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BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog

June 22 2024

Entry Point 41 - Brule Lake

Brule Lake entry point allows overnight paddle only. This entry point is supported by Tofte Ranger Station near the city of Tofte, MN. The distance from ranger station to entry point is 35 miles. Access is a boat landing at Brule Lake. Large lake with several campsites. This area was affected by blowdown in 1999.

Number of Permits per Day: 7
Elevation: 1847 feet
Latitude: 47.9261
Longitude: -90.6448
Brule Lake - 41

First solo: Bower Trout to Ram

by straighthairedcurly
Trip Report

Entry Date: June 28, 2020
Entry Point: Bower Trout Lake
Exit Point: Ram Lake (44)
Number of Days: 9
Group Size: 1

Trip Introduction:
I would like to thank (blame?) this site for getting me obsessed about taking a solo trip. Maybe a midlife crisis... but I wanted to test my limits and shake up life a bit.

Day 1 of 9

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Tough decision and a bit of guilt about going on this trip. My father was diagnosed with liver cancer the end of May and immediately entered hospice. Since he lives in an assisted living community, I had not been able to visit him since mid-March. But once he entered hospice, family members were allowed to visit and help provide care. My siblings and I had been sharing that duty, but we had made a decision together that other plans for the summer should continue forward, since there was no predicting the length of his time left with us. It could be days or it could be months. So I said my goodbyes, in case he passed away while I was gone, and decided to devote this trip to him, and to the sense of adventure he instilled in me.

In addition, back in mid-May, when my son found out his 34 day canoe trip to Canada through Camp Menogyn had been cancelled, we had made the decision that he and his good tripping buddy would ride up and back with me, but go out and do their own trip in the same area. This would be their 1st trip sans parents or camp counselor, but they had a lot of experience under their belts.

We got an early start from the Twin Cities. Even the teenagers were ready to go at 6:00 am, and we made great time up to Grand road construction, no traffic, and only bathroom stops. We ate our packed lunches on the Point and got some gas. Since all of us have been social distancing rigorously to protect those most vulnerable around us, I was disappointed to see how many tourists in Grand Marais were not wearing masks and were crammed together waiting for donuts.

We drove up the Gunflint Trail and found the South Brule Road that took us in to the Bower Trout Lake and Ram Lake entry points. Spotted a moose on the road immediately after one of the boys said, "I hope I see a moose this trip." At the T-intersection, you turn left and go .3 miles to Bower Trout or you turn right and go .3 mile to Ram Lake. Both entries have a small parking lot and then a portage in to the lake. I dropped the boys at Ram Lake first. They planned to continue all the way to Little Trout Lake for the night and I was just going to stay on Bower Trout. They started their SPOT tracking at 12:47pm and took off up the uphill 103 rod portage to Ram Lake.

I proceeded over to the Bower Trout lot, got my gear together and did my 1st solo portage, an 80 rod flat highway of a portage that even has boardwalks over any muddy bits. Both campsites on Bower Trout were open and I simply took the 1st one. I am not particularly fussy about my campsites as long as I can find a place to lay my head for the night. The site is set back from the water quite a bit, but had a nice sitting area by the lake.

The used 1P Tarptent I bought this winter was super quick to set up. I tried to take a swim but the area was too shallow and marshy, so I sat where I could wash and dry my feet. This is a ritual for me on trail. When I was younger, I used to get a lot of foot rot until I started being a fanatic about washing and drying my feet at the campsite, and then rinsing all the mud and debris out of my socks.

I prepped the kitchen area, filtered water, and realized how little there was for me to do when traveling solo. On our family trips, I am the one who knows where everything is and makes sure all the personal gear and cooking gear gets distributed to everyone's area in the evening and gets back into the correct packs in the morning. On a family trip, I am typically the cook while others gather the firewood. But I only had to cook a simple meal for easy. And no firewood needed. My cooking equipment this trip included a homemade alcohol stove, a pot for boiling water, my Frybake pan/lid, and a Talenti ice cream plastic jar with a homemade cozy fitted to it made from scraps of reflective bubble wrap.

