Sunrise over Lake Two.
Thursday: After a complicated carpooling situation accommodating last minute changes in peeps and boats that nearly required us to hire a consultant to come up with a plan as well as a clinical counselor when Frank saw how much stuff I wanted to pack (ultimately successfully I hasten to add) into my car so early in the morning while leaving space for two long lads beside me, we were off to a cold weather trip Up North. (Thanks Frank for humoring me on the 9 people and 3 cars thing :-))
After a strengthening morsel at Virginia’s Sawmill (yummy bbq brisket!) we made our way to Ely’s Ranger Station where we were instructed in how to make as little of a nuisance of ourselves in the wilderness as possible. Some promising news: the bears were on the move because the berry season had been early and short and they were hungry before curling up in their winter dens. So good, maybe our chances of seeing a bear wouldn’t be quite as slim and remote as usually.
We made camp at Fish Lake Camp site, which is not to be sniffed at! We managed to dazzle Kim L, Jane C and Jan H by packing 6 people into a 3 person tent for a heart-breaker of a hearts game that wasn’t even disrupted by Frank’s see-through attempt to intoxicate us with his seriously fragrant kiwi-mango chap stick for seriously kissable lips, which would have given him hell to pay if Jane had been anywhere near us! - Good times!
Barb and Frank.
A drizzly Friday morning dawned but by the time we were on the water it had stopped raining and after a couple of short portages and a breezy lunch Frank and Barb had claimed a campsite, but not without Barb thoroughly testing the waters first!
Little stone cairn to warn of a treacherous rock in the middle of the lake.
Frank & Barb, who clearly were outshining us all as far as colors went.
Barb, John, Jan & Frank.
After erecting a tent city of 5 including a fledgling suburb tent, a fire was lit and Jane plied it with no less than 12 thick steaks to be grilled and accompanied by potatoes smothered in butter and red, crunchy coleslaw, ‘cos after all we were roughing it! (We were just hoping to catch some fish tomorrow because otherwise no doubt we would be starving in those next few days!) Mr Beaver was gracing us by swimming around our point, which meant we had already seen a much bigger mammal than on the spring trip!, where we had to content us with squirrels and a pesky little mouse. My first beaver in the wild! Yay!
Dick, John & Frank: Guys like to build fires!
Kim in front of her suburban condo.
Folks turned in early after fiddle tunes from Jane and their pre tooth brushing ration of nuts or cheese to keep them warm during the night. I got up once during the night and as I stepped out of the tent I thought I had stepped right into a swamp, judging by the rasping sounds that were alternately emanating from some half a dozen different directions. My first boyfriend had convinced me a long time ago that guys snore to keep the wild animals away. At that rate we were NEVER going to see a bear!!! One thing I had to say though, my new cushy 2.5 inch self inflating sleeping pad made for a very good night indeed. Can’t remember that I ever slept so quickly and so well camping ever. And it’s really warm too! Damn my silky hair though, my night cap kept slipping off for the first couple of days until the filth set in and started holding it in place :-)
A cold sunrise.
Pistachio shell from our predecessors. Even other people's garbage can be pretty here!
Saturday: We celebrated our first morning in camp with Frank’s fluffiest of them all pancakes and boysenberry or maple syrup, yumm! Phiew! Starvation staved off for another few hours and we would be going out fishing as well!
Cute little boletus hardly bigger than a nickel right behind our tent.
Frank: Life is Good.
Jane and Kim.
I got a lot of casting practice that day, but my 18 dollar* fish remained elusive… On our way back an excited Barb waved us over from the distance: Frank had caught a struggling 4lb Northern Pike with the help of Barbs netting prowess and turned the bottom of the boat and his pants into a blood-spattered mess. Swiftly Dick caught Mr Pike’s little brother and we could return home with one catch to show for each boat!
Frank and Mr Northern Pike.
Dick with Mr P.'s little brother.
Blood has been spilled, a red dawn would be rising the next day.
I wanted to watch the guys clean and gut the fish but Dick in his immense generosity insisted on me doing the honors of butchering the fish he had caught :-) So off I went with Frank, his fish knife and two fishes in tow to the next point (= Fish Gut Point) so we wouldn’t have the attractive smell of fish heads and guts in our camp.
To keep things interesting for the waiting masses back at camp we decided to give them a little canoe retrieval to do (at Boat Catch Landing), while Frank painstakingly introduced me into the fine art of gutting and cleaning fish. After a 90 minute lesson he had produced not only a couple of sizeable fillets, but also a neat pile of the very tasty smaller “Northern Candy”.
Faced with the prospect of at least the same amount of time for me producing a surely inferior product with the smaller fish I suggested a more radical approach and was encouraged with a very decided: “I don’t care what you do with THAT fish” to do as I pleased, lop off the head, slice open the cavity to remove guts and gore and chafe away under much flicking of scales into my hair and everywhere else, while Frank sat by at safe distance with the sharpening tool in one hand and the first aid kit in the other.
For extra safety Northern-slayer Dick was observing the scene from an even safer distance with his binoculars reporting progress to the hungry crew. So finally we returned digging deep for power strokes with one expertly and one radically prepared fish to a crew waiting eagerly at the beach to bread the little delicacies and have them swim in hot oil. To tide us over Jane had prepared a delectable pasta dish with tomatoes dehydrated expertly to mi-cuit perfection by our very own Dr Jan. Thanks Dennis for frying away into the night and helping me eat the otherwise much scoffed at debone-after-cooking specimen!
Dennis frying the fish.
Dennis still frying more fish.
Sunday: Panties lost on the trail from the bathroom: 0. Epic sunsets caught by drinking the exactly right amount of fluids to wake up at the exactly right time 1. V. good!
