Wilderness Adventure – Day 2 Hiking

Hooker Lake – Just out from the yurt

Friday morning, June 18, dawns with the sun shining brightly throwing rays of daylight through our clear dome on the yurt. Last evening in the light of the ½ moon, the dome threw out the impression of being a round bubble with domes extending down as well as up. We peer at it intently in the morning light. No, it only extends up. I wonder what gives it that illusion.

Our plan is to launch the canoe onto Hooker Lake this morning and tootle around. But I am extremely anxious and struggling with our plan. The lake is a dying lake; it is not very big, and it is shallow. One can see the algae and lake grass growing just below the surface across most of the lake.

“Don’t try to swim in it,” voiced our proprietor, “or you could get stuck in the mud.”

When asked about moose using this lake, she responded, “If a moose goes in there, he won’t come out.” To this she added, “But it’s fine to canoe in.”

By now, I am doubtful about the “fine to canoe in” part of that statement and I am totally freaked out about even trying to canoe. I can see us getting stuck in the mud and disappearing forever. One such experience occurred for us on a prior BWCA trip and probably has scarred me forever. It was a year in which the water was low, leaving many of the portages with receding landing areas. As we approached this one particular portage, the water had receded approximately 100 feet from it’s original, leaving an extremely muddy landing. Previous travelers had placed a series of tree trunks through the mud out to the water to hop out upon. We came in further to the right with the idea of getting our canoe as close as possible to shore and then dragging it over the rest of the wet muddy spot. This technique resulted in us becoming hopelessly mired in sucking mud. There was only one choice. Someone had to get out and make their way to dry land and that someone was me as I was in the front of the canoe. I took rope with me and jumped as far as I could. Of course, that was when I could still jump. Down into the mud I sank to a level above my knees. I knew I had to keep the momentum going or I was in real trouble. I pushed off with my right leg followed by the left, leaving my shoes in a miry grave. Fear of being sucked to China filled my soul and provided the energy for the onward plunge. Thirty seconds later, I was safely on dry land but covered in dark goo as high as my thighs.

An hour of exhausting pulling and slowly inching the canoe forward finally resulted in Kaitlyn being able to reach over the side of the stuck vessel and retrieve my shoes. Finally, the rest of my family was able to make their way safely to shore and we finished retrieving the canoe. Our daughter has never wanted to go BWCA canoeing again, and I now realize I have a permanent fear as a result.

An iris by the lake

Instead of canoeing this lake, we decide to go hiking. I have found a pamphlet titled, “Hiking On The Gunflint Trail Scenic Bypass.” There are twenty different hikes to choose from along the 56.6-mile Gunflint Trail from Grand Marias to the Canadian border. We decide to start on the Moose Viewing Trail. It is listed as “easy” in difficulty and is only a mile round trip. The path ascends at a thirty-degree angle. If this is easy, what is difficult? I guess it all depends on your perspective. Butterflies of various colors flitter around, and the way is bordered by little yellow flowers and white petaled ones backdropped by green leaves. A few stops are made for photographic opportunities and then we trudge onward. Soon we veer off onto a narrow trail that leads down to the viewing platform. The air is warm, but the wind is chilly here in the canopy of trees. One hundred yards through the pines is the perfect spot for moose to feed. A small pond is visible with cattails and lily pads scattered about. It is a tranquil scene, but no one has put out the moose today. Soon we make our way back to the car and plan for our next stop.

Daniel’s Lake looks like a good option for hiking as well. It is actually in the BWCAW and requires a permit. It is also listed as “easy” and is a 3.75-mile trip along an old railroad grade which was once used to acquire white pine lumber on Rose and Clearwater Lakes. This looks promising. We follow the directions without a problem down Clearwater Road to the West Bearskin Lake boat landing where the trail is supposed to begin. There is a self-permitting station to pick up a permit, but we can find no entrance or head to any trail. OK, this is frustrating. We drive several miles further on this road before we give up and turn around.

