There is one route that has been described as the “most popular day-trip” in the BWCAW, and for good reason. That route often begins with entry on West Bearskin Lake, then a portage to Duncan, and then the climactic portage to Rose Lake. I had heard many rave reviews about this destination-driven paddling experience. With my sister up for her first visit, I knew it would be the perfect way to introduce her to the beauty of this place.
(see http://bearskinoutfitters.com/rose-falls-trip/ for more details)
I have to say, this trip met and exceeded our expectations. This was evident in the way our plans changed as the day went on. We intended to complete the stairway portage, followed by an afternoon paddle on Rose Lake. With this in mind, I portaged the Quetico 18.5 three-person canoe. Instead, we spent over two hours exploring the falls and taking in the view of Rose Lake while having a picnic lunch. The quality time and peaceful setting were well worth the extra energy spent in the portage.
This experience gets at one of my favorite parts of living and working up here. There is such easy access to the most beautiful spaces, if you are just willing to do a little bit of work. Being able to share this beauty with a first time visitor like my sister was a real treat. We all shared in the work and thus shared in the reward.
(Quality Time with Sister)
I think this is why people come back here year after year: the beautiful spaces, the exploration of new places, and the slow pace that allows for quality human connection.
This past June, Matthew and I decided to take our first BWCA trip together. Although Matthew has spent a great deal of time on the North Shore via the Superior Hiking Trail, this was his first time experiencing the beauty of an overnight paddle in the BWCA. And oh what a beautiful experience it was.
Our trip was abundant with wildlife encounters while exploring this area of the BWCA. We started from East Bearskin, paddled and portaged to Alder. On Alder we saw a loon family, two adults and a baby who was excitedly fluