Day 1 of 7
Saturday, August 07, 2010[paragraph break] The weather forecast for the week of our trip is warm with a chance of rain each day. The highest chance is for our first day (60%) so I have placed the rain gear at the top of the clothes pack. The kind folks at Sawbill Outfitters, where we are picking up our three man canoe, told me that the bugs were light this year which is very good news. Last year, on our July trip, they ate us alive. We figure to do a little tripping, a little star gazing, a little fishing and a little climbing. [paragraph break] We are trying several new things this year and the entry point is one of them. We picked Brule as our starting point since we heard there is more glacial effect there - one of the adjacent lakes is even named Cliff! We usually leave from entry point 38 - mainly because of the convenience of Sawbill Outfitters. Besides the new entry point, we are bringing our two year old Sheltie, Max, on his first trip and since we are sleeping in Hennessy Hammocks (also a first), I purchased a little doggie tent for Max. And finally, I figure with the three man canoe, no cooler, and some gear reduction, we should be able to single portage rather than our usual double.[paragraph break] So we leave Chicago at 6:00am for the long uneventful drive to Sawbill and arrive at about 5:00pm to watch the video and pick a campsite. Afterwards, I char some jumbo hot dogs on the fire grate and wash them down with a few cold drinks. During dinner, I try out the 16GB Zen mp3 player with the docking station that I picked up for the trip. It weighs .5 lb, sounds pretty good, and is supposed to have battery life for 16 hours. I keep it real low so as not to disturb the other campers and before long it is time to try out the new hammocks.
Day 2 of 7
Sunday, August 08, 2010[paragraph break] Anticipation wakes us early and I am happy to report that the new hammocks are a pleasure to sleep in. It was a warm night - around 60 degrees I think - and I tried the hammock without the underpad at first, which was a mistake. It is too cold without the pad but once I slipped that underneath me, I was toasty. My back feels better than after a night in my own bed at home. I am not too sure that Max enjoyed his night in the pup tent. He was not happy to go into it and sprinted out of it this morning when I unzipped it but maybe it will just take a little getting used to.[paragraph break] Although it rained last night, we get a fire going quickly and have hot instant maple and brown sugar oatmeal plus coffee for breakfast. We clean up, pack up, and pick up the canoe for the gravel road drive to Brule. It is only about an hour's ride and the road is well marked which is good because Patrick and I can get lost going around the corner. Ethan declares that he is confident in his own navigation skills and we quickly elect him the 'Navigateur'. [paragraph break] At the landing, I am grateful for the calm. I have read that Brule can be pretty rough in even a light wind. Everything fits well into the canoe but Max doesn't seem too sure that this is my best idea. I, however, have anticipated his reluctance and saved one cooked jumbo hot dog just for him. I toss a piece of it into the canoe to entice him and he jumps after it without too much consideration. We face six portages today but if I get it right, this one hot dog should do it. We shove off from the entry point's gentle slope and dip our paddles into the big water on our way to Cone Bay. Brule's charm on the eastern half is heightened by numerous islands, points and bays. I foresee several adventures that might start here. [paragraph break] We portage and paddle through the South, Middle and North Cone lakes before crossing into Cliff and although all of the portages are rocky, North Cone to Cliff is the only difficult portage of the day. We make great time single portaging. My sons and I have found a real rhythm as we load and unload the canoe at each portage. Max is still tentative but the hot dog continues to lure him into the canoe at each landing.
[paragraph break] There is a monster sheer cliff on Cliff, go figure, and Ethan makes a note of it for future climbing and rappelling.
Next, we cross easily into Wanihigan and then finally into Winchell. Max is becoming more sure-footed. Once under way, he lays his head against the curve of the hull like it is an old pillow and catches some sleep. We have seen no other travelers so far (except some loons) and it is quite surprising to me. I guess Sunday is a pretty good day to start a trip if you are expecting to get a premium site. Heading east on Winchell, we pass another climbing opportunity and make note of it. Moving on, we are met by two Rangers who paddle over to check our permit. We ask them about a site just ahead in front of a little cove that I have read is quite nice. They indicate that it is indeed a great site and is currently open. All the sites on Winchell are on the north shore and the uninhabited hills to the south are covered in pine. Upon reaching our destination, we beach the canoe and gather at the fire grate to absorb the breathtaking view. I have been to the BWCA three times before and I think this site is my favorite. It can easily support a larger group than ours.
