Pictorial Trip Report - My First Solo
by Ho Ho
Once I got to sleep, I slept soundly until dawn - which is about 4:00 a.m. in the Northland this time of year. It was cold - the forecast had predicated lows in the high 30s. I pulled a fleece sweatshirt over my tshirt, adjusted my knit cap, tightened the opening of my mummy bag, and went back to sleep. I woke a few more times - once to another mysterious explosion of wings like the one that made my heart race last night - but kept going back to sleep. I had not gotten a lot of sleep the two previous nights, and I was in no hurry today, so I wanted to sleep as late as possible. Finally, about 7:30, I emerged from the tent.
I retrieved the foodpack from its "hiding place." It looked like it had not been touched, not even by a mouse. Then I spent a few hours just drinking coffee and thoroughly enjoying being lethargic. For this solo trip I got a new one-man Java Press that I really liked. It supplied me with great 16-ounce mugs of coffee. I had two mugs full - but they were half-caf so I wouldn't go into orbit.
While enjoying my cups o' joe, I confirmed my earlier decision to stay here another night and just chillax today. Maybe I would take a day trip up to Thunder and Beartrap later on. The weather was pretty nice at the moment, but recalling the forecast of possible rain this afternoon, I put the fly on the tent. When I was staking it in, I realized there was an old flattened pile of wolf scat right outside the door -
As I was cooking and eating breakfast, the large group I had seen last night on the rock at the end of the lake started to paddle by -
They were entertaining to watch, in part because they were not really the best paddlers and seemed to go every which way -
I could also hear some of them speculating about where the portage to Gun was (it was right in front of them). Sometimes I marvel that people survive so well when they don't appear to have much idea what they are doing in the wilderness. Of course, sometimes this applies to me, too (as I would soon demonstrate trimming the canoe on my daytrip).
The birds continued to entertain. A Pileated Woodpecker obligingly flew to a nearby snag and drummed for a while when I was back enjoying the thunder box (such a nice amenity when you are used to digging your own in Quetico). Then a Yellow-rumped Warbler came by back there and sang on a branch just overhead for a while. Back out by the water, I was visited by a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker, Northern Flicker, some Gray Jays, etc., while the thrushes, warblers, and vireos sang off in the woods.
It warmed up during the morning, probably into the low 60s, and the sun was mostly shining. So I decided to go for another dip before heading out on a daytrip. The water felt colder than last night, and it probably was, after the cool overnight temperatures. But it felt great once I got in, and I enjoyed basking on my rock for a while afterwards with Gull Lake to myself.
Finally, about noon, I ate an energy bar and set off in the direction of Thunder Lake. I had filled one of my packs with gear for the day, including all my food (I wasn't leaving it stashed in the woods during the day), my rain suit, a bunch of other spare clothes, and miscellaneous emergency or potentially useful stuff. I figured I could put the pack just in front of the front thwart, and trim the canoe by moving the seat all the way back. After all, I am a lot heavier than that gear. So I should have counterbalanced the pack even though I was a lot closer to the middle of the canoe.
Wrong. There was a moderately stiff tailwind blowing from the east when I launched to head west. With my pack up front, the stern of the canoe was riding high, where the wind tried to grab it and spin me around. I managed to keep the canoe going the way I wanted to go, but it wasn't easy, and clearly not a good set up. I would have to do something different after the first portage.
On my way to the portage, I noticed a big nest high in a pine near the rock face where the group had been last night. My present situation was ill-suited to paddle over for a closer look. So when I got to the portage, I pulled out my binoculars to see what I could see. There was a bird on the nest, but at this distance I could not tell if it was an Osprey, an Eagle, or something else -
I resolved to get a closer look on the return trip. Then I set off across the 35-rod portage, which leads to a body of water with the enticing name of Mudhole Lake. Perhaps aptly, the portage to Mudhole is wet and a bit stinky at the Gull Lake end -
But after the first short stretch it turns into a dry, level trail -
I could have single portaged on this day trip. But I wanted to be able to take pictures along the trail. So I carried the pack across first and then went back for the canoe with camera in hand, just like when I have all my gear. This required further refinements from yesterday's portaging routine, such as figuring out what to with the camera when I was carrying just the canoe across. (Yesterday when I carried the canoe I also had a pack, which I could clip the camera onto). But I got it sorted out.
