Day 1 of 27
Monday, September 17, 2018 The adventure begins... Got up at 6am, grabbed coffee and pastries in the lobby. Got loaded and we headed down the Echo trail to EP#16 Moose River north. My wife helped me carry my gear down the 160r portage, loaded my Prism. We said our good byes, made out, and I was on the water at 8:10am. I wanted to look back but didn't, feeling like a little kid going on his own for the first time. Not sure why I felt that way as this was not my first trip up here, but it was my first solo. Really wishing she could have come with me as she is the best tripping partner, but one of has to work and hold down the fort and I was glad it wasn't me having to do that. But as I rounded that first corner I was hit immediately by feelings of fear, aloneness, excitement, and freedom that were almost overwhelming. I took a couple deep breaths and paddled on. I hit the first portage almost right away, the map said 20r, but it couldn't have been more than 5 or 10. Stepped into the, what appeared to be shallow water on the far side of portage and sunk to my knee in mud. Hit my other knee on a rock or root and the canoe came down with a bang. My knee started bleeding through my pants a bit, but I ignored it and paddled on. Paddled a bit further to another short portage, map says 25r but seemed shorter. The morning was cloudy and a lot cooler than yesterday with sporadic light drizzle and maybe upper 50's. Paddled a bit further and encountered my first beaver dam, maybe a 10-12" drop in my new Prism. Picked my spot and gathered speed I almost made it over before coming to a stop with the stern still on top. Felt a bit tippy, but with a strong stroke or two was clear of if. Ah, yes. Paddled down the rest of the river to Nina Moose without incident as the drizzle was increasing. On this stretch of the river I saw 8-10 Trumpeter Swans, quite a few ducks, Canadian geese and passed 8-10 canoes heading the other way towards the EP. It was gray and drizzly across Nina Moose lake where I saw no one and was back on the river headed north. Did the 70 and 96r portages and before I knew it I was on Agnes lake. I tried to get a look at where the Oyster river flowed in, but there was a pair of adult and a juvenile Trumpeter hanging out there and respected their space, but from the channel could not see the river at all. As I paddled across Agnes I saw no one on the water or in any camps. As it was only noon when I got to the middle of Agnes I decided to push onto Boulder Bay. So I did the 19 and 68r portages. I decided to take the camp site just NE of the portage, my wife and I had stayed there before and really liked it. Nice big site in a little bay out of the wind. It's in a red pine grove with a couple of big erratic rocks and a huge sloping rock to the water. Set up camp, and cut some wood. The drizzle during the day had made things damp, but didn't soak so was able to have a fair fire. No sunset or stars tonight.
Day 2 of 27
Tuesday, September 18, 2018 Set alarm for 6am but was sprinkling out so slept in until 7:30 when it stopped. It was a cloudy, cool and calm morning. I could see my breath for the first time since last spring so must have been in the low to mid 40's. The fog was rolling south slowly down boulder bay while I ate breakfast and packed up. All my breakfasts for the entire trip will be fast and easy. Coffee with some coconut oil in it and a few tablespoons of nut butter(almond or peanut) to eat. Also I can add a piece of beef jerky if I want. This may not sound very yummy but it works for me. I like it, It's quick, and high in fat so I get a lot of energy out of it and don't get hungry again right away. Plus I'm really not a big breakfast guy. I took my time packing and enjoying the view and hit the water at 10am. Heading north first and rounding the corner turning east on Lac La Croix it started drizzling again and as I passed Tiger bay I saw my first loon of the trip which appeared to already have it's fall/winter plumage. I hit the 80r Bottle Portage and met 3 guys in solo canoes doing the long race from Rainy to Grand Portage while there. I briefly talked to one of the guys on my way back for my second load and he said that they were behind schedule do to wind and other issues. Not sure what was up, but they didn't seem real happy or chatty so I grabbed my gear and finished the portage. The Bottle lake end was a muddy flat that was not very fun. Water levels very down in this area at least a couple feet from summer norms and it was very rocky through the narrows and onto Iron lake. Iron lake went by in a blur and I did the 118 rod portage to Curtain Falls, which was a trickle compared to the last time I was here. Ate lunch and relaxed at the falls for 20-30 minutes. The drizzle had stopped before curtain falls and as I hit Crooked it was a mild, cloudy day. As I was entering Friday Bay I noticed something moving around on a little rock island that was between the west bank and the big island on the north side of Friday bay. Normally only birds were seen on these rocks in the water, but as I paddled up it was a pine marten. I watched him for quite a while and got a couple short videos of him. I decides to camp at the site thats facing south on the island in north Friday bay near there. It in thick cedar with a nice view of Friday bay. The sun came out for the first time this trip at 6:30pm and it was clear the rest of the evening. Had a nice fire and stayed up until 10 star gazing. I had thoughts of home and being lonely, but decided I was not going to do that on this trip and instead focus on the here and now. Enjoy this now, for I had planned long and hard to be able to do this. That I had prepared things at home as best I could so I wouldn't have to worry and now I had to trust all is well there. Immediately I felt such gratitude and that I have an awesome, understanding wife, the time and the courage to attempt such a trip. I was where I belonged. A lot of this I owe to the people in the solo forum who have been doing these solos for a long time and are nice enough to share what they have learned. It has really helped me prepared in every way for this and I thank all you guys for helping me!
Day 3 of 27
Day 4 of 27
Thursday, September 20, 2018 Woke up at about 5 am to the big tarp flapping more than I like so got up cut my center pole down a couple feet and lowered one side, as the winds had shifted and were now blowing from the E/NE right into the site. I went back to bed as it was early, it was starting to sprinkle and I had no further responsibilities. Got up at 9:30, when was the last time I did that? Ah, the good life. It was cool, windy and cloudy but the rain had stopped. The wind had however driven the earlier sprinkling right through my tarped area and soaked everything including the days firewood. So I spent a while lowering my big tarp and added a couple extra guy lines to reenforce against the increasing winds. Even then it was just too windy to be comfortable to sit in camp so I headed for the woods for some exploring. It was lovely in the woods out of the wind and I had a great time. While I was in the woods poking around I had several realizations 1. I can't believe how quiet it is on solo, other than the constant crickets from my Tinnitis that is. You hear every little bird and ground squirrel nearby. 2. I really like hanging out with myself, the things that interest me, and the funny thoughts that run through my head. 3. The more I'm up here and the more I discover and learn, the more I love this area. Anyway, I cut and split more wood than I will need for something to do and keep warm. Started to have a few bored moments in the evening and relished in them. Learned that from Boonies post in forum. Also tipped my hat to Dan Cooke and his awesome tarps(and packs). As it was quite chilly and windy I hit the tent about sunset for some reading and relaxing with my hot coffee.
Day 5 of 27
Friday, September 21, 2018 Awoke to light rain and more wind, which was blowing the rain horizontally through camp. So after breakfast I went back to the tent to listen to weather forecast and some reading, and an impromptu nap. Woke up about 10am and noticed it had quit raining and maybe the winds were a bit less. It sprinkled on and off until about 11:30, then I started seeing patches of blue sky. I decided to pack up and move on. On the water just before 1pm, the wind at my back, I made good time heading south. I stopped only to see the petroglyphs and I was at LBF, amazed that I saw no one on the water and only one camp occupied in the area. I had wished I had camped down here the last two days but thought it would be really crowded as is the norm. All the falls were just a rocky trickle of their normal selves. A short paddle and I was at Wheelbarrow Falls. I took the first portage , 32r, as I wanted to get a look at the camp site #1984 between the two falls. The portage was wet and a bit muddy but was quickly behind me. I did decide to camp at the site mainly because the sun was starting to come out and thought it would be nice to set up and dry stuff out. No sooner had I set up tent and laid tarps out to dry that it started sprinkling again. Made supper and watched a pair of chatty eagles for a while. The sky started to clear and watched the moon rise as the sun was starting to set. Noted that there are very few camp sites in this area with a westward view for evening sun and warmth, unless you can camp on Canadian side. Day 5 and I'm really starting to decompress and get in my groove.
Day 6 of 27
Saturday, September 22, 2018 My day started at 6:15, ate, packed and then sat enjoying my coffee and the view. I realized I had made one major gear error, I didn't bring any warm footwear for in camp. Hiking shoes and warm wool socks and thats it. Not a big deal now, but this is only day 6! Laughed to myself that if I had brought winter boots it would be 75' now instead of 40'. Was on the water at 9am, Hit the 30r and the very nice, mostly flat, long 340r portages around Basswood Falls. And I was onto Basswood lake. The rest of this day I am going to be very vague about due to high winds and surf shortly after I entered the main body of Basswood, forcing me to get the heck off the lake in a less than ideal spot. I named my site "Mossy Hump". I must admit though, in hind sight, that had I been more experienced and confident with my Prism I might have attempted to take Basswood on, but when that wind, waves, and swells got big, and a few times washed over the gunnels I got scared and played it safe. But, I promised my wife I would not take huge risks and sure as hell didn't want to use my PLB because I made a stupid decision. Spent a windy night on Mossy Hump.
Day 7 of 27
Sunday, September 23, 2018 Spent the rainy day, wind bound on Mossy Hump. Predicting thunderstorms for the day and so hunkered down, read, listened to the Vikings get pounded by the Bills and planned my escape out of here. I have tripped up here the last 10+ September/Octobers and have never experienced such cloudy, rainy, cool days in a row. The norm I have experiences has been phenomenal weather with maybe, maybe one or two rainy days. I listened to the weather radio and it's predicting more of the same or worse for the next week. With the wind chill, Mossy Hump I don't think got above 30' today. Ugh, why didn't I pack warmer footwear for camp?
Day 8 of 27
Monday, September 24, 2018 Alarm got me up at 6am and it was noticeably warmer than the last few mornings. The water was still scary looking to me. I needed to get my confidence up with the Prism and also get off The Hump, so in spite of my fears I packed up and hit the water. The seas were angry that day I tell ya, but I made it off the Hump, and in doing so my confidence grew in my solo canoe. I was a bit apprehensive rounding US Point, but made it and opted to take the second camp site south of US point, #1625, as it was a nice beach site in a bay and out of the now winds heading north up the lake. Oh, I felt so alive, so happy to have the Hump behind me, to have gained a lot of confidence in my Prism, determined to give her a name after the waves she tackled today. It was so nice to be out of the wind after being blasted the last 2 days, and at a site with a beach, no rain and one heck of a view of Basswood lake. After setting up camp and lunch, I was blessed even further by a clearing sky and sun, glorious sun. I got out my Luci Lamps, hung out my wet gear and took a swim. It felt like it was 60'+ in that sunlight. It was paradise. As nice as any tropical beach I had been to only better because there wasn't a soul in sight. I had Basswood lake all to myself. The sun only lasted about 45 minutes and then the low gray, drab clouds returned, but it didn't phase my uplifted spirit. I was clean, lamps had some charge, my gear was dry, and I was still out of the wind. Sat on the beach, read, and watched a pair of eagles do their thing. I had my first gear failure of the trip when my camp chair snapped a main back support while I was just sitting in it. Snapped the left back support where it comes out of the base. I was instantly mad I didn't bring my Helinox chair, instead opting for the Alite. Of all the gear to break my chair was the last I expected. It was only just over a year old and on it's 3rd trip up here. I'm not a big guy, 5' 8" and maybe 165#, and take very good care of my gear so I am not happy with Alite chairs. I will amend this if they make it right with me. The rest of the evening I spent watching the busy beavers that had a lodge in the corner of the bay, Hiked in the woods, and read.
