At the put in to a glassy Brule lake: Dick K., Ron T. & Barb S. (HDR photography courtesy to Jan H.)
I came into this trip highly sleep deprived and finding out that I had forgotten my sleeping bag under my cat at home. What at start! But then on the way to the closest outfitter to our campsite at Tettegouche to fill this critical void a phone call that Dick brought a spare. Hurray! Things are looking up! But this delay had robbed me of a much needed nap, so I had to push on fatigued: Packs needed to repacked and of course the food. A quick evening repast of store bought sammies, 5 mg of melatonin and I was off to sleep at 7pm. We had arranged to get up at 5.30am to catch Brule when it is calm. The state of Brule on our paddle-in day had been the topic of much debate: It's a large lake with a significant East-West fetch that could make it impassably for canoes in high winds/large waves despite it's comparatively small North-South expansion, which would be our travel direction. Weather reports had been frequently consulted with increasingly encouraging wind speeds and yet, better to give us the best possible chance of paddling in on our permit day.
Aah! After 11 hours of glorious sleep my tent fellows woke me up at 4am for their n'th bathroom run, but I was ready, mentally and physically restored!
We got up at 5.30am as appointed and a light drizzle made for a quick departure. We used the saved time to get some coffee for our unnamed addicts (Dick & Ron).
At the put in we ran into Basil L. and got some beta of the route he had taken. He described a potential portage on our trip (200 rod) as muddy. Well, that's not going to stop us! After a long Minnesota good-bye and boats finally loaded we were off, a swift 4 1/4 hours after getting up :-)
Smiling faces, because what could be better than paddling in the BWCAW!
Reconnoitering over maps. This was a skill building trip and I definitely feel a lot more confident about reading BWCA maps than I had been.
This is not a race, a little rest while others are navigating through the flooded cone portages.
The higher than the last few years water level was easing our path: We didn't have to do a single portage in "The Cones". We could either paddle, pull or push our way across the flooded boundary. We couldn't believe our luck after skipping 3 portages that way. Hey nonny nonny!
Gridlock in the BWCA: There had to be an end to skipping portages eventually...
We did have a challenging 147 rod (~0.4 mi) portage into Cliff Lake that we could not skip, but at least we were still fresh from wading the previous 3 portages and made good progress to our next couple of lakes/portages into Winchell before heading to our first campsite 12 o'clock from the portage. Another rain shower to hurry us on with pitching tents and we were home for the next two nights.
Jan H. treated us to twice- (well, thrice) cooked pork, which was absolutely delicious!
Aah! Our first campsite: The "patio".
Striking new growth on the balsam firs. (Photography courtesy to Dick K.)
We sure did laugh a lot!
Layover day breakfast: Hmm pancakes!
A golden "A - side" emerges after flipping.
Is there really no way around that 200 rod portage? Not if we want to take a different route out than we took in. (HDR photography courtesy to Jan H.)
Off to do some fishing: Horseshoe lake was dealt as a good spot, but we had to paddle the length of Windchell and Gaskin to get there. I was just horsing around in Ron's ultralight solo paddling it with kayak paddles: FUN!
In Gaskin I decided not to be an anker for the boys (my arms seemed to be filled with pudding by that time) and chilled on a familiar campsite I like to call the stairway to heaven campsite until they picked me up on their way back. Good use of those safety whistles we had everybody bring.
Ok, getting late going back to camp. They probably expect that we are late because we spent time cleaning fish...Outch, no such luck!
I am modelling products from the combined first aid kits of Barb S. and Jan H.: No, I do not need paddling gloves, I need kayaking calluses! I had been concentrating on canoeing this spring for this trip, but that clearly didn't help with a lengthy trip manipulating a kayak paddle... I can definitely recommend the following products: Moleskin, Blister Band Aid and Spiroflex for protection as well as longevity in staying put. Oh, and you don't really know how long Winchell is until you have paddled its length back and forth...
In between cups: Waste not, want not.
After a quick bag breakfast of Valhalla Mush, a short paddle and portage took us to our next campsite in Omega Lake just north of Windchell to a lovely campsite in the midst of several points and a whole settlement of beaver lodges. The idea was to explore more of the lakes in that area which was new to all of us. I let the boys explore the lakes for fish, while I explored what a good nap would do for me :-) before going for a swim around our point. The girls skipped the nap but swam, washed and laundered.
