5th Mar, 2013

Traditional meets Modern Snowshoe Backpacking

I went on a snowshoe/backpacking outing with one of my friends.

I call this a “Traditional Meets Modern” trip because I tried to stay as traditional and primitive in my stuff as I could. However, we were going in the winter, in about 4 feet of snow, and were in a National Park that did not allow fires unless in the designated fire rings. Try to find one of those 4 feet under the snow! :) So, a white gas stove was going to be in order for cooking and melting snow. There was not going to be any primitive shelter building and I did not bring an avalanche shovel (which would have been a great idea) for any snow shelters. So, a sleeping bag, mat and a tarp were in order for the modern gear (we left the backpacking tent behind). I tried to stay as traditional with the rest of the gear as possible. Wool clothes, from pants to hat, wooden snowshoes, canvas pack.

I know a lot of people like gear, so I will get back to that in a little bit, but first wanted to cover a little bit about the trip.

The Trip

First, a couple quick comments about the trek. I am by no means heavy, but a couple pounds heavier than I normally am, and would like to be. Also, I am not as in shape as I would like for a trip like that. I have not been running, or doing anything like that, which I usually do. This trail that I am about to take you on would be a piece of cake in the summer, and easily done in a day. The distances are not crazy for a summer hike, and the terrain would not be all that demanding. But, coupled with the deep snow (4 feet or so), more than a day pack, snowshoes, some of the trail conditions and the fact that some of the trip was pure navigation (hard to find a backpacking trail under the snow) all added up to make it quite an adventure, and slower than summer hike.

We were leaving on a Saturday, to return on Monday. The location was about 5.5 to 6 hours from my friends house. Leaving early Saturday morning, we knew we would only have a partial day to snowshoe in. Knowing that, we wanted to keep the first day in a reasonable hike. You can see from the map below (we actually started about a mile south of the marked trailhead because of road plowing conditions) that our plan was to start from the trailhead and try to make it around Chapel Rock area for the first camp. Somewhere around 4.5 miles with our additional distance from the trailhead.

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Our next planned leg of the journey was to continue along the shoreline trail for a longer full day of about 7 miles and make it to the Mosquito Falls area. After that, we would have an easy 1.5 miles out (plus an additional mile of unplowed road that we didn’t know about) that would get us back to our vehicle, and on the road home at a decent time. That was the plan anyway…….let’s see how it goes.

Gear

I know a lot of people like gear. So, I will cover everything I took here all in one fell swoop (I can’t account for everything my friend brought) and then I will go on with the whole story.

Both my friend and I were wearing Iverson’s Michigan patterned 12×46 snowshoes.

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I was wearing Danner boots, wool socks, Smart wool base layer, super cheap military wool pants, used Swanndri Bush Shirt, and homemade wool hat. My gloves changes from a leather pair to a more modern warmer pair (for get the brand).

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The pack I was wearing was Duluth’s Bushcrafter, which is a canvas and leather pack. The two things of note you will see on the pack here is a little round pad for standing on to keep your feet warm in camp, and reflective windshield shade from the dollar store. This is my second experience with the window shade and put on top of your sleeping mat, it seems to work rather well, and is virtually weightless. If you ruin the thing…..it was a dollar :)

For additional clothes, all I brought was a change of wool socks, a heavier base layer (for sleeping in and in case I got wet) and a down shirt, which is mean to be an inner layer as well, but I put it on wherever was convenient.

I took a Wiggy’s Super Light sleeping bag (for lack of a better cold weather bag), and my Cooke Custom Sewing 10×10 tarp.

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I already mentioned the Duluth Pack. For cooking, I used my MSR Dragon Fly, took along 1L bottle of white gas (I knew it would be a bit too much fuel, but with melting snow for hydration, I would rather go on the safe side) and my Mor’s Bushpots for cooking. I would never stick the large pot in a backpack for backpacking, with the exception of winter. The larger pot makes melting snow easier, and will fill two nalgene bottles. It saves a lot of hassle. I also had a Vargo titanium mug, and one nalgene bottle.

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How about knives?

I took along my Northstar.

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And my new Leuku.