Day 9 of 27
Tuesday, September 25, 2018 Awoke to a cool low 40's, overcast, calm, very decent morning. A light breeze out of the north perfect for my south paddle towards Washington island, so I wasted no time getting on the water wanting to get the big water of Basswood lake behind me today. As I was setting off I got a four bald eagle show with two of them engaged in what looked like a mock battle with the other two cheering them on. It was nice to be on a pretty calm Basswood lake and I paddled with gusto south down to Washington and Lincoln islands. I saw people getting towed in and dropped off on the north side of Lincoln island, the first people I had seen since Wheelbarrow Falls. I swung east around Ottawa Island hoping the north wind would stay calm and wouldn't hinder me from reaching Prairie Portage(PP) today. It did pick up a bit in the Bayley Bay area but it took me less than 3 hours total to reach PP. I did the easy 60r portage to the top for the dam, and rested, ate lunch and adjusted my map as I decided to get off the border and head for smaller water with more body warming portages. So I paddled Sucker lake south and east to the very easy portage to Splash lake. Fisher map says it's 35r but today it couldn't have been more than half that. I saw more loons and people since PP, than I have since day 1. Did the very short pull over into Ensign Lake and saw even more people. I saw more people on Ensign than I think I did the whole rest of the trip combined. Chose camp site #1231 on Ensign Lake as my spot for the night. A nice landing and a well protected partially grassy tent pad was perfect for a soloist. I had learned that a nice landing and a good tent pad is what was most important to me in less than ideal weather conditions on a solo. The camp kitchen area was least important as I spent very little time there. Since it has been raining on and off luckily mostly at night for days, fires and the big tarp were not happening. I had tried to have several fires recently and they were more work than they were worth. So I learned that sitting by the tent under the little tarp was much less camp work and very comfortable, though it didn't always afford me the best views as I usually chose the tucked back in tent pads to stay out of the chilly winds. About 6 hours of total travel time today and it felt great to get some miles behind me.
Day 10 of 27
Wednesday, September 26, 2018 Awoke to a cloudy, 40' morning with a 5-10mph wind out of the west. You will see as this report goes on that this type of morning weather will be the rule and not the exception, other than the temps which will slowly heading down. I must say that my 4 season tent seems to keep the temps 5-10' warmer than the outside air. So I ate breakfast, packed up and no sooner do I hit the water that I start to see slivers of blue in the gray sky. And with the gentle wind at my back I head east and north to the 180r Vera Lake portage. The beginning of this portage to Vera is a real heart pounder up hill that felt great and warmed me nicely and as I got to the top I was rewarded with warm sunshine and one heck of a view of Ensign. The top middle part of this portage is a beautiful, open, flat rock walk and then a down hill to Vera Lake. I must admit I like challenging portages that are hilly and dry, especially since I stopped bringing my aluminum canoe. With my Luci lamps attached to the front painter on the canoe, finally getting some sun they require I flew across Vera lake with an increasing wind at my back to the 55r Trader lake portage. This is a gradual easy uphill portage to Trader lake. This will also be the last time I see anyone on a portage for the remainder of my trip, and the last time I will be close enough to anyone to talk to them for the duration also, with the exception of my time spent at Voyageur Canoe Outfitter on Sag(days 16-18). Trader lake is a pretty little lake made even more beautiful by the glorious and rare appearance of that warm yellow thing glowing in the sky, and the wind blew me across it in no time to the 20r portage to Missionary Lake. Really the rest of the day was spent sailing across Missionary, Skoota, Dix and onto Spoon lake where I would camp at site #1416. Between the remaining lakes I just named were good portages of 180, 26, and 14 rods. The 180r From Missionary to Skoota was notable a very rocky and kind of a gloomy forest walk, not as steep as the Ensign to Vera, but not as pretty either. The camp site was a nice big open site, and I picked a nice tent pad off to the right and back of the camp kitchen area, that provided some relief from the wind that was slowly dying down. Lots of beaver and eagle activity in this area. I set out any gear that was damp in the now partly sunny gentle breeze and and ate supper. At 6pm it clouded over and started raining by 7pm. It was just over 6 hours of travel time today, and by the time it started raining I was well prepared for it and ready for the tent and a bit of reading. Even with the sun I had today my journal entry says we should rename this month Craptember and that the weather was very different from the last 10 years I have taken fall trips up in the BW. Little did I know that this was great weather compared to what was to come.
Day 11 of 27
Thursday, September 27, 2018 The morning was cool, overcast, but calm and decent out. It has been working out pretty good with the rain as if I am patient I have rarely had to set up or tear down in it. So I was able to wipe my tarp and tent down and get it pretty dry for packing up. I hit the water about 8:30 and headed towards South Arm Knife(SAK) lake going through Bonnie Lake, with easy portages on 25 and 33 rods. A beautiful area with fall colors in full swing. The Bonnie to SAK portage being especially nice as it goes through a burn area with many changing birch and aspen trees. Then as I was paddling around Thunder Point onto Knife and headed northeast it started to drizzle and the wind picked up out of the west making it a not so enjoyable paddle up knife lake. Once I made it through the narrow spot a mile or so from The Amoeber lake portage the wind died down and it was smooth sailing to the portage. A pretty 20r portage that follows the stream flowing down from Amoeber. The rain was starting to get a little harder, but once I crossed Amoeber, did the 20r portage and got out on Topaz lake it stopped raining again. I did the easy 5r and I was on Cherry Lake. I had alway wanted to get into these little lakes but for one reason or another I hadn't until now. I checked both camp sites on Cherry and opted for the western site #321 for the better tent pad. Cherry is a beautiful lake with big hills all around it, with two hilly islands in front of my site. I didn't write down my arrival time but I'm guessing total travel was 3-4 hours. Set up camp, ate, and then listened to the Vikings lose to the Rams 31-38. This is the first time I have ever brought a radio with me, and in the past it's been a strict no-no for me. I am however am really glad I brought it this time. The games and a little music were something to look forward after days of gloomy gray skies. It was nice to hear people talk after all the days of silence. It blocked out what seemed to be never ending wind and rain falling on tarp and tent. And even though the Vikings had lost both games, I relished in the break from my reality. This evening was the first time on the trip I notice I got brain freeze from drinking water from my gravity bag too fast. It was getting noticeably cooler. I was starting to wonder if my water would freeze over night and so would put it in my vestibule instead of leaving it hang on a tree at night. Also started guarding my ceramic water filters from freezing at night from this point on. It would not be good if they were ruined and I had to boil all my water from now on. For one thing I didn't bring a nalgene water bottle, just a Sawyer Squeeze for on the go. Another is I wasn't sure if I had the fuel to boil all my water.
