Wood Lake 2011
John was sleeping comfortably after a hard day’s work in Metropolitan city. The traffic was terrible today with road construction, which had been going on for over 3 months. An hour drive turned into 2, and he could hardly take it! The city had grown in the last 15 years and he couldn’t quite understand the sprawl of the suburbs, the crime, and the danger to his family. It wasn’t what he had envisioned a lifetime ago when he was young. It hadn’t gone as he planned. It wasn’t the life that he thought. But it was all he could do at this time. It was early last week when his son called him and asked if he wanted to try something different. “What was that”, he asked, “please tell me it has something to do with escaping this god-forsaken place!!!”
It ended up being quite a weekend! It involved the biggest forest fire in on record, bears tracking you down portages, and foxes invading camp!! Oh – by the way - what did YOU do last weekend!!!!!! See if yours compares to this:
Thursday September 15, 2011 – We were driving up once again to “our place”! I am sure that many of your readers will identify with this emotion. We live the rat race, and escape as many times a year that we can to reset our sanity! This trip was going to be a rough one. We were originally told that the DNR had closed the Wood Lake entry point #26 in the Boundary Waters. Andy (my youngest son) wanted to try this pristine lake from among the many entry points available. Since it was not really a through-lake to major routes, it tends to be used by locals for day fishing it appears – and hopefully less traffic, better fishing, and a little more solitude. We came up mid-week and late in the season to yield a hopefully more private trip yet.
We found out later that the entry point was opened again so we decided to go – no matter what. I drove to Andy’s place and we packed up his business partners Mike’s truck with the gear and the two canoes (17 ft. Alumicraft and the 18.5 ft. Souris River Le Tigre). We left at 2 pm and arrived at Smitty’s on Snowbank at 8 pm with our normal stop at Tobies for gooey rolls and donuts for tomorrow’s breakfast.
We knew that the largest forest fire in a century in the BWCA was raging with only 8% of the fire contained at that time (weeks later it was still only 60-70% contained). As we drove up north we got a weft of smoke in the air in Ely, but the wind was from the North and kept it pretty clear. The fire had started at Pigami Creek southeast of the BWCA. We had heard that about 100,000 square acres of the wilderness was burned. We finally arrived at Smitty’s and rented two of Dennis’s motel rooms for the first night, with the idea that we would leave first thing in the morning to Wood Lake if we were still allowed to enter. During the night the wolves were howling big time at the full moon, an eerie feeling – giving the grandkids, Jake (8), Gus (5) and Kermit (3), an introduction to the wild – so different that the sound of traffic on the busy road of the Twin Cities. It was a cold crisp night, with figures dipping below freezing by morning.
We finally got all the kids to bed, and the adults stayed up a little late in the evening recounting past trips up north, and hopes for good weather and fun adventures for this trip. With all the work worries and fears of world war, epidemics, and political feuds out of our minds, we all hit the hay – out dead to the world until the grandkids came crawling on top of us asking where the Tobbie’s donuts were hidden.
Friday September 16, 2011 – When we woke up the wind had shifted to the south, and the suffocating smoke from the forest fire covered the Smitty’s. We pulled out our inhalers feeling a bit like some weaklings that never faced anything other than car exhaust, and loaded up after confirming the entry point was still open.
When we got to the entry point just 10 miles to the west of Smitty’s, the air had cleared, weather looked fine, and we decided to risk it and start the hike on the long downhill portage – about 185 rod (a rod is 16.5 foot, the length of a typical canoe). The kids loaded up their small back packs and took off the trail. Andy had done a good job breaking the kids in with a couple of years in the BWCA under their belts. When you set certain expectation with kids, they just accept a little hard work as part of the fun – and not drudgery.
After a double portage to get all the gear to the lake (knowing we had just one portage, we took more gear than we normally would), we put into the bog-stream that took us to the actual lake. Another camper met us while he was putting out, and told us that there were 35 people on the lake already, and the only site open was the one by the Hula portage, which was the one we wanted anyway. A little ice was noted in some canoes along the shore, and kids played with ice chunks like they were icicles in December. We paddled the bog stream for about ¼ mile and then hit the lake, interrupted by quiet and the sight of two trumpeter swans (that is what we thought they were – the picture below was not taken by us). We were lucky enough to notice a couple of their feathers floating on the lake a caught them to add to the Freeland feather collection in Andy’s truck visor (a find that raised a ruckus among the kids since there wasn’t a feather for EACH of the kids – a cardinal rule known by any Dad). After about an hour we arrived at the camp, and it was a sweet site. Plenty of open space for the three tents, a beautiful fishing –rock-point, and a huge hill/mountain behind us that commanded a fantastic view of the lake, much like Warrior’s Hill on Lac La Croix.
We set up the three tents (Eureka Northland, Mt. Hardware, and a Sierra Design) immediately followed by the routine of gathering firewood, cleaning out the ashes in the fire grate, and throwing out a fishing line with leeches and minnows. This first day involved continued fishing on the point, teaching Gus and Kermit to cast (and they did fantastic and were very proud of the fact) and multiple hikes up the mountain as the kids wanted to explore every path, every rock and every sight they could find. The mountain behind the campsite was quite a trek and the kids loved every minute of it. First one would get the idea of going up, and then down, and then up and then….. Well, you get the picture! The grandpas were pretty exhausted in a very short time, but couldn’t let the kids go up and down on their own for fear of Kermit toppling down the rocky slope.
That hill did offer a beautiful example of an intrusive streak of white quartz, squirted in crack in the hill of Ely Greenstone (the oldest exposed rock in the world – 3.8 billion years old). I explained the process of the white streaks of rocks, and the kids actually listened – it was fun. Don’t tell the rangers, but a couple of small pieces did end up in our pockets for our rock collections. I have been tumbling/polishing rocks for years as an amateur geologist and rock hound. The dynamics our earth really speaks to the creative genius of our God. Andy had a chance to try his new Katadyn gravity feed water filter in camp (a fantastic invention) – if you haven’t tried one – please do. You will be a “happy camper”. It’s funny the neat camp items that you pick up over the years of camping to make life a little more enjoyable.
We all got a chance to unwind from the frantic life of cell phones, traffic, and routine that we had have in our lives in the “old world”. I attempted a meal with our new Dutch Oven - it was Chicken and Dumplings. It actually tasted quite good, but as a reminder to the readers – ALWAYS line the Dutch oven with aluminum foil!! Or you will be in for a lot scraping which is not good for a treated Dutch Oven. Later that evening we tried a Cherry Cobbler – and we LOVED IT. Here are the recipes in case you want to try them. I mixed all the dry powders in a zip lock bag prior to the trip to make cooking simple.
Chicken and Dumplings Dutch Oven Recipe Line Dutch oven with heavy duty foil 2 large envelopes chicken noodle soup mix (not single servings) 1 12 oz can chicken meat Buttermilk biscuit mix Preheat Dutch oven to 250 degrees Mix soup mix with about half the normal water Add chicken and bring to boil Mix biscuit mix and drop by spoonful’s on the chicken soup Cover and bake at about 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until dumplings are done Can also add a can of corn, peas and carrots, or mixed vegetables if that sounds good to you Serves about 4
Dutch Oven Dessert - Cherry Cobbler
2 30oz cans of cherry filling 2 cups sugar 2 cups flour 2 cups oatmeal 1/2 cup chopped pecans 1 cup butter 1 tsp vanilla
Directions: First of all, to help with clean up, line your Dutch oven with heavy duty foil. Now pour the cherry pie filling into the Dutch oven and spread it over the bottom. In a bowl, mix together the sugar, flour, oatmeal, and pecans. Add your vanilla. Cut the butter into pieces that are about 1 tbsp. in size. Mix into the sugar/flour/oatmeal mixture. You might need to use your hands or a pastry cutter. Spread this topping over the cherries. Put the lid on the Dutch oven and bake the cobbler, using about 10 briquettes on the bottom and 16 on the top. Bake for about 45 minutes. Check and see if the crust is brown and the cherries bubbly. Of course be careful that ash from the oven lid doesn’t fall into the pot when you remove it.
We sat around a fantastic fire when night came with a full night sky of stars. We noticed one star that seemed to respond to our call for color? We would call out red – and it turned red – green and it turned green? What caused that, we could only guess? Was it the kid’s imagination or the power of suggestion that made us wonder? We saw the bright fall sky with Orion, Pleiades, Dippers, North Star, and Cassiopeia.
Everyone’s eyes were getting a little heavy so we hit the sleeping bags and Therma-rests with a thunk. A bear could have invaded the camp, and I doubt if we would have heard a thing (and one probably did, since Wood lake is rumored to have its share of nuisance bears). Jake and Gus in one tent, Andy and Mike in another, and Andy M. Kermit and myself in another. Good night!
