BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
April 21 2021
Number of Permits per Day: 2
Elevation: 1361 feet
Wood Lake - 26
1974 The Rainy Trip
June 17, 1974
Number of Days:
Nowhere in my notes is there a date for this trip rather than "1974", so I am just guessing at the dates to put on this trip. But the format on this site insists upon a date, and I chose 6/17/1974 in a very abitrary manner.
All I have for reference is a small group of photos and a few pages in a little pink loose-leaf notebook. There is, as I said above, no mention of dates, so I don't know if it was spring or summer, but I am suspecting spring. The beginning and ending pages of my narrative are all about expenses on the road trip, and there are just a few pages actually chronicling the canoe trip itself. As I begin to tell about our experience, it will become obvious why I didn't keep more notes. I was in severe pain for the entire canoe trip.
I'll make note of the gasoline prices, lodging prices, food prices, etc. at the end of this story.
In 1974 our orange tent was about a year old, but we hadn't figured out yet that we needed a rain fly. Our first aid supplies contained no prescription pain medicine, and only a small metal tin with 12 aspirin. We didn't have a dry bag. Inside the Duluth Packs we had army duffles and just the stuff sacks that came with our sleeping bags. We wore cotton pants or shorts, cotton t-shirts, and tennis shoes, and I even had cotton socks inside my shoes. Neil had a canvas rain jacket from Army days, and I had a poncho. All of this is just saying that we weren't really prepared for five days of rain. Or a painful injury.
Still, this trip had a few bright moments, too. And some learning experiences. It's all good.
We traveled from our home in central Illinois to Michigan, dropping Mary Helen (age 4) and Edwin (2) off with Grandma and Grandpa Lutz in White Pigeon. Traveled to Minneapolis and stayed overnight, enjoying breakfast with our friends Merodie and Paul the next morning. Then we were on our way to Ely, where we did some shopping and had our supper at the A&W. We camped overnight at the campground at Canadian Border Lodge.
In the morning we would begin our trip from Moose Lake.
We started out on the canoe trip about 8 AM from Moose Lake Landing. There were LOTS of people!
Just as I was lifting and pushing off the canoe from the shore to begin our trip, I felt a snap in my left shoulder, followed by severe pain. Muscle spasms in shoulder, neck and middle/upper back! It made paddling difficult and portaging a Duluth Pack wasn't fun either. I hoped it would work itself out in a day or two, and in warm, sunny weather that might have been the case.
We had our lunch at the portage between Birch and Melon. Cheese sandwiches, oranges, and lemonade. A lady came by as we were eating and said, "I want that orange!"
[As I remember this encounter 47 years later, I was sitting on a wood dock at the portage (they used to have some of those), peeling my orange, and she and her husband pulled up and unloaded. They were near the end of their trip, and it was obvious that she hadn't had fresh food for a few days. That orange must have smelled so good! I smiled, but I didn't give her my orange.]
Back on our way, we walked up three rapids. There was a log dam at one spot, too.
We found a hilly campsite on Knife Lake and decided to camp about 2 PM. There were three fire sites at the campsite [obviously before the days of a designated fire grate] and Neil made a cooking fire as he always did. [We had a two-burner Coleman stove with us, (I portaged that, too) but most of the cooking was done on the campfire.]
I was battling severe muscle spasms and a high level of pain. It would have been good to have a stool or something to sit on while I fixed supper over the fire, but at least it was a simple meal: Mountain House beef stew, chicken noodle soup, and hot chocolate.
In the evening we watched fish jumping and a group of loons came by for our entertainment as well. The sky was getting quite cloudy and it smelled like rain was in our future. Little did we know!
It was a rainy night, and a cloudy AM. I awoke very stiff and sore, and it was hard to get going. By the time we left there was a light mist falling.
After breakfast we broke camp and we were on our way about 8:20. First stop--the "Isle of Pines".
[Note: Dorotny Molter is a canoe country icon. She lived alone on the Isle of Pines in Knife Lake for 56 years, one of only two people allowed to stay after the BWCA designation. After her death, all of her cabins were moved to Ely for the Dorothy Molter Museum. Both of our grandchildren have visited Dorothy's museum with us.]
