BWCA: Into the Wilderness

By Eilene Lyon

It’s exactly a year since The Putterer and I went on a trip through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northern Minnesota. Since I use a photo from that as the blog header and one in my About page, I probably should get on with a post about the trip.

This had originally been planned as a trip for The Putterer and two buddies, but they had to cancel, so I got to go instead. We had discussed doing this “someday” and suddenly, “someday” was here! We did some paddling in our inflatable kayak on a nearby lake for a couple weeks beforehand to get the muscles broken in.

One of those mirror-lake morning views in the BWCA.

We flew into Minneapolis, rented a car, and spent our first night in Duluth, a delightful small city. The next day we enjoyed a dawdling drive along Lake Superior on our way to Ely, where we checked in with the canoe outfitter.

Our outfitter seemed a bit discombobulated, but fortunately the young man working for him seemed to have everything together. Plus, he lugged a lot of our stuff along the hiking trail to the put-in.

At the put-in. Fresh as daisies!
On the first and last day, we paddled on narrow rivers. In between we were on lakes of varying sizes.

They supplied us with 5 days of rations – the best of it being a full dozen fresh eggs and some bacon. The worst of it: the powdered omelets. Ick. But overall there was plenty to eat. They supplied all the camping gear as well as the canoe.

A typical breakfast

That canoe – it weighed more than you’d have thought. The long portages were a bit agonizing for The Putterer, but he kept complaints to a minimum, and I did as much as I could to carry the gear.

The Putterer on a portage.

Being after Labor Day, the heaviest crowds were gone – a good thing since campsites were first-come-first-serve. We lucked out with the weather, too.

Though the first night was a bit frigid, the rest were pleasant. At our first portage, we met a woman heading to the take-out who moaned it had rained every day of her trip. We had not a single rainy day.

The campsites all have grated fire pits and most have logs set up to use as benches and work space for cooking.
They also come equipped with an airy latrine.
Sunset viewed from our first camp on Loon Lake.

We were a bit skeptical when told we would be drinking straight from the lake, but the water was good up until the last day, when our worst campsite was on a backwater eddy and quite nasty. I ended up filtering it through a pair of my (clean) underwear. Just to be safe, though, we always used a sanitizing wand before drinking (rented from the outfitter).

The route that had been pre-selected by the men was a 50-mile loop, so we needed to paddle 10 miles per day. I was able to navigate using just the map provided. I didn’t even need a compass, thanks to abundant sunshine. I was a little worried about locating the camp sites, but found them all with no trouble. The hardest thing was finding one of the portages and we ended up making a few false starts through deep mud. That was probably the low point on the trip.

Screenshot_2018-09-05 boundary-waters-map-with-entry-points jpg (JPEG Image, 3400 × 2820 pixels)
Our put-in started at 14. We went to Loon Lake (center left) the first night, then looped through Lac La Croix at top. Our last night was spent on Lake Agnes at right and the take-out was at 16.

The most grueling paddling was on the largest lake, Lac La Croix, along the U.S.–Canadian border. Motorized craft are permitted on the Canadian side of the border, so we tried to stay on the U. S. side of the lake. The same was true on Loon Lake.

This entrepreneur on an isthmus between Loon Lake and Lac La Croix had a track set up and a winch-powered boat-hauler to move traffic from one lake to the other.
A sparkling day on Lac La Croix.

At the end of our 4th day, we also had to battle some fierce wind, but we ended up at such delightful camp site, we decided to stay an extra day. That entailed breaking out the sat-phone to let the outfitter know to pick us up a day later. My hard-working bod was happy for the day off.

I spent part of my day off seeing how many types of fungi I could find on our little island. It was interesting to observe which ones the squirrels were stealing from me!

We didn’t see a lot of wildlife, mostly bald eagles and a few turtles. We had a near encounter with a cow moose and her calf on one of the portages, but we were looking at the ground and they crashed off through the forest before we could catch a glimpse. Probably better than a face-to-face encounter would have turned out.

The backside of a BWCA denizen.
It’s a good idea to bring a camp chair, since you don’t know who might have prior dibs on the logs around the fire.

The young man from the outfitter was right on time to lug our canoe and some gear on the takeout hike. And most lovely of all, he had cans of cold beer to revive us. It was probably the cheapest swill in Minnesota, but oh, did it taste good!

Another glorious sunset in the BWCA.

23 thoughts on “BWCA: Into the Wilderness

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    1. I believe one of those was a chanterelle. But I don’t feel any confidence in eating wild mushrooms. As one of my favorite essayists wrote, who does eat wild mushrooms, but otherwise not adventurous- “ l take my risks at the end of a fork”

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Wow, sounds like you had a heavy workout but looks like it was worth it. We’re living so close the boundary waters, we’re planning on seeing them at some point. I don’t think I’m quite up to your trip though! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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