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.

 

The Unexpected: Ice-Out on Knife, May 10, 2014

Knife Ice-Out Solo Trip
Entry: Moose Lake to Quetico Park
Canoe: Wenonah Champlain
Dates: May 10- 14, 2014

Trip Introduction: A first solo trip up Moose and through Knife Lake into the Man Chain of lakes in Quetico can be a wonderful trip to begin a summer paddling season. Moose lake chain leading north up to Newfound and Sucker are beautiful lakes to experience early in the season as well as Knife. I had never seen the Man Chain of lakes in Quetico. Fellow paddlers’ tales of fishing exploits and 5-star camp sites had enticed me all winter. Tales of inviting, peaceful lakes with wonderful campsites and solitude seemed perfect.

Day 1, May 10th: Heading North
My decision to visit these lovely lakes in the BWCA and Quetico led me to contact Bob at LaTourell’s to book a tow up to Prairie Portage for May 11th. With the optimism that can only be borne from enduring a lengthy winter in anticipation of that first open-water paddle, I packed and headed north, ready for adventure.

Day 2, May 11th: Watching the Ice Melt – Moose Lake
There is a cascading flood of emotion after a long winter where doing activities associated with warmer climes and being outdoors becomes overwhelming. I arrived with those thoughts and feelings at the outfitter just before supper on Saturday with the anticipation on going in, by tow the next morning, early if possible.

Sunset over Moose Lake ice. By TMI. All rights.

Sunset over Moose Lake ice. By TMI. All rights.

The ice was pooling up and connecting into larger puddles when I arrived. Late Spring sun was providing scenic sunsets over the lake and retired to my cabin to sort my gear, study maps, and hope for the best in the morning.

Bunkhouse at LaTourell's: Waiting for Ice Out. TMI. All rights reserved.

Bunkhouse at LaTourell’s: Waiting for Ice Out. TMI. All rights reserved.

 

 

Day 3, May 12th: Punching Through to Knife Portages

My next morning dawned bright and sunny with clear water in the southern end of the lake but ice flows still visible further north. I checked with Bob and realized we would all need some patience to see if today was the day. Finally a little before noon, he started shifting boats and people around and gave me the sign to load my gear at the dock along with my boat. We were finally going up lake! Bob’s crew consisted of a husband-and-wife team (his daughter and son-in-law) who piled into the tow boat in gumboots and heavy jackets after loading my beastly portage pack (I over-packed as usual for my first trip) and carefully strapped my canoe onto the rails above.

We set out for what would be quite the adventure. The plan was to tow me up through Moose through the lovely chain of connecting lakes Newfound and Sucker all the way to Prairie Portage. They were opening up their cabins and operations at the portage on the US-side which gave me the chance to register for what I had hoped would be several nights on the Man Chains in Quetico as part of my shake-out trip.

What we knew was that several strata of popcorn ice sheets lay across Moose Lake, running east-to-west and that we could navigate around and through them to open water clear up to Prairie Portage. Forest Service had flown over the lakes early that morning and relayed the intel so off we went.Punch through ice on moose

What we didn’t know was that 2 large strata of this deteriorating ice had drifted south and were completely blocking our way! My team swung our towboat around the back side of the island (pictured above in middle photo) and we proceeded to punch our way through to the next width of open water. I breathed a sigh of relief but not for long. Blocked by yet another ice flow, our pilot swung the boat around behind an island on the western shore of Moose, hoping to find a passage north. I was beginning to feel like Henry Hudson searching for the great Northwest passage in the services of what would eventually become the Dutch West Indies Company.

Fortunately for me, I didn’t have to bail out and camp on Moose. We eventually picked, punched, poked and ran our boat through to open water at the northern end of Moose and were soon speeding up the lake to Sucker. As we dodged the pineBW Falls PP-studded islands of Sucker I knew I was on my way to Prairie Portage.

We carefully landed my boat and gear on the Canadian side of Basswood Falls which was roaring from melting Spring flows. I explored the rangers’ station which was still closed, self-registered and soon was off, paddling up narrow channels to Birch lake. More ice thwarted me at a couple of turns and I had to beach on one campsite to get a late breakfast and figure out a strategy but I was soon paddling again in the beautiful warm sunshine, wind-free to my first of 4 portages up the Knife river.

