Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Turtle Watch !
by toonces300

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 06/04/2012
Entry & Exit Point: Mudro Lake (EP 23)
Number of Days: 7
Group Size: 2
Trip Introduction:
** Travel – Sat/Sun, June 2nd-3rd ** It was about 4:15 a.m. as I pulled up quietly to the curb in front of Matthew’s house, killing my lights and drifting to a stop. I could see his gear stashed up on his porch, and the light through the front door. Unlike last year, there were no hitches to be had here at the get-go of the first-day road trip. He was outside within 2 or 3 minutes, we loaded his stuff into the back of the Jeep, re-tied our cargo net, and headed out, stopping briefly to top off our tank, and onto the road. Stopping only for gas, we blazed the I-35 trail from Fort Worth, TX until about 6:00 pm that evening, and after 910 miles, we “made camp” in Albert Lea, MN. We enjoyed a leisurely dinner at a restaurant beside our hotel and turned in just after dark, enjoying the pillows and comfy beds while we could ! We were up by 6 a.m on Sunday, enjoyed a quick continental breakfast at the hotel, then hit the road just after 7 for the balance of our North-bound trip, about 350 miles, to our outfitter’s place in Babbitt, MN. We pulled into their place just after 2, and admired Jim’s driving skills on his riding lawn-mower,until he saw us sitting there watching him ! The four of us (Bret drove over from town) visited- went over our gear and paperwork – and caught up until about 4, after which Matthew and I drove to Blomberg’s for our fishing licenses, then to The Hideaway. After a light dinner, a few games of pool (both of which Matthew won), and laughing with some of the locals, we made back to Jim’s and turned in for the night…neither admitting it..but both barely holding back the adrenaline that was already building for the next morning.
Part 1 of 8
** Day 1 **

My phone alarm began to beep at 5:00, but both of us had already been half-awake. Within 20-30 minutes we had our gear out by the suburban – eager for our 6:15 planned departure time. Jim made up some fresh coffee over in the Kitchen Haus, along with a few boiled eggs, and as a new treat, FRESHLY BAKED, and I mean STILL warm, sweet rolls from a place over in Babbitt. Nice touch!

We all chatted for a very short bit, then wished Jim a good week as we loaded up, and headed out for our drop off up at Nels Lake. Our entry permit was for Mudro, but, in one of his several route suggestions for the year, Owen had proposed going in at Nels, then crossing thru Picket, and putting into Mudro from there.

The drive took almost no time it seemed, maybe 45-50 minutes, and we were there. Bret unloaded the canoe, helped with our gear, took the obligatory “first day shove-off” photo, then wished us well and headed out. Matthew and I paused for a prayer here at the start, as we always do, then took a brief moment to just take in the reality of being here finally, and to breathe that fresh air.

Nels was quiet and still, almost glass-like. We tried to disturb the water as little as possible as we loaded up, set up our flag on the stern, and pushed out to begin this year’s adventure. Within the first 15 minutes, we saw our first Loon, heard the first chatters of chipmunks, and saw a small, beautiful waterfall on the Southern shore as we headed East. It was all we had hoped for here at the start – and as always – one of those moments that had me whispering Thanks for all that I had.

The portage to Picket Pond was on the right near the end of the lake, marked by a faded pink ribbon in a Pine tree on the shore’s edge. We both laughed, wishing we’d had a marker of some kind on some elusive portages in the past, but at the same time, very GLAD that there had NOT been any. It was part of the allure of being in the Boundary Waters for me – finding your way – doing the best you could with what you had, in this case : your head, a map, a compass, your eyes, help from your companion, etc..

The trail across would have been easy if not for a downed tree, right across the path at a downward slope, that made for a small bit of improvising, but running on 1st-Day adrenaline, it was nothing. The water levels were high. It allowed us to put in very early, and made this first long portage seem like two. We put back in to cross a small pond-like area…and in going across a narrow spot, got hung up just enough to come to a stop in the moving water.

I rolled up my pants and got out into knee-deep water, to get weight off the back and free us, but it was in the middle where our gear was that had us held there in limbo. Matthew leaned over to push off a rock, and almost instantly I heard him say, “That’s just great”. His wedding ring had slipped right off his finger. Neither of us really believed we would find it at all, but we just stopped what we were doing, situated the canoe just enough to create a water break and still up the water at the bow where he had been leaning over. We slowly and carefully turned and moved several rocks, letting the silt clear to see if we could spot it through the rushing water. After almost 20 minutes of slow-motion reaching and peering into the water, Matthew pulled his hand up out of the water, and there it was ! Neither of us could believe it, and both agreed, as he secured it onto a locking necklace he wore, that “removing jewelry the night before the trip” would be a new checklist rule.

We got going again, and soon reached a dam that made us get out again, then across a short 20 rods, not too difficult, double-carrying our canoe. On both portages I inadvertently picked up some unwanted passengers, a total of 5 ticks in the brush, but thankfully, I felt them on me before they latched on.

It was a long, quiet pull over Picket. About halfway across we saw our first Bald Eagle – it made me wish we could see them more often. I was surprised to see the private pier, and cabin, off to the left of the old bridge piles, but then remembered we were outside the BWCA, and the strangeness passed !

We got near the end of Picket and drifted up to the two big drain pipes under the road crossing. There was a mass of folks unloading their gear and canoes, all clearing the road and readying to put in at Mudro. We both shared our wishes NOT to get hung up behind all these guys, and as we drifted up to the end of Picket, saw that the water running through the left drain seemed deep enough, and that the pipe was plenty clear all the way through. “Let’s do it”, Matthew said, and as one young man looked surprised to see us coming up from the other side of the road, his look became doubly-surprised as we waved, then paddled right under him and into the drain pipe!

