March to the Devil's Cascade

Discussion in 'Outings, Trips & Expeditions' started by Portage_Monster, Mar 11, 2019.

  1. Portage_Monster

    Portage_Monster Experiencing Wanderlust Supporter

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Jul 1, 2015
    Messages:
    1,233
    Likes Received:
    6,096
    Location:
    Frozen Minnesota
    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.

    IMG_7734.jpg

    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.

    IMG_7662.JPG

    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.

    IMG_7681.JPG

    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.

    IMG_7696.JPG

    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.

    IMG_7721.JPG

    IMG_7690.JPG

    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.

    IMG_7699.JPG

    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.

    IMG_7718.JPG

    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.

    IMG_7724.JPG

    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.

    IMG_7737.JPG

    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.
     
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2019
  2. Portage_Monster

    Portage_Monster Experiencing Wanderlust Supporter

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Jul 1, 2015
    Messages:
    1,233
    Likes Received:
    6,096
    Location:
    Frozen Minnesota
    IMG_7748.JPG

    With the wolf kill behind us it was decision time. We’d made great time getting to the lake where we’d planned on camping. Our legs were tired, but the weather was prefect, our spirits were high and there was this thing called the “devil’s cascade” on the map. We were obviously not stopping to make camp. So we headed north across the lake to the portage to Lower Pauness. The lake was wind-blown and the drifts made hauling the sled slow, but we made it across with little difficulty. After a quick portage we were on to Lower.

    IMG_7752.JPG

    As we crossed Lower Pauness we saw signs of previous camps – shoveled snow, ash piles and some cut and split firewood. It was our lucky day. On the far side of the lake we found open water at the mouth of the cascade and the portage past it on the east of the river. The map showed a site up on the hill by the chasm that would have more protection from the wind that a shore site, so we dropped out gear and hiked the portage to investigate.

    IMG_7785.JPG

    From the top of the hill we found a site with a gorgeous view of the valley and decided that this had to be home. We ran back down to the lake to get our gear and then set about the chores of turning a site into a camp.

    IMG_7756.JPG

    First things first was a fire pit and hot food, so nick set about digging out a spot for a camp fire. Little did we realize that we were standing on nearly three feet of snow... Our fire pit began to look more like a foxhole as he dug, but there was no other option.

    IMG_7761.JPG

    In very little time we had a roaring fire and we were brewing coffee and melting snow.

    IMG_7780.JPG

    With the fire going it was time to address a shelter. I found a pair of long straight trees and used them to frame up an opening to the shelter while nick packed down the spot for the shelter. Originally we’d planned on digging down to the ground, but once we realized there was three feet of snow we decided that it wasn’t worth the effort.

    Fairly quickly the shelter came to shape and the day was getting easier. We decided that even though it would be our most exposed, we wanted to point the opening of the shelter to the north west so we could enjoy the view from under the shelter if need be. This would be the high life.

    IMG_7784.JPG

    Once the shelter was up and we could start unpacking we dug out the bacon and made a snack. We both wanted some bacon grease for cooking in later and we desperately needed some calories from the long hike in. Nick got to frying bacon and I took a moment to appreciate some hot coffee and the stunning scenery.

    IMG_7799.JPG

    We took an hour to relax and explore a bit before dinner time. It was good to sit still for a while and enjoy the heat from the fire. As sunset approached it was time for some dinner, and what better dinner than steaks fried in bacon grease and mashed potatoes?

    IMG_7804.JPG

    Once we’d devoured our red meat ration it was time to sit by the fire and relax with a flask of good rye. As the sky got dark we realized there was no moon and no stars and as we crawled into our bags for the night we couldn’t help but wonder if it was going to snow…
     
    Last edited: Mar 11, 2019
  3. Portage_Monster

    Portage_Monster Experiencing Wanderlust Supporter

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Jul 1, 2015
    Messages:
    1,233
    Likes Received:
    6,096
    Location:
    Frozen Minnesota
    Sometime during the night I had a dream that I was in water… Cool, comforting water… I could feel the weight of the waves on my tired legs… I was so comfortable, so happy… Until I woke up and realized that what I was dreaming about was the weight of fallen snow collapsing my shelter onto my legs…

    IMG_7808.JPG

    We woke up the next morning to a fresh snow fall. You could hear the heavy icy flakes hitting the tarp and our visibility had been cut drastically. Of course, we knew this was coming, but it’s still a rough way to start a morning.

