Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Tandem Rookie Trip
by Teenda

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 08/01/2014
Entry Point: Snowbank Lake (EP 27)
Exit Point: Moose Lake (EP 25)  
Number of Days: 5
Group Size: 2
Trip Introduction:
Over our very harsh Midwestern winter where we were literally stuck at home for 4 days because of the -42 degree temperature we decided to plan a vacation. One would think we would have booked a hot, tropical, sand and water filled trip with endless Mojitos and Mai Tais since out our windows was a blizzard. But no, apparently the cabin fever was getting to us because we decided we needed adventure and exercise! I blurted out "BWCA" and my husband was like, "What is that?!". He was skeptical after my brief description (and please note the "brief") but agreed that it was something different and we should do it at least once.
2 Days to Water – Wednesday, July 30, 2014

I am getting so excited and thankfully my husband, TKO, is too. He has heard so many stories from others that the trip will be “SO HARD” to “BEST TRIP EVER” to “Hope the mosquitoes don’t carry you away” to “You know that place has bears, right?” . . . You get the idea, he didn’t know if he should be worried or excited but the final count down had begun and it was about to get real!

We both work hard Wednesday and the days leading up to our last day home to make sure everything was in order with work before we left. Once home we worked until about 8PM packing and making sure we had everything we needed before hitting the sack as we wanted to get up around midnight for our 12 hour drive. Of course my husband went right to sleep while I was very awake. So excited! So at 11, I got up and loaded a few more things into the truck, took a shower, woke TKO up and we hit the road earlier than planned (Go us!).

1 Day to Water – Thursday, July 31, 2014

I drive as far as I can safely before pulling into a gas station and taking a 2 hour nap. When I wake up TKO is wanting to get back on the road so we trade seats and I catch a few more Zzz’s. We stop along the way to buy some Wisconsin cheese and beef jerky among many pit stops for gas and “go’s”. We also stop at a park just outside Duluth and spend about 45 minutes skipping rocks into Superior.

We finally reach Ely and head straight to the outfitters because at this time we are about 4 hours later than our original arrival time! Sorry North Country!! We go over the gear, food, carrying, the route I previously planned out at home, and got campsite recommendations from John.

After orientation we headed into town for dinner and picked the little Italian and Pizza place on the main strip. Mmm Mmm Good! We get back to the outfitters and prepare to hit the hay but first I go through one more check and pack of all our stuff and TKO works on stringing up his fishing pole and doing anything to look busy so he doesn’t have to help . . .

We hit the sack in our cute little individual twin beds but ended up sleeping together in one. It really wasn’t too bad of a sleep, which surprised me because we are used to a king

Day 1 – Friday, August 1, 2014

Whoo Hoo! Let’s go!

We get a nice breakfast of fresh fruit and oats, well that is what I ate; I don’t know what TKO had. Even though I was excited, I am not a very good morning person.

The employees at the outfitters load our stuff up in a big van and off we go. The young man who dropped us off was easy to talk to and is quite jealous of our trip. We invited him to come with us but he politely declines. I am sure my husband really wanted him to come with us because well like I said. . . Rookies!! We get to the landing at Snowbank and the driver unloaded our stuff and even helped us carry it down to the landing. There was a group of 4 canoes (2 adults and 7 middle school aged boys, I wouldn’t want to pick up that group at the end of their trip! P-U!). So I look at our gear and the canoe and have a mini internal panic attack, “OMG, we don’t have a clue about what we are doing!”

Somehow we get the canoe in the water, loaded and push off in some direction and I wave good-bye while silently thinking, “Please “professional person at the outfitters” stop watching us paddle together for the first time ever!” I glance back a few times and when he is gone I pull out the map and, hello, mini internal panic attack number 2. “I don’t even think this lake is the right lake! HA! Dear Lord, help me!” I figure out where we are and point to TKO where we are headed and off we go.

Snowbank Lake was big and beautiful and calm so instead of heading to the Parent Lake portage we continued on and also skipped the Disappointment Lake portage and headed across to the 2 Boot Lake portages. Other than the lack wind playing a factor in heading directly to Boot the 4 canoe group of 9 went to the Parent Lake portage and we didn’t want to mess with that and then the only other man powered water craft on the lake, a single kayaker, went to the Disappointment Lake portage. When we planned the route we were aiming for Ashigan Lake for the night and didn’t care which route we went.

