The Wind...Nothing but the Wind!
Lakes: Brule Lake, South Temperance Lake, North Temperance, Sitka Lake, Cherokee Lake and Gordon Lake.
Miles: 11 miles / 7:22 hours
I’m sitting on bedrock by the lake on the south campsite on Gordon Lake. What a day? The wind…nothing but the wind!
I drove about 12 hours yesterday from Michigan to approximately 10 miles south of Tofte. I pulled into the Caribou River Wayside Rest at about 2200 hours and slept in the back of my truck. I didn’t sleep all that well, if any. I got up at 0530 hours and began driving north on Highway 61 toward Tofte at 0541 hours.
I went in and got my permit at the Tofte Ranger Station before heading to the Holiday gas for a muffin and some coffee. I’m already out of whack for not having my regular breakfast of oatmeal with cinnamon and a ripe banana mixed in with the oatmeal. Also, no real coffee, instead I had to have some of the watered down variety at Holiday.
I got to the landing at Brule Lake but I was so disorganized from my unexpected, hurried trip to the northern part of Lower Michigan, the east side of Hubbard Lake. My grandfather had been very ill for some time and my family wasn’t expecting him to live much longer as he had taken a turn for the worst.
I got on the water of Brule Lake at 0838 hours. It should have only taken me a couple hours to paddle west to the portage going to South Temperance. Instead it took me 3 ½ hours! Up to this point, I have never been in such strong winds and high seas as this with my We-no-nah Prism loaded with all my gear. I’ve been in high seas before without all my gear and it pretty much acted like a bobber. Not so when loaded down. I have to say that the canoe handled very well in the strong winds and very big waves with white caps.
The wind was blowing pretty strong and the canoe was handling the seas very well. I was somewhat concerned but I didn’t think the wind would get much stronger. The wind was blowing out of the NW to W and back to the NW. I wasn’t following the south shore as I probably should have but that’s in retrospect. I was angling more to the middle of the lake in line with the portage to the west. Well, the wind began to blow even harder. I was beginning to take on a little water, and all I could do is paddle like hell toward the big island to the west end of the lake. I was more than some what concerned at this time but all I could do was paddle. I made it to the lee side of the island where the waves were somewhat tamer. I did make it and I continued to the west toward the portage to South Temperance in the face of a strong westerly wind.
I saw another tandem canoe when I got to the main body of South Temperance Lake and it looked like they were headed to the middle north campsite. There was still a strong wind, but the waves weren’t nearly as bad. I kept paddling and portaging through North Temperance, Sitka, Cherokee and Gordon. The 140 rod portage from Sitka to Cherokee was one of the tougher portages I’ve made. It was just up and down. I’ve made longer portages and shorter ones with high elevation but this one was just up and down.
I was going to camp on the north end of Cherokee but all the campsites were taken. I portaged into Gordon Lake and took the first campsite on the south end. I was going to check out the campsite further north but I was tired, the wind was blowing and it was almost 1600 hours. It was about a mile away and if it was taken I would have to paddle back to this one. This campsite is OK but not the greatest. Hey, it’s a place where I can put up a tent and relax.
I didn’t see many people traveling today. I think it was because of the wind.
Lakes: Gordon Lake, Long Island River, Long Island Lake, Muskeg Lake, Kiskadinna Lake and Omega Lake.
Miles: 9 miles / 7:33 Hours
I’m writing my notes on the Southeast campsite of Omega Lake
Unbelievable Day!!! Started off OK!!
I got up at 0530 hours. It was a magnificent day to be in the wilderness. I ate my oatmeal and had some coffee. I broke down my camp and I was on the water at 0727 hours. I knew the next portage was a mile away so I figure I would be there around 0800 hours. I had fixed a cup of coffee for the road and I knew I would be going slower than normal to enjoy the sunshine and finish my coffee. The course seemed so obvious that I really wasn’t watching the map. I knew I just had to follow the east shore. Well now…at 0748 hours I ran out of water. This should have been my first clue that something wasn’t right, but of course I ignored it.
I looked to where I thought the north most camp site on Gordon Lake was supposed to be and I didn’t see it. I thought it must have been grown over. Second clue! I also couldn’t find an obvious portage. Third clue! I got out of my canoe and found a trail that I thought must had been a portage many years ago. This trail was in the middle of a valley and it appeared that a stream may have been here before but had since dried up.
