Friday, January 16, 2015

Our Wintergreen Advanced Dog-sledding Adventure-March, 2003

Saturday, July 1, 2006:
     We’re on vacation at the beach in Duck, NC. Terri and I headed out for a training ride.  I put in 3 hours and 20 minutes clocking an average speed of 20.1 MPH for a distance of 67.49 miles.  My average heart rate equaled 128 BPM. Terri rode 30 miles at an average speed of 15.1 MPH.
Thoughts –During this ride, Terri and I talked about physical hardships. This led into reminiscing about the advanced dog sled trip we took during the first week in March, 2003, in the Boundary Waters between Minnesota and Canada. Terri remembered I had kept a journal of the trip.  The following is my account of one of the hardest physical endeavors I have ever been involved in.
           Friday, February 28, 2003 – Awoke at 3:30 am.  Showered quickly and loaded the bags into the Pathfinder for trip to the airport. Terri and I are real excited about our trip with Wintergreen Outfitters in Ely, MN. The 7-day advanced dogsledding camping trip we booked appears to be heading into what we feel will be more of a challenge than first anticipated. As we drove our rental SUV into Ely, MN, we picked up the weather forecast on the radio. By Sunday the forecast has the high temperature at – 5 degrees Fahrenheit. The lows are forecast at – 15 to -24 degrees. The wind is forecast to be out of the North at 15 to 20 MPH. The wind chill factor will be incredible. We can only hope that our cold weather gear is stout enough.
     Our trip starts Monday from the facilities of Paul Schurke. Paul is the author of Bearing Bridge - The Soviet-American Expedition from Siberia to Alaska. [Duluth: Pfifer-Hamilton] 1989.
 According to the inside jacket sleeve, ‘Paul was a team member of this [sledding] expedition. He developed a love for wild places early on when his mother and father, a homemaker/teacher and building inspector/carpenter, respectively, purchased property on a river in Wisconsin. Roaming those woods and early forays into Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area locked in his passion for adventure. That, coupled with the Benedictine influences of his college, St. John’s University, led a classmate and Paul to establish Wilderness Inquiry, an adventure program for physically disabled people.’
           Over the weekend, Terri and I will be staying at the Silver Creek Lodge.  This facility is outside the small town of Ely, right on a frozen lake. Our reservation calls for a two bedroom condo. But a mix-up in reservations has us as the sole occupants of an entire 8 bedroom, 2-floor lodge for our entire two day stay.
           Our Friday night dinner finds us at a table at the Silver Creek Lodge Restaurant where an ‘after-town council meeting gathering’ seems to be in full tilt. Loud discussion is taking place about the town council rescinding their prior vote to send a proclamation to President Bush not to invade Iraq. Terri and I first heard about this proclamation on the AM radio station WELY as we were driving on Route 1 into town.  A station representative was broadcasting from council town hall. We never thought there would be enough Republicans in Northwest Minnesota to garner enough votes to overturn this vote. The boisterous crowd at the restaurant apparently is the losing side as their laments are loud and frequent. Oh my! Terri and I are ready for bed.  It’s been a long 17 hours!
           Saturday morning – March 1, 2003 – Up and showered by 7:30 am. Coffee is on with Terri sleeping until 8:30 am. Gazing out the living room picture window, the entire landscape is frozen solid.  The lake is frozen. The pine trees are glazed in ice.  It is cold, cold, cold.  There are around 6 inches of fresh snow on the ground. We are heading into town to check out the International Wolf Center. This organization is dedicated to the re-establishment of wolf populations in the continental US. Paul Shurke is on the board.
           We spent the entire afternoon at the Center. Taking in just about every program, Terri and I remarked that the Center has invested their program dollars wisely. The only presentation we did not get to view was the ‘Conflict and Resolution’ program. We left the Center to get some lunch and pick up our gear and clothing from the Wintergreen store.
           We returned to the International Wolf Center for two evening programs. The first, at 1830, dealt with the wolf’s feeding routine. Malik and Shadow, two male brothers, were real active in the observatory in anticipation of their impending meal. Their dancing around, running side by side, and playing hide-and-go seek, brought squeals and laughter from the young children in the audience.
           It is important to note that Malik and Shadow are capture wolves. As such, they do not chase down and kill their food as wolves in the wild do. The IWC handlers feed the wolves’ dead deer with the staff adhering to the feast-famine cycle that occurs in the wild. A wolf’s success at hunting down prey is 5% to 15%. Meaning that for every 100 attempts in chasing game they are successful only 15 times. So when they do have a successful kill they gorge themselves. Generally, they will fill their stomachs with food equaling 20% of their body weight.
           At 2030 we loaded into IWC vehicles and headed out into the wild south of the town to practice our wolf calls. We attended a presentation 30 minutes earlier on how wolves’ communicate. This fascinating program was presented by the Assistant Curator at the IWC. He taught us the various forms of wolf vocal communication. These are howl, bark, whimper, and clicking or snapping of the teeth. In addition, he stated there are many forms of non-verbal communication.
                                                 (Photo courtesy of [])
           According to the IWC, “wolves use body language to convey the rules of the pack. A wolf pack is very organized. Rule number one says that the pack is made up of leaders and followers. The pack leaders are the male and female parent - usually the father and mother of the other pack members. They are likely to be the oldest, largest, strongest and most intelligent wolves in the pack. They are known as the alpha wolves and are usually the only members of the pack to produce pups.
“Any wolf can become an alpha. However, to do so, it must find an unoccupied territory and a member of the opposite sex with which to mate. Or, more rarely, it moves into a pack with a missing alpha and takes its place, or perhaps kills another alpha and usurps its mate.
“The alpha male and female are dominant, or in charge of the pack. To communicate dominance, the alphas carry their tails high and stand tall. Less dominant wolves exhibit submissive behavior by holding their tails down and often lower their bodies while pawing at the higher ranking wolves.
           “There are two levels of submissive behavior: active and passive. Active submission is a contact activity in which signs of inferiority are evident such as crouching, muzzle licking and tail tucking. The behaviors typical of active submission are first used by pups to elicit regurgitation in adults. These behaviors are retained into adulthood by subordinate wolves, where they function as a gesture of intimacy and the acceptance of the differentiation of the roles of the wolves that are involved.
