Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

A Wilderness Proposal
by TreeBear

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 07/23/2023
Entry & Exit Point: Duncan Lake (EP 60)
Number of Days: 1
Group Size: 2
Trip Introduction:
I had debated sharing this as I am generally fairly private with my personal life, but I'm so excited. It's also a neat story of the culmination of two people's experiences guiding youth BWCA trips and finding each other through it.
My girlfriend and I had been dating for about 7 months but had known each other for four years or so beforehand. We had guided for the same outfit out of Ely for a couple of years and had stayed friends. I had moved on to other places and spent some time on the Gunflint before moving back to Ely full time where our relationship just kind of happened. It was a great fit and by 7 months, we were talking seriously about engagement. I had been saying it would be after May at least. The reason was, unbeknownst to her, that the rings I had in mind would have stone inlays from a few places significant to our relationship. One of those places was the BWCA and I had hopes of gathering a small bit of rock from Knife Lake. I am sorry, I usually am a LNT purist, but I wanted to handle it respectfully and this small amount was being taken for a good cause. In any case, there was a guided trip scheduled for the end of May that a good friend of mine was set to lead. It was all set, he would get the small rock sample for me, I would get it sent off, and we would be engaged by summer. And I wouldn't have to figure out getting to Knife and back on snowshoes this winter! Fast forward a couple of months to the end of May and a miscommunication shuffles who is going to be guiding the trip. It was down to me or my girlfriend. Thankfully, I got the call and was able to pick up the stone for myself.

A bit over a month later, July 23, the rings had arrived a couple of days prior and the opportunity came knocking quickly as we had that Sunday off together. We took full advantage and loaded up my Mad River to drive over to the other side of the BWCA. We headed up the historic Gunflint Trail in search of one of my favorite canoe landings at Bearskin Lake. My very first BWCA trips were here as a six-year-old. My first time with a canoe on my shoulders was here; there's a fun picture somewhere of me as a child straining with all my might under a borrowed Kevlar canoe. This day, after the canoe was unloaded and a couple of day packs were loaded, we paddled toward the wilderness area. Officially crossing the line into the wilderness requires one portage at this point to head into Duncan Lake. There was a pontoon sitting right at the end with a few couples fishing. We discussed jokingly which of us former wilderness guides would have to carry the canoe across this portage, a task we had collectively done many thousands of times before. My girlfriend won the debate and effortlessly hoisted the canoe in front of the gawking onlookers with the poise gained from nearly a decade of canoe guiding. This trail was new to her though, and I looked forward to sharing one of my favorite places. We paddled out into Duncan Lake and got about halfway down before pulling into a back bay for lunch. As we pulled up aside this large exposed cliff face, I reminisced about my times spent here. There was the childhood trip with my dad, and a group of other fathers and sons, when I couldn't stop asking questions about the marvelous wilderness area I had just been exposed to. There was the summer I spent at an outfitter during the pandemic with a brutal 7-mile march out from Partridge Lake via the Caribou Rock Trail to make it back by lunchtime. There was a middle-of-the-night run into the wilderness for my first time shooting northern lights' photos when I slipped and slided along the same Caribou Rock trail to reach the Duncan portage and the photos I wanted. There were guided winter outings when I had the pleasure of leading groups on snowshoes to Rose Falls. And there was the time I brought my sister here on her first wilderness canoe trip. All these memories and so many more are closely tied to this place, and now I was hoping to make another. It's a special place for me and so many others. We finished paddling the lake to reach Rose Falls and the famous stairway portage. I hadn't seen it since the rebuild and it looks marvelous! We spent a fair bit of time there enjoying the falls and the portage and stopping down to the lake. From there, we headed up the ridge to the first overlook west of the falls which looks far across the lake to the Arrow Palisades on the Canadian shore. She later remarked that she thought I would propose there and, when I didn't, she worried it may not happen this day. I had a grander goal in mind. We hiked west along the Border Route Trail, past the moose pond, and up the ridge to the next overlook. This was not to be the place either. Twice I had visited the spot I actually wanted to see this day and long thought that, if the day should come, this would be the place. After a couple of miles of brushy hiking and picking the few ripe Thimbleberries, we reached the West Rose Cliffs from where a person can see five miles down to the end of South Lake and across the Laurentian Divide into North Lake. This day was particularly smoky from Canadian wildfires which dimmed the view some. I proposed on the West Rose cliffs as intended, she said yes, and we spent some time taking pictures and enjoying what I have long thought as one of the best views in the state. We hiked back down and excitedly talked about future things. We took the canoe back from the stairway portage, across the portage trail from Duncan back into Bearskin Lake and our car to celebrate at Trail Center to the tune of Swedish meatballs and a chocolate peanut butter shake. It was another beautiful day in the BWCA, and a marvelous time sharing one of my favorite places with my favorite person. It was another adventure with a lifetime of adventures ahead.

~Bearskin Lake, Duncan Lake, Rose Lake

Lakes Traveled:   Bearskin Lake, Duncan Lake, Rose Lake,