Boundary Waters Trip Reports, Blog, BWCA, BWCAW, Quetico Park

BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog

November 30 2022

Entry Point 49 - Skipper & Portage Lakes

Skipper and Portage Lakes entry point allows overnight paddle only. This entry point is supported by Gunflint Ranger Station near the city of Grand Marais, MN. The distance from ranger station to entry point is 28 miles. Access is a 320-rod portage from Poplar Lake or a 230-rod portage from Iron Lake. This area was affected by blowdown in 1999.

Number of Permits per Day: 2
Elevation: 1865 feet
Latitude: 48.0517
Longitude: -90.5366
Skipper & Portage Lakes - 49

Slow and steady wins the race

by Gichimon
Trip Report

Entry Date: May 22, 2022
Entry Point: Skipper and Portage Lakes
Number of Days: 7
Group Size: 2

Trip Introduction:
Dreams of canoe trips ferry us through the long winters of Wisconsin. We always book our trips in January on opening day of permit reservations for the two to three Boundary Waters trips we take each season. This year was no exception. Reservations were made, and planning commenced. And then February 18th happened. My wife was driving from our northern Wisconsin home to visit her aunt in Minnesota. I was headed the opposite way to visit my parents in east central Wisconsin. Krystal had two out of our three beloved dogs in the tiny Jeep Patriot with her. The forecast had called for some snow so we both left our respective jobs early to try and beat the snow. I had left about an hour earlier than she had. I was not more than 30 minutes from my parent’s house, and a call came in on my car. It was Krystal. Voice panicked, “Honey, I was in an accident. I’m hurt.” A snow squall had blinded all lanes of traffic and Krystal was slammed into the thick of a forty-car pile-up. The little Jeep was totaled, as was Krystal. She broke her back, broke her sternum, sheered her pelvis (look it up, it’s not pretty), bruises all over her body, and had blunt force trauma to her right hip. The jeep was hit four times. She was lucky to be alive. And yes, the dogs were traumatized but okay. They visited a vet right after the accident and were cleared with good health. After a few days in the hospital, she came home to heal and to learn how to walk again. Krystal’s a tough cookie. She worked hard to get better but our canoe trip dreams were put on hold, yet we were hopeful. As April neared, we had difficult talks about whether she could do a trip the last week in May. She went to her physical therapist and said I’m doing this trip, so what do I have to do to get there? Thus began the arduous walks through the neighborhood with packs on her back, lightly weighted, but with increasing weight as the weeks went by. She practiced tummy time like an infant to give her pelvis a rest as prescribed by the therapist. She moved and moved and moved her body because she was going canoeing! Almost three months to the day after that accident, we were driving up the Gunflint trail to paddle into the Boundary Waters. There are canoe trips, and then there are miracle canoe trips. I have never been prouder of a human being in my life as I watched my wife conquer the challenges this journey would present to her. But to date, this is my most favorite trip to the Boundary Waters because it happened, and it happened under the cadence of Krystal chanting, “Slow and steady wins the race.”

