Winter Hike Across the North Country Trail

I don’t know, the trip gives you a pretty good appreciation for life. You feel really good about yourself. I know how good it made me feel to do this trip. I never ate until I got in my sleeping bag. Get in there, get it all zipped up, get my stocking cap on and I’d get in that sleeping bag only with my hands out. And I’d make my sandwiches. I’d eat them in the sleeping bag. The theory there I had, if I eat in that sleeping bag and generate all that heat from food, it’s not going anywhere but to the good. It’s trapped in the bag with me. I stoked my fire for the night when I ate. Sometimes I’d lay there with my candle, that was my fire. And I’d lay there in the sleeping bag and think about the day and think about not getting crazy and wonder if the trail was going to be there tomorrow.

It felt good to be focused just on the trail. I never really thought of turning back, but a lot of days I just didn’t feel like moving anymore! That’s when you had to get down in the old gut and say, Okay, you’re going to have to keep walking there, feller, or you’re going to run out of food. You’ve got to keep moving to a destination where you can get more grub.

You have to eat sparingly. Sometimes I’d get a little crazy with that dang trail mix—I love that stuff. Sometimes I’d eat too much of that, and I’d have to go three, four, five or six or seven or eight days without any. One time I ate a bunch of trail mix and that was when I discovered the trail map was wrong. I thought I could eat a little more; ’cause the trail was going to go by Steel City. When the trail didn’t go to Steel City, and I ate all my food up, and now I’m in the Porcupine Mountains, and I’m down to one power bar. I wasn’t going to die.

You always thought about water. One day for some reason I didn’t feel thirsty, and I didn’t drink any water that day, and I tell you what. That night I realized my feet got all scaly and uncomfortable, and I had a headache. So I never made that mistake again.

Having the poles… it’s like having four legs.

Toward the Sturgeon River I saw hundreds of deer. The deeryard was so big, I walked for two days through it. See, deer, they always yard in a conifer swamp. And they like cedar and hemlock. The deer used the trail along that deeryard. They had a deep trench, foot and a half wide, and you couldn’t get your snowshoes in the trench. You had to walk on one side of the trail in the brush.

As much as I’da liked to have a radio, I didn’t need any radio. I had a little radio in the beginning, but it took batteries and I hated carrying batteries. I did. I mean, pick up a pack of batteries (laughs). I always equate everything to food. That pack of batteries is equivalent to a sandwich.

I had a cell phone with a car charger with me. ’Cause I thought any time I do get to civilization, I’ll just con someone into letting me plug it in. Everybody was nice about it, you know. But I never could use it anyway, until clear over in the western U.P., and I actually climbed a hill that had a fire tower and a cell phone tower. I was within a hundred miles of Ironwood. Otherwise, it never worked, but it’s still a good idea to take one.

One of the most majestic places I saw was in the Trap Hills. I don’t know why they don’t call them mountains, because they’re mountains. The North Country Trail will get you on top of that mountain, and you’ll stay up there; you follow these ridges, and you can see out back to the east forever. You’ll look back over the Baraga Plains.

Snowdrifts on the bluff along Lake Superior were 10 feet high. And you couldn’t even walk on the trail. Spruce trees and balsams—young trees, the bluffs were up to the tops of them. The trail might have been blazed down below, but it was buried in snow, and you were up 10 feet high walking in the treetops.

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.