      “Passive submission is shown when a subordinate wolf lays on its side or back, thus exposing the vulnerable ventral side of its chest and abdomen to the more dominant wolf. The subordinate wolf may also abduct its rear leg to allow for anogenital inspection by the dominant wolf. If two wolves have a disagreement, they may show their teeth and growl at each other. Both wolves try to look as fierce as they can. Usually the less dominant wolf, the subordinate one, gives up before a fight begins. To show that it accepts the other wolf's authority, it rolls over on its back. Reactions to this behavior may range from tolerance (the dominant wolf standing over the submissive wolf) to mortal attack, particularly in the case of a trespassing alien wolf. Following the dominance rules usually keeps the wolves in a pack from fighting among themselves and hurting each other.
           “Wolves convey much with their bodies. If they are angry, they may stick their ears straight up and bare their teeth. A wolf that is suspicious pulls its ears back and squints. Fear is often shown by flattening the ears against the head. A wolf that wants to play will dance and bow playfully.
           “Wolves have a very good sense of smell, about 100 times greater than humans. They use this sense for communication in a variety of ways. Wolves mark their territories with urine and scats, a behavior called scent-marking. When wolves from outside of the pack smell these scents, they know that an area is already occupied. It is likely that pack members can recognize the identity of a pack-mate by its urine, which is useful when entering a new territory or when pack-members become separated. Dominant animals may scent mark through urination every two minutes. When they do so they raise a leg, this dominant posture utilizes multiple forms of communication and is called a "Raised Leg Urination" or RLU.
           “Wolves will also use urine to scent mark food caches that have been exhausted. By marking an empty cache, the animal is not wasting time digging for food that isn't there.
“Wolves use their sense of smell to communicate through chemical messages. These chemical messages between members of the same species are known as "pheromones." Sources of pheromones in wolves include glands on the toes, tail, eyes, anus, genitalia and skin. For example, a male is able to identify a female in estrus by compounds (pheromones) present in her urine and copulation will only be attempted during this time.
      “Of course, their sense of smell also tells them when food or enemies are near.”
Excerpted from “Basic Wolf Information – Communication” -  (accessed March 1, 2003)
Our group wasn’t successful finding a wolf pack in the wild that would match our feeble attempts to mimic our howls! However, upon our return to the IWC at 2200, our group launched into howls, setting the 5 captured wolves into a din of howling madness lasting for almost 5 minutes. Their mournful wail was really impressive!
As Terri and I walk into the lobby, we note the thermometer has the outside temperature at – 4 degrees F. The Artic Clipper is pushing through. Not to worry, after our trip to Wintergreen Outfitters, we now have, hopefully, the gear to handle it!
        Sunday, March 2, 2003 – The alarm sounds at 0730. We are greeted by a bright and glorious sunrise over the frozen lake. Our Retreat House is so warm and cozy this morning. The outside temperature is – 13 degrees F. according to the thermometer hanging on the ledge to the living room picture window.   Whoa boy, that’s cold! As we drink our coffee and tea, downing a bit of breakfast (instant oatmeal), we keep our minds occupied on the task of packing our gear. We have a bit of gear rearranging to do on account of the artic clothing we picked up at the outfitters.
        Checking out at noon we head over to the IWC for a National Geographic presentation titled “Living with Wolves”. This film follows the introduction of the wolf into Yellowstone National Park. It covers a pack (7 wolves to be exact) delivered to the park from in 1992.  The wolves originated in the Canadian Artic. The wildlife biologist overseeing the transfer played a key role in ensuring the intricate methods used successfully accomplished the task.
        National Geographic did its usual excellent job of filming. The film spans 7 years covering the wolves’ activities until the death of its alpha-female and the re-emergence of the previously deposed beta-female as the alpha-female of the original pack.
        The film ends and Terri and I head for the Wintergreen Lodge to begin our epic 7 day advanced dog sled adventure into the wild and frozen Canadian Boundary Waters.
        We arrive at the lodge in about 20 minutes.  It is the base and home of Paul Shurke and his family. It is also home to many Canadian Inuit Sled dogs. We meet two of our fellow adventurers. Phil Hage, from St. Paul, MN, Bill Wright, from Ann Arbor, MI and our guide Joe Bodewes from Hazelhurst, WI. Paul Shurke strolls through the kitchen as Terri and I lug our gear through the warm and cozy cedar-paneled living room. “You must be the McClure’s from Virginia, welcome!” Paul intones as he warmly shakes our hand. His warm smile and soft demeanor immediately endears us to him. Paul immediately asks if we have felt sole liners for our Sorrel Artic boots. “Nope, that’s something we don’t have”, Terri reports.  “No problem, I’ll cut you both a set” Paul says as he heads to the kitchen.
        As Paul heads into the kitchen, Joe Bodewes bounces out with a big plate of finger foods and welcomes us. On the couch warming his feet by the fire is our third trip participant.  He introduces himself as Joe from Chicago. We never learned his last name. He warmly offers us his right hand in introduction.
        Before dinner we try on our cross-country skis for fit and also to check out our ability. Not embarrassing myself, I am confident the time spent on the skis will go well.
        We settle in after a fine meal of pasta, beef, salad, peas, broccoli, fresh bread, juices and water. We review our gear requirements and discuss our trip plans.  Joe points to the map and outlines the travel itinerary. Monday we drop in and start at Crane Lake.  The evening camp will locate at Lilac Lake. Tuesday will take us to 27 Isle.  After we set camp at 27 Isle, we’ll snow-shoe across the Canadian Border and visit an Ojibwa Indian village. Wednesday will have us travel to Coleman Island. On the way, we’ll check out some ancient petroglyphs. Thursday’s trek will take us to Curtain Falls. Friday we’ll slide into Beartrap Lake and have a layover through Saturday. Saturday will be a day of adventure hiking to some more petroglyphs and other sites. Sunday will have the group travel to Nel’s Lake. This will be our pick-up point.
         Joe taps the right-hand map spread out before the group and jolts me out of deep thought.   Wondering how Terri and I will handle the extreme temperatures, I’m thinking we’re embarking on an epic quest of survival.  Looking back, I wasn’t wrong.
        Monday, March 3, 2003 – Our day starts early with the alarm sounding at 0600. We bound out of warm bed. As we slip into our first layer I check the outside temperature reading – 5 degrees F. Joe, whipping up our breakfast of hot cereal, scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, toast, coffee, juice and fruit seems to be in great spirits.
        After breakfast, we’re in high hustle. We’re arranging our gear and heading over to the runs to feed the two dog-sled teams that will take us deep into the wilds of the boundary waters wilderness area. Terri and I are assigned the Blue Sled. Our team is made up of lead dog Marina. The rest of the team is Hershey, Dusty, Copper, Bubba, and Maukwa. These dogs are Canadian Inuit Sled dogs. Big and powerful, they are born to pull heavy loads. They are the “freighters”, not the sleek breed of sled dog used in racing. The feeding goes well and we’re heading out with our gear to load the sleds before loading them onto the trailer attached to a Ford F-150 truck. We will be riding in a Chevy Suburban.