We hang the hammocks and set up Max's pup tent while sharing some summer sausage wrapped in tortillas. Then Ethan and I head out for a little fishing while Patrick collects and cuts firewood. Patrick loves the woods and is a great guy to have with you as your woodpile is never lacking although I am pretty sure he plans to sneak in a nap in the hammock as well. Max surprises us by jumping in the canoe as soon as he sees us loading our fishing gear - no hot dog. We paddle east, against the light wind, plunking Rapalas and Mepps spinners along the north shore. After an hour or so, we hear rushing rapids and draw the canoe up to investigate. Max suddenly jumps out of the canoe ahead of us, onto the rocks and into the woods, picking his steps like an old pro! We bushwhack our way through the woods and over the small rapids to two ponds. [paragraph break] Its pretty but there really isn't much access to the ponds so we trek back through the woods to the canoe and cross Winchell to try our luck on the south shore. The breeze carries us slowly west until we have to paddle back across to camp. Tonight, we cook up some Bear Creek Tortilla soup with foil packed chicken added. This is good stuff! It is supposed provide eight servings but three men and a dog do a pretty good job on it. Afterward, I enjoy some chilled wine (from a bag I sank earlier) and the boys have Crystal Lite lemonades with Smirnoff. There is cloud cover so no stars tonight. Once I corral Max into his tent it's hammock time for everyone.
Day 3 of 7
Monday, August 09, 2010[paragraph break] There has been more rain last night but the rain flys on the hammocks do their job flawlessly. This morning is clear and hot. I cook big pancakes one at a time over the open fire and the boys cover them with maple syrup before wolfing them down. By the time I eat, the coffee is ready and we start to plan the day. Ethan wants to climb the 105 foot cliff we passed back west on this lake. This should give me a pretty good fishing opportunity as well. Patrick has brought an electronic reader full of books (like a Kindle) and he opts to stay back to read and help Max guard the camp.[paragraph break] So Ethan and I paddle out with a 10 mph wind at our backs until he spots some submerged boulders just inches below the surface and we have some fun taking photos.
[paragraph break] Once we get moving again, we alternate paddling with firing lures near shore before the wind blows us too far off course. When we cross south to the cliff, it seems even bigger and makes me wonder if I am doing the right thing letting him climb it. I paddle all around the water at the base of the cliff, using the portable depth finder to make sure there are no surprises hiding below the surface just in case he slips. Afterward, I make him swim the area as a final precaution. With all that work, Ethan decides he might as well do a little cliff jumping! So he scales the cliff like a spider for 30 feet or so and...
[paragraph break] After a couple of jumps, Ethan grabs his climbing gear and begins to scale the cliff with the intent to rappel down. He doesn't like the moss that covers much of the rock surface since it makes climbing more dangerous. It doesn't affect the rappelling though which he has threatened to teach to Patrick and myself. I am going to have find something quite a bit smaller than this to learn on.
[paragraph break]There is also a pretty nice view of Winchell from the top of the cliff. You can just see me in the canoe on the bottom left. I don't catch many fish but I can't remember a better morning.
[paragraph break] We paddle back against the wind towards camp and notice new neighbors have taken advantage of the warm weather by swimming from the rocks in front of their sites. After a lunch of mac and cheese, we pull out the maps for a little route planning. Tomorrow we plan to see what we can find north of Winchell by visiting Gaskin and then moving west. With that settled, we take a cue from our neighbors and spend the rest of the day swimming, reading and relaxing while Max chases his tennis ball and defends us from chipmunks.
[paragraph break]For dinner we have another Bear Creek soup - this time Cream of Broccoli with some foil packed chicken and powdered milk added - and it is delicious. The boys hit the hammocks early while Max and I spend a quiet night by the fire.
Clouds have moved in again so there are no stars but it is otherwise a beautiful night. Max doesn't like his pup tent, preferring to sleep on the ground under one of the hammocks and I am going to let him - don't tell his mother. One cigar and a couple of glasses of wine later and I climb into the hammock myself.
