Day 1 of 9
Monday, September 19, 2016
The broken leg wasn't going to prevent me from my long awaited Ottertrack/Knife trip 2 years in a row!
We met up at my cabin on Garden Lake the day before our entry date in order to make sure we had everything laid out and organized to fit in our 3 bags. One food bag, one gear bag, and one personal bag. We picked up a rented Wenonah Prism to go with Luke P's Souris River duralight since another college buddy, Luke S, got added to the roster. We got everything packed and loaded for an early departure. Stuffed hashbrowns at Britton's cafe started our Monday. We didn't even take the time to chew our food (I am sure we looked like rabid animals) as we had one thing on our mind for the day. We were going to make it to Ottertrack! We headed up the Fernberg Trail and were a little disappointed that the fall colors were just barely starting, but we were hopeful that they would progress throughout our trip (which they did not). We made it to Vosburgh's for our 7:30 tow. Ironically, our tow driver was the daughter of the owners of Wintergreen's in Ely. I trap beavers each fall in the Ely area and give my carcasses to the owners to feed to their sled dogs. Small world. It wasn't long and we were on the the other side of the Birch Lake portage getting our paddles wet. We had a map with but we had spent the past 2 years looking at our route, so we already knew every bay, portage and campsite location along the route. Maps, pfff, who needs maps. (I am just kidding of course. I would never go anywhere without a map) It was a beautiful sunny day but the wind was certainly picking up. Once we got to the less protected Knife Lake, that became very apparent as we watched the white caps roll. It didn't seem that bad when we pushed off the west shoreline of Knife Lake. We headed towards the Isle of Pines. I was in the solo, just a little bit ahead of the Lukes and as I was kind of looking for a spot that would be good to land, I nonchalantly turned my canoe in order to talk to talk to the guys and just like that, I was now swimming in Knife Lake. My initial reaction was to try to push the canoe back upright but when I did that it did nothing but push me under. I had my rubber boots on and my instinct was to kick them off. I kicked one off and then realized that they were not weighting me down so I just grabbed onto the capsized canoe and rode the waves to the nearby shore. Since we had everything bungee'd to the canoe and had waterproof packs, I only lost one boot and my camera didn't work for a few days. It was mostly it was my pride that was affected by the swamping. I believe the swamping was a good thing because it gave me a little more respect for the solo canoe. I have paddling 100's of hours in a tandem but only a few other times in a solo. I was definitely not prepared for the instability of a loaded solo. One would think that at this point we had learned our lesson, right? No. We were going to Ottertrack. I kind of felt that each of us was thinking we should hold up because of the wind, but nobody wanted to be the one to make the call. Especially not me at this point. After a little exploring and a quick sandwich, we were on our way. As we flew across Knife with the wind to our backs we saw other canoe parties landed on shore. We couldn't see their faces, and if they were yelling at us, we couldn't hear them through the howling wind and crashing waves, but I heard their thoughts loud and clear; "What the hell are you guys doing out there?!?!" There was times I would ride the wave, going so fast that the stroke of the paddle was basically going as fast as I was! We should NOT have been out there! (I looked back at the weather for that day and they recorded 40 mph gusts) We pressed on, making sure to stay as close to shore as possible in case of another swamping. When we got to the narrows past Thunder Point we stopped for a well deserved break at campsite 1998. It wasn't the greatest campsite but kind of neat because it was mostly small cedar trees there. We rested for about an hour and then decided to push on. At 4:00 pm we were on Ottertrack! We stayed at campsite 2002. It was a nice site and the 3 of us had no problem finding a spot to set camp. Luke S and I had hammocks, while Luke P had a rain fly and sleeping pad. Sitting by the campfire after our wild day was absolutely incredible. I had waited over 2 years for this moment. We watched the northern lights in awe and listened to the grumbling of bears across the lake on the Canada side.
Day 2 of 9
Tuesday, September 20, 2016 We broke camp after breakfast and headed to NE Ottertrack in hopes of getting campsite 1996. If that was taken we would either have to come all the way back or jump over to Ester. Sure enough, the spot was occupied. We asked if they would be leaving today, but they planned on staying for 3 more days. We decided to head to Ester. We settled in at campsite 2008 on the south side of the big island. It was a big open site with plenty of tent pads and hammock trees. It was a beautiful day. I set up my rain fly as a safety precaution but then hung my hammock near the shore the same way I did the night before. Luke S and I then went back to Ottertrack to fish while Luke P took the solo and headed to Hanson. Luke S and I caught 4 smallmouth. We were looking for walleyes but it was still a little too windy for us to be able to stay in one spot and we couldn't troll very well. We changed to spoons and tried drifting in deeper water for some trout but I think we were drifting too fast. I was marking plenty of fish at about the 40 foot mark as we trolled over 60 feet of water. After no luck, we headed back to camp. Luke P arrived back shortly after us. He had a Laker up to the boat and lost it but had 2 smallmouth on the stringer. We had some polish that we needed to get eaten up so we let the smallmouth go. It was a great day.
