Another mostly cloudy morning to start our last day. We’re not too far from the public access so there’s no rush in trying to pack up camp. After I’ve been up for a while and have had some coffee, I pack up the tarp and hammock before rousing the kids.
We’re having another quick start breakfast, oatmeal and hot cocoa if anybody wants it.
I have to say it – this kid, man. The whole trip he’s been nothing but cheerful and happy about just about everything that has come our way. Even being forced to sit on top of one of the packs in the canoe for hours on end while we’re traveling. He’s paddled occasionally, done lots of looking around at where we are, and has even started to follow along on the map once its been shown where on the map we are. Evie has done a good job of being tolerant of him too, as is the case with littler kids sometimes they’re so focused on entertaining themselves they don’t really get how they could be impacting others.
Packing up camp is slow, but somehow we’re still getting ready to leave at about the same time as the rest of the week… right around 10:30. Evie & Devin get some last casts in with Devin’s pole while I put the finishing touches on the bags and then float the boat.
As we’re getting ready to go, something funny happens – Devin drops his paddle, as he’s done a few times this trip, however this time the GoPro happens to capture the exact moment it’s slipped out of his hands and is bouncing in the lake blade down.
Our paddle out is fairly uneventful. We take advantage of our proximity to the camp on Fishhook Island as a chance to paddle the channel between Fishhook and the Island directly to the West which has a large suspension footbridge. They have a pretty big operation, whomever they are… On the main island there are several cabins plus lots of canoes and docks for other boats. Across the bridge there seems to be what appears to be a large dining hall or some other structure that is designed to resemble the profile of pine trees. Between the islands and the mainland there is strung underwater utility lines with signage warning boats to stay a certain distance away at places. Back home I’ll discover that the camp is called the Wilderness Canoe Base and is owned and operated by the Camp Wapogasset Lutheran Bible Camp, Inc.
45 minutes after we leave our campsite we land back at our starting point and the end of our trip, the Sea Gull Lake Public Access.
Miles Traveled – 1.6
Total trip mileage – 29.6
Lakes paddled – Sea Gull
Evie wakes me up in the middle of the night, wanting an escort on the latrine trail. Canoe country can be spooky at night, especially when the moon’s but a sliver that sets shortly after the sun does. We make the short hike and right away I’m super cold, like teeth chattering shivering cold. Evie’s just fine, coupled with how sweaty I felt when I got woke up I wonder if I’ve had a fever break while I was asleep. Despite my feeling cold, we sit on the angular rocks between shore and the tent, watching the stars and talking a little. We head back into the tent to the warmth and comfort of our sleeping bags.
My silent wrist alarm goes off at 6:30, like it has been all week. I linger in the tent for a while, just kind of feeling weird. Eventually I come out and sit by the firepit and still, I feel strange. I even go and half nap for 45 minutes in the damp-from-dew hammock. Nothing is really helping so I do what I should have done earlier and just go back to bed.
It’s after noon before anyone leaves the tent again. Today is overcast, but warm. The weather radio didn’t talk anything about cloudy skies today and it seems way too thick to be just smoke. A quick check of the radio confirms that indeed, today is supposed to be partly cloudy turning clear. Devin and I go down the latrine trail to collect firewood for making breakfast and end up flushing out half a dozen spruce grouse. There’s one in the photo, they blend in very well.
We’ve got kinda bad by this point about taking pictures of things, but “breakfast” today was pancakes augmented with the rest of the blueberries we picked on Alpine along with the usual bacon & hash browns. It was probably 2PM by the time we were done and cleaning up.
We don’t do much else today. I go get more firewood a couple times but for the most part we just hung around camp and were lazy. Devin fished a bunch, Evie fished a little but spent more time in the hammock. At one point I go and jump in the lake with Devin…. Partly to rinse off my clothes and my body, but also in the hope it helps to clear my head a little. Indeed it does, and the rest of our last afternoon finishes in better spirits than the first part.
Dinner tonight is another camping favorite of mine to make, ever since my 2nd trip to the area with Joe – Backwoods Pizzas! So much of a favorite that it’s almost assumed the same position of importance in the menu as 1st night steaks. The best part is it’s really simple to make – the most important thing to remember is maintain a nice, even fire with little flames. We went through a bunch of little sticks while it was cooking to maintain a nice working temperature. In the end, though, we were rewarded for these efforts. Just like our other meals, we had too much and decided against making 4 pizzas in lieu of just two and left the pepperoni off of both. E tells me afterward that she’d have helped eat the leftover pepperoni.
Dinner is cleaned up quickly and as the sun sets we start to see clearing skies off to the west. We all head for the rocks to bask in the sun for a few glorious minutes before it disappears below the trees across from us.
