Day 68: Enjoying the silence on Knife Lake

The temperature quickly dropped into the single digits last night and the wind died. Around 10 o’clock we put on an extra layer of clothing and went outside. We walked down to the lake before crawling into our sleeping bags for the night. Their was no wind, the lake was mirror smooth, and stars blanketed the sky, reflecting off the lake. Silence filled the air, a silence that was remarkable even when surrounded by this vast Wilderness. Amy said she had never heard such silence when the lakes weren’t frozen. Usually you can hear the wind blowing the tree branches and lapping water. We didn’t even hear that faint sound last night in the perfect stillness.

True silence is one of the Boundary Water’s greatest assets. Standing by Knife Lake last night was a wonderful reminder of how valuable true silence is. Have you ever been somewhere that is totally silent? Have you ever been in a place where you can’t hear any cars or planes, no wind blowing through the trees, birds calling, or dogs barking? Can you describe what it was like, or what you think it would be like?

This morning, ice rimmed the shore of the bay behind our campsite. The lake steamed as it cooled in the 8 degree morning air. The silence was broken by a gentle tingling sound coming from the line where ice meets open water.

Daily Data

Days spent in the Wilderness: 68
Hi Temperature: 33 F
Low Temperature: 7 F
Miles Traveled: 8
Number of Portages: 2
Number of Lakes visited: 3

Animals Encountered:
Chipmunks 3
Red squirrels 4
Pileated woodpecker 1
Bald eagle 2

Day 66: Watching the Lakes Slowly Freeze

It was cold when we woke up this morning. We found a thin layer of ice along the edge of Knife Lake when we went to gather water. The sun came out for the first time in many days. It was refreshing to see the sun after many cloudy days. Slowing winter is tightening its grasp on the Boundary Waters. Each day we see a few more icicles along the shore and the water temperature is slowly dropping.

We are moving slowly today, recovering from our day of feasting. We cut and split enough wood to last us for several days. We have spent most of the day writing, occasionally walking down to the water’s edge to adjust our @goalzero solar panels. Our batteries were getting very low and we are thankful to be able to generate some more power.

Generating all of our own power with a couple of small solar panels has caused us to take a close look at how we use power. We are constantly looking for ways we can reduce the amount of power that we use. We always turn off electronics when we are not using them. It is apparent that when we have access to electrical outlets and a seemingly endless supply of power, we consume vast amounts of power compared to what we are using now.

In reality there are many things that we use far less of out here in the Wilderness. Our camp stove uses about 1 gallon of gas a month, we gather about 2 gallons of water from the lake each day for drinking, cooking and washing, and we generate approximately 1 gallon zip lock bag full of garbage each week. We send out all of the trash that we generate with the volunteers who bring us supplies. Most of the garbage is food packaging, which is thrown away. Some of the things like ziplock bags can be reused, and some plastic containers can be reused or recycled.

How much trash do you produce? How much of that trash can be recycled or reused?

Gathering our water from lakes, processing firewood, generating our own power, and hauling all of our food and supplies with us from campsite to campsite has taught us the joys of a simple life and helped us appreciate the resources that we use.

Daily Data

Days spent in the Wilderness: 66
Hi Temperature: 21
Low Temperature: 9 F
Miles Traveled: 0
Number of Portages: 0
Number of Lakes visited: 1

Animals Encountered:
Chipmunks 2
Loons 2
Red squirrels 4
Hairy Woodpecker 1
Black-capped chickadees 1

Day 63: Following a Pine Marten to Vera Lake

The sun peeked out from behind the clouds as we hopped in our canoe. We took advantage of warm, calm weather today to paddle west along Knife Lake and look for ice on Vera and Portage Lakes. We relish every chance we have to paddle because its hard to know when the lake will freeze and we will no longer be able to glide through the water with ease.

