Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

The Gunflint Shows Its Beauty, Again
by Boppa

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 08/30/2009
Entry & Exit Point: Lizz and Swamp Lakes (EP 47)
Number of Days: 6
Group Size: 2
Trip Introduction:
Some random introductory thoughts: 1. We flew into Duluth again this year and were able to manage better flight times but the price has jumped considerably and it was a very tight schedule. Our rental car flap with Hertz last year at the airport was averted this year. This year we used Travelocity and Alamo; everything went smoothly and much cheaper. We will use both again. 2. The ride from Duluth to Grand Marais is really quite nice. We enjoy this ride very much, as it starts to put us in a canoe tripping mode. The occasional views of Lake superior are awesome and greatly enjoyed. 3. On our last two BWCAW trips we have encountered great solitude, one time it was expected, the other time it just "happened". A concern for us this time was that we were entering the BWCAW through a very popular entry, #47. We questioned would our overall experience be diminished in encountering a larger number of other canoe trippers? Well, we are pleased to say that it did not diminish our trip experience at all. We think because a) we expected to see more people and did; b) most trippers were very respectful of each others "space". We appreciated this courtesy and I think it's a good sign overall for trippers. 4. We had a very wet summer in New England this past summer and actually chose to cancel two shorter canoe trips to the Adirondacks, as staying under a tarp the majority of a long weekend loses its luster fast. With our yearly trip to the BWCAW, canceling is not an option so we know we deal with whatever weather we are dealt. Upon our arrival in Duluth, it was raining. As we drove up the Gunflint Trail, the road was still wet and with numerous puddles. We knew the BWCAW had a wetter than normal summer as well, just from the lack of fire ban post/threads on this site. That was OK with us, since our last two BWCAW trips have been under a fire ban. But not this year; firewood gathering was on the agenda. 5. We made a couple quick stops in Grand Marais for purchases (hand sanitizer, liquor) and arrived at Rockwood Outfitters about 4:30PM. We quickly find Mike and begin to catch up, eventually Lin is able to join us. It was good to see them both, but it had been a long day for them. The two days of rain had finally stopped but the 3 " of rain had a number of trippers come out early, creating a long day for them. Also, Lin had been tending a pet cat that was in its last hours; most of us know how hard it is to lose a long time house/family pet. We felt sorry for them. 6. Our packs were ready for us to make our personal adjustments, adding and substituting some of our gear, shipped earlier to our outfitters by UPS. We want to have it already for a 6:15AM departure Sunday morning. We take off to purchase leeches at The Ugly Baby bait shop and then dinner at the Trail Center. A good meal is had, as expected, on our short drive back we see foxes at two different spots. Our first wildlife sightings... we are in bed before 10:00PM for our early start.
Day 1 of 6
Well, the watch alarm may have gone off at 5:00AM but we never heard it. I awoke on my own at 5:45AM. We move quickly, take our last hot showers for a while, dress and while I go to store some items in the car, I noticed the windshield has enough frost on the windows to scrape, WOW, and this is still August. As we walk down to the equipment building we ease up a bit as there is a thick fog across Poplar Lake and I know I need to wait till the fog begins to lift to find my way around/thru the islands. We choose a canoe, a Souris River Quetico 17, carry it down to the lake, put the packs in and trim it off. As we look out onto the lake the fog has begun to lift, so compass in hand, we are off by 6:45AM; not bad.

Mike's directions and compass headings to the portage are dead on and as we approach the far side of Poplar Lake an Eagle flies low over our heads. We take this sighting as a good omen. The portage is easy to find. It is an easy take out and our first portage (50 rods) to Liz Lake is a quick climb and then a nice level walk to be enjoyed. The put in at Liz is easy as well. As we paddle along this narrow little lake we have two otters cavorting 20 feet away, just enjoying themselves and basically ignoring us. A muddy landing greets us, but things are off to a great start, the sun is out and we are alone, except for the wildlife, so far. We take the portage (70 rods) to Caribou Lake, again, a nice walk, a few muddy spots but nothing to fret about or slow you down leading to a fine put in at Caribou. We are immediately struck by the beauty of this lake as we sit and enjoy the pastry Lin provided. We understand now why so many choose to make this lake their destination; it is beautiful. Paddling off, we notice a site directly across from the portage. It is empty, as are the next three sites, all decent looking sites. We decide to look for the Swamp Lake portage as our site exploring has taken us in that direction. We find it, a little hidden by our angle, but findable. So far we see only one site occupied, and suspect from all the footprints going in the opposite direction on the portages that the heavy rains of Friday and Saturday took their toll. We continue to paddle to the 25 rod portage to Horseshoe Lake, another easy take out and put in.

Another BWCA gem unfolds from a wide to narrow lake that shallows out in many sections, making it a moose attractor, with a lot of aquatic vegetation and a few long arms to explore. No wonder the moose like calling this home. We pass four campsites on our way to Vista Lake, three are empty and the fourth is occupied by a noisy group of guys; heard them yelling in conversation hundreds of yards away, glad we are continuing on. The sun is getting stronger, we are going along just fine and another eagle flies by, this is almost surreal. We find the portage to Vista and have our first rocky take out. Although short (21 rods), it has a lot of rocks to step over and work around. It is an equally rocky put in on Vista so I wet-foot the canoe out a little deeper. I know we are starting to sound like a broken record but Vista is a pretty lake, so many seem to have there own character and identity, they just beg to be paddled. All loaded up, we head to the southerly arm to check out an often mentioned preferred site. As we paddle to the side of an island my Bow Partner uses her monocular to confirm some disappointing news. Trippers are walking around on the site so we quickly go to plan B and head over to the western site in the same arm. Well, lets just say we are not impressed. It has a so-so take out/put in, a steep walk up to the fire grate, an unimpressive view and nothing to savor for a tent pad site. We have a quick snack and develop plan C, which has us going back to Horseshoe Lake where I have heard of a great one pad site that is seldom used. As we get into the canoe and paddle over to get behind an island to block a little wind we notice that a canoe has left the other site. My Bow Partner glasses them and confirms that their packs are in the canoe . I make a direction shift and as we come to voice distance, their bow paddler yells over that if we are indeed looking for a site they are leaving and "it is a good one". We thank them and head over to it. We agree completely, site #771 is a keeper, it has a good landing, great view, a sunning rock, great tent pad and wood left at a nicely set up fire grate. Sometimes it pays to be lucky for if we had awoken on time and had no fog we would have been much earlier and probably never have gotten this nice site.

Camp set up goes quickly and well. I like the Mountain Alps tent that Rockwood Outfitters provide, it goes up easily, affords us plenty of room and proved its water shedding abilities on last years trip. I locate two suitable trees for the food bag hanging and we don't bother with the tarp since the weather and forecast are next to perfect. We gather some more wood for our steak dinner, along with butter potatoes and corn. A great meal to end our near perfect first day back in the BW. The anticipation of returning is already satisfied, and with smiles, we are in the bags by 9:30PM.