The weather radio has dropped any mention of precipitation chances for tonight again, and so we are going to sleep another night with the fly off. There’s a little breeze this evening, which should help with minimizing condensation buildup in the tent.
The sunset is plain, almost muted. I contemplate our travels of this past week and the various challenges we’ve overcome and the successes that have come with it.
I’ve yet to see so much of this beautiful country and still, the Boundary Waters continues to be my “happy place” that I will continue to try to introduce new people to & share with friends and loved ones for as long as I can.
I poke and prod the fire, trying to keep the flame alive for as long as I can. Devin & Evie have retreated to the tent, no doubt playing slapjack, go fish, Uno, or another fun game Evie has learned at camp this past summer. I slap mosquitoes for a while but before long the fire becomes hopeless to keep alive and I join in the card game fun inside the tent.
Tomorrow we pack up and leave the Boundary Waters, but we still have one night after that up in canoe country.
Miles Traveled – 0
Total trip mileage – 28
Lakes paddled – None
I’m up again about 6:30. Thankfully we didn’t fully unpack yesterday as it became apparent that we were moving again today. I heat the rest of the coffee again and then once I’ve got a cuppa then I turn my attention to heating water for a Mountain House Breakfast Skillet and if either of the kids want hot cocoa or something else. Before long the kids are up and after they pack up some stuff it’s time to get out and get some breakfast. We turn the skillet into breakfast burritos, however Devin isn’t really liking his and ends up eating plain oatmeal that we try to jazz up with some leftover blueberry granola. Plain oatmeal, especially when it’s been sitting since your last canoe trip, really just doesn’t taste all that great no matter how you try to dress it up. Devin tried his best, though, and he managed to eat most of it.
We pack up at somewhat of a leisurely and are leaving the campsite around our usual time of 10:30. It’s another nice day to be on the water. Not as quiet as yesterday, however the breeze is gentle and refreshing. We weave our way between Long and Gold islands as we head towards the busy Sag Corridor. The paddle is uneventful, along the way we encountered a few fishing boats, some canoes headed out, and several outfitter tows. Oh, and this family of ducks.
We’re in the corridor now, and the boat traffic picks up. We’re also starting to see cabins studding the hills around, they always look so out of place after your eyes have adjusted to the visual aesthetic of the wilderness area.
We make chit chat with canoes going the opposite direction while steering to avoid getting thrown too much by motor boat wakes.
On our way through the corridor, first Evie, then eventually Devin starts requesting the rest room. Despite us not being far from our planned portage through the Trail’s End campground and the vault toilets one would expect to find, we eventually have to pull over at Voyageur North.
Both kids scramble out of the boat while I hang out. While I’m waiting for them to come back I chat up an employee who just returned from bringing in a tow from Sag, and ask for recommendations for campsites on Sea Gull. He has a couple however they’re all pretty close to us in comparison to what one would normally do when on a canoe trip, and Sea Gull would be an entry lake so his recommendations are limited.
The kids are back at the canoe now so we get situated and finish the Gull River before coming into Gull Lake proper. The night before Ken, Joe, and I started our trip a decade ago we spent a little time fishing on the edge of Gull in the twilight, otherwise this is all new territory to me. We paddle along Gull, wondering at the various cabins and buildings along the shore and wonder about who might live in them.
As we go around a curve the boat landing comes into view. There is a 30 rod portage along the rapids between Sea Gull and Gull, however it’s been recommended as easier (albeit much longer) to portage along the East side of the road that goes around Trail’s End Campground as it connects the boat landings on Gull and Sea Gull. My feet are sore, and I’m carrying the canoe plus a pack – Evie ends up getting out of sight ahead of me so I wonder what happened upon arriving at the boat launch to find it deserted. Some calling out & it’s determined that Evie didn’t know where to go and was just following the road. Could be a lesson to be learned there having to do with sticking with your group, especially in unknown places….
On our way back to the Gull side landing we have a rare encounter – a large dog-sized black bear walks on to the road probably 20 yards in front of us and as quickly as Evie can say “Bear!” us and the bear make eye contact and it disappears down the embankment on the other side of the road, not to be seen by us again. The rest of the portage goes without incident and soon we’re loaded up again and ready to shove off, back into the lake we started on and will soon be our finish.
Out in the main lake body we head back towards the Wilderness Boundary sign and discuss campsite options. All day, whenever he’s got the map, Devin has said “I want to camp on Fishhook Island!” Personally, I wanted to camp a little further away from the entrance and especially not on an island that is half in the wilderness, half out, and home to a summer camp. We paddle around, checking a few open campsites and moving on each time. We’re all getting tired, I can feel the illness pulling on me, but darn it if I want our last campsite to be a good one. We keep on, stopping for a few minutes at the site on Fishhook Island that looks promising but is a little rockier than I’d like (and it’s right on the edge of the BWCA) before deciding to check out one more campsite that was recommended by the guy at Voyageur. If that site is occupied then we’ll go back to Fishhook. 5 minutes later and wouldn’t you know it, we were beaten to the recommended site by another group who by the appearance of it just got out of their canoes.
