Day 1 of 5
Thursday, June 08, 2023 Picked up our permit from Duluth Pack on my lunch break. Strapped the 70s vintage Grumman G17 onto the truck. I pulled it out of a creek behind my house abandoned there by the former owners who "threw in the old canoe to sweeten the deal". I get a certain satisfaction out of putting that old canoe back into service. After straightening out a crushed gunnel and having a 10" rip and a few spars and ribs welded up it was ready to go. We loaded the packs and hit the road at 3pm from our home just south of Duluth. A couple of last minute stops along the way and we pulled into the EP 50 parking lot at 6:45. The mosquitos spared no time letting us know they were around and hungry. We decided to try for a site on Ham Lake to get us a bit closer to the E.P. for our Friday entry, even though it was a little late in the day. The evening was calm and the two portage and short paddle landed us at the site on the mid-lake point.
Day 2 of 5
Friday, June 09, 2023 We pulled down our tarp and hammocks and after a quick breakfast of oatmeal we set out for the portage to Cross Bay Lake. With a steady breeze from the north and no congestion on the portages we made good time through Rib, Lower George and Karl to our destination. The first couple of sites we checked were out of the wind but very buggy. We ended up taking the western most site on Long Island Lake. This site is located on a narrow peninsula and had good wind exposure to help keep the mosquitos at tolerable levels. After setting camp we got out for some fishing. Pike and small mouth seemed to be found at every probable spot and we enjoyed a few hours of action before turning in for the night.
Day 3 of 5
Saturday, June 10, 2023 The steady breeze from the north continued to build overnight and brought some rain . The wind persisted all day Saturday making for a good day to hang out in camp and read a good book. The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis kept us occupied until we had a surprise visit from a couple Forest Service Rangers.
They asked to check our permit and wanted to know how we were storing food, checked around the site a little and went on their way. I use a 5 gallon bucket with gamma seal lid for food storage and still choose to hang the food. This seemed to make the rangers happy. They said bears are not a problem where I was but lax food storage efforts by too many people too often is making problem bears more common. They also requested that I report any issues with sites or portages and pack out any trash I find if possible due to short staffing making it harder for the Forest Service to keep things taken care of. This was my first experience with the Forest service and only my second trip in the BWCA. I read about interactions with rangers on this site and felt at ease having some knowledge of how these things work typically. They were curtious and professional.
The afternoon brought a drop in the wind so my son and I set out to catch dinner. A small mouth and some freeze dried Mac and Cheese made for dinner and them an early retreat to the protection of bug nets on the hammocks as the mosquitos emerged with the dying wind and evening hours. We finnished the book and listened to the loons calling across the lake. I really love that sound.
Day 4 of 5
Sunday, June 11, 2023 A chilly morning had us up and moving just after sun up. We planned to head up to Cross Bay Lake and try to get a site there for our last night. We packed up and headed out as a breeze from the north east blew the mist off the lake and started to build. The stiff breeze stubbornly seemed to stay right on our bow despite my best efforts to find relief on calm shores or lee sides of islands. My 9 year old bow paddler learned to use a draw and cross draw well in our slow push a few miles to the north. In hindsight I should have added some bow weight to trim the canoe better but the experience was a great teacher for my aspiring canoeman. Wide open portages and noticeably fewer mosquitos made portaging almost a welcome break from paddling into the breeze at the end of each lake even if my canoe does weigh 80lbs with a few items strapped to the thwarts. We made it to Cross Bay Lake by mid morning and took possession of the southern most site. I had read that this lake has good numbers of eater sized walleye and I can attest to that being true. We spent a few hours catching and releasing walleye from 10 to 18 inches keeping a couple on a stinger to have for dinner. Around 2pm we saw our first group go by and the lake infront our site and nearby portage was in near constant use from that point till the last group passed heading south at about 7pm. We had a fantastic fish dinner and turned in at dark with the incessent whine of mosquitos in our ears and a growing number of itchy bumps on the backs of hands and arms.
Day 5 of 5
Monday, June 12, 2023 Beautiful calm morning with out a cloud in the sky brought the early morning sun under the edge of our tarp and filled the woods around us with surreal light. I love that as much as hearing loons call... As we cooked breakfast my first apperent planning / packing flaw presented itself. I had planned for bugs by treating clothing with permethrin, bringing a variety of repellents, having headnets, and making sure we had good protection for our sleeping arrangements. But I had brought nothing to help ease the discomfort of receiving many bites despite those efforts on the backs of hands and other areas easily accessed by our constant hungry companions. My son had had enough and his happy and eager attitude was heading south. I was concerned he would end a great trip with sour memories so I did my best to encourage and distract him as we broke camp and loaded the canoe. Dragging his hands in the cool water brought relief and by the time we hit the portage into Ham he was back to good spirits. Plus he had a promise of whatever he wanted from the DQ in Grand Marais to motivate him. An easterly breeze pushed us across Ham and with no traffic on the portages we soon arrived at our vehicle. As a trip bonus he spotted his first moose on our way down the Gunflint.
A few take aways from this trip. My son and I had a great time using mostly cheap heavy old gear. Not saying the new light weight stuff isn't great just saying you don't have to have it to enjoy this amazing place.
Watching the parade of groups go past our site on Cross Bay Lake made me realize there are a healthy percentage of people taking trips that don't know how to paddle very well. Take the time learn good technique before you go and you will have a much more enjoyable trip. Old Bill Mason films on YouTube are a place to start if want to learn the more old school methods.
Preparing for bugs includes what to do after you get bit up not just prevention methods.
When it comes to kids, ending on a high note is important. My son can't wait for our September trip to Ram. And just a day later he is telling everyone about the bugs and showing the fading marks like a badge of honor.
Be safe out there.