Day 1 of 7


[paragraph break]Sunday, May 22, 2022 Due to a horrible idea we had to try to squeeze two humans and three dogs in the back of our vehicle to sleep the night before the trip, we were up at the crack of a grey dawn. Definitely will not be doing that again! Needless to say, an early start was a good idea as we knew our pace was going to be a bit slower on this trip.[paragraph break] The general emptiness of the Poplar Lake parking lot surprised us. We have been to this entry point several times before and regardless of the time of year, it had always been packed. I supposed folks were generally scared off by the talk of high water, or maybe it was the colder weather. Either way, it was a nice feeling knowing we would not be battling for campsites from the looks of the parking lot. [paragraph break] As it was the first trip of the year, sorting out the bags and the canoes took a little longer than usual. The dog’s comfy pads were securely taped in the bottom of the canoes, fishing rods securely attached, bow rope fastened tightly, seat pads settled, and bags in their places. We were ready to set off! [paragraph break] [paragraph break] Glassy waters greeted us on Poplar Lake. We had a short and easy paddle, chatting and marveling at the serene waters to the first portage of the trip into Skipper Lake. This mile long portage would be the first real test for Krystal. Could her body handle the weight of a fully loaded portage pack, and then a second trip with her 38-pound canoe and another 25 to 30-pound pack on her back? With three miles of hard work ahead of us, we unloaded and sorted out who would do what first. Krystal wanted to do the portage pack first, which meant she was in charge of the dogs. The dog rustler is always the person portaging without the canoe, so I followed behind with my canoe and pack because the dogs like to go first.[paragraph break] After a gradual incline at the start of the portage, we stepped along the trail slowly. It was surprisingly dry for the late thaw we all saw this year, and with only a few mucky spots hardly worth mentioning. Krystal trudged along, slowly, but surely. Typically, on mile long portages, we leap frog about halfway down the trail. I knew there was a slight valley about halfway through the mile and figured we would stop there and go back and get the rest of the gear. I caught up with Krystal at the incline after the valley and posed that we leap frog at that spot. A definitive, “No! I am going the whole way!” was her response. And then as she powered forward, she yelled back, “Slow and steady wins the race!”[paragraph break] The portage to Skipper is a beautiful trail, lined with huge pines and sunny valleys. We encountered moose poop scattered everywhere, and could smell a bear nearby as we made our way to Skipper. And we made it. Round one of the portage was completed and complimented by the emergence of patchy sunlight and a freshly opened pack of beef jerky. I kept telling Krystal I could not believe she had just charged across that entire portage. She said she just felt good so she kept moving forward. Her hip was a little sore from the weight and the walk, and her pelvis was always sore, but all in all, that felt good too. [paragraph break] We headed back across the trail to get the second load. At the spot we had smelled bear, there was a fresh pile of bear scat on the trail that had not been there on our first trip. It always amazes me when fresh sign of a large animal like that goes unnoticed by our brilliant dogs. Normally, they would have noses to the air, sniffing greedily at the good smells. Alas, our brilliant crew missed the boat on the bear. The walk back went quickly and we were on our way with our second round of gear. The wind had picked up on this third trip and by the time we arrived back at Skipper Lake there were snow squalls blowing down the lake from the west between bursts of wind and sunlight. We waited out one squall and had another snack. Krystal was beat, and honestly, I was super tired too due to our poor night of sleep. [paragraph break] We loaded up the canoes, and headed out into beautiful Skipper Lake. The moody clouds and precipitation pushed off to the east and the sun emerged as we paddled into the wind. Our movement was slow but the sun felt glorious. We were paddling on the south side of the lake, trying to mitigate the pushier wind, and I saw the sloping rock face of the sole campsite on Skipper Lake. Knowing we had up to eight days to finish this loop, I looked over at Krystal hunched over in the wind, paddling forward, and I crossed the lake over to the campsite. I yelled over to her, "Let’s go camp at that site for tonight!" She happily agreed.[paragraph break] It's a gorgeous little site and we fell in love with it. In a moment of need, it was there to embrace our tired bodies. We set up camp slowly, and made some lunch. Our dried beef, mustard, cheese, and dehydrated pickle roll-ups hit the spot, and we washed it down with some sweet tea and Canadian whiskey. After we finished our backcountry cocktails, a nap was selected as our next adventure. It was about 1 o’clock in the afternoon and there was a definite nip to the air. The clouds were building again, so we ushered all the dogs and humans into the green tent. Not more than a few minutes after we got in the tent, the rain began to fall and it instantly lulled us to sleep. [paragraph break] What felt like a moment was really a three-hour nap, and it was another incomparable Boundary Waters snooze. We emerged from the tent to the sun shining through big puffy clouds and a calm ripple on the lake. I went in search of some firewood, and Krystal, who was feeling much better after the nap, went about tidying up camp and playing with the dogs. We double teamed the firewood and set it aside for an after-dinner fire. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] I am normally the dinner maker, so I settled into my spot to prep the dog’s food, and to get the human food going. It was dehydrated homemade spaghetti Bolognese for the humans, and the dogs favorite, dehydrated dog food rehydrated with warm water, and a little bit of kibble thrown in for good measure. We filled our bellies and then settled in to wait on the sun to set next to our warm fire. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] The nap paid off and we were actually able to stay awake until the sun set all the way. We rarely make it this long while out in the wilderness. But this trip, we would have more energy in the crisp late spring air and see our fair share of sunsets. [paragraph break]

 



