WI River 2018 Part 1

Friday, June 15

We’ve decided upon an easy 10 mile section – putting in at the Arena public landing and taking out at Tower Hill State Park. During the week prior to our trip our region had been in the midst of an early season heat wave, with daytime temps above 90 and heat indices pushing 105. The recent heat and lack of rainfall has caused the Wisconsin to drop into the sandbar sweet spot for current and depth. We could do without the oppressive heat, but other than that conditions look to be about perfect for river camping.

We have 18 people in our group that we plan on seeing at some point this weekend. There’s 14 people with us to start the weekend and the rest we’re expecting to join us tomorrow. We all get to the Arena landing around the designated time and proceed to eat lunch and repack items into coolers, dry bags, and load up the canoes. We have 7 canoes in our party and a kayak, and getting all that organized takes some effort. Another group comes to the landing, loads, and departs before we’re ready to go. We watch them paddle away towards the left, only a few minutes later they’re back and going the other direction. Apparently the channel is too low in that direction. We watch them go around the bend to the right and out of sight. Shortly after we launched the first of our canoes did we discover that the path was blocked to the right as well, and we would need to carry all our stuff over a 100 yard stretch of sandbar to get to the river. Ugh! We ended up partially unloading the canoes and group carrying them to the other side. Initially we tried dragging/pushing them across the sand and it was soon evident we wouldn’t be able to exert ourselves that much 4 or 5 additional times.

Finally all the boats are at the actual river and we are able to start our paddle down the river. Because of the carry and having to reload canoes again, our group gets pretty spread out. Larry’s in one of the lead canoes & sees this, and a couple miles down river he gets the group to pull off at a sand bar and wait for the people in the back of the group, including my canoe. Everyone gets out for a few minutes and stretches, takes a drink of water as it’s really out out today, and the kids play nearby. We all get back into the boats and get on our way. We want to have time to be able to get a good sized sandbar for our group, and figuring it’s father’s day weekend there might be other groups on the river.

A little while after we were going again Leith and Gavin catch up to me and Devin and tells me he can’t find his phone. I have him check his backpack and it’s not in there. He remembers it was in his pocket and remembers for sure he looked at it back at the rally point. When he’s sitting in the canoe we realize his pockets are about even with the gunwale – it could have easily fallen out at any point in the previous three miles! We head back to the spot Gavin remembered having it. Against the current, it takes us three times longer to get back to where we were just 30 minutes ago. We all beach the canoes and start looking. Gavin retraces his steps and no sign of the phone. We look all around the shallows where he got back into the canoe when we got on our way before – nothing. In reality we have no idea where his phone is. To make matters worse, he had turned it off and had it in airplane mode so even if we tried to track it we wouldn’t be able to. He did have it in a ziploc I gave him, so there’s a reasonable assumption that it might not be waterlogged yet. It doesn’t matter though, it’s accepted pretty quickly that the phone is gone. We launch the canoes and point them back downriver.

Thankfully, Larry figured that we would be spent from the extra distance and effort paddling against the current and stopped the group at one of the first suitable sandbars he came to.¬† It’s gigantic and perfect. The river has dropped so much recently that the sandbar is almost more like a round sandy peninsula coming from the shore. On the upstream side of the sandbar, several hundred yards away, the sand just fades into the river and with the heat its hard to tell the exact point where land and water meet. Where we’ve set up camp, however, is the downstream side of the sandbar, which has a 20 yard wide channel of the river passing between us and another sandbar island. This side is several feet above the level of the river. We set up our tents on the dry, hot sand plateau above and establish a campfire area on the lower shelf closer to the river’s edge.

The rest of the day is spent lazing under the sun. The kids entertain themselves in the river, splashing and playing while the adults keep a watchful eye on them sitting in the river nearby to stay cool. There’s a decent breeze blowing as well. Thunder storms to our North and West are sucking in the hot air for fuel. Once or twice earlier, before they get weighed down with gear, some of the tents threaten to collapse or blow away. Most of us have chosen to pitch our tents without a rainfly as the forecast maintains minimal chances for rain overnight.

Dinner tonight is a quick and easy meal we’ve had plenty of times in Scouts – foil packs! We take care of setting up the kids’ meals first. The fire isn’t big enough to do 14 or more at the same time. Once the kids’ are cooking, the adults assemble theirs. I’ve been busy tending to other things so mine ends up being one of the last to get made. With how hot today has been, being by the fire is like sitting next to a blowtorch.

Not long after dinner is done when all the dishes are cleaned up, the mosquitoes come out. It’s not too hot for them, and they are thick this evening. No one wants to hang out by the fire to try to wait out the skeeters except for Larry. We dive into our tent and I commence to read some Harry Potter to Devin. It’s a hot and muggy evening and we are hearing some distant rumbles of thunder. To our North around the WI Dells area there are severe storms that have been more or less parked for much of the afternoon into evening.

