This year was a totally new crew for the Boundary Waters. I decided to take my father-in-law (Charlie) for his birthday, and my neighbor (Pat) was interested in going. Of last years’ crew, 2 were having babies, and one had a conflict, so I was still short a fourth. In stepped a co-worker (Dan) to fill the final berth and (ultimately) provide a mountain of reasons to talk about Indiana. As before, I used Voyageur North as an outfitter for canoe rental and transportation. Gear-wise, the only changes were the addition of a new Therma-rest Neo-air mat, and the replacement of the old Quest Viper with a new REI Quarter Dome T2 tent. Both are significant moves in a lightweight direction for me. Oh, and the replacement of the old portage pack with a SeaLine ProPack (much more robust and with an actual “frame” for hauling).
Wednesday, May 19.
We met at my house in the evening to pack the car. So gear was spread all over the front-yard, and eventually crammed into Pat’s car for the drive up. Charlie was significantly over-packed, but that was remedied by leaving most of his stuff behind. ;-) I prepped and froze the steaks for Wednesday night.
Thursday, May 20.
At the crack of ass, Charlie and I piled into Pat’s car and then picked-up Dan. With us all aboard, we headed for Ely. Smooth drive and lots of interesting chatter. We arrived at Ely around 10 and puttered around Piragis for a bit before heading over to VNO. We checked in, John marked up the map, Pat got a fishing license, and they all watched “the video” for 15 minutes while I stole Pat’s car (and pulled it up to the van …). We loaded up the van and were at Entry #30 (Lake One) on the water by noon. The sky was totally clear and the weather was quite warm. I dumped my base layer and just went with shirt sleeves. Paddling was pleasant, sedate and hot. We had a little lunch at one of the early portages, and then pushed on. The water wasn’t as cold as we would have liked (for nice cold drinking water), but it did the job. We passed a couple that had gotten lucky with the fishing, and the woman was cleaning a nice sized northern on the portage trail (kind of in poor form) and trying to skin it with a multi-tool knife. Why they didn’t leave the skin on and let the cooking do the work is beyond me. And why they didn’t have a decent fillet knife and were using a multi-tool is also beyond me. We got one of the marked good spots at around 5pm, and leisurely set up camp. I was all excited to try starting a fire with no match, and it was easy! I had dryer lint, birch bark, and the wood was really dry. Caught in just a few strikes on the firesteel. We wrapped-up the green beans, fingerling potatoes, and the steaks, and put them to cooking on the fire grate. No scotch this time, and no s’mores (all ‘cause I’m an idiot and forgot them). The food was pretty good, although the potatoes weren’t done as much as they should be – I should have cut them up smaller. We ate well, and were stuffed. The evening was quiet weather-wise, but the bugs came out and made me run for a DEET refresh. There was a beaver that kept making a circuit around the campsite – we had some fun anthropomorphizing his exploits. Didn’t sleep so well that night. The Neo-air was fine, but I had a lumpy stuff sack for a pillow, and it kinked my neck. I also sweated balls ‘cause it was so hot.
Friday, May 21.
Morning was a little cooler, but not much. Breakfast was freeze-dried stuff. Everybody else was smart and did oatmeal. I tried a Breakfast skillet from Mountain House. The “eggs” were remarkably like styrofoam packing peanuts. Not good. I got the super cat alcohol stove to work just fine. I think it opened a few eyes to see a little cat food can with some holes boil water in 8 minutes. Anyway, We hopped on the canoes and went over to Little Gabbro and Gabbro Lakes. Pat and Charlie fished in one boat. The fishing was fine, the catching sucked. They got a couple of small fry, and through them back. We had lunch on a little island in Gabbro, and while we were eating, the wind blew a plastic bag into the water. Pat and Charlie tried to cast for it with their fishing poles, but they weren’t able to land a cast on the bag. So, I paddled out to get it. I should have sat in the middle. Trying to paddle back, the wind kept blowing me around and it was pretty hard to get back on the island (but I did). The wind was picking up, and the water was getting rough, and with a crew of newbies, I didn’t want us to be sideways and swamping, so we headed back to the more sheltered Little Gabbro and paddled around some more. It was really nice to just float around and check out birds, turtles, and other wildlife. It was pretty recharging. We got back to camp around 4 or 5 (who cares about time in the backcountry?) and set to fire- and dinner-making. I switched to lighting the super cat with the firesteel, and really got off matches. Dinner was pouch food. The beaver was back. There was an interesting time watching an eagle that had caught something get harassed by a couple of ravens. I don’t know if the eagle got to eat that night, or the ravens. Sleep was better, but still hot and sweaty. Ugh.
Saturday, May 22.
Morning of the last day. Oatmeal and packing-up. We paddled out to Entry #32, and arrived 2 hours earlier than we told the outfitter. Surprisingly, I had a cell signal and just called him to come get us. Technology does kind of come in handy … ;-) Cold bevs in the van. Showers back at VNO. Lunch at the Chocolate Moose. And a smooth drive back to the cities – which is where the %$#%$#^-ing construction hosed us up for a bit. But we made it. Another most excellent trip to the BWCA. I was glad to be back to the family, and was nicely recharged.