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YardstickAngler
member (25)member
  
11/26/2022 02:16PM  
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I am planning my first solo trip in May. This will be my second trip. Last year I did a tandem base camping trip to Ester and can’t wait to return to the BWCA.

I am honing in on a couple routes but having never paddled solo, I won’t be sure of my travel speed and stamina until I get out there. I’m hoping to single portage with minimal gear, but I haven’t done a test packing yet if what I’m planning to bring. With any luck I should be able to do so before permit day.

I’m in pretty solid aerobic shape and feel like last year’s trip went really well, though that was more of a base camp trip with less paddling and portaging. I exercise frequently and spend a lot of time on the rower, hopefully strengthening many similar muscle groups that paddling and portaging targets.

Currently I’m estimating routes via another website based on 6 hours total travel per day and double portaging. Does this sound about right?

I’m entering on a Sunday and leaving on a Saturday. My two favorite route possibilities are:

Missing Link-Frost River-Little Sag-Grandpa-Seagull
Sag-Gijikiki-Cherry-Amoeber-SAK-Ogish-Grandpa-Seagull

Priorities:
-Seclusion. The above is a shell plan, my plan is to stay at some of the more off the beaten path spots along the way.
-Travel, exploration, and challenge, though I still want to be able to enjoy the journey.
-I’d love to catch some fish, especially pike. But it’s not my top priority.
-I want to spend a layover day on Grandpa if possible to try to catch pike there and stage close to the exit for a short final day.
-I prefer to avoid larger lakes and don’t mind portaging, I even enjoyed that last year.

All these factors have me leaning toward the Frost River option. But I want to make sure I’m estimating my abilities somewhere close to accurately before taking on such a route.

 
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11/26/2022 04:20PM  
Certainly ambitious routes for a first solo, but you say you want a challenge. The things you find different from your base camp trip are every day camp set up and take down and searching for an open campsite every day.

Getting sites on desired lakes, especially those with few sites, is getting there early. Late morning to early afternoon. Along that line, counting on a site being open on Grandpa is not a good idea. It is a popular base camp lake. You certainly can go, but plan on enough time to pass through or back track to the two big lakes with plenty of sites.

Portages are likely to be pretty wet in May and you have bunch. If Frost River is high you may be able to float some of the beaver dams.

On the Frost route you have an opportunity to shorten the trip by coming out through Tuscarora Lake. If the Frost beats you up, spending a couple of days on Tuscarora before exiting can turn a grind of a trip into a fine one.

I hope you are planning to rent a solo canoe.

Hope you enjoy your solo!
YardstickAngler
member (25)member
  
11/26/2022 06:44PM  
Yes, I am definitely planning on renting a Kevlar solo canoe.

The daily setup and tear down definitely requires a change of gears, especially since I’ll be doing it all alone. I’m planning to go much simpler in regards to food to help with this, and will be paring down the gear that goes along.

The water levels led to us not getting to Grandpa last year. It might have been possible, but those portages are pretty rough and muddy and we elected to pass on it rather than detour to investigate. Yes, my backup plan would be to find a spot on Sag or Seagull should things go south. I’m a morning person and plan to hit the water early to maximize travel opportunities when the wind is (hopefully) lower and to help with campsite availability.

Last year I went in the week before Memorial Day and am planning on the same week this year. Last year this was a pretty quiet time but contingencies are certainly important.

Options, as you mention, are another reason the Frost River is attractive to me. Knife offers them as well, but with bigger water and a few more people.

11/27/2022 08:41PM  
I've single portaged solo. The food is an issue. Plan on eating almost all dehydrated food, mainly because of space and obviously weight. Cook kit should be a pot, a pocket rocket type stove, and a cup. Long handled spoon is the only utensil you need. One change of clothes for camp. A LW solo tent, sleeping bag and inflatable mat for shelter. Practice your routine when portaging, ie setting your paddle against a tree to grab as you walk by with the canoe and pack on . Make sure you keep a spare paddle secured by easily gotten in your canoe. NO loose stuff, Everything in your pack other than navigation tools.Rent a canoe with a sliding seat for easier trimming. May can be tricky with weather. I've always had good luck. Here's what fits in a CCS Explorer pack. I didn't use the pack pictured
Michwall2
distinguished member(1336)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
  
11/28/2022 08:23AM  
I have not done a solo (yet). But, I think if it were my first solo and only my second time in the BW, I would leave myself more options for lengthening or shortening the trip.

In the area you are looking at my basic loop would be this:

SeaGull, Alpine, Ogishkemuncie, Gabimichigami, Peter, Gillis, Bat, Flying, Gotter, Brandt, and out at Round.

From this here are the extensions I would consider after figuring my first day's travel speed and effort:

A. From Ogish: Hop up to South Arm of Knife and head out to Thunder Point, down to Kekakabic and back to Ogish through the Kekakabic Ponds.

B. From Gabimichigami I would head down to Little Sag instead of Gillis. Loop back to Gillis through Mora, Tarry and Crooked Lakes.

B.1 Extend further through Owl to Tuscarora and out through Missing Link.

B2. Continue your extension from Tuscarora through the Howl Swamp, Hubbub Lake, Copper Lake to Snipe. From there you can go out through Missing Link or Cross Bay Lake entries.

C. Instead of heading down to Little Sag from Gabi - Head to Tuscarora through Peter to Gillis and Owl. From Tuscarora head to Snipe Lake through Howl, Hubbub, an Copper. From there head to Long Island Lake, then to Gaskin though Muskeg, and Kiskadinna. Then out to Poplar Lake through Horseshoe, Caribou and Lizz Lakes.

To me, this sort of "plan" gives you more options to adjust to your needs as a first time soloist.
John Moore
Guest Paddler
  
11/28/2022 10:25AM  
Estimating travel speed and distance is dependent on factors such as physical fitness, experience, weather, environment, equipment and goals. You have 5 months to prepare and evaluate your equipment, procedures and capabilities. Preparation and planning can be as enjoyable as the actual trip.

I am reluctant about making recommendations or predictions for others but I single portage and normally average about 2.5 miles per hour combined time water/ portage.

John


DanCooke
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11/28/2022 12:25PM  
Some folks with their first solo paddling experience take to it and others struggle greatly. I would recommend getting some experience solo paddling, with and without a load.
11/28/2022 01:22PM  
With 17 hrs of daylight that time of year, I like to plan on 15-20 miles per day.
I fish as I go and am usually on the water 10 or more hours between camp sites.
On my late September trip's I may only plan on 10 miles per day.
11/28/2022 09:19PM  
sedges: "....I hope you are planning to rent a solo canoe.
"


What is your thinking on this?
YardstickAngler
member (25)member
  
11/29/2022 12:54PM  
Very helpful responses, thank you.

I’m going to keep up my workout regimen to prepare physically for the challenge. The mental side is definitely an X factor, because it’s my first solo. I’m hopeful the challenges of my daily wild family life, long workouts, and prayer/reading routine will pay dividends, but the only way to know is to go try it. Until I have my packing situation totally locked down, I’m going to plan on double portaging. This will probably be the safest anyway. I’m optimistic that I can hold my own as a paddler, but know that trimming and paddling a solo canoe is a whole new challenge…in addition to navigation. Unfortunately I don’t/won’t have access to try solo paddling until the trip.

Weather is the other unknown, as it is for all of us. We had pretty nice paddling conditions on our trip last year, but who knows what this year will bring? Making a few extra miles on the good days by starting early will hopefully allow me more peace with waiting it out should the weather kick up, especially on bigger lakes.
billconner
distinguished member(8294)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberpower member
  
11/29/2022 06:22PM  
I have not paddled your routes, so can't help there. I did my first solo 10 years as go at age 60 and worry you're overthinking this. Other than first launch, since I'd never been in a solo before, I was fine. I double portage - food/day pack with canoe, large pack and paddle. I average about 3 mph camp to camp roughly measured on the map.

