This post may contain affiliate links. Learn how you can support this blog when purchasing from brands you love.
Women’s weekend adventure programming in Ely MN with the International Wolf Center and Boy Scouts of America Northern Tier National High Adventure Base.
ACTIVITIES Wolf conservation/education in the International Wolf Center and the outdoors including radio telemetry, dogsledding, snowshoeing/hiking, shared meals and opportunities to build confidence and connect with other women.
DIFFICULTY Accessible to a variety of skill levels and abilities
DATES February 28-March 1, 2020
LOCATION Adventures take place at the Northern Tier High Adventure Base and the International Wolf Center in Ely MN near the entry point of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Includes trips to Flash Lake, Secret Lake, and Blackstone Lake. Information on future adventure programs and events can be found here
MORE Video and Gear used on this trip are at included at the bottom of this post.
Day 1: Duluth to Ely
Our Women and Wolves weekend started in Minneapolis, stopping for lunch in Duluth at one of our favorite restaurants, The Duluth Grill. Its tradition to eat there after every big hike up North and I was craving their fish tacos. We took our time, stopping along Lake Superior’s shore, enjoying the sunny day and the bright light reflecting off of the icy waves.
We can’t pass through Two Harbors without visiting our friends at Granite Gear! Julie is a fellow Legacy Granite Gear Groundskeeper this year and its always nice to catch up with her. We got to have another peek at the shop where they make their gear and share some fun plans we both have for the year. Stay tuned for an upcoming Groundskeepers post: spoiler alert, I met two Groundskeepers on this trip!
We arrived at the International Wolf Center without a minute to spare. The wolf-themed van loaded up at 4:30 and whisked us off to the Northern Tier High Adventure Base. I was too busy talking and making new friends to pay attention to how far of a drive it was, but it was probably about a half an hour. I also left my watch at home to try to be more present and just enjoy everything that our guides had planned for us, a trick I learned at Sea Base (the other National High Adventure Base program I participated in with the Scouts). The women on this trip are from WI, MO and MN. Krista, our guide, said that there are usually even more women from all over the country on these trips, which we thought was so cool!
Our Northern Tier Guides, Bri and Sam met our van at the base and got us situated with pulks in case we needed them to haul our gear up the hill to our cabins and made sure that we had warm beds to sleep in.
The base was even nicer than I expected and was one of the main draws for me on this trip. I have wanted to visit Northern Tier since hearing about it when I became a Scout leader several years ago, and I was excited to be able to participate in another National High Adventure program. I just never imagined it would be with a group of women instead of my Boy Scout troop.
After we unloaded our gear, we were treated to a lovely dinner and evening reception at the camp director’s home nearby. We made fast friendships and felt the excitement of the weekend starting to build. We arrived back to our cabins at around 9pm. The gals went for a night hike in zero degrees. I was a bit tired and decided to stay put in the cozy new cabin so I could rest up and max out the adventure this weekend!
Day 2: Dogs and Lakes and Wolves!
Jessica and I had decided the night before that we wanted to try to see the sunrise in the morning from Parley’s rock, the highest point in camp. My eyes popped open while it was still dark and we bundled up to chase the sun! The short climb to Parley’s rock revealed a view of the Boundary Waters through dark clouds… not what we had hoped. So we had a couple of quiet moments at the top to clear our minds for the day, heading back down. From there, we could faintly see the light just starting to emerge between the trees. “Lets go that way!” We walked eastward on the trail, with no destination in mind other than to the sun…and heard the growing cacophony of SLED DOGS that were waiting for their breakfast! We weren’t sure if we were supposed to be there, and we had no food, so we peeked at them quickly and headed back toward the sun. As we left, we saw the scouts from ‘mushers camp’ hauling jugs of water up the hill, ready to prepare their food.
We eventually made it to Flash lake, passing a village of Quinzhees, opening up to a flaming pink and red sunrise! After about an hour of walking around in -3 degrees, we were ready for a hot breakfast and some coffee to start off the day. The camp staff fed us delicious breakfast burritos in the lodge and we met some Scouters from Kansas City and Wisconsin.