“How about Crab Lake Trail then?” mentions Dave, “It says it is ‘easy’ too. It’s eight miles to Crab Lake but we don’t have to go that far.”

It’s decided. We return to the Gunflint Trail and head north another eleven miles. “Turn right on the road to Loon Lake Lodge and drive .9 mile. The trail head is just past the lodge,” says the brochure. As we drive past the lodge, there is a small parking lot for “guests.” We assume that means lodge guests but no trailhead to be seen.

“Let’s go on just a little further,” Dave suggests.

Soon, I am creeping down a narrow rocky road. Still no trail head. We are having terrible luck today finding our targets.

“Water crossing ahead,” flashes the yellow sign on the side of the road. Ugh, I am not doing any water crossing. I think it is time to turn around. On this small one lane path, I do just that.

We decide to make one more attempt at finding another trail before throwing in the towel for today. Topper Lake Trail head is just four miles south from here on the Gunflint on our way back to the yurt. It is also listed as “easy” and only 1 ½ mile round trip to the lake and back. The directions actually lead us to a trailhead. Hurrah! Uphill we saunter for ten minutes until we are puffing mightily and then back down again. Finally, the lake comes into view. Ah, an actual BWCA lake. The sky has clouded over, and the wind causes one to shiver.

Topper Lake

“We are going to get wet before we get back,” announces Dave.

“I hope not.”

I look around for a couple of rocks to sit upon and hoist a flat rock into place to spread our picnic lunch upon. Tuna salad is mixed for sandwiches and some chips and trail mix are thrown in for our dining by the lake. Soon it is time to head back before we do get wet. A stop at the store for some ice on the return trip is in order. Thankfully, it never does rain on us.

We build a roaring fire in the fire pit at the yurt on our arrival to our home away from home. The smoke chases away the swarming mosquitos and allows us to treasure a few smores while listening to the repeating songs of the various birds.

Looking down into Hooker Lake

Chapter 3 BWCA Homeward Bound

Landing at Portage

Landing at Portage

Getting ready to portage

Getting ready to portage

We broke camp around 8:30 a.m. on our third day to head back to our cabin. The lake was mirror calm as we set out towards the first portage. We paddled lazily but mostly drifted along as we took in the beauty of this place. It had taken every ounce of our strength to get there but the solitude was worth it.

Hubby had begun to have back and shoulder pain when carrying the canoe so I offered to take on that task. I positioned myself under the canoe with the help of my mate and then balanced the 45 pounds upon my shoulders. That part was easy. The path was strewn with rocks and steep inclines, declines, and some man made steps. I walked slowly positioning my feet carefully and with deliberation. I have found that I no longer have the excellent balance and agility that I once had so I needed to tread carefully. As I began to breathe heavily, I talked to myself, “Just talk it one step at a time. Breathe in. Breathe out. Don’t panic.” I made it each time without any crashes. I think this is my philosophy for life as well. No need to worry about things. Just take them one step at a time. Take each step with planned purpose and with confidence and you will make it through life successfully with God’s help.

We arrived back in Ham Lake by 11:30 a.m. Hubby decided he wanted to try to take pictures of the water crashing over the rocks near the original portage into this lake. We pulled up parallel to the rock faced landing.

“Let’s just get out of the canoe and tie it up here while I take pictures,” said Hubby.

“Where is the rope? I asked. “I think it is in the bottom of the tent pack.” I had visions of rocking the canoe back and forth while we tried to shift ourselves to get into position to fish for the rope. After all, we are not exactly nimble anymore. All I could envision was us dumping all the gear and ourselves into the lake. “I think this is a really bad idea,” I expressed my conviction. “I think we should paddle to the campsite across the lake, take our stuff out, and come back with an empty canoe. Then if we dump, it is just us and we haven’t lost anything.”

