Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Kruger Challange 2020
by MagicPaddler

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 09/13/2020
Entry & Exit Point: Other
Number of Days: 6
Group Size: 1
Trip Introduction:
Minnesota Kruger Challenge More information at I had a plan that I could finish in 4 days. Not even very many tandem teams do that. I think only a couple of other solo paddlers has done that and they are less than my age and have a faster canoes. Looking at my speed on some long day trips I had enough speed if I could just do it long enough each day. I plotted out each days requirements and saw I could do it. Starting after a good night sleep the first day could be a little longer with only 3 hours rest before the second day and then 4 hours rest for the remaining nights. I told myself I CAN DO THIS! On day one I pushed off from the shore at about 5AM in total darkness. Picked a point on the far shore sky line and paddled toward it. By the time I got to the first portage it was light enough to put my head light away. I finished my last portage of the day after sunset but still had enough light I did not need my headlight. I was soon past some island and points on LLC. By then it was dark. I had had side and quartering tail all day requiring a lot of effort to keep on course. With very little moon and some clouds it was dark but on the big lake I could set a heading and move along now with wind reduced paddling was much more relaxed. After a few hours on LLC I was into the area where I wanted to start cutting through the islands and in the dark I could not tell one island from another. I started using my GPS. I came around an island and hit a rock head on. After checking my GPS again I had a path marked straight through that rock. I bushwhacked a camp on a point that I could see from there. It is about 10PM so I set my alarm for 1AM and got in the hammock. Short night and I packed up and got back on the water. Using the GPS I went around a group of island on the open lake side and got back on my GPS track. Navigating exclusively on my GPS I was able to work my way through the island and down to Fish Stake Narrows. A friend of mine had told me what camp he planned to be in and to give him a shout as I went by. I gave him a yell at about 3 AM he did not reply back so I kept going. It is daylight by the time I get to Curtain Falls. A young man passes me and uses the passage north of the island to get past the swift. He did that so fast I thought I would try it. I had to get out and pull the canoe up through it. We would see each other a few time during the challenge he was much faster than I but was spending more time on meals and caught and ate fish. He was doing the same rout but not with the WaterTribe. A couple of hours after that I caught up with voyager and Mzee, two other WaterTribe members. Within an hour or so I was falling behind voyager and Mzee. I thought it was strange that I could catch up with them but not keep up. It was just past noon and I began to notice I was moving slow. Then I began to make mistakes. It was difficult to concentrate and follow my GPS. My body said YOU CAN NOT DO THIS. I decided that I needed to stop and rest. That would put an end to any possibility of finishing in 4 days. I paddled on for a while but then I came around a corner and there was Table Rock Camp site. It is 3 in the afternoon and I stopped. That ended all hope of finishing in 4 days. I laid stuff out on the table to dry and set up the hammock. Then pack my dry stuff and got in the hammock. At 4 AM I was back on the water. Taking every short cut I knew of I portages on to Sag in the dark. Trying to navigate in the narrow passage into the larger part of Sag I ran into a rock wall. Looking around I saw a place to hang my hammock. It was almost 9PM when I got off the water. I did not set my alarm and didn’t get back on the water until 6:30 in the morning. Big Sag already had big wind when I got out there. It was a quartering tail wind but kept me busy and working hard to stay on course. Most of the Granit River was a little low on water but one section was way low requiring one portage being extra-long and adding a portage around a swift. I could hear the wind blowing while on the river but it was no problem. When I got out on Magnetic Lake there were solid white caps and waves higher than my gunnels. It took a lot of my mussel power to keep the canoe from being turned sideways to the waves. I was very concerned about Gunflint Lake a much larger lake. I decided that I would try to stick to the North shore with the wind coming from the north west the north shore would give me some protection. When I turned onto Gunflint I was pleasantly surprised to see smooth water along the shore. There was some large bays that I had to cross but for the most part wind was not a problem on gunflint. I wanted to get a camp before it got dark so at 7:20 I pulled into the far east camp site on Little Gunflint Lake. A one star camp for sure but I felt good being in a real camp site. Checking the weather before the trip no night is to be below 40° so I had left the heavy/bulky under quilt behind to make portaging easier. Waking up cold I put my life jacket on with my rain coat over that. That helped but my behind was still without protection. My socks were frozen stiff in the morning.  I was on the water and paddling by 5AM. It was still dark but the sky is starting to lighten. Things went well getting through the smaller lakes and the wind was not a problem on Mountain. Love seeing the big bluffs in that area.  The young man that passed me at Curtain Falls and I arrive at the portage out of Rose Lake at the same time. He is soon out of site ahead of me. This portage is over 2 miles long and I had stopped to remove a rock from my shoe. Shortly after resuming my track across he comes back and said we are on the wrong leg of the portage. Looking at the GPS it looked like he was correct but after some exploring around we found the other trail did not exist. It took about an hour of back tracking to figure that out. It is getting near dark and I can’t find the camp on North Fowl Lake. I am just about to get to South Fowl and darkness is happening when I see a place in the woods that looks like a good place to hang my hammock. I check it out and find it quite nice for a bushwhack camp. The sky is clear and I believe this is going to be colder than last night. I use the life jacket and pull a pad out of my back pack and slip it under my rear end and I did better than last night. The tarp had a layer of ice on it in the morning and all the plants were covered with frost. I packed my socks under my hammock to keep them from freezing. Back on the water at 5:20 the next morning. Had to push through reeds for a long way on South Fowl before getting to open water. It is 6:10 before I get to the portage and it is light enough I do not need my head light. This portage is just over one mile. I had to set the canoe down a couple of times to get past fallen trees but required no other rest stops. It is 7:45 by the time I get the canoe loaded. Glad to get away from that landing. The otters use it as a toilet. Water levels are low on the Pigeon River so there are more rapids and they are rockier than last year. I ran a couple but had to wade most of them. It is past noon as I round the bend at Partridge Falls and Ben is there as a greeting party. Even at low water flow paddling toward those falls causes one to be a little more caution. Ben and I talk as I get my gear across to below the falls and he says he will see me later. It is past 1 when I get to Fort Charlotte. I spend the time to do some repacking and filter and drink lots of water. It is after 2:30 before I head down the trail. I need to set the packs down and rest about every 15 minutes. The Grand is for the most part dry and in better shape than last year but I am not. As the day wares on I need more frequent rest periods. Ben meet me at both of the cross roads and encourages me on. By 5 PM it is getting dark in the woods. About 6 I start using my headlight. Rest stops have gotten to be a routine of unloading, take a drink, and lay down in the middle of the trail and put my head on my pack. I could be asleep in 3 minutes but I fight it off and get up and go again. It is near 8 PM when I reach Rt 61. I make sure my headlight is on and no one is coming and I get across. It is all downhill from here. I have gotten to where I look forward to my little lay down on the trail and rest periods and it is time for another but I meet a trail angel come to encourage me on. We talk for a bit and then move on. At 8:31 my GPS track is at the fort and movement stops. Picture are taken and congratulations are received. Then off to a shower and bed. The WaterTribe website lists my time as 6 Days 13 hours and 38 minutes. Because none of the younger faster paddlers did a solo this year I was the fastest in the single male class for this year. I am the oldest paddler to complete the Minnesota Kruger Challenge. The challenge is listed as being 270 miles but that is if you stay on the border. I cut every corner I could thus reducing the miles I had to paddle. My GPS logged 224.4 miles.  Day one the 13th 54.8 miles. Day two the 14th 33.6 miles. Day three the 15th 45.1 miles. Day four the 16th 31.1 miles.  Day five the 17th 32.7 miles. Day six the 18th 27.1 miles.