Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Kelso Mountain
by x2jmorris

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 06/18/2023
Entry & Exit Point: Sawbill Lake (EP 38)
Number of Days: 4
Group Size: 2
Trip Introduction:
My father has always talked about his Aunt Vee and about how he spent a lot of his childhood with her. Prior to being the fire lookout she was a teacher until the school closed. She taught my father and his brothers so much about trapping, reading, tree identification, and anything else you can name. He remembers her talking about the Kelso tower a lot and has always desired to go but at 75 he still has never made the journey. So this is the trip to fulfill that desire. Below is a quick excerpt from the Superior National Forest Facebook page on Vivian Johnson. "Superior history for Wednesday, February 16, 2022: Vivian Johnson became the first female fire lookout for the Superior National Forest in 1944, when the forest was “short of men” during WWII. Vivian was no stranger to the forest, having spent her childhood homesteading at Hare Lake in 1911, while her father worked with local logging companies as a subcontractor. Vivian described her experiences working the lookout towers in a1978 interview: “I was the first one-all time lookout-woman lookout on the Superior. I worked with the men. I didn’t just go up to the tower. On a day that was too humid to be in the tower, I went out with the crews releasing trees and working on telephone lines. The only thing I never did was bury a dead man or climb a pole. Vivian spent the most time at Carlton Tower (shown in photo) but spent time in towers across the forest. Her favorite lookout was Kelso: “Course, Kelso was the best. I could look to Ely –see the lights of Ely which I had to take some riding for a while until they finally believed me. You could see all over." Though Vivian never got dizzy climbing the towers, she did get spooked on her only visit to Lima Lookout: “I got up there about, I suppose 30 feet and the wind blew. I thought I don’t think I am going to make is this darn platform with nothing around it. I got up and got on my knees and held on and finally got the door unlocked, which wasn’t easy and opened it. I went in and I wrote on the paper on the middle of the fire finder, that I was there. There would be no doubt of it.” Vivian Johnson worked until the lookout towers closed in 1960, retiring at age 62."
Day 1 of 4
Sunday, June 18, 2023

I worked until 230pm on this day. But all my stuff was packed and we departed Duluth at 4pm. BWCA trips starting late are always a big concern especially during a busier time of the year but it is what it is. We grabbed some food/dinner at the Holiday in Two Harbors and grabbed a tall boy IPA to drink before setting sail.

Once we arrived we drank the beer and made our way into Kelso through Alton. It was about 7pm by the time we were paddling and made it to Kelso pretty quick. First site was taken but the other two were available. Had all 3 been taken we did make note of a northern site on Alton that was not taken and 8pm ... probably was going to remain open.

We took the middle site and quickly set up the tent and a cheap walmart screen tent that I brought without the big poles. Made some hot chocolate mixed with whiskey and played some Cribbage as we listened to the annoyingly loud mosquito hum outside the screen.