As we rounded the point at the end of our campsite, we paddled slowly past a shoreline painted in ice. Ever so slowly winter’s grip is increasing, but days like today make winter seem far away. When we reached the 1/2 mile portage between Knife and Vera Lake, we noticed the clear tracks that a pine marten left as it bounded down the trail ahead of us. We followed the pine marten tracks all the way to Vera Lake. Red-backed vole and red squirrel tracks criss crossed the trail as well. In a sunny spot we saw our first hatch of “snow fleas” for the season. Snow fleas are a type of spring tail, they are a tiny insect that emerge on top of the snow on warm days.

We were surprised to find that both Vera and Portage Lakes are still open. We had to ram through about an inch of ice at the end of the bay leading to Portage Lake, but the large and medium sized lakes in this region do not seem to be frozen yet. The temperature is supposed to drop on Thanksgiving night, so who knows, maybe more ice will form in a few days.

For now, we are enjoying the extended fall and will try to continue paddling as long as we can. With any luck we can go for a Thanksgiving paddle!

Daily Data

Days spent in the Wilderness: 63
Hi Temperature: 32
Low Temperature: 20 F
Miles Traveled: 8
Number of Portages: 2
Number of Lakes visited: 3

Animals Encountered:
Chipmunks 3
Loons 2
Red squirrels 7
Black-capped chickadees 12
River otter 1
Snow fleas (many)

Day:62 Visiting a Frozen Bonnie Lake

The wind died and the temperature shot up to 30 degrees today. We paddled east down Knife Lake to gather firewood and portage over to Bonnie Lake to see if it was frozen yet. Knife is a very deep lake and Bonnie is a very shallow lake. Shallow lakes typically freeze a few days, or even a week or more before the big, deep lakes. A fresh dusting of snow overnight covered the portage into Bonnie Lake. The only tracks we saw were several paths where red-backed voles had run back and forth across the trail over and over again. Red-backed voles live in the subnivian layer of snow. The subnivian layer is the loose snow that forms where the snow meets the ground. The red-back voles tunnel through the subnivian layer all winter long. When they hit a packed trail, they pop to the surface, scurry across the trail, and then disappear under the snow on the other side. 

As we cressed a hill, Bonnie Lake’s snow-covered surface spread before us. It was frozen! We wanted to run out onto the lake, but we knew that it might not be safe. We gingerly stepped onto the lake and used our ax to chop a hole. The ice was about 1 and 1/2 inches thick. It held our weight, but we will wait for it to get at least an inch thicker before we venture out across the ice. 

Seeing the smooth snow-covered surface made it feel like winter had arrived in an instant. We couldn’t wipe the smiles of our faces. We can’t wait to start skiing and working with the sled dogs that Frank Moe is loaning us for the winter, Acron, Tank, and Ace. 

After causiously exploring the edge of Bonnie Lake, we trekked back across the portage to Knife. The forest around the portage burned in a forest fire about 3 years ago so there is lots of dead, down, dry firewood along the portage. We spend several hours cutting firewood. We carefully stacked the logs into our canoe until the logs were piled over the gunwales. It feels good to have a large stockpile of wood. It is hard to know when Knife Lake will start to freeze and we will no longer be able to gather firewood with our canoe.

Daily Data

Days spent in the Wilderness: 62
Hi Temperature: 30
Low Temperature: 19 F
Miles Traveled: 3
Number of Portages: 1
Number of Lakes visited: 2

Animals Encountered:
Chipmunks 4
Loon 1
Red squirrels 6
Gray jay 1
Black-capped chickadees 6

Waiting for Winter

Amy breaks through thin ice with each paddle stroke on Glee Lake.

Amy breaks through thin ice with each paddle stroke on Glee Lake.

In the past week, we have observed the change of the seasons. We have been witnessing the end of fall and the beginning of winter.

Dave and I left Knife Lake for several days. We had experienced abnormally warm weather, with high temperatures in the 50s. Our trip to Ogishkemuncie Lake was great. There were several short portages. They were mostly up hill though. Once we set up our camp on Ogishkemuncie, we stayed out as late as we could in the evening, because the weather was so pleasant and warm.

