The Short Solo: Wood Lake, September 19-21, 2014

Introduction

The short solo has become a way for me to get out on the water when timing is limited. With a business trip that I had to make to International Falls, it was a perfect excuse to put the boat on the rack and head into a rumored walleye lake with a single, long portage to reach. Wood lake is typically a busy entry for nearby lodge-day-visitors and the avid angler who is looking for a quicker way into plentiful and vast Basswood Lake.

Day 1: Drive to International Falls and the Return to Ely, September 19th

My original intention was to drive north to International Falls, MN, spend the night and return the next day. However, travelling past Ely and the western edge of BWCA’s Crane Lake by the quiet rural town of Cook and the scenic village of Orr was too tempting not to stop at Ely on my way south. With this game plan in mind, I left the Twin Cities early that morning around 6AM and began the long trek north. By about 3PM, I found myself racing south along Highway 53 back to Ely. I arrived in Ely around 4:45PM just in time to visit Piragis and pick up a permit before they closed for the day. Racing against the quickly falling twilight, I headed east out of town on the Fernberg Road to the Wood Lake parking area and portage which I arrived at around 6PM.

Wood Lake, BWCA Parking Lot and Portage by TMI. All rights reserved

  Wood Lake, BWCA Parking Lot and Portage by TMI. All rights reserved

I quickly changed, pulled out my gear, and unstrapped my Champlain from the top of  my Matrix and started trudging down the 180-rod portage to Wood lake put-in. The  portage trail itself is well worn and winds through the woods with a gentle descent down  to the creek and canoe put-in. A couple of minutes down the trail, I crossed a well-  constructed wooden bridge and continued down the trail until a final left turn and  descent of perhaps 20 feet down to the creek. Returning for my portage pack about 20- 30 minutes later, twilight was quickly falling on the trail and woods of the portage. I  reached the swamp creek put-in with the chained power boats stashed to the right of the  portage.

Losing the light, I quickly loaded my boat and pushed off into the creek. Paddling hard  up the creek and through reeds, the evening was eerily still. Darkness fell quickly and at  8PM, I was paddling in darkness up the southwestern edge of Wood Lake searching  desperately for one of two campsites I knew were there.

Wooden bridge on 180-rod portage into Wood. By TMI, all rights reserved

Wooden bridge on 180-rod portage into Wood. By TMI, all rights reserved

 

At this point, I ran out of daylight as the moon was behind overcast skies and I had forgotten to dig out a headlamp in my panic to get out on the water. Finally I found  a high, rocky ridge that sloped impossibly down to the water on the western shoreline and pulled over to a small half-moon sandy take-out about 20 feet (6 meters) wide. Luckily it was just large enough for my boat and hauled my gear and canoe onto shore and frantically threw up my tent in darkness. My site was less than desirable. I was pitched a bit precariously under the branches of a tall, spreading hemlock on a sloping hill on the only grassy patch under the massive rock face. I clambered in for the night vowing to find a better site the next day.

My reward for working in the dark was the excited chorus of yipping, howling and barking of a nearby wolf pack at 9:35PM while I sat in my tent, headlamp beaming over my scattered gear in my slanted haven. The wild serenade was unbelievably beautiful and long; lasting perhaps 5 to 10 minutes until fading away into the darkness to the northeast. I drifted off finally, strangely content in surroundings.

Day 2: Dawning a New Day and Search for Another Campsite, September 20th

The next morning was overcast and gray and I awoke from a restless night. A very cantankerous beaver tail-slapped all evening just off my site to display an obvious displeasure with my presence in his territory. Taking the hint, I packed quickly, skipped breakfast, and threaded up my rods before pushing off in search of a better place to spend the next night.

Western shore of Wood Lake bivvy site. By TMI. All rights reserved.

Western shore of Wood Lake bivvy site. By TMI. All rights reserved.

As luck would have it, a better campsite was just around the corner and across a small  bay. This was a gloriously calm almost wind-less morning which made for a pleasant  slow paddle up the western shore. Shielded from the sun, I explored the bays of this  shore.

