BWCA Solo Trip -- biting off more than I can chew? Boundary Waters Group Forum: Solo Tripping
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pileofleaves
member (15)member
  
09/26/2022 04:41PM  
Hey, all. I'm planning my first solo trek this October. A bunch of my buddies who went with me last October had babies, or pipes burst in their basements, or fill in the blank and can't go this October. So, I'm planning on going it alone in mid-October. But I'm wondering if this route is biting off more than I can chew?

LIS (EP 14), Loon, Slim, Fat, Thumb, Pocket, Ge-be, Oyster, Ruby, Shell, LIS

I've got 5 days, 4 nights with an additional day & night I could tack on if the weather is rough. I plan on single portaging. (And I know that some of those portages are longer - Slim to Fat, Oyster to Hustler, & Ruby to Lynx in particular - but coming from a backpacking background and having portaged the BWCAW a lot before, the portages don't intimidate me.)

What has me really curious is the wind and solo paddling conditions. In a two-person canoe, you can tackle the typical October gales; but soloing has me a bit leery. Most of the lakes are smaller - Loon, Ge-be, & Shell being the exceptions - so the wind & waves won't toss me around as much... theoretically.

Has anyone done this trek before? What's an average solo paddle speed? Is it reasonable to get from the LIS EP to Little Loon in a half day? PP says it's 10.6 miles of canoeing (+portaging) at 3mph. But is 3mph too ambitious for a solo canoer?
 
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09/27/2022 10:32AM  
I did a similar route last fall. Camped my last night on Slim and made it to the EP by mid-afternoon double portaging and traveling with not much urgency. I think I broke camp around ten in the morning. Loon has some decent reach. Winds from the north and west can make things rocky in a solo.

What kind of solo are you paddling?

Its a beautiful area. I was particularly fond of Steep (not on your current route) and if you have the time Emerald is a sweet spot to camp.
 
09/27/2022 12:14PM  
I've done this route and it's very doable. I'd check the weather conditions before leaving to decide which direction to travel. If conditions are good I'd head through Loon the first day. All the other lakes are small enough that I don't think you'd get wind bound. I had some gusty west winds as I crossed Gebe this summer. I bounced around pretty good, took in a little water, but I never felt in danger. Shell has enough islands to give you protection to cross.
 
ockycamper
distinguished member(1375)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
  
09/27/2022 03:26PM  
The word of caution I would pass on is one that was passed to me. We all come with that built in "little feeling in the pit of our stomach". If you have questions about your ability to do a particular route, listen to that inner voice. Its not so much an issue in a group, but it is a huge issue on a solo trip
 
09/27/2022 05:21PM  
FWIW - I Have not done this route but had planned it as my first solo but life happened and I did not get to go. Planned it out as a 5 night trip and thought it doable but a bit aggressive for my ability and fitness level. Maybe in August I would give it a go, but less room for error in October along with less daylight hours.

As it turns out it looks like I have a window and plan to do a solo trip Oct 14-17. Initially I thought maybe I would try the route you discussed but have switched gears and am looking at Crab Lake (EP4) instead, getting a tow across Burntside. May wonder up to Cummings and see how things go.

Like you this will be my first solo. I will be watching weather for final decision. When are you going?

 
Minnesotian
distinguished member(2313)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
  
09/29/2022 08:06AM  


This route was my second solo, almost exactly the same, except I went up to Takucmich Lake after Fat, down Lac la Croix, and then onto Pocket.

It's a good route. Like others have said, Loon can be fierce if the wind is up, but everything else is manageable.

Just be prepared for the weather. Might be sunny and calm and in the 60's on a Monday, then 20mph to gusts of 40mph the next day and highs in the 40's the next with a mixture of sleet, rain, and snow. Trust your rain gear, and make sure you have layers to keep you warm while canoeing under that raingear. I bring wool pants, wool shirt, waterproof gloves, wool gloves, warm waterproof Muck Boots, and a good wool hat.

Finally, since you have been there in October before, you probably know how silent the woods are at that time of year. When you are solo, you will really notice it. No birds chirping, no loons calling, even the red squirrels aren't as noisy. Everything is hunkering down for the long winter. If you aren't used to it, that silence of October can be bizarrely overwhelming.

Have a good trip!
 