So sad we only had one day there: Jan H., our master of potions, powders and gadgets had been regularly cranking her weather radio and the chance of severe weather on Friday was just to great to ignore. We had to move on to Brule on Thursday to be sure not to get caught out. But Brule is large with a lot of scope to explore for 2 days and we had gotten some beta about an beautiful camp site with excellent fishing right off the rock, by Christy J. who had just been there Memorial Day weekend. Our plan had also been to be really close to the take out by Friday so this would work out alright. (By the way, the cranking noise seemed to repel mosquitoes to a significant degree.)
Somebody had left us a warning sign at our campsite in Omega. It was a large campsite with great tent pads so nobody had to sleep in the wet spot!
Cafe Omega with Ron's Wenona as the table.
Yup, there will be a veil of silence on some of our adventures :-)
Ron T. had been excited like a 5 year old about this site's diving spot and here he goes! (Dick not far behind him.)
A particularly pale Lady Slipper. I had never seen the BWCA with so many flowers EVERYWHERE. Was it just the season or is this a particularly good year?
Barb & Ron: Savoring that we had arrived in the golden evening sun.
Sappy tree I sat in to get a good angle on Ron's dive. Essential equipment for photographers: baby powder! Instead of me rolling in dirt to stop from leaving sap spots everywhere I went, Barb and Jan teamed up to solve the problem with baby powder. I am telling you, this incident was the source of all sorts of mirth all round for the rest of the evening!
Dick and Jan.
The powder room.
Sunset. (Photography courtesy to Dick K.)
Ron casting that line just one more time... (HDR photography courtesy to Jan H.)
I could feel the apprehension in the group when we got up to break camp and have a speedy breakfast to send us on our next travel day: A 200 rod portage lay ahead of us as well as 5 smaller portages with no options to bail and camp until we had made it to Brule. Everybody seemed a little tired and hesitant, packing more carefully than other days, maybe delaying our strenuous day ahead of us just a little bit longer.
Thinking back to the races Frank has put us through in his vigor on shorter portages I suggested that our moto for the day should be: "Slow and steady wins the race." Ron threw in safety as a priority and we all promised to keep ourselves well hydrated and fueled with breaks and with energy bars lodged safely in our pfd pockets.
An expertly hung...er... mouse bag (Photography courtesy to Dick K.)
A face from the Easter Islands transported here by magic no doubt.
Worst landing ever! Blocked by higgledy piggledy tree trunks. Worse on the there than the way back though.
Now a short paddle and the 200 rod portage would be at our feet. I had been getting increasingly psyched and was ready to challenge this portage with a Royalex canoe on my shoulders. So when Ron said he'd carry the Royalex and I would carry the ultra light I declined politely. Heck, in a pinch I could take a break in the middle and it was a portage without elevation change. The latter makes a HUGE difference to me. I was stoked to push my envelope.
At the end of what surely felt like 200 rod to me comparing it with our 147 portage the first day we arrived at an opening. Hmm, is that the end of the portage? Then were is the lake? There was a shallow channel of water and I suggested to send in a probe to see if it is passable but Dick dissuaded us in favor of scouting on foot leaving the canoes behind. We had seen footsteps going along the side of the shallow valley and eventually hit a trail that was clearly a portage. I CAN'T BELIEVE that wasn't 200 rod ALREADY! Well, there was nothing for it. But I needed water and fuel and a rest for my shoulders so I went back to the start of the portage to get just that including a pack that I loaded with as many little bits that I could and grabbed 4 paddles so we wouldn't end up having to go back for little crap. Ron had stayed behind with the canoes and Dick had joined me for water and food and was planning to take packs half way and then come back for more. We had decided that this way may stretch moral, even if it wouldn't shrink the distance covered any. I made up my water at double my usual electrolyte concentration to make sure I wouldn't wash out and weaken from hyponatremia.
I decided to carry the pack all the way, I just needed to see the end of this! By the time I got back Ron had already taken care of the canoes. (A saint if you ask me, that one!) Although I am confident I could have picked up the canoe again for a second round after dropping the pack. And it was well worth going all the way! By the time I arrived Jan had put another of her gadgets to good use and was informing me: GPS confirms that ahead was Mulligan lake. Huh? Ok - yah - what's your point, I see the lake now! Jan had to make me understand that this was MULLIGAN, meaning that we had just carried the two portages and the lake in between on the map!!! Woohoo! a) We were a lot further than we thought b) I HA:D carried the canoe for 200 rod, which more than doubled any previous distance!
