This is two years ago. This was at the start of the pandemic with my nephew and my son. And we stayed overnight on angle or like and actually just came back two days ago for me or like, was up there again. So, one was at the start of the pandemic, hopefully this other ones at the end of the pandemic or near to it, we’ll cross our fingers on the right hand side so you can see stuff on the left here and see like the rock formations that are kind of cool in the summer. Then they have like, often like icicles colored icicles dripping off of them, you know, that you that you get in the winter, and you can get right up to the stuff and even this could be back in the woods where you wouldn’t even see this stone. This this rock wall here suddenly in the winter, it’s right there. You can get right up to it. On the right is, I think that’s on Seagull Lake, which is over on the Gunflint Trail angle room on the left. They said that was by Ely. So that’s west of Ely on the Eco trail very accessible. The one on the right here, enter the Gunflint Trail is seagull. And here we’re kind of hiking again through a swamp that you really aren’t going through in the summer. I mean, this was not navigable in the summer, it’s all like sort of baggy. But you can go and explore those areas. And so very beautiful stuff, you can see tremendous right.
Dan Pauly 06:03
Another thing that you’re going to do is you’re going to see possibly either signs of wildlife or wildlife. So on the left, we have rabbit, that’s a horseshoe horseshoe associate shoe here, with this winter coat on. And then on the right is an animal track, you’re gonna pause for like a second here and let you take a look at that. And sort of in the audience, you can think about what that track is, it’s about eight inches, maybe 10 inches wide, eight to 10 inches wide. That was actually I think by Angleworm Lake as well. Um, so what it is actually, and I’m gonna see if I can use my pointer here, I’m going to use a laser pointer. So what it is, is actually a autotrac. And so otters will slide to this no, they’re actually very active, where you see a lot of Otter tracks if you go up there, and so they’ll slide in the kick. So this is like the kick, and then it was going to the right here, then it’s a slide. So you’ll see like little footprints, and then a belly slide. And you see that surprisingly frequently even not always, not always super close to the lake itself. So that’s pretty neat. I can tell you stories we’ve seen actually seen the Otters up there before, it’s a little less common. But it’s open water, you can see him this was this was not near open water, but that you’ll see tracks. And then maybe the coolest tracks you’ll ever see in the Boundary Waters, in my opinion, are wolf tracks. And so that’s also one of the most commonly seen tracks if you get into the Boundary Waters. And so on the right is, is a wolf track. And on the left, two pictures here, these are wolf tracks crossing Seagull Lake, and there’s actually deer tracks, I think this might be their tracks. And then here’s actually the wolf is not the greatest picture. But in this case, the wolves brought down a deer that never had this happen before since and this is about 15 years ago, brought to wolves dropped down into you’re right in front of our camp like 100 feet away as we watched. And that was a pretty unusual circumstance. But we could go the next day and look where they brought it down. And they were they chased it. They alternated chasing the deer actually, until the deer was tired out in the end, they killed it and ate it. So nature right before our eyes. But even if you don’t see that, like almost every single trip in the winter, if you cover some distance, my experience has been maybe maybe not almost certainly the more jority you’ll see some wolf tracks, or at least another animal track. I was just up an angle worm and we saw wolf tracks, again, and I always think it’s so amazing to see such a track of a beautiful animal. And I’ve had times where we do a day trip out and back from camp, and we go out on me and there were wolf tracks that we crossed over, and then we came back. And the same, I assume the same holds crossed over our track again, right? So they’re out there, even if you don’t see them and seeing the tracks is just so amazing. In my mind. You’ll sometimes see even a little bit of human history you wouldn’t normally see this is up again on Engel Warm Lake where there’s a post where they marked a backpacking campsite that probably predates 1978. So it’s been a long time and they used to have a lot of this kind of stuff up there. And so almost all gone. Seen that stuff cool angle Warm Lake had a a fire tower back in the day to look for forest fires. And I’ve seen I see it every year up on old white pine, there’s a conductor, like where the resistor were conducted run through probably for maybe some sort of some sort of phone line or something I would assume to communicate there had been a fire. So you see a little bit of that stuff. So you’re gonna see stuff you wouldn’t normally see. And that’s kind of a neat part of being up there and also the beauty. Another thing is if you really like the challenge, and obviously it’s very cold. This is the coolest I’ve been up there I was have prepared enough to have a be able to document 40 degrees, which is on doesn’t really matter. But I think the left is Fahrenheit and Celsius because 40. Below is where those two overlap. And so we were up there, and it’s a great trip. And I’ll show you why it was a great trip. We you know, it’s beautiful out, you see beautiful sky. But we had we had the right equipment along the right tent, and we were very comfortable, I would do that, again, we could have been up for a month of that weather we have been absolutely, absolutely fine. So what I’m going to talk about next, I’m going to spend just a couple of slides on transportation. And then we’re going to talk about some tent stuff and then go into some other things after that.