I made red rice and beans with kielbasa sausage for dinner. For dessert, I gobbled a packet of the mini key lime cookies I buy from Clean up was easy...for the jar, I just add a little fresh water, shake the closed jar, and then drink the water with food scraps. A habit developed on group trips with camp so we had fewer dishes to wash and everyone just kept track of their own cup. For the fry pan, I typically scrape out food bits, leave it greasy, and only wash every other meal.

I dubbed this site the "Black and White Site" because it was filled with black and white butterflies and black and white dragonflies. They were flitting everywhere. A dragonfly even caught a deerfly right in front of me, then landed on my knee to munch it spit out the wings. Since I've never eaten a wing I could only assume they are dry and tasteless. I also observed butterflies feeding on the eyeballs of a dead rabbit in the campsite. Apparently this is common behavior. They need the additional salt available from the tears or blood of rotting animals because they can't get it from nectar alone. I had never witnessed this before.

The only people I saw tonight were 2 canoes heading back to the parking area after day fishing. Peaceful first evening. As I settled to sleep, I heard something walking outside the tent. I peered out and there was a massive toad (the size you expect in the tropics, not in the Northwoods) and he was too big to hop. So he was strolling through the grass and wildflowers.

~Bower Trout Lake Portages: 80 rod (I always double portaged during this trip unless mentioned otherwise)


Day 2 of 9

Monday, June 29, 2020

The first real day of the trip. The plan was to get to Brule Lake today, but I was also willing to just see how the travel would be. I didn't get out of the tent until 6:30am and then decided to make a campfire. I made a big blueberry-apple pancake and fried SPAM breakfast. Got all done eating and realized I had forgotten to use the maple syrup! Guess my mind was elsewhere.

This is a trip of transitions and reflections. Tomorrow I am turning 56, which is the same age as my mother when she died. I don't know many people who can avoid comparing their parents' deaths with their own eventual demise. I know my husband went through that when he reached the age his father had died of heart issues. He became anxious about his own health and had the docs run loads of tests. Now with me reaching the age of my mother's death, and my father nearing his own death, it is a time of change in life, death, and all I hold dear. I am also thinking about how my son is launching out into the world and will be off to college in a year. He has such poise and confidence, but still so much to learn.

Back to the trip. I left the campsite about 8:30 and completed the 91 rod portage to Marshall. Some small hills and a bit rocky, but a straight forward portage. No one at the campsite on Marshall. Turns out this will be the case all day... no one camped or paddling on any of the lakes I pass through. The next 4 portages were all around 30 rods plus or minus. They were all very buggy, rocky, and muddy, but no deep mud. I wore my head net the whole morning. The lakes are more like wide spots in a narrow winding stream, and I love this type of area.

I saw a bald eagle and a mommy merganser teaching 3 little ones how to dive. It was adorable. Mama and babies would all dive underwater in perfect unison and pop up altogether 20-30 seconds later. Lots of flowers blooming this time of year: blue flag iris, twin flower, wild rose, thimbleberry, bunchberry, and more which I need to look up. Tons of frogs calling and leaping about near portage entrances.

I ate a floating lunch on Swan Lake to refuel before the 281 rod portage. I had tortillas, salami, and asiago cheese. I tucked the Bit o' Honey, fruit leather, and almonds into my shirt pocket as nibbles for the long portage. This portage was long, but had some of the better footing for the day, and was not as buggy. I was able to double portage the whole way to Vernon Lake, but I was pretty exhausted. So I told myself, if a campsite was open on Vernon I should take it and wait to reach Brule tomorrow. Turned out to be a great decision! Beautiful campsite right by a spring fed stream. Once I saw the rocky portage to Brule the next day, I knew I was smart to stop when I was so tired.

How can so many solo paddlers say they don't get very hungry? I was famished by the time I made camp mid afternoon! This ended up being the case for the whole trip.

This was the first day I set up my new CCS tarp. I hadn't even had time to get it set up at home due to caring for my dad. I took my time, cut the lines, and decided what I thought would be my favorite way to set it up. I loved it! So many great choices for tie off points. This is a really well designed product.

