BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
January 17 2021
Number of Permits per Day: 8
Elevation: 1191 feet
Snowbank Lake - 27
A solo new beginning
May 21, 2019
Lake One (30)
Number of Days:
I spend the night in the Snowbank parking lot sleeping in my van. I wake at first light, wash my Subway sandwich down with some grape Gatorade, and then crawl out and begin hauling my gear down to the landing. The air is undeniably crisp but, mercifully, there isn't a trace of wind and Snowbank Lake is a sleeping giant of mirrored liquidity. Still, I keep reasonably close to shore as the magical silent elegance of the misty white horses marching around the shoreline are my only companions on my northward traverse across this slumbering expanse of water. I am beyond thankful for the calm paddling conditions this morning as this is my first true solo in ten years and there is a mixture of varied emotions as I shake off the rust of long dormant skills & knowledge. In short order I develop a good paddling rhythm and enjoy the added freedoms soloing affords but, I also miss the curious perspective that Aurora brings to a trip. I don't want to adversely add to either the water level, temperature or saline content so I try not to dwell on these thoughts too long and keep my paddle in the water and my mind on the task at hand.
In hopes of achieving a greater sense of solitude, as planned, I choose to take the less traveled northern route out of Snowbank. Having enjoyed a carefree paddle across the width of Snowbank, I am now maintaining a constant vigil of keeping an eye out for submerged boulders as I enter the bay where the portages into Boot Lake are located. My map shows 2 separate portages originating here. I briefly look for the northern most trail as the map shows it as one long path but, it looks like there is a lot of blow down and I don't see a landing, so I opt for the southern portage. While not overly taxing, this trail is full of bothersome protruding boulders. After finishing the haul, I bushwhack a short distance back into the woods to check out the diminutive waterfall located there. It's a very short paddle across the pond to the next section of the portage. Again, I search in vain for the longer single portage but do not run across anything that looks like a trail. It's of no concern as this second portion of this portage is quite easy.
As I push off into Boot Lake, a bald eagle swoops down from it's elevated perch as if to say "follow me". On this end Boot is very shallow and there are a preponderance of ducks and various waterfowl all within eyeshot as I navigate my way towards the Abinodji portage. I pull off at the campsite located in the SE corner of the lake to stretch and grab a quick snack. There is a neat rock shelf near the fire grate and a nice westerly view can be contemplated from this vantage point. Unfortunately there is a lot of blowdown in camp and the only remaining tent pads are marginal at best.
It's not shown on any map I've seen but, due to a large beaver dam, there is a short (2 rods) portage at the narrows leading to the back bay where the portage to Abinodji is located. The Abinodji portage landing is concealed but, since the bay is relatively small, finding it by default isn't a major inconvenience. The trail climbs almost immediately and keeps doing so for a majority of the trail before dropping steeply down to Abinodji lake. Being out of shape as I am, (only having done one trip early last year) this portage really wiped me out and I seriously contemplate grabbing the lone site on Abinodji if it's available.
The solitary campsite on Abinodji is located high atop a rock knob. The landing is a bit constricted but, workable. After the ascent to the site proper, I am rewarded by a magnificent view of the lake. The site, while small, will certainly meet my needs. I sit and assess the situation and grab a blueberry crisp Clif bar. My hope was to make it to Jordan Lake today so I could make it to Sagus Lake tomorrow. I try to formulate how stopping here will alter those plans. According to the last forecast I heard, tomorrow is potentially going to be a nasty weather day and I may not want, or even be able, to travel. So, after resting up for a short while, I determine to take advantage of todays beautiful weather and push on; fully realizing that there actually won't even be another site until Jordan Lake. It aides my decision to understand that none of my remaining portages are very long, (only the Cattyman trail has much of a climb) or difficult.
Swing lake is a short paddle away. This is a pretty decent trail with a helpful boardwalk on the muddy Swing lake end. A triumphverant of melon sized snapping turtles are inhabiting the landing and I think we are all equally startled by each other. After a short paddle, the next portage into Gibson has a little elevation but, really is a pretty basic up and over. The rapids rushing out of Cattyman can be heard as I push off into Gibson. The huge landing is readily apparent from across the lake. A delightful cooling breeze provides welcome refreshment as I paddle across. The enchanting visionary reward for my choice of continuing on today is, of course, Cattyman Falls. After hauling my gear across I take sometime to enjoy this sublime natural wonder. I also think the rock formations along the portage trail are really neat. Kind of surprised that I am able to enjoy this area without any intrusion while (yet again) I catch my breath and then enjoy some time alone at this wilderness waterfall.
