BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
September 21 2021
Number of Permits per Day: 5
Elevation: 1498 feet
Missing Link Lake - 51
To Canoe or Not to Canoe, that is the question.
August 02, 2020
Missing Link Lake
Seagull Lake Only (54A)
Number of Days:
Day 1 Due to the pandemic the plan was to meet and assemble at the Menards in Janesville, WI as the group was coming from 3 different directions and this seemed to be the most central location where nobody had to backtrack. We met at 7am, consolidated our gear in the Jeep and started the trip to Tuscarora Outfitters off the Gunflint trail. This year’s trip through Duluth was without event and a much better experience than last year. We made great time stopping off at the Earthwood Inn, Two Harbors for a late lunch. Back in the car we continued our trip arriving at Tuscarora about 5pm. The plan was to leave Tuscarora Outfitters on Round Lake and make a loop through Tuscarora Lake over to Little Saganaga Lake up through Ogishkemuncie Lake and out on Sea Gull Lake over the course of 5 days. We talked with Andy to get some expert advice on the best campsites and fishing spots along our chosen route. We had to modify our timing a little due to the bear issues being experienced on Alpine and Sea Gull which set us up for a longer day 5 than originally planned. We received our assigned cabin and got to work unloading the Jeep and consolidating gear to remove any duplicates not needed and cut as much weight as possible. We hit up the trail center for dinner which was order out only and took it back to the cabin to eat. We turned in early wanting to get an early start as we had an ambitious first day planned. I don’t think any of us knew what we were in store for the next day, especially portage wise.
Day 2 Travel Day. The alarms went off at 6am and the cabin started to get busy……. slowly. We packed up and got everything ready and went to the dinning hall by 7am for the French toast breakfast which was just as good as I remembered it. With carbs and coffee consumed we were ready to face the day! We got the canoes to the dock and loaded the packs, gave quick tutorial of how to paddle a canoe for the newbies and off we went. The canoes were to be manned with the same tandems the whole trip, with some challenges and much entertainment. The canoe pairings were mom and dad, with dad in the bow. And Nate and I, Nate in the bow. One would think that the experienced paddlers would pair up with the inexperienced people however this was not the case. It was age vs. youth; inexperience vs. experience. We pushed off about 8am and set off across Round Lake to the first portage taking us to Missing Link Lake. This portage was a little difficult to find but Nate, the seasoned navigator that he is, put us in the right general area. We just had to get closer to shore to see the opening, guess our eyes weren’t BWCA ready yet. As we crossed Round Lake, we noticed the wind was picking up blowing from the East /Northeast. That first portage was to be a challenge as it was as hard or harder than any of the portages we did on the last years trip in both distance and difficulty. 137 rods, rocky with some decent elevation changes. I feel like this portage would be easier coming into Round Lake as opposed to leaving Round Lake. Fueling up before heading out Round Lake, back on the water! Is there any better place than the BWCA! First portage, Round Lake to Missing Link Lake On the Round Lake to Missing Link Lake portage..... does this look moosey to you?
On this trip Nate and I were destined to do every portage twice (except the last one). On this first portage, each person took their own pack and then Nate and I went back and got the canoes giving mom and dad some time to enjoy the solitude and beauty of the BWCA. We tackled this portage with the energy, enthusiasm and excitement that I imagine every return BWCA traveler has as they come back to the place that exudes the quiet beauty and peacefulness offered as only true wilderness can. Halfway through we stopped and took our obligatory picture in front of the sign that lets you know you made it. With the first portage under our belt, we loaded up and took off across Missing Link Lake. This is a smaller more intimate lake that I would like to go back and visit sometime. The couple of campsites we passed looked decent and I could see how the lake would be quiet with the mile plus portage on one side and the other portage’s being more difficult. BWCA sign Nate is holding Nav 101
Did I say mile plus portage? Yes, yes I did. The portage from Missing Link Lake to Tuscarora Lake is 362 rods of ups and downs, twists and turns. In all honesty it really wasn’t that bad, just long. We tackled this one by implementing the leap frog technique. We sent mom and dad off to complete the whole portage with their packs. Nate and I accompanied them on the first third of the portage, dumped our packs and went back for the canoes. We then took the canoes 2/3rds of the way, set them down and went back and got our packs and took them the remaining distance to the Tuscarora side landing. Then went back for the canoes. Once mom and dad finished taking their packs the whole way they came back and helped us get everything to the Tuscarora landing, pretty efficiently in my opinion. Missing Link Lake to Tuscarora portage, not horrible just long Hydration is key on the long portages!! Finally!! Tuscarora Lake!
It was 10:30ish by the time we got everything to the Tuscarora side and we noticed that it looked a little rough out on the main part of the lake. We loaded up and started across the lake stopping in deeper water to refill the water bottles as we drank quite a bit on the long portage as you can imagine. The wind was pushing us around a lot more than we realized as we were filling up our water bottles. We took a bearing from shore before we headed out but after filling the water bottles, we just tried to eyeball it and go. We ended up approx. three quarters of a mile south of where we wanted to be. And to get where we needed to, we had to head straight in to the wind and waves. At one point we got to knee deep water, hopped out and towed/pushed our canoes to give our upper bodies a break. Back in the canoes we rounded a point and thought we found the portage as we saw a canoe on the beach at an opening that was not a campsite. We pulled up and didn’t find anybody around and no trail, odd…. So, we got back in the canoes and kept going. The portage was around the next point which took us another 20 minutes or so. We were elated to finally find the portage and be out of the wind for a little while. Mom and dad did great especially with the wind, waves and extra distance that we had to travel exposed to the elements. At the portage we ran into two gentlemen who asked us if we saw another canoe with two guys and a dog. We told them about the canoe we saw on the beach and wondered if that was them. The two other guys showed up a little while later. Apparently, the dog was not a fan of the waves so they had to beach the canoe and travel cross country to the portage. I do not envy them one bit, the BWCA is a thick mess in most places and canoeing is definitely a more efficient way to travel. We took the portage to Owl Lake which is 67 rods and of no consequence and took a break for lunch. The first lunch is always an adventure
This started our string of smaller waters before we reached our destination lake of Little Saganaga for the night. One thing I look forward to on the smaller lakes is the opportunity to see wildlife. While I don’t want to see a bear in my campsite, seeing one from the water a safe distance away would be a memory I would cherish forever. Same goes for a moose and wolves. Owl is a smaller lake and we had the advantage of watching another group canoe the lake while we were eating lunch so we knew exactly where we needed to go. Another nice plus on these smaller lakes is that the wind doesn’t affect you as much so we were across pretty quickly. The next portage is a short 50 rod portage to Crooked Lake. We wasted no time and started across Crooked Lake taking a left at the point and following the shore around behind an island to the portage. We had some trouble finding the next portage as the landing was very small and really rocky. Luckily there is a sizable rock cairn marking the entrance. Bless the individual or group that set this up as it saved us a lot of time. The landing definitely challenged our skills but we got through it and pushed on. It is definitely a one group at a time type of portage as there really is no place to store canoes out of the way so other groups can make it through. Luckily, we were the only ones around. If a portage landing is any indication of how difficult a portage will be, this portage was going to be a bear. And it was. It starts basically straight up from what is the landing and then curves around to the right and then has a couple of elevation changes until you come out to the landing on Tarry Lake. The landing on the Tarry side is in a cool Cedar stand that is dark and open with a stream and waterfall on the north side. To be clear, you cannot see the waterfall from the portage but there are some little side paths that will take you there. It was pretty cool. We got across Tarry pretty quickly as this is another small lake. The portage from Tarry to Mora Lake is a small 14 rod portage. Up and over quickly we set off on Mora and attempted what we thought to be a shortcut through a little creek marked on the map behind an island. There definitely was a little creek behind the island, unfortunately it did not allow for us to navigate due to the large rocks. So back in the canoe and around the long way. The day was starting to get long and we were just about ready to be done. However, we had one more portage and more big water to tackle before we could call it a day. I always like to have an ambitious first day to get out ahead of the crowds I but did not realize how challenging this route was, especially on day 1. Once across Mora we portage to Little Saganaga which was a pretty portage of 47 rods. There were a couple of challenging spots but definitely not the toughest portage of the day. As we set off on Little Saganaga we reflected on the fact that we had not seen any of the aforementioned wildlife and decided to have a little fun and find a moose through the viewfinder of our camera (see photo). We had a little fun with this when we got to camp and told our parents that we saw a moose after they setoff on Little Sag and they missed it! They got a good laugh out of our picture. Another lake with no moose....... Mora to Little Sag portage, one of the most enjoyable of the trip! Mora to Little Sag portage..... it was beautiful put in on Little Sag Moose!!! well...... its the only one we saw.
