Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Cold Reception at Cherokee Lake
by Boppa

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 09/11/2011
Entry & Exit Point: Cross Bay Lake (EP 50)
Number of Days: 8
Group Size: 2
Trip Introduction:
This trip was born on a whim that my Bow Partner, Bette, had some 3 years ago. She, after looking through a section of the Dan Pauley book, "Boundary Waters", said “That’s a lake I would really like to visit someday” (Cherokee Lake). This is the only specific BW lake request I have ever heard her mention. What we often do when a whim takes us into a particular tripping direction is to create a folder where any information gathered on said lake/route can be collected for future use. So it was done with Cherokee Lake. Since then we, as many others as well, have had to deal with the unexpected and cruel intrusion of cancer into our lives. Bette was diagnosed with Uterine Sarcoma in June of 2010. Shortly after surgery we found ourselves in a chemotherapy room at a cancer center in Hartford, CT. In looking around at the room’s awkward attempt to be pleasant, Bette spots a large framed lake picture and says “that looks just like the Boundary Waters”; I concur after getting up for a closer look. Indeed, the frame identifies the print as “Moon over Cherokee Lake, Boundary Waters”. We look at each other as if this is an omen to be taken seriously. This coincidence is a bit eerie, because in Connecticut very few people have heard or know of the Boundary Waters, never mind Cherokee Lake. We promise our next canoe camping trip to the BW will be to Cherokee Lake. At home the folder was found and pushed to the top. A year has passed in which a string of medical attempts and disappointments, along with a reoccurrence of the cancer, has made it difficult to remain positively focused. Finally our wonderful but frustrated Oncologist tells Bette about a trial drug at Sloan-Kettering in NYC that Bette may consider applying for. Bette does apply, is accepted and offered a spot, which she accepts. After 8 weeks in this new drug trial we receive good news, the tumors are at the moment shrinking. Although Bette has had waning strength and stamina while on this trial drug, she still says “let’s get to Cherokee”. On this particular trip we have had to make a number of changes, such as dates, direction of travel, where to start/ finish, to give us the best chance of getting to Cherokee while staying within the guidelines of Bette’s trial drug protocol and addressing her limited strength. This is where you all at have helped immeasurably. Whenever we have had to change or reset our criteria for the trip or overcome some other problem, you were there with options and suggestions. Whether we gleaned information from trip reports or received great information directly from a number of you, you helped. We are indebted to you and thank you! Looking back, we realize we underestimated the trial drug’s continued weakening effects on Bette’s physical abilities. The downward spiral of her strength and stamina was offset by her desire to try and do her share of the physical work involved. This comes from a lot of years of conditioning and the fact that she has always been able to physically commit to giving her all. Now as she reached deep inside to portage, paddle and do camp set-up chores, she pushed too hard and eventually found herself unable to do little beyond walking the portage and paddling as best she could. Please be assured we have no regrets. She/We got it done, not quite how we envisioned but for us it was a victory over the cancer, it could not keep her from Cherokee Lake. She is one tough paddler. ~~~~~~ THIS IS HOW IT WENT: ~~~~~~ Bette and I had a wonderful drive from CT to MN. It is our first time driving to the BWCAW and we prefer it over flying; although a long drive (23 hours) it was at our pace and much less hectic than what flying has become today. Going through Duluth by the port and shipyard gave us an awful lot to take in, it was fascinating. Taking our time on Route 61 was enjoyable, we got to stay and enjoy both the Chateau LeVeaux and Thomsonite Beach Inn, great locations with spectacular views of Lake Superior. We capped off our final night in Grand Marais by going to the talk and slide presentation at Stone Harbor presented by Ann and Natalie on their Hudson Bound Trip, a very enjoyable evening. A big advantage for us driving was being able to bring all of our own tripping gear with the exception of the canoe and food, both provided by our outfitter, Rockwood Lodge and Canoe Outfitters. Using our own gear is a big plus, both from a weight savings and familiarity with equipment factor. We had secured a Sunday, 9/11 entry date at #50 Cross Bay River and drove into our Outfitters parking area by the Rockwood Lodge on Saturday, 9/10 and quickly spotted the owners, Mike hauling canoes and Lin coming from the outfitter cabin. It was a warm and special welcome as we reunited with them both. It is extra special as this is our first meeting with them since Lin’s recent stroke. She is doing well, with the loss of speech transfer (not being able to say the word which she is thinking) the most difficult part of her recovery. She is in line for two operations to correct amount of blood flow in veins on each side of her neck and head, so strokes should not reoccur; in fact, her first procedure was scheduled for that Wednesday in Duluth, while we would be out tripping. Their adult son Mark was due in to provide them with a hand while Mike took Lin in to the hospital. Mike looked thin and fit from all the extra hours that Lin’s absence from the business required of him. While Lin has been able to reassume most tasks in the set up work of canoe tripping, Mike was required to be around to answer customer questions and concerns till Lin’s speech is hopefully rehabilitated to again handle this part of the business. They are a great study in courage and team work. The canoe is chosen (a Wenonah Spirit II, Outfitters Edition) and put on our car rack. The food pack gone over and tweaked to meet our needs. We unpack our travel cases into the bunkhouse, load the car up for a quick morning departure and then head over to the Trail Center for dinner. The Trail Center has changed its greeting/waiting area a bit. We like it, as it gives more room to move around. We have a 15 minute wait till seated so head to the back outside bar where the casual feel of this area continues to contribute to the relaxed feel I have in the BW area. Dinner is salmon for me and filet for Bette, done nicely, as always. We talked with the cashier and mention Tiffany, from Jamaica. The cashier indicated that she was unable to return this summer as she had limited out her work visa; too bad, as she is a nice and special person and we had enjoyed our interactions with her at the Trail Center the past three years. Back to the bunkhouse, we note that we are apparently its only quests tonight and set our alarm for 5:00AM to meet a self imposed 6:00AM departure.
Day 1 of 8
The Cherokee Lake picture found in Bette's treatment room.

