Day 1 of 7
Tuesday, September 13, 2011 - ** Day 1 ** We unloaded our gear from the Suburban around 7-7:30 on this windy, clear to cloudy, and cool morning. After making short time on this first short 40, we got to the river. Thankfully, I hadn’t slipped and torn up my knees on this first portage like I did several years back on a slick rock face. I took that as a good sign! Here at the water’s edge, away from all the day-to-day “stuff”….Matthew and I could finally take that first deep breath we had waited over a year to take. >> With a prayer, and a quick load, we pushed off into the Little Indian Sioux. It was somewhat breezy at times, but we ignored it and tried to hide the excitement pulsing through us. There was no hiding the smiles on our faces though, and we made our way up and through Upper and Lower Pauness Lakes. We paused at the campsite above the Devil’s Cascade for a brief scenic overlook, only, there was no cascade. It was very dry, unlike the last trip through here, where the water was pounding down the rocks. Still, we took the opportunity to check out the campsite for notes, and continued on towards Loon Lake. The wind had really picked up by now, and in setting out across Loon, the rollers swelled and challenged us as we struck out, and turned to the East. At times, the waves lapped as high as the canoe sides, occasionally splashing our Duluth packs, and others, pulling us broadsides between the waves. We were constantly communicating with each other, staying focused on the direction of the wind, and the waves, and the increasing and ominous clouds. Our steady pulling and nearly an hour of hard work got us around into Little Loon. After a brief respite, we encountered another 15-20 minutes of sheer headwinds, before reaching the portage up to Slim. At one point, in changing my paddling side, an unexpected gust almost blew the paddle straight out of my hands! We unloaded under a canopy provided by the trees there at the portage mouth, and what had begun as a very light rain, became a tad heavier, and steady. Matthew looked at me, and me at him. Both of us shrugged. “I guess we break for a sandwich?” That worked for me. Unlike our normal moving speed, we sat down and enjoyed the small break. We made a few sausage sandwiches and mixed up something to drink. After lingering for about 20 minutes, the rain seemed to slow again, and we got right back on track. In no time, we had loaded up and pushed off into Slim, but the rain threatened again. The plan had been to shoot for the upper camp on Slim, if it was available, and it was. We set up fast hoping to beat more rain, and just did. We rested for an hour or more, in and out of the tent, holding our breaths for a little break. There seemed to be more patches of clear blue in the skies, and the air was getting noticeably cooler. Finally, there was a small window between showers that we jumped out to cook some dinner. Afterwards, we gladly set out to satisfy our itch to get some first-fishing in. Last year’s results had been awesome, our best ever, and we hoped to top that. We paddled up the lake a bit, looking for an inviting shoreline to work. As soon as we got into position with the wind to work back towards camp, we began to actively eye a dark wall of clouds that was building, and seemed to pick up speed out of the Northwest. There was soon a race back to camp – The rain cloud won. The wind had really picked up just before the downpour came, whipping across the water, and blowing the sheets of rain at nearly a 45-degree angle across the surface. We reached the shore, pulled the canoe out of the water – up near the trees – and rolled it over all in one seemingly, fluid motion! I ran after Matthew up to the tent to wait this out. It lasted for awhile, so we grabbed some rest we desperately needed, mostly to regroup from the Loon crossing. A bit later, after some light hail that had us laughing like kids in their first snowfall, we emerged. We found clearing skies, really cool air, and….the most beautiful, completely-full, DOUBLE rainbow that either of us had ever seen, or may ever see again. The best part? It was RIGHT there in front of us. We both nearly knocked each other down scrambling back into the tent to get our cameras, and then ran back out to the edge of camp. Here the lake formed a channel between us and the East shore, about 30-40 yards across. The two left legs of the rainbows emerged right out of the channel off to our left, about 10 yards apart. They rose up above our heads and arched back down into the lake on our right. Both were completely intact, from water to water, one just under/inside the other. I took several pictures, while Matthew took some video on his little flip camera. After, and as they began to subside, we just stood there beside each other, equally in awe at the beauty before us. The colors were as vivid and bright as they could be, and we knew that no one else was seeing this sight but Matthew and me. It felt as though God put that there – just for us. I smiled and thanked Him for this rare moment spent with my son. It reminded me of times in years past when I saw wonder and amazement in his eyes as a child. But, sharing it with him as a young man, made this moment even more special. We fished from the camp shoreline later with a bit of luck, then turned in around dark, with the wind blowing through the trees above us.