We turn around, head back to the rocky site on Fishhook, and are immediately greeted by a “Friendly Bee” who I tell Devin must have liked us so much from Englishman Island that it followed us here.
We’re pooped. It’s been our longest day on the water yet and we’re all hungry. Evie gets to work making PB&J roll ups using some of the tortillas we had left from tacos and breakfast burritos. We take some time to rest and recover.
There’s some perfectly spaced hammock trees and after it is hung I get to work pitching the tarp. Evie volunteers to reorganize the food barrel. Devin does his usual – swimming some, then shifts his attention to grappling around on the rocks before casting his lure around some. The weather radio at this point is all about letting everyone know about an air quality alert for fine particulate matter from fires up in Canada and the sun disappears an hour early tonight due to some distant clouds lurking above the horizon. There’s no chance for precipitation tonight, and at Evie’s request we’re leaving the rain fly off the tent. In retrospect, we could have done this every night for the entire trip.
What breeze there was has died as daytime transitions to twilight. Dinner tonight is one of Evie’s favorite camping meals – Garlic shells with pouch chicken. As with other meals, I overbought on the shells and so we opt to only make 1 package of shells to go with the pouch of chicken. Dinner is gobbled up by us all in short order, thankfully there isn’t a lot of dishes to be done tonight.
The kids go into the tent when the mosquitoes come out and play cards for a while as I sip some wine and tend our campfire until it’s burned to a safe point, then I go join them for some games before getting ready for bed. By now, I’m pretty sure that this scratchy throat I have isn’t just from being around campfires or Canadian wildfire smoke.
Miles Traveled – 11.3
Total trip mileage – 28
Lakes paddled – Saganaga, Gull River, Gull, Sea Gull
I’m up and out of the tent about 6:30. It’s funny, back home lately I’ve been struggling to get up before 7 but in canoe country I find myself waking with the sun. It takes a few nights before I really settle in and get comfortable sleeping, and last night was still a little humid from the heat of Monday into Tuesday. I set up the stove to reheat what is left of the coffee and start packing up things around camp while I let the kids get a few extra minutes of sleep. Before long Devin is starting to make noise in the tent & I go over to marshal the troops.
Breakfast is dehydrated biscuits and gravy that I first didn’t get to eat while at Philmont in 2016. I brought it along to have with Matt & his daughter when we went up the Granite River in 2016 and then didn’t eat it that time either. Devin doesn’t care for it so much as the sausage is kinda spicy, and Evie and I end up sharing the bag. After breakfast is done the kids help pack up the stuff inside the tent and then we take it down to roll it up. Packing up the rest of camp is a leisurely affair, and we’re leaving by 10:30.
Originally I had planned for us to move to the next lake over for the next couple nights, but after having a talk with Evie about where we were relative to the whole trip it was decided that we’d instead push for past Red Rock Bay on Saganaga. The sun was bright with hardly a breeze to be found to start the day. The heat and humidity had left the area and a picture perfect August day was in store for us.
We find the portage to Red Rock easily and cross paths with a couple groups headed towards Alpine. The first is a gentleman with a kayak and a couple small bags. He’ll be gone by the time I come back for the last load of our stuff. We finish the portage quickly and load up the canoe. Right next to the portage we spy a collection of lily pads and Evie asks that we paddle over to take some pictures.
The solitary lotus flower in the center makes for an interesting subject and I especially like the color and visual contrast of all the pads in the group. As luck would have it, a honey bee was visiting the flower the same time we were.
We hold position for a while and then push on up Red Rock towards Saganaga. The area we’re headed towards could be favored by people looking to camp nearer to an entry point to facilitate a faster exit the next day. If it’s busy we could be searching for a while for a campsite. Sag is huge, it’s one of the biggest lakes in the BWCA and the Northern reaches of it are in Canada.
Red Rock is a pretty lake. About half of it burned in the Cavity Lake fire in 2006, however the Northern portion was spared the fire. These cliffs looked cool, and other than the iron staining on the face we couldn’t figure out how the lake got it’s name. A breeze has kicked up too, coming from the North. It would figure, headwinds. Thankfully this headwind is lighter than the winds on Monday.
The portage from Red Rock to Saganaga is almost a non-portage. Lighter packed groups might even be able to carry their loaded canoe across the portage and the trail is marked with deep grooves from aluminum craft getting dragged across. I presume this is from before this area was protected. as many of the interior lakes used to have cabins and resorts on them. According to the map it’s a 15 rod portage, and if there was a record flooding event it’d be likely one could walk a loaded canoe between the lakes on the little stream that connects them.