I’m having a hard time falling asleep. The rumbles of thunder seem like they’re creeping closer to us and the lightning show to our NW is incredible. The thunder is definitely getting closer now. Suddenly, I hear voices that don’t sound like anyone I know is with us, and there’s a spotlight shining around. There’s a couple guys in kayaks apparently doing some night paddling and looking for a campsite. I had nearly drifted off to sleep before their intrusion on our otherwise rumbly evening and I decide to get up to try to scope them out and maybe check the weather. We seem to have picked the perfect spot where Verizon gets almost no service. I’m lucky this time, however, and get 1 bar of 4G. I hop on to the NWS’ mobile site and pull up a radar loop. It seems like in the last slide, just off to our West there is a cell forming. I make a quick call to home to check in before I lose signal. I think I’m going to put the rain fly on the tent now. The lightning is more intense and there’s no mistaking that the thunder is closer and louder. The guys in kayaks are still talking loudly. They seem to have landed on the neighboring island across the narrow channel. The little bit of distance helps to diminish but not eliminate their sounds.

The first drops start to fall as Gavin and I fight the breeze to pull the fly over the tent. By the time we’re finishing up I see Larry is doing the same for his tent. Everyone else seems to have buttoned up before settling in. I try to dodge raindrops for a few more minutes and make sure nothing is out that shouldn’t get wet. I get back in the tent as the rain is really coming down hard now, and Gavin and I chat for a little bit. The rain has helped drop temperatures a little, and after writing in my journal for a while I feel sleep tugging on my eyelids and I go to sleep.

Continue to part 2

Nippersink Creek May 2018

My buddy Matt and I were supposed to be partners again for this year’s 61st running of the Des Plaines Canoe and Kayak Marathon.¬†Sadly, in the 10 days before the marathon was supposed to happen record rainfall occurred within the Des Plaines River’s watershed, causing the river to leave its banks. There are a few low bridges on the marathon route, not a problem for canoeists or SUP’ers on a typical day, but those bridges plus the swifter-than-normal current spell danger for anybody on the river.

As it happens, just to our West they didn’t get nearly the amount of rain as we did. The Nippersink was running just above average for this time of year, both current and depth, according to the USGS gauge outside Spring Grove.

The marathon is an 18.5 mile course, the best we can manage on the Nippersink from Keystone Landing to the Canoe Base will be a little under 14 miles. Earlier in the week we’d see some of the nicest weather of the spring to date… Sadly we won’t get that nice weather. The forecast is for highs in the upper 40s or low 50s, overcast skies, and occasional showers. Given the choice between this an no paddling, we choose paddling. Our wives think we’re crazy.

The marathon was supposed to be the first real use of a canoe I brought back to life over the winter, a Bell Canoe Works NorthStar in Blackgold layup. Compared to the Nip’, the Des Plaines is a snooze – the Nippersink is a somewhat wild creek which has oodles upon oodles of switchbacks, oxbows, and in the first section from Keystone Landing to Pioneer Landing, about a dozen or so riffles. One really just has to pay attention a lot more and your mind can’t wander as much.

I pick Matt up at the Canoe Base and we make the 10 minute drive to Keystone. After a few minutes of outfitting the canoe we’re ready to go.

There’s a little bit of current right at the landing, so once the canoe is in the water someone needs to hang on because it’ll break loose and float away. After ensuring all our items are safely stowed, we shove off just after 8AM.

It’s a lively paddle. The river is moving at a decent clip and we see a fair number of birds, including some sandhill cranes who have recently reappeared after wintering further south. At one point when passing under a bridge, the wind gets focused and tears my hat from my head. The rim is foam so it floats, and after pulling a U-turn and passing back under the bridge, my now dampened hat has been recovered and we turn around again and keep going.

A few minutes later we can’t see it yet, but there’s the unmistakable sound of moving water up ahead. As we round another bend in the river we see our first riffle of the day in front of us. We don’t have much time to strategize our route through the riffle and other than a generic “to the right of the center” we’re committed.

We make it nearly all the way cleanly through the riffle until we hit a big rock dead on, which causes the boat to dish me and Matt into the deeper water immediately following the rapid. The GoPro, mounted on a pole at the back of the canoe and taking frames in time lapse mode, catches all the action including the “oh crap!” moment when we know we’re going swimming.

Surprisingly, the water actually feels warm… it probably IS warmer than the air, due to the rains & today’s high will only top out at 50. Matt and I are both dressed head to toe in synthetics and layers, so other than the initial shock of getting wet neither of us are too cold at the moment. I nearly didn’t take the red fleece, but man am I glad I did! We pull off to the side where the current isn’t quite as strong and we’re able to stand on the bed enough to dump most of the water out of the canoe.

Back on our way, eventually rain starts to fall and so raingear is donned. It gives an added benefit of being another layer to help stay warm. After the first capsize the GoPro stayed put, however the tape I used apparently didn’t like getting wet because when we capsized again, this time within sight of Pioneer Landing, the GoPro nearly let completely loose. We’ll take a 30 minute break at Pioneer to shelter within the bathroom for a little while to dry out, warm up, and have a snack. Also, we question our sanity for being out on a day like this….

On our way back to get going again we run into a couple groups including a guy soloing in an aluminum with his dog. We apologize to the groups for being all spread out on the landing (didn’t really expect others to be as crazy as us) and get out of their way.

