The drive to a recent gals’ winter weekend getaway was so filled with adventure we needed nothing more, but Mt. Chase Lodge was up to the challenge.
At Shin Pond we turned onto a half-mile of snow-covered driveway flanked by six-foot snowbanks. I had been snow-starved, so was a bit over-excited to be deep in it. We stopped the car, rolled down the windows, and listened. Water was tumbling down the stream from Upper Shin Pond to Lower Shin Pond. Yes, that was a woodpecker and in the distance a raven. A slight wind knocked snow off a spruce branch, and it fell with a heavy thud. We put the car back in gear and left our world behind.
The lodge door was edged with snowshoes jammed into the snow, and snowmobiles were patiently waiting by the entry like horses outside a bar in a western. Mt. Chase Lodge is a sporting lodge—big, warm, and casual. The open main room has golden pine board walls, a granite fireplace, and groupings of comfortable chairs and sofas.
Mark, one of the owners, was kneading bread. His wife Lindsey was busy with their new baby Walter, all of seven weeks old, and would check us in later. We read the evening meal on the chalkboard: Salmon with maple teriyaki, roast asparagus, herbed rice, and panna cotta for dessert. There was a small but well-chosen wine list, a coffee nook with hot coffee and tea water all day, and a snowy world waiting for exploration. Women’s weekend ahead!
Mark showed us to our room with a window overlooking the pond. It faces due east–the sunrise would be our wake-up call. We geared up and went out for a walk before dinner. Yellow birch were everywhere. We pulled out our hand lenses, and peered at the seeds. We collected willow pinecone galls. We waved at snowmobilers. We ID’d aspen and maples, and trudged till we were ready for that salmon.
Dinner at Mt. Chase is served at a long table with everyone together. This is my favorite way of eating. I have a twelve-foot long table in my yard and love it filled with friends, family and strangers. The Mt. Chase women’s weekend wisely mixed us with other guests. A gal’s weekend has a lot to do with dynamics, and Becky and I are both schmoozers. We love meeting new people, love hearing their stories, and every meal brought us new and entertaining dining companions.
Our first night we stayed up too late with two couples. One woman ran a school bus business, the other had recently retired at age 47 from a college administrative career after 30 years. Yes, she started working for the university at 17. Not sure what their husbands did, they actually did not say much, but there was a lot of girl juju in the air, and they respectfully listened.
My eyes opened at 5:30am, before full light, and I snowshoed to an arched bridge that led to what looked like a fairy-tale cottage shrouded in snow. I stopped by the stream to snoga, that’s yoga in the snow, and Mrs. Peel, my snowsuit, kept the snow out when doing cobra pose. I arrived back at the lodge for breakfast. Marianne was our guide for the weekend and after perfect bacon, cantaloupe and blueberries, crazy-good toast, and eggs straight from a farm, she helped my friend Becky get a fishing license online, because we were about to go to go ice-fishing.
Ice-fishing is not new to me, but it was for Becky, and I really wanted her to catch a fish. But, as our Tim our guide reminded us, it is called fishing, not catching.
The ice was thick, about 40 inches. The auger engine was kissing the surface of the pond before it broke into water. I scooped the slush out, and scooped up a smelt. First fish! In its honor I stuck it on a jig pole and jigged. I did not catch anything on it, but it gave me something to do. Marianne pointed out the sucker hole, and always a sucker, I asked what that was. “It is a tiny patch of blue suckers believe will turn into a blue sky,” she laughed.
Johnny came up on his snowmobile to bring us live bait, and the game was on. We reset all our traps, using new-found knowledge about depth and how far off the bottom to keep the bait. He also brought us blackberry brandy, a tradition handed down from his father. Eleven am, and it seemed like just the right thing to do. We toasted Jim’s dad, decided fishing was every bit as much fun as catching, and headed back to camp, reminding Jim and Tim we wanted a fish from our hole.