On Little Saganaga we had about an hour of paddling to get to the campsite we wanted, campsite 820. During the paddle over to the campsite we saw our first bald eagle perched in a tree along the shore. It was a little after 5pm at this point and we were all tired with fingers crossed that the campsite would be open. I had a feeling it would be as we had not seen anybody since we left Owl Lake. And sure enough, the site was open. We pulled up and checked it out and deemed it good enough for the next two nights. We unloaded the canoes and started setting up. It is amazing how different things are when you have some BWCA experience under your belt. We got the main tarp set up in no time with the tents and hammock shortly after. Campsite 820 is on the northwestern most island on Little Saganaga Lake and is a nice site. The campsite has 3 good tent pads and plenty of trees to hang a hammock(s). The firegrate area is elevated with windows facing north and west to the Lake. There was little to no wind so I cannot speak to wind protection but if I had to guess, with a north or west wind it would have been a pretty breezy site. We also had to get creative hanging the bear bags. Our home for the night, campsite on the Northeast corner of Little Saganaga. A view of little Sag from our campsite
With everything set up and the fire started, it was dinner time. As mentioned earlier, we planned and packed our own food. I took the responsibility of packing for mom, dad and myself and Nate packed his own. The difference between what we packed couldn’t have been more different. I packed some fresh fruit, eggs, bacon and other luxury items while Nate packed strictly dehydrated meals. Since one must pack out what one packs in, we (mom, dad and myself) had a much larger garbage footprint and the weight of the fresh food did not seem to dwindle as fast as I thought it would. Even with rest days baked into the trip, my pack would not get any lighter than approx. 50 pounds. Lesson learned. There are so many options for dehydrated meals these days, Backpackers Pantry, Packit Gourmet (thanks Shug!!), Mountain House to name just a couple, you can get the variety needed to skip the heavier items. All that is required is water and there is plenty of that around! With dinner done and cleaned up, we fished (with no luck) while watching the sunset and the off to bed.
Rods portaged: 720 (2.25 miles) Lakes traveled: Round Lake, Missing Link Lake, Tuscarora Lake, Owl Lake, Crooked Lake, Tarry Lake, Mora Lake, Little Saganaga Lake
Day 3 Rest day. It was decided that on this trip we would try a travel, rest, travel, rest, travel sequence to our days. This would allow for some additional exploring and fishing as each member of the party wanted. At this time, it is worth mentioning the weather. Although it was mid 70’s yesterday August 2nd, something happened overnight and the temperature dropped. I woke up sometime in the night and added my jacket to keep warm. My main problem was in an effort to cut weight, I didn’t bring a sleeping bag. Instead I brought an insulated blanket, kind of like a top quilt. Needless to say, it wasn’t enough. I checked the historical weather when we got back to civilization and the low for our trip was 43 degrees (Aug 4th)…. In August….. wwwwwwhhhhhhhaaaaaattttttttt??? The low for the night of August 2 was a balmy 51, needless to say I was not prepared for this. I will ALWAYS bring my 20-degree sleeping bag regardless of what month I travel to the BWCA. We slept in a little this morning as we were all tired and needed the rest. Breakfast planned for this morning was to be our only non-oatmeal breakfast. We were going to treat ourselves to egg, cheese and bacon sandwiches!! The only question was, did the eggs survive day one. They were packed away in the bear barrel and their own egg protecting carry case. However, the bear barrel took multiple tumbles off the back of my pack as it slipped its rigging and crashed onto the ground, wood and rocks. I fully expected a mess when I opened the bear barrel. I am happy to report this was not the case and all 6 eggs were intact and good to go. I was amazed!! I was totally convinced that we would be having bacon sandwiches for breakfast. After breakfast was made, consumed and cleaned up Nate and I went out to try our luck on some lake trout. Little Sag is a very deep lake and we have zero experience in catching lake trout. Whatever we tried didn’t work so we explored a little. We saw a really high vantage point that we were going to try to get to and ended up finding a campsite that had a path leading up to the lookout. We spent some time up there and took some pictures before heading back down and exploring some more. As we were following the shoreline back north towards the campsite, we ran into a friendly otter. Well he wasn’t that friendly; he didn’t stick around for a photo op that we hurriedly planned for our new animal friend. After some more canoeing we went back to camp and hung around lounging and resting with a little fishing mixed in. We had a great sunset that night, another fire, dinner and off to bed. We were going to get an earlier start in the morning to try and beat any wind that might build throughout the day.
Day 4 Travel Day. It was another cold night with a low recorded at 51 degrees. We woke up to an absolutely beautiful morning! We were up early and there was mist all across the water, we were completely misted in. After about 20 minutes you could feel the sun burning through the clouds and the lake changed so quickly!!! There was literally no wind and as patches of fog were disappearing and the lake was being exposed bit by bit. I have never seen anything like it, it was really something to behold!! Morning Fog Clearing quickly absolutely beautiful
While this interrupted our packing, we still were on the water a little before 8am. The skies were blue, no wind, the water was a mirror and it was warming up quickly!! We made great time and were at our first portage before to long. The Little Sag to Rattle Lake portage is really beautiful in my opinion. It is only 26 rods and some up and down but takes you a long a stream that is really peaceful. It was one of my favorite portages of the trip. Maybe it was the angle of the sun, no clouds in the sky and the time of day. This is burn area although I am not sure from what fire so there was newer growth everywhere. I loved this portage Entrance into Rattle Lake
We were across Rattle Lake in no time and on to the portage to Gabimichigami Lake. Gabi Lake is big. The map doesn’t give it justice. I think its an illusion as there are other lakes in the BWCA that are just as big (ala Little Sag), but Gabi is an unbroken expanse of water. There are no islands to break up the lake or hide behind. We were feeling very blessed and fortunate that the day had no wind to speak of. With a north, south, east or west wind, or any combination of directional winds of any substance would make this lake a challenge. The next portage was a float through. We paddled to the beginning of the stream/river between Gabi and Agamok Lake, got out and wadded/floated the canoes to the other side. Easiest portage ever! If one were to take the actual portage its only 18 rods, but why do all the work if you can leverage your natural resources? Work smarter, not harder. Right? Gaby, the lake with no islands Gaby, no wind, blue skies = perfect Gaby - objects in picture look larger than they appear Float portage!! I will take one of these every time!
