Day 1 of 12
Sunday, July 14, 2019 My wife and I learned the hard way over the past few years that a Saturday entry point date was too rushed of a scenario to start a trip on the right foot, so this was our first time starting on a Sunday. That gave us ample time to drive up to Ely during the day on Saturday, mosey around town a bit, eat a good meal, and then hit the hay early to get a full nights sleep and a fresh start on Sunday. [paragraph break] Needless to say, Krystal and I did not sleep deeply or as soundly as planned, and we were wide awake in our hotel room at 2:30 in the morning. You guessed it, we got up, showered and packed up the last bits and bobs in the hotel room, ushered the dogs out into the car, and were on our way to the gas station at about 4:00 in the morning. We popped into the gas station and grabbed a few things to eat and a hot coffee, and headed on down the Echo Trail to get a sunrise start on the Little Indian Sioux. And what a perfect morning it was. We charged through the short portage to the launch with due haste and loaded up the boats. The sun was golden behind the tree line, and the foggy mist danced across the river as we settled in for a nice slow paced paddle. [paragraph break]
[paragraph break] We arrived at the first portage and while attempting to get out of her canoe, Krystal stepped on a rather vicious rock, twisted her ankle and fell with a resounding thud to the ground. She peppered the air with some familiar curse words, and other than a few little scrapes, her wounded pride, and a firm but loving reprimand from me to always look down before you step, we carried on with the task at hand. [paragraph break] The grassy waters of the approach to Upper Pauness whispered against the canoe as we made our way across a lake we would revisit on our way out of the BWCA. The next portage to Lower Pauness was a mosquito fest. Thankfully, we had brought bug nets, gloves, and had long sleeve shirts and pants fully doused in permethrin to wear on move days. It was as if the haze of the morning had transfigured itself into a mosquito hell haze on that portage. [paragraph break]
[paragraph break] Lower Pauness is a pretty little lake, and we took our time paddling through to the Devil's Cascade portage. After our first trip across the portage (as we are double carriers with the solo canoes, and nearly two weeks worth of gear and food for two dogs and two humans) we were extremely gladdened that we had chosen the route we did, and only had to carry our gear down that staircase rather than up it. But boy was that a beauty. That campsite about halfway across the portage was definitely worth the pause along the portage. The Boundary Waters never stops giving those breathless moments, in more ways than one.[paragraph break] With our usual dilly dally pace, the afternoon was growing long due to our supremely early start and we were nearly to our destination lake, Loon Lake. We planned on camping there one night and then making our way up to Lac LaCroix. We really wanted to catch some walleyes on this trip and have a few fish fries. Lac LaCroix seemed like a win win in the walleye department. [paragraph break] We found a lovely - if it weren't for the darn stable flies - beach site and settled on it for the night. With a beach, you are hard fought to resist taking a swim. After a long day of traveling, humans and dogs jumped in and cooled off, escaping our own sweat and the flies. We discovered there would be no quickly setting up camp this trip with our Lean 3 tent. And I would have several mild bug related panic attacks while clearing out the pesky critters from our tent each night. But nevertheless, we became experts at setting up that Lean in not so convenient spots over the duration of this trip. It was our home for 12 days so love it or leave it was not an option. We did grow to love it but now prefer to use it in the bug free times of the year.[paragraph break]
[paragraph break] Night fell and so did our eyelids. I couldn't tell you what we ate for supper that night but it certainly wasn't fish. But the trip was starting off as expected, full of minor mishaps that always made us chuckle in the evening, and beautiful sites worth reminiscing about as the stars blanketed us to sleep. What would tomorrow hold?
Day 2 of 12
Monday, July 15, 2019 I am a very early riser, so once again we got a nice early start with the sun rising over Loon Lake. We whipped up breakfast, wolfed it down, and began the journey up to Lac LaCroix via the Beatty portage. This would be our only portage of the day and we were both beat from our long entry day. As we paddled up to the Beatty Portage, a thousand questions bounced through my head. At first I thought, maybe we need to pay to use the portage. There were train tracks on it for crying out loud. Then we read the sign that said it was $10. We were instantly confused. We didn't have any money on us. But, as we were way up on Loon Lake, and it was the only road in front of us, we decided to just start carrying our gear across. [paragraph break] We both began carrying our canoes across and we were back to the Loon Lake side of the portage when we heard a four wheeler coming toward us. We both thought, uh oh, now we are in trouble! The complete opposite was true. The nicest gentleman pulled up and we both confessed right away that we had no money. He said it didn't matter, and began grabbing our grossly heavy packs and loading them on the four wheeler. He wheeled them across the portage for us and we thanked him profusely. What a lovely encounter. Neither Krystal nor I have ever figured out if we were actually supposed to pay or if it was only if we opted to have someone take our gear across. But we were so very grateful that he did.