As I slowly trolled a tiger perch hardbait, a couple of pike struck hard at my lure. I kept  a 22″ pike for a solid shore lunch later, not daring to tempt the finicky conditions of that  mid-September can often deliver. A second pike struck and I released this 20+inch pike,  happy with my good fortune and calculating that one pike was enough work to filet even  if it was going to provide a lighter meal.  As I slowly set out once again, another bend of  my rod informed me that something else was taking my popular bait choice. At the end  of my line was a good sized bronze-gold 20″ walleye that weighed in at a healthy 2.6lbs.  This was a personal best for me which is some indication of how far I’ve come in fishing  exploits and how far I still have to go!

Here are the mandatory pictures (more for me than anyone else 🙂 of my morning’s work:

The Pike and Walleye from Wood Lake. By TMI. All rights reserved.

The Pike and Walleye from Wood Lake. By TMI. All rights reserved.

Shorelunch of Pike and Walleye on Wood. By TMI. All rights reserved

Shorelunch of Pike and Walleye on Wood. By TMI. All rights reserved

My rumbling stomach reminded me that I had yet to have breakfast. I turned my boat eastward to head up the channel that leads to the northern end of the lake. Two very nice campsites were nestled up there and if I was lucky, at least one would be open and the feast would begin. Before leaving the southern end of the lake, I took a photo  this lovely end and the ruggedly beautiful shorelines:

Rugged shoreline in the southern half of   Wood Lake. By TMI all rights reserved.

Rugged shoreline in the southern half of Wood Lake. By TMI all rights reserved.

Making for the northern half of the lake, I crossed a narrow east-west channel. A nice site sitting on a short grassy rise surrounded by trees was taken by a party of three. I turned the corner to my left and paddled into the northern section of the lake hoping for the last site to be open. Paddling around a rocky peninsula I was greatly disappointed to find a tent, green canoe and tarp. The site was taken. Bummer! I would be paddling back to one of the sites at the southern site. Just as I was about to turn around, a fit backwoodsman strolled out onto the peninsula and asked me my “screen name”.

He had seen my Flying Moose decal on my bow indicating my membership in the BWCA forum and he generously invited me to join him as he was at the end of his weeklong solo and had plenty of room. Twobygreencanoe had set up there about 5 days prior with his dog Ely, a spirited 9 year-old Springer Spaniel that loved to canoe camp as much as he did. I was beginning to think that this trip should be named “Lucky” as several times I had been saved from difficulty if not disaster. Bivvy site. Fish. Camp site. New acquaintance. Here’s the site pictures and the bay in front of us:

The Camp 1151 on Wood Lake. By TMI. All rights reserved.

The Camp 1151 on Wood Lake. By TMI. All rights reserved.

Site setup on Camp 1151 Wood Lake. By TMI. All rights reserved.

Site setup on Camp 1151 Wood Lake. By TMI. All rights reserved.

Here also is a bear-hanging rope   technique that I was (and still am perfecting) with sailing block pulleys:

Bear Rope Hanging technique. By TMI. All rights reserved

Bear Rope Hanging technique. By TMI. All rights reserved

Triple Pulley technique. Wood Lake. By TMI. All rights reserved.

Triple Pulley technique. Wood Lake. By TMI. All rights reserved.

A special note on this as there are seemingly two camps (no  pun intended) or schools-of-thought on whether to hang  your food or not. BWCA rules require all food to be hoisted  sufficiently above ground (12 – 15 feet up and at least 6 feet  or so horizontally from the nearest branch). The second  strategy is alternately referred to as the “stash-ers” or the “hide-ers” which usually involves a blue food barrel, air-tight lid and a secluded location. I won’t delve into that debate as there are  plenty of discussions on several canoeing forums as to pros and cons. This is my engineered solution that I have borrowed from those who have far more experience and expert advice at this than I do. I can only say that with this mechanical advantage-pulley-system, heavy loads go up with a minimum of struggle now!

Twobygreencanoe and I fished the rest of the day heading into different areas of Wood Lake in the northen end. I fished closer to the portage with only a smallmouth strike that spit out my lure almost immediately. When we returned to the site later in the day, we settled in, chatted about our previously unknown shared acquaintances and connections. We retold stories of various routes, mishaps and adventures that we each had experienced on other trips and enjoyed the spacious site and beauty of Wood. Our day wound down as the temperature dipped in the evening into the upper 30s with a good, cheery fire to warm up by and enjoy the evening with pleasant conversation.