The next day, we paddled and portaged to Sea Gull Lake and then trekked the long portage to Paulson Lake. This portage is 515 rods. Rods are the unit used to measure the length of portage trails. One rod is 16.5 feet. That means there are 320 rods per mile. I’ll let you do the math to figure out how long that portage is.

Amy portages the canoe towards Paulson Lake as the sun sets.

Amy portages the canoe towards Paulson Lake as the sun sets.

The portage was rugged, with many ups and downs. The forest here had burned in a forest fire a few years ago. That meant once we climbed to the top of a ridge, we could see for miles around. It was a big relief to reach Paulson Lake and we set up our tent just as it was getting dark. That night the temperature dropped and clouds moved in.

There was snow on the ground here. It had snowed several days ago. We had gotten snow on Knife Lake, but most of it had melted during the warm sunny days. The snow seemed to remain in the shady places here. Dave and I love traveling in the snow, because we can find animal tracks. It means that we can learn a bit more about what the animals are up to. On several portage trails, we saw a variety of animal tracks. Some tracks were easy to recognize, like snowshoe hare and red squirrel. There was one set of tracks that had us stumped for a while. It was a little bit bigger than a fox track. We knew that it wasn’t a fox, because there were the marks of five pads (or toes) instead of four. This meant the animal was probably in the weasel family. After looking it up, we figured out that the animal who left these tracks was probably a fisher. A fisher is related to a pine marten, but bigger.

Amy punches through the ice as we work our way down the narrow channel to Glee Lake.

Amy punches through the ice as we work our way down the narrow channel to Glee Lake.

As we reached Glee Lake, we were surprised to find ice on top of the water. This was a small, shallow channel. It makes sense that the water here would cool faster and ice would form here. The ice wasn’t very thick, so we plopped the canoe down and used our paddles to crunch through the ice. We both thought this was funny and laughed about it. The sound of our canoe crunching through the ice was loud. Eventually we got tired, because it is hard work to push a canoe through ice! Once we were out on a bigger part of the lake, the ice disappeared and we were paddling in water again.

This reminded us that winter is coming soon. It was a little taste of what we could expect in the near future. That evening, Dave checked the forecast. Temperatures were dropping. Wintery weather with temperatures below freezing (32 degrees F) was predicted for the coming week. We decided to head back to Knife Lake. This is where we planned to wait for freeze-up.

The next day, we made it back to Knife Lake. We set up camp and gathered a lot of firewood. We are camping in the same spot we had been in before. We were excited to observe that a moose visited this spot while we were gone. How do we know? There was a large pile of moose scat left in the middle of a trail near the campsite!

We are prepared to wait here until the lakes freeze. We have plenty of food and warm clothes. Knife Lake is a big, deep lake. That means it will take longer than the small, shallow lakes to freeze. Dave and I are excited to be out here in the wilderness, witnessing freeze-up. We will keep you posted with what we observe as winter begins.

Student Response Worksheets


Day 61: Skim Ice on Knife Lake

The temperature dipped into the single digits last night and we woke up to clear skies and the sun’s glow beginning to bath the forest in golden morning light. Skim ice had formed along the edge of the lake overnight. The crack of the pot on the ice broke the silence momentarily as Amy drew water for breakfast.

We spent the morning processing firewood and hiking to another campsite. Squirrel, chipmufnk, and snowshoe hare tracks dotted the fresh snow. We are spending the afternoon writing and listening to our tiny radio.

Tomorrow is supposed to be warmer with lighter winds. We are hoping to take a day trip and visit some new lakes south of Knife Lake. It will be interesting to see if any of the smaller lakes froze over in the recent cold snap.

