Day 1 of 5
Saturday, May 11, 2013
Got my canoe loaded up. Drove to Duluth and arrived at my friend Phil's house at 10AM. Phil had planned this day of model railroading and seeing real live historic trains for a group from the twin cities months ago. I thought it would be fun to go into the BWCA and fish for a few days afterwards since I would be halfway there. As the trip approached and ice out reports got more and more ridiculous my persistent optimism was the only thing keeping the trip possible. Seeing the big steam engine pounding the rails into Duluth was really cool
I spent Saturday night the 11th in Duluth and was hoping the big winds all day were clearing ice out of the BWCA.
Day 2 of 5
Sunday, May 12, 2013 Got up at 5:30 and ate a big breakfast. I was staying at my wife's uncles home on London road so it was quick trip to Tofte to get my permit. I arrived at 8:15 and although the sign on the door said open 8 AM to 4:30PM 7 days a week May 1 to Oct 1, the door was locked. So I went around the building knocking on windows until I caught a rangers attention and she opened the door with many apologies. When I told them I was there to get my permit they looked at me incredulously and stated flat out "you can't go in, the lakes are completely frozen up". I told them I wanted to at least drive up and hoped to paddle the open water near shore. They laughed and showed me the weather forecast for Isabella, a predicted low of 26 for Sunday night. They also stated that they had flown over on Friday May 10 and there was no open water, all the lakes were "locked up". But after a stern warning that if they issued my permit I had to enter today, May 12, and hanging out in the parking lot until the ice went out was not acceptable, they told me to go watch the video while they filled out my paperwork. Then they asked me how many in my party? When I told them, just me, I could see they thought the forest service would be doing a rescue tomorrow. But I watched the video and answered all the questions and they issued my permit. So off I went, with 2 dozen nightcrawlers and a MPLS StarTribune Sunday paper purchased at the Holiday in Tofte. It is a really nice drive up to Kawishiwi lake from Tofte. I stopped several times at roaring streams to fish a bit, albeit unsuccessfully but I was thinking the longer I took to get to my entry point the more ice would be melted. Actually the entire way up to Kawishiwi I was thinking about an alternative way to spend the next 4 days and how this trip was going to be even lamer than Corndog's. But on arrival at the landing this what I saw
Open water!! But a lot of ice blocking my way. And some wind out in the main lake. And my camera battery went dead. Nonetheless I loaded up and parked the truck all by itself in the big lot and attempted to chop, paddle and slide to open water. This was unsuccessful and I scared myself enough to paddle back to the landing to plan anew. I was developing an appreciation for Corndog and his struggles. I walked to the point (west of the landing) to scout out a launching point free from ice but the wind was picking up so much I decided this was not a good option. If I launched to the west of the landing area I would at some point have to cross open water to get to the north side of the lake. The wind was now starting to howl from the north and whitecaps were breaking onto the ice sheet in front of the landing. There was a campsite to the east of the landing area and I decided to look for a trail leading to it. After a fruitless search I decided to bushwhack all my gear and canoe through the woods to the site. I was able to do this but it was only 40 degrees and the woods were full of snow and pools of melt. It was that time of year when the frost has gone out of the top 6 inches or so but all the melted snow has nowhere to go so the ground is like cold jelly and I got really wet bushwhacking to my campsite. Once I had all my gear to the campsite on Kawishiwi lake just east of the landing area I decided to wait awhile for the wind to subside. Then I decided to go back to my truck in the parking lot and get the Sunday paper. Once I got to the truck I decided to read the paper in the nice warm cab since I had already technically violated the return policy clearly explained to me by the rangers. While sitting there reading the paper it occurred to me that Corndog had actually made much more progress at this stage of his trip. So I threw the paper on the floor and bushwhacked backed to to my campsite. It was now 4 PM and the white caps were rolling in. But they had changed the ice in front of my site from a solid sheet to a slurry. So I decided to set up camp and fish. I was very thankful to have a ground cloth as there was no dry ground. No fish. I made supper and went to bed. No fire, way to windy. But I really enjoyed my new little chair I bought at REI after reading about it at BWCA.com Early to bed.