Upper Pauness Lake, Lower Pauness Lake, Loon Lake, Little Loon Lake, Slim Lake, Section Pond, South Lake, Steep Lake, Eugene Lake, Tesaker Lake
Day 2 of 7
Wednesday, September 14, 2011 - ** Day 2 ** The next morning it was nice and cold, with clouds building again out of the Northwest. For months, and at Lewis’s suggestion, we had planned to take the unmarked portage over to Fat from Slim. We had chosen this camp for a quick start across to it, but, due to the weather the evening before, and our inability to paddle across and actually scout it out beforehand, we went to Plan B. We loaded up and headed North out of Slim, through Section 3 Pond, and over into South Lake. The lake was receded there at the portage, leaving a long walk in the mud out to the water’s edge. Fortunately, someone had laid a path of large, flat stepping-stones all the way from the trail’s end, to within a few feet of the water. Thanking them in absentia, we loaded, and saw two people on a campsite to our left. We paddled off in the opposite direction. They were the last people we would see for almost 3 days. The portage out of South, and over to Steep, got our heart rates up a bit. It was the hardest portage so far in the trip. The clouds overhead had nearly filled the sky, and after we crossed Steep, and were unloading on the far side, they pounded us with a heavy, yet brief, shower of pea-sized hail. It made for a very different look on the portage trail as we walked through the woods – one of the many firsts for us on this trip. We had been on portages with ankle deep water running over our feet, but not with piles of ice pellets amongst the roots and rocks. It looked like someone had tried to carry lots of busted open beanbag chairs through! Here, we also heard for the first time this trip our daily fly-by of the “Eye in the Sky” plane, and noticed while standing still to listen just how much cooler it had gotten, and the grey gloominess that had taken over the entire sky. “Wow”, I said to Matthew as we loaded into Eugene Lake, “that almost looks like….snow?” Nah, I thought. We portaged over to Gun, and again had some heavy showers of pea-sized hail. Just like the day before with rain, we took a break under some tree cover to enjoy a sandwich, and a breather. We kind of laughed about the hail, noting that we didn’t have to be so careful with finding cover, but just hoped the nuggets didn’t get any bigger! Golf ball-sized or bigger wouldn’t be any fun out here. The longer paddle across Gun Lake was a nice break, especially with it being fairly to almost calm now. It was still cooling off as the day wore on, and then halfway across Gun, we got another extended hail shower. We agreed, though, we would take showers of hail over rain anytime! Stranger things could happen. After reaching Tesaker Lake, they did. We loaded into and started across the small lake, and just as I kind of sensed before, it started to snow. It was a light shower, but the flakes were big and wet. We drifted into the drain-side of the lake and got out along the large dam that was beside the next portage. I paused to listen to that silence that comes with a snowfall, and to take in and enjoy the wintry picturesque scene on the small lake. It was a completely different view from the rainbow the day before, but just as beautiful in its own right, and a good opportunity for a sincere prayer of Thanks – for so many things. We enjoyed the quiet moment together, another one of those that required no words, then turned to tackle the portage over to Takucmich Lake. It was easily the least-traveled of all portages so far on our trip. It was complete with slick, moss covered rocks – ankle-twisting roots – and teeth-chattering ruts, a perfect candidate for the forestry service trail work we had seen on some trails! After putting in on Takucmich, we made straight across towards the Eastern lake arm, and the island campsite there. The wind continued to move the clouds from Northwest to Southeast, but fortunately, there was no more precipitation this evening, and, we began every now and then to see patches of blue sky until finally, it really started to clear off. Lucky for us, the camp was empty. In fact, the entire lake was empty, save for three loons we passed bobbing as we came in. We really hoped they would call for us tonight. Matthew and I arranged what was a nice campsite, had some dinner, then fished a short while in the fleeting daylight. In the puffed bunches of clouds on the horizon, the sunset was full of orange and purple hues, and beautiful. These views are part of the allure that keeps me coming back and look forward to the most. We settled in for the night, both dressed warmer than we ever had been out here. It was forecast to be 25 or so, but it actually got much colder than that. Afterwards, we heard it had been more like 19. Our outfitter had suggested bringing another tarp inside the tent to pull over us and keep our heat in. We’re sure glad he did. After sharing our notes for the day, we quieted down, hoping to hear those loons, but we never did. There was only the wind blowing occasionally through the treetops on the island. As I fell asleep, I could feel the cold night air oozing through the bottom of the tent. I snuggled down further in my sleeping bag, knowing it was going to get really cold.