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I also can’t forget the Savinelli Tortuga 677ks pipe with about 1/2 ounce of Cornell and Diehl Ephiphany :)

That about does it. Let’s go on with the hike.

Day 1

I ended up waking up at 4 am, and left my house at 4:15 arriving at my friends house around 5:15. We loaded up and were on the road by 5:30. There was nothing overly eventful on the road trip, and we ended up close to our destination around 11:30 am. We figured we would have one last purchased meal before heading in. Stop for lunch, another 30 minute drive to our spot, and 4 miles down a 5 mile road hoping that it was plowed at all at first, then hoping it was plowed to the trailhead. Get to our parking spot, check out the snow, last minute shuffling of gear, changing our clothes, and we are finally on our way around 2 ish. My times are pretty approximate as I don’t wear a watch and kept having to ask my buddy what time it was when I wanted to know :)

Off we go…..

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At first we were taking pictures of everything. How deep the snow was and how it made some cool formations on top of logs and such. In the grand scheme of the amount of photos we took, they just didn’t make the cut.

So, our first real sight was the first set of waterfalls.

One of the bridges getting there.

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My friend.

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We also used this break to brew up a quick tea at hot chocolate.

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Getting to this first set of falls was not all that difficult, and it was a great sight to see. Looking back, the next stretch of trail was pretty short, but it seemed fairly long at the time. There were no gorgeous waterfalls or cliffs to keep you pushing on. Pretty much decent terrain through woodland. Toward early evening, it felt like we had enough trekking, and were feeling pretty tired. Just then, about an hour and half before darkness (or so) we came up to Chapel Rock. I have seen it from boat, but it was amazing from this side, and this close.

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There was one last bridge crossing before we found our spot to camp for the night.

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Our camp is overlooking a small creek. It is hard to see, but is a very nice spot.

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The next day is periods of grey, grey and snow and then periods of sun.

We started along the shoreline trail, which if you look back at the map, is going to be long.

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After leaving camp that morning, it did not take long to reach what I call the “wimp out trail.” It was allow us a fairly easy (3 mile) hike back to the trailhead. If you look back at the map, you can see it, and it basically goes on the other side of Chapel Basin. The decision had to be made to wimp out, or go long. Of course we went long :)

After making that decision, there were some creepy moments for sure. Motorized vehicles are not allowed out here, so there are no snowmobiles, no sight of people, but there were some old tracks to let you know someone had been here before. It was never a feeling of “we are not going to make it.” Just more of being able to finish the loop in the time we had intended. Plus, committed to the loop, it was not like you could quit and give up, or even just turn around and go back.

Added to that was the fact that the first mile of lakeshore trail was kicking our ass. Terrain, our packs felt heaving, and we were overall just slow moving. At this point, it was looking like maybe we got in over our heads with the timeline. It ended up working out perfect by the way, I am just trying to re-tell my feelings at that point.

At one of the more difficult terrain features, my buddy decides to jump off one of the bridge crossings and go up another way.

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The lakeshore was starting to look really amazing, and some of the ice formations were hard to believe unless you were seeing them. The pictures do not do them justice.

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There were also points where the trail came eerily close to the cliff. Again, hard to do it justice, but here is a look down.

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I told my buddy that just standing there, it really didn’t bother me. But, if you started to think about it, it was pretty freaky :)

There were a few spots in the trail that we decided to go into the woods and come back and meet the trail because we were just not comfortable what was going on with the snow and ice that was near the cliffs. There were also a couple of other sections that the trail was literally a foot from the end, and the snow was sloping towards the edge. I decided to remove the snowshoes and post hole it across those spots rather than risk sliding of any sort. :)

At some point, the terrain broke. It became a nice woodland trek, with occasional shore line views, and also one that allowed us to pick up our pace. Somewhere along the line, we also stopped and whipped out a stove, and cooked up a nice spicy chili for lunch.

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At this point, we were feeling fatigued for sure, but also much less concerned for how far we needed to go to finish the loop. We could make it out the next day, regardless if we got home later than we would have wanted.

The next sight we came upon was quite cool. We couldn’t figure out what was going on, but apparently the way the water was hitting the rocks allowed for a lot of spray to hit the trees and freeze. Really, really thick ice.

