The cold bit my hands as I tried to push myself out of the snow. My pack had slid up on my back pushing my head down and my snowshoes were tangled behind me as I wallowed in a couple of feet of snow. I couldn’t help but pause to wonder how I got there and why there was blood everywhere. It all started back in November. My friend Nick and drove up to my favorite chunk of wilderness for some snowy grouse hunting and an excuse to cook steaks over a fire. We took a poke down a promising looking trail heading north off the Echo Trail. In the snow covered trees we didn’t so much as hear a grouse, but what we saw was worth much more. After coming around a bend in a pine thicket we came to an impenetrable swamp with a beautiful pine topped ridge beyond it that had a commanding view of all of the lowland around it. The leafs had all left the trees and the recent snow we’d had helped define the characteristics of the terrain – it looked wonderful. Nick looked over and said “I want to be up there.” “Good luck.” “Well, not now, but after things freeze up we could cross the swamp and get up there. Maybe on skis or snow shoes?” “True, but if I’m going that far, I’m bringing a pack so I can stop and make coffee… And if I’m making coffee, I might as well make some food… And if I’m going to make food, I’d want to set up a quick shelter.” “And if we’re going to set up a shelter, we might as well have a good fire and relax.” “So we’re going winter camping?” “Yup” A few months later over a few beers we talked about routes, proper gear and the feasibility of a trip. We realized that the ridge we were looking at was in the Boundary Waters, and that while that ridge looked nice, movement would be easier over water in the BW. We discussed good sleeping setups for cold weather and before I realized that he was being serious, Nick pulled out his phone and was buying gear thanks to google and credit cards. Game on. After a few more weeks, and a few more beers we’d decided on snow showing about four or so miles along the Little Indian Sioux River to Upper or Lower Pauness lakes for a camp. Even if it took us all day in heavy snow, we could do four miles to the nearest camp site and we’d be fine. Exhausted, but fine. Days before we were set to go there was a winter storm advisory for the state of Minnesota. The southern part of the state was set to get most of a foot of snow, the middle several inches, and our neck of the woods maybe three to five inches. What’s winter camping without some snow? The night before we loaded up the truck with our gear and agreed to sneak out of town before the sun could come up to make the most of what daylight the Canadian border get this time of year. With bellies full of gas station coffee and doughnuts we hit the road for the hour and a half drive to the jump off point. Upon exiting the truck one thing was apparent – we were in wolf country. The spot where we’d, parked the truck was littered with wolf scat and tracks. Not that wolf sign came as a surprise, but the volume was impressive. Now, we know wolves want nothing to do with people, but it’s humbling to be sharing territory with such an awesome predator. With packs adjusted, sled loaded and snowshoes tightened we were off. Up the road, to the parking lot, down the portage and onto the river. Time to see how well we could actually move. Even with the near record volume of snow we had in February, there was enough density in the snow to keep us from sinking too deeply at first. After a little while though, we realized there was a packed trail along the snow marked at 500 ft intervals with piles of wolf scat. This changed everything. Without sinking in the snow our shoes and the sled moved quickly and we were making almost double time compared to what we’d imagined. The volume of wolf sign was impressive, but of course animals use the path of least resistance. With fast feet we reached the first portage in about an hour and we were up and over quickly. From there it was a straight shot down the river to the lake – maybe a mile and a half to go. As we plodded along the wolf highway as we’d come to call it, we came across a few sets of moose tracks, but were dismayed at not seeing any actual moose. You could see where they barreled through the woods, crossed the river and smashed into the woods on the other side. The biggest downside to the volume of snow that we’ve had in the last month was knowing that the likelihood of running into a shed was slim to none. By the time we reached the mouth of the river my legs were on fire, despite the crusty snow. Most of four miles with a pack, snowshoes and taking turns on the sled were taking their toll on me. As I bent over to stretch my legs I noticed something out on the ice. Faster than I could think Nick had his binoculars out and was scanning the lake. “It’s furry. Brown and furry…” He said. Nick had the sled and opted to head for the east shore of the lake to keep moving, but I was curious and headed north. I’d wandered off the packed wolf highway and moving started getting rougher in the deep snow. My muscles started to ache when I caught an edge with the tip of my shoe and flopped forward out on the lake and into the powder. Instantly there was snow up my jacket, my bare hands were covered in snow and I was more or less pinned under the weight of my pack, the snow all around me and the length of my snow shoes. It seemed like it took forever for my to get to my feet again. When I righted myself and started getting up I realized that I tripped on a packed trail and right next to a lot of blood on the snow. Something had met it’s demise right here. I got to my feet and looked east to Nick when I saw where the feast had taken place. Walking up on it there was just enough fur and hide to recognize it as a white tail deer, but that was it. Blood, guts, fir and the occasional rib bone was all that was left. The hide hadn’t even frozen yet – this was fresh. Standing in awe of the carnage we’d stumbled upon was fairly sobering realizing how exposed everything is this time of year, but we had to keep moving if we were going to have a shelter for the night so after a few pictures and muffled expletives we headed north again.