Wednesday, September 22, 2010

BWCA 2010: Day 1

Boundary Waters Adventure with Eric Z., Jessica H., and Kate S.
August 9-13, 2010

Day 1 - on to Day 2

Let me begin by saying that the most hard-core, balls-out, badass mountain man I know is a five-foot-nothing female schoolteacher. More on that later. The trip started with an e-mail from Eric:
The downside to having an active girlfriend is that they want to do all sorts of 'crazy' activities. Generally this is fine, they leave for a week while biking around Lake Michigan. But sometimes they say "I want to do something together... with you..."
That being said, Jessica and her work buddy Kate want to do a Boundary Waters adventure in early August. So here are my (our) questions....
I'm not sure I would have sent such a message as this to a distribution list that included the lady in my life. Still, plans were made, Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness permits were arranged, and on Monday morning, I stood next to this mud puddle with Kate, who teaches with Jessica, who is dating Eric, whom I have known since we were four years old.

Inauspicious put-in on Wood Lake (47.96688 N, 91.59706 W)

My very first step toward loading the canoe led to my sinking ankle-deep into the mud. This was just as well, since it forced me to accept that trying to keep one's feet dry during a portage is futile. Yay wool socks, though. (It is best to wear boots and just get wet during portages rather than wear sandals or water shoes and risk twisting an ankle on uneven ground.)

Our fortunes improved considerably as we pushed and paddled away from the muddy put-in. Soon we were in the middle of Wood Lake, where we saw our first loons and beaver lodges. Before portaging to Hula Lake, we took a break on a rock which we named "Snack Island" to allow the party in front of us to complete their portage.
Snack Island (47.991130 N, 91.590820 W)

My journal entry from Monday evening, August 9:
Camp 1: Indiana Lake, north shore
48.01637 N, 91.59566 W (WGS84), 1332' elevation.
Wx: sunny, high 85ish, calm/slight breeze

Put in at Wood Lake access point on Fernberg Rd east of Ely. 180 rod portage from parking lot to put-in - no easy start for us. I portaged one of the canoes. Yoke pretty comfortable, though shoulder muscles sore from arms reaching forward to balance canoe. Later carried Duluth pack with tumpline head stream. Not too bad. Put-in very muddy. Sank ankle deep in mud right away. Good initiation to BWCA - must accept that feet will get wet at every portage. I'm wearing old work boots with wool socks. Pretty comfortable, but they hold water for a long time. Stopped for a snack on a small rock island [GPS: Snack Is] before portage to Hula Lake. 40 rod portage. I portaged a canoe again. Fairly brief paddle through Hula Lake. Very hard - steep and rocky with several hills - 150 rod portage from Hula to Indiana Lake. Opted to go to Indiana versus Hoist Bay on Basswood Lake to avoid motorboat traffic and in hopes of getting a campsite earlier in the day. We ended up racing another group to grab the only open site on Indiana. We got a head start and they conceded gracefully. After all, it was they who declared that the race was on in the first place.
The portage from Hula to Indiana was rough, so I rested for a while on the far end before going back for a second trip (we had to make every portage twice to get the two canoes and all our stuff). I sat on a rock and filtered some water from the lake to make myself useful while I waited to stop panting. As I was filtering, Kate came down the trail and said "Jump in the boat - we're going to race to grab the campsite." I did as I was told; Kate and I threw whatever we had at the far end of the portage into one canoe and paddled off, leaving the other canoe and the rest of the gear for Eric and Jess. I felt a little dirty grabbing the campsite out from under this other party, but they declared that the race was on.
Campsite nice. Good view of lake, nice beach of cobblestone-sized or slightly larger rocks. Arrived maybe 2pm. Had late lunch of cheese, summer sausage, and crackers, then went fishing. Wet-waded right off campsite and casted parallel to shore. Started with #8 chartreuse Miss Prissy popper (used 5-6 wt. fly road with weight-forward floating line). Caught small smallmouth bass next to a downed tree on very first cast. Followed shortly by nice bluegill. Switched to larger chartreuse popper to attract bigger fish. Caught another smallish smallie, then caught really nice smallie. Great fun on light tackle (4x tippet). Jess took several pictures.

The smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu) is pretty much the greatest game fish in North America. Especially when they're biting. More generally, though, I'd have to say that the greatest game fish on whatever continent is the one that's currently being caught by me...which, at that time, was this fish. Yeah.

Around this time, Kate spotted some moose poop. Apparently moose are able to, um, produce both "pellets" and "pies." Mercifully, these were pellets. I hoped this would mean we might see a moose in the evening or morning, but it was not to be. Nonetheless, I dutifully submitted a moose sign report with GPS coordinates to the Moose in Minnesota project upon my return.

My journal entry continues:
Forgot to mention - hooked small smallie near downed tree; fish wrapped tippet around tree branches. While wading out to unwrap the line, saw big fish in water not more than 6' from my legs. Looked like big smallie. Took many pics with waterproof point-and-shoot camera. We'll see if any come out. Big fish was fearless - it just stared at me. Small fish had unhooked itself by the time I unwrapped the tippet.
This good-sized smallmouth bass looked at me with contempt.

Soon, it was time to think about dinner. Best to eat early and get everything cleaned up - and to secure the food bag against any nocturnal visitors - before dusk, when the bugs come out.
Per canoe trip tradition, had good meal at first camp. Jess & Kate made steak and red potatoes. Steak had been marinated and frozen the night before, then thawed in pack all day. Cooked on the Forest Service fire grate at the site. I started the fire with my Swedish firesteel and some lint. Made a few casts after dinner and caught a decent smallie.

Steak on the first night - it's all downhill from here.

Then it was time to bed down. Nothing to do after dusk except feed the mosquitoes.
Found two trees a good distance apart, so set up hammock with bug nut. Weather forecast clear overnight, so decided to try to sleep in hammock rather than in tent. Writing inside the hammock-bug fortress now. Observed very few bugs while paddling or portaging today; few in camp untili sunset. Darkness took full effect around 9pm, and bugs came out in force. I can hear swarms of mosquitoes outside my bug net.
Hammock with bug net deployed at Camp 1
Loon just called loudly. Kind of creepy in the dark. I'm a little nervous about being able to fall asleep with all the unfamiliar nighttime noises. Probably will put in earplugs to silence mosquitoes outside, anyway. 10pm now. I'm not super tired, surprisingly. Pretty seriously dark. Few stars visible due to tree cover and some clouds/haze/fog. Aside from skeeters and a few cicadas, the only noise is the occasional fish jumping. Too quiet. Mind plays tricks with every little noise. Hoping I can fall asleep and stay asleep through the night.
I fell asleep reasonably quickly. I woke up every few hours, but didn't have too much trouble falling asleep. Sleeping out in the hammock was a life-changing experience. I've never been so comfortable while camping. It was almost a religious experience. Amidst the wilderness sounds, I heard a "still, small voice" (1 Kings 19:12) - and the voice said, "Dude, nice hammock." AMEN.

Sadly, in the morning, I discovered a chink in my hammock armor: my left elbow had been pressed against the bug net during the night, and the skeeters were able to feast upon it. Oops. I made a note to use a stick to ensure that the bug net was fully spread away from my body next time. Still, I regret nothing.

My left elbow was the local Old Country Buffet for winged bloodsuckers.

Throughout the first day of the trip, the four of us had been jokingly keeping track of Mountain Man Points, which could be earned by fitting deeds such as mighty canoe portaging, brave acts of water filtering, and wrestling bears while eating beef jerky. Kate was quieter than the rest of us as we reveled in our wilderness communion and rapidly deteriorating odors. I don't know her well, so I figured she was just being shy. Well, it turns out that Kate, who is from St. Paul, Minnesota, spent many summers canoeing and camping on increasingly adventurous trips with the St. Paul YMCA. Eventually, in college, she canoed and portaged 500 miles across the Canadian territory of Nunavut, from Kasba Lake on the border with Manitoba, to Hudson Bay. When we heard that, we just gave up on keeping track of Mountain Man Points - no way we could compete with that. Even Eric's extensive canoe-camping and backpacking experience and Jessica's insane bike trips seem less impressive by comparison. Kate didn't rub it in our faces, though. That's not how she rolls.

And so Monday came and went. Though the trip was only a day old, I could say one thing with confidence: this was better than going to work.

Early evening on Indiana Lake

On to Day 2...


Anonymous said...

Nice report. You should share it on the Boundary Waters board too:

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.