[paragraph break] Lac LaCroix instantly wowed us. The many islands and vastness of it whispered of endless opportunities of exploration. Admittedly, it felt off hearing motor boats constantly while in the BWCA, but this lake was one of our bucket list lakes, so we wrote off the sounds of motors as just another part of the experience. When we hit the water, we instantly dropped our lines and began trolling toward a campsite. The bluebird skies prevailed as we dipped our paddles through the blue waters. That all changed in a heartbeat. [paragraph break] We rounded the northwest corner of Lac La Croix and started heading across an island filled bay when we started hearing rumbles way in the distance. We looked toward Canada and some ominous looking clouds were growling and rolling toward us. In the same moment we noticed the storm, Krystal hooked a nice pike. While she worked the fish into her canoe, I paddled on a way to see if there were any campsites ahead. The ones nearest to our easterly path were taken.[paragraph break]
I waited on the lee side of an island for Krystal. And then I waited some more. No Krystal. I paddled back a bit and still no Krystal. After about ten minutes and the sky growing angrier by the moment, she finally appeared on the opposite side of an island. Come to find out, she had hooked two fish back to back. One stayed on the stringer for a fish dinner. We both recognized the impending doom sky, and began paddling with due haste. The map showed a site down one tiny bay so we headed down the bay. Unless the site was higher up in the woods, we could not find it anywhere. Meanwhile, the storm was growing. We pushed on as the electric pulse in the sky grew nearer. We passed over one site as we knew there were a few more up ahead and then finally found one. We had just enough time to unload the boats, throw up a tarp, and climb underneath as the storm charged through. [paragraph break]
[paragraph break] Sitting under that tarp while lightning flashed all around us was probably the scariest storm moment we have had in the Boundary Waters. Rain ran under us like a river, and in one moment we could feel the lightning hit the ground on a point about 50 yards off the island on which we were hunkered down. Krystal performed her usual miracles of keeping me calm throughout. The wind was gusting so hard at one point we just had to hold the tarp around us like a blanket. It didn't matter in the end because I ended up soaked. The storm finally passed after about an hour it seemed. I was glad to see it go, but was once again overwhelmed by the power and beauty of mother nature. She does what she wants to do![paragraph break] The sun emerged from the trailing storm clouds, and we quickly began to set up camp. Though I have seen this site rated as a one star site, in that moment, it was a 5 star safe haven with a lovely tent pad and breathtaking cove from which to view the sunsets. We were in heaven. We fried up fish for dinner and settled in for a little cribbage and sunset viewing. Our plan was to take a duff day on Tuesday and fish as much as we could.
Day 3 of 12
Tuesday, July 16, 2019 Finally, a day to relax, fish, and do a whole lot of nothing. The morning started pretty gray and lazy, the perfect kind of morning to hopefully hook some walleyes. We headed out in the canoes with a steaming cup of coffee and began our attempts at fishing. [paragraph break]
The day was relatively calm and we found a nice drop off along an island to drift jig. We put in a few good hours on that calm morning. Both of us had a few hits but were not lucky enough to pull anything out of the water. We each caught a glimpse of a fish on our lines, but just as they were about to break the surface, those gorgeous and delicious fish slipped off the jig. A nice breeze kicked up and our tummies were rumbling like the storm of yesterday, so we headed back to camp with breakfast on the mind.[paragraph break] While we were making our way back to camp, Krystal heard a loud hissing sound in some overhanging rocks on the island. We paddled up closer and discovered a young vulture hunkered down in the rocks. We never did see the adult vulture but that young bird was angry as can be at anyone on the water below.[paragraph break] As we ambled our way through another cup of coffee and a delicious breakfast of eggs, hash browns, and bacon, the sun decided to join us. And with the sun, came the deer flies and the horseflies and an apocalyptical number of fly bites on my legs. During this trip, we just had the two dogs, Dobby-do who is a gigantic mutt (Great Pyrenees, Lab, and Wirehaired Pointer mix) and loathes bugs, and then Gichi, our Golden Retriever who couldn't care less about bugs. This photo sums up Dobby's experiences with the bugs on that island site. Head for cover![paragraph break]
[paragraph break] We lulled the day away. It was a truly glorious duff day replete with hammock time, naps, swimming, shore fishing, a couple sips of whiskey here and there, and playing Farkle. These lazy days are some of the finest times the Boundary Waters has to offer and we indulged heavily. Tomorrow would be another move day and we would begin the leg of our journey without destinations in mind. We had plenty of time to go where we wanted and stop where we saw fit. We were both full of anticipation on what would come next but had both agreed we would get off Lac LaCroix for while and head into some smaller lakes.
