First BWCA Trip 11-13 June, 2019
After my shift at around 1530, I had my permit in hand, kayak on the truck, and gear all ready to go! It was a quick trip from Duluth to Moose Lake (25); just shy of 2 hours. The roads were long and straight all until I got into the lake country where the roads seemed to have been made around the rocky landscape and not through them! The weather was expected to deteriorate by the time I got up to the entry point so I did what I could to get there before the rain and lightning did.
Finally, entry point 25 at Moose Lake and the parking lot and entry point! I was very impressed by how well the access and lot was maintained. There was no time to sit and admire the surroundings, I had to get in the water and across the lake before the storm. There is always the safe plan to "wait it out" which every one recommends doing but the excitement and thrill to beat the storm motivated me to make it across. I got my kayak down to the water edge and strapped in my dry bag full of food onto my stern. I had planned on emptying my Duluth Pack and packing the gear in the stern of the kayak but there was no time. I shoved the bag in between my legs and paddled away.
The wind stayed between 5-10 knots from the North and the storm seemed to be pushing faster than that. The surrounding clouds were grey but the one cloud, the storm cell, was as black as night and looked like a big pancake in the sky. I could tell it was hanging right above Wind Lake at this point. I paddled faster as taxi boats and motor boats buzzed by me in hopes to beat the storm as well. I was now over halfway across the lake and could see a rocky beach that I envisioned being the portage to Wind Lake; or so I had thought.
After many prayers, I had made it safely to the rocky, steep shore. I got the kayak pulled up to the shore and began unloading the packs. I decided that I was going to carry the packs first and scope out this portage. As the rain began to fall, I started packing the trail. I started thinking that this was a pretty overgrown trail for being such a popular portage. Then, I sighed heavily as I stumbled upon a pit toilet. I was not at the portage, I was at a campsite. Great.
After looking at my printed map from the internet, it showed that the portage was just south of the campsite. Repacking everything into the kayak, I then set off in the rain along the shore to the portage, or so I had thought, again. The rain continued but it was thankfully passing over me and I also had quick cover if needed. Then, the lightning started and it looked as if someone was desperate trying to light wet wood with a flint stick! It was probably a flash every second for a good two minutes before settling down to normal lightning patterns. I hugged the shore to the portage site where I noticed it too was a campsite! Thankfully, I noticed this before even getting out so I continued further down the shore in hopes of the portage.
The rain began to take a turn for the worse and created some heavy four-inch long drops. The rain could easily be measurable at this point in less than an hour. As I was hugging the shore, I grabbed a hold of a nice, low pine and tucked in underneath of it providing myself as a big umbrella. I then gathered my thoughts and took in the sights and smells while taking a water break. I still could not believe I was in the Boundary Waters. This had been something I had wanted to do for 13 years. Even living in Duluth for five years, I had never had the opportunity to make it up here.
As the rain became manageable again, I continued down the shore where then I found the nice beach to the portage. It looked so lovely at this point after being exhausted by the paddling and the weather. I then remember I was not out of the mud just yet; I still had to portage. Grabbing the gear first, I began my push through the 180 rod portage on slick rocks, mud, and rain. If there was one thing I could be thankful for, it was that the mosquitoes were not around...
TIP: FOR ANYONE WHO PLANS ON PORTAGING A CANOE/KAYAK FOR THE FIRST TIME, DO NOT MAKE THIS MISTAKE!
I developed a real nice yoke at home out of scrap pallet wood, eye bolts, and a ratchet strap. The concept was nice and it looked good on paper, at it always does. After trying it at home and walking around the yard, I came to the conclusion that it would not be an issue! I was use to carrying heavy packs for the DNR for Wildland Firefighting so this would be no problem. Wrong. Carrying a kayak on flat ground is not the same as carrying a kayak through a portage in the BWCA. I will spare the painful details and say that the portage was not comfortable with a kayak. It became more motivation to complete my canoe before my next trip.
Wind Lake, finally the end was near. My buddy, Mark, said he would be on the island campsite on the western part of the lake. If he was not, he told me there were two other sites to check for him. I was really hoping he was at this site especially after working, driving, and having to combat weather with a kayak portage. After actually completing the portage and lake crossing, I now have an understanding how big lakes are and how long portages can be. Also, planning and using resources (such as BWCA.com) are the most helpful things a paddler can use.