Day 2 of 7


Monday, May 23, 2022 Our original first day destination had been Banadad lake, so we decided to head over on day two due to our pit stop on Skipper Lake. With only two or three portages to get there, we took a leisurely pace during our morning routine. Krystal made a massive breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, and pancakes loaded with chocolate chips and pecans. We devoured that deliciousness and finally broke camp around nine o’clock. On move days, we usually get up really early, but this trip would bask in a new found lazy pace to get where we were going. [paragraph break] Canoes loaded, dogs and humans eager to move on, we slipped off into the rippling lake. We had heard that you can often skip the portage from Skipper to Little Rusk so were hoping on two portages for the day instead of three. As we neared the narrows on the west end of Skipper, it was clear that we would not have to portage. We did have to pull through a grassy area for a few yards due to a tree blocking the water channel, but getting our feet wet beat unloading the canoes even if the water was ice cold. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] Little Rush was a gentle and quiet paddle. We made it to the Rush Lake portage in short time. The portage to Rush was lined with tree artwork left by the burn. There is an iconic hulled out tree along the way that warranted a quick photo opportunity. I do believe this ghost of a tree is a celebrity in some circles, and probably even more so by oodles of moose according to the quantity of moose poo along the trail. The zenith of the portage has quite the view down Little Rush. This is the very reason I love double portaging now. So many views![paragraph break] [paragraph break] By the time we got on the water of Rush Lake, the wind had picked up. The sun was now playing hide and seek behind the growing company of clouds. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] About half-way across the large west to east expanse of Rush Lake, the clouds finally triumphed with the aid of their friend, the wind. We wended our way over to the southern side of the lake to stay in the lee as much as possible. As we neared the two long bays on the western end of Rush, we could hear rushing water. I was eager to see the Banadad ski trail bridge, and I knew we were close. We edged into the rocky landing at the portage one at a time. This landing was tricky, slippery, and required we get wet feet (Oh, and let me say this, we also determined we made the extremely bad decision of not bringing our muck boots along on this trip. Wool socks and our Astral tennis shoes did not cut it. We were fine, but would have been a lot more comfortable in the muck boots getting in and out of the boat.).[paragraph break] [paragraph break] The Banadad ski trail bridge was sketchy. Some of the boards would flip or wobble if we walked too far to one side or the other. The best bet was to walk along the horizontal support beams down the middle. And the connector stream was running over part of the trail on the Banadad side of the bridge and that water was icy! There were still bits of ice in the water. The trail was mostly submerged in cold water, but it was just standing water. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] Despite the short length of the portage, it wore us out because of the cold water, and the uneasy footing getting the canoes onto land in the beginning. We took a few minutes to warm up and snack under the stunning cedar trees lining the Banadad Lake landing. Somewhere down the lake a campsite was waiting for us. [paragraph break] And of course, the wind picked up, gusting here and there. We were both worn out again but pushed on as far west down the lake as we could. There was a small island site which may have not been an island in low water years, but we snagged it immediately. The kitchen area was not the greatest, but the views down the lake were mesmerizing and the tent pads were flat and so cozy under the trees. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] Krystal was aching for a nap, so after camp set up, I strung up a hammock, grabbed my book and sleeping bag to cocoon myself in an early afternoon nap while Gichi, the golden retriever slept under the hammock. Krystal crawled into the tent with the two other dogs. I read for a bit and fell asleep until I snored myself awake. I could hear Krystal purring from the tent so I took my trusty golden retriever for a walk around the island. We sat up on a bluff in the open sunlight for a while. [paragraph break] We had homemade dehydrated Shephard’s pie for dinner that night and took our chairs down to the water’s edge to enjoy our late evening meal. A loon couple came over to investigate these strange creatures on the land. They hung out at our camp for a good 15 minutes so we whiled away the evening watching the happy couple. Our Dobby-do mutt loves watching the loons so he was in heaven. He’ll sit on the edge of the lake for hours waiting for them to arrive. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] After the loons departed, it was early to bed for us. We had a big day tomorrow as we would be making our way over four longish portages to Long Island Lake. It would be a rough test for Krystal to be certain.

 



Day 3 of 7


Tuesday, May 24, 2022 A pastel sunrise greeted us at dawn just as a light rain fell on the tent. Sun to the east, and rain to the west. It was supposed to be a mostly sunny day with light to variable wind so a little rainfall was a lovely way to wake that morning. I clambered out of the tent as soon as the rain stopped. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] On move days, I usually take care of breakfast because Krystal is a slow riser. Then she stays in the tent to roll up the sleeping pads and pack up all the odds and ends. As we were taking care of our respective camp duties, the sun began to seep through the cedar and balsam trees, casting our little Rainy Day girl, the youngest of our dogs in an ethereal glow. Only in the Boundary Waters do these magical moments transport us to the fairy tale dreams of our childhood. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] With breakfast down the hatch, and camp packed, we both remarked at how much better our bodies felt that morning. The aches had subsided and the muscle memory of canoe tripping had finally awakened, although Krystal’s injuries were flared up, but tolerable. This was a good thing as the journey ahead of us was going to be tougher than we had imagined. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] The sun spilled over the landscape as we loaded up and headed west to the portage out of Banadad. We paddled slowly and took in the magnificence of the lake and all its character. Up first was a 90ish rod portage, which would be the shortest of the day. The landing was a little mucky but not the worst we have encountered. There was an uphill climb to start and that climb kept going until we ran into a massive tree across the portage. Krystal set her portage pack on the tree, and then huffed over the tree by climbing up one limb, stepping up to the next limb, then sliding off that limb to the other side of the tree. She set her bag on the side of the trail. I then set my boat on the highest limb, and she helped pull it over. We threw my small pack over the tree. I decided we should just go back and get the rest of the gear, leap frogging after this mammoth road block. We decided that would be best and it was a grunt. After we got over with the second load, the rest of this 90-rod portage continued to challenge us. There was another hip high tree across the portage that ate some of my skin, and plenty of rock hoping and sloshy spots. By the time we got done, I asked Krystal if she could handle more of the same. Her answer, “Slow and steady wins the race!” So, on we went.[paragraph break] The paddle through Sebeka was quick and we soon found ourselves landing on the portage to Ross Lake. This 160+ rod portage would again challenge us. Trees down, ups and downs, muddy, boardwalks. But mostly it was the trees down that were irksome and my legs by the end of the day would reveal the battle scars. We were huffing and puffing by the time we finished this one. Again, I asked Krystal, do you have the strength to do two more of these? “Slow and steady wins the race, Tina.”[paragraph break] Ross Lake was a longish lake so we took our time, letting our bodies rest. The bluebird sky and the ample sunshine lulled us into a steady but slow rhythm. The dogs were sleepy and the paddle was refreshing.[paragraph break] [paragraph break]

