A couple of weeks ago, my friend Ben and I, set out on a Great Adventure to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA)! This is an annual trip for us. Usually there are three of us, but our buddy Brian couldn't make it this year. Sadness. He went to Europe for 3 weeks instead. I guess I would make that choice too! We had a great time, but missed him. I actually journaled while there, so here is a daily account of our adventure!!! I hope you enjoy...
DAY 1...TUESDAY, AUGUST 15, 2017
Ben arrived at my place on Monday evening. After going through our gear, for the week, we went to Bear and Bottle for a quick dinner and back to my house for a sauna (this has become tradition before we leave) and a movie. Early bedtime since we would be getting up and on the road early.
Tuesday morning we hit the road at about 8:15a.m. We made a few stops, the Hyvee for booze for the week, and a quick breakfast at the usual McDonalds in Dane. After the stops we started the over 8 hour drive to our outfitter, Tuscarora, at the end of the Gunflint Trail outside of Grand Marais, MN. A long drive to Superior and a stop for lunch, then back on the road to Grand Marais. We stopped in town for a bit and did some last minute shopping and had a beer on a rooftop deck overlooking Lake Superior. After a couple of hours in town, we drove another hour on the Gunflint Trail to Tuscarora. The office was closed when we arrived, around 8:00p.m., but they left a sign up for our bunkhouse. We loaded our gear in the bunkhouse for the night and drove back down the Gunflint Trail to the Gunflint Lodge for dinner and some drinks. That last dinner before heading out into the wilderness always tastes so good. After dinner, we made our way back to Tuscarora. Organized a bit more, then about 10:00 went to bed for another early rise the next day.
DAY 2...WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 16, 2017
Time to head out!!! Exciting and nervous day. Exciting for the adventure that awaited, also some nervousness for the same reason. We woke up at about 6:00a.m. and did some final packing and went for breakfast of french toast at 7:00 at the dining hall. After breakfast we went to the office to watch the required BWCA regulations video (boring, but I understand necessary) and met with Andy (the owner of the outfitter) to go over our food and gear packs and to talk about our route. He's lived up there his whole life so it's great to get suggestions for campsites and things to see. After some time talking we went back to our bunkhouse and did a final gear pack up. One of the guys who works there, Nate, came and picked us up at our bunkhouse and we loaded the gear and canoe and left for about a 20 minute drive to Saganaga Lake, which would be our entry point. A little bit about Nate. He's such a cool guy! He was working at Tuscarora for the summer and just got his first teaching job! What a great way to spend your summer. It was great to talk with him on the drive. We decided to have a tow to American Point and back. This would save us hours, maybe even a whole day, of paddling. Saganaga is a huge lake and motors are allowed on some of it. Anything West of American Point, no motors allowed. So we loaded the gear and canoe on a motor boat and shuttled to American Point. We unloaded our gear and Nate left us. We moved across the point, got the canoe in the water and loaded it up. Time to head out! Our final destination would be Cherry Lake. We paddled down Saganaga Lake and had to check our bearings a couple of times. I was steering and my map reading skills were not the best this day. Not a good combo. After a couple wrong turns (there would be a few this day) we were on the right track and came to our first portage into Swamp Lake. It was a 5 rod portage, about 80 feet. So we basically unloaded most of the gear and carried the canoe over together. Easiest and shortest portage of the day. We paddled across Swamp Lake to our next portage and met a guy traveling solo. Had a little small talk with him and waited for him to complete the portage. This portage is called Monument Portage. It has 3 monuments on it marking the Canadian and US border. One side of the monument and you're in Canada, the other you're in the US. The trail was in excellent shape and would prove to be the easiest of the "longer" portages of the day. The portage goes from Swamp Lake into Ottertrack Lake. An 80 rod portage. We had to double portage every portage. Meaning, either Ben or I would take the canoe and a lighter pack over, and the other would take hand carried items and our heavier