The first other canoeists are seen across Cattyman heading for Jordan Lake. I'm hoping to grab the northern most site there but, they obviously got the drop on me and, at this point, I'll take what I can get. The portage into Jordan is a very nice well worn trail and I see a bald eagle perched atop the highest tree on the Jordan end. And, as it swoops down, I immediately recall the bald eagle from Boot Lake this morning and whimsically believe it is the same bird who has led me the whole way.
As I round the narrows into Jordan lake and turn north, the wind coming from that direction catches the front of the Black Pearl and pushes me around a bit; but after I regain control, to my surprise, the coveted site is unoccupied. Happy Day! The welcoming sandy beach makes for a most accomodating, easy landing. I quickly take stock of the day and, while exhausted, am extremely grateful for the decision to push on earlier today. Camp goes up quickly as I forego trying to set up the tarp as I'm hopeful to continue on to Sagus tomorrow. I prepare my least labor intensive meal (macaroni & cheese) and enjoy a magnificently starlit campfire and the expanse of this awesome site into the evening hours.
~Snowbank Lake, Boot Lake, Abinodji Lake, Swing Lake, Gibson Lake, Cattyman Lake, Jordan Lake
At some point in the overnight nasty weather moved in and is continuing on into the day. As I crawl out of the tent, sizeable whitecaps are perpetually racing across the lake. As I eat my breakfast bagel, the reality that I'm going to be stuck in camp today begins to set in. If Jordan Lake is whipped up this much, it doesn't take me any imagination to discern that larger lakes like Ima & Thomas will undoubtedly be even worse.
Sporadic rain accompanies the wind on and off throughout the day. Fortunately this site provides some nice spots for shore fishing, thus providing a welcome diversion. I also process an ample supply of firewood for a hopeful fire later tonight. I had been hopeful of moving on today so I didn't set up my CCS tarp yesterday. And, even though the weather is dictating the necessity of a tarp now, I stubbornly refuse to do so. While this is a fabulous spacious site, one of the drawbacks is that there really aren't any convenient tarp options near the fire grate area; which is the main contributing factor to my unwillingness to set up the tarp. So, the fact that I repeatedly retreat to my tent and eventually finish off one of the books I brought with (Parish Priest - a biography of Fr. Michael J McGivney) should clue everyone in to what kind of day it is.
I'm afforded a bit of a window to grill and consume my ribeye dinner but extended enjoyment of a campfire is not in the cards tonight, so I retreat to the tent for the last time hopeful for an early start tomorrow morning. Kind of a bummer I had to use up my layover day right away but, not wanting to force a bad situation is the overriding factor for todays decision; and I don't regret it.
Camp comes down quickly and I'm on my way early this gray, gloomy morning. The Jordan Lake narrows provide a picturesque, and historic, backdrop for some early exploration. I also take time to contemplate the faint pictographs on the rock walls before pulling up to the short portage into Ima. It's a relatively easy gradual uphill to Ima. Once out on Ima I see an occupied campsite along the north shore but, other than that, Ima is pretty quiet. I overshoot the portage into Hatchet as this landing is quite literally a hole in the wall and easily missed. While this is certainly not an overly difficult trail it does surmount a decent hill over an exceedingly bouldery path. The reason I mention it is because this portage becomes a bit of a watershed moment for me. While I struggled portaging on day one; here today, I can tell I've got my steps and breathing back in sync which really helps to boost my confidence.
I decide to detour into Hatchet Lake for a brief rest stop and to see some new country. The northern site is occupied so I pull into the southern site. It's small and constricted but it serves its purpose and soon I'm back on the water. Upon reentering the creek I begin to cross paths with the first people (3 different groups) of the trip. The first portage on Hatchet Creek is very easy and I could foresee being able to walk up/down this one if water levels allow. As it is, I take the portage trail. The next offers a scenic little waterfall to contemplate and then intersects the Kekekabic hiking trail. The portage is short enough that erroneously heading down the wrong path isn't a problem. Finally, the last portage is a short little wilderness highway up to Thomas lake.
Before heading out on Thomas Lake I decide to pull out my fishing rod and do some trolling while I paddle across the lake to the Fraser narrows. I reel in before the narrows and enjoy this intimate setting this area affords. The winds have picked up a bit as I enter Fraser Lake, contributing mightily to the noodle like status of my arms. While here I was hoping to check out the location and remains of the Fraser Lake Cabin but, having to do battle with ever increasing waves helps convince me that isn't my best course of action. Eventually, I pull up to the short portage into Shepo Lake which proves to be an easy up and over. Shepo is a beautiful little lake and I decide to take a circuitous route counterclockwise to the Sagus portage. The lone campsite is occupied so, not wanting to intrude; I cut off, re-route and head straight for the portage. The landing on this end is quite mushy but, otherwise unremarkable. The trail itself is level and shows signs of past improvements before reaching the tight, rocky landing on Sagus.
