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Black River Wild Forest Camp/Ski

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  • Black River Wild Forest Camp/Ski

    With the dearth of winter in our area this year, I had a heightened anticipation for an annual camping trip with friends up north. We always go to Pharaoh Lake, but they decided not to go due to the bridge being out, and no confidence in the ice to safely cross the beaver pond as a bypass. I chose to go to Black River Wild Forest to reduce my drive by half, and camp on Gull Lake where I'd never been. The opportunity to get four days of skiing looked good with the snowfall the previous couple weeks, and I hoped the temperatures I'd been seeing would permit getting out on the lakes.
    The nice thing about solo camping is you can leave your shoes on the table and no one complains.

    IMG_20230309_160238582 copy.jpg
    One mishap was forgetting to bring Snow Flea wax. Or a filter to screen them from melted snow for drinking water.

    I parked on Beaver Creek Rd. before 11 am Thursday and as I got out of my car, two snowmobiles went by. I mentally prepared myself for hearing more and breathing the exhaust during the 2+ miles until I reached the Gull Lake Trail. They turned out to be the only two snowmobiles to go by me until I got almost to my car Sunday morning. With all the negative connotation associated with groomers these days, I was happy the groomer went by before I got to Beaver Creek Rd Sunday morning. I had a smooth trip back to the parking lot that was so good I was able to just throw my backpack on top of the load in the sled and kick and glide back to the car.
    How nice a snowmobile trail can be when groomed. It didn't look like this Thursday morning and I lunged forward several times when I hit rocks the snowmobiles kicked up to the surface. A little fresh snow over the weekend helped too.

    The snow was so firm I barely sunk into it when I started breaking trail and I became convinced I could cut across the lake for 1/3 of a flat mile rather than double that on the trail with a couple short, steep ascents and descents. The lake was perfect, I really had to dig to get my pole through the snow to the ice, and slush wasn't an issue at all.

    The lean-to was in good shape, not much trash and only a small drift across the middle of the floor. There was a touching story in the journal about a couple going there woefully unprepared on their first hike together, getting lost in the dark, and spending the night shivering in the lean-to. They returned later and left a large tarp for other unprepared adventurers. Since it was ripped, I hauled it, fuel cans and a camp chair frame out on one of my skiing excursions.

    After getting situated, I had enough energy and sunlight left on Thursday to break the trail to Chub Pond and assess the state of blowdown blocking it. Someone did the the Chub Pond trail on snow shoes so I only went to the intersection and back, with plans to go all the way to the pond on Saturday. There wasn't much blowdown, and most of it small enough to be handled with my new Silky Big Boy.

    Friday I was up early to ski a loop with stops at Woodhull Lake and Bear Lake. Much of the morning would be spent on the snowmobile trail, so I figured the earlier I did it, the less likely there would be any sleds going by. When I was sitting, shirtless, in the Woodhull Lake lean-to drying off, I heard my first snowmobile of the day. Of course, it came to the lean-to, pulling a trailer full of gear and beer. The driver let me know I'd have the company of a large, rowdy group. I considered making a case that I would take up the whole space, but didn't and think he was relieved to hear I only stopped for a break. Three more sleds arrived before I set out for Bear Lake. That trail was one I'd skied before and really enjoyed as it's mostly downhill from Woodhull, and what could be better than a frozen Bloodsucker Pond? This time I had to break trail and it wasn't quite as thrilling as it could have been, but still a fun run. I considered doing a longer out-and-back on the Neejer Hill Trail to Bear Lake and Woodhull to have a broken trail on the return, but I wasn't up for the extra distance. Next time. I choked down a cold lunch at the Bear Lake lean-to, then took the Neejer Hill Trail which was tough to follow. I was glad the woods are open so when I lost the trail, bushwhacking back and forth to find it was possible. You get to notice a lot more trees when you're searching for discs. Both trails were in good shape and I only used my saw a few times, though I went around more than I cut on Neejer Hill.

