Day 1 of 10
Friday, June 11, 2021 Left work about noon – deciding to stay at Bear Head State Park the first night of the trip. I reserved site #17, which was close to the lake and adequate for the first night of the trip. I set up the Timberline and took the NorthStar Northwind Solo down to Bear Head Lake, a short carry. I took a short paddle to the area down by the Trail Center and then up to the North Bay, hooking a small sunfish. Paddled back to my put in location, got the Canoe back on the truck, and had a good night sleep.
Day 2 of 10
Saturday, June 12, 2021 Broke camp and headed for Ely, stopping at Call of the Wilderness for a replacement rod (I break too many). Got a nice Phlueger/Fenwick Combo with 8lb clear monofilament line. I always wanted to check out Low Lake and maybe paddle around to check out the sluiceway washout area between Bass and Low Lakes, but when I got to the public access there were 11 vehicles in the lot and several people launching, including motorboats. After taking this scene in, I made my way to the echo trail and Nels lake (always looking for new places to stay).[paragraph break] I walked the shoreline trail to the first campsite, which seemed like a nice spot to stay. As I worked my way back to the public access, I came across a couple that was also exploring. We visited a short time and I let them know I was moving on toward Jeanette Lake, and the guy told me the island site was really nice.[paragraph break] I continued to Stuart EP #19 and did a self-issue day permit to walk the trail for some exercise, and to remember my epic solo of October 2018. It is a long portage, but very beautiful, and quite pleasant without a canoe and packs. I recalled the large sign on the rotting tree from three years earlier, and even though I saw the tree, there was no sign. I made it to the first creek, wondering how I could have missed the sign. Working my way back, I thought I had found the original location, and a little further along, I found a new metal rectangular sign in black and white, maybe 8”x8”, which would be gone the following year. [paragraph break]
While planning trips each winter, I am drawn to the great places I have been, but also to the places I have not seen yet. The tug between the familiar and the unknown, the places I have enjoyed or the places I have not been. This is my first trip back to a familiar place, balanced with exploring new locations.[paragraph break] Next stop is Jeanette Lake campground, where I stayed in 2019 before and after my LIS solo. I do not prefer solos, but as I have read from many on this site, sometimes it is either solo or no golo! My favorite site was open, but I was interested in checking out the backcountry sites on Lake Jeanette, so I kept going with the hope that the island site would be available. But with strong winds on the lake, I drove down the road to the Astrid Lake trail and walked to the lake. There were two vehicles parked along the road, so I pulled in behind and headed toward Astrid. It was a short, pleasant walk to the lake, where I met a family that was swimming near the sand beach. They had just purchased a cabin along the Forest Service Road and loved coming up for the weekends from the Cities. Astrid is a pretty lake, and I have read the campsites are nice, with picnic benches and fire grates, as well as being on the Astrid Lake Trail Loop that starts at Jeanette Lake Campground, a 6.1 mile moderately challenging loop. Someday![paragraph break] I drove back to Jeanette Lake Public Access and loaded the canoe for my overnight on the lake. The Island site was taken so I backtracked to the first campsite 2125 that I had passed. It was not the greatest site, but it had a picnic table, and the price was right. I set up my tent, made dinner, cleaned up and went for a short paddle and light fishing. Eventually I made it back to the tent and got to sleep. In the middle of the night, my imagination went wild, and I thought there was a bear convention outside my tent. I suppressed my panic and fell asleep. In the morning, I realized the noise was most likely turtles burying eggs. Lesson learned – not every noise is a bear convention!
Day 3 of 10
Sunday, June 13, 2021 Packed up camp, paddled to the truck and drove towards Ely. Partway down the road, my phone went crazy with text messages, apparently there is some phone service along the Echo trail. Called Pete to see where he was, as today was the day before the start of our trip. Met Pete at Piragis Northwoods Company in Ely to get our permit and check out new items in the store. We then decided to stop at the City Park Pavilion to consolidate our gear and remove unessential items. I got my pack down to 40lbs plus fishing bag with camera at 15lbs – lightest ever personal load – and we got going about 4pm. We launched our canoes on Snowbank Lake and found a site to do some dispersed camping on MN School Trust Land so we could get an early start in the morning, with our June 14th permit. Ended the day with pancakes and eggs for dinner, cooked on the stove – no fire, and then to bed so we could get an early start in the morning.
