Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

DeWormed (alternate title “As the Worm Turns”)
by sns

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 08/25/2020
Entry & Exit Point: Angleworm Lake (EP 20)
Number of Days: 2
Group Size: 1
Trip Introduction:
I had been hoping to get to Canada twice this year - once solo. With both of those upended, I found a gap in the calendar for a solo adventure (me & the dog, who to protect her anonymity we will call Cerberus) to the BWCA in late August. Of course, with the crowds this year permit availability was the issue - thus…Angleworm. I now understand said availability - over 2 miles, 3,591 meters from parking lot to lake. The plan was to go light and perhaps get all the way up to Iron & Crooked - I had 6 days.
Day one my destination was Whiskey Jack Lake. This is a lake on the Angleworm Hiking Trail, not a regular portage lake. It does have a USFS campsite and a paddler is allowed to camp there - you just have to be willing to portage off the east side of Angleworm about 3/4 of a mile on the hiking trail, which is not designed for canoe clearances! I’d be surprised if more than a couple canoes get to this lake annually.

Cerberus and I got an early start from the Twin Cities and were at the trailhead with a pack and a canoe, walking at about 10:20. The lot had a few cars but it did not seem crowded. I only saw one occupied campsite that day - #1895 on the east side of Angleworm. This is notable later.

With single-portaging, Cerberus and I were on Whiskey Jack in 3 hours. 3 miles on land, about 1.5 on water. Whiskey Jack is a nice little lake with a very small campsite - essentially a one-tent affair or maybe one tent and one hammock. I do not know if it has fish other than a bazillion bluegills, but certainly none liked what I was throwing that afternoon.

And then the Theatre began...

First Act:

The evening got interesting when I heard voices on the hiking trail at about 6:30; they were headed south. Someone shouted over, asking “is this the lake access?” I shouted back that it was - sort of - for Whisky Jack, and invited them to come down to the campsite. But once they realized it was only a campsite, they stayed on the trail and kept going south.

Second Act:

Thirty minutes later, the chatting voices are back. Same person calls out - apparently confused about where they are, and I again invite them into camp - this time he (to protect his anonymity, let’s call him Charlie) does walk into our camp. Well it turns out he talks to himself loud enough and constantly enough that I was first astonished to learn that Charlie was utterly alone. I was further astonished to learn that he was a paddler - NOT a hiker. And I was finally astonished to learn of Charlie's strong vocal indignation that Cerberus was not leashed in our camp. An interesting start, but Cerberus and I are friendly regardless.

And then it was his turn to be astonished and disbelieving, initially at least - because he thought he should be on the shore of Gull Lake. Which Charlie was emphatically NOT. Rewinding his bizarre afternoon, he apparently had not made it to the portage on the north end of Home Lake for the 1 mile portage to Gull, but instead had pulled off on the east side of Home Lake on a spur of the hiking trail, and had then portaged south on the Angleworm Hiking Trail. Belatedly I will say that this, dear reader, may require a map to play along...

Poor guy had left his food pack where he’d landed and he had been carrying a 50+ pound pack and a 40+ pound canoe…he had dropped the canoe after a mile or so on the hiking trail. Another 2/3rds of a mile he arrived at Whiskey Jack where we had our First Act. Then he kept going another half mile - finally figures something has got to be wrong - drops his pack on the trail and returns to Whiskey Jack for our enjoyable Second Act.

Second Act, continued:

With my maps in-hand (he had his in his pack but had never actually consulted them) Charlie is eventually convinced as to the backbreaking error of his ways. He now has about an hour and a half of light left, at most. He’s going to head back north, but first has to go retrieve his pack, dropped half a mile in the wrong direction and over 2 miles from where he started his misadventure, and over 3 LAND miles (and that’s just one way) from Gull Lake! He passes me with the pack at about 7:30, heading north, and I wish him good luck. Sidebar: Had he continued south on the Angleworm Trail with his pack another 10 minutes instead of turning back to Whiskey Jack, Cerberus and me - he would have arrived back at that same campsite he started the day at, for it was Charlie who had been camped at site #1895 on Angleworm!

And that would be interesting enough, gentle reader, but both Alas and Huzzah, there are more Acts to come!

Third Act:

Cerberus and I have a restful evening and are enjoying the morning's routine when once again, I hear voices at about 7:30am. And lo - behold! MisAdventurer Charlie returns! Apparently the previous evening he had returned to his canoe, abandoned somewhere on the trail, and it was too dark to continue. His headlamp was back in the food pack on the shore of Home Lake, and he had to just put up the tent where he could. In the morning, he thought he was closer to me than he was to his food pack - and he was out of water - and he walked back to me on Whiskey Jack without a pack, very dehydrated and asking for water. So I filtered plenty of water for him, and he drank lustfully. I asked if he had eaten: Nope, food pack was more than a mile-and-a-half to the north! So I also fed our poor wanderer. And then off Charlie went, sated and now with direction, but still with much toil ahead in order to recover from his missteps.

After some fishing sans catching, I decide to head deeper, to Gull or Thunder or Beartrap…taking an hour or so to break camp. Cerberus and I portage west and in 30 minutes the canoe is wet again on Angleworm; it’s about midday. We portage to Home, and knock out the 1360m (sorry, Canada eh? My brain works in Meters, not Rods…) portage to Gull in ~30 minutes - including Cerberus going full yard-sale with one of her saddlebags, scattering her cargo across the woods. Recovering from that, we put in on Gull. I can see the easternmost site is taken, so we take the middle one. It’s about 2 in the afternoon, and I am quickly able to connect to civilization in a brief window where the Gods of Cellular Connectivity triumphed over the Gods who normally control My Luck. Actually, upon refection, perhaps that battle went the other way…the message I got from home was that: Due to Covid, my eldest Son - off to the east coast for freshman year of college - was going to have to come home, and quick, as they were closing campus. Well crap. Reverse, out, and right now.

So I immediately packed up and paddled back across Gull, and we again knocked out the 1360m (271 Rods - I looked it up - hope you are happy, though with an attitude like that, kind reader, I doubt it) portage back to Home Lake.


Fourth Act:

Charlie is there at the Home Lake portage landing. He has both his packs (he was planning on 5-6 days, and each of his packs weighed more than my pack & canoe, combined) and his canoe (a beamy, heavy, solo-rigged tandem). Charlie was reunited with the unmolested food pack; he had all his gear in one place, was about to start the portage to Gull, and from the correct spot this time. It was about 3:30, about 26 hours and tremendous effort since he made the wrong turn and 1000 rods (3 Miles, 5 KillerMiles or 5000 CanadaMeters) from the far point of his blunder. He kindly gave me some fishing advice and some jig heads (Thank you Charlie! However in hindsight, perhaps I should have just done the opposite of what he said given his worrisome track record), and we parted for the final time.



Cerberus and I camped on Home for the evening; we woke at first light, were on the water at 7 and at the car at was a 47 hour trip. Operation Rescue Child from the Debauchery of College is underway as of this writing - the wife is already heading east for a four-day roadtrip and I am now home to mind our younger children, who rightly resent the end to their brief, parent-free independence.

I may go back, but my shoulders and neck ache. I looked at the maps, and we travelled a hair over 8 miles on land, and only 7 by water. I caught no fish. Cerberus did get to gnaw on a rotting fish head at the Home campsite, so thanks to that fisherperson for lazy disposal!

However I think I got Charlie off the MTA…reference for those who might know the old folk song by the Kingston Trio. Look it up and listen if you don’t!

Edit: I returned a week later! Report here: ReWormed