For breakfast we broke into Jan’s Moose Log Bars, which got two high thumbs up from everybody! Jan and her family run Twin Pine Farms and they sell at farmers markets, so if you get a chance to buy one of those babies, I can really warmly recommend them! At about 450 cal per pack you could easily take them along to make a full meal on the trail with them! We were her guinea pigs to test how well they do on the trail and I’m tellin' ya we'd’do it again any chance we’d get! As dessert we had Jane’s peach cobbler that we couldn’t handle on top of the fish the night before and from now on I want my oatmeal exactly like that all the time!!! (You can see the starving theme that goes through this trip like a red thread continuing…)
Jan and John in the lunch line.
Frank & Barb.
Our way to Rifle Lake barred by a muddy swamp between Fish Gut Point and Boat Catch Landing we headed to the rapids at Lake No 2 Dam to leave our boats and find an enchanted green hike along drops and fishing holes to a sunny and much ooh-ed and aah-ed over lunch perch and brilliant autumn colors. I somehow missed the train to join the boys to yet catch that 18 dollar fish of mine, couldn’t find them, what clearly meant to me to return to the canoes and have an imperative nap in Indian summer sunshine! I had found myself a bed rock and cast out Frank’s rappler as expertly attached to my lure by Dick. But alas (or luckily) my nap wasn’t interrupted by even the smallest tuck on the hook…
Kim & Jan.
Dick & Barb.
Jan, Jane, John, Kim and Barb.
Teeny turtle that had just slipped into the water.
It had been the most gorgeous day and we happily made our way back to a pre cocktail hour card game in expectance of another one of Jane’s yummy dinners: Chicken and Hors d’oevres! Dennis had been keeping the home fires burning and greeted us at the landing.
With full tummies and dishes washed we all gathered round the fire or lay on the rocks to look at the stars. Since we knew that it was our last evening we were reluctant to go to bed and lingered to make it last just a little longer. We kept hearing rustling near the tarps and debated whether we needed to relinquish our nice warm spots by the fire to check it out. Well, I’m not one for not finding out, so I walked over to the tarps, to see what it was back there making the noise.
And there it was, in the light of my head lamp, a fully grown black bear looking at me from across a mere 15 ft. I remember hearing myself saying that there is a bear and Frank asking where and me pointing at “right there” as the bear slunk behind a tree and feeling a tug at my sleeve and Frank’s plea for me to back away. Wow! It’s still a little unreal that there it was, right there, so close.
We mounted head-lamp processions to drive the bear away with clapping and Jane’s chants of Go bear!
Phiew! - Now what was that?!? Jane hadn’t left her fiddle case right next to Kim’s little one person condo! Woah! Bear slobber and shiny bite marks on the canvas! It had obviously tried to drag away the bag that had been harboring our steaks as we disturbed it. Ok, but it was gone now.
And then we found it again! Sniffing at our tp & sanitizer zippy on the trail head to the latrine! We were joking afterwards that it was probably just looking for an audition as the Charmin bear, but there and then we mounted another clap and chant procession and thereafter refused to go to the latrine in groups of less than three, which funny enough we needed to do just then. Not long after as Barb and I were retrieving warmer clothes from out tent , we heard the rest of the group driving the bear again – right towards our tent as I dove in and with trembling hands pulled down that b@#$dy zipper and held my breath!
Ok, now we are scrambling to get our latrine bag and all other hygiene bags that we had been hanging into the trees by themselves into the bear barrels. We lower the bear bag again to take all those caramels that we had forgotten we had in our pockets, the last few cereal bars that were lurking in our life vests and re-hung it with a second rope to secure it further away from the tree trunk. Bear barrels and vaults were rolled around to get them as far away as possible from the tents, while at the same time securing them from rolling into the lake.
So there we were again discussing our options around the fire side and glad that the boys had been chopping wood like champions earlier in the day. Then we heard the campers at the neighboring point mounting the same kind of clap & chant routine they must have heard from us earlier on. We had felt quite fortunate that there were 9 of us and we were really quite impressed how much noise those two campers on the other point made that we had met earlier on in the day. So we hoped that the bear had moved on in its territory - if it was just the one bear of course…
Our initial instinct to stay up all night was reconsidered as we pondered how heavy our packs would feel on our way home tomorrow, how long those paddles would drag on a day that had rain and wind in the forecast on top of everything else, and how long the 250 some miles would be for the drivers on the way back. As we calmed down and we reassured ourselves that the bear really just wanted our food and had no interest in us personally, that the food and anything smelly was now far away from the tents and that the bear had not been aggressive in any kind of way (not really scared of us either, mind!) Kim relocated to Jane’s tent and we all finally retired in twos and threes. Swamp noises arose surprisingly quickly. Other than waiting for grateful bathroom run buddies to wake up during the night and go with, I slept soon and surprisingly well.
We got up at 6am to find all our possessions still where we left them. We packed up, had a warm breakfast to send us on our way and arrived at our cars with wind burned faces and iced feet but only a few hours later.
Kim, Jan and Jane on our way home.
Kim, Jan, Jane, Barb & Frank.
Kim, Jan and Jane.
Goodies were divided up and hugs were hugged as us tired warriors parted. Dennis needed to go home and Frank figured we weren’t going to have more of a bear experience as we already had if we still went to the bear center, so we skipped that and were on our way.
What a great trip! Wished I could have stayed up in Ely to wash my clothes and go right back out again with Jack and his crew a couple of days later! When are we going again?!?
Jan, in the meantime, when are we going to see your fabulous photos?!?
(* =cost of a Minnesota fishing lisence)