BWCA in strip built kayak in 2001
by jmonroe

Trip Type: Paddling Kayak
Entry Date: 08/20/2001
Entry & Exit Point: Lake One (EP 30)
Number of Days: 11
Group Size: 1
John Monroe

These are notes that I kept about my Boundary Waters Canoe Area BWCA trip.

I started this Northern Minnesota trip in my new 12 foot high volume strip built kayak that looked more like a piece of furniture that should be protected rather then a boat to take on the rocks of the BWCA.

Aug. 20, 2001

I started my long drive from Eastern Indiana at 9:30 PM Monday evening and drove straight through to Ely, MN. It was a long exhausting 18 hour drive that I thought would never end. It seems every road was under construction every 10 miles and every city had my road detoured that was never marked well enough to keep me from getting lost.

I stopped in Rockford, IL to gas up (and lost), and a lady came up to me inquiring about my strip built boat. She said a small group of hers build strip built canoes and that they had just gotten back from the BWCA. They had been going to the BWCA for the last 7 years straight and loved it. She had seen Bears, Moose and Eagles but never any Wolves and to see a Wolf was very rare she said.

Aug. 21

I arrived in Ely, MN at 3:30 PM the next afternoon and located the Chamber of Commerce to get a general idea of the area. I rented a motel for 2 days and went right to bed, sleeping for 11 hours straight in a very sound sleep.

Aug. 22

Today I explored the beautiful little town of Ely and bought some supplies, then I went to Wolf Center to confirm and pick up my BWCA permit. I was worried about bears and I had taken firecrackers as part of my bear protection packet along with pepper spray, throwing rocks and a whistle, all to ward off any unwanted bears. I was told I couldn’t take any firecrackers with me into the BWCA but I could take a gun. Go figure! Also, I had been told by several people that rangers would be at my entry point to check things and to get there early. I found out there were no rangers to check you out and I could go in anytime after midnight on my entry permit date of Aug. 23. I explored the surrounding area including my entry point to get a lay of the area so there would be no surprises the next morning.

Aug. 23

I left the motel at 5:AM while it was still dark for my entry point which was about 20 miles from Ely at the end of the road. What happen next is the highlight of my trip. I was driving along at 40 miles per hour when an animal ran in front of my car and I braked almost to a stop. I saw it was a wolf. What a thrill ! After crossing the road he walked down the road side towards the car before going off into the woods. Then I proceeded up the road at about 20 mph thinking about what I had just seen and about 500 feet from my wolf sighting was another wolf just laying on the edge of the road. As I was about to slowly pass him he slowly got up looking at me and walked off into the woods. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to have seen these guys. Chills were still going down my back when I arrived at my entry point.

I begin unloading my boat and packs wondering how I was going to get it all in a 12’ kayak and myself at the same time. Think sardines in a can and you can picture it. I had to squish my self in and leave my legs resting on the top of the deck and paddle that way. The only way I could enter the kayak was to jump in the air and let my rear come mashing down between my gear to what little seat exposure there was left with my legs landing up in the air outside of the cockpit. It worked but it wasn’t pretty.

The first bad surprise I learned about my self designed kayak is that it tracks very badly, especially when heavily loaded. It was better when I was just in it without a heavy load but it still wasn’t good. I guess its just a pretty face and it did get comments everywhere I went.

I’m not a spring chicken, 66 in 2000 when I took this trip, and this first day was very exhausting for me. Each portage took me 4 trips so back and forth would be 7 walks for one portage. I realize now I took way too many things with me and had too much weight. It took two portages from Lake One to Lake Two where I set up camp and I felt like I was going to die. Then, after being so exhausted from the portages and while I was setting up camp I realized that I left my vest back at one of the portages. So as tired as I was, I had to go all the way back to my first portage where someone had hung up my vest on a tree, then back again to my camp where I crawled into bed and died.

Aug. 24

I hurt so bad this morning I may have to spend two or three days recuperating before I moved on to Insula Lake. I am so sore that every muscle is aching in my body. However, I am being entertained by the beautiful sounds of the Loons tonight.

I tried out my cheap pocket radio with an AM and FM band and I can get Ely FM radio station, WELY loud and clear. Its 7:30 PM and its hard to believe, but I am listening to my team the Colts play the Vikings right now on a weak station in Indiana. The Ely radio station gives the weather 6 minutes after the hour every hour. This will be helpful on this trip.

I begin to familiarize myself with my GPS today. I took a Longitude and Latitude reading and intersected them on my map and they did cross exactly on my campsite.

I rolled over on my good glasses and bent the frame and knocked out one of the lenses, but after a lot of bending and shaping I was able to snap the lens back into the frame. They feel and look as good as new.

I cooked a tasty rice and spice meal today that only took 15 minutes from beginning to end today and cleaned up with a Spruce twig that I used as a scouring pad during my whole stay, even thought I had a brand new scouring pad I never used.

Today went well but I am very sore and moving around slowly. I am taking Advil and it helps some. I am feeling my age but I love this pristine beautiful preserved nature area.

Aug. 25

6:30 AM---I woke up this morning still very sore. Glad I brought Anvil. I did sleep very well thanks to my new Slumberjack pad and my 0 degree sleeping bag. I am also enjoying a pillow for the first time in my camping life. It’s almost as good as sleeping in my own bed. I water proofed my tent and it really makes a difference in keeping out the water droplets that always use to form on the inside tent walls in the mornings on my past camping trips.

I am going to put in a Long. & Lat. in my GPS and use the compass section of the GPS to navigate to it. Hope it works.

3:30 PM. The navigation worked out fine. I went from my camp site on Lake Two, through Lake Three and on to Lake Four to the portage entrance I would take to get to Insula Lake. Then I put my GPS on CAMP and it lead me the several miles right to it. I now have a lot of confidence in my GPS and I can go on to map reading and plotting bearings. I bought a book in Ely about map and compass navigating and I will do a lot of practicing while I am in the BWCA.

My kayak tracks very poorly and it is hard to control. I may have to put a keel on it this winter to improve its tracking. Because it tracks so poorly and requires so much effort to control when its loaded I have decided to stay here camping in the Lake Two, Lake Three and Lake Four area and camp in one spot.

I found an arrow head right here in camp today. It is about 1 ½” high and wide. It makes me think about how and when the Indian who made it was living and what he was like.

I have a little chipmunk friend that I think I can feed out of my hand but he is very picky about his food. He won’t eat pork rinds that I have in my trail mix. I don’t like them either.

This has been another perfect weather day. I think I will settle down and read some of my book, Stalingrad.

Aug. 26

7:00 AM---It’s starting out as another beautiful day with a tempeture of 54 and sunshine but with an afternoon and night forecast of 40% thunder storms,,, thanks little radio. This Sunday morning WELY radio station is playing Viking music of Greenland and Sweden in their native tongues.

11:30AM---I went for a nice paddle in a narrow inlet bay about ½ mile long that leads to dangerous waters, the map says. Some ducks were escorting me part of the way down this beautiful peaceful waterway. When I came back from this little excursion I took a compass bearing to locate a creek leading to a small no-name lake. I set the map and compass on a large 8’x 8’flat rock to get a bearing when I noticed the compass needle wasn’t pointing north, I knew where north was. This had me scratching my head. Finally, when I raised the compass off of the rock about a foot the needle swung around 180 degrees to north. This rock must have had iron in it. I then tested other rocks and this didn’t happen again. I can see how something like this can really get someone lost for a while.

4:30PM---I just listened to the Shadow and Johnny Dollar on WELY radio station. This station also has a personal messages time everyday that can be funny. For instance, a lady’s message to her friend was, “ Jason I love you. My new cell number is *********, call me and bring over some ice-cream and beer.” I couldn’t believe how many people give out their phone numbers over the airways for someone to call them.

6:00PM---As I was cooking my supper this evening next to the lake I watched something that didn’t seem possible. About 50 foot off shore I saw what looked to be a brown leaf about 3 inches high sticking up from the water and floating by me against a strong breeze and choppy waves. At first I thought it must be the fin of a Walleye fish. But after watching it for a while it stayed on a straight line course and didn’t go under as a fish fin would have. Then all of a sudden it spun around in the strong wind and started floating backwards with the wind and waves for about 50 feet and then the little sail turned into the wind and again sailed into the wind and waves going right on past me. I wish now I had forgot my cooking and went after it in my boat to see what the heck it was. Now it’s going to bother me forever wondering about it. But here is my best guess. This thing looked like a three point triangular sail, the only kind of sail that can run close to the wind. It could have been a butterfly that had died flattened out and dried that way, fell into the water with one wing up in the air and the other wing down in the water acting as a keel. Nothing else makes any sense that I can think of. I can see some kind of commercial toy to be built and sold from this, perhaps made from injected plastic. I can kick myself from not paddling after it and examining it. I did look at it with my field glasses but I still couldn’t tell what it was.

Aug. 27

7:20---Another beautiful morning, how lucky can I get. It did rain a little bit last night and thundered off in the distance. A Loon called out very close to me last night and woke me up. The Loons seem to have several calls and this call was very beautiful, clear and hi-fi like. It was a three syllable song and changed octaves much like the Tarzan jungle call use to be.

