Tuesday, 9/20. Day 3
It rained overnight. In reality, it kinda started raining while we were making dinner the night before, but it was the misty drizzly on & off kind, so we didn’t bother with the tarp or anything. The morning greeted us with mostly clear skies and a promise of a SW wind. We are moving camp today, and for the most part we’ll have the wind to our backs.
We had a getaway breakfast of coffee, followed by oatmeal, and another cup of coffee to wash out the cup. It is a decent quick start, but you need to follow it up with constant calories during the day if you want to keep your energy up – cheese sticks, honey stinger waffles, gorp, jerky, even kool-aid will work in a pinch. We didn’t receive the message clear enough from day 1, and neglected to have enough accessible food to keep us going through what would be another long day.
We haven’t seen a ton of critters to this point, and as we’re starting to break down camp a red squirrel briefly overcomes his fear with curiosity and it takes a few tentative hops around camp. Pretty soon our movements have it back in the trees, chattering and scolding us for having the audacity to be in it’s home. Joe and I pack a little on the slow side, we’re still trying to figure out the best way to carry all our gear, and the result is we’re on the water close to 10. We had wanted to be on Iron by early afternoon and this lookis like a distant possibility now.
The portage out of Stuart is easy enough to find, it’s a nice sandy beach which is somewhat of a rarity in the Boundary Waters. It’s also less than 10 minutes from our campsite, barely time to think about stretching. To start our day we have a 279 rod portage from Stuart to Fox Lake. Right away from Stuart it’s a steep climb and I can feel my pulse in my fingertips. It flattens out some but I’ve yet to encounter a portage that doesn’t have some up and down and this is no different. I gotta drop the canoe less than halfway across because the combination of the boat and the pack I’m carrying is too much. The day is also muggy for September and in the mid-upper 60s, and my shirt is already soaked in sweat. I finish the carry with just the pack. Joe drops the Camelbak at one point along the trail to also lighten his load. On the Fox end of the portage we drop what gear we finished the trail with and head back to the start. This would be the beginning of crop top and topless portaging for the day. It felt so good to take my shirt off and just let the sweat evaporate as I walked through the forest. Have I mentioned that my favorite part of September paddling is NO BUGS?
This portage is a doozie, with big trees along the path and also blocking the path at the Fox end. It takes a long time to complete due to extra trips, and because we have our first grouse encounter of the trip. People apparently hunt them, which is funny because there isn’t much hunt to them – they will flush and fly down the trail 20-30 yards and then just camp out 10 feet off the trail. I ponder the possibility of a future hunt/fish trip and if a .410 or rifle would be better?
On Fox, we arouse the curiosity of a group of trumpeter swans on the lake. When we first appeared on the shore they started to come across the lake towards us, but as soon as I picked up the canoe they turned around and started giving a honking call that sounded a lot like they were saying “People!” Eventually, the swans want nothing to do with the red canoe and its two human occupants and take to the sky in a long sweeping spiral upwards as they slowly gained altitude. Fox is a small lake and doesn’t take long to get to the portage.
65 rods & and up-and-down of 50 feet later, and we’re at Rush Lake. The lone campsite on this lake is on the island across from the portage and is unoccupied. The landing on this side is a slope that continues into the water, with no good footing for loading & unloading. Eventually we get it done, though, and we make a beeline for the 71 rod portage to Dark.
This portage trail features over 60 feet of climb to the mid point and only 40 back down. Somewhere after the mid point there’s also a downed pine blocking the trail. Your choices are sidestep another large pine bordering the trail and squeeze between a small gap in some cedars, or dropping & passing over/under the tree. I can tell Joe’s getting tired because during a moment of uncertainty the tone in his voice let me know clear as a bell that the idea I was pondering was dumb.
I don’t recall much from Dark because we were single minded on our goal of getting to Iron and hopefully a campsite soon. The portage out of it is 90 rods and more downhill than up when going in our direction of travel.
By the time we hit Iron we’re gassed. We briefly talk strategy regarding wind, if needed, and which campsite(s) we want to consider.
Shortly after getting underway we see one potential site is occupied. We decide we’re going to try for one of the campsites on Three Island, adjacent to the US/Canada border. For the most part the paddle across Iron is unremarkable due to our tiredness. The sun has been replaced by clouds, and the winds have picked up. The scenery is still beautiful, but we’re beyond depleted and ready to be done.
We get to Three Island and see that the Western campsite is open. This one is a 4 star site according to people online, and the Eastern site is a 5. Knowing we can fall back on this we push on to the five, only to see it’s obviously occupied after we get past some narrows, and now we have to paddle back to the other site into a headwind.
Joe’s pissed. Not at me, not at having to go back to the site. He’s really just hangry. We haven’t eaten much all day and it was too much for him. We get back to the campsite and after unloading, go explore the campsite on our own. It’s expansive and multi leveled, with a few tent pad options, but only one that makes the most sense for the forecast we have and so Joe sets up the tent by a massive boulder which gives some protection from the wind. While he’s handling that, I go about providing some comic relief in the form of trying to wrangle the tarp into a suitable structure to give us and the fire some wind protection. It takes an hour or more, and after Joe gets the tent set up he gets out some peanut butter and jelly and we have rollups on tortillas.
We were treated to a decent sunset which would have been improved had we not been blocked by seeing it by our wind shelter. I hung up the hammock, which turned out to be pretty laughable because the wind was so strong that nobody even considered sitting in it.
There’s no photos of it, and I don’t remember what we had for dinner this night except for hard boiled eggs which we made to use up the eggs and get rid of the bulk of the carton. We probably snacked heavily and undoubtedly drank a lot of coffee.
Nobody has much energy for staying up late tonight, so I only grab a partly cloudy star photo before going to the tent. Tomorrow is another layover day, and this time no alarms are set for waking up.
6.7 miles paddled today, 18.2 total; 4 portages today, 10 total; 505 rods portaged today, 1259 rods total; 0 additional beaver dams encountered today.
Stuart Lake > Fox Lake > Rush Lake > Dark Lake >Iron Lake