                                                                        (Photo courtesy of Canadian Museum of Inuit Art [])
“I’m moved by the untamed, stark simplicity of the North while I listen to its sounds: the ever-present sough of the wind, the continual swish of sled runners over packed snow, and the panting of the dogs, bent into their harnesses. Nothing brings such joy to my heart as my Canadian Inuit sled dogs. They belong to this arctic wilderness, as they have done for over four thousand years.” – Genevieve Montcombroux, “The Canadian Inuit Dog”. Mushing-The Magazine of Dog Powered Adventure, online edition, March 1, 2010, (accessed October 27, 2013).
        At last, the group is ready to climb into the Suburban (minus our boots) and head into Ely.  It appears we are on a mission. It is a tradition among the native Ojibwa for its Chief to receive from visitors certain items. They are cloth, silver, tobacco, and a pipe with which to smoke it. Paul Shurke has everything but a pipe. So we are looking for an establishment that sells pipes that we can purchase for our presentation to the Elders on Tuesday night. Believe it or not, after an hour of running store-to- store, we can’t find any place that sells pipes in Ely, MN. We give up and head northwest out of Ely for a 90 minute drive to our drop point at Crane Lake. The day is cold and overcast with blowing snow. The wind, a factor I failed to consider, adds another worry to the chill equation as we depart the gas station after filling up and purchasing two bags of chocolate candy to give the Ojibwa Elders to distribute to the children of the village.                    
         We arrive at frozen Crane Lake with the wind whipping the falling snow out of the north. We pile out of the suburban, stretch our legs and unload the sleds. The dog teams are let out of their individual carriers and staked in advance of being hitched.  Paul and Joe quickly run the men through the “hitching procedure” as Terri makes sandwiches for everyone. I’m trying to memorize, not only the steps to the process, but each of our dog’s name as well. I don’t think it will take too long as each dog seems to have a unique, identifiable personality.
        After quickly downing our sandwiches, our 7-day advanced dog sled trek begins over frozen Crane Lake heading in a northwest direction.


