Day 1 of 5
Just like any big trip, the planning began almost a year before the trip itself. I am an avid backpacker, and my usual summer vacation is a week of hiking with my pit bull Delphi. I was looking for a change of pace, and I recalled taking a trip to the BW with my Dad when I was a kid. My friend Ron had been on a couple hiking trips with me, and he also had been up to the BW in years past. When I asked him about taking a trip, he didn't need any convincing. Ron said his friend Dan was also willing to go and he had knowledge of a great part of the BW. So now I need one more person. I immedietly thought of my brother in law Geoffrey. He grew up in Seattle, and has been to the summit of several 14'ers. After asking him about it, he was in. Now that I had my crew, it was time for the actual planning. I contacted an outfitter near Grand Marais to help secure our permits in December. The lottery was in January. Now it was time to wait and hope we got the day we were hoping for. Once I got the email confirming our desired date and entry point, I let the others know and we proceeded to start looking at what gear we had or needed. Luckily, both Ron and Dan each owned a canoe, and we all had our own camping gear, so we didn't need to rent a single thing. Next up, food. On hiking trips, I usually rely on dehydrated meals, as they save weight. On this trip, I figured we could bring REAL food. Dan had an ingenius method of insulating a cooler and keeping food frozen for days. After I calculated costs for fuel, permits, and food, I think each of us had to contribute about $120 for a 5 day vacation. Not bad. Now it was time to simply wait for the big day...[paragraph break] Saturday, August 13, 2011. We actually started out on Friday night. The four of us(Ron, Dan, Geoffrey, and myself), assembled at Ron's house to make any last minute gear checks and load up. Dan was an hour late. Good start. Around 9:00pm we got the canoes loaded on top and all of the gear packed inside(Geoffrey and I are minimalist campers and we were a little concerned about the amount of extra stuff that was being brought), it was time to get Delphi in the van and venture through night from Chicago to Grand Marais on what we thought was going to be a 12 hour drive. Dan and Ron were going to take the first two shifts driving, allowing Geoffrey and I some time to sleep. Sleeping in car is difficult to begin with, but with the amount of gear crammed in the van, i don't think either of us got more than an hour of sleep that night. Since Dan had been up to our entry point a few years back, he was familiar with the route, and a few locations he felt were very important to stop by en route. the first was a gas station near Minong(Dan spoke about Minong so much that Geoffrey and I nicknamed him "Minong") that made the best beef jerky ever. Minong insisted on this. We finally got there around 2 in the morning. It was a normal gas station with mediocre jerky. Starting to question Minong's ability as our trip leader. At the gas station, it was time for Geoffrey and I's turn to drive. At that point, we couldn't help but notice that just about every single service light on the dashboard was starting to light up. The van seemed to be driving just fine, so we figured it to be just an electrical error. Around 5:00am, we stopped at a Perkins just outside of Duluth. $40 for food, but we were all in need of a break from the road. Minong was rather concerned about the van, but we all voted on pushing onward as there was nothing we could do about it. Back in the car, i was able to take a nap. I wake up to the sound of the tires rolling over the rumble strips on the highway. The van had died. Minong called a tow truck who said he could only fit two people and the dog in his truck. Geoffrey and I start walking.
About a mile into the walk, Geoffrey and I get picked up by a very nice elderly couple on their way to their B&B. They drop us off at the nearest town about 5 miles from the van. Once we get out and thank our good samaritins, i get a call from Minong saying the van is getting towed to a ford dealership about two miles back. Time to start walking, again. We get to the dealership just before 8:00. They tell us they can fix the van and all of us including the dog can go to the waiting room. finally get to sleep. About two hours later, the tech told us he replaced the alternater and we could leave. phew... The next step was picking up our permits and then the "Beaver House". Minong had been raving about this place as the best tackle shop ever. Once we arrive in Grand Marais, we park near the beaver house and head in to get bait and fishing licenses.
