Day 1 of 5
Sunday, July 31, 2011[paragraph break]Little Gabbro Lake, Gabbro Lake, Bald Eagle Lake, Turtle Lake, Clearwater Lake [paragraph break]The day before we drove up to Ely from Madison, Wisconsin, arriving at the outfitter with plenty of time to check-in and relax. North Country Canoe Outfitters treated us like royalty even though we were just renting canoes and a couple Duluth packs from them. John, a fountain of valuable information about the area, met with our group and marked on our map good campsites and things to watch out for. After a nice dinner in Ely, we enjoyed a good night sleep in the bunkhouse.[paragraph break]We woke up early at the outfitters, enjoyed a continental breakfast, loaded our gear in Duluth packs and then into the van. Jeff drove us to the start of the first portage at Little Gabbro Lake. This super guy carried the three person canoe and one pack over the 200 rod portage for us. He even stuck around to take a group photo before we set off.[paragraph break]As we set out, it took a little bit of paddling to orient ourselves with the map and landmarks, Amani proving to be a master map reader. Then it was smooth paddling to a quiet site for a lunch break. We took our second portage around some rapids between Gabbro and Bald Eagle. We chose the east side of the rapids which was pretty rocky but very short, just a few rods. As we loaded the boats, we noticed another group coming out going west of the rapids which we vowed to do on the return trip.
[paragraph break]A short paddle across the tip of Bald Eagle to the next portage over to Turtle Lake, 186 rods. Still new at the whole portage thing, the group did a lot of standing around waiting to get organized. We double portaged since there were 7 heavy packs and 3 canoes. The reason for "pack light" in discussions before the trip quickly came to mind and we vowed to eat a lot in the next few days to make our trip out easier. Luna, our dog led the way across the portages, running back and forth between people. Gotta love a herding dog.[paragraph break]After a short break on Turtle Lake, the group decided to press on to Clearwater Lake and enjoy three nights in one campsite instead of spending one night on Turtle Lake and two on Clearwater.[paragraph break]During the long 214 rod portage to Clearwater Lake, we were questioning the decision. But once we arrived and settled in at campsite #2, we knew we had made a good choice. For the three nights we stayed there, we were the only campers on the whole lake. What a treat![paragraph break]After a delicious meal of Jambalaya and sausage, we made a bear hang (thanks to Colleen's stellar knot tying abilities) and tucked in for the night.
Day 2 of 5
Monday, August 01, 2011[paragraph break]Clearwater Lake [paragraph break]Breakfast was scrambled eggs with bacon and hot drinks.[paragraph break]This was our "day off" and we enjoyed the warm weather while setting up a hammock and a tarp shade, visiting, swimming, sunning and exploring the area. A pair of loons stayed near our side of the lake almost all day, checking us out. It was nice to enjoy time together without the constant presence of texting or Facebook.
[paragraph break]Our group nurse, Sherry took care of our scrapes and cuts from the day before. Leah said, "I can't cut my self anymore otherwise Sherry's going to go all first aid on me."[paragraph break]The girls enjoyed roasted Starbursts. And after an amazing dinner of grilled steak and mashed potatoes that turned out to be everyone's most memorable meal of the whole trip, we hung the food and went for a sunset canoe ride. We saw a Merganser with four ducklings on the opposite shore. The sunset was beautiful and peaceful.
Day 3 of 5
Tuesday, August 02, 2011[paragraph break]Clearwater Lake, Camdre Lake, Pietro Lake, Gull Lake[paragraph break]A storm blew though in the middle of the night. Lightening and thunder woke most of us and we enjoyed the lightening show through the tent sides. However, a few actually slept through the storm.[paragraph break]After a grand breakfast of cheesy hash browns with bacon, the group decided to take a day trip around the rest of the loop of lakes back towards Bald Eagle Lake. We loaded into two canoes with the teens taking their own boat and the moms in the other. Everyone enjoyed the teamwork of taking turns paddling and portaging through the day. We discovered raspberries on the first portage to Camdre Lake. Yum! The girls decided they wanted some for pancakes the next day and got busy collecting on each of the portages.[paragraph break]At one point Amani commented that she "was not banged up enough from the trip" just as Leah whacked her on the shoulder to kill a horse fly. [paragraph break]On our return trip to camp, the wind had picked up and we battled the wind and waves to cross Pietro and Clearwater.[paragraph break]After a quick dip in the lake, we enjoyed a spicy dinner of chicken mango curry. When the mosquitoes came out we all piled into the big tent for a few games of Euchre before heading off to bed.