Day 3 of 7
Thursday, September 15, 2011 - ** Day 3 ** Matthew was up and out of the tent around 6:30, checking the camp, and trying to get warm! The calm lake was so fogged over, we couldn’t see anything but our little island, and not even all of that. We made some hot coffee and cocoa, then headed out to try some fishing before breakfast. There were only 2 to be had, but with the wind starting to pick up, and both of us getting cold, a hot breakfast sounded better. Later that day, we lake-tripped for 4-5 hours, walked the portage to Lac La Croix and back, and explored and fished the shores of Takucmich extensively, as much as the wind would allow. It warmed up as the day wore on, and we spent a few hours back at camp. We napped some, pumped water, and just piddled at our leisure. A bald eagle kept flying just over the treetops of the island, and chipmunks kept nosing into camp and back out, looking for something good. We wondered, since this was an island, if they could swim, or if they just got stuck here when the lake thawed? After a bit we ventured out again, hoping for more luck like we had in the afternoon, when Matthew had landed a sure trophy-class Smallie, a real monster, but, nothing. A bit disappointed, we had a good dinner, and then turned in after dark. The wind had all but died by then, of course, and again, no loons. I was a bit disappointed at that. Still it was the end of another fabulous day. Lying in the tent, the air outside was as calm and quiet as a baby, but we somehow drifted off to sleep.
Day 4 of 7
Friday, September 16, 2011 - ** Day 4 ** The next day was an earlier get up, and start. We had decided the evening before to push on and not stay another evening here, as we had previously planned to do, mostly in the hope of finding some better fishing luck. It was cold with a light breeze that had begun to break the second morning of sock-in fog. By the time we ate, loaded up, and left camp, it had pretty much done so. The two chipmunks that had appeared constantly in our temporary home chattered loudly as we slowly paddled away. I joked it was now time for them to rule their island again. We reached the portage, and upon breaking onto the Lac La Croix end, Matthew noticed that fish seemed to be feeding right at the rocky shore. Having carried his rod across intact, he immediately cast in and had a huge bite. With the second cast, a nice smallmouth. After a few more, he latched onto a good-sized northern that breached the water like a smallie would. “It’s like Shark Week in the BWCA!”, Matthew cried, and laughed with me after. We lingered for a bit, then got back to the day’s business at hand, Lac La Croix. I must admit, I was a bit anxious about crossing some big open water in a canoe. We stayed within decent distance of the southern shoreline until one spot, where we had to cross what felt like a small sea due to a long open bay that stretched to the South. The wind was blowing a bit, and the occasional rollers pleased neither one of us. We had been on some big lakes, and some in high winds and driving rain, but this was different. Thankfully, all went well. The big lake seemed much lower than any we had seen, with shorelines and islands clearly more visible than normal. We shared a good laugh when we passed a small, all rock island that was half-covered in gulls, and totally covered in white gull poo! Nearly 2½-3 hours after that first portage, we cut into a small channel leading over towards the mouth of Pocket Creek, which, due to low water, had been dammed across. I was rather impressed with the size of it, but, they do what they do. In fact, in this case, we were glad that it kept some water up in the creek. The next small portage around some small rapids gave us a taste of the low water conditions to come. The put-in there was well receded, and for us, an adjustment maker, as we have been mostly spoiled over the years with average or close-to water levels. Matthew paddled out from the shallow mud and around a small bend to some large rocks better suited to load me and the gear off of. I was a little thankful for the detour though, as the mud over to the rocks was chock-full of tracks of all kinds : Deer, Moose, Wolf, even Bear. Now if we could just see some, from a safe distance, of course! The euphoria of a relatively easy day ended quickly upstream, as we took the split down towards “Gebbe” (Ge-be-on-e-quet) lake. It narrowed quickly, and was choked and shallow. Our progress South slowed gradually, and soon, it came to a near standstill. It seemed as though we were only pulling against the deep mud