Reflection on Wood Lake. by TMI. All rights reserved.

Reflection on Wood Lake. by TMI. All rights reserved.

I privately reflected upon my good fortune to find a generous soul willing to share a site and the serendipity of companionship which lessened the loneliness one can feel on these solitary adventures. Finally around 9PM or so, we both turned in to our respective tents for a good night’s sleep.

Day 3: The Early Paddle Out

I never have a lot to say or write about my last day in as I’m coming out. Thoughts turn to home, a good cup of coffee for the drive, clean clothes and the comforts of civilization. I bid Twobygreencanoe goodbye as I got up and packed early. I had promised my wife to get back that day by early afternoon to pick up our daughter at her elementary school and I knew I had to hustle it up to make it. Shoving off around 7:30AM after a good breakfast of oatmeal, fruit and hot, steaming coffee, I felt ready to tackle the day and the 180-rod portage back to the lot and my waiting car.

I was able to get a better view and appreciation of the layout of the lake as I headed south. As I headed past my old bivvy site, a large bald eagle soared over my head, greeting me and bidding me goodbye at the same time. Three large white swans were also enjoying a morning paddle on a swampy backwater bay to my left. I took a few more photos as I re-entered the creek and swamp area on my way to the portage:

Paddling through swamp to Wood Lake Takeout. By TMI. All rights reserved.

Paddling through swamp to Wood Lake Takeout. By TMI. All rights reserved.

Wood Lake Portage to Parking Lot. By TMI. All rights reserved.

Wood Lake Portage to Parking Lot. By TMI. All rights reserved.

 

After an uneventful double portage, my usual, I found myself back at the parking lot and loading my gear. The wind was picking up a bit but the day was clear and sunny, warming up nicely. Driving off, I made a mental note to revisit this gem of a lake again with my family in tow next season. Here’s a final shot of the message board at the portage trail/parking lot for Wood Lake:

 

 

Put out your campfire. Cold-to-the-touch. By TMI. All rights reserved

Put out your campfire. Cold-to-the-touch. By TMI. All rights reserved

 

 

 

End of Summer Stillness: Horse Lake on Labor Day, August 30-Sept 1, 2014

Introduction: Our last family paddle of the year was to enter Mudro Lake via pretty, winding Picket creek where moose sightings are not uncommon. With short paddles through a lovely chain of 3 lakes and relatively short, easy-to-moderate portages, our intention was to make beautiful Horse Lake and base-camp for a couple nights before beginning the familiar autumnal grind of school, work and urban life.

26 rod Put-in at Mudro onto Picket Creek

26 rod Put-in at Mudro onto Picket Creek

Day 1: August 30th The first day is really never the day that we put in. The packing starts earlier in the week with gear being pulled from every corner, food lists drawn up and gathering stove parts and kitchen utensils for the excursion. Stuff sacks are then crammed with clothes, equipment and “stuff” before loading everything into our car and driving off. On Friday, we finally left the urban environs at about midday under partly cloudy skies to head north from Minneapolis. Arriving in Ely around dinner time, we picked up our permit at VNO and headed up the Echo Trail to bed down at the lovely, secluded NFS Fenske Lake campground before nightfall. Next morning a brief spit of rain rolled through but we soldiered on with breakfast and packing. Finally around 10AM we were ready for the trek by car up the forest service gravel road which starts out as Grassy Lake road just north of Fenske.

Mud and Poling. The put-in at Mudro is typically an easy affair even though Picket creek rarely has sufficient water levels to float a canoe from the parking lot. The trail is only a 26-rod flat, sand-and-dirt trail that is well used, terminating at a sandy beach on the creek. We soon encountered the typically low water levels on Picket Creek, dodging exposed rocks and then poling our way to a well-developed beaver dam and our first lift-over. Boot-sucking mud awaited our first liftover as we unloaded our boat and slipped and slid over the wall of pointed sticks, mud, and twigs. Some of us went in up to our knees!  Another 20 minutes of paddling, poling and rock-dodging allowed us to reach the entrance to Mudro Lake but only after lining our boat through two sections of, rocky, necked-down stream with large exposed boulders. The beaver had done its work well–only last fall the creek entry was a piece of cake taking only about 20 minutes. This time we spent the better part of an hour navigating Picket creek before actually paddling into Mudro Lake.