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One last bridge to complete our lakeshore portion of the trail.

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The turn in to Mosquito Falls is where things get a little bit interesting. We kind of knew it could, so we made another break for tea, hot chocolate, elk jerky and trial mix before going further.

Up until this point, there were at least signs that other people had been around (old tracks). Besides, the trail is not hard to find when it is going along the lakeshore. The next trail had not been traveled on at all. We saw the marker for where it started, but ten feet in and the trail was lost. Try finding a narrow backpacking trail under 4 feet of snow, and it is just not going to happen. I had brought detailed topos, and my friend had brought his GPS for backpack up. Neither of us were even the least bit concerned about getting lost. This was a piece of cake. But, at this point in the day, we had caught that medieval disease (Dragon Ass…..spelled Draggin Ass), we were more worried about energy conservation. We didn’t want to be back tracking, and finding river crossings, etc.

Admittedly, this was also one of the most fun parts of the trips. Because we had to navigate, had to use the terrain features, and since everything worked out for us (we did have to find a bridge crossing), it was pretty cool.

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Oh yeah, my topo map (which was USGS) and being old, does not always have newer trail information on it. That was the case hear, and our trail was not on our map. So, it was not as easy as just following the trail on the map, and matching terrain. Regardless, we set out knowing we would make it without issue.

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Following the terrain, we knew when the river direction change was coming, and then we changed our course accordingly. We ended up hitting the river about where the trail should, but obviously never saw a trail. From the terrain, I could tell exactly where we were at on the river.

My buddy was using his GPS occasionally, but it did not have as much detail on it, and did not contain the branch in the creek, which we were obviously going to have to cross. Guessing where the the trail was supposed to be, and using the topo map and terrain around, we figured we had better head into the creek branch, otherwise, we could easily miss a bridge.

Good thing we did! As soon as we saw the creek, about 75 yards (we actually passed it) was the bridge.

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Had we not decided to head in at the time we did, we would have easily missed this bridge, and do the dreaded double backing that we were fearing. Obviously, that didn’t happen and things worked out rather well for us.

This is the point where we wanted to make it to for the day. Camping in the general area would allow us a fairly quick 1.5 mile hike to the trailhead (and the additional mile of unplowed road), and get home at a decent time on Monday.

At this point, as you can tell, having run out of steam, we were also running out of steam for pictures. They are becoming few and far between and this is the end of the pictures.

This is the part where we deviated from our plan a bit. We went a bit past this point, and the woods opened up in to an fairly open, fairly flat woodland. Pitching camp would have been no big task, but it also would be nowhere near as fun and interesting as our last location either. Figuring that we had already came this far in a day, we decided to push on the last bit to the vehicle. Navigating out of the woods was no issue at all, and we arrived at the unplowed road about exactly as there was no light left to see :)

We got the truck, and the gear all loaded and pitched our last camp Bear Grylls style (at the Days Inn in town), and then wandered next door for a beer, a sandwich, and then passed out!

Trip Summary

All in all, it was an amazing trip. If you just think of it in terms of winter camping, it was not my ideal way to camp in the winter. For a few reasons, we didn’t really have much choice. This is a highly visited area in the Summer. While I wouldn’t mind that type of trip, it is usually not my thing. But, visiting the same location in the Winter is awesome because the views are different and absolutely no people :) Because of that though, there are lot of regulations of what you can and can’t do. You are not going to be making a primitive bed, or making a swedish fire lay.

Ideally, it would have been nice to use snow to our advantage for sleeping arrangements, instead of sleeping on top of it. That would have required an avalanche style shovel, which I wasn’t interested in carrying, unless it could be used to dig to the ground to have a large fire, which wasn’t an option either because of the area. With a large fire, it would have been nice to rig up a ridge pole, drop some hooks, and melt snow and cook that way. It is much more enjoyable than using stoves. But, we spent so little time in camp, and more time moving that they way we went worked out rather well for this trip.

If I have any other random thoughts on the trip, I will try and jot them down. Just thought you might be interested in going along.

Thanks for looking!

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