Day 12 of 27
Friday, September 28, 2018 When I woke it was raining and 39'. Since I had decided on two nights on Cherry I decided to sleep a bit more, did some reading and just chilled in the tent until about 10am. After lunch and putzing around camp I decided to hike up the hill behind camp. While I was doing this it was starting to get brighter than usual and noticed some blue patches in the sky. When I got to the top of the hill and took a short video my camera battery died so went back down to grab another, then back up. By then it was partly cloudy. The hike up was pretty easy and open if you headed almost straight north from the toilet. The first 100-200 yards were thicker, but really opened up after that. At the very top was a heck of a view looking E/SE towards the burn area and someone had started a cairn, so I obligingly added a rock too. HUng out up there for an hour looking at the long view and combing the hill top. I saw fresh Moose scat and old bear scat also. The fall colors were at their peak here and now. As soon as I got back to camp it started sprinkling again and the next thing I know there is some snow mixed in. Over the next couple hours it snow 3 times, a couple of them were pretty heavy but didn't accumulate on the ground. I listened to the weather radio and they were forecasting a low of 22' and a hard frost throughout the area. It didn't get out of the 30's for highs today for the first time this trip, yet the hiking I did today along with the wool long johns and jacket, hat, gloves, kept me more than comfortable all day. It's the evenings when you stop moving and the temps drop that i really start to feel the cold set in. Sorry, I didn't get any photos of the snow coming down, I took video instead. I can't seem to be able to put video in this report.
Day 13 of 27
Saturday, September 29, 2018 The morning started cold, mid 20's, with some frost and sleet on the ground that had fallen in the early morning. By 9:30am it was partly sunny and stayed that way all day and temps reached the low 40's for highs today. With the sun out I threw my Luci lamps out, cleaned and aired my packs out and enjoyed basking in the warm sunlight for the rest of the morning. As my plan was to move only a few lakes away from here I was in no rush to get moving. Was packed up and on the water just after noon. I took my time and paddled around Cherry Lake and enjoyed to suns warmth, the view if it lighting up the fall colors and the steep cliffs and hills surrounding Cherry. So todays route is short by design. Cherry to Lunar, Lake of the Clouds, Rivalry and finishing at the island camp site on Gijikiki lake. I have been eyeing these lakes for more than 10 years on maps, and would enjoy them at a relaxing pace. Cherry-Lunar 45r portage starts with a steep hill then you come to a marshy/flooded area. Following the left shore until you come to the bottom of what looks like a steep, dry(now) river bed. Portage is up that rocky dry bed and Lunar is not far from the top of that. During wetter seasons this portage may be a lot more challenging. Taking the portage it's route is not obvious, requiring a bit of scouting in 2 places. 1. When I got to the marsh, do I cross it? Do skirt it to the right? left? All 3 seemed to be possibilities. The answer is skirt the left side of marsh 2. I followed it to the left but for how long? I came to what looked like a dry, steep, rocky, riverbed, coming down a steep hill. Do I go up that? Do I keep skirting the marsh? I dropped my pack there and hiked up the river bed. Sure enough not far from the top was the Lunar lake landing. I have to admit this was my best day of the trip. The sun, the fact that I was finally seeing these beautiful, little, high, rocky, out of the way lakes, with there difficult portages and in fall colors was amazing. I enjoyed all the lakes with a slow deliberate paddle around them. The Lunar to Lake of the Clouds 10r portage was short and up hill a bit. The LotC to Rivalry 75r was less traveled, rocky and a bit wet, but not bad. The LotC's side skirts a cliff with huge boulder field. Rivalry to Gijikiki 35r starts with a mud pit landing, and is a much less traveled, overgrown portage. It has a very steep hill going down to Gijikiki that is all dirt. In wetter seasons I could see this becoming a mud slide, but today it was nice a dry steep dirt hill. Gijikiki has a small rocky landing. I took the island site on Gijikiki as I had stayed at the north site 6-7 years ago the only other time I had been on this lake. It took me 3.5 hrs to move the total of about 2 miles today. These portages are not "normal" portages and should be given extra time to find, follow and even clear brush on this route. Also extra time to enjoy these beautiful lakes. I had a short cedar wood fire this evening, but I had cut and split the wood too late in the day so it was smoky and hard to keep going. It was a clear sky night so I sat out and start gazed until the cold seeped into my bones and had me running for the tent. It was starting to get cold enough that if I stopped moving for very long in the evenings my feet would turn to blocks of ice. What was I thinking not packing insulated boots. I started to develop a ritual when getting in the tent at night to warm up. But even before I go to the tent I would do some kind of exercise to warm up, jumping jacks, push ups, and pace around camp usually. It probably took a good 20-30 minutes total. Let me add 1 man tents are not "roomy" and just dressing in one is a chore in itself, like getting in and out of a straight jacket. My ritual was, crawl inside freezing bag and wait a few minutes for it to warm. Pull off socks and and rub feet for 5-10 minutes. Lay back down and see if they stay warm, if not repeat rubbing them. slip off pants down to feet to warm feet and foot box of bag further, take jacket off. I put my long johns on hours before bed time so they are warm and I don't have to put them on cold. Then I organized the cloths I would be putting on in the morning so that I could wake up and stick them in the sleeping bag with me to warm before I had to put them on. I also brought an empty wide mouth gatorade bottle with me so that I would not have to get out of my bag at night if I needed to go to the bathroom. If I did use it I learned that it then became a hot water bottle for the next 15-20 minutes, and for the rest of the trip I took advantage of that fact more nights than not. That bottle became crucial to me as the trip progressed.