Now that we’re on big Sag the question is where do we want to look for a campsite? We could be staying here two nights again. At this point in the trip a couple things have come up – biting flies are a bit of a nuisance in the canoe today and in the end you end up whacking yourself more often than you kill the fly. Worse than the flies, though, is how I’m feeling. In the days before we departed Devin developed a 12 hour fever that was accompanied by a stuffy/runny nose and slight cough. Today I’m all stuffed up and my throat feels a little scratchier than it should from just camping and being around campfire smoke. I hope that it blows over, which is often how colds and the like usually happen to me.
We’re headed more or less North from Red Rock Bay, heading towards the cluster of islands on the edge of the main expanse of the lake. If I remember my research correctly, the campsite on Englishman Island we’re most interested in has a beach of some kind. I’m hoping the breeze will help to keep away the flies which are getting to become more than a plain annoyance. The closer we get to the island it is apparent that the campsite is unoccupied. The beach turns out to be pea gravel instead of sand.
I’m just happy to be done paddling for the day. I’m tired, not feeling entirely well, and really irked by the biting flies. We unload the canoe and before unpacking any further we make & have lunch. Today’s lunch is the triscuits with summer sausage and 3 year old cheddar we got from Mars on the way up. It’s stayed in decent shape, albeit it’s ‘sweat’ out a little bit of moisture. The cheese is sharp and Devin doesn’t like it as much. Most of the triscuits get eaten, as well as the whole sausage, and about 3/4 of the cheese. As we’re eating we make a discovery – the biting flies here are no worse than in the canoe and there are now big black & white looking bees buzzing around loudly like little bombers. They don’t seem to be harmful but buzz pretty close by you, so we called them ‘friendly bees.’ Later, after the trip I come believe they are actually bald faced wasps. Evie hangs around camp while me and Devin go out in the canoe to scavenge for firewood. We’re back about 45-60 minutes later after a trip around the island and return with plenty of wood. A fire is made, which seems to help scare off the flies some but the friendly bees are still around. Evie tried with limited success to take refuge from the flies down on the gravel beach, and as evening descends upon us I’m happy that tonight’s dinner only requires boiling water – we’re having Mountain House Chili Mac. I brought two bags, thinking we’d be eating a lot but so far this trip the opposite seems to have been the case and I’m reticent to make both at the same time only to end up having to pack out the leftovers in the trash.
After letting it stand for 15 minutes a stirring a couple times the Chili Mac is ready to go. As luck would have it, both kids really like it and it’s eaten up pretty quickly. I decide against making up a whole second batch and instead we supplement dinner from our cache of snacks and other food we brought too much of. Thankfully the dishes are pretty basic and are done quickly. Evie and I have another discussion about the trip and I find out we’re both leaning towards wanting to move again tomorrow. The flies aren’t letting up at all, and moving closer to the exit sounds like a good idea.
We secure camp and knock down the fire, then spend a little while longer outside before going in to the tent for the night. Its another beautiful, clear sky night in canoe country. Thankfully the mosquitoes aren’t around for long after the sun drops behind the trees across the channel from us.
We hang out in the tent, playing cards and reading books until it’s time to go to sleep. We’ve got another early wake up tomorrow.
Miles Traveled – 7.4
Total Trip Mileage – 16.7
Lakes Paddled – Alpine, Red Rock, Saganaga
I wake up early today because I want to capture a time lapse of the sunrise. The alarm goes off at 5:30 and miraculously I wake up on time and jump out of the tent. The rocky point looks to be perfect for capturing both the sunrise and last night we were treated to an orange ball sunset due to smoke from fires in Canada. I set the GoPro for 2 second intervals between shots, point it in the right direction, and hit the button before going back to the tent to snooze for a while. Here’s the result of the time lapse. I find something mesmerizing in the wave action….
Back in time & in the tent, I wake around 7 to the sound of animals really near the tent. I can’t figure out what it is and decide to check it out. Turns out, 3 red squirrels live in the trees above the tent and they’re just racing around the branches, scrambling up and down the trunk, and just being raucous. I try to get a couple pictures of them but they just end up blurry.
Today is a layover and breakfast requires a fire. I throw some more water & grounds into the perc and go about building the fire to get some hot coffee. On tap for breakfast today is my usual layover breakfast fare: pancakes, bacon, and hash browns. The kids are roused by 9 and breakfast gets made. A curious thing I’ve noticed on canoe trips, especially with the kids/family, is how long meals take. Granted, I’m cooking on a campfire that has to be constantly tended and has it’s own personality in terms of hot and cold spots, but still… It’s after noon before we’re done cleaning up from it.