Hubby did finally agree to my suggestion and we proceeded to paddle across the lake and dispense of our cargo before returning to exit the canoe successfully. We trekked up the portage looking for a place for hubby to set up his camera tripod. We could see why this portage had been abandoned. We found no good spot so returned to the portage entrance. Hubby decided to hop some rocks and set up his tripod more out in the river flow.

“Be careful,” I admonished. “The rocks are slippery and we are a long way from help.”

I decided to find a spot to lie down while I waited as photography is something my hubby can spend hours pursuing. I discovered that my life jacket spread out on the ground made an acceptable bed. Why didn’t I think of using these for pillows or in between-knee protection earlier? It worked quite well. As I laid relaxing on my self-styled bed, I devised a plan for how I would rescue my hubby when he slipped on the slippery rocks and fell in the churning river. I decided I would let him bob out into the lake (he did have a lifejacket on), row up to him in the canoe, throw him the rope, and they pull him to the shoreline campsite. Having made my plan for saving my life’s partner, I could then lay in the warm sunshine, daydreaming, almost dozing.

062 (3) 079 366 An hour later, Hubby returned without any mishap occurring and we paddled back to the campsite where we had left our stuff. Our lunch was enjoyed from the top of a very large rock and then, it was time to tackle those last two portages through the woods. We successfully traversed those portages out of Ham Lake. I, however, was seriously hot and sweaty by then. I made the mistake of turning up the sleeves of my long sleeved shirt for the last three hours of our journey. The mosquitoes took advantage of this new exposed flesh. They eagerly nibbled my wrists and ankles over forty times. I was ecstatic as we set our last packs down at the end of the last portage. We did it. Working together in life has made hubby and me a successful team.

As we paddled through the last section of lily pads and marsh grass to the BWCA exit landing point, I informed Hubby that I was going to leave the canoe and equipment at the bottom of the twelve steps which was the final hurdle at the BWCA exit landing. “The steps are too big for me to step up with the weight of the canoe. The outfitter can pick it up at the bottom.”

I got an instant comeback from Hubby, “Oh no. We are going to take the canoe up those steps. We are going to finish what we started. It is a matter of honor.”

“Well then, you go for it,” I retorted.

And he did. We finished well.

I sighed wearily as we stepped into our little cabin. How good it was to be back to the civilized world. I thought about how our forefathers spent their lives gathering firewood to make a fire, water to cook and wash, and hunted and fished to put food on the table. It took up most of their time and energy. I am certainly much more thankful for those comforts that we take for granted every day. I can turn on the faucet and clean water flows out. I can put dishes in a dishwasher, turn a knob and ta da, there are clean dishes. I can sink into my Serta mattress with its memory foam topper and sleep in luxury. How thankful I am for the blessings God gives us every day that none of us are necessarily entitled to.

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Into the Wilderness Chapter 2

139 215109                                     Chapter 2 Our Campsite

We camped along a beautiful pristine lake with only the sound of silence occasionally broken by the call of a loon, the lapping of waves on the rocks, a song from a bird, or the drone of a million mosquitos trying to carry us away. I love the solitude of God’s great creation with not another human anywhere around.

The campfire grill was perched on the top of a big, not very flat, rock but there was a nice flat area to set up our tent. Thankfully, we found some well-worn directions to guide our erection efforts. After everything was in its place, I went searching for the toilet or what I call the “throne on the hill.” I followed the worn path that led away from the campsite and up a very steep hill deep into the woods – just the place I want to go in the dark of night. The approved toilet in the BWCA is always an upturned plastic box with a hole in it, situated in the middle of the open woods. It is truly an outside toilet. There one sits amongst the trees to take care of business while the spiders occupy the inside of the pit and the mosquitos search for some tasty meals on fresh undeeted anatomy.

