Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

11 Day Solo in BW and then 15 day Hunter Island Loop in Q
by CanvasAndSteel

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 05/21/2012
Entry Point: Little Vermilion Lake (Crane Lake) (EP 12)
Exit Point: Seagull Lake (EP 54)  
Number of Days: 26
Group Size: 1
Trip Introduction:
This is a report on an 11 day solo in BWCA followed by 14 days with my paddling partner in the Quetico.
My trip started May 21 at Crane Lake, with a Little Vermillion EP. Was on the water about 10:30 and camped the first night south a bit on Little Vermillion Lake. I was not prepared for all the houseboats. An odd way to begin a trip. Day one was calm, clear and warm. That wouldn't last.

Day two it rained. And it kept raining. If the next 9 days I believe it rained on eight of them. I was told that during that time Basswood rose about a foot. I believe it. And that's not a complaint, actually. It would feel like a canoe trip without rain. I was paddling a 22 year old Will Ruch Wood Dacron. It's a 15 foot tandem with a bit of rocker that was outfitted with a kneeling thwart to paddle solo (worked well, as it's a rather narrow 31" at center). It's a lovely, lovely canoe. Camp two was at the north end of the Little Indian Sioux River. This was one of several little rivers on the route, all lovely. From there I went south to Lower Pauness and east to Shell, Little Shell, Lynx, Ruby and Hustler, camping on Hustler. Significant rain most of the time.

Day four was Oyster, Oyster River, Agnes, Boulder Bay of Lac LaCroix and then to Iron Lake and a campsite on an island just north of Peterson Pay. This one was interesting. It had been cold and rainy all day. I checked every site on Iron, finding nothing open. My route would take me through Peterson Bay to the Beartrap River, so the island campsite was my last hope as afternoon turned into evening. I was disappointed when I paddled up and saw a tarp set up. I decided to check with those camping there to see about throwing up my hammock. I "halloed!" at the shore, raising no one. I waited for them to return from their fishing outing, shouted again, waited some more. Finally, after more than an hour I trudged up the hill to the "tent" and saw that it was a large brown rock with orange lichen. There was no one there, just the tarp still set up. I was pissed. Please, don't ever, ever do that. People bypass sites when they see something set up. Very poor etiquette.

Day five, then, was on the Beartrap River to Sunday Lake (this is a primitive management area, so I obtained a permit in advance to camp on Sunday). Rained some, but not a lot. the portages were tough. Not maintained and at times a bit of a bushwack. Saw no one in the PMA. It was nice to be alone. The Lower Beartrap was beautiful. The upper river the next day was equally stunning. I highly recommend it. I even paddled down Spring Creek a bit just to see it before heading back and turning east into Beartrap Lake, where I camped for night 6.

The next day I did Gun, Boot, Fourtown, Horse, camping on the island farthest to the north for nights 7 and 8. I think this was the day I began noticing pain in my left achilles tendon. I figure out (too late) that as I was kneeling a fold in my boot (redwing irish setters) was pressing on the tendon. Everything became painful with it, especially portaging. I was fortunate on my layover that it was mostly sunny and I was able to air everything out. It started raining early evening and continued.

Day nine was a long day in a steady rain, although I was fortunate to hit a calm Basswood, camping at the Lewis Narrows just west of the Back Bay portage. My achilles that day was bothering me to the point that I was just shuffling through the portages and leaving my boot off in the canoe. Campsite ten was on the north end of Newfound Lake and it was decision time. This was supposed to be a 21 day solo. My goal was to paddle all the way east to South Fowl and then double back on the border lakes to meet a friend at Wilderness Canoe Base on Seagull for two more weeks in the Quetico. It was clear that I had three choices: slow down, take some time off and hope my tendon would heal over the next 10 days; pack my boots and wear my Keens on portages; had down to the Scout camp on Moose and call home for a pick up. It was a tough decision, but I went with number three. I had no confidence that I would heel while still wearing my boots. To portage on wet sloppy portages with my Keens was risking real injury. I owed it to my friend to be ready for our Q trip. I paddled down to the Northern Tier camp and called my wife. The solo leg was over at 11 days and 120 miles or so. My wife and the boys arrived to pick me up from the Twin Cities about 8:00 p.m. We spent the night in Ely and then bummed around town all the next day before heading home June 2 or 3.

