Thursday, March 13, 2014

-Boundary Waters Expedition, Day #1

*Celestial Twilight*

February 18, 2014:

             After 14 days on snowshoes living in the North Maine woods for the Winter expedition semester as part of the Jack Mountain Bushcraft Immersion Program ,Robbie and I arrived here last night in Ely, MN. Following a two day 1,500 mile drive along the Trans Canadian Highway we are about to begin an expedition that will prove to push the edge of my limits to much greater heights.
80+ Miles Across the Boundary Waters


         We began our trek at the "end of the road" literally. A 60 mile winding road named the Gunflint Trail which comes to an end deep in the heart of the Boundary Waters Wilderness area. It was an ideal threshold for the heroes journey as the 5 of us (Paul, Robbie, Jerell, Kelly and I) stood on the edge of Lake Saganaga watching our shuttle disappear around the bend. Prepared for the next 25 days,  each of us had a 9ft toboggan, pulling roughly 125lbs a piece consisting of personal/group gear and food.
 This vast & wild area is one of a kind to the lower 48, with over a million acres it is accompanied by a thousand+ lakes. Our neighbor to the North is just a few miles away, with a mirror image of wilderness named "Quetico" (twice as big) extending far into Canadian lands. There are no motorized toys allowed (boats/snowmobiles), restricted to airplanes, strict hunting regulations, no mining, no nonsense. One of the first things I noticed or became aware of was the absolute silence. I tried my hardest to listen, concentrating my ear drums in every direction expecting to pick up something, anything, but there was nothing. It was complete silence, the harder you listened there only seemed to be a slight ringing in your ears. This was a new experience in itself, the sense of how remote we actually were was beginning to sink in..
            The Moon in it's waning phase was not out tonight so there was zero ambient light among the cloudless, crystalline starry sky. It's a rare occasion to have such a defined view of the endlessness above, every visible star to the naked eye was showing off in all its glory. As I've been learning more about the night time sky I could pick out fourteen constellations, nine magnitude stars and a very prominent view of Jupiter which is currently in Gemini. How I do love Winters constellations and the clarity of each star brought on by the crisp, cold, dry air.
Top Left Star: Betelgeuse
Bottom Right Star: Rigel
Orion, always guiding me, the great hunter is never to be missed with his two magnitude stars Betelgeuse and Rigel, surrounded by Canis Minor, Canis Major, Gemini, Auriga, Taurus and Lepus. As we set up our tents, stoves and gathered firewood in the darkness, Kelly yelled "Turn off your headlamps and look North!" When our lights went out my eyes went wide, we all stood motionless, no one said a word and once again in my life time had ceased. Like an Amoeba, a sea of green lights flowed and danced along the Northern horizon. Jetting streaks of color ejecting from the glowing mass as it streamed closer to us, I was in complete aw. An experience that cannot truly be articulated, is there a word that describes an indescribable moment or feeling? Perhaps, Love? I don't know, but it was the most amazing, spectacular display of natures beauty or phenomenon with in our Galaxy I have ever witnessed. Paul had brought along a copy Edward Abbeys benidicto from "Desert Solitaire" and after many moments had passed he shared it with the group aloud, under this mystical sky he read: 

     "May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous leading to the most amazing view. May your rivers flow without end, meandering through pastoral valleys tinkling with bells, past temples and castles and poets' towers into a dark primeval forest where tigers belch and monkeys howl, through miasmal and mysterious swamps and down into a desert of red rock, and down again into a deep vast ancient unknown chasm, where bars of sunlight blaze on profiled cliffs, where deer walk across white sand beaches, where storms come and go as lightning clangs upon the high crags, where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you-"

        Was this real life! How fitting is that! Our first night out here and this is what we are greeted with? I have no more words...Just..Wow! Knowing there's 25 days ahead on this epic journey, I will sleep soundly tonight.                           
(Our cameras could not capture what we saw. This shot I found online is the closest display resembling the open, crystalline sky with the Aurora Borealis on the horizon in front of us)
Similar view from Lake Saganaga 


  1. I love that quiet. I experienced it last Easter in Norway. Magne, his wife, baby and myself had joined friends at their mountain cabin. It was very rustic and very quiet. It was that same kind of quiet you experienced in Minnesota.
    Having lived in Northern Norway and seeing the aurora often, it isn't something you can easily describe. One reason is that no night, no pattern is the same.
    I enjoyed this first installment of your adventure and look forward to more.

  2. Great start to the chronicle!! The quiet is amazing and only found in blackouts and trips to the wild in the northern mountains. Having experienced it, I know you must have been blown away with the lack of contact with anything. Northern Lights are always amazing, most particularly on clear, cold, crisp nights. Only in the wilderness does the impact ring true to the amazing beauty. You are very fortunate to have this experience. Speaking of Norway, it is part of your roots. Take a trip to Norway for astonishing views, food and life in the wild. Looking forward to part 2. Having watched your Maine preparation videos, you were most prepared for this trip and the adventure it is.

  3. Wow Ryan, amazing journey. I wish I was ther to experience all of it. ~Val~

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