Day 3 of 5
Monday, May 13, 2013 Early to rise. Super cold. Everything frozen. My very wet trail running shoes are now so frozen as to make adequate hammers, shoelaces locked in wild tangles. And my new little camp chair is now part of the landscape. While enjoying sitting in it yesterday it sunk into the soft ground and now it is well anchored. So my first use of the hatchet I debating bringing along, is to free my camp chair from its frozen embrace. But it is dead calm and the sun it starting to rise through the trees. I can see my breath so clearly it startles me at times. I love oatmeal in canoe country and today's oatmeal is the best ever. Although I am very fearful of the cold water, paddling on the glass like water is glorious. At the first portage on the Kawishiwi river I struggle with my clamp-on yoke. It takes me the entire trip to master the use of this device. It is pretty cool to only have animal tracks on the portages, my footprints are the first this year. While padding on this little river I thought about the proposed copper mine and no one paddling here would think that a good idea. At Kawaschong lake I can not find the portage to Townline lake and spend at least on hour looking for the portage in the wrong area. The Mackenzie map appears to be wrong with the portage marked on the east side of the low swampy area when it is actually on the west. This whole area is post apocalyptic. I surmised that it is part of the 1999 blowdown which then burned in the pagami creek fire in 2011. These portages were muddy and had enough downed trees that I got out my saw and cut them out of the way on my trip back for the canoe. Once on Polly I was worn out and ready to fish. 5 minutes after starting to troll the shoreline I caught a small northern but that turned out to be my only fish of the day. I made camp at 5 star site on an island with a narrow channel on the west side at the north end of the lake. By the time I got my camp set up it seemed too windy to venture out so I fished with a Lindy rig nightcrawler setup in the little channel but no fish took the bait. I dug my flip phone out and took a couple pictures of my camp and was shocked to find out it was only 2 PM. I still can not figure out how to access these pictures. This channel seems to be a beaver highway. Early to bed again as it is cold and windy. The only time I am warm is in my sleeping bag.
Day 4 of 5
Tuesday, May 14, 2013 Early to rise again. Dead calm and clear. Cold too. Beaver rush hour in the narrows. I have decided to layover here on Polly. After breakfast I head out to fish and explore. I paddled south to the falls on the Kawishiwi river, thinking that shallow bay should have active fish and although I do catch a nice smallie trolling the shoreline, fishing is very slow. I am sure that at one time this falls was very picturesque but now with blackened trunks laying every which way across the falls and in the brown of early spring it has lost some of its beauty. After lunch I decide to go and fish the river flowing into Koma and on the way over see another canoe for the first time. A second canoe quickly appears and has a bwca.com sticker. On the first portage to Koma we chat a bit and I learn his name has the word needles in. I am terrible at remembering names. After more fruitless fishing I went back to camp. While fishing in the narrows again with my Lindy rig nightcrawler setup and sitting in my camp chair, a fairly large fish swims slowly along the shore right in front of me. I reel in my rig until the floater is somewhere in the vicinity of this fish and after bit the line peels out an I set the hook and reel in a 3-4 lb whitefish. This fish is completely missing an eye! Just a grey socket on one side of its head. While I am trying to decide what to do with my one eyed sucker fish, a small animal comes swimming across the narrows directly towards me. My first thought was that it was a panicked baby Otter but when it climbed up the cedar tree on the shore it was clearly a little red squirrel and a mangy looking one at that. As I have developed a habit of talking to squirrels in my career as an arborist, we had a one sided conversation. It was soon clear that he expected that his long winter of want had come to an end and was glad to see a camper and expected a feast to be forthcoming. He never left me alone the rest of my time in my island campsite. The wind blew from the south and it got noticeably warmer as evening came. I again retired early.
Day 5 of 5
Wednesday, May 15, 2013 All night I was awakened my tremendous gusts of wind interspersed with periods of calm. This was so unnerving to me that I got up three times to check the just how secure I had left various things in my camp. During the periods of calm and especially towards morning there was the distinct drumming of a grouse nearby. So after a restless night I arose, took off my long underwear for the first time, ate a leisurely breakfast of oatmeal and packed up the gear for the trip back to Kawishiwi. When I went to visit the thunder box it was guarded by a grouse that seemed disinterested in me but watched me carefully as I dispensed with yesterdays nourishment. This was the an appropriate ending to the strange wildlife encounters here on my lovely little island campsite on Polly. Off on calm seas I retraced my route back while a northwest breeze gained in strength as I passed through each lake. But the time I got on Kawishiwi rolling whitecaps carried me directly towards the landing. About halfway across the lake a car with a canoe on top pulled up to the landing and man got out and watched me cruising towards him. I landed and we had a nice chat. Since there was no way for him to paddle into the maelstrom I recommended my site from the first night and wished him better luck tomorrow.