I was sitting up front with the map and compass paddling and mentally checking off landmarks as they passed on the map and thought we reached the little inlet to the portage. I couldn’t find it and welcome internal panic attack number 3. I actually tell TKO this time, “Honey, I don’t know how to read maps anymore, I am going to get us completely lost if we go any further.” He tells me to calm down and that I am the best navigator he has ever met and takes a look at the map. He tells me my scale and perception are off and we are probably not far enough so we continue on NE and about 15 to 20 minutes later find the portage! With relief we unload and then check out the small rapids. I help TKO load up the canoe and send him on his way. We did a 2-man lift, 1-man carry, and 2-man put down each time we portaged. I picked up my first pack and headed off after him. It wasn’t a long first portage, about 50 rods, but when we got to the end and I dropped my pack and helped TKO put the canoe down he looked at me and said, “NICE PATHS!”. .

Remember that brief description back during our blizzard when we planned the trip? Well I must have said, “and you take these “little paths” from lake to lake. . .” I should probably have clarified that a little more but decided not to tell him at that time, or at this time, that they might get worse. I should maybe also say that I had been to the BWCA on one other trip though school about 16 years prior and knew what I was getting into to some degree.

We head back up the portage to get our other 2 bags and return to the little pond before the next portage to Boot Lake. TKO’s pants fell down about 4 times over each portage throughout the trip; he couldn’t keep them tight enough! So funny. We canoe through Boot and get to the itsy bitsy portage to Haven and stop to have a lunch of roast beef sandwiches before crossing Haven Lake to get to portage to Abinnodji Lake. I knew what was coming; my husband, not a clue. We paddled over to the portage and unloaded. TKO exclaimed with some level of suspicion, “This beginning looks a little steep.” I assure him that he can do it, help him lift the canoe and then pick up a pack. Off we go.

So back in winter we watched Game of Thrones on HBO and there is this character named Hodor who only says, “Hodor”. Well, while carrying the gear over this portage, which was fondly name Everest, TKO just says, “Hodor” and I bust up laughing! This will be a good trip, my husband is joking around on the steepest portage we will have, all will be good! We drop our first load and head back to pick up the last of our stuff. On Abinodji Lake we see our first occupied campsite minus it’s occupants and they have a cooler hanging from a tree. Impressive. We continue to Swing Lake and then Gibson Lake. Once on Gibson we can hear the Cattyman Falls and head over to check them out! They were roaring! I know that the BWCA had received quite a bit of rain the previous weeks before our arrival. After checking out the falls we head over to the portage to Ashigan Lake and our final destination for night one. Upon arriving we see that the site directly across from us is taken and hear the people on the one to the left of the portage. We also see 4 young men out fishing around and try to guess which site they may have taken. We decide to head to the site closest to the portage to Ensign Lake and pray it is empty. We get around the island in the middle of the lake and YAY! It is ours! Once arriving, I get out first and proceed to slip and fall right into the water. I was fine, but soaking wet after keeping all but my feet dry all day. We settle in and I prioritize our needs according to Bear Gryllis: Shelter, Water, Fire, Food. Okay, kidding!

We set up our tent, dig out the steaks from the outfitter to finish thawing, and change out of our wet boots and socks and I change to dry clothes. I go sit out on this awesome point and watch birds and read. TKO grabs a cup of whiskey and water and hits some rocks into the lake with the golf club he brought. After a while the steaks are ready and I start dinner, which also consisted of hashbrowns, and chocolate pudding, oh, and corn on the cob. TKO worked on getting a fire going under the grate while I just used a camp stove to cook. The wood and brush TKO found to make a fire was just too wet and we had a very smoky fire, which helped with the skeeters. The skeeters really weren’t that bad but I hate all of them nonetheless. We clean up and head down to the point with our canoe chairs and read, talk, snap pictures, and watch the resident chipmunk entertain us with his weird grass eating habit until sunset. And wow, what a sunset! Once the sun set we tried to wait up and watch for the stars to come out but it stayed light for so long we couldn’t make it.

