I can’t tell if the fog in front of me is 5 feet away or 50 feet away. My brain struggles to untangle the puzzle of what my eyes are seeing. In every direction, all we can see is fog and the damp ice we are standing on. This magical view of the Northwoods can only happen in the spring. Those of us who completed the Sylvania Traverse on April 6th and 7th were lucky enough to see what happens when warm temperatures melt a large amount of snow and weather patterns conspire to keep that moisture around in the form of fog.
Our group of 2 staff and eight students had met several times over the semester to plan a winter traverse of the Sylvania Wilderness in the Ottawa National Forest immediately north of Conserve School’s campus. With busy schedules limiting our options and extreme temperatures and snow depths that were too intense for our gear, our team was forced to wait until early April to complete the Traverse.
We started at the ranger’s station in the north of Sylvania and traveled over Clark Lake and Loon Lake, which were frozen with nearly 2 feet of ice! We camped on the shore of Loon Lake and finished hiking back to campus the next day. Traveling through the woods between the lakes we had to use snowshoes to make any meaningful progress through the snow that was still over 12 inches deep. Despite the vast quantities of frozen water, the temperature was rather balmy – at least when we compared it to the subzero temperatures we’d been living in all winter!
But, of course, with warm spring temperatures comes to rain. Everything that got wet during those few hours of the storm stayed wet. These items included our rain jackets, our tents and pretty much everything we could touch. However, we were prepared for this, and the sleds we were dragging over icy puddles held rubberized dry bags that kept spare clothes, boots, sleeping bags, and over 100 cookies (at least 10 per person) safe and dry. And, after our dinner of rice and beans, we went to sleep as islands of toasty dryness in a sea of dampness, listening to the rain drip on our tents.
While students had a few momentary grumbles about discomfort, all of the students expressed that they had a good time and were happy to be out. So, while 40⁰ F and rainy or damp may not sound like fun to some, we all had an excellent adventure. The challenge, silence, and beauty of Sylvania were there for us to live. The unique mystery of the dense fog we explored that evening we camped is something we will wonder about for five years or maybe even 50.
Photos contributed by Max, CS18, Middleton, WI.