We’ve used up about all the welcome wood that was at the site when we arrived, plus what additional I found in the woods yesterday. Evie also wants to go hunting for blueberries. Camp is tidied up and while checking and putting things away I find a dragonfly hanging out on Devin’s wet shorts from swimming yesterday and a wild looking caterpillar on my knife sheath.
Camp secured, we load up into the canoe and shove off to scope out the area near our campsite. Finding firewood in the BWCA is usually a trivial matter, you just have to go a little ways away from campsites and one typically can find plenty with minimal effort. We paddle around towards the South, across from out campsite, looking for not only decent-looking firewood but also good blueberry habitat. Much of the shoreline on Alpine away from campsites is rugged – granite slopes rising from the water, deep holes near shore, and in some places both. Eventually we find a suitable looking spot on the backside of the larger island across from the portage that also has two campsites on it. I let the boat float and just tie it up securely to a nearby tree and then we’re searching.
Right away we find both of what we’re looking for – there’s plenty of dead & down trees dating back to the Cavity Lake fire, possibly even to the 1999 blowdown and there are definitely blueberries to be picked. We’re on the North face of this island and it has a decent granite slope – bare in places and in others covered in a bed of moss, lichen, duff, and plants. In many places, wherever you look are blueberries. Some smaller than a bb, others about average sized for the grocery store. All are ripe and have that flavor that only wild blueberries have.
I turn around to soak in the view and take a 180 degree panorama. If you look closely, our campsite is about 3/4 of the way to the right on the photo and has a couple bare patches which is the rocky point (which also has a couple trees growing on/near it.
According to the GPS we spent about 45 minutes here. Surprisingly, Devin didn’t eat a whole lot of blueberries while we were picking. They and strawberries trade places for favorite fruit in his world. I know I’d be in hog heaven, probably picking and gulping down handfuls. We collect enough to ensure our next pancake breakfast will be blueberry pancakes. I’ve found a decent amount of wood, too, and once the canoe is loaded with our precious cargo we head back towards camp but not before we fulfill a request of Evie’s and check out a couple smaller islands closer back towards camp. Ever since finding a small island covered in blueberries in 2016 Evie thinks this is more of a thing. We find a spot to land near one of the islands and while there’s no fruit there it’s okay for a swimming spot for Devin.
Back at camp, the firewood is unloaded and brought back by the firepit. Devin is free to go jump in the lake and go swimming and he wastes no time. I join him for a while, mostly to rinse myself and my clothes off. Evie comes and takes some pictures from shore before giving me the camera and retiring back to the hammock and a book.
The water is refreshing and it feels great to rinse off all the sweat and dirt from the last couple days. Devin swims for a while longer before I greet him with a towel and dry clothes. After swimming both kids want to try their luck at fishing and for a while I help facilitate that. I think this is also the point I did the only fishing for myself on the trip. Unsurprisingly nothing is biting and the bait we went out of our way to get is dead and turned into a nasty smelling goop… ugh, nothing smells worse than dead night crawlers that have got too warm.
While processing the firewood earlier in the day, I discover that a 5′ tall long-dead pine tree I dragged back to camp is very aromatic the further down the trunk I worked. The cause for that is quickly revealed to be that I apparently selected some naturally occurring fatwood – the wood fibers are saturated with dried pine resin.
I take care to set the more heavily saturated pieces aside and eventually split it into a collection of tinder that will be left near the fire pit as my own welcome to the site’s next inhabitant, along with whatever leftover wood we will have after the evening’s fire.
Dinner tonight is soft tacos using taco meat that I cooked and dehydrated at home ahead of time. We just need to rehydrate the meat for a while before tossing into the pot to heat up. Thankfully we get dinner cleaned up early and there really isn’t a whole lot to clean up anyhow except for the pot and our plates and a spoon or two.
We take advantage of the extra time to take in the exquisite sunset that is unfolding to our West. There is no wind at all, not even the slightest hint of a breeze, and the lake is glass. Me and Evie both take some photos of the beauty before us.
The Canadian wildfires have certainly helped to produce some interesting effects around sunset. And while the sky is nearly cloudless there is still color and drama to the sunset thanks to the smoke. The kids head for the tent to wait out the skeeters. Tonight we’re going to watch the stars for a while, hoping to get a glimpse at some Perseid meteors.
The mosquitoes don’t last very long tonight and by 10 the kids are back out to stargaze. Devin, being 6, doesn’t have a super long attention span for this kind of thing even though space is his favorite topic. The sky is crystal clear, however, and the moon is but a sliver quickly setting in the Western sky. We sit out on the rocky point for 45 minutes or so. Taking in the Milky Way, spotting satellites and airplanes crossing high overhead, pointing out different constellations, identifying planets, and watching for meteors. We’re rewarded for our efforts with a half dozen or so streaks. Devin sees less because he doesn’t understand just relaxing your gaze and instead is looking all around the sky. We also get very nice views of Mars, Venus, Saturn, and Jupiter, strung across the East to West sky like pearls or diamonds on a necklace.