Ice on Birch

Ice on Birch

Finishing my last exhausting carry towards late afternoon, The Knife Portage, I shoved off against a strong current threatening to sweep me back over the rock-strewn rapids and riffle. As I paddled out into Knife Lake, I knew I needed a campsite and water soon to rehydrate. What I saw took my breath away. Out on the horizon a cluster of islands lay ahead surrounded by what appeared to be floating shelves of steely, dark-blue water. But something was wrong as the water did not undulate or stir and then I realized I was gazing out over a completely frozen Knife Lake. Yikes! Fortunately for me, a channel was opened to the one and only island with campsites through a torturous path of white and dark ice flows, studded with popcorn-like shards. Carefully navigating the frigid waters, I landed on Robbins, exhausted, thirsty, and famished. Making camp, I finished camp chores and took some photos before flopping in my tent for an early bed.

I was all alone in the BWCA and I had an entire lake to myself. At least for one night.

Day 4, May 13th: Icebound on Robbins
A gusting wind and blowing rain all night and a pitter-patter on the tent told me to stay inside my sleeping bag for a while. A rainy day and I was trapped by ice surrounding my island camp. I snoozed for an extra hour or two, woke, read, snooze more and tried to let my body recover from the first day. By mid-afternoon I finally braved the elements by climbing out of my tent.

The wind had partially blown the ice from in front of my site and I could begin to make out a path back down river to the portage. Making a quick pot of coffee, I sipped the hot elixir and nibbled some breakfast at 3 in the afternoon while monitoring ice movements out on the lake. Around 5 or so, another group of two tandems paddled up from the portage and grabbed the other site on the island. I could hear their laboring and clanking of paddles as the rain had picked up again.

I strung up a line and cast a few times off the island to test my luck but the dark water was too frigid for any fish to be active. Gathering my maps and checking my canoe and gear, I dove back into my tent for an early bedtime. Tomorrow might be better.

Day 5, May 14th: Windbound in Quetico
Too restless to remain, I packed up after breakfast this morning. Paddling away I was determined to make at least Crawford so that I could loop out through Quetico on my way home to Moose and my tow. I had given up on the Man Chain and Knife as I had lost any time advantage that I had gained. Noting the small patches of ice and snow in the bays, I found and tackled the portage to Crawford but checking my gear I realized that I was missing my MSR water filter bladder! I made this discovery after I landed, unpacked my boat and was ready to start loading up.

Forty-five hard-fought minutes later I was again back at my campsite to pick up the water bladder right where I had left it when I loaded my canoe. Now the rain had begun and I was getting cold. I launched but was quickly driven to the rocky shoreline on the island, only a few hundred yards up from where I had just departed. Cold driving rain and a bit of sleet.

Finally regaining the portage, I lugged first boat and then gear over the un-cleared portage which scales a 15ft rock face about 10 rods in and then descends down a muddy slope with plenty of bent poplars to hang up your canoe and grab at your pack. Arriving at Crawford around 11AM, the wind was now cranking in full force and piling up at my end of the lake. Putting in was a challenge and I soon found myself grabbing branches, hand over hand pulling myself and the boat forward through 15 – 20 mph winds with 25 – 30 mph gusts. I found the one and maybe only campsite and was able to spread out quite nicely on the pine-needle covered forest floor with towering pines swaying overhead. While I dried out gear, I cast a few times but my efforts yielded little. Sunset was a gorgeous array of reds and pinks and magically at 8PM exactly, the wind machine switched off and the winds skidded to a stop except for the occasional whisper.

Day 6, May 15th: Cold Rain, Snow, Hail, Sleet and Paddle Home
The next morning I rose around 5:30, fixed a cold breakfast and immediately packed and loaded to launch by 7AM. The winds had started to chug to life around 4:30AM that morning but I couldn’t climb out until later. Now I need to make a bit of effort to get down this condensed, scenic lake to the portage into Carp for my journey home. Winds posed a bit of problem for my Champlain and I had to trim it with a 50-gal. dry bag of water however I made the portage at the lip of the beaver dam and carried easily over to Carp on a well-used, mostly flat trail into a secluded bay.