I paddled across the now calm Wind Lake and was in awe by the beauty of the surroundings. It had reminded me very much of the Pacific Northwest with the rain, the rocky islands, and the dense evergreens. Paddling straight across the lake, I came up to the island campsite. I rounded the island from the north side, where the campsite was just off of the northwest corner. "Did somebody order a large pepperoni pizza all the way out here?" I yelled as I came up to the beach. Eli, the dog began barking and excitingly ran up to welcome me. Mark came out welcomed me as well; I had not seen him for several years now.
Having a fully functional camp already set up, he led me into the "hooch" which was a big gathering tent for meals and to get out of the rain. It came with a mosquito fly as a door and provided an excellent place to keep gear dry and from having to put the gear in our sleeping tents. It had almost reminded me of an Indian tee-pee but no matter, I was impressed. He whipped up the jet boil and gave me a cup of tea after having endured all of that weather. He told me earlier that there were bunk houses in Ely to stay for times like this. I had told him I would have done it no other way than I did it today. The experience alone was worth a lifetime of memories.
We spent hours talking about life and things that had happened since we had last seen each other. He even prepared for me a camp pizza over the jet boil. The hospitality I was given made me enjoy the BWCA even more. I had to shift gears from the backpacking and hiking mindset to the BWCA mindset of camping. In the boundary waters, you portage the gear but only short distances; the canoe does the work for you. So bring as much as you are willing to carry! This made the camping lifestyle for us so much nicer when you can bring real food.
My first day was really spent getting acclimated to the site and trying to get gear dried off. The evening provided with a break in the rain and started opening up the clouds providing a halfway decent sunset. Tomorrow would be a day of fishing and exploring. Our plans are wide open to anything. If you planned every day and minute in the boundary waters, you miss out on the little things that you will end up appreciating the most. When you're up here, just need to relax and enjoy one minute at a time.
June 12, 2019 Wind Lake to Washte Lake
We woke up rather early and made up a good breakfast of eggs and pita along with coffee and tea. We hit the water around 6 am in search of good smallie nests or warmer water. We were on the hunt for smallies but unfortunately had no luck. we started to believe that we came out a week or two early. We were trying to decide whether to go to Indiana Lake via Wind Bay on Basswood Lake or try the easy portage to Washte Lake. Mark was telling me how brutal the portage was from Wind Lake to Wind Bay on Basswood Lake so I voted to just continue the relaxing trend and take the portage to Washte Lake.
We paddled over to the overgrown entrance to the Washte Portage. It appeared that this portage has not been used for quite some time. As we began lugging gear across, we stumbled onto an eagle carcass on the trail. That was a first for both of us. We hiked up the gentle incline and noticed we were eye level with the lake. It was heavily populated with beaver and had several dams on the shores. The lake was very shallow in the north end but tapered down deeper once you got past the island on the middle of the lake. We putted around the lake trying our luck for fish but did not catch anything. We decided to take a break on the island and just enjoy the sunny, cool day. As we got close, we noticed a mother loon and her chicks were nestled into the taller grass. As we quickly paddled away, the father loon began swimming toward us making a perimeter around the family. It was really neat to experience but we made sure to always keep our distance from the loons. We pulled up to a bank on the shore instead and ate some beef jerky and trail mix.
After concluding that we were not catching anything though we enjoyed our time exploring the lake, it was time to head back to Wind Lake and try our afternoon luck. Again, we were not in any rush so we took our time and packed out to Wind Lake. With the breeze, it kept the mosquitoes down substantially.
As we paddled back toward our campsite for some afternoon naps, we made some stops along the way to make a few casts. It was not a good day of fishing for us but that was all right. We were just thankful for nice weather and no bugs. Pulling back in to camp, I pulled out my hammock and strung it up to catch some good afternoon zzzzz's. The weather was just absolutely perfect for it.
After we woke up and ate some supper, we went out again to try the evening bite. I tried spinners at first but then decided to tie on a jig and a crazy tail worm. Not even a minute on the bottom and a big, solid bite! It did not get hooked but it was fun to feel after being skunked all day. Not five minutes later did I pull up a decent 22" northern. Mark gave me his spare stringer to use since I forgot mine. Needless to say, the line of the stringer was no match to the teeth of a northern and it broke the stringer and swam away.