Agamok Lake is a smaller lake and we were across shortly. This lake had some shallow spots that we had to look out for but we got across with no major issues and started the portage to Mueller Lake which was 114 rods and had some degree of difficulty. Just from reading reviews and stories on this website I knew the next two portages would be challenging. But reading about portages and experiencing portages are two different things. The one saving grace on this portage is that once we got the canoes across, we took a little break and saw Agamok Falls off the Kekekabic Trail. Totally worth the side trip!! The falls were impressive!!! We had lunch at the falls and then turned back and went on our way. Amagok Falls
Mueller is a smaller lake as well and we were across in no time. The only bad thing about a short paddle is your legs have not recovered from the last difficult portage and your back at it. And the portage from Mueller to Ogishkemuncie Lake was the hardest albeit not the longest of the trip. Measuring 107 rods in distance, there is quite a bit of rocky elevation change to contend with. When we got done with this portage, we were all ready to find a campsite. Luckily for us we planned on staying on Ogish Lake that night. As we were paddling, we started to notice more and more people. We wanted to be on the eastern portion of Ogish to make our last day a little shorter while still avoiding the bear trouble areas on Alpine and Seagull. It was early afternoon as we paddled through the narrows on Ogish and as we came out into the main part on the eastern side, we just happened to see a group leaving a campsite that we were interested in. We stayed on Ogish last year and wanted the same campsite but could tell that it wasn’t available so this site almost straight across the lake would work so we snagged it. The timing worked out perfect!! setting out on another lake, I think this was Ogish..... I need to take better notes.... Campsite for the night, not the one we wanted but there were a lot of people out and we weren't going to let this one pass.
Campsite 790. This campsite is on the south side of the lake in the eastern portion before the narrows if you are heading west. Its is not a bad site. It has a really nice hammock set up right on the water that I enjoyed for two nights despite the colder temps. The nicest tent pad is on the south side of the campsite in a little grove of trees with another bigger tent pad behind the firegrate area. There was a nice tree to hang our bear bags about 100 yds if you take the trail that goes east. We had both bear bags hung there with no problem. Definitely not the best site in the area but it did the job. It was still relatively early so we set up camp and took a BWCA bath also known as a swim. It felt really good after the long hard day. Once changed and dried off we lounged and decided to break our streak of catching no fish for the trip. We had a fair assortment of lures and leeches at our disposal so cast we did. Nate was the first one on the board with a smaller smallmouth bass. We would go on to catch 3 northern and the aforementioned smallmouth that night right off the front of the campsite, no size of consequence, in about an hour right at sunset. With tomorrow being a planned rest day, Nate and I were going to check out a fishing spot that Andy gave us a heads up on.