On this misty, drizzly day we stopped for a traditional visit with Dorothy, to enjoy two bottles of her homemade root beer [my journal says 88 cents] and to sign her book. I wish I had talked with her more, but with off-and-on mist in the air and my constant pain, I wasn't in the mood. We just looked around, spotted the "Camp Easton" paddle in her canoe-paddle fence, signed the guest book, and were on our way again. [It was a good experience, but also a missed opportunity.]
We ate our lunch at the portage to the South Arm of Knife. [My husband says this isn't possible, as there IS no portage from Knife to the South Arm of Knife, but that is what my journal says.] Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches--we took a loaf of white bread and squeezed it to take out some of the air. It was a sticky mess. [Hadn't heard of taking crackers or tortillas back then.] The PB and J were in Coghlan tubes. Also enjoyed chocolate Space Food Sticks, dried fruit, and Kool-Aid. The main snack on all of our trips was German's Sweet Chocolate bars. [We didn't take a lot of snacks back then.]
The little waterfall at the portage to Eddy Lake was gorgeous. A big drop.
Made camp at 2:15 on Eddy Lake.
Supper: Turkey and noodles, corn, hot chocolate, raspberry apple crunch.
Did a quick bath and shampoo, and a little laundry.
The mist stopped in the evening and it was cool, but fairly nice. Cloudy.
We enjoyed a breakfast of scrambled eggs with bacon bits, Tang, and biscuits along with our coffee on a cloudy, misty morning. Broke camp and started out at 8:12. There are five portages right away, one small falls, several portages are "improved." [?] An otter played with us on Kek Pond.
The lunch stop was at the portage to Strup, where we met a hiker, Chris, who was on the Kekekabic Trail. She was from Connecticut, and said she was "bumming it." Lunch: cheese and bacon bits sandwiches, chocolate Space Food Sticks, Kool-Aid and cookies.
There is a 90-rod portage to Gerund Lake. We met some boys who had a leaky canoe, and one of them had to backtrack to get his camera.
TOO MANY PEOPLE!!
Campsites were full at Gerund, and also at Fraser Lake. Made our own on a high point in Frazer, as it was obvious that a storm was brewing. Neil says there are two cabins down a ways. I am not sure how he knows.
It was windy today all day, and off-and-on drizzle. Not a comfortable day for canoeing and portaging. We had 8-12 inch chop in Kekekabic, and the wind picked up a lot in the late PM. Looks like it may storm some. I am in serious pain down my left arm, into the shoulder and the middle back. Can't really turn my head as my neck muscles are in spasm. And I am somewhat leery of the storm that is approaching.
We camped about 3 PM. The weather was cool, blustery, and there was constant mist in the air.
Some kids came by needing adhesive tape. They were from a "Christian Family Camp".
We had our supper of soup, cheese and noodles, and freeze-dried applesauce.
In the night there was some significant storming. I was afraid, up high on the hill, and requested that we go down the hill and shelter under the canoe. Neil was less than enthusiastic, but he humored me and we sat under the Grumman from 1:15-2:20 AM. There was a lot of thunder, lightning, and rain.
A lazy morning, probably mainly because I was in so much pain, so every little thing went slower. It was gusty, gray, cold and rainy. Ugly weather.
We had a snack breakfast and broke camp by 9 AM. Were on our way by 9:15, on a stormy, rainy, windy day. The weather matched my mood. :-(
My notes say: Several short portages, grassy streamlike area.
[These would be the portages from Thomas to Thomas Pond to Hatchet. In those days no one had a waterproof camera, so it wasn't odd that I didn't take the camera out on a rainy, windy day. Still, I cannot help wishing there were some pictures.]
The campsite on Hatchet Lake was a beauty! It felt secluded; we felt "almost alone". A nice, two-bedroom campsite, with a view. I would like to say that it made up for the nasty weather and my pain, but that would be a lie. Still, a beautiful secluded location is always a blessing.
Lunch was pancakes with bacon bits and syrup, fruit cocktail, and coffee. Breakfast for lunch. Mmmm.
The afternoon cleared and was warm. We played Rummy. [I still have the scores in my notes.] I took some photos of the campsite.
