Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Escaping the 'Real World' - First Timers in BWCA
by tiggy

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 08/29/2019
Entry Point: Cross Bay Lake (EP 50)
Exit Point: Lizz and Swamp Lakes (EP 47)  
Number of Days: 7
Group Size: 2
Part 2 of 9
Being early risers and still on Eastern time, we were up fairly plenty early. Weather was still a bit grey, drippy, and breezy, so the raincoats were donned. After last minute gear checks and half a Subway sandwich for breakfast, we headed down the hill and met up with Carl for our 7:30 shuttle to EP 50.

Just as we were about to turn into the parking lot at the entry point, Carl pointed out our one and only bear for the trip. It looked to be a yearling and was slowly making its way across the road. What a way to start the trip! Gear was quickly unloaded and got a quick lesson on the best ways to shoulder a Kevlar canoe. My previous experience was with an aluminum beast, so the Kevlar was a treat. With everything stowed in the canoe, it was one final wave to Carl and we were off on our adventure. Long Island Lake was our objective for the day.

It had been a couple years since we’d been canoeing, but the rhythm quickly came back. We glided silently through the water, moving faster than I’d anticipated. As a result, we totally missed the first portage. (Note to self, double check the map to determine how far you need to go *before* starting off next time!) We spent a bit of time trying to figure out where we were and eventually turned around. Heading the opposite direction, the portage was really easy to spot. Given where it was tucked, we quickly saw how we had missed it. It was tucked back in a nook and you needed to be looking for it.

Our gear consisted of two portage packs, a blue barrel, and a day bag. We opted to double portage with my husband taking the two portage packs and the day bag while I got the canoe and blue barrel. Once we got the straps on the packs dialed in, it was smooth sailing. Cruised on through to the next portage and started to meet a couple groups coming out. Most were decked out in full rain gear and commenting about how wet their trips had been. The sun was starting to play peek-a-boo at this point, so we were hopeful the rain was just about done. We quickly made it through Ham Lake and encountered our first other group going in. As it turns out, they were permitted for the day before but got windbound on Ham.

After another portage, we finally found ourselves crossing into BWCA. The trip down Cross Bay, Rib, and Lower George were uneventful. Mike had indicated that pretty much all of the sites on Long Island were good and we were planning on heading east eventually, so we opted to paddle down Karl instead of taking the portage into the western side of Long Island. The sun had mostly come out by this point, but it was still pretty breezy. As we came around the peninsula in the middle of Long Island, we got hit by the full force of the wind. After a long day of paddling (and getting those muscles used to paddling again), heading west was not really an option. So we headed east looking for an open camp site. First two we passed were occupied, but we found site 563 open and immediately snagged it. Our plan was to spend the next two nights here.

This is an island site facing west with a very easy place to load/unload the canoe. The fire grate is tucked a bit into the trees, but there’s a nice open area facing west/northwest to sit and watch the world go by. The site seems to hug the coastline with two trails running away from the main landing area leading to a few tent pad options. We located the trail to the thunderhead and opted to place our tent on that side of the site. The site was up on a small bluff, so our tent was fairly close to the water’s edge. Given the wind, there was also several really nice spots to park the canoe.

It was around 4pm when we got everything unpacked and set up. The rain was long gone, but the wind was still fairly strong. We set up our camping chairs and opted just to relax for a little bit. Although we had packed steaks for dinner the first night, I wasn’t feeling up to building a fire and having a large meal, so we switched things up. We’d also packed frozen breakfast sausage for the next morning and opted to have breakfast for dinner. Clouds had overtaken the sky, so there would be no star gazing that evening. The mad scramble to prep for vacation plus the full day of paddling caught up with us and we were soon off to bed.

The high winds driving the water onto shore made for some very interesting sounds during the night. Both of us swore that it sounded like people talking outside of our tent at various times. However, during the middle of the night, we both were awoken by the sound of a lone wolf howling. Never heard a response, but it was a beautiful sound and we felt lucky to hear the serenade. ~Ham Lake, Cross Bay Lake, Rib Lake, Lower George Lake, Long Island Lake