    IMG_7810.JPG

    We crawled out of bed and I made the most beautiful feather stick with my new Bark River, but it was snowing and I didn’t think to take a picture before I quickly got a cooking fire going. This was not a time to screw around. We’d had at least two or three inches of snow overnight and we knew that if it started blowing traveling would be a nightmare.

    IMG_7816.JPG

    So after a quick breakfast of bacon, hash browns, and coffee we packed everything up and set off down the trail for the trip home.

    IMG_7821.JPG

    The falling snow was freezing in parts of the river as we finished the first portage out of the Devil’s Cascade.

    IMG_7825.JPG

    The blowing snow had completely covered our trail from the way in and we were left wandering the lake in the blowing snow.

    IMG_7833.JPG

    Nick tool the sled for the first few miles while I went ahead and blazed a trail. Occasionally I would find the remnant of the packed snow from the wolves and I could follow that by braille. If your shoe floats, you’re on the trail. If it sinks, you’re off it, correct to either the left or right. This made for very, very slow going.

    IMG_7837.JPG

    By the time we had crossed both lakes and reached the mouth of the Little Indian Sioux River it was my turn to take the sled. The heavy icy falling snow made the sled feel much heavier and every now and then we would stop to shovel it off.

    IMG_7845.JPG

    Part way down the river I was hurting. It was obvious to Nick that he could move a lot faster in his lighter aluminum snowshoes on packed snow than I could in my big wooden shoes while hauling a sled. I encouraged him to keep moving if he felt like it and we kept scanning the trail for wolf sign knowing that there was a very good likelihood that we were being watched as we got into the valley.

    IMG_7848.JPG

    After a quick pit stop at the middle portage we knew we only had about two miles left and we buckled down and hit it. After another hour or so of struggling down the wolf highway we finally reached the portage to the parking area.

    Now, in the summer this wouldn’t be a tough portage. You’re either fresh going in or so close to your car and some air conditioning that you can push through anything. In the winter, it was different. The portage has some steep parts which make for a particularly difficult time when you’re in snowshoes and hauling a load. We grunted, swore and gasped for most of twenty minutes as we made the last push. At one point we resorted to putting a long rope on the sled and hauling it up the hill by hand rather than pulling it, but we made it to the top eventually. The only problem was that we still had to hike from the parking lot out to the road which was still plenty hilly and snowy.

    IMG_7851.JPG

    I strapped on the sled and made the last push cursing the day I put on snow shoes, but after a quarter mile or so I crested a rise and saw a beautiful snowcapped Chevy and knew that headed seats were moments away. We quickly tossed the gear in the truck and collapsed into the cab of the truck.

    “Nick, I’m broken, but that was awesome”

    “Not bad for my first Boundary Waters trip, huh!”

    “Not bad at all.”
     
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2019
    Octavian, Gumbi, Soilman and 27 others like this.
  4. Metaldog

    Metaldog Just chasing my tail... Supporter Bushcraft Friend

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Sep 4, 2018
    Messages:
    1,777
    Likes Received:
    12,527
    Location:
    Indianapolis
    Wow! Nice day trip! Nice looking S.A. 1911. :dblthumb:
     
  5. badglide9705

    badglide9705 Hobbyist Hobbyist Supporter

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Jan 27, 2017
    Messages:
    1,697
    Likes Received:
    7,696
    Location:
    Lower Great Lakes
    Nice write up! Thanks for taking us along.
     
  6. Primordial

    Primordial MOA #40 Supporter Bushcraft Friend

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Sep 8, 2017
    Messages:
    5,255
    Likes Received:
    41,717
    Location:
    Upper Great Lakes
    Eagerly waiting for more... :51::51::51:
     
  7. FIELDCRAFTLTC

    FIELDCRAFTLTC Supporter Supporter Bushclass I

    Blog Posts:
    5
    Joined:
    May 7, 2014
    Messages:
    4,648
    Likes Received:
    23,066
    Location:
    Connecticut
    Great TR! Anticipating the further adventures.
     