I think you'll do well and be love it.
straighthairedcurly
distinguished member(1659)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
  
11/29/2022 08:57PM  
You have definitely been thinking things through and sound like you are on the right track. I jumped into my first solo at age 56 and I double portage my first year. I hated double portaging! So I spent the next year honing my gear and dropping weight wherever I could. I happily and successfully single portaged on my 2nd solo. I travel with simple dehydrated meals (just add boiling water) for dinner and breakfast and salami/cheese plus trail mix for travel day lunches.

To help me make gear decisions I started weighing my gear and entering it into lighterpack.com
I highly recommend this if you plan to try single portaging. I am always happy to share my gear list link with you.

I use a 50L pack plus a very small daypack for items I want quick access to during the day. I strap the daypack to the 50L at portages. Bungie Dealie Bobs are great for strapping paddles into the canoe (I tie wrap them so they don't fall off after I undo them).

Like you, I tend to seek solitude and have done what some people consider pretty ambitious solo trips for a middle aged woman (Louse River was one). I think your Frost River route is more likely to give you what you are looking for. That area allows a lot of options to shorten or lengthen the loop depending on how it is going. Little Sag is always a worthy lake to visit IMO. Build in some flexibility for wind or weather delays. Wind is more likely to stop a soloist before it stops experienced tandem paddlers. Swamping on a solo has much bigger potential consequences IMO.

Keep enjoying the planning. Trip reports from soloists and the solo forum are great resources.
YardstickAngler
member (25)member
  
11/29/2022 11:48PM  
Thanks for the votes of confidence. I’ve looked at the Louse River a bit too, I like the opportunities for seclusion and challenge there, and it’s a good distance for my trip footprint. What did you think of it? Is it very “boggy” down there?

I tend to over-prepare for most things in life, but I do enjoy the prep and planning process. When running a marathon race, I’ve always said “you have to respect the distance,” and I want to make sure I’m respecting the challenge of this task. No matter how hard I prep, I know Mother Nature holds the cards, and I’ll need to adjust my plan to fit the situation at the time. That is the beauty of the Boundary Waters, as well as both of the areas I’m looking at. Many options.

Thank you again for the encouragement and for sharing your experiences.
Z4K
distinguished member (272)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
  
11/30/2022 11:00AM  
Don't let a bog or two hold you back at this point! I've dreamed/planned of a solo trip with both the Louse and the Frost before, figuring 9 travel days was the minimum required so I'd like to have 12 to do it.

For your proposed Round-Seagull itinerary I would figure a minimum of 6 travel days if I was going to do it solo. 8 or 10 days in total would be ideal. I'd worry about being rushed to do it in 7. My style is on the water early, long days in the boat, double portage, fish while traveling, smell the flowers.

For a 7-day trip I prefer your other itinerary. Beautiful area up there and you'll never be more than 1 big day from an exit point. Concern with a may trip is always that you'll get a good 3-day soaker. Some people don't mind paddling when it's 45 degrees and raining, I'd rather sit under the tarp and read a book.

If I had 7 days to do the Frost river I would figure a day or two hanging out down by Wine and then an exit back to the car at Round Lake, probably through Tuscarora because the packs will be light by then. Save re-visiting Grandpa for another year when you explore those lakes north of SAK as it really doesn't fit with a Frost River trip.
11/30/2022 12:07PM  
straighthairedcurly: "To help me make gear decisions I started weighing my gear and entering it into lighterpack.com
I highly recommend this if you plan to try single portaging. I am always happy to share my gear list link with you. "


+1 for Lighterpack.

As usual, very solid advice from shc.
YardstickAngler
member (25)member
  
11/30/2022 02:16PM  
Z4K: "Don't let a bog or two hold you back at this point! I've dreamed/planned of a solo trip with both the Louse and the Frost before, figuring 9 travel days was the minimum required so I'd like to have 12 to do it.


For your proposed Round-Seagull itinerary I would figure a minimum of 6 travel days if I was going to do it solo. 8 or 10 days in total would be ideal. I'd worry about being rushed to do it in 7. My style is on the water early, long days in the boat, double portage, fish while traveling, smell the flowers.


