My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Boundary Water Adventure - Week One

Poplar, Liz, Caribou, Horseshoe. Gaskin, Winchell, Omega, Henson. Jump, Allen, Vista.  Just the names of these lakes invoke mystery and a make one want to explore them.    And we did, during our first five days on the Boundary Waters.

After dropping Bob G. off  at the Greyhound Bus Station in Minneapolis, I spent one night by myself at a Forest Service Campground on the Baptism River, about fifty miles from Grand Marais. The next morning I dug out my dirty clothes and went into Grand Marais to wash them, then enjoy the town and it's library.  During the day, I had several telephone conversations with my cohorts in this adventure, Bob S., Natalie, and Andrew, who were driving up from Houston, Texas in one marathon drive.  It took them 26 hours to get there.  I had already figured out that I was about 80 miles from the bunkhouse, where they decided to stay an extra night, so I went back and packed up my camp and then met them for supper at  Sven and Ole's Pizza, in Grand Marais, which was an adventure in itself.

Then we drove about another thirty miles to Rockwood  Lodge and Canoe Outfitters, on the Gunflint Trail, not far below the Canadian Border. The fact that we were almost to Canada became noticeable when Natalie and I  stopped at a little cafe, called South of the Border, in anticipation of breakfast burritos to eat while we were washing our clothes the following weekend. We were shocked to find NOTHING that had any kind of Mexican flavor.  Then we realized that these people were talking about a different border than we knew.

Sunday started slowly with the group catching up on sleep while I walked down the road in search of early morning coffee. I took my computer with me and ended up spending about an hour working on it while drinking coffee and enjoying the scenery on Popular Lake from the lodge's windows   Later, Bob, who has been to this area before, took us to an amazing small, but crowded, restaurant called the Trail Center, which is also on the Gunflint trail. There we had huge breakfasts before coming back to pack our stuff into our waterproof portage bags and get our food organized into our two bear barrels.  Then Bob drove us around to explore the rest of the Gunflint Trail.  We ended up at the Gunflint Northwoods Outfitters, which is HUGE - lots of cabins, a large, high-end restaurant ad hundreds of canoes and kayaks for rent. Our suppers were good and were presented like those from high-end restaurants. They were priced like those high-end restaurants too.

Rainy day ahead

To paddle and camp in the Boundary waters, you need a permit.  Each entry point has its own quota of permits. Bob had ordered our permit for Monday, through Liz Lake so we had to wait to go in then.  Monday dawned cool and rainy. We rushed to get off before the weather worsened.  We planned to camp on Gaskin Lake, which meant we had to travel through five lakes and do four portages, totaling 249 rods.

 Since we had to walk each portage three times, we had about 2.3 miles of walking, 2/3's of it carrying gear and supplies.  ( There are 320 rods in a mile.)  The paddling was pretty easy, since our canoes were 18 feet long and loaded enough that we didn't have to worry about being driven off course by wind and waves.  But the portages always seemed way longer then they were because they went up and down hill, were full of large rocks and roots ready to cause a stumble, and several of them were muddy.

By the time we got to Horseshoe Lake, it was raining steadily.  The last, 98 rod portage was a torrent of water through which we had to climb uphill, feeling for our footholds. But by the time we found an empty campsite on Gaskin Lake, the rain had stopped for a while and we were able to get our tents up and eat supper before the rains came again.

Don't wanna

Tuesday was still cloudy, a little wet, and windy.  The guys got bored and went out exploring the lake, but Natalie and I stayed in camp and relaxed, except for a going on a short paddle that evening to look for  moose and check out the portage to Winchell Lake.

Wednesday we still had cool and cloudy weather with a few sprinkles but we went exploring anyway. We traveled through pretty terrible portages to Jump and Allen Lakes.  We tried to paddle down the Brule River but would have had to wade back upstream pulling our canoes and it was too cold to want to get wet if we slipped on the rocks.

Natalie on a portage trail

The dining area is NOT for canoes, Andrew
Thursday was so cold and windy that we put on all our clothes and kept a fire going most of the day and huddled around it.  The guys stayed warm sawing and chopping wood.  Natalie and I did help haul some of it to camp and also held the logs for the person doing the sawing. Bob and Andrew kept us amused with wood chopping and sawing contests and  by Andrew throwing what he called a mini caber.

First you pick up your caber and get it balanced

Then you toss it as far as you can

Natalie's picture of Bob and me sawing wood

Andrew splitting a log

Huddling around the fire
Friday was an absolutely perfect day.  We had warm and sunny weather, light winds, and explored an exceptional lake.  That story is too long for this blog so I'll share it later.

We  didn't see a lot of wildlife but had a bald eagle hanging out at our camp for a few days and ospreys, ravens,  red-breasted nuthatches, chickadees, vireos, flickers, and other woodpeckers around our camp. We had a pine martin visit us and, while paddling,  saw an otter with a baby. The otter distracted us by swimming back and forth, while the baby hid. And of course we lived with the song of the loons. We even got to see and hear a baby loon doing its begging call and then getting fed by a parent. However we didn't get to see a moose or a bear.  Bob and Andrew finally saw a huge bull moose crossing the road while they were driving to the Duluth airport to send Andrew back. (He only had a week of vacation.) We also didn't hear of see any wolves.

Natalie and Andrew among the waterlilies
Andrew hauling a canoe

Balancing on the rocks at a portage

Andrew hauling a food pack - we had two of these

One of the easiest portage entries - no rocks and shallow water
Natalie's picture of Bob and me paddling - usually I paddled with  single blade and he paddled  with the double

Our campsite on Gaskin Lake was quite large.  Natalie and I were in the same area as the fire ring  while Andrew and Bob  had their tents up in the "back bedroom". The walk to the toilet was probably the longest I've experienced.  I was glad I never had to walk to it in the middle of the night.

Bob getting his boots on before paddling