Lake One to Insula, base camping with the family
We had our sights set on making it to Insula on day one, with a potential stopover on Hudson if we were too tired. We were on the water by 7:30am after stuffing ourselves with caramel rolls from Tobies. It was hot, sunny, very light wind…and our big group was moving slow even though we packed fairly light. Having sold my speedboat to invest in good packs and lighter gear, while it was easier than years past it took us a few portages to find our rhythm. We got into Hudson around 2pm, and seeing as there was no shade and we really wanted to get into Insula, we decided to hit the last portage and set up on the first campsite with shade on Insula. Well, despite the amazing amount of blueberries on that 95 rod portage – it pretty much took the wind out of our sails. My “uncle in law” exclaimed, “that was a BITCH!”.
We started working our way up the lake, and I am glad I followed one BWCA.com member’s advice to download the HuntStand app and map our route ahead of time, because my navigating skills went downhill quickly, and the southern part of Insula can be confusing. It worked like a charm on my iPhone in airplane mode. After an hour, we finally found a site that wasn’t facing the burn (1337), but it didn’t have great space for all of us and a swarm of skeeters chased us back to the canoes. So we paddled up through the narrow only to find site after site occupied. As we worked east and rounded Williamson Island, a couple fishing there said the beach site (1334) was open. We paddled like mad and collapsed on the beach. It took 10 hours to get to a site, and we were exhausted. Remember that if you are planning a trip with kids, it's a long haul for one day. We all took in a lot of sun and once tents were set up, I threw 9 farm-raised, grass-fed NY Strips on the fire with mashed potatoes and peas. Wine was consumed, steaks were inhaled, and we all collapsed into bed happy and ready to relax.
Day two we were in recovery mode, but decided to take a small trip up through the narrows fishing while my wife and her cousin Stacey hung out at camp with our new pooch, a GSP named Piper. While we were gone, they heard loud crashing coming at them through the woods/swamp at the edge of camp and the dog went nuts. A bull moose had been rumored to be in the area, and they had paddles and lifejackets ready as their escape route. Piper must have sent him off, because he was heard not seen, but apparently it sounded like an elephant coming their way. My 14-year-old son caught a nice Northern that provided us with our first fish dinner that eve. Great campsite, must be 150 ft of beautiful sand beach, directly east of Williamson and south of the narrows. The kids all swam while I cooked dinner. We had a gorgeous sunset and it sounded like some weather was coming in during the night, so we buttoned-down camp and all tucked in for the night.
We had a good storm that night, and the next morning a visiting group passed by and asked if they could hang out until the storm clouds passed by. Full group of nine in three canoes from Portland, OR, sweet folks that patiently listened to my 9-year-old daughter talking their ears off about how bad that Insula portage was. The weather blew through and we had five days of near-perfect weather, 80’s during the day and upper 50’s at night. We made it half-way to Fishdance before the wind picked up and we decided to bail, my only regret of the trip – but with young ones we would not have made it back until too late in the evening. After dinner that evening I had one of those moments. Those OH SHIT moments. I remember handing my wife the mapcase on the last portage coming from the Kawishiwi river into Insula, but I don’t remember putting it in my canoe. Searched all canoes…must have left it at the portage. We had extra maps, but my phone was in there. So my son and I hopped into the canoe with the sun setting, and FLEW to that portage. He found it (fell behind a log), we took a selfie, and then did some fishing – scoring doubles with the pike biting left and right. I usually paddle with my youngest, I don’t remember the last time my son and I canoed together. 14 years old, 5’10” and 180lbs… kid’s got canoe skills and a serious stroke. He told me he wants to do a trip JUST with me next, go ultralight, see how far we can go and push ourselves to get deep in the BW. It just doesn’t get better than that as a dad. Snapped some more pictures of the spectacular crimson sunset, and flew back home to camp.
My son and I had a hoot trolling for Walleye just south of Williamson the next morning which provided us with an awesome and filling lunch. That morning, I went straight from cooking a huge amount of bacon and hashbrowns for breakfast right into cooking up fried fish and instant refried beans and mashed potatoes for lunch. I think we ate for two hours.
Had another side trip, spent one afternoon on “The Rock”. We munched on serviceberries and blueberries on top while the kids and adults took turns jumping off. This was the pinnacle of the trip for me. Awesome view of the surrounding lake, munching on berries and venison jerky, everyone laughing, stretching themselves and pushing boundaries, taking in God’s creation, not a person in sight, that brilliant blue sky and shimmering water that you only find in the BWCA. Perfect moment, permanent memories.
Taking stock of how long it took us to get there, and hearing about possible rain coming mid-day on our last day (6), we decided to head back and look for a site on the number chain. Our group was much more seasoned by that point, our load was significantly lighter, paddle partners were in their groove and we made great time. Made it to site 1491 on Lake Three by early afternoon. Fantastic site, lots of room, good breeze. Only downside was that I turned on my phone…DING DING DING DING DING DING DING…reception? Shit. Uncle Michael wanted me to let his wife know he was ok. Got her answering machine…”Hi, this message is for Donna, please send three large pepperoni pizzas and a keg of beer via drone to campsite 1491 on Lake Three. Thanks!”
Next day we were on the water quickly, dreaming of burgers, cold coke, draft beer and a shower. We sang Johnny Cash and John Denver, laughed and slowly re-entered Lake One to a stiff wind in our face. “Sunday Morning Coming Down” was a particularly meaningful tune as we started to run into crowds on the Lake One portages. The wind switched to our backs as we rounded the corner and blew us home to Lake One Outfitters. The rain started up at noon right as we pulled up onto shore. After we hit the Boathouse in Ely for burgers and drinks, and then the obligatory giant two scoop ice cream cones – we thoroughly enjoyed the cushy, heated seats of our vehicles on our way home. Life is good! God has blessed us once again with a fantastic trip that brought together our family, challenged us physically and mentally, filled our bellies with fish and left us with memories for a lifetime. Time to start planning that trip with my son…