Dan Pauly 10:38
So first off in transportation, there’s always the question, you know, most people are gonna say, Do I snowshoe? Or do I cross country ski? Alright, I would say the majority of people and myself included are going to snowshoe, and you can’t really just boot it in because the snow was deep. Unless you’re really not going very far at all, you’re going to need snow shoes, okay. And so they don’t have to be anything special. They don’t have to be Alpine shoes for going in and going up really steep hills or something like that. But you’re going to want snow shoes. And, you know, you can rent those at REI you can rent them at paralogous lots of places in the Boundary Waters near the Boundary Waters and outside of Boundary Waters. Or you can get a pair for maybe $150. But you know, a good back country snowshoe, probably medium size for your weight, you know, not only for running, but also you don’t need the biggest ones, but snowshoes work great. Now what other people will do is snow, they’ll use cross country skis. And there’s some backcountry skis of different types, some that you put like a skin on like that. So it’s sort of a, it’s good for going downhill. But then you can also climb and those work. But the challenge is like say on a portage. Or if you go into the backcountry, it’s hard to like navigate around the trees and stuff, right? If you’re going to get firewood, like something easy to like go back in the woods with all the branches and stuff with skis on. And then the other thing is, oftentimes, the lakes as the snow builds up, the ice underneath, it will crack under the weight and when it cracks, even though ice could be very thick, very safe, say foot thick, the cracks will allow water to come up. And then you’ll get slush underneath the snow. And then when you walk in that slush, um, it might have been the bottom of skis especially where the wax pocket is, can really build up and then your keyboard Kevin to break that off. And so can make it really hard to cross country ski. In the back country like over the lakes. Snowshoes can build up some nice too, but just sort of smash it off. It’s just comes off a little easier. Both work. I’ve done them both. I’m sort of a dyers cross country ski, excuse me snowshoe are now after having done both of them. And that would be my recommendation. Okay, so that’s, you know, sort of the ski as the socio versus ski thing, a bigger issue or this additional issues like hey, how do I carry my gear, you could backpack it in, not recommended, you know, they’re heavier backpack, it’s like going through to sand snow difficult. So you’re almost always going to have your stuff on some sort of sled.
Dan Pauly 13:19
To be honest, what I use the most is on the left here, it’s kind of a thing, you could buy a Fleet Farm, it’s just a simple sled. They’re pre drilled with holes are pre molded. So you can string a rope or bungees through there. And really, there’s nothing easier than throwing like a big tarp, not a tarp, but a duffel bag in there. Throw all your gear in one or two duffel bags. And that works great, really inexpensive. I often go up with people who don’t have their own like winter camping gear. So, you know, I’ve got a handful of these makes it easy for me to, you know, inexpensively provide gear for other people a slide. That’s what I normally do. I usually use just like a 20 foot rope on that thing. I got that idea from it’s not that unique, but the person who formed Snow, who owns started snow, trekker tents, it was also Empire canvas, he’s like look, I just use a long rope. He’ll have a strap on there too usually, cuz then you can sort of put it over your shoulders, you can put it over shoulder single you can put over your waist works very good. Going downhill, you can just fit a guide like a horse, that works great. That’s what I use, generally. Another option is on the right here and that’s a poke, you can rent those at a number of places. So that’s your you know, real speaker is going to go out across the North Pole kind of equipment. And they’re great so it’s it’s a high tech version of what I have left a few $100 For sure. Maybe even 1000 or something like that. That’s gonna have an integrated cover. You throw your gear in there cinch it down nothing’s gonna fall out and they’re gonna poles on them okay that you you know that that keep the the sled a specific distance behind you. Works great if you’re going down a hill unless it’s really steep but you You know, go backwards on it. So those are good. And I don’t own one of those, but I’ve used them and they’re, they’re very nice. Okay. But they’re sort of two of the same thing on some level. Another option, which I don’t have a picture of that I do use is would be a toboggan. Okay, and by that, I mean it’s sort of a traditional toboggan, but made of modern materials, Black River things Black River sleds, or toboggans makes them you could Google that. And it’s the long like, say a foot wide piece of plastic. It’s, I think, high density polyethylene that is stretched out like unrolls, you can roll it up for transport and then has fasteners on it. To tie your gear to like in a if it’s in, like say these insane duffle bags, then it has a scoop front, okay, and so very nice distribution of your weight. It’s very slick. And so like on a lake surface, probably the most efficient way of moving your stuff. You can cover a lot a lot of miles and it’s not very heavy. And even the woods is nice because it’s flexible. You can go up over over ridges and hills and stuff like that, no problem. The biggest disadvantage of that thing, well, me too. It’s you know, about eight feet long. And if you have to make like hairpin turns, not that great, but you can do it. But then also, it’s very slick, smooth bottom. And so on an incline to it’ll slide like left and right, like you’re going straight, they’ll slide to the left, right if if it’s a side of a hill, which isn’t quite as good. So like, if you go to do a lot of back country, a lot of like, twisty portaging, or trails, that’s not my first choice. So when I went up to angle or if you’ve been on that trail kind of winds around a little bit, I didn’t bring that along, but I’ve been covering a lot of lake surface I would Okay, um, but those are sort of your primary options if you want to think about it for hauling, hauling your gear. So you got the cheapest which is you know, a sort of a hardware store sled. Or you’ve got these two more sophisticated pokes and toboggans. All of them are great. But and the pulps for sure you can rent I don’t know if you can rent those targets but the pulps you can rent. Or you can just buy buy toboggan, like at Fleet Farm or a lot of hardware stores. Now
Dan Pauly 17:30