This campsite was TKO’s favorite. It had 2 tent pads covered in dried pine needles and 1 grassy tent pad. We chose the most level one, the other 2 kind of leaned a little but weren’t terrible. The canoe landing was fine for just 1 canoe but would have a been a little small for more. The “golf rock hitting zone” was “outstanding” and the point where we watched the sunset and ate dinner and pretty much spent most of our time was perfect.

Wildlife Spotted: Loons, Ducks, Turtles, Crawdads, Chipmunk, Fish (jumping out of the water), other various small birds

Day 2 – Saturday, August 2, 2014

“Food is becoming scarce. I am beginning to think about eating a finger.” That is what I woke up to, my husband saying this into his pretend video log. I decide I won’t go back to sleep and get up. The sun isn’t necessarily up but it isn’t dark out. I don’t know what to call this time of morning. I don’t see it very often! I take pictures of the fog rolling across the lake and start on making break fast of fresh eggs, bacon, and bagels. TKO must have smelled the bacon cooking because 5 minutes later he came down from the tent to see what was going on. We ate, cleaned up, took down camp, and were on the water by 8AM according to our weather radio.

We quickly arrived at our first portage of the day and I volunteered to carry the canoe for the first time all trip! Go me! Upon reaching Ensign Lake there is a very neat landing of large smooth river rocks and you have to walk your canoe out about 30 feet to get to water deep enough to put the canoe and gear in. It makes for a very cool picture. We cross Ensign Lake and get followed by a loon and 2 fluffy babies. It was pretty cool.

Ensign was busy. Well I say busy because no matter where I looked I could see someone or evidence of humans by brightly colored gear at campsites. We hurried off towards Vera Lake and a long portage to less population density. The portage to Vera was quite long. The longest portage yet by more than double but the trip was worth it because the views from the top of the portage looking down on Ensign were just awesome! We did this portage down and back and down again, just like we have every portage so far and would continue to do for the entire trip. It worked for us. At the landing to Vera we had a small snack lunch of cookies, jerky, and trail mix. We paddled through Vera, which was a very pretty and long lake where you could watch both shores at the same time for wildlife.

We reached the even longer portage to Knife Lake. Holy Tarzan, what a haul! We met about six 20-something year old males at the other end of the portage. They were getting ready to head to Vera, and I couldn’t believe the amount of gear they had! Wowzers! Coolers, a suitcase, sleeping bags not in packs, 10+ fishing poles. . . I was very thankful for our outfitter and all our trail specific gear at that moment.

Once on the Knife Lake water I took our bearings and we headed to Dorothy’s Rock and to see her islands. Before leaving I avoided finding out exactly where her rock was located because I wanted to spot it on my own. We did see it but right then a group of loud kids came around the corner. We had been hearing them for a while and figured they were headed this way. Since we were on a busier lake and we were going to be passing by the rock on our way out we decided to press on towards the North East and to find a site for the next 2 nights. We were headed towards the closest outfitter recommended site and discovered it was taken so I decided we would turn around and head back to a site we had passed that was open to check out. It was a keeper.

We unloaded the canoe and set up the tent. Since we were staying for 2 nights I put up a clothesline and our bug tent, which became known as “the living room”.

We decide we probably need a water bath and go for a swim. Brrr, but we last about 30 minutes. Long enough to soak off the stink. TKO didn’t like this site as much because he couldn’t hit rocks into the lake, he had to hit them into the woods instead and, “That just isn’t as much fun.” After relaxing and doing whatever for a while TKO and I go out in the canoe to get water for dinner and drinking when TKO sees, perched at the top of a tree on an island right in front of our campsite, a Bald Eagle. We admire it and take some pictures before heading back to start on dinner, which was bratwursts, and garlic mashed potatoes. Delish! TKO once again decided to make a campfire and once again ended up only making smoke, which once again kept the bugs away for a while. We ended up calling his campfires “Smoke Babies” which if you watch the Game of Thrones series previously mentioned; a “Smoke Baby” is what my husband refers to as the thing Melisandre (the red god of light woman) gives birth to that kills Renly.

After cleaning up dinner we set our canoe chairs in the living room and read until the sun started setting. It was so beautiful. TKO went down to the water to try to catch a late snack but all he got was a log so we just sat and enjoyed the sun setting.