All in all we’ll capsize a 3rd time on the trip, not too long before Lyle C. Thomas park outside of Spring Grove. We were finally getting into a rhythm, even seeing clothing get dry patches, and enjoying the fact we were apparently paddling through a town unbeknownst to anyone as the river is very deep in its banks around here. Suddenly from out of nowhere, church bells ring out and shock us from our canoe-induced stupor. I still don’t know how or why, but it was at the exact moment the bells rang out when the canoe rolled the third time. We were at a confluence of sorts around an island, but we didn’t hit anything and there wasn’t a rapid. The boat just…. turtled on us.

We get out at Thomas park and warm up for a little bit and eat another snack. Only 4 miles to go. The sun’s out now and we take advantage of that to try to dry off some.

The remaining mileage goes quickly as we do not encounter any deadfall or objects blocking the channel, and the end is reached about an hour later. My “new” canoe is now properly broken in, with several white scratches adorning it’s recently epoxied bottom. More time is needed with this boat to get used to how it handles differently than my Spirit II.

We vow to re-attack the Nippersink some time in the future, maybe not with a Kevlar/fiberglass wilderness tripping boat but maybe in an Alumacraft which will take the blows from rocks or scraping a shallow gravelly bottom. The creek would collect a toll for our run today, namely a half dollar sized chunk of gelcoat from the bow stem. Nothing a few layers of epoxy and some saran wrap can’t fix.

A hot shower at home never felt so good!

BWCA 2016 Part 8

Saturday, August 13, 2016

The alarm goes off at 6 and I’m out of the tent maybe 15 minutes later after getting dressed and packing up some. We were set up on what turned out to be my least favorite tent pad of the trip. It was slightly sloped and the tent barely fit. Plus we couldn’t use the doors on the tent the way its designed due to dense brush immediately next to one door. The other door wasn’t much better because of a big boulder which took up a fair amount of the square footage of the vestibule. We made do, but it was just a pain. In its defense, the boulder did make a decent place for sitting to take off shoes before entering the tent.

I go about the usual early morning chore of heating water for coffee and oatmeal, plus spend some time writing in my journal as I dozed off mid sentence the night before. Within a half hour Matt is out of his tent, too. Coffee is consumed in relative silence as we observe the skies above and listen to the updated forecast. The weather I’ve used as a predictor for our weather this trip has been Ely and there’s rain falling there in the current report. The skies themselves don’t seem to know what they want to be. The sun seems to be struggling to find holes to poke through, and we’re treated with occasional spotlit moments.

A couple other shots from camp before we focused in earnest on striking. The giant white pines by the fire pit were a perfect platform for pitching the tarp nice and high and kept the whole fire dry and going during some rain on Friday.

The tarp & latrine kit are the last things waiting to get packed. We take a final listen to the weather to see if there’s any changes and nope – still raining in Ely. Looking off to the WSW I can see hazy mist. Its going to rain on us as we paddle out. Winds are still forecast to be gentle out of the West so we decide to push forward. The TP is packed away & the tarp gets taken down and stuffed. Everyone works quickly to get the canoes launched and loaded. While we’re by the landing its obvious its going to rain soon & sure enough the first drops begin to fall so its a scramble to get raingear on.

We get rained on like this twice during our paddle out. Each time it rains it lasts a good 15 minutes or longer and isn’t terribly bad to be in, especially with the proper mindset.

After the second downburst there’s several inches of water pooled around my feet in the stern. All the rainwater has drained down by me, being the heavier paddler in the canoe. The leech bucket, its contents long gone at this point, makes a convenient but awkward container to use for bailing. I make a mental note again that I really should get a sponge on a rope for just these instances and file it away in my mind with all the past thoughts about getting a sponge.

We make the landing about 11:30, about 2 hours after shoving off from our camp. Along the way we encounter a few motorboats, especially as we get deeper into the corridor. Most are polite and slow down or keep their distance, only one left a wake that tossed us around some. By the time we reach the southernmost launch on Saganaga the rain has finished and left sunshine in its wake. We unload and pull the boats ashore, then I go hike to the pay phone to call GNO to come pick us up.

About 45 minutes later our shuttle arrives. I guess he got bad info on the radio and thought we’d be at the other landing a little further up the corridor. A little bit later we’re delivered back to GNO where a hot shower awaits. We all get cleaned up, do some souvenir shopping, then take off to Trail Center for our post trip meal. The girls got milkshakes to go with their meals and I think they liked them.

Evie got fettuccini and Grace got tenders. Matt & I both got burgers and a beer. The service was a little slow but the food was worth it. I think Evie was hungry for a good meal because she pretty much cleaned her plate.

About two hours after we arrived we were back on the road. We’re not going straight home today as we made plans before the trip to spend the night in the Wisconsin Dells and go to Mount Olympus for coasters and go-karts. Evie is stoked for the water park, too. We get to Grand Marais to fuel up and I realize that I’m way too tired to drive and so I ask Matt to take the wheel. I’m asleep almost immediately and don’t wake up until we’re back in Wisconsin. We trade seats when we gas up in Osseo and I finish the drive to Baraboo, where we’ll be spending the night with some friends at their campsite in a year round campground. By the time we get in it’s late, after 11, and everybody’s in bed already. My friend Ben shows us to our accommodations for the evening and we’re happy to find that we can use his dad’s camper which is unoccupied this weekend. Everyone gets their pads set up except for Matt who gets to use the bed. The girls crash immediately while Matt, Ben, and I all share a beer on the porch and regale Ben with the stories from our week in the wilderness.