Rods portaged: 287.08 (0.89 miles) Lakes Traveled: Little Saganaga Lake, Rattle Lake, Gabimichigami Lake, Agamok Lake, Mueller Lake, Ogishkemuncie Lake First fish of the trip!! Another spectacular sunset!! And the night cap
Like I said, the forecast was for sun, warmth bordering on heat and light winds. Turned out Lonnie Johnson, our chauffeur to the edge of the wilderness, had no other plans than the two of us and we met up a half hour early. Extra half hours are good especially when I'm on the back end of the trip. I still plan like my body's forty-five but at seventy-two humping heavy loads over portages takes longer. Longer? That's funny. It takes lots longer. Roots, stones and mud call to my possible broken hip and whisper of weeks doing nursing home rehab. That's no way to end a wilderness canoe trip. The gear was thrown aboard, the canoe strapped at right angles to the pontoons, and we were off. The plan originally called for being dropped off at the north end of Lake Vermilion, paddling a short length of Trout Creek and portaging around the falls. We'd clear our nostrils on the shore, pitch the shit in the canoe and paddle off to adventure and rip-snortin' fishing. Real men enter the wilderness with sparkling eyes fixed on the horizon and over-stuffed packs on their backs. However, on the boat ride I asked Lonnie how much it would cost for a tow across the portage? "Thirty-five bucks." There was a time in my life when I'd never have asked that question. This time I never gave my answer a moment's thought, "Let's do it." My name is Mark and I'm a weak old man. At the dock on the north side of Vermilion we were met by Lonnie's daughter Tina sporting long sleeves, earrings and hip boots. Canoe country chic. We loaded the canoe on her trailer, packed the boat for travel and climbed aboard for the ATV haul. I'd never before done a portage while sitting in a canoe. Seemed almost immoral. There are many ways of being immoral in life and a few of those call for jail time or eternal punishment if you're bent along those lines. This time it was a combination of weird, cool and a little giggly. The bounce and jiggle four-minute drive done, Tina backed us onto Trout Lake, unhitched the boat and we were off in a flail of random paddling. I hadn't been on a wilderness trip for a couple of years, and it showed. Load balance can be critical in a canoe. You should ride level with the bow up just a tad and we were a little nose heavy. Makes steering more work than necessary. Up at the cabin I often canoe-fished with a partner who outweighed me by the size of a German Shepherd (the dog not Klaus Biedermeier). When I dug too deep, we'd spin like a top. On Trout Lake, being out of balance and practice we zigzagged a tad at first till the rust wore off. Compound that with the distraction of the surrounding beauty and it was all I could do to head in the right direction. Maps are good but at times I have a problem with scale. That micro dot on the map sure can't be the island over there. Hell, the real one's a hundred yards long not some lone rock. Honestly, where we were heading could've been solved by telling me the portage is in the back of the first mile-long bay on our right. Wasn't but a right-left-right course spread over two and a half miles. Three minutes with paddles in our hands and we were up to our usual four miles an hour and heading pretty much die straight. Brian and I weigh the same and that helps a lot. Our paddles are home made. Over the years I've gone overboard carving them. Who needs eighteen canoe paddles? No two of them look exactly the same—I'm not big on quality control—but this batch of three shared material—old growth redwood from a garage sale, walnut from a discarded FedEx wall plaque, leftover radiata pine from a previous project, aromatic cedar and a little birch I'd chainsawed and worked into few boards, years ago. Outside of the pine it all carries meaning in the form of story and a little blood. Over the years I've shed blood across a fair amount of the country and a little in Asia— none of it intentional unless I was in a doctor's office. As for the stories, you could fertilize the better part of a section of farmland with my words. It's what I do and best of all it's organic. Thirty-five minutes followed by a little back stretching and underwear peeling got us to the offload. It takes a few minutes to pull near two hundred pounds out of a canoe. Part of that has to do with easing your way into accepting what comes next. I'd read this portage wasn't a bear, just long—call it two hundred-seventy rods or a couple of hundred yards shy of a mile. Like most portages it went uphill for quite a while, rolled around for a bit, then stumbled downhill for a hell of a lot less than it went up even though the two lakes are at the same elevation. No doubt about it, maps lie. This trail was typical for the Boundary Waters—a myriad of foot trippers, bunch berries, hazel brush, a little alder, blueberries waiting on late July for fruit, neat little green mosses that called for a man to pause and snap an artsy photo but only a fool would stop to do some dumb-assed stunt like that, dappled sunlight broken by a canopy of pines (white, red and jack), aspen and birch. Moose maple everywhere waiting for fall to explode blaze red. Finally, the last thirty rods were a mild struggle through a thicket a woody brush that grabbed our legs and tried to drag us down like we were in some kind of ancient Greek saga. I know that's an exaggeration, but I was pooped, gimpy-legged and fog-headed by that point. Struck me so funny I laughed aloud. Misery makes me laugh, not sure why.