The big seller was this home made fishing jig this place is known for. We each pick up several of them as well as a ton of leeches and worms. We get our licenses and we are up the Gunflint Trail to East bearskin Lake!!! We finally arrive at the entry point. We were all very relieved at this point. Time to get in the water!!!
Minong and Geoffrey were in one canoe, as Juice and I took control of the boat with the dog in it. We had taken her on a test ride about a month earlier, so we knew that she was going to be a little skittish. East Bearskin is about 3 miles long, and we make it to the portage to Alder in about 3 hours. Now Geoffrey and I are a little frustrated about the amount of gear the other two brought. This portage required way too much time going back and forth transporting stuff and reloading it. Once back in the water, we head to our desired camp site, "The Point". Once we get there, we see it is taken, along with every other camp site. It's now about 4:00pm and we are all tired and a little tense(if you didn't pick up on this already!) We finally find a lousy campsite, which is the furthest one from the portage back to Bearskin. We decide to take it, and look for a better one tomorrow. Now it's time for a cocktail!!!
After an amazing steak dinner, we clean up and get ready to go to bed. Hopefully the trip starts to get a little better tomorrow... East Bearskin Lake, Alder Lake
Day 2 of 5
Sunday, August 14, 2011. After a great nights sleep, we all awake to a beautiful sunrise, and mosquitoes, lots of mosquitoes. The plan for the day was to find a better camp site and start fishing. After eating breakfast, we load up each canoe with a tarp and some rope to erect a makeshift tent to claim a site. We get in the water and beeline it straight to "The Point". No one is there!!! It's Ours!!! We quickly inspect the site and claim it as our own. This would be our home for the next three nights. Time to head back to the previous site to pack up and move out. From site to site, it's about a two mile paddle. We had to do this three times with the dog in the boat. Once we got all of the gear to our new home, i was pretty much done being in a boat for the day.
The plan for the day was to fish the day away. Geoffrey and I fished from shore for a while, but decided to venture out in the canoe in hopes of actually catching fish. Neither of us were professional anglers by any means, so we each came with a bunch of lures that we didn't know anything about. After a few hours of fishing, we were quite proud of the one smallie we came back with. Ron and Minong returned with two smallies and we all agreed that the fishing was dismal at best. Regardless, we cleaned the fish and had a mini fish fry. I was rather suprised at how little meat was actually recovered from each fish. It was now time to make a real meal and relax for the rest of the evening around the fire with some cigars and some of Ron's "Jungle Juice". BTW, Ron's nickname for the rest of the trip became Juice, as every three hours, he felt the need to make more. The plan for tomorrow was to head to Johnson Falls. After a much better day, we all had our fill of Juice's juice, and headed to bed.
Day 3 of 5
Monday, August 15, 2011. We woke up a little hungover. It quickly disappeared upon gazing at the beautiful sunrise and the anticipation to get to the falls.
We packed up only the essential gear for a day trip, and headed to the falls. We had to portage to a small lake to get to the Johnson falls portage. The mosquitoes were insane. I had heard stories of the mosquitoes up here, but dealing with them firsthand was ridiculous. Bug spray didn't seem to repel them at all, i actually think they like it. We finally got to the Johnson Falls portage and ditched the canoes off to the side, hoping no one will tamper with them(no one did). I am an avid backpacker who doesn't mind carrying a full pack for miles at a time, but i couldn't fathom the thought of transporting a canoe on this trail. It was long, steep, and rocky, and full of switchbacks. Good thing it was just a day trip. Once we got to the falls, WOW!!! There were the lower falls and the upper falls. Both were incredible!
After spending a couple of hours at the falls, we decided it was time to head back. It's a good thing we came when we did, because upon our exit, we crossed path's with about 15 people heading to the falls. We had the falls all to ourselves. We finally got back to "the point" and nursed all of our bug bites. Geoffrey had a rather large cut on his back obtained from climbing into the waterfall. Got him cleaned up and set up shop to fish from shore. Didn't catch anything but we didn't really care, we were on vacation. Made dinner, and went to bed.
