BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
May 26 2022
Number of Permits per Day: 2
Elevation: 1825 feet
Homer Lake - 40
June 2021- My First Solo: Looping the Laurentian Divide
June 07, 2021
Brule Lake (41)
Number of Days:
Before getting to the details of my trip, I need to set the scene a bit. On Friday while packing for this trip, I somehow ripped a large chunk of skin and flesh from my left heel. I patched myself up as well as I could, and babied it all day long Saturday. By Sunday, I could walk on it decently enough, but the more I walked the more sore it got (duh!). I was concerned about my ability to portage, and keeping the wound from getting infected, but I prepared for that as best I could with gauze pads and Neosporin. Then on Sunday night, after being settled into the Temperance River Campground on a 90 degree June day for several hours, I got a notification on my Garmin mini that my wife had blown a tire on our truck while driving 70mph on her way from from my son's baseball tournament. I drove back into Tofte to get cell service so I could make sure all was well. No injuries, no damage to the truck, only a shook up wife who was stranded on the highway for a few hours while waiting for a repair. These two non-ideal scenarios for the beginning of a trip pushed my mind into places it wouldn't normally go on a BW trip, and that would challenge me mentally as much as physically over the next few days...
OK, back to Monday, you know- the actual trip. I drove to the Tofte Ranger Station to pick up my permit as soon as they opened and was back to the Homer Lake EP and on the water by 9:30 AM. It was already hot, with a forecasted high for near 90 with high humidity. The water levels through Homer and the three portages along the Vern River were low but still passable, with the 3rd portage being nothing more than a pullover and a couple spots to get out and walk the canoe. I talked briefly with BWCA.com member Jillpine as she was making her way out from her trip. It's always fun to meet fellow trippers and chat a bit about our trips! I arrived at the eastern campsite on Vern Lake about 11:00 AM and made camp, hot, sweaty, and tired despite the short amount of paddling and portaging I had to do to get there.
The site itself was decent enough with small tent pads that are not especially flat, a latrine that's a bit of a walk into the woods and up a hill, and a nice drop off from shore for swimming. Not even 15 minutes after arriving at the site, one of the "magical moments" I had been hoping for on this trip happened. A female moose swam across the lake, west to east, and walked up on shore near the portage into Whack Lake. I took some photos and short video as best as I could with my phone camera, but mostly just watched her for the ten or so minutes she was in view. Check that one off the list!
After having lunch, setting up camp, taking a short nap in the shade, and continually hydrating, hydrating, and rehydrating (damn its hot out here!), I tried some fishing in the Vern River areas to the west of my site. I caught a few small pike and smallmouth bass, and had dozens more follow my spinnerbait back to the boat. It was like fishing the kiddie pond, which is not exactly what I had hoped for. I tried some of the "hot spots" I had read about on this site, but the water in those areas was too low, and with no flow at all, the walleye I had hoped to find for dinner were just not there.
After paddling a bit more to explore, sweating additional buckets of water, and coming to the conclusion that fishing was just not worth the effort, I decided to go swimming. That was the best choice I made all day! My somewhat comical note to myself about that "My apologies to the satellite tech watching the spy cams over the B-Dub today, parts of my body that never see the sun definitely did so today, as the heat and lack of any other humans in the area made it necessary". The lake was glassy calm by 8:00 PM, the mosquitoes took over by 9:00 PM, and I settled into my tent to plan the next day. My injured foot had barely been an issue with the short portages today, and I felt ready to tackle the next leg of this adventure!
Morning comes early in June this far north, but today it came with constant flashes of lightning and rumbles of distant thunder. I got out of my tent to video the incoming storm at 4:50 AM and while the rain and winds that followed for the next 3 hours were certainly not in my plans, the show nature put on before they hit was spectacular. Those not-flat tent pads on this site turned out to be exactly where heavy rain pooled, and I have a great video of the floor of my tent looking mysteriously similar to a water bed. But the water stayed outside where it was supposed to, so even that was kind of a fun discovery. A quote directly from my notes "Have you ever really lived if you've never done your business outdoors sitting on a wet toilet seat while its pouring and the wind is whipping through the trees above your head". The answer is no, you haven't!
I had planned to be on the water around 6:00 AM, but the storm delayed me a few hours, which meant I would be traveling during hotter hours of the day instead of early morning as I preferred. After the storm passed, it was dead calm with high humidity, and the temperatures starting edging back up quickly. I paddled through Vern to the portage into Juno. Here you have two choices- load and unload twice and paddle the beaver pond or take the portage trail all the way around the east side of the pond. I decided on the latter, but either way this portage is tougher than its length would lead you to believe, and even more so on a foot that didn't appreciate the rocky path. It would however be nothing compared to portages of other days to come. I continued through Juno, caught a couple more small pike while trolling, and made my way to the Juno-Brule portage. This 65 rod portage would normally be a walk in the park, but my foot was achy by then, and the heat and humidity were not helping matters. I wasn't miserable, but I wasn't truly appreciating the natural world around me the way I normally would. I was just going through the motions. I pushed on anyway, knowing I needed to get to Brule while the winds were still down to have any chance of getting to one of the Temperance Lakes that were my goal for the day. I paddled around Jack Mock Point and followed the south shoreline of Brule to the west towards South Temperance Lake. The clear and deeper water of Brule was much cooler than Vern had been, and I did stop periodically to get out of the canoe and dip in the water to cool off. Somewhere along that stretch I ran out of filtered water and stopped at a site along that shore (#955?) and filtered enough to refill both of my empty 32oz Nalgene bottles and drink the equivalent of a 3rd while sitting there relaxing. Over the course of that day, I drank seven 32oz Nalgene bottles of water- almost a full 2 gallons!
