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Emily Ford ends ski trek early due to open water

The Duluth resident and her dog trudged nearly 200 miles through deep snow and extreme cold.

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The moon shines above the campsite of Emily Ford and her dog, Diggins, on a recent night of their ski trek along the Ontario-Minnesota border. Ford said she expects to finish the 200-mile trip in 30 days, skiing into Grand Portage on Saturday, March 12.
Contributed / Emily Ford
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GRAND MARAIS — Emily Ford ended her roughly 200-mile ski-snowshoe-hiking trek across the top of Minnesota a day early and with a last-minute diversion due to open water on the Pigeon River.

Ford pulled off her route and opted to hitch a ride with Diggins, her sled dog, into Grand Marais, officially ending her 28-day trek that started on Crane Lake on Feb. 11.

Ford had skied out of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, heading east toward Lake Superior, and had planned to ski along the Pigeon River and into Grand Portage on Saturday. But she left the trail at South Fowl Lake on the border because the Pigeon River was already flowing fast.

"This was a fantastic trip. I did what I set out to do: traverse the Boundary Waters by ski and paw. I am so incredibly proud of myself and Diggins!" Ford posted on Instagram on Thursday. "We saw one of the most spectacular places in one of the most spectacular seasons. No. We lived in it!... I will forever say that I am not here to conquer the wilderness, just to experience it."

Ford and Diggins weathered nights at nearly 40 below zero and days on end of trudging through snow that was 2 feet deep. Ford, of Duluth, also encountered boot-sucking slush on the surface of some frozen lakes, along with some open rivers, and even fell in at one point.

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While the original plan was for Ford to skijor behind Diggins, the dog was having a hard time breaking trail in the deep snow. So Ford fashioned a different system where she was the lead breaking trail with Diggins in the middle and the sled behind the dog.

Along the 30-day trip she was resupplied twice and spent one night at the log home of Ashley Bredemus on the Seagull River. Ford mostly stuck to her planned route that traced the Ontario-Minnesota border across canoe country. But she did deviate at one point along a snowmobile trail just off the Gunflint Trail.

Grand Rapids native quit her job in Florida and moved to the edge of the BWCAW, where she writes "The Cabin Season" blog.

Where Ford has been within range of cellphone service, she’s been reporting on Instagram that breaking trail through deep snow on the frozen lakes has been extremely difficult and that she cherished the few places where tracks from dog sleds or snowmobiles had packed down her route.

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Emily Ford met a trout fisherman earlier this week while trekking across a frozen lake on the Ontario-Minnesota border. The angler gave her a lake trout, which she strapped to her sled and later cleaned and cooked for dinner.
Contributed / Emily Ford

“I met a fisherman yesterday. He gave me a lake trout for dinner! It was a delight to ski with a trout in tow. I've never gutted or cooked fish before, but I think I got it alright! I fried it up in ample amounts of lard,” Ford posted on Instagram on Tuesday.

“My mind is slowly preparing itself for re-entering the fast paced normal. … I spend from 8 a.m. 'til 6 p.m. in the sun, moving my body and hanging out with another animal that helps me produce happiness. My worries are pretty simple: eat and drink enough (do the same for Diggins), ski, sk, ski, ski, ski, ski, portage three times, set up the tent correctly and don't fall through the ice,” she added. “But trust me, I'm ready to be home. In a dry bed. In a house with running water. And with daily clean undies (might be the best part).”

Ford, 29, who last year became only the second person to hike all of Wisconsin's Ice Age Trail in winter, said she wanted a more remote trip this year and dedicated her journey to protecting the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and encouraging more people of color to experience the wilderness first-hand.

“This place is so amazing, I feel that I can scarcely capture it in photos or videos. I hope you get to experience the BWCA in the winter sometime in your life. It feels vast and small all at once. Sometimes the wind is there to beat you up all day and other times it's just there to dance on your neck. The sun plays hide and seek behind the trees as it races across the winter sky. There is so much here, and there is nothing,” Ford posted.

Emily Ford
Emily Ford
Contributed / Emily Ford

Since her Ice Age Trail trip, Ford has become a celebrity of sorts after widespread media and social media coverage of her expedition. She's been invited to speak at outdoor events, and went to Canada for the Banff International Film Festival, which featured a short documentary film about her hike. (The same filmmaker was expected to document part of Ford's ski trip, too.) There have been magazine stories and television interviews and Ford now has more than 17,000 followers as "Emily on Trail" on Instagram.

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Emily Ford and her trusty sidekick, Diggins the sled dog, will spend 30 days trekking across the top of Minnesota.

This story was updated at 8:19 a.m. March 11 because Ford announced she was ended her trek early. It was originally posted at 12:08 p.m. March 10.

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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