We headed back and put on a few more layers for our morning spend at the dog yard and dogsledding on Flash Lake! A sled dog’s greatest joy in life is to pull their sled, but they still like their ears and rears scratched. There were 40 Alaskan Huskies at the base that had a range of athletic experiences including the Beargrease and Iditarod races! I don’t know how long we were there, but we could have pet the dogs all day long. We learned their names, their personality traits, what they ate, which position they pulled, how to approach and interact with them safely and what the daily life of a sled dog was like. The dogs belong to a local family owned business called Chilly Dogs, ‘Providing exciting dog sledding adventures to individuals, families, and groups of all kinds, with thorough trip preparation, top-notch equipment, comfortable facilities, and convenient proximity to Ely, Minnesota.’
We headed down to Flash Lake for our big adventure! The Scouts at ‘Musher camp’ worked with staff to get the dogs geared up and met us down at the lake ready to go! The excitement and explosion of happy barking and whining was contagious and when we heard them run out of the woods onto the frozen lake, my heart jumped with joy as well!
Due to our group’s size we each were granted one circle ride around the lake. We patiently waited our turns and were instructed to get in and out of the sled as fast as possible so the dogs could keep running. They hate to wait!
Along came my turn…I went last! My first thought was “wow, I thought these guys ran faster”, but I realized that they were taking it easy on us at 7-8 mph. Then I felt myself absorb the joy and energy that the dogs and mushers were bringing to the ride. It moved me to tears about half way around the lake, and I was grateful that they shared this experience with me. The scout driving my sled did a fantastic job and I laughed and identified with rowdy little Skandic as she joyously hogged the trail and barked her head off the whole way. When it was all done, all I could think about was doing it again.
The temperatures were set to hit 35 degrees by lunchtime, so we shed a few layers and headed back to the base for a presentation from our Wolf Center guide and to have lunch. We learned about each of the wolves that live at the International Wolf Center, a little about their species, habits and even a few funny quirks…like that Greyson is totally afraid of bugs and hides from them. We also learned about their social structures, reintroduction efforts on Isle Royale and different types of wolves around the world.
Back outside for some wolf tracking! Krista, brought her telemetry gear, shared more about her role with the Wolf Center and brought us back up to the top of Parley’s rock to try to catch a signal. We waited, reached high, rotated, and took turns being a human antenna. Our wolf was not in range, but we had fun learning more about these canines and spending a glorious afternoon outside in the sunshine.
Our group then broke out into two hiking groups based on distance. Group 1 snowshoed around the island on Moose Lake and visited the BWCA sign. Group 2 hiked the Secret and Blackstone Lake Loop, with a bonus visit out to the BWCA sign on Moose Lake.
I don’t know how far we hiked, but it felt close to 5 miles. We ditched our jackets and hiked in our base layers. My Yaktrax ICEtrekkers have been so valuable on this trip with the warm sunny days and re-freezing at night. They were just the right grip for the trail and we didn’t need snowshoes until we crossed the deep snow on Moose lake. We hiked through aromatic Pine forests and had a moment of quiet reflection on Secret Lake…sitting on the ice, the sun radiating on our faces.
We hiked the rest of the loop, helping each other cross a frozen creek and sliding down frozen hills on our butts, laughing all the way. We had a little time left before dinner so we trekked out onto Moose Lake to see the sign for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and squeeze as much out of our day in the wild as we could. We laughed some more as we struggled to walk and watched each other stagger around through the deep, grainy snow on the lake.
We made it!
Back to base to pack up quick and make it back to the Wolf Center van to say farewell to Northern Tier and head to downtown Ely for dinner at a lovely little restaurant called Insula
After our dinner, we attended a public event at the Wolf Center called ‘What’s for dinner’, where the wolves are fed and we learn more about their habits. The wolves ate, the people left, and we had the whole center to ourselves!
The staff turned down the lights so we hopped into our PJ’s, made our beds in the auditorium and made ourselves at home. We enjoyed having the museum and exhibit area to ourselves and more time to socialize and connect with each other. The staff left the microphones in the enclosure on in case the wolves vocalized during the night, and we were off to sleep.
Day 3: Wolves and Wandering Pines!
At 3am we heard them.
At first, it was disorienting…my heartbeat a little faster, my hair stood up on my arms… and then after they cycled through their own 4 part harmony 5-6 times until sunrise, I wished they would just go to bed. I slept terribly that night, but immersing ourselves in the Wolf center and hearing the pack howl together was totally worth it.
We packed up and ate breakfast at the Wolf Center, feeling a little like summer camp friends promising to be pen pals as we said our goodbyes.