All in all we had a great trip. Matt & Grace said they’d be interested in coming back some time, so maybe in two summers we’ll try it again. Maybe it’ll be the four of us again, maybe it’ll be both our families since we’d be at the magic number of 9. Evie had a great time too and also wants to go back. Ultimately, that was the best endorsement I could get. I brought three canoe trip newbies into the wilderness and everyone got along well, worked great as a team, and exited wanting more.

Lakes traveled: Lake Saganaga

BWCA 2016 Part 7

Friday, August 12, 2016

Our final layover day of the trip and our final full day in the wilderness. Same routine as other mornings, essentially the same breakfast too. The sound of me breaking down firewood for breakfast gets the girls up and moving, and by 10:30 we’ve got breakfast going in full swing. The food is mostly prepared in shifts, however Evie and Grace are working together well making the pancakes with Evie handling the pouring and cooking and Grace loading them up with berries.

I get to sample one of the pancakes while I’m involved with cooking the hash browns and bacon.

Unlike the rest of us weirdos that devour the pieces of breakfast as they become ready, Grace decides she would be more civilized and wait for her entire portion to be plated. I think she was pleased with the outcome.

After breakfast Matt & Grace enjoy a little time together while looking out over the lake. Matt will come to believe our campsite is possibly the past site of maybe a cabin based on the terracing he sees in the rocks leading up to the firegrate area. I’m unsure about this since there’s no other evidence of a structure here in the past, but who knows?

A little while later the dishes are done and we’re starting to switch into fishing mode. We’d like to find at least another bass to augment the one still on the stringer, so we start getting the boats prepped to launch.

The general plan is to fish around the island we’re camped on. There’s a couple mounds poking up from the water across from our site and it looks like it could be interesting structure for fish. We spend the next couple hours going in a slow circle around our island. Evie and I both get fish on the line which subsequently are able to get off the hook.

When we’re across from our site Evie decides to try a different kind of bait so I set her up with a white jighead tipped with a black twisty tail. I drop it in to the water to demonstrate to her how to jig and immediately get a fish on. Poor thing, I really wanted her to catch the fish today and I caught it using her gear! My stringer is back at camp, though. Luckily Matt isn’t too far away and lends me his. Later he’d regret loaning me his stringer as in a little bit he’ll have a 20″ pike flopping around inside his boat….

A while later Evie gets bored with fishing and wants to head back to camp to continue picking berries. I’m OK with that too, especially since Matt & Grace have already headed in. Back ashore there’s now 3 fish to be filleted & Matt goes first breaking down his pike then me with my two bass.

Before long we have a very nice sized fry going on. Happy to say that we had so much fish that it replaced the dinner that was planned for that evening. Well, except for the Cheddar Bay biscuits. I didn’t carry the remainder of the shredded cheddar for the whole trip to not make them, dammit!

With dinner done and no future needs for the large pot, Evie goes off to pick more blueberries. Her exploring of the patch yesterday and earlier today revealed it to be never ending as it curled clockwise towards the North around the island. These berries were different than other ones we encountered on the trip. Other blues were small and the plants lowish to the ground. These berries were occasionally twice the size, nearly grocery store sized, and some of the plants were knee height. Also other plants earlier in the week would have a berry here and there, maybe two or three to a cluster. These plants were heavy with fruit and many were found in bunches of a half dozen or more per cluster. Every time I would turn and look a different direction I’d see a plant covered with fruit. Evie picked until nearly dark, occasionally with help from me or Matt or Grace. Ev decides that we’re going to bring her bounty home, so we seal up the pot with its lid & use the bucket that serves as the outer shell for the cook kit to keep the lid secure.

Everyone lingers around the campfire tonight as we pack up as best as we can for the night. There’s rain again in the forecast for overnight and it sounds like it might be a wet paddle out tomorrow. We’re maybe 4 miles from the landing and it’s a straight shot down the corridor. As long as there isn’t a terrible wind from the South or West we should be just fine.

One by one people head off to tents. First Evie then Grace, leaving me & Matt to sip our waning bourbon supply and watch the fire burn down. Then, Matt turns in and it’s only me & the fire left to contemplate the experience of the last week and the memories which I hope will remain long after I’ve left. This is a special place for me, the area we’ve come to refer to as Canoe Country or the Boundary Waters. For me, the closest thing to a holy shrine or site to which pilgrims travel from far lengths to pay their respects. I am one of those pilgrims – the wilderness is my church.

My heart and soul replenished, I douse the remains of the fire and hit the sack.

Lakes traveled: Lake Saganaga

Continue to Part 8

BWCA 2016 Part 6

Thursday, August 11, 2016

We don’t have far to travel today. Maybe 4-5 miles and most of it is on the water, the last two portages of the trip. I think it started raining again last night after I got into the tent, and no matter what we’ll be packing up at least slightly wet. Ah well.

The usual routine ensues. Me & Matt are up about 45 minutes before we get the girls up so we can have coffee and oatmeal done before they get out of the tents. Evie is doing a better job about waking up when I go to rouse her and not too much longer after I’ve gone to wake her up I can hear the sounds of her packing up in the tent.