Between then and heading back up for Q on June 11 it was very, very strange. I had to go barefoot or wear sandals the whole time, without having any idea whether my tendon would actually heal quickly enough. I studied up on things and bought a different pair of boots to relieve the pressure point (I got a pair of Simms Freestone wading boots -- fabulous. I highly recommend it.) I'll put the Quetico report up soon (The Hunter Island Loop--Seagull to Cache Bay, Falls Chain, Kawnipi, Poet Lakes, Sturgeon, Maligne R, Poobah, Conmee, Sarah, Prairie Portage, Man Chain, Cache Bay, back to Seagull--about 170 miles).

Now that the successful Q trip in behind me and all is healed, I'm over the disappointment of coming off the solo halfway through. It was very, very tough. Put into perspective, however, 11 days solo is still a chunk of time. It's just not was I had been planning.

I tried to get everything into one pack, but packing for 21 days just couldn't do it (and if I had it might not have been able to do single portaging anyway). I used a #2 Quetico Superior pack and a 60L Blue Barrel with the CCS Barrel Pack.

Gear that worked well for me on the solo: emberlit twig stove (amazing how little wood I used to cook) on dry days, trangia alcohol stove (inside the emberlit) for wet (fabulous and simple little stove); the Ruch canoe (can't say enough about it); my new Wright-McGill rain pants (stalked them for months online till I found them for $50, originally $200); SPOT GPS Messenger (let my wife know I was OK and plotted my trip on a map for later use); My Warbonnet Blackbird Hammock and Big Mamajamba Tarp (first time in a hammock. will never again do a tent. Hammocks are a bit fussy to set up, but amazingly comfortable and my clothes, bedding and I stayed bone dry during an historically wet week); CCS Barrel Pack and blue barrel (first time using a blue barrel. Kept the food- all dehydrated starting in January-unshmushed, well organized and dry). Will post photos in the next few days.

Drove up the GF Trail June 11 to Seagull Lake where we spent the night at Wilderness Canoe Base. Great place. If you haven't been by, visit. If you have a son or daughter you'd like to get into canoeing it's a great place to send them.

Day 1 paddled to Cache Bay Ranger Station and then camped on Cache Bay before entrance into narrows leading to Silver Falls. A lot of wind on Sag day 1. Had to pull off the water for a bit on the lee side of an island to wait for the water to calm a bit. The wind abated slightly, so we went on. First site was really very nice for what it probably a well used site. Rained during the night, but not significantly.

Day two we took as a relatively short day, camping in the northwest arm of Saganagons before the Four Falls Portage. Nothing remarkable about The first few portages, good weather.

Day three, a rainy day, we paddled the falls chain and about halfway up Kawnipi, camping on a small island east and south of Rose Island. The portages were fine, but I don't recommend the Falls Chain for novices, especially because of Kennebas Falls from Kenny into Kawnipi. In high water like this year the portage is literally feet from the top of the falls and the current is swift right up to the bank. If you don't know what you're doing bad things could happen. More rain that night on Kawnipi and people really thinned out once we got past the Falls Chain. I was not impressed by the campsites on Kawnipi. Few and unspectacular.

Day four, the Poet Lakes. Beautiful lakes. We made it another short day in order to camp on a lovely site on a little island in Shelly Lake just a few hundred yards west of the portage into Shelly. The water was high enough that we were able to paddle at least one of the portages. The chute into Shelly is narrow and has a bend in it, with a large rock in the middle. It may look doable, but it is not. The day was sunny and cool. That evening we caught a few nice smallies on the south side of a tiny island just west of our campsite.

Day five was a longer day in the rain. We paddled about five miles into Sturgeon. We beat the weather to a small island with an adequate at best campsite. Then the storms rolled in. Our hammocks, as in the past, were comfortable and rain free. If we had known about the "Waikiki Site" only a quarter mile south of us on a point we would have continued to paddle.[paragraph break] I was worried the next day about the weather, expecting a wind from the southwest up Sturgeon, so we were on the water early. The wind was indeed stiff and as we paddled around the sandy point it hit us. Deciding that discretion was the better part of (foolish) valor we bailed back to the point to ask its residents if we could join them. It was a group of three Alabamians guided by Stu Osthoff. They were happy to have us, so we brought out canoe onshore, ate breakfast with them (thanks, Stu!), set up our hammocks for some napping. We spent eight hours there chatting, bathing and drying clothes. Around 1:30 the wind started to ebb. At 3:00 we were on the water as Stu and his folk went out fishing. We pulled into camp (on the Maligne River, right before taking Poobah Creek east) about 6:30. A nice site.