    A cool tree, or trees?

    Saturday, I set out on skis again in search of the elusive Chub Pond lean-to 1. A friend and I ran out of daylight once a few years ago without getting there, but this time I'd scoped it out from satellite pictures and knew cutting across the lake from lean-to 2 would get me there in a few minutes. Unfortunately, I missed the trail by just a few feet and by the time I found it, I was close enough to the outlet to go check out the bridge that was damaged by a downed tree the previous visit. No complaints, not even that I took the Stone Dam Trail up a steep hill before realizing I'd missed the trail to the lean-to. Everything in time, and the skiing was good. I got there and have now seen the storied at Chub Pond 1, but too late to see the wood stove and lawnmower.
    IMG_20230311_120032751 copy.jpg
    A small fire at Chub Pond lean-to 2 to heat up lunch. It was much better than eating it cold the day before.
    Practically a hacienda.

    Back at Gull Lake that evening, I was "treated" to the soft sounds of the fireworks four miles away at Woodhull Lake. The sky looked like there was a lightning storm over there. The stars and moon rise much later were the real treat of the night.
    Nice sunset too.

    Sunday morning the skiing was the best of the four days and the sky was about as blue as it gets. When I'd packed up and took my load to the top of the hill on the Gull Lake Trail, I went back down to the lake for one last trip around the circumference.

    Does anyone know what occupies this nest in the warmer months?
    Does anyone know how good lemon curd is as camping food? I do now. Five eggs and a stick of butter is enough to keep you warm, and cookies to dip in it is the perfect vehicle.

    Someday I'll get to Woodhull Mountain fire tower, but this trip wasn't spoiled by the omission.

  • #2
    Very nice trail report, Exquisite actually! My guess would be Osprey.
    "A culture is no better than its woods." W.H. Auden


    • #3
      Nice report, I hunt that area and get up to Chub Pond on occasion but spend most of my time near Stone Dam Lake and the Quagmire.


      • #4

        i agree, a well done great and comprehensive report in a region very familiar to me.

        Obviously in a different season, these are my favorite views of Gull​ reflections.jpg

        On Gull leanto bench.jpg
        [I]"Now I see the secret of making the best person, it is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth." -Walt Whitman[/I]


        • #5
          Thanks for the positive responses, I enjoyed writing it. Two things that got left on the editing room floor: the story about dumping a quart of water inside my sleeping bags Saturday morning (they dried out sufficiently before the night which got down near single digits). I also never really used my snowshoes, I just carried them, and my boots, everywhere in case something broke while skiing. Post holing in ski boots for a couple miles would be bad.

          I think osprey is most likely too, it's unusual to see a single great blue heron nest, and there are many dead snags in the cove just to the north where they would have a rookery. All the osprey around here are on platforms so I don't recall ever seeing a "natural" nest.

          If that bench is still there, it was buried in the snow and I didn't see it. I certainly would have noticed a woman sitting there.

          Other pictures I intended to post but stuck with the 10 attachment limit the first time around:
          I've never seen so many snow fleas as there were on this trip. As soon as I made ski tracks or boot prints, they filled it.
          Screenshot 2023-03-16 at 5.40.13 PM.png
          I loved this spot near the outlet of Gull Lake. I took a picture every time I went by, and conditions were quite varied on Thur., Fri, and Saturday.
          A arched birch and a large hemlock. Both over exposed. Who messed with my camera settings?
          I feel good that the only change to the fire pit was when another inch of snow accumulated on top of all the half-burned wood left by previous visitors.
          Is the private property along Gull Lake shore the location of a fishing guide, or a lucrative scrap metal collector? P1050804.jpg
          Taking up all of the Woodhull lean-to before the party showed up.
          Just a really nice lean-to in a sweet spot.


          • #6
            I love the observations of the snow fleas!

            Snow flea wax?!? Too funny 😅
            Tick Magnet