For a 7-day trip I prefer your other itinerary. Beautiful area up there and you'll never be more than 1 big day from an exit point. Concern with a may trip is always that you'll get a good 3-day soaker. Some people don't mind paddling when it's 45 degrees and raining, I'd rather sit under the tarp and read a book.


If I had 7 days to do the Frost river I would figure a day or two hanging out down by Wine and then an exit back to the car at Round Lake, probably through Tuscarora because the packs will be light by then. Save re-visiting Grandpa for another year when you explore those lakes north of SAK as it really doesn't fit with a Frost River trip."


Great thoughts and I think you’re right. Grandpa seems to be my “white whale,” it just is a tough one to fit in, which is perhaps why it isn’t frequently visited. I want to do some traveling, obviously, but not at the expense of being rushed. I do enough of that in the rat race of the real world.

I looked at doing the Frost and Louse together myself but even I knew that would be too much for a week! Ha. Dream route. I have the maps out now to ponder some time down by Wine. Would have to repeat some lakes on the return paddle, but not too many. Wine sounds like a wonderful spot.

11/30/2022 11:23PM  
Having done a first solo for second trip and been over ambitious, delayed by weather, injury/sickness, and exited a day late - I'll just tell you this: it's easier to add distance than time.

Lots of good advice - options, keep it simple, pack light, etc.
EddyTurn
distinguished member (229)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
  
12/01/2022 01:22PM  
I'd advise against going on a solo trip with no solo paddling experience. Stamina, gear choice, weights etc. are irrelevant compared to once ability to control a boat in wind and waves. Twice so in May.
Dolpho
member (21)member
  
12/02/2022 11:50AM  
I will reiterate some points made so far.. no solo experience and cold water conditions. My advice is create a trip plan that allows bailout/route changes. “You don’t know what you don’t know” Error on the side of caution and consider the trip a learning experience. Try not to create a situation where you get roped into “get there itis “ and have to grind out miles to stay on schedule. You may find yourself completely comfortable in a solo canoe and everything is working out peachy and existing plans are a cake walk or not. Give yourself options. Enjoy the process.
YardstickAngler
member (25)member
  
12/02/2022 01:51PM  
How about these bailout options?

Lakes north of SAK route
Day one: If going poorly, audible to Red Rock-Alpine-Seagull-Grandpa.

Day two: Head toward Hanson, SAK, then lakes south and east of SAK to Seagull. Or backtrack but really I don’t want to paddle on Sag twice if possible.

——

Frost route
Day one: if going poorly, stop on Snipe. Then Long Island. If time, energy, annd weather allows, explore mid-Gunflint area lakes east of Long Island. Don’t go to Frost River, instead exit via Cross Bay or Poplar.

Day two: Could layover and fish on Frost. Or take a layover day on Bologna if site available.

Day three: If the Frost River is completed and my goose is cooked, I could head back toward Round via Tuscarora, considering wind/waves on Tusc.

12/02/2022 06:38PM  
I like the second plan options better - smaller waters than SAG, SAK, Seagull.

First, go to NRS website, scroll to bottom, click Learn Center, type cold water in search. Most of us will generally stay closer to shore if water is cold - air may be warm then, but water cold - especially if solo or even just one canoe. It can be difficult to self rescue and time is of the essence if water is cold.

One upshot of paddling closer to shore is that it's longer than the straight line plan across the lake. Going off the beaten path will generally involve some extra route finding time, lesser used portages, etc. For a little test do the Howl, Hubbub, Copper section between Tusc and Snipe.

I've gone from Cross Bay to Poplar via Long Island. Stayed at Rockwood and took shuttle to entry. Here's an option for you to consider - Missing Link, Tuscarora, Copper, Snipe, Long Island. Multiple ways to go out through Poplar. Options to extend or take side trips.
12/02/2022 08:46PM  
Plan on camping on Frost Lake and getting an early start down the river. Do not count on the single site on Bologna being open. Plan for a very long day and be pleasantly surprised if the site is open.
straighthairedcurly
distinguished member(1659)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
  
12/03/2022 04:05PM  
YardstickAngler: "Thanks for the votes of confidence. I’ve looked at the Louse River a bit too, I like the opportunities for seclusion and challenge there, and it’s a good distance for my trip footprint. What did you think of it? Is it very “boggy” down there?