Day 4 of 7
Tuesday, August 10, 2010[paragraph break] It's apples and cinnamon oatmeal with Tang for breakfast today. Then we take turns using the portable shower that I brought. I filled the bag yesterday and laid it on a rock in the sun before I hung it in the trees last night. The water is still pretty warm. With single portaging, we do not have many luxuries but this is one that I insisted upon and it is glorious. [paragraph break] We break camp before shoving off for Gaskin where I have heard the fishing is good. This is another lush lake with a lot of shoreline variation. I spy an island site ahead but the boys out-vote me and we take a site just east of the portage from Winchell as a man and his wife are leaving. They tell us it is a fantastic site - and they are right - and that you can catch smallmouth right from the shore - and the site was nice!
[paragraph break] We try fishing from the shore of the site for a little bit with no luck.
[paragraph break] Ethan and I leave Patrick and Max at the site while we go fishing hoping to pick up some lunch. We get a couple of hits but it turns out that we must eat noodles of defeat and a little beef jerky. [paragraph break] Leaving Gaskin, we paddle towards Hensen and as soon as we portage in, we cross paths with a beaver swimming nose up towards his dam. We slow up to give him the right of way but he still slap slap slaps the water with his tail to let us know who is boss. [paragraph break]Moving on, we find an open site just across from the portage into the Otto Lakes and we stop to check it out. It looks small so we continue on to towards Omega, passing a group of six girls who tell us that only one small site in a bay is left open there. We consider dropping down into the Otto Lakes - and we should have - but decide against it and continue on to take the last open site on Omega. [paragraph break] This is a small site, just as we were told, plus it is a little buggy and a lot rocky. It has a very nice, if small, single tent pad that we don't need but would be nice for a small group of say two to four.
We quickly hang our hammocks while Max scours the shaded woodland floor for chipmunks. The unsuspecting rodents scurry from his fierce attacks until they are safely in the trees. Once there, they become sassy, chittering their taunts down on him.
[paragraph break]I make Bear Creek vegetable beef soup for dinner - not so good but I might have rushed it a little. We do a little swimming and some fishing before we huddle around the smoky fire.
It is another starless night but buried back in the trees as this site is, it probably wouldn't have mattered. Eventually, we settle into the hammocks for the night as Max patrols the camp. We continue to set up his pup tent just in case but he is happy to roam until he settles under one of the hammocks where I think he spends his whole night.
Day 5 of 7
Wednesday, August 11, 2010[paragraph break]Mrs. Swanson's little boy Patrick turns 50 today! Once we begin to rouse, it starts to rain off and on. We have covered our gear and the woodpile by throwing the rain fly over them but now we decide to hang the fly over the fire area and move everything under it. By the time we rig the main tarp, it is raining pretty steady. We take down the hammocks - this goes very quick due to the Hennessy snake skins - and tie the hammock flys just under our main fly edges to increase our dry real estate. It works pretty good and insures that we have a dry wood pile and some dry seats. I take my time making breakfast and linger over the coffee, listening to the music from the mp3 player until shortly before noon. The rain slows, almost stops and we make a break for it, gathering our gear and stowing it quickly into the canoe. We portage and paddle south into Winchell as the day gets warmer and brighter. It must be close to 80 degrees now. Our luck is unbelievable. Ethan has spied a 25 foot cliff perfect for novices so we paddle to the lee of the cliff. Patrick agrees to man the canoe with Max as Ethan and I find a side way up the small cliff. Ethan is very patient with me - explaining the rigging and the fail-safes. Plus, he rappels down ahead of me to hold the line just in case I get nervous and do something stupid. This little cliff is nothing for him but my heart is pounding like a drum as I lean backwards over the ledge. 50 might be my last birthday!
Of course, after I do it I love it! [paragraph break] Now it is on to Wanihigan and into Cliff for Ethan's big climb/rappel on the monster we saw on the way in. His longest rope is 200 feet but he needs to double it to rappel down giving him 100 feet of usable rope leaving him to climb freestyle down the final 50 feet or so.