that’s kind of how you get to camp. The question is when you when you get to camp, how are we going to sleep right? You’re gonna spend a lot of time probably in a tent, it’s going to be dark, most likely more than it’s it’s light out. And you have a 10 Alright, or maybe not a 10. So, I’ve done everything. In terms of shelters kind of up in the winter, I’m going to go over all the stuff I’ve done, give you the pluses and minuses and you can kind of figure out what would work best for you. Okay, I kind of going from cheapest, most basic, two most elaborate, okay? The cheapest way. And actually it’s a really good way is to use to build a Quinsey. And this is a Quinsey on the left, it’s the same Quinsey. And then it’s like, close up on the right. And so Quincies, you know, a sort of snow cave, you might call it. And it is made is made by taking snow and piling up basically the size of, you know, maybe 1015 12 feet wide and six, seven feet high. And you stick little sticks in there, maybe eight to eight to 12 foot long sticks around the outside, you leave it set up probably for maybe four hours depends on how cold it is. But just the heat of mixing the snow is enough to cause a little bit of melting, and then it’ll recrystallize. And once it crystallizes, becomes pretty hard. And so then you go inside with shovels, and you carve that out, and you carve it out to the sticks. And when you’re done with that you’ve got a snow shelter, which really is a very comfortable place to sleep in the it’ll never get above freezing, because there’s the snow walls, but it gets pretty close just with your body heat. And really, it’s it’s a it’s it’s a very, very comfortable way to spend a night in the Boundary Waters are more than one night. And so this is on. This is not an angle. We’re Blake and we slept in this. There were three people in this cuisine. It was really really comfortable. A couple of notes. One is it’s super quiet in those things. The second thing is I do kind of recommend always having two people build these things. Because when you’re carving it out, and you can go online of different directions to do it, but they can collapse. Okay, and I’ve had one collapse once where if I was by myself, I would have been kind of stuck in that thing I was inside carving it, and the other people just pulled me out. So I do kind of think you should have two people on these things. Because you don’t. You don’t want to collapse when you’re in there. by yourself, and you might not be able to readily get out. But once that thing is built, they’re like rock hard we had, I think the other picture here somewhere, it’s kind of a shadowy picture silhouette, but some of you staying on very, very, very strong. So that’s your cheapest way. The disadvantage is, it’s gonna take a few hours. So like, if you’re getting to camp at like five in the afternoon, that’s not gonna work or even like Newsela was stretch, because you have a pilot, let it sit and then carve it open. That’s one option. That’s the cheapest. Now, the second way of doing and I’ve done this is, you know, using your summer tent, your three season tent, right or could even be for season without heat. And that works, that works totally fine. You’re just not going to keep any heat in there. And you’re not going to dry any gear out. So I think for like one night, I’ve been really enjoyed that two nights. Not so good. But okay. And then three nights is really not that great, because everything’s wet, and you haven’t tried it out. Um, and so we could talk about the different ways of making this work. But a lot of times what people will do is their clothes and their boot liners and stuff they’ll put underneath them using a kind of a little bit of a sleeping pad, in addition to a sleeping bed. And that body heat can sort of move dry those things out, and then they’re good the next morning. Otherwise, you know, at safe zero degrees, even a boot with some condensation is very, very cold. They’re very hard and hard to get back on. But this will work. Totally works great for one night. Two nights stretch beyond that I frankly, don’t think it’s the best. I don’t do this style anymore.
Friends of the Boundary Waters 21:42
We’re going to take a short break here to ask Do you need help planning for your next Boundary Waters trip? Visit our website at Friends-BWCA.org, where you’ll find amazing trip resources, route maps, articles and free guides to prepare for your next BWCA adventure.
Dan Pauly 22:01
So what do I typically do besides the Quincy, I have two winter tents three to two that I regularly use. Oh, the first one is going to be a synthetic tent that I’m going to talk about like a camping tent. So this tent here is made by a company called seek outside. And it’s sort of a teepee style tent is actually an octagon, it looks a little smaller in this picture than it really is. And they make a whole bunch of them. But it’s about you know, seven feet interior and then it’s got two doors on it, you can actually use it in the summer too. And doesn’t have us bottom, here’s the inside and this tent you’re gonna shovel out, you’re going to either stake down or use like dead men, which is like, you know, sticks in the snow to push to hold it open, use some guidelines. And then you know, you don’t have to have a source of heat in there although you typically would. And that’s what this is. And so this is a little stove made by the same company seek outside and that thing will collapse down enough that to just like the size of notebook computer and a little tube. But, but and that’s a titanium stove. And so in to Tony titanium chimney, if you will. So that tent is only like six or seven pounds. And that’s Silver’s like five pounds. So I mean you’re less than 15 pounds all in very lightweight, very quick to set up. So if you want it to go in move around each day, this thing works perfect like take it down, put it up, take it down, put it down. I used it last year going on actually was last year with my son big trip down into Tuscarora Lake and beyond and this worked perfect. Now the disadvantages of synthetic such as this one, this is a sign nylon, the disadvantage disadvantages it it it will have a lot of condensation, you know doesn’t really breathe and so your your moisture from your body sweating, transient respiration will build up on the walls and it’ll kind of flake off which isn’t so good. And also this stove it collapses so it’s got little little teeny cracks. This was not super tight. That’s not going to burn for like three hours without putting more water in it. That’s the disadvantages. Okay. Interestingly the DNR I was looking at last night they talked about winter camping and they have this wrong. They say that the nylon breeze, I’ve not had nylon that breeze cotton, they said cotton doesn’t that cotton is always breeze for me. But so this is a really nice design for moving around quickly. Like at night when I would use this tent, you build a fire you cook on it, you get warmed up, you dry your clothes, you know, come hang out with whoever you’re you’re there and have some great conversation. But then you go to bed and nothing’s gonna go out and you’re going to return to the outside temperature. However, Your gears dry. Anything that was wet during the days is dry so in the morning it’s going to be good. So it’s nice, but you know it’s got the limitations of not warm during the night and a little bit of moisture condensation.