Finally Paddling.  Despite its popularity and heavy use, Mudro Lake has become one of my favorite little lakes with high forested ridges and rocky shorelines. Running west-to-east, we made good time paddling the 20 or 30 minutes across this small lake. There was just a hint of fall colors peeking out as evidenced by the the pale yellow birch and a red maple or two dotting shorelines. We landed and unloaded at the east-end of the lake to cross the 85-rod portage, our first of the day. This portage starts out fairly smooth and flat for the first 10 rods or so, then climbs gently to a flat trail that then descends steeply over a rocky, slippery trail for remaining 50 or 60 rods finally dropping down about 65 feet in elevation to the finger-like Sandpit Lake. This lake offers a bifurcating route option at the east-end of the lake. A southeastern exit will take you down a constricted stream and two short portages to Jackfish Bay of expansive Basswood lake. Our route was the northeastern trail consisting of a 160-rod trail to Tin Can Mike Lake. This flat trail is a former rail line, a vestige of the old logging area. With it’s flat, relatively dry walk, the trail ends in a nicely constructed boardwalk for the final 20 or 30 rods that delivers you to a smooth rock outcropping and a sandy put-in. The portage into Tin Can is quite possibly the easiest 1/2 mile portage I’ve ever walked. Our route then swung north on Tin Can Mike, the third pretty lake in the chain that leads to Horse Lake. Two families were already encamped as we paddled by, one on the west shore on a rocky outcropping in what looked like a wonderful site and the other on the eastern shoreline, nestled in the woods. At the northern end of the lake, we located our last portage of the day, a gently-rising and then descending 90-rod entry into picturesque Horse.

Setting Camp.Our little ones chose our campsite by the Horse River which may have been the first time they have ever opted to paddle farther in search of a base-camp than their parents! We were not disappointed by their choice!

 

Our basecamp on Horse!

Our basecamp on Horse!

  We finished the day setting up camp, preparing dinner, erecting our tent and tarp and hanging our food bags with our new 3-pulley system.

Our dependable silnylon tarp at our Horse basecamp

Our dependable silnylon tarp at our Horse basecamp

Not too be forgotten, my children played as only they know how, making the site their own. One of their favorite past times involves the construction of fairy houses to attract the wee little magical

Leah's fairy house on Horse Lake

Leah’s fairy house on Horse Lake

creatures to enchant our surroundings.

Leah setting a few last twigs on the fairy house

Leah setting a few last twigs on the fairy house

This trip was no different!

   My last hours of dusk and twilight were spent trying out the fishing in front of the campsite although small walleye were all I was rewarded with (and a few lost jigs!). Casting in the dark is a skill I have yet to master but the water was still, the moon was on the rise, and my wife Thea was playing cribbage with our kids which I had just taught them before the trip. I reveled in the perfection of the evening as I packed up my gear in the dark and headed for our tent.

Nice firepits are hard to come by at some sites

Nice firepits are hard to come by at some sites

The 3-pulley bear hang

The 3-pulley bear hang

    Day 2 Highlights: At 4:38 AM the next morning, in the gray of early twilight, I was awakened in the tent by something that I haven’t heard since we all camped together on Lost Bay Island in Voyageur National Park. A wolf pack was howling in perfect call-and-answer in the woods very near our site. They were at once close and far away apparently relocating each other after the night’s hunt in our vicinity of the Horse River. I woke my wife Thea but couldn’t rouse either my son Ethan or daughter Leah who were both sound asleep. We listened breathlessly though for 5 to 10 minutes before it faded. I awoke again about 30 or 40 minutes later to hear a repeat performance by the pack, yipping and yelping as though chasing each other through the forests. Awe-inspiring was the only word that aptly described the experience.