This campsite had a perfect swimming spot and the added fun of the stream outflow. Because it is spring fed, it was particularly icy water and the current made it fun to float around in my life jacket. Very refreshing! The day had been cloudy, but really hot and humid. Nice steady breeze from the south kept the bugs at bay and made quick work of drying my freshly rinsed trail clothes. The stream outflow was popular with a loon as well. One hung out diving for fish all evening.

My 1st frustration tonight was figuring out the best way to set up my new water filter. I really hadn't given it much thought before the trip, but after some frustrating losses of water due to an unstable set up, I finally figured out what would work. Used the alcohol stove to cook up some Pad Thai ramen and hot cocoa. I was very disappointed to find out one of the storage bottles for the alcohol now leaks...ugh! Fortunately, I had also bagged both bottles so I was able to rescue most of the spilled fuel.

I nicknamed this campsite Wind Tunnel because the south breeze made lighting anything very difficult (but kept the bugs away).

The only people I saw all day, paddled by my campsite about 4:30 on their way to Brule. I am guessing they were the people who had today's Bower Trout entry permit. Headed to bed early to read and write and better organize my gear.

~Bower Trout Lake, Marshall Lake, Dugout Lake, Skidway Lake, Swan Lake, Vernon Lake

Portages: 91 rod, 30 rod, 33 rod, 36 rod, 31 rod, 281 rod

Miles: 8 (I report map miles, I do not include my back and forth distance on portages)


Day 3 of 9

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Happy Birthday to me, Happy Birthday to me! I was out of the tent by 5:10am and had planned a quick pack up so I could get to Brule before any wind kicked up. By 6:05, everything was ready to put in the packs. It started to mist so I quickly stuffed it all in the packs. I finished just in time, because it started to pour and I heard some distant thunder. Since I had planned a no-cook breakfast (PB, chocolate, banana smoothie), I decided to mix it up while I waited for the thunder to pass. The wind started churning up white caps, so much for beating the wind on Brule.

The thunder was very distant and very, very intermittent so I decided to scoot right along the shore to the portage because it was super close to the campsite. At least then I could get the portage done and evaluate the state of the wind on Brule. The portage was straight up, so I was really glad I had stopped on Vernon the night before. I never heard anymore thunder. The wind and rain were dying down by the time I reached Brule so I headed out.

I followed the channel between the islands and the north shore so that I benefited from some protection from the south wind. There were no whitecaps anymore and the wind/waves were well within my capabilities. I passed only 3 occupied campsites and no one else was out paddling.

The portages between the Cone Lakes were uneventful. I never met a soul and none of those campsites were occupied. I started to feel like I had the whole BWCA to myself. I had a shore lunch just before I entered North Cone Lake. Hummus, carrots, coconut almonds. I saved some almonds, chocolate bar, and dried apricots for a snack later.

The 178 rod portage from North Cone to Davis is where it all started to go wrong. It is a very rocky and muddy portage, and the rain had made it extra slippery. While carrying the packs, I had my 1st fall of the trip. I stepped into some mud, my left foot slid out from under me, and rocks were blocking my right foot from shooting out to catch my balance. I slammed into the rocks on my right, and my right arm sunk into the next mud hole over. Obviously, I had to swear loudly, because studies have shown that swearing helps decrease pain (I always knew there was a positive use for I evaluated the damage and was relieved that it was just a shin scraped on the rocks. I felt a bit silly, and I continued warily.

Apparently not warily enough. Awhile later, I was traversing a series of sloped boulders on a hillside. Suddenly my right foot slipped downslope. My left came twisting around for balance, but I was falling too fast. I slammed down the slope with my left knee and ankle crammed up tight under the weight of my body. OUCH! I didn't feel any pop in my ankle, but I sensed I had at least strained something. I decided to switch to triple portaging the remainder of this one.