106      Cooking does take up a large portion of one’s day as the water has to be pumped from the lake through a micron filter for drinking and cooking or boiled for twenty minutes. My hubby did the cooking over a small, very small, propane gas stove. The rehydrated food that actually gets fully rehydrated is pretty tasty, the rest is chewy and rubbery. After supper, it was time to wash dishes – my job. This required another twenty minutes to boil a pot of water, followed by a trip deep into the woods to wash them so none of the dishwater ended up in the lake. It was quite a juggling act while swatting at my visitor friends, the mosquitos, every few seconds. Then, it was back to the campsite to store things away for the night under the canoe for bear protection. I wondered as I brushed my teeth if electric toothbrushes and shavers are considered motors and would be banned here.

170       There was a beautiful sunset as the sun sank below the western horizon. Finally, it was time for bed. Bed was a small self-inflating mattress covered by a sleeping bag in our tent. This did not look at all like my soft memory foam covered mattress at home. My body soon agreed with my mental assessment. There was no way for a fifty something body to get comfortable after our strenuous day of portaging and canoeing. Knees, hips, shoulders, and backs all protested. There were no pillows as they take up too much space for carrying into the wilderness. Hubby and I became resourceful and made pillows by stuffing all our remaining clothes into the sleeping bag covers – not perfect but workable.

147            Our night was punctuated by turning from side to side over and over. I constantly looked at my watch. “Is it morning yet?” I groaned. Everything hurt and there was no comfortable position. Finally at 5 am, my hubby was driven from his “bed” by the torture of our sleeping situation. Outside, the sky was beginning to lighten and the scene was a painting from God’s hand. The mist hung low over a mirror calm lake. Everything stood in awe of its creator. My hubby was in his glory too for the scene begged to be photographed.

We spent our morning paddling around Snipe Lake and then returned to our campsite for an afternoon of fishing by hubby and reading by me. We capped off the evening with a campfire as the sun sank below the horizon. Happy 60th Birthday Hubby!

Into The Wilderness – Are we too Old? Chapter 1 of 3

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Into The Wilderness – Are we too Old?  Chapter 1 of 3

My hubby’s wish for his 60th birthday was to make one more trip into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) of northern Minnesota before we were physically not able to pursue such strenuous activities. (I think we were a little delusional even now.)

The BWCA is a wilderness area of lakes, and forests, and rocks into which people go to seek out solitude and time away from society. The only means of transportation allowed is by canoe or on foot. Camping is allowed only in designated, first come, first serve camp sites. In addition, everything that is taken into the BWCA must be brought back out, including trash. Many of the lakes have rivers flowing into them that are unpassable by canoe so one often must portage, or get out of the canoe and carry all supplies to the next body of water, before getting back into the canoe. This can make for interesting challenges.

Our three day BWCA trip began on July 7. The outfitter we were using set us up with the food, tent, cooking utensils, and everything else needed except our clothes and personal items. One tries not to take more than one set of extra clothes and the minimum of everything else that one thinks they can’t live without. We still managed to end up with three large Duluth backpacks, a bag with camera equipment, and fishing gear. All of this needed to be packed along with two people into a fifteen foot aluminum canoe. We chose aluminum because we have a habit of crashing into the rocks at portages and didn’t want to worry about damaging a Kevlar canoe.

            We were taken to the launching area at the Cross Bay Entry point to the BWCA and soon were skimming though the lily pad laced marsh headed for our first portage. The challenges of portaging are many. First, one needs to find the portage entry as they are not marked and they don’t just jump out and say, “Here I am.” We were given a map by our outfitter of the lakes and rivers and established portage routes. I noticed as I stared at the map of the contour of the winding waterway attempting to determine where our first portage might be, little lettering in red at the bottom, “Map is not intended for navigational use and is not represented to be correct in every aspect.” Oh, that made me feel so much better. We did find our first portage hidden amongst the rocks and trees just off to the side of the rushing rocky river that makes its way into the transitional lake where we were headed. The second challenge of portaging is landing the canoe, usually on a rocky shoreline, without capsizing the canoe, dropping the packs in the water, or falling in oneself. I soon realized that our old knees do not bend as far or as quickly as they used to and we leaned towards being tipsy, like a drunk, even though we had not consumed any alcoholic beverages. A very heavy rain had fallen the night before so interspaced between the rocks was soupy mud. The first portage was about 800 feet long and traversed up several 16-20” steps before leveling out and trailing through randomly spaced rocks and trees. Over this, one must hoist and carry 40 – 50 pound packs and, at some point, the canoe. By the time we had each made two trips, my knees were protesting vigorously about the extra stress being placed on them.