and muck…because we didn’t feel like we were going anywhere. Around the next bend, we made out the culprit, yet another dam. This was a big one that looked like it had everything stopped. We looked to the edges of the “creek” to see if others had bailed to continue on by walking or dragging, but there were no signs at all. Determined, we stuck with the digging and poling until we finally reached the base of the dam. The last hundred feet or so must have taken 10-15 minutes, and seemed much longer. We were both short-term exhausted by the time we reached the dam. Bucky was definitely OFF the Christmas card list. We pulled up and over the dam, and continued on with much easier conditions. The portage into Gebbe Lake felt a bit steep after an already long day. We were glad it was a short one. The wind greeted us on the other side – hard – right into our faces. We frowned and put down our gear, then trudged right back for the rest, getting ready for another long pull across Ge-be-on-e-quet. After Gebbe, and at the next portage into Green Lake, my shoulders began to feel the strain of the day’s paddling under the weight of the canoe and my pack. A bunny portage would have been nice, but this one climbed nearly 100 feet in the first 50 rods or so, with quite a few of those tricky rock stair-steps. It felt every bit of 120 rods. Again, on the other end, a hard wind in our faces welcomed us. Also, as we emerged from the trees to the water’s edge, we saw people again for the first time in a few days. It’s funny how we take interaction with other’s for granted. I wondered what it must have been like to be one of those early trappers...going months without seeing anyone else. Hoping they weren’t looking for the one campsite here, we sped up our pace a bit, even though it turned out they were right beside it when we saw them. We briefly shared our experience North of Gebbe as we passed on the water, if they were headed that way. We wished them well, then went to the camp, midway down on the Eastern shoreline. By the time we got lined out, it looked to be a good site. We put our tent right beside the water, as was the fire grate, a few feet away. Our view looked right across the small lake, facing West. Matthew said it was the perfect setup for me to see an awesome sunset, and he was right. We set up the two captain’s chairs we had carried, and with some Super-Duper-Matthew-Bean Boundary-Waters Home-Makeover edition work in the kitchen area, it was a fine camp indeed. In fact, we decided to go ahead and make our chicken-n-dumplings dinner, right there and then, and sit down to enjoy the view. If there had been any letdown at all on this trip so far, it was the bad luck in fishing compared to our last trip. But, this was the first (and only as it turned out) afternoon and evening that the wind was barely blowing at all. With great excitement, we hit the water and looked for the best spot to start our angling deluge. Several bites and some near-misses later, Matthew finally pulled in a decent Northern. The skies were clear, so even the sunset wasn’t spectacular, but it was still beautiful all the same. We fished on, a bit closer to dark than we normally would, secure in the fact that we could still pick out our camp and tent clearly across the small, quiet lake, and that there was no one else out here. Just as I was about to say we needed to head in, I told Matthew, “I think we just need to wake these fish up”. I put on a good-sized popper, as did he. After 8-10 of some pretty loud *plunk – plunk-plunk’s*, we began to see lots of dark objects whizzing through the air all around us. Finally, we figured out they were bats, another first for us! The noise from the poppers buzzing across the lake must have perked their curiosity. They bumped Matthew’s pole and tried to hit the poppers in the water themselves. It was fun to watch and experience, but also a little creepy as they sped in and out all around us and our canoe, zipping right between us many times, and getting awful close to our heads too. In the maelstrom, I actually bagged a little Northern myself. It was pretty interesting trying to concentrate on getting him in and unhooked, with the whole bat thing going on. Now THAT doesn’t happen every day. By now, it was by all means..dark. There was just enough light left past the trees on the horizon to get back. We made hard and fast for the camp. Once there, and getting our canoe and gear safely stashed, we made some coffee and cocoa. In the still darkness, we sat in our chairs for a bit and enjoyed the stars and night sky before turning in.