  8. M.Hatfield

    M.Hatfield Midnight Joker Supporter

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    May 29, 2015
    Messages:
    2,608
    Likes Received:
    13,261
    Location:
    New England
    Very cool to see so many signs of wolf activity. Seems like a real memorable adventure. :)
     
  9. Staleym

    Staleym Methuselah's Cohort Supporter

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Sep 6, 2018
    Messages:
    1,152
    Likes Received:
    6,814
    Location:
    Portland, Cascadia
    Hey there from Cascadia! Nice trip so far. Can't wait to read how you came to be asshole over elbows in the snow. The pics are great and you are an accomplished story teller. Thanks for sharing.:dblthumb:
     
  10. Portage_Monster

    Portage_Monster Experiencing Wanderlust Supporter

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Jul 1, 2015
    Messages:
    1,233
    Likes Received:
    6,096
    Location:
    Frozen Minnesota
    In a shameless gear plug, my Uco Candle lantern burned for most of 13 hours on Saturday night/Sunday morning. I knew there wouldn't be any moon out and with the clouds I knew there wouldn't be much for starlight, so I decided to just let the candle go all night for a little ambient light. So I lit the thing before the sun went down maybe 5ish? and it was still burning when I woke up at first light around six and burned for a while after that before finally going out. 13 hours out of a 9 hour candle is pretty spectacular IMO.
     
  11. rsnurkle

    rsnurkle Guide Bushclass I Bushclass II

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2011
    Messages:
    1,987
    Likes Received:
    12,221
    Location:
    Pittsburgh
    Sounds like a great adventure! Thank you for sharing
     
    woodsmanjohn and Portage_Monster like this.
  12. Swampdog

    Swampdog Supporter Supporter Bushcraft Friend

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Jun 10, 2014
    Messages:
    1,775
    Likes Received:
    5,927
    Location:
    Florida
    Thanks for taking us along on your winter snowshoe march, enjoyed the story and photos.
     
  13. Red Yeti

    Red Yeti Mostly Harmless Hobbyist Supporter Bushclass I Bushclass II

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2017
    Messages:
    2,025
    Likes Received:
    16,299
    Location:
    Pacific Northwest
    Great Trip a d nice report! Thanks for taking us along!

    :38::38:
     
  14. snapper

    snapper Guide

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Jan 4, 2012
    Messages:
    1,321
    Likes Received:
    1,908
    Location:
    central NYS
    Thanks for bringing us along. It's been a long time since I last visited the Boundary Waters so I appreciate being able to see it in its wintertime glory! I was lucky enough to see a wolf the last time I was there as it swam right in front of my canoe as we passed between two islands. Coming across that kill must have been something. You're lucky to have had that experience; as I'm sure you already know.

    That's all for now. Take care and until next time....be well.

    snapper
     
  15. wvhiker

    wvhiker Tracker

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Aug 12, 2010
    Messages:
    76
    Likes Received:
    131
    Location:
    North Central West Virginia
    Thanks for taking me along enjoyed your report. My first canoe trip to the BWCA started at the same entry point, awesome place.
     
  16. Portage_Monster

    Portage_Monster Experiencing Wanderlust Supporter

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Jul 1, 2015
    Messages:
    1,233
    Likes Received:
    6,096
    Location:
    Frozen Minnesota
    Funny thing is, I haven't seen a wolf in the flesh in nearly a decade. I've heard them howl, I've seen where they just were but I haven't seen one in ages. That kill was wild - the bits and pieces hadn't frozen yet so it couldn't have been more than a few hours old by the time we found it on Saturday morning.
     
  17. UDTfrogman

    UDTfrogman Scout

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Dec 23, 2011
    Messages:
    329
    Likes Received:
    10
    Location:
    Georgia
    You put considerable time and effort into telling us your story! I felt as if I was with you guys the whole trip.
     
  18. Portage_Monster

    Portage_Monster Experiencing Wanderlust Supporter

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Jul 1, 2015
    Messages:
    1,233
    Likes Received:
    6,096
    Location:
    Frozen Minnesota
    Thanks! I figure if a story is worth telling, it's worth telling well. I'm glad you enjoyed it, I know I did.
     