I paddle off for the site in the SE corner of the lake and am happy to find it available. While this is a nice site I think it has gotten a lot more praise than it deserves on various internet sites. The landing is full of mature cedar trees which makes pulling the canoe up (and storing) very cumbersome. It's a tough climb up to the site and the view provided across the lake is quickly disappearing as the ever growing trees are filling in the vista. However, there is an excellent firegrate area and the large pines provide ample duff for a couple of ideal tent pads.
Yet again, I'm exhausted and sore but, much more satisfied with my performance on this travel day. Of concern, I notice the Black Pearl has some damage. She hadn't even seen the water last year so my usual maintenance checks had been neglected. As I pulled her up for nightly storage, I notice the wood of the yoke was beginning to rot and pull away from one of the bolts. Fortunately it is still pretty solid everywhere else so I gave her my best Han Solo pep talk. "She'll hold together! (and then whispering) Did ya hear me? Hold together baby." This potential dilemma not with standing - sleep comes easy, yet again.
~Jordan Lake, Ima Lake, Hatchet Lake, Thomas Lake, Fraser Lake, Shepo Lake, Sagus Lake
I opt for the portage directly into Fraser towards the northwestern edge of Sagus. It's certainly nothing crazy but, It does provide enough of a workout that I'd recommend coming in from Shepo (even though there are 2 portages required coming in/out that way) for those looking to save some sweat equity. The portage into Gerund is level, though a bit rocky. While standing by the shore I spy an old knot hole washing up on shore. It strikes me that this is exactly the type of thing that Aurora is usually fascinated by, so I snatch it and place it in my pack as a remembrance of this trip and a gift for her. The trail to Ahmakose is short and visually appealing but, does climb steeply when heading north as I am. Beautiful high rolling hills densely populated with soft green pastel of various deciduous trees serve as a breathtaking backdrop on this picturesque lake. The trail to Wisini is the longest of the day and does provide a bit of a challenge, especially since there is a huge pine that has recently fallen across this path. Towering sheer cliffs shadow me as I paddle out onto Wisini. And, I pause to inspect the famed Wisini 'tripod' rock at the narrows of this beautiful lake.
Right across the lake, atop a high - nearly sheer - bluff, sits a neat campsite. The huge drawback to this site is that there is not a convenient landing near the site proper. As it is, I land right under the site and tie the Black Pearl off on a nearby tree, and then proceed to goat climb up to the site. A commanding panoramic view of most of the lake is afforded from this elevated vantage point. There are several flat tent pads and trails for exploration. Undoubtedly, this is the premier campsite in this immediate area and, in my mind, would easily rate 5 star if not for the lack of a decent landing.
As I approach the portage into Strup, the weather is beginning to worsen. The portage is short and drops down to Strup over a pretty decent trail. Strup is a much lower lying lake than Wisini. And, with the gloomy cool weather, I surmise a moose sighting might be in the cards while paddling across this swampy looking lake. At the portage into my destination lake (Kekekabic) A few people emerge just as I'm pulling up to the landing. They confirm what I already suspect. Kek is really getting whipped up by the worsening wind and weather. While I was hoping to try for some lake trout in Kek, it just doesn't seem to be in the cards. I decide to just hike the portage, sans canoe & gear, and at least gaze upon one of the jewels of the BWCA from shore. Perhaps I'll be able try to some fishing later on Ahmakose or Gerund?
Another, more personal, reason for wanting to get to Kekekabic is that it was a lake that Vickie and I had spent 3 wonderfully memorable days back on our very first trip together. With the unfortunate circumstances of our broken relationship I thought getting here and spending some time was paramount and could serve both as our symbolic end, and my new solo beginning; somehow tying them together. And, as mentioned, I do not haul the Black Pearl across. But, I do physically step out into the lake take stock of my situation and reflectively recall our many awesome trips and memories created which all started on a trip to this lake. I further contemplate what the various facets of my future will look like and surmise, that one way or another, I will certainly persevere and "Count it all joy" for having had the years and time together I was afforded. Both the good and the bad. And, regardless whatever else may happen on this trip, I'm most thankful for having made it here to Kekekabic Lake, and this reflective experience will definitely qualify this trip as a success.
Once my hike is over, I begin to work my way back to Sagus. Rain soon accompanies the intensifying winds. By the time I reach Ahmakose, it is readily apparent that fishing anywhere today is not going to be an enjoyable endeavor. Once back on Fraser the wind's full fury is on full display and I buckle up to battle the innumerable whitecaps between here and the portage into Shepo. Mercifully, Shepo & Sagus are not nearly as volatile and my knuckles are able to fully regain their pinkish hue.
Once back in camp the comforts of dry Under Armour & socks are a luxuriant pleasure. For the most part the rain stays away this evening and I'm able to stay up late enjoying a couple of drinks and a comforting, warm campfire.
~Sagus Lake, Fraser Lake, Gerund Lake, Ahmakose Lake, Wisini Lake, Strup Lake, Kekekabic Lake, Shepo Lake
Rushing water is heard as I approach the landing which provides a decent spot to pull up. The trail it self is a bit overgrown but, easily followed as it climbs slightly to Roe Lake. On my last return trek across this portage I notice a couple other canoes out on Sagus heading this way. The island site on Boulder is my target today and, while I have regained my sea and portage legs, they will undoubtedly overtake me before I will reach that lake. Trying to put this out of my mind, I press on across Roe Lake.
The shoreline around Roe is low lying and swampy so, as I paddle on, I scan the area for moose. No moose is forth coming, as perhaps the ever increasing occasions of blue sky and sunshine may be keeping them in cooler locales. The diminutive creek leading to my next portage is easily located and navigated. There is a large beaver hut right in the middle of this quaint waterway that serves as a trail marker that the portage is just off a little finger to the left. The landing is pretty decent and the trail climbs a little before leveling off. I take this opportunity to use this elevated vantage point to look back and see where the group I'd seen on Sagus was. Good news. It appears they cut off and headed for Raven Lake! This helps lift my spirits as I finish up the mostly level but, muddy, portage. For such a swampy portage, it comes as something of a shock to see such a humongous boulder just off the trail near Cap Lake.
Since I don't have anyone following me anymore, I pull into the lone campsite on Cap Lake to take a short siesta. It's certainly nothing to write home about as the landing is tough and it is very small with no convenient tarp options. It does have a couple of small tent pads and I guess a person could make it work if needed. After my refreshing break, I paddle across the lake to my next portage.
Some maps show a short portage to the creek on the south side of Cap, and there is faint evidence of a landing there. But, I decide on using the more well worn traditional trail at the extreme eastern edge of the lake. It does climb up out of Cap and there are a few slight ups and downs along the way but, nothing to get too concerned about. Shortly after crossing over a tiny brook the trail climbs up to the junction for the cutoff to Boulder lake. This is easily discerned and serves as my first drop off point for my packs as I leapfrog this portage. The section from the cutoff down to the pond is without a doubt the most challenging part of this portage. Twisting and turning with a few more severe ups and downs - especially coming out of the pond heading north. However, I did stumble onto a lone morel mushroom just off the trail here! Once at the pond, I need to reload the canoe and paddle the short distance down the creek (left from the landing if coming from the north) to the next landing. Each landing is within eyeshot of the other but, there are several false landings that temporarily confuse me. The final leg of the portage is a little wet in some places but, otherwise fairly level and well worn. As I near Boulder Lake there are some nice mature pines and cedars along the trail. Carrying the Black Pearl on my first trek across; my spirits are lifted as I begin to see the first signs of water through the dense forest. Now moving with an extra spring in my step I briskly press onward. WHAM!!! I am literally floored! Laying in a crumpled heap under my canoe I am able to slowly crawl out to determine what just happened. A large widow maker is hanging precariously from a tangled mess of branches from either side of the trail. Thankfully it didn't drop when I piled into it with my canoe. After regaining my bearings I finish up the portage and emerge out onto a sun drenched Boulder Lake.
Fortuitously, the island site is vacant and I lay claim to it. A nice flat boulder slabbed landing makes unloading very convenient. The firegate is elevated and provides a panoramic view to the east. There are several exquisite well sheltered tent pads and a nice pile of welcome wood to boot. A large downed jack pine provides ample seating but, is also a bit cumbersome for getting from one side of the site to the other. Presently the firegrate is a bit on the exposed side but, if future visitors allow the small cedars out in front to mature properly, that chink in the armor will disappear. All and all, a really nice site with lots of cedars and white pines. My 2 favorite canoe country trees.
