Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Newbie No More
by fitgers1

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 08/12/2011
Entry & Exit Point: Baker Lake (EP 39)
Number of Days: 4
Group Size: 2
Trip Introduction:
My girlfriend has watched me plan and make two trips to the BWCA over the last year. After I returned from my guy group trip in June, I told her all about it and showed her the pictures just as I had done the previous summer. She has heard great things from others she knows that have been there. That led to her saying "I want to go!" We started searching for entry points. I had a book with suggested easy routes. We looked some up on a map and when we saw her name on a lake, it was settled. Kelly Lake. Entry Point 39 at Baker. We checked the permits and the calendar and decided on a nice 4 day "Beginners" trip in mid August. Many said she wouldn't make it. They couldn't believe she was going. She likes car camping in state parks but that is a far cry from the wilderness of the north country. Her parents couldn't believe she wanted to go. She hates bugs and mice. She likes her manicures, pedicures, nice hotels and resorts. Technology is never very far from her- laptop and iPhone are often on and in use. She is a busy woman with a schedule and many things going on all the time. Time, she always knows what time it is. You can walk through her house at night and not bump into a thing because there are lights on every where. She's a city girl. Born and raised. With that said, she apparently had enough camping and time at the family cabin as a kid to have it in her blood. She canoed, hiked and skied as a youngster and into early adulthood. That was some time ago but those things tend to stick with us. They stay deep inside and become part of who we are and what makes us. We in turn are drawn back to the natural world we grew up with, even if it were not a permanent fixture. We were about to see if there was enough of that left in her to make it through the finest wilderness in the lower 48 states.
Part 1 of 2
Once the destination and all the "Oh my goodness, you're not going there are you?"'s were over. We began planning. Luckily, I already have everything we needed with few exceptions. We needed one more pack. I borrowed that from a friend in my guy group. Some other odds and ends like a new water filter and a poly liner for the borrowed pack and we were set for our general gear. It was now time to turn to her personal items she would be bringing. During these days, I was asked many questions. "You'll kill any bugs for me, right?" "What do you mean? I don't get to bring a pillow?" "What can I bring?" Then the fly swatter question. "Can I bring a fly swatter? I was told there are lots of bugs up there." A fly swatter. Seriously? I chuckled. I said no fly swatter. I turned here onto where she became an occasional lurker. She signed up 2 or 3 weeks before entry. She finally got on and posted a question the day before we were leaving. I thought that was funny. I also handed her a stack of books I had collected over the years. Books about the BWCA and canoe camping. A pile of Boundary Waters Journal's found their way into her hands. She read through them. Learned. Asked more questions. I posted a question on the end of June asking for the best advice for a newbie. I received a lot of great input. She read them also. Someone stated to let her bring some items to help make the adjustment and make it easier, more comfortable. I told her she could bring the fly swatter.

Clothes, clothes, clothes. What to bring. What to wear. At REI I picked up a mesh bag and said here, you can put your personal stuff in this. Her -I get to fill the whole thing?! Me - You get to fill it halfway. Someone told her to get the big rubber boots. Me - You will not need them. It's August and the water will be fine. You want those when it's colder. Her - I'm not walking through any of that mucky stuff and icky funky weedy stuff or algae floating on the water. Me - There isn't any. Her - Yes there is. Me - Doesn't matter, you're walking through it. Her - No I'm not. She didn't get the boots and she did walk through the water. Luckily we really didn’t run into any “yucky” water. She has a pair of Keens and needed some good hiking boots. Check. A bunch of lightweight quick drying clothes. Check. A cute little bag for toiletries. Check. A cool straw hat and bandanas. Check. Matching tank tops and button down shirts. Check. Three trips to REI and she was about ready to outfit a crew of women. She bought some items while I was with her. She went back and bought some more on her own and did a great job of picking out the right stuff. She went again for the boots and got some more clothes. Me- How is all of that going to fit in that little bag I gave you to fill? Her - Ah, but it's so cute! It'll look great! Me- It's not a fashion show. Sheez! She bought an ENO hammock. Good call. Matched mine. Concessions were made. Her bag was nearly filled. When all was said and done, she actually had about the same amount of personal stuff as I did. There were a lot of new clothes left at home. Toiletries. Me -What's that for? You don't need that? Her - Yes I do. Me - For what? Her - (Insert any woman’s answer here.) She brought some items that I thought she could have left but in the end, it was good as it all made the trip a better experience for her. That made us both happy.