Day 14 of 27
Sunday, September 30, 2018 When I got up it was overcast and 34', one of those day you don't want to get out of your sleeping bag and I prayed to almighty mother nature for a nice warm indian summer soon. Was on the move at 8:30am paddling north towards one of the toughest 50r portages I have ever done into Ottertrack Lake. I had done this portage 6-7 years ago with heavy gear and an aluminum canoe from Ottertrack and it was very memorable. If you have done this portage you know what I'm talking about. It is not for the weak or lazy. It doesn't have very good landings, it's mucky on top, overgrown, and one heck of a drop down to Ottertrack, with iffy footing in a few places. But, I love a good challenge and it warmed me nicely for the paddle up Ottertrack. I had lighter gear now and was going down hill and it was still one of the more difficult portages of the trip. Paddling up Ottertrack brought back memories from many trips. I have spent a fair amount of time here with friends, my wife, and kids. A gorgeous lake I have had great times on. All kinds of emotions the flood of memories from decades of trip brought up, and I laughed at myself as tears came to my eyes. I think I've been alone too long. I must be getting old and soft. I'm such a dork. Anyway, I was amazed at how low the water levels were, it has to be 2 feet lower than I had ever seen, and I had done more than a few fall trips through here. As I neared Monument portage I was surprised by the blown down of trees in the area. It must have happened this year or last, because I was though here in late Sept. 2016 with my daughter. Humped my gear up and over 80r Monument Portage, and paddled Swamp Lake to the 5r portage and into Saganaga Lake's back bays. Usually a lot of the camp sites in these back bays were occupied but there was no one in sight. I forgot to mention though that I did see one canoe on Ottertrack lake, the first people I had seen since the Vera to trader portage, and we exchange waves. or the paddles. As I passed through the last narrows, now only wide enough for a canoe to slip through I eyed to main body of Sag. I had done some pretty hairy paddling on this lake before and knew it was about a 30 minute paddle to the camp site I wanted to get to. The wind was coming from the NW but it was a steady 5-10mph and the waves were not bad. But of course as I neared the opening to Cache bay I saw a storm line coming from behind it. I poured on the steam. Now only 15-20 minutes from my destination. The wind increased, and I stayed close to the shore. I noted that with the water as low as it was the whole shore was 2-3 feet of broken rocks with the wind going right into it. It would be hard to land anywhere without doing serious damage to my canoe before I could get it and my gear out of the water. I said some words to whatever gods would listen and bent to the paddle. It was touch and go. The waves getting bigger, the storm front was at the mouth of Cache Bay now less than a mile away. I could see the line of sand that was the beach landing of my camp site #2074, now 5-7 minutes away. Well, I landed on that beach exactly as the storm hit. And I watched the seas whip into a frenzy glad to be safe and on land. Glad it was a beach landing and the site was unoccupied. I did get a video of the water but am unable to upload videos into this report. The storm was short lived but brought with it colder temps behind it and I froze my hands and feet setting up camp. As I was getting the tart set up I watched a skunk walk right towards me and I spoke to him to let him know I was there. He turned around raised his tail but then decided I wasn't a threat and walked away. I ran across camp to get my camera and got a short video of him skirting camp. I decided to go for a hike to warm up. I had been at this site several time and so it was familiar to me and one of my favorites. The last time I was here was about exactly two years ago with my daughter and very different weather. I remember sitting out and watching star gazing with her for hours on the rocks by the water. I would not be doing that this trip. There were no stars and I would have frozen to the bone if there were. There were a couple of friendly red squirrels quite active and chatty, very entertaining. And several ground squirrel that were trying to get into everything I had out. I must admit in the evening I had my first thoughts of ending the trip early due to the cold. I was fine if moving, but when I relaxed for any period of time in camp I got uncomfortable to say the least. Quote from my journal "And then a big voice, a choir of voices in my head said 'Heck yeah, this is the experience. It's not gonna be what you plan up here. It has it's own plan, and I want to experience more of it. To back out early would be a no win deal. I am so grateful to be hear. Getting through what it throws at you is the spice of the wild'. This however would not be the last time I had this inner battle, but for now I was determined. Shortly after that the clouds broke and was rewarded briefly with sun and blue sky while eating supper.
Day 15 of 27
Monday, October 01, 2018 Today is a non move day in one of my favorite sites, but I'm not very excited about it because it is overcast and cold. I make coffee and went for a hike. Cut and split some wood hoping for no rain and a nice fire this evening. Watched a loon fishing for a meal. I think he wants to hang out with me but can't break the species gap. I think he wants me to swim out to him as he's not much of a landlubber. We decide to admire each other from a far. I think about home, but quickly come back to the here and now. I unzip my pocket for a kleenex, zip. Zippers, man we have a lot of zippers. I've been noticing how many zippers I have with me and how under appreciated they are. when getting in and out of the tent, sleeping bag, pockets, jackets, pants, packs, different bags, camera case. I must be carrying 30 zippers. Zip, zip, zip. It's probably the most noise I make other than constantly blowing my nose. Am I losing my marbles? I think about the conditions out of my control and how adapting to the challenge makes it a worthwhile, valuable and enlightening experience. I am losing my marbles! I look across to Cache Bay and though it's a cold and gray day, I think of how when sitting at home I dream of being here with this view, the fresh air. I burn the moment in my memory for the dark days in the future. I have a great cedar wood fire this evening and still left a bunch of wood for the next guy. I split a lot of wood when I'm cold and have the time.