I take full advantage of the idllyic evening and head out on the lake after camp is up. While I do have success fishing, I really enjoy just being able to enjoy a leisurely paddle around the lake without having to deal with troubling wind and/or rain. My weather radio has been saying tomorrow is finally supposed to be a nice day throughout and I am looking forward to enjoying it.
~Sagus Lake, Roe Lake, Cap Lake, Boulder Lake
The weatherman gets it totally wrong, as the sun is nowhere to be seen. Although disappointed, I keep a positive outlook for the day as I still hope to make it to Adams lake to do some exploring. I head out after a quick bagel & oatmeal breakfast. My Voyageur map showed 2 portages before reaching Adams lake. I am able to paddle through the mine field of submerged boulders just after entering the creek. Since I am heading 'down' river a couple of beaver dams in this upper section are easily paddled over/through. The first, and only, real portage I encounter is a trail that by passes an impassable set of rapids. It drops steeply but, it is quite short and well worn. The downstream landing shows potential to be quite the mudhole but, I am able to hopscotch on some of the protruding boulders and mostly avoid the muck. There is one last larger beaver dam that I pull over before reaching Adams.
After negotiating the preponderance of twists and turns in the tiny bays in the northern section of the lake, I troll down the western edge of the lake. I spy a group of four just vacating the island site and heading for the Beaver Lake portage as I slowly advance to that destination as well. Neither of the two campsites along this shoreline look too impressive from out on the lake, so I paddle past without further investigation. As I turn into the narrow bay leading to the Beaver Lake portage, high rock bluffs begin to accentuate the scenery.
This portage is one of the more famous in the BWCA, and for good reason. I stash the Black Pearl and my gear out of the way before beginning my exploratory trek across this scenic portage. This end of the trail is level and fairly non descript. Near the mid point of the trail the high rock bluffs close in a bit and there are a few spots where snow and ice are still clearly evident. One of the many highlights of this trail is the man made stone steps that drop down towards Beaver lake. Shortly there after, the trail turns sharply left and follows along the high sheer stone wall to the Beaver lake landing. I endeavor to bushwhack to the top of this daunting escarpment. It's a tough but manageable climb. Somewhat surprisingly, there are multiple piles of mooseplums scattered up here as I work my way up to an absolutely breathtaking overlook of Beaver lake. While on this 'mountain' I spend some quality time with God, once again prayerfully reflecting and sharing my thoughts before heading back down.
Once back at the Adams lake landing, I load up the Black Pearl and paddle over to the now vacated island site. This is an idyllic campsite with a nice landing and open shorelines that provide excellent shore fishing opportunities. The fire grate is nestled in a ring of mature trees of different varieties. There are multiple flat tent pads just outside of the fire grate area and some convenient trails for exploration and fire wood gathering. Really a most beautiful site.
Afterwards I paddle northwards to explore the myriad of bays, fingers and channels catching a few fish while doing so. For a brief spell it looks like the sun may actually make an appearance but, that proves to be wishful thinking and the clouds close up the sky yet again.
As I eventually paddle my way back to Boulder lake I am working against a mostly unnoticeable current. For the most part this is a non-issue but, at a few of the small beaver dams I cannot muster the momentum to push past them and need to get out and pull through. The last one before reaching the lake is located along something of a short rock slide. And as I am pulling the canoe through I do a Laurel & Hardyesque flip onto my back side. Fortunately for me I am 'blessed' with ample posterior padding which helps soften the landing. The water is only 8-10" deep but I immediately find out first hand that it is still uncomfortably cold. I am wet, cold and sore but, all things considered I immediately take an attitude of gratitude and thank God as this mishap could've been alot worse. Especially considering how deep into the wilderness I am when this happened. I shudder to consider having to portage my way out from here with a broken bone or even a severe sprain. I take on a new appreciation for being more conscious of safety from here on out.
Another silver lined aspect of my spill is that I am very close to camp so I am able to quickly paddle over and get into dry clothes. The dry warm change of clothes (Under Armor base layers) feels especially indulgent on this cool crisp evening as I take an exploratory hike around the island. For the most part the woods are reasonably easy to walk through and, correspondingly, the back side of the island shows clear evidence that others have been here. On my way back I find a few more prime cedar logs for firewood processing. As I make my cuts, the bark easily peels away revealing some really cool patterns where the bugs have dug in. Maybe its the fact that I'm solo??? But, contemplating these patterns fascinate me more than they probably should. I enjoy the fruits of my labors as evening sets in. Warm fire, cool drink.