Nature is not a place to visit. It is home. -Gary Snyder

Daily Data

Days spent in the Wilderness: 60
Hi Temperature: 26
Low Temperature: 6 F
Miles Traveled: 0
Number of Portages: 0
Number of Lakes visited: 1

Animals Encountered:
Chipmunks 2 (who peeked their heads into our tent throughout the day)
Loon 1 (calling during the night)
Hairy Woodpecker 1
Red squirrels 5
Bald eagle 1

Day 58: Tent Bound, Waiting out a Storm

The wind blew and light snow fell all day today. We spent almost all day in our tent, sheltered from the storm. We did a lot of writing, reading, and listening to the news on our tiny radio. I found my mind thinking back to a beautiful morning in October when we woke up to a frost-covered landscape. The temperature had dropped into the 20s overnight and the marsh grasses were covered in a thick frost. We paddled down a narrow creek as the sun rose above the trees and began melting the frost. It was like nothing I had ever seen before and the beautiful scene has not repeated itself since that magical morning.

Wilderness is the preservation of the World. – Henry David Thoreau

Well said Mr. Thoreau, we couldn’t agree more.

What does Wilderness mean to you? What words would you use to describe Wilderness?

Days spent in the Wilderness: 58
Hi Temperature: 31F
Low Temperature: 24 F
Miles Traveled: 0
Number of Portages: 0
Number of Lakes visited: 1

Animals Encountered:
Chipmunks 3 (who peeked their heads into our tent throughout the day)
Loons 1 (swimming in the sheltered bay near our campsite)

Breaking Through Ice on Glee Lake

When we reached the narrow stream leading into Glee Lake, it was frozen. Amy took the canoe off her shoulders and set it down on the ice-covered channel. As we loaded our packs into the canoe, their weight caused the ice to break. The ice was half an inch thick and we used our canoe like and ice-breaker as we paddled and pushed our way down the narrow channel. We laughed at the novelty of canoeing through the ice.

When we reached the main body of Glee Lake, we were surprised to see the ice stretch on across the lake. The ice slowed our progress, but we were able to break through with our paddles and pull the canoe forward. The novelty quickly wore off and we maneuvered through the ice on 3 more small lakes before reaching French Lake. French, Peter, and Gabimichigami are all very deep lakes. Ice typically forms first on the small, shallow lakes because the water cools more quickly on the small lakes.

Dabbling with ice-paddling reminded us that the lakes are likely to start freezing soon. In fact, the temperature dropped overnight. We anticipate the temperature will stay below freezing for the next week and with any luck the lakes will start to freeze for good.

We have returned to Knife Lake, where we are planning to wait for the lakes to freeze. Yesterday, we spent several hours gathering firewood from an area that burned in a forest fire several years ago. The area has many dead, down trees that have been drying in the sun for 3 years now. We loaded our canoe with a dozen 6-foot long logs, which we paddled back to our campsite.

A cold northwest wind is gusting to 40 miles an hour, whipping Knife Lake into a froth. It feels good to be warm and cozy in our Seek Outside tipi tent with an ample supply of dry firewood.

Daily Data

Days Spent in the Wilderness: 56
High Temperature: 47 F
Low Temperature: 42 F
Miles Traveled: 12
Number of Portages: 10
Number of Lakes Visited: 9

Animals Encountered:
Mergansers 4
Red squirrels 13
Chipmunks 5
Grouse 2
Black-capped chickadees 3
Pine marten 1
Moose 1
Snowshoe hare 1

Day 54: Paddling and Portaging through the Cavity Lake Fire

The sun’s low arc across the sky has not been strong enough to melt the snow from north-facing slopes. Yesterday we portaged through marsh that beavers had flooded. We broke through a 1/4 inch of skim is as we tromped through the flooded willow thicket along the edge of the marsh. Each step was carefully calculated in an attempt to keep the icy water from breaching the tops of our rubber boots.

On Saturday we broke camp and paddled east into the south arm of Knife Lake. We portaged through a series of small lakes to Ogishkemuncie Lake. As the sun set we pulled up to a beautiful campsite with a smooth sloping rock with a commanding view of the lakes many islands and points. Amy was excited to identify the rock as conglomerate. Full of a mixture of various small rocks, it looked like cement. The campsite was right on the western edge of the Cavity Lake Fire. The fire exposed a rugged, rocky landscape.

