Countdown to the BWCA ~ The Trip

TRIP LOG: Submitted by Lindsey Altermatt, July 2015

Our first trip into the BWCA was kind of like becoming a first time parent. You can do tons of research and get loads of advice but until you actually experience it – you have no idea what you’re doing! I was humbled many times out there – but that too is good for a person! The lessons learned: First: I loved the immediacy of everything. You didn’t think about three days from now, or next month – but what did you have to do in the next five minutes. For an event planner – who is always planning a year or more in advance this was a much needed break for my tired brain!

Second: I love solitude and peace and quiet! – I had no idea I was such an introvert until you put a super talkative person in the BWCA for a week with a husband who is very introverted! I actually loved it! 

Third: You can plan for this life – and have the perfect idea of what and how things will go – but then something changes and you have a new life (that is – my life after my Dad’s unexpected passing last year) – and to realize that though its not what you planned , the new life – or adventure can be beautiful too! (How our trip actually played out).

Friday May 15, 2015
Unless you’ve been sleeping under a rock  you will know that I have been planning our first trip into the BWCAW (Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness) or BWCA – or even B-Dub as some call it. Friday May 15th finally appeared in sight, and the countdown on my phone finally switched from numbers to “BWCAW TODAY”. By 10:30 a.m. the car was loaded, our gear was packed and we were headed to Ely, MN.

I knew again this trip would be awesome.

As we got closer the scenery changed with cathedral high pines and ridges that boomed up from the earth.

As we got onto Hwy 169 north of 53 my new favorite song “Stay Alive” came on and we pulled into Ely.

Our first stop was Canadian Waters Outfitters to purchase our 2013 Wenonah Boundary Waters Canoe and pick up our permit to enter the wilderness. Dan Waters is a class act guy so we knew that we were in great hands. After we got our canoe strapped to the roof we were headed for Spirit of the Wilderness outfitters on the other side of town to pick up our SPOT. We were all gung ho and were going to walk down there, but it seemed kind of far so we went back and got the car. Picked up an emergency map and a few more Cache Lake food treats, and Jason got some leeches. We were fully outfitted now, and I wanted to head out to the Echo trail to see where it was and get a look.

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As soon as we turned right on to the Echo Trail my heart sang, and my soul was touched. The sights were unlike anything I saw before – even though some of the scenery is similar to Voyagers National Park, or Lutsen MN, but this was different. Jason didn’t want to go to far so we headed back to Ely, and dropped Sadie off at the bunkhouse so we could get some dinner.

Dinner was beef tips in Teriyaki at the Ely Steakhouse, and a lovely glass of Malbec! Later we walked along the shops of Ely and stopped into Piragus to get Kirra some new rain pants since we couldn’t find hers at home.

It was hard to sleep that night, tossing and turning, tossing and turning thinking what lied ahead the next day on the trail to Beartrap Lake.

Saturday May 16, 2015
The alarm sounded at 4:45 a.m. and we woke up. We threw all of our stuff in the car, went to the bathroom in a flush toilet for the last time, and headed over to Brittons Cafe. Even though I didn’t really want Oatmeal for breakfast I was way too excited to eat a real meal, so we threw the food down the hatch and busted out of there ready to blaze our path into the wild. It was a quiet, still, and foggy morning with the sun peaking out and casting haunting spiritual light onto the road. The Echo trail was once again gorgeous, and once we turned onto the dirt road it was nothing short of enchanting.

After some time, the entry point appeared out of nowhere due to all of the fog, and sun in our eyes. It was a magical, quiet, beautiful moment.

We unloaded the car which took about 20 minutes or so to get situated. No one else was there so we parked in the middle of the road near the portage path. I brought Kirra to the vault toilet in the parking lot, parked the car, and then several more cars arrived including some folks I had seen in Brittons Cafe.

They unloaded their vehicles like it was their jobs, and I instantly felt like a novice.

Once we were ready to go I tried to get my pioneer pack on and almost fell over! I was offered help by a very nice gentleman, but politely declined knowing that they wouldn’t be near us to help me the whole time.

