Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

One to Seagull, one-way
by noodle

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 06/03/2023
Entry Point: Lake One (EP 30)
Exit Point: Seagull Lake (EP 54)  
Number of Days: 6
Group Size: 1
Trip Introduction:
Day 1 of 6
Saturday, June 03, 2023

Couple years ago, I was talking with a friend who often camped at Trail's End, up by Seagull Outfitters, and we got on the topic of one-way trips. All of my prior trips had been loops or simple out and backs, and the logistics of managing a one-way were always difficult. Either I'd have to find someone else happening go the other direction and arrange to swap keys in the middle of the BWCA, or I'd have to drop my car off at one end and get shuttled all the way back around, and nothing was really feasible ... until he said, hey, if you want to paddle up to our campsite at Trail's End, we'll drive you and your gear back to your car, just show up sometime the weekend we'll be there. That was that.

I put in at EP 30, Lake One, bright and early. The forecast called for there to be near-zero wind the first two days, so I wanted to try to safely eat up as many miles as I could. I had 9 days to get to the end, which had plentiful buffer, but given that I was going to be by myself I didn't want to do anything exceedingly stupid. I've made dumb mistakes in the past -- everyone makes mistakes -- but it's humbling and humiliating to know that sometimes, your mistakes are cautionary tales for other people. So I didn't want that to be the case with anything here, and with the peaceful winds, I was off.

I've gone through this Lake One entry so many times I can do it in my head. Launch, turn left, around that corner, angle over, turn left through that channel, watch out for the rocks in the middle when there's low water. Down through One, over to the portages to Two.

I got to the first portages between Lake One and Lake Two. There's two of them, about 30 and 40 rods in quick succession with a small pond in between. Rods, those freedom units that separates us from our metric brethren. 16.5 feet, approximately the length of one canoe, so 30 rods? 30 canoe lengths. I have never managed to judge a portage based on that, though, but I have found that my average stride can be a rough metric, too. As I walk, I count every time my left foot hits the ground, every set of ten. One, two, three... ten; two, two, three... ten; three, two, three... ten, and so on. A 30 rod portage will take me about 10 sets of 10 strides. I absolutely need this distance measurement, especially on the 200 rod portages that are over half a mile, where I'm heading over terrain like this and watching the ground to avoid twisting an ankle and have no real sense of how close I am to the other side. Knowing I just have to count up to 65-70 sets of ten to get across is a psychological boost.

I made my way through One, through Two, into Three, and across to Four, where I stopped for a sandwich. The lakes were glass, and I had been paddling consistently, just with my thoughts. I used to run long distance (how do you know if someone ran a marathon? don't worry, they'll tell you) and other people would talk about how meditative it was, how they could think through their frustrations and challenges, but when I ran all I could do was count my breaths and try not to trip. The same thing happens for me when I'm paddling; I struggle to pay attention to my surroundings, to enjoy where I am, and I find myself counting steps on a portage, counting strokes with my paddle. Eyeballing a landmark, guessing that'll take 100 sets of 10 strokes, and seeing how accurate my estimates are. Those of you who are able to stop and smell the roses, so to speak, I envy you.

The sandwich was not great. Ham, cheese, wrapped in foil, taken out of the motel fridge that morning, it was maybe 10 am, but it was the easy lunch that I wanted. From there I got to the series of portages to Hudson, and as I crossed the second portage, I stopped and looked ahead. The water flows east to west there, and there was significant current coming in, leading to the rapids that flowed from Hudson to Four. I stopped here for a while, watching that, thinking about what I'd do -- because see above, I didn't want to do anything stupid. As I sat on a log off to the side, another group overtook me from behind, four guys in two canoes. I watched as they loaded up, paddled out, and the first canoe was turned sideways in the current and one of the paddlers had their paddle snap and get carried through the rapids. They made their way back to the portage to regroup while I thought, jfc, there's no way I'd manage to fight that current if two of them couldn't, and began carrying my gear and canoe about 100 yards through the marsh and muck on the side of the lake to try to get ahead of the danger. By that time the group had found the splintered paddle in an eddy back on Four and had taped it back together, and also opted to slog through the marsh rather than go uphill against the current.

Through Hudson, and at this point I started thinking, maybe I stop here? It's only early afternoon, and Hudson is still a mess from the 2011 wildfire, so I pushed onwards, getting to the Insula portage. 93 rods, uphill and down, and I ended up triple portaging this one. On this trip I split my gear across two bags for better trim, and I was now getting tired enough to not want to do a pack and canoe at the same time, so I crossed that portage five times, twice empty-handed on the way back. But better to take it slow and be safe. See above about not wanting to be a cautionary tale.

At the other end of the portage I caught up to those four guys from before; they had made better time than me due to the extra (and younger) paddlers, but the hastily-repaired paddle was slowing them down a bit. Part of the reason my portages were slower was because of the backup gear. Two is one, and one is none, and I still had the Garmin clipped to my PFD for just in case. But even the start of Insula is still impacted by the fire, and I took my time pushing off from there.

By the time I got onto Insula we were solidly in early afternoon, and the winds were beginning to pick up, and I was beginning to tire. I hugged the early islands and got to site # 1351, which paddleplanner GENEROUSLY rates 1 star. For a solo camper for one night, it did the trick, but the facilities left a little to be desired. Dinner was some beef jerky and granola bars, and I was asleep well before sunset.

Total distance: 15.9 miles, 12.5 paddling, 3.4 portaging.