My bride, of 33 years, finally agreed to try an over night trip in the BWCA this year as long I could meet the following conditions.
1. Get a comfortable sleeping pad. So I got her a Thermarest Mondo King, it will fit in a Duluth Northwood’s pack, barely.
2. Guarantee no bugs. So a fall trip was planned for the last week of September. She likes the BWCA in the fall, for the colors. I also had to purchase a screen tarp setup from CCS for added insurance.
3. Plan a route that we would base camp for 2 nights, with minimal portages. And if we are lucky. See a moose. So we put in on East Bearskin and planned to camp on Alder Lake.
The trip was planned to go into the BWCA on September 27th and come out on September 29Th. Now my wife and son both say I am cursed. Every time we go to the BWCA it seems to rain. This year was no exception. It drizzled, misted and rained by the time we got the entry point. Fortunately I did not have to guarantee sunshine.
My wife insists on having her own maps in the bow so I got 2 sets of maps. She got the McKenzie map and I got the Fisher. As we paddled across East Bearskin, I asked her which portage she wanted to take. She said, “Lets go to the left, its 49 rods, then on the way out and we can take the other portage its 42 rods”. I said, “OK” and we proceeded to the left. We got to the portage and she took a small pack and I took the canoe. We started up the trail. Soon we were heading up hill, about half way up, we encountered a blow down from the storms last summer. In the process of climbing over the tree with pack on, she slipped on a tree root and land on her wrist. I immediately thought, this is not the easy portage I was hoping for, on her first trip. We continued on and encountered 3 more blow downs. I told her to take a rest while went back for the other packs. When I got back with the first of the 3 other packs, she was ready to give the trail another try, so we could retrieve the other 2 packs. Things went better this time.
We set out to paddle around Alder Lake and pick our campsite. We ended up choosing the one closest to the portages. We setup camp and got everything situated. While I was getting the stuff out of the food barrel, Tam was comparing maps. She said she preferred the Fisher to the McKenzie. Then she notice that the Fisher map said the portage we came in on was 80 rods, not 49. I said that seemed about right, she then proclaimed that the portage we had taken was “The Portage from Hell”. I chuckled to myself, and continued making supper.
We spent the rest of the evening listing to the rain drip off the trees onto the tarp and enjoyed the quiet of the wet woods. Tam started studying the maps again and said that we should have taken the other portage because it also was flatter. I told here that the flat portage is not always the easiest, because it can be wet and knee deep with mud. She asked how do you know which is the best? I said, “ You have to walk across them”.
The next day we woke up to over cast skies and more drizzle. We paddled up to Canoe and Crystal Lakes and checked out the other campsites. There were 3 groups paddling out as we headed farther in. We enjoyed the fall colors that were just starting, due to the late fall we had this year. The wind started to pickup so we started to work our way back to Alder. When we got back on to Canoe Lake from Crystal, we met 2 canoes, each a father & son pair. The boys appeared to be about 5 or 6 years old. They asked if anyone was on Crystal. We told them they had the place to themselves and the boys cheered.
We sat by the fire after supper and enjoyed the solitude once again, knowing that we had Alder Lake all to ourselves. Tam told me she was having a wonderful time and would consider doing another overnight trip. I was relieved to know that the weather and the first portage did not scare her off. Unfortunately the cloudy skies remained and we did not get to do any stargazing.
On our last morning, at about 6:00am, I had just woken up to hear a bull moose grunt and clack his antlers against some brush. I woke Tam right away and told her we had a moose close to camp. Normally she is not the fastest person to get going in the morning but she was hoping get a moose picture so she was dressed in record time. I was hoping that we did not end up with a moose in camp and tangled in our rain fly, tent and canoe.
We listened to the moose for all most an hour and a half. We never did get a glimpse of the moose but Tam had a smile on her face the whole time. Then she proclaimed that we WILL do this again next year. Also in this process she got to see a brief but beautiful sun rise on the lake. We ate breakfast and broke camp. As we did, the sun poked through the clouds for a few moments of sunshine. We also were blessed with absolute calm waters.
We are now at the other portage from Alder to East Bearskin. It is 8 feet wide level and dry. Yup, that is the portage you want to take. But it is funny, ever since we got back and friends have asked her how her trip was, the first thing see tells them about is the “Portage from Hell”. But always finishes with, “we are going on another trip next year”. I guess that is the way it is with the BWCA. It is not the sun shinny blue bird day that gets talked about. It is the bugs, wind, rain, “Portages from Hell”, and moose sightings or hearings, that are the treasured memories.
So now is the time. If you are 9, 29 or even 59, you need to go and camp in the BWCA. If not for the memories of a lifetime and the treasure trove of stories to tell, but for the tests that you passed in the wilderness that proved once again that you are capable of many things. So stop with the excesses and go even if it is only 1 portage in and 2 nights out.
By Rob & Tam Bullis