Paddling south down Carp was scenic in its own right and the weather seemed to hold as I watched the pewter-grey skies. But my luck ran out as weather broke about mid-morning when I was halfway down the lake. Rain, then sleet, then snow and maybe a bit of hail changeover pelted me. After another hour or so of paddling I made the International Border and the body of water with a portage that wBirch putin next lakeould take me into Birch, heading further west to Indian Portage and the pathway into Moose. Wind was picking up out of the west but not as strong as yesterday. Bucking these headwinds I pushed into Birch staying to the southern shore. Finally close to noon, I spotted the little bay that shelters Indian Portage and I pushed hard to reach it. More paddlers, groups of as many as 8 were heading east into Knife, and it was time to leave.

My tow from LaTourell’s showed up a bit early with another crew to drop off. By 2PM I was loaded and heading south to Moose Lake, a shower, clean clothes and something hot to drink!

BWCA EP23: Mudro-Horse-Fourtown Loop, October 11-14th, 2013

EP23 MUDRO HORSE FOURTOWN loop

Overview: This trip was a last gasp of the summer canoe tripping through an entry point that I had never done.  Mudro (EP23) was enticing for the opportunity to get into both Horse and Fourtown for late season/early fall fishing, pilot a “parallel solo” opportunity with a fellow paddler, as well as a chance to experience a couple of lakes without mosquitoes and hordes of other canoeists!

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Day 1: Left Twin Cities at 4AM to meet up with another BWCA forum solo who was looking for one more trip into the same lakes before the season closed out. I arrived in Ely around 8:30 Friday morning and picked up a Le Tigre SR17 from the good folks at Voyageur North outfitters and headed up to the EP at Mudro. Rolling into the parking lot I unloaded and trucked everything down the grassy banks passed a very low-flowing Picket Creek. John, my parallel solo partner arrived shortly after me and we were soon floating down the creek, rock-dodging.

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As the sunshine built over us, an eagle or two soared over us on the portage from Mudro to Sandpit. A good omen. With little wind we pushed on with easy paddling to find the well-disguised portage into Tin Can Mike, another short paddle and the quick, easy portage (stepping over the wolf scat) into Horse.

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Now the wind was coming up. We set our strategy for campsites and pushed up the west shoreline of Horse passed the river entry to Fourtown portage. Although not thrilled with our options for campsites, we stayed at campsite 1117 on the west shore because the winds had picked up and crossing Horse to the two sites on the opposite shore next to the Horse River was now, not an option.

The camp itself is okay with a  lot of space at the top of gently sloping rock face. The take out is a bit clumsy but if you paddle around to the backside of the site, the protected bay offers a couple of better options. Two tent pads are easily identifiable with a lower one on a grassy surface to the left of the fire pit and a second upper one situated on a half-dirt pack, half rock ledge but definitely pitch-able.

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I nestled my solo into the trees behind the upper tent pad in a stand of trees an grass in between a root or two but very comfortable. Tarp pitched in there as well although a bit awkward and tight.

Day 2: Early morning dawned grey and a stiff breeze. Fished the point to the west of the campsite and brought in a couple of 15 to 16 inch pike but nothing much else before breakfast. After a hot breakfast, we triaged our options with winds gusting 10 to 15mph by early morning and whitecaps building out on Horse.  We set out north from our camp for a windy island saddle up the west shore and then a series of back bays for our fishing. Not having much luck initially, the second bay up the west shore from our camp gave us a couple pike, a SM and a small walleye. Not much else seemed to  biting. John however brought in a decent sized pike (probably in the 18-20in range) which was the largest that either of us caught and a respectable SM which kept us entertained and enthusiastic to keep casting for a few more hours.  Rap 11cm brown/gold Husky Jerk, silver #5 Colorado-blade-spinners with black 1/4oz jigs, plastic leeches and fire tiger crank baits seemed to be the preference (although I had a sneaking suspicion that the pike I caught were just desperately hungry and sensed a long winter setting in!). About midafternoon, our own hunger was building and we decided to head back to camp for own hors d’oeuvres and dinners.  Just for fun I set up a deep tail dancer/inline sinker and trolled home for one last chance to reel in dinner.  As we rounded the last point on our way south, the southwesterly winds brought up a bit of squall and we fought our way back to our campsite in strong gusts and foot to foot-and-a-half breakers to make us earn dinner. When we finally landed, I reeled in a 13 or 14 inch pike from the troll that I was too busy to land with the frantic-wind-fighting tandem paddle that we needed to reach land! Setting in for the evening, we made dinner as misty rain moved up the lake from the south. We were in for a wet evening as we crawled into our respective solo (dry) tents.