packs. Then we would both have to go back to the beginning and grab the last 2 packs to complete every portage. So really the portages tripled in length, so this one was actually 240 rods, just under a mile. Anyway, we made this portage happen and we were on Ottertrack Lake for a short time until we came to our next portage in to Esther Lake. Another 80 rod portage one way. This trail was higher in elevation and muddy. Much more difficult than the first two portages. I carried the canoe on Monument Portage so Ben carried it this time. I felt bad that I got the easiest of portages all day, but it turned out that way. After this difficult portage we were on Esther Lake. We paddled down Esther and were able to paddle into Hansen Lake. Around the middle of Hansen Lake, we found our last portage of the day into Cherry Lake, where we would make our home for 4 nights. It was around 4:30 when we started this portage and it was the worst of the day. 110 rods, pretty much straight up, then straight down with rocks and mud. Ben carried the canoe again, I was so thankful for that. I was spent by this time. We had two options for campsites on Cherry Lake. If neither were available we would've either had to backtrack to Esther (that same horrible portage) or a smaller 45 rod portage to Topaz Lake. The weather was starting to turn for the worse so we moved pretty fast as it was also after 5:00, sundown at 8:00. We came to the first site and it was open. Phew. I checked it out and it wasn't my favorite. The tent site was pretty far from the fire grate area. The view was amazing though. So we left Ben's bag there and paddled down to the other campsite which was open as well. I personally liked it better and I think Ben reluctantly agreed, but it was starting to rain and we were tired so he went with it. We paddled back down to the first campsite, picked up Ben's bag and headed back to our home. We quickly set up the tent and put our bedding and clothes in so they wouldn't get wet, and set up the tarp. I was showing Ben how the center pole worked and it poked through the tarp. Of course. Ben had some great tape and he basically fixed it. Good enough since it was raining. We got our gear under the tarp, unpacked a bit more and made dinner of cheese and sausage bagels. After dinner and dishes, we hung the food pack on the bear rope. There were reports of problem bears in this area so we always had to hang the food at night and take it with us when we left camp. We had some whiskey before heading to bed. We were both pretty tired from the 7 hour, 15 miles of paddling and double portaging so it was good to get in the tent and crash. I bought a Goal Zero solar charger for the trip and it came with a little fan. What a luxury to have that noise and airflow to go to sleep to! Sleep time...
DAY 3...THURSDAY, AUGUST 17, 2017
Last night it rained so heavily and it didn't let up all night and into this morning. Finally, around 10:30a.m. it let up a bit, so we got up and made some coffee and hung out under the tarp. This is where we would remain all day. We had whiskey, beef jerky, grilled cheese and soup for breakfast/lunch and played cribbage and drank whiskey all day. Nothing else to do since it was raining pretty heavily all day. We talked the day before about all the animals in the forest and their roles if it was a courtroom or meeting and discussed it further this day. We decided the Eagle would hold court, the chipmunks and squirrels would be the reporters since they are chattering all the time. The bears would be like the bailiffs, the fox and wolves would be the defense attorneys, the beavers are the prosecuting attorneys, and the loons are the police. We talked about a lot of things this day since the weather was bad and we were having a couple drinks. It was a good day despite the weather. Our camp is pretty awesome. We have a great canoe landing and cooking area around the fire grate. Our tent spot is right near the fire and tarp and a larger opening where the tarp lived. There are big granite "steps" leading down to the lake. Perfect for fishing from and getting into the water. Cherry Lake itself is a very cool lake. Smaller with enormous granite cliffs. It's really a beautiful lake. Later in the evening, the rain stopped so we were able to go out from the tarp. Ben took some photos and I did a little fishing before the sun went down. We made some dinner of mac and cheese with turkey hot dogs and ate under the tarp. Later, Ben built a fire with some wood we kept dry and we sat around the fire and maybe had a bit more whiskey. Went to bed.
