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Sawbill Newsletter Archives: December 2009
Current Sawbill Newsletter | « November 2009 | January 2010 »

12/28/09 - The Great Christmas Snowstorm that covered the midwest was a bit of a disappointment here. We only got about 6" of snow total out of the whole storm. With what we already had, we now have about a foot of snow on the ground.

The snow was very wet with temperatures hovering right around freezing. This caused the snow to stick to every branch and now it is frozen there, making for great winter scenery. - Bill

Alton Lake looking east toward the portage to Sawbill after the storm.

The wet snow stuck to everything - including the terriers. Phoebe could barely walk by the time she finished the hike to Alton.

Roy's mask of snow didn't diminish his vigilance toward rabbits and squirrels one bit.

12/25/09 - Happy Holidays to all! Here is a chronology of the Hansen family Sawbill Christmas season.

It is a family tradition to pile everyone (dogs included) into the pickup and go hunting for a Christmas tree.

This year we selected an unconventional birch. We also strove to reduce the height of previous years trees.

Phoebe decided that the tree stand was the perfect place to quench her thirst.

Carl the elf strategically places treasured ornaments.

The result of our labors.

It has become a tradition for us to visit John "OB" Oberholtzer and his family just before Christmas. OB worked at Sawbill for 13 seasons and settled in nearby Lutsen. Hazel and Cy Oberholtzer enjoyed teaching Carl Hansen an important skill.

On Christmas Eve we braved the storm to exchange presents with Frank and Mary Alice Hansen, beloved parents and grandparents, and Sawbill Outfitter's founders, at their home in Grand Marais.

12/18/09 - Below is the Forest Service news release about BWCA Wilderness entry permits for the 2010 season. Although they call it a lottery, if you apply for overnight permits in the Sawbill area anytime in the next four weeks, you are highly likely to get the permit. - Bill

The lottery for Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) permits opened December 1, 2009 and will continue through January 15, 2010. The lottery provides the first opportunity for visitors to reserve a BWCAW permit for the coming season.

Applicants must set up an account on to enter the lottery. It is a quick and easy process. Application results can be viewed online between January 16 and January 20.

Remember, faxed or mailed applications, and payments made by check and money order WILL NOT BE ACCEPTED. Only successful applicants will be charged a non-refundable $12.00 reservation fee and applicable overnight user fees.

Beginning January 20, 2010, first-come first-served wilderness permit reservations can be made online at . Reservations may be made by phone beginning February 1, 2010 by calling the National Recreation Reservation Service toll free at (877) 550-6777.

Please visit for additional information.

The BWCAW lottery was established to fairly distribute available quotas for entry dates and entry points where demand exceeds availability. For those who know their desired entry date and location well in advance, the lottery offers an early opportunity to make a reservation. In the lottery process, permits are awarded through a computer-generated, random selection.

The purpose of the wilderness permit quota system is to distribute visitors and use in a manner that protects the natural resources and wilderness values, and limits the social encounters to which are appropriate for each management area.

12/16/09 - It has been cold! It's been a few weeks of unseasonably cold weather, which hasn't stopped us from getting outside every day to enjoy some vigorous activity - until yesterday. With a high temperature of -5 F and a 20 mph north wind, the most we could stand was a bundled up walk through the campground. Even the dogs couldn't wait to get back into the warm house. - Bill

When I say "bundled up", I mean it! Cindy is in there somewhere. Even dressed like this, she got an ice cream fore-head ache walking into the wind.

12/10/09 - I went on an interesting hike yesterday. I hiked through the Sawbill Campground and around our little ski trail with a group of Forest Service employees. There is no part of the Superior National Forest that I am more familiar with, so it was interesting to hear the perspective of the forest experts. It was a multi-disciplinary group, with decision makers, foresters, regulatory experts, fire behavior specialists, wildlife biologists, and a silva-culturist.

The issue, as I understand it, is that by not allowing fire to take its natural course over the last hundred years, we've created a different forest then nature would have allowed. Eventually, fire will have its way, but it will likely be a very hot, disastrous fire, rather than the cooler, low intensity fire which was more common in pre-settlement times. This scenario has played out several times in recent years just 15 to 30 miles to our north.

The Forest Service is studying how to meet this challenge with an eye toward long term forest health and protecting the campground from being burned to the ground. The plan is still being built, but it sounds like on the land around the campground they will be removing the understory of balsam fir that has sprouted up in the last 40 years. They call these "ladder fuels" because they provide a fire with a ladder to climb into the tops of the tall pines. They will also remove the old, diseased birch and aspen, leaving the tall and healthy red pine, white pine and spruce.

In the campground itself, they will remove much of the balsam by hand, doing the work in the off season. They are very concerned that campers not be bothered by noise, or shocked by radical logging techniques. This fall they did this type of treatment around their cabin located just north of the campground, so if you're curious, you can look at that the next time you're here. They may not be able to stop a big fire, but if (when) there is a major fire, most of the large trees will survive and the Sawbill Campground will be beautiful and healthy for generations to come. - Bill

12/7/09 - Sawbill Lake officially froze over (for the second time this year) on Thursday, December 3rd. It had been half frozen for about a week with only steady winds keeping the other half open. As of today, the older ice has about 4" of snow and the newer has about 2".

This evening, I broke out the skis for the season's first foray up the lake. The first ski using the classic style each year feels awkward for the first few kilometers. The subtle combination of motion and balance just don't happen right away. The muscles that are sore after the first ski aren't the major leg muscles but the stabilizer muscles in the legs and torso. Those are the muscles that work the hardest until the hang is re-gotten.

In spite of my lack of style, I was really enjoying the beautiful post-sunset light and the otter tracks that I soon encountered. The otters travel on the frozen lakes by running four or five quick jumps and then flopping on their bellies for an eight to ten foot slide. I began to wonder if the otters experience the same annual learning curve that I do as they return to their winter style of travel.

From there, my mind turned to slush - the slush that forms on top of ice that can make winter travel in the BWCA Wilderness difficult. I wondered if the otters are bothered by the slush? Just as I was pondering the otter's state of mind, I noticed that the tracks I was following suddenly turned off the lake up onto the shore. I skied past, wondering why, when I skied right into a large patch of slush. Smart otter.

My style deteriorated even more now that each ski weighed a few pounds more and the bottoms were covered with a layer of ice. After crossing the lake, I angled south and encountered a crisp set of very fresh wolf tracks. I followed the wolf's route south and noticed that the wolf also avoided the occasional slush patches. As the day turned to full night, I could only see the tracks for about ten feet ahead. A rock loomed out of the dimness and looked just like a wolf curled up in the snow. Finally, the wolf and I ran out of lake. The wolf headed up into the woods and I turned up the canoe landing and headed home. - Bill

11/30/09 - Over the Thanksgiving weekend, Adam Hansen came home for some turkey and grouse hunting. We spent quite a few hours hiking the back roads around Sawbill and had a wonderful time without appreciably decreasing the grouse population. We did throw a good scare into a few. Although we didn't find many grouse, the pictures below show a few of the cool things that we did find. - Bill

Adam found this elaborate lean-to at a campsite near the Temperance River. Someone clearly had a lot of time on their hands.

This ice coated beaver dam on the upper Temperance River was a delightful discovery. Just a few feet upstream were the ruined pilings of and early 20th century logging railroad bridge. In the north country, the beavers win in the long haul.

This white pine was struck hard by lightning recently, gouging out this impressive splinter. Twin scars spun in a helix to the very top of the tree.

Current Sawbill Newsletter | « November 2009 | January 2010 »

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