Dan Pauly 25:14
So what’s the alternative? This is the alternative. This would be the high end. This is what actually you’ll see in the Boundary Waters. This is what you could rent. I think there’s a couple manufacturers but probably the most prominent one is no Trekker. And that’s a Siren Wisconsin company. This is one of their tents. And it’s a canvas wall tent. I’ve got an indoor by oh this is an outdoor picture I think and this is my old one it had sort of that that door on and now they have a zipper door. But excuse me so inside there there’ll be a stove that you buy separately or you rent this whole combination is rentable, I’ll talk about what that would cost at the end and where you can rent it. But that’s still we’ll keep that inside you get that thing very warm it can be 78 degrees. Definitely I always think about 67 degrees warmer than the outside actually. And that’s still run all night with wood that you cut up there but you me or the restock it every probably two hours but you can have you can keep a little bit warm overnight. I increasingly let it go out overnight but I for a long time I we would take turns stoking it at night. Really nice. You could stand up inside, you can dry off all your clothes, you cook great food, you have like an LED lantern. It’s it’s a cabin in the woods, you know, it’s really excellent. And so this is an example of one of those. This is actually different tent. But really, really a beautiful, wonderful way to camp in the Boundary Waters. Here’s a picture this is the same set of mine from with older and later pictures, your earring and blueberry pancakes you can bring along little camping chairs, all that stuff. It’s really It’s great. I’ve taken a lot of kids up this way. Especially March where it’s not so quite so cold. So if you’re on line here today and you got kids sign up rent one of these things this afternoon call call around and go up in March for part of your spring break trip you’ll have a great time. Days are getting long. Really a lot of fun if you did it at that time of year. And here he is sleeping overnight. Good sleeping pad. That’s a very warm bag. He wouldn’t have even needed it. But we had a really we’ve had a lot of great winter trips up there with stuff like that. Now another alternate that’s the way I like to do it. This is a friend of mine, Rob, who was up there he had he likes to hammock. So you can definitely hammock in a lot of diehards, love to hammock up there even in the winter, you’re off the ground, and it’s sort of a overnight type hammock. That can be excellent, especially if you combine it with a tent where you could warm your dry your stuff off. That works well. And then the last thing that I think I would be remiss to not not mentioned, people like to do a bivy sack. So baby sack is basically an outer bag for your sleeping bag. That is you know, rain proof usually, but you know, moisture proof, hopefully breathable, if it’s gore tex or something similar. And then you have a little cover. I personally think that’s pretty claustrophobic and pretty isolating. So it’s not my thing, but I know people who like to do it. And sometimes, you know, if you you know, you got five people in a smaller tent, like one of those tents, and somebody snores that can be challenged. So if you got a bunch of people who snore, maybe movies, good way to go, although earplugs are probably even easier. So those are the different ways of going up. All right, what are the different sort of tent type options? Now what I’m going to do, I have a few slides, and I’m going to give you some thoughts on entry points. Okay, and so here, I know this is small. So you can’t read this up. But we’re gonna, I’m going to show you an overview slide. And then I’m going to show you three different maps options to consider. Okay, so this is actually the back of a voyager map. And like I say, here on the slide, you still need a permit a permit or self issued at the entry point so you’re not worried about a quota. You just you know, show up and you issue your own permit right at the entry point at the at the kiosk. No reservation needed. The other rules still apply though, like you can’t bring in motors like you can’t bring a power auger in you can’t bring in a snowmobile that’s for sure. You know, you can’t bring like even electric chainsaw to cut wood you can bring that in. So all the other rules still apply. But just get your proven at the entry. Now in terms of where you go, really late grouts for a couple obvious reasons are much better than rivers. You know, just because rivers are just not safe in the winter with moving water.
Dan Pauly 29:57
And then, you know another consideration As you need to make sure access roads where you are going to use to park your car, get to the entry point are open. And I’m going to give you some thoughts on that in terms of where you might go. Okay? So if you look at this Boundary Waters map, I’ve got like, going to try to move it something obstructing here. I don’t think that’s going to work that. See. That’s all right. So if you look at this, this is the Boundary Waters, Canada on the north. And right here where my red cursor is. That’s Ely. Okay. And down here is Grand Marais. Okay, if we were looking further south, like way down here further yet would be Duluth, for example, and TOF D would be maybe right around here, I would say. Okay, so he did sort of orient yourself on that. And you think about Ely. Alright. And you’re thinking, where could I go out of the Ely for winter trip. The first thing if we’re going from west to east, most of the most of the entry points here off of this is the Eco trail, eco eco, eco trail. And most of the western entry points, or river entry points for creeks, like there’s, you know, the little Indian Sioux River North of Porges. River, Stewart River, and those are really not going to be that good for winter camping. I mean, those rivers are not that deep, but who wants to break through even a shallow river so i i personally would not go in any of those. Okay, if people are doing it, I’d love to hear how that work. But I wouldn’t go with moving water. So you’re probably not going up there. But where you can go that’s pretty nice. Is like angle Warm Lake, which is it’s going to be right in here. But angle warm is an example of a good destination. Because you go right in there’s you know, you there’s a trail to the lake. And the the parking for that entry point is right near the Eco eco trail. Okay, so like there’s no problem getting in there, we’re gonna talk about somewhere that is a problem, because the Forest Service doesn’t necessarily plow some of those back roads. Unless there’s a reason in the winter such as, actually because it’s such as if there’s logging going on out to the Boundary Waters, they might law, they might have roads that are plowed. Or on some of these sort of back roads, if there’s a cabin that’s either going to be privately plowed, or the or the county I guess might be plowing it for example. Okay, so I’m just gonna move a little bit across the map thinking about some options, then we’re gonna go into some specifics but like, take for example, Maduro link which I know you can’t really see here that’s right in here. I’ve winter camp that Maduro, but the road into Maduro only goes in about half ways, because I think there’s a cabin back there. So that’s that was plowed.
