Day 1 of 7
Tuesday, September 06, 2011
Time to go:
Fast forward to the day before our trip; I had a new job so could only take off as little time from work as possible so I would have to work the night before our entry date. Unfortunately I was working evenings, but I did leave early. We didn’t get out of St. Cloud until after midnight mostly because my brother (who since he had ordered the permit listed himself as the “Trip Leader” and now was referring to himself in the third person as “Trip Leader”) decided that it would be easier to cram all of our stuff into his car than my SUV (which has a rack). When his car wouldn’t start with its 9+ year old battery, I talked him out of going to walmart to replace it and just get in my truck so we could get going. On the way up I tried to sleep without much success until after Duluth. We stopped for our last meal before the BW which at that time in the morning meant 24hr McDonald’s. I woke up and Royce said we were 40 miles up the Gunflint. No Mooses. Just deer. Everywhere. He was tired and I think nervous that he was going to cream a deer in my truck. I stayed awake the rest of the way to Seagull Outfitters to get our permit. It was chilly so we got our long johns on thinking we were going to need it. Drove to Trail’s End campground.
Day 2 of 7
On the Water Day 1: 14.2 miles 203 rods Lakes Paddled: Sea Gull, Alpine, Jasper, Ogishkemuncie, Spice We got the canoe loaded up and started paddling first thing that we notice is how straight we’re tracking. As stated earlier we’re first timers, hardly have ever paddled more than a mile or two at a time in old heavy canoes. And we’re not switching sides every 5 strokes. I’m in the back and my attempts at a J-stroke seem to be working pretty well at least for our experience level. Of course we haven’t gotten to the main part of Seagull yet and it’s a calm morning. We round the corner and wouldn’t you know it Seagull is even calm! Probably about as calm as it ever is during the day. And better yet we’re able to figure out where we are and where we’re going! (we’re not very experienced in navigating with a map and compass either, other than knowing how a compass works and how to read a map).[paragraph break]
[paragraph break] At the east end of 3 Mile Island a guy asks us where we are, he wants to follow the north side of the island so I point him in the right direction. He continued on the wrong way. We were feeling good. Our first portage was into Rog, then Alpine and Jasper. [paragraph break]
On the Alpine to Jasper portage Royce biffed it in the rock garden in front of the portage. He dropped the gear pack in the water in the process. I almost lost it too. Funny thing was that we chatted with some people going the other way who put their canoes into the water just a little further up the shoreline… No rocks… Lesson #1, just because you see the portage doesn’t mean a “B-Line” is the best route.
[paragraph break]There was a nice campsite on the north side of Jasper Lake, we talked to 3 guys who had been fishing on Knife and Jenny, they recommended the site next to the portage into Toe Lake from Knife, they were right we later checked it out and it was quite nice. It’s also worth noting now that we change our route a little bit, we wanted to have a day of rest/fishing so we’re going from Knife up to Hanson and where we’ll stay for two nights then into Ester, Ottertrack, Swamp & Saganaga. Anyways so we get to Ogish and paddled past two sites without stopping even though the second looked decent, I think mostly we wanted to get past the burn area. The first island site was taken along with the site on the south shore, the next 3 were taken too. The next island site was of course taken as well. By now we’re about 2/3 of the way across Ogish so we don’t want to go back to one of the first two and it’s getting late in the afternoon. We decide to head to Spice Lake figuring that nobody would be there. Of course NOW we start having our first bit of trouble and can’t find the portage. We walk a couple of game trails but find nothing. Royce is ready to call it quits and I finally realize that we’re not as far north as we should be. We find the portage and get to camp at about 17:30. Way late for us to be setting up camp for the first time. We were both tired and cranky from no sleep, 8 hours of paddling and frustration of no camp sites being open and then not finding our portage. At camp we couldn’t hang our food pack to save our lives and ended up doing that in the dark. We had brought steaks for the first night, they were good though I didn’t like cooking them on those thick fire grates, didn’t work well especially trying to rush. And in the future any steaks brought will be boneless, as to not have to carry the extra trash. All in all it was a good day, we covered a lot of ground, kept a straight heading and didn’t have any trouble navigating (except at the end there) and most importantly we got along (again up till the no campsite fiasco). Yet at the end of the day I just felt uncomfortably far from home. Ending on such a bad note made me feel like we were in over our heads, like we shouldn’t be here because we’re clueless and should just be home in bed. I missed my wife being with me though if she had been I probably would have really wondered what I’d gotten us into. Went to bed at about 21:30, it wasn’t as late as it felt.
