As we all know, life can "get in the way" of true happiness. I invite you to follow my posts as I try to reconnect with nature as often as life allows. Then,
if so inspired, pick up a paddle or pack and join me on an adventure that makes everything else fade away. -

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Boundary Waters Trip

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This trip was kind of spontaneous!  Well, at least compared to some of my other trips to places that require getting very sought after permits and hotel reservations months in advance.  You see, I was originally planning on heading out to Rocky Mountain National Park in July to climb Spearhead.  Then my friend Andreas had to go in for shoulder surgery and the trip was off.  Truth be told, I wasn't too saddened by this because even though the majority of the Spearhead climb looked like fun the traverse at the top with major exposure kind of freaked me out.  I need to get some more practice on multi-pitch first I think.  So what to do?  I decided to pull another idea off of the bucket list, The Boundary Waters!

I had never been to the Boundary Waters before.  As a scout we either went to Philmont or on a canoeing trip in the summer.  Instead of the Boundary Waters we would go to the Crow Wing River in Minnesota.  Our leaders didn't feel the younger scouts who couldn't go to Philmont could handle the portaging necessary for a Boundary Waters trip.  I'm sure this was sound judgement, so what did I decide to do?  Well, take a five year old of course!

I got a permit through Ely Outfitting Company and planned on myself and Colin spending 4 days in the backcountry towards the end of July.  Our Memorial Weekend trip was a test trip to see how he would do camping for four straight days.  He passed with flying colors!  I also invited Laura but did not expect her to come along.  It looked even less likely after our hiking adventures in Utah the month before.  However, in the end, she agreed to come along with us!

DAY - 1

We left around 6am the morning of July 20th.  Colin somehow felt carsick before we even left the neighborhood so we stopped.  Turns out there was a beautiful sunrise to enjoy while he recovered!  We hit the road and headed North on I-35 towards Minneapolis.  The drive through Iowa was pretty boring other than a fairly large wind farm.  We stopped for gas North of Des Moines and the scenery started to get a little more interesting as we got closer to Minneapolis.  We stopped on the North side of St. Paul for lunch before continuing on and had just one more stop for gas in the town of Hinckley before reaching Ely.  Around Hinckley you start to notice the trees getting denser and taller.  As you head North I-35 splits with a large stand of trees blocking the view of the South bound lanes.  The shoulder also all but disappears giving the road a very unique quality.  We really felt like we were nearing the end of the road as the Boreal Forest started to spring up around us.  This is lake country, with lots of evidence (billboards, boats, etc.) of the fishing going on in these parts.  I-35 continues al the way to Duluth, but we took NM33 North through Cloquet and US53 North to Virginia.  Just past Virginia we turned off onto MN169 which took us all the way to Ely (with one small detour).  12 Hours door to door!

We checked into our hotel (The Adventure Inn), located our outfitter for the next morning, and headed to the Ely Steakhouse for dinner.  There were people all over town, some coming and some going.  We met a scout troop at the steak house that had just come off the water after several days.  They were scraggly and hungry, but full of smiles.  Reminded me of how we used to feel after a week at Philmont!  Colin decided he wanted to play pool while we were waiting for our food and the boys were nice enough to include him in their game!

DAY - 2

We arrived at Ely Outfitting Company at just after 7:00am and our wonderful host Jason Zabokrtsky went over our maps and got us all loaded up and ready to go!  After a short ride we were at our put in on Fall Lake.  Just after 9:00am we headed out on our adventure and started to paddle directly across the lake to the portage, or so I thought.  Turns out the dock actually points a bit to the North and we went the long way!  No big deal as it was such a beautiful day.  Guess I better actually use the maps!

Portages are measured in rods.  A rod is equal to roughly 16 1/2ft.

After a bit of paddling we reached our first portage (80r = 0.25 miles) around Newton Falls.  The portage is a wide and well maintained one and we quickly were on Newton Lake where we saw our first of three Bald Eagles.  We had arrived at Newton lake at the same time as a group of four women whom we paddled along side for a while.  After paddling Newton Lake we reached the portage around Pipestone Falls (90r = 0.28 miles) into Pipestone Bay.  The portage was very similar to the previous one and a quick double carry and it was done.  We went back for a picture of the falls and Colin started to throw a bit of a fit.  We realized that the long drive, early rise, and paddling so far had taken its toll.  We headed out onto Pipestone Bay and battled some wind until we got past New York Island.  At this point Colin had fallen asleep in the canoe and Laura was about done as well.  We checked out campsite #30, but it was out in the open and not very desirable.  I really wanted site #31 as I had seen pictures of it, but who knew if it would be open.  It was only about 1:00, but I had heard that if you are not in a site by 2:00 they start filling up...and who knew if someone had made a base camp out of it.  We decided to press on as there are several options in that area and as luck would have it the site was open!  We were very luck to get this site as it is in a class of its own, and we were planning on spending two nights.  We had paddled about 10 miles from our put in and I could have kept going, but they were spent.  Laura stayed with Colin in the boat while I unloaded the gear and started to set up camp.  We woke him up and pulled the boat ashore.  He was in a much better mood after his nap and was ready to help set up the tent.  With camp set up, pit toilet located, and water pumped I started dinner while Laura and Colin went looking for firewood.  Firewood is very scarce given all the use these sites get, but they managed to find enough for a great campfire.