I felt okay. I went back for the canoe and went very slowly with it. My left calf muscle had a balled up cramp in it, but otherwise I felt unscathed for the moment. Fortunately, I had planned to stay on Davis and the 1st site was unoccupied. Turned out, I had another lake all to myself. This campsite is very spacious with huge stretches of rock, good swimming, and nice tent pads. Cooking area is very exposed, but the weather was nice. Light south breeze kept the bugs away. I named this campsite "Moose Turd Pie" in honor of the Utah Phillips story, because the path to the thunder box was all moose turds. There were abundant blueberry bushes (not ripe yet) and a few highbush cranberry bushes (delish!).

Soon after setting up camp and making a quick cup of broccoli cheese soup with Parmesan cheese crisps, my ankle started to really hurt and my knee stiffened up due to swelling. I rubbed on some arnica, put on my ankle brace, swallowed some ibuprofen, and took a nap. When I got up, I took some Tylenol and started making dinner.

Wow! Best trail pizza I have made since my long tripping days. I made a wetter than normal crust (almost like pancake batter) and poured it into a very oily pan. I rehydrated pizza sauce, mushrooms, onions, and bell peppers. I added green olives, Kalamata olives, sundried tomatoes, pepperoni, and cheese. Perfect top fire and bottom fire. I had eaten like a hobbit today, so I didn't have enough room in my stomach to bother cooking my birthday cupcake.

All in all, a day mixed with pluses and minuses. Too hot to sleep, but too hard to walk to the lake with my ankle and knee pain. A bit worried about tomorrow.

~Vernon Lake, Brule Lake, South Cone Lake, Middle Cone Lake, North Cone Lake, Davis Lake

Portages: 49 rod, 30 rod, 25 rod, 5 rod, 178 rod

Miles: 9.5


Day 4 of 9

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

When I woke up, my ankle was feeling significantly better...tender, but no throbbing or sharp pain. My left knee was swollen and stiff. I really need to watch my footing today. No room for errors. I had planned to make a big egg and hashbrown breakfast, but I was moving way too slowly. So I had a quick raspberry oatmeal. I decided to pack the day pack very lightly today so maybe I could carry it with the canoe.

At 9:00am, I started paddling to the mega portage into Kiskadinna. I was rather anxious about my left knee, so I decided to try breaking the portage into 15 minute legs. These soon turned into 10 minute legs when I found out what a horrible, no good, very bad portage this is! What makes it so bad you ask? It has everything awful: Steep uphills and downhills, old burn areas with tag alders grown over the path, can't see your feet in many places, beaver dam flooded the path at the halfway mark so had to reload to wade across, incredibly hot day, tons of boulder hopping, only about 20 rods had good footing while the rest was some of the worst footing I have experienced, and it felt like a bushwhack in places.

All that and I couldn't afford to take a single wrong step. I talked to myself, I sang, I swore loudly, and I developed a couple mantras that I repeated over and over to stay focused: "Check your footing. Check your footing" and "Plan, place, plan, place".

I started out with a double portage arrangement of the blue pack followed by the canoe with paddles and daypack. This didn't last long. I had to set down the canoe before reaching the blue pack at the 1st 15 minute point. Then I carried the red pack past the blue pack. After that, it is a blur of leapfrogging. I ended up removing the paddles from the canoe to lighten it as much as possible. About half the time I triple portaged, the other half I double portaged. I drank every drop of the 80 oz. of water I was carrying. I swam in the beaver "pond" to cool off. I was very worried about heat exhaustion, so I took every opportunity to wet down when near a lake or pond. I came very close to crying, but I decided swearing was the better option. Note that some maps show this as 2 shorter portages split by a large pond. However, the main path clearly has this set up as one portage so I never investigated whether I could find the portage again if I paddled across the bigger pond.

Finally made it to Kiskadinna in one piece! Three and a half hours to complete this portage! I wrote on the map "NEVER AGAIN!"

I paddled to the 1st campsite on Kiskadinna and climbed up to have lunch: tuna with relish and mayo on rye crisp, dried oranges on sun warmed chocolate. I saved the tomato soup and peanut butter for later.