Day 16 of 27
Tuesday, October 02, 2018 Got up to a cool, overcast morning. Packed up and said goodbye to one of my favorite camp site. Had my paddle in the water by 9am, and headed NE towards American Point. Sag was pretty calm with a 5-8mph wind I would guess. I saw a couple kayakers at the site just before American Point and exchanged waves. Sag is such a beautiful paddle when calm. It was an uneventful paddle and I pulled into Voyageur Canoe Outfitters at about 11:30. I have a resupply box of food, TP, batteries and a few cold weather items waiting for me here I had sent up a month ago and reservations for a room. After checking in they did a load of laundry for me and I headed to my room for a loooong HOT shower. I put on clean cloths, did some gear cleaning and dishes and felt like a new man and that I had earned this. The managers Matt and Cassidy were so nice and helpful. I had asked a month ago if it was possible from someone to take me to Gunflint Lodge for supper and it turned out the whole staff was going, which included two more guys named Connor and Clay. I was on top of the world. Warm, clean and ready for a meal that didn't need to be rehydrated and I didn't have to clean up after. I had asked before we went to dinner if she had the coming forecast for the next few day and she printed a sheet off for me. I noted Thunderstorms for tomorrow and tomorrow night. I also asked if there was anyway she could ship a box of stuff home for me and she said, luckily that someone was running into Grand Marais tomorrow for a supply run. I thought about these to factors for the hour or two before we went to supper. That I don't want to push off tomorrow into thunderstorms and that someone was going into town. And that I need warmer foot wear and maybe a new chair, and a handkerchief, and maybe a thicker pair of wool socks, and some more cigars maybe. Could I be so Lucky? Over supper I said I may stay an extra night because of the forecast and would it be possible to tag along into town. Matt said him and Clay were going and sure if I didn't mind spending a few hours there as they had quite a few things to do there. Did I mind? Did I mind? I could have jumped for joy and wept at the same time but I think I stayed composed. Without warmer foot wear for camp I was really on the fence as to whether or not I would even go back out and finish my 30 days. I forgot to mention the forecast Cassidy printed out went all the way to Oct. 16 the day before my planned exit day and every day was the same. Mostly cloudy, 50-70% chance of rain and more cold. No end in sight. Unbelievable. But my spirit was soaring at the thought of warm feet I was determined to finish out the 30 days. I called and had a long talk with my wife. She was getting a bit worried watching the weather and happy to hear my voice. I have to tell ya I'm chocking up just recalling the conversation. I told her about my last couple weeks, that all is well except my bone headed choice of footwear and tomorrows plan to remedy that. She sounded a bit concerned about my mental state and my decision to continue the trip, and I reassured her that nothing has changed and that I am indeed wacko. She was not surprised and gave the go ahead. I am truly blessed to have such a great woman by my side. Went to bed warm and full.
Day 17 of 27
Wednesday, October 03, 2018 I road with Clay into town, a great guy from Georgia. I was a chatterbox not having said many words in the last 2 weeks, happy for the conversation. He dropped me at the Post Office and we set up at meet up time and place. I mailed off my box of stuff I didn't want to carry around the second half of trip. I bought a good pair of insulated boots, a pad to sit on instead of a new chair, handkerchiefs and some cigars. I was set. We met up and ate lunch. While we were in town we heard the thunderstorm forecast and it didn't sound good. The worst of it was from Alice to Cherokee lakes with up to 75mph winds, but also included up to the gunflint area. I was glad I didn't go back out today and had instead got much needed items. As we were heading back up the Gunflint the storm hit with wind and rain, and felt fortunate that things worked out the way they did today. That whole evening and into the night at VCO the winds whipped and blew things around. A few dead trees came down there as well. I called the mrs again, talked about my day, got news from home and said goodbye again. I slept warm and dry after another HOT shower. Life is good!
Day 18 of 27
Thursday, October 04, 2018 The next morning was partly sunny and cold. The deck at VCO had a layer of ice on it. I ate breakfast and opted to hire a tow to Red Rock Bay. I paid my bill and said goodbye. Grabbed my gear and headed down to the dock and loaded my stuff on the boat. I was glad I opted for a tow because Sag was a windy mess and even the tow out was a rough ride until we got into the cover of Red Rock Bay. I need to stop here and express how great the staff at VCO are. They went above and beyond and the owners are lucky to have all four of them representing their business. I really enjoyed my time there and look forward to my next visit. I would recommend their service to anyone and everyone. I have used numerous other outfitters for various things over the years but I find my experiences at VCO to be above and beyond the others. If you run or plan on buying an outfitting business go there and learn how to do it right. Thanks again for everything Matt, Cassidy, Clay and Connor! So anyway, Clay dropped me at the portage, we said our goodbyes and I took the short portage and was off again. The day was beautiful, mostly sunny and it lit up all the regrowth of birch, aspen and maples in the burn area. Fall colors were at their peak. Red Rock Bay was gorgeous and calm. I took the very nice, slightly up hill, 48r portage and was on Alpine lake. Alpine also regrowing from the burn was ablaze with fall colors and I decided to stay I would stay and enjoy the view. I chose site #342 half way down on the west side because it was out of NW wind and had one heck of a view. Also because they were forecasting snow tonight and tomorrow and it just felt right being on a lake called Alpine for it. Set up camp, cut and split a bunch of cedar and put my warm socks and boots on. The temps today didn't get much above 40' but the sun made it one of the nicest days I have had yet. Glad in my decision to carry on. I watch at least 3 beaver that have a big lodge around the corner from my site busy at work preparing for the coming long winter ahead. They were very active all day and the next. I got good video of them but no pics. I had a nice fire in the evening and later while in the tent heard some wolves howling and yipping in the distance.
Day 19 of 27
Friday, October 05, 2018 Awoke to a light snow and bitterly cold morning. Got up for breakfast, and coffee and retreated to the warmth of my sleeping bag and read e few chapters of Sigurd. Next thing I know I woke up and it was lunch time. Got up and ate lunch and thought I would have a go at some hiking. But once I got 100-200 yards from camp It was a very thick tangle of new growth birch, aspens and pine so after attempting in a couple different directions I gave up that idea. Still being bitterly cold I retreated again to the tent for some more reading and listened to the radio a bit. Came out of my cocoon in late afternoon, cut and split more wood than I will need and stacked a pile for the next guy under a tree. Sat on the rock and watched the beavers hauling small aspens back to the lodge and made supper. Had a very nice fire in the evening and then retreated again to the warmth of the tent and my sleeping bag. Got the itch to push on. Forecast for tomorrow is wind and some rain. I hope it holds off long enough to get off Alpine.