Food. She is a great cook. Absolutely wonderful cook. Can cook anything. Initial food conversations got me thinking that we would be bringing the refrigerator. Didn't turn out that way. She read some things on this site in the food posts as well as the books. We learned a lot about dehydrating from a certain poster (thanks Erin!) and she did some of that. She is looking forward to doing a lot more dehydrating in the future. She came up with some great ideas for meals and then we whittled that down to the final menu. We had about half as much left over after the trip as what is left on my 4-man trips so we did pretty good. Wasn't bad but could have been better. I did point out to her how much we had left and that we would take that into thought when planning the next trip. Due to weather, we did miss one planned meal though so that is part of the reason we had leftovers. Personally, I would have taken less. I didn't want her thinking we would run out of food though. Thanks to her, we had a few great meals.

Packing. Ah the pack. When filled, I said, "That's it. That's what you get to carry across the portage." She came back with a very serious "That scares me". You can do it I said! Piece of cake. She wrote in a notebook, everything I put in the packs. Every piece of clothing and who it was for. Every piece of gear. Everything. I then showed her all that was on the list. "When we come back, we see what we used and what we didn't and start crossing off for the next time." Unless of course it has a specific role as gear, like a first aid kit. Because of time and schedules, we didn't get to actually fill the packs until the night before we left. We were up until almost one in the morning filling packs and getting the food ready.

Go to bed late. Wake up late. Leave later than planned. No worries. We are on vacation. She was up and at ‘em long before me though. Needed her last couple cups of real coffee and she was excited to leave. I woke up about 6:45 and jumped in the shower. Wide awake now…Am I ready for this? I’ve heard too many horrible newbie stories. Is she going to like it? Will she enjoy it enough to go back? That’s the big question. Will she want to go back? Will I get her into the wilderness and out safely? Will she be able to get out safely if something happens to me?

I loaded the final items of food into the truck. She came down from her shower with a smile. All ready and excited to go. In the garage I showed her the compass. I said, “If I die, point the red end of the needle towards your stomach and start walking. That will take you south. You’ll want to go south. You’ll find the dirt road in a few miles and that will get you out.” That was pretty much it. All the survival advice I felt I needed to give her as I wasn’t going to let anything happen to either one of us. I didn’t really want to think of having to give her any other survival advice. Nope. No more. She wasn’t going to need it.

Off we went, all the way to my house, through Minneapolis morning rush hour traffic. We arrived at my house and we began our first test. Will that advice I got on my thread about a canoe on a Tahoe be correct? We hadn’t gotten the chance to try it out. We stared at the canoe. We stared at the Tahoe and back at the canoe. I looked at her and said, “There you go, throw her up there!” We lifted the beer can on top of the truck. The luggage bars were holding. “Push it this way a bit! Nope, that’s too far. Pull it back.” Is it centered? Too much out the back? Out the front? Looks good! Strap it down. With some shiny new cam-lock straps fore and aft and a couple across amidships the canoe was now part of the Tahoe. To myself I kept thinking is it going to fly off? Will it wiggle around? When my buddy puts two canoes on his van, they always seem to move a couple inches side to side at the bow as we are driving. This one didn’t move a bit the whole way there or back. I was impressed. We strapped it on and strapped it well.