Dan Pauly 33:00
But then it stops. And then you have to snowshoes a couple of miles. Now, if you had a big four wheeler, you might be able to get back in there. But if you get in you better make sure you’re getting back out because if there’s a lot of snow, when you’re in there, you might not be held back out. So you got to think that through like if you barely got in and get a foot of snow then you’re not coming back out without you know, without your vehicle. So that’s something to think about. But now as we swing around to the Eco trip, ever fernbrook Road, which is here coming from Ely towards towards snowbank, like for example, this is got a lot of good options, especially in the north side and we’re gonna look at some in some detail but you got like muesli you got snowbank Lake, wind Lake, those ones are all great because you have a spot right there where you can park your vehicle and very quick easy access into the Boundary Waters Alright, now I’m on the southern side here there’s definitely places you can go depending upon whether it’s snow, whether it’s plowed or not. Our swinging around here towards like this is brutal Lake and here’s like snowbank lake or Saba lake. So Saville road is plowed all winter. There’s the Savile outfitters out there, there there are there. I think there may be open but they’re there, at least they’re all winter. So you can go into alternate saw Bill, that’s all great. But if you want to go over like to Khushi Lake and stuff, not necessarily going to work. I’ve you know, I’ve tried to go to breuil in the winter, we just couldn’t go it was not plowed. That can vary each year. But just keep that in mind. Like if you’re going off some of these more remote areas that are not off of a more significant road, you might not be able to get there. Now swinging around. I have a little problem with the zoom here. But you know, just like my cursor can’t go over because I get stuck but, you know, some of these Far Eastern sites like needs like and some might not be open but almost everything along the Gunflint itself is going to be reachable and we’ll talk about some of those in a minute. But there’s some really nice places where you can cross country ski. You can fish especially for lake trout. There’s more lake trout on the east side than on the west side. And so, you know, we’ll talk about some of those things here with some more slides. So, and I’m going to go just as a heads up, I’m going to talk about this area, snowbank Lake, central Gunflint, and then the ends of the Gunflint although this is not the only places you go but these are actually pretty good places. So the first one I have end of the fern Burg road, it goes down towards Lake one. There’s a little moving water here, so maybe not the best spot you can get right up the snowbank Lake and still makes a premier Lake it’s in partly and partly out of the Boundary Waters, but you go to parent Lake disappointment and then here’s the deal. There’s a lot of trails around here including up on the top side. The comics trail, so excellent. snowshoeing, on in the woods, excellent. snowshoeing, you know, on a lake, lots of places to camp. Lots of places to fish if you want to fish it just that’s a great option. Okay, you can go all over the place. You can also go like Moose Lake Moose Lake is really nice. There’s actually a big boy scout camp here that does a lot of weird camping as well they have a winter camping program but you can go and Moose Lake you know to win Lake Woodlake is not on this map. It’s a little to the west. But the the fern Burg road is an example of having some pretty nice places for were camping, because like I said, accessible by road even after big snowstorm, and then it’s also you’re not covering level rivers which we want to avoid. Now let’s take a look at some spots on the Gunflint. So this is the east central central Gunflint, I guess you would call it a little more than he said the Boundary Waters. And here’s like poplar lake. And so what’s neat about this area I’ve been here many times is you got a lot smaller lakes, a lot of terrain changes. Then you have these trails. Now it’s not shown on this lake on this map, but there are and there’s some outfitters in some lodges, there’s a good number of cross country ski trails that you can go in and ski on one of which goes right just barely into the Boundary Waters and you can’t kind of close to it. I’ve done that before and then you can you can give you snowshoed excuse me for cross country skiing or brought them along you can do some cross country skiing. You have to buy a permit for that so make sure you do that. Or you can just snowshoe all through here
Dan Pauly 37:27
I was with Chris actually who’s who’s on here and we went we stayed actually I think we are in Partridge lake and then we did the hiked over to the stairway Portage and I’m sure that marked here but we you know actually that’s on Duncan but we went around to the stereo port so you can hike around on these ridges and stuff. And it’s it’s great. It’s a wonderful winter deal and generally no one will have been there in the recent past like when I was an angle warm which is kind of a popular lake. There was nobody people have gone to anger or some people gone part way around anymore but nobody had gone that far into it this winter. So this this area is great love these hub lake trout in them. Really nice, really nice area in a central Gunflint and you can also drop down off a poplar into areas. So just a lot of options and there’s a there’s a long snowshoe trek, Kreskin sheet trail down there as well if you if if you want on the south side. Now this the final sort of detailed map I have. It’s this is a little bit zoomed out. But I wanted to show too, this is the very end of the Gunflint Trail. This is Seagull Lake. Tremendous winter camping Lake because it’s big, easy to get to all these areas. A lot of areas to camp, you can get over to alpine lake. There’s lake trout and all these lakes. You can go over to this lake. This is Paulson Lake. John A Paulson, actually, so it’s sometimes referred to as jab lake. So it’s JP but Paulson Lake, long porridge but actually that’s a really important but you can do it in the winter when you couldn’t really work very hard in the summer. And that’s got trout at it from this lake. Actually, Gillis, like the DNR put the trout in there because there were no trout, but all through here. If you didn’t go to Seagull, you could start over at Round Lake and I got a little