If you look closely you can see a "Boy Scout" type constructed (Neil's description) table between the two trees. Normally we didn't expect or want such a thing, but I have to admit with my shoulder and back pain it was really nice to have it when fixing a meal.
I loved this campsite. I even made an effort to get a photo of it from the water.
Supper this evening is a mystery. My note looks like "ham ched", so I am assuming it was some sort of ham and cheese noodle dish, but really have no idea. It was accompanied by mixed vegetables and hot chocolate.
We ate our supper at 6:30 and then spent some time doing mending. I had to stitch up a pulled seam in my sleeping bag, and Neil was working on trying to repair a hole in his air mattress.
[We had inexpensive sleeping bags, no waterproof stuff sacks, and for cushioning we had old-fashioned pool-type air mattresses. Neither of the air mattresses made it through the trip, and the sleeping bags, once they were damp, weren't warm.]
We bathed in the lake and enjoyed the feeling of being alone. We were in the tent at 8 PM, with thunder and lightning again--and sprinkles.
It POURED all night, with lots of thunder and lightning. We're damp.
[This was the origination of an ongoing argument that has resounded through all of our four decades+ of canoe camping adventures. My husband says there is such a thing as "a little bit damp". I disagree. Damp is DAMP. Once things get damp, unless you can dry them out again, you are damp and cold and uncomfortable. And there is NO SUCH THING AS A LITTLE BIT DAMP! You are either dry and comfy, or damp and miserable. End of story! It was a miserable night in the damp bags, and I hated my pain, hated having no more aspirin, and hated the rain most of all!]
After a poor night's sleep listening to the rain and being cold, we had breakfast (oatmeal and hot chocolate) and broke camp early. We were on the water by 7:45 in calm water, with very dark, threatening skies.
The rain began at the portage out of Hatchet Lake. My book just says "streams and several portages" [but in looking at the map I assume it was 50 rods to Ima, 6 rods to Jordan, short portages to Cattyman and Gibson, 105 rods to Ashigan, and 53 to Ensign. All in a steady rain. I don't even remember seeing Cattyman Falls, but my book has a "nice falls" comment, so I assume we did.]
We met a party of three from South Bend, Indiana at the falls. The dad had gone to Michigan State, so we had something in common. [Besides being crazy enough to be out in the cold rain looking at a waterfall.]
My notes say "somewhat muddy" when describing the portages. Surely that must be an understatement. So much rain!
We made camp shortly after noon on a hill overlooking Ensign Lake. Birch trees all around, an area that had burned off at least once. No conifers. There is a resident duck.
On this rainy day we needed a hot lunch. So we had Kraft Mac&Cheese, green beans, the last of the oranges [surprised we carried something that heavy for several days], cookies and coffee.
We were trying to dry out the tent, and of course the sleeping bags, too. Still not having much luck, with rain off and on all afternoon. Neil was trying again to patch the air mattress without any success either. And here came the ankle-biters--biting flies!
There were six ducks: Mama, a little runt, and four other younger ones. They ate from our hands and picked on each other vying for our attention.
We went out in the canoe and I did a little practice paddling stern. [It never got to be my favorite thing.]
There are bones around the campsite. [Wish I had given a little detail about that.] We played cards for a while, too.
Supper was Mountain House chili mac, soup, hot chocolate, and applesauce. As we were eating, we realized it was getting colder and windy.
My pain level was still very high. [What I would have given for a heating pad and some RX pain medicine!] My sleeping bag was no longer damp, it was WET! The journal says "soaked". Could be a cold night.
It rained in the night. Most of the night. Not a big surprise.
I decided that I could not stay warm in the wet sleeping bag, in a wet tent, in the rain. So I slept in my pants, sweatshirt, shoes, and wrapped up in a silver space blanket that we had always carried for emergencies. It wasn't very warm, but it was dry. Both air mattresses had slow leaks, so by the middle of the night mine was flat as a pancake. No other way to put it: this was a bad night.
[Note: In subsequent years we purchased better gear and we learned to wear only wool or microfiber fabrics. No cotton. We got better sleeping bags, the kind that would keep us warm even when "a little bit damp", and Thermarest sleeping pads. We bought SmartWool base layers for those cold, blustery days.