Yesterday while we were out fishing we scoped out the surface of the island that we were fishing around & it looks like its covered in berries. If we’re able to break camp quickly enough we will stop there so at least Evie can get out and do some picking. Naturally, we’re done ‘quickly enough’ and after we’ve shoved off its a brief paddle over to the island and a rocky spot where its ok for Ev to get out. Even though she’s wearing the GoPro it’s not taking images & as a result only she will ever know just how teeming with blueberries the island was. While she was picking it gave me an opportunity to study the sky a little & I realized we were going to get rained on, so I had a chance to put on my rain coat. After she offered some of the fruits of her labors to the other canoe & got back in ours I had her don her raingear too.

It was a good thing, too. By the time we got to the Horsetail Rapids portage it had rained on us and it gave me a chance to check on the GoPro.

With the time lapse turned back on it was time to do the portage. On our first trip across we decided to do this portage in stages. Matt & I would take the canoes to the halfway mark where there seemed to be a natural pool between a couple sets of rapids and we’d take the gear all the way across to the end. Once all the gear is across we’ll float and walk the empty boats through the second riffle to the other side of the portage. The reason for this decision is this sloped granite face and generally treacherous when wet finish to the portage:

Our plan worked well, here I am guiding my canoe through the riffle. I’m curious how people going upstream would handle this portage…

Its maybe a 5-10 minute paddle from Horsetail Rapids to Sag Falls. The landing again was a sloped granite face, thankfully this one wasn’t so slippery. We make quick work of the portage and take a few minutes to take in the scenery.

I stop to take a burst shot of Matt & Grace in front of Sag Falls. After I get home, Google turns it into a pretty good animated gif:

And just like that we’re done with portages for the rest of the trip & we’re on our destination lake for the day’s travels. Now, on to the campsite search. We decided to pass on the two sites on the island right after the falls and spend the next hour slowly heading West towards Horseshoe Island and either find the sites we’re targeting occupied or we’re unable to locate the site. Ultimately we circle back some and end up taking the single site on the island between Horseshoe and the mainland. This would prove to be good for us as shortly after we land we discover that the island is a blueberry and raspberry hotspot!

It doesn’t take too long until we’ve got enough for tomorrow’s final layover pancake breakfast. The rest of the day is spent hanging out around camp. Evie fishes a little but the landing keeps eating hooks and jig heads but not before she’s managed to get a nice bass on the stringer. We eventually decide to leave the fish in the water for the night to try to add to it tomorrow during our final layover day.

I got to practice my tarp rigging skills and pitched my best tarp setup to date. Instead of a ridgeline rope I was able to throw the main line high over a branch and tied off to the center loop on the tarp, then stretched it out to nearby trees. It affords almost complete coverage for the fire pit and the best part is not having to duck at all underneath.

The rest of the evening is spent again drinking coffee & cocoa. This would have been the night we planned to stay up as late as possible for Perseids, however nature isn’t cooperating and instead its overcast. Darn. Matt & I drown our sorrows of not seeing stars in the bourbon, it helps.

Once we’re all in bed I manage to freak out Evie by hearing what turned out to be Matt in his tent, maybe rustling the ground cloth inside his tent. It sounded like something was maybe messing with our stuff around the fire pit and I rather rapidly and inexplicably opened the tent door to peer out with my headlamp. After seeing the expression on her face I apologized for scaring her and we talked about what it probably was, then got back to the business of going to sleep.

Lakes traveled: Maraboeuf Lake, Lake Saganaga

Continue to Part 7

BWCA 2016 Part 5

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Awakened by rumbles of thunder & the sound of rain hitting the tent about 1AM. I usually don’t mind sleeping when its raining or storming but the especially rough summer they’ve had up in this area has me spooked. I can’t get back to sleep so I write in my journal for the next hour or so before I realize my eyelids are getting droopy again.

Wake up again about 7AM. Today’s plan is somewhat of a repeat from a few days ago – layover, maybe do some fishing later. While I’m waiting for Matt to get up I survey my tarp rigging & the aftermath of last night’s rain on its pitch. I make some adjustments, and a good thing too because shortly after Matt gets up it starts raining for the next hour.

Breakfast takes its customary 3-4 hours to complete and today’s pancakes are augmented by the blueberries we picked yesterday afternoon. Evie seems to have taken a shining to being the pancake maker and Grace is pitching in by being the berry spreader. In the end its a good arrangement and they turn out some good cakes.

Apparently I didn’t take any photos later in the day, and the GoPro didn’t take a charge so we didn’t have it along for automated photo capturing. Here’s a couple other random shots from around camp.

The tarp setup:

Grace and her entirely too large raingear:

Our fishing target for the day, and island with an offshore hump that is reportedly good for eyes. We went out and fished around it a while, but lack of anchor plus South winds made it hard to effectively fish with the near constant need to correct the boat’s drift.

Eventually both boats decided to work the area in the bay to the South of the peninsula we were camped on, back towards the other two sites. I eventually hooked up with a small eater sized smallie, almost got another with a plastic worm rigged weedless back in the lilies but it didn’t work out. We met back up with Grace & Matt further up the bay and we all agreed it was time to head in. We’d have the fish as an appetizer for pizzas!

Back at camp the fish was quickly filleted and Matt & I disposed of the remains. The fish was delicious as ever and soon we were preparing our pizzas. I wish I had a photo of the pizzas on the grate because they turned out really awesome. I ended up trading with Grace, however – Right before they got taken off the fire I lifted hers to check doneness on the crust and it slipped off the spatula and ruined the topping. I gave her mine as a mea culpa for dropping her pizza. Ah well…

Coffee and cocoa were had, dishes got done. Tomorrow we’re paddling back almost all the way back to civilization. Our plan is to camp somewhere on Sag around the corridor so our exit on Saturday is easier.

Lakes traveled: Maraboeuf Lake

Continue to Part 6

BWCA 2016 Part 4

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

The first one up again today. I get right to work setting up the stove and heating up water in the pot for breakfast. Matt joins me a few minutes later and we enjoy a cup of coffee in the peace of the morning before we wake up the girls. Naturally, once they’re up and out of the tents the water’s gone cold so we need to heat up some more. No worries, though. We’ve got lots of fuel and its not like we’re punching a clock. Everyone goes about their business of getting fed then starts packing up camp. There’s still a wind coming from the S-SW, and for much of the day today it’ll be on our backs. The forecast calls for increasing chances of rain as the day goes on so I’m hoping we hit the water sooner than later.

Its about 8AM and we’re just about ready to leave. Evie wants to wear the GoPro today so all the shots are from her perspective in the bow. Not sure what I was talking to her about here, maybe I was telling her to be careful with the camera. Maybe it was instructions on what to do in the event of capsize, since we’ll have wind to contend with. Maybe I was just reminding her that I’d need to call on her for extra assistance in windy conditions. Who knows?

Anyhow, we’re on the water now & quickly come to the first portage. Evie usually goes ahead on the portages and takes over our day packs, paddles, and anything else small from our boat. She decided to do a little extra scouting on the far side of this portage from the top of the cliffs. From her perspective I wonder if we could have run the rapids versus taking the portage? I don’t regret taking the portage, I’ll always choose safety over risk when out canoeing. Especially when its my kids or someone else’s kids involved.

Like her dad, once Evie knows how to identify fruit she’s like a bloodhound. Apparently she found a little snack & I remember her bringing a couple to me.

This was a pretty muddy portage, albeit short. The put in on the far side of the rapids was right at the chute and only had room to load one canoe, so we got ours floated first and cleared out for Matt & Grace.

Once everyone was back in the canoes it was a short paddle to get to the Swamp Portage. The portage itself wasn’t much to write home about, except for several longish boardwalk sections.

In Granite Bay we came upon a group of 7 college age adults in 3 canoes waiting a good distance offshore for us to clear the portage. We approached & exchanged pleasantries. They were essentially doing the same route as us except in reverse. We swapped some intel about the areas where we had come from & some of the girls in their group seemed absolutely stoked to be included in our GoPro footage so here they are.

A few paddle strokes later we were at the Granite River portage, and there weren’t any photos from here it was so unremarkable. Well, except for this photo. Not sure what I was doing other than maybe adjusting the angle of the GoPro.

One portage left for the day! Evie decided in order to better see the map she needed to remove it from the clear map case I had it in.

I won’t post any photos of it, but the landing of the Gneiss Lake portage on the Granite River side is a little bouldery and technical. Evie lost her footing & ended up landing on her butt in the water. I laughed at the silliness of it, but she got mad at me for laughing at her misfortunes. Photographs of her in the water and/or me chuckling at her may or may not exist. Shhh…. they do. I met up with her later on the portage trail and talked to her about laughing at situations versus people, then I gave her a peace offering of some raspberries. She eventually forgave me.

The rest of the portage went smoothly. I guess no shots of it got captured by the GoPro & I must not have taken out my phone to get any, but I was awed by the destruction on the Gneiss side of the portage landing from recent windstorms. The portage itself was perfectly fine for using, but earlier in the summer some pretty massive pines had been taken down by winds. It would have sucked trying to go through this portage in the aftermath of the storm.

Once we were on Gneiss we were in campsite hunt mode. Our first target was the 5* campsite on the island, the only one in the area. From several hundred yards out I could tell it was occupied, and maybe only recently judging by the state of camp setup they were in. It was OK with me that we didn’t get the island, as all of us wanted to push a little farther towards the Devil’s Elbow area. At the northern part of Gneiss, where it turns West towards the Elbow we really encountered our first ‘issues’ with the wind because it narrows and channels the wind. Evie & I did OK but Matt & Grace got weathervaned at one point and had to swing around for a second attempt.

This next photo is right after we’ve passed through the narrows of the Devil’s Elbow. At its widest spot it is maybe 20′ across. Canada is the shore off my right shoulder and the USA is my left.

We battled the wind all the way across Maraboeuf and were rewarded with our desired site being available. On the map it looks like there are 3 sites all on the same bay & the reality of it is there are 2 sites on a bay and then around the northern side there’s a little bay that is covered by the campsite dot on the map. That’s where this site is located. The landing was a little tricky, we essentially had to land and unload one boat at a time, but we got it done.

Evie kept wearing the GoPro while we were setting up camp. This was a very intimate campsite… There was 1 really good tent pad and another that would have better suited a smaller tent than the 3 man I had for us. In the end some creative staking and bungee dealie bobs saved the day.

After tents were set up and our gear stowed inside Evie decided to wet a line.

There was some wood at the site however much of it was green or half dried smaller branches from trees that had been blown down earlier in the season. Matt & I took a paddle out to the rocky slope past our campsite to go harvest more cedar. Our efforts were rewarded very well and we even found a really awesome blueberry patch. Pancakes were on the menu for the morning so I declared that after we got back to camp from getting wood I’d go back out with the girls to get some berries. Less than an hour of picking yielded this:

Dinner got made, dehydrated beef stroganoff. It was eaten & declared yummy. We then decided to turn our attention to the fruits of our fishing ladies’ efforts from earlier – two smallies on the stringer and needing to be butchered. Evie was very curious about filleting the fish and only showed a little bit of concern for the fish themselves.

After we were done filleting them she went out with me to dispose of the remains. The fishes’ existences were still on her mind and we discussed the nature of things and said a word of thanks to the fish for giving themselves to us to help replenish our strength and nourishment. Back at camp, we set up an assembly line with Grace managing the breading of the pieces and me doing the frying. The fish was consumed in short order and declared very delicious. After everyone got used to the initial bite of Shore Lunch Cajun breading it was agreed it was a great product.

Before the sun completely set we were given a treat of a rainbow (don’t think it rained on us this day) and just nice, peaceful views of the lake from our campsite. We saw no one on the lake after we passed the island on Gneiss, it really felt like the lake was for us only and no one else.

Once it got completely dark the mosquitos came out. They weren’t too bad, about what I would consider average for August. Our site on Clove we didn’t see a single mosquito around, even on the latrine trail. Grace decided it was full bug protection time and busted out the head net. I got out the Ultrathon and smeared on a little lotion.

The weather radio is making it sound like rain is almost a certainty for tomorrow so we try to leave the fire pit as best staged for rain as we can. I’m happy to have my Guide Gear tarp along, I should have bought two of them when I did… such a good value for $20.

Lakes traveled: Clove Lake, Granite River, Gneiss Lake, Maraboeuf Lake

Continue to Part 5

BWCA 2016 Part 3

Monday, August 08, 2016

I’m the first one up today. Its funny how I can be at home and would sleep until noon if I could, but lately when I’m camping I find myself getting up around 6:30. At Philmont a few weeks ago we were regularly waking up at 4:30-5AM, so maybe there’s a little of that hanging around still. Regardless, this is a trend that would play out for the rest of the trip – myself and Matt would generally get up at least a half hour before the girls and get water hot for coffee/cocoa/oatmeal, etc. Once we’ve had a cup of coffee we would then rouse Evie & Grace and go about our plan for the day.

Today’s plan is nothing, except maybe for doing some fishing. The plan for our time in the wilderness is to travel, then layover a day. We’ll repeat this two more times before paddling out after a week spent in Canoe Country.

This is our first morning in, however, and right now the world is quiet and still with a thin layer of fog lifting off the lake in the morning sun.

On the way back to camp along the latrine trail I notice a neat looking fungus growing on a stump.

I spend a little time in the light of day figuring out how Evie got her line & my lighted bobber up in the tree and my efforts are rewarded with it popping loose and landing near me. Too bad I won’t have the use of the light for the rest of the week but happy to have the tackle back. I spend the next half an hour soaking in the quiet of the world around me and taking in the view of the lake as the fog playfully curled and lifted from its surface. Before long there’s a rustling sound behind me & a couple minutes later the sound of zippers announce Matt’s exit from his and Grace’s tent. Coffee is made and Matt begins to absorb his surroundings.

I get to work breaking down some of the firewood we harvested the evening before. It really is true that if one merely paddles down the shore a couple hundred yards there is nearly an unlimited supply of quality wood for burning. I’m sure its moreso true in the areas affected by the 1999 blowdown than other parts that were spared the various derechos and subsequent fires in recent history, but I’ve generally found it to be the case anywhere I’ve visited. This morning I’m using the Sven Saw to take a cedar trunk down to 12-18″ long sections so they can be batoned into burning pieces. Its amazing how twisty they get, when examining the grain on the logs to look for natural splits to use to my advantage. Later in the week when both girls learn how to process firewood this will be a valuable teaching point.

The girls are awakened and we go about making a layover breakfast. Today’s breakfast consists of scrambled eggs, bacon, and hash browns. Start to finish the whole process takes nearly 4 hours and during this happens the calm conditions from earlier has transformed into a constant 10-15mph wind from the South, piling the lake up onto our campsite. Evie wants to fish but soon discovers the futility of trying to cast into the wind and having your bait blown back to shore. She settles for hanging out under the tarp and reading one of the books she brought along. At some point we play a very long game of Uno using one of the canoes as a card table. The boat as a table worked out pretty well once we got it positioned, but we had to constantly be aware of the breeze and not let it take any cards away.

Midafternoon we decide to go out for a paddle and fish the rapids back by the portage into Clove.

The wind’s still blowing about the same and we discover that it looked worse from shore than it actually was out on the lake. Both boats make several passes at the rapids and come up empty handed. Evie gets bored and we pull off at a spot that looks almost like a landing and she goes off to explore the rapids. I hang out on shore and fish the rapids a little while longer but there’s no interest in whatever I’m casting. I decide to see if I can find some berries or firewood and see what Evie’s up to. After I find her by the rapids we decide to go further around the side away from the rapids where it looks like better berry habitat. Along the way we got to see several bits of evidence of nature’s power.

