Lake 1, 2, 3
Author: These notes were generated by John Wilhelm after the trip.
General Comments: The trip was designed to be an adventure in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA). The goal was to find an affordable adventure for me and my friends. We picked the Labor Day Holiday for a 4-day event in hopes that it would be far enough into the year that the Covid-19 Virus would be tamped down enough for a group trip. We also wanted to pick a time with reduced bugs and some fishing potential.
Unfortunately the virus did not abate sufficiently to ensure that those flying in and then back home would not increase their exposure to the disease. We had 9 participants (John, Alex, Brian, Brayden, George, Larry, Don, Rick and Brett). In the end it came down to John, George and Brian. Even though we lost participants to flying, injury and jobs we had a great threesome for the adventure.
*Venue: The choice of location was a good one. BWCA is a unique place and worth experiencing. I would go again. BW was the only option as Canada shut down access to Quetico this year for Americans. Ely, MN was easy to get to but the restaurants closed early on arrival and departure days. Brittons was a great place for a big breakfast but we should have skipped it and left earlier on the crowded weekend. I have no information to compare Ely and Gunflint options.
*Outfitter: The choice of outfitter (VNO) was mostly good. The event planning, advice and personal touch was great. The pricing for a full outfitter package ($412) was also great. VNO offered free lodging the night before we paddled. This was really a good benefit. They also had free showers after we got back. The biggest question mark was why they put 3 large men in a 3-man Kevlar canoe. Recommendation 1: We should have had a 2-man and a 1-man. I would also consider an Aluminum canoe over Kevlar. They have a keel for tracking and are heavier and sturdier in rough water. They also have higher gunnels. The tradeoffs are weight (portaging) and speed. Neither of these advantages is offset by the constant fear of tipping over in rough water. Recommendation 2: I think we can provide almost all gear and food for a trip except for the canoes. The only issue would be for those who are flying in. It might be too much stuff to bring on a plane so the outfitter is a good fall back.
*Gear: We had all the gear we needed from the outfitter. As stated above, my biggest concern on the whole trip was the decision to go with a 3-man canoe. Otherwise, cooking, sleeping, paddling, and water bag gear was all good. I like the Primus cook top and might look for one. The MSR two-bag water system worked really well. The key is getting the filter saturated for the first time then the flow improves a lot. As to personal gear, I am the only one who brought something extra. I brought my Thermarest camp cot. I am glad I did. George said he would have liked to have a camp chair. We had a 5 man tent and needed all the room. You could get by with some gear reduction if you really pushed it. This could include micro-camping with hammocks. Recommendation: travel light and think twice about bringing extra items.
*Food: The food was great. There was actually too much food for 3 people. The serving sizes are in increments of 2 so we were provided with food for 4. This meant we had additional weight and leftovers. Recommendation: put the food out on a table the night before and look at each meal. Eliminate extra food to reduce load.
*Timing: There were no bugs and the cool temperatures were manageable. It was really windy at times and it rained on us briefly on the way home. There were a lot of people on our lakes due to ease of access, holiday timeframe, and Covid vacationing. Recommendation: Do not go on a holiday weekend. A week earlier or later would have been better. If base camping, go mid-week rather than on a Friday or Saturday.
*Group Size: The odd number was a problem...but mostly because of canoeing and food. 4 people and 2 canoes would have solved both problems.
*Navigation: This was the only thing that we really argued about on the trip. It was difficult to navigate by terrain association and map alone. Some of the campgrounds were also not where they were depicted on the map or were decommissioned. We used our map with the compass and elapsed time on the trip back to EP30. This worked much better than terrain association alone. Islands become peninsulas when the water level changes and everything was farther away than we thought, especially on our first day...rookie lesson.
*Recommendation: spend more time getting oriented, consider a Sat phone or GPS, and make sure you have a good map and compass.
*Fishing: I believe that we had the right gear and lures. We could not fish from the canoe when it was loaded because it was unstable. Brain and George took it out empty one afternoon but it was still unstable given the wind and waves. I quickly decided that this was more of a camping adventure with friends and retooled my expectations accordingly. We had plenty of food so we did not need to rely on catching fish to eat. Recommendation: don’t rely on catching fish to eat or have a good time. There is plenty to enjoy and fishing should add to that enjoyment not be essential to that enjoyment.
*Portaging: We did not have any real problems with the 4 portages (2 in and 2 out). They were short and not steep. Brian gets the Lou Ferrigno award because he solo carried the canoe on all 4 portages. George and I would have tandem carried the canoe. The Kevlar canoe was a good choice for portaging, but as previously noted, not great for 3 men and bad weather.
*Camping: We stayed in two campgrounds. Both were more than acceptable. Both had a good seating and cooking area, good tent pads, good canoe access, and good latrine services. Watch out for setting up tents under deadfalls. Use a laundry line to hang things. We did not use a bear hang but probably should have. It can get windy so putting your tent in a protected area is wise. We were lucky with firewood. If we stayed longer we would have had to go looking for some in the canoe. We left the axe but took the saw. This worked okay and saved weight. Our permanent camp was very relaxing. Recommendation: Don’t be too picky when looking for a campsite on busy weekends...they go fast. Find a decent spot earlier in the day, set up and enjoy the location and the fishing.
*Clothing: I took only two pairs of everything and really only needed one of most things. I think Brian and George took more things than they needed. We had dry bags for our things. George had a pair of biking gloves that worked well for paddling. We used stuff sacks for pillows. Footgear was an important decision. I wish I had taken some sandals to wear around camp. Brain had tall waterproof boots but these would fill up sometimes. George had water shoes and I had neoprene paddling/scuba booties. We didn’t have sunburn problems. Recommendation: no cotton clothes (jeans, socks, shirts). We did not really need our rain gear but I think it is important to have it with you. Take less.