Sea Gull Lake Solo April 2012
Well I’ve had been itching to get up north for some time and had a slight desire to try a solo for a change. I also recently talked my father into coming up there with me for fishing opener, hes older and has a few medical issues that would make portaging less than ideal so I decided I’d drag him up to Sea Gull for opener, we can get a fair amount of paddling and fishing in without any portage trouble. Despite having been thru Sea Gull on more than a dozen occasions it dawned on me I had never once stopped and checked out a site, let alone stayed there.
So it was decided, I would do my first mini solo and use the trip to scout out all the campsites I’ve never visited. Now doing my due diligence and taking advantage of the great resource that is this site, I started checking the maps here for campsite comments, using other peoples input as a starting point to narrow down my list somewhat. I couldn’t help but notice a member by the name of Amok had left comments on the majority of the sites I was looking at. I never had the pleasure of meeting him but I have seen is name mentioned often and witnessed multiple toasts to his memory at Copia this year. To garner such praise from those quality people only solidifies my opinion that he must have been a great person, If I had the chance I would thank him for the effort he put in on his numerous site comments. He was pretty spot on with most of his assessments and the ones he did not comment on were for the most part dogs and lack of comment was a comment in itself.
I started my trip bright and early, left Minneapolis Friday morning at 6. I arrived at Sawtooth Outfitters in Tofte Mn at around 10. I am loosely looking at a solo boat as a way to get out more on weeknights when the wife and friends are unavailable or unwilling and they were the only outfitter I found that had a Bell Magic for rent. I can’t say enough good things about Sarah and Jeff, very friendly and they were extremely accommodating in this early season rental, they are not even officially open yet but made sure they would be there to take care of me, grade A operation all the way. With a very diverse selection of boats to rent.
I had very little real solo boat experience, at least while loaded with full trip weight. I knew enough to know the magic was a bit less stable than others but I still wanted to try it as so many seem to love it and its allot easier to rent other boats that it is a Magic, figured I better get some time in one before I can’t rent one any longer. With the boat loaded and secured I was on my way up the Gunflint trail.
I arrived at the Seagull EP and the weather was near perfect, sunny, mid 50’s, just a touch of wind. I had a ton of stuff with, some gear I was just dying to try, some gear was products I’m currently developing for my fledgling canoe accessories company and other items needed for testing them, the rest was stuff to make sure I wasn’t uncomfortable during the 20 degree nights. I loaded a CCS Pioneer in the rear that was pushing 30 lbs and a CCS Ruck In the front that was a stout 17. I parked the car and took off. I made a b line for the large island to the west of the EP, the one with the foot bridge, just over half a mile if done in a straight shot. If I hadn’t been all tuned up on stability from the night before I would have hugged the shore a bit more, but going from the Kayaks on Nokomis to a canoe with 280lbs in it was a welcome feeling.
With the aid of the 240cm kayak paddle I got from Sawtooth I averaged about 5mph without much effort at all. I shortly entered the paddle only area and thats when the Parade of Campsites begin.
I visited one after another, all very pretty good but all shared a common disappointment, trash. This is one of the reasons I’ve never had much interest in camping on a big popular EP lake, worn down sites, lots of garbage. I picked up what I found but was sure there was more in the woods If I would have went looking for it. Beer cans, rope, socks, Tupperware, you name it, I found it and packed it out. The highlight of my trash collecting was a good sized multi tool type of thing, at first from a distance I thought I had just struck a treasure, but upon closer inspection it was a low end foreign made deal, stainless at least so it was not rusty, I’ll give it to my oldest nephew someday.
I had the fish finder on for a good chunk of this first day, looked promising.
I ended up staying on a site west of the Palisades area, some nice views and a level pad, I’m not too picky on campsites, as far as I’m concerned just about any site in the BWCA is a good site, just some better than others. Just as I was finishing with the tent I was greeted by my buddy, he would be pretty close to me for the remainder of my time there, half tame animals, another symptom of a well-used EP site.
I had a small fire, really just to kill some time before bed, I had made dinner on my stove, some freeze dried chili, not bad at all but way overpriced, will not buy again due to cost alone. Knowing I wasn’t going to portage was very liberating, sure I could have brought my 28sqft 2P tent and saved 3.5lbs but why bother, I went with the Losi 3P, with 50sq ft all to myself I was hardly roughing it. I finished my evening by starting the 2nd book in the Hunger Games series, was getting pretty good by the time I dozed off.
I don’t know what it is about the air up there, but it always seems like I can wake up with 4-5 hours under my belt and be ready to go, unfortunately I had retired very early and it was now well into the low 20’s with a thin layer of ice building on the top of my water bottle. I procured this water shortly before bed so it was likely not warmed at all from the 45 degrees it was as it came from the lake, in fact I’m sure by that time I pulled it from the lake the air temp was much colder than the water. It’s a good thing I came prepared, I really wanted to try out a new gravity filter but knew they are not supposed to freeze or the filter can be ruined. I tossed 2-10 hour pocket warmer’s into the filter carry pouch, after I had my 4 liters filtered I took one warmer, activated it, wrapped it and the filter inside a (clean) sock, inserted it in my cloths sack and all was good, was still very warm the next morning.
So anyways, here it is, 2AM, I’m wide awake, some wolves were howling off in the distance, cool yet eerie at the same time as I had yet to see anyone since a few miles before leaving the EP. I did the only thing I could think to do, read some more! I was reminded how much I love my long length sleeping bag, it was perfect for creating a little habitat for keeping warm but I must admit, the air quality was less than ideal……if you know what I mean…. damn you expensive chili!
I awoke for the 2nd time to a perfect morning, sunny again, with just a touch of wind.
I cleaned up the camp site some more, found a makeshift landfill about 10yds behind my tent, I just can’t understand how someone can bushwhack 10 yds into to hide 6 empty beer cans but couldn’t bother to pack them out, as if the effort of carrying those O so heavy cans would trouble them. I then started my favorite bdub breakfast, hash browns. Got the dehydrated browns soaking while I gathered enough wood to build a small fire, had some onions I diced Thursday night, got those sautéing in some butter, then added the hash browns and some bacon bits, then once crispy and done topped with a little shredded cheese, pretty much the greatest thing on earth at this point, glad I brought enough for a 2nd round the next morning!
I then made my way down to my now unloaded boat. This was where I realized my solo boat balance is not what I would call great, just felt uneasy at times, took a chug over to another site and then decided I needed to get some weight back in this thing if I am going to enjoy my day of site jumping, a couple of heavy yet buoyant birch logs fit the bill, I was now back in my element. I spent the next 4 hours going every which way, it was a blast.
I thought for sure I’d at least see a few other people, but no, nothing, not a soul, a far cry from a normal sunny day in the peak season, this will go unchanged for the remainder of my time, not a single sign of others the entire trip. I returned to camp and went exploring a bit, with all the recant talk of moose sheds I was on high alert, but no luck. I did manage to find a bunch of snow, likely remnants of the storm two weeks prior.
I returned to my mansion of a tent, read a few chapters in my book at dozed off, sunny, slight breeze, mid 50’s, this is EXACTLY what I love, perfect napping weather. I woke up and went for another hour paddle, no camp sites this time, just out on the now calm lake, me the loons and the mosquitoes…. … Mosquitoes!!!!!! I had not seen a single little bugger on my first day, but now all of a sudden they are EVERYWHERE, thick cloud like swarms, did they just hatch? Was the breeze keeping them at bay previously? Hard to say, but oddly they didn’t seem too interested in attacking me, maybe it was the nip in the air that was now returning with the setting sun. I returned to camp as I was now famished, my deluxe breakfast had held strong all day, didn’t even think about lunch. I hadn’t planned on a fire this night but knowing the enemy was out and about and not wanting to hit the tent yet I decided the encore to breakfast would take place this evening, that way no fire would be needed in the morning and I could pack up my junk and make sure I’d be back to the outfitter close to the time I told them.
Just as dinner was ready a slight breeze kicked up, just enough to clear the clouds of skeeters, I took this opportunity to eat my dinner on top of the high point of the site, a pretty great view.
I returned to my fire, got it going again, used up the rest of my wood, did the dishes, did some pre-packing of things I would not use or need again, then it was back to the tent. I spent the rest of the night looking at the numerous GPS tracks I had recorded, comparing me speed with the Yak paddle to stretches using my traditional paddle with corrective strokes.
I finished my book and went to bed. It was much warmer this night, or maybe it was just that I got a bit of sun on my face, but either way I was not hiding my bag tonight, slept great. I woke up to the sound of my little ruffed friend cruising around the tent and site.
Camp was struck fast. This was one of the highlights of my first solo. I like to keep a tidy camp, I can’t stand stuff strewn about the site, I look at such behavior is visual pollution, I like to keep everything nearly packed at all times, or at least in the tent, that way I know right where it is. It was so nice to run this site how I wanted, I will likely miss that feeling on my 2 upcoming trips in May.
My exit was almost completely uneventful, a few loons, a couple pairs of mallards, most of the shore I had already seen once or twice in my previous days travels. I was really enjoying my new 10oz ZRE 12 degree paddle and used it almost the entire way back, as someone who primarily paddles in a tandem it was fun to work on my corrective strokes that I often don’t get a chance to use as much. Right as I was starting across the large bay near the EP the wind really kicked up, legitimate white caps with solid decent swells, I switched back to my yak paddle which was clearly the equivalent of a turbocharged V8 engine, I did one long quarter into the wind than blew right into the EP, a fitting end to a great couple of days on the water. In no time at all the canoe was topped and the bags in the trunk, back down the Gunflint I go. I leave the wilderness, dry and well fed, a host of campsites I know will work and a couple of choice fishing spots already picked out, all in all a great weekend.
With my first solo under my belt I can honestly say I’m not “hooked” like others are, it was fun, I enjoyed it, but I’m an extremely social person, I missed my camp companions. The beauty of the BWCA is at times so overwhelming that I almost felt obligated to share it with someone. I can say however that I enjoyed the solo boat thing and can see why so many do group solos. Will I do another solo, maybe a longer more remote trip? Absolutely, both group and solo trips seem to have their advantages and disadvantages, maybe after the 3 trips coming up I’ll have enough time to take a lighter, faster solo in the fall, can’t wait.