Northwoodsman
distinguished member(2057)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
  
10/08/2022 08:52PM  
Not sure what the weather was like for you last year but you could have some really foggy mornings where you can't even see your bow from your seat until 9:00 - 9:30 a.m. This can get you lost quick. You could also be paddling in snow and sleet. You may need sunscreen. You never know. The one thing that got us on a long travel day was the fog. We were ready to go at 7:00 and sat there until 8:45 waiting.
 
pileofleaves
member (15)member
  
10/12/2022 06:42AM  
Banksiana: "I did a similar route last fall. Camped my last night on Slim and made it to the EP by mid-afternoon double portaging and traveling with not much urgency. I think I broke camp around ten in the morning.

Thanks, Banksiana! That does give me a decent perspective!

Loon has some decent reach. Winds from the north and west can make things rocky in a solo.

I've sorta reached that same conclusion: If there's a big wild card, it's the winds & specifically, the winds on Loon.


What kind of solo are you paddling?

I'm renting a Northwind Solo from VNorth.


Its a beautiful area.

Aren't they all? :) I've been particulaly happy how this fall has been - at least for of us in the rest of MN. The weather is supposed to turn cold the day I put in, Thursday - at least 20 degrees colder than Wednesday! :)
 
pileofleaves
member (15)member
  
10/12/2022 06:52AM  
egknuti: I'd check the weather conditions before leaving to decide which direction to travel. If conditions are good I'd head through Loon the first day. ... Shell has enough islands to give you protection to cross."

Great advice! I've was kicking myself last weekend (Oct 7-10), because those were the original dates for my trip - and it was probably the most beautiful October weekend we've had in... forever! But I had an event that I couldn't have missed, so postponed a week. My new dates, Oct 13-17 (hey, that's tomorrow!!) have a projected forecast of 20 degrees colder and lows in the mid 20s. Ah, well. I'm still looking forward to it!
 
pileofleaves
member (15)member
  
10/12/2022 06:56AM  
ockycamper: "The word of caution I would pass on is one that was passed to me. We all come with that built in "little feeling in the pit of our stomach". If you have questions about your ability to do a particular route, listen to that inner voice. Its not so much an issue in a group, but it is a huge issue on a solo trip"

That still, small voice is can be mighty loud at times - especially while solo! We just need to put aside our pride and arrogance and be humble before the Almighty & things that are outside of us, things we can't control.

I did a solo backpacking trip a few years back in the BWCA, the PowWow Loop. I didn't get more that half a day in before I set up camp on Queada Lake (sp?) for the duration my time. The trail was a tough one; still suffering the affects from the blow down. The still small voice told me to find my rest and refreshment at Queada, not continuing on. So, I put down my pride and rested. And it was glorious. :)
 
pileofleaves
member (15)member
  
10/12/2022 07:02AM  
Cricket67: "but life happened

Ha! :) I think we've all been there a time or two.

but less room for error in October along with less daylight hours.

It is sad, each day, to watch less and less daylight. On the flip side, though, you don't have to spend 3hrs hunting for a site - as you might in summer. (Been there, done that.)


As it turns out it looks like I have a window and plan to do a solo trip Oct 14-17. Initially I thought maybe I would try the route you discussed but have switched gears and am looking at Crab Lake (EP4) instead, getting a tow across Burntside. May wonder up to Cummings and see how things go. Like you this will be my first solo. I will be watching weather for final decision. When are you going?

Maybe I'll see you! I'm heading out tomorrow (!!). I plan on putting in around noon/1:00p. My targeted exit date is Oct 17, as well.
 
pileofleaves
member (15)member
  
10/12/2022 07:09AM  
Minnesotian: "This route was my second solo, almost exactly the same, except I went up to Takucmich Lake after Fat, down Lac la Croix, and then onto Pocket.

I've looked in that as well. If things go better than I anticipate and I have oodles of extra time, I might do something like that.


It's a good route. Like others have said, Loon can be fierce if the wind is up, but everything else is manageable.

Loon is the wildcard.

Just be prepared for the weather. Might be sunny and calm and in the 60's on a Monday, then 20mph to gusts of 40mph the next day and highs in the 40's the next with a mixture of sleet, rain, and snow. Trust your rain gear, and make sure you have layers to keep you warm while canoeing under that raingear. I bring wool pants, wool shirt, waterproof gloves, wool gloves, warm waterproof Muck Boots, and a good wool hat.

"Trust your rain gear." Normally, I'm a pretty thrifty guy - but rain gear is one area where I don't skimp. Over the years, I've put together a set of gear that I trust - wool everything. Looking at the weather, there's supposed to be massive cold front coming in today & tomorrow. (I put in tomorrow.) Temps drop 20 degrees, but stay pretty consistently in the upper-30s, lower-40s. Night time drops in to the 20s - all of which I am prepared for... I think... :)

[The] silence of October can be bizarrely overwhelming.