The first 30 rod portage to the river/creek that leads to Mudro was a breeze. Flat, wide and hardly any roots and rocks to contend with.

Finally we were off! There were a handful of submerged boulders that we worked hard to avoid and in the process we were passed by “Olympic Canoists” as though we were just drifting in the creek. But then again we have zero paddling/canoeing skills.

It was a nice and beautiful paddle through Mudro Lake and I knew right where we were going from my copious hours doing research over maps. It was difficult to determine where the portage path was but I knew that it was on the right hand side. Jason wondered if the rushing water was a waterfall and Kirra started freaking out so we pulled to the right shore while Jason & Kirra got out and scouted for the portage path. Just then we were passed by more “professionals” at the real portage so we went up there to an exceptionally rocky & tricky footing portage.

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Kirra got her feet all wet and was quite pouty about it, so we changed her shoes and sox.

We were all thankful to be back in the canoe but it was just a blip and through my research I knew the longer and steeper portage was upon us. This entrance was significantly easier to find. We were locked and loaded and decided to portage without our lifejackets on which was much more comfortable. We traversed the sometimes steep and rocky ridges and after about 1/4 mile or 80 rods we all took a break just off the portage path and downed a bunch of water. Jason left the canoe off the portage path, and we finished up the portage and waited for Jason when he went back for the canoe.

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Miss K got some girl scout cookies I had for her, and I was looking all around like a paranoid person because I was nervous about the wild life.

Jason came back in no time and it seemed laughable at the short distance of paddling before the next 10 rod portage. Thinking it would be an easy one, but boy was I mistaken! The rocks were like sheer ice and the portage into Fourtown was downright treacherous! I had no idea how we were going to get down this rock face. There wasn’t much footing and you basically had to jump to a very small landing below. After “rock climbing” and starting to load the canoe we were passed by more people. They had portaged a bit further down trail and their way seemed a lot easier with no rock climbing involved! We will definitely remember this for the way back!

After these three “tougher-than-we-thought” portages we decided our new destination would be Fairy Lake – 4 lakes short of our goal.

We got onto Fourtown which opened up into a much larger lake, blissfully reminding me of Lake Namakan in Voyagers National Park. We paddled towards Boot Lake and were passed by a flotilla of 3 canoes and were told that our daughter/dog looked pretty well behaved! (Why, thank you!)

 

The paddle to Boot was easy & it felt good to get my paddling arms. We came up to the portage near the brooke that drains from Boot to Fourtown. Finally no rockside boulders and a chance to stretch! After we got our composure a man appeared from the portage by himself. Our daughter was really interested that he was paddling all by himself. We made our way towards Boot on what was a very easy path and thought Jason was behind us, but it turned out to be the man I later found out was JJ from bwca.com! I moved over so he could get the rest of his stuff and waited for Jason over on Boot.

Boot lake was very nice. We passed a few sites that looked really good as we made our way up to Fairy.

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This portage was mostly good but was filled with chipmunks so our JRT was in heaven! Fairy lake was not too large, but not too small. Just right. This would be home until at least Monday or Tuesday after the rainy Sunday and cold Monday passed. I filled our Platypus Gravity Works filter up with water which had an orange tint. We scoped out the E. Campsite which JJ said would be free. It was very large and nice. After pulling everything up on shore, Kirra and I looked for the toilet and found it without too much work.

We got the tarp set up in preparation of tomorrows rain and got our tent on a nice level(ish) area near the lake.

We threw our fishing lines in, put on cooler clothes and waited.

Kirra caught a northern, but we threw it back to grow a bit bigger.

Dinner was steak, asparagus and sweet potato. It was so delicious, and we ate like we were starving.

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We got our food bag hung in a tree about 1/4 mile away from camp using the PCT method and got a fire going until about 10:30 where we climbed into bed to an orchestra of frogs.

My mummy sleeping bag was tight but really warm, and my Exped 7 was like a dream! The Tempurpedic of the north woods!

Happy would have been 45 year anniversary Mom & Dad!