Brian carried the canoe, the cooler and the biggest pack. Thank you, Brian. Even with the lighter stuff it was still sixty pounds a trip—about the same as I carried in Vietnam. If I wasn't so damned cheap, we could cut the load another thirty pounds. Once on the water we found the first two sites occupied. No surprise there. Call it the rose smelling syndrome. Next stop was on a peninsula we named The Boot. The map told us where the site was, the lake said to look elsewhere. The fourth site was the charm, a narrow rock peninsula with an excellent landing and level tent pad open to the breezes—so perfect it seemed weird no one was there. An hour later the tent was up, rain tarp strung, and dinner sizzled in the pan under a hot sun. Brian called my scrambled mess bangers and mash, probably because he's half Irish and doesn't know any better. It's actually more of a fried glop that could be better called 'four of each,' potato patties, eggs and wienies (skin on). Whack it, dice it, scramble it and crisp it a little. Would've added a sprinkling of salt and pepper but I forgot them. Better that than the tent. Didn't matter how I slopped it together, we were hungry as stoners with a fresh bag of corn chips, and we crammed it down. On the way in, Lonnie Johnson said the party before us had hammered the walleyes, even kept count with a clicker. Now who the hell carries a clicker counter into the Boundary Waters? There's something wrong about that and goes against the metaphysical nature of fishing. It's much better to use my method, guess and exaggerate. My fictitious Uncle Emil would question any attempt at numbers when it comes to fishing, "You're either catching a few or you're not. It all works out right, you get enough for a meal or two." That's just my way of saying we always pack more than enough food. Anyhow, Pine Lake’s a tad over eight hundred acres, has a double handful of islands and a slew of bays and points. The DNR's lake finder said we were on prime fishing water, but as it turned out Mother Nature said we weren't. Lord knows I'm not a good fisherman. My skill involves doing the research and driving the miles with the hope of finding fish that are dumber than me. And it ain't easy. Us upright bipeds that wear hats think we're God's gift to the world and are smarter than anything else. We're not. I got my degree in Humanities and that sums us up as a species. We know more than any other living thing, but it's spread thin. When it becomes specific, like trying to fool an individual fish, they've got us beat by a nautical mile. So, you catch fifty walleyes in a day. Wow. How many simply spit on your yellow headed ball jig with a hand-tied, marabou and tinsel tail as you paddled by talking about Lord knows what gibberish that passes as canoe banter? A whole lot is the way I see it. In short, we didn't catch a lot. Brian did snag the only bluegill I've ever seen in the Boundary Waters, on a number two spinner no less, and it was better than a hand long. Made me think about the Republican Presidential debates of 2016. Would've been fun to see that sunny fly up on stage while the discussions on manhood were spewed back and forth. But a colorful, pan-sized bluegill deserved a better fate than up there with those idiots, so I'm glad it didn't happen. However, while I'm sitting here pecking away, I've got a smirk on my face. For the most part, the bugs weren't bad. No mosquitoes, black, deer or horse flies. We only saw a single no-see-um, but it might not have been one since we saw it. Then at sunset it all changed. Made a man appreciate biomass. For sure we weren't alone anymore. We had two types of spray and a Thermacell thingy. The Thermacell had proved effective on a previous trip but not this time. Our chemical efforts were a waste of technology. The first wave of mosquitoes sucked up the spray, the second licked our skin clean and the third came in for the kill. The ladies were out for our blood so they could procreate. Like every form of life, it's all about sex and survival. A cruder man would say we were totally f**ked, but I won't. We had no choice but to run for the tent.
Thursday, Friday, Saturday: Woke up to some fog on Thursday (actually it was Friday but I'm way too lazy to wipe out the photo on the left that’s no longer there. Guess I've moved into the realm of creative non-fiction). It wasn’t a total white out but close enough to do a little artsy-fartsy with the camera. Brian was relatively sleeping in mainly because I was up at 5:15. That's a little early for me but not for my bladder. Mine’s a fine bladder as bladder's go. Seeing as how it's the only one I have it was time to take the pressure off and keep the sleeping bag dry at the same time. These days that's my idea of a win-win. In the Boundary Waters video, they make you watch even though you've seen it a couple of dozen times, a big deal is made of leaving your scat in the latrine but says nothing about urine. So, I use it to mark my territory. Keeps the bears off knowing there's a large carnivore with a sick sense of humor roaming about. Bears are notorious for not liking puns, in particular plays on words. Not sure why since they lack any formal education. Could be its their sense of propriety, the dignity of being one of the lords of the forest and not wanting to have anything to do with scum from the Cities. Thursday's fog—the one not pictured above—was feathered wisps adrift on a near calm tarn (how's that for a nauseating image?). At the time I was way too tired to be that poetic. Mostly I was perched in my old Target folding chair bought for a canoe trip in the last century and hoping it wouldn't collapse when I nodded off. Our rain tarp was stretched over a humped slab and there was nary a place where all four legs could touch down at the same time. Brian's happy spot was about eight feet away. We said it was for comfort, but it may have had more to do with smell. Seems odd to me that most animals smell okay even though they don't bathe regularly, and humans generally stink. I recently read that when one of the Gemini capsules of the '60s was opened after fourteen days in space the rescuing crew vomited from the odor. I don't think ours was that bad. Our original intention was to take a couple of swims because of the hot weather but we didn't. Pine Lake isn't deep and has an intense bog stain. As for water purity, that's good, bogs filter. But even after filtering it's still amber in tone. Color aside, what kept us out of the water was life in action. Our four days was a fertile time. I'd seen mayfly hatches before and thought they were generally cute and cause for happy levity as in, "What do you mean not tonight?" When your lifespan is measured in hours, mood has no place when it comes to procreation. On Pine Lake we had three days of apocalyptic hatches. Clouds, myriads, flying examples of what a billion looks like. As the sun went down Brian, and I floated on the never-ending glass and were transfixed by fleets of them—hatching, fluttering up and off the water, swarming and copulating, joined together in pairs, triads and orgies. Yeah, we were surrounded by an orgy of Mother Nature. It said in no uncertain terms that when it came to life on Earth people weren't but a spit in a frying pan. In the mornings—not break of dawn early—we'd paddle out on a sea of death. Dead larvae and spent flies spread like chunky peanut butter on a slice of rye bread. It was the larvae that drew my eye. The mayflies in the air are generally cute little buggers but their larval stage digs deep into ugly. And on the water, now well into rotting, they're not something you want to bathe in. No sir, scooping one up for a closer look was about all I could handle. Could be evolution and metamorphosis are all about tempering ugly so maintaining the species seems like an appealing thing. On the left, in the photo that's not there, is Brian holding up one of the few fish we didn't eat. We'd have not eaten more but we didn't catch many. It wasn't for lack of trying. Nope, we worked the water hard, paddled every yard of shore, most of the islands and a couple of miles of the in-between. Pine's noted for its good fishing and the DNR's nettings say it's in the upper one percent of the Boundary Waters. We trolled and casted; threw spinners, plugs and jigs. I don't use live bait, seems like cheating. And these days not catching is no big deal for me. Simply perched in the aft seat, back throbbing, butt cheeks aflame where the tailbone hits the caning and arms aching from the never-ending paddling is enough for me. Could be I'm a sadist. Truth is, I like being on the water drowning in quiet. I love quiet. My hearing's not too sharp these days and easily loses conversation in background noise. In the Boundary Waters I can hear bird twitter and ripples tickling the shore rocks. The whirlpool made by Brian's paddle stroke as it passes the stern shushes in harmony with the creaking of the cane and ash seats. Most of each day found the lake glassed and the trees silent. Occasionally an assault by a gentle breeze would ripple the water, set us moaning in relief and the pines whispering thanks.
Brian and I always wear our life jackets knowing we're both capable of momentary stupidity. Couple that with our waning grace and a wish for a longer life, we're willing to sweat for safety and lordy did we sweat. At least I did. A mid-day paddle had my shirt dripping. We drank a lot of water, close to a gallon each, every day. Even then we dehydrated. I occasionally lusted for a washtub of beer on ice. I'd sit in the tub and pour down the first knowing the second would send me off to another world where I'd giggle about how fun it was to stumble on the uneven ground and fall in the water to join my dead mayfly buddies. Blue dusted with high, thin clouds capping the amber below, we'd paddle and fish for hours. Brian was constantly at it. The man has a God given work ethic when it comes to continued frustration. I tire of the game easily. These days I'm content to keep us slowly putzing along while Brian works the shoreline. Once in a while we'd catch a gentle drift, I'd scull to control our position and throw a few casts. The shorelines were a mixture of grey-black volcanic stones from basketball to Volkswagen-sized. All were white striped near the waterline. Changing high water marks was my guess. Occasionally we'd come on what passes for an escarpment in the western Boundary Waters; their thirty-foot high, jagged black faces were few and far between—nothing like the three hundred footers over by Superior. But the scene was pleasant, mesmerizing and always speaking to us in shades of green from hilltop to the waterline. Even when we weren't listening, nature carried on a conversation with our souls. Could be that's why a man's willing to put up with a few days of physical discomfort. There's always a lot going on even when you're busy doing the meaningless.
We rarely saw others. That was fine with me and no doubt with them also. Eagles riding thermals, a walleye exploding clear of the water for no apparent reason—never saw that before—an eagle diving to scoop a fish from a sunken island, alpenglow on the forest near sunset—the trees lit like neon, and all was coupled with never-ending conversation. Some meaningful, most bordering on idiotic (sorry Brian, sometimes I don't know when to shut up).
Sunday: The light show started around 2:30 in the morning. At times the flashes lit the tent like daylight and got me thinking about how close the big white pines were. The idea of being incinerated or crushed under a few tons of softwood held no appeal but I quickly fell back asleep. In my mind sleep trumps death. Brian told me we had a solid downpour for a couple of hours. Gully washer. Around 5:30 the roaring winds said it was time to wake up. The tent ballooned and snapped like a wet towel against an eleven-year-old's backside in a game of poolside high jinks but held its place and never shipped a drop. Thank you, Ryan Kruse. While it was rippin' and snortin' outside, we started stuffing gear away. We had a date at 11:00 with an ATV. This was no time to lallygag. Packing seems never ending. So much crap. A Conestoga wagon's worth to cram in three packs. By the time we crawled out to join the brightening gray the storm had all but passed. Brian made a fire and heated water for oatmeal. On Thursday my twenty-year-old Coleman stove had given up the ghost, blown the gasket under the main burner and made sounds like an arming hand grenade. That left us with a useless twenty pounds of metal box and gas, but we had matches and a forest full of wood as backup. Birch bark, bone-dry spruce twigs and a small stack of match-ready aspen from an abandoned beaver lodge provided all the fuel we needed for eight meals.
