Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Boundary Waters Adventure

Nick and I spent the last week of July on a canoe trip in the Boundary Waters. It was his first trip there, my second. We had contemplated the B-Dub as a potential honeymoon destination, but upon hearing the ice is sometimes not completely out of the lakes til mid-May (yikes!), we reconsidered. Late July is a little more temperate, though has a LOT more bugs! All considered, we had a great trip! After a loooong (9-ish hour) drive from Des Moines to essentially the end of the Gunflint Trail, we arrived at Seagull Outfitters around 8 p.m. Sunday night. We reserved a room in their paddler's bunkhouse, where we did some last-minute packing and rearranging, then got to bed so we could get up and get an early start in the morning.

We put in at Seagull Lake early Monday morning. It was a beautiful day, if a tad windy. The afternoon paddle across Seagull was pretty brutal! I think that was our hardest day, actually! We made one "scenery" stop at the palisades on Seagull. A short hike to the top rewarded us with an amazing view!

The first day was a long one - we paddled through Seagull, on to Jasper, Alpine, Kingfisher, and then into our final destination for the day, Ogishkemuncie. We had been joking about bears before leaving for the trip, and we saw one on the North end of Ogish just a few minutes before we reached our first campsite! Luckily he was not the friendly type - he heard and/or saw us about 5 seconds after we spotted him, and he turned around and hightailed it away from the ridge where he had been foraging around in the brush. Sadly, I did NOT have my camera at the ready.

Ogish is where we set up our first camp, and we ended up spending two nights there. I was really tired from the long work week I'd put in just before we left, as well as the late nights I'd spent packing and getting everything ready for the trip, so we decided to just stay put for the first couple days! We enjoyed a spaghetti and garlic bannock dinner that night, courtesey of my $10 craigslist food dehydrator. We dehydrated almost all of our food for the week, and were able to fit it all into a larger bear vault canister (see blue jar in the photos above left).

Also, I'm not sure if I totally forgot to put sunscreen on my left arm or if I just seriously under-used it, but my hand and arm were FRIED at the end of the day. So much so that my hand was actually swollen! It lasted for a few days and I'm still peeling even now, after we've been back for a couple weeks. Not good. Wear your sunscreen, kids!

One of the things I'd been working on for the trip was the hammock project. I love camping but have always hated sleeping on the ground. When I stumbled upon the hammocking community, I was very intrigued. These aren't your grandpa's backyard hammocks! They are made with breathable synthetic fabrics, and are more like cocoons for sleeping in. I decided to make ours, complete with tarps and bugnets! I lucked out with the dollar fabric bin at Walmart, and was able to get all the materials I needed fabric-wise for the projects. It took some time, but they turned out really well! The hammocks are just long rectangular pieces of fabric with a rope bight at each end, and tie-down strapping to attach to the trees. The bug nets are basically large "socks" of lightweight mesh fabric that cinch up at both ends. Tarps are pretty self-explanatory. :)

I thought they were great and loved sleeping in them, with the exception of the first night when it was BEASTLY hot for some reason. I'm not sure Nick was completely sold, but he humored me. Plus, we didn't bring our tent so he didn't have much of a choice! :)

On day 3 we hit the road to see how much further afield we could get. We packed up camp and headed further west/south towards Eddy lake, to see the falls there. It was MUCH calmer that day and the paddling seemed effortless. It was a little warmer, though - we had to stop and take a dip to cool off. We made it to Eddy Falls just after noon and spent about an hour exploring the area. The falls were beautiful!

After a tough paddle into the South Arm of Knife lake (wind picked up and it's a LARGE lake), we discovered the first two campsites there were occupied, so we headed further on to Toe Lake. I had heard some good things about that campsite and lake, and they were all true!

The site there is the only one on the lake, and it's a small little place so was very quiet and secluded. We didn't see anyone else at all while we were there. We got settled in and Nick decided to try his luck with the fish. We did luck out with a very peaceful, beautiful evening, but not so much with the fish! We had a great meal of beef stew with cornbread bannock, read our books in front of the campfire, and generally enjoyed a gorgeous evening in the Boundary Waters. We were serenaded by the neighborhood loons for a good part of that night, too!

Day 4 was time to head back in towards civilization. We got up, had a quick oatmeal breakfast, packed up, and started back. Thursday was also really nice and calm, so the paddling was easy. Although we had a tough couple portages back into Eddy and then again from Eddy into Jenny (not overly long but steep and some tough terrain), it was a leisurely day for us.

We headed back into the 'burn zone' - the area affected by the 2006 Cavity Lake fire - and made it back to Jasper lake where we set up camp for the final night. This part of the Boundary Waters is beautiful in a more barren, slightly alien way. There are millions of burned-out tree trunks sticking up in all different directions, and many of them are blackened, so there is a marked contrast between the dead and the living landscape. It was very sculptural to me.
This area is the "new" forest which has only a few tiny pine seedlings, but lots of prairie type grasses and deciduous trees. Also plenty of wild raspberries and some blueberries! We found those to be nice snacks along the portages. :)

The Jasper campsite was a really nice, very large, up on a bluff overlooking Jasper lake. You can't quite tell from the photos, but the campsite sits up probably 25 feet from the lake shore. It was a quiet, slightly cloudy evening and got nice and cool by the time we were ready to hit the hay. We had a delicious Ramen dinner and did some more reading/fishing before going to sleep.

Day 5 was still overcast and quiet. We woke up, had our last 'trail' breakfast (pancakes with peanut butter, and bacon!) and packed up for the last time. We only had the rest of Jasper and then all of Seagull to paddle that day. Originally we had intended to stay another night on Seagull, and get up really early Saturday to paddle the last hour or so in to the outfitters, but it was starting to look like rain and I was desperate for a shower (seriously, it had been 5 days!), plus we wanted to spend some time at my parents' house in NW Iowa on our way back, so we decided to just pack it in on Friday and get on the road.

After the much needed showers, we grabbed a couple slices of pizza at Sven and Ole's in Grand Marais (oh-so-delicious after 5 days of backpacking food!) and hit the road. We had intended to stay in Duluth, but couldn't find any affordable hotel rooms open, so we drove all the way to Minneapolis and stayed with Nick's sister. We did make a quick stop to see Gooseberry falls (in the rain) on the way back.

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