Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Part II of the BWCA Trip: Hello Canada, and a Polar Bear Plunge

Quick! Post about the second half of my BWCA trip before I forget everything!

I woke up on the morning of Saturday, February 11th after a good night's sleep. I had NOT slept well the day before (sleeping bag, sharing a space with 6 strange women, freezing cold) but after a hard first days worth of dogsledding and snowshoeing, I was zonked and slept soundly.

It was a bit surreal: the cold, the wind, so much white
We got going around 10am. We didn't bring our snowshoes this time - some of our group had gone to Rose Falls the day before, and they suggested that we leave the snowshoes behind. The path was too narrow, windy, and steep for snowshoes to be of any use, and they thought that it was a huge pain to carry them around when they needed their hands for scrambling up the hills. So we started off hiking in just our boots (Yak Trax for those smart enough to bring them) across Bearskin Lake again. It was cold, windy, and very bright out. Even when the sun is hidden behind clouds, it still feels bright out. So much white snow and clouds.

There were eleven of us, so we had to split into two groups. Only groups of 9 people or fewer are allowed into the BWCA at a time. (The place we were staying was less than a mile outside of the BWCA - obviously, no big camp would be allowed in the BWCA.) I was pleased and encouraged by the fact that I was put on the "fast" team. After yesterday's trip to Caribou Rock, I felt quite encouraged, but still nervous about what what was ahead: a 5-6 hour hike, two portages, miles of lake walking (cold wind, blowing snow) and some bushwhacking.

Coming down the steep path on the Border Route Trail
We set out across Bearskin Lake again. After what seemed like an interminable amount of time spent stumbling in my boots and falling in up to my knees every third step, I missed my snowshoes. Once we got to the first portage, I understood what the other group said: snowshoes would have been worthless. We only stayed on the real portage for a short time, then we branched off to a small hiking trail, and then the Border Route Trail. It was SO MUCH FUN. Lots of uphill, lots of scrambling. I was usually first right behind the guide. I was having a blast! And the views were incredible.

Once we got over the top of the ridge, we half hiked downhill and half the time we slid on our butts down well-worn chutes in the snow. When I first arrived at the camp, I was kind of embarrassed by my giant snowmobile snowpants. Some of the other women had slim, snowboarding snowpants and I felt like I was wearing giant raver stovepipe pants. I LOVED them for sliding on my butt down the hill, and they were perfect for the deep snow.

Rose Falls as few ever see it: Frozen
After the portage/ridge, we were back to hiking on another lake (Lake Duncan). Once again, I missed my snowshoes. Breaking a path in vicious wind was kind of tough. But I felt strong and was really excited to get to Rose Falls. And they were so worth it! We portaged again for a short time, and came upon a beautiful half-frozen waterfall in the woods. There was a wonderful view over Rose Lake and a sheer cliff on the other side - O Canada!

After eating lunch (biscuits, frozen bananas, half-frozen banana bread, and half-frozen energy bars), we headed back via the lake. As much as I wanted to go back to the slip-and-slide hike between Duncan and Bearskin lakes, I didn't realize that the slides only went one way and it would be a huge pain to climb back up them. :) Six hours after we started out, we got back to the lodge. I immediately removed my piles of layers and lay in my bunk in my bra and undies. Man, it felt GOOD!!

I felt great. I felt strong and vibrant, healthy and incredibly proud of the way I scrambled up hills, encouraged my friends, and kept going even when it felt like the lake hikes were taking place on some sort of hellish treadmill. I am so proud of my strength and stamina when I was hiking, being the first one up the hills, sliding down on my butt and yelling "wheeeee!", pushing myself and succeeding - all while having a great time.

This would have been a fine ending to the trip. However, there was one more thing that I wanted to do before leaving the frozen north: a polar bear plunge.

Mandy and Mark were also game for a little jump in the lake. Yes, it was well below zero degrees Fahrenheit outside! We got on our swimsuits, piled our layers on top of them (I felt silly putting snowpants on over a swimsuit), and we headed to the lakeside sauna. We stripped off all but the suits and our wool socks (polar bear dippers should keep their wool socks on so that their wet feet don't stick to the ice...ugh) and relaxed in a nice hot dry sauna.

Then, one by one, we walked to a hole in the lake and jumped in! Under the millions of stars and by a roaring campfire on the ice.

This is me getting the fuck out of the water.
I dunked in up to my neck...didn't want my hair to freeze

I'm so glad that I went, and that I did all that I did. I have no regrets. Here's to the next spin around the sun.

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