Day 5 of 7
Saturday, September 17, 2011 - ** Day 5 ** We were greeted the next morning with more wind, and some much colder air than the night before. The camp was getting NO sun in the early morning hours, so we figured that was a part of the cool temps. Breakfast for the day was bacon and omelettes, which made for a pretty good start. Afterwards, we completely broke down and packed up our camp, and decided to try the small bay opposite us again for a little bit of fishing before heading South. We left our gear stacked nicely at the shore’s edge, and paddled across. The wind didn’t let up a bit, and again, not even a bite, and as we turned to paddle back to camp, two canoes appeared from the left, heading down the lake towards the next portage. Even a mad paddle, and the fact that we only had to load our already packed gear, wouldn’t save us from being queued up being them now for the day. So, we slowed our progress to one of leisure, grabbed our gear, and turned down towards the bottom end of the lake. We pulled against the headwind that was blowing up the lake, and got to the portage just in time to see their last canoe going up the trail, and disappearing into the treeline. It’s funny how different portages look from that aspect, versus just an opening in the trees on a shoreline. The trail over to Rocky Lake took almost no time at all. Along the way, on our right, we noticed another reminder of the low water conditions . What used to be a marshy pond around a solitary beaver lodge was nearly dry, with the lonely mound sitting out in the open, the water around it nearly gone. Again, we had to contest with a brisk wind at the portage end, and the entire length of Rocky. The lake lived up to its name, with steep, rocky shores enclosing most of the shoreline. The water had a dark, murkish tint to it, unlike the greenish hue of Green Lake, or even the very clear water of Takucmich the day before. I prefer this feel of high, close-in water edges more-so than the openness of lakes such as Lac La Croix. After an easy jaunt over to Oyster, and seeing the short lappers racing towards us from the South, I was glad we had decided to only go here for the day. And, thankfully, the campsite at the neck of the middle peninsula was just across from us, and open. This was another campsite we had stayed in on another trip previously. When we stepped out of the canoe onto the long, solid rock that ran the entire length of the camp shoreline, we remembered the camp layout immediately. It was a well-positioned camp. The next day when it was time to move on, we could just load and push off from the backside of the camp, shoot straight across the main lake body to the Oyster Creek trail, and bypass having to paddle down and around the peninsula. We set up our camp, hung and laid some items out to dry in the gusty wind, and then tried a bit of shoreline fishing. No luck again. We did, however, joke – talk – and laugh a lot that day, one of the biggest pluses of the trip. After, we laid down and napped on and off for the better part of the afternoon. Mostly, it stayed cloudy/overcast, pretty cool, and very windy. Around 5:45, I stirred and got up, mainly checking the hanging stuff, writing in my journal, and getting ready to make some dinner. Even with the wind blowing hard, we could still use our burner to cook, but I doubted we would be able to get any fishing in. Disappointing. Matthew helped me make a decent meal. The overcast skies were making for an earlier evening of sorts, but despite the wind, we grabbed our poles and hit the water. After 20-25 minutes though, we both were skunked, not even a bite for either. The highlight of the evening was having a group of five Canadian geese, coming from the portage we came in on, flying low towards us, just above tree level. They flew right over our heads, and on down the lake. We could almost “feel” them as they whisked by, and then laughed as a sixth straggler came as fast as he could trying to catch them, honking like crazy, a few seconds behind. It was definitely neat to see. We both were talking about it as we drifted up to our camp shore, and then were nearly scared out of the canoe by a large, sudden splash just ahead of us. In the closing light, we didn’t see anything, but figured it must have been a beaver. We roasted some marshmallows well after dark over our little stove, a bit sad that the cloud cover kept us from enjoying the stars like the night before. Again, there were no loons to be heard at all. As quiet as it had been on our most laid-back day yet, it had still been another good one, and more memories in the bank.
Day 6 of 7
Sunday, September 18, 2011 - ** Day 6 ** In the morning, we woke up to a pretty brisk wind, but thankfully, not a cold one. After a walk over to the other side of camp and a look at the main body of Oyster, we decided to forego any fishing. The big body of the lake already had 10-12” rollers, and I figured that might get worse as it warmed up, and if the wind held. Quick time was made of breaking down and packing up camp, munching on some pop-tarts and Tang, and carrying our gear over to the Southern side of camp. The put in there was a bit tricky with the waves slapping in, but after finding the best way to position the canoe for a load and exit, we got it done. We took a deep breath, had a small prayer, and then pulled out into the main body. The lake here gets over a hundred feet deep in spots, and with the waves splashing against the right side of our canoe, we just wanted to get this stretch behind us. There were no other canoes out on the water. After about 30-40 minutes of fighting the wind and growing waves, we finally picked out the portage on the shore ahead. I was glad