On the other side, there were a few branches on each side of the stream, but nothing major, and with the water level up, we paddled right on down that stream, beside all the people humping it down the Mudro portage trail, with many looks of disbelief and someone even saying, “Hey, that isn’t fair!”. LOL !!

Right at the portage put-in, we veered out of the stream mouth and paddled right on by 5 or 6 canoes loading up at the water’s edge, getting set to start their trips. “How lucky was THAT?”, I said, as we began the long, curvy channel that headed over to Mudro-proper from the portage. Getting caught behind 5, 6 or even more canoes would’ve been miserable through here.

We came out onto and crossed Mudro, paying attention off to the left where the portage over from Horse came in. Further down. the portage into Sandpit was short, but a little strenuous. It was a steady uphill climb at first, then a very steep, rocky downhill backend, and very muddy down at Sandpit.

The wind had begun to pick up on us, but we paid it little mind – today was already half over for us, as things were going smooth and steady, with the exception of the ring incident. We crossed Sandpit, and in drifting up to the small takeout at the portage over to Tin Can Mike, found ourselves waiting on a group of 4 in front of us, fully unloaded, at the water’s edge. They saw us slow as we approached, and continued on with their conversation. We sat and waited patiently . A few minutes passed….and we waited some more, as none of them made any effort to move their canoes, or gear that was unloaded and right beside their canoes, away from the water. “Go Left”, I said to Matthew, who was already putting his paddle in the water to head that way. Only after they saw us coming on in - slide over to the far left - and both get out into the mud, did any of them start to react and begin to move their gear.

We unloaded, and headed off with the first load. It was a 160-rod crossing, broken up into two sections. The first half was easy, and the second had a long, raised plank section leading on into TCM. I bet that part would be awful in a good rain ! Even though the other group was single-portaging, we still went back, got our balance, and were in the water before they even began put their canoes in the water.

For the first time up here, or at least that we noticed, we saw a mass of butterflies at the shores edge, a ton of them, all clambering over each other on the shore near the water's edge – must be mating season or something for them, but we saw this several more times over the week.

The wind had picked up even more to the stage of “annoyingly gusty” as we hit the water and crossed TCM. The two campsites we saw actually looked pretty nice – reminding me of someone’s comment on that TCM was his favorite lake. I could see why.

The portage into Horse was marked on the TCM side by an old, rusted tin can jammed onto a branch on the side of the trail. It looked to have been there for quite some time, and we wondered if someone did that because of the lake’s name, or if the lake was named after it ? Our conversation about it took up most of the time for the 90 rod trail, and into the sandy put-in on the Horse side.

We bypassed the campsite up on the hill in the channel, even though it had been noted as a good one, hoping for a site at the river’s mouth, making our jump-off the next morning an easy one, but, both were taken. The first looked really good, as did the second. We ended up on the Northern end of the lake on an island site at about 2-2:30.. It was ok, and if it hadn’t been for the wind blowing hard out of the South, we talked of paddling back down to the empty channel camp. We unloaded our gear, checked out the island, then set up our tent at leisure. We were glad to have a short first day.

As soon as we were done with the tent, Matthew broke out the fishing gear and started working the shores while I took a short nap. I think this is his favorite part of the trip, and after last year’s disappointing numbers, he seemed eager to get going right away. He caught a nice little Northern, and later in the afternoon, I snagged a nice Smallie on the other side of the island. As few as I catch on trips, I even carried it around the shore to show him ! It was the LAST time we would be tied all week !

Later in the evening, closer to sundown, we began to hear all kinds of scratching noises on the rocks around camp and the shoreline. We also noticed lots of turtles that we thought were just checking us out from the water’s edge. Turns out they were all, and there were a LOT of them, coming up out of the lake, crawling up over - in - and around the rocks – trying to find a place to dig. It is always amazing to stand there and watch the sheer power of Instinct, and to try and comprehend Nature’s big wheels just a turnin’. We walked around and watched them for several minutes, clambering over each other, struggling to get up over an 8” climb when they could just slide one way or the other and keep moving, and trying to dig right through solid rock. As silly as it was, it was even more amazing at the same time, and I was so interested in watching them that I didn’t think to grab my camera.

Despite some brief thunder and passing showers earlier around 4-5, it was a cloudless sunset, and night. The wind was virtually gone - It was very pleasant. We crawled into the tent near 9 for the night.

I was awakened sometime early in the morning, 1 or so, by Matthew coughing. I finally sat up and asked him if he was alright…he said No…that he was going to be sick. I immediately “woke up” and said, “then get out of the tent!” We grabbed for a bag of some kind, found a plastic grocery bag, and he did his thing…still in the tent…sitting up right there in his sleeping bag…however…he realized that there were a few holes in the bottom of it !!! We spent the next 20 minutes cleaning it all up – knew we’d have to finish the job the next day after we set up camp. Outside it was a full moon, and as said before, completely clear…and quiet. So as it was easier to see what we were doing, it also meant that all of our noise was echoing down the lake. We laughed (the next day) that we weren’t camped closer to another site. Needless to say, we kept a “good” bag on either side of the tent every night after - a new contingency plan for in the future.
*** Nels Lake, Picket Lake, Mudro Lake, Sandpit Lake, Tin Can Mike Lake, Horse Lake ***