Day 1 of 4
Monday, May 22, 2017 We started our day at 6 a.m. with overcast skies in Duluth, MN. After a cup of coffee and some oatmeal we strapped the canoe on top of my car with ease and just like that we were headed up highway 61 with some Bob Dylan on the radio. We got to the Gunflint Ranger Station around 9:30 a.m.. We watched the video knowing there would be a quiz afterwards. This was not my brothers first time going to the boundary waters, but it was his first time watching the infamous video that the forest service put together. We shared laughs when the man shoos off the black bear that comes wandering into camp, and we wondered how exactly they shot that part of the video. Once we got the permit we went up the shore, and just past Hovland was the Arrowhead Trail. By around 11 a.m. we were on the water with temperatures hovering around 50 degrees with no wind and overcast skies. These were great conditions for paddling. Because of the amount of rain we had received in recent days the water level was high enough at our first portage for us to stay seated in the canoe and just barely coast over the rock bottom of the narrow channel between Little John Lake and John Lake. A short and smooth paddle across John Lake brought us to our first portage. This 210 rod walk through the woods seemed short and pleasant as we were both lively at this point of our trip. At the end of the portage we decided to rig up my brother’s fishing rod and try for some fish. I paddled, and he fished as we moved along the southern shore of East Pike Lake. He had no luck fishing, so after awhile we both paddled to the end of the lake where we were met with a short rain shower as we arrived at our second portage. Before making it to land we crossed paths with two canoeists making their way east across the lake, by the way giving us a heads up that the campsites on West Pike Lake were vacant. This next portage had its ups and down and was a little wetter than the last. Otherwise this 177 rod portage was uneventful. We arrived at the end of the portage where we were met with a great view of the eastern end of West Pike Lake. We enjoyed a nice break here. The mid-afternoon wind that had started up kept us off the lake for fifteen minutes until we decided to keep moving on towards campsite #727. The wind was against us as we slowly made our way along the shoreline then across the lake to our home for the night. We explored our site a bit finding animal droppings and a moose jaw. The tent pads were fairly small, but perfect for two single person tents. Once the tents were set up we warmed up with a fire and some hamburger helper stroganoff style. As the night approached the sun appeared to brighten the final parts of the day before it disappeared until the following morning.
Day 2 of 4
Tuesday, May 23, 2017 We were able to sleep in pretty late the first morning and once we awoke we lit up my MSR whisperlite to make some oatmeal. The sky was overcast, almost exact conditions like the day before, but as we had breakfast one of the strangest things happened. As we scarfed down the delicious oatmeal I heard a loon calling out on the lake and didn’t think much of it. It wasn’t until out of the corner of my eye, where I saw a big brown and white blur swooping down towards the lake, when my attention was caught. The blur turned out to be a bald eagle, and this eagle had seemed to have targeted the loon or maybe a fish the loon had. After all, the bald eagle flew away, and the loon appeared to be in good shape after this quick, but unusual event. Once we finished breakfast my brother casted a few lines off the shore. As we stood on the shore line we noticed something. The day before when we explored the site we found some scat, which we concluded to be bobcat or lynx scat, on the shore line next to some feathers. Again, given we were in the woods, and that is where animals live, we did not think much of this find. But that morning when we were on the shore line we had noticed that the scat that was there the day before had disappeared, and there was new pile of scat within a few feet of the prior. I have a feeling the mystery of what exactly happened to the first pile of scat will trouble me (with some laughs) for quite some time, but it was pretty cool that a bobcat or lynx had been sneaking through our camp without us knowing. After lunch of a peanut-butter and bagel we hopped in the canoe and made our way back east across the lake to the 267 rod portage from West Pike to Pine Lake. This portage was basically through a stream which made for a wet and muddy walk. I remember reading on here (bwca.com) that this portage was particularly rough, but once we finished we both agreed to disagree with the review of this portage being a complete disaster--you just have to be willing and able to get your feet wet. We finished the portage just as a father and daughter were preparing to make their trip through the portage. The nine or ten year old girl first spoke up, and asked me, “Is it long?” with a tone as though she was a bit intimidated with what her father may have told her about it. I then replied saying, “It’s not to long, but you are going to get your feet wet.” After saying that she looked down at her feet, just as my brother and I did. All three of us were staring at a pair of spotless purple Nike running shoes. After that chat my brother talked to the father, and somewhere in the conversation I overheard the father pronounce portage (pordij) as (portaaj). I wondered if he was trying to make a joke, or if he was just new to the lingo of the boundary waters. Either way we wished them well and we moved onto the calm lake awaiting to be paddled. We eventually made it to campsite #735 on Pine Lake. This is where a gray jay was hopping around from branch to branch on a small red pine seeming to meet and greet us to our home for the next couple of nights. We checked out the site, and in no time we had found the few tent pads that were flat, and set up our sleeping arrangements. We then had a dinner of rice & pinto beans, nothing special, but it did fill our stomachs. After some time the gray jay that had greeted us left and then returned with three friends of his own which made some of the funkiest calls I have heard come out of a bird. They were interesting, and seemed to be interested in us for a moment until they slowly hovered from tree to tree retreating back deeper into the woods. Before bedtime we enjoyed a fire and the night sky with a Pine Lake cocktail, and wondered the condition of the young girl's pair of shoes.