While slipping through Ross Lake, I wondered why there were no campsites on this lake. It was a stunning little lake with a few nice spots for campsites. Curiosity got me thinking about why some lakes were selected to have campsites and others, not. Deep in thought, we arrived at the third long portage of the day. Krystal was in need of a rest so after unloading our boats, she took some tummy time on the portage to rest her pelvis. She timed three minutes of rest. We already had 10,000 steps in for the day according to her watch. I was in awe of her ability to do all this while she was still healing from the accident. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] This third portage was easier mainly because there were not really any horrible trees down across the trail. We took our time, we were moving slow, but made it to the other side with the glorious thought that we only had one portage left to make it to Long Island Lake. We rested at the edge of Cave Lake working up the energy to make it through this last lake and onto the last portage. [paragraph break] A sole loon accompanied us across Cave Lake and we bid the bird farewell as it cheered us on across this last bit of land. I swear that loon chortled, “You can do it!” And of course, near the beginning of the portage, a pair of downed trees taunted us. Scratchy branches had their last taste of Tina as I went into beast mode and charged across that portage. I made it to the end and settled everything. I started back and met Krystal on the way. There was no rhyme or reason to our motion on this portage, we just went. And of course, Krystal chimed in as I passed, “slow and steady wins the race!”[paragraph break] With my last load over and boat loaded, I waited for Krystal while I stood in the cold water, soaking my sore legs and feet. As soon as I saw her, I was beaming with joy. I kept saying, “I’m so proud of you! You did it.” And I was. I was simply gleeful at how she had conquered this hard day in her own way, defeating the doubts and ending on the picture-perfect Long Island Lake. What a day! [paragraph break] [paragraph break] Long Island Lake was a sheet of reflective glass as we slipped across its surface. I had a campsite in mind not far from the portage. We had been on this lake one other time and I believed it would be a perfect cool weather site. To my surprise it was available, as was just about every campsite on the lake. Where was everybody? Last time we were here, this lake was crowded![paragraph break] [paragraph break] Krystal made it to camp shortly after me. We loved the site and were loving the sunshine. Chairs were quickly unpacked, and feet placed in dry socks and Crocks! We poured ourselves a victory cocktail of whiskey, water, and powdered Cherry 7-Up, then relaxed a bit before setting up camp. [paragraph break] After setting up camp, we settled in for a massive bowl of mac n’ cheese, dehydrated broccoli, and hot sauce. We devoured that bowl of cheesiness like a couple of ravenous beasts. Full bellies, and sleepiness all around, we settled in for some relaxation, general excited chatter about conquering this day, and not long after supper, bedtime as soon as the island woods grew dark. [paragraph break]

 



Day 4 of 7


Wednesday, May 25, 2022 First duff day of the trip and the forecast was for solid rain all afternoon. We had the Nemo Bug Out shelter along because we were expecting bugs. There were no bugs, with the exception of those pretty little purple moths that liked to land on the dogs. But when there is rain, the Bug Out is exceptional. The screening prevents water from coming in sideways for the most part, so we had a large area to hide under later in the day. [paragraph break] We took our time getting up and making breakfast. Our spread was another massive serving of scrambled eggs, pancakes, and bacon. We were making up for lost calories from all the work the day before. After finally eating, I was eager to get in my canoe and get on the water. I had some fishing to do. Krystal was going to head out in her own time, so I threw Gichi in the boat and paddled toward the south side of the lake. The wind was already starting so I stayed as much on the lee side as I could. [paragraph break] I dropped my line in and began to troll along the southern shore. I immediately got a hit. With good tension on the line, I reeled in a gorgeous small lake trout. Knowing I was not fishing for trout this year, I hadn’t gotten a trout stamp, so released that beauty back into the lake and began paddling again. You ever have that feeling that something is watching you? Well right after I let that fish go, that’s how I felt. I looked up toward the burnt hillside and scanned the landscape. Sure enough, there was a moose staring at me from atop a rock face on the hill. I tried to paddle closer to it to get a good photo, but it was too far away. I did snap a photo but the moose was fairly difficult to make out, but it’s there![paragraph break] [paragraph break] My solo adventure continued down the length of the lake. I kept trolling because it was windy and so far, I had been successful with that method. Maybe 20 minutes later, I had a small pike on. Not big enough to feed us all, so I slipped the hook out of its mouth while still in the water. We started fishing barbless two years ago so getting the hook out is always an easy task. I paddled on until I got into the far western end of the lake and made my way into the island dotted western end. Long Island Lake is stunning, from burnt hills to the islands strewn across its waters. [paragraph break] I didn’t have any luck on the western end and the rain had begun to fall, so I decided to make my way back to camp. Just as I had rounded the southern point on the west end, I spotted a bear right near a campsite. The ambling black bear was sniffing around the shore and checking for something good to eat. I recorded some video and the bear disappeared back into the woods. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] I started paddling again and got a snag. I stopped to get my line free and looked over my shoulder, and that big old bear was swimming across the lake! I got some okay footage of it but I stayed far away. Two animal sightings on one fishing trip, I felt so fortunate to be out in my canoe on that rainy day. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] Fishing my way back to camp, I hooked into one bug net buried in the depths. It was in perfectly good condition with the exception of some lake weed and debris. Shortly after hooking into that treasure, another Laker decided to join me from the depths, but this time it was a nice sized beauty. I was just about to reach into the net to release it, and the trout flicked its backend and slipped through the net all on its own. Good thing I was not keeping trout![paragraph break] After battling the bug net and the trout, I kept finding myself moving backward so I reeled in for a bit to make more distance back toward camp. I dug in with my paddle until I got to the lee side of some islands. The water was shallower so I was hoping to catch a pike. I tossed my line back in and a few short paddles later, thwack! A pike! [paragraph break] A good fight was had, but when I got it next to the boat, the mighty fighter revealed that though it was strong, it was certainly not meal worthy. I released the tension on my line so the pike could throw the lure, and it set itself free in seconds. At this time, the rain began to fall in desperation. Gichi and I tucked in and headed back to camp, fishless but thoroughly thrilled by the adventure we had had together. I could not wait to get back to camp and relay our journey to Krystal. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] Rainy (our smallest muttski) and Dobby were heralding us from shore as we got back to camp. I unloaded and quickly hunkered down under the tarp with Krystal. She whipped up some lunch for us as she told her fishing story for the day. She had caught one pike and nearly gotten lost on the big lake. I was bursting at the seams waiting to tell her my tale. Over lunch wraps and drooling dogs, we ate and chatted about our day. It was mid-afternoon and the rain was coming down eagerly. With cozy sleeping bags and books waiting for us in the tent, we scurried in and lulled the day away in the warmth of a lazy rainy afternoon while the UCO candle burned the dampness out.[paragraph break] [paragraph break] Around six o’clock in the evening, we eventually hauled ourselves out of the tent to feed the dogs, feed ourselves again, and shiver without a fire. We sat out as long as we could, but neither of us had wanted to leave the tent in the first place. Feeding the dogs had taken precedence over our comfort. With the dogs happily fed, and our bellies full after indulging in the delicious dehydrated butternut squash risotto I had made, we climbed back into the tent for the night.

