Canoeing the Boundary Waters

From Boundary Waters

Calm between storms

The Wilderness is Alive, and Teeming with Mosquitoes
I bolted upright in my sleeping bag. Beside me, Jeff murmured groggily, “What’s up?” I grunted in reply. Those dratted mosquitoes! Unable to attack us within the safe confines of our tent, they hovered patiently on the tent, creating an annoying and incessant humming in my ear. Irritably, I flicked the tent netting. The mosquitoes within reach of my fingers bounced off the netting and onto the fly sheet, looking momentarily stunned. Then they resumed their humming again.

At last, I gave up and drifted back off to sleep, when, all of a sudden, a loud crash jolted us both upright again. “Is it a bear???” Jeff asked, eyes and mouth wide in the dim light. It was already 930pm, and the skies were an indigo blue outside. “What do we do?” I was sort of curious to see a bear ambling around our campsite, but was terrified by the ready onslaught of mosquitoes. “Eh, no idea… could be a tree or something. Or maybe the weight of the food bag we had tied to the upper branches of a tree was too heavy and broke the branch. I’ll check later, after the mosquitoes are gone and when I have to get up to pee anyway.”

You would think that in the wilderness, it’s really quiet and peaceful. But the forest is alive. If it wasn’t the buzzing of the mosquitoes, it was some unknown creature making its nocturnal visit loudly known. Or the roar of the winds over the tree tops. Or the steady pitter patter of rain drumming against our tent. In the early morning, overly gay chirping of birds woke us up.

From Boundary Waters

Dipping my fingers into the brisk water

From Boundary Waters

Early morning mist cling to the surface of the water

At the mercy of Mother Nature
We awoke on Sunday to strong and warm beams of sunlight. It was still partly cloudy, but the dark, ominous clouds that had shadowed and threatened our journey the day before had dissipated, for the time being at least. Our spirits were high. We didn’t have to boil water, eat, with a watchful eye on the clouds, running for cover as soon as we saw the wind push rain across the lake towards us, and running back out to finish our meal in between the downpours. Which was what we had to do in order to get a proper meal in the day before. And our cold and sodden clothes would have a chance to dry off.

Unencumbered by the weight of our backpacks and camp gear weighing us down, the portages we had to make to get from our base camp to Lake Gabro was much faster and more efficient. Within the hour, we were floating in the calm waters of the lake, eyes peering at the edges of tall grassy banks, trying to spot a moose. No luck. Maybe it’s a little too early in the season for them still. Nonetheless, it was very serene. We passed by the occasional canoe, the paddlers having set aside their paddles and were wielding fishing rods instead. “We’ve caught all kinds of fish!” one of them called out in response to our hellos and friendly questions. Presently, our stomaches growled and happily, we found a rocky little island on which we beached. I boiled some water and we munched on apple sauce and beef jerky while waiting for the hot water to rehydrate our sweet and sour pork with rice (very, very tasty!).

From Boundary Waters

The rest of the day was spent in a pleasant and relaxed half stupor. After paddling around for another couple hours, we headed back to camp and spread everything out to dry in the sun. We also kicked back and relaxed by the water’s edge, alternating reading and staring at rustling trees.

But the calm idyll was broken by Monday early morning. We awoke to dark grey clouds speeding directly overhead, and gusts of winds sending ripples and waves over the water and loudly whipping the top branches of the trees around. We packed up in haste, and after gulping down a rehydrated meal of ham, peppers and eggs, broke camp and pushed off.

Within minutes, the sky opened up. At first, the drops of water were light and ticklish against our mosquito-bitten skin, but they quickly built to a furious crescendo. We pulled our hats down low and paddled hard, aiming for our first portage, pulling out of the water just as a flash of lightning lit up the sky and thunder clapped in the near distance. Luckily, the climax of the storm was intense but short lived. By the time we lugged our canoe and gear across the portage trail, the rain had lessened to a slow but lighter steady beat.

We pushed steadily north-westwards. Even though our shoulder muscles were screaming in protest, we kept on. For one thing, the winds were much too strong. The moment I stopped steering, our boat was whipped sideways, parallel to the slapping waves that threatened to crash into the boat. For another, it was cold, not quite 50 degrees F (10 degrees C), and we were completely soaked. Keeping moving kept us warm. Thankfully at least, for most of the time, the winds was at our backs, and pushed us along. I would have hated to have to fight the gusts every step of the 7-8 mile journey back.

It’s kind of ironic that, after having successfully navigated us through winding and forking rivers and small lakes and half hidden land trails, I was a little disoriented when we at last entered Farm Lake. Where was our exit point? The lake looked impossibly huge to traverse, and by then, I was quite ready to get out of the water and into a hot shower. We bumped into a group of canoeists who said they had also rented from the same outfitter, and so, without asking more questions, we decided to tag along. Only to find that they were beaching at another access point. Eventually though, we found the Timber Trail Lodge, where we had parked our car. Standing under warm rushing water rarely felt so good.

From Boundary Waters

Double portaging – we had to make two separate trips to lug all our gear and the canoe across land each time

Our Route

Our entry point was the popular Lake One (#30), where up to 18 permits are issued per day. In contrast, Farm Lake, where we exited, only has 3 permits issued per day. Most people who enter Lake One go on to explore Lake Two and Lake Four, and it makes for a nice short trip like ours. Wanting a more isolated experience, we opted to go west down the Kawishiwi River. There were more portages on the latter route, but it also offered access to Lake Gabro, where our outfitter, the Boundary Waters Outfitters, told us had more moose sightings. Not that we saw any. Didn’t see much wildlife except for the birds (and we heard a few woodpeckers persistently pecking away until dusk), and hordes of loathed mosquitoes.


One thought on “Canoeing the Boundary Waters

  1. Pingback: Long weekend in « grapeful

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