A winter’s trail is a beautiful sight to behold.
Packed by snowshoes, weaving through a frozen landscape, the trail feels like a heartbeat woven into the fabric of a land blanketed by snow.
My partner and I have a serious love for the lure of places cold and forgotten—a lust for the north if you will—and while it might not be every couple’s cup of tea, we’ve built a bond that endures frigid mornings and flourishes by the glow of a little wood stove on starry nights. Sometimes it’s hard to see beyond a wind storm, but looking back, I think our love of the trail and our trail in love have a lot in common.
And, we’ve been lucky to learn a little from both.
On Valentine’s Day last winter, (2020) we found ourselves camped a four day walk into a renowned canoe tripping destination, Quetico Provincial Park, battling a cold snap. In the park, there are no machines allowed, and this canoe mecca—full of lakes and thin little portage trails—becomes a backcountry sanctuary in the winter; a land full of critter tracks like moose and marten. It’s a place still wild.
We had battled the day through a frigid wind: the kind where your eyelashes freeze together and exposed skin might crack if one isn’t careful. We setup camp in the lee of a point, raising our little canvas tent and setting the pipes up for our lightweight wood stove which warms us.
On a tea break earlier in the day, alongside a stunning cliff shoreline, I punched a hole through two feet of ice and Leah had hooked into a Lake Trout in between sips, a shriek of excitement marking the moment. The trout’s red, meaty flesh would be our feast for dinner.
In the evening, a fiery sunset lit up the sky. With dinner baking under the hot stove, we giggled while reminiscing on our trip to Lake Superior one year prior. We knew a lot less then, and that’s life. The winds were ferocious, camping sucked, and we didn’t catch a fish. We loved the lake in the summer, we spent three weeks traversing its wild north shore in our yellow canoe, but the winter wasn’t inviting.
Fast forward one year and we know those far away places where Skidoo’s aren’t allowed and where the only tracks we cross will be those of bush critters. We know how to be comfortable when the temperature reaches -38c and we aren’t so worried about getting lost crossing wind swept lakes or searching for portages.
We know that love isn’t perfect all the time, and that people argue, or feel quiet. But much like facing fear on the trail, it all goes away with the crackling of the wood stove and the boiling of tea. Everyday we take chances and bravery can only follow fear.
I know these trips aren’t everyone’s idea of joy, and we understand why, but for us the most lasting memories aren’t the sunny days of little excitement. Rather, it’s the moments of severe cold, heinous bugs, overgrown portages, fish that got away, and winds that try to blow us off the earth which dot our rich memories.
Money can’t buy these experiences, only a willingness to dream and the freedom of time will get you here. To those on the trail of love and life, we hope you find what you’re looking for.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Words and photos by David Jackson - Canadian Photo Journalist and avid winter explorer and ice fisherman, based out of Thunder Bay, Ontario.