Where it all began--my first trip into the BWCA
I arose early the next morning before anyone else got up, and I was well awarded for doing so. This was one of those magical boundary waters mornings that makes all the hardships fade away. The weather was much better this morning with nearly clear skies. The sun had just peaked over the horizon and was cascading golden light over the shoreline pines of Sawbill. A light mist was rising off the calm waters, and my fishing rod was calling to me. I grabbed it, attached a storm chug bug (one of my favorite top waters) and waded into the water. The water was cold after a night of rain but felt refreshing at the same time. I made a few casts and twitched my lure back to me; it spit water into the air and made the "bloop... bloop" noises calling to the fish around. While I was focusing on my lure, awaiting a strike, a pair of loons emerged from the water near my submerged thighs and startled me. I apparently did not have the same affect on them because they just casually paddled around me as I stared in awe. I slowly moved out of the water and set my rod aside as I went for my camera. I managed to capture a few decent photographs of them as they took turns diving near shore.
After the loons had passed, I returned to the water and my fishing rod. I heaved my lure out as far as I could and as soon as it cracked the surface of the water a large swell overtook it. I quickly reeled up the slack in my line and firmly set the hook, hoping I was not too late. The smallmouth bass leaped into the air and violently shook its head in disapproval. Alright! I thought to myself as I carefully reeled in the strong fish. I landed the monster smallmouth near the rocks on shore. It was a thick, beautiful fish; a true bronze back with brilliant red eyes.
I was very happy with my catch and decided I needed someone to take a photograph of me with it before I turned it into breakfast. I believe I had Katrina do the honors but don't really recall. She is an early riser, like I, so I assume she was the first person to emerge from the tent. I filleted my smallie and pan fried it in butter with salt, pepper, and cayenne to spice things up. This was the first time I had cooked bass and did not realize how easily the filets could come apart. We all ended up sharing a flaky dish of bass crumbles. The bass had a bit of an earthy flavor but it was still quite savory. I think Katrina prepared something in addition to our morning fish, but I don't remember what we had.
We packed up camp pretty early and made a move for Cherokee. We paddled the short distance to the 80 rod portage to Ada Creek. TJ and I explored the portage and took a few photographs before we returned to our gear and the ladies. The portage looked smooth and level but a little on the narrow side as it runs through dense forest. I thought this portage would be easy but we had a lot of gear and some monstrous, awkward canoes to deal with.
I tried to pick up and carry one of the canoes by myself; this did not pan out well. Despite being a strong, young man who had just spent the last four years of his life playing football and weight training, I was unable to manage the canoe by myself. I could not find a balance point or a way to comfortably shoulder all of the weight on my own. We decided then that TJ and I would have to two-man carry each canoe across the portages, while carrying packs on our back on our first trip. Katrina and Melissa carried whatever they could comfortably across the portage and joined us on the trek back to retrieve the remaining gear. We had a lot of excess gear.
After the portage, we launched into Ada Creek. The water was dark here, a marble-like black that reflected the forest well. I really enjoyed the paddle through here and filled several frames of film with the scenery. There are a lot of exposed rock faces here and short cliffs that fall into the shallow water. The harsh sunlight didn’t make for the greatest photographs but documented the area well.
As we approached the 80 rod portage to Ada Lake we spotted a bull moose, mostly submerged in the dark water. This was the first and, to this day, the only moose I have ever seen in the wild. The moose was large bodied and had a broad set of antlers. I paddled toward him, so TJ could take a few photographs. The moose, displeased with our presence, ambled off into the woods on the eastern shore. In hindsight, our approach of the moose was very idiotic but this time no harm was done.
After the moose was gone, we took a look at the portage and the map. We noticed there was a small creek that appeared to travel all the way to Ada lake. Deciding that it would be beneficial to us to avoid the portage, TJ and I decided to see if the creek was passable. If it was, we would walk the portage and tell Katrina and Melissa to give it a go.
As it turned out, the creek was passable despite being very narrow, shallow and full of sharp corners. The creek took us through a large, open grassy area and opened up into Ada lake. It was a neat area and added to the adventure. TJ and I walked the portage back and told the girls to go for it. The girls made it through without issue, and we joined them paddling toward the 92 rod portage to Skoop lake.
