Day 1 of 7
We put in on a gray misty morning from the dock at Seagull Outfitters. With all the damage from the Cavity Lake fire, the lake looked like the face of the moon through all the gloom. Wind picked up as we were crossing the most open section of the lake on the way to the Alpine portage. It naturally thundered a couple of times, too, just then. The thunder quit as we made our way toward land, but it was pretty breezy and the waves were starting to whitecap. We reached the portage just as a ridiculously large group of teenagers were coming down from Alpine. I winced a little as a girl threw down an aluminum canoe on the rocks are the side of the portage and started complaining loudly. The portage climbs over a rather low hill, and is for the most part flat and dry. No trouble there. Ran into a group of kids I had known before I graduated from college at the end of the portage. Very random encounter. [paragraph break] We shoved off from the portage to a calm lake, and had a scenic paddle around the west end of the lake on the way to the portage. It was starting to rain. There was a little confusion as we reached the Jasper portage. The portage was somewhat washed out at the base of the falls, and looked suspiciously like a fifteen foot drop of steep rock. Finally decided it was the portage and landed on some very slick loose rocks just as another group was coming down. We were all sliding around, trying to unload the canoe, and generally get the heck out of the way. One of the guys in the other party came down and dragged out our gear pack to give us a hand. I was grateful. The landing was very shallow and slimy, full of rocks that were just waiting to eat the kevlar canoe. So if you every end up reading this, thanks again! [paragraph break] Aside from the bit with the exposed rock, the portage was somewhat muddy but overall short and easy. We discovered on this portage that it was going to be up to me and my stern paddler to carry the brunt of the weight, as the girl we had along couldn't even handle the kevlar canoe. We paddled halfway up Jasper into a headwind. It was getting rougher and the light was getting lower as the cloud cover intensified. We opted to stay on Jasper. Jasper was also pretty toasted by the fire. With no real trees to hang our tarp, we slung it low from the few saplings remaining, aided by a paddle. Just in time. It started to pour. We crouched together under the tarp eating sausage and cheese. During a lull, I located the latrine, which was way up the shoreline, past a long stretch of wet, widowmaking boulder. With no trees to hang from, I stashed the food pack far away, a la Cliff Jacobson. We pitched the tent and fell asleep in the rain early.
Day 2 of 7
Woke up with my arms numb. Turns out the tent pad wasn't as flat as I'd initially thought, and all the blood was in my upper body. Outside a duck quacked right next to the tent. I took that as my cue to get up. Fished a little right off the site, and caught a couple of smallmouth. One had some of the most handsome color I'd ever seen. We broke camp and set off toward Ogish. The portage from Jasper to Kingfisher is short and easy, with a wide sandy landing at each end. After a short paddle down Kingfisher we portaged to Ogish. I nearly lost the canoe at the top of the portage when the wind caught the bow and whipped it away from me. The put in from the portage was murder, at the top of a rapids into a howling wind. It was very tough going. Another group of young guys were paddling steady with us most of the way, and I was glad to see we were all struggling. The lake looked more like a river. With some difficulty we made it to the open section on the southwest end of the lake, only to find it boiling with whitecaps. I wasn't interested in capsizing, not to mention we were bone tired of fighting the wind. Canoe trips are supposed to be fun, right? The fire spared most of Ogish, with tree cover returning about a third of the way down the lake. The trees were in good shape from there west on our route. We made camp just before it started to pour rain again. Ate a little, hung the food pack. It was around that time, staring up into trees in the cold rain, with it running down my face and into the back of my jacket that I decided bear canisters would be an excellent investment. We called it a night.
Day 3 of 7
We woke somewhat late the next day and chose to stay. The lake still looked like a river. Good decision, the wind didn't let up until six that evening. I fished some from shore. The site had a shallow sandy landing, so I wasn't surprised I didn't have any luck. Around noon I built the only successful fire of the whole trip, frying pancakes, sausage and quesadillas. It rained on and off all day. The wind calmed down in the evening and we enjoyed a peaceful supper on shore with a stunning sunset.
