Last Trip of the Season
Its 4:00 am, I’m up before the alarm which I set for 4:10. Coffee on, I load the rest of my clothes in the truck and I come in the house and my wife comes into the kitchen to tell me good bye and be careful. Dakota, our Chocolate Lab, also gets up to say good bye. But I can tell he isn’t interested in coming with me. I head out of the driveway at 4:27am, stop to fill up gas; No the price hasn't gone down overnight. I should have filled up last night to save time. I head east on Hwy 2 and stop in Grand Rapids for a mug of coffee and then keep going towards Ely on Hwy 169. Its easy going, canoe is securely tied down to the rack in the bed of the truck, no wind, nor traffic to contend with. I take my time, and hit Ely around 7:45.
Most places are still closed, no tourists that I can see, just a few people going to work. I stop in at the Coffee House for one more cup of coffee; "I’ll pay the price later, I’ve consumed way too much for one day." While grabbing the coffee, I see a couple of computers and think of logging on and checking my email, but decide I want to be on the water by 9:00, and besides, I’m on VACATION. I head out the Fernberg road towards Lake One and Entry Pt. #30.
I do the self registration, which is required between Oct 1 and May 1, then un-strap the canoe and take a pack down to the water. There is ¼” of ice along the shoreline. It’s 25 F. "What am I doing? No one else is in the parking lot. Am I crazy?"
I’m ready to head out but I can’t remember where I put my reading glasses. I want to do some reading and writing, so they will help me when I’m trying to do this by headlamp in the evenings. “Where did I put them”? I look in my fanny pack – NO Must have left them in the truck. So I walk back to get them. NO, but I do find my sun glasses. Back to the canoe! Yup, they are in the Duluth Pack. Oh well, 10 minutes wasted but its only 9:00. Time to get going. I plow thru about 30 yards of ice to get to the open water. Not too bad.
I decide to head thru Confusion Lake. A few short portages and it’s a pretty straight shot into Lake One. They must call it Confusion Lake because it’s easy to get turned around if you aren’t paying attention. I take a look at my compass and map. No problems. Actually this Entry Pt is on the Kawashi River, so my first portage is actually into Confusion Lake. (A finer thing on the map, from reading it more closely). The four portages I do quickly, they are from 17 – 40 rods, all pretty easy. Just a wee stretch of the legs. ?
I had planned on taking only 1 pack, but this being so late in the season; I decided to take extra clothes. Just in case it gets cold or the weather forecast changes quickly. Before pushing out, I had distributed my gear between the two packs so there were a little more evenly matched for weight. Both ended up being pretty light. I guess I finally packed for a trip where I don’t completely go crazy and take too much food. I’m not on any kind of timetable, so I will double portage and relax. I can allow my mind to wander and my body to unwind. As I enter into Lake Three, I continue to paddle along, thinking about work, the office, staff and things still sitting on my desk. I’m thankful to have good staff so I can get away. (Now I wish I could clear my mind of work). I have been trying since the beginning of October to get up here, but with work commitments, the World Handball Tournament and especially the bad weather, I didn’t think I would make it. On Monday when I looked at the forecast, I said to myself; it’s this weekend or never. I even sent out a couple of invitations to friends, to see if they may want to go. Both were busy, but I really was looking forward to a Solo trip anyway, so it worked out. As I paddle along I think of the wolf I saw this morning, right on the edge of the highway about 10 miles out of Ely. He was having breakfast on a deer carcass, but as I went by he came up out of the ditch and I watched him in my rearview mirror. He seemed to be following my truck, so I slowed down thinking I could maybe get a picture of him. As I slowed down, he decided to high-tail it into the woods. Guess he was camera shy. As I approached the Lake 4 area, I could feel that my shoulders aren’t in paddling shape, a little fatigue was beginning to set in. Very different exercise than what I normally do. I took out my GPS, to see how fast, or slow, I was progressing, and without too much effort, it registered 3 mph. Not too bad.
As I paddle down across the lake, I remember a campsite on the southern portion of the lake, which is close to the Pow Wow Trail. Looking at the map, I see its location and decide that might be a great place to camp. It would also allow me close access to Horseshoe Lake and the Wilder Lakes. Staying at this campsite will also afford me the opportunity if I choose, to take a hike along the trail or just continue paddling and fishing. One thing I know, every campsite will be open because there were no other cars in the parking lot and not another soul around. With that thought, “I must be careful, and on take any chances.”
I get to the campsite around 1:00; it’s less than 4 hours until sundown. It takes no time to set up the tent, and get my sleeping pad and bag arranged in the tent. I need to eat, but I’m still not hungry. I force myself to eat some noodles and drink some tea. It seems like whenever I go solo either on a canoe trip of backpacking I have no appetite. I don’t know if it’s from excitement of the trip, nervousness, fear, or just what. I finally force myself to eat and drink. As I sit around camp, I suddenly have visitors. I am greeted by a couple of Camp Robbers. (Grey Jays) They are looking for a handout. It doesn’t look like they are starving as they are both plump and look pretty hearty.
After finishing my little lunch, I hunt for some firewood, cut and split it so I’m ready for a nice campfire. I’m feeling much better, so I think I’ll get some dinner going. Beef Stew for tonight. This is very tasty, but a little too salty.