DAY 4...FRIDAY, AUGUST 18, 2017
I woke up at around 9:00 this morning to sunshine and warm temperatures!! I pooped, then started some coffee. Ben got up a few minutes later and joined me for some coffee. Ben put our boots and some clothes in the sun to dry. At about 11:00 we had breakfast of bagels with sausage, eggs and cheese. It was magical!!! After breakfast and lounging around camp organizing some things we went out for some fishing and exploring of Cherry Lake. We went to the South of our campsite to the end of at the lake and found a bay with downed trees and threw our lines in. I used a green Johnson Silver Minnow and Ben was using a red and white one. After no bites, Ben changed it up to a gold Mepps spinner. He caught a bass!!! Ben has a bit of an aversion to fish, but he got it off the line himself and caught the first fish of the trip!! So proud of him!!! That was probably the highlight of the day. We floated around a point a bit more and ben changed back to the red and white and caught another bass!!! So cool that he was able to overcome his fears and handle the fish. We kept fishing until about 6:30 and came back to camp. I didn't catch anything. When we got back to camp it was beautiful light in the twilight hour before the sun was down. So, we spent a bunch of time taking photos, Ben did some time lapse of the clouds and lake. We took photos and hung out until about 8:30. Then it was dinner time of beef stroganoff with peas. Delicious. Ben made a fire and we had some whiskey and took photos of the stars. It was so fun to work on a photo project together. We both got some amazing photos of the stars with the firelight lighting the trees and some light painting with our headlamps. I've never seen so many stars and the milky way was so clear. So cool. We hung out at the fire for a bit and went to bed around 1:00a.m. I was super tired so I went to sleep and Ben stayed up for a bit writing. Lights out for an early start the next day...
DAY 5...SATURDAY, AUGUST 19, 2017
Ugh. Today I woke up at 6:00a.m. to see if there was fog on the lake for some photo opportunities. Nothing spectacular but I had horrible diarrhea this morning. Having diarrhea in the wilderness is not fun. I think I pooped 3 times before going back to bed and woke up again at 9:30. I woke Ben up and we got up to another sunny and warm day! Today was close to 80 degrees. We spent time ion the morning drinking coffee, talking about things, and our plans for the day. I still had diarrhea. We had breakfast around 10:30 of oatmeal and fruit leather and used the french press for more coffee. We did the dishes and then I took a swim and cleaned off a bit. Naked in nature!!! The best!!! Ben did some photos of me jumping and diving into the lake (swimsuit on, duh). But I had to have one more opportunity to go skinny dipping. So, while I was doing that, Ben was on the search for arrowheads and cool rocks at camp and setting up for another time lapse. I finally got dressed and we organized camp a bit. Ben then did some laundry and we hung out some more. By this time it was 2:00p.m. Our original plan was to go on a day trip to Lake Of The Clouds and do some exploring and fishing. But, since it was so late we both decided that it wasn't in the cards for the day so we decided to explore the North end of Cherry Lake. We wanted to get closer to the epic cliffs and do some fishing. We loaded up with the food pack and fishing and camera gear and made our way back to the first campsite. It was still open, so I dropped ben off on shore and he set up for a time lapse of the clouds against the amazing cliffs on Cherry Lake. After he was set, we spent some time fishing in a bay and saw some snails, a snake swimming across the water and went down the cliff shore to see the cliffs closer up and see a waterfall we passed on the way in. Lots of photos and fishing this afternoon. After fishing and exploring, we went back to shore and picked up Ben's camera gear and paddled around a bit more, taking photos and fishing. Nothing caught this day. We headed back to our camp about 5:30. The light was beautiful. I was writing in my journal and Ben washed some rocks that he found. All of a sudden Ben demand that I come to the lake right now! I stood up and saw what I thought was a human arm