Four Old Girls Tackle the BWCA
8-22-09 We arrived in Ely, MN, in the late afternoon and went immediately to Voyageur North Outfitters. This trip to the BWCA has been a long time in planning and we were anxious to meet the folks we'd been talking to via e-mail for a year. Once welcomed and checked-in we toured around the town (lovely!), stood in front of the web cam so our friends and relatives could see we'd arrived, and toured the North American Bear Center (very educational!). We spent the evening doing laundry and sorting clothes for what to take into the BWCA (we'd been on the road for a week already).
8-23-09 Our day began with paperwork, being fitted for paddles and life vests, learning how to lift and carry a canoe, buying fishing lures for walleye, and going over BWCA and "Leave No Trace" dos and don'ts. We spent the afternoon shopping in Ely, visited the International Wolf Center and the "Rootbeer Lady's Museum", and eating ice cream. After dinner, we packed our personal gear in VNO packs and had lessons in how to work the "Spot" and satellite phone, and met our guide, Andy Creevy. We are ready!
Monday, August 24, 2009--Entering the BWCA!
8-24-09 We were up at 5 AM and ready to leave for Entry Site #16 at 7:15. Actually, we were ready at 6:30, but the appointed time was 7:15. It took an hour to drive from Ely to Entry Site #16 along progressively more primitive roads but, at last, we arrived. Canoes and an unbelievable amount of gear were unloaded from the van. Our "first" portage was the 160 rods from our drop point to the actual Entry Site #16, Moose River. Having an excess of energy, we all grabbed something and made short work of transporting gear and the 2 canoes provided by VNO down to the Moose River. Andy supervised the loading of the canoes and we were ready to start. Judy and Debra were in the double canoe. Andy gave Debra the 30-second course in steering a canoe and they were off--in somewhat of a zigzag course, but upright and on the water. Andy put me in the bow, Diana in the middle, and he took steering in the triple canoe. Then we were off too. We had an exhilarating paddle for about 5 minutes before coming to our 2nd portage (the first "real" portage)of the morning. The portage along Moose River was only 20 rods, so we whipped the gear and canoes across the portage and continued up the Moose River to our 3rd portage, also on Moose River. We entered Nina Moose Lake and crossed it, stopping at a sandy beach for a break and much appreciated snack before entering Nina Moose River. We had 2 portages on Nina Moose River, a 70 rod portage and a 100 rod portage. Maybe we were just tired, but this last portage seemed really long. At this point, I decided that portaging was akin to backpacking with a very ill-fitting backpack and considerably more weight than the 30 pounds I'd normally carry in my pack. Portaging is the pits!
Although all the scenery we've seen is very pretty (we asked for a route rich in scenery), I think we enjoyed this river the most today with its wild rice, white and yellow water lilies, and quiet reflections. It was definitely what we were thinking we'd see up here. All that was missing was a moose. A majestic bald eagle flew right over us and we saw several more in the distance, though, so we didn't miss the moose too much. The day was sunny and pleasant.
Leaving Nina Moose River, we entered Lake Agnes just as the wind came up. There were some 1 to 1 1/2-foot white caps on the lake. We had to paddle across the lake, so this made for some harder paddling than we'd experienced so far. The first 2 campsites were occupied, but Andy guided us to the 3rd site, a nice one on a point. Having stopped enroute to gather some wood from an old beaver house, Andy quickly got a fire going so we could have some cocoa and a late lunch before setting up camp. The nice thing about having a guide (other than not getting lost) is that he gets the camp set-up and does the cooking. We had discussed whether or not to hire a guide. It more than doubled the cost of our trip and we were not sure we really needed a guide. Judy and I are comfortable with map and compass (at least on land) and we've done a fair amount of wilderness travel, Judy had a good GPS unit with appropriate maps, and we had rented a satellite phone from VNO as the ultimate back-up if all else failed and we really got lost. In the end, our husbands decided that a guide was a good safety net, so we hired one. As we look back at our trip, we are glad we hired Andy. We would have been able to manage by ourselves, but we would not have traveled nearly as far as we did and doing all the camp work would have made the trip considerably harder for us physically, particularly putting up the tarp and gathering firewood. Neither of these items are normally part of our backpacking experiences. Andy is also a great cook. After a day's paddling, it is great to have someone prepare dinner for you!
After our late lunch, we put up our individual tents and explored our camp area. One of the first things we were introduced to was the latrine. We'd seen photos of them in several BWCA books, but the "real thing" is rather stark. I guess the best that can be said is they all had nice views of the woods. Debra warned us all to be careful as she slipped and almost fell in--not a pleasant thought. We had dinner around 5:30--grilled chicken, mashed potatoes and corn with strawberry cheesecake for desert. We'd brought a box of wine with and toasted our first day in the BWCA. I used the sat phone to call my husband and let him know we'd survived the first day and he said our "Spot" was working. We had not planned to take a "Spot", but we had a $20 credit and VNO said many people found them quite useful, so we took one with us. As it turned out, "Spot" was more useful than the sat phone. Not long after dark, we were curled in our sleeping bags sawing up a lot of lumber.