Sunday May 17th
I woke up while it was still dark to something wondering around camp. I fully convinced myself it was a moose. Yes. I could hear its hoofs on the rocks. “Please don’t trample us, please don’t trample us.” I prayed to myself. Then SLAP – SPLASH – LOUD! Again – 2 or 3 more times! The moose must have jumped in the water! I laid there shaking in my sleeping bag praying to God to keep us save and keep the wolves away. After some time I began silently laughing to myself fully realizing that was a BEVER!!!! Not a moose.

I fell back to sleep until light to torrential rain and lightening! Man I had to pee, but I wasn’t getting out in this crap. Luckily my daughter was still sleeping.

After an hour or so the rain stopped, so we got out and went to get the food bag down, but had trouble. Pulling on the rope we ended up breaking the branch and it fell down on top of us, but we were all okay! We need a new hanging method!

Had oatmeal & coffee. It was very good.

Intermittent rain throughout the morning, then it stopped for a while, so we decided to head up to Gun Lake for a quick trip. The portage to Gun was easy to find, but it was super muddy and lots and lots of puddles! Very rocky at both landings! Once we passed the trees into Gun I was IN LOVE! The water was exceptionally clear with none of that orange tint, and had the feeling of home to me! This is what I was looking for!

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Gun is larger than fairy but absolutely beautiful. Yes! I definitely want to move here on Tuesday but we will see how things go!

It was very windy so there were rollers to contend with so I dropped to my knees to paddle, which gave instant stability.

Tried to fish in the narrows up into the barrel of the lake, but it was far too windy. We saw 3 canoes out fishing as well who obviously had anchors – probably the ones who passed us the day before. We gave a wave and they waved back.

I brought the Playtypus with and got super clean water.

We fished the bottom towards the portage and it was much better away from the wind. The rain started back not long after so we headed back to camp.

We had chili-Mac from Mountain House and it was wonderful! Having a fire was futile so it was a wonderful thing we brought the Biolite stove. That thing ROCKS!

We all headed to the tent to play Yahtzee, but we were so tired that we all fell asleep and napped until 5:30 p.m.

Sadie was NOT the typical Jack Russell Terrier and wanted to sleep the entire trip. K was also pooped out and had a nice long nap too.

We had Chicken Wild Rice Soup for dinner which was good, but way too much food for us, so we threw it on the fire. We discovered Sadies harness was causing a bad raw spot so we took it off and now Sadie is in a much better mood!

Our new hanging method is a breeze! Throw the rock/rope over a tree limb 6 feet away from the main trunk, tie the food bag on with a caribeener, and hoist it up 12 feet in the air and 4 feet from the branch and tie off on another tree. We don’t even remove the rope anymore – just hang up and lower the food! A pulley system would be nice for next time.

Over dinner we decided that if its not raining tomorrow we are going to abandon our origional plans of going further north and try to move to the east towards and into Horse Lake. I was a bit sad to leave the idea of Gun Lake, but know I will be back and can try for it next time! Got our boots and shoes dried on the fire before going to bed in preparation of tomorrows travel. No luck fishing today, not even a bite. Maybe we’re in a funky weather pattern?

We all laid out on a dry rock and stretched our sore muscles. After we got camp cleaned and put to rest it started sprinkling so we headed to the tent to play yahtzee. I won! Kirra colored and I wrote and read the spring 2014 issue of the BWJ before we closed our eyes and drifted to sleep to the sounds of planes overhead.

Monday May 18th
Woke up to freezing temperatures and pouring down rain! Finally got the courage to get out of our warm sleeping bags and get our rain gear on to go to the bathroom and get our food bag down and have breakfast. I guess we aren’t going anywhere today. After a breakfast of oatmeal, turkey sausage sticks, coffee & hot cocoa we charged up my iphone on our biolite stove! It worked pretty well.

After dishes and hanging the food bag etc we all headed right back to the tent to play yahtzee and get warm. We all slept until 3:30pm! It was still raining but again – I had to pee! Finally got the courage to go out and pee and realized that it was not raining but SNOWING out!!! It was actually kind of epic and made us feel super hardcore. Ate an early dinner and cussed I didn’t buy Kirra Bog boots. Whoever said that kids should just wear old tennis shoes never took a 7 year old on a trip where it rained and snowed the whole time. Despite wool sox her feet were constantly wet! I am DEFINITELY buying her Bog boots!