Leaving is hard but not as hard as it was when I had a job waiting for me in the morning. Besides, four days of pounding the water, carrying packs, the never-ending tasks around camp, constantly sweating through my clothes and sleeping on the ground had worn me down. At seventy-two I'm not yet an old man but I'm close. Finally, everything packed, we walked the site picking up micro bits of litter and the load began. It was the food pack that did me in. My back was twisted when I hoisted it. Ping! Not a major torque but enough to let Brian know he'd have to load me on the portage. We left camp a half hour early. Most likely I'll never paddle a loaded canoe again, but our exit will leave me remembering there was a time I could track a dead straight line. Sweet. We were trim and balanced, moving a solid four miles an hour and rarely switching sides. Paddling a canoe is a skill I wasn't born to. No one is. But after thousands of miles, it'd grown to be a simple joy. I dislike the idea of having to say, "I remember when...", but I think that time has come. The portage proved no more than work. Pick it up, shut your mind off, watch your step, work. We paddled our last two and a half miles to the portage and tow. Tina was waiting. We slid dead center on the trailer at 11:00 on the dot. Ever the FedEx courier.
Day 6 Travel day. We were up early again as we wanted to get an early start since we had to get out and back home today. We had approx 9 miles of travel today to get to entry/exit point 54. First up was Kingfisher Lake. Since we did this part of our route on last years trip, albeit heading west instead of east, we knew what to expect and the portages were going to be easy compared to what we already traveled. The Ogish to KingFisher portage is pretty tight, lots of growth that the portage cuts through although its not a difficult one measuring only 34 rods. Across Kingfisher we went which did not take very long as it is a pretty small lake. Next up Jasper. The portage between the two is only 29 rods and a quick up and over. The landing on the Jasper side is nice and shallow and easy to navigate. In no time we were loaded up and on our way. Jasper took us a good 45 minutes to get across and then it was on to Alpine. The portage from Jasper to Alpine is only 37 rods long but is a bit tricky in some spots especially as you get to the Alpine side. Since today was our exit day, we were all business and moved as quickly as we could and were making good time. Across Alpine we went and after waiting for a couple of groups that were hanging out at the portage we moved through and on our way. As a right of passage, we decided to have mom and dad portage the canoe’s on the last portage of the trip. And they did great! The portage from Alpine to Seagull is 101 rods but relatively flat and well-traveled. As Nate and I were waiting on the Seagull side for the canoes I noticed some movement in the grass. I went to investigate and to my wonder and astonishment there was a decent sized garter snake holding on to a decent sized toad by its backside. I was not even aware that garter snakes went after toads. I snapped a few pictures and let it be. After a short while the toad came and joined us on the portage snake free. Apparently, the snake got tired or the toad got free somehow and came close to us for protection. As the day wore on it started to get hot (low 80’s), we would dip our hats in the water and put them back over our head and let the cool water drip down and cool us off. It was great especially as we crossed Seagull which was our last but biggest lake of the day. We made it across about halfway and stopped in the shade for lunch before continuing on our way. Back in the canoes we paddled our way along the north shore of Three Mile island and found our way to the entry/exit point and called to be picked up. Back at Tuscarora we had showers and relaxed for a short time before leaving for the long ride back. We stopped in Duluth for dinner and ended up staying the night in a hotel before finishing the trip home the next day.
Rods portaged: 202.73 rods (0.63 miles) Lakes traveled: Ogishkemuncie Lake, Kingfisher Lake, Jasper Lake, Alpine Lake, Seagull Lake The landing on the Kingfisher side, portage from Ogish to Kingfisher Portage landing heading east from Kingfisher to Jasper Portage from Jasper to Alpine The waterfall between Jasper and Alpine Canoeing on Jasper Lunch on the shore of 3 mile island And the trip comes to an end. happy but tired
While there were many obstacles facing us even before we even left on this trip it was great to once again embark on a canoe trip in the BWCA. A couple of lessons learned, I will be bringing a sleeping bag on every trip going forward no matter what time of year and packing food that does not weigh a metric ton. I know I said this last year and it still holds true, you cannot put into words the range of emotions you go through as you travel the BWCA. The feelings of adventure, challenge, accomplishment and satisfaction to name a few and not necessarily in that order. And having the chance to introduce and watch others experience and enjoy the BWCA for the first time adds another level of emotions as you get to share one’s passions with those closest to you. I have only been to the BWCA twice now and it amazes me how each trip has been so individually specifically different from the other. While certain aspects of a trip may be familiar, the motion of paddling, the call of the loon to name a few; each trip has its own challenges and adventures to be experienced. As life pulls us in different directions and priorities change, one priority will always stay the same. I will be back again on another BWCA adventure.