~Boulder Lake, Adams Lake, Beaver Lake
Today the plan is to move on to Alice lake. Although, the exceedingly cool weather keeps me lingering in my sleeping bag well into the daylight hours. At this point I must admit, the several concurrent cold mornings have taken a toll on my psyche. Begrudgingly, I eventually crawl out to face the day. There is an occasional light mist in the air that further deepens my dark mood. While eating breakfast, I seriously contemplate just staying put for the day but, afterwards, I slowly begin to start tearing down camp. As I am trudging my packs down to the shoreline a welcome intrusion awaits me. My bwca.com sticker has drawn the attention of a couple of paddlers out on the lake. A warm welcome from fellow bwca.com'er ghamer (and friend) really help to lift my spirits and we have an extended conversation comparing notes on each others trips. For those who may be a little fuzzy as to who ghamer is? He frequently provides stunning photo trip reports on bwca.com and often has photos published in BWJ. We joke that if a person were to draw an 'X' in the middle of the BWCA that we are currently standing where that mark would likely be drawn. Also, I warn them of the widow maker on the north portage out of the lake. This friendly visit is just what I need to muster the motivation to get going today.
What with all the cool weather and sporadic rain I optimistically tell myself that a moose sighting is much more likely. Unfortunately that doesn't prove to be the case today as I make quick work of familiar waters and portages before stopping at a Beaver lake campsite for a short rest stop. Its still gray & gloomy but, it appears the light rain has stopped for the day. The portage into Trapline is level but, strangely a little overgrown. My Voyageur map shows a portage after Trapline gives away to river paddling but, I find no need for it and easily paddle through flatwater only bumping a couple of submerged boulders. As I enter the River lake portion of the Kawishiwi river paddling becomes somewhat monotonous but, the scenery is outstanding keeps me wanting to push forward.
Needing a break, I pull off just prior to reaching the 18 rod portage where there is a campsite on the west side of the river. In my opinion this site would only qualify for emergency use if planning on camping here but, it serves me well as a temporary stop. It's already been a long day and I find the 18 rod portage more of a headache than I anticipated. Muddy, lots of twists and turns and the downstream landing is fairly tight. I realize afterwards there is a better trail.
Not wanting to have to backtrack tomorrow; though I am weary I decide to paddle into Fishdance lake and checkout the pictographs. Jerry Vandivers haunting song silently occupies my mind as I paddle up to the sheer rock wall along the western shoreline of this scenic narrow lake. I briefly flirt with the idea of camping here but, my desire to get to Alice lake trumps those thoughts.
The climb at the beginning of the 92 rod portage makes me briefly reconsider my decision but, soon enough, I've found my portaging rhythm and the cacophony of rushing waters serve as the soundtrack to my wilderness workout. The 18 rod trail is another up and down with inconvenient landings but, I know this is my last portage of the day and eager anticipation is now overflowing. As the river unfolds into the expanse that is Alice lake, I can't help but notice that the first campsite is open. I must admit it is invitingly enticing but, I've got my mind set on one of the beach sites towards the northern end of the lake. Of course it will be disappointing if it is occupied but, I resolve that it will be worth the extra paddling to find out.
A couple of the premium sites along the eastern seaboard are occupied as I paddle northwards. As I round the large NE peninsula I hold my breath......the beautiful sand beach slowly comes into view. As I scan the shoreline I see no sign of anyone as there are no drag marks or footprints discernible on the sugar sand beach. I can't believe my luck. For the 4th time on this trip my target site is available! And, it looks like I'm the first to use this site this year.
This site has it all! Obviously the landing is top notch. The firegrate is well positioned and offers good stone settings for kitchen items and there's even a small stash of welcome wood in the small cubby by the firegrate. The mature cedar trees provide ample shelter, shade and give the camp an almost magical aura. (No need for a tarp). There are several nice, flat tent pads and well worn trails run in every direction. Including out to the point of the peninsula where shore fishing can be productive. The chink in the armor would be revealed as I headed to the latrine. The latrine itself was fine but, just behind it, piled up in a reasonably neat fashion; was a large amount of abandoned camp supplies including several tarps, rope, pots, pans and a huge table top stove! While disgusted at the mess, I had to tip my hat for the unreal effort it would've taken whomever to portage all this stuff back in here. There isn't much I can do about the mess so, I decide not to let it ruin my experience here; and I allow my sore body and weary mind to relax into the calming silence of the evening.
