Paddle - BWCA, Quetico, Sylvania, and other paddling places

Trick or Treat

By Riley Smith Print Icon Print Report View/Leave Comments (0)
Dates:October 31, 2020 - November 1, 2020
Entry Point:86 - Pow Wow Trail (BWCA)
Lakes:Campfire, Diana, Fallen Arch, Horseshoe, Isabella, Marathon, Mirror, Myth, North Wilder, Path, Rock Of Ages, South Wilder, Superstition, Three

A couple of weeks back, we took a snowy, icy canoe trip into Homer Lake and up to Cherokee and loved it as usual, but it became apparent that there would be no November canoe adventure such as we did last year with ice quickly covering the lakes (though who knows with how warm it has gotten all of a sudden!) Thus the idea was casually mentioned that the incredible volunteer crews have gotten the PowWow trail into hikeable condition. It may be a little rough around the edges, but folks are getting through, including a new record time about a month back. Neither of us wanted to admit our doubts about us being able to hike it in a weekend. I mean, we are fairly capable outdoors people, but we excel in a canoe. We’re not true backpackers by any means and with limited daylight was the 30-mile PowWow really a good idea? Somehow or another we convinced ourselves that it was achievable and met at the Isabella parking lot late Friday evening. To those who remember back a week ago, it was getting pretty cold at night and there was still a fair bit of snow on the ground. The roads coming in were icy, so we were surprised to see a car parked at the PowWow end of the lot. When we saw the Boundary Waters Trails stickers, we knew we were in the presence of the real deal and two of the amazing individuals responsible for getting this historic trail back available to the public again. We slept the night and awoke early to begin our adventure. Since it was, in fact, Halloween, I thought it only appropriate to bring Haloween costumes for us to wear while hiking. It may seem goofy, but we were determined and stubbornly kept our costumes on for the entire first day. Oddly enough, just as we were donning our unique attire, a truck rolled in for grouse hunting. Boy, were we a site! We talked for a while with them, but this ghost and pumpkin had places to be. We knew we would have to be on our game to get around this trail in a weekend. We reminded ourselves of the halfway point that we hoped to achieve and then it was off.

We made great time to the Isabella River where we filled waterbottles and de-layered a little bit (the costumes were put back on after the jackets were removed.) We admired all sorts of wolf tracks in the following mile (seeing all the tracks is one of my favorite parts of winter up here.) The wye came up pretty quickly. We borrowed a couple walking sticks propped there and continued clockwise around the trail.

At the beaver dam crossing, it became clear the forecast for wind was not wrong. The winds were already strong enough that balancing on the dam with backpacking packs proved difficult. Neither of us wanted wet feet yet, and graciously made it across dry. Just past Fallen Arch, we turned the corner straight into a tent set on the trail. Trick or treat? It turned out to be the folks parked near the trailhead, the president of the friends of BWCA trails himself. He certainly wasn’t expecting to see a ghost and a pumpkin come around the corner, but once we told our stories, he turned into an incredible person to talk to. He had all the trail conditions memorized and gave us loads of tips which helped us in the days ahead. We left them to their morning and continued westward. We took our first longer pack set down break at the Marathon Lake campsite. This is where it became clear that we were definitely not quite in backpacking shape. The bodies complained some about the work already done, but we pushed those thoughts aside. There was a lot of trail still to cover. The Diana Green Zone was a treat and we broke for lunch at Campfire. Campfire Lake is quite the gem of a little lake. The wind was cutting in pretty good at this point and sporadic small pockets of snow would fall here and there. We continued west through the next green zone, marveling at how clear the trail was and how much work had been done to get it to that point. We broke again at the Superstition Campsite.