I had the option of camping on Kiskadinna, but I decided to continue to Omega. The portage from Kiskadinna to Omega goes straight up, then straight down. There are some decent rock steps, but some of the steps are too big for us short people. On the way down, I had to get creative in one spot. The step down was too big a drop for me to do safely, especially with my injuries. I figured out I could dip the bow of the canoe down into the ground and use it to help support my weight as I stepped down. Worked slick! New trick for the toolbox.

Wind was in my face for the first time on Omega (BTW, the McKenzie map has a typo and spells it Ogema), but it was not a strong wind. I went past the western most island campsite and took the beautiful campsite on the point just west of the portage to Winchell. I was hoping to spot my son and his friend tonight or tomorrow since this was our tentative check in point. I planned to warn them about the 325 rod portage.

I had seen nobody all day again, but about 4:30 two gentleman in solo canoes paddled by hoping my site was open. They ended up at the island site I had passed up. Then at 7 pm a couple came by desperately hoping for a campsite because the western end of Winchell had been full. I directed them around the corner. These 2 groups are the first people with whom I had spoken on this trip. With my injuries and the remoteness of my route, I had been feeling very alone, so it really helped to know there were people on this lake tonight.

This is a great spot for a layover tomorrow, and I clearly need one to recover. Excellent swimming, good shade. Tomorrow I can day trip to Henson to look for the boys. I cooked an easy dinner...curried rice that just needed boiling water and same for my cherry crisp dessert from Food for the Sole. I also gobbled up the leftover pepperoni from last night's pizza endeavor.

~Davis Lake, Kiskadinna Lake, Omega Lake

Portages: 325 rod (had to triple portage half of it), 37 rod

Miles: 5+


Day 5 of 9

Thursday, July 02, 2020 LAYOVER DAY I am not a huge fan of layover days, but I really had no choice. With my ankle feeling better, but my left knee still too swollen to bend, it would be irresponsible to skip my pre-planned layover day. To avoid boredom, I took an early morning paddle around Omega. The lake was a perfect mirror and so beautiful.

I had a massive breakfast with hashbrowns, cheese, vegetables, eggs, and bacon. I had too many hashbrowns, but I managed to finish them. After breakfast, I paddled and portaged an empty canoe over to Henson to look for the boys. No one was camped on Henson. That is a really long lake, but every campsite was empty. I had looked forward to finding them, so my brain started doing the mom thing of, "I hope they are okay. Did they get hurt? Why aren't they here?" Couldn't do anything about it, so nap time.

Pretty quiet afternoon. I napped, had a salami and cheese lunch, finished reading "The Voyageur's Highway", swam a lot, had a snack, watched canoes hunt for campsites, watched ants carrying things, watched a solitary bee suck something tasty off my skin, broke apart wood chips left over from axe crazed campers. Hot, hot, hot today! At least I wasn't sweating as much and was able to catch up on water intake. The boys not meeting up still weighed on my mind. I hoped they were fine.

After an easy "just boil water" dinner, I organized all my gear to get a quick, efficient start in the morning. I put a smoothie mix in my food jar for a quick, no-cook breakfast, picked out my lunch, packed all the cook gear, filled the water bottles and packed up the filter kit, and then packed up my in-camp clothing. Dueling green frogs again tonight...calling back and forth all night long.

~Omega Lake, Henson Lake, Omega Lake

Portages: 31 rod, then back again (single portage with just canoe)

Miles: 8.5 miles of paddling around Omega and Henson


Day 6 of 9

Friday, July 03, 2020

Wow, did today ever work out well! I had concerns about finding a campsite given the holiday weekend and my proximity to Poplar Lake. I was up about 5:30, packed up camp, and was on the water by about 6:30am. It really helped to have everything so organized. Portage to Winchell was rocky but only 46 rods long. Winchell Lake was like glass! Not even a riffle. I paddled for a bit and then floated while I mixed up and drank my breakfast smoothie.

I did not see a single person or any occupied campsites the entire length of Winchell (note: I did not paddle by the 3 campsites on the west end). Looked like there are some nice sites with large white pines. The lake was so smooth, I could see everything under the surface...HUGE slabs of rock.