 



Day 5 of 7


Thursday, May 26, 2022 It was move day again and I woke with apprehension heavy on my mind. I knew a few of the portages we would do today as we moved toward Omega Lake would test Krystal. Her dominant right leg was still not up to snuff from the blunt force trauma she endured during the accident. From what I read, the portage from Muskeg to Kiskadinna had a steep climb with big steps to Billy goat up. With her weak right leg, I wasn’t sure she could bear the weight of her gear as she made her way up. [paragraph break] I voiced my concerns as we slowly broke down camp and made breakfast. She felt confident she could do the portages at her own pace. I knew she would tell me if she needed any help, so we moved on with prepping for move until some company came over to our site.[paragraph break] [paragraph break] Another lovely loon couple swam over to investigate us and the dogs. They preened and chirped and scanned the waters below. Dobby was in heaven again as he watched his feathered friends from shore. It was a lovely sendoff as we departed the site. [paragraph break] No rain was promised for the day as we slowly paddled under a dim grey sky to the eastern end of Long Island Lake. This was our first time seeing this part of the lake and the landscape was stunning. The mixture of burn and heavily wooded islands inspired awe at every turn. [paragraph break] Once we made it down the channel to the portage to Muskeg Lake, the work part of the day tumbled out before us. A boulder strewn landing greeted us and one by one, we pulled our gear and boats up onto the rocks. The only conceivable way through this portage that we could make out was through knee to thigh deep water. I had read on the BWCA site that this was basically a portage through a shallow stream. With the high water for this year, it was a not so shallow frigid stream that iced our feet and legs to numbness. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] After the first trip across, we had to stay out of the water for a few minutes to regain feeling in our toes. Standing on piles of sticks from the beaver dam, our feet warmed up quickly. We then charged daintily back through the water to get the second load. This was not an easy portage, but we managed to get back to the beaver dam and haul ourselves up this wonderous work of engineering. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] I made my way into the boat with gear and dog safely loaded, and floated out into the pool to wait for Krystal. I could sense the feeling coming back to my feet with no real worry. A short paddle awaited us to the steep portage to Kiskadinna, where I know we would warm up and then some. Krystal finally made it into her boat with Dobby and Rainy, and we were off.[paragraph break] [paragraph break] Muskeg Lake was gorgeous. We remarked that this is exactly the type of lake we seek out during the busy Boundary Waters summer months. Solitude looked exceptional on this tiny little lake. We snacked on jerky and trail mix as we floated toward the portage, enjoying the views. There were two women on the portage before us so we stayed back, letting them have the trail to themselves. [paragraph break] When the fellow travelers had disappeared into the woods for about five minutes, we landed and unloaded. Krystal went first with her heavy portage pack, and I followed closely behind with my canoe and pack. It was up, up, up until we got to the steeps. This is where it got hard and due to the saturation of the thaw and the heavy rainfall from the day before, the gaping boulder steps squished and separated from the hillside as we went up.[paragraph break] [paragraph break] Once Krystal made it to the top of that steep climb, we dropped our gear to the side of the trail. We drank a little water and caught our breath. She was doing fine. She said it was tough, but the only way forward was back and up again. Slow and steady wins the race, indeed![paragraph break] [paragraph break] Going down that steep climb was nerve wracking. Each stone seemed like it was on the verge of breaking loose and rolling down the hillside. This is the point where we were overjoyed that we were heading up this portage instead of down it with the gear. The clunk, grunt, clunk, grunt, thud, clunk of someone coming down the portage on our way back up it reiterated that belief. [paragraph break] I had one misstep on this journey and it always comes after eating my own words, per the rules of my life. I was so worried about Krystal slipping and falling that I must have said 100 times, be careful on the wet rocks, they are super slippery. As soon as we were on our way on the flat topside of this portage, I put my foot in it! I stepped on a rock and literally took a knee as my foot slipped down the large sloped boulder, while my other leg stretched long and awkwardly behind me, and plop, right on my rusty old knee. I thought for sure I was going to injure something. I stood up, checked my knee for soundness or pain, and all was well. As soon as Krystal knew I was okay, she said, “Be careful on the rocks, Tina. They are slippery.” as she smirked and walked on down the trail. [paragraph break] We had ran into an energizing group of younger people from an environmental school in Minneapolis at the apex of the portage steeps. We ended up chatting with three of the young women when we finally made it to Kiskadinna with all of our gear and dogs in tow. They loved the dogs and were eager to chat a bit and rest, as were we. We wished them well as they were graduating from high school as soon as they finished this week-long trip, and told them as they walked away, “Now the adventure really begins!”[paragraph break] We slipped onto Kiskadinna excited that that tough portage was over. Kiskadinna was gorgeous, with the looming cliffs and long secret stretches of water. Under the grey sky, the lake was hypnotic. Our paddles dipped slowly through the water as we soaked in the scenery.[paragraph break] [paragraph break] When we neared the portage to Omega, both of us were thinking it would be a breeze, short and sweet. We were so wrong! Another crazy steep and slippery portage. We were cautious and slow, and made it through. Originally, we had planned to go to Gaskin or Horseshoe Lake for the next campsite, but deep in my heart I wanted to go to Omega Lake. The last time I had been there, my grandmother had passed away. The same day she had passed, I had a wonderful, yet mournful encounter with a loon on Omega. I will write about that trip someday. But I really wanted to come back to this lake while in a different mindset than I was that somber year. Visiting Omega again felt like visiting grandma again to me, so I secretly planned to tell Krystal we should stay there instead of going onto Gaskin. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] As soon as we were on the water of Omega, I said to Krystal, let's camp here. Following the trying day we had had, she jumped right on the bandwagon. Instead of staying on the same site we had last time we were on this lake, we took the open-air site right off the Kiskadinna portage. What an excellent choice that was! Though the landing was a little sketchy, the big sky views were just what we needed after our rainy and darker site on Long Island Lake. And with warm temps and sunny skies promised for the next day, there would be basking in sunlight to be had.[paragraph break] After setting up camp, we noticed that the chimney to the fire grate had been basically dismantled. We spent a good amount of time relocating all the rocks that had been confiscated from the fire pit. Previous campers must have taken them to hold down tents because there were at least four rocks at every tent pad. We did a decent job of rebuilding the firepit, but not without a painful mishap. Just as I was plopping down the last largish rock, it bounced back up and plopped down right on my right middle finger. The tip of it exploded like a squashed grape. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] My ex-EMT wife bandaged me up with as much care as possible. My heartbeat had moved to the tip of my finger so I held it up above my heart for a while presumably flipping the bird at everything in my line of sight. Though in my heart of hearts, I really wasn’t angry at the rock or me. The rock and I made up in the end, and the rock even did us a solid and blocked the wind during our fire that evening. All was well and right in the world. [paragraph break] The rest of the evening drifted by until a gregarious beaver decided to join us at our site. Upon my hunt for firewood earlier in the evening, I had discovered some fresh beaver chews. It would seem the beaver was not pleased that we had intruded upon their fresh stash of delicious small trees. The beaver had climbed up on the site, then noticed the dogs. With a resounding, “Nope!” it slipped back in the lake. Our beaver friend swam not more than ten feet off shore for a good 20 minutes or so. Tail slaps galore kept the dogs entertained. I tried to tell the beaver we would be gone in two days, but the beaver wasn’t having it. Eventually it swam off and cursed at us a few times from across the lake. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] We finally had warm and cozy campfire after the exhaustion and the rainstorm of the last two nights. Crackling and snapping wood, calling loons, angry beavers, and singing birds carried us through the night. We stayed up until the fire burned out, and the sun set. With hues of orange and pink, the sunset was a promise of a warm and glorious day to come. [paragraph break] [paragraph break]

 