Day 4 of 5
Wednesday, August 03, 2011[paragraph break]Clearwater Lake, Turtle Lake, Bald Eagle Lake, Gabbro Lake, Little Gabbro Lake, South Kawishiwi River, Clear Lake, North Kawishiwi River [paragraph break]We enjoyed the fresh raspberries from the day before on our pancakes. Then it was time to pack up and head out. Our plan was to get to Clear Lake and camp one night before heading out to the outfitters on the last day.[paragraph break]The day was hazy and the air was heavy with the smell of fire. We wondered where the fire was as we paddled through the day.[paragraph break]Returning through the two long portages to Bald Eagle Lake was so much easier. Packs were lighter and we felt stronger. The sun shone bright through the hazy day and we all got some color to add to the sheen of dust.[paragraph break]At the little portage between Bald Eagle and Gabbro, we tried the west side this time. It was a group challenge to get everything past the rapids without going down them. We ended up tying ropes to the canoes to draw them around the bend one at a time and then lifting the loaded canoes over the short stretch of rocks. With the canoes safely around the rapids, we found a shady spot for lunch.
[paragraph break]Continuing through Gabbro, Little Gabbro, the paddling was smooth and clear. The Outfitter had warned us about a set of rapids, that we kept reminding each other about all day. Once we finally reached "the rapids", they were far diminished from what we all had imagined, not a problem at all to float right past.[paragraph break]The day was getting long and campsites were all full. As we got to the last portage to Clear Lake, we all had our fingers crossed for an open site. Unfortuantely, all four campsites were full. The group was tired as we weighed our options. It was decided to press on and hope for an open site after the next portage on the North Kawishiwi River.[paragraph break]As our last portage, the group was a well oiled machine, packs, boats, water bottles and miscellaneous items were quickly snatched up. As the teens headed back for the double portage, the rest of us loaded the boats and fixed a snack to eat before heading out again.[paragraph break]Luck was with us, the first site was open and we split up to set up tents, cook dinner and pump water. Pizzas on tortillas were so amazingly delicious after the long, long day.
Day 5 of 5
Thursday, August 04, 2011[paragraph break]Farm Lake, Iron Lake[paragraph break]We started with breakfast of oatmeal and granola. Since we had paddled so far the day before, we had an easy day in front of us, only one possible 10 rod portage. Grandma Sherry announced that she would portage a canoe for her first time over that portage. There was a light sprinkle as we took down camp so tents were packed damp.[paragraph break]As we got to the "possible" portage, it turned out to be no problem to paddle through. Sherry was bummed to not have a chance to carry a canoe but soon got over it.[paragraph break]Paddling along the North Kawishiwi River was nice and smooth. We stopped for a leisurely lunch on an island just before we reached the boundary to leave the BWAC. As we were wrapping up after eating, I looked up and shouted, "Boat! Boat!" One of the canoes had gotten loose and was just starting to drift away. We raced to grab it just in time and tied it to shore with a bungie cord.[paragraph break]As we finished one last group photo, a bald eagle flew within a few yards of the island, a lasting good-bye to the Boundary Waters.[paragraph break]Once we crossed the boundary, it was rough paddling across the north end of Farm Lake, wind and motorboats creating big waves. We passed through the last channel, a little shocked to see all the cabins with loud generators disrupting the peace. Around the turn and under the bridge to Iron Lake, we had one last battle against the wind and waves to the outfitter's dock. They met us with cold beverages and hot showers, heaven!
[paragraph break]After loading up the cars, we heading to Ely to check out the International Wolf Center. It was well worth the visit and a nice end to our adventure.