My First 270 Mile Round Trip Snowmobile Backpacking Adventure
This has been not the best of years for snowmobiling conditions in the Northland. We've struggled to get enough snow for a decent base. Then when we finally had trails open up, the temperature plummeted to artic levels for about 2 straight weeks. My friend and I had big plans for this year, and had to keep postponing it. But this week, it finally happened. We did our first cross country backpacking snowmobile trip. Here's how it went.
Most times in the past we would load up our sleds and trailer them up to my family's hunting cabin near Lake Vermilion. We would ride around, stopping to have lunch or dinner at crowded bars on the weekend. With COVID-19 this year, we decided we didn't want to necessarily be in a crowded place. We came up with the ambitious idea of riding from Duluth to Cook, MN. It started with a bunch of prep work.
We went up in the fall and left gas up there for the generator and oil for the sleds. We also left some dry goods and a case of water. There were going to be some things that were just going to be too heavy for us to load down on the sled. We also left some hard liquor stored away to help ease our sore muscles in the evening. It poured out of the bottles like cough syrup after being in -40 weather for a few days.
Then came the dreaded engine rebuild on my sled that apparently hasn't been getting enough oil for the first 3,000 miles. I got the sled back and took it for about a 100 mile test ride. We bought saddle bags and installed them on the sled as a backpack definitely wouldn't be that comfortable for a long distance. We were ready to go. We just needed to wait for the weather to warm up.
We were more concerned with the sleds not starting in the cold mornings in Cook when it's -40 (which was Monday morning.) We had to wait for it to be warmer if we were going to rely on our sleds as our way back home. Tuesday it got above zero finally, and we head out.
We rode the ditch until we hooked up with the snowmobile trail in Twig. Then we weaved through Canyon, stopped for more gas in Cotton, then up to Eveleth, Gilbert, and into Virginia. We rode across the new bridge going into Virginia where we had a spectacular view of the mine pit.
We continued our way North to the Laurentian Trail, then on to the Taconite Trail Northeast. Then finally the last leg was on the Wolf Track Trail into Cook. From Cook we then road the trail within a few miles of our hunting cabin where we took the ditch the final segment.
It was a cold ride and we rode hard, driving the speed limit in stretches where it was open enough. The total distance one way was 135 miles. With a few stops we made it in 6 hours. Fortunately we arrived just before dark and then fired up the woodstove and heated up the place. My buddy Shane was walking like a Claymation character as he was so frozen when we arrived. We found out later why: he had left open his vent on his jacket for the whole trip. Make sure you check your vents!
Overnight we tarped the sleds as we saw the night time lows were going to be -20. By noon the next day we reached zero degrees, and we successfully started the snowmobiles. We rode the same route back and it once again took about 6 hours. There wasn't as much sun on the way back, and even though the air temp was a couple degrees warmer, without the sun it felt colder.
All said and done it was about 270 miles on a snowmobile in two days. That's not too bad. Especially considering we haven't broken in our snowmobile muscles for the year. It's a little stiff walking around today. Another miracle is we didn't have any breakdowns. There were no issues, sleds ran great. That's not always the case. We did leave the truck back at home hooked to the trailer ready for a rescue run. Fortunately we didn't need it.
Trail conditions were pretty good mostly. If we get any warm days coming, those trails will be rough quick. There's not a lot of base, so if you've been wanting to ride do what we did. Take some time off and just make it happen.
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