White wildernessBOUNDARY WATERS CANOE AREA WILDERNESS, NORTH OF GRAND MARAIS — Getting a toboggan loaded with winter camping gear down a steep, twisting portage isn’t easy. And it can be a bit dangerous. But Amelia Evavold, 12, and her friend, Emma Stattelman, 10, had a plan.
By: Sam Cook, Forum News Service
BOUNDARY WATERS CANOE AREA WILDERNESS, NORTH OF GRAND MARAIS — Getting a toboggan loaded with winter camping gear down a steep, twisting portage isn’t easy. And it can be a bit dangerous. But Amelia Evavold, 12, and her friend, Emma Stattelman, 10, had a plan.
Somewhere behind them on the trail from Green Lake to Flying Lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness on Monday morning, Amelia’s mom shouted out a blend of encouragement and caution.
“Total control, girls. Total control,” hollered Ingrid Johnson-Evavold of Foxboro, Wisc.
But the girls had a little different idea. They climbed on their loaded toboggan horseback-style and shoved off. It was hard to know exactly what happened next, but in a couple of minutes, we could hear the happy sound of the girls’ voices far below on Flying Lake.
Apparently, they had made it.
The girls were among eight winter campers in this two-family outing in the winter wilderness. Chris Evavold and his wife, Ingrid, have been making family winter camping trips every year since Amelia was 5. They do it in style, with tripping toboggans and lashing systems made by Evavold. They sleep in a canvas tent heated by a lightweight woodstove. Amelia’s older siblings, Isaac, 16, and Isabella, 14, also were along. This year, the Evavolds were joined by Duluth, Minn.’s Mike and Jennifer Stattelman, Emma’s folks.
This was no park-the-car-and-pitch-the-tents trip. The Evavolds and Stattelmans had left Tuscarora Lodge on the Gunflint Trail at nearly 30-below-zero on the morning of Feb. 16, then snowshoed across nine lakes and eight portages to make camp on Bat Lake.
“We have a history of over-extending ourselves,” Johnson-Evavold said with a laugh.
The families were lucky that another group of winter campers had preceded them by a day, packing a good trail, she said.
“If we hadn’t had that trail, we wouldn’t have made it,” Johnson-Evavold said.
They made the trip to Bat Lake in five hours, and everyone stayed warm. Once the tents were up and plenty of wood was cut for the stoves, they were set. On their layover day, the families drilled holes and fished for lake trout. During their stay, they would catch nine trout, packing out several for dinners at home.
Life on the trail
Winter camping is hard work. The toboggans are heavy. It takes two people pulling and another pushing to get a toboggan up a steep portage trail. Downhills present their own challenges. Gravity sucks the toboggans off portages and into the brush, sometimes overturning the load.
“I’m winning for most time with my sled upside-down,” Jennifer Stattelman said at one portage.
But the challenges of winter travel also teach good lessons, especially for the kids, she said.
“It’s really good for them to succeed at something they weren’t sure they could do,” Stattelman said.
Beyond that, there is winter itself. Trailside breaks are brief at 20 below. Eyelashes frost up. Fingers get cold. Toes ache temporarily.
In one marshy narrows between lakes, Mike Stattelman broke through the ice with one snowshoe but extricated himself with no lingering effects.
Once the families were in camp, with the woodstove kicking out heat and mittens hung from the ridgeline, life was sweet. For lunch one day, Johnson-Evavold baked pizzas in her stove-top oven. She also baked sweet rolls and chocolate chip cookies.
“To have that level of comfort and all the things that go along with it — wood-cutting for heat, water from the lake — all of the necessities are right there,” Mike Stattelman said. “In a relatively inhospitable place, that level of comfort you can have is something.”
Stepping outside the tent on a star-flung night, looking back at your canvas home glowing from within, offers a perspective on the universe that’s difficult to get in any other way.
Heading for home
On the way out of the woods, Isaac and Isabella Evavold were leading the way, each pulling their own toboggan. They were well out in front of their fellow travelers, and they had a focused look about them.
“We want to get back to civilization,” Isaac said.
That might have had something to do with a promised stop at Sven and Ole’s, the Grand Marais pizza shop.
The kids were almost always leading the way on this trip, forging well ahead of their parents. It must be something to be 12 or 14 or 16, out front with the white wilderness rolling to forever in all directions. As the mushers say, the view changes only for the lead dog.
“Be sure to wait for us after the next portage,” Chris Evavold had told the kids at one point. “We’ll have lunch there.”
This was Emma’s first winter camping trip, though she made her first canoe trip to the BWCAW at age 4 or 5, Mike Stattelman said. On the trail, Emma and Amelia handled a 5-foot toboggan all by themselves, team-towing it with two haul ropes.
“They have been phenomenal,” Johnson-Evavold said.
Not that they hadn’t been challenged.
“I dislike the portages,” Emma said during a break along the trail. “They’re tiresome.”
She wouldn’t get an argument from anyone else about that.
Amelia and Emma had nearly finished their final portage from West Round Lake to Round Lake, when they dropped the traces of their load. They could go no farther, they said. They were done in, spent, used up. They had covered nearly five miles of wilderness already, up and down the portages.
They announced to their mothers, not far behind them on the trail, that they could not go on.
“You’ve got to dig deep, girls,” Johnson-Evavold told them.
“We’ve already done that, and we hit rocks,” one of them said.
No more was said. The silence of the woods swallowed the silence of the winter travelers.
The girls picked up their haul ropes. They leaned into their load, and the toboggan followed them obediently down the path, all the way to the landing.