Winter trip brings new experiences

In each of the past six years a college friend of mine, Terry Boerboom, whom I haven't seen in more than 20 years, has invited me to tag along with him for a winter camping and lake trout fishing adventure into the wilds of the Boundary Waters Ca...

In each of the past six years a college friend of mine, Terry Boerboom, whom I haven't seen in more than 20 years, has invited me to tag along with him for a winter camping and lake trout fishing adventure into the wilds of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Terry and I attended the University of Minnesota Morris together, worked part-time jobs at United Parcel Service, were roommates, and hunted and fished together. But, as life and circumstances often dictate, our trails eventually diverged and we lost touch with one another for many years.

Terry became a geologist; this I already knew. And it wasn't until I became a biologist that he and I finally crossed paths again. I was managing the Wetlands, Pines and Prairie Audubon Sanctuary when I learned where Terry worked. An Internet search revealed his whereabouts and, a quick e-mail later, we were well on our way down memory lane and playing a 20-year catch-up correspondence. Aside from his degrees and a wife and children, he hadn't changed a bit.

Finally, last weekend, after six years of annual invitations -- something always seemed to get in the way for me -- I was at last able to accept the invite and make plans to meet somewhere up the North Shore to rekindle a friendship, share a tent and campfires, and perhaps catch a few lake trout to boot. And though I've experienced much in the out-of-doors, a ski into the backcountry and pitching tents on top of the snow was a new venture for me. Not a problem though: Terry provided me a complete laundry list of what to bring, right down to how many T-shirts to the kinds of hooks that work best.

We met in Silver Bay; Terry and his friends Dan England, Dale Setterholm, Bruce Huset, and Jeff Ingram, all of whom have made the trip before and some who are working on nearly three decades of the annual winter tradition together. I was without question "the new guy," but was warmly welcomed into the fraternity with brief introductions and hearty handshakes.


After a brief stop in Grand Marais for minnows and a bite to eat, we headed northwest some two-dozen or so miles on the famed Gunflint Trail, down another lesser known side-trail, and finally to a stop where the vehicles were put to rest in order to complete the last leg of the journey: six miles sliding along on cross-country skis pulling sleds and gear while traversing lakes and rugged mountainous terrain through wooded portages filled with deep snows and unpredictable footing. In all, three different lakes were crossed and four portages were negotiated before we eventually settled onto the fourth and final chosen lake and campsite.

Scenic and panoramic beauty is never in short supply within the canoe country of the Boundary Waters. Breathtaking vistas upon rocky outcrops overlooking veritable mountain ranges are commonplace. Tranquil snow-covered lakes ringed with weather-beaten white pines and twisted northern white cedars bespeaks of a place where Mother Nature reigns and humankind takes a backseat, as it should be.

As I glided across trails and lakes while listening to the steady swishing of skis and my own labored breaths, I often stopped to absorb both the sun's warmth and vast landscape. A brilliant blue, cloudless sky contrasted sharply with sprawling and blinding blankets of white snow. And aside from brisk winds whipping up occasional lake-top snow-devils or whispering through overhead boughs, only the distant croaks of ravens and the infrequent vocalizations of eagles, siskins, and chickadees could be heard.

Bruce and I were the last to reach camp. Already the unspoken division of labor was in motion: wood was being gathered for the night's fire -- both for cooking and warmth -- holes were getting bored through the ice for camp water and for fishing, tip-ups set, sleds were being unpacked and tent-sites were sought and claimed. Camp was abuzz with the din of sawing wood and of exhausted, though joyful, conversation and friendly jibes. All were thankful for having at last arrived.

I was struck by how well the men worked together in establishing camp. Though long in the afternoon, camp was set well before the sun had reached the high ridge that towered above our encampment. I gladly pitched in where needed, and it wasn't long before tents were up, wood was split and stacked, and the first lake trout of the trip was iced. I found it fitting that it was Dan, one of the veterans of the group, who landed the fish and hoisted it up for our cameras.

At night when temperatures dipped into the teens Fahrenheit and possibly lower, our cedar and pine campfires warmed us well. The fire-pit was our social centerpiece. It was where we gathered for breakfasts, lunches and suppers. It was where we thawed cold fingers and feet, absorbed much needed heat, and endured relentless, but tolerable, smoke.

Yarns were tossed around our group of fishers as freely as the wind blew and the lake trout bit. Stars shone brightly each night with a most impressive moonrise on the 18th as Jupiter flanked the moon's ascent. And snug fittings inside our sleeping bags kept us all comfortable throughout the cold nights until the sun of each new day warmed our tents and spirits, stirring us to rise, fish, laugh, eat and be merry again.

It was only a few days, alas, but an old friend was fished with and new friends were made; all in a place of pure, natural beauty replete with life-enriching powers that, to this writer, reminds him about the fortune and privilege that has once more been his to experience and share.


Blane Klemek is the Bemidji area assistant wildlife manager, DNR Division of Fish & Wildlife. He can be reached at .

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