Ann and Natalie's canoe outside where they talked about their adventure.

Where we always enjoy our dinner the night before we enter the BW.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

DAY 1 – The alarm goes off and all goes smoothly; we are at Cross Bay at 6:30AM. There are about 8 cars in the lot but we feel that we are first today. It is going to be a sunny, warm, beautiful day. As I take the canoe down to the dock area, a young lady is sitting with camera in hand. I instinctively slow down to be quiet as I think she is trying to capture a wildlife photo. She bids me a good morning and says she is there for the sunrise which indeed is only minutes away. My Bow Partner and I continue our canoe loading and shove off. Our early morning photographer graciously wishes us a good trip, we smile and thank her, and she goes back to viewing her reason for being there. We paddle to our first portage and it is as difficult a landing as I remember, compounded by the seasonal low water levels, just so many rocks to avoid or work around. The first portage is over and although an average walk it is one we just don’t care for, due to those types of landings. The put-in at Little Ham is far easier IMHO. The truth is, these portages are really met with enthusiasm, as the realization that the trip that has been anticipated for so many months is truly underway.

Bette paddling on a Cross Bay River turn - the trip is underway.

Low water is very evident at first portage rock garden.

Waitin to be hauled.

A familiar landmark on Ham Lake.

The portaging and paddling continue; we pass by the marker from Ham Lake to Cross Bay Lake indicating we are now in the BWCAW. As we shove the canoe off, now officially in the BWCAW, we note with a silent fond remembrance, Amok, then tip our hats and cross paddles. He was a good spirit who left us all too soon.

Steep portage steps from Ham Lake to Cross Bay Lake.

Ahh, back in the BW we finally are.

After checking the sky I am sure our early morning photographer back at the put in has gotten a prized photo, as the day is a beauty; we continue our paddling down Cross Bay Lake, noting its winding charm and variety of views. From large rock outcroppings to low lying marshy moose magnets we quietly paddle, taking it in. The first campsite, while very adequate, is unappealing as it seems to have a tough canoe landing and rock incline to get to the site, better suited, for younger legs. We hear noise ahead and spot a couple of empty canoes then come upon a young mixed gender group of 8 cliff jumping with their PFD’s on. They were having a great time, but we continued on our way not tempted to join them. We passed the 2nd and last campsite on Cross Bay which looks like a very nice spot but in our two times through it has been occupied and we have been unable to check it out. Onto the portage to Rib Lake, nice take out, average walk with one campsite on Rib that looks very adequate; we see an otter and smile at its antics. We paddle to a nice take-out from Rib and portage to a very tough put-in to Lower George Lake, lots of rocks and with the low water I was forced to walk out further than I like on unseen rock (this is however the curse of protecting Kevlar). Lower George is a nice little lake with no campsites to check out and slow us down further, lol. We find the little spur to the portage to Karl Lake with no problem and enjoy this area, as it has character and something different to offer.

An old crib at the portage from Rib Lake to Lower George Lake.

Sunset on Karl lake.

As we are about to put-in on Karl two brothers come up from behind us and we insist that they go first as we know we are not that quick, they reluctantly accept due to our insistence. They prove to be are a well mechanized machine; each knew his tasks and quickly did them without any need for verbal instruction or cues. They were both pleasant and quickly shove off for Long Island Lake; they are gone in a flash. As we shove off I realize I have earlier tweaked the side support of my left knee. I believe it happened when I lifted the canoe over rock which was wet and slippery a few portages back; the knee was letting me know it was time to stop. Coupled with the fatigue concerns surrounding Bette, I am suspicious that our enthusiasm has led us to travel farther than we should have on our first day. We inspect the site on Karl, by the portage to Long Island Lake and it had a wonderful single tent pad area, a decent canoe landing and some kind soul left a lot of piled fire wood. Home it was and a nice one to boot. With tent up, air mattresses inflated, sleeping bags out, food pack hung, we begin to realize we have over done it and just have snacks and water and go to bed early. It is at this point I realize a big error that I have made. I have not transferred my meds from my travel pack to my personal tripping bag. I have two meds that the Docs want me on. Well nothing to be done at this time, I will re-examine this blunder in the morning.

Tent on Karl Lake