At 9:30 am we were on Hwy 100 and headed north from the west Metro. We need more coffee. That will have to wait until we are out of the cities though. Hinckley, we will stop in Hinckley… and we did stop in Hinckley. With about 12,000 other people! Tobie’s was a mad house. The women’s restroom was closed for cleaning and she waited 15 minutes with several other women before being told to use the restroom on the other side of the building. The caramel rolls were a bit stale but still a healthy snack in my opinion prior to entering the B’Dub. We stopped and checked out the model cabin for a bit in the parking lot. Nice. This cabin will do nicely on my hunting land near Wadena. I was ready to buy it. That will have to wait for now. The Wilderness is calling. On the road again. I just can’t wait to get on the road again. Sandstone. Moose Lake. Hey darling, I played high school baseball against all these little towns when I lived in Esko. Pretty cool. Always nice to be back in the area where I spent so many years as a youth. Cloquet. It’s starting to get hilly now. Back in Little Store country. See that Little Store up there at the Esko exit? I played Donkey Kong and Mrs. Pac Man there back in the day. Way back in the day. Screeeech! To a stop. Road construction already? We were pretty backed up and we weren’t even to the Buffalo House. Turned out the freeway bridges were being rebuilt right by the Buffalo House. See that big buffalo statue? That thing seemed so huge to me when I was a kid. It looks so small now. We’re past the construction now. Hills! Almost there. Excitement boils in the veins. Over the peak and there it is! Duluth! Ah, the great lake. I do love it so. Down the hill we go and to another abrupt stop. More road construction. Mega Project. Mega pain in the butt! Time to call some MN/Dot buddies to get an escort through this crap. Wouldn’t that be nice? Stop and go. Stop and go. I thought this stuff was flowing better these days!! Turns out, that one lane of traffic was backed up a couple miles for an accident. We make the expressway to Two Harbors and are there in a jiffy. The canoe still hasn’t moved an inch.

As we pull into Two Harbors, I tell her to look for the new bait store. We fill up the gas tank at the first Holiday in town and continue. Bait Store! She yells. It’s a big 4’ X 8’ plywood sign in the back of an old pick-up truck with an arrow pointing towards the great lake. We have to go a few more blocks before we can turn around. We turn towards the bait store and drive through a grimy little industrial area. This bait store is in a small engine repair shop. They don’t have much but they do have crawlers and leeches. Those are leeches? I think to myself. Those suck! Where are the big fat juicy jumbos at? “This is all we have” I’m told. I take a couple dozen and one dozen crawlers. Nuts! I knew we should have bought them in the cities. Usually do, well too late now.

The excitement is really growing now. The weather reports warned of rain today. The sky is clear and blue. Large clouds loom in the distance to the north though. I’m feeling pretty good about the weather. We just might get there and set up before it rains. A quick stop in Beaver Bay for a bottle of evening courage and back on the road again. We arrive in Tofte at the ranger station about 2 pm. If plans had gone as scheduled, we should be shoving off from the EP right now. Not a problem though. We are almost there and the trip in will only be a couple miles or so. We’re looking good. We watch the video. My second time for me this year and Kelly’s first time ever. She answer’s all the questions afterwards which pleases the ranger. I wish I knew the ranger’s name. I have met her a few times and never ask. She did remember me from June though as I told her then I would be back and she recalled the group I was with. Very impressive I think for all the people that pass through her doors. I inquire about the hatchet incident. The hiker is alive and well. I told her I read some posts on about the four wheelers and helicopter. “When I went through wild land firefighting school, we were told permits were required for any motors to get in the BWCA. How did they get permits for four-wheelers to get in that quickly?” I ask. All she could do was say that is how Lake County rescue operates. She didn’t seem happy or impressed with Lake County about it. It’s what they do over there and they aren’t too concerned about the law requiring permits. Good for the hiker I guess. We let it go at that. She then asked us not to feed the bear that is hanging out on the Sawbill Trail about nine miles up. We promised we wouldn’t. We never saw him.

Leeches. The leeches bought in Two Harbors didn’t impress me as I previously stated. So, against all I believe in, we stopped at the Tofte Holiday and I bought two more dozen leeches. Wow! I was now impressed. They actually had some pretty good ones. Perhaps I should take back all I have said in the past about Holiday bait in Tofte.

The Sawbill Trail that day was the roughest washboard road I have ever driven on. It was horrible. We searched the sides of the road for wildlife. Saw nothing. We arrived at the Baker Lake EP and then taught my lady how to load the canoe. Tall pines were all around us. All we could see was blue sky and sun above and to the east. We began sweating as we loaded. Looks like we’ll have good weather in!