At the portage to Gaskin, a large walleye swam right up near me and just calmly watched what I was doing. Eating size...but it was safe with me since I am not a fan of eating fish. I had a nice one-sided conversation with it. The portage to Gaskin goes up, then down, but the footing is fantastic compared to what I had seen on this trip.

On Gaskin, 2 of the 3 campsites I passed were occupied. However, the island site my family stayed on a few years ago was open. We loved that site, and I was momentarily tempted. A falcon swooped overhead, then swung back around and did a dive bomb to the water. It came up with a fish only 30 feet away from my canoe. Super cool to watch! And there were some beautiful water lilies to greet me.

Just before the portage to Horseshoe, I saw a canoe with 5 people and a dog heading out on a daytrip. I asked if any sites were open on Horseshoe and they said they were all full last night. I mentally prepared myself to continue to Vista Lake today. The portage to Horseshoe was the longest of the day, but it still felt easy because the footing was so good! I decided to paddle past each site to see if anyone had left. Every site was full, but just as I reached the northernmost site, a canoe pulled away and headed to the Caribou Lake portage. Good timing on my part!

By the time I finished eating lunch, no less than 8 canoes had come over the portage from Caribou looking for a campsite. My timing really was perfect today. This site is terrible for swimming because it is too shallow and mucky, and the day was shaping up to be another scorcher. Since it was only 11am, I headed out to explore the southern end of the lake. Definitely worth the many water lilies! Quite a few canoes were day tripping about Horseshoe, but since I had seen so few people on my trip, it was rather enjoyable to chat with some folks. At one point, there was a bald eagle sitting very low in a tree right at the shore. Great close up view for me, but I don't have a good camera for that kind of shot. But you can see it if you look closely at the photo.

On the way back to my campsite, I pulled over on a rocky island, if it even qualified as an island, to swim. I have never experienced such a long stretch of hot weather and humid nights in the BWCA as I have on this trip. Swimming was a definite necessity. Today was so hot that when I pulled up to the campsite, a toad hopped in the water near me and just stretched out his front and back legs. He looked so relieved to be cooled off. He clambered onto a nearby rock and then hopped back to a shady spot. I felt the same way.

When I returned to my campsite, I went to hit the "I'm OK" button on my SPOT and noticed it had turned off at some point. Hmm...what's up with that? I changed the batteries just in case they were low even though no warning light had come on. I noticed inside the battery case was damp which surprised me. I dried it and all seemed fine.

I took a short nap, and listened to the wonderfully excited voices of the kids at the campsite across from me as they caught some fish and played hide 'n seek. Too cute! A quick "boil water" type of dinner and the day wound down. My knee was feeling much better after 2 easy portage days. I hoped that boded well for the long portage tomorrow. Should be good unless the clouds develop rain. Hopefully, I continue my streak of not meeting a single person on a portage this trip. Today was the first day I met any canoes while paddling.

~Omega Lake, Winchell Lake, Gaskin Lake, Horseshoe Lake

Portages: 46 rod, 52 rod, 98 rod

Miles: 9.5 miles plus a 4 mile day trip paddle to where the Brule River exits Horseshoe Lake


Day 7 of 9

Saturday, July 04, 2020

Today started out beautifully. By the time I packed up and started out, the family across from me was up and about. I stopped by to tell the parents how wonderful I thought it was that they were giving their kids the gift of the BWCA. I got rather choked up thinking about how thankful I am to my parents for getting me out camping at a young age. The family's oldest is 7 and this is his 4th trip and camping trips are his favorite activity. Only a few people were stirring as I paddled toward the Vista Lake portage. I saw a moose munching breakfast and sat and watched for awhile, but didn't try to free up my camera.