Early Morning Fishing. This was sufficient motivation to string up my lines, grab the boat at 6 AM and slip out in the canoe while the waters were still calm and the morning early. I had read a fair amount of fishing reports and knew the lake contours fairly well so I considered a route up the eastern shoreline trolling hard plastics as search lures in about 10 to 15 feet of water. Walleyes had been holding in shallower waters in most lakes that I had been on this summer and I took a chance that it would still be the case. Northern Horse was quiet and cool and I paddled slowly enjoying the moment. At the far northern end I found the island campsite and the shoreline site directly across, occupied by one group. I made a lazy circuit behind the island and headed south back home empty handed to this point. Rounding the island my line of my deep crankbait went tight and I eventually landed a 25 1/2 inch pike. Paddling a bit further around the island heading again for the eastern shoreline I reeled in a small walleye that was probably around 6-8 inches. I released him to grow bigger for next year and paddled happily home, assured of fillets for dinner that evening!

Arriving back in camp, my family was slowly stirring. We dropped the food bags from their perch and prepped a huge feast of bacon, eggs, cheese and wrapped tortillas. A 1.5 Litter carafe of coffee hit the spot for the adults and we began planning our day’s excursion before the winds could come up.

Beached. Two hours later we were finally on the water paddling back south past the Horse River to the peninsula beach site that had been decommissioned some time ago by the USFS. It was a lovely spot and lunched, our little ones played in the sand and we explored the “island” as the spot had that secluded feeling that the place was all to our own.

Crossed Swords on Horse Lake beach site

Crossed Swords on Horse Lake beach site

 

Ethan and Leah on Horse  Lake sandy beach

Ethan and Leah on Horse Lake sandy beach

With the wind picking up a bit and needed to reload our water bladders for filtering, Thea and I decided to head straight across the lake to the western shore where a deep 30 foot hole was supposed to exist and the promise of some good jigging. As we paddled across my deep diver hardbait went taught. I tried to reel in but a good wind gust hit us and we swung broadside to the waves and nearly tipped! Abandoning the potential catch we paddled furiously for the leeward side of an island and sanctity. Dark and grey clouds were now building around the lake particularly from the south. Time to head back to pick up our kids, pack and head back to camp. Rain was likely on the way.

Fishing and Full moon poetry. Rain held off and we set about tying down and buttoning up camp in case of a later deluge. Dinner consisted of our stash of fresh vegetables, dip, macaroni and cheese and pike fillets in cornbread meal grilled on our newest acquisition — a square griddle. Very tasty. My daughter has been deeply entranced by her first school project: a moon journal. After dinner she sat on a rocky outcropping and wrote a poem to the moon as it slowly rose in a clear blue twilight:

The Beautiful moon

why Do you shine so Bright?

you are amazing.

Yellow moon

Glowing over me

We capped the evening with a bit of topwater fishing in the bay south of our site. Leah was getting quite proficient with a 3 inch bullfrog popper when…a large strike hit her lure! …But the fish disappeared into the depths and we ran out time to coax it back before night fell. Time to brush teeth. Read a story. Lights out. Tomorrow would be packing-n-moving day.

View south from eastern shore above Horse River

View south from eastern shore above Horse River

Day 3: Pack-Up and travel day in the rain and sunshine. Early morning meant a quick round of coffee for the adults, pop-tarts and pancakes topped with maple syrup. My own concoction was a pancake with crushed walnuts, yoghurt, raisins and chopped apples. A feast! Packing quickly in our family means getting away in 2 hours. We made our estimate, pushing away under a misty, grey sky heading south. Sheets of light rain greeted our arrival back at the first portage from Horse into Tin Can Mike. The 90-rod trudge was fairly easy and sunshine greeted us on the other side. A quick put-in and we were greeted by a flotilla of 6 canoes heading in our direction. Dodging the “newcomers” we made for the southern end of the lake and our flat, 160-rodder. A trio of loons guided us and my daughter perfected her loon calls….and answers :). At the end of the next portage, another tandem of gentlemen greeted us as they were heading into Basswood Falls for a week-long adventure. Exchanging news in the time-honored fashion, we loaded and shoved off paddling vigorously for our final test, the 85-rod uphill climb that would lead us to Mudro and home!