She parked the truck. We shoved off and thus began my newbie’s first Boundary Waters experience. From the EP to the first portage is about a 10 minute paddle. 5 minutes in we rounded a point; saw the portage and the clouds. They were thick and dark. Very dark. We made the short portage to the river. She did it! Her first portage completed with success. One #4 pack and the food pack. Very proud of her. No twisted ankles or anything. So far, we were very happy with the lack of bugs. No flies or mosquitoes. We shoved off and then it started. A light sprinkle of rain. No problem. In less than a couple minutes it was now a good rain. The river was full of boulders. We were getting stuck. Now a downpour started. Many exposed rocks and a tree down. We’ll have to get out and drag it. I knew she wasn’t looking forward to walking through this stuff so I said she could stay in the boat. That didn’t last long. She had to get out. The water was very dark. Hard to see the rocks. I stressed to be careful. I didn’t want to see her get her foot stuck in some crack in a rock. Raining harder now. Boom! Thunder. That was close! Finally through and to a pool of water, to our north we saw Peterson Lake. We got back in the canoe and headed through the river opening. More boulders. Stuck a couple times. Lightning now and very visible. It was cracking within a mile or so to the northwest. We are now soaked. Many things are running through my mind at one time. Don’t dump the boat. I’ve never dumped the boat. Please stop raining. No more lightning! She’s never going to want to come back. All that crap I gave her about making hotel reservations in Duluth for Friday night…maybe she should have made them. Through it all, she was not freaking out a bit. Strong and reserved, she wanted to press on. 100 yards into the lake a bolt of lightning hit the north end of the lake. Stay close to shore I say. There’s a campsite just a ways up here. That’s where we are going. The only thing that could have made this worse was wind. Luckily by the grace of someone watching over us, there was no wind. That, however, didn’t help the storm move on too quickly. We approached that first and only site on Peterson anxious to get to safety on shore. She got out, pulled the boat in and I exited. We walked into the site. My first thought was “Where the hell are the monster trucks?” It was a mud hole. Pools of water were everywhere. Not a single spot to set up the tent. It was a small site and hidden by trees on the shoreline with little view of the water. That at least is how I remember it. One of the worst sites I have ever seen. We’re not staying here I tell her. Your first trip to the BWCA is not going to be spent sleeping in a mud puddle. The rain let off and the lightning stopped while we were there. It looked safe enough to forge ahead. Should we put on rain gear? No. We are already soaked and it is warm out. It was about 74 degrees. We will change when we get to the site. We don’t have far to go. We set out again. This time we head for Kelly Lake. The rain has stopped, for the time being.

We begin heading north again. We make it about 3/4ths of the way across the lake and the lightning and thunder start up again. This time several bolts are very close to our location and still pretty much to the northwest. We stop at the tip of a point on the east side of the lake. We only have to cross this one last little bay and we will be in the portage area. CRACK! Lightning to close for comfort that time. I’m thinking this is the most stupid thing I have ever done. Sitting on a lake in a lightning storm isn’t very bright. Especially in this recycled beer can! I tell her that several times too. I think “Should we should stay right here and wait it out a while or push across this bay and make the portage so we will at least have some open land to walk on and make camp if needed?” I scan the bay again. More lightning. Ahead and to the left is a point with many tall white pines. Lightning rods if I’ve ever seen one! If we go by that point and the trees are hit, we’re pretty much hit. We wait a while longer. More lightning. After about 20 minutes it subsides. Nothing for a while now. I feel it is safe to push that last 100 yards or so to the portage. We shove off from safe harbor and paddle our butts off. We’re entering the river now. 20 yards or so to go. No lightning. Thud! Fricken boulder! Rock it a bit, paddle hard. I can’t see the bottom so I’m not getting out. In less than a minute we are free and in moments at the portage. The portage from Peterson to Kelly doesn’t look like it is used much in low water. Right now, all we have to do is pull the boat 15 feet over some dome rock and we are back in the water. That is what we will do. We wait out the storm a bit. Its lightning free now for 20 or 30 minutes. No rain either. We paddle through a pool, turn left and there she is. Kelly Lake. Kelly, meet Kelly! We stay close to the east shoreline en route to the first campsite. We beach and check it out. It was much better than the site on Peterson but still not a good site for a newbie. There are three more sites within a ½ mile or so. We push on. As soon as we left that campsite it begins raining again. It came down hard on us. Whatever bones we had left that were dry after the previous downpours are now getting soaked. Turning east into the bay we see the south campsite is occupied. There are three or four boats. Several people are huddled under their tarp and they call out to us. Can’t make out what they are saying though, so with a smile and a wave we paddle on in the rain. Site number 4 for the day is unoccupied. I like it. Not perfect at all and it is low ground but I like it. It is well drained, even with all the rain. We can make this work. Protected with shoreline trees yet open with a view of the lake. The bottom slowly goes out with dirt and rocks. Nice. This is home for the next three days.