floating on the rocks by our granite steps. After a few seconds I realized that it was attached to the biggest snapping turtle I've ever seen! We both freaked out a bit, then scrambled to get some photos. We got some great photos of our friend we named Sam, The Snaggletooth Turtle. He was harmless, but big! I wrote in my journal a bit more and Ben took some sunset photos, washed some more rocks, and split some wood for the fire that night. He was finally about to sit down and relax and do some writing but the sunset photos keep on keeping him away from it. I had to take some photos too. Beautiful! I took some product photos of my Bedrock Sandals and Goal Zero and did then some sunset photos. He did a lot of chores when when we got back so I thought it was only fair that I make dinner this night while he hopefully relaxes. He didn't. He kept chopping wood and building a fire. I appreciate that since it's for my photos of camp tonight. This night's dinner is chicken and dumplings. It's really hard to make. So, I decided to make chicken and rice and green beans. Ben finally relaxed and did some writing for his Anniversary present to Kasha. I'm so glad he did. After dinner and dishes, we paddled across from our campsite to an island. I did some photos of our camp at night. Something I've wanted to do forever. So glad Ben helped out with this and hung out in the canoe while I was perched on a rock taking photos. He's the best. We got back to camp and Ben set up his camera for another time lapse. While that was happening, we made some s'mores. Ben got some awesome shots of the firelight lighting up the trees and satellites streaming across the sky. So cool. We are supposed to get up at sunrise tomorrow morning, but it was about 2:30a.m. when we went to bed so that's not really realistic. But, we both got some great photos this night and was so great to work on them together! Time for bed...long day tomorrow heading back to our exit point.
DAY 6...SUNDAY, AUGUST 20, 2017
Today we planned on getting up early for the sunrise. But last night we stayed up until 2:30 hanging around the fire, eating s'mores and taking photos. So, a later night meant that we slept in a bit until around 9:00a.m.. We dragged around camp a bit making breakfast and just avoiding packing up. Around noon we got our act together and packed up and were on the water at 1:11p.m. Good time to leave, but a bit later than we expected. We paddled South on Cherry Lake to our first portage into Topaz Lake. A 5 rod portage. We decided to paddle more this day and avoid the longer and more difficult portages. Once on Topaz Lake we paddled across to our 2nd portage of the day into Amoeber Lake, a 20 rod portage. It was a beautiful portage and spent some time looking for rocks and arrowheads at the portage end. It was kind of a long day and we got moving after an hour or two and got to our 3rd portage into Knife Lake. A small 5 rod portage. We stopped and had lunch and looked for more arrowheads and rocks here. After the break we paddled down Knife Lake and came to our 4th portage a small 5 rod portage into Ottertrack Lake. It was getting late so we thought about stopping at Ottertrack and making camp for 2 days, but decided to press on into Saganaga Lake to get closer to our exit point on Tuesday. We made it to our 5th portage into Swamp Lake. Monument Portage again, 80 rod portage. A straight paddle across Swamp Lake and we came to our 6th and final portage of the day into Saganaga Lake. By this time it was around 7:30-7:45. The sun goes down at 8:00 so we were getting a bit nervous about finding a campsite on the American side of the lake. There was a campsite right by the small 5 rod portage into Saganaga, but it was taken. Bad news. We paddled on and came to the next recommended campsite and it was open. This would be home for a couple days. Good news since it was getting dark and we were getting really nervous! We set up camp with the bear rope first, then the tent and our personal gear. Ben made a fire and I cooked dinner. We had some whiskey to calm down from the rough day and sat by the fire until about 11:00. Went to bed. Ben read for a while and I went to sleep. It was a quiet night. But we were on Saganaga, about 30 minutes from our exit point and feeling good about that.