The sunset was like a post card. I think I fell in love with my husband all over again. But wait. . . What was that? Did you hear that? Then silence. . . All the chirping birds just STOPPED! Then there it was again. The scream and I do mean scream of an Eagle! Wait there are two! Two Bald Eagles screaming and chasing each other right over the water and our campsite, I couldn’t believe their massive size and sheer loudness! I couldn’t believe how close they were! The Eagles kept up their show for about 30 minutes and then it just stopped. We didn’t know where they went. Then about 5 minutes after the Eagle show and just before the sun dipped below the horizon the woods came back to life with the chirps of much smaller birds. Wow, those Eagles command an audience! We went to bed before it truly got dark so we could get up with the sun again tomorrow.

This was my favorite campsite. It had crappy tent pads but I just loved the view, Eagle show, and our new living room! I suppose I connect the campsites to their activities and the things we did than their actual comfort level. Like seriously, this campsite had crappy tent pads! Not one was nice; we ended up setting up our tent on the path back to the tent pad area because it was the best place to do so! I would only recommend this campsite if the Eagle show is in town. Before the Eagle show happened we had briefly discussed relocating to a different site tomorrow morning, but still stay on Knife Lake. After the Eagle show happened we decided it was best to stick around to see if they would be back the next night for an encore.

Wildlife Spotted: Loons, Mouse, Fish, Crawdads, and Bald Eagles

Day 3 – Sunday, August 3, 2014

I wake up feeling nice and unrested. I miss my bed, that is all, just my bed. I start to get around to preparing breakfast and TKO meanders out of the tent. For me not being much of a morning person I can’t believe I have beaten my husband out of the tent every morning so far. He is the early riser out of the two of us. TKO prepares another “Smoke Baby” to make some heat to dry our socks and boots out the rest of the way. It works, my feet feel nice and dry for our planned day trip to Thunder Point Lookout. We have eggs, hashbrowns, veggies (eww), and bacon (yum) and toast for breakfast. After we eat and do dishes, I reorganize our packs and TKO hits some golf rocks into the woods.

We decide it is time to head out on our day trip and I opt to steer us there. We set out on the water and wow, it is windy! We didn’t even notice the wind in our site. Man, are we glad this trip is optional and it is not a travel day as it is blowing right into our faces. We creep along the shore, ducking behind islands when we can while making our way towards the point. I would have to stay I did a fine job of steering that complex watercraft to our destination! We grab cameras and the leftovers from our lunch yesterday and head up the trail. It really isn’t that bad of a hike for how high the top is. Much easier than the Everest portage (maybe)! We hung out up there for a while watching some groups pass below us. It was a cloudy day but we could see to the West end of Knife Lake, where our campsite was, and the island with the Eagle aka “Eagle Island”. Note to self: When traveling below Thunder Point, people who may be at the top of the look out can very clearly hear your entire conversation from about the time you pass the small islands until you are a little ways past the point even though you may only be a very small speck on the water. It was quite impressive how well sound traveled up there or anywhere in the BWCA for that matter. We could hear people coming from half a mile away. It really reminded us to not yell and carry on because you never know who may be enjoying their peace and quiet very hear.

We headed down the trail back to our canoe, looking forward to the wind at our backs and a real lunch. We pull away from Thunder Point and even with the wind at our back our arms are turning to jelly. TKO fished a little on the way back and got a few nibbles but nothing serious. Once we arrive back at our camp we get a pot and go back out to dip out some water for lunch. We had bbq beef and mashed potatoes which was great, a little salty for our tastes but still very good.

After cleaning up lunch we go into our living room to watch the water and read. The living room is about 7 feet tall, about 15 feet in diameter, weighs less than a pound, and packs up to the size of a sweatshirt. It was a great thing to have, the mosquitoes weren’t bad at all but it was just great to have while cooking, eating, and relaxing.

I go back to the tent and drag out my sleeping pad and bag and take them to the living room. Best idea ever! I took a nice long nap in the filtered sunlight and woke up feeling very refreshed and ready to make dinner. It was a long nap. TKO read, hit golf rocks, and fished from shore during that time.