Day 3 of 9
Wednesday, September 21, 2016 It was a little overcast this morning and it looked like it was going to maybe rain but we wanted to hit the water for some more fishing. Luke S and I decided on Rabbit lake while Luke P headed back to Hanson. It sprinkled for a while on our morning fishing expedition but nothing that forced us to stop. We trolled the whole lake with spoons and some other rigs but had no luck. We headed back around noon. As we came to camp we noticed Luke P had a big grin on his face. Rightfully so. He had 2 lake trout! We filleted them up and seasoned them with Parkay, salt, pepper, and Creole seasoning. We wrapped them in foil and cooked them over the fire for lunch. Amazing! We decided we needed more of that! Both canoes headed back to Hanson. We each caught a Lake Trout! We simply trolled with spoons over 50-60 ft of water, catching the fish suspended at 30-40 ft. Water temp was between 60 and 63 degrees. We went to check out the portage to Cherry lake to see how tough it was going to be, and then headed back to camp to feast again on some fresh lake trout. Half were done with Parkay, salt, pepper, and Creole, while the other half was basted in my homemade maple syrup with some salt and pepper. We wrapped them in foil again and cooked them over the fire. If I could capture that taste, bottle it, and sell it in a metropolitan area, I would be a millionaire. My belly was as full as it could get as I crawled into my hammock for another night under the stars.
Day 4 of 9
Thursday, September 22, 2016 Pancakes for breakfast. Lots of pancakes. We needed to bulk up with energy for the Cherry Lake portage. I will admit though, I had it pretty easy when it came to portaging. I would basically take the lightest bag and any loose items while the Luke's each grabbed a pack and a canoe. My leg was holding up just fine but there was no way I was portaging a canoe. We actually decided to double portage this time just because we were not in a big hurry and we had more loose items (minnows, leeches, fish finder, bait buckets, net, spare paddles). The portage was certainly a bear and it would have been even worse going the other direction from Cherry to Hanson. We got campsite 322 that we were hoping for. Nice site. We spaced out our individual set ups. All 3 of us jumped in the tandem and did a trip to Lunar and Lake of the Clouds. We hiked to the top part of the ridge on Lake of the Clouds. We could see for miles in all directions. It really put it in perspective as to how big this area was. We headed back to Cherry and hiked to the top of the cliffs north of the big island and hung our hammocks for some relaxation. Next we hiked to the top of the rock on the island. We hung our hammocks again for a little bit. We considered hanging to watch the sunset but figured we better get back to camp and get some firewood. Didn't fish at all today. I liked the fact that we spread out more with our individual sites. It made it feel more like a solo trip at night as I would turn on headlamp, hang it from my ridgeline, and read a book for awhile. Another amazing day with amazing weather.
Day 5 of 9
Friday, September 23, 2016 Just a beautiful morning. It couldn't be more peaceful. After breakfast, we broke camp and began the trek to SAK via Topaz, Amoeber. Our target was the beach site 1432. We saw 2 other canoes today and were worried that maybe it would be taken but as we paddled in we saw that it was unoccupied so we set up camp. A grouse came through camp so I took out my .22 pistol and got our lunch. Missed the first shot but he was no match for my barefoot stalking skills. After grouse nuggets for lunch we headed out for some fishing. We ended up with 3 smallmouth. We cubed them up, boiled them, and added them to a clam chowder soup mix. We had to force ourselves to get it all down. We ate like pigs the whole trip! It felt a little cooler this evening but still unseasonably pleasant. Any time you can jump in the lake to clean up in the end of September, you are winning. Looks like weather is rolling in though.
Day 6 of 9
Day 7 of 9
Sunday, September 25, 2016 Luke S had to leave today. Luke P and I went with him until we got to the Robbins Island area where we said our good byes. He took the solo and we split off looking for a camp. It was raining pretty good and the wind was starting to pick up. After looking at a few different sites we decided on campsite 1246. It seemed a little more protected in the bay. It rained pretty much all day but we did manage to gather some firewood and even did a little bit of fishing in the bay. We caught a couple small pike and just let them go. Things are wet but we have dry clothes so all is good.
Day 8 of 9
Monday, September 26, 2016 Rained all night. The wind picked up over night as well. Very gusty winds blowing rain inside our flys. We made oatmeal outside in the morning over the cook stove, but other than that we were stuck staying under our rain flys. Luke S picked the perfect time to head home. My rain fly started dripping in a couple places (I was just using an old A-frame tent rain fly) and I was worried that I could potentially be in trouble if we had to stay a couple extra days because of the weather. Worst case scenario I could just hang above Luke P under his rain fly. During this situation the decision was made that I wasn't going to skimp on my rain fly ever again. I have since purchased a new fly for my hammock. The wind and rain sure don't seem to be letting up. Hopefully this passes by morning. If it doesn't, we are going to have to stay.
Day 9 of 9
Tuesday, September 27, 2016 It was windy all night but seemed to let up a little bit this morning. We broke camp at daylight and headed to the Birch portage. It ended up not being too bad of a paddle. We made it to the Birch portage at 10:00 and had to wait 4 hours for the tow. We met a group from Rockford, Illinois. They had entered on Sunday when the weather started getting bad. They made it 50 yards into Birch lake and swamped their solo Prism. This prompted them to set up at the first site on Birch. They had a group of 4 with one of them being a small child. They were scheduled to stay until Friday but they hadn't been able to get a fire started so they were heading back. They had actually crossed paths with Luke S on Sunday as he was on his way out. I felt sorry for this group. They came from so far away and had high hopes. They talked about visiting Dorothy Molter's site and had excitement to get to Knife Lake. Mother nature and the BWCA takes no prisoners. I hope the Illinois group tries it again. I could have easily given up on my idea of Ottertrack and Knife Lake, but I never put that option on the table. I made it, and I am glad I did. It was an awesome trip with awesome friends and I can't wait to do it again!