this crossing wasn’t as bad as it had been on Loon Lake a few days before. It was pretty overcast above, despite the winds moving the clouds freely above us. I was waiting all morning for rain to start on us, but, it gave us a respite, at least for now. We made the portage just fine, and loaded into the dead end of the creek, and began to head South. The water was extra low, and there were again several small beaver dams to pull over or jump around, but we managed them easily. We made our way steadily down the creek, past the portage/cut-off to Agnes, and another short hop-around portage down towards the river. Soon after that re-entry, the creek became a long, narrow, slow paddle. After a few curves, though, it wasn’t even that. I had envisioned a repeat of Pocket and Gebbe Creeks from two days before, but this got much, much worse. It became difficult as the channel split time and time again, to distinguish just which slot was the main creek, and which was not. Each time it divided, we would pause and together decide which way to go, hoping it was correct. We tried to reason out our decisions based on water flow – signs of torn bog – anything. Soon, I had that sinking feeling of being lost. The water became so narrow and shallow, we finally stood up, carefully, and began to pole our way, trying to use the extra leverage to push us along. Our progress downstream slowed to a inches at a time. If we felt any confidence in the direction we were going, it was only because we hoped the smaller branches we passed up were NOT the right way. At one point, we slowed pretty much to a dead crawl. Matthew stepped out to try and get some weight out, but he immediately sank one leg to the knee in the nasty muck. We now both got out, and carefully choosing our footing (which slowed us down even more), began to again make some forward progress. Every other step found one or both of us ankle to calf-deep for a moment. We kept this grueling work up for about 30 minutes, when Matthew suddenly stopped, straightened up, and said “Dad, I think I see someone over there.” I didn’t see anyone, or anything for that matter, besides the tall marsh. But after peering for a few seconds, I did make out a bright, fluorescent green shirt moving slowly ahead of us, and to our right. If it hadn’t been such a bright color, I don’t think we would have ever seen them. “Well”, I said, “he’s either lost like us, or, that’s the river.” Sure enough and fortunately for us, they were on the river. We still had another 40-50 yards of this little trickle of a creek and bog to pull through. When I say trickle, that is no exaggeration. At this point, the “channel” we were on was maybe 24” wide, and at the most, 6-8” deep, and just ahead of us, for some reason, it took a nearly 90 degree turn to the right. Inspired by the proximity of open water, we dug down deep and pulled-pushed-heaved-and strained, gradually moving past the right angle and inching closer and closer towards the river. We could finally stand up and see the water ahead of us over the reeds. Finally, with one final, long, and exhausted push, we surged out of the muddy grass and muck and poked into the edge of the river. We laid back and rested there for several minutes. Matthew dangled his legs, one after the other, over the side of the canoe into the water to wash the stinking much off his pants and boots. The fact that very light rain had been falling eluded us. We both drank from our bottles and shared a granola bar. After the break, and having regrouped mentally, we turned and headed down river, hoping to catch a glimpse again of the green shirt. After a bit of much easier travel, and a long bend in the river, we came up far behind them on a long open stretch. The bright shirt was easy to pick out against the backdrop around it. “Can’t miss that”, Matthew said. We noticed the river had been getting narrower, and shallower, too. Shortly, the green shirt way ahead seemed to stand up in his canoe. At first we wondered what he was doing. Then it hit me. “You’re kidding”, I said. The two men had gotten out of their canoe and were walking it on down river. We went as far as we could, but soon it was silly to try and keep paddling. I rolled up my pant legs and got out. The bottom here was pretty firm, with a bit of mud. We got used to the cold water soon enough, and both agreed the going now was easier than paddling had gotten. Soon, after a few in and outs at deeper spots or pools, we finally caught the pair in front of us at the next portage. And, it was nice to get out of the canoe after being in it all morning into something that didn’t try to swallow us! We chatted with these fellas for a few minutes. I noticed one of them had a shotgun stuck in one of his packs. I was tempted to ask him what he was protecting against, but didn’t. Moving our gear across didn’t take too long. On the second trip back, we were slowed by three different groups all on the trail at the same time, headed North. As we were just about to carry our last load back down, a solo paddler pulled into the portage. I asked him if he had come down Oyster Creek, like we had – curious to know how it gone for him. Granted, he was travelling lighter than two, but I felt two guys pushing would be better than one. He told us that a few days before he had run into a Ranger, who warned him of the low conditions South of Oyster, and suggested he portage over to Agnes and down to avoid it. Where was this Ranger when WE need him? LOL We hit the river again and soon caught sight of our travel pals at the next portage. What normally was a large waterfall and rapids here were as dry as it could be, with only a trickle here and there coming through. It was a bit disappointing, as