BWCA – October 2007

When I moved to Minnesota, I had to come up with something other than mountains to tickle my outdoor itch. When in Minnesota, there's lakes, and lakes are what people do. So, I started planning what I can do on lakes. Back in 1995, I was able to come along on a trek to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area for a buddy's graduation gift, and I really enjoyed it. So, I started planning a BWCA trip. I found a few folks at work that were like-minded, outdoorsy types.

We went to the BWCA for a long weekend - 2 nights in the back country. There were 4 of us, so two canoes, two tents, one camp. And a bit of rain. Well, a lot of rain. I had been planning this thing since late August, which gave me plenty of time to buy more gear for it. Moving to up-nort activities (from the nice, dry, bug-free mountain west) meant dry bags. Oh, and I needed a new <a type="amzn" asin="B003W9JK98">knife</a>. I also took a small hatchet. Your basic 1 lb hardware store jobbie that I had reshaped the head, and gave it a real edge. I can really see why the woodsfolk here really value a hatchet – with a decent edge, you can do some remarkably fine work. In this case, it was a lot of splitting wood to get to (hopefully) drier wood in the center to actually burn … I was way happier to do that with a small ax than with a big knife.

We left Mpls late (big surprise there) on Friday and got into Ely (after a stop for dinner in Duluth) around midnight. The outfitter that I was working with has a bunk house and set us up for the night. He left the key at the 24 hour gas station next door. Good news for us. Next morning (Saturday) we grabbed breakfast at the Chocolate Moose, and met the outfitter. We watched a video about safe travel in the BWCA, got fitted for PFDs and loaded our gear in the van. They drove us to entry point #30 on (the imaginatively named) Lake One. Loaded canoes and we were off.

We spent the next five or so hours paddling along the South Kiwishiwi River. Eventually, we got to the area that had the campsites we were interested in. It turns out, the ones the outfitter suggested to us where all occupied. We realized this, and took the first open one we found. Not a bad spot, but I ended up with my tent in a low spot that was already suspiciously muddy. We were barely successful getting a fire going, but it’s didn’t matter so much because it was quite (unseasonably) warm. So warm in fact (and there’d been so much rain) that the mosquitos were confused and thought it was still September (or maybe even August), cause they were out. I will endure basically any climatological challenge, but bugs irritate me disproportionately to others; I hate ‘em. I had planned a trip in October in northern MN to avoid the bugs. No can do. They were brutal (to me). Saturday night was basically a pleasant night camping.

Sunday morning, we moseyed around and weren’t moving too fast. Had a little breakfast (the ubiquitous oatmeal), and got on the water. We basically paddled around and checked out Little Gabbro Lake and (regular) Gabbro Lake. Pretty country. Ted mugged for the camera on a tiny rock just above the waterline. We saw some eagles, but no moose. We had some lunch on a small island and were back on the water poking around when we saw some very dark clouds coming towards us fast. We made a bee-line for the closest shore and made it just as the rain came down in buckets. We flipped over the canoes and tried to shelter under them as best we could while the storm moved through and lightning struck less than half a mile away (that’s awful close when you’re huddled under a fiberglass boat with AL gunnels and rails …).

It passed and we got back on the water to head back to camp. Sunday night, we were more effective at getting a fire going (due to the generous amounts of birch bark from downed, dead trees that burned to dry out the other wood). Thankfully, we still had a small MSR stove that I brought that allowed us to cook our food without needing to cook over the fire that wasn’t cooperating. After dinner, we were hanging out and heard something banging around in the woods. After the initial little freak-out, we went to investigate and found a beaver had basically felled a small birch, drug it down to the water and was in the process of swimming with it across the lake. It was really weird to hear the gnawing sound of a beaver felling a tree. That was new to me. After the beaver excitement, we turned in.

Four hours later (at 2 am), I wake to the sound of rain pouring on the tent. It’s really dumping. That’s really loud on a nylon tent. I was quite pleased with my old Quest Viper, it did a great job of keeping the wet stuff outside. I lay there for a long time, listening to the rain. I think Rob was actually sitting up for a lot of it, since his sleeping pad was short and he was trying to stay on it …. Around 3:45, I sat up and was dinking around with something in the side pocket and put my hand on the floor of the tent. It was just like a waterbed mattress. The tent floor had made a relatively impermeable membrane, but we were still camped in a few inches of water (at least).

By this point, it’s getting on to when we were going to have to get up anyway, and the rain started to slacken. So, we just got up and started to break camp. Ted and Nick were blissfully unaware and sleeping through most of this (in their higher-ground camping spot). I’m really thankful for the decent sized vestibules on the tent – my boots were basically dry and most everything else under there was OK as well. Of course, it’s still dark (and overcast – no moon). So we packed up the whole camp by headlamp. I’ve done this before (or some other significant activity), so it didn’t bother me. I took some pictures of the tent in the muddy, nasty water. We made some breakfast (in the dark), loaded the canoes (in the dark), and headed out for the rendezvous with the outfitter (in the dark). Dawn light came on about 20 min into our paddling. We found our way to the take out (#32) and discovered a pretty long portage to get to that spot. That was rough – 4 hrs sleep, already going for a work day, and now I get to lug a 55 lb dry bag for about half a mile. We finally got all the gear to the pick-up spot, and it turns out we were there about 30 min early. Not bad precision for basically guessing. Back at the outfitter, took a quick shower, loaded up the car, had lunch in Ely, and started back down. We took a wrong turn out of Ely and headed for the North Shore instead of Cloquet, but we made up for it with a stop at Betty’s Pies in Two Harbors. And yeah, it’s hard to stay awake in a car after being up since 2 am on 4 hours of sleep. All in all, a great trip. We had a little rain, but it could have been way worse. It was warm, and everything dried out pretty well. I’m eyeing April … Any takers?

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