Back by the fire, a quick snack is had before settling in to the tent for the night.
Tomorrow is an early start for the kids. We’re packing up camp and continuing on our adventure!
Miles paddled – 1.4
Trip total mileage – 9.3
Lakes paddled – Alpine
My alarm goes off at 6:30 or so, and I snooze for a couple cycles because of how late it was when I got to sleep. Finally, I roll out of bed before 7 and start to get things laid out for the kids. Start to wake them up around 7:15 and by 7:30 they’re begrudgingly up and moving. Breakfast is muffins, fruit, and juice we brought from home and it’s eaten fairly quickly. We’re down at Seagull’s office after packing up our bunk and the kids take in the view from the end of the pier while I get the permit issued. It’s forecast to be breezy, with 10-15mph with gusts over 20 coming from the SW, perfect conditions if you like paddling into headwinds and occasional rollers.
We’re making decent time, and after taking shelter in the lee side of some islands on Sea Gull we’re approaching the BWCA boundary sign.
We weave in and out of channels between islands trying to stay out of the wind as much as possible, since I’m doing most of the paddling and more of my paddle strokes count towards forward progress and not fighting the wind. I will say that our ride for the week, a green gelcoat We-no-nah Spirit II in Tuf-Weave layup, does very well with how we’re loaded and in the wind & waves.
At one point, when trying to go through a narrow & shallow channel between a couple islands we get hung up on some rocks. In the end Evie and I get out so the canoe floats enough that we can pull it past the just-underwater rocks and get back in.
Had we gone a different route we would have passed pretty close to the Palisades of Sea Gull Lake, however to get that close now would essentially be backtracking, so we see them from a little bit of a distance. The Palisades rise about 100′ from the surface of Sea Gull, and a decade ago when I was last here with Ken & Joe we paddled right in front of them as well.
As it would happen, before we got to the bottom of Sea Gull both kids started asking if there was a campsite nearby as they wanted to visit the wilderness latrine, and thankfully the last campsite on Sea Gull obliged us by being unoccupied. A few minutes later we’re at the portage, which you can just see in the photo as a bare patch on the shoreline right of the middle of the photo.
This particular portage has been referred to as a superhighway by some, as Sea Gull has a large number of daily entry permits and while some never leave the entry lake others use Sea Gull as a gateway towards some of the lakes further to the West. As a result of its use the path is wide and well worn by others who came before us. There’s wild raspberries and blueberries in patches along the trail, and as this area was involved in forest fires back in 2006 and 2007 it’s prime blueberry habitat.
Portage completed and the canoe loaded, we’re now on our destination lake for the next couple nights, Alpine Lake. In 2008, last time I dipped a paddle into this body of water, I was just passing through. This time, however, I’m looking forward to a couple nights here. I’ve done some online reconnaissance in the months before our trip and the GPS is loaded with the coordinates of all the campsites plus special markers for the sites which got good reviews. We scope out a couple sites, find one occupied, and ultimately decide upon site #346 which is on the southernmost tip of a peninsula with a very nice rock feature. We have a quick snack/lunch of fruit leather, granola bars, and cheese sticks before proceeding to fully unpack and settle in.
The campsite seems to have just about everything we’d want in a site – big, open, shady area for the firepit, nice flat tent pads, loads of tree options for the hammock and tarp, and the rocks on the point are great for stargazing, fishing, plus there’s a good drop off so with the right aim one could jump in to water pretty deep. Dvin naturally only wants to swim, so I let him have at it and Evie decides to do a thorough test of my hammock hang.
The previous occupants left a fair supply of firewood for us (thank you!) and while Devin is swimming (PFD on, of course) I go about getting the fire ready to be lit so we can make dinner. Devin wants to help light the fire too, and I pass the time until he’s done swimming by sawing down & batoning the logs into usable sizes.
Once Devin is done in the water, dried off, and changed, we go about getting the fire lit – there’s dinner to be made and we’re all hungry! Naturally, the grate has to be heated up and scraped clean with some foil so the steaks and potatoes go on after there’s a good bed of coals. I picked up this skillet specifically for taking canoe camping. I have an 8″ that I use at home all the time for eggs, and this 10 1/2″ performs just as well. I look forward to adding to it’s seasoning in future years. Dinner was great, except I overestimated how much food we’d consume. In hindsight we should have only had half as much potatoes and one less steak. Ah well….