[paragraph break][paragraph break] We continue on, easily paddling and portaging through the Cones. It is late in the day now as we look for sites in Brule's Cone Bay but the only open site is small and buggy. Paddling east, each new occupied site we encounter adds to our apprehension. We take a quick canoe poll and come upon the idea that if no sites on the way to the entry point are open we will return to EP 41 and load up for a return to Sawbill. Brule's eastern half is studded with island sites but unfortunately, all we cross are taken. At the entry point, we beach, load up, tie down the canoe and drive to Sawbill.
[paragraph break] Once we arrive at Sawbill Outfitters, we ask them about fishing in Sawbill since our permit lists Brule as our entry point. Fortunately, there are daily use permits that are free at the the put in point at the end of the road. So as long as we continue to camp at the campgrounds, we can canoe from Sawbill anywhere we like. Happily, we pick up a six pack and head to our campsite. It is a glorious night at the camp. We finally have some stars but our site is too heavily treed to bring out the telescope. By the firelight, we scour our maps and decide on a plan to complete the Kelso loop (Sawbill, Alton, Kelso, Kelso River, Sawbill) tomorrow with a long fishing break at the north end of Kelso where we hope to catch some Northern Pike for lunch.[paragraph break]
Max wandered around camp a little bit and at one point edged into the next camp without me noticing. When I heard the other campers comment, "Look, it is a little bear." I called him back and gave him a little attention. In two minutes he was asleep under a hammock. I guess we were all tired.
Day 6 of 7
Thursday, August 12, 2010 [paragraph break] We are up before the rooster crows, eager to start our last adventure for this trip. It is already a warm day. Since this is the first day we travel with less than full gear (just the fishing poles plus the cooking supplies we hope we will need) getting organized is a breeze at the large Sawbill landing. Max entertains a couple of little kids and their Mom for a few minutes and then he jumps into his spot in the canoe as we each slip in. We get a few strokes from shore before I realize we forgot the fillet knife so we turn back and Patrick makes a run to camp to get it.[paragraph break] We quickly cross Sawbill and find the portage into Alton. There are lots of people about now and we have to wait at the portage as a group of nine men cross from Alton into Sawbill. I had heard that there was good fishing off the point that leads out into Alton right from the portage so we break out the portable depth finder and try for some Walleye without luck.[paragraph break] As we paddle towards the portage from Alton to Kelso, we spy the site that Patrick and I stayed at in 2007 and snap a picture of it with its current occupants. It is a beauty with an elevated open area for multiple tents and a sandy beach off the west side.
[paragraph break] The portage into Kelso is so short and flat that we just grab each end of the canoe and carry it over. Paddling smoothly, we pass the entrance to the Kelso river and glide north for the furthest bay. The last site on Kelso is empty and we drop Patrick and Max with the gear so they can collect wood and prep the fire grate. Ethan and I begin fishing under the watchful eye of Max who doesn't seem to like being left out of the canoe.
[paragraph break] We are deep in the little cove and in no time we have a couple of small Northerns on the stringer. As we move out of the cove we hook a couple more - larger this time - and paddle over to shore to start lunch.
All week we have been eating dehydrated food and and most of it wasn't bad but this lunch is special. None of us had been looking forward to a lunch of just the parmesan noodles that I brought along but with the filleted, breaded and pan-fried fish as an entre, they are now declared 'Victory Noodles'.[paragraph break] Once we clean up, we pack up and paddle towards the Kelso river while taking nips from the Vodka as we glide along. The Kelso River is mostly a wetlands, rich in wildlife. All of the BWCA that I have seen is beautiful but this really feels like canoe country to me - like we are a part of it, not just spectators. We three paddle in alternating unison, confident in our measure. Silently passing a small flock of geese, they seem to accept our presence as if they can read my thoughts. [paragraph break] Further on, there is a giant boulder that we couldn't resist getting a photo of.
[paragraph break] From there it is a short portage back into Sawbill and then an easy paddle to the big landing, completing the circuit by 5:00 pm. After we pack up, we check in with the Outfitter to return the canoe and grab some showers before making camp for our last night. The card game, music from the mp3 player still surprisingly alive, and cigars were great!
Day 7 of 7
Friday, August 13, 2010[paragraph break] We want to hit the road at 6:00 am so we break camp at 5:00 and pack it all back in the van. One last photo to remember the trip by and we are on the road.
[paragraph break]I think I will turn 50 again next year.