Day 4 of 5
Tuesday, August 16, 2011. Today, Minong wanted to go to a Lake that was one portage north of us. He said it is full of fish because no one heads there due to the big portage. Geoffrey and I had no desire to do another portage like that and try to catch fish with a nervous pit bull in the boat. We sent them on their way and put some camp chairs in the water and proceded to fish from shore. Lazy, yes, comfortable, yes, bugs, no, perfect!
After about 6 hours of lounging in our camp chairs perched in the water, we caught 4 decent size smallies. We both decided that leeches were the best bait up here, and those crap jigs we got at the beaver house were a waste of money. Juice and Minong were gone, so it was just Geoffrey, Delphi, and I. so quiet, so perfect, time for a nap. I awake to hearing Minong and Juice struggling to aim the bow of their canoe towards our site. It was obnoxious at first, but i couldn't help but laugh at their inability to work together. Geoffrey and I help them land their boat as they proudly boast their string of bass. One was friggin huge. We all respected our collective catches and proceeded onto what we called the "Bass Genocide"(it's on YOUTUBE). I had never filleted a fish before, but Minong had. Geoffrey has served as a head chef at several 5 star restaurants on the west coast, so he had the best technique. Minong, Geoffrey, and I all cleaned the fish while Juice made some juice.
Needless to say, we ate fish for dinner, and a lot of it. We fried some, and grilled some. Geoffrey brought some OLD BAY seasoning, and it was perfect. What wasn't perfect was that a storm was brewing. It came and went quickly, but dropped a LOT of water on us. Luckily we erected a communal shelter a waited it out. At one point, we all decided to go to bed, but i wasn't done yet as this was our last night on "the point". From my tent I asked if anyone was up for a night cap, and we all agreed. We spent a couple more hours enjoying our last night at this campsite with some of Juice's juice, cigars, and Geoffrey's ipod. We had so much fun talking about all of the crap we went through to get here, the fishing, and simply making fun of each other.
The plan for tomorrow was to portage back to East Bearskin and get the campsite that is located just off of the portage. After a few more jokes and a shot of whiskey, we all headed to bed.
Day 5 of 5
Wednesday, August 17, 2011. Sadly, we awoke to our departure from this wonderful campsite, but the sunrise couldn't have been better.
We packed up our gear and sadly left our perfect campsite, heading to east bearskin for one more night, and then on the road back to Chicago. Once in the canoes, we noticed the winds were picking up, A LOT. Fortunate for us, we had a lot of tree cover, and our desired campsite was available and painless to get to. Upon arriving at this campsite, it wasn't great, but suitable for one night. Once we set up shop, the winds picked up. White caps and no condition for anyone to be in a boat. We were 3 miles from the East Bearskin Lodge. Apparently, 7 of their guests rented three canoes and decided it would be a good idea to venture out in these hazardous conditions. We witnessed one of the canoes flip both passengers into the water. Eventually, we played host to all 7 stranded guests after assisting them to our site(we got kinda wet). Two of them attempted to paddle back to get help. Failing miserably at first, they were eventually able to get to help. After a couple of hours of entertaining our new friends(they loved Delphi), a motor boat from the lodge arrived to rescue them. The guy in the motor boat was astounded by the fact that they got to our campsite, he turned out to be the owner. He thanked us and offered us a free shower in his lodge's bath house once we exited the next day. After all of the excitement for the day, we made dinner and hit the hay, planning on an early start the next day. Sure enough, Geoffrey woke me up at 5:00am. We packed up and got to our exit point at 8:30am. We then headed to the lodge for our free shower. it was AWESOME! We thanked the lodge and they thanked us, and then we got in the car and headed home. About 3 hours into the drive back home we stopped for a burger and a beer in Minong. The beer was good, but the burger was mediocre. After another 9 hours(Juice forgot he was suppose to follow the GPS, and set us a little off course), we made it back home. I think we were all ready to get away from each other, but as i look back on it, a connection grew between the four of us(even the dog).
The BWCA is an amazing place that that cannot be appreciated until visited. Sure there are bloodsucking bird-size mosquitoes and flies, but there are also amazing experiences to be had here.