The next day, we allowed ourselves a slight sleep in. The goal for the day was to find a more substantial source of firewood and perhaps catch some fish. I started out on a solo hike to Mug Lake and would keep my eye out for firewood along the shore. Just past the narrows to the island, I found my first slush pocket of the trip. Travel conditions on the lake were still amazing though and I was able to walk to the portage without snowshoes. At the portage, it was obvious that this little back bay was popular with the Moose as deep post-holed tracks ran from the marsh, across the lake, and down the portage. I wondered if I would encounter any of them today. The portage to Mug is a slight rise and then a steep descent to the lake and finishes alongside a beautiful rock face. A trio of otter trails broke up the otherwise untampered snow on Mug Lake. Mug is a pretty little lake that feels like the bowl of a once much deaper body of water. The banks are steep and high with occasional boulder piles and rock faces. I hiked around the corner to the falls, appreciating the expansive ice wall lining the face this time of year. I stopped over onto Poe with thoughts of going as far as Louse for further exploring, but decided against it for the sake of time. On my way eastbound on Wine, it was obvious that the guys were well enamored by their search for fish. I could also tell that their firewood exploration found some sucess. They had found a nicely down jack pine and cut and split it in my absence. It was a good day.
The next day was similar to the first. This time we took a group trip over to Mug to enjoy the falls further. I trekked along with the crew and grabbed some firewood I had cut but not hauled on my trip the day prior along the shore of Wine. We spent the evening with more fishing and caught one that we designated for dinner. That night, we ate like kings with a good half fillet a piece and a hearty dinner alongside. Finish that off with ice cream and any thoughts of withering away on this trip vanished completely. This would be our last night on Wine. We contemplated attempting the push back in one go now that the trail was broken, but if past trips had taught us anything it was that all miles take longer than anticipated.
We woke up to find it slightly colder than it had been, which was a blessing. The warm air made for weak snow prone to breaking through on the portages. Now that we had broken trail ahead of us, cold temperatures that could keep the packed snow hard was key. The first leg of portaging was the most intimidating. The portage rising out of Wine Lake is a steep ridge which would make us painfully aware of every ounce in the sled. We decided against the snowshoes for the sake of maximum traction. Dan-in-the-box was quick up the hill. Little Grumpy helped tandem push the toboggan up the hill with our fourth and then headed back down to hook back up to his. Between him pulling from the top, me pushing a bit, and pulling my slightly lighter sled, we managed up the hill in no time, a welcome suprise to be sure. Just as Little Grumpy and I reached the final descent to Frederick, an unmistakable rumble started over the treeline, is that a helicopter? We raced down to the ice to catch a glimpse of a helicopter come right over the treeline and it was obviously flying a grid pattern. We know he had to have seen us since my bright orange coat is hard to miss. We anxiously check our packs to make sure no one had accidently pushed SOS on the Spot Gens. It didn’t seem like any had. Our next thoughts went to search and rescue. A few of us have background in wilderness first aid and have taken an interest in studying wilderness SAR. We figured if someone was missing, the heli would at least stop to ask us questions, but until then we continued on as usual. On the next pass, he intentionally swung wide around us. We assumed then that it was a wildlife survey, something we confirmed from home later on. The helicopter was out counting Moose. We made good time down Frederick and on to Zenith, taking lunch at the start of the long portage. The warming weather heading into afternoon had quickly increased our rate of post holing, but we were still making good time. We made our beaver pond by late afternoon and had a discussion about spending another night there, but pushed on for Lujenida. Dan-in-the-box broke through the ice near the beaver dam, otherwise the return was mostly uneventful and we set up in the back bay of Lujenida just as the sun was setting.
The final day of the trip was good travel weather. There was a little more snow on the ice than on the way in so it was more effort to clear across Kelso. We ran into a group of skiers heading the other way and had some good discussion there. Alton was blustery as we made the final push back to Sawbill. There was no Huckleberry to great us at the landing as another trip came to a close. It was a marvelous adventure and so refreshing to be healthy for a trip like this as I seem to have gotten sick in time for a number of fun trips this past year. As we packed our cars, the conversation quickly turned to next year and the places we dream of seeing on another week in January.