Day 4 of 12
Wednesday, July 17, 2019 Move days mean early mornings and slipping onto the water as the sun is breaking the horizon. Although this move day would not have any sun, the process remained the same. Krystal and I could set world records on packing up a campsite, a talent we discovered on our days of kayaking Lake Superior's Apostle Islands and trying to beat storms while moving from island to island. It was not long before we were gliding over the calm quicksilver water on a steely grey day. [paragraph break] Heading east, we navigated around some points and islands and back bays until we found the portage to Gun Lake. The portage was easy enough but as we are mostly not in any shape, we were still getting our trip legs under us so we took our time. And Gun Lake, what can I say, it's a jaw dropper! Those towering Tolkienesque cliffs break your heart.[paragraph break]
[paragraph break] Gun Lake's beauty inspired a slow motion paddle through its inky waters. The cliffs and the moody sky mirrored in the lake painted a magical mood as we slipped through on our way to Little Beartrack. And after that portage to Little Beartrack, we would both reflect that maybe we should have lingered longer.[paragraph break] Though a shorter portage, the portage to Little Beartrack would break our spirits for the day and nearly break my leg. We managed to get the boats across without any issue other than performing the miracle of navigating the boulder field that is the Gun to Little Beartrack portage. But when we made it back to the Gun side and began the march back with our heavily loaded packs, things went almost horribly wrong. I have always been a bit quicker than Krystal so I was a good 30 rods in front of her on the portage. And if ever someone should have followed their own advice, it was me on that portage. Always look down at where you are placing your feet. One moment of lapse and I plummeted with one leg being swallowed up to the thigh by a gap in the boulders. I had sick visions of snapping my femur in that moment but thank the Boundary Waters gods it did not happen. I struggled to pull myself out of the hole with my heavy pack doing its best to literally be the devil on my shoulders. I finally wormed my way out and just stood in one spot waiting for Krystal. I was going to make damn sure she knew that hole was there because the fear had seeped in fast and hard. [paragraph break] When she finally caught up with me, we gingerly made our way across the rest of boulder alley to the beckoning waters of Little Beartrack. We both agreed that if the one campsite was available on Little Beartrack, we were going to stay for the night. The sky was threatening rain, and my nerves were threatening exhaustion. Though it was a battered campsite, it was available and perfect. I mean, it perfectly echoed the way we felt and we knew we could make the best of the private little spot. Krystal's face in this pic sums up how we were feeling about that portage. [paragraph break]
[paragraph break] The campsite on Little Beartrack had taken a beating from some windstorm. There were trees down everywhere and we had to climb ourselves and our gear over trees to get on the site from the landing. We would later brave the slippery rockface to load our boats when we left because scaling the downed trees was challenging enough to only want to do it once. We found a nice flat spot nestled between some downed trees and some rocks for the Lean 3. We did have one rock inside the Lean but it was more a piece of artwork in the tent than a nuisance.[paragraph break]
[paragraph break] We rode out a mild rainfall in the tent. We had plenty of day in front of us so we chilled at camp, fished from shore some more, and generally enjoyed the solitude. It had been two days since we had seen another human. We would hit a six day stretch on this section of lakes below Lac LaCroix with no other humans in site. Still no luck fishing for me, but it was still early in the trip. My one goal was to catch my first BWCA walleye![paragraph break]
[paragraph break] Following a delicious Mac n' Cheese meal with dehydrated broccoli for health (insert winky face here), we climbed in the tent early due to impending rainfall. It had been an interesting and respect earning day in the Boundary Waters.