Day 6 of 7


Friday, May 27, 2022 The theme for this duff day would be sunshine, and plenty of it. We took our time getting up, but I had intentions of fishing for a while in the early part of the day. Once Krystal made it out of the tent, she put on a delicious spread of pancakes and bacon. We sipped coffee for a while and then I packed up my fishing gear and hopped in the canoe with my Gichi boy under a bluebird sky. Krystal said she might go out later. In that moment, she was content relaxing in camp.[paragraph break] [paragraph break] I paddled, fished, floated, and remembered grandma as I explored the lake. I only had one very big bite the couple of hours I was on the water. Whatever was down in the depths snapped my line after a ferocious grab and run of my Mepps lure. And alas, I left that channel with one less Mepps in my tackle kit. The sun grew hot and Gichi was starting to pant pretty heavily so I aimed the canoe back toward camp. [paragraph break] We lollygagged our way back to camp, navigating around the little island that was home to our campsite. As I made my way toward the narrow little pass through behind the island, I saw the first turtles of the trip sunning on a log. Not just one turtle, but two! [paragraph break] [paragraph break] I snuck up to camp from the backside to discover Krystal and the dogs sunning themselves. Relaxation under this intense sunshine was just what I needed. After unloading the canoe and pulling it back into camp, I grabbed the dogs’ air mattress and sprawled out on the rock, enjoying this perfect day. The dogs were in the same mood and it truly was a lazy family day on the rock. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] As we loafed around, Krystal relayed the burst of activities and chores she had accomplished while I was out fishing. All our wet gear was now dry and sorted. A flurry of canoeists filtered past our camp toward the portage to Kiskadinna. Neither of us envied the journey they were on, but knew the reward of getting where you are going was always worth it in the end. [paragraph break] We listened to the weather radio later in the day and the voice told us of impending bad weather the next few days. Hemming and hawing over if we should stay until Sunday, or leave the next day, we opted to leave one day early to avoid one more day under a tarp and winds gusting up to 30 miles an hour. That meant six portages and seven lakes to paddle the next day but through mostly familiar territory. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] In preparation for a long day, we packed most of camp up before we went to bed that night. The only thing we had left to pack were the chairs and the tent and sleeping gear. Krystal set her phone for a four o’clock wake up call and we settled in the tent as the sun was setting. The sun and relaxation of the day lulled us off to sleep.

 



