First Time in Minnesota
I ate a hardy breakfast at Britton's Cafe after registering my canoe at the tax collector's office. By late morning I was on the water. Although I had triple checked everything, I was nervous, almost to the point of turning back. Fall lake was an easy paddle. I immediately began to get a feel for the boat. My modified viper cut into the wind decently, and dodged boulders with ease. The portage to Newton Lake took longer than the paddle to reach it (about an hour to triple portage 80 rods). A fellow paddler on his return home had advised me to take the first campsite since it wasn't taken by motor-boaters, and there were storms moving through. I wondered if I could get set up and dry in the rain. Turns out I did fine. I was actually scanning the shoreline for the camp site when a tiny fawn came swimming from the island to the west directly to the landing in front of the site I was searching for. That little fawn swam a long way (500 yards!). Thank you little guy. I hope his mother was near. I hastily set up camp. I wanted a dry tent, a high food bag, along with a toasty fire. It was no problem. I set up some food in the fire- chili with greens, Cuban coffee with brown sugar, and some spirulina drink mix (all dehydrated), and some Chinese herb tea with pine needles thrown in. I plied the waters for pike unsuccessfully. I saw a couple of large otters, some loons, and ducks right around sunset. For the first time, I heard the call of the loon. It was magical. Later I heard some wolves.
The second day was a long one. I noticed two broken saplings near my food pack. It is a wonder that I did not hear the bear that probably did that. I was up by 6 am, making a fire for breakfast. Breakfast consisted of a flap jack made of protein powder, powdered milk, berry powder (100% pure berries of all types), a dash of olive oil, and filtered water. I made my way to Pipestone Falls by 10 am. I 3x portaged and headed for Jackfish Bay (another brutal 60 rod portage that took me 3 hours). I caught my first ever pike in the shallow nook, and then paddled hard into the wind to get to the south end of Jackfish bay before the seas kicked up. I barely made it and set up a nice camp overlooking the swampy river leading to Sandpit Lake. I soon caught another small pike and ate it whole right off the fire grate with some re fried beans and rice, corn and tomato. I barely had the tent set up before the rain, during which, I had a short nap. When I awakened, I was greeted by a rabbit, and a brazen chipmunk I'll affectionately call "bugger". I found a deer bed in back of the camp in the grass, took some photos, and caught some fish before turning in.
It was cold and rainy most of the day until about 6 pm. It took me 3 hours almost to get a fire going for breakfast. I scouted the area and found a beautiful patch of blueberries. I was perched upon a lichen covered boulder when a nice buck came to the swamp to drink. I snapped some photos, and he eventually scented me and bolted. Later, I fished from shore and nabbed a few perch and pike. I cooked two of each. I was so cold and wet that I was afraid to shower, but I did anyway, and lo and behold, the skies cleared like magic. I took an evening paddle through one of the creek mouths and nabbed a nice size smallmouth and a 35" pike. Earlier in the day, my reel froze up. I was in a panic. I put some olive oil in it and after a couple of hours, it was like new. The "BW" birds kept at it all day. They almost always sound the same. Does anyone know what I'm talking about? They start with two long notes, then a rhythm of ten short notes the same tone. I was glad to have some extra lanyard around to fix the broken zipper on my boot, and later my suspenders on my rain-gear. Bugger visited me again. He tried to steal my camp scrub brush. Maybe he thought it was his cousin. The rabbit came by the tent in the evening and was chewing on some greens. When he spotted me he froze, but kept on chewing. 9:30 and still light out, but the skeeters are telling me it's bedtime.
Last night was miserable. My sleeping bag was soaked, and I shivered all night. I slept in my rain-gear, which helped keep me a little warmer. Once I had breakfast going, the rain slowed down, and then the sunshine came out in full glory. I immediately started laying everything out to dry. The whole placed buzzed with life. Thousands of hornets, bees, wasps, grasshoppers, birds, dragonflies, caterpillars, and whoknowswhats filled the air. There was an abundance of flowers of all kinds. I was taken away by all the activity. I fell in love at that moment. Once everything was dried, I agreed that I wouldn't get soaked again, so I used a tarp over the tent for the rest of the trip. Next time I'll also have one for under, plus seam sealer. By 11 I was off to Tin Can Mike. I had a little confusion at the portage from Sandpit to Tin Can, because it was covered by a beaver dam. Some other paddlers asked me if they needed to portage, and I responded "you tell me". I think they took it the wrong way. I was just saying that I had no clue. I had to check my compass, and double check. Finally, I just went for it and paddled over what was a winter trail around a beaver dam. Tin Can and Sandpit have interesting rock shorelines and numerous sunfish. I was surprised to find so much traffic at Tin Can. There was a lot of fireworks and noise, so I only stayed one night. I hooked a small perch which died instantly, so I ate it whole rather than toss it for the loons. It was still tasty even though I normally wouldn't keep such a small fish.
