A few evenings ago, Dave and I were in our campsite. The sun had just set and we were making dinner. All of a sudden, we heard howling very close to our camp. The sound was similar to the many times we have camped with sled dogs, but we didn’t have any sled dogs with us. A pack of wolves was within 100 yards of our campsite! They howled for about a minute. I tried to figure out how many wolves were in the pack based on the different pitches of the howls. I’m not sure, but my guess is that there were five or six wolves. Dave and I spent the rest of the evening listening for more howling, but didn’t hear anything. The pack had moved on.
What do you think these wolves were up to?
We woke up early the next morning and quickly packed up camp. The temperature had dropped during the night. On Vera Lake, Dave cut a hole in the ice with his axe. The cold weather during the night had made the ice thick enough to walk on. We decided to pull our canoe like a sled across Vera and Ensign Lakes. The sun’s glow cast a red light on the horizon as we loaded our canoe on Vera Lake’s frozen surface. Dave and I have spent a lot of time canoeing. We have spent a lot of time dogsledding. However, this was the first time that we would pull our canoe on ice.
How do you feel when you try a new activity for the first time?
I think that I gained new respect for sled dogs as I was pulling the canoe. We leaned into our harness to pull the canoe, loaded with several hundred pounds of food and equipment, across the ice. First, we took turns with one person pulling the canoe while the other walked in front, checking the ice. We stopped often and whoever was in front would chop a hole in the ice to check the thickness of the ice.
Each time we checked, we saw there was enough ice to safely hold us. We cautiously moved along the shoreline. We were wearing our drysuits and PFDs (personal floatation devices). We also carried icepicks and safety ropes just in case we broke through.
Dave and I were both excited to walk along, traveling in a new way. Once the canoe was moving, it slid over the ice relatively easily, but we had to lunge into the harness to get the canoe moving. When we reached the west end of Vera, we hauled our loads across the portage to Ensign. We made 3 trips each. Ensign is a shallower lake, so we were happy to find even thicker ice. We also decided to both pull the canoe at the same time. Dave’s rope was longer, so he took the position of lead dog. Since I was closest to the canoe, I was in the wheel dog position.
Around 2 o’clock we sat down on the ice and had lunch. It was a fun day, full of new things. As we traveled, we saw many animal tracks. We could tell the otter tracks because they would take a couple bounding steps and then slide on their bellies. There would be a couple paw prints and then a big swoosh where they slid. We saw wolf tracks too. I think the tracks we saw had probably been made by the wolves that howled near our campsite. Maybe they were as happy as we were to travel across the frozen lakes.
Have you ever seen tracks in the snow or mud? How do you identify the animal that made the tracks?
As the sun began to set, we pulled up to a campsite on the west end of Ensign Lake. We were tired after hauling a heavy load all day, but were overjoyed to have traveled over the ice. Wilderness is a wonderful teacher. Even after decades of exploring the Boundary Waters, there is still so much we can learn from this special place.