Day 5 of 12
[paragraph break]Thursday, July 18, 2019 We awoke to a misty and silent morning. The entire world was adorned in dew drops and the only sound was that of the mournful loon calling off the campsite. It was a move day but this mythical landscape begged us to move slowly, and we obliged. Instead of rushing off the campsite, we watched as the sun ever so slowly burned the fog and mist off the lake. These are the moments that make this place beyond special. [paragraph break]
[paragraph break] After a luxurious morning, sipping coffee and eating oatmeal, we packed up our soggy gear and headed out onto the water, destination unknown. We headed over to the portage to Beartrack Lake and began to feel our bodies finally recalling that old muscle memory. Our steps across that short portage felt more confident and steady. In no time, we were gliding across Beartrack Lake on another calm but misty day. [paragraph break] Feeling good, we moved quickly across Beartrack to the longish portage to Thumb Lake. Nice, flat, and steady as you go, we were on Thumb Lake in no time.[paragraph break] The portage from Thumb to Finger Lake was more of an adventurous pull over really. We took our time and let the dogs take a dip and fetch some sticks out of the lake. We still hadn't seen another soul since the one solo canoeist who had paddled past our site on LLC back on Monday after the storm. With the dogs tired out from their swim, we loaded them back in the canoes and scrapped over a few rocks to get out of the shallow arm of Finger Lake to the main body of water. [paragraph break] We paddled across Finger Lake until we came up a beautiful island campsite we could not pass up. Krystal wanted to continue to troll around the island and to check out the other site on it, so I pulled in with Gichi boy, and decided to go for a swim. Upon Krystal's fishless return, she saw a few odd looking otters frolicking in the water in front of our new home for two nights. [paragraph break]
[paragraph break] One of the first things we noticed at the site was how atrocious the fire pit was, absolutely filled with garbage. The most unfortunate part of it was, our dog Dobby found the trash first. We would find out in the middle of the night that among the random wrappers in that fire pit was also an empty pack of Ballpark hotdogs. Yes, he ate it, and sometime between dreams, the most reliable alarm clock in the world, the sound of a dog retching, shocked us into the light of dawn as we leapt up and attempted to quickly unzipper the screen to rush him outside the tent. He didn't make it out but luckily the vomit made it mostly in the pine needles on the far edge of the ground cloth. We were just glad it had come back up.
Day 6 of 12
Friday, July 19, 2019 Thanks to Dobby's vomit fest, we woke to the most gorgeous sunrise view from our large screen window. We felt no rush to get out of those cozy sleeping bags so we chilled for a good long while in the tent. Today was going to be another lazy day of fishing, swimming, and relaxing. [paragraph break] Foregoing an early breakfast, I made us each a mug of coffee and we hit the water early to try our hand at some fishing on Finger Lake. The morning was cooler than it had been so we had to bundle up a bit. Finger Lake is a gorgeous lake, full of nooks and crannies. We didn't have much luck fishing other than a lost lure to some behemoth in the deep, a fishing story we can't tell because it never happened. The only fishing story worth telling on our morning bobbing under blue skies was this monster Krystal reeled in right before we headed back to camp. World record fish![paragraph break]
[paragraph break] I was feeling restless with our downtime at camp so I took it upon myself to fish from shore, my feet in flipflops cooling in the water. I cast one time and snagged on a tree below the surface. There were some boulders along shore that I had to navigate to get my snag free. I got it free and as I was climbing back to the landing, my foot slipped off a fairly jagged rock and I sliced the bottom of my foot wide open. Krystal, a former EMT and super handy to have around in an emergency, bandaged me up water tight. Needless to say, after this trip, we moved to Crocs for camp shoes. No more foot slices for me! [paragraph break] I said enough of fishing from shore after the bandage job was completed, and we headed back in the canoes to see what we could find. As we were paddling parallel to our little island, Krystal spotted another wee baby hawk of some sort perched on a rock. This little fella would still be on that rock when we left the next day too. We wondered how he or she had gotten down there and what exactly would happen to them. There could have easily been an adult feeding it on the ground as a fledgling, but we worried about the little thing for a while. [paragraph break]