Day Seven. This was our toughest day. The Memory Lane Portages into Conmee from Poobah. Poobah is a beautiful lake. We were momentarily tempted to knock off early and camp at a fabulous island site, but we knew we needed to press on.  We were headed to Conmee because Stu promised fabulous Walleye fishing off an island in the northeast corner. The first of the three Memory Lane portages started off straight up hill. STRAIGHT up hill. I've done a few thousand portages, and I don't remember a steeper one. Carrying my 95 lb. Old Town Otca up it was a bear. Then the portage got boggy and the beautiful sunny day turned stormy. The second portage, the longest of the three, would have been fairly straightforward if it had been maintained. I looked like it had been years since a crew had been through. My friend, Bill, went over, around, through and under significant obstacles. During our second trip with packs three and four a hail and windstorm hit us, sending a very large birch tree crashing parallel to the portage not twenty feet from us. But all you could do was keep on walking.  Portage number three was perhaps the most difficult. It had significant boggy stretches, other tricky footing and ended with a difficult downhill that was only slightly less steep than what we experienced on the first portage. Bill and I are pretty quick, but the three portages, about 4 Km total, took six hours. If you want a challenge, take them. The campsite on Conmee that Stu steered us toward, an island on the north end of the eastern arm, was a pit and was full of widowmakers. We went scouting for a different site and found one on the western side of the eastern arm. It rained that night and most of the next day, which we took as a layover since we needed to recover from the Memory Lane portages. Night eight was very stormy. Two serious windstorms came through, along with the hardest rain I've ever camped in. Any uncertainty I might have had about the ability of our hammocks to keep us dry was dispelled that night.

Day nine was again wet. We pushed a bit that day and paddled to a very nice campsite on the narrows about halfway down Sarah Lake. More rain that night, at times heavy.

On day 10 the weather changed as a high pressure system moved in from the north.  It was a day of beautiful sites, including the lovely Isabella Lake, the little river heading out of it and the equally pretty little flow heading into North Bay (it was stunning to be paddling in the greenery watching the underwater grass undulate with the current and look up to see the land actually tilting downhill). A great, great day. A couple very large bass were caught at the end of the flow out of Isabella into no name.

Day 11 we kicked things up a notch, paddling from the north end of North Bay to Sheridan Lake. We were expecting a "make do" site at Sheridan, but actually had a great little site on the northwest side of the lake. It was a beautiful afternoon and evening.

The next day we had to start slowing down, as we were coming out on the 26th in order to head down to YMCA Camp Menogyn to meet my son who was coming off trail that day. We slept in a bit on day 12 and then just paddled and fished our way to This Man Lake. The Man Chain was as pretty as I remembered it the first time, 1988.

Camp 13 was on Bell Lake. The next day we decided to paddle in. The weather was fabulous, but it was still a long haul from Bell to the Wilderness parking lot on Seagull where the car was waiting for us. I've never-never-paddled on Saganaga with no wind at all. It was glass, like paddling in a dream. We made it from the narrows on the north side of Cache Bay to the Saganaga narrows in less than three hours. One of the things that made it worth carrying the Otca.  From there it was down to Gull, Seagull and then a drive to Menogyn to spend the night in order to welcome my son the next day as he came off trail.[paragraph break]

The last thing I should mention about the trip is the maps we used. For my BW solo I used the Nat Geo maps. Only two maps for the entire BW. The only difficulty I had with them was on the border. There is a needlessly dark and heavy line marking the border that obscures detail. Otherwise they were great.  for the Quetico trip we used the Chrismar map ("The Adventure Map", available online and at the Ranger Station). Again, it was great not to have to shuffle 12 or 13 maps. The portages are accurately portrayed. Since we went about 170 without mishap I would say the detail is fine. I'll try and post pics later this eve.