After my refueling and refreshing effort, I just wanted to get to a site and be done travelling for the day. I paddled the rest of the way through Brule and into South Temperance. It can be challenging to find a site on South Temperance, but when I saw the easternmost site was still unoccupied at 2:00 PM I practically jumped out of my seat with happiness. To be honest, it's not a great site, but I didn't care. I was exhausted, overheated, and needed a place to dry out all the gear still wet from the morning storms, and the site was more than adequate to address those issues. I did fish the main part of South Temperance around all the islands for a couple of hours with no luck, which is now the 2nd time this lake has skunked me. I chalked it up to "too hot even for the fish" and went swimming instead. Once again, a way better choice than sweating in the canoe seat, but it also meant a 2nd night with no fish for dinner. Even though I had plenty of food, I was a bit disappointed as I had hoped that an early June trip would be full of fish catching. Some things just don't go as planned.
I returned from fishing to a camp of dry gear (YAY!) and spent a couple hours of the evening just relaxing and planning. With a big day ahead of me, I wanted to be well rested and I was in the tent well before 9:00 PM. I happily welcomed a night of "sleeping with the top down" (no rain fly) since there was no rain in the forecast, which was pretty necessary due to how stifling hot the tent would have been. Doubts about how the next day was going to play out with my injured foot vs. tough portages were definitely entering my mind. Those doubts, combined with the prospect of another day of hot and humid weather were dragging me down mentally. I just kept telling myself I had set a goal and that I was going to give it my best effort to reach that goal, and fell asleep ready to do just that.
I'm a light sleeper to begin with, but with no rain fly to block out the first light of the early morning, I was up by 4:30 AM. I packed up camp, and was at the portage into North Temperance before 6:00 AM. That portage, the paddle through North Temperance, and the portage into Sitka went by fairly quickly and easily, but soon enough it was time for the beast of a portage between Sitka and Cherokee. Afterwards I decided the portage (listed at 140 or 165 rods depending on the map) had to be closer to 200 rods. It was constant up, down, back up, back down, over and over. There was some tight spots where trees had fallen, mudholes, slippery areas, rocky sections- it had it all, and it thoroughly kicked my ass. When I got to the Cherokee side, I sat down fully clothed in the cool water for a good 5 minutes before heading back for my 2nd trip, and repeated that again upon returning. I was out of water, my foot was pounding, and I sweating non-stop. My video of celebrating my completion of the portage has me saying "I 100% absolutely never need to do that portage again, but I made it, and I'm here on Cherokee". The thumbs up and smile I gave the camera told the real story though, and I would definitely be up the challenge again were I to ever get the chance, preferably with a temperature 20 degrees cooler!
I stopped at site #890 near the portage and filtered enough water to refill all my bottles. Another magical moment happened there- a painted turtle was digging a hole for her eggs in the middle of a rocky slope halfway up from the water to the site. She paid me no attention, going about her business calmly and casually. It was a good reminder to me to do the same on this trip.
I paddled the rest of the way through Cherokee (what a beautiful lake!) and checked out a couple open sites on the north end of the lake in case I needed them (I didn't) and then turned east to head towards Town Lake, my ultimate goal for the day. By then the winds had picked up out of the E/SE fairly strongly, and the last mile towards Town Lake was a bit of work through the whitecaps. The easiest way to portage into Town Lake is a bit hidden, but there is a channel that leads into a small beaver pond around the right side (south side) as you approach the last little peninsula. I did have to get out and pull around some rocks, but paddled through the beaver pond and probably cut out about 2/3 of the portage.
When I got to Town Lake, the wind was blowing stiffly in my face and the entire west side of the lake was whipped into a whitecap frenzy, which made for a slow and tough paddle to check the lone campsite on the lake. I followed the shoreline as tightly as possible, put my head down, and pushed onward. Luckily the site was empty and I would not have to turn back to those other sites on Cherokee. The site sits close to the water with a fairly rocky landing, two tent pads, and a walk up a steep hill to the latrine. The tent pads are very open to the sun, which on a hot and humid day was not at all appreciated, since all I wanted to do was lay down and take a nap. I also made this observation "I don't know what happened between yesterday and today or if it's just this lake, but there are flies everywhere- deer flies, horse flies, stable flies and they are annoying". It seemed too early in the year for all of those flies, but I made due by putting my chair right along the shoreline in the wind and sitting there relaxing.
I did eventually take a short nap in my oven of a tent, but when I woke up a strange fit of soul searching began. I spent a good 3 hours complaining internally and out loud about the heat, my foot, my lack of catching fish, the upcoming forecast (thunderstorms on Friday and Saturday), and my general exhaustion, all with no one else around to break me out of my funk. It was then that I decided that soloing wasn't really for me. I like people, I like talking, and I like sharing the wilderness experience with someone else. I decided I would exit the BW the next day, despite being a fairly good distance away from any possible exit. Once I made that decision, it was like a heavy weight had been lifted from my shoulders. My brain relaxed and doubts and worries were pushed aside enough for me to calm down and get back in the moment and the mindset I wanted to be in.
When on a lake trout lake in a fairly remote lake of the BW, you had better get out and see what you can catch, so when the winds died down a little bit about 8:00 PM, I did just that. The western end of the lake was still mostly whitecapped, so I trolled a giant circle around the eastern half of the lake, and about 3/4 around that circle I hooked into what felt like a very nice fish. I picked up my rod and let the wind do what it would with my canoe while I reeled up my catch. I got the lake trout to the surface and grabbed the net, only to have the fish come off the hook, swim into my net, and then flop back into the water to return to the depths when I tried to lift it into the boat. My best estimate put that fish somewhere in the 26-28" range. It would have been my first BW lake trout, but alas, that would have to wait. It was still an exhilarating experience, and one I won't soon forget.
I continued trolling for another 20 or so minutes and had another tug at my line. When I went to grab my fishing rod, the paddle slipped out the side of the canoe and into the water. To make it worse, there was no fish on the end of the line. I watched helplessly as my canoe drifted away from the paddle. I took quick note of what was in the canoe to help me, but neither the net or my fishing pole were able to help change the now pissed off drunken sailor (I'm glad no one was around to hear me!) back into the pacified canoeist I had been moments earlier.
So I did what needed to be done. I jumped in the lake, grabbed the side of the canoe, kicked against the wind until the canoe and I caught up with my paddle, and then kicked the boat another 50 or so yards over to the nearest rocky shoreline. For the first time all trip I was happy for it to have been so hot. Most years jumping into a deep cool lake on an early June night at 9:00 PM would have been damn cold. But not this day! I had a good laugh at myself while I loaded back into my canoe, completely erasing any remaining negativity from earlier in the day. I went back to camp happily soaking wet, which turned out to the just the ending I needed to what had become a wonderful final evening in the BW.
Having decided the afternoon before to make it back to an EP today, I knew I had my work cut out for me. Ahead of me were 4 tough portages between Town Lake and Brule Lake, and then 7-8 miles of paddling a lake where winds can be a huge factor. I pushed off early under overcast skies, determined to beat the heat of the day I knew was once again coming. The first portage from Town into Vesper is uphill the entire length, filled with rocks, rocks, and more rocks. It was slippery and slow progress, except the part where the portage went through the most mosquito filled low and wet area in all the world (or so it seemed). In that area I went as quickly as possible! I didn't take many notes about the other portages, but they all had their challenges, mostly related to rocks, poor footing, mud or standing water and narrow or non-existent trails. The portage put-ins and take-outs ranged from boulder strewn to mudholes and often presented some of the biggest challenges of the portages. At some point a light to medium rain began falling and last for quite some time. That didn't help my footing, but it kept the temperatures down so I only had to deal with the 100% humidity. I still ended up being an absolute sweaty mess!
When I finally made it to Brule, I was giddy to see that the lake looked like glass. Does that really happen on a lake this size? Apparently it does! As I progressed east across the lake, time and time again I kept thinking how damn beautiful this lake was. The topography around it, the many islands and points on the west end, the clear water- they all wrapped me up in their beauty and helped push my exhausted self towards an exit. When I got back towards Jack Mock Point, I made what at first felt like a strange decision. I decided to head to EP 40 instead of EP 41 as it was shorter and didn't involve any more portaging. It did mean I had to walk from EP 40 back to my vehicle at Homer Lake, but by then my foot had been through so much that day that adrenaline and nature-infused happiness would be enough to get me through it. The overcast skies broke when I was about 2 miles from the parking area at Brule Lake, and by the time I arrived there, temps were headed up quickly. The landing and parking area were very busy, with several groups getting ready to head out onto the lake, and others packing up their gear to leave.
The walk along the gravel road was about 2 miles and I did run out of water about halfway through my walk, but I had water in the car, so I wasn't concerned. The walk gave me a chance to decompress from the day of portaging and paddling and to think about what I would do different, whether I would ever choose to go on a solo trip again, and what the hell my wife was going to say now that I was coming home 2 days earlier than planned. I can honestly say looking back that I did enjoy this trip, and despite the challenges I faced (some real, some blown way out of proportion by my overly active mind), I will certainly try another solo trip in the future.