[paragraph break] Not wanting to upset the tiny hawk, we paddled on after a few photos to find a fishing spot. There was a nice weedy bed off the far eastern edge of the island so we fished that for a good while. We got into some tiny bass and the occasional small pike. They were all fun to catch but not of size enough to keep for dinner. With grumbling stomachs, we headed back to camp and made the worst meal of our trip. It was a disgusting dehydrated Chicken Ala King. We could barely stomach it, but the dogs were happy, as they ended up eating the majority of that meal. [paragraph break] The evening idled away. We brought the maps out and discussed the move on our next day. And as we were on Finger Lake, we could not help reminiscing about the three years we lived in Upstate New York in the Finger Lakes area and exploring that regions astounding beauty. I think that commonality between a place we loved in New York and where we were currently sitting made us love this little Finger Lake even more. We watched as the sun painted the cliffs across from the site with a pink hue, memories of New York setting in our minds, and we finally retired for an early bedtime. [paragraph break]
Day 7 of 12
Saturday, July 20, 2019 When daylight broke over the horizon, we awoke to a spectacular Boundary Water's sunrise. We watched as the colors spilled into one another until the sun broke the horizon and disintegrated the pastel spell before us. It was time to get moving and get packed up. Following a duff day I'm always ready to start exploring again when move day rolls around. [paragraph break]
[paragraph break] Camp pack up was done with a relaxed purpose as we sipped coffee and ate breakfast. We wanted to make our way back to Lac LaCroix and visit the pictographs on Irving Island. With three portages to go and a big water paddle, we lily dipped on to our next destination arriving at the gorgeous portage to Finger Creek. The bluebird and cloud speckled skies made for an exceptionally serene paddle along Finger Creek to Pocket Lake. [paragraph break]
[paragraph break] When we arrived on Pocket Lake proper, a group of young Loons met us and heralded us across the lake. They had so many questions for us. Where you headed? What are those furry things in the canoe? Are you friend or foe? We sat for a good while and watched them preen and dance and dive and speak loudly to anyone who would listen. These are always some of my favorite moments. [paragraph break] We carried on through Pocket Lake, a quick portage into Pocket Creek, and up to Lac LaCroix. With the many islands and bays of the big lake challenging our progress forward, the map was consistently perched on my favorite fuzzy map holder. [paragraph break]
[paragraph break] As soon as we made it out of the narrows and into the border waters near Irving Island, the wind decided to play a game with us. It raged out of the north one moment, and then would die completely the next moment. The nearer we paddled to Irving Island, the more the wind raged. We were trying to get in close to the pictographs to get a good view, and the wind just pushed us right past the cliffs. We couldn't get the bows of our canoes to turn back into the wind so we just rode out the wind into a bay behind the island, and then we paddled back up the island in the head wind. It was a good decision because once we were under the weight of those overhanging cliffs, it was quiet as could be. [paragraph break]We waited for a group of camp kids, the first people we had seen in six days, to have their time at the pictographs. Then we slid up the island and were instantly overwhelmed by the historical significance of these images. So much history and humanity to come before us on these water trails. The weight of the responsibility of being a good steward for the land was made even more obvious by being able to observe these moments in time. There is so much beauty to preserve in the Boundary Waters. Telling stories about our time in these historical landscapes feels like participating in carrying on a tradition that began so long ago, with images of handprints, moose, and canoeists painted on a rock face. [paragraph break] With the wind not letting up, and after a paddling break along the pictographs, we headed across the windy chute and set off in search for a campsite. Once on the lee side of the wind, Krystal dropped a line into the water. It wasn't long before she had one nice sized walleye and a fat smallmouth on her stringer. Excited for a fish fry for supper, we paddled down to a terrific island site looking down into Boulder Bay. The day had grown hot and we were ready for some time at camp, and a dip into the clear waters. [paragraph break]
[paragraph break] After a quick set up of camp, we had a nice cool off session in the lake with the dogs. Krystal then had to clean the fish so she located a nice table rock on the shoreline and began the early stages of dinner prep. As she was cleaning the fish, a nice sized garter snake wend its way out of the rocks and hung out with Krystal as she expertly fileted those fish. The slithery little serpent flicked its tongue rapidly, tasting the delicious air before it. When Krystal was done, the snake slipped off into the rocks again and that's the last we saw of it. [paragraph break] Dinner was cooked over an open fire and it was delicious. We stayed up until the sun began to set and the mosquitos came for a visit. Then it was time to take shelter in the tent and dream about our move plans for tomorrow.