Beaver Dams

Beaver Dams

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          Then it was time to launch the canoe again onto a very small but beautiful lake covered in lily pads of white and yellow flowers back-dropped by evergreen trees. We paddled for only a short distance before it was time to portage again. After a “shorter” 640 foot portage of equal strenuousness, we found ourselves in larger Ham Lake. There were four campsites on this lake, only one of which was occupied. But this lake is not actually part of the BWCA so motorized boats are allowed here. We were looking for peace and quiet so we tucked this knowledge away in our minds and decided to portage over one more lake to Cross Bay Lake before procuring a campsite. According to our map, the portage to Cross Bay Lake had been moved about 100 feet from the original due to problems with that portage. We noticed a group of 3 – 4 canoeists landing at the old portage. They, apparently, were unaware that the portage had been moved. We hurriedly unloaded, portaged, and reloaded because we wanted to get ahead of the other group in choosing a campsite. We could hear voices as we floated onto Cross Bay Lake and as we looked back towards the river, we could see the adventurists dragging their canoes upstream through the rocky rapids. That did not look like loads of fun. Apparently, there is a good reason why the old portage was abandoned.

There are only two campsites on Cross Bay Lake and we had high hopes of making claim on one of them. After paddling the full length of the lake, we were disappointed to discover that both of them were already occupied. We were so hoping to be able to camp on this lake and did not want to do another portage. But now, we needed to make a decision. Should we paddle back to Ham Lake and take one of those empty ones or portage again to Snipe Lake in the hopes that one of those four would be available? As we paddled toward the Snipe Lake portage, we met the “river canoe draggers.”

“Hello,” we casually greeted each other.

As we glided on by, my hubby said to me, “They are doing the same thing we are, looking for a campsite. Why didn’t you tell them that one was occupied too?”

Slyly, I replied, “I know they are doing the same thing that we are. But I want them to spend the time to find out for themselves so that we have a little more time to get ahead of them.”

I think my motives were suspect and maybe unkind, but I was getting very tired of portaging. Our original intent was to portage into the BW only one or two portages at the most. I didn’t know what one was supposed to do if he couldn’t find an open campsite.

We paddled through another lily pad-lined marsh towards where we believed the next portage was located. The lily pads became denser and the peat bog moved when we bumped into it. Our water channel narrowed down to about ten feet. Then, we passed a beaver house. As we rounded a bend, we spotted the opening to the portage in the distance. But our friends, the beavers, had been very busy creating an environment perfect for their own living arrangement. We were faced with two separate beaver dams across our path. This discovery brought back memories of our last trip to the BWCA and we knew how to deal with this situation. There was nothing else to do except run the canoe up the beaver dam as far as it could go until we were stuck. Then I hopped out on the narrow little dam and pulled the canoe up as high as it would go. There went my dry feet. Then I hopped back in and my hubby needed to get out of his end of the canoe so that it would tip back into the water. As we were struggling with this task, we heard the voices behind us. Oh no, our competition, “the river draggers” were behind us. But the beavers had actually done us a favor as our competition gave up in the face of the dams and left. “Yes!!” I was delighted. Just around the corner on Snipe Lake was an empty camping site which we promptly claimed. It was not marked on our map as a good one but we didn’t care. We were tired and ready to set up housekeeping.

Campsite

Campsite

View from campsite

View from campsite