This year, four of us went to BWCA in mid-May. That decision had its pros and cons.
Gear-wise, there weren’t too many changes this year. I had the new shell (from a year ago), and that was about it. Instead of bringing a hatchet (which does have some maiming potential), I brought a folding sawvivor bow-saw and the camp knife (an old Ontario Knife machete that was cut down by my friend Alan into a bowie shape) for splitting. This combo was lighter than the hatchet, and served quite well for cutting and splitting firewood. I also brought a few figure-9s from Nite-ize, which turned out to be very useful for setting up tarps and hanging food bags.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
We left mid-day on a Wednesday after a half-day of work, and planned not to return until Sunday. Again, I used a great outfitter – Voyageur North – and we spent Wednesday night at their bunk house. We got into Ely at 18:30 and were able to hit a restaurant for dinner and the liquor store. We checked-in at the outfitter and they marked-up Marcus’ map with the good camp site and fishing areas. Everybody was fishing except me. I volunteered to eat anything that was caught. Rob had driven-up separately, and arrived at about 3:30am on Thursday. So, he didn’t get much sleep.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Thursday morning, we woke to snow. Not too cold, but snow nonetheless. We sucked it up and went out anyway. We put in at #23 – Mudro Lake and made for Horse Lake. There was one party on front of us, and they looked like they were heading for Horse as well, so we switched to Four Town Lake at the last minute. The sky was cloudy and it was windy, but the precip held-off. Marcus was experimenting with a different kind of footwear – knee-high neoprene socks under low hikers. They should have been waterproof, but weren’t. As a result, his feet were really cold, and we needed to take care of that, because foot amputations in the backcountry aren’t positively regarded. We found a nice campsite and set up in the blustery day. Rob took a nap. Marcus fished from shore. Ted and I hiked around to the other side of the bay and checked out a bunch of old junk from the old resort days. There was a rusted out Model-T truck, and a selection of old bed frames. Kind of freaky. There was also a lot of fur in clumps around the area. It was white with tan/brown tips, and I thought it was like dog fur, and could have been wolf. From the high-point of the ridge, we could see quite a ways, and waved at Marcus across the bay.
We got back to camp and started to discuss dinner. During this conversation, a snowshoe hare got into Marcus’ stuff and stole his camp soap. We were puzzled by that all weekend. WTH? The soap?
By this point, the weather had cleared-off and it was quite pleasant out. We had packed in some steaks, fresh potatoes, fresh greenbeans, and scotch. The potatoes and greenbeans were cooked in foil over the fire with olive oil, salt, pepper and oregano. The steaks, marinated in olive oil and season salt, were cooked directly on the fire grate. And, yes, it blew the doors off of anything else I can ever recall eating in the backcountry.
Dessert was s’mores (courtesy of Ted and his 30-gallon plastic bag full of groceries). The evening was most stupendous, enhanced by Rob’s embracing his inner pyro and burning every bit of fuel that could be found. I do believe that the heavy cast iron fire grate was glowing slightly. Bed was 11-ish.
Friday, May 15, 2009
Friday dawned gorgeous. It was clear, bright, and relatively calm. Breakfast was eggs, real canadian bacon and tea. The other futzed about with fishing gear, and I packed. By late-ish morning, we had set-off. We paddled for an hour or so and fished and lunched on the north side of a little island. No great luck, but the views were stellar. We paddled across the lake, as the weather began to come up. Rob and I got separated from Ted and Marcus, and took refuge in a small cove. The wind was quite gusty now, and it was pretty hairy to be on the water in a small canoe! Eventually, Ted called us on the radio to say that he and Marcus had found a great campsite, so we paddled like crazy in the wind to get around the point to the new site. It was a nice location, and the sun was still out, despite the wind. We set up camp and went for another hike around the point. At the mid-point of the hike, we got some elevation and could see that the weather was moving in. A big wall cloud was racing for us, and we scuttled back to camp. It started to drizzle, but Ted and Marcus still went out to fish, and Rob and I stayed at camp. We got the fire going good, but the weather really came in hard – lots of rain and very strong winds. The tarp we set up near the fire was constantly blowing in and the fire was nearly put out by the rain. Rob and I ate freeze-dried dinner while waiting for the others. By about 7, Ted and Marcus returned – with FISH! They had caught a 20? Northern Pike and a 12?-ish Walleye. It was too miserable weather to cook them, however. So, Ted and Marcus ate freeze-dried food under the tarp. The tarp wasn’t big enough for all four of us to fit, so (since we’d already eaten) Rob and I stood outside in the rain and wind while Ted and Marcus boiled water for their pouch dinners.
Early bed at 9-ish. Everything was wet and cold. General misery. My tent had seemed to leak, especially since we took the tarp that I usually use as a groundcloth for shelter by the fire. So, in order to stay away from the wet edges, I slept in the middle of it, and Rob slept in Ted’s tent. Marcus was dry in his hammock, but not out of the wind (as much as he would’ve liked). It rained all night. I was a little anxious about how the night would go, as I fell asleep.
Saturday, May 16, 2009
Saturday morning was cold (just under freezing) and snowy. There was snow on the tents and the ground.
We all hung out in tents and sleeping bags until later in the morning, due to the cold. By the time I had to pee, it was nearly 9 am. My pants were still wet from the night before. The wind was still blowing hard. But, the little frozen, pellet snow was tapering. There was a confab. We were far enough from the take out (where we needed to be by 10:30 the next morning) that we couldn’t stay a second night. We needed to move, but the wind was making the lake really choppy – 2-3 foot waves and whitecaps, and we had to cross open water from our site. Actually pretty dangerous stuff, given how cold the water still was. We determined to make a go for a site on Horse Lake, and the move across open water was with the wind at our backs, so we could keep the canoes perpendicular to the waves. We still managed to get a little wet with bow-spray. We made it across the open water and thru the little portages. There was a longer portage that went around some rapids. Ted (ever the daredevil) convinced Marcus to run the rapids. The first (and only visible) set were pretty mild. Rob and I portaged. We could see from the far side of the portage that the rapids got much worse. I bushwhacked back to see if I could find the other boat. They were upright, contemplating the next set of rapids. I wasn’t close, but could shout enough to tell them not to run them, and they ended-up pulling the boat out by a little beaver creek and lugging it overland to the end of the portage. Marcus was OK with the first rapids, but commented that the second set would have violated his promise to his wife to “be safe”. Over three portages, Marcus ran with the fish on a stringer so that he could get them back in the water ASAP. We weren’t able to eat them Friday night, but weren’t going to let them get away. We eventually found our way around to another camp site. This one was very well sheltered from the wind. We set out all of our stuff to dry and Ted and Rob went fishing in a canoe while Marcus and I set up camp. Ted managed to catch another walleye, and so, for the final night, we had a pretty nice fish dinner.
The wind cleared-out and we had a nice evening of s’mores and campfire.
Sunday, May 17, 2009
The morning of our last day dawned clear, sunny and quiet. The lakes were glass-smooth, and the air was warm. Figures that the last day would be the nicest. We packed-up, and had a nice, mellow paddle back to Mudro Lake and the take-out. We were right on time to our pick-up and had a pretty uneventful ride back to the outfitter. A quick shower and we were on the road back to the cities.