Dinner was light, but filling – Chicken Curry but was physically a heavy package so yay for a lighter pack! We tried fishing again but not even a bite. Spirits started getting a little low while trying to get our fire going. Fairy Lake is home to NO firewood to speak of! Contemplating packing up and getting a hotel, but today was supposed to be the worst of the days! We just have to get through today and then hopefully move to Horse Lake tomorrow!

We dried and warmed up by the fire after we finally got it going and my Bog boot started melting! Word to the wise – don’t get too close to the heat with them on! K and I headed to the tent where Sadie already was and got some new warm clothes on and hopped into our 5 degree sleeping bags to warm up while Jason finished drying our gear/clothes by the very smokey fire.

Our daughters patience for the BWCA was wearing thin and our patience for her lack of listening skills were also wearing thin!

Father God, Continue to keep us safe from all harm and please let this weather break up so we can move tomorrow!

Once Jason got back in the tent we played Pictionary to lift our spirits, read the map and the BWJ. We are hopeful!

We fell asleep to the hard cold wind.

Tuesday May 19
Slept in until 7:30 a.m. or so to clear and quiet skies! YAY!!! No more rain. Our canoe however was covered in snow where our daughter promptly decided to play in it thus getting wet hands again, but we are all hopeful we can move today!

We made the decision last night instead of portaging our crap all the way into Horse Lake we would stay on the east side of Fourtown.

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We bid farewell to Fairy Lake and got on the portage to Boot. It went pretty good. A few wet spots, but the paddle on Boot was beautiful! Sadie decided to fall/jump out of the canoe, but she had her life jacket on and Jason missed just one paddle stroke and scooped her up by her handle. The portage to Fourtown was a breeze! We single portaged both times. Saw two girls heading towards Boot and one was named Kirra also! My Kirra was pretty impressed that two girls were out by themselves! I told her once she turns 13-14 that maybe we can do a trip by ourselves!

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The first two sites on Fourtown directly out of Boot on the left were taken by what appeared to be boy scouts. The wind was blowing strong and there were lots of white caps. I had become a “professional” knee paddler so I felt ok with the waves. We got to the other side of Fourtown Lake straight across from Boot to start looking for a new site. The first few sites were okay but didn’t really ike them and decided to keep going south and saw another free site high up on some rocks. Paddled to the other side and I got out. It was okay, but still didn’t feel perfect.

The next site was taken, and finally tucked in on the way to Horse Lake was a beautiful site with a sandy beach to boot! Beautiful, multiple flat tent pads, and a new non-broken potty! (The one at Fairy had a screw loose).

 

Not as many nice trees for hanging but TONS of dry dry wood for a fire! The site was right on some rapids for nice white noise and was on an unmarked portage. We can see why some people rated this only 3 stars on bwca.com – but I think mostly because of the foot traffic, but we didn’t mind seeing other people.

We had mac and cheese for lunch and tons of it! We ate like ravishing kings! Mac & cheese is definitely a great mood builder!

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We tried fishing and again, no luck! Grrr. Fished the entire mini lake/pond between Fourtown & Horse. Came back to camp to make dinner – Mountain House – Beef Stroganoff and a Cache Lake Garlic Bread. Kirra said her stroganoff wasn’t good, and I told her to suck it up and eat it – until I took a bite… and then I said, um, Kirra – you don’t have to eat this! The bread was a little tricky so we ended up having pudding for dinner! Kirra thought that was great! Luckily we had so much mac and cheese at 3pm we weren’t that hungry anyways.

After dinner chores were done we got a nice roaring fire going and stayed up until the stars were in full swing. I laid out on the rocks and called it a star party. The song Oceans by Hillsong United were playing in my head as clear as day as if it were actually playing! Looking up at the skies I knew this was exactly where I was meant to be. I had never seen so many stars in my life due to the lack of moon.

Tonight – we go to sleep to an orchestra of loons, the rush of the rapids below, and the beaver fishing and slapping his tail.