One benefit to this site is that it is in a good position to catch a breeze and keep the bugs down.  Having not eaten much lunch we had an early dinner and made s'mores before the breeze died down and the mosquitos came out.  We retired to the tent early and did some reading before bed.  There was a light rain in the night which made sleeping all the more peaceful!

DAY - 3

We had a lazy morning in camp as it was cloudy and windy.  I played with getting the tarp set up and re-charging the GoPro batteries while Colin and Laura read and played games in the tent.  After the clouds cleared off Colin and I made an attempt to go out fishing.  We were fighting the wind the whole time and didn't end up catching anything, but had a good time anyway.  We had Colin's favorite, Mac and Cheese, for dinner and enjoyed another nice fire before bedtime.  It was really nice to spend the day being lazy and not worrying about being anywhere at a specific time!

DAY - 4

After having breakfast and packing up camp we paddled across Pipestone bay to the portage (70r = 0.22 miles) into Back Bay.  This portage was more of your typical trail but unfortunately it was infested with mosquitos from beginning to end.  We finished as quickly as we could and got back out onto open water.  After a relatively short paddle across Back Bay we hit our second portage (90r = 0.28 miles) into Basswood Lake proper.  This portage was a nightmare.  It was hilly and rocky, but also terribly overgrown and mosquito infested.  Laura was not having fun and I felt really bad for her.  The only thing we could do was to press on.  The portage ended in a bit of a swamp and I am thankful that the water was high.  If it had been much lower we would be facing a 1/4 mile trudge through muck...which would have almost surely meant turning back around and paddling out of Back Bay the long way.  Once we pushed off and got clear of the mosquitos we actually had a nice paddle through the lily pads.  Upon rounding the bend and coming out of the bay we were definitely on open water.  Thankfully it was not windy like the previous day!  We paddled across to Half Dog Island and worked our way along Washington Island before cutting South.  We tried the Southernmost sight on Lincoln Island but the mosquitos were horrendous!  We scouted Norway island but didn't like any of the sites so we pressed on.  Ultimately we took the site at the entrance to Wind Bay which set us up nicely for the next day.  The site was actually pretty nice, but there were mosquitos and after our previous site it didn't seem as enjoyable.

We had spaghetti for dinner and hid from the mosquitos in the tent until time for bed.  We read books, watched movies, and played dominos.  It was actually quite nice, but it would have been nicer without the swarm of blood suckers waiting just outside!

DAY - 5

We had a quick breakfast and packed up camp in a hurry to get away from the swarm.  We paddled across Wind Bay and found the portage trail into Wind Lake.  This was our first of two longer portages (185r = 0.58 miles) at just over half a mile.  Thankfully the trail was not too overgrown and the mosquitos were not as much of a pain as they had been the day before.

Next was a long paddle across Wind Lake.  The lake is very long and narrow, but it was an enjoyable paddle.  We passed one family on their way in as we were approaching the next portage, and another group came up as I was finishing my double carry.  This was the most people we had seen in a day!  The last portage into Moose Lake was the longest (190r = 0.59 miles).  As we completed the portage we noticed storm clouds approaching.  The weather had been perfect the entire trip, but as we crossed Moose Lake we were hit with wind and a driving rain.  It was warm enough that I didn't care.  We did have to fight the wind though and that was a bit of a struggle.  By the time we reached the takeout it had stopped.  We were early so we called Jason from another outfitter on the lake and he sent someone to get us as soon as they were available.  We got picked up around 1:30 and headed back to town.

As an aside I want to mention a couple of things:

First of all, Laura did not enjoy the wilderness part of this trip.  She was eaten alive by mosquitos and hated the portages.  I am very glad that she came along, but I do not anticipate she will be joining us on these kinds of trips in the future.  I did not enjoy the mosquitos by any means...they are one of my least favorite things on the earth.  I did tolerate them however.  The portages were hard work to be certain.  After all, I was carrying a 19'-4" 54lb canoe for the first leg.  I was proud of myself that I managed to make all the portages without setting down the canoe!  Then the walk back for the double carry to get the 65lb pack and two 20L dry bags.  At the end of each portage I was tired, but I learned a long time ago that to enjoy these kinds of places you have to work for it, but in the end it is all worthwhile.