Day 3 of 7
Day 2: 5.4 Miles 95 rods Lakes Paddled: Spice, Ogishkemuncie, Annie, Jenny, Eddy, South Arm of Knife, Toe Slept in a little bit after a long day one. Royce especially was tired as he drove all night the day prior. We were on the lake paddling at about 9:30. Travel today was nothing real special. All of our portages were quite easy, there were a couple that went up and down but they were short. The weather again today was beautiful, almost no wind (a breeze at best), the sun was out, only a couple clouds in the sky. We did see the falls from Eddy into Knife and stopped for a photo op. One of the biggest things my brother and I disagreed with in the gear research phase was footwear. I ended up going with a pair of Maine Hunting Shoes from LLBean Michael Furtman recommended them. Out of the box they’re not waterproof, (Royce called them my “non-waterproof waterproof-boots”. And when we made the trip I hadn’t gotten them sealed up well enough that my feet stayed completely dry. Stepping quickly through water, no problem. Standing in water to unload canoe, wet feet. But with some smartwool socks my feet stayed comfy. Royce on the other hand decided that a pair of northerner max rubber boots would be ideal since they are completely waterproof. And that they are. No matter how many times the water flowed in over the top of those things they held that water till he dumped them out. My feet were damp, his were downright drenched. It was hilarious. [paragraph break]
[paragraph break] So yeah, at the falls he made his own waterfall with the water from his boot. We made camp on Toe Lake, no waiting around today. Had our spot by about 13:30 got the food pack hung up a lot easier this time too. Realized we brought too much food. Spent the late afternoon fishing, Royce got a small Northern but that was it. By the time we ate and cleaned up etc we were losing our light for any more fishing. For supper tonight we had some macaroni grill chicken/pasta using powdered milk and foil pack chicken. Turned out pretty good actually.
Day 4 of 7
Day 3: 5.5 Miles 125 rods Lakes paddled: Toe, South Arm Knife, Hanson, Ester, Hanson Woke up and got going at around 8-8:30. Neck was sore this morning and I took my daily routine of Tylenol and Claritan. Quick cold breakfast of summer sausage and cheese sandwiches then out fishing. Tried to catch some smallies on Knife but no luck. Couldn’t find what looked like good holes for the bass, decided that next trip we need to do more research on fishing spots. Probably would have had better luck from shore at our camp. After trying several spots on Knife we headed back to camp on Toe to pack up and grab lunch. While loading up the canoe I spotted our hatchet still propped up next to a tree. I ran over and grabbed it and lashed it to the outside of the Duluth pack, Royce wanted me to put it in the pack but I figured it would be fine. I went down to the canoe and turned around for Royce to take the pack from my back and lay it in the canoe but instead he went to work unlashing the hatchet to put it inside the pack. While doing so we were both oblivious to the fact that our canoe was slowly drifting away. Of course this was my fault (according to the guilty party) so I got to get wet chasing it down. On knife we stoped and checked out the eastern-most campsite on the south arm, another nice site, this one had a sandy landing even. I think the portage from Knife to Hanson was the longest of our trip at 120 rods. We managed without a problem. We’re double portaging this trip, my brother is the most graceful with the canoe so first trip he takes that and I take the food pack since it is of course the heaviest, on the second trip typically I’ve been taking the gear pack and Royce the lightweight day pack. Sometimes we switch it up, I find out at the end that the evil little trip leader was grabbing the heavier pack on the longer portages so he could say that he carried the most weight. When we got to Hanson we knew that we wanted to stay at one of the two campsites on the east side of the lake closest to the portage to link lake which we would head to for fishing the next day. Since this would be our one and only multiple night campsite too we wanted to make sure it was good. The first site was open. It was a nice site with 1 good tent pad and multiple places to reach the