Day 4 of 10
Monday, June 14, 2021 The first three words I wrote for this day’s entry sum up the first day “Long Hard Day”. But I must add, it was worth it. Got on the water early (Left no Trace!) and paddled along the east shore of Harri Island. The lake starts off calm, but as we reached the Northern tip of the Island, the wind was picking up and we were paddling in some medium to large swells, which turned out to be good practice for later in the trip. Many people have mentioned how Snowbank is a large lake and the waves can get pretty big. These waves were not epic, but probably the largest I had paddled through to this point in my life. We kept heading toward the portage through these conditions, I was nervous but the longer we went, the more comfortable I was. We finally got to the portage into Boot, and all went well. I was a little slower on the portages than Pete, so he would get ahead and do a little fishing as I caught up. [paragraph break] The portage into Ensign was a little longer. I started with the Canoe and my pack, putting the canoe down after 12 minutes, but carried the pack all the way to Ensign in 38 minutes total. I figured about another hour to go back for my fishing bag and canoe. As I got to the Canoe, Pete had already brought my fishing bag with and dropped off there, so I grabbed that and the canoe for another 30 minutes of fun. When I made it back to Ensign, whitecaps were coming to shore. We headed into the waves going straight north where the waters were calm, then worked east and north toward the Vera portage, stopping for a break at campsite 2086, just across from the bay to the portage. This campsite was very nice, and we considered stopping for the night, but there was a lot of daylight left and we hoped to get the Vera portage behind us.[paragraph break]
Picture from the top of the Vera portage – my comment “Tough” – but it wasn’t that bad, it was just a long day from Snowbank to Vera. I carried the Canoe and tackle across the portage, went back for the 40lb pack and when I got to the top of the hill with said pack, I set it down and just laid on the rocks, thinking about how I wanted to go this way because I had read reports that the Vera & Knife portages were tough, but beautiful. I read correctly. It was a lovely view of Ensign, and after about 10 minutes I felt better and finished the portage. Pete had gone ahead to check out the campsites, and he set up his tent on site 1243 (4*) on the North Shore of Vera. Just as I got on the water, he had worked his way back to check on me. We fished our way to the campsite without collecting a meal. As I set up my tent, Pete checked out the restroom, and called back for me to get my “Little Silky” saw. I picked it up and as I started toward the trail I heard “Permission to enter camp”. After more than 7 years, I finally met Forest Service employee's coming to check out the campsite and our permits. And the best part, I had a saw in my hands. They checked our permits, answered all my stupid questions with patience, and said part of their visit was to check the Latrine and do any required maintenance. I offered to clear the tree from the trail, but accepted their offer, as they said it was their job. And they did a professional job, it was hard to tell where the tree was dispersed to when they finished. Pete cooked his awesome hamburger/potato/vegetable hotdish, we ate, cleaned and he then went fishing. He was out past dark, and I was out cold getting a good night’s sleep.[paragraph break]
Day 5 of 10
Tuesday, June 15, 2021 We got up the next morning and Pete told me about the walleyes he caught and how he figured out what they were biting on, during the mayfly hatch. I am impressed with his knowledge and tenacity when it comes to fishing. As we were getting ready for breakfast, a rabbit (I assume Peter Cottontail?) hopped right up to Pete and after they exchanged greetings, he hopped off through camp. [paragraph break]
We had pancakes and eggs, broke camp and were on the water by 8am – short paddle to the portage to Knife. Wish the portage had been as easy as the paddle, long up and down – rocky section in the middle – and then down to Knife. It was exerting, but well used, easy to follow, and the rocky section just required care, easy to slip. Once we got on the water – off to Isle of Pines. I think I have read every book about Dorothy, and just fascinated by someone that could live this far off the grid. She definitely had a tough spirit, but a kind heart, making many friends and caring for many injured people as a nurse. The coolest moment of the trip was coming around the corner and seeing “ribbon rock”.[paragraph break]
We got to Isle of Pines about 1pm and were heading east by 2:30 – I definitely need to get back here someday, and maybe over to Ottertrack to check out Bennies Place as well. Enjoyed my time on the island. We walked around the smaller one and across the shallow water where her bridge used to be located but couldn’t really find much on the larger island. [paragraph break]
After our short tour, we went back to the rock and had a quick snack bar, then headed out. When we got around the western tip of the island, I noticed an open meadow and went ashore. It appeared some clearing had been done and I figured this was where Dorothy’s flower garden was located as well as the “point” or “western cabin.” [paragraph break]
But our next destination was Thunder Point. On the way, I saw something I will never do (stand up canoeing). [paragraph break]
We did stop and check out a small campsite but decided to keep going. I have seen so many pictures from Thunder Point, that it was really neat to actually get to the two islands west of there that are always pictured looking that way from the top. I decided to get the picture with those two islands and Thunder Point in the background. [paragraph break]