Secondly, I want to say how proud of Colin I am.  I had arranged things so that only I had to do a double carry.  Laura took her pack and the paddles & lifejackets.  Colin took his pack and the fishing pole.  The plan was for me to go back for the second trip by myself.  He however would have none of it and insisted on joining me.  In the end he did a double carry on 5 of the 6 portages, not going on the last only because mom insisted.  The boy at 5 1/2 did over 5 miles of carrying gear on the portage trails.  I cannot begin to explain how proud I am of his tenacity!

After making it back to the shop we reviewed our trip with Jason and had a nice little chat.  I really appreciate how he took care of us and catered to our needs.  I would recommend his company (Ely Outfitting Company) to anyone!  We headed back to our hotel and all took long showers before heading into town.

We did some shopping for T-Shirts and then sat down for dinner.  After dinner we went for desert and looked around at Piragis Northwoods Company, a great gear store in Ely.  On the way back to the hotel we stopped in the city park so Colin could play on the playground.  As the sun went down the mosquitos started attacking and we headed back to the hotel.

DAY - 6

We packed up the car before checking out of our hotel.  We grabbed some breakfast and hit the road, taking MN1 towards Lake Superior.  The drive was very scenic but there was so much fog and clouds we couldn't see the lake as we approached, but you could tell we were dropping toward something.  We stopped at Palisade head to check out the view and watch some climbers before heading on to Split Rock Lighthouse State Park.  We took a tour at Split Rock of the lighthouse which was very interesting.  After grabbing a sandwich we headed down to the rocky beach to eat.  There was an older couple we met who told us about the tall ships that were coming into Duluth that day.  We were driving through there so we figured we should check them out!

First however, we made our next stop at Gooseberry Falls State Park.  This was a really cool park with lower, middle, and upper falls.  The lower and middle falls are East of the highway.  You can walk out on the rock and dirt outcroppings and play in the water.  Colin managed to get himself a little wet, but we had fun exploring.  He then begged me to let him climb up a rock / dirt wall back up to the middle section.  It was about a 20ft 5.4 climb and he climbed it with me right behind him.  He was very proud of our accomplishment!  Next we took the path to the upper falls which was a bit more of a waterfall vs a cascade.  Very scenic but less opportunity for swimming.

We got back on the highway and drove to Duluth figuring out along the way where the tall ships would be.  We ate dinner at Red Lobster and then walked over to where the festival was.  By the time we got over there it had started to rain the everyone had headed home for the day.  We got to see the ships in the rain and then headed back to the car for the drive to Minneapolis.  I really enjoyed our day along the shore of Lake Superior.  I had never been to one of the great lakes and I look forward to exploring this part of the country more in the future!  We arrived at our hotel around 10:30 and crashed as we were all very tired.

DAY - 7

Colin and I started our morning by heading to the indoor pool so he could swim.  He was very excited to swim even though the water was surprisingly cold.  As Laura finished up we got him dressed and then all headed to historic Fort Snelling along the Mississippi River.  The fort has been reconstructed and was full of historical items and demonstrations.  Colin seemed to really enjoy it, but I think his favorite was seeing the "soldiers" march in formation and fire black powder muskets.  At the end of their demonstration they invited the kids and parents to come march with them so we joined their ranks.  Next we headed down to Mill Ruins Park and just got to see it before being caught in the rain. We grabbed some lunch at Chili's, which became Colin's new favorite, and then headed to IKEA.  We had originally planned on going to Mall of America but we had run out of time.  We opted to drive home rather than spending another night.  We had a pleasant drive home with a nice sunset somewhere in Iowa.  We finally arrived home around 1:30am and went straight to bed.

All in all it was a very enjoyable trip!  If there was anything that I learned from our trips this summer it was that I will have to keep our family trips and adventure trips separate.  Laura has more fun with short hikes and scenic viewpoints.  Next year I will plan those kind of trips for the three of us and the adventure trips for me.  As Colin gets older I'm hopefully he will continue to participate in both!

I have been pushing myself to find the boundaries I am comfortable with in the outdoors.  I felt totally at home in the Boundary Waters, not once worrying about anything.  I guess I have to push farther and find something more remote.  Yosemite in August will not be that trip as I will be sticking to well traveled trails, but that is ok.  It will be the first time since I was 17 that I have gone backpacking.  That trip will be about making sure I have all the skills for backpacking that I once did and the physical endurance to do it.  In order to test my comfort in the wilderness further I think I will have to look elsewhere...there are many other adventures to have though, so no hurry.

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