We’re getting dinner cleaned up right as the mosquitoes are coming out. The kids dive for the tent while I finish getting our camp situated for the night. The bugs will prove to be too much to overcome tonight for stargazing, kids are tired from the early start and paddle, and before too long we settle in for the night.
Miles paddled – 7.9
Trip total mileage – 7.9
Lakes paddled – Sea Gull, Alpine
Sunday, August 12th dawned hot and humid. There had been a late summer heat wave and the air was thick to breathe. We can’t leave as early as I’d typically like for a canoe trip in Minnesota as Evie has been involved in marching band camp all the previous week and today’s the big parade. I had been up late the night before getting the car packed as best as I could, knowing a few items would need to wait for today before I could secure the canoe to the top. Naturally, I overslept my alarm today and while the final bits of packing are a little rushed and frantic than I’d like I get it done before it is time to leave for the parade.
The plan is to grab Evie right from the end of the parade and start driving immediately towards our destination for the night – Seagull Outfitters & their paddler’s bunkhouse. Devin is along for the trip too, and while moving his booster seat to the other side of the car is a novel change to what he’s used to and is appreciated for not having the sun on him all day, having the seat belt on the opposite side to what he’s used to presents a dexterity and motor skill challenge. The drive up has some planned stops – first we need to stop at Mars’ to get some cheddar for the trip (Thanks Tyson for the recommendation on the 3 year), then there’s a bait place I located in Portage that I hope works out, then there’s a few Speedways I plan to use as fuel stops as we make our way North. The Prius V gets a solid 42-45mpg during it’s regular life driving me back & forth to work and whatnot, however when a 60lb 17′ long canoe is strapped to it’s roof the penalty is a 25% or greater hit to fuel economy.
Mars’ Cheese Castle is busy but we make it in & out in about 15 minutes including a bathroom visit for the 6 year old and several samples of cheese and candy. Around the West side of Milwaukee, we encounter a very large back up that causes us to try to bypass it for 4 or 5 miles on local roads. The rest of the way to Portage is uneventful, save for construction around Madison. We encounter the typical 10 mile Southbound backup around the WI Dells and I marvel at all the poor folks stuck in it, and wonder if we will suffer the same fate in a week? Now we’re at Portage, and as it turns out this is a 20ish mile out of the way loop that we take to go to the bait shop (turns out to be an outbuilding on somebody’s property, the shop is closed, but the self serve fridge has some blue tubs of crawlers. I buy 2 tubs for $7 and we get back on the road as quickly as possible… The sun’s starting to get low and we still have a long ways to go.
Dinner is had in Superior just before we cross over into Duluth. A few minutes out of the car to stretch before we’re back on our way. We make a stop just before we get out of Duluth when Devin has to use the restroom. It works out, as we have what turns out to be our last fuel stop of the night – by the time we get to Grand Marais and we turn onto the Gunflint Trail all the gas stations in town will be closed. I get an extra strong coffee and turn the Prius NE onto Highway 61. It’s too bad that it’s nighttime and the views are obfuscated by night. I’m pretty sure both kids would like the view out of either side of the car, but especially the right towards the big lake. Sure enough, we get into Grand Marais a little after 11PM & the gas stations are closed. By this time Devin has fallen asleep and Evie is dozing as well. The extra strength coffee from Duluth is doing its job though, and I’m wide awake.
The drive up the Gunflint goes fine. This time of night there’s hardly anybody out. At some point I realize that even before I lost cellular coverage back in Grand Marais, my GPS app isn’t estimating our arrival time correctly…. The app thinks it will take us 2 and a half hours to get from the shore to Sea Gull. In actuality, we pull into Sea Gull’s Parking Lot a little after 12:30AM. Evie handles getting Devin out of the car and they hit the restroom while I get our bunks set up. I’m not really picky, and I know Sea Gull hosts a lot of people every season, but if I had to have one piece of feedback for them it would be the quality of their bunk mattresses SUCK! Like, these were 2 or 3″ thick foam-with-a-vinyl-cover mats that maybe you’d find in a daycare or gym on a plywood shelf. I could not get comfortable for the life of me, and the coffee was still doing it’s thing. It was probably close to 2 by the time I fell asleep. The alarm is set to go off at 7:30 tomorrow for the kids, hopefully they rouse when asked and we can be quick about getting breakfast & out the door.
As a follow up to a successful family canoe camping basecamp experience at the Turtle Flambeau Flowage in 2017, and to have something constructive for Devin & Evie to do before school started back up, I decided to take my two youngest on a proper canoe trip albeit sized appropriately for a 6 and 13 year old. Continue reading “Boundary Waters 2018”
Fathers’ Day. I’m awakened by camp noises. We’re due to have a nice hearty breakfast before we head on the way to our take out. We get to business getting the fire going, we need coals for cooking our dutch oven peach french toast.