        Joe Bodewes, on cross-country ski, is in the lead. Paul Shurke is next in line gliding smoothly across the 4 to 6 inches of fresh snow blanketing the frozen waters of Crane Lake. Terri and I are next in line working the red sled. Bill Wright is next in line cross-country skiing. Bill Hage and Chicago Jon are bringing up the rear with the blue sled. The dog team for the blue sled is lead dog Scooter assisted by Poncho. Swing dogs are Goofy and Patches. The irrepressible Moki and Lupus are the wheel dogs.  As a side note, Lupus is Dusty’s brother and Dusty is Copper’s Dad
        Terri and I are beginning to appreciate our Canadian Inuit dog team. In the lead position we have Marina and Hershey. Next, in the swing position, we have Dusty and Copper.  In the wheel position we have the powerful Bubba and Maukwa.  The sled, weighing in at close to 500 pounds, has Terri on the right rudder and I’m guiding the left rudder. We’re applying pressure to the rudders with our foot. We’re using a sledding technique whereby Terri’s left arm is crossed over my right arm. Our arms are resting on the sled-bar. This assists in balancing the rear of the sled. Ever mindfull of assisting the dog-team, we step off the rudder and push frequently. If we need to head the team a little to the right, I put a bit of pressure on the left rudder. If we need to manuerver right, Terri puts ressure on the left rudder. When applying foot pressure on the rudder we also pull the sled-bar right or left depending on the direction we need to go.
        Paul and Joe are blazing through the snow covering frozen Crane Lake. The group is falling into a steady rhythm at about 5 to 6 MPH. With the landscape passing by, Terri remarks on how serene and peaceful it appears to be. The boundary waters area is some of the most pristine country in North America. A July or August canoe trip would be just the ticket for a top-notch summer vacation. Some of the world’s best fishing is in the frozen lakes we’re passing over.
        We are not having to use our recently learned commands as Marina is making sure we stay on the trail. It’s a good thing, too, as I have not memorized them to any degree. They are simple commands. “Gee”, with a hard G, means go right. “Haw” means go left. “Hike” means go. “Easy” tells the dogs to steady-up. “On-by” tells the dog team to pass an obstruction or another sled. “Whoa” means stop. It is important to note that we do not have to issue the “hike” command to our team. All they want to do is pull-pull-pull. These inuit dogs are “Born to Pull.” Even when we stop, even for a very short time, the dog team barks and howls, biting at the gain line eager to get back to pulling the sled. This brings to mind the very first rule Paul Shurke gave us during our orientation: “Never, ever let go of your sled.” “The sled must be secure with the dog team stationary before you let go of the sled”, Paul reminds us.
        We find when stopped, if the dog team feels we are waiting to long to start running again, they snap and bite each other to the point of fighting. This is part of the Canadian Inuit Sled dog’s makeup. Genevieve Montcombroux writes, “Just as in the wolf pack, the Inuit dog is pack oriented, with a boss dog at the head. Just as in the wolf pack, Inuit dogs have an alpha male and alpha female. Below them each dog takes his or her place, the ranking achieved by fighting. The Inuit dog fights with little provocation until the pack hierarchy is eastablished…” - – Genevieve Montcombroux, “The Canadian Inuit Dog”. Mushing-The Magazine of Dog Powered Adventure, online edition, March 1, 2010, (accessed October 27, 2013). Stopping for lunch is the exception. When the food bags come out of the sled, the dog teams lay down for some well-deserved rest.
        We’re on the move after a break for lunch. The sun is behind the grey cloud cover.  The afternoon is passing quickly. Terri and I are running with our dog team in a happy rhythm. I’m staying relatively warm.  The poly-pro base layer is doing its job, wicking moisture away from my skin into the next layer. I am wondering what happens when stopped for a significant period of time. Will the sweat freeze in the outer layer?
        Our course turns south-easterly and around 3:30 pm we’re portaging over a land connection. This is very hard work as the saws and axes have come out of the sled. We’re bushwhacking a route to frozen Lilac Lake, our campsite for the night. After 45 minutes, we load the tools into the sleds and mush onto Lilac Lake. I’m wet with sweat, worry about only bringing 4 layers of poly-pro.  It’s so cold that I’m fretting the poly-pro I’m currently wearing will never dry out.
        Dusk is settling in as Paul, Joe and the rest of the expedition arrive at a cove nestled nicely into a wooded area of Lilac Lake. “This is the campsite for the night!” Paul announces. We start a process that will take place each evening of our trip. We un-hitch the dog teams and secure them to the tie-lines. We then head out to gather firewood. Bending over a downed branch sawing away I look up and see Paul waving.  He shouts “Farewell!” and starts cross-country skiing back to Crane Lake.  As darkness is descending, I mutter to myself, “What an Adventurer!” In about 20 minutes the group drags in a bunch of downed firewood. It’s readily apparent Joe Bodewes is the “master of the fire”, as he has one blazing away with our dinner on the flame.
        After dinner we help Joe feed the dog teams. Each dog has a unique bark when it comes to their feeding ritual.  To me, that’s what it is. Their excitement over feeding is like a flame igniting the entire pack in a wave of howls and barks. We are approaching each dog individually, full feed bowl in hand, in such a way to lay it right under their neck line. This prevents the next dog tied up from infringing on the feeding dog’s five feet of space at the neck line. We also are careful to make sure the feed bowl does not get knock out of our hands.
        After feeding time, I find myself sitting with the group at the fire, trying to stay warm. Joe has a big pot of water boiling. He has us fill our insulated water bottle full along with some powered tang and immediately run the bottle over to the tent and put it in our Department of Defense Arctic sleeping bags. Returning to the warmth of the fire, Joe advises us to drink the entire bottle upon waking in the morning. Every morning, after waking up, this is to be our most important daily ritual.
        Tuesday, March 4, 2003 – We wake up to ½ inch of ice covering the hood of our sleeping bags. This is a result of the condensation from our breath freezing in the - 20 degree temperature. Our Artic sleeping bags did a great job of keeping us warm.  These bags are called “Wiggy Bags” for the man (Jerry Wigutow) that developed them for extreme cold weather conditions. These bags have a double insulated ground-pad inserted into the well-built bag. The space-age material (lamilite) traps the body heat in the micro-fiber insulation.