I had remembered the nice view from before. A Bald Eagle more than made up for it. He sat in a tree right at the river’s edge just below the dry falls. As we drifted up slowly to get a good look, he took off right out towards us, curved back just over our heads, and headed right up and over the dry falls. It was a beautiful sight. As we reached the far side of the portage, the rain had picked up enough to warrant putting on some wetgear. It turned out we would need it the rest of the day. Before setting off again, we talked with the other two guys about moose hunting and how they had tried the year before. After, we asked them if we could “Play Through”. We all laughed, and as they broke for a cigarette break, we loaded up and headed out for Nina Moose Lake. Further down, we reached and pulled up and over a large beaver dam. It was built so well, we easily loaded broadside right up on the inner pool along the rim. Mister Beaver had done a fine job on this one. Afterwards was S-curve after S-curve, with several more smaller dams mixed in, but we finally paddled around one last curve, and broke out into Nina Moose. I found it funny that right at the mouth to the river, on our right, was a nice stretch of sandy beach. An easy landmark to spot the river by. “How could someone miss that”, I thought. The rain had really began to come down steadily now. We turned out of the river mouth and headed for the first camp on the Eastern side of the lake. It was open, and we wasted no time in the rain unloading and getting our gear up into the trees of the camp, setting up our tent, and crawling in out of the rain. We napped for a few hours as the rain came down, tired from the taxing journey down through the Oyster Creek mud pit. Around 6, Matthew crawled out to cook some dinner under the large tree that provided pretty good cover, near our tent. After him chiding me for snoozing in on our last evening, I dug out my last dry pair of long pants and joined him. There wasn’t much of a sunset with all the cloud cover, but under just enough light, we enjoyed our last dinner in the Boundary Waters for this year. Neither of us really wanted to turn in, so we lingered out a bit, enjoying a hot drink and just watching the lake in the rain. Nothing happened to speak of, but with some of the trees already changing color for Fall, it sure made for a pretty view out across the other shores. Closer to dark, we made sure our gear was stowed well and dry under tarp, then turned in to sleep under the stars one last time, somewhere up there.
Day 7 of 7
Monday, September 19, 2011 - ** Day 7 ** On the morning of our last day it was cool to cold, with steady light winds. The only thing in the sky was a fully visible, bright moon. I wished I would have had a nice camera to take a few pics of that. We decided to go out and give fishing one more go, figuring it would be pretty calm if we ventured back up into the river. For over an hour, we worked our way through the curves, stopping occasionally at opportunistic looking spots, until we found ourselves back at that large dam we had pulled up over yesterday in the rain. We lingered for Matthew to cast across to the other side of the dam pool, while I admired the spider-web handiwork on the adjacent reeds. Back down the river we went, until we reached that beach at the end of Nina Moose. We briefly worked the large field of reeds for anything, and then paddled back over to camp. Nothing. We were shut down without even a bite. It was obvious to me how disappointed Matthew was, and I felt it, too. Last year’s fishing had been spectacular. Maybe that was just a lucky trip, or was this the wrong time of year? We ate breakfast at leisure, allowing some of our stuff to lay out in the sun a bit. While we ate, we also began to pack up our camp, noticing that the two campsites across from us were getting ready to move as well. The Southernmost of those two camps had a Wolf encounter. We saw the two people milling around by the edge of their camp, and then suddenly there was a curdling-type of howl right near their camp. By the way they reacted, it was clear that the wolves were close! Matthew and I immediately looked at each other and both said almost in unison, “Glad it was over there and not here!” Not much after that, I noticed something moving across the lake to our South. It was moving steadily, and at first, I thought it was a canoe. “Look at that”, I said. “Is that a canoe?” We didn’t have binoculars, but tried to figure out what it was. It was white, or maybe off-white, and it moved smoothly. There was nothing erratic in its course. After a few minutes, as it reached a shoreline, it seemed to split into two. Matthew said, “That’s an animal or something. Let’s go check it out!” We grabbed our cameras, and jumped in the canoe, paddling fast towards that shore. I was thinking it was likely a big bull moose that had swum across the lake. Whatever it was, as we closed on it, it looked like it was climbing out of the water. But as we got within 40-50 yards or so, we saw it was two big, white swans. We slowed down, but they had seen us coming and weren’t going to hang around for a photo session. They began to run up the shore away from us, and only when they began to lift gracefully out of the water did we notice how big they were. To top it off, they even banked back towards us before they headed off to the East, giving us a grand view of their beauty. It was another first for us up here. Back at camp, we began to move our gear down to the water. We had watched the other camps leave, and as the third group paddled towards the river to the South, we headed across to follow. They reached the reeds on the far side well before we did, and as we