Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

16 Y/0 SOLO into EP#39 Baker Lake near Tofte
by robertcross

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 08/02/2017
Entry & Exit Point: Baker Lake (EP 39)
Number of Days: 2
Group Size: 1
Trip Introduction:
I took EP #38 into Baker. I went when the weather in the Iron Range was "unseasonably cold", and I couldn't have agreed more. The first day of my trip I was blessed with the sun, which made it possible for me to function in shorts and a t-shirt. Departing around 1pm, I paddled the maybe 800 or 900 feet to the 10-rod portage into Petersen, eager to start my solo adventure and get a couple of lines wet. I had gone on at least 5 or 6 BWCA group trips before this one, but as I was paddling away from the shore, I knew that this one felt different. Paddling felt quieter and calmer than normal, despite the learning curve as I was figuring out the technique of solo canoeing for myself.

After the portage, I navigated my way into Petersen Lake via the little creek. At first I worried that it was impassable, but then I told myself, "The Forest Service would have made it a longer portage if I couldn't get through". It happened that my imagination was far worse than the reality of the situation. The creek was very passable. Just look out for rocks and avoid them. As I rounded the corner and exited the creek into Petersen, I was met by the fury of a cold Boundary Waters wind, blowing me backwards into the reeds as I checked my map. Crossing Petersen was much easier than I had anticipated. The wind was strong, but I was stronger. Once I got the canoe angled towards where I needed to go, staying on course was relatively easy. From what I saw, Petersen was a very pretty lake. I guess I'd like to say that I am surprised that the Forest Service only decided to put one campsite on that lake. It's certainly big enough for 3-4 campsites.

Once I traversed Petersen, it was time to portage into Kelly. Well, not portage. I just emptied my canoe, carried it half a rod over a sloped, flat rock and boom, I was in Kelly. I reloaded my canoe and set my sights on finding a campsite. After about 10 minutes paddling, I reached the point campsite on Kelly.

My trip was only two days, so I wasn’t all that discriminant when choosing where I would be staying. Basically when I arrived at the campsite I threw everything that I did not need for fishing onto shore, and went back out to fish for a couple of hours. That ended up being a rookie mistake that affected the overall well-being of my trip. Grant you, I still had the trip of a lifetime, but I failed to notice that my campsite had little to no firewood at all. So, the lesson is, scope out your campsite before it gets too late in the day to pursue another one.

The two nice-sized walleye I had on my stringer for breakfast the next morning were the perfect cap off to a day of fishing, cooking, relaxing, and hiking. I woke up the next morning and had a wonderful fish fry. The second day ended up being very cloudy and very cold. Like 43° cold. I didn’t know that at the time, so I made the decision to go fishing right after finishing my fish fry. I caught two more walleye and a perch, which were the ones that made it onto my stringer. I also caught some smaller rock bass and a four-pound smallmouth, but I didn’t keep them. Before anyone comments “smallmouth are perfect dinner fare!”, I know they are, but I already had two walleye and a perch on my stringer. My dad raised me fishing by saying “take only what you can eat”, and I hope that those people understand. Now I can’t say that the fishing was better than the fly-in fishing trips I’ve been to up in Ontario, but I didn’t find it super hard to catch fish either. My 1/4 and 3/8 oz jigs tipped with leeches were getting smacked by all species. The total list of all species I caught out of Kelly include: pumpkinseed, rock bass, bluegill, smallmouth, walleye and perch. Six species of fish in two days on only one type of setup is pretty good. If you’ve made it this far in my report and you want to help me out, consider leaving some fishing advice or a favorite fishing lake in the BWCA. I know some people are reluctant to give out advice like that, but I’ve learned that it’s better to ask than not.

Later in the day, probably around 3 or 4 (I didn’t have a watch (another rookie mistake)), a storm moved in very quickly. I hustled back to my campsite, only to notice that the previous day I put my rainfly on inside out! Water was dripping in in two different places, so I had to hurry and flip the thing the right way. Besides going back out into the storm and cooking myself dinner, I spent the rest of that day cold in my moist tent. I woke up the next day warm and dry, but I was ready to leave.

What I learned: 1. Being alone is harder than you think it will be. Everything takes more time than it does with other people-whether that be setting up camp, cooking, canoeing- when on a solo trip just be prepared to spend more time than you think you will have to. Also, it can be weird not to have anyone to say anything to. Nothing breaks the silence of the Northwoods when you are on your own. It was equally intimidating as it was meditative.

2. How to filet a fish. I brought enough food to last me the whole trip without fishing, but I, like most people on this site, prefer a fresh walleye filet over a package of dehydrated rice and beans. I watched a couple of videos on YouTube before I left. The first one didn’t go great, but as I practiced it more and more, I ended up being able to do it perfectly.

3. Bring a filet knife sharpener. I lied in the last paragraph. I did it perfectly with a dulled knife. Which means I didn’t do it perfectly. I could have been a lot faster and safer if I had something to sharpen my knife with

4. People thought it was weird my parents let me go alone into the BWCA as a sixteen year old. My parents trust me a lot, and the trip was my idea. I was thankful enough to have them fund my trip and let me go. I brought a satellite phone, and called them a couple times. This was my 5th summer in a row going to Canoe Country, but I knew being alone would present its own challenges. Despite this, I thought I could do it and I’m so thankful I did.

Thanks for your time and happy camping!