Just when I reached the portage to Vista, things turned not so beautiful. I glanced down at my SPOT and was horrified to see the SOS light was lit up green!!! What the heck? How could that have even happened?! I quickly open the flap and pressed down the button until the light turned red. I didn't start the portage until I was sure the cancel message had been picked up by the satellites. Then I also sent an "I'm OK" message to my husband. But I was extremely shaken by the experience. I had no way of knowing if the light had been on for 5 minutes or 30 minutes. Had search and rescue been initiated? How could the light even have gotten turned on? I was also terrified that my sister might have received a call indicating I was in a "life threatening" emergency, and knowing the stress she was under with caring for my ailing father, I started to panic.

There was nothing I could do, but continue on my way and hope for the best, but it was stressful. Then I noticed the SPOT was continuing to act up. At the end of the portage to Vista, the "helping hand" light was lit red for some reason, but sort of faint. I decided that I should turn off the unit except for when I needed to send another "I'm OK" at the end of the day.

I got my head back in the game and focused on portaging safely. Vista was pretty and I saw 1 group camped there, fishing from shore. No one on Misquah Lake. I planned to stay on Little Trout Lake. The portage from Misquah to Little Trout was long, and I had to triple portage about 1/2 of it. However, I had studied the contours on the map, so I knew what to expect as far as ups and downs. I was hot and sweaty when I reached Little Trout. No one was camped at any of the sites. Surprising for 4th of July weekend, but apparently I picked a very quiet route.

I picked the island campsite because it had a great swimming spot and it was crazy hot again. I reached the site about noon, went swimming and ate lunch. As I was trying to motivate to get unpacked and set up the tent, I got depressed about how hot and sunny the site shade for a tent. Then I started to have a panic attack, which is extremely out of character for me. My imagination started running completely wild on me: my son and friend injured somewhere, search and rescue out looking for me, my husband and sister in total panic. The scenes and scenarios kept running through my head on an endless loop. The final straw was when I turned on the SPOT to send my "I'm OK" message for the end of my travel day. It couldn't connect to a GPS signal even though I was in the open. I waited for 20 minutes in case it was just a weird alignment of satellites, but still nothing. Then the unit started shutting off on its own. That was it! I made the decision that I needed to get out TODAY! I needed to reach my husband and tell him I was okay.

There were 4 more portages to reach the parking lot at Ram, plus a hike to the parking lot at Bower Trout where I had parked the car. I could do this. I went into what I call "beast mode"...singleminded determination to plow forward no matter what. Feel no pain, stop for nothing, one foot in front of the other until the goal is accomplished.

Once I started moving again at 2pm, the panic started to subside and I knew I was doing the right thing for my mental health. I portaged while talking out loud to myself the whole time. Pep talks, focusing mantras, etc. Portage after portage ticked by. As I approached Ram Lake, I was faced with the decision of where should I stay tonight. Technically if I left the BWCA, I shouldn't return, but I really didn't want to sleep in my car in this heat/humidity, and the chance of finding an open site at a campground on July 4th was nil. I decided that if a site was open on Ram, I would leave my main gear pack. Then I would just hike the 103 rod portage with my daypack, and return after calling my husband.

Sure enough, the first site was open, so I left my pack and headed out. I stowed the canoe off to the side of the portage and took the day pack across, double checking that I had my cell phone and car keys. Hot hike down the road to the other parking lot, but I was still in "beast mode". The car AC felt really good as I drove back out the South Brule Road and down the Gunflint Trail until I could pick up a cell signal. Amazingly, I reached my husband on the first try. That never happens. After hurriedly explaining why the heck I was calling a day early he assured me that he had not received any emergency call, but had actually received all my "I'm OK" messages that day. He had thought it odd that he had received 3 instead of the typical one at the end of the day. He had actually been worried because he had not received an "I'm OK" message from the boys last night, but then one arrived while we were talking. He was able to tell me that they were camped on Bower Trout, in good position to exit early tomorrow.

Relieved, I drove back to the Ram Lake parking area, hiked across the portage and paddled back to the campsite. It was my latest night setting up camp. I didn't finish the set up and eating my falafel dinner until 7:30pm. Then the wind started to pick up, storm clouds moved in, and thunder started rumbling. I neatened up camp and climbed into the tent. Only a few drops of rain fell, but there was plenty of thunder.