In the morning we packed camp and moved east into Seagull Lake. Amy and I had not visited this area since the Cavity Lake Fire had burned the area in 2006. It is a beautiful, rugged, haunting landscape full of exposed rock and standing dead trees. From Seagull we tackled the 1 and 1/2 mile portage between Seagull and Paulson Lake. It had been nearly 20 years since I had done that portage. I was on a solo canoe trip, traveling fast and light. I was about 19, literaly half my age, and I remember thinking it was a hard portage because I had to stop and rest part way across.

This time Amy and I were carrying heavy loads and had to shuttle our packs and canoe slowly over the portage. The Cavity Lake Fire left sweeping vistas from the tops of the many ridges. It reminded me of traveling through parts of the Northwest Territories, much closer to tree line. The sun had set by the time we carried our last load to the edge of Paulson Lake. We pulled out our headlamps and paddled to a campsite. The stars shimmered overhead as we set up our tent and lit a fire in the wood stove.

Daily Data:

Days spent in the Wilderness: 54
Hi Temperature: 49 F
Low Temperature: 33 F
Miles Traveled: 9
Number of Portages: 5
Number of Lakes visited: 6

Animals Encountered:
Bald Eagles 2
Ravens 3
Red Squirrels 7
Chipmunks 5
Grouse 2
Black-capped chickadees 3

The food we eat in the Wilderness

imageA few days ago, several of our friends came out to meet us. They entered the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness at Moose Lake. It was a cold and snowy day. They paddled their canoes a few miles down the lake to find us. They were carrying several big backpacks, called Duluth packs, full of food. We met up with them on the portage trail between Splash Lake and Newfound Lake. This is how we received our resupply.

We were really glad to receive this resupply, because it contained over one month’s worth of food. The reason for getting so much food is that ice will begin forming on the lakes soon. When ice does start forming, travel can be difficult. With all our food with us, we will be ready to wait for the ice to form and no one will have to travel to deliver food in difficult conditions.


If you were going to get all the food you needed for a month all at once, what would you pack? We had to plan ahead to make sure that we would get enough food. We also had to make sure to include a variety of foods so that we will be eating a balanced diet. To figure out what we needed, we made a big chart. We decided what we wanted to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Then we calculated how many pounds of food were needed. I’ll share with you what we eat. I bet that some of it will be similar to what you eat at home. Some of it may be different too.

For breakfast, we eat oatmeal or granola with dried fruit and milk. For lunch, we eat trail mix, dried vegetables, dried fruit, and we make wraps with tortillas and cheese or peanut butter. For dinner, we eat rice and beans or spaghetti with lots of dried vegetables. Sometimes we add a special treat like bannock or cake. Do you know what bannock is? It is a bread made in a frying pan, kind of like biscuits.

Amy displays bannock that she fried on our woodstove.

Amy displays bannock that she fried on our woodstove.

When we are traveling in the Wilderness, we need a lot of energy. Food is our fuel, so it is important to eat a balanced diet. A lot of important vitamins and nutrients come from vegetables. Our vegetables are dried, because fresh vegetables would spoil. What is your favorite vegetable? We also try to eat the right balance of protein, carbohydrates, and fats. We get protein from nuts and lentils. The carbohydrates we eat are oats, rice, pasta, and bannock. We get fat from nuts and oils, like olive oil.

There you have it, our diet in the Wilderness. Is there anything we eat that is similar to what you eat? What do we eat that is different? Is there any food that I didn’t mention that you think we should pack next time?

Discussion Questions:

What do you eat each day?

What are healthy foods? What are unhealthy foods?

What are the food groups?

Further Exploration:

Dave and Amy’s Diet post from the North American Odyssey:

Learn about the food groups with the Talking My Plate activity:

Find out how many calories you should eat each day:

Learn more about each of the food groups:

Helpful links to learn more about nutrition:
Student Response Worksheets