        (Photo courtesy of
In addition to sleeping in my poly-pro base layer, I also used my North Face 700 down filled Parka as an added layer inside the wiggy-bag.
        I open my eyes and see the inside tent walls are coated with frozen condensation.  The condensation is frozen, hanging like stalactites in a dark cavern. Shuffling out of our wiggy bags is causing a mini snowstorm with the frozen breath falling from the roof of the tent. Wow, it is so cold. Everything we have is frozen solid, including the toothpaste. It is a chore to go out and relieve ourselves.  This is a chore we’ll have to perfect, and quickly!
        There is much we have to do to prepare for our second day of mushing, build the fire up, get breakfast ready, break down the tent, feed the dog teams, eat breakfast, wash the dishes, and load the sleds. Then we have to harness the teams and attach them to the gain lines.  This is a procedure needing to be conducted with certain agility. Guiding the Inuit dogs to the gain line requires a firm hand.  The Inuit’s propensity for fighting requires spacing between the dogs. This will allow the operation to go smoothly.  Once a dog is harnessed and attached he/she will general lie down in the snow. However, as the last dog is attached, the team will jump up and start howling, eager to get going. All of our early morning activity is taking place in a temperature hovering at – 20 degrees F.
        From our location at the northeast corner of Lilac Lake, we will portage from the mouth of the creek in a southeast direction over the creek bed to Trout Lake then turn northeast after navigating frozen Trout Lake for a brief time. This will bring us to the southeast corner of Lac La Croix. Lac La Croix appears to be the largest frozen lake we’ll be navigating this trip.
        I’m discovering you move much slower when the temperature is – 20 degrees F. Even with wool glove liners and plunge mitts, working with the brass clamps and metal zippers takes its toll on the hands and fingers as you must use your fingers to manipulate the brass gain line clamps and zippers to the tent and sleeping bags. This means the plunge mitts come off. This could spell problems for me down the road. It’s only Tuesday and my hands are suffering already.
        As the day progresses, Terri and I stick with the sled as Bill told us at breakfast he would rather cross-country ski as much as possible. The original plan was for participants to rotate from sled to ski. This is working out well. Terri and I are very comfortable with our dog team. Marina is so smart. She is so adapt at leading the team.  It is apparent why she is the lead dog. We’ve had to give very few commands so far.
   The morning clouds have given way to blue sky. The sun is casting a golden glow to the frozen lake.  The wind is blowing briskly at the moment bringing a glow to Terri’s cheeks. The sled’s runners are crunching through the snow, throwing out powder from the rear of the sled. A quick check of the thermometer attached to the sled’s tarp shows the temperature at a warm 5 degrees F.  I look back and observe Chicago Jon cross-country skiing and Phil handling the Blue sled following Chicago Joe. Our tour leader, Joe Bodewes is 50 meters ahead of Terri and me cutting the trail. We stop for a quick lunch on a rocky point.  The dog teams immediately curl up on the snow for a brief rest.  Cloud cover moves in and the temperature drops to zero. I’m getting quite chilled so I’m thankful when we call out to the dog team to “hike-up”.  It’s a pleasure to get the blood pumping again warming up the body. Glancing at Terri, I’m amazed to see she is not having the slightest issue with the cold. She is made for this type of weather!
        About 1400, Chicago Jon gets on the blue sled and Phil takes to the cross-country skis. After about 20 minutes of mushing, Chicago Jon appears to have some sort of issue with the sled and goes back to the skis. Terri and I are having a great time with our dog sled team. We notice when the dog team feels we’re slacking off helping them with pushing the sled, they turn their heads back and give us a stare that says, “Come on folks, give us a little help here!” And conversely, when we praise them, the dogs kick to higher gear.
        It’s around 1600 and Joe Bodewes motions back to us that we have arrived at the camping spot on 27 Isle.  We set camp following Monday’s routine. The dog teams settle in quickly after their feeding.  Marina, sweet girl that she is, tries to knock the bowl out of my hand before I could get it placed in front of her.  Luckily, I’m quicker! The tent poles are a problem for me. I can’t feel my fingers to engage the parts of the aluminum pole.  I may be getting frost bite. It is definitely getting colder. The sun is almost completely set as Joe’s fire starts to blaze away.  Bill and Chicago Joe have brought a large cache of downed wood to the fire pit.
        After a bite of food our group prepares to cross-country ski over to the Ojibwa Village across the Canadian border.  We will be visiting the Chief of the Clan, having dinner at her house.  We really are looking forward to the respite from the cold.  This Arctic Clipper seems to be intensifying.  The wind is picking up making the chill factor somewhat tough to bear.  As we shove off from camp, I notice the stars are thick.  The wind is at our back and I’m cold as I have ever been.  I dread the trip back as the wind will most likely be in our face.
        During the trip over, my thoughts are occupied by what to expect upon our arrival at the Chief’s house. Not knowing much about Canada’s first people, I memorized a map of the demographics of the various tribes and present it below.  In addition to the map, I present a history of the Northern Ojibwa:
“Northern Ojibwa
“The Northern Ojibwa are a branch of the Ojibwa who occupy northwestern Ontario and Island Lake, Manitoba (St Theresa Point First Nations), in the upper drainage areas of rivers that flow northeast into Hudson and James bays. They refer to themselves as Ojibway, or Anishinabe, meaning “the original people.” Since the Northern Ojibwa’s environment is similar to that of the Cree, they share more cultural traits with their Cree neighbors than with other Ojibwa. They do not exhibit Ojibwa features of clan organization or practice the Midewiwin (except at Sandy Lake).

“The Northern Ojibwa can be divided in two groups corresponding to dialect. The Northern Ojibwa who speak the Severn dialect frequently refer to themselves as Cree and reside in the Ontario communities of Big Trout Lake, Caribou Lake, Sandy Lake, Bearskin Lake, Deer Lake, Trout Lake, Sachio Lake, Kingfisher Lake, and Wunnumin. Immediately south of the Severn speakers are Northern Ojibwa who speak the northwestern Ojibwa dialect. They live at Osnaburg, Lac Seul (mixed with Saulteaux), Cat Lake, and Martin Falls, Ontario. The Northern Ojibwa living in the northern parts of Ontario and Manitoba also reside in mixed communities with Cree and are often designated Oji-Cree. Many Northern Ojibwa, especially Severn speakers, speak Cree and English, although Cree is the choice for liturgical purposes. At Lac Seul, for example, which is located on the northern boundary between the Northern Ojibwa and the Saulteaux, less than 50 percent speak English, while at Cat Lake less than 10 percent speak English. Although no figures are available for Severn speakers, the Severn dialect continues to be used in the home, but, for many, English has become the language of business.

“Historically, the Northern Ojibwa were organized in units, called bands by traders that were larger than the nuclear family. Although leaders had little formal authority, they were recognized for their shamanic powers, hunting ability, and skills in bargaining with traders. During the summer the Northern Ojibwa congregated in large groups along lake shores to fish. In the fall, they broke into small hunting groups to move inland to their hunting ranges. Northern Ojibwa bands were composed of hunting groups, which wintered together and were closely related. Band sizes varied between 50 and 150, and larger regional groups came together when the weather was good. Beginning in 1780, the Northern Ojibwa were intensively involved in a competitive regional fur trade.

“The Northern Ojibwa shared common Algonquian Subarctic religious beliefs, including personal vision quests and proper respect for animals. Shamans played an important intermediary role in the shaking-tent and the wahbeno, which involved mystical communications through fire. Although Methodist missionaries reached as far as the Albany River basin in 1844, missionary efforts intensified between 1880 and 1920 when Anglican missionaries began work among the Northern Ojibwa at Weagamow Lake (Round Lake, Ontario). As Anglican missions expanded to other locations, Cree and mixed bloods were converted and a number were ordained to serve the spiritual needs of the Northern Ojibwa in the Severn River. Many were forced by circumstance to mission stations to supplement their trapping, and communities formed around fur-trade posts such as Lac Seul.