This was something I wasn't anticipating my first October trip, but have come to enjoy. It does get lonely and quite. And with 4 kids, ages 7 and under, I'm used to constant noise. But the solitude & silence... It's almost Divine. :)

Have a good trip! "
 
pileofleaves
member (15)member
  
10/12/2022 07:18AM  
Northwoodsman: "Not sure what the weather was like for you last year but you could have some really foggy mornings where you can't even see your bow from your seat until 9:00 - 9:30 a.m. This can get you lost quick. You could also be paddling in snow and sleet. You may need sunscreen. You never know. The one thing that got us on a long travel day was the fog. We were ready to go at 7:00 and sat there until 8:45 waiting."

I'm prepared for sleet, sun, etc. But I never considered the fog! I didn't run into any last year. (It was overcast and rainy; we didn't see the sun until day 6). When I backpack, fog isn't a hindrance: Pack up camp and continue on the trail - just make sure that you travel in the same direction! But if you can't see the portage at the end of the lake - let alone the bow of the canoe - that would change things!
 
Minnesotian
distinguished member(2313)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
  
10/12/2022 07:44AM  
pileofleaves: "
Northwoodsman: "Not sure what the weather was like for you last year but you could have some really foggy mornings where you can't even see your bow from your seat until 9:00 - 9:30 a.m. This can get you lost quick. You could also be paddling in snow and sleet. You may need sunscreen. You never know. The one thing that got us on a long travel day was the fog. We were ready to go at 7:00 and sat there until 8:45 waiting."

I'm prepared for sleet, sun, etc. But I never considered the fog! I didn't run into any last year. (It was overcast and rainy; we didn't see the sun until day 6). When I backpack, fog isn't a hindrance: Pack up camp and continue on the trail - just make sure that you travel in the same direction! But if you can't see the portage at the end of the lake - let alone the bow of the canoe - that would change things!"


Many a foggy morning I have set a compass heading from my campsite to where I needed to go and launched into the void. It is a very unique experience, but trust the compass heading and enjoy the moment.
 
10/12/2022 12:29PM  
Minnesotian: "
pileofleaves: "
Northwoodsman: "Not sure what the weather was like for you last year but you could have some really foggy mornings where you can't even see your bow from your seat until 9:00 - 9:30 a.m. This can get you lost quick. You could also be paddling in snow and sleet. You may need sunscreen. You never know. The one thing that got us on a long travel day was the fog. We were ready to go at 7:00 and sat there until 8:45 waiting."

I'm prepared for sleet, sun, etc. But I never considered the fog! I didn't run into any last year. (It was overcast and rainy; we didn't see the sun until day 6). When I backpack, fog isn't a hindrance: Pack up camp and continue on the trail - just make sure that you travel in the same direction! But if you can't see the portage at the end of the lake - let alone the bow of the canoe - that would change things!"



Many a foggy morning I have set a compass heading from my campsite to where I needed to go and launched into the void. It is a very unique experience, but trust the compass heading and enjoy the moment. "


One trick I have is to aim just a bit to one side of where you are going. For example: From the campsite to the portage is a 100° heading. Instead of 100°, set your bearing to 90°. When you arrive at the shoreline, just follow it south until to see the portage.

If you try to go directly to the portage and it is not right in front of you when you get to shore, you then are stuck not knowing which way to turn to start looking for it.
 
12/04/2022 11:18AM  
Well pileofleaves... did you make your trip?
 
01/05/2023 10:40AM  
I was curious as well, any trip report? Hoping you had a great time.
 
01/09/2023 01:59PM  
nctry: "Well pileofleaves... did you make your trip?"

Maybe he bit off more than he could chew:)
 
prizes14
distinguished member (175)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
  
04/03/2023 10:22PM  
I do my solos in October also and your plan is doable as long as you don't do much fishing and stick to your plan. I find that time gets away from me with the short days and having to do everything on my own. I don't dink around but it still takes me 60-90 minutes to pack up camp and cook breakfast. I also like to get camp set up and supper cooked before dark so that is another hour off the end of the day.

So you are looking at about 7 hours of travel time per day. If the wind picks up, it is no fun on your own. If you use a tandem canoe, sit in the bottom of the canoe in the middle of it and not in the very back, otherwise you are a weather vain.

Add in a snowstorm or cold rain, like I usually get, and you lose even more time.
 
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