Yum… This Rush River Amber Ale tastes pretty good as I type the report! Brewed by Rush River Brewery in River Falls, WI, try one today!

Wow, am I dragging this out or what? Back to the story! We unload the big beer can and begin to make camp. I quickly set up the new Kelty Noah’s 15’ sq tarp and then we set up the tent. We keep most of the tent under the tarp in case it starts to downpour again. As soon as we get the tent up, it stops raining. That was pretty much that last of it. There was a small drizzle for a bit but for the most part it was over. Kelly gets into the tent and I hand her everything for inside. She sets it all up and puts on some dry clothes. After she gets out of the tent she stands in the middle of our site taking in her new home and all of its BWCA glory. I look around. Lots of beautiful white cedars and small pines surround the campsite. There is an open view of the lake, not much but enough. As I scan for trees to hang the food pack I hear a loud blood curdling scream. WTF??!! I turn to Kelly. What?? She’s hoping up and down bouncing from foot to foot. She points down and says “There’s a mouse!” We have a little discussion about it just being a mouse. It’s not going to hurt you. Look, you have big boots on, stomp the ground and he will run away. OK she tells me. She settles down but keeps hopping. After a few minutes I walk to the tent to put something inside. I hear another scream and I jump. What!? The mouse is back she said. We discuss it again and all is better. She didn’t yell again the rest of the weekend. That mouse chased her around the campsite the rest of the night and she kept bouncing. Even as she made our dehydrated soup over the stove she bounced. Bounce, bounce, bounce, it was hilarious. For her it was very traumatizing. Still….hilarious. Soup for dinner, the steaks would have to wait another day. We would have liked to watch the sun set but the storm clouds denied us that for this night. She liked it though. She was enjoying herself. Never had a bad word about the rain, the lightning or the paddling. Only the mouse. I would call day one a success.

Day Two. Jimmy Dean spicy sausage, eggs and bagel for breakfast. A tasty meal after that haul in, the previous day with little dinner afterwards. On this day we set out around 9am in search of firewood. Haven’t seen the mouse this morning, where could he be? The campsite closest that had several people the night before was our first stop as it was close and now empty. Very nice site! I’d stay here anytime. It was very wide open with ample tent sites, a couple landings and huge kitchen. Good view of the lake yet it was protected with shoreline trees. As nice of a site that it was, it had no wood except green wood. There was one more site to check. The north tip of the point between the bays was the location of this site. Pulling up we found it to be probably the best site on the lake. It was much higher ground than the other four on the lake. It was protected yet with a view. BINGO! Some nice paddlers left us some firewood. I’m not talking branches either. About 30 pieces of cut and split pine and cedar were piled next to the fire grate. All the pieces were about 14 – 16 inches long and it looked like they all came from trees about 8 – 10 inches in diameter. It was nice and dry and fed our fire for the rest of our trip. It looked as if it were cut by a chainsaw so I think someone brought it in. There was also a lot of tinder/kindling for starting the fire. We loaded up the boat and then checked out the north side of the peninsula. We encountered a lone loon and floated with him for about 30 minutes. It was very relaxing. We brought the wood back to our site, loaded up some fishing gear and snacks for lunch and went back out for some fish dinner. We fished the south end of Kelly Lake and the north end of Peterson Lake. No luck at all. It was hot out and the sun was high, 75 degrees by my little thermometer. Not exactly the right time for fishing but it was wonderful being on the water in the B’dub. It was especially wonderful as the sky was mainly blue, what a treat after the previous afternoon. After we were done fishing, we paddled over to the portage to Burnt Lake. We hiked the 200 plus rods to Burnt. Along the way we met Tom and Julie. They were headed out after a week in the wilderness. We arrived at the shore of Burnt and took in the view for about 10 minutes.

Lakes Traveled:   Baker Lake, Peterson Lake, Kelly Lake, Jack Lake, Burnt Lake, Weird Lake,