The lake’s glassy surface beckoned us, so after setting up our camp we slid the canoe back in the water for a quick paddle as the sun set. We pulled our canoe up on shore and were about to continue our camp chores when a pack of wolves broke the silence with a chorus of howls. Dinner and other chores would have to wait. We sat at the water’s edge, watching the end of the sunset and listening for the wolves until the first stars appeared.
We tilted our heads back and howled, but they never howled back. Amy figured they knew we were impostors. We could hear splashing across the lake where water flows into Splash Lake in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area. When we lined our canoe up the narrow channel of rushing water between Splash and Ensign earlier in the day, a large school of cisco was circling in the flowing water. They are probably preparing to spawn and we wondered if the wolves were splashing around fishing for cisco in the shallows.
We woke up to the sound of wet snow hitting the tent. When I poked my head out, big puffy flakes stung my face and were quickly blanketing the ground in white. After breakfast I walked down the latrine trail as part of my normal daily routine and wondered how many more times over the next few months I will end up dusting the snow off the latrine before my morning constitutional.
As I sat there in the snow, a snowshoe hare raced by, a blur of white and brown. Like us, it was caught in the transition between summer and winter. Their feet are the first thing to turn white in the fall and the last think to brown in the Spring. They always look so vulnerable hopping around with white feet in a snowless landscape. Right on its tail was a pine marten, eyes fixed on it quarry. In the heat of the chase, I doubt the hare or marten even realized that they ran right past my feet. How often do you get to watch a predator chase its prey in your bathroom! That’s why I will trade a snowy throne with a view for a flush toilet any day.
After packing camp, we paddled and portaged from Ensign to Newfound Lake to meet a group of volunteers hauling in our last resupply before freeze-up. Even more cisco were congregated in the moving water at the end of the lake where the wolves had been splashing. Scales littered the rocks and two eagles perched high overhead in trees overlooking the rapids. We were startled by a third bald eagle when it erupted from the bushes and took flight as our canoe sped down the narrow channel into Splash Lake.
It seemed fitting to pick up our last resupply before freeze up in a snow storm. As we paddled, it began snowing harder and harder. It is so relaxing to watch the flakes fall as you glide through the water. The snow had stopped by the time we met our friends and picked up more than a month’s worth of food along with our snowshoes and additional warm clothing that will see us through until the lakes are frozen enough for our toboggans and sled dogs to be brought in.
With our canoe sitting lower in the water, we paddled northeast along the U.S./Canadian border to Knife Lake. We had to take five trips across each portage, three carrying heavy loads, and two as we returned to get another load. There were six portages separating us from Knife Lake and by the time we loaded the canoe at the west end of Knife, it was time to dig out our headlamps.
The stars sparkled off the lake’s surface as we paddled silently toward the peninsula where we planned to camp. A lone wolf broke the silence with a low solitary howl, reminding us that we are only visitors here, but it is up to us to protect this place so that countless generations of cisco can spawn in these pristine waters, wolves can continue roaming the wilderness, romping in the shallows, and howling with abandon, and our children and their children can witness the untrammeled beauty of the Boundary Waters as we have.
Amy and Dave Freeman, 2014 Adventurers of the Year, are spending 365 days in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness to call attention to the threats that a series of proposed sulfide-ore copper mines pose to our nation’s most popular wilderness. They are sharing their Wilderness Adventures through regular blog posts throughout their Year in the Wilderness right here on the Beyond the Edge blog. Learn more about protecting the Boundary Waters, follow them@freemanexplore, and connect kids with the adventure through the Wilderness Classroom.