“In the twentieth century, although the Northern Ojibwa economy was based primarily on fish and big game, irregular game cycles and aggressive fur-trade polices implemented by governments, including punitive conservation measures and restrictions on steel traps, contributed to a shift to fish and hare; hunting groups were eventually reduced in size to that of the nuclear family. Major land cessions by treaty were made among the Northern Ojibwa in 1905, and further cessions in 1929–30 (Treaty 9) forced many Northern Ojibwa to move closer to village sites to collect treaty payments and participate in Christian services. Today, the Northern Ojibwa are part of the Nishnawbe-Aski Nation, which represents Cree, Ojibwa, and Oji-Cree members of Treaty 9 and Ontario members of Treaty 5.”

Published on Multicultural Canada ( Home > Northern Ojibwa accessed November 1, 2013)

        Our group finally reaches the home of the Ojibwa Chief and we are warmly welcomed.  The warmth of her nice ranch-style home is wonderful with the enticing smell of wild rice on the boil in the kitchen.  We remove our gear and settle down to introductions and the presentation of gifts.  The gifts are warmly received. Except, I’m afraid to say, the smoking pipe that we couldn’t find for sell in Ely, MN. This gaff doesn’t appear to be a problem, as we propose to send one to her upon our return back from our adventure.
        As our group is finishing a delicious meal of wild rice, greens, and chicken, the Chief’s daughter and her husband arrive. Her daughter is the Chief of Police for the community.  We are warmly received. Terri and I quietly comment to each other if we need to present a passport (which we didn’t bring) in as much as we crossed the border into Canada by snowshoe. I’m happy to report the subject never came up.
        Two subjects that we’re discussing concern horse breeding and terrorism. Concerning terrorism, two of the village elders present mentioned their ancestors were on the receiving end of one of the first acts of terrorism ever recorded. Late in the 1700’s their ancestors were traded wool blankets contaminated with the small-pox virus from trappers. This nearly wiped out the clan. The Chief also discussed their town’s attempt to breed Quarter horses. She indicates all are diligently working for success.
        I must admit feeling a bit ashamed during the discussion on terrorism. What could I say, being a white-man sitting in a first people’s home knowing that my ancestors were possibly involved in a war to wipe out their ancestors? It is humbling, indeed.
        The evening progresses so fast, we now have to get back to camp. Piling on our gear, saying our good-byes, we thank all for their wonderful hospitality.  With our cross-country skis anchored to our feet and headlamps on bright, we dash into the bitter cold head wind for a 2.5 mile trip back to camp. I note the time is 2130. The going is tough.  Terri and I try to follow Joe Bodewes, who is on a blistering pace. If we lose Joe, we’re afraid we lose our way back. Thankfully, we hang on and find camp. We build a raging fire, boil water for our thermos, check the dog lines and finally climb into our wiggy-bags for a little rest.
        Wednesday, March 5, 2003*It’s 0300. Both hands feel as if thousands of hot needles are piecing them.  They’re in bad shape. The temperature is – 25 degrees F. The wind is howling.  I can’t use my hand to write.  This will be my last journal entry for a while. I hope I can get a little more sleep. (*note – I suffered nerve damage to both hands due to the severe cold of the Artic Clipper. I didn’t get the feeling back into my hands until the following August.)
        We break camp after a hot breakfast of oatmeal, fruit and tea. The dogs relished their food and are anxious to get on with pulling sleds. We’re quickly learning the ropes to breaking and setting up camp and how to work as a team to coordinate our efforts to maximize time and efficiency. One task that I have not achieved success with is how to defecate in the bitterly cold weather without freezing my butt off. It is so cold my urine seems to freeze before it hits the ground! The temperature a day break has risen to – 25 degrees F. When I expose my bare bottom to the cold, my cheeks get frosted fast. It’s a morning routine that needs to be quick!
        We’re heading to Coleman Island today.  On this route we’ll stop and investigate ancient petroglyph writings on a stone wall that the ancient first people left centuries ago.  The sun is out, blue sky plentiful and Marina is doing a great job leading the rest of the dog team over Trout Lake.
        As our group bounds around a small Island, Chicago Jon motions to Joe Bodewes to stop. It appears that the intensity of the cold has claimed our first member. Jon is giving up.  He says he has had enough. He is walking over to the Ojibwa Indian village we visited last night.  He will call for a helicopter to come get him.  As I remember a conversation we had on the 1st day, he told us this was his 2nd advanced dog-sled trip with Paul Shurke’s Wintergreen Tours. We’re sad to see him leave the group.

        We’re now down to our guide, Joe Bodewes, Bill, Phil, Terri and me. Joe directs me to take over the Blue Sled leaving Terri with Marina on the Red Sled.  This is our first time solo mushing! Scooter is an accommodating lead dog.  He’s in full control of the team.
          As we maneuver to the northwest, we come to a rocky outcrop. Joe has the group queue up and points out the petroglyphs. They consist of many figures represented in the first people’s culture at the time. Many look similar to the following petroglyph’s shown on what is called Newspaper Rock located in the Painted Desert of Arizona.
         It’s fascinating to envision the first peoples inscribing these petroglyphs on the face of the stone.  Are the artists in canoes or are they sledding over the frozen like us? How ancient are the inscriptions? What do they represent? We pondered these questions while eating some lunch.