Day 3: Next morning the winds had subsided, temps were slowly rising and the sun was rising bright orange over the ridge to the east. We set out for Fourtown portages just down the shoreline to the south and west. We had to extend the first portage an extra 30 rods or so as the beavers had been at work building up an 8 to 10 foot wall of mud, sticks & logs! Dropping in on somewhat steep rock face, we paddled out. But then we didn’t have to worry because we had to hop back out of our boats, albeit one-at-a-time at the next rocky, single-exit portage.

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Curious here why the portage was not cut on the reedy other bank which is flat and wooded but looks to be an easier passage. The put-in on the other side of this portage is an even steeper, sheer rock face which just makes dropping one’s canoe back in an isometric endurance test! Paddling onward we were out of our canoes in less than 30 seconds for the final 10 rod portage as the boulder field was impassable, even for attempting to line-a-canoe. By now, the rocky, steep put-in was expected.

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Dodging submerged rocks as we each shoved off in our turn, we paddled out again for a short arm-stretcher until we reached the final 5 rod-portage-through-your campsite before reaching Fourtown. There was sandy beach at the other end of this short portage which made this transition easier. Had a good chat with a fellow paddler from one of the 5-stars at the mouth of this entry to Fourtown who reported “not being able to buy a bite” the day before as they were fishing on Fourtown. I guess we were lucky.

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Saying goodbye to John, my parallel solo partner who was heading into Boot for a solo night, I turned south to troll my way down to the triple-portage into Mudro where I was spending my last night in.

There is not much to say that hasn’t probably already been said (or written) about the Fourtown portages.  They are rocky portages that I didn’t find particularly difficult – except for that first “10 rod” portage which is actually more like a 40 rod portage that is a sheer rock face to climb!

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However, I found the actual take-out from the north side and paddled back to it to portage my canoe (thankfully) and made it into the small unnamed beaver pond without a problem. Even dodged “Mr. Aggressive Beaver” cruising silently down to my end of the pond like a guided missile to check me out!

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My mantra on these portages was “keep your feet” because an ankle-turn on one of these would mean dropping your load with a  crash and crawling out! The next 140 rod portage was actually a lot easier than I was anticipating: a short “up” and the trail levels off pretty quickly — and then it was just a carry through the autumn leaves with the creek rushing down below me to my left. I had to break up the impromptu beaver damn of a few fresh logs that the industrious rodents has started at the end of this portage — so that I could line my canoe a few rods into a deeper, “floatable” part of the stream before paddling the ½ minute or so to the final 30 rod portage. More rocks. Rocks. Rocks. Rocks. Basketball sized. Broken. Uneven. Pulling out my gear, I hoisted my rented boat as carefully as I could over my head and threaded my way through the labyrinth of the boulder field for 30 rods to Mudro.

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Getting my gear loaded, I paddled the final 2 or 3 minutes to the one-and-only campsite on Mudro just to my left and around the bend from the put-in. Pretty site, fairly spacious with room for at least 2 and perhaps 3 tents and fairly well developed fire pit with a couple log seats. Nice bear hanging tree or two. With a cold night coming on, I quickly set up camp and made dinner. Being too tired to fish (is it possible?), I doused my abbreviated fire, hung my depleted food bag and dove into my bag as the temps dropped into the 30s.

Day 4: Beautiful sunny morning. Eschewing coffee and hot breakfast for a quick departure, I loaded and left thinking “ I bet the fishing this AM would be good after watching them rise late last night in the moonlight….” Oh well. A reason to return next Spring.

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A quick paddle found that the recent rains had risen Picket creek enough to effectively dodge submerged boulders and travel the length of the creek to the sandy beach takeout, shortening my final portage by about 20 or so rods.  A nice present for the end of the trip ( I hope the young couple heading in to Wheelbarrow portage with the wonderful, energetic husky had a great week on the water— I wanted to turn around and head right back in with them!).