We never took another trip without a rain fly over our tent. And eventually, in stages, we worked our way up to Gore-Tex PacLite rain gear, both pants and jackets. For our last few trips we took a tarp so that we could set up a dryer camp in days of steady rain. I began tripping in hiking boots instead of tennis shoes, and we had silk long johns for sleepwear. We never did abandon our heavy wool Woolrich shirt jackets, and we use them on cold, damp days even in 2021.
Eventually we began taking a small stove for cooking, so that we had an option besides the campfire or the large Coleman stove. And then we got camp stools--so great for cooking in front of the fire! Sometimes even a lightweight lawn chair.
The biggest change was probably a large SeaLine dry bag, so that our clothing and our sleeping bags stayed dry no matter the weather.
Oh, and one more thing! We asked our doctor for a prescription for some real pain pills, in case there was ever another time when they were needed. Never did another tip without them!]
In the afternoon of Day Five we actually got a break in the rain, and had some teases of sunshine. This is when we went out paddling, and also when we played with the resident ducks. I have always remembered this time as the morning of the last day, but in checking my notes I now see that it was the afternoon before the worst night of my canoeing career.
No matter. These are the only sunny, blue sky photos of the trip.
When I climbed out of the tent on this last morning to find misty rain and cold temperatures, there were tears. Not even the resident ducks could take away my heartbreak, as our "glorious" six days in the BWCQ would now always be remembered as "The Rainy Trip."
After sleeping on the ground wrapped in a crinkly space blanket, probably not really sleeping much at all, I was ready to end this adventure.
We broke camp at 7:45 and we arrived at Moose Lake Landing "about 9:30."
[In order to get to Moose Lake Landing we portaged to Splash, then to Newfound, and finally into Moose. It is an indication of my pain and my disappointment that there are no notes about any part of this route. Just "chop on lake, headwind, misty rain and quite cold."]
We loaded up the canoe and all of our soggy gear, and headed for Ely. Lunch at the KFC in Ely cost us $3.88 plus a 25-cent tip.
[And it was time to head for Michigan, pick up the children, and drive home to Illinois. Mary Helen and Edwin had stayed four days with Grandma and Grandpa Lutz in White Pigeon, then four days with Grandma and Grandpa Childs on the farm near Caro.]
Left home 5:47 AM (Groveland, Illinois, near Pekin)
Beginning mileage 53140
Gas (Carlock, IL) 54.9 cents, $10.75
Breakfast (Holiday Inn, Chicago) $9.00
Dropped kids off with my parents at White Pigeon, Michigan
Gas (Chicago) 54.9 cents, $10.75
Gas (Janesville, WI) 50 cents, $7.80
Lunch (Wisconsin Dells A&W) $2.45
Dinner (76 Truck Stop, Hudson, WI) $3.69
Gas (Hudson, WI) $9.75
Motel (Minneapolis) $26.73
Lunch (Hardees, Cloquet, MN) $2.50
Gas (Amoco) $9.15
Gibson's (stove and camping food) $31.94
Bill Rom, $9.50
Post cards, 85 cents
Souvenirs for kids $6.45
Freeze-dried food, $4.70
A&W supper, (Ely) $4.21
Lunch (KFC, Ely) $3.88
Gas (Spur) 50.9 cents a gallon
Coffee (A&W) $1.10
Motel (Ironwood, MI) $10.40
Supper (Stan's Bar) Pizza $4.50
Motel (Cozy Inn, Nestoria, MI)
Breakfast (Cozy Inn) $4.97 (Good)
Gas (Shell, self-serve, Rapid River, MI) 57 cents, $11.00
Our '71 Plymouth Fury Gran Coupe was a gas guzzler!!
Pasties and Coke, (St. Ignace, MI) $2.71
Toll at Mackinac Bridge $1.50
Hartwick Pines $1.26
Gas (Arco) 52.9 cents, $10.25 + 25 cents for pop Gas (Zephyr) $10.75
Picked up children at farm of Grandma and Grandpa Childs
Grandma C. $5.00 for phone calls and Pampers
Lunch (McDonald's) $3.81
Supper (Mr. Quick) $4.57
Gas (Skelley) $8.70
Home in Illinois 3 PM Monday
Ending mileage 55480.5 Total mileage 2340.5