Fortunately, there was a group in Lime Green shirts at the top when I took my pics, so it is easy to see where the trail leads too. I was hoping to climb the trail, but the big group was still at the point, and we needed a campsite, so I followed Pete along the North side of Knife and we stopped at campsite #1448. It turned out to be a very nice site with a deep drop off to one side that I caught a nice northern off. We had cornbread and eggs for dinner and after settling in, we went out for an evening of fishing. I caught a nice bass on a whopper plopper, as recommended by Stu, a good 18”, and a few more before turning back. Unfortunately, I went right by the campsite in the dark and ended up with an extra 20 minutes of paddling after figuring out my error. Overall, a good day with more to come. [paragraph break]
Day 6 of 10
Wednesday, June 16, 2021 Woke up early and had pancakes and eggs. We ended up having a long discussion on education and government, and as Chuck Norris famously says, “Nobody makes me bleed my own blood!” enough said. Getting in and out of the canoe would prove challenging on this day as I tipped the canoe twice on this paddle from our campsite to Thunder point, getting in and getting out! Good news? These were my only two mishaps of the trip and they both occurred in less than a foot of water; however, I ended up half wet on each side from this, for a full soaking. It was a nice paddle, as Pete chose to catch up and fish the point while I was climbing the point. It was pretty much straight up, but I made it and took some pics, even got Pete fishing below me. With our destination for the day being Kekekabic, I safely worked my way to the bottom, where I met a guy who was on this trip with his sister and her family (husband and kids) – I guess we gabbed for 10-15 minutes, I was stalling so Pete could catch that Knife Laker, but none cooperated, and we were on our way. Peter is in the 2nd picture below, bottom center. [paragraph break]
First portage into Bonnie was relatively flat and I kept pace, but Pete outdid me at Spoon portage and ended up with three trips to my one, but in my defense, he did beat me across Bonnie and was coming back when I found the portage, and I am not the fastest traveler. The portage into Pickle was started with a steep out before flattening out, but otherwise relatively flat and short at 25 rods. Going across pickle, I paid attention to where Pete went and was able to stay close and get all my gear across on the final portage of the day into Kekekabic. I had dreamed of getting to this lake for so long that I just wanted to sit in the canoe and take the lake in, figuratively of course. [paragraph break]
As we got going, Pete started across the lake toward campsite 1421 and I was following as the waves kept building when the winds picked up. I ended up going towards the big island to work into the waves. At the end of my paddle, I was rewarded with a pair of loons swimming up to the canoe and posing for pictures, or maybe they were feeding in the shallow water. Pictures captured and I was off to the campsite to set up for the night. [paragraph break]
Peter was out on the water and caught a couple of nice trout and we were set for dinner, trout and biscuits. After dinner I notice an Eagle perched on a tree on an island in front of our camp. I noticed the eagle because the Seagulls kept dive bombing the Eagle. I watched this for about 10 minutes after sunset, and it was a good day and the plan was to move on to Fraser in the morning, and I went to sleep. Picture of first Kekekabic Lake Trout below: [paragraph break]
Eagle being Dive-bombed!!!!!!
Day 7 of 10
Thursday, June 17, 2021 When I got up, Pete was already out fishing, and he came back with two trout for breakfast. After we filleted the fish, we ate them with cornbread sliders for breakfast. Pete suggested we stay another day, as he was really enjoying catching the trout. After cleaning up, I got distracted by butterflies and flowers. [paragraph break]
The Eagle reappeared during this time for some more distance pics. I spent a good hour on the butterflies. About 11:30 we planned on fishing our way down to the east end of the lake with a stop at the Ranger station. Our first stop was campsite 1422. After exploring the campsite, I started toward the Ranger station only to turn around as the waves were getting bigger than I was comfortable in. We ended up taking naps at the campsite hoping the wind would let up. We got a short break in the wind and went for it. It was about a mile to paddle back to camp, but it took about an hour. For about 15 minutes I was paddling directly into the waves, and when I looked at my garmin later, I actually lost ground while moving perpendicular to my intended direction of travel. These are the biggest waves I have ever been in, and it was a confidence builder. Even though more confident in these waves and my ability, I still want to avoid these conditions in the future. The wind died down to calm seas about an hour after we returned to camp. Lesson learned: just wait it out! Although experience also has taught me that sometimes it takes a long time for the wind to calm down. My last entry in the journal this day: “The North Star Northwind Solo is a good canoe”! My time on Kekekabic has been wonderful but makes me want to get back to this lake and explore it more. In fact, after every trip, I wish I would have had more time to explore, as each trip is about the journey, not the destination, as usually the final destination is where you start. [paragraph break] The forecast for tomorrow is winds increasing throughout the day!