Last Portage. That last portage is muddy on this side of Sandpit and the climb back up the hill is a thigh-burner but we made it with energy to spare…and were greeted by….yes….another group of 4 paddlers making for Horse. It’s definitely time to go home! We paused once on Mudro, gliding silently as we pointed out to the kids to “snapshot” this lake into their memories for retrieval during the upcoming long winter nights. Then, with heavy sighs, we paddled into Picket creek to do battle with the rocks, the poling through swamp grass and low water ( I had to get out to lighten the canoe at one point) and then the heave ho over the new beaver dam construction. A few more minutes of struggle afterwards and we landed on the beach at the take-out, exhausted but glad to be back. A quick pack-up of the car and loading of the canoe was needed as the heavens opened again on us before we began the long return journey home. Pausing briefly at the intersection of the Echo Trail and Grassy Lake Rd. we inhaled the stillness one last time, then turned and headed south. Heading home.

Serenity: Little Indian Sioux River North to Loon Lake, May 23, 2014

Our first family trip of the year over Memorial Day to Loon Lake seemed like the perfect adventure to kickoff what would become a wonderful summer of backwoods adventures. Loon provides access to the Canadian border, expansive Lac La Croix and Crooked Lake further southwest. It also provides fertile boundary lake fishing excursions on both sides of the international border. Loon has nestled bays and dotted islands that offer a deep serenity as the sun sets and waters calm for wildlife viewing, fishing and peacefulness reminding you must slow down and experience nature.

Canoe: Wenonah Champlain
Portages: 3 or 4 (longest 120 rods)
Total Miles: 12-16 miles round trip

Day 1: Trip to Lake Jeannette campground
We had a late start on Thursday evening from Minneapolis swinging by to pick up my wife Althea, finishing up her teaching day around 4:30PM. We rolled into Ely, MN about 4 ½ hours later as dusk was descending, picked up our permit at Voyageur North Outfitters and began climbing the Echo Trail. It was pitch black and near midnight as we found our site at quiet, secluded the USFS campground on Lake Jeannette. Our adventure was just beginning.

Ready to go to the put-in from Jennette

Ready to go to the put-in from Jennette

 

Lake Jennings campground boat ramp for a day's outing

Lake Jennings campground boat ramp for a day’s outing

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 2: Early Rise on Friday
Friday dawned bright and sunny with little to no winds. I hustled out of the tent to pull together a breakfast of oatmeal, pop-tarts, cereal, fruit, juice for our kids, Ethan and Leah and strong, steaming pot of black coffee for the adults. Packing and repacking our gear, we drove up to the LIS parking lot and began struggling all of our gear and the boat down the portage trail at the parking lot to the put-in at the base of the falls of Little Indian Sioux. High water greeted us as we shoved off and immediately stuck our boat fast on a submerged boulder that we would have otherwise seen if not for the turbid, brown rapids. Not a good start to the trip and it took some work to free ourselves and continue paddling down the river.

Neither Elm portage (35 rods) on the way to the twin Pauness lakes nor the 28 rod portage from Upper to Lower Pauness posed any particular difficulty. Both of our kids quickly shouldered their packs filled with sleeping bag, clothes and their day lunches over each trail noting wolf scat and fresh prints on the last portage into Lower Pauness. A quick snack then paddle and we landed at Devil’s Cascade portage (120 rods) for the climb to the top and steep descent to bypass the impress deep canyon and rapids below. We stopped at the summit on our last carry to admire the view and enjoy a picnic lunch before moving on.

Devil's cascade portage is done!

Devil’s cascade portage is done!

Several groups passed us on their way out. They were just completing an ambitious route from Loon looping back to the east and then south by southwest to the river after a successful walleye-fishing trip. We had high hopes for a 5-star campsite as we met another father-son tandem heading out. We circled the lake stopping at several sites with wide, flat grassy spaces for tents and well-developed fire rings but we couldn’t come to a consensus on which site to choose. On a good 4-star site situated on a peninsula looking south towards the river, we agreed to return to a high-cliff site across the bay. The sun was beginning to set. I hastily string up my rod and tied on a deep-diving Rapala as my wife and kids clambered into the canoe. My efforts were rewarded with two 20” northern pike for dinner that evening over our well-tended-fire.