Day 8 of 12
Sunday, July 21, 2019 After reviewing the maps a good while the night before, we decided to take the long way over to Oyster Lake in hopes we could get into some Lake Trout for our first time ever. We got going relatively early with the sun still barely breaking the horizon. We loaded up the dogs and gear and made our way to Boulder Bay and the Boulder River. [paragraph break] The day was already hot and the friendly blue sky made the long paddle day before us all the more appealing. There were no winds yet to speak of as we meandered through Boulder Bay to the mouth of the river. We immediately fell in love with the river. It reminded us heavily of sections of the Namekagon River in Wisconsin with its huge towering pines. We charged up a few rapid sections but the water was high enough that it wasn't much of a chore. One small section we had to line the boats over what I assume was a ledge as the tongue of water charging through the flat rock shorelines proved too powerful to paddle. After that last elevation change it was smooth and quiet paddling on one hell of a gorgeous river. [paragraph break]
[paragraph break] We made it to the portage to Lake Agnes in fairly good time and waited for a group of teenage boys to finish the portage with their aluminum canoes. I've always loved the sound of an aluminum canoe clanging loudly as it is lustily thrown from tired shoulders. The boys made haste onto the water and we charged across the short portage to Agnes. [paragraph break] Just as we made our way to the large expanse of Lake Agnes, the wind decided it wanted to play. We struggled over to the northwest shoreline and then made good time down the lake. Hunger prevailed as strongly as the winds so we pit stopped on a vacant campsite for a tuna wrap and Fritos lunch. While sitting there, we glanced at the maps again. With a mind for adventure, we saw the whole of the Oyster River as a fun way to spend the day so we decided to go for it. [paragraph break] Already at the end of Lake Agnes, we quickly approached the short section the Nina Moose River we would have to paddle. It wasn't long before we realized we overshot the start of the Oyster River and had to turn around. The tall grasses made the Oyster tricky to find but we did find it. We immediately comprehended that this was definitely going to be a long river adventure. [paragraph break] The narrow and winding river made for a technical paddle. A few beaver dams were easily paddled over, and then we encountered our first beaver dam that we would have to get out and pull over. The dogs handled the challenges really well. They stepped out of the boat onto the finely engineered dams and waited until the canoe was safely on the other side before loading up. [paragraph break]
[paragraph break] The Oyster River proved to be a long and arduous paddle but we enjoyed every minute of the struggle as we were in full adventure mode. The day was growing long as we neared the portage to Oyster Lake. We definitely went through those moments of thinking the portage would be just around the next bend, but it never was until it was. The portage to Oyster was magnificent and gratifying. Our legs were so grateful to be stretched to their full length and planted firmly on such beautiful ground, even if for a short while. Massive trees lined our way through the portage, and when we arrived to Oyster Lake, the wind was raging. We had to team up to get our gear and ourselves loaded into the boats. [paragraph break] Once we were on the water, we noticed a very happy naked man on the first campsite off the portage. He looked like he was having a great time basking in the sun, and oh boy did we get a good chuckle out of that. To each their own I say. [paragraph break] We pointed our bows into the wind and made way for the campsite directly across from Naked Guy Point. It was open so we took residence there. We set up camp in the lower section of the site among the cedar trees. The main fire pit area had a large tree down right over the top of the fire pit. This hidden set up would prove comical under the darkness of night. [paragraph break]
[paragraph break] Exhaustion had settled in and we were not much use for the world. We cooled our aching muscles in the lake after quickly setting up camp and swigging some whiskey. Too tired to eat, as soon as the sun began to set, we nestled in our sleeping bags waiting as a thunderstorm roared in the distance. Our eyes quickly fluttered shut as deep darkness settled in the Boundary Waters. And then I heard voices, and some banging of canoes. Some poor souls had arrived extremely late at night and were stumbling around the site, thinking it was open. The dogs began their low growl and woofing, and who wouldn't after being surprised out of a deep sleep. The group must have realized we were there because they never said anything to us, and the next thing I heard was them climbing back into their canoes and paddling away. As I drifted back to sleep, I hoped they were able to find a site.
Day 9 of 12
[paragraph break]Monday, July 22, 2019 We slept like hibernating bears, right through a raging storm. The day was ours to do with as we pleased. After a luxurious breakfast, we clambered into our canoes in hopes of catching our first ever Lake Trout. We obviously had no idea what we were doing because the only fish either of us caught was a small pike that we let go. Research on how to fish for lakers would be in our future to do list. We did locate the group we think stumbled into our camp late the night before on the site down from ours, or at least we hoped it was them. They looked exhausted enough to be the same people.[paragraph break] Still tired from our journey the day before, and with no fish to be had, we both agreed we needed some solid time in the hammocks. The books we had brought were in dire need of reading, and I was counting on Krystal to finish the Gunflint Burning: Fire in the Boundary Waters by Cary Griffith. She had been raving about the book and how much she was learning about forest fires. Luckily, she was slated to finish today, so she could take over my book, The Wheel of Time, and I could imbibe some BW knowledge. I highly recommend Gunflint Burning. [paragraph break]
[paragraph break] After a lengthy snooze session in the hammocks, we could hear the grumbling of yet another thunderstorm. We broke down the hammocks and teed up in the Lean to cook some lupper, too late for lunch, too soon for supper. This trip would officially become the trip of rivers and storms. We never knew what the next moment would bring us. [paragraph break] After the evening storms passed, we tried our hand at fishing again but we just couldn't figure out what the Lake Trout wanted. In hindsight, and after getting a rather excellent tutorial from a helpful young man working at the Voyageur Brewing Company this past year, I know exactly what we were doing wrong. My luck has since changed but that is a story for another time. We headed back to camp for an early bedtime because we had a huge move day the next day.