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BWCA EP 16: Nina Moose to Agnes: A Family Excursion, August 30-Sept. 2, 2013

By Nandagikendan

Friday, August 30, 2013

Night before, we stopped at Kawishiwi Ranger station to pick up permit from the nice folks there. Beautiful late summer afternoon drive up the Echo Trail. Arrived at Jeanette USFS campground about 35 miles north of Ely on Echo Trail. Peaceful, bucolic, small campsite nestled at base of a very pretty lake. Lots of longer-term residents there enjoying the last of summer fishing and camp community. Probably 11 or so total sites? Beautiful cool evening with lots of stars. We all slept well. Crawled under my Matrix to retie a banging heat shield from driving through the construction on 169 and the Trail. Bail fail off one of my 3 reels in transit so the Gladding Southbend 725A reel had to stay in the car. Oh well, that leads to LESSON #1 of the trip: ALWAYS pack a back-up reel!
Jeanette, Lake

IMG00600-20130831-1030 sand bar moose river4

Saturday, August 31, 2013
— The PUT-IN.

Day dawned beautiful, cool, clear with only a few clouds and little to no wind at all. Great to take off. Up at 5:30 to make coffee. Quick breakfast and rousting of our two kids out of the tent. Finally packed and ready to go at 8:30AM (an early start for us!), reached trailhead at Moose River EP16 at 9. Unloaded and …disaster struck. After trucking the canoe down to the put-in and the family was in-process of staging the rest of the gear, I popped the watch pins out of my sport watch while struggling one of my packs (Lesson 2: Always put the watch in a pocket). Then the spine ripped out of my beloved, 25-year-old “recently repaired” Lowe Alpine internal-frame pack as I was gingerly struggling that one onto my back ( Lesson #3: ALWAYS bring a spare backpack. Luckily we had another large daypack and lots of 55L dry bags to shift gear around in.

Around 10:15AM, we finally shoved off down the river. Beautiful day! Immediately after the first 25 rod portage we found the impromptu sandbar portage of 3 rods which we “lifted over” and then walked the shallow rapids down about 20 yards. Then we came to what would be one of the 6 portages we did this day, another impromptu portage of about 10 rods around a set of half-submerged boulders in a 25 – 30 yard stretch of the stream (on the way back we artfully navigated through these – the hell with portaging that again!
96rod portage north take out nina moose river 45 rod portage north side falls take out nina moose river2 IMG00601-20130831-1048
Rest of the trip upriver was uneventfully beautiful. We lunched on “the beach” at the north end to the left of the Nina Moose river inlet. A thunderstorm was building to our south/southeast that my son was nervously tracking for us and he rightfully suggested that we take cover! So, we landed, ate, were rained on briefly and then reloaded to paddle on with sun already beating down on us again.

Couple of notes: Nina Moose and Moose Rivers were both a bit high due to recent rains making beaver dams easier to glide over. Also managed to turn my ankle over on the 45 rod portage. Not to worry as I have a habit of packing neoprene ankle braces for just such occasions (still smarted though!). Also want to TIP MY HAT to the young guide from Ely Outfitters and his companion for grabbing our last 3 bags on the 95-rod portage and giving us great advice on campsites and fishing on Agnes! I owe those gentlemen a beer or tow!

So we made it to campsite #1804 per BWCA map by 3:30PM (about a 5 ½ hr. journey with our half hour lunch break and rather lazy double portaging). This is a lovely 5-star on the east shoreline of upper Agnes. It’s located on a peninsula that juts out into the lake. Approaching from the south, the camp is the 3rd in a line going east along that peninsula shoreline.
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Storm from Hell: We set up camp, stowed gear and began making dinner while lightning, clouds and thunder built up in the west/southwest. There is no apt way to describe what hit us while we were under our cook tarp prepping dinner. Rain, wind gusts (25? 30? Mph), lightning bursts, ear-splitting thunder and zero visibility across the lake. When the winds picked up our canoe (stowed about 25 yds. on shore) and tossed it into the water, it was time to 1) frantically dash to grab and lash it to anything on shore with the errant mooring line flagging behind, 2) dash for the tent (God bless our Kelty Salida 4!) and 3) comfort our poor kids who were very brave but more than just a bit unnerved.
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A lesson or two I learned: ALWAYS tie down your boat, even on shore (came through with only a minor pin-prick puncture). Check your weather radio with “stuff” rolling in. NOAA wasn’t kidding about the “violent thunderstorm” that we heard after-the-fact”. We did however congratulate ourselves as a family on competently tying down our tent, tarp and stowing our gear (nothing was lost!) as well as planning on the correct foul weather clothing to pack and wear.
Tie down the Boat!