The next challenge was trying to improve the trim on the canoe. I figured I could experiment crossing Mudhole, since it was such a small lake. My problem would be solved if I could get the pack closer to the middle of the canoe. So I loaded the pack right in front of my seat - behind (not in front of) the front thwart and foot brace.
I got in and paddled across Mudhole. The pack placement seemed to solve the trim problem. But it did not leave me a lot of leg room. Worse, when I got to the other side of the little lake, the pack left no place to maneuver my feet to maintain my balance as I exited the canoe, which nearly resulted in a dump. I would have to go back to the drawing board after the next portage, which would take me to Thunder Lake.
This picture looks out from the portage landing back at Mudhole -
Like all the other portages since leaving Fourtown, the 65-rodder from Mudhole to Thunder was smooth and easy. There were some mooseberries along the way - the only sign off Moose I saw this trip -
The Beavers were busy near the Thunder end -
After carrying the pack across, I paused to reconsider my plans before going back for the canoe. I was not very happy, maybe a bit unnerved, with my problem trimming the canoe. The sky had grown overcast. The east wind, and the last forecast I saw before leaving home, suggested the weather was headed downhill. The name "Thunder Lake" suddenly seemed like an omen. Just last week, the winds had howled for two days, leaving many canoe trippers windbound. The nice thing about day trips is leaving a campsite all set up to return to. The scary thing about day trips is leaving all your camping gear behind so you don't have it if you get stuck somewhere else.
I stood at the Thunder end of the portage for quite a while thinking about all this, almost ready to carry the pack back the way I had come and return to my campsite to loaf the rest of the day away. After a bit, though, the desire to keep going gathered strength again. There was a nice campsite in view on Thunder that beckoned as a lunch spot -
I felt that if I could get the canoe trimmed properly, I'd be fine, even if the weather deteriorated. I wished I had an empty dry bag or two to fill with water and put in the stern to counterbalance my pack. But I didn't. Bogwalker had said that he usually finds a few stones to use as weights in this situation. But even though there are always rocks everywhere in canoe country, there didn't seem to be any suitable ones at hand now. As I scanned Thunder Lake, I could see a pile of rocks on a little point just down the shore. I decided to try to rearrange the weight from my pack some, and if that did not work, I'd pick up a few rocks from the pile as I paddled down Thunder.
So I went back to get the canoe, then readjusted the trim. I took a full water bottle and a small dry bag filled with miscellaneous crap out of the pack and hung them from the little hand-grip-cum-thwart at the very stern of the canoe, where they would provide the most leverage counterbalancing the pack. Then I put the lightened pack in front of the bow thwart, but pushed back as far toward the footbrace as possible.
As I launched from the portage, I could immediately tell that this moderate readjustment had solved my problem. The canoe handled great even in the squirrelly gusty wind. There was no need for rocks. And that was a good thing, because I realized that the pile of rocks I had seen on the nearby point was actually the firepit of another campsite.
No matter, all was fine now as I paddled over to the campsite I was eyeing as a lunch spot. This was my view as I snacked on cheese, salami and tortilla sandwiches and dried fruit -
I relaxed over lunch and took a few pictures. I liked this big tree by the landing of the campsite -
As I was packing up, I heard some laughter that seemed to be coming from the other side of a nearby island. A lot of noises can sound like human voices in the wilderness, and I sometimes wonder whether I am hearing people or something else. The laughter was pretty clear though. So if I didn't see anyone after I got in the canoe and paddled past the island, it would be pretty freaky.
My imagination was not playing tricks on me. There were three guys out fishing Thunder -
I was pretty sure that these guys were part of a 4-man group that had single portaged past me on the long portage into Fourtown yesterday morning. I said hello and asked them if they were camped on Thunder. No, their camp was over on Beartrap and, like me, they were just out for a daytrip. After our brief chat, I pushed on to tour the north half of Thunder.