Saturday September 17, 2011 – We woke to another fantastic day. No smoke in the air from the forest fire, the sun shining, and a day of fishing in hand. I decide to start my day with the kids and my “Magic 20+” list. It would be an ongoing search for a minimum of 20 items from my list that all three boys needed to find to win the “prize”. I am still not sure what the prize is going to be, but there will be some kind of prize for the hard work (I think it ended up being a raffle ticket and a search for a $5 dollar bill in envelopes with their names on them when we returned home). This was the list:
Beaver Bear Poop Feather Ely Greenstone Loon Walleye Owl Pine Cone A red rock Chipmunk Fire White pine Frog Ice Bass Otter White Crane Red Pine Granite Huge Indian Arrowhead rock Quartz Gold Rosehips Asters
They worked diligently throughout the trip to find these items, and even Kermit, with a little help, accomplished at least 20 of the items.
We played, climbed hills, traveled the paths, canoes, and yes, fished the lake. We didn’t catch a bunch, but did finally come up with the following inventory: Mike – 3 perch, 1 walleye, 1 pike, and 1 bass AL – 1 walleye, 1 pike Andy – 1 danged perch
Surprisingly there were still a lot of loons there. Some of them had some coloration that we did not normally associate with loons (the picture below was not the actual one that we saw, we missed the shot and I couldn’t find a picture on-line that shows the true coloration that we saw! RATS! We need to keep that camera ready at all times!). Not sure of the reason for that. The plaintive call at night is always a sound I will carry with me to my grave. And I still cannot get over how beautiful this bird is with striking colors and bright red eyes. It’s hard to believe that they change plumage in their wintering grounds, and for a bird that can hardly take off and land, they still fly a 1000+ miles for the winter. Throughout the trip the boys were real troopers – not a complaint, not a balk, no asking to be picked up or coddled. They were real men for being 8-5-3 years old. I was really proud of them. This was a great bonding time – an opportunity to get away from computers, their friends, TV, transformers, and Legos – a time that no other experience could afford.
That evening, the fire wasn’t nearly as clear and sweet. It was the cold front sweeping through that made the smoke curl into our eyes I am sure. We sensed that we needed to appreciate the great weather we had so far, and feared a wind shift that would bring the forest fire smoke flooding into the camp. We had a great evening and all but Mike and Andy headed for the tents.
As I was nodding off I heard a scream from Andy - “Mike – Mike – he’s in the trail looking at me. It’s a coyote!! It’s a wolf. “Mike snuck over by Andy and said, “No it’s a red fox.”. The fox circled the camp and disappeared and kept reappearing as the boys shout and screamed to scare the animal out of our camp. It calmed down and all went peacefully to bed. Good night!
Sunday September 18, 2011 - The next morning I awoke to another scream, “Mike – Mike – that danged Fox spread our garbage sack all over the camp! ALL over the camp!!” The sneak had found the sack of garbage that we had planned on packing out of the camp, and did what any camp friend would do, snoop, eat, and spread the garbage around to make us know who the boss of his wilderness is. I am sure he was saying, “that will teach you guys for messing with me!”
We quickly packed up camp dry – then the rain came as we started paddling out. Andy Moris was up front in my canoe with Jake in the middle, and the others in Andy’s canoe. The rain and high winds came full force making it tough to keep the canoe going straight to the exit. It was a bit of a struggle, but we got back before the rain became tempestuous. What was a downhill portage in, was now, of course, an uphill portage out. But once again, there was no complaining from the kids, wet and cold, but strong.
We had to do a double portage to get all of our gear out. As Andy, Mike and I were on our second portage back, I stopped the team and pointed out what was obviously a giant plop of fresh, steaming, Bear poop in the trail. If you recall, I mentioned before that Wood Lake was noted for bears! The bear was obviously tracking us on the portage and the hair stood up on my neck as I thought of little Kermit being snatched. You may think I am crazy, but I could honestly SMELL the bear – there was a smell like a wet dog in the air as we stood around the poop. We hurried back to the car and packed up for the long ride home.
We headed home with the news that the fire was still not contained – about 11%. The rain should help some. Some 600 fire fighters from Minnesota, New Mexico, and Canada were working the fire, and weeks late we learned it was still burning out beloved wilderness area.
Finishing this and any trip up to that paradise is always a sad closing to the year. It is like saying goodbye to a dear friend that you know you won’t see for a while. That ache in your chest only reminds a person that you are truly a human and a part of all that is natural in the world. See you next year friend!
Oh – and by the way, “What did YOU do this week end????” ?