I grabbed my paddle in my left hand, my compass in the other hand and I start walking north. I’m now walking through the woods, over and under blow downs, through the thick vegetation. This is not good but I keep going. I walk and crawl for about 15 minutes. This is another clue. I catch on to this clue so I walk back to my canoe and pick another route. I begin walking north again but this trail wasn’t any better. I stop and go back to my canoe and then check out the first trail again. I have to make a decision so I make it, but I later learn that it wasn’t the correct decision. I go back to my canoe and grab my pack, swing it onto my back, grab my camera box, water bottles and just go for it.
I eventually found water but the portage was treacherous, down right dangerous. I was falling between rocks and dragging the pack through the woods. I walked back the same way I had came thinking about how I was going to get the canoe across to where my packs were. I started with the canoe on my shoulders and within 10 feet I fall. I ended up dragging the canoe through the brush. When I say I dragged it through the brush that’s exactly what I did. There weren’t that many times the bottom of the canoe rested upon the rocks I was falling in between.
I found my packs and loaded up the canoe. I start paddling going east a short ways, then south trying to match the lay of the land to the map and it’s not happening. I knew I needed to go north so I turned around and headed that direction. While I’m paddling and looking at my surroundings, I’m thinking I didn’t know where I was at and the possibility of portaging into some other lake that no one would be on. I had three or four more days to figure out where I was. I just kept thinking and hoping I didn’t have to drag all my gear through the woods again. That was one hell of a workout.
I eventually found a campsite so I knew there was a way in and out of this lake. I then saw what appeared to be a portage trail on the west shore. I looked at my map and finally the surroundings were falling in place to the map. I then started looking for a portage trail to the northwest. I found one so I knew I had to be on the north end of Gordon Lake. Two short portages later and I made it to Long Island Lake.
I don’t know if I can explain what happen adequately or not but here it goes. I wasn’t paying attention to the map as I normally do and always do after this incident. I should have continued to veer to the right at the narrows where sections 25, 26, 35 and 36 meet on Gordon Lake. When I got to that spot I glanced to my right and it appeared that it ended. I thought it was a small bay. If I was paying attention I would have realized that would have been where I needed to go. When I got to the area I was at on Gordon Lake I thought I was further north than I actually was. I was thinking that area where I should have veered to the right was the little bay by the northern most camp site on Gordon Lake. When I ran out of water I thought the portage had to be left of the dried up stream that I thought I was seeing. The area that I portaged across was from the north bay about in the middle of Gordon Lake (SE corner of section 26) across the land about ¼ mile to the next little bay. I wasted two hours for what should have been a 5 minute paddle. I did learn a very good lesson from this amateurish mistake to follow along on the map to the lay of the land. As you can see there were several clues that I should have paid attention to, but for one reason or another I didn’t.
If this ever happens again it won’t be because I wasn’t paying attention but will be by some other mistake.
The wind began to pick up on Long Island Lake, but the sun was still very hot. I took time to have lunch at the end of the 24 rod portage from Long Island Lake going to Muskeg Lake. There is another approximately 10 rod portage from the stream to Muskeg Lake that’s not shown on the map. I began paddling to the east toward the 185 rod portage that goes to Kiskadinna Lake. I could see a couple of canoes and a woman at the portage. I pulled up to the portage and both canoes are blocking the take out and there’s no place else to go. I waited as the female kept looking at me. I eventually had to ask her to please move one of the canoes, so I could get to shore. There was room for me to land if she would only do it. I could tell she wasn’t going to do much, because after I asked her to please move one of the canoes she kept looking up the trail for someone to help her.
Eventually, she touched one of the canoes, it wiggled a bit and she asked me if that was OK. I replied, “I guess that’ll have to do.” I got out of my canoe in more water than I should have had to do so I could unload my canoe. I was probably a little short to her with my comment after she wiggled the canoe, but I found it rude to completely block a put-in / take-out and then not be able to correct the situation.
The 185 rod portage between Muskeg Lake and Kiskadinna Lake is a tough one. In my journal I wrote,” it went up & up & up & up in stages-but you definitely knew you were going up. It was like stairs in some areas.” When I got to the end of the 185 rod portage there were 4 guys blocking that put-in. These guys were gone by the time I came back with my canoe.
