BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
November 23 2020
Number of Permits per Day: 27
Elevation: 1356 feet
Moose Lake - 25
Wandering on Wind
May 21, 2006
Number of Days:
My family has always had a passion for the Boundary Waters. My parents both grew up canoeing, and my uncles, aunts, and grandparents all have great knowledge if not great experience with the lake country. We have many traditions, some of them a bit arbitrary, others downright strange. But one tradition that I am so thankful for is that annual spring trip to the BWCA.
This year it was my uncle, my cousin, my dad, and myself who would make the pilgrimage. Our loaded minivan rolled into Ely late in the morning, just shy of the noon-hour. After stocking up on a few supplies from Pamida, browsing in Piragis, and filling our stomachs at the Chocolate Moose, we drove to the landing at Moose Lake. Already we were being blessed with the warm May sunshine and the gentle breezes out of the west. Birds sang, the lake laughed softly on the shore. All of creation seemed to smile at us and beckoned us to venture into its wild ambitions.
To be canoeing once more was like waking from a deep slumber in the full radiance of the morning sun. Our muscles ached and creaked from their winter of non-use, and the rhythm of paddling struggled to take hold on our way across Moose. But nothing can defeat the feeling of flight on water. We hooked around the first island, taking note of that dear old friend the sign--Welcome to the BWCA. The west wind rolled lazily across the water, the waves tapped the sides of the canoes. Despite our rusty paddling and some quirks in navigation behind the islands and bays along the north shore, we made quick time across Moose Lake.
Portaging is that other great skill canoeists must learn. The landing on Wind Lake offered a great deal of help. The canoes kissed the sand and pebbles, and the wide stretch of trailhead was ours alone. Within minutes, two canoes, two packs, cj (canoe junk), and four men were making their way down the trail. Portaging is a fight, a struggle between the mind and the body. The first 50 rods or so proved a viable battleground. Within steps from the shore of Moose your calves start to ache and your thighs start to burn, and you realize that the trail is climbing up a steep hill. After 10 rods, you can turn and peer through the birch and undergrowth at the lake which is already a good ways below you. The hill is relentless, and only the focused mind can keep the canoes and packs steady. At last, after fighting up boulders and over treeroots, the trail begins its descent. The apex, a nondescript exposed piece of shield, yields to a trail shaded in denser foliage. If rains had come the night before, the path might better be named a creek or a swamp. But in the dry sunshine of this day, the earth was firm and the trek was light. The smooth, sloping trail gave way at last to a rocky, damp shore and a glassy lake.
Solitude is difficult to come by nowadays, but there are still places to find it. Wind Lake, a gem of a lake, sits between Moose and Basswood, two of the most popular lakes in the entire BWCA. It seems a natural midpoint for a trip originating in Moose heading for the inner parts of the country. Most, however, choose the easier route to Basswood, going up Moose to Newfound to Sucker and portaging once. The occasional trip will paddle through, and avid anglers might seek to drop their line in the lake. But Wind is largely ignored by those with greater ambitions.
We discovered, in our search for a campsite, that we would not be alone on the lake. Our desired site, an island camp we had used a few years earlier to great content, was already occupied. We ventured east to the shore-site. The instant swarming of flies signaled us to search elsewhere. we turned the canoes southwest, paddling for a larger island in the south of the lake. If only that site was open-- and it was! From the north side, it seemed nothing spectacular. Rounding the point, however, we were greeted by a large landing of shield jutting into the lake. The shield climbed upwards to a plateau of flatrock and dirt. The kitchen was large and well-kept, and the site was open and fresh with the smell of late-spring flowers. It was among the best of the campsites I had ever seen. A half hour later and it was home: the large dome tent was staked, the sleeping bags unrolled, the kitchen pack ready to go, and the food pack already missing some of its contents.
The sun fell across the afternoon quickly, and before long the sapphire sky was covered with ribbons of gold and pink. This was the signal to bait the lines and grab the paddles and set out on a hunt for the monsters of the deep--at least for my uncle and cousin. For my father and I, well, fishing can't hold our interest for very long. We prefer something more daring, something with an edge to ride on. So as my uncle and cousin prepared to fish, my father and I grabbed the maps and prepared to explore the lake until nightfall.
The singing of birds and the smell of dew-soaked earth greeted us the next morning. The sun was already up, had been up for hours, and the air already tingled with the warmth of the day now arising. It was time to get up, time to move, time to explore. Now, my father and I are of a different breed. Adventure and exploration are our zodiacs, and our only bounds are the points of a compass. My uncle and cousin are sturdy, steadfast, and a bit more reserved. What a task it was, then, to decide on a plan for the day.
The morning winds were yet to rise, and so a journey to Wind Bay proved too tempting to turn down. We paddled Wind to a tight point in its northwest corner where the lake entered the creek. It was here, also, that we encountered our good friend the beaver. That industrious creature had left two barricades on the creek, both slightly flawed and slightly submerged. Pulling over was easy. The creek's bottom rose more and more the further we paddled, and the banks moved ever closer in on us. At last, encountering a third beaver dam (this time the beast did it right!), we were forced to take to the landing and prepare for the trail.
By now our portaging skills were fully recovered, but this time they were not needed. The portage, a narrow but well-kept and relatively flat trail, delivered us to a small, deep portion of the creek above a set of waterfalls. And lo and behold! The trout, making their way up stream for spring spawning, had gathered in the pool. Their dark shapes moved effortlessly under the swirling current. We were not the first visitors to notice their presence. Beside the trail was day-old droppings from a bear. The trail continued across the creek, and so we had to float the canoes and gear across the 8-foot pool. Again the trail meandered easily downwards towards the landing on Wind Bay.
