Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

1964 was a very good year
by merlyn

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 06/01/1964
Entry & Exit Point: Saganaga Lake (EP J)
Number of Days: 5
Group Size: 3
Trip Introduction:
This will be a hodgepodge of memories from my first BW experience in no particular order.
It all started when my Dad took me to a sporting show in Chicago some time during the winter of 1964. I really don't remember the show but I do remember going through all the outfitters brochures about the boundary waters and dreaming about going there. The TRIP WAS ON! Dad made arrangements with Way of the Wilderness outfitters, Rolf and Gail Skrein. (I have no idea why I remember their name) for a June trip. I was a few weeks away from my 14th birthday. We left early from our home near Chicago, dad, 1 year older brother Don and myself. Since I'm the one telling the story I claim not guilty to leaving the travel lunches behind on the dining room table. I was the youngest so I had to sit in the back seat, the short, cramped, hot or cold ,windy or suffocating back seat of a Chevy Corvair for hundreds of miles. We arrived in Grand Maris later that day just in time to enjoy a town festival welcoming the guys voyaging to the Worlds Fair in NY city. There were several large canoes with (I believe) 4to 6 paddlers coming along the fur trade routes from Hudson Bay. I was very impressed! We tried to take a nap in the car somewhere along Lake Superior but were attacked by gnats and dad gave up and we stayed at rented room that night, I guess it could be called a B&B but to me it was staying at a strangers house, not for me. Off we go! The Gunflint Trail started at a very cool sign in G.M., it starts at another location now. The road was not paved and was hilly and curvy and great fun unless you were in the back seat. We arrived at the outfitters, loaded our gear, bought maps and paddled off blissfully on our trip. BS! It was raining, we had to re balance the load several times, the bugs were eating us alive and it was our first time in a canoe. We waddled our way out on the Sea Gull River (I think) and going as much left to right as forward . We stopped some where along the way to get our act together. I was sitting in the middle using the tent as a seat where the canoe was widest using the short "extra" paddle. I had to lean over and down to dig the paddle in causing us to be off balance. It was decided I was to only paddle on the right side, sit up straight and not rock the boat. Some how we made it to Canadian Customs, in and out, and over to a resort and picked up our fishing licenses. I sneakily bought 3 packs of cigarettes, Players, English Ovals and Benson and Hedges, very special as they were from a foreign country! I remember Horseshoe falls and the long paddle to the rail portage to Northern Light Lake. I could not see any way to land at the portage until a little trolley on rails backed into the water and picked up the canoe. Very cool! The canoe and our gear were carried over the portage and into the waters of Northern Light lake, we walked. We paddled to the abandoned ranger cabin on NLL, it was very neat but I could not believe people could live in such a small space . After the cabin we paddled up the river to our only real portage into Mowe Lake. The rain had finely stopped. We entered Mowe lake and headed out to a campsite marked on our map but as we exited the bay we were hit broadside by high winds, we tried several times to turn into the wind and angle our way to the campsite but with no luck. Hindsight tells me how foolish we were to fight cross winds that strong and how lucky we were not to get swamped or capsized; a little later on I'll tell you about our PFD's. We were stuck on a rocky shore able to see the campsite but not to get to it and it was getting dark. We found a rock outcrop about 10 feet or so above the water and made it camp. The rock was big enough for our tent and room for a fire and that's it. I remember using several loose rocks to anchor the tent in the wind and chopping up a dead tree that blocked part of the tent pad for the fire. Dad used a railroad flair he had in his tackle box to get the wet wood to burn. I have no idea what was for supper but I can still smell my sox drying (and burning) by the fire, how strange. Dad kept a thermometer in his tackle box and it said it got down to 26f that night, we froze, and dad had to blow up his sleeping pad every few hours. At first light we dumped everything into the canoe and made it to our camp site. We got a fire going and made breakfast even before setting up camp, pancakes a little over done but delicious, par cooked bacon out of a can and syrup made from a product called Mapelene(sp). It was also my first time drinking cowboy coffee. It must have been the best meal ever to remain so vivid all these years. Our gear: our tent was a canvas wall tent weighing probably 50+ pounds dry and tons wet, we fit like sardines in a can and had to be careful not to touch the canvas or it would start to drip on you. We had a clothes line, an ax and a cook kit. Dad had a small flash light but that was all for light except some plumbers candles about an inch thick and 4 or 5 inches high. You could see to read if you held the candle just above the page, the book was Tarzan at the Earth Core and I had to read it out loud since it was all we had for entertainment. ( I still have that book 50+years later.) Our food was packed in very thin plastic bags placed in canvas bags. Everything was in bulk ,sugar, coffee, powdered milk, oatmeal, corn meal for fish, pancake mix and instant rice. We also had coolaid but not enough sugar for all of it, Tang, gotta love it! served with warm lake water yumm, the afore mentioned canned bacon which was very good and pudding for deserts. The pudding was the kind you had to cook for a while and the only kind we got was butterscotch and preparing it over a wood fire with the smoke, ash and occasional mosquito made it even more disgusting. A small canned ham and canned corned beef completed out meal selections, we were expected to have catch fish also. I can't remember what we were supposed to eat for lunch but I can tell you we fished out butts off. Our clothing was a real problem, cotton everything, t-shirts, sox, sweat shirts and best of all white jeans ala the Beach Boys. No hats and low canvas tennis shoes, only Dad had sun glasses and for rain gear panchos that billowed out in the wind and let in rain in the arm holes. The bug spray we had was OFF in the orange can, useless., the flies had our ankles raw in no time. Dad had a tiny bottle of some new stuff by Cutters that saved us from mosquitoes but we slapped at deer flies, horse flies, black flies and some evil little guys that looked like house flies but bit like bull dogs the entire trip. Our biggest mistake, and we were to inexperienced to realize it, was our PFD's or lack of them. Dad had bought at that sports show several "life belts " consisting of a beach ball sized balloon filled by a co2 cartridge activated by a paper strip dissolving in water, it came with a plastic belt for around your waist, very compact. (we later tested the life belts by jumping in a pool, one deployed but only held air for a short while and the other burst right away, overfilled I guess.) WE camped, fished and explored Mowe Lake tried to go up another river to check out a fire tower but never made it and had the best time of my life. Loons , giant pike and small mouths galore , huge cliffs, water falls, giant ever greens, crystal clear water and stars forever. The smell of a camp fire (and burning sox) cowboy coffee hot and strong and nights so quite you can hear your own heart beat. That's what I remember about the BW; I remember the wet and bugs too but they are just seasoning, amusing and unimportant .

I must apologize for the rambling, disjointed nature of this trip report. I know it was not in what we call the BWCA but it was in the Boundary waters. I'm sure I have made mistakes in times and places but after 57 years what can you expect? I have made a dozen or more trips to the BW and have spent countless nights camping ,hunting ,fishing and just hanging out in the outdoors and it all started way back when. I forgot to tell you about the "sun no rain dance" maybe next time.    Thanks, Merlyn

, huge cliffs, giant trees, crystal clear water and stars forever! I wasn't even 14 yet but by the end of that trip I was ready to sign up with the first mountain man long