The 32 rod portage from Kiskadinna to Omega was another steep up hill climb, but it was short. It was long enough to get the heart to pumping. I had to take my pack off about 10 rods from the end as a large Birch tree had fallen across the portage. I had to drag my pack to the other side. I went back and got my canoe and when I got back to the put-in on Omega I saw the four guys I had seen earlier. They had taken the first campsite on an island.
It was now 1500 hours and an hour earlier I thought I would try and make it to Winchell Lake but I could see thunderheads moving in from the west. I came to the campsite in the SE corner of section 24 on Omega Lake and set up camp.
I was sweaty and exhausted! I immediately put up my tent and rain fly. After I set up the rain fly, I took it down and moved it to a better location. It started to rain while I was filtering water. I sat under the rain fly and I didn’t bother to cook anything. I had some peanut butter with some protein muffins and a Bar-B-Q chicken stick.
I was exhausted and hurting from the heavy exertion of trying to make a portage trail where there wasn’t one and the two fun portages. I decided to go lie down in the tent as it continued to rain, thunder and lightening. It rained for about an hour and I fell asleep. I woke back up and got out of the tent at 1900 hours.
I could see the front to the west. I could see blue sky behind the front but the front doesn’t appear to be moving. I’m sitting on some rocks about seven feet off the water having coffee and writing in my journal while looking to the west.
I decide that I’m going home tomorrow. It looks like it’s about 8 to 9 miles with 6 portages. There is a 152 rod portage that hopefully won’t be too bad, but all the others are short ones.
I should go and find a tree to hang my food pack before it gets too late. I was thinking that I might just leave it under the rain fly if it’s going to rain all night. I’ve looked all around the campsite and haven’t seen a tree with a suitable branch, but I’m off to search for one. Time is now, 2039 hours.
It’s now 2115 hours and I’m back. I got the food pack hung, but not very well. I can see that there are thunderheads rising in the west and they appear to be moving to the NE, maybe they’ll miss me.
The mosquitoes are starting to come out now that it’s starting to get dark. I hear the loons in the distance. I’ve boiled enough water for tomorrow instead of filtering it.
Tuesday, 07-21-98 (written on 7-23-98 at home)
Lakes: Omega Lake, Winchell Lake, Wanihigan Lake, Cliff Lake, North Cone Lake, Middle Cone Lake, South Cone Lake and back to Brule Lake.
Distance: 10 miles / 7:30 hours
I got up a couple times last night and saw that the stars were out in full force. Oh, before I went to bed last night I was looking at the handle of the big dipper when I saw either an airplane or a satellite. I think it was a satellite. I haven’t seen the moon the last couple of nights; I don’t know where it went.
I woke up at 0516 hours and I finally got out of the tent at 0550 hours. I was tired and attempted to get some more sleep, but I didn’t get any more. I hurried up with breakfast and quickly broke down camp.
I could tell the wind was really blowing causing the top of the trees to move back and forth. It appeared that the wind was out of the west maybe slightly WNW. It was very noisy.
I was on the water at 0730 hours. When I woke up the sky was blue, but now it’s starting to cloud up. When I got to the main body of Winchell Lake I realized the wind was going to be a real factor on Brule Lake.
The first two campsites on Winchell Lake west of the opening from the portage from Omega were taken. Good thing I stayed on Omega last night.
I got to Cliff Lake. Cliff Lake is a narrow lake and its length is orientated west to east. There was no place to get out of the strong westerly wind. I fought the wind the full length to the 152 rod portage that goes to North Cone Lake.
While I was on the 152 rod portage it began to drizzle. I got to the end of the portage and put on my Gore-tex rain gear. The wind was also a factor on North Cone Lake.
There is a 5 rod portage at the south end of North Cone Lake that goes to Middle Cone Lake. I tried to avoid this portage and attempted to paddle instead, but it was too shallow. I had to take out my big pack and my food pack to lighten the canoe up so I could drag the canoe. I still was scraping the bottom of the canoe over the rocks. It sure didn’t sound good for the bottom of my canoe.
There is a 25 rod portage from Middle Cone to South Cone Lake and then a 30 rod portage from South Cone to Cone Bay on the Brule Lake, these were no problem at all. I was thinking the whole time that the wind was going to be a real problem on the big water of Brule Lake.
I got to the end of the portage at Cone Bay and the water was calm, but I could see massive waves with white caps on the main body of water of the Brule. I’ve never seen waves like this in the BWCA before and I was very concerned knowing I had to paddle across the lake at some point to the south to get to the landing.
