Part 1 of 7
Pre-trip Planning Planning for a 2 or 3 group trip that may include up to 20 people begins about the time the previous year’s trip ends. This is done for an organization that is similar to the scouts for our church. Besides the regulars who have gone on the trip for several years including my brothers and some nephews, along with others, this year would include two teen-age brothers from Kentucky, both first-timers. Around January we will pick the week, when one of the regulars has to pick his vacation time. It is usually the week before or after Father’s Day. This year it would be the earlier week. Next we pick an area, one that we would be able to put together 2 or 3 loop trips from, without being too challenging. Seeing how it has been a few years since we have been up the Gunflint, this area became the consensus choice. Reservations were made for our put-in for June 12 at Lizz-Swamp, Round-Brant, and Seagull Lakes. But we had to change that when work commitments and a wedding forced us to move to a Sunday, June 13 entry. But no permits were available for Lizz-Swamp that day, so I added another Seagull permit for the third group. About two weeks before the trip. the final number of people was finally set at 18. Probably the most difficult part of the pre-trip planning was organizing who was in which group. Some wanted to stick with the same small group or partners they always went with, others wanted to focus on fishing. Some wanted to base-camp while others wanted more adventure. One thought he might want to take his kayak. I just wanted the groups as even as possible. As it was, I wound up in the group that did more exploring than my knees would have chosen, and a week after we’ve been back, they still ache. But it turned into a great choice. My group was the one that put in at Round. It included my brother Greg and 12 year old nephew Wylie, Brian, a guy who I got to trip with a couple of years ago and has been on many trips over the years, and Austin and Brett, the two brothers from Kentucky. The biggest job of the pre-trip would have to be organizing all of the gear and buying the food for all three groups. For gear I had to get water filter cartridges, propane canisters, batteries, restock some kitchen gear, and other miscellaneous stuff, plus set aside packs, tents, sleeping bags, paddles, etc. for those who did not have their own. For food, we eat pretty well. Breakfasts included waffles, pancakes, French toast, bacon, Canadian bacon, eggs, cereal, plus beverages. Lunches are the usual on-the-go type of stuff including crackers, sausage, cheese, GORP, fruit and snack bars, etc. Suppers were steaks, brats, spaghetti, jambalaya, and pizza torties, plus the sides and desserts. Ahead of time I dehydrated 10 lbs. of hamburger, 5 quarts of Ragu spaghetti sauce, 3 bags of frozen beans, 3 bags of frozen blueberries, and 2 bags of frozen pepper stir fry. On Friday and Saturday we started organizing all of the stuff at the high school I teach near Wausau, and where most of the people would be gathering Saturday evening for the drive up to Grand Marais. Saturday afternoon I had to go and make a couple of last minute purchases and as the people started showing up, we began to pack up the kitchen and food boxes, one cold, one dry for each group, plus a small condiment pack. About 10:30 the last person arrived and we left where we would hook up with two more cars in Superior and a brother and nephew in Grand Marais. The last thing I did before leaving Wausau was to change our permits to be picked up at Tuscarora Outfitters instead of the Grand Marais Ranger station. I figured we could get breakfast at the Trail Center, our permits right after that and then hit the water quick.
Part 2 of 7
Sunday, June 13, 2010 Day One: My biggest mistake with all of the planning was picking an entry where we would have to portage through 8 lakes before we hit one with campsites. This was after driving all night and having spent the entire day before working to get everything together for the three groups. The lakes between Round and Gillis, our target for first camp, were very short, easy paddles. The portages were the difficult part. With three less than adult sized people, and two of the three adults in pretty poor shape, it was slow-go on the trails, and an off and on drizzle to go with it. Plus, there was some low water on some of the lakes and our portage locations had to change because you could not get the knoos to where the maps showed the portages to be. And of course the maps were all mismarked where 80 rod portages on paper were really 100 rod portages for my knees. Also, they included many up and down steep changes in elevation. And then to think that we would have to exit this same way on Friday. Does it sound like I’m making whining excuses yet? So, by the time we got to Gillis it was almost 4:00, we had not eaten lunch, and we were exhausted. We broke out the steaks, got them on the grill, made mashed potatoes and corn, skipped the dessert, and forgot about sautéing the mushrooms and onion. Everything tasted great, except that we had half of the steak left and everyone was full, or too tired to eat any more.
