Wilderness has borne some of the most uncomfortable and formative experiences of my life, and my first foray into winter camping was to be no exception! My companions were my father, Jeff, an enthusiastic, pastorly man, and Bill, camp manager and wilderness savvy guide, who also happens to be my boss. Dad had dreamt of winter camping for years, and in the Sackett family, dreaming is usually synonymous with obsessing. He had perused website after website, watched countless Due North videos, and had finally met Bill at WCB, who agreed to guide the adventure. After a few days of preparation and 8+ inches of snow, Dad arrived up north and we covered last minute details over malts at Trail Center, as any professional explorers are wont to do.
The morning of our trek was bitterly windy and cold, marking around -10 degrees. We loaded up our sleds with gear (tents, fishing gear, warm clothing, food), and safely burrito’ed them into tarps until they resembled massive body bags. Bill taught us to strap the sled ropes to webbing wrapped around our torsos which would enable maximum power in our pull, and boy howdy, did we ever need that maximum power. As we began the journey away from warm, cozy Pinecliff, I quickly realized that this was no ordinary summertime-single-Duluth pack-on-a-portage trek. These sleds were full of frozen food, metal stove parts, canvas tents, and boots, everything necessary to keep us alive while camping – if we survived the trek.
Bill forged ahead, breaking trail through the mounds of new snow like nobody’s business, and Jeff threw his hands triumphantly in the air, finally achieving his dream (obsession). I would like to credit the moral support I offered them from the caboose of our train. We ski-trudged along, and as I grew painfully accustomed to my newfound life as a sled-dog, I began to take in the absolute beauty surrounding us. The wilderness blanketed in white, dark pines silhouetted… these were our remedies to ski boots that rubbed and backs that ached.
Once we mercifully arrived at our destination of Miles Island, we raised up the hot tent before starting the work of foraging for firewood. After about an hour, Dad and I had successfully hauled 5 sleds worth of small cedar branches. After about 10 minutes, Bill arrived at camp with 3 giant cedar logs slung over his shoulder. A fitting analogy of our skills, I believe. We snacked and fished the rest of our daylight away, returning to the tent for a night of freshly-caught lake trout, and cribbage (let the record show that bossman Bill lost to me, little canoe guide Hannah). Bill returned to his teepee tent, where he slept the night away. Jeff and I however, faced a steep learning curve of winter camping sleep… should we sleep soundly, let the fire go out, and wake up with potential icicle toes? Or sleep fitfully, at the dying fire’s beck and call? We managed to find a happy medium of both very little sleep and very little warmth – but the only way to go was up! Another beautiful snowy day lay ahead of us, complete with more wood chopping, warm food, and fishing. It’s the simple things, really, and Bill/Jeff were the most hilarious duo I could have asked for. Dad and I worked our way up the steep learning curve, and achieved a much warmer and more restful night of sleep, and we were ready to begin the trek back the next morning.
The trek back to base was warmer, although just as snowy and just as plodding, but as Bill cheerily stated, “Well, there’s no other option! Just think like a horse to the barn door!” Very optimistic for somebody about to break trail through knee-deep snow. We maintained that infectious optimism, stopping to photograph one another and truly admire the breathtaking wilderness landscape surrounding us on Seagull Lake. Dad continued to excitedly throw his ski poles into the air, loving every minute of the exertion because, “WE DID IT”.
Yep, we did, and it was a truly wonderful first experience winter camping. It was gritty, working hard to survive and stay warm. It was sweet, watching my dad realize his dream. It was humbling, swallowing my pride to learn so much from Bill. It was wild, finding otter tracks in the snow, staring down the wonderland of tundra that is Seagull, nourishing ourselves with fresh lake trout. It was sacred, experiencing the stillness of God’s creation in community with two of my favorite people, both of whom have influenced my love of wilderness greatly. When I woke up after my 14 hour sleep the day after, my StoryPeople calendar read: “Trust love. That’s pretty much it…. Except, maybe, drink more water.” Basically, my first winter camping lessons in a nutshell. I invite you to take a step (or leap) out of your comfort zone, and join us at Wilderness Canoe Base! Let’s trek together through this crazy, holy world together.
-Hannah Sackett, Guide ’16 & Retreat Staff ’17 (pictured with her dad Jeff in the top right picture)
Interested in scheduling your own winter trek with Bill? Contact the WCB office at email@example.com or (218)388-2241