thing obstructed on my screen here, but you go to Round Lake down into Tesco, Tuscarora Gillis, and I did a big long loop with my son last year, and we probably covered like 30 miles, where a lot of times people if they went from Round Lake down to Tuscarora, like that’s all the further they’re gonna go. Just to keep the distance in mind like you’re not you’re very unlikely to want to cover like 30 miles you might not be able to cover 30 miles with the heavy snow depending on the year but you know, that’s a good option but here’s it here’s an example. So we went last year from Round Lake into Tuscarora and further but the trail to the parking lot around like but you may have been to before that was not snowed that was not shoveled or plowed and Round Lake was not plowed the parking lot. So you parked kind of on the side of the road, where the snowplow ended. Tuscarora Lodge and outfitters is up there. And so the road gets plowed through to their property, but not otherwise. Right. So that’s just an example like the parking lots are not all not all open. Now, in that case, it’s not too far as you parked inside of the road. And you can get in and out. Or you could spend the night at like a place like Tuscarora and then you could leave your vehicle there. But this is an example of a great area to I mean, that the I may be sort of tipping my hand that I probably winter camp on the Gunflint side more than the Ely side. But the Ely side has some really good stuff too, especially the west or east of Ely. Okay, so we don’t have those rivers. So this is this is this is all good stuff. Now, I said at the start, I was gonna just talk about a couple of leave no trace principles, and I’ve been going up for over 20 years, it’s getting a little more popular to go in winter. And so I want to give you two things to think about here. The first one is wood collection, you should in terms of collecting your wood. I apologize I’m trying to get so I can I can’t see actually the whole screen here. But that’s okay. So you want to collect it, and not leave anything exposed from where you collected it. So you want to really collect it away from shore a little bit. And certainly not where people can see that you cut wood. So I’ve just noticed over time, and until I had really thought about it, I probably did this some myself. But you’ll find like a down tree, maybe a pine tree fell down and is at the edge of the lake maybe extends in that that tree is inaccessible, really for firewood purposes in the summer, but you can just walk up to a kind of branch off of it in the winter and easiest as can be. But then you’re leaving that cut. And over time that Leo that’s a lot of the people can see all these cuts. And this kind of diminishes the wilderness feel. And so I recommend that you not do anything that leaves a sign that you were there in terms of the the wood right should be dead and down. And ideally, somewhat back from the shore. And like if you’re cutting a tree back in the woods, no one’s going to see that that the downed tree, you’re not going to cut it like up, especially like a big tree that cutting branches off, people aren’t going to see that. But if that tree is extending into an area where people can see it, not so good, maybe just break those branches off would be my recommendation.
Dan Pauly 42:50
But then the second one, and this is common sense. But human waste should be you know, left 200 feet from from camps and from water now that the latrines at camps are still available use those but sometimes they’re impossible sometimes are hard to find. And actually for service prefers that you not camp at those sites during the winter. But you if you’re if you need to, and you’re going to you’re going to use the woods to go to the bathroom. Best to I mean, they request that you do it like 200 feet from the shore. And no one’s ever going to see that especially if it’s back in the woods. But those are two things to keep in mind and in the wood collection is one that I’ve thought about, especially the last few years to keep the wilderness feel and leave no trace. Now, near the end here. We talked about a lot of gear. We haven’t talked a ton about clothing because I think a lot of people would know what to wear in terms of layers, wicking stuff and things like that. But hot tents are available to rent. At least you know a couple of plate three, four places in the Boundary Waters area. You could Google those but paralogous for example. Ely is one. And then so they’re available Ely up on Highway intervalo highway 61 snowshoes cross country skis, the pulk sleds, winter sleeping bays, we didn’t talk so much about that. Those can all be rented. I usually go up with a zero degree bag. Um, but depends on what you need. You might want go colder, probably not warmer, or you can put two bags together works too. But if you don’t have a good bag, you can rent that as well.
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Chris Knopf 44:51
Great. Why, thanks, Dan, for that, that great presentation. And yes, we do have a number of a number of questions here from folks everyone thanks for your questions, and please add them either to the q&a tab or the or the or the chat tab. And my colleague Maya Swope will help us as well here. So maybe a question from Emily here. You know, for the for the, for the Quincy, did you leave a snow platform above the doorway for your sleeping bag? Or did you put it directly on the floor? So that’s a Quinsey question there.
Dan Pauly 45:25
That’s a good question. And so best practice is to leave a platform. And maybe a groove between so like, you’re in your Quinsey. And you had like two people like on either side, then you’d have like, if that’s like, say, two feet above, or foot above the bottom, that’s the best way to do it. I usually haven’t done that, because I just haven’t had enough snow. I just haven’t enough space. So like, that’s best but and what they people would kind of recommend is actually that the your sleeping bag is above the bottom of the door, the top of the door, excuse me, so that you have this air pocket in there. But you still put a breather hole. But yeah, Emily, that’s the best way to do it. I think it’s slightly warmer. I have not normally done that. But even without that those things are so great. They’re really quite nice. Now, if you’re going up this winter, at least at an angle where there wasn’t a ton of snow, like there’s a lot of snow, but Mac not an easy Quincy this year, I would say.
