Boundary Waters Quetico Forum :: Group Forum: Solo Tripping :: First Trip to the BWCA and Solo: Yea or Nea?
kbomb: "Yes, I'm confident in my camping skills. I did a fair amount of backpacking in high school and college. Since I've had kids its all been car camping for the last 10+ years, but I'm eager to get back to wilderness camping.
Sounds like ya got what ya need the solo paddling just takes experience on the water. If you backpacked much the gear and pack will be fine. Carrying a canoe is not much if any more difficult. I like to double portage, pack first then the canoe after I know more about the trail.
Take your time and stay safe, mabe rent a satellite messenger, leave a description of route plans with family and an expected date of contacting after (give an extra day in case of problems). Take your time and have fun!
Solo canoeing can be a very rewarding experience. It is also eye-opening on your physical and mental limits.
Of everything involved with solo canoeing, I find portaging to be very low on what I am concerned with. I find being very organized at unloading and loading parts of the portage to be key, especially if you are encountering other groups. If you have expirence with backpacking, portaging will be very familiar for you. Just watch your step getting out the canoe and if it is raining, be very careful going over slippery rocks.
The portion of solo canoeing I am always concerned with is wind. If I am planning on crossing a large body of water that day, I want to know what the wind conditions will be, where the wind will be coming from and how strong. Early morning starts and getting on the water sooner then later puts those concerns at ease. Most mornings are the best time for canoeing.
I suggest to look at routes from Sawbill Lake. There is an outfitter there, Sawbill, and many loops out of that lake. There are bigger lakes and small ones, long portages and short ones. I find Entry Point 38 an excellent one for starting into the BWCA.
Hope any of that helps.
For many years I've wanted to do a trip to BWCA, but I have not yet been able to find a group of friends who were interested and could find the same weekend availability. I've gotten so frustrated, I'm considering going solo. Is this a good idea for someone with limited experience paddling? (I've done plenty of putzing around little lakes in canoes, but no portaging to speak of). I have done a fair amount of backpacking and some solo backcountry camping, so I'm not concerned about isolation. Its only my limited experience portaging that gives me much pause.
So I guess I'm wondering: is solo first time a good idea? If so, what are some good routes for a simple 2-3 day trip that might include good scenery and decent fishing without killer portages?
Solo canoes will have a portage yoke that will have to be attached and removed at each portage. It will go right in front of the seat in the center at the balance point. The outfitter can show you how to attach it and the best way to lift the canoe to portage. There are also videos you can google. I double portage and assume you'll do the same. It's common courtesy to put the second load as far out of the way as possible since portages are bottlenecks. The same applies at the other end with the first load. Obviously, if you double portage, you'll walk each portage 3 times. So a 1/4 -mile (80 rod) portage will be 3/4 mile of walking. You need to account for that in travel plans, especially if there are a lot of portages or a long one. As Minnesotian said, being organized and having few loose items will increase efficiency. People have various routines for portaging.
Second, solo canoes - stability, entry, loading/trim, paddling:
You'll want to at least read as much as you can about it; it's not the same as in-person instruction, but you'll have an idea. The canoe should be floating when you get in. Solo canoes are more stable when loaded. When you get in, place a hand on each gunwale, step on the centerline of the canoe keeping your weight low, sit. While paddling keep your body vertical and between the gunwales.
Trim refers to weight distribution and should generally keep the canoe level or slightly (just slightly) weight forward into the wind or rearward downwind. Read about "weathervaning". Many soloists have a second smaller pack to push forward to adjust trim. The larger pack generally behind the seat.
I would suggest taking two paddles - it's always good to have a spare - a double blade and single blade. Attach the spare to the thwarts so it's there when you need it and not floating away with the other one. The basic stroke you'll want for the single blade is the "J-stroke". There's plenty of instructional information on the internet.