~Horseshoe Lake, Vista Lake, Misquah Lake, Little Trout Lake, Rum Lake, Kroft Lake, Ram Lake

Portages: 21 rod, 56 rod, 230 rod (had to triple portage 1/2 of it), 62 rod, 54 rod, 68 rod, 103 rods twice with day pack, 1 mile on road with daypack

Miles: about 9 miles plus extra walking


Day 8 of 9

Sunday, July 05, 2020

Last day! I knew the boys would think they could beat me to the parking lot since they had camped on Bower Trout instead of Swan Lake, and they thought I was camping on Little Trout. However, I woke before 7. Despite taking my time breaking camp, paddling across Ram, and portaging to the car, I still was at the Bower Trout lot before 8:30am. I took lots of flower pictures along the boardwalk to the lake and sat on the shore writing and watching for them.

About 9:30am, they came paddling along and the look of disappointment since I was already there was pretty funny. My son said, "What time did you get up to be able to beat us here?!" I confessed that I had been camped on Ram instead of Little Trout. It was so good to see them, and the look of pride on their faces as they talked about their accomplishment is something I will never forget. They just started telling their tales while sitting in the canoe. About 30 minutes later, we realized we should probably get packed up and head for some food. They had not eaten breakfast because it was too buggy at their site.

We headed to Trail Center and made it with just minutes to spare before they switched from breakfast menu to lunch menu. Good food! Great people! We had an uneventful drive back to the Cities except for the long wait at Culver's in Two Harbors. I expected bad traffic on the Sunday of a holiday weekend, but there was only one 10 minute slow down.

~Ram Lake

Portage: 103 rod 


Day 9 of 9

Post trip gear reviews, notes, reflectison and update on my father:

My used Tarptent served me well. The size was fine for me and it was super easy to pitch and take down.

I loved the ease of using the Fancy Feast can alcohol stove I had made. The majority of my dinners (and some breakfasts) just required boiling water and adding it the food.

I loved my food jar method for rehydrating my meals. I knew from past experience that I absolutely detest eating out of a plastic baggie. Too much food gets stuck in the corners, they are awkward and floppy, and it just feels wrong. But my Talenti ice cream jar, with homemade cozy made eating feel more normal. Cleaning was a dream, because I just add some water when done eating, shake, and drink.

My CCS rucksack and 8x10 tarp are beautifully designed and are great additions to my gear collection.

My in-camp footwear choice was really bad. I am going back to my Crocs.

I need better containers for carrying my stove alcohol. The supposed alcohol fuel bottles I bought leaked!

My canoe set up was excellent for paddle stowage at portages. I still need to add a bungie cord along the length of the front thwart so I can easily secure my map when I don't want to have it in the map case. I need to shorten my bow and stern lines. They were much too long which made them annoying to keep neat.

I carried the right amount of gear, except too many clothes for this incredibly hot weather. I did a good job on the food quantity, except somehow I packed 2 extra breakfasts instead of just one emergency meal. And I packed too many soup snacks. It was just too hot to want soup. I left the trip with the 2 extra oatmeals, my last lunch (because I had camped so much closer to the exit than expected), 2 leftover instant soups, and 1 of my desserts.

I loved my breakfast smoothies. They allowed me to get out of camp fast in the morning and then drink a breakfast whenever I needed my 1st break.

This route was much more isolated than I expected. That had its good and bad moments. I was definitely challenged physically and mentally.

Notes from return: As I mentioned in the beginning, I had been torn about taking this trip with my dad so ill. Happily, he was still alive when I returned. I was able to spend the next 2 days caring for him and being with him before he passed away on July 7th with me by his side. I can't thank him and my mom enough for everything they gave me as a child. The best gift of all was giving me the skills and confidence to travel the world and try new outdoor experiences. I am forever blessed. And as a mother, I am so proud of my son as he gets out into the world and tackles the challenges that come from life. I am looking forward to our family trip next week and feel fortunate that he still wants to travel with his parents even after his new found independence.


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