        We finally pull into our Wednesday night camp on the northeast corner of Coleman Island. I’m pleased with the performance of the dog team.  Scooter’s leadership, along with Poncho, has put me in a confident mood that we will have a successful run to the end of our adventure on Sunday at Nell Lake. He has full control of the “Blue Team” as does Marina with the “Red Team”.
        We run for firewood immediately after posting the dogs.  We need to get the fire going so we can get supper “on-the-boil” as soon as possible. The group is hungry following a full day of skiing and mushing (as are the dogs!) Phil, Bill and I tend to the dog’s feeding while Joe prepares the evening’s feast.  Terri tends to erecting our tent and setting the wiggly bags into it. The sun is low in the western sky, casting long shadows through the pine trees lining the island shore. While mixing each of the dog’s gruel, comprised of a high caloric beef fat and high protein dog food pellets mixed with boiling water, I chance to glance at each of the Canadian Inuit Dog’s position on the tie line. It’s interesting. Each dog seems to have a routine to settling into their individual space (the 5 foot perimeter that is their own area for the night.) For example, Goofy paws at the snow then turns counter-clockwise for several rotations before settling into the snow. Patches, on the other hand, sniffs and nuzzles the snow before settling down. Each dog uses its tail to cover and protect the face in the extreme cold.
        In no time at all, we are all settled around the camp fire eating a hot meal of pasta primavera, fruit and hot cider as the sun falls and darkness rolls over the frozen landscape. We all engage in conversation covering many topics…all but politics and religion! This is good! Nothing tears down camaraderie faster than engaging in discussion of these two topics.  We find out that Joe Bodewes worked at Dr. Foster’s.  This is the Pet Doctor’s group responsible the Dr. Foster’s pet products catalog. As we continue into the evening, it is apparent the temperature is falling.  I glance at my watch. It reads 1930 hours. Looking at the thermometer, it reads – 25 degrees F.   I fill my thermos bottle with tang and boiling water then head to the warmth of the wiggy bag.
        Thursday, March 6, 2003 – Again, my hands wake me up at 0300 Thursday morning. The pain is unbearable. Thousands of hot needles feel as if they are buried in every centimeter of the skin surface on both hands.  I’ve got to push through this pain and try to get some sleep. Thursday’s run to Curtain Falls will be tough enough without having to deal with a hand problem. I look over at Terri deep into the wiggy bag.  She has an inch of frozen condensation covering the hood cinched tight around her head. I raise my head and chest above my hands. This seems to help reduce the pain a bit.
        Finally, the faint early light of dawn begins its westward trek over the frozen land. I check for blue sky. The sky is grey. Oh boy! Another cold, cold wakeup call! We gather up our courage and bounce into our base-layer clothing, quickly dressing for the adventure of the day.  It is so cold this morning (-30 degrees F.); so cold that a spare lantern bulb Phil Hage was carrying in a pocket of his parka exploded with a loud “BANG”, causing the group to jump. All the toilet articles we brought on the trip, from toothpaste to nasal spray, are frozen. I’ve learned anything you want to stay thawed you have to stuff where the sun doesn’t shine.
        Our morning routine completed, we push off to Curtain Falls. The day is overcast grey with light snow falling. Terri and I are on the Red Sled with Scooter in the lead. The team is pulling well with minimal snapping and fighting. Bill Wright is on cross-country skis and Phil Hage is on the Blue Sled with Marina in the lead doing her usual excellent job. Joe is ahead of the group route finding our snowy trail.
        Thursday’s temps stayed around + 5 degrees F. during the daylight hours. At 1630, we pitch camp.
It is  nestled in a cove. Finding firewood is tough. It appears this is a regular stopping point. Not much to be found around our location. So we fan out to a wider perimeter to retrieve what we can. As I’m collecting firewood to drag back to camp, I draft a haiku poem in my head:
                                                            Smoke from a chimney
                                                            Bitter wind moves it-
                                                            A chilled heart is warmed.
        I make a mental note to put this verse to paper, if, and when, my hands come back to life.
        Our group is soon sitting by the fire pit, plates full of steaming rice and beans. The dog teams are burrowed down in the snow secured to the tie line, their feeding complete. Suddenly, the dogs erupt in savage fury, howling as they jump and pull against the tie line. As we point our head lamps in the direction of the eruption, we view the reflection of several pairs of green eyes. “Coyotes”, Joe says. We head over to the dogs and settle them down. The intruders have left the scene. We head back over to the warmth of the fire.
        I’m struck by the intense quiet of the night. Our group seems to be in a like mood around the fire, mesmerized by the flames.  We look up and see the green pulsating glow of the aurora borealis lighting up the northern sky.  What an awesome sight! This definitely is worth braving the cold. Soon, though, the call of a warm wiggy-bag beckons me.  I head to the tent, dreading the pain to come. My hands are a mess.  Sleep will be hard to come by. As I zip up the wiggy-bag, I give thanks for the warmth the insulated thermos is providing. I say a prayer asking for a pleasant and restful sleep. My prayer being answered I drift off, not hearing Terri arrive sometime later.
        Friday, March 7, 2003 - Today’s journey has the group mushing to Bear Trap Lake. This is our lay-over point through Saturday. There are some water falls at this location we plan to ski to. However, to get to our Bear Trap Lake camp, Joe informs us, we will have to portage over and through some tough terrain.  The weather has cleared.  The bright sunshine is a welcomed addition to the day.  We’re all upbeat, even the dog teams.  As bright as the sun appears, the temps are still hovering around 5 degrees F.