Day 20 of 27
Saturday, October 06, 2018 Awoke to a light sprinkle but warmer morning in the upper 30's. Ate, packed up and was on the water at 9:30. Headed south with a light N wind at my back to the easy, and very colorful 45r portage to Jasper lake. I saw what looked like a pine marten running around the camp site before the Kingfisher portage, but when I got closer I couldn't see anymore a the site is high up off the water. A easy 25r portage onto Kingfisher lake and then the 38r to Ogishkemuncie was another easy portage with good landings. The paddle down Ogish was quiet and beautiful, with its big hills blazing with fall colors. I did see a canoe and smoke coming up from a camp site on the west end of the lake. A quick 15r to Annie lake where some busy beavers work had raised to lake level a couple feet since the last time I was though here several years ago. The higher water levels had killed all the trees that were now under the waterline all the way around the lake. Now back out of the burn area it was a whole different look from the last couple of day. did another quick, wet 15r onto Jenny lake, where I paddled to the NE end of the lake where I found the only site unoccupied, kicking up dozens of ducks along the way. My last time to Jenny I had fond memories of this little lake. My wife and I had seen a nesting loon on the island and had some real good luck catching nice bass and northern pike. And so I had plans all along to camp here. The camp site#2034 was nice, but not much for tent pads. Luckily I only have a 1 man and found a nice spot close to the water edge. Only 3hr 20min travel today, but I don't have to be anywhere so whats the rush. I putzed around the rest of the gray, drizzly afternoon and evening. Did some more reading and listening to the radio.
Day 21 of 27
Sunday, October 07, 2018 Got up to another cloudy, cool, calm morning on Jenny lake. Sometime in the night I awoke to what sounded like bigfoot trying to take a duker and it wasn't going well for him. Not sure if that was a dream or real but I wrote it down and thought I would share it with you all. Normal move routine got me on the water at 9:30am. Did the 15r to Eddy lake and then through the Kek ponds with portages of 15,10,20,15 and 5 rods. All easy going except the next to the last pond had steep, icy, slick rock landings that were a bit of a challenge but all went well. And I found myself on beautiful Kekekabic lake, also alit with fall colors and high hills and cliffs and a view that will knock your socks off. I paddled it's length and at the west end decided this would be my view for the day. So I checked site#1421 on the point and though it was nice decided it was a bit too open for this time of year and so I pushed onto get a look at site #1472. It was just what I was looking for. It had a couple nice pads tucked back in the trees blocking the wind and the island was fairly open to explore. I set up camp and went for a nice long hike around the island. I brought my radio with as the Vikings were Playing Philly at 3pm. And so I wondered around the island climbing to the top and looking out at the awesome views while listening to the game. Cheering and jumping up and down like a madman as they finally won in a great game. The radio was really a nice touch on this solo trip and gave me great boosts to my spirit. Even to just listen to a song or two on WELY when and if I had reception. I didn't even go through a set of batteries, only using it sparingly and for the Vikings games. Travel time today was 3hrs 15min of leisure paddle. Had supper and retreated to tent when the cold settled in around sundown. Finished my last book.
Day 22 of 27
Monday, October 08, 2018 Awoke to a cloudy, cold, drizzly morning. I know, I know I sound like a broken record. I felt like I was caught in the movie Groundhog Day. Watched a couple of loons fishing and calling to one another, seemingly oblivious to the cold. Fattening up for their up coming long journey south. I started to wonder why I hadn't planned a three week trip up here followed immediately by a week somewhere warm with a beach and warm blue water. I'm beginning to think my weather radio is broken. It keeps repeating the same crappy forecast day after day. I have yet to hear a forecast for sun or hear it's gonna get warmer. So I did a repeat of yesterday with another long hike around the island. Retreated to the tent to start rereading one of my Sigurd books and took a nap. Did jumping jacks and paced to camp while supper cooked and made the best of a wet, gloomy day. On the upside the weather is supposed to be like this or colder for the rest of my trip:)
Day 23 of 27
Tuesday, October 09, 2018 Guess what I woke up to, I bet you can. Yep, cold and drizzle. My hands nearly turned to pop sickles while packing up. I would have given my left testicle for a hot sauna lakeside. So on the water at 9:30. I may note it is too cold now to get up before 7:30, thats why a lot of 9:30 starts. Paddled Kek SE to the 85r portage passing and adult and juvenile loon. I hope the young one can make in south. The nice uphill portage felt great and got heat to my entire body. Another short paddle and I did the 10r to Wisini lake. My wife and I were through Wisini 4 months ago on a beautiful warm, sunny day. There were people jumping of the tall rocks into the water on the east shore camp site. I dare them to do that today. Still I was warm from the portages and the view was not to be forgotten. Fall colors of every hue speckled the rocky shores. I did the 90r to Ahmakose, the 30r to Gerund and the 15r to Fraser lake where I stopped for lunch. I continued down Frazer and through the narrows to Thomas with a slight wind at my back. I was welcome onto Thomas by a pair of loons calling. I took the second camp site on the right as you enter Thomas site#1188. Nice and out of the wind, with a good grassy tent pad. Set up camp and put my warmest cloths on. I noted in my journal how amazingly empty the BW is right now. I have seen absolutely no one. Looking back it wasn't that amazing. The weather was horrible. I listened to the forecast and it was all highs in the 30's and low around 20'. A chance of 2" of snow tonight and 5" tomorrow night. I cursed the weather man and called him a fun hater, a party pooper, a buzz killer, and a trip spoiler. I didn't want to, but decided then that my trip was gonna get cut short. 30mph winds forecasted for tomorrow might keep me from getting across Alice tomorrow but I figured I would be out in 3-4 days tops. It sunk me to a new low having made the decision and was still hoping for some change for the better with the weather. I felt like I was giving up, letting myself down. But even with my new boots I was freezing when idle. I didn't have winter gear, and it was winter weather. And I was also still pretty concerned with the portages coming up around Alice with the forecasted 75mph winds last week and I was headed that way. I knew there were no crews out in October to clear them ahead of me.