The river is significantly higher today. Larry tells me the folks on the other side of the sandbar have been up since about 4AM when someone discovered the river was flowing through their tent. By the time I’m up, around 7, they are mostly packed up already.
We get breakfast made and camp torn down in decent time and when it’s all done we’re starting to pack the canoes around 9. Larry has a good idea and instead of trying to load the canoes in what’s now knee to thigh deep water we have the kids walk the canoes over to behind our campsite where the river is now cutting through what used to be the middle of the sandbar. This works great, and we can get the canoes fully loaded and just pull them out into the river with ease. We’re loaded and ready to go about 9:45 and the group pushes off. The river is very high today, definitely more than a vertical foot deeper than yesterday morning. We could not have timed this trip any better in regards to the water levels. I think of the other group that camped on our sandbar and wonder if they lost anything when the river was found to be invading their camp?
Our final couple miles on the Wisconsin go by in about 45 minutes. The landing for Tower Hill is a little overgrown and at first it’s not entirely clear you’re headed the right way, but eventually we found the landing. Everyone helps with getting the canoes unloaded and out of the water and Larry brings the canoe trailer down so we can start getting it loaded up. While he oversees that, Joann drives me and Brian back to the Arena landing to retrieve our cars. The guy at the entrance station to the state park is nice to us on our return and lets my car in even though I don’t have a sticker…. I told him we’re just here to swoop in and pick up our Scout group, and we’d be gone quickly. He waves us all through without another word.
We bring the cars down to the landing to load up all the gear. For the most part people have kept their own items together so there isn’t much sorting to do, just load up the cars with the equipment and then the people.
We stop at Culvers in Spring Green and get the great surprise that dads get a free ice cream today, and the flavor of the day is chocolate raspberry. It’s a great capstone on a hot, but otherwise awesome weekend!
It’s another hot day today. We decide to switch today and tomorrow’s breakfast, so instead of baked peach french toast we’re going to have breakfast burritos.
A few people mention the loud thunder and downpour that happened around 1AM. Gavin chimes in with a ‘Yeah, that was really loud!’ Apparently I slept through it.
After breakfast the kids get down to serious business of play. Nobody goes too far away from camp except to go around the island closer to shore to use the bathroom. The Dents have brought a small kayak and Devin seems to be a natural. As we’re sitting down in the river, looking around we notice that the river seems higher today then last night. Its definitely closer to the fire pit than it was last night. We put a stick at the water line to use as a gauge. After lunch the river is several inches higher up the bank from the stick, and another stick is inserted to mark the new high water line. The fire pit is now on the edge of the river and we have the kids help us relocate the firewood and canoes to higher ground. At some point someone gets a good idea to float our drinking water supply in the river, the thinking that the river is cooler than air temperature and it the river will keep them cooler than if they were just sitting in the sun. I don’t know if it made any difference, but a partially exposed sunken piece of driftwood serves as an anchor for the water. Around late morning I get enough signal for my phone to sync emails & I find out that the Koobs are not joining us. The other pair we were expecting also don’t end up coming and so the group that made the initial journey is the entire party for the weekend.
We see several groups on the water passing us by today. Later in the afternoon a fairly sizable group moves in to the upstream side of the sandbar. By the sounds of it they’re young adults and before it gets completely dark their group has grown to include more than a half dozen tents.
Back on our side of the sandbar, earlier in the day we had used a pop up shelter that Jay brought. Earlier in the day there was a refreshing breeze but as the day goes in the winds pick up and threaten to carry the shelter with it, so it gets taken down. As the afternoon progressed we were watching the clouds form and start to tower high in the sky towards the North of us again. Listening to the weather radio it sounds like the area upstream of us is getting just dumped on again. I’m glad that we are on this side of the sandbar, the river’s rise is becoming more evident in the visibly swifter moving current and lower spots start to fill in with water.
Dinner tonight is walking tacos. Larry had his boys make the taco meat ahead of time & then froze it, so all we have to do is heat up the meat and assemble our tacos. Cleanup is handled swiftly and there are no leftovers despite us having less people than we planned for. Guess that’s what happens when you have several hungry teens along! The mosquitoes come out around nightfall again, and after I put Devin to bed I reemerge from the tent to find out campsite deserted, the mosquitoes chased everyone away again, however the breeze is strong enough by the fire that the bugs don’t bother too much. I sit out by the fire for a while, poking and prodding it to keep burning. I’m aided by the breeze, since the fire is now up on the elevated shelf where the tents are, it’s exposed to the wind and the dry firewood readily holds a flame. We need the fire for tomorrow’s breakfast so what’s left of our wood supply should be conserved. I spread out the coals and satisfied it doesn’t pose a threat, head to the tent to get ready for bed.