Day 7 of 7


Saturday, May 28, 2022 Nature calling woke me a solid half hour before the alarm was to go off. As quietly as possible, I sorted my pile of bits and bobs, changed into my move day clothes, and exited the tent with the dogs. Krystal weaved in and out of sleep as I went about making coffee and sorting out the dog’s breakfast. We had everything packed and ready to go by quarter to five. It was going to be a long day, but there was a cheeseburger and a beer waiting on the other side of that hard work and we were ready.[paragraph break] There were a variety of ways we could return to Poplar Lake because our exit point was Lizz Lake. As we had never seen much of Gaskin Lake, we opted to go through Henson and down to Gaskin, then back up to Horseshoe, Caribou and on out. We felt no need to rush because it was only Saturday and the long Memorial Day weekend stretched before us. If all else failed, we could camp somewhere along the way.[paragraph break] [paragraph break] We were on the water at five o’clock. As we made our way across Omega, there was a film all over the surface of the water. I noticed right away the shapes of future insects. As soon as I noticed all those insects, despite the cooler weather, I was certainly glad we were not going to be in the wilderness for the hatch. There was also a pretty heavy population of tree fluff on the water from what I am assuming were the birch and poplar trees springing to life. The water surface texture created some beautiful photographs.[paragraph break] [paragraph break] With each paddle stroke toward the portage to Henson Lake, I noticed small black flies emerging from the water. One or two per stroke seemed to be the rule. I was unsure of what type of insect it was, but I could only imagine they were the biting kind. So long suckers! Under the guise of a rising sun, we landed at the portage.[paragraph break] [paragraph break] The short portage to Henson was wet but easy. We had camped on this lake once before and our journey through the long reaches of Henson were filled with nostalgia. The clouds had commandeered the skyline and we knew rain was going to fall sooner than later. Our hope was to make it to Gaskin before that happened.[paragraph break] We were on Henson for nearly an hour. It is quite a long lake. Finally making it to the Gaskin Lake portage, big fat raindrops began to lazily fall from the sky. After unloading, we made our way over to Gaskin on the second longest portage of the day. There was a small stream running down the steep part of the portage, but all in all, it was a gorgeous journey. The trail was littered with moose poop and we stumbled on some fairly fresh moose tracks sunken deep in the loam lining the trail. And did I say we love Cedar trees? The cedar trees welcoming us to the Gaskin side of the portage were gorgeous. I couldn’t wait to see what Gaskin had in store for us.[paragraph break] Gaskin had a downpour in store for us! We paddled from the east end to nearly the west end of the lake in a deluge. Krystal and I did not mind one bit. I love watching the rain drops on the lake surface as they plop and reemerge, causing a bubble. We started chatting about raindrops and if they have competitions with each other on who can make the biggest splash, comparing raindrops to kids jumping off the high dive. We chuckled on the idea of how long it would take a raindrop to climb back up the ladder to a cloud to try to make a second bigger splash. The life cycle of a raindrop…[paragraph break] It's funny, the things you think and talk about among the wild things. Some of my favorite conversations and musing have occurred while paddling a canoe. Moments I would not trade for all the riches in the world, for that time in a canoe is my fortune. The richness of a canoeist’s life is beyond compare.[paragraph break] [paragraph break] We made it to the portage to Horseshoe Lake around 10:30 with smiles still on our faces. I don’t think our big oaf Dobby was all that thrilled about the rain, but the other two could care less, snoozing as the rain trickled down their snouts. [paragraph break] When we reached the Horseshoe Lake side of the portage, we took a snack break eating the last of our cheese and jerky. The rain still fell as we peered down the southern arm of the lake from the portage. We had three more portages to go but were feeling great after our snack break. Canoes loaded, we set off into the pitter patter of one heck of rainy day.