Dinner was Hawaiian teriyaki chicken with pineapple bits and rice with chive potatoes. The chicken was just okay. The potatoes were yummy! After dinner TKO finally had to use the latrine as a sit down and when he came back to camp he said, “I don’t know how that thing could smell any worse than it used to, but it does.” Well 10 minutes later from about 25 feet away while doing dishes in the same place as the previous night it still smelled! The kicker? It smelled just like his farts he had all day! He said, “I can pick out my own smell from the nasty pile in the hole!” We quickly cleaned up the dishes and packed every thing we weren’t using either into our tent or under the canoe, the weather radio said it might rain over night, and got in the living room on our canoe chairs with all three cameras and our books ready for the sunset and our Eagle show. It was a very pretty bright and yellow sunset but the Eagles didn’t show up.


We went to bed shortly afterwards and TKO made us a pillows for the first time out of clothing. Why didn’t he think of this before now? We to read ourselves to sleep and heard a few screeches from an Eagle in the distance but nothing close.

Wildlife spotted: Various Birds, Fish, and Crawdads

Day 4 – Monday, August 4, 2014

We woke up from the best night of sleep so far (thank you pillows) and it had rained a little the night before. There weren’t any puddles but there was very heavy dew on everything. We were glad we put everything under the canoe the night before. We took the rain fly off the tent and spread it across our clothesline and put the rest of the tent in the sun.

We started making breakfast, pancakes and bacon (is there a bacon trend going on here?). Clean up and packed up and headed towards our last campsite somewhere on Birch Lake. We passed Dorothy’s Island and the Bacon Rock on the way through Knife Lake to the Big Knife Portage.

At Dorothy’s Island we saw two Eagles sitting up in a tall dead tree. They looked so royal. We parked at the Bacon Rock and followed a small trail to the other side of the island to look at the Eagles again.

We reached the Big Knife Portage and walked though the rapids while waiting for a group to pack up and push off. When it was our turn portaging went pretty easy. I carried the canoe for the second time. The next several portages were around rapids and small falls on our way to Carp Lake. There was one extra portage in this area that was not marked on our Fisher maps. Also on these portages and smaller lakes in between we saw group after group heading to Knife Lake but none going in our direction. They all seemed so winded and kept asking us if they were on the right way to get to Knife Lake. It was day 4 for us. We felt like seasoned explorers and no longer rookies, key words “felt like”. During those portages we took our first trip to Canada together. It was short but will forever be ingrained in our memories as a first.

We paddled through Carp and reached Birch Lake, our planned stopping point for the last night on the water. At waters edge I found a fairly large tackle box, at least compared to our own box, chock full of rusted lures. It had to weigh 10 pounds but I loaded it into our trash bag and we packed up the canoe. TKO wanted to fish the fast water into the lake by the bottom of the rapids and finally caught a walleye! It was actually decent size too and I am not just telling fish stories. It was proud of my husband catching a fish. We were trying to get the camera out of the bag when the fish flopped and was free. I laughed and laughed. TKO didn’t think it was as funny. We continued on to find a campsite.

After passing all the outfitter recommended sites we were nearing the end of Birch Lake, the wind was picking up, and we were tired of battling it so we were a little cranky. TKO decided he didn’t like the way I paddled, I was hungry, and after a heated discussion it was worked out. In the mean time the wind had stopped our forward momentum and actually started to push us backwards! We got to the small portage to Sucker Lake and did the portage thing and started off across Sucker. Every campsite we came across was either bad or taken at this point and we were disappointed in the amount of motorized boat traffic.

While paddling Sucker Lake just before you get to Newfound Lake there is a campsite to the South East. Near the site there is a tree that looks like an “Eagle Tree”. Meaning from a distance it looks like the type of tree an Eagle would like to sit in because it is the tallest in the area and just seems like a great perch for watching a vast territory. As we paddled closer we could start to make out the shape of a huge nest. As we got even closer we could see two Eagles sitting in the tree next to the next. It was awesome. Those 2 took our Eagle sighting count for the trip to 17!

