Saturday, September 10, 2011

Lakes Traveled: Picket Creek, Mudro Lake, Sandpit Lake, Tin Can Mike Lake, Horse Lake.

4.9 miles traveled, 1.25mph average speed.

Our cell phone alarms go off at 4. Stretch a bit and wait for the car to defog the glass (next time – sleep w/a window cracked!) and soon we’re on our way in the predawn dark towards Ely. In the sky overhead we see bands which we’re not sure if they’re aurora or clouds. Turns out they were aurora.

We hit Brittons shortly after 5, and there are a few other groups eating as well. Lots of vehicles with canoes on top or on a trailer, and I see a boat with a neat red/white/blue finish.
The stuffed hash browns are awesome and we both eat until we can’t fit any more. As we’re eating a group of fire fighters come in and sit at the counter, I’m tempted to ask them if they’ve been working the Pagami fire but in the end leave them in peace.
We have a little time to kill before Zup’s opens so we cruise around a little and end up stopping at Miners Lake to watch the sunrise. We get some pretty photos as we soak up the Northwoods in silence.

After a bit we head back up to the car and we decide to camp out in Zup’s parking lot as we wait for them to open.
Soon enough we see customers walking through the door a few minutes early so we hop out and see what they have. Foiled again! We end up settling for a pasta sauce mix and a tube of tomato paste.

Shopping done, we follow the GPS’ directions as we make our way up the Echo Trail. Before long we get to Echo Trail Outfitters – I picked them only because of their proximity to our EP. Now that I know that Ely is but a short drive to many entry points I’ll consider possibly using another outfit for future trips, although it really will depend on where we head next.

We get to the outfitter and after a short drive through their property we realize that the big house we passed back up on the hill was the office and the owners’ residence. We’ve got about 30 minutes before they open so we rearrange the contents of the back of the Prius a bit until I hear a voice ask, ‘Are one of you guys Allan Short?’ – I guess Laurie was waiting for us and was happy to help us out before they officially opened. Thanks ETO! Shortly after our permit is in order and we’re ready to get our new ride for the week. We drive over to their rental storage area and we’re presented with our first decision – which boat? At first I pick a Q17 that looks like its kevlar, we get it up to the car and only then realize it’s duralight. Thinking of the mile portage we’re planning on doing later in our trip we end up re-racking the Q17 and pick a Spirit II over a MNII. In the end I think we made a good choice, but I’m somewhat ignorant of canoes other than reading Joe @ Red Rock’s undying love for the Q17 on his website.

A few minutes later we’re getting our PFD’s and paddles – Joe takes a bent shaft for up front and I take a cheapo as it’s hopefully just going to be our spare. I picked up a BB Beavertail from another member a few weeks earlier. We load up our new gear and get the boat secured on the car and take off for the put in.

We get to the parking lot and I’m surprised at it’s size (I thought it looked big) and also how we seem to be the only people there. I want to get a photo of the canoe atop my car, I’ve been dreaming of getting my own boat and this is as close as I’ll get for a while.

The parking lot being devoid of people works to our advantage as we need to change into paddling clothes. Only after we’re changed and starting to take our stuff down to the put in do other vehicles arrive. A group of 5 or 6 people older than us are getting dropped off. We exchange pleasantries as we pass through them carrying our final loads. One last stop at the car to stash wallets, put leftover food under the floor in the trunk, and lock up. We’re ready to go!

Picket Creek is low. We knew this going up and we knew we’d have to walk farther before putting in. We gently dip the boat into the water and start loading our packs in. Joe gets into the bow and I take my usual place in the stern and we’re off.

Soon we’re at the rocky lift over just before Mudro and in short order we’re on the lake headed for Sandpit. We meet a group at the portage who remark they’d rather be doing this portage headed our direction, but for all I heard of how terrible or tough it was going to be in the end we were over it with no difficulty.

The water is warm on our feet and we’re in shirts and shorts, soaking up the sun’s warmth because we know its going to get cooler later in the trip.

We make short work of the portages, stopping to finish off our sandwiches from the night before on the Horse side of the portage from Tin Can Mike. As we’re sitting we can see the campsite we’re targeting and hope the group we see that just rounded the bend doesn’t have plans on stopping there. Nope! They paddle on. We clear off the portage and get on the water, and as we pass them besides saying hello we ask how the fishing was since we can see their poles. They give us some tips, then blow us away by asking ‘Want some bait?’ Wow! Do we ever! They happily give us what was left of their crawlers and leeches. I know in a way we’re doing them a favor by essentially taking some of their trash, but one man’s trash is another man’s treasure….
A few minutes later we’re at the campsite and it is indeed open! It took us 4 hours of not really paddling all that hard to reach here and boy are we thrilled to get our first campsite choice. We unload the boat, get the tent set up, check out the biffy, find a suitable tree for hanging our bag, then head out to filter some water.

Back in camp we change into our dry shoes and leave our paddling shoes and socks out to dry in the warm sun.

There’s a resident squirrel in camp. He doesn’t appear to be looking for a handout from us. He’s fun to watch as he scurries around stashing pine cones for winter.

Before long it’s time to start a fire for dinner and we’re very grateful to the last group that occupied the site to leave us a nice stack of welcome wood.
Dinner tonight is steaks; red potatos with rosemary, garlic, and salt; and fresh green beans from my garden also with garlic.

The food pack’s going to be a little lighter tomorrow! Neither of us mind the extra weight of steaks for our first night, it’s almost that extra little carrot to help us get to our day’s destination – not that we really need incentive since we’re in the Boundary Waters after all…
Dinner’s delicious, the steaks were awesome and the potatoes and green beans turn out perfect. We sip some scotch as the light fades, and the moon and stars come out.

We go hang out on the big rock face by the fire area to look at stars for a while, then we decide to try our luck at fishing from shore. I land the first fish of the trip, a pretty large sized bluegill –

Not knowing it’d be our only eater sized fish for most of the trip, and still stuffed from dinner we let it go.

Back by the fire I adjust the logs to get what’s left of them burned up before we turn in to bed while Joe takes some photos of me playing with the fire.

Tired, full, and happy beyond belief we make sure the fire is dead out then head into the tent to sleep under the stars.

Continue to part 3

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