Day 4 of 7
The lake that had been rough as all get out the two previous days was like glass when we put in early. It took us only fifteen minutes to paddle all the way to the Annie portage. A short and extremely flat portage to a tiny muddy lake. Up to Jenny Lake after another flat easy portage. Across Jenny, where our one friend who had never stern paddled before gave it a shot. She was not so good, but it was a small lake and we had a good time helping her learn to J-stroke and so forth. The portage from Jenny to Eddy was unusually dark, I couldn't tell whether it was the clouds or the tree cover or both. It followed a scenic little creek down to the next lake. There was one point almost at the muddy Eddy landing that was hairy: steep, rocky, and wet. (On the return trip, we helped each other hand up the canoe over that stretch rather than risk falling trying to have one of us carry it.) The Eddy portage to Knife was also no trouble. For a second, I though the current down into the falls was going to be a problem. At Knife we met a group trying to dry foot with kevlar canoes. I though a couple of times there were going to go into the drink, but somehow they made it out with all of their stuff, which was in random dry bags and scattered totally yard sale across the end of the relatively wide portage. They must have quadruple portaged, with one young lad coming back to pick up the forgotten toilet paper that we had rescued from floating away when they left it in the water. I laughed myself silly once they were gone. By this time it had started to rain, and the wind had picked up. We chose to paddle toward a portage that would cut off the west end of the South Arm, to make up some time for our unexpected layover day. Knife was a beautiful lake, with such clear water. We made camp on a point just before Ottertrack. The wind blew and it poured rain all night, skunking my attempt to fish, again. Tempers ran a little high that night, and we ultimately decided not to try to risk paddling up Ottertrack and across Saganaga with the weather as it was, too few campsites along the way and steep shorelines.
Day 5 of 7
When I woke, I could hear the rain and wind in the trees. It felt like a bad omen. We headed back to Ogish. The morning was thankfully relatively calm, although it did rain. I slipped trying to load the canoe AND defend it from a pointy looking rock on Annie. The only fall on the whole trip, but I fell right off the landing rocks and into the lake. An unexpected swim in Gore-Tex rain pants, which I think could have been much worse. By the time we reached Ogish, however, it felt like a recurring nightmare. That same scene across the southwest section of the lake: wind whipping up whitecaps, and once again, coming straight at us. We decided at that point that the Boundary Waters gods had officially cursed us, to face the same lake in a wicked headwind in two separate directions within two days of each other. We paddled east, trying to use the islands there to break the wind up, which worked pretty well. The spaces between the islands were interesting, paddling almost due north or south to keep from getting broad sided. I chose a site in an inlet, that I had hoped would shield us from the brunt of the wind as it was still raining and was getting frankly pretty cold. Turns out, the inlet just served to funnel the wind right into the campsite. It was getting late, though, and was too rough for us to try to push on. Strung a fluttering tarp in the rain, can't even remember what we ate. We sought refuge in the tent early, though, and sandwiched the cold one between us. Thank God for down sleeping bags. I was toasty in no time, and fell asleep before the others.
Day 6 of 7
Hands down our hardest day. I had hoped the weather would be better for our paddle up Ogish, but the best improvement I could see standing there in the rain was that there were merely waves and no whitecaps. We broke camp and had a heck of a paddle up that wind blown inlet out into the open part of the lake, which was thankfully less rough. There was a moment when I think we all wanted to turn back, but I lost my hold on the tree that was anchoring us on the leeside of an island, and we had no choice but to paddle on or get broadsided trying to turn the canoe. Around that time I nervously started singing the Oscar Meyer weiner song in a low voice, just to keep my mind off of the wind and effort, and miraculously, it did an excellent job of raising everyone's spirits, so we sang other songs to each other all the way up the lake. I apologize to anyone who heard the singing. We tried to be quiet. When we made it to the portage landing to Kingfisher we all hugged and congratulated each other. I never wanted to see that lake again. Jasper was an easy paddle, but the wind was blowing southeast across Alpine, and we needed to paddle northeast. We made good use of the islands again, but got blown into a small bay where we had to paddle getting broadsided in shallow water to make it around a point to the portage. Since I am more muscle than technique, I had been bow paddling most of the way to give us some good anchor strokes and made the mistake of hanging the map around my neck to keep from losing it. In the wind, the case was flying like a banner in the wind, and twisting all around. By the time we got to the portage, I was half choked with rope burn (strap burn?) across the side of my neck. We made camp at the first site past the Alpine-Seagull portage. It was the first sunny afternoon we had the whole trip, and the first chance we'd had to dry all of the clothes that had been wet for one reason or another most of the trip. There was a fine sunset, and I was happy to have supper in dry clothes.
Day 7 of 7
We woke up early and paddled across Seagull, basically at first light, counting on the morning to keep the big water calm for us. It was an easy uneventful journey aside from a motor boat that crossed paths with us OUTSIDE of the motor area, and gave us an unpleasant ride on their large wake. We took out at the outfitters, showered up, and headed for some lunch in Grand Marais. Overall, some less than ideal weather. But hopefully, the bad karma from this trip will mean a good one next time. And will have bear canisters along next time for the burn zones. Safer for us and for the bears!