11:00AM---I just got back from checking the entrance of my no-name-lake. I would have to walk in weeds and brush high above my head to get to the lake. Forget that!! I would like to bring back an underwater plant for my pond and I saw a very strange one on this trip that I would have to dive about 6’ to dig out the roots. (Later,,, I never saw another plant like this on the whole trip and so I wouldn’t even think of taking it from the BWCA.)

The town of ELY has live musicians come into town for live concerts and broadcast live over WELY. One musician I really liked was a Michael Kitspatrick playing cello. They said his music can be found at “” along with many north woods music.

Aug. 28

6:AM---48 degrees. Again I was awakened in the middle of the night with Loons calling very close to me. What a delightful bird.

Later. I went fishing for the first time this morning. I had 4 strikes in about an hour but didn’t have them hooked well enough. I find that I am not that interested in fishing but would rather be out exploring and paddling and testing my map reading. I explored Lake Two, Three and Four today. I think I must have paddled 10 miles and I feel it.

Coming back to camp I thought I would take a short cut and didn’t need the map. I got lost. So I turned on the GPS, clicked CAMP, put it on compass and it took me home even though I thought it was lying to me.

Tonight I picked up my favorite radio station WLW 700-AM way back in Cincinnati, Ohio and was able to listen to it for about 10 minutes before it faded out for good.

Aug 29

Another beautiful day. Storms are suppose to move in this evening and stay around for the next several days.

I’ve been out paddling for several hours and thought I could go straight to my first of two portages to take me to Lake One, just to check it out and make sure I could get to it without messing around when I come out of the BWCA, and I missed it by a half mile. Every thing looks completely different when you are going back to a place you originally came from. This causes me to get lost a lot. Again, I got out my GPS and it took me right to the portage location which I have previously marked in it.

It’s funny but fishing has not interested me on this trip. I really like getting the exercise of paddling my kayak, map reading and practicing taking bearings and paddling them, and exploring and just looking at nature in this beautiful country. I am starting to get a little bored and homesick. I took a bath in the still warm waters of the lake today and boy do I feel better. I brought along a wet suit in case the water might be cold enough to cause hypothermia if I swamped in high waves but that is no problem this time of year. You would have to be careful in the spring I think.

3:00PM---I’m glad I have this little radio for weather forecasts. The wind has really picked up and the lake has white caps. My tent is being whipped around pretty hard. Even though my boat is completely up on shore and turned upside down, I tied it to a tree just to be safe.

Latest weather forecast. Thunderstorms tonight with possible hail, then thunderstorms tomorrow afternoon with temperatures falling to 37 tomorrow night. That has made up my mind to leave early in the morning when there should be a window of opportunity without rain. The extended weather forecast for the next 5 days is for thunderstorms each day. I have decided I am coming out early in the morning.

Aug. 30

4:AM---I am up and ready to pack and load up for my trip out of here. It rained hard during the night and is still sprinkling now. I had been cursing my heavy hiking boots that I use for canyon and mountain climbing with my son in Utah,,, for bringing them along, but now I am really glad I did. They grip like crazy on wet slippery rocks and give great ankle support. The last thing I need is to fall while carrying my heavy loads while portaging. These portage are nothing for the younger stronger people but I am pushing the envelope at my age and that is the fun, but it sure doesn’t seem like fun at the time. It’s more like, what in the hell am I doing here. Got to pack…

Aug. 31

3:00AM---I am holed up at a rest stop in a driving rain. I had two exciting things happen while portaging and paddling back to my car. I saw not one but two fully matured Bald Eagles. I had just portaged to Lake One and a beautiful Bald Eagle flew right over the top of me with his white head and tail shining brightly against the contrast of his dark brown body. The sun was now shining and he just glistened. He landed on the highest tree as you would expect to see in a postcard and preened himself for about 10 minutes. I hated to leave but I needed to move on. Then when I was with in a mile of my car another eagle close to me flew up from the weeds near shore and landed in the middle of a tree, but I couldn’t see him very well in the tree. Again he had the full white head and tail. I couldn’t believe my luck seeing two mature eagles on my last day. The first ones with the white heads and tails I had seen during my trip.

I had a very hard time paddling this boat while it was loaded. I run into some high winds and waves coming from the back of me and the boat was almost helpless. I could paddle for about 10 strokes and the boat would just lose tracking control and turn around into the wind. It took a long time to get to the car. I finally had the car loaded and pulled out at noon.

After I got back from this trip I added a skeg to my short by wide kayak and it now is a completely different boat. It paddles beautifully and holds it’s course. I’m now in the process of making it a sailing kayak that can convert to sailing or paddling while on the move. I hope to test it our in the spring of 2007.

That’s my trip. I would do it again. We are lucky to have the BWCA.

PS I am adding a sail and outrigger pontoons to this yak and am thinking of circumvent sailing around Isle Royal this fall.