Day 10 of 12
Tuesday, July 23, 2019 Queue move day! Up and raring to go before the sun ever peeked its golden face above the tree line, we hit the water at dawn after wolfing down some calories. We had anywhere from six to eight portages to conquer as we began our move toward exiting the Boundary Waters. Our goal today was one of the Pauness Lakes. We had a nice long portage to start the morning so we moved into work mode. [paragraph break] With shoulders burning about three quarters of the way through the first portage, today was going to be a workout. The temperatures were warming quickly and the first beads of sweat rolled off our chins. We made it to Hustler and both agreed it was a lake worth revisiting. Something about those narrow arms in the lake and the tree line captured our imaginations. We took our time crossing Hustler to let our bodies settle into the work we had just finished, and preparing for more to come. [paragraph break] The portage to Ruby Lake was a breeze and the paddle across Ruby took just a few minutes. Before us was another long portage to Lynx Lake. I had to stop half way across with the canoe because my shoulders were screaming and on fire. It was then I realized that my yoke pads were too far apart and the weight of the canoe was pressing directly on my shoulder joints. My shoulders are trash, dislocating when they feel like it on a good day, so I knew to solve the problem, I would have to move the yoke pads in toward my neck. Unfortunately we didn't have any tools so I would spend the rest of this day jostling the canoe back and forth, from left to right to ease that pain. In the end, I made it work and we got to Lynx Lake and took a well deserved rest just off the portage in the sandy waters. [paragraph break]
[paragraph break] Lynx was a busy lake. There were canoes everywhere and it took a good while to get used to seeing so many other people after the isolation we had experienced over most of this trip. The wind was cooperating today but someone had turned the heat up so the paddle across Lynx went smoothly, if not hotly. We were lucky to be able to slip through the the connector stream between Lynx and Little Shell Lake. Beside being a beautiful spot, we were grateful to not have to unload and load the gear one more time. [paragraph break]
[paragraph break] Heading over the quick portage to Shell Lake, we knew we had at least one long portage left. Our sweat and stink levels were off the charts and we were in dire need of a dip in the lake. But knowing we still had hard work ahead of us, we set off into the busy waters of Shell Lake, another stunner. I completely get the attraction to making that a destination lake. After a fairly decent length paddle across Shell, we arrived at the last big portage of the day and hopefully what would have been our last portage of the day.[paragraph break] Traveling across the Shell to Lower Pauness portage was an adventure. About half way across the portage, we discovered a beaver pond that had to be paddled across. At first we thought we could walk across, but after getting thigh deep in the water only a few yards out, we loaded up the boats, didn't bother taking the yokes off, and squeezed ourselves in a kneeling position in front of the yoke to pole across. [paragraph break]
Finally across the pond, we started our last leg of the portage. We got the boats across and went back for the packs. As we headed back to Lower Pauness, just absolutely drenched in sweat and with 10 days of stink on us, we came across two gentleman who still smelled of soap and cologne. As they came up to us, they had a few questions about our gear and our dogs, and we both said, "Don't breath to deep near us. We reek!" They chuckled and carried on after we wished them a happy journey. And with hunger and exhaustion setting deep in, we finally fully arrived at Lower Pauness Lake. Gichi's face below captures just how fatigued we all were following the day's journey. [paragraph break]
[paragraph break] There was a really nice site on Lower Pauness but it was already taken, and we passed up the site that was across from the portage. We knew we had it in us to do one more portage so we agreed to revisit the mosquito fest portage between Lower and Upper Pauness. And my god, though the portage was short in length and had virtually little elevation, we were tired. I could feel my legs giving up beneath me. With little life left in us we finished the portage and paddled up the north east shore of Upper Pauness. We found a site halfway up the lake and declared it home for the next two nights. [paragraph break] Flat ground was hard to come by on this site, and with the Lean, finding space big enough was a challenge. We made it work but had to contend with a gregarious ant family and every friend they had on the earth. They were patient with us as we set up the Lean in our exhausted state. The ants finally climbed back in their ant mansion as we ignored them. After a good soak in the lake, a few more sips of whiskey, and quick meal, we were rewarded with a mosquito free last campsite and a brilliant showing from the sunset. The hazy sun mirrored our attention span as this long day finally came to rest. [paragraph break]
Day 11 of 12