Cliffy shoreline -
Your correspondent -
The northern end of the lake is marshy scrub -
The Beavers up there seemed to have a preference for pine, which is a little unusual, particularly because there was plenty of aspen around for them. One of many jackpines that had been gnawed-
I circled back toward the portage to Beartrap. More cliffs along the way -
The Thunder-Beartrap portage is only 9 rods long. I decided to park the canoe and just walk across for a gander at Beartrap, instead of portaging over to paddle around it. A pretty little creek tumbles from Thunder to Beartrap along the portage -
The view up the short portage back to Thunder -
After that short stop, I circled back around Thunder toward home. None of the campsites on the lake was occupied. As I made my way back to the portage to Mudhole, I snapped another shot of the great site where I ate lunch -
Looking back out at Thunder from the portage -
In the distance I could see the three guys competing with a Loon for fish -
Having already done my sightseeing along the two Mudhole portages earlier in the day, I single portaged on the way back. It's amazing how fast you go when you carry all your gear at once and don't dilly dally taking pictures.
Two Beavers where swimming near their lodge on Mudhole. They both slapped their tails and went under when they noticed me.
Back on Gull with the canoe properly trimmed, I went to check out the big nest down the shore. A picture from the water -
You can just barely see the Eagle on the nest on the left in the picture above. I got a better view with the binoculars. But just as I was positioning the canoe to take an unobstructed photo, the wind picked up, and there was no way I could get in position and take a zoom shot with the wind pushing me around. So instead I paddled over to a cool rocky point that provided a little shelter from the breeze -
At the waterline -
After lingering there a bit, I paddled back to my campsite -
My point from the water -
Corydalis by the shore -
I got back to the campsite about 4:30. Even though I had not done much today, I was pooped. I stretched out on the flat rock shelf by the water and closed my eyes for a few minutes, dozing off briefly. In the background I could here the frequent drumming of the resident Grouse. It dawned on me then that the explosion of wings I heard late last night and at dawn this morning sounded like a Grouse being flushed. So he was the culprit.
Eventually the sun came out and it got warm on my rock. I gathered a little energy and went for another quick swim. That felt great and reinvigorated me.
Somehow I whiled away the rest of the afternoon and early evening. One thing that took a lot of time was purifying water. We got a Steripen last year, and it works great. But you still need to prefilter the water if you don't want a bunch of little (sterilized) gunk in it. Normally the prefiltering takes no time at all. But I guess there was a lot of gunk in Gull Lake, because the prefiltering was really slow, and I had to clean the prefilter often, as much as twice per liter.
For dinner I made a couple Zup's wild-rice brats and some buttered boiled potatoes, with a side of carrots. Very tasty. The blackflies came out at dinner time and lingered the rest of the evening, but they were never as bad as during dinner yesterday.
After doing the rest of the camp chores, I poured myself a helping of Maker's Mark and sat down on the point taking in the late evening scene. Looking south across the lake -
And into the little bay on the other side of my point -
Once again, I missed David and wished I could send him a message letting him know all was well. But I also felt at peace here alone. I had Gull Lake to myself tonight. And there was no one up on Thunder, and just the group of four on Bearcamp. No doubt there were some people camped on Gun, but I didn't hear anyone over there as I had last night. It was very quiet - except for the incessant drumming of the Ruffed Grouse back in the woods; a sharp two-noted bird call from a few places around the lake that I could not identify; the occasional wail of the Loons; and maybe the slap of a Beaver tail. Do I look like I'm going insane yet? -
I took my final sip of bourbon as the light began to fade -
I got in the tent about 9:00 and read for an hour or so. I wore more clothes to bed tonight - long johns, long-sleeve t, wool socks, a fleece pullover, and my knit cap. As I was dozing off, I was jolted awake by the explosion of wings nearby again. This time I could also hear a few quiet vocalizations before the flight that confirmed it was the Ruffed Grouse. So that mystery was solved. Although I still wasn't sure why he was flushing near my tent at dusk and dawn. No matter. I was soon fast asleep.