Chris Knopf 46:25
Great. Thanks, Dan. And Emily has another follow up question on should you spend the majority of your time Dan, do you base camp or do you move from site to site, but what do you what are you doing now?
Dan Pauly 46:38
Yeah, so that’s a good question, too. So, um, most winter campers, including myself are going to base camp, right. And if we look at that map, like going down, Tuscarora is actually the better part of a day, allowing time to set up like that might be three hours to get to Tuscarora. And those tents, especially the canvas tents, they have a snow skirt around the edge of them that you throw a little snow on to keep it like just down but also to keep a little warmer. So you don’t have events coming through. It’s it’s a fair amount of work to get that whole thing done because you get a clear little spot for your tent. So I base camp it most of the time. And that’s definitely how I would start doing it. If I’m going to move, then I use a different tent, I use that synthetic 10 Because that’s easier to move. The other thing like the canvas tent, can build, it breeze pretty well. But like the bottom, might build up a little ice and snow as it warms up and melts to it. So the thing only gets heavier and kind of stiffer as trip goes on. So it’s a little harder to move each day. You know? And actually, Chris, I know you’re asking the question is interesting to the folks who did the year in the Boundary Waters. Um, Amy Freeman and her husband, Dave? Dave? Yeah, so I think they use the seek outside 10 Actually, that you could move pretty easily. But my recollection is that’s the kind of tent they used.
Chris Knopf 48:07
You know, there’s a in your slideshow. Dan, you had a picture where you were next to the stove, and it showed the snow, the snow bottom here. So we have a question about, you know, four options for ground cloths and things like that. So talk about about that, though. The ground cloths there, you got there.
Dan Pauly 48:26
Yeah, so really good questions. So what I use for a brown cloth that I bought with my tent from snow, trekker tents, it’s the blue, it’s that generally through my big tent that Canvas can it’s sort of the blue plastic type stuff that is on the top of trucks, you know, like they you know, cement trucks or not cement trucks, but you know, if the carrying a lot of a lot of like gravel, the 10 things that unroll so heavy duty, and not too slippery, better than like say a Menards or you know, Home Depot, like the blue, those blue tents, tarps, you could use that too, but this is a little bit tougher. And so like they sell that and so that’s what I use. And what I usually use I usually do with that tent is I will fold it back so two thirds of the tent essentially has that on the bottom in the front 1/3 or one quarter does not and that’s just snow. So if I’m going in or people are going in and out you take off your boots to get into the interior of the tent but like on the on the outside maybe you’re bringing in firewood or just coming in and out with your snowshoes on. We’re not the only one here so she’s your boots on like that area does not have that tarp down because you you know we just get wet and then melt so I use that but you can just use a blue thing to now in other tents like the one we saw the picture of the snowy bottom. In that tent. I’ll bring along just a small ground cloth for each sleeping bag a little bit bigger and that can even be that definitely works well to have just like the five by eight for example if you could fold it tarps that are like 10 bucks from some again from a hardware store. That works great. And then you just have that for your area. Okay, like where you’re sleeping and stuff like that, that that tent doesn’t work too good to have a full bottom on it.
Chris Knopf 50:15
Thanks, Dan. Then there’s another question about with respect to stoves there. So, again, yes, some tips for running those those stoves there. So, the question is, do you have maybe five top tips for running a stove and a high tent?
Dan Pauly 50:30
Okay, five tips. Yeah, so here, here’s a few I haven’t thought about these events, but from experience, one of them is, uh, you got to have good wood, okay, and so all what is not, is not equal, if you will. And, like, if the wood is kind of rotted in lightweight, it doesn’t usually have a lot of heat in it. Okay, it will burn, but not so good. And so like, so you cut up, you could have a log that you found, right, and it’s got a lot of like mites or some boars have been in there and like kind of powdery, that stuff just doesn’t have much juice left in it and won’t put out much heat. Similarly, if it’s wet, and when you cut it, if there’s like a shiny portion, where you cut because there was moisture in there, for whatever reason, that stuff won’t kick off heat, or like if it was, it was you know, is dead and down, but green, it won’t put out heat. And I remember going up after a long time ago. Now the 1999 blowdown. up along like the Gunflint Trail. And, you know, three years later, even, you’d have some trees that you thought, boy, this was great wood, but it was still wet. And that stuff, it just doesn’t kick off, the heat will just suck the heat out, that’d be one. Another another one would be, um, you know, you have to have a good saw, I mean, just give us some thoughts, you have to have a good solid long, and I would usually have an X like a small x, you don’t need a big X, it’s a hatchet will work fine because sometimes you want to split the wood to make it burn better. And then I also say, make sure the night before when you go to bed, if you’re gonna let the stove go out, make sure you have like a fire starter ready to roll in like a little bit of kindling. So the next morning, you know going or if you try to get off the thing burn all night long, you want to have that stuff ready to like reinitiate the fire if it goes out, um, those would be some thoughts. And then I kind of alluded to this, but the stoves like the stove that you saw generally had in the in in my, my canvas 10 is made by for dog for dog Stove Company. That’s a Minnesota company, small company, but they make titanium stoves are very, very nice and lightweight. And they also make like a deal like a steel one that is heavier. But those are good, but those are pretty tight. And then the claps ones are not nearly as tight so they will not burn as long. So that’d be some of my key wood wood questions. To be honest, I will say this as well, because I bet there’s somebody out there thought, hey, two things like should I be concerned about carbon monoxide. And also one would just bring propane up. And so you should be concerned about carbon monoxide, especially if you’re burning propane. So I never bring anything, I have a jet boil that’ll bring along but don’t bring along any flammable stuff really otherwise. And you you would not want to heat that tent overnight with like a little propane heater of any sort because you’re you those are going to like not be vented, you’re going to get carbon monoxide in that tent and like that can be a fatal experience. Carbon monoxide makes you go to sleep and you won’t necessarily you know, know that you’re you’re being poisoned. So never ever do that. I guess. You know, if you had a little stove or something while you’re awake, do never ever heat your temp overnight. With something like that, okay? For sure not not when you’re sleeping. Never ever. But then also my experience has been I’ve never had carbon monoxide build up from brain wood. Okay, I used to bring a carbon monoxide detector along but never really registered carbon monoxide. And I think the reason for that is if oxygen gets too low with burning wood it fire just goes out where if oxygen gets too low with say, a propane heater keep burning. It’s just that instead of making carbon dioxide, you make carbon monoxide which is deadly. So do that would be my point. I mean, bring a lot of carbon dioxide detector if you’re if you’re concerned. I have not had a problem, but I would never use a heat source other than wood.
