Canoeing through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area has been on my bucket list for quite a while.
Colette did all of the research and logistics and Shelby flew into Duluth to join me for a weeklong adventure.
Putting in at Fall Lake entry point 24, pulling out 5 days later at Mudro Lake entry point 22. What could go wrong?
We should have known that this was a bit much when Colette’s brother who spent his career at Minnesota Fisheries paddling and fishing these waters raised his eyebrows and said "that’s ambitious"… Coming from a professional, that should have raised some questions!
It’s also amazing the amount of heavy ‘stuff’ (a cast-iron skillet AND a griddle???) that the outfitter provided us, since we had multiple portages where we would have to carry the canoe and our portage packs over land for some distance. Live and learn.
46.5 miles in 5 days is not a wise choice.
Shame on us for letting the outfitter suggest this route and the provisions!
Day one, an hour and one portage in, paddling in Newton Lake we get a freak hailstorm. All of the shoreline here is steep rock and trees, however we were able to pull under a small pine hanging over the water and hold onto a branch to keep ourselves in one spot until the storm passed over. Not the most stellar way to start the trip!
Camping in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area requires you to stay in a marked campsite to minimize impact on the wilderness area, so part of the trip planning is estimating daily trip lengths based around where you plan to camp.
There are limited permits available for entry into the BWCA to ensure that there are enough campsites, but you have to have backup plans as a potential site may already have campers occupying it.
Since there are many entry and exit points to the BWCA and many different itineraries, you can paddle all day through miles and miles of dense wilderness and towering rock without seeing another person.
This is the wilderness you picture when you picture wilderness.
There is no easy way out, you can’t call 911, and if something bad happened out here there’s a pretty good chance they won’t find your carcass.
Home Sweet Home
We quickly determined that 46.5 miles in 5 days really was dumb, as we paddled hard from morning until night, bone-tired by the time we setup our tent and huddled in our little shelter from the Minnesota Moosequitos. We did have one shorter day and paddled out to do some walleye fishing in the late afternoon. Minor success with 2 keepers, and Shelby did a wonderful job grilling them on the fire.
Late night pee runs are an exercise in run run run pee pee pee run run run. The mosquitos are something else.
The weather mostly cooperated after the initial hailstorm, with only a few gusty days where we had to strain against the current to make headway.
Fog Rolled In
It’s not a complete suckfest though.
Paddling through perfectly still lily pad-covered ponds with beavers swimming and diving around us. It’s entertaining to watch them smack the surface with their tail to warn other beavers as we paddled our way past them!
Watching a fisher cross our path as we were preparing a portage, an extremely rare sighting we were told.
The bald eagle swooping and doing an excellent job fishing right next to us in the lake.
Gorgeous still sunrises and the smell and sound of the campfire.
Native American pictographs high on the rock walls.
Fresh walleye fillets sizzling away.
The distinctive sound of a loon’s cry echoing across the water and off of the tall rock faces.
Good memories and good stories.
If I could go back and rewrite history, we would paddle in and have a campsite for a few days and then paddle back out. More time fishing and paddling aimlessly while enjoying the solitude of the backcountry. I’d bring mosquito-netted hammocks and books and relax for an afternoon.
Since I won’t be going back and I’m guessing that Shelby isn’t going to either, it’s good that we have the experience to remember anyway.
Good memories and good stories.
Tending the Fire
Our freshly-caught walleye fillets
Get Me Out Of Here
It really is wilderness out here