Wednesday May 20
Time is flying! We woke up to a dolby surround sound of birds! The low rush of the rapids and grouse taking flight – puh – puh – puh – puh – puh. Thinking we might take out tomorrow instead of Friday.

Had a hearty breakfast of oatmeal and coffee and were greeted by our neighbors at the next site over – since of course we were on the portage. They were headed to Horse Lake to fish and gave us a Johnson SilverMinnow to try! We cleaned up camp and got on the lake with several people coming up behind us.

There is a small set of rapids but we couldn’t tell where the portage was – so we asked the guy and gal behind us and they said the portage was another block or so up and that they always run these rapids. We saw several more people run the rapids and get banged up a bit and one other couple took the unmarked portage like us.

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There were two more portages afterwards and the 80 rod was actually quite the lovely hike!

We got to Horse and I was instantly in love! It was Lake Superior meets Lake Namakan meets the BWCA! Fashioned an anchor with some rope and rock, and we fished the west shore bank from the inlet from Fourtown up to and across from the Horse River then drifted back down the middle and were skunked again!

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We decided finally to take Dan Waters advice and fish on the inlet towards Fourtown at the bottom of the rapids by the portage. Soon Jason caught a 1.5# Northern with a jig and some Gulp. I was determined I needed to get a fish. I had the Johnson Lure and was casting everywhere! Just as I got it close to the boat I saw a good size northern following but missed, but Jason picked him up on the other side of the canoe with a wounded minnow lure! We guessed about 5#.

The lure was stuck tight but Jason’s pliers were back at camp! Just then a group of guys in their 20s we guessed and and they had pliers. It was too much fish for us on our last night, so we offered it to the guys and they were super excited since they had 8 guys and it sounded like they would really enjoy him for supper!

On the way back we saw several turtles sunning themselves on a log.

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Once back, Jason gathered some more water and Kirra and I put on shorts and t-shirts. I met Jason on the rock chairs which was like a natural love seat and we officially decided to take out tomorrow morning. We loved this trip but are heading straight to another campsite to camp with Jasons parents/family and about 20 other friends. We had a yummy dinner of Knors Chicken Flavored rice & a foil chicken packet. We got everything packed up and ready for tomorrows departure. I could tell I was developing a sunburn but didn’t really mind to get a little color on my winter skin.

Later I laid out on the rocks by myself and listened to Your Glory by All Sons & Daughters & Oceans by Hillsong United. It was a wonderful – and Holy experience looking at Gods nature. His Glory is so beautiful. Your glory is so beautiful I fall onto my knees in awe And the heartbeat of my life Is to worship in your light ‘Cause Your glory is so beautiful Your glory is so beautiful. I realized that my dad is seeing this – and so much more. He is seeing true beauty and I finally got the peace I took this trip for. I let go. I let go of any anger that I still had in me and had a peace about me that transcends all understanding. I sat at the rapids and looked towards Fourtown and saw an eagle soaring and the skies and clouds were amazing. It was like the bow on the present I was given.

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We had our last BWCA fire for the trip, played cards & more Yahtzee and everything about the rest of the night was absolutely lovely!

Thursday May 21
Woke up and busted down camp. Had again some oatmeal and coffee and hung out by the rapids one last time. We hopped in the canoe and headed towards the portages leading to Mudro. The wind was high and so were the waves, but we felt comfortable in our canoe and the wind was at our back so we made pretty good time.

This time we did not go rock climbing – but took the “easier” portage and single portaged the long one as well! After all – perhaps we’ve become professionals this week!

The last portage was a wet one as we guessed the water came up near the fall down right at Mudro lake and flooded the portages. We didn’t even mind and I saw Jason portaging his pack, Kirra’s pack, and Kirra claiming Super Dad! Evidently she gave up on the trip on the last portage! Haha!

We paddled through Mudro and it too was bitter sweet. I was excited for land and civility, but was also so sad to leave the peace of the wilderness behind.

We came up through the creek river, and took our last portage to to the road.

After we got the car loaded I walked by myself down the portage to give a prayer of Thanks to God for this trip. For our safety and the wonderful experiences and flurry of emotions.

 

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We will be back! Hopefully this October – but I guarantee… we will be back before long.

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

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