On our way back for more gear we spread the word and saw faces brighten. In Dick's words: We are ANIMALS we even carry around lakes! The two 30-some portages still ahead of us would feel like a piece of cake and Dick was so stoked that he started double packing just for the heck of it! The portage south of Mulligan was fine on the way South, but would be a bitch on the way North with a major and steep elevation chance, so not necessarily the laziest day paddle out of Brule if you wanted to go fishing there.
I have to say the the valley of the lake that wasn't there was immensely beautiful and at any other occasion I would have stopped there for a significant time to savor and take pictures, but we had an appointment with a campsite in Brule, time was pressing on muscles and minds were getting tired...
A heavenly landing! I could walk the canoe right into the lake and unshoulder the burden. I had been hoping for that!
By the time we reached Brule we were all managing our energy reserves tightly. It was past 5pm and campsites were already taken including the one with the fishing rock (of course). First empty campsite we hit was a now go, to small and what-not. Second was passable, but Ron headed East-North-East to check out the site at the point and scouted in his solo. We waited and rested and I was set on not deciding between this site and the one Ron looked at not to test for any others. It took Ron a while to come back with new of it being taken. So the dice had fallen.
When you are tired any place is good for a rest!
What turned out in the morning after a nice long sleep to be a quite passable site with a nice breeze going from the landing right through one side of camp and past the latrine with the most majestic cedars I've ever seen and very few bugs as well as nice reading spots at the landing looked nothing like it when we arrived there TIRED and HUNGRY:
Arg, we can't have a fire if we have 4 tents, because they would be too close to the pit. Well then let's share and do 2 tents as we had planned for if the site is small. No, we want our own tent! Arg, there is poison ivy all over. Arg, it's so closed in it will be crazy buggy. Arg, arg, arg. Arg. The thai noodles for dinner were mushy (Well then let's call it Nirvana Mush! Poisonous looks at me all round.)
It goes to show yet again that the same thing can look so different depending on one's attitude!
I found my first ever leech I was too tired to faint over and just calmly took care of it with a sprinkle of salt from my pack. And once I had taken care of this previously so feared monster, heck I might as well light the camp stove myself, something I had been avoiding for years if you believe it...
Poison Ivy?! (Photography courtesy to Dick K.)
Looking out from our Landing on Brule.
Would I have chosen to do a 350 rod portage? Absolutely not, no way, njet! Am I glad we had this greatness thrust upon us? Yeah you betcha! The sense of accomplishment and the knowledge of a plethora of new routes open to me in the BWCA now is mesmerizing.
An expertly hung bear bag by our very own food security engineer extraordinaire Dick K. (HDR photography courtesy to Jan H.)
The next day we took our good time with a progressive breakfast of eggs, bacon and hash browns as rain drummed on our tarp expertly spun by our tarp master Ron T. Dick and Ron again went in search for an elusive animal they called fish. Us girls farkeled on top of a bear barrel until the tents called us in for afternoon naps.
Coming back at sunset from just one more last paddle before going home...
A farewell pancake breakfast on our last day, since we were so close to the takeout.
The B-side just as lovely as the A-side! Them boys sure made nice pancakes! And Dick promised to invent a meal that will be called diddly-squat so he can bring that again on our next trip :-)
Trees down from a blow down at our campsite.
A very handy artifact from maybe the 30's in our center cedar.
After a short 20 minutes paddling out that even included sightseeing at an underwater wreck that looked like it could have been a voyageurs canoe we were back where we had started 6 days ago. I could have easily stayed a few more days...It had been another great trip!
Paddling a solo canoe, map reading, portaging 350 rods, taking care of a leech and lighting the camp stove, what could possibly keep me out of the BWCA now? Heck, even a solo trip has made a quantum leap closer!
Out thanks go out to Reverend Sam Wood for spiritual guidance and this weeks philosphical question: If a branch falls in the woods and nobody gets up to go to the bathroom, is there still toilet paper left?
PS: Note that the route on this trip was negotiated within the group. With a different mix of skill and experience we would have likely taken another route and with more beginners we would likely have taken the cones back to Brule instead of taking the above return route back to Brule.