Day 3 of 4
Wednesday, May 24, 2017 The morning of the third day was warmer and brighter than the morning before, which helped me get off of the cold ground and out of my sleeping bag a little earlier. Another breakfast of oatmeal made us happy and energized to get out onto water. The first time of the trip the wind was blowing in the direction we were traveling, so we were able to relax a bit and allow nature to do a bit of the work on our way to see what Johnson Falls was all about. Once we reached the western end of the lake we ran into a few people doing the same as us, so we docked our boat and made the short hike to the falls. At this point in time the falls were heavy! With lots of rain, and little sun, the falls poured a lot of water over the presiding rocks which made for quite the feel. The mist was refreshing, and the sound of the falls was loud and unrelenting, which made for a great time. A must see if you are in this area of the woods!
We were happy with our time spent at the falls, so we headed back to our canoe where we were met with a strong headwind as we headed back east across the lake. It felt like we were taking two steps forward and one step back each paddle which deterred our spirits a bit until we decided to check out Vale Lake. We left our canoe at the shore and made the short hike up to the lake where we saw a small water fall and a nice view of the eastern side of Pine Lake. It was nice to be on our feet after that paddle across the lake. Although, we explored the area around Vale Lake looking for a better vista of the surrounding lakes, and sometime during our exploration of the wilderness my map fell out of my back pocket. If you knew me you would know how much I love my maps, but you don’t so just take my word—this frustrated me! We were lucky enough to know our route out of the boundary waters from this point so we weren’t that disabled due to the loss of my map, but it was simply the idea that I let it happen which got to me. NEVER AGAIN! We ventured back down to our canoe and made our way north across the lake to our campsite where we enjoyed the sun. Our camp was located in a part of the woods that had a majority of eastern cedar trees, so we didn’t have much trouble finding dry firewood. On our last night we had some ravioli and relaxed by a hot fire until the sky was filled with stars. I fell asleep to the constant calls of cool ol’ mister loon.
Day 4 of 4
Thursday, May 25, 2017 We got an early start to the day to avoid any wind from the east that might make our paddle less enjoyable. By around 6 a.m. we were on the water, and this was for sure the most beautiful part of the trip. Watching the sun rise while paddling on the calm water was spectacular, the water acted like a mirror reflecting back the trees and the sky, which made for a great time.
The sun was bright that morning which left me with sunburnt hands and face, but the warmth was nice. Along the way across the lake we were constantly barked at by the morning calls of a variety of birds that kept me trying to remember how their call sounded so I could find out what kind of bird they were when I got back into town, but my memory didn’t work so well. We also came across a couple loons that surprisingly allowed us within about five feet of them. This was another highlight of the trip. Their eyes are so red and their colors and patterns are so interesting! We kept chugging along the shore of the lake until we made our way out of the boundary waters and onto McFarland Lake. McFarland had cabins and/or houses scattered across the lake side which got us thinking of how it would be to have one. The terrain and rock surrounding this lake was exciting. Every lake seems to have its own character, and this lake stuck out. It wasn’t long until we were taking our last strokes towards Little John Lake where we flew under a bridge and through the quick moving current between McFarland and Little John Lake; back to where we began. Another very fun, and safe trip to the BW in the books. If you have any questions get in touch with me! Safe travels to everyone... and GET OUT THERE! There is so much to see.