  19. Primordial

    Primordial MOA #40 Supporter Bushcraft Friend

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Sep 8, 2017
    Messages:
    5,255
    Likes Received:
    41,717
    Location:
    Upper Great Lakes
    Very cool TR. I really enjoyed your writing style. Thanks for sharing your adventure!
     
  20. mjh

    mjh Supporter Supporter

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Jul 21, 2010
    Messages:
    4,353
    Likes Received:
    6,970
    Location:
    confluence of Mississippi and Rum Rivers
    Thanks for the detailed story and photos to go along. Haven't really wintered up north in a long time.....takes some conditioning to keep fit for serious snowshoe work....I could feel the burn in the legs just reading the story :16:
     
    NevadaBlue, rsnurkle and woodsmanjohn like this.
  21. Portage_Monster

    Portage_Monster Experiencing Wanderlust Supporter

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Jul 1, 2015
    Messages:
    1,233
    Likes Received:
    6,096
    Location:
    Frozen Minnesota
    I'm glad you liked it and I appreciate the the praise.

    My pleasure. I could have definitely benefited from some more conditioning for this one. You think that a few miles without a pack is comparable to five or six with a pack but it's a real butt kicker. I was sore until Tuesday this week...
     
  22. woodsmanjohn

    woodsmanjohn Supporter Supporter Bushclass II

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Oct 25, 2009
    Messages:
    4,254
    Likes Received:
    19,754
    Location:
    Southeast
    What a great adventure out, awesome! trip report buddy that is a lot of snow those wolf tracks were really cool. I like those UCO candle lanterns I carry one on most of my overnight trips. Thanks for sharing.
     
  23. Park Swan

    Park Swan Maker Vendor

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Oct 24, 2016
    Messages:
    1,089
    Likes Received:
    4,452
    Location:
    Virginia
    Excellent trip report and photos, thanks!
     
    NevadaBlue and Portage_Monster like this.
  24. NevadaBlue

    NevadaBlue —- Roughian #7 -— --- Graybeard -— Supporter Bushcraft Friend Bushclass I

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Jun 30, 2012
    Messages:
    11,941
    Likes Received:
    77,680
    Location:
    Under the Blue Nevada Sky
    What a great story. I’m saving it to read to my grandson.

    And, I need to find a map tent like this one:

    [​IMG]

    That made me do a double take. ;)
     
    Portage_Monster likes this.
  25. NevadaBlue

    NevadaBlue —- Roughian #7 -— --- Graybeard -— Supporter Bushcraft Friend Bushclass I

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Jun 30, 2012
    Messages:
    11,941
    Likes Received:
    77,680
    Location:
    Under the Blue Nevada Sky
    Here is a PDF of the story:
     

    Attached Files:

    Portage_Monster likes this.
  26. Portage_Monster

    Portage_Monster Experiencing Wanderlust Supporter

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Jul 1, 2015
    Messages:
    1,233
    Likes Received:
    6,096
    Location:
    Frozen Minnesota
    A map tent would be awesome. I wonder if I could get it printed on some sil-nylon?
     
    Brook Trout and NevadaBlue like this.
  27. NevadaBlue

    NevadaBlue —- Roughian #7 -— --- Graybeard -— Supporter Bushcraft Friend Bushclass I

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Jun 30, 2012
    Messages:
    11,941
    Likes Received:
    77,680
    Location:
    Under the Blue Nevada Sky
    I know maps printed on cotton are available, I bought some to make bandanas, wouldn’t a map tent be cool?
     
    Brook Trout and Portage_Monster like this.
  28. Portage_Monster

    Portage_Monster Experiencing Wanderlust Supporter

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Jul 1, 2015
    Messages:
    1,233
    Likes Received:
    6,096
    Location:
    Frozen Minnesota
    It would be really cool. I might have to look into this - being a map guy and all. A tarp that shows the entire Boundary Waters would be amazing.
     
    NevadaBlue likes this.
  29. NevadaBlue

    NevadaBlue —- Roughian #7 -— --- Graybeard -— Supporter Bushcraft Friend Bushclass I

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Jun 30, 2012
    Messages:
    11,941
    Likes Received:
    77,680
    Location:
    Under the Blue Nevada Sky
    Sign companies might be the place. They print on huge sheets of fabric all the time.
     
    Portage_Monster likes this.

Share This Page