I tend to over-prepare for most things in life, but I do enjoy the prep and planning process. When running a marathon race, I’ve always said “you have to respect the distance,” and I want to make sure I’m respecting the challenge of this task. No matter how hard I prep, I know Mother Nature holds the cards, and I’ll need to adjust my plan to fit the situation at the time. That is the beauty of the Boundary Waters, as well as both of the areas I’m looking at. Many options.


Thank you again for the encouragement and for sharing your experiences."


Here is my Louse River Solo Trip Report The Louse winds through bogs, but the portages were generally not boggy. Lots of great bog plants to see and photograph, though.
Michwall2
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12/04/2022 04:28AM  
sedges: "Plan on camping on Frost Lake and getting an early start down the river. Do not count on the single site on Bologna being open. Plan for a very long day and be pleasantly surprised if the site is open."


The problem we found with stopping on Balogna is that it will likely be too early in the day. If you start early (which you should), it will only be mid-morning when you paddle past the portage to Bologna. Unless its a lousy, wet, cold, rainy day, you are going to feel like continuing on.
12/23/2022 12:24PM  
EddyTurn: "I'd advise against going on a solo trip with no solo paddling experience. Stamina, gear choice, weights etc. are irrelevant compared to once ability to control a boat in wind and waves. Twice so in May."


While I agree with the sentiment that experience solo paddling a canoe is an important aspect of preparation for your trip, I disagree with the absolutist advise against trying out a solo trip. Everyone starts out a novice and all backcountry trips (canoeing, backpacking, snowshoeing, etc) should be planned to accommodate skill and experience level.

I did my first solo Quetico trip this year without any canoe tripping experience (but lots of backcountry camping experience). I spent as much time paddling locally (Austin, TX) as I could for the six months leading up to the trip, but there is really no way to replicate paddling on the lakes of the Minnesota/Ontario boreal forest without being there. I worked with an experienced outfitter and planned a route that was flexible with plenty of options to sit out wind and water conditions that I wasn't comfortable navigating. I made plenty of mistakes, but I never put myself in a position to risk anything beyond soggy shorts and some embarrassment. I learned a ton (and have a ton more to learn). Best of all, I now have a new passion. My Northwind Solo should be delivered in January and I'm counting the months till I'm back in Ontario.

As long as you're realistic, flexible, and cautious, there is no reason not to try.

Banksiana
distinguished member(2701)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
  
12/23/2022 09:35PM  
Sunburn: "
EddyTurn: "I'd advise against going on a solo trip with no solo paddling experience. Stamina, gear choice, weights etc. are irrelevant compared to once ability to control a boat in wind and waves. Twice so in May."



While I agree with the sentiment that experience solo paddling a canoe is an important aspect of preparation for your trip, I disagree with the absolutist advise against trying out a solo trip. Everyone starts out a novice and all backcountry trips (canoeing, backpacking, snowshoeing, etc) should be planned to accommodate skill and experience level.


I did my first solo Quetico trip this year without any canoe tripping experience (but lots of backcountry camping experience). I spent as much time paddling locally (Austin, TX) as I could for the six months leading up to the trip, but there is really no way to replicate paddling on the lakes of the Minnesota/Ontario boreal forest without being there. I worked with an experienced outfitter and planned a route that was flexible with plenty of options to sit out wind and water conditions that I wasn't comfortable navigating. I made plenty of mistakes, but I never put myself in a position to risk anything beyond soggy shorts and some embarrassment. I learned a ton (and have a ton more to learn). Best of all, I now have a new passion. My Northwind Solo should be delivered in January and I'm counting the months till I'm back in Ontario.


As long as you're realistic, flexible, and cautious, there is no reason not to try.


"


Nice work.
billconner
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12/24/2022 06:08AM  
I'm with sunburn. Just plan carefully with options for shortcuts, etc. Never feel you have to get somewhere if the weather has turned.

 
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