Shortly after the Eagle next we paddled on to Newfound Lake and a cluster of campsites and we decide we are going to take one of the five island sites if we have to evict someone. We end up passing the 2 sites on the smaller island because they are claimed and end up at the first site on the larger second island and claim it as ours, luckily it was already vacant. We scope out the area and set up our tent on one of four tent pads. It is in a large open area and is actually quite nice. Next up is the living room location. This site didn’t really have a good living room place but we were going to use it anyway. Did I mention how great it was to have that thing?

TKO made a smoke baby and we dried our socks and shoes and I prepared dinner. Dinner was fantastic! Black Bart’s Chili and Corn with plenty of Garlic Toast minus the Garlic. After cleaning up dinner dishes we paddled around the island to a small bay to fish and watch the sunset because our campsite faced the wrong way for the first time the whole trip and we didn’t want to miss it the last night! It was very pretty.

After paddling back to camp after the sunset we fished from shore in the waning light then read in the living room before hitting the hay. TKO made me a very nice dirty clothes pillow again. I reminisced about my favorite quote TKO said that day, “I (TKO) smelled so bad when we arrived at the campsite that my underwear has tried to run away twice”. He took another badly needed water soak. I used some baby wipes I brought along.

Day 5 – Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Woke up early and made our last breakfast on the water. Eggs with peppers and onions on toast with, well of course, bacon. We spent some extra time cleaning up the pots, pans, and plates this time so we could get our $20 deposit back. They really weren’t bad, but I just made sure to really scrub so they didn’t think we were gross.

We packed up and headed out. We just had to paddle down Newfound Lake to Moose Lake Public Boat Landing. We planned to meet the outfitter there at 3PM but ended up reaching the landing around noon! The trip through Newfound and Moose was pretty uneventful. We really took our time and crept around the contours of the South East shore but we were a little ready for civilization and I needed a bottle of conditioner badly. I have mid back length hair that was very tangled from sleeping and wind. I tried to keep it braided and under a hat most of the week but it still turned into a rat nest. When we reached the landing we carried the gear to the meeting place and then walked around for about 45 minutes to find a cell signal strong enough to call the outfitter. They came and picked us up right away with cold beer and Coke! Amazing!

After getting back we talked about the trip for a little bit and then headed to town to get bathing supplies and check in at the Adventure Hotel. It was very cute and country. We showered and headed to Dorothy Molter’s museum and did a little shopping in town before heading to dinner at the steak house. Their margaritas were amazing. Oh, and their food was too!

We went back to the hotel and parked the truck and walked across the street for some frozen custard before heading to bed. It was still light out but our clocks had been reset to nature time.

Post Trip 1 – Wednesday, August 6, 2014

We both woke up around 11 feeling completely rested. I think it was sleeping in a bed; it was even a queen bed! I know if the bed was actually that super comfortable or if it just felt amazing because compared to it we had been sleeping on rocks for 4 nights. We laughed, read a little bit, and went back to sleep until morning. We had breakfast at the Chocolate Moose and it was very tasty!

We hit the road going South to Wisconsin and stopped in the Wisconsin Dells and had appetizers and beers at a nice little bar. It wasn’t super touristy. We chatted with the bartenders about our trip. They weren’t very busy, it wasn’t really dinner time yet. We bought some cool fossils from a shop for in our (actual) living room and the owner was very nice and informative. It was getting to be dark when we left the Dells and we headed towards House on the Rock Inn to spend the night.

Post Trip 2 – Thursday, August 7, 2014

We woke up at the Inn, had the continental breakfast (our freeze dried meals in the BWCA were better!), and headed to the house for our tour. I was totally expecting a Frank Lloyd Wright type setting as we had toured his designs across the country but this was something else. If this was a trip report about House on the Rock it might actually be longer than the BWCA trip report. Talk about a mental over load after the nature inspired trip earlier in the week. After our tour we started on the road again towards home and stopped at IKEA near Chicago. Another first for our trip, as neither of us had been in an IKEA before. We ended up eating dinner there as it is probably the most inexpensive place to eat in Chicago that isn’t McDonald’s! We spent about 3 hours in the store, made our purchases and headed home arriving well after dark and our bedtimes! It was a great trip. When can we go again?  

Lakes Traveled:   Snowbank Lake, Boot Lake, Haven Lake, Swing Lake, Abinodji Lake, Gibson Lake, Ashigan Lake, Ensign Lake, Vera Lake, Knife Lake,