I looked at my map of Brule Lake and saw that there was going to be some areas that would have the full force of the westerly wind blowing down the length of the lake for some three miles or so. As I look to the south I can see the waves crashing on the shore of some islands.
I new I had to stick to the north shore and paddle to the east and hope the wind would die down or move from a westerly wind to a NW wind so I could cross the lake at some point. The problem with the hoping part was that the wind hasn’t diminished at all since I started my day. I got out of the smaller bay of Cone Bay and I started getting into the waves. I continued on the north shore and paddled to the east about a half mile and ducked behind a small island. This island is approximately on the line between section 10 and 11.
Now I had to go a little less than a ½ mile to the south before I could round another point so I could hug the shore again and go east. I wasn’t too concerned at this point, because if I swamped I would a least be pushed to shore. This was a mind game, because I didn’t want to go down at all. I crossed the open water of a small bay that goes to a campsite and did take on some water.
I rounded the point that is in the very SW corner of section 11. The waves were crashing on shore. Once I got around this point the waves were even bigger. I was riding some of the waves as I now went east. I was either riding the waves or in the valley doing all I could do to keep the canoe on a good line.
I went just a little ways, maybe a ¼ mile, before I went past a small point and stopped. I pulled my canoe up on a large flat rock that stuck out into the lake behind this point. It seemed that it was a little too risky at this point to continue, since I still had no idea if I was going to be able to make it across the lake to the landing.
I got out my camera and took some pictures of the waves and the white caps. The waves seemed to be getting bigger or maybe I was looking at them from a different perspective. I was hungry so I ate the rest of my protein muffin with some peanut butter.
There wasn’t any place to rest close to shore so I walked up into the woods and found some moss to lie down upon. I rested and thought to myself for about an hour while listening to the trees blowing in the wind.
I kept thinking what Robert Perkins had to say about the wind in his video, Into the Great Solitude. Every once in a while I would stand up and look over the lake to see if the waves were diminishing….nope, so I laid back down. I kept telling myself that it should’ve taken a little over an hour to get to the landing once I got to the Brule. I had estimated that I would be at the landing at 1230 hours.
I stopped looking at my watch once I got into the waves on the Brule as it took all my concentration and effort to keep the canoe on a correct line.
I wanted to keep moving and I really didn’t want to wait any longer. I walked down to the waters edge and watched the waves for another half an hour. I was watching the large swells which were a concern if they broke over my gunwale.
I continued to survey the area when I spotted something blue to the east. I checked the map and it wasn’t a campsite so I though it must be someone else who had pulled over.
Well, I made my decision to go. I had looked at the map and if I went another ¼ mile I would round another point (this point is in the middle and at the top of section 14) and the waves shouldn’t be as bad on the backside of the point. I continued to the point when I saw the blue object. It appeared to be a tarp and then I saw a male walk down to the shore. I briefly talk with him as I continued paddling. He told me they were going to wait it out.
I made it around the point and continued on the shore to the east going in the direction of a campsite on the peninsula in section 1. Just before I got to the campsite I had to cross some more open water. I actually went into the bay to get out of the bigger waves to cross it. By the time I got to the campsite I was back into the bigger waves. I began angling toward the island with two campsites in section 13. I made it to about the middle of the island on the north side. I turned around and paddled into the wind following the shore of the island. Once I got to the west end of the island I rounded the tip and angled my canoe to the island that looks like a tooth in section 13.
I knew once I got behind the island that looks like a tooth I wouldn’t need to be so concerned because the island and other land masses would be blocking a significant portion of the wind.
I made it back to the landing at 1500 hours. A while later, the two guys that were pulled over on shore with the blue tarp showed up at the landing. One of the guys asked me if I was the solo canoeist. I told him I was. He gave me a compliment that I was handling my canoe very well in the big waves.
Overall, this was a tough 3 day canoe trip because of the wind on the first and third day; and on the second day I decided to make a ¼ mile portage through the woods where there wasn’t one and the up and down portages.
I really liked the way my We-no-nah Prism handled in the waves loaded down. I did take on some water but in those waves it was expected. I knew that the canoe could handle some pretty good waves as I had some practice in some very strong winds on Pokegama Lake near Grand Rapids, although I didn’t have the canoe loaded down with camping gear.