water, bear hang wasn’t going to be ideal but it would do. It was early so we decided to check out the next one. Occupied. Rather than go back we decide to check out Ester. This was dumb, once we got up there we realized we would be much happier closer to where we wanted to fish so we back tracked to the first site on Hanson. You’d think that after day 1 we would be smart enough to not be so picky but this time our site was still open and we made camp. Had some easy mac which didn’t turn out as good as I thought it would. Would be better off with regular mac and cheese and powdered milk. Should have tested out our menu items before the trip. Of course we’re eating so much gorp and jerky during the day that mealtime isn’t a big deal to us. I was feeling like relaxing so I laid in my hammock while Royce fished alone. He lost a northern and landed 1 small smallie. I’m glad that we planned a whole day dedicated to fishing since we’ve been so dead-set on getting where we’re going every day that I haven’t wetted my line much. Part of the problem I know is just because we’re still slow when it comes to setting up camp, cooking, cleaning up etc. [paragraph break]
Day 5 of 7
Day 4: Fishing day. 6.5 miles 30? Rods Lakes paddled: Hanson, Link, Gift, Fish I woke up this morning and Royce is already getting out sausage for breakfast and lunches ready to go with us so we can fish till dinner which we are both hoping will be a northern. Can’t believe how calm it is again. So far the only day we’ve had to deal with anything more than a breeze was yesterday when we had a wind from the north while we paddled up Hanson and even then it wasn’t that windy. No whitecaps. We paddle over to the entrance to link lake to start our fishing journey. It isn’t marked on our maps but we’d seen it yesterday. The portage is short and we have a light load, we get to Link and I throw on my Heddon Lucky 13 which I’m told is good for the northerns up here. On my third cast I get a hit and on my first I think something just missed, I reel in my first Boundary Waters bronzeback. Now we’re excited! We can actually catch fish! It’s fun fishing with water this clear, being able to watch fish follow your lure. A little bit later I cast out and see a splash about 12 feet from my lure, I was confused until a few seconds later I got a hit and reeled in a nice little largemouth. The fish love the lucky 13 so much that they flop around as soon as it hits the water! We fish until our spot stops producing then move onto Gift Lake. We tried a couple of spots and had no luck so we keep moving into Fish Lake, I thought we’d have some good luck on the south side but not more than a couple hits. On the north side of fish on the east side of the peninsula Royce finally snags a small Northern. In the process of helping/watching him land that I stopped reeling and when I picked up my rod and started again I had a Northern of my own. I lost him right next to the boat but he was decent, definitely a good size for some shore lunch. Went over our spot a 3rd or 4th time and Royce landed nice eating sized one. We put him on the stringer and fried him up with some shore lunch. In the process of filleting the fish at camp I dropped the lid to our pan in the lake so I got to go swimming later. We both agreed that original shore lunch is not as good as the beer batter one, we didn’t want to lug beer around but we will be next time. Eating the fish that we had just caught while out in the woods really made me feel more connected to this place, less like a visitor and more like a habitant. I enjoyed it. I’m also pretty proud of ourselves, for not having done anything like this before we’re doing quite well. Royce had said he was sore after the first day which had scared me but he says he hasn’t felt that since. Granted we haven’t had to contend with wind or rain but we at least now know that we are capable of these trips. I look forward to coming back with my wife and kids, my dad and of course more with my brother. As I know that it’s not so much just about where you go but who you go with. Each one of those trips with different people in my life would be completely different. Plus we still haven’t seen any mooses, bears, wolves or the northern lights so I have all kinds of reasons to come back. [paragraph break]
Day 6 of 7
