Winter Hike Across the North Country Trail

I tried to be on the trail by daylight. Always.

I thought about everything … and of course you intentionally think about things just to keep your mind busy. I love to downhill ski, so I would see these big hills and I’d think about skiing: Hey, me and my old buddy Marv, we could backpack back in here with some fat skis. We could hike in here and ski down this hill.

I probably spent 150 miles along Lake Superior. The trail runs along a bluff. Oh man, that place, I’m telling ya. I tell you what, Lake Superior is the most unbelievable place there is. It’s just unbelievable. There’s so much ice there and ice floes, and ice upheavals, it was just beautiful, and I was captivated by it.

When I was along Lake Superior, I felt like I was a Paleo Man (laughs). It was so big, and you’re just this little dot, walking along in these giant ice upheavals, they’re big ogres. You’re the only guy there. You’re the only person. I wondered how with all the people in Michigan why no one else thought it would be fun to go up there and hike.

I always tried to find a level spot in the snow for my tent. Snow’d be anywhere from 3 to 5 feet deep. I’d leave my backpack on and take my snowshoes and walk across it. I’d pack the snow down as best as I could to the size of my tent. Then I would set my tent up and get my gear in there, and I just couldn’t wait ever to relax.

When you’re in the snow all day, you can’t sit down. Not that many places to sit down, the snow’s so deep. And the deadfalls, they had so much snow on them, there was no place to go sit down on a stump. The way I’d take a break—rest my poles ahead of me and hunch forward. So I’d take a break. Then I’d be ready to go again.

For winter camping, you want to use those self-inflating mattresses. I’m a firm believer in ’em. I’d open the valve, and it never wanted to fill up fast, it was so cold out. I’d blow my mattress until it was hard. Then I’d get on it and reach out to the valve and let out a little air. To critique it.

I was always happy to stop. Once I got in my tent I’d take my snowshoes off. Usually I just stuck them outside my tent, tucked under my rain fly. To keep them out of the weather, you don’t want to have to dig for them.

I had two thermometers, and I broke both of them. It was cold. I had a lot of mornings, and I woke up and it would be storming. One of the worst things about the trip is to get up and it’s storming out or it’s below zero or both, and you’ve got to commit yourself to getting out of the sleeping bag and packing all your gear and go. And it’s the best thing you can do. Sitting there is no good. Might as well be moving.

It takes a lotta … I don’t know what it takes. Takes an ungodly amount of will. And some kind of desire to do it that I ain’t quite figured out. I get a little bit single-minded when I get involved in something like that.

I still don’t know much about high-tech gear. But I do know that wicking shirts are critical. I had pretty decent hiking socks, but they weren’t high quality. Next time I go, I want to get a little bit better socks.

Oh my god, my socks were wet for 120 miles. I don’t know how I could bear it. They were freezing. See, I fell through a crick, and it went over the top of my boots. My work boots. I thought, This ain’t a good deal; this just ain’t good. See, building a fire when there’s several feet of snow on the ground is a major project. All the brush and everything blown down around you has three or four feet of snow on it, too. Firewood—it might seem like it’d be all over the place—but it’s buried and it’s wet. To build a fire, to dry them out, I couldn’t do it. The best thing I could do when my socks got wet was go.

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.