Sunday, September 01, 2013
– Dry out and Recover.

The rest of our trip in comparison is rather anti-climactic given what happened on the first day! We spent the morning hitting the reset button in camp. ). I started the day at 5:30 by doing a bit of jigging from shore, trying out the TGO, and flinging the husky-jerker into the saddle between us and the island across from the site. But no luck (think I caught a clam on the TGO-method!). Making coffee and exploring our camp, I found my socks on opposite sides of the site: one had been left on the line and remarkably had only blown around camp (and not out into the lake) and the other was near the fire pit. With a bit of misty rain and overcast in late afternoon, my wife suggested we catch some fish for dinner so we paddled out into the lake, scooped water for our gravity filter and then I plied the small bays with jigs, Mepps (little too mid-summer still for that) and the jerker. Having no luck, we skirted the rocky points with a #11 blue/silver deep shad rap. Bingo. Pulled up a 14” walleye that we released. Paddled north around other points into the north bays, crossed the lake to the west and came back the way we came. Rounding the final point in front of camp site 2 (1803), we picked up an 18 in pike. Not a stellar fishing outing by most standards but then again, we only fish for that “one fish” we need for our meal. So it’s usually a once-and-done adventure which is fine for us.

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Monday, September 02, 2013

Labor Day — Pancakes a plenty. Bacon. Fruit. Rivers of dark coffee (adults only ?). Packed up by 10:30AM which was also quick for our family. Sun peeking through this morning with water smooth as glass. An eagle on the rock across from our site where we left the pike carcass the day before. We can see the way out of the lake to the south peeking through the mist. A slow graceful paddle with lots of memories. The storm-of-the-century taking its place in our family’s shared legacy and dominating the conversations. Sun’s out, rivers are up. Break again at “the beach” on Nina Moose where we met a group of 3 canoes heading out after a long trip (in #14, LLC, out #16).
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Finding Nina Moose (river entry for Moose actually) by sight navigation a bit of a trick. Pushing a bit harder upstream to glide over beaver dams, we find the portages easier and quicker to navigate. Finally, we land at the 160-rod trailhead take out that I silently nickname the “160 rod Zen Walker Canoe Portage”. It’s 4:15PM. I find this portage easier to stroll up than it was to put-in. Happily fatigued and weary, we load up and drive down the Echo Trail to Ely for Chinese takeout in Ely is in order before the 4 ½ hr. drive back to the cities. Arriving home in SW Minneapolis at 11PM, everyone is toes-to-the-ceiling shortly thereafter.

EPILOGUE: In hindsight, it was a fantastic trip. Expectations were adjusted based on the energy level of the group, particularly the shorter ones. We knew going in that we would “get as far as we could get” and that “it would be beautiful” wherever we landed.

BWCA: Family Excursion on Lake One/Two, July 3-7, 2013

Family Canoe Excursion

Lakes One and Two
Wenonah Champlain 18′
Date: July 3-6th

Day One: July 3rd
Our family started this trip on July 3rd after camping at Split Rock with another family. We arrived in Ely and did some restocking before heading down to the ranger station, picking up the permit, having some lunch and heading down the Fernberg to the Lake One put-in. My wife met us at the EP30 put-in after finishing teaching down in the Twin Cities at about 2PM. It took us some time (about 2 hrs) to organize our gear after the camping and transition into the canoeing mode which in hindsight probably isn’t the best way to approach something like this — but then you work with the time you have off and this was the way it shook out.

We pushed off and floated away finally at about 4PM. Weather was good, still sunny, flies were manageable and water was calm. We found the first 19-rod portage to get into Lake One with little difficulty. However, the first portage into Confusion had some fairly vigorous rapids and strong current that you have to fight through. We were forewarned by another party of 3 canoeing families that the current “will push you right into the rocks/rock wall” and that you should “approach from the right bank (where the rock wall is). Good advice!