Ginger squash soup, turkey sandwiches on yet more amazing bread, and the rest of the women’s weekend arrived with a whirlwind of new energy–four gal friends who had just spent five hours in the car together talking non-stop joined us.
Introductions included things like, “She is my ex-husband’s brother’s ex-wife.” I glazed and passed the butter.
After lunch we all snowshoed across the bridge on the Carl Springhorn Trail. He was an artist, 1950’s, who painted simple powerful landscapes I loved and strange muscular people I am not so sure about. We passed what I had been guessing was his cottage, but was instead a massive glacial erratic topped with snow. The four ladies formed and reformed mini-groups. They were all loving being away from whatever they had back home. They talked kids, exes, and jobs. One said she was a trophy wife, but had moved on, and in a twist mentioned she was also an organic farmer. We were an odd mix, but companionable. We did some botonizing, but mostly just shared a lot of “Oh, look at that!” exclamations about views and cool ice patterns.
After two hours of fairly deep snow with Marianne kindly breaking trail we crossed frozen Upper Shin Pond, then followed electric lines back to the lodge where I found a fish waiting for me. It was a firm and fresh fifteen-inch brook trout from one of the holes Becky and I had been fishing.
Another women’s weekend skill–I learned how to clean a fish. This is one of those things my husband prefers to do, but it was time for me to learn, too. Lindsey stood by my side and stepped me through cleaning the trout, which I keep wanting to call my trout, though it wasn’t. I made a bit of a mess with some bones, but not so bad we couldn’t eat it.
Dinner again! Mt. Chase Lodge is rightly proud of the meals they serve, and life seems to revolve around food. Saturday night it was greens with blueberry vinaigrette, rich creamy lasagna with local sausage, and insane peanut butter chocolate mousse pie. And wine.
A couple from Brooklyn, New York were preparing for a camp-to-camp ski, a guy and his sons were on a long-distance snowmobile ride, another fellow was here to fish. We talked foraging, moose-watching, and fishing, then faded away to sleep.
Dawn! I crept out to snoga by the stream, then sat by the fire in the lodge and read till breakfast. Snowmobiling ahead. My husband and I have a snowmobile, but we are not trail riders. It is simply the only way to get to camp, or other destinations not accessible by road. I am always the passenger–it was time for me to learn to be in charge.
Helmets and machines were provided as part of the weekend, and instructions were pretty simple. Turns out driving a wide, groomed, trail is pretty simple, too. Les our awesome leader set a calm pace, which picked up as the day went on. We stayed on open tracks, and the first twenty minutes were spent concentrating on keeping out of the woods and trying to get an even pace, not alternately accelerating then slowing, which was absurdly reminding me of how my mother used to drive a car.
After an hour I switched to riding and contrary to my expectations, I preferred it. Now I could see bird’s nests and views–when driving I had to focus on the track in front of me. My driver, alpha girl B of the girl’s group, really knew how to drive. We were behind the self-professed adrenaline junkie, who was following our leader. The speed was going up, but was my driver was so competent fear was not an issue. We stayed on the close tails of Les and the adrenalin junkie (AJ) as we curved and banked through the woods. Then when we hit an open flat and they pulled ahead. My driver calmly watched the distance widen, then opened it up and we roared back up to them. We all stopped and waited for everyone else. Les was laughing, “I couldn’t shake her,” he said of AJ. “Every time I looked in my mirror, there she was.” My trusty driver said we had gone 65 miles an hour. I am not an adrenalin junkie, but it was fun.
Snowmobile novices, we had driven or ridden for hours. It was now within our comfort zone. Different women than when we started out, we rode sedately back to the village.
Back at camp nachos, tuna sandwiches, and a lightly-seasoned, flash-cooked, moist fifteen-inch brook trout with crackers and horseradish cream were waiting.
We learned, we schmoozed, we overcame fears, and boy did we eat. It was time to go, so we made flurried goodbyes and hit the road. Thank you Mt. Chase Lodge for making winter even better.
Plan your own Mt. Chase getaway—
Snowmobile rentals at Upper Shin Pond Village