A few of us stopped into Ely for some strong coffee at Northern Grounds (because…WOLVES HOWLIN’ ALL NIGHT!) and got to pop into some wonderful local shops: Steger Mukluks, Wintergreen and Piragis Outfitters. Remember when I said I met another Granite Gear Groundskeeper? More on that in a future post!
On the road again!
We had one last destination to hit on the way home! After I created this blog, I found out that there’s a restaurant in Gilbert MN with the same name! I have been wanting to visit Fitz’s Wandering Pines Eatery and Pub, but it’s 3 hours from home! (I’d send you a link, but they don’t have a website.)
So, Jessica and I headed there for lunch and I ate and drank everything with the word Pine in it and begged them to sell me a staff T Shirt! I’m sure they thought I was a little odd as I was galloping and post-holing around in the crusty knee deep snow outside their restaurant for a picture next to the sign.
But the food was good, the service was friendly and I finally got to visit the WANDERING PINES!
Back at home, as I write this…I’m still radiating from the weekend. My Youtube video of the weekend is my longest one yet, I just didn’t want to delete anything. Getting it to 40 minutes was hard enough, so grab some popcorn, put it on the big TV and enjoy!
I have so much appreciation for our guides: Krista, Sam and Bri. Thank you for making the weekend memorable and sharing your gifts and talents with us! Big shout out to the International Wolf Center and Northern Tier High Adventure Base for making this confidence-building and recharging women’s weekend possible. And to my friend Jessica aka ‘Prank’ for inviting me and always being up for an adventure. We have two more BWCA adventures together this year and they are going to be AMAZING!
If you are interested in learning more about the programs that the International Wolf Center offers, you can see them all here. Please also feel free to shoot me a note in the comments below or continue the discussion on the Wandering Pine Facebook Page if you have questions about the weekend. If you’re looking for a guided adventure that’s a ton of fun, I highly recommend this program…and there’s another one coming up in the Fall!
Thank you for reading all the way to the end of this long read!
Gear Used on this Adventure
Last but not least. A reader on the Wandering Pine Facebook page asked me to post about the gear I brought on this trip after seeing the photo below. Since I’m a sucker for a good gear square and love talking about this stuff, I may start including this feature at the end of each trip report. What do you think? I’d love to hear your feedback, especially if there is specific gear that I use that you would like to know about!
You can also support this blog and some of your favorite brands by using these links to research and purchase gear for your own adventures. Learn more about this blog’s brand partners here.
- (1) wool socks – Darn Tough
- (1) wool socks – Farm to Feet
- (1) pr double layer synthetic socks – Wright Socks
- Wool Baselayer Top – Kari Traa
- Wool Baselayer Bottom – Kari Traa
- Convertible pants – Kuhl
- Fleece mid layer – Marmot plush
- Merino Tee – Borealis Wool (favorite-wear it for days on end)
- Merino Tank – Borealis Wool
- Snow Pants – Black Diamond
- Torrid Puffy Jacket – Enlightened Equipment
- Sidekick Booties – Enlightened Equipment
- Rain Jacket/Shell – REI (did not need)
- Hooligan Puffy Hat – Enlightened Equipment (did not need)
- Winter Boots – Vasque (switched to my lighter weight Hokas)
- Mittens – Gordini (switched to my fleet farm fleece mittens – not pictured)
- Traction –Yaktrax ICEtrekkers Diamond Grip (in granite gear mesh sack- I wore these every day)
- 10 degree Revelation Quilt – Enlightened Equipment
- Insulated Air Core Ultra Pad- Big Agnes
- Pillow – Full Sized Bed pillow (not pictured)
- Battery-Anker Power Core II 10,000
- Delorme InReach (link to newer model here)
- GoPro Hero 7
- Dad’s vintage Bolle Glacier Glasses
- 10 Essentials (in orange Basswood & Birch UL stuff sack)
- First Aid Kit (in blue Basswood & Birch UL stuff sack)
- Kula Cloth– (best pee cloth ever) Twinkle Tent design
- Muscle Therapy- Rawlogy Cork Ball(this goes on every trip)
- Klean Kanteen 20 oz mug with ‘Hike that SHT‘ sticker
- Helmet- Bern (with fleece neck gaiter over the top for warmth)
- Pack-Granite Gear 38L
- Day Pack – Ultimate Adventure thrift store find
Thanks again for reading! If you enjoy these posts, videos and reviews, feel free to show this place a lil love by commenting, subscribing and sharing with your friends.