Mid September 2013 on #32 S. Kawishiwi River
When August came around, I kicked around the idea of going on a solo trip and then told myself that it was something I should do just for the experience. When I had finally come to this conclusion, my dad decided that he would be able to go with me. It turned out that because of the drought, our dryland corn burned up and we would be able to turn the cattle out on that so that we wouldn't have to feed them in the feedlot. It's kind of funny how the thing that was going to end my trip was the thing that allowed us to go.
In a way though, I was kind of bummed out that I couldn't go by myself. It would have been a great personal accomplishment to spend a week in the BWCA alone. In my mind I already had my solo trip planned out as if were an adventure novel of survival. I would be attacked by a bear and wrestle it to the death with my Gopro head camera catching all the action. My canoe would tip over and I would have to swim a mile to shore and I would gash myself open and have to perform self-surgery. It would be the manliest trip ever. After all, the risk of death on a solo trip would be half the fun.
September 14th was the day that dad and I left for Minnesota. Nebraska was playing UCLA at 11 that morning so the plan was to watch the game and leave after it was over. We left home, central Nebraska, around 3:30 and the plan was to make it to Minneapolis.
The last couple years we would head up over Labor Day but this year we would be leaving two weeks later. I kind of wanted to leave another week later to make sure the leaves were in full color but dad said that he needed to get back to wean calves. While the leaves would only just be starting to turn, we would have an extra 30 minutes of daylight and the weather should be slightly warmer. It turned out that if we had waited a week, the leaves would have been in full color and the weather would have been just as good.
We took my 1997 Ford Explorer again this year and had it loaded down with gear. This year, I decided to just buy all of the gear instead of rent it. This was my third time to Ely so as long as I go another time or two, I will have it paid for. Normally when I spend a week hunting or fishing, my type of camping is just putting on some coveralls and sleeping on the ground and eating food that doesn't need to be cooked. I wanted to do it right this time. I probably have around $1000 in gear and another $300 in the Gopro camera I bought. It is a lot more work though having to make sure you have everything. The food was the most difficult thing to get ready because we wanted to make sure we had enough but yet not too much. We ended up packing way too much anyway. Planning meals so that our meat wouldn't spoil was also an issue. Everything ended up working well though.
Along the way, we stopped at Stuart, IA again to get gas and some hamburgers. This was the same place we stopped last year because it is right where my tank needs filled. We arrived in Minneapolis at the usual Motel 6 at around 11:30 or so. There were some guys yelling at each other on the balcony of the motel room and a security guard had to go up to see what was going on. The motel is one of the cheaper ones in town at $65 and the customers prove this. Does this mean I am white trash? The same people would be yelling all night long at each other. The next morning, Sunday, we ate at the Country Buffet near the motel which we do every time. There is nothing like a good breakfast and I ate all that I could without feeling miserable.
We then drove north to the Quad Cities although I kind of wanted to go through Duluth and along Lake Superior. By going two weeks after Labor Day, we would also avoid that annual Duluth regional gay pride rally. That was quite an experience in past years seeing a bunch of guys in short shorts, tight tank tops, sailor hats and handkerchiefs tied around their necks. Dad didn't want to go that way because he just wanted to get to Ely. Since there was supposedly road construction around Tower, we took the road to Babbitt and then on to Ely. We got there a little after 1 and then had a bunch of time to kill. We took a nap in the park like a bunch of homeless people and then decided to drive to our entry point so that we would know where to go the next morning. We got gas before we headed out and of course there was a nice looking dark haired gal in yoga pants walking into the gas station. After my experience last year, I'm convinced that the BWCA area has the highest percentage of good looking outdoors type woman anywhere. Wow.
When we got to the entry point, it wasn't marked as well as it could have been. We took off on a trail where some vehicles were parked and walked a mile but still didn't come to water. I knew that the portage was only ½ mile long so we knew we weren't on the right trail. We then realized that there was a trail that started right near a road sign that said South Kawishiwi.