~Boulder Lake, Adams Lake, Beaver Lake, Trapline Lake, River Lake, Alice Lake
Having endured 6 days in a row where it was either cold, rainy, windy or just plain disagreeable weather wise at some point during each of these days; today the pattern finally breaks and I finally wake to no wind, blue skies and plenty of sunshine! Surprisingly the only really wet or damp items I have at this point is the pair of pants and underwear I was wearing when I took my spill the other day and, my tent and CCS tarp. I take a little time to set these items out (the tent is obviously already up) to dry and then get ready to head out and explore Alice Lake with the Black Pearl.
It's an idyllic bluebird day with just a trace of a cooling breeze. I spend the early afternoon lazily paddling around the north end of the lake including the narrow arm. Near the entrance to the narrow arm there is a cool naturally protruding rock formation that catches my eye. As I quietly paddle around a good number of natural wonders vie for my attention. Taking a moment to step back; from a certain perspective I realize that none of these things are really all that unique or unusual, it's just that this is actually the first day on this trip where I've been able to contemplate them under blue skies without the threat of wind or rain. This fact helps me enjoy this day all the more!
Later, back in camp, I have a light lunch and then decide to do some hiking on the trails spider webbing out from camp. I work my way out to the beautiful peninsula beach just west of camp and then follow the south shoreline back east towards the other campsite located there. Along the way I stumble upon some artifacts (or garbage - depending on your perspective) of days gone by. I remember my Dad talking about bringing motor boats back here many years ago, so it's not surprising that there is residual evidence of that bygone era still around.
I finally emerge out into the campsite located here on the SE side of the peninsula. It has a huge wide open sandy beach. There is an expansive view across Alice from this vantage point and the backside of the site sports some mature red pines. The draw back is that most of the site is almost completely open with limited convenient tarp options making it very susceptible to winds ripping through camp. Still for summer time campers, you could do a lot worse.
There is a well worn trail from this camp back to mine and I look for prime peices of firewood on my way back. It is still reasonably early when I get back to camp but, instead of heading back out on the water I do some shore fishing from the peninsula. As the sun drops, I retreat back to camp to enjoy my first real sunset of the trip. I savor the more moderate weather pattern of this evening and stay up late finishing off my ardent spirits. It was a long time in coming but, I thoroughly enjoyed all aspects of this temperate, rain free day.
Awake to another sunny morning. Everything got a chance to air out yesterday so I am able to pack away everything dry (which I always enjoy). Alice is not quite in mirror form but, it is close enough that I decide to cut across the open expanse, and heart, of this large body of water. As if on cue, once I reach the Kawishiwi river, a gentle cooling breeze kicks up. While yesterday was a glorious day that I am still savoring, I am not so far removed from the harsh memories of the near week long cold & rainy stretch as to not fully appreciate even the subtlest weather related blessings I am receiving today.
The occasional cluster of various waterfowl keeps me company as I paddle the river up to the Insula portage. The 10 rod portage is a welcome change of pace, giving me the opportunity to get out of the canoe for a bit. Once back on the water, it's impossible not to notice the large swaths of pollen on the surface of the lake. It has been a number of years since I've been on Insula and I've forgotten just how spread out it is. For the first time this trip I am running across, or seeing, other people on a fairly regular basis. I pull off to rest at a island campsite that is situated right on the Pagami fire line. It's certainly an interesting spot to contemplate the juxtaposition of the drastically different forest ecologies. Also, it is home to a unique looking boulder.
All in all the forest is coming back slow but sure. Still, the landscape does still seem to have an aura of desolation yet. Soon I find that I am following a canoe with a group of 3 to the Hudson portage. Before heading down the trail we introduce ourselves and exchange stories keeping each other company as we trek across this fairly tough portage. Each end of this path has a pretty decent climb/descent. However, because of the fire, there is still a pretty good overlook of both Insula and Hudson Lakes just before the corresponding descents down on either end of this portage.
The scenery doesn't improve much from Hudson to Lake Four. However there are a few short portages and one scenic little rapids that help break things up. For the most part these portages are all short, level and don't pose any real technical difficulty. But, they are clustered fairly close together and some of the landings are a bit cumbersome. Once out of Lake Four I can't help but notice the wind has picked up which starts me thinking about claiming my next campsite. Initially my goal was one of the sites near the narrows of Lake Two & Three but, I'm not sure I'm up for battling across a whipped up Lake Three. As I put Lake Four behind me I pull ashore before entering the main body of Lake Three and immediately notice that all the nearby campsites appear to be occupied. While laying out of the wind on a gently sloping rock face I gnaw on a Clif bar while I recharge for my upcoming traverse.