DAY 7...MONDAY, AUGUST 21, 2017
Today we slept in until about 10:00. Spirits seemed to be good! Had some coffee and got the food pack off the bear rope and had some breakfast of granola and french press coffee. We decided to fish from our campsite this morning. I caught my first fish of the trip!! A tiny northern. Ben was getting his camera gear to take a photo and the knot on my line came undone and he got away. Thankfully he left the lure right at shore so I didn't lose that. But, no photo of the only fish I got. Bummer. It was super cloudy today. We were so excited to be in the BWCA for the eclipse, but it really wasn't able to be seen. It got a bit darker, but that was about it. Later in the day we decided to go out fishing. As soon as we got in the canoe it started raining. That didn't stop us! We are die hards! We went fishing around a couple of weed beds and points. Ben caught another fish! 4 total for him this trip! A little northern. I didn't catch anything so it was a bit disappointing, but the trip was great. It was getting cold and it was raining hard so we headed back to camp. We sought shelter in the tent and Ben read some while I caught up on my journal. Ben fell asleep and then I laid down and took a nap too. I think we finally got out of the tent at 8:00 and made a quick dinner of Louisiana Red Beans and Rice with Keilbasa. So good! Lemon pudding for dessert. We hung out by a smoldering fire for a bit and after dishes decided to go to bed to get up early for our exit paddle the next day. We played 3 games of Mancala. Ben beat me 2 out of the 3. It's such a fun game though. Then lights out for an early wake up.
DAY 8...TUESDAY, AUGUST 22, 2017
This morning we got up at 6:30, made some coffee and had some breakfast of bagels with cream cheese and beef sticks. After avoiding the inevitable we started packing up camp so we wouldn't be late for our pickup at American Point. We packed up and loaded the canoe and we were off. It was a sunnier day, but the winds were strong. Saganaga Lake is a very big lake and we had to paddle about a mile or two to get to American Point. We stayed close to the shore since the waves were about 1.5-2 feet high. Kind of dangerous. We probably should've had our life vests on. I think about that now. At the time it didn't cross my mind. We made it to American Point about 5 minutes late, but our tow was waiting. We were picked up by John, Andy's uncle. He's a very interesting guy. He said he would've waited about 1.5 hours for us. Then come back the next day if we didn't show on the first day. Then after 2 days, they would call out a search for us. So glad we were only about 5 minutes late!!! We got loaded into the tow boat and headed for the dock. It was a rough ride back. Then, we loaded up the Suburban with our gear and John loaded the canoe and made our way back to Tuscarora. John had all kinds of stories to tell us about Ada and Andy and life on the Gunflint Trail and in Grand Marais. So interesting to hear. We got back to Tuscarora and unloaded our gear and organized it and got it loaded in the car. Then a shower!!! Felt so good to get clean after 7 days!!! We went back to the office and talked a bit with Andy and Ada then we hit the road for home. We stopped at our usual spot of the Windigo Lodge, but it was closed. So we stopped at another bar on the Gunflint Trail and had burgers and beers. Next stop Grand Marais. We stopped and did a bit more shopping and had a beer at the local brewery, and back on the road for home. Stopped in Superior for our usual Culver's dinner and made the long trek back to my place. We got to my house about 10:30 and unloaded our gear. We walked to the Tip Top Tavern for a couple end of night beers and headed back home for bed. Ben had to leave earlier rather than later the next day. Kevin (my cat) was crazy. I tried to have some quality time with him at the end of the night but he was too crazy so I went to bed.
DAY 9...WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 23, 2017
Slept in until about 9:00. So tired and drained from the trip. Ben and I got up and went to Ogden's for breakfast. Back to my place and Ben was packed up and ready to go at about 11:00. After he left, I dug in and set up the tent, and cleaned off the tent tarp, groundcloth, the regular tarp and all my gear that I brought. Finally about 1:00 I was done with that and took a nap. At about 3:30 I packed up all the clean gear, did some laundry and crashed in front of the TV. It's so sad to be back from the wilderness. But, I look back on my time there and it was such a fun trip. We got photo projects done and had some super fun times! I love this trip. I will do it next year. Until then, the next great adventure is in October to the Dominican Republic! BWCA will ALWAYS hold a special place in my heart from childhood and continuing trips with friends in adulthood. Such a special place.