Night began to fall and Mark had paddled a ways from me down the shore. I suddenly heard "hey, I need your help over here," in a loud whisper. The lake was so calm and quiet that I was able to hear him over 200 yards away. The loons and eagles were singing all night. I began paddling over and saw him paddling toward me. He told me how he lost what had to be a very nice northern. The fish had snapped his line and he was left fish-less; just like me. The sky cleared up and made for a very pretty sunset. We were able to see well into the night. By the time we got back to camp, it was already 11pm and we could have still fished by moonlight. After we cooked up some egg and cheese burritos, we decided it was time to turn in.
June 13, 2019 Wind Lake to Moose Lake
Spending our morning slowly gathering ourselves and staging our gear for packing up, we decided to head out again and try Wind Lake fishing one more time. Venturing around for possible fishing holes, we stopped by one of the other islands that had a very steep rock face to it. Sitting there, it brought you to this ease that being so disconnected made all the crazy things in life feel so meaningless. Being able to enjoy this protected land and pure water just helped myself (and I am sure everyone) to reset....until the flies started biting and pushed us off the island.
Continuing back onto our fishing excursion, we began to start giving up hope. The sun was hot, the bugs began to bite, and then Mark finally snagged a decent northern to eat. Our goal was to enjoy a real shore lunch and now, we were able to. After he started paddling back for camp, I told him that I was not coming back until I caught something. Not even a minute later, I too hooked into a nice northern and was able to bring it back to the camp for show and tell.
Mark and I fillet our fish using the five fillet method which should be the only way to fillet a northern. I did fillet mine the real BWCA way; on a paddle. After letting the fillets soak, we went ahead and climbed into the hooch to get away from the mosquitoes and to start up the jet boil for cooking. While mark cooked up some potatoes, I was in charge of trying not to mess up frying the fish! Thankfully, with some shore lunch breading and patience, our shore lunch was a success.
Clean up and tear down. Dishes don't do themselves so we made sure to get all of our dishes cleaned before packing them away for the trip back. As always, we took our time because if you rush, that's when people get hurt (government worker talk). I finished dishes as Mark started tearing down his week old camp. As we tried to discretely tear down, other paddlers came through asking if we were done with the site or not. Trying not to be rushed we told them it would be several hours until we would clear. It was a Thursday so the weekend crowd was getting ready to push in and grab the good spots early!
Cleaned, packed, and with wood restocked, we had to begin our journey back to civilization. The wind was picking up off of our sterns so it gave us a nice little boost across the lake. With my kayak not having a rudder, I had to shift weight around in order to regain proper steering. Once making it to the portage, we decided to be tough and try to carry as much in the first load as we could. This proved to be miserable...and don't forget about the mosquitoes. As I wore a long sleeved shirt and break away shorts, I immediately regretted not zipping on the pant legs. My legs, hands, and face became a feeding ground for the Minnesota state bird. There is no repellent that can work against an aggressive and determined mosquito.
We ran into two groups while portaging, one of which we got stuck behind following back to Wind Lake. As they too struggled carrying gear, we offered our help and grabbed what we could for the last 60 rods or so. In everyday life, it is not common for people to help carry another person's belongings but out here, everyone understands the pain of portaging and its necessary to all help each other. As Mark and I grabbed the last packs, we were able to catch our breath on the last hike back to Moose lake and just talk about the history of the voyageurs and trappers while being once again eaten alive.
The hardest part was this part; the last paddle to the launch. The wind had calmed down and it was already growing toward 9 pm at this point. The sun was making its way down and the bugs insisted on staying out for our paddle. We broke the glassy water all of the way back to the launch and cut between two islands in a spot that was 20' wide and only 12" deep. The lake was quiet as people were all in their sites or at the resort for the night. We pushed in to the beach and carried our gear up the hill one last time before packing the trucks. After packing, we found a little bar to grab a ready made pizza to eat at almost midnight. That was the most well deserved pizza I have ever eaten. I drank a pop to give me a little sugar boost before the drive back to Duluth as Mark was going to stay there for the night.
As I drove home, the winding roads were what kept me awake the most. I proceeded to count 13 deer and even a saw a moose cross the road! What a sight. I just could not believe that in the five years leaving in the Twin Ports, I have never paid a visit to the Boundary Waters. This pristine and protected area was full of life (mainly the buzzing type) and just felt so untouched from man. No cell service, radio towers, planes, car horns, or people. It made you appreciate all of the senses a human has since every sense was treated in their own way. I will be back, and hopefully this next trip will be in my cedar strip canoe to make the trip even more meaningful.