Steak with waffles for breakfast the next morning sounded pretty good so we packed it all up, cleaned up, and finished setting up camp. Lastly, we decided that we needed to change our trip plan to avoid the same journey back out and decided to skip going to Little Sag and instead head toward Ogish and then to exit at Seagull where the other groups would also be. Too bad, Little Sag was the highlight I was most looking forward to on this trip. But the good choice was deciding to spend an extra day on Gillis. I slept well that night, albeit in a tent with my brother and nephew. I was too tired to try to find a good hammock spot.
Part 3 of 7
Monday, June 14, 2010 Day Two: We slept in late on Monday, and eventually got up and began to fix our breakfast of waffles and steak. Our condiment pack had no syrup container in it. So we improvised by having steak/waffle tacos or jelly waffles. We also noticed someone did not pack the half-gallon orange juice and milk jugs in our packs (or the other 2 groups too). Oh well, we will survive. My knoo partner was Brett, the older of the two brothers. For Brett, this trip was all about fishing. He loved to fish. In Kentucky and Oregon where he first lived, he had never before caught a walleye, or northern pike, or lake trout. While we were paddling all of the little lakes on our way to Gillis, he commented how this one looked like a good walleye lake, or northern lake, or whatever, even though he had never fished lakes for those fish before. When we got to a portage, he wanted to fish from shore rather than go back for another load. We had to fix that thinking quick. Now that we were here in camp for the whole day, the boys could fish all they wanted. Except that the next thing that was not packed was our night crawler container. So, it will have to be all artificial for the week. In quick order though, the boys began catching small, eater sized lake trout, right off of shore, first Austin, then Brett,
then Austin again, and then Wylie,
all of them on the old red, daredevil. They even made a little live well in the rocks right near where they were fishing.
Sometime, early in the day, I also got my hammock set up and broken in by a few of us, so it would be ready for me to sleep in that night. That night, for supper we moved the jambalaya up a few days to add some trout chunks along with smoked sausage and chicken. It was delicious. With the ibuprofen I had taken earlier in the day, plus sleeping much more comfortable in the hammock then the tent, I dozed off quickly.
Part 4 of 7
Tuesday, June 15, 2010 Day Three: We got up knowing that we would have to break camp for the first time, and we didn’t get the earliest of starts. But we had only seen a couple of groups paddle past us at our campsite, and only two groups on our first day on the way to Gillis so we figured it wouldn’t be too crowded where we were heading , and we were pretty much right. We headed for Gabimichigami, a lake that had some fire damage, but some campsites on the north end that we might want to check out. Besides Gabi, we also had to paddle across Peter, another burned lake, but noticed we had an easterly wind that kept us moving pretty well along. It was a much faster travel day then Sunday was with the highlight being a discovery of a moose skeleton along the portage between French and Peter. First we found the entire bone structure of a leg, then further along the trail we found the spine, and then someone had put the skull on a stump.
Looks like some wolves may have surprised the moose as it was meandering along the path, possibly in the spring. Nothing really looked good on Gabi so we pressed on to Agamok. Here we were able to pull the knoos through the channel to avoid the portage and took the first campsite, the one on the south shore of the eastern end of the lake. It was a pretty shaded site, but you could see the north shore was pretty charred from the recent fires.
After setting up camp and doing brats on tortillas for supper, the boys fished, and cut some hollow cedar logs to make a chimney fire with while Greg and Brian did a trip to check out the Agamok bridge along the Kekekabic Trail.
Austin managed to catch a small pike when he really wasn’t trying according to his jealous brother, who was supposed to be the one catching all the fish.
Even though it was mostly a travel day, and soggy at that, it was one that helped put the difficult start on Sunday behind us. And besides, the food packs are starting to get a little lighter to carry.
Part 5 of 7
Wednesday, June 16, 2010 Day Four: Again, slow day to get up and going. But again, it was not going to be a long travel day. We are heading to Ogish, a popular lake. It was only two portages away. The first was about 100 rods and it took us into Mueller Lake. After getting the gear across the portage and no one coming from either direction, we decided to hike back to where the Kek trail crosses the portage and hike down to the river where a trail bridge crosses over a gorge with a waterfall.
It was a pretty cool view from the bridge, plenty sturdy but I would not want to lean on the railings, and the view from the river bank back up to the falls and bridge was also worth the little extra hike.