The landing at the portage to Skoop was in rough shape. Water levels appeared to be low on Ada, which had created a mud flat to work around. Despite my plea not to, TJ decided to jump out of the canoe, so he could pull us to shore. He immediately sank waist deep in the muck and became stuck. I ended up standing in the canoe and using the paddle to push the canoe through the muck until I could reach semi-solid ground. I helped the girls do the same and then we used some rope to help pull TJ out of the foot-sucking muck. This was a lot of work.
The portage itself ran along a narrow creek a beaver dam had created. The portage was partially flooded and narrow strips of boards stretched across some areas. We carried the packs across the portage and then went back for the canoes. We carried the canoes part of the way and lined them through other stretches of open water. What a pain! We were all pretty beat after this portage. The Sea Beasts, mud, and floods had worn us out. We still had one more portage to do today and it was nearly double the length of the one we had just completed. (Note: As of September 2010, this portage no longer exists. The creek has completely flooded the trail except for about 10 rods on the north end of the portage. You must paddle the creek the beaver dam has created. A few remnants, such as flooded over boards exist but that is it.)
Skoop is kind of a neat little lake. The view from the portage landing was memorable, and I photographed a beaver dam here. The paddle north on Skoop was a short one and gave us little time to recoup before our next portage. The 180 rod portage loomed in front of us. I don’t remember much about the landing here, which is probably a good thing. The portage itself is not terribly difficult, but is considerably long.
We got to work right away because daylight was beginning to wane. TJ and I carried the canoes while wearing our life jackets to pad our shoulders from the gunnels. We positioned ourselves on opposite sides of the canoe and one-shoulder carried the canoe from the bow and stern; it wasn’t a comfortable way to lug the canoes around but was the most effective way we had discovered. Keeping the canoe balanced, especially around corners or through brush, was the most difficult part of the portage. Our shoulders burned and our legs grew tired. I remember that the mosquitoes were bad here as well-- it was almost impossible to let go of the canoe to swat at them, so I tried blowing them off of my arms as we trudged along the trail. My attempts were futile, and the vampires feasted on us. After some bug spray, we all went back to do it all over again. I believe we triple portaged this 180 rod, when all was said and done. Ugh! We were exhausted.
The landing at Cherokee Creek has a nice gravel beach that makes launching a canoe a cinch. We pushed our aluminum monsters away from the landing and began our journey down the creek. There wasn’t much current in the creek, but it was obvious that it flows east toward Cherokee Lake. The scenery here is spectacular and we all enjoyed this paddle- - exposed rock faces, large boulders, downed trees, lily pads, drowning dragonflies, and even a lady slipper became the subjects of many photographs. Our group was met with an interesting challenge about halfway through the creek as we approached a beaver dam that stretched across the entire creek and dropped several feet down. We weren’t sure how to approach this, but we managed to drag our canoes over the top of the dam without issue.
By the time we reached Cherokee, the sun was fading fast. We wanted to set up camp quickly but we had issues finding a site. We could see that three of the first four campsites on Cherokee were taken and we could not find the other site. I believe we asked the group at the second site on the western shore of Cherokee if they had seen any available campsites. They informed us that we had paddled past an open site near the mouth of creek, so we went back and looked for it.
After finding the site available, we set up camp and started prepping a meal. I solo-paddled one of the canoes out from shore to collect water for our group and the meal. I made my trip much more difficult by paddling from the front of the canoe, rather than the rear or middle. I felt tipsy by myself and was blown around some in the canoe but managed. I believe we had campfire spaghetti this evening, a perennial favorite meal of mine and the people I trek with in the bwca. It’s hearty, filling, simple and light to carry; everything a campfire meal should be out here.
We only set up one tent this evening under the clear skies. We tucked the rest of our gear underneath one of the canoes we had turned into a makeshift table. Things like this made me glad Katrina knows what she is doing out here. TJ and I decided to try some last minute fishing once again this evening. We paddled toward the mouth of the creek and tried some casts there as the sun faded and the moon rose above Cherokee. We took some more photographs and headed back to camp without any bites. I believe we all tucked in early this evening, in the same fashion as the night before. I was too tired to feel guilt this evening, and I slept with ease.