However, we approached that way and were pushed into the rock wall but then swamped a bit and backed off. Long story short, we paddled around the granite-faced corner of the ridge abutting the portage (opposite the 20r. portage into Kawishiwi) and dropped off my wife and two kids to bushwhack over to the portage trail while I attempted to get the canoe into the portage.
I approached the rapids this time from the left where there is ‘quiet water’ and turned quickly right to cross the rapids which are only about 10 feet or so wide, but strong — I was still pushed into the wall of rock but was light enough not to swamp and was then able to paddle myself into the portage trail.
My wife and kids made it through to the trail — a bit scratched up but happy! 🙂 After this portage trail, we pushed off and headed for the next portage which found quickly after winding our way through Confusion and finally arrived at Lake One. Loading up our gear, we recalculated our position with our maps and compass and shoved off.

I think Beymer describes Lake One as a confusion series of islands and channels that keep you referring back to your map and compass. We certainly had our challenges as we paddled out a bit too far south by southwest into the lake before heading east towards the next portage. Actually at this point we were tired, hungry and willing to settle for any open campsite. Landing the canoe on what we thought was the northern shoreline of Lake One and a promising campsite or two, turned out to be false alarms. Actually we were on the southern side of one of the two larger islands that block the view of the last three campsites on that shoreline on your way to the portage (first) into Lake Two. There was even a fire grate and ring (but no latrine) on one of the sites – must have been an old site. Turning the corner, we realized our error, shot a narrow channel between two islands and quickly found our cove campsite (#2).

Day Two: July 4th
Fourth of July: Our nation’s birthday. The day broke with plenty of early morning sun and calm winds. Enjoyed a leisurely breakfast of bacon, eggs and pancakes and plenty of coffee for the adults! Made plans to explore Lake Two while the weather held. View campsite from swim island Lake Two 713Around midday we made our way (it was truly a lazy day!) to the first and second portages into Lake Two. We decided to scout out a few recommended campsites for the next potential trip. Found a site about 2/3 of the way through Lake Two (inhabited) that was surrounded by the burn but had a wonderful stand of conifer and deciduous forest surrounding it. Swam and ate lunch at a little island just to the east of the campsite. Was able to do a bit of trolling with daredevil on the return journey just so I could claim it as a fishing excursion! No luck but then at about 3:30 or so in the mid-afternoon, my expectations were very low . View burn area south on Lake Two 713While we sorted out dinner, was able to start working the rocky structures in our cove with floating rap and then later with a jig, but still too early in the day. Dinner was great with a s’mores ending — always a great treat at the end of a day.

Day Three: July 5th
Got up early to give the fishing another try. Worked a ¼ oz jig again and landed a smallmouth which brought great excitement from our kids. Wind had been picking up and dropping down all night. Morning brought considerable breeziness, up to 10 with 15mph gusts. Oregon Scientific weather radio confirmed we were in for a bit of breezy day. Packed up the gear after a few excursions to fill the water gravity filter bags and get food set for the day’s excursion. We decided that it was a good day to stay on Lake One, find a place to swim and eat lunch close by to camp. So off we ventured, battling the wind and staying close to shorelines as we worked our way back to the portage out of Lake One. A little island haven with a wonderful campsite became our home for about two or three hours as jumped in to cool off, ate and joined the two families for another swim who were already camped on this deceptively, expansive little haven before heading back home to base camp. It was closer to 5PM when we made our back and the wind had died down considerably.

Day Four: The Pack-up and Journey Home

We decided on the return journey to go up Lake One arm all the way to the Kawishiwi Outfitters, do the “U-turn” down that pretty little narrow channel and cruise back into the Take out at EP31. A smarter choice for us! 🙂

There were some excellent camp sites on Lake One right next to the portage and also on a very small island directly in line of sight of portage off to the southeast — we stayed just a bit further on where there are the last three campsites on the north shore on the way to the portages for Lake Two (an excellent wooded, flat site with a rock wall at one end) by the way in a little protected cove and beautiful views out onto Lake One!