Day 5: 8.8 Miles 165 rods Lakes Paddled Hanson, Ester Ottertrack, Swamp, Saganaga I woke up feeling a little bit sore but got up early so I could throw out a line. Fished off of the peninsula at camp as the sun came up. Even caught a small Smallmouth. Wind was starting to pick up so I started tearing down camp. We got our summer sausage breakfast, made some Russian Tea and left camp. Royce blamed me for water filling up his boots again but other than that the paddle went well. We stopped for a couple photo ops on Monument Portage between Ottertrack and Swamp.[paragraph break]
[paragraph break] We had wind today and when we started seeing people on Swamp they said Sag was rough but the wind would be in our favor. Met a guy who was soloing with his dog who was headed to Link/Fish lake area for smallies. On Sag we quartered the wind which was blowing pretty much south east up to a tiny island south of Cache Bay. From there we B-ined for American point. The wind was now mostly at our backs so the wind wasn’t too much of a problem. Looking out at the lake from camp I’m surprised we did as well as we did. I asked my bro if he wanted to keep on past American Point to Long Island. He thought we’d be best off just staying put plus we knew that one of these was a good site. We were headed for the site just west of rocky point, passing open sites again. Luckily his site was open and it was perfect. We had a nice view of Sag with a bay south of us that was protected from the wind. There were about 5 tent pads one of which would even fit my ginormous family tent. There was an obvious bear rope tree. We later checked out another site just south of us in the protected bay and that one was quite rough especially compared to our Hilton campsite. Our last afternoon in the Boundary Waters was spent in comfort. We were off the lake by 13:00 and had some shore lunch wild rice soup which ended up tasting really good with the foil pack chicken. And all you have to do is add water. We managed our best bear hang yet at this site. We sat up around the campfire talking about the trip and eating the last of the smores.
Day 7 of 7
Day 6: 7.6 miles 0 rods Lakes paddled: Saganaga, Sea Gull River, Gull Lake By the time we got on the water today there was wind. And I had predicted rain today, and looking at the weather I was scared I would be getting my wish. We handled the big waves alright crossing sag from American Point to between Munker and Long Islands. The wind was Blowing Northeast. All the while today I kept hoping that at some point we would get shelter from the wind, didn’t happen though. After passing Long Island the rain started. We had to keep paddling and we headed to the island east of Long and south of Munker with the campsite on it. Here we got on our rain gear, which by the time we did the rain stopped. It didn’t return all day. It rained lightly for 5 minutes I thought we may need to hunker down if it was going to storm… we heard thunder. The wind though was from the south so we didn’t think the storm to the northwest would hit us. There was a 70 year old man who was soloing setting up camp on the island. We visited with him and got his assessment of the weather. We started out again. Only got out of the wind momentarily along the way. Took us a while to get to Seagull River. From Tenor Lake on it was like being in a wind tunnel. I envied those being towed. I was literally paddling as hard as I could. I had to do my best “hard J” just about every stroke. Where the river narrowed the current was stronger and while at those spots we paddled even harder, yet moved even slower. And then the wind would gust and spin us sideways at which point your canoe is now a sail. But we fought and made it through. At the most difficult spot a guy going out to pick up somebody smart enough to pay for a tow had to sit and wait for us for a couple minutes, once we made it to the wider bay he nodded approvingly. We beamed with “we’re-first-timers-and-WE-don’t-need-no-stinking-tow pride”. We got to trail’s end and on the drive home we heard warnings all over the radio for thunderstorms, high winds, hail etc for the boundary waters. Could not have timed the trip for a better time if we’d known the weather forecast a year ahead of time. This trip was a definite success with very little that we need to change.
Our total trip was 48 Miles, 1236 rods.