Just before getting to the bridge, the trail also took us through a hiking campsite, one just like a lake one without the water. After arriving in Ogish, I noticed the wind had shifted. As we began to head north, the easterly wind we were used to now was at our backs again and pushing us north. Paddling north in Ogish, we began looking for sites. One after another was full. There was one that was unoccupied. It had a nice landing, several tent pads, we found the latrine, but where we expected the fire grate to be, there was only some skeletons of filleted walleyes, so we moved on. The last site on the north end of the lake appeared to be open, so we headed toward it. It was surrounded by burned out areas of forest, but the site appeared to have been sheltered from the fire, something we noticed about several of the lakes we went through on the trip. Upon landing, Greg said this site was the one our group had stayed at three years ago when we last came through this area. That was one month before the Ham Lake fire and I had read that the last people evacuated out of the area by the Forest Service during the fire had been staying at this site. It was a huge site with several tent pads and hammock trees potential. Eventually we would get four hammocks set up in one area, two for Wylie and I for sleeping.
Our immediate plan was to stay here for two days, and head from here out to Seagull, where we would meet up with the other two groups. After setting up camp and getting comfortable, I looked at the map again and thought it would be pushing it to get across Seagull by noon on Friday, not knowing what the weather, winds, crowds, and portages might bring, so reluctantly we decided that it could only be a one night stay and that we would try to go to Alpine or Seagull to camp our last night. Supper that night was spaghetti with beans (rehydrated), and smores for dessert. Everyone was stuffed. The boys tried fishing from shore, but were not as successful as at Gillis or Agamok. It probably didn’t help the fishing much when I decided to take a dip for the first time on the trip here either.
Part 6 of 7
Thursday, June 17, 2010 Day Five: Got up, had breakfast of Egg beater torties with bacon bits, Canadian bacon, cheese, and peppers (yummy), and headed out. We began to see more people as we crossed Jasper and Alpine, and also more fire damage. While the fire damage may have seemed a little depressing for many familiar with the forests of the BW, for the two Kentucky boys, it was still a beautiful sight, because of the new adventure they were on. Also, for us, it was refreshing to see and experience something that was new to our BW experiences. It also was good to see the forests regrowing, with tons of blueberries for those who will be up in a couple of weeks. While we thought about camping on Alpine, we figured Seagull would be our best option, so we would have no portages on our last day. That became a reality when, as we crossed Alpine, the sites along the way were either occupied, or burned to the point that they were usable only as a last resort. By the time we got to the last portage, the 100 rod into Seagull, we met several groups, one heading our way, but many others at the landing at Seagull, heading in, one a group of 30, mostly newbie college aged kids who had not split up yet.
The other thing we noticed on Seagull was that the wind was really starting to pick up, so finding a site soon became a priority. It was about the second or third site from the portage that was the first one open, so we took it, an island site. Again, there was a lot of fire damage on this end of the lake, even the islands.
There were not two trees large enough and close enough for hammocks, so it figured my last night would be in a tent, rather than dangling in the breeze and comfort of my hammock. While traveling, we had not bothered to stop for lunch, so once we set up camp, everyone just started grazing on whatever leftover stuff was left in the packs, figuring to do the pizza torties later. By the time we had set up camp, the winds had gotten strong, I took a very cold dip in the Sea of Gull. After drying off, we looked over the map for our route tomorrow across the big water, just as the clouds began to roll in. At first, it seemed the storms would be heading to the north, out of our way, but by early evening we knew we would get wet too. I crawled into the tent for a nap after my swim, but wound up staying there once the rain started. And rain it did. Thunder and lightning, winds, pouring rain, and then calm. And then another round all over again, and then another round of the same. And somewhere along the way, I fell asleep. I was in the middle spot of a Timberline 4, between my brother and nephew. They got pretty soaked from the water seeping in through the bottom, but with the exception of the bottom of my sleeping pad, I stayed pretty dry.
Part 7 of 7
Friday, June 18, 2010 Day Six: Woke up early to the sun rising just over the tree line to the east. Actually, it was a rock line as most of the trees that way were gone.
The wind was already beginning to pick up so, for the first time, we rousted everyone up to get an early start. We broke camp and were on the water by 8:30. The other thing about the storm was that once again, the wind shifted. God came through for us again by changing it to coming out of the southwest, directly at our backs. We surfed across the lake so fast we had to hide behind islands to check our maps to make sure we were heading in the right direction for our landing. Because of those breaks we took, it took us a little longer to get across the lake, but we still hit the boat landing by the Trails End campground about 10:15. What a trip. Within an hour of landing, we hooked up with the other two groups, who were expecting to drive down to Round Lake to meet us. Showers and a few beverages later, we headed to Trail Center for our victory dinner of burgers and malts, then a stop in Grand Marais for gas and some souvenirs, and then a leisurely drive back to Wausau with different cars splitting up as we headed home.
West Round Lake,