Day 24 of 27
Wednesday, October 10, 2018 I must have hit my head hard on the froze ground or a rock because I'm reading my journal now and wondering what I was thinking that morning. Here is my journal entry verbatim. "Awoke to a cloudy, wet, cold morning. It feels more like November 10th than October 10th. But my outlook is to continue on the full 30 days. I have decided not to move today and possibly tomorrow. Forecasting snow and ice starting this evening thru tomorrow. I have a good site out of the wind and am well tarped, though I will add a couple extra guylines to it to help with any snow or ice loads. I am so glad brought a 4 season tent for this trip. I am still hoping to spend a few days in the Malberg lake area before exiting at Kawishiwi Lake next wedneday. They are predicting partial sun on friday and in the mid 30's so I hope to reach Malberg by friday. Spending most of the day in the tent, staying warm and conserving my energy, read, listen to some music and drink coffee. I had a grouse walk thru camp this morning." I know I was just being an optimist in that journal, or a stubborn Swede/Norwegian, however you want to put it. I hate giving up or giving in. I felt like cutting out early was admitting defeat. I didn't realize I had already won. I had made it as far as possible with the gear I had. I'm also now looking at it past tense, know that the weather is about to make a turn downhill quickly. I didn't want to admit it then even though I knew the forecast. I'm pretty damn proud of myself now for what I went through and kept my chin up.
Day 25 of 27
Thursday, October 11, 2018 Awoke to snow, ice and bitter cold, but it was beautiful. My CCS tart was frozen but handled the load like a champ. My Hilleberg tent did even better as none of the snow or freezing rain stuck to it. The tarp I had to scrape off with my trowel and it was still frozen stiff and difficult to get in it's stuff sack. Note:Sorry I did get a video of my tent and tarp but no pics for the report. I seemed to have done a lot more videoing than Picture taking these last few day. If I can get some advise on how to add the video, I will edit that in later. I am not very tech savvy. My Chota boots were chunks of frozen ice and when I put them on to travel my feet were screaming at me even though I had two pair of wool socks and my hippies on. I do not recommend this set up for sub freezing conditions. Not sure what time I got on water as I accidentally packed my watch. The water was rough across Thomas with a pretty good wind out of the west and bitterly cold. with snow coming down. Made it to the 240r Portage to Cacabic lake, my whole body ready for a nice long walk out of the wind and through the woods. The portage had 2 blowdowns to maneuver around and 3 or 4 flooded area. I also saw two more grouse on this portage, one near each end. The last flooded area had a nice new boardwalk it's entire length. The freshly fallen snow made it hard to know what you were stepping on. It was a challenging portage but warmed me up and I felt great by it's end. Paddled weedy little Cacabic lake and then a short 10r portage to Alice. My cold weather paddle gloves unfortunately wetted out on me and my hands started to get cold so I switched to my thinner pair. Within 5 minutes of paddling thru the narrows of Alice my hands were frozen and my feet were not much warmer. I paddled up to check the main body of Alice lake, and saw it was windy and a no go. I decided to hit the camp site in the narrows and get my hands warm and eat lunch and hope the winds would die out. So I stopped at site#1172, it was out of the wind but I needed to get warm. So I decided to set up camp and get my dry stuff on asap. Amazingly after I did the snow stopped and I started to see spot of blue in the sky and then it happened. The sun poked through and hit me. Then I notice more blue sky coming, and it would snow on and off with the sun shining. I grabbed my for days uselessly dead Luci lamps and set them in the sunshine. Oh I can't tell you how good it felt. My froze tarp thawed. I basket in it. It was the warmest I had felt in a week, except while portaging. And it was short lived maybe 30-40 minutes total and it was gone. But it was enough to thaw me out and lift my spirits. It was the first time I had seen the sun since last thursday on Alpine and it was glorious. Then it snowed some more and got cold. I retreated to my tent and the warmth of my bag.
Day 26 of 27
Friday, October 12, 2018 Got up to Cooold, clouds and a light snow. Chota boots frozen solid again. I have no way to dry them and even though I kept them in the tent they still froze. I decided to get a fire going to thaw them and dry my glove out. I would gather twigs and use my Firebox Nano for the fire. So i went off and gathered as many dead dry twigs as I could find. found a couple of good sticks for my gloves and leaned then over the fire. After about an hour I had both pairs of glove dry and warm and my Chotas were thawed. So I packed up, ate a good lunch and hit the water about noon. My feet still froze 20 minutes of getting on Alice, but my hands were toasty warm and dry. There was a good stiff wind from the W/SW across Alice but the waves at this point really didn't seem to concern me today. I bent to the paddle and made it up the 20 and 70r portages into Kawishiwi river. My feet started to feel a lot warmer then. At this point I was determined to get as far as I could today and adopted the mantra "heat to the feet". Did the next 20r portage and I was on River Lake. Heat to the Feet! Remembering when I was through here 4 months ago and how warm it and I started to warm a bit. It is an awesome area that I had hoped to spend several day in at the end of this trip, but instead I was blasting through a quick as possible to keep warm. I paddled to the 67r portage to Malberg. The flooded area was frozen over with ice that broke easily as I waded through. At the end of that I saw huge moose prints in the fresh snow and followed them all the way to the shore of Malberg where they went up a rocky rise to the left and disappeared. I didn't get to see him. I ate some trail mix and drank some water at the landing and pushed on. Looking at the temp on my watch I saw the warmest reading of the day, 30.8'. So I flew down Malberg, past the golden groves of mature birch trees on the south end and to 24r portage to Koma lake. I saw fresh boot tracks in the snow from at least a few people on this portage. My first sign I was getting closer to my exit. Paddled Koma and hit the 127, 48 and 19r portages which were all decent and went by in a blur, and I was on Polly lake. I heard wood being cut and voice, and I saw the first people since VCO, hunters at a camp. I paddle to the south end to get close to the next portage south. The site on the west side of Polly closest to the portage was also taken so I took the one on the east side. It took 6hrs of moving to get there and there wasn't enough daylight to keep going as it was 6pm, so I set up camp and got warm. As the sun faded to dark reds and purples the sky cleared and the stars started to come out. The next thing I know there wasn't a cloud anywhere. It was the first time the entire trip I had total clear skies and as I ate supper I watched to sky turn dark. But as it got dark it got cold and by 8:30 it was 18'. I retreated to my tent for the last time I hoped.
Day 27 of 27