Once I begin my crossing, I'm surprised by seeing a few people actually out fishing amidst the pushy waves. I keep fairly close to the north shore of the lake aiming for the cluster of islands to the west of my current position. From there I am able to duck and dodge out of the wind and, as I approach the narrows into Lake Two, I see that my target site; the large peninsula camp, is unoccupied and I joyously pull in.
After unloading, I Thank God for blessing me with this camp. This makes it a perfect 5 for 5 of targeted sites on this trip! I was realistically hoping to get 2 or 3 of them. This site is a sprawling monstrosity with just enough trees to provide a small measure of privacy, yet great views and access to the lake. There are several tent pads and trails for exploration. On the down side, the fire grate isn't the best and is exposed and there is a cluster of campsites in this immediate area. Still it's a very accommodating site.
I am running out of options for supper and just put together a mish mash of my remaining rice & noodles. However, I do have a cheesecake camp chow dessert that tops my meal off quite nicely. Afterwards, I am pretty well exhausted but, I do find the energy to hike the nearby trails and do some shore fishing. Wanting to get an early start tomorrow I turn in early. No campfire tonight; sleep comes easy.
~Alice Lake, Insula, Lake, Hudson Lake, Four, Lake, Three, Lake
Up early and on my way. The fog is quite dense in places as I paddle westward across Lake Two; occasionally making navigation difficult. As I approach the landing to the Lake One portage there is nothing more than white horses about. I'm hoping that I'm early enough this morning so as to not encounter traffic on these portages. The Kawishiwi River is one (as is Pickett Creek, Little Indian Sioux, Moose, Horse and Basswood rivers) of what I call 'golf course rivers'. I call them that because it inevitably seems that when paddling/portaging along these routes that there is almost always either someone right behind me that wants to 'play through' or someone right in front of me that I would want to 'play through'. Which, in my opinion, seems to detract from the wilderness experience. Just my 2 cents.
As it is, I make it across the first portage without running across anyone. However, shortly after beginning the second, and last, portage into Lake One I meet another group coming across with a second group pulling into the Lake One landing and a third group just out on the lake waiting their turn. In the back and forth, I converse with the Father of a family group and give him updated campsite and fishing information as they plan to stay somewhere between Lake Two and Three.
Once out on Lake One I do escape the 'crowds' but do continue to see others out 'n' about as I paddle on towards the landing. I was hopeful that once the fog burns off that it would be another sunny day but, it appears that it's gonna be gray and gloomy for the foreseeable future.
My van is back at the Snowbank landing, which is a few miles from the Lake One landing. Not wanting to have to hoof it; I pull into the Kawishiwi Lodge dock and ask if they could shuttle me over? After some friendly conversation; Frank finds someone to do just that. My front tire is low but, I am able to make it back to Ely to fill it up and then head to the Kawishiwi Ranger Station to report the mess on Alice before finally stopping at the Boathouse for some hot food and a cold blueberry blonde ale. An indulgent end to another memorable adventure.
This was my first true solo in a decade and, at least at the time, I'm not sure I adequately prepared myself for the challenge as it took awhile for me to realize the fruits of this trip. (Evidenced by the fact that it took me this long to put the trip report together). This was supposed to be a head clearing trip after our divorce was final. Unfortunately that hadn't played out (and as of this writing still hasn't!) yet. After taking some time to look back on this trip; I think that fact was kind of a downer on this trip as I envisioned this trip being a time to contemplate my new reality and what the future may hold but, I think I was mired down more so in the past and the here and now. Also, I've certainly endured my share of inclement weather over the years but, the long stretch of consecutive days of cold rainy weather really began to wear down my resolve. More so being solo. Still, it happened that way for a reason and I persevered and was able to find joy in both the beautiful weather at the beginning and end of the trip, as well as the struggles encountered along the way. And, I think that is also one of the life lessons to be taken away from this adventure. While I may be going through some disagreeable times now but, if I stay the course, better days will be coming. The Black Pearl holding together throughout also provided a spiritual message of being broken but still holding it all together to make it through. Ultimately I consider the unfortunate circumstances and sufferings of this trip and my in my life in general brought me to a greater understanding of my utter dependence in Jesus Christ; which is a realization of inestimable value. With that said, this trip did provide an exciting adventure through some of the most remote maintained regions of the BWCA and I was able to enjoy it all at my own pace. And there is something to be said for that. And, I look forward to implementing the lessons learned on (and after) this adventure on future trips; both solo and with Aurora and others.
~Three, Lake Two, Lake One, Lake