Our campsite overlooking Loon from a high vantage point towards Canada

Our campsite overlooking Loon from a high vantage point towards Canada

Day 3: Ledge Top Paradise.
Isn’t it funny how a campsite can grow on you? This was not my first choice. This spot was situated on a high bluff overlooking Loon Lake and north into Canada. The evening before my son, Ethan was inexplicably drawn to it for some reason. Exhausted from our first day, we had all finally agreed to paddle back to it, eager to set up camp. The take-out was on a sandy beach now flooded with a steep 20 to 25-foot climb up a narrow path to excellent flat sites above with room for several tents. Towering pine and deciduous trees provided shade, great tie-off points for our tarp, bear-hanging rope and water. As I walked the site the next morning while my family slept, I began to appreciate its advantages while drinking in the beauty of the sunrise and the breathtaking view from our ledge-top paradise.

This was to be a leisurely day with no plans except to enjoy ourselves, the lake and maybe explore the area. After breakfast and camp chores we kicked around a couple of options for the day: Beatty portage to the north, an exploratory trip up the Loon River in the direction of Crane or East Loon Lake for fishing. We opted for East Loon with the winds picking up and driving 1-foot rollers across the lake.

East Loon is a quiet secluded lake that is separated from Loon by a shallow pinch of land. I trolled a line through here but by midday I was having little luck. Still hoping for lake trout, walleye or a bass, I kept the line in as we made a pass by several campsites to do our own mental inventory of each. The lunch spot for the day would be a campsite at the far north site at the top of the lake. What are remarkable about East Loon is its steep wooded, granite shorelines on its southern terminus that gradually give way to a northern end characterized shallow bays, swamp and reed grass. I am always amazed at how quickly the topography changes up here even on the same body of water.

Our lunch spot was one of the few dry places but its sloping grade to the waterline made it a less-than-desirable campsite. After a hearty lunch of cheese-and-crackers, sanwhiches, fruit and yoghurts, we had enough energy to fly!

Ethan Jump Loon Lake 53114

Ethan jumps for joy on East Loon, May 2015

It was however perfect if your goal was Slim Lake  the next day. The portage is a short distance down the eastern shoreline from this site.

Our paddle back to our basecamp was a bit more challenging. The wind had picked up, judging from the waves and was pushing 10 mph or so, according to the forecasts I had monitored the night before on my S.A.M.E weather radio.

East Loon campsite below narrows

East Loon campsite below narrows

 

Struggling our way back to the narrows we pulled over at a spacious, pine-needle covered site with a generous clearing and well-developed fire ring for a snack, some fishing and to let the winds abate. Finally agreeing to push on, we reloaded the canoe and shoved off into stiff headwinds. Crossing the bay to the southern shore to get some relief from the wind tunnel, I felt a tug on my line and reeled in a 12 inch pike which I released. Cruising back to our home base, I was rewarded for my persistence with one 22” northern. Disappointed with my lack of luck and skill, I was glad that we would enjoy one more fish dinner before packing up and heading home tomorrow.

That evening our kids played around the campsite, tempted back to the fire only by s’mores and hot chocolate. Watching the sun drop below the horizon we noted the lack of mosquitoes and insects. As the evening settled over us, fish were rising to snap up the meager hatching that were occurring. Tempted to grab my rod and head out, I opted for camp chores and tidying up for the next day’s pack-up. With protestations over teeth brushing and “last bathroom breaks”, my wife and I settled our little ones into the cozy Kelty Salida 4 tent to read stories we had brought along and slip off into a deep slumber.

Day 4: Sunny Day with a Small Surprise
A windless morning of glorious sunshine greeted us when we awoke. Our last breakfast in the backcountry was a feast of banana-cinnamon pancakes topped with maple syrup, scrambled eggs on the side. The last of the bacon was also devoured. No need to save it now. We would need the energy for the portages. A familiar whine startled us as tiny winged-insects fluttered up from the forest floor. Time to leave! After coffee and clean-up, we pushed off about 9:30 with still waters and building sunshine.

Our trip out was uneventful, greeting a few fellow paddlers also working their way towards the exit from Loon lake and the eventual portages. Two hours later after retracing our steps over the three portages we found ourselves at the falls and the last take-out. Happy exhaustion and one more punch of adrenaline carried us and our gear back to the parking lot and our car at midday. We spent an additional hour walking the trail back and forth from the lot to find an errant water bottle, missing glove, a nearly-forgotten paddle and tote bag.

Stowing the last of the camping detritus in our overhead Rocketbox, we clambered into our vehicle bound for cold drinks and hot sandwiches in Ely and back home to Minneapolis. Our summer has begun on a high note.