It was mid-afternoon and concerns were starting to grow that reaching Lake Three by nightfall was getting further out of reach. From Superstition, the trail grows much more difficult with stretches of boulder piles proving hazardous in the snow. Our pace slowed as we hit a small gnarly section near Mirror Lake and got turned around once or twice on the way to Path. The snow which covered obstacles in our trail finally caught up to me somewhere in this stretch as I stepped hard into a hole between two boulders. It would reveal to be a lightly sprained ankle in the coming days, but, for now, it was just one more nuisance. On one of the high hills above Path, we had our reality conversation. The sun was quickly setting and the winds were growing stronger. A look around at the giant, dead White Pines reminded us that this was not where we wanted to be spending the night with gale force winds possible for the late evening. But what choices did we have? Hiking in the dark can be risky. The chances of getting hurt go up as do the chances of getting lost. The stories of rescues of hikers going astray were playing out in the backs of both of our brains, but hiking at night felt safer than sleeping beneath the endless snags of the burnzone, so we pressed on. The sun finally disappeared completely before we reached Rock of Ages. The precipitation increased with sleet blowing sideways in the stiff wind as we pulled ourselves up the rock face at the end of the lake. We trudged on for a long ways into the night. We both were growing tired and sore, but, finally, we walked into green trees. Off to our left was a stiff wind coming off the frozen Lake Three. Our hope was to find the campsite, but we never did encounter it. We made camp on the trail in a thick grove of Cedars in hopes that the shelter from the wind would protect us from the night.

The winds kicked up between 30 and 40 mph that night according to the reports, but our campsite provided good protection. We woke a little stiff, and my ankle reminded me that something was amiss, but we had a lot of miles to cover to get back to the car. We headed down to the portage where we were able to break a hole along the shore of Horseshoe Lake for water. The ridges between Horseshoe and N Wilder provide a lot of steep stretches of trail that acted as sledding hills this day. We moved strategically.

The trail along N Wilder was thick with new Jack Pine and plenty of blowdown (some from the previous evening by the look of it.) We spent plenty of time crawling underneath and overtop the various impediments. This is what we had both envisioned the PowWow would look like (thank you volunteers for making this place possible.) It took what felt like an eternity to cross the portage to Harbor and an exceedingly long time to make Wilder Creek where we took a late lunch. A feeling of dread was starting to set in at this point. We both knew the math wasn’t in our favor. This could be a long night. But with rays of sun on our faces and a good meal alongside Wilder Creek deep in this cherished wilderness, it was difficult to be upset. We hiked to South Wilder and marveled at the clifftop campsite. This was a lake we had always wanted to visit but never had been able to. The most peculiar thing about it was that South Wilder was almost completely ice-free. Every lake we had passed so far (including the sizeable Lake Three) were completely iced over and, except for the northern back bay, South Wilder was clear. How strange.

After the South Wilder campsite, the trail grows exponentially more difficult. Down trees, rock scrambles, steep slopes, and boulder fields brought our pace to a standstill. Most of the afternoon was spent covering the challenging trail near Wilder. By the time we reached the hill overlooking Pose Creek, we had a pretty decent idea of where we were. We also knew that time was not on our side. Crossing Pose Creek confirmed our fears: there would be a long night hike ahead of us again. Our wilderness intuition weighed the options. We knew we could camp the night somewhere near here, but that would jeopardize any chance of making work on Monday morning (worse things though, right?) We remembered the famous missing hiker case which happened very nearby our location, but both of us reasoned that if we could make the old logging road section past Pose, then it would be a straight shot to home. The sun set near Pose, from there it was a long, dark slog back to the car. We were not moving quickly. Sore muscles and nagging injuries weren’t helping our pace. However did we convince ourselves that we were in shape for 30 miles of backpacking in a weekend in the snow? We both agreed though that this was a wonderful time to see the PowWow. The variety of marshes we walked through reminded us that this could be a very wet and buggy trail at certain times of the year. Along one of the major wetland crossings north of the wye, a bright orange glow appeared to our left as a brilliant full moon began to rise above the beaver dam. What a marvelous treat this was as one of those indescribable moments that can only happen in the wilderness sought to reward every step taken. This single moment alone nearly made it all worth the while. We passed the point of truly thinking about our hike around this point as tiredness took its toll. It was just one foot in front of the other until, finally, we saw the wye before us. It would be a while before reaching the car, but at least we had seen every step ahead of us before. We trudged on and on through the shadows cast by the full moon. Though we both love the wilderness dearly, there were big smiles on both of our faces when we saw that permit box and welcome sign come out of the darkness, welcoming us back to the lot. It was also incredible to see a note and information from our trail clearing friends left on the dash. A look at our watches revealed that it took 14.5 hours for us to get from Lake Three to our cars (less than one mile an hour.) We took some sleep there, and I headed out that evening. There were quite a few new trees down on the road, reminders of the wind that had come through the night before. I was sore, tired, but felt fulfilled. We had set out to see the PowWow and did. This was another trip unlike any other, and it was a pleasure to see another side of this incredible place that never ceases to amaze or fill my heart with longing for the next story-filled adventure.

New Messages