4:30pm, the sun has set, so I decide to start a fire (a little early). I probably won’t stay up real late tonight. Next thing I know its 6:00pm, very dark, the fire still doesn’t throw off much heat. Glad I brought my extra coat. Stars are getting bright, If I stay up until 7:00 I may be lucky, but I really like this. Only problem though, if I go to be too early, I will be bright eyed and ready to go by 4 or 5am, a little early for this time of year. This is a tough time to travel with only about 8 ½ hours of daylight. But I can feel myself relaxing and enjoying being out here. 8:00 think I will head to bed and read a bit. Looking forward to having another good day tomorrow.
Friday, November 6th, 2009
I get up at 7:00 this morning after lying in my tent for about ½ hour waiting for it to get flight. I’ve been listening to the wind blowing thru the trees. The way it sounds I will be staying put today. No way will I try to fight high waves with the water being close to 40 degrees. Much different than in the summer. But now, if you capsize, you had better be close to shore because there won’t be much time to react. I finally got up and to my amazement there is only ripples on the water. I look out onto the main part of the lake, just to make sure, looks like I will travel today. The wind was playing tricks as it blew through the pine trees. It sounded almost like gale force winds. Trees can really magnify the sound of the wind at times.
Breakfast is oatmeal and coffee, and I putter around camp taking my time to break camp but finally get ready to head out. Across the channel to the 20 rod portage into Horseshoe Lake. Then into Harbor and finally to North Wilder Lake. The stream out of North Wilder is coated with ice clear across. I figure I could chop my way thru, but then again maybe I’ll get to the end and it won’t be so easy. I decide to reevaluate my route and decide to get to Hudson & Insula Lakes. I’m paddling along just enjoying being outside. I decide I’d like to do some fishing so I make the decision to turn around and go back to Lake 3, then head north, fishing as I go and just end up wherever.
Fishing isn’t too bad, as I have some luck in catching a few nice walleyes and northern. Everything is fairly deep that I catch. Probably in the range of 20-30 feet deep is my best guess. I gradually work my way into Lake 4, stopping to take pictures and do some exploring. I stop at a nice campsite for lunch of hot tea, pepper jack cheese, crackers and salami. “A great lunch.” With 10 portages behind me I’m tired so I find a nice campsite at the southeast end of Bridge Lake. Its late afternoon as I set up. Plenty of wood to burn, and it’s been a good day. Very warm for this time of year. Clear skies and not a person in site. I’m completely at peace with myself and nature.
The wind begins to pick up at dark this evening and as I sit by the fire I contemplate on this trip. It’s the latest in the year I have ever done a canoe trip. Usually by now we could have snow on the ground, frozen lakes or just horrendous weather. Fishing has been pretty good, and I have completed just about everything I have wanted to do. So, as I gaze into the fire I decide that in the morning I will paddle out. I’m not going to chance the weather and even though I’ve only been out on the water two days (three counting tomorrow), my batteries are recharging and I’m beginning to feel much better.
I figure tomorrow I’ll have about 8 portages, most of them being fairly short, but the second one will be 170 rods. With that thought I hit the sack. Boy, my sleeping bag feels good tonight. It is very warm out this evening; I’ll sleep like a baby I’m sure.
Saturday, November 7th, 2009
I’m up early again, around 7:00 and I boil water for my coffee & oatmeal while I break camp. This morning the temperature is above freezing. Can this be November? I decide to fish my way down Bridge Lake, trolling and casting into every possible spot that I think a fish maybe hiding.
Water level is really down, probably a good two feet or so; there is a lot of rocks showing that you can see have been underwater. Plus the shoreline shows the high water mark on the rocks. I have a good travel day ahead of myself, and could follow Lake Two to the dam but with the low water I decide to go out the way I came in; through Confusion Lake. This means 8 portages...
I find a campsite to have lunch and I think about my trip. This has been a good one, though short, I’ve done everything I wanted to do. As I get back into the canoe and begin paddling I see a young loon fishing by himself. I’m somewhat surprised that he hasn’t begun his journey south yet. The parents always leave earlier but this is amazingly late for loons to be hanging around the northern part of Minnesota. Maybe he was born a little later this past spring and needs to get his strength before the long flight.
I’m piddling around, and I notice its 1:00 already. I still have a good distance to go with 5 portages ahead of me. Time to make some tracks. As I complete my trip where I left three days ago, its after 4:00. Time sure passes quickly when you’re having fun. It’s beginning to get dark as I pull in, and I load the canoe onto the truck, put the packs in and take off for Ely and then home.
Summarizing my 3 day trip, I did 24 portages and traveled about 30 miles. I can honestly say that I’m tired. Shoulders got a good workout from all of the paddling, and my legs got a little workout from the portages. I feel satisfied, and ready to put the canoe away for the winter. Without this last minute trip, I think I would have been stewing about it for months to come. Now I can reflect, and begin thinking about where to go next year. Woodland Caribou is definitely on the list, and along with a trip down the Albany River. Maybe an early May trip for fishing opener to Quetico for some Lake Trout.