[paragraph break] [paragraph break] In 2021 we took our friend Melvin on a trip into Horseshoe Lake. I was curious to see if anyone was camping on the lovely site we had had not far from the portage. As we neared the site, there were four men in rainsuits walking around near the rock face of the site. They had two beautiful red canoes tied off in the water. As we neared them, they yelled over, “Do you know what the forecast is supposed to be for the next few days?” [paragraph break] We yelled back, “Rain, rain, thunderstorms, and gusty winds according to NOAA.”[paragraph break] They thanked us and we headed for the portage to Caribou. Gusty winds of up to around 30 miles an hour had been forecasted for the afternoon, and afternoon was rapidly approaching. As we neared the portage, two canoes with four young men waited behind us. We said to them if you don’t mind dogs, come on over, and they did. We all raced across the short portage to Gaskin and were on the water in due haste. [paragraph break] Now we were in what felt like a race with the guys. As they were in tandem canoes and we were in our solos, they raced ahead of us. As we rounded the point to head back east toward the portage, we snuck through the high-water channel near the point, and they navigated around the flat rocks hiding under the water by the island and got stuck. We were ahead of one of the canoes, but the other was fast approaching the portage. But no! They paddled past the portage, apparently confused as to where they needed to go. We hit the portage first and the guys nearest us in one canoe, with desperation, watched as their two friends paddled to the end of the lake. [paragraph break] We made our way across the second to last portage of the trip, overjoyed at the new dock that was put in at the muddy Lizz Lake landing. When we went back, Krystal joked with the guys as they pulled up, and they agreed, we had won! [paragraph break] Soon after, we were gliding down the length of Lizz Lake, past the Boundary Waters marker, and to the landing to Poplar. With one portage to go and stomach’s growling, we were elated that we had pulled off this big move day. The guys came in behind us, and this time, they charged across the portage in front of us when we went back for our second load. We watched them ease on down the trail. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] At last, we were in our canoes on the last leg of the journey. We navigated the large expanse of Poplar Lake as the rain began to fall once again. What sounded like the roar of a car racing down a highway could be heard in the distance. I looked to the horizon and the trees were beginning to sway. Our quiet rainy day was waking up. We were thankful we had made it this far before the winds blew. When we had about a quarter mile yet to paddle, our big boy, Dobby, threw in the towel. He does not like being wet for extended periods of time, and he began to talk. We laughed so hard as he moaned and groaned and moaned some more as we neared the landing. Don’t worry, we are almost there, Dobby![paragraph break] Feelings of triumph and sadness accompanied us to the landing. We were happy to be back, but as is common with so many canoeists, a great sadness settled over us that we must leave this quiet and slow-paced way of life. We loaded up the Jeep with soggy bags and stinky wet dogs. I took one last look down the length of Poplar and said to Krystal, “Look, two bright red canoes are headed this way!”[paragraph break] Sure enough, the guys from our old campsite on Horseshoe also threw in the towel and were headed out early. Bet they were gearing up for a cheeseburger too! [paragraph break] We got in the truck and ran up to the water closet to put on dry clothes, and fed the dogs a heaping helping of dog food we had stashed for them in the truck. We had one more adventure left![paragraph break] Before we made the four-hour drive to Krystal’s folk's house in northern Wisconsin to ride out the rest of Memorial Day weekend, we needed food. And for the first time in all the years we have been going into the BWCA, we stopped in at The Trail Center on the Gunflint. We immediately fell in love. Hot and delicious burgers, cold beers, and crispy French fries warmed us from the inside out. We shared some extra love on our way out and bought a t-shirt, sweatshirt, and some cold Sarsaparilla for the ride home. [paragraph break] And one more thing. There are many ways to experience the Boundary Waters. But if Krystal’s perseverance on this triumphant trip can teach us anything, it is as follows. Slow and steady will most definitely win the race. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] Happy tripping!

 


Routes
Trip Reports
a
.
Routes
Trip Reports
Routes
Trip Reports
Routes
Trip Reports
.
Routes
Trip Reports
Routes
Trip Reports
x
Routes
Trip Reports
fd
hgc
Routes
Trip Reports
Routes
Trip Reports
Routes
Trip Reports
Routes
Trip Reports
Routes
Trip Reports