We got back into Ely around 5:30 and picked up the canoe at Cliff Wold's. From there we went to Subway to get supper. I really wanted to try out a different local restaurant but dad said that he wasn't hungry and didn't want to eat much. I look at the local food as part of the experience and was kind of disappointed that we didn't try something different. From there we went to the campground to get the rest of our stuff organized and take a shower. It was really cold that night and the hot shower felt good. Another older guy was leaving the shower just as I was coming in. The guy had told my dad earlier that he was from Boulder, Colorado and his basement had a foot of water in it from the record flooding they had a few days earlier. The bunk was also very cold because all the windows were open to it. I should have put more clothes on in my sleeping bag because I was cold all night. I think it got down to at least 34 degrees.
That night I checked the overnight futures to see what was happening with the S&P. To my bad luck, it gapped up against my ES short. Looking back, I should have just closed out my positions and not worried about it. I would be thinking about the markets the whole time I was out there. I figured that at a worst case, the market might move 100 points which would only cost me $5000. The market really is an addicting drug that puts you into withdrawal if you have to take the needle out of your arm. I love it though.
I'm not exactly sure what time we got up but I think it was around 6:30. I guess there was no real hurry to get going since it would be plenty cold for the first portage. Last year, we couldn't find the Mudro road and were late getting in but this wouldn't be the case this year. The first portage was 147 rods and wasn't too bad. We had to double portage it since we had 3 large packs and the canoe. I would be the one carrying the canoe for all the portages. For some reason, the portages didn't seem very long or hard this year even though some of them had some steep and rocky parts. I guess I knew this year what I was getting myself in to so it wasn't as big of deal. At the end of the first portage, I got to test out my new Gopro Hero 2 camera. I'm not sure that I will use it enough to get the full $300 it cost me but I figured it would be pretty cool to have HD video footage of the Boundary Waters to watch in the winter.
The Kawishiwi River was kind of intimidating when you first get on it. It is wide and long although there isn't really a current. It probably took an hour to canoe the 2.4 miles to the first portage. I prefer smaller lakes with more character because there is more to see around every corner. It seems boring when you have to paddle across a large body of water. The first portage was a short one at some rapids but we decided to just pull the canoe through the rapids. It probably didn't save any time though. Once we got past the first rapids, the scenery and lakes were pretty neat. We stopped at a narrow spot along the way to try some fishing but didn't get anything. This would be a sign of the fishing to come.
We continued to the second set of rapids and fished just below them like we were told. It looked like a really good area too. These rapids weren't as rocky so we just paddled through them although it was harder than I expected. We didn't see it at the time but there was a camp site at this spot and we would end up staying here for the third and fourth nights. On the way to the third set of rapids, we passed a camp site near them that looked like a nice one. It was taken though and we would later find out that it was occupied by 8 guys from Alabama. I would love to visit Alabama and the south sometime. We tried more fishing here but didn't catch anything. Below most of the rapids are some deep holes around 30 feet and that is supposed to be where the fish are.
The rapids here were really rushing hard and were pretty cool to see and hear. It was at this portage of about 30 rods that we really started to notice the mosquitoes. I had been reading on the BWCA forum that the bugs had been very bad in this area all summer but thought that they would be dying down. This wasn't the case. When we got to the other side, we decided to eat a Subway sandwich since it was about 2. We first needed to apply buy spray which helped a little but we were still being eaten alive. I could also tell that my arms were starting to get burned so I decided to put some sunscreen on. When I got out the spray bottle out of my bag, I realized it was empty. On the other side of the portage, I had heard a hissing noise coming from my bag but dad said it was probably just air escaping from the garbage bags we had lined our packs with. It turns out that the nozzle on the spray bottle had come unlocked and all of the sunscreen has sprayed out. All of my extra clothes were now covered in sunscreen. Luckily, dad had some extra sunscreen he put in the first aid kit.
It wasn't too far across the next lake where another set of rapids and portage was. This set of rapids wasn't too bad so dad pulled the canoe up them since his feet were already wet from earlier. The paddle to the fourth set of rapids was another long one at 3.1 miles. It was at this portage that we saw four canoes with some 20-30 year old guys and maybe a couple older ones. One guy was in an Alabama shirt and hat so I asked him if he was from Alabama. They said they were. I'm not sure I would like to travel in a group this big. It just seems like too many people to have at one campsite at a time.