In the night, a beaver came behind my tent and I spooked him, thinking he was a bear. He dropped his branch, so I dragged it to the shoreline where he came back and retrieved it. Upon my arrival at the camp, a small mouse excitedly came out and did circles around the fire. He was back this morning. I just happened to see his nest while scouting. It was 100 yards away! I thought this mouse has a real good racket going so he must not mind the extra work. I broke camp and set out for Horse Lake. I took the 90 rod portage 3x. Not bad at all. I took some wind on the lake. Once on the Horse River I reasoned that wind wouldn't be too much of a factor. I was right. I scoped each of the five rapids, and wound up paddling 3 of them. I hit one boulder pretty hard but I never felt I was in any danger (at least not serious danger). The river was quite enchanting and full of smallmouth bass, so I took my time. I was pretty tired coming out of the Horse, and was a little dismayed to see all the campsites occupied at Lower Basswood Falls. I miscalculated. It was getting late, and I knew there must be a way to portage the falls to Crooked Lake, but I didn't have time to figure it out so I paddled to Wheelbarrow and hastily portaged the rapids. By now it was 7:30. I could smell a bear or bear den, so I was a little more vigilant, especially since the trail is at the lowest point and any bears would be spying me from above. On the second pass, a wood grouse came out charging. He was quite entertaining. He was so caught up in his dance I could have plucked him right off the ground. With storms on the horizon I grunged my way to a vacant site low to the water with huge slabs of rock. This site had a border marker. I set up camp and that night the rain and lighting was quite exhilarating. I stayed dry thanks to the $4.50 tarp.
I left this camp early since I didn't catch any fish on it. I made the first 30 rod portage by 1, and it took me from 2 to 5 to get to the second to last camp on the 340 rod portage through Basswood Falls. This was the best ever campsite. I was greeted by a magnificent eagle right across the river. I fished the potholes and landed gobs of smallies. The next day I took a nice cold bath with pine needles and some fragrant leaves that I tested first. They were refreshing. I sun dried all of my gear, and took a long nap on the massive boulder. I had been catching so many smallies I decided to go for bigger game. I rigged a 200 lb marlin wire to my biggest plug (a maverick golden eye). Three casts into the rapids, and BANG, a 40" pike. I tried to release him in the water, but he flopped and drove a treble into my knuckle. I snapped a quick pic of him and then looked in horror at my bloody finger with a pole hanging from it. I limped back to camp, took the hook off the lure, mashed the barb down, and pulled hard on it. I knew if I failed I would have to turn back, so I got it out by golly. I hit it with some iodine and neosporin, and it's a little sore, but OK, thanks to all the stimulation and sunshine. I was in rapture once more with all the life around me. Crayfish nibbled at my toes, ants, birds, insects of all types, and the occasional doe kept me company, and let's not forget the eagle. So far I had heard one jet liner, 5 small planes, and about 5 groups of people on the whole trip (since Pipestone). One young girl was there with her father. Later, a guide came through with 8 people, and turned back at the falls.
Reluctantly, I portaged the rest of the way through the falls. I cold not have picked a better day to paddle the open waters of Basswood Lake. It was glassy calm. I paddled some 5 hours back into Pipestone, taking the long way around all the coves and islands of the southern part.
I found a campsite near Muskeg Creek. The one on my Fisher's Chart was not there, but there was one not marked to the north. I caught some fish for dinner, and explored Muskeg Creek. It is choked with wood particles, like chocolate milk. I was looking for moose. Although I found none, I was enchanted once again by all of the life, especially the dragonflies which rescued me from the biting flies and mosquitoes like fighter jets.
The next day started very windy, and stayed that way. It was a 25 to 30 mph south wind. I broke camp and had planned to go only a couple of miles. Turned out with tacking, I must have gone at least 5 miles. The canoe handled the 1 to 2' chop with ease, but I was a little apprehensive. I sailed it on a 45 degree angle, which made it harder to read the compass, since I was loosing some way. I just sort of guessed my mark and had to correct a couple of times. I knew where I wanted to camp, but thought I would see it from the north. Turns out I couldn't have seen it from the north, and I figured it out only because I could see the portage to Newton Lake. I was unloading just as another group was heading out on a different landing. My timing was about perfect. It was then that I noticed my canteen was missing, probably left it, or the other campers might have packed it. Either way, it was gone. Lucky there is no shortage of water here. I started dinner of pike as soon as my camp was set up. Then I just took it easy for a while. I was closer to home than I wanted to be so I figured I would stay a day extra here.
I caught a huge perch, sunfish and smallmouth. I had a nice fish fry with hush puppy mix. That stuff is awesome. It is savory, and just needs water to make. The next day I fished the falls and raked in the smallies. A medium pike was swiping at my lure, so I re rigged and tried for him. He never came out again. He wasn't huge anyway. As I was wading, a bunch of wood ducks swam the rapids. One of the ducklings strayed and was stuck in a pool while the others went 200 yards downstream. The little guy went right to where the pike was earlier. He skittered across, and shot downstream to meet his siblings. A happy ending.
The next morning I started out on the portage. The south wind was raging. People going north didn't seem to mind, but I warned a few paddlers not to get caught at the north end of Pipestone unprotected. Newton was pretty easy, but by the time I hit Fall Lake, I was somewhat intimidated by the wind. I crabwalked the boat to Mile Island, and walked it around the shore. It was like surf coming on the shore 2 to 3' seas! I paddled to the entry point and although I wasn't excited about ending my trip, I was glad, because there was a small leak in the boat. I got in just in time to get cleaned up and spend the fourth watching the parade in Ely the next day. I had a steak and eggs at Britton's for the road. Finally, I made another stop at the International Wolf Institute, and the North American Bear Center (just outside of Ely). Both were highly educational and fun.
I will definitely be back. Next time I am going to hustle to Crooked, and stay for a real long time. The experience really took me in, and I felt that I could enjoy it alone, yet not really alone, since so many people are out there every day. Minnesota is a place of vast beauty. I could have lived off crayfish and blueberries if I had to. It is a great joy to be in the company of so many living things. Thanks to the information on this forum, and the hospitality in Ely, I have wonderful memories for a lifetime.