Wednesday, July 24, 2019 This would be our last full day in the Boundary Waters. As I had still never caught a Boundary Water's walleye, I was bound and determined to do some fishing. Our map usually displays what species are supposed to be found in the lakes, but Upper Pauness had no information on the Voyageur map. So I suppose not knowing made me hopeful that anything was possible. I was in no great hurry to head out fishing, but it was certainly on the day's agenda. [paragraph break] The majority of the day was spent sprawled out in our hammocks. Drastically fatigued, Krystal somehow managed to wake from a deep sleep in her hammock and magically fall out of the hammock directly onto a small boulder below her. She was okay but better off just staying at camp all day as she seemed to be a bit accident prone. So if you can't imagine what we did for most of the day, I'll let Dobby describe our general laziness of the day in the photo below. [paragraph break]
[paragraph break] Krystal opted to stay at camp snoozing with the dogs. I was grateful because that meant I could spend some quality fishing time without managing my usual fishing buddy, Gichi, a rare treat. No offense, Gichi! I pulled away from camp and tried drift jigging with the almost non-existent breeze. Under the hot sun, nothing was biting. I spent a good hour or two trying that method, and with no luck, opted to head back to a lily pad studded little divot of a bay on the northern end of the lake. [paragraph break] I was having zero luck catching anything. The kid in me decided where there are lily pads there are pan fish, so I switched out my set up. I took off the larger jig and found a nice bright pink Mini-Mite in my tackle kit. I tied on that lure guaranteed to give you a good time, and cast it out as far as it would go. And if you know Mini-Mites, that translates as a really short cast. I slowly reeled and played the jig back in, and started getting some nibbles. Roll cameras because it was action time. After a few unsuccessful nibbles by the largish perch I was seeing in the water below, I got a solid hit on the line. I gave the fish some play time and then set the hook. As I was reeling it in, I noticed some substantial force and weight on the line. What was it because it certainly was not a perch? I reeled closer and closer and the tannin stained water hid the species from me as long as possible. With a flash of gold, there it was, the elusive Boundary Waters walleye, on my line, with a Mini-Mite! Knowing how tiny that hook was on the lure, I knew I had to get that net in the water or this fish story would never be believed. Breath on hold, I slipped the net under the fish as it thrashed around and there it was, in my net, a keeper and dinner for the night! All I had to do was successfully get it on my stringer. Krystal was not going to believe my luck! Finally, a walleye. I was ear to ear grinning happy. [paragraph break] I stayed out in that crook of a bay for another hour with no more luck so I turned back for camp. When the rocky shore of our camp appeared, I could contain myself no longer. I called Krystal's name and just held my fish up in the canoe. "I did it!" was all I said. She was as excited for me as I was and quickly got the camera out to capture the happy moment. Of all the things to happen on the last night of our trip, I caught my first walleye and provided us with a delicious dinner. [paragraph break]
[paragraph break] Krystal showed me how to clean a walleye because I have never done it before. I usually am the pike and pan fish cleaner. She did a great job and it was enough for a meal with our shrunken Boundary Waters stomachs. Does anyone else see a decrease in appetite on their trips or is it just us? [paragraph break] The walleye was scrumptious. We had portioned out our whiskey enough throughout the trip to enjoy our version of some long island iced teas the last night of the trip, whiskey, powdered sweet tea, and water. We sipped a few of those and stayed up until it was completely dark out, a first for us the entire trip. I had a yearning to see the stars at least one night. We saved it for that last precious night in the wilderness.
Day 12 of 12
Thursday, July 25, 2019 As nature does, our departure day would hold some weather surprises for us. We packed up camp slowly and filled with the mild heartbreak you feel when a trip is coming to a close. The paddle out of Upper Pauness was a dream. The wind was picking up but not enough to slow us yet and we made it to the portage in a good time. [paragraph break]
We revisited the rock that tried to end Krystal's voyage before it even began. Nice try, rock. Back in the canoes, we headed back on and up the river. It wasn't long before the wind started to scream, and I mean really scream. A wind tunnel had formed between our ears and we had to put our hoods up to quell the sounds. The weather grew chilly as the wind whipped, and the paddle upstream was taxing. The 30 mile an hour winds that had been predicted were delivered promptly and precisely on time. What we thought would take us not much longer than an hour or so, took us three hours to paddle. Two strokes forward, one stroke back. Three strokes forward, two strokes back. That was probably the hardest paddle either of us have ever done in a canoe. The rule was, keep your eye on the prize. A cheeseburger waited on us in Ely. We finally made it back to the entry point and kissed the ground. We finished the carry in portage to the Jeep and completed our regimen of loading the gear, the canoes, and then changed into some fresh clothes. I would have gladly headed right back out on another trip but a cheeseburger was waiting on the other side of the wilderness, and we also had to heed that call. You know how it goes.