Winter Hike Across the North Country Trail

Jerry Gauld just decided to do it: Take a long (39 days) winter hike across the North Country Trail. On a cold February 1, 2006, Fife Lake bulldozer operator Jerry Gauld pulled on his worn work boots, loaded up his Kelty Redhawk 5000 pack, its straps frayed like a bushy squirrel tail, and asked his wife to drop him at the Mackinac Bridge.

From there, he snowshoed along the North Country Trail, camping in a tent at night, hellbent on trekking to the western end of the Upper Peninsula. Thirty-nine days later, he reached the Wisconsin border town of Ironwood and lived to tell the tale. Here, he shares the perspective you get only after walking 400 miles in Michigan winter wilderness. In his own words …

It snowed almost every day. I don’t think there was ever a night ever on the whole trip, not one night that it didn’t snow.

That’s my water can—an old bean can, a tall one. There’s a string attached to it. Why I done that: if I’m in the U.P. along the slopes, if the creeks were thawed out, the snow banks would be maybe 4 feet high and you can’t get close to them without the bank caving in, and then you’re going in. So I take this string and I can literally cast for water and fill my water jugs. I’d go through about four or five of these jugs in a day. I drank water constantly.

The way I kept my water thawed out is, at night, I slept with it. … One time I couldn’t find any water, and I had a tall Quenchers jug—jug must be 20 ounces. I filled that full of snow, and I slept with it to try to make water. I got enough to take a sip in the morning. Water is a precious issue when you’re hiking. I mean, it’s everything.

To me, cooking is a waste of water. You’re better off carrying food you don’t have to cook. That’s just the way I look at it. I mean, other people think differently, but if they went on a trip like I did, they’d soon discover. I started out with a stove and realized that it wasn’t going to be of any value.

I packed soft shell tortillas, a couple packages of them. I got pre-fried bacon ’cause that stuff is super light and I can carry a pound or two of that. It’s really got all the goodies in it to keep your energy up. I ate a ton of power bars. And I put some junk food in my pocket. I always carried some Good & Plentys with me, and cow tails. I love those things. Also cheese. Real cheese. It’s the Kraft, but it’s the real stuff, not that, what you call it, processed cheese. That way you got a lot of energy stuff there.

I carried sinew, in case I have to repair something. I can repair a snowshoe, fix my pack. I carry some baseball needles; I’ll have some of those in case you want to sew your hand back on or something (laughs).

You can’t wash your clothes, so why carry a bunch? I’d change my socks, even though they were dirty. And just keep swapping them back and forth. And I’d hang ’em off the back of my pack if it wasn’t raining or snowing, and let them air out. So I only brought a few pairs of socks. I had a jacket, my company jacket, shell cover—somewhat waterproof—fleece lining. I wore that and some long-sleeved wicking shirts. These are my work boots. I’d worn ’em all year. You want to carry a couple pair of gloves. One pair of light ones for tearing down your gear. Packing it away in the morning. But along Lake Superior I had some ski gloves. I think next time I’m going to buy some good quality mittens.

Do not, for any reason, try that trip without maps, ’cause like in the McCormick [wilderness area], it’s not marked. There are no marks on the trees, and you need a compass, and you need maps. For your own sanity. You could theoretically do the trip without maps, but just like this one area I went through, loggers had been in and cut all the trees down, and any trail was abolished. Maybe they went in there and fixed it. When I was in, there weren’t any marks.

Article Comments

  • A friend shared this story with me. (I had never previously heard of For a slightly different type of “northern” adventure, view my own Pilgrim Log at I think you’ll find that my friend was concluding that I have something in common with Jerry Gauld. I’m flattered to think maybe so. If Jerry reads these comments, my hat is off to him.