From here we went north for a while and then cut back west to where the Farm Lake entry point originates. This was more like a lake area. We checked out the three campsites and chose one that faced the south and had lots of trees around it and a good kitchen area. I really liked the site compared to the other two that were more open. It was maybe 4 or 5 in the afternoon so we quickly got camp set up and started to cook. Supper tonight was hamburgers, corn and stuffing. It was a very good meal and I was impressed with it. I was stuffed but wanted to eat all I could because of the number of calories I would be burning. It would be a full moon on Thursday but it was out in full force with it being a clear night. I kind of wished that I could see the stars but the moon was too bright. While I was standing there overlooking the lake and the moon, I kind of wished that I could have been there by myself to just enjoy it all on my own and sit there. It was so peaceful being away from everyone and enjoying the night sky. People who haven't visited the BWCA have no idea what I am talking about and they are missing out. I would trade the everyday rat race for this any day. Total portage distance for the day was 0.7 miles and paddling distance was 9.5 miles.
It was probably 8 when we went to bed. Our tent was on a slope and dad said that he kept sliding down hill that night. I wasn't on that steep of a slope but still enough to kind of bother me. Both our hips hurt that next morning and dad said it was probably because of the extra pressure from sleeping on an incline. The next night I would sleep with my feet uphill and I did sleep better. Otherwise, I slept halfway decent. The next morning we got up around 7:15 to get the eggs, hashbrowns and sausage ready. It was another tasty meal. We would be base camping here for another night so we just took a day pack on our trip today.
The plan was to head up the river towards Lake One. We got to the fifth set of rapids on the river which were about 4 feet tall and the water was really gushing over them. It was here that we fished a little while. I caught a northern pike about 20 inches on a Mepps Black Fury but couldn't catch anything else. We took a bunch of pictures of the rapids and then continued on to a small pond before the sixth set of rapids. These almost looked like a water slide because the drop was probably at least ten feet from the top to the bottom of them for 100 feet or so. This portage was the steepest one of the trip. There was one area on the east side of the portage that was stair step steep with a tree in the way that you had to maneuver around. From there it was another 2.3 mile long paddle to the seventh set of rapids that take you to the Lake One area.
Dad pulled the canoe around a few rocks and then we decided to paddle up the remaining rapids. It was much harder than I expected. I put everything I had into paddling but we weren't going anywhere so I got on my knees, put my paddle into the rocks and pushed us up. It’s a wonder I didn’t break my paddle in half. It would have been much easier just taking the portage which we found out on our way back that was probably the flattest and widest portages of the trip. The area after these rapids was very scenic with the river really narrowing down and winding around small islands. This was my ideal type of area. We fished for a little while here because there was an older couple maybe 65 years old that were at the portage. They weren't moving so we just decided to pull in and portage. They said that they were from Colorado and were just here for the day. However, they would be staying around Ely and taking daytrips around the area for a month or until the weather got too cold. They were obviously retired and living the life. That guy was lucky to have a wife that enjoys going to the BWCA because even living in rural farm country, I just don't know too many women that would find this much of a vacation.
At this eighth and final set of rapids we would cross, there was a submerged canoe at the top of them that had been there a while. I can't figure out why anyone would have tried to go down them because there was no way you could safely travel down them. Perhaps they were not paying attention at the rapids and got sucked down them. I would like to know how the people got out because either they had a long walk ahead of them or else had to ride with someone else in a canoe. After another short paddle, we had lunch in the shade on some rocks. I think dad probably wanted to take a longer break but it was about 2 and if we wanted to see the burn area on Lake One, we needed to get going. After another portage, we were finally to the large lake part of Lake One. It was a big lake compared to where we had come from. The wind had also picked up to around 10-15 mph which made for a difficult paddle. It wasn't quite white caps but I had to paddle extra hard to keep us moving forward. All of this just to see where the fire had burned a few years ago. I'm not sure it was worth it but since I am a person who likes to accomplish things and check them off my list, I had to do it. I could tell my body was getting worn out for the day, but just kept paddling as hard as ever because we weren’t going to get anywhere taking it easy.
When we finally started to head back, it was around 4. We would need to hurry to get back to camp at a decent time to get supper made. My guess is that we had 7 miles to go. On the first portage going back, dad forgot the tackle box so I had to go back and get it. I had my head cam going and decided to run back on the portage to get there faster. This was probably a dumb thing to do because if you take a wrong step, you could easily roll an ankle. I made it fine and when I watched the footage later, it looks like it is being played in fast forward. There wasn't too much eventful stuff that happened on the way back and we arrived in camp probably a little after 5. Dad would say later that these first two days had him completely exhausted. We did push pretty hard and I probably should have backed off a bit for his sake but he didn't complain too much. For being 65, and traveling at a 31 year old's pace, it probably was a tough couple of days.