Other issues - canoe rental will usually include the yoke, PFD, and a paddle. It will not include "painters" (bow and stern lines), which you'll need to tie up your canoe at night and maybe sometimes at a portage or elsewhere. Do not let you canoe escape! And if it does, don't let it steal your PFD when it does. Carry it up into camp at night (or any time it's really windy) and tie up.
Wind: Generally increases as the day warms up. Best to paddle earlier and you'll want to find a site before too late anyway since designated sites are limited and first-come, first-served. Trim basics was covered earlier, but read more. Wind will be stronger and more problematic out in the lake than it looks from the back of a bay where the portage enters. Proceed cautiously. Remember that even very good and highly experienced canoeists are windbound sometimes. And get off the water if there's lightning.
Be safe, have fun, and enjoy your trip!
I think you should go, but you might want to expand your paddling experience to larger bodies of water before you head out. Even routes with smaller lakes can offer some paddling challenges that can sneak up on the novice (and experienced!) paddler.
Boonie, Minnesotian and many others here will offer great advice and support. Do a search and you'll learn a a great deal that way as well.
Check out this link just posted in the Listening Point folder by Quinn of Bearskin Lodge:
BWCA Expo - virtual link (Bearskin Lodge)
Of note (minute 24:20) is the collective agreement about the dangers of open water crossings, especially large, open (no islands) lakes, and wind. Portages are often tucked away in little bays or inlets / outlets) such that a person doesn't have a sense of the wind / wave action out in the lake until they reach open water.
Hope you decide to go, and hope we can help you along the way!
So, do you feel your camping skills are adequate? Do you feel your paddling skills are adequate? If so, definitely go for it.
I got my most useful pre-trip info from listening to the Tumblehome podcast. I started listening when they launched the podcast. Their podcast eased a lot of the apprehension I'd felt about planning a BWCA trip. I don't know why but, it seemed inaccessible to me before that.
The trip was fine. So fine that i now own all my own gear, and a Bell Magic, and have been back for trips every year since. I just returned from a 13 day trip, my longest so far.
Problems for me were the realization of how much work my wife was always doing while I set up the tent, or cooked, etc. Going solo means every job is yours. Things take longer. I had to learn how each piece of equipment was assembled, functioned, etc., because it was all new to me. The outfitter gave me way too much food, like 6 cans of stove fuel for a five day trip, and a tarp, which I had never set one up in my life. I had to learn how to handle a solo canoe in the twisting Stuart River and on a windy Lac LaCroix, how to put the portage yoke on, how to cross beaver dams...I had to figure out everything.
And it was awesome! It sounds like you might be more prepared than i was, so I say you are going to have a blast!
I do enjoy being alone more than most people, that aspect didn't bother me at all.
Canoeing I am slightly more novice at since I've mostly done little lakes and fairly quiet rivers. I'm looking to go out and do some paddling this weekend and keep up a weekly routine. Hoping to go up north at the end of August so that gives me time to work on my paddling (and lose a few pounds).
As I have not yet seen the warning I will do so now. Paddling in the BWCA is addictive and people come to this site for vicarious fixes always dreaming about the next trip. I found money and bought my first canoe within a month of my first trip...1979. You have been duly advised.
Keep a journal to take notes on how to improve. I went the first time in 1984 and all the advise I had came from a Robert Beymer east side book on the BW.
Make a plan, pack LIGHT, and don't know too much. I almost despise that we can get ratings and reviews of every campsite and portage trail out there. Ain't no mystery left!
Here's me at 24. Note - canvas converse (or maybe keds) high tops. Those were the only shoes I wore as well as cotton work pants. I would walk around the site barefoot while my shoes were drying. (notice my feet in the 2nd pic) :) And I wore cotton tee shirts. This was before all the fancy synthetics and quick drying stuff.
Then it rained. I wore a cheap poncho for rain gear and I brought no tarp. I did have a wool shirt so that helped me stay warm as well as a down vest. Not smart. My memories were of feet blisters and wearing clammy tee shirts. I made lots of changes for the next time. You can do this a lot better than me!