Day 8 of 10
Friday, June 18, 2021 Pete was up by 5:00am and I was out of my tent about 10 minutes later. We had pancakes and eggs with hot chocolate on the side. Even though we were in a hurry to beat the wind, we didn’t hit the water until just after 7am. I was immediately distracted by an Eagle, and spent about 10 minutes taking more pictures, which was OK with Pete as he was trying to catch one more Kek Laker. [paragraph break]
We met up at the portage into Strup, then a quick pullover into Wisini, where I had to check out the famous campsite there. There was not a good access to the site, so I ended up going to the east until I found a spot that looked like it got some use, but still tuff to get the canoe to a secure spot, as it went almost straight up. I explored, took some pics and agree it is a nice spot, but the bivy is in direct site of the fire grate. [paragraph break]
Next up were the portages into Ahmakose and Gerund. The wind started picking up as we reached Gerund, and it was blowing straight to the portage into Fraser. If I was as nimble as Pete this would not be an issue, but I am not as good as I used to be, but the challenge was met head on and all went well. Before I knew it, we were on Fraser, home for the next two nights. We had day tripped to Fraser & Sagus the previous summer and were looking forward to staying on Fraser. We got campsite 1398, which gave us a nice view of the Island that had the “Brainerd Cabin” on it. If I had to look at a theme up to this point of the trip, it would be waves and wind! [paragraph break]
Peter brought some walleyes home about 5pm, we ate and then went outside for different adventures that night. I paddled over to the “Brainerd Cabin” island and searched around, finding the stove door on the southernmost rocks, but was unable to locate the concrete stairs with the name and June 6, 1944 written in the concrete. I was so focused on Isle of Pines research, I didn’t have an attack plan for the island on Fraser, thinking it would be easy peasy. [paragraph break]
I then paddled around the island and took some sunset pictures and then did some fishing in front of the campsite in 5 to 15 feet of water. Pulled out a nice pike – catch and release – and also a decent walleye, both landed by hand. Considering I find it hard to leave anything behind, it is amazing that I do not bring a net for landing fish. Just take your time and don’t panic! I was in the tent avoiding the mosquitos when Pete got back and I crawled out to visit as the blood suckers had settled down by this time. Another good day. Staying another day on Fraser and then plan to move closer to Snowbank. [paragraph break]
Day 9 of 10
Saturday, June 19, 2021 Pete went fishing about 6:30am and I slept another hour. Started the day with pancakes. We planned to have a late lunch and go do some fishing. We headed over toward the Muskrat portage area and I caught a walleye and Pete caught about 6. As the action slowed down, we decided to check out Muskrat Lake and fish it. It is a rather small lake and I focused on paddling around and taking some pictures. Interesting lake with some rock structures and boulders to capture pics of. [paragraph break]
I did have a panic moment when I did not see Pete on the lake. I quickly paddled back to the portage and crossed. It didn’t appear he had come across, so I walked back and Pete paddled up and asked what was going on. Worst part is that Muskrat is a small lake, how could I not see him. [paragraph break] We paddled along the east side of the cabin island and around the tip. I did see a loon on a nest and took some pictures using my 400mm zoom, keeping my distance. [paragraph break]
We got back to camp about 5pm and we had a couple walleyes with cranberries and cornbread cakes. After dinner, I cleaned up, Pete went fishing, and I watched the wildlife: Loons, Eagles, and a Turkey Vulture. I even saw the rarest of wildlife in the BWCA, a squirrel! I even caught two fish from shore. [paragraph break]
When Pete got back to camp, I let him know that heavy winds were predicted for the 21st, and we agreed to head out in the morning. A wonderful trip shortened by weather!
Day 10 of 10
Sunday, June 20, 2021 I was up at 6am, packed an ready to go. We hit the water and worked our way through Thomas, Hatchet river, Ima (about 9:15), Jordan, Dissappointment (stopped at a campsite at 2:20), and took the long portage to Snowbank. The most amazing thing of the trip was Snowbank. We got on the water and it was glass. I have never seen Snowbank this calm. Good call to get out. I don’t have our actual time across Snowbank, but I would guess it was close to 4:00pm. Another good trip in the books. I took three pictures the last day, 2 at portage into Ima and one on Disappointment Lake which does not appear to be LNT. That is why I threw these in.
Thanks for reading.