neared, we lost sight of them when they disappeared in the thick growth and the reed cover. For a short bit, we struggled to find the mouth of the river. Matthew tossed out his line with a scum frog a few times while I stood to pick out the channel. He had no luck, but fortunately, I did. We made our way through the reeds and soon were on the little waterway. Again, there were several small beaver dams along the winding river. We passed a few folks coming in..then a few more..and some more. Later we learned that due to the big fire over by Lakes One-Two-and Three, they had been diverting travelers from that area elsewhere, including the EP we were headed for. I figured some of the people we passed were displaced from the East. After the marshy, curvy section of the river, we proceeded into the rockier, straighter part. I liked it better – much more personal and close, as opposed to the open plain. Oh..and more navigable! Maybe the dams were over for the trip? We breezed through the first portage that was a quick in-and-out around some small rapids. After a short bit, we came up on a portage that wasn’t marked on our map. The takeout on the right was rather muddy, as was the short walk through to the other side, maybe 10-15 rods across? On top of that, it was as severely bottlenecked as we had ever seen! There must have been 8 or 9 canoes total together in the cramped area. Two in front of us were trying to load in the mud and push off. The folks in the 3 canoes on the water waited patiently for their turn to come in, while Matthew and I and another couple stood back on the trail. Plus, there were two canoes coming up behind somewhere behind us soon. The culprit of all this mess was yet another industrious rodent that had built a big dam right above a curve in the small river. We shook our heads as we slowly moved up in line, waiting our turn to step around a large mudhole right in the path. I commented to the fella in front of me, “I thought I left all the traffic at home?” He agreed, and we both had a good laugh. Soon, we got our turn and made quick work in the mud. We now had two older couples directly in front of us, slowing the pace way down, but we didn’t mind much at all. After the next portage, we went ahead and dropped back behind them, knowing that had been our last put-in for the year, and also that our time on the water for 2011 was nearly over. As we drifted slowly along the narrow river, neither of us said a word. I leaned back a bit and smiled under the warm sun, just absorbing the silence, and the beauty around us. In a few minutes, we again came upon the folks in front of us, and sadly, the takeout area for the last portage. We unloaded quickly on a sandy area on the left, and moved our stuff up out of the way. There was no rush for us though. We were nearly 1 to 1 ½ hours ahead of our schedule. But just as we were in no hurry, two canoes with 4 younger men came flying into the portage, obviously with somewhere else they really needed to be. In my opinion, they all but ran over the second older man get his canoe out of the water. We just stepped off the trail out of the way, giving them all the room they needed. As they zipped up the trail and out of sight, we decided to just go ahead and draw this out into three full trips, instead of two. It was such a beautiful afternoon, and since we were in no rush, we figured, “Why not enjoy it?” The portage trail here is basically wide, smooth, and a piece of cake. We made our first crossing in no time, passing others that were leap-frogging their loads across. Matthew and I talked and laughed along the way, both very relaxed, and still feeling that level of excitement from just getting to be out there. Before we knew it, we were carrying our last packs off of the path and into the parking area up at the trail head. No matter how slow we had walked on the trail, and tried to milk these last moments, this year’s trip had just about come to an end. After stashing our canoe and gear away from the trail against the edge of the trees, I set up one of our chairs and took off my shoes to sit back and write down some travel notes. Matthew cracked open the food barrel for a quick snack. Before he could even finish rummaging, our outfitter Bret pulled up, early himself, to pick us up. We loaded up the suburban, opened the fabulous soft drinks he always brings at pickup, and settled into the super-comfy backseat for the ride back to Babbitt. I looked out the window at the trees whizzing by, catching most of the details from Bret on what had happened in the world over the past week. Mostly, I was thinking how this year’s adventure was complete, but by no means, would it be forgotten. ** Wrapping it up ** 2011 turned out to TRULY be, The Year of the Beaver. Directly, and indirectly, that furry little fella influenced and changed so many things about our travel on this trip! It had been a trip with many firsts for us : Hail, Snow, Below Freezing Temps (easily!), Bats, Swans, River Walking, and some extremely low water conditions, many stemming from the extra beaver activity. The fishing had not been even close to what we had hoped for, but even so, it was still exciting. We learned a lot about planning a trip this late in the year: How it affected the fishing and the temperature - the lower water levels (which could also influence our choice of routes) – and the amount of travelers we might encounter. Most importantly, Matthew and I were able to make some more deposits in our Bank of Life. Special moments shared with my son only make these trips, and the memories created, more precious. I can’t wait to jump into planning our trip for next year, and am excited to see what future trips hold in store for us.