Our efforts are rewarded with finding a small patch of berries and after a half hour of picking we’ve got enough to go around.

Matt and Grace are looking for us now, wondering what happened to us. We return back to the boat and load up the berries and some firewood I grabbed. 5 minutes later we were back at camp and starting to think about that night’s dinner.

The fire gets relit, dinner is made. Soft shell tacos are served and they hit the spot. I should try to remember to toss some sauce packets into the kitchen supplies before my next trip.

The wind is still blowing and skies have gone from partly cloudy to overcast with occasional breaks of sky. The weather radio is calling for a chance of rain tonight and rain likely tomorrow. Evie discovers the constant South wind has caused a lot of foam to build up on our beach and everyone goes down to check it out.

We retreat back to the fire to hang out and enjoy each other’s company. Well, Evie stayed down by the beach a little while longer to take some more photos of the lake. She also got some pretty cool video of the foamy waves lapping up onto shore.

The girls hit the sack not too long after night has completely fallen. Matt and I stay up a bit longer hanging out by the fire. Tomorrow hopefully we will get to the 1st campsite in the final grouping of 3 on Maraboeuf.

Lakes traveled: Clove Lake

Continue to Part 4

BWCA 2016 Part 2

Sunday, August 07, 2016

We wake early & do a little packing up before heading over to the Lodge for breakfast. We walk in to the restaurant and are literally the first customers for breakfast. About an hour later we’re fed and headed back to the outfitter side of the road to get issued the boat, paddles, and PFDs for Matt & Grace. We decide to get a bait bucket and bring along some leeches, too.

Once we have all our gear portaged to GNO’s dock we start loading up the canoes and apply some sunscreen before one last photo of us before leaving civilization behind for the next week.

Its sunny & winds are calm, its wonderful to be paddling into canoe country again! Before too long we’re across Gunflint & entering Magnetic.

I don’t know who was at that last cabin on the island on Magnetic before officially entering the wilderness but they were absolutely blasting some 80s music for everyone to hear. We had a laugh about it and kept going. Before long we encountered the rapids ahead of Little Rock Falls that Mocha had told us about, and knew it was safe to run. So, after pausing for a couple minutes to scope them out and tell Evie what the plan was, we let the current pull us in.

A few seconds later we got spit out the other side & Matt and Grace followed.

Minutes later we approached Little Rock Falls & true to Sheryl’s advice the portage landing is practically at the precipice of the falls. I would hate to get sucked over them, especially with a boat full of gear!

This being our first portage of the trip, and 3/4 of our group’s first portage ever, we were a little slow and disorganized. It was alright though since there was only a husband/wife on a daytrip following us to the falls to take photos. I showed Matt & the girls to look for blueberries and about immediately everyone was rewarded with a treat.

All in all it took us 3 trips to completely portage our gear. By the end of the week we would have figured out a system to get us done in 2 trips.

I had learned of a blueberry hotspot via the forums while planning the trip, so I had a waypoint marked on my GPS. The tip paid off and after a short break to pick we were on our way towards the Blueberry Portage.

Approaching the Blueberry Portage we got a little turned around and ended up following the right channel into an opening, when we should have actually taken the left.

I’ll take the blame for misleading us on that one, I had the portage marked in the wrong spot on my GPS. A couple minutes of searching with no result had us paddling back out and around, where the portage landing became pretty apparent. This portage wasn’t terribly long but I’d say it was somewhat technical, especially on the Southern side where one has to descend 6′ in short time. I don’t think either of our canoes escaped getting banged on their sterns by this notch.

Once over and back on the water, the next portage wasn’t much more than a float away. The South side landing for this portage had seen some damage this summer from windstorms. The ‘new’ landing for this portage was pretty darn difficult to walk due to sloped granite and a surface that gets slippery when dampened by wetfooting shoes.

Matt decided to try out carrying two items on this portage. Here he is modeling for all of you:

Way off in the distance here I’m pointing at our desired campsite for the next two nights – the Northern site on Clove, the one with the sandy beach. Mocha at GNO had another customer group planning on Clove as well, and she suggested the West site to them as they were hoping to do lots of fishing. I think she might have also suggested that site to them because she knew we were hoping for this site. Anyhow, we couldn’t be for sure from the portage but it sure looked like it was open…. Only way to tell was to get there and find out. If it was taken, all the other sites on Clove were taken so then we’d have to decide between portaging to Larch or pressing on towards the Devil’s Elbow.

We paddled quickly up the lake and happily found the site unoccupied and perfectly sized for two tents. We got unloaded, set up camp, then relaxed some. The previous occupant of the site had left some welcome wood for us, but we decided to head out for more as we were going to need a nice supply for dinner plus breakfast in the morning.

No photos, but Evie jumped out to an early lead for fish caught. After dinner I set her up with a lit bobber, split shot, and a hook tipped with a leech. She caught 3 bass before getting the bobber caught up in a tree. Sadly, the bobber contained my only Thill LED and it would be long dead before any hope of getting the bobber back in the morning.

Lakes traveled: Gunflint Lake, Magnetic Lake, Pine River, Clove Lake

Continue to Part 3