        After about 3 hours, we hit the location where we will have to portage our sleds. With each sled weighing in at close to 500 pounds, this will warrant some work.  Looking at the terrain, the saws and axes come out and the bushwhacking begins. As cold as it is, I still work up a sweat, a lot of sweat.  This is a problem for me as I’m sure my poly-pro base-layer will, most likely freeze during the remainder of the trip to our Bear Trap Lake camp. I only have two sets of dry, first layer poly-pro left to use for the remainder of the trip. The previous days used poly-pro are frozen solid in my duffel bag.
        The bushwhacking is finished and we’re on our way traveling over frozen Bear Trap Lake. Terri is doing such a good job on the sled, Joe puts her on lead sled cutting the trail for the rest of the group. I’m smiling, as it appears, she is out-performing the men.  This makes me very proud.
        Our camp will serve as a lay-over point through Saturday night. I’m hoping we’ll find dry wood to be plentiful and not so green. I’m anxious to get to our location as a deep chill is coming on strong.  Thankfully, by early afternoon we arrive at our camp location. Terri and I quickly erect our tent.
        We’re on to the task of gathering firewood. It is plentiful and not to green.  That’s Joe and Phil in the background of the camp picture getting the fire started. Once the fire gets going, Terri, Phil and Bill decide to take advantage of the 3 hours of remaining daylight snowshoe over to the water fall.
        I’m so cold the only thing I want to do is get into some dry poly-pro and dive into my wiggy-bag. As I head to the tent, Terri takes off to the falls. I’m so cold; I have the sensation of moving in slow-motion to get out of my damp first layer and into a dry set of thermals. Even after snuggling into the wiggy-bag, I’m shivering to beat ninety.  After 20 minutes or so, some warmth returns! In another 20 minutes, I fall into a fitful sleep. Periodically, frozen Bear Trap Lake will rumble with a deep vibration accompanied with a low frequency “boom”. We learn from Joe this eerie sound indicates the lake is continuing to freeze. I’ve never heard anything quite like it.
Terri at the Falls

Saturday, March 8, 2003 - After another fitful night, the dawn breaks bright and super cold. Today is a layover day. I hang on to my North Face parka and tug the hood to the wiggy-bag harder around my head.  I don’t want to get up.  As bad as I have to urinate, I just want to relish in the warmth. But with my bladder about to burst I give in and ramble out of the bag into some dry, warm clothing and head out to the woods. Soon the rest of the group is up and about and the day gets underway.  The fire is soon blazing.  The gruel is in the pan. I’m at the tie lines feeding the dog teams.  The sky is blue, the air super crisp. The temperature is a balmy – 20 degrees F. Today promises to be a day of discovery!
Terri and I spend the day snowshoeing around the area.  The falls are interesting in that, as cold as the temperatures are, the water is flowing strong through the chutes, cascading over the funnels of ice lining the banks.
        We also spend time with the dog teams inspecting their paws, cleaning out any impacted ice and snow. We inspect their harnesses for any damage or severe wear. The sleds also are inspected.  The runners are looked at closely for any abnormalities.  They look good.  One note about the sleds; they’re a lot lighter than when we started! This is in our favor as tomorrow’s trip to Nel’s Lake involves a portage over land. Hopefully, this will prove to be a light exercise.  I’m somewhat wounded at present with numb hands.
Sunrise over Bear Trap Lake Camp

             Sunday, March 9, 2003 – We’re on our way to the pick-up point on Nel’s Lake.  This is the last day mushing.  It’s bitter sweet. This trip has forged good friendships, team spirit and a sense of accomplishment.

        Terri and I are on the Blue sled with Scooter in the lead.  Phil Hage is solo on the Red Sled with Marina in the lead. Joe Bodewes is route finding 50 yards ahead.  Bill Wright is cross-country skiing bringing up the rear. 
        The day alternates between sun and clouds.  It is super cold that’s for sure.  I’m wearing my last dry layer of poly-pro hoping our portage goes well and I can work the sled without too much sweating. Once the work is over, the wet poly-pro chills to the bone, even with the outer layers. Hypothermia is constantly on my mind.
        We take a break for lunch, the sun shines down on us and I’m hopeful for a little increase in temperature. The dogs seem to enjoy the break as they lay down in the snow.

        Soon we’re off and running again, heading to a portage crossing.  The portage goes smoothly, but as usual, I sweat my butt off. In addition, the sun disappears and the temperature drops.  Even with working the sled I’m cold, cold, cold.  No feeling in my hands, I’m thankful Scooter is such a good leader.  He needs no help in navigating the team through the narrow single track through which we’re presently traveling. 

        Joe calls “Halt” to allow Bill to catch up.  We gather momentarily in an igloo left behind by some ice fishermen.  I’m shivering so hard Phil Hage puts my  hands under his armpits and joe gives me some hand warmers.  Thankfully, Bill arrives and we’re on our way again.
        It’s early afternoon, and Joe casually mentions he’s having trouble locating the route to Nel’s Lake and we might have to stay out another night.  I tell him, “Joe, one more night out here and I’m a dead man!” He looks at me and smiles; I think he must be pulling my leg!
        We’re making good time, even with the increase in snow pack. Phil has the Blue team working to cut the snow.  This is a big help to Scooter and the Red team.  I’m sure Bill Wright appreciates the cut snow as well.
            We come to what appears to be several logging roads twisting down to the edge of the frozen lake. Joe heads over to them. We follow. This, Joe allows, is the last portage. Soon we’ll find Nel’s Lake, hopefully!
        This is where Terri’s and my trip got really exciting.  Two miles into navigating over land, we were in position to descend through a narrow tree-lined single track and come out onto Nel’s Lake.  Joe and Phil had already made the descent. Terri and I halt to allow Bill Wright to catch up.  Remember the one rule in Dog-sledding? Right, do not let go of your sled!  Well, in coming to a stop, I step off the rudder and Terri, standing on a rudder, gets pitched off the rear when the dogs take off.  I immediately take off in a sprint trying to catch them.  Falling down, I get up; sprinting even faster praying the sled doesn’t splinter against the trees lining the single-track path.  Luckily, don’t ask me how, I catch the sled just as the team busts through the brush leading to Joe and Phil waiting for us on Nel’s Lake. The move was so smooth they didn’t even notice anything was amiss. Amazing! Terri and Bill meander on to our location as casual conversationalists.  Soon we arrive at the pickup point.  Paul Shurke and some staff members have located the trailers and trucks in such a way as to minimize the loading effort. 
        We’re heading back to Wintergreen Lodge! Our trip is over! A warm bed, hot food and a steaming shower await us!
Monday, March 10, 2003
Trip celebration at Wintergreen Lodge

    Left to right: Bill Wright, Phil Hage, Reid and Terri McClure, Paul Shurke (behind Terri) and Joe Bodewes.