The north wind, finally roused from its slumber, greeted us as we set out on the lake. Schools of minnows scattered into the shallows as we approached, and a heron, startled by our approach, lifted its massive wings and took to the sky. My uncle and cousin were quick to sink their lures in the lake. My father and I set off to paddle as far up the creek as we could. We traced the shoreline until we camp to a small bay. Again we saw schools of trout. This time they ran ahead of us, darting up the current to avoid our supposed attack. They raced through the reeds ahead of us, and we paddled along the narrowing channel through the marsh. For ten minutes the pursuit continued, until at last the sound of reeds and breeze were mulled with the sound of gurgling water. The marsh gave way to a small clearing lined with trees and pine. At the far end of the opening, a small waterfall fed the lake with fresh water from Wind. Occasionally the trout would try to jump up the current. A few made it; others were forced to try again. Had others been here before? Probably. But on this trip, it was just our secret, our little gem hidden in the wilderness.
Wind Bay, though a part of Basswood Lake, is almost as secluded as Wind Lake. Few people have any desire to stay there, and only travelers entering from Wood Lake would find it a necessary stop for anything beyond. The occasional angler, armed with their motorboat from the Moose or Fall Lake landings, might stray into Wind Bay hoping to find a new secret spot. So it was with our exploration. We shared the bay briefly with a motorboat. They circled the island a few times in their efforts to find fish. We paddled north, daring to see Canada before the afternoon arrived. The north wind, seemingly aware of our ambitions, raised a challenge. As the motorboat gave up its search and sped out of the bay, the breezes on our faces grew in strength. The waves arched like jagged teeth and lightly slapped the canoe. Then they rapped upon it. Then they dared to spray us with the foam of the whitecaps. My father and I reached the campsite on the point--a nice, rocky point with a fantastic view of the lake--but my uncle and cousin were still tucked by the island. They had tried to follow us, but decided instead to continue their quest for fish. Having valiantly paddled against the wind, we were forced to concede and go back down the bay to meet with our other half for lunch.
After a productive morning of exploring and a not-so-productive morning of fishing, we returned to Wind Lake. The trail again, and the trout. Bear droppings and beavers and the north wind on Wind Lake. The campsite was the order of the afternoon, and a few hours of relaxation was in order.
Trips in the Boundary Waters hinge so tightly on the weather. Sunshine can turn even the worst experiences into light jokes and minor wounds. Fierce rains can make the easiest portage or best campsite seem like small bits of hell transplanted to earth. And so it was that this trip was a peaceful and grand as it was. Sunshine and sapphire skies ruled the day. With the exception of this afternoon. Later in the day, as the sun was just beginning to hint that it might sink below the horizon, the clouds began building in from the west. The radiant beams were hidden more and more frequently from us behind the giant, morphing pillows of white. At last it was hidden entirely. The wind no longer carried warmth, though it too seemed to notice the lack of sunshine as it eased its blowing slightly. The lake turned to a slate gray, but never once was there the threat of rain.
Taking this as a sign, my uncle and cousin pushed out in search of getting fish. They had caught a total of 5 already, all of them young walleyes and all within spitting distance of the shore. My father and I found another adventure. Taking along our two maps, both Mackenzie maps but made 10 years apart, we set out to see if the old map or the new map was correct: was there a portage to insignificant Washte Lake? Following the southern shore, we finally spotted what could be a trail along the nondescript rocky bay. We ventured as far as it would go--yes, it was a portage, for trees had been cleared and the path had been marked. Climbing over the muddy rocks, we emerged from the forest, only to see the lake eye to eye. Literally. Our feet were below the level of the lake, and the surface of the water was at about eye level. Whether it was the clever beaver again or a group of loggers, I'm not sure, but the end of the portage consisted of a large and long log dam that held back the entire force of the lake. Washte was beautiful, a truly secluded spot in the entire wilderness. It was a good sized lake dotted with just a single island in the middle. The rocky and pine-covered shores jutted into the water at regular intervals. Untold fish swam in those waters I'm sure, just as hundreds of untold stories surround this lake: who found it? why is there a portage to this dead-end lake? why is it called Washte? did Indians once live here? Contented like little boys, we returned to the canoe and paddled back to the campsite to retell our brief adventure around the dinner campfire.
Canoeing is a sound unlike any other. The paddle enters the water with a small pop. The water giggles and the blade is drawn through it. Then it drips ever so delicately off the edge as the paddle completes the circle through the air and prepares to slip in the water once more. It is peace. That evening, after the afternoon clouds had dissipated, we pushed off in our canoes once more. With the silent explosion of the setting sun filling the sky, the lake turned to glass, turned to the sky, and the sky to the lake. The canoe was hung at the center of it all, floating between heaven and earth with endless blazing voids both above and below. Only the occasional heaving breaths of the forest betrayed the flawless surface of the water.
The sun greeted us once again this morning. Light overnight rains had cleansed the earth, and the sweet aroma of fresh trees washed over the campsite. It was time to go, the bitter time of goodbye. Packing up the site was fast work. Within minutes, one could hardly tell that anyone had slept there the last two nights. The portage trail carried us swiftly back to Moose, and the light breezes whisked us across to the landing. The sun shone, the winds beckoned, and the birds called--yes, we will return. Soon enough, we'll be back.