Chris Knopf 54:43
Great Dan, we’re we’re getting near the end here. But there are still a couple questions here. And there’s a question from Diane here and I know one of your camping mates here does this a lot. Please discuss the pluses and minuses of using a hammock, hammock tent in the winter there. So I know frat Chris, I think is on the line here who has a big hammock or so? Why don’t you answer that question now?
Dan Pauly 55:06
So yeah, yeah, good. So again, it’s not how I normally do it, but the people do it love it. And I know there’s there’s even a gathering every winter, maybe not in COVID where they got a whole bunch of people winter camping hanging out there in their hammock, so I think the advantages are, you’re off the ground, so you’re not getting heat conducted into the ground. And the heat, you know, is gonna, is gonna leave your body quick with your hard surface in the air. So that’s one benefit. I’m also comfortable and since like, you’re not sleeping on something rough. I’m relatively lightweight. And I think with the new hammock situations, not nano not the you know, I can’t remember the brand now, but not not the like your your your your, your more your camping hammock, I’m pretty good platform pretty comfortable. And then they have insulated quilts of sorts that you can put underneath you. Like, you know, if you just go on a regular hammock, and put your sleeping bag on that thing on the inside, you’re going to compress the sleeping bag here and no insulation. So the best hammock heat insulation is it sits around the outside. So it’s not being it’s not being compressed. But, you know, Rob, who apparently is on here, I mean, he’s done it. I’ve been with Robin in very cold weather and he’s gotten excellent sleep. But he’s had a good warm quilt on his on his bottom and then sleep back on this time.
Chris Knopf 56:25
Great. And maybe one final question here. Dan brand has a question about about slush pits and think, you know, especially when you’re on a lake surface, if you camp there, there can be a big issue when you know, any any Henson and trying to deal dealing with that.
Dan Pauly 56:42
Yeah, that’s that’s a problem. And I was just talking to somebody where we had a move a tent because of that, where even like so you know, I’m not sure which situation Brad’s talking about. But sometimes the slush is there when you get there. Because as I talked about cracking like the water came up. The other thing that can happen is you can you know, drill waterhole, and then the water comes out and kind of creeps into your tent, or, you know, your fire can like melt the snow and then you get that and especially if it’s like early in the game, it’s springtime. So you know, the best thing I can say from that is my experience has been you’re camping on the ice can’t close to the edge of the lake because there’s usually less less there because the the the lake is not the ice is not bent down as much as in the middle like, and then drill your hole quite a ways away if you’re drilling a hole for water, and then I often will shovel down for where a for the ground. But if you’re concerned about slush, then you would want to not shovel that down. You want to be kept as far above the ice as possible, but slightly can be a problem in which case you’re gonna want to sleep on land. So there’s one where I talked about where the tent got flooded out, we the next day, moved into the land.
Chris Knopf 58:02
A big thanks to Dan for this presentation. Dan, you’re always inspiring. Thanks also to our staff at Friends of the Boundary Waters. And thanks especially to you, our listeners and supporters for joining us today. I hope this show inspires you to go winter camping. You’re the strength of our organization, and the reason that we’re able to protect the Boundary Waters. We’ll look forward to having you join us again for our next Friends of the Boundary Waters podcast. Take care
On the Friends of the Boundary Waters podcast, we bring together people who share a love of the incredible BWCA wilderness in Northeastern Minnesota. The podcast will features scientists, political figures and experts in outdoor recreation and wilderness skills to help you learn new facets of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, the most visited wilderness in the United States.Listen on Apple Podcasts Listen on Google Podcasts Listen on Amazon Music Listen on Spotify Listen on Stitcher
Listen to Keith Ellison talk about his times in the Boundary Waters, wilderness, clean water and the upcoming election.
A podcast covering 10 very useful canoe camping lessons learned "the hard way" while paddling the BWCA and Quetico.
In this informative World Water Day discussion, we celebrate and discuss the threats, and ways that we can fight for…