I wanted to clean off a bit in the lake so I changed into my swimming trunks and headed in. It was maybe only 65 degrees outside anyway but the water seemed even colder. Standing in it wasn’t bad but when I submerged myself, it took away my breath. I cleaned myself up as best as I could and did my best impression of a Baywatch lifeguard coming out of the water shaking my head back and forth. I had my video camera going and I look really funny. What is even funnier is how I am stumbling around in the water like a drunk. There were rocks everywhere in the water and it was very hard to walk. That was why I looked like I was drunk in the water. It is pretty funny to watch on my camera and I laugh every time.
Tonight we had mashed potatoes and 3 polish dogs each. Dad didn't think they were cooked well enough so we really cooked them well until they were completely charred black. It was a little unnecessary I thought but dad was worried that since we had thawed meat sitting in our pack for two days, we should made sure they were cooked well. It was still a good meal. I slept better this night. Total portaging for the day was 0.8 miles and paddling was 10.6 miles.
The next morning, Wednesday the 18th, I got up around 7 and got all of my gear packed up while dad was still sleeping. I don't know how he didn't hear me but he slept through it. I fished for a while and lost my Mepps Black Fury that I caught the fish on the day before. That lure didn't get much use. With dad still sleeping, I decided to fry the eggs and bacon. He woke up around 8 and I had everything ready for us to eat. Another great meal and I really amazed myself. I ate better this whole week than I normally do cooking for myself at home.
It was about 10 in the morning when we finally had everything packed up and ready to go when I started to lose my vision. This is the first sign I get for when I am going to have a migraine. I should have known that there was a good chance of getting one because I usually get one every 3 or 4 months and it has been that long since I last had one. It about made me sick to think that I would be getting a migraine because they put me completely out for at least 4 hours and usually the whole day. I took some asprin which rarely help and laid down for a while. Fortunately it was a very mild migraine and after 30 minutes I just decided to live with it and head out. A lot of people say they have migraines but have no clue what it is actually like to have one. Mine are so bad that I go blind, puke and it feels like someone is hitting you in the head with a bat. There are times when they hurt so much that death seems like a much better option. So unless someone can relate to that, don't go saying that your little headache is a migraine.
We paddled west closer to where the Farm Lake entry is and did some fishing. Dad had me drop him off at shore while I did some fishing on my own. It was here that I would land the only other pike of the trip. He was another 20 inch fish. I was just happy to get something though. He bit on my other red Mepps spinner. The hook wasn't coming out the easiest and when I put him back in the water he was just floating. After a few minutes I didn't see him anymore so I hope he swam away and just didn't die. I fished around another hour or so and we headed back south down the river to get a campsite and be closer to the entry point. Our goal was to take the campsite that the guys from Alabama were staying at. After one set of rapids, I didn't realize that my map was folded at the wrong place and that I was actually looking at the wrong part of the map. I thought we were somewhere that we weren't so when we got a few miles down the river and to a portage, I didn't think it was the right one. Instead of actually checking it out to make sure, we paddled all the way back up the river to the rapids. Once I realized my mistake, we had to paddle down the river a third time. This error took us an extra hour and a half, 4.1 miles of paddling and really irritated me. It would kill most of our evening.
The campsite near the rapids where the Alabama guys were staying was still occupied by someone so we went on farther to check out some sites. The wind was coming up pretty good and we just wanted to be done for the day but none of the sites looked very good. There was one site just south of the second set of rapids that had no cover and a mud hole where the tent was supposed to sit. The mosquitoes were also horrible here. We canoed back directly to the second set of rapids to the site I didn't realize was there when we passed if two days earlier. This was a really nice site on a peninsula with a great view where we would stay the remaining two nights. We cleared some rocks away to set the tent down and had camp set up quickly. There was a rusted hatchet in an old tree stump that looked like it had been there for a while. I would imagine that it will probably stay there for quite some time and be used as a community hatchet. The hardest part in this place was finding good firewood because it was on a peninsula with not many areas to spread out and find wood. Luckily there was enough already by the fire grate to get us by. With the mosquitoes swarming around us, we got the fire going quickly to give us some smoke. I consider myself a fire making expert but dad seems to struggle with it.
Wednesday night's meal was tuna helper which was more than enough for us. We might have had stuffing this night too along with other side dishes. I ate all that I could because I didn't want to throw anything away. It was probably around 8:30 when we got to bed this night and I slept decently but not the greatest. Last year I slept like a log each night but this year that wasn't the case. Dad said he slept as good as ever. Total portaging was 0.2 miles and with my error, we paddled 13.1 miles that day.
Thursday for breakfast we had blueberry pancakes and bacon. It was overcast this morning and just looked like rain. After our morning chores, we fished near camp until it looked like it was going to start raining hard and then went back to camp. I fished from the bank and had a pike take my lure but he came off right at the shore. Dad got his line snagged from shore so we had to take the canoe out to get it loose. He must have been hooked into a log and I couldn't get it out. Just when I was about to break the line, it came loose. From there we headed south to the portage that goes to Gabbro Lake. We didn't portage over it but did walk down it just to see what it looked like. It was raining off and on all morning but we didn't put on our rain gear because it didn't seem like it was raining hard enough to put it on. We were pretty wet though. Down this portage was an old dam that had been built of rocks and a wooden fence. Who knows how old it was. Our original plan earlier in the week was to fish Gabbro on some hot spots that the guy at Cliff Wold's told us to try. With our luck fishing, we decided it probably wasn't worth the effort. Besides, we kind of needed an easy day of paddling. We fished around some more and I had a pike take my five of diamonds spoon. Just as I got him to the boat, he came off. I would only land two pike the whole trip and have two others get away.
We took lunch at another campsite not far from ours and then tried fishing near the rapid where the Alabama guys had been staying. No luck here either. The sky got darker and started to rain a little so we headed back to our camp for the night. The rain continued for quite some time but we were able to get a fire going to cook supper. The rain let up for about 30 minutes which was just enough time to get my sweatshirt halfway dry. However, it started to rain again and was all for nothing. Unlike some people who say not to take cotton clothing, that is about all I take. The BWCA is far from being ‘Nam during the 1968 monsoon season. We take an aluminum canoe so we can get close the bank to unload gear and not get our feet wet. I didn't get mine wet the whole time and didn't have any problems getting gear unloaded form the canoe. I don't mind rain much either because coming from a farm, I've experienced a lot harsher weather conditions than being wet. I would prefer dry and partly cloudy though.
Thursday's supper was a vegetable type soup but we didn't add as much water and it was more like a thick stew. Without adding all the water, it tasted very salty because it wasn’t diluted enough. It was almost to the point where your mouth burned because it was too salty. Other than that, it was a good hearty meal. We had plenty of extra food tonight also but instead of dad throwing it back in the trees or burying it, he just threw it in the water along shore. I told him that he wasn't supposed to do this because, if nothing else, other people would see it and it is disrespectful. I wouldn’t want to see someone else’s leftovers.
With the rain set in for the night, we decided to call it a night and go to bed at 7:30. This would mean we were in the tent sleeping for about 12 hours until the next morning. Friday when we woke up, everything outside was soaked. I can't imagine being in the BWCA for a full week when it just rains on you. Just the cloudy weather put a damper on my mood. It was the same last year at the end of our trip. It was cloudy and cold which left us leaving in a somber mood. We didn’t portage any gear this day but the walk to and from Little Gabbro Lake gave us a portage of 0.8 miles and total paddling was about 3 miles.
The struggle this morning would be to get a fire going. All the wood was completely soaked and since there aren’t any hardwood trees to get firewood from, you have to make due with trying to light a wet sponge. After a lot of smoke and lighter fluid, we got the fire going. It was easier than we had expected but I have been known to be able to resurrect a week old dead fire just by finding one small burning ember. This morning’s breakfast was one of our easier ones. We just fixed oatmeal and ate an apple, rolls and some other stuff we had leftover. I ate as much as I could again because it is much easier carrying the food in your belly than on your back. Our next step was to tear down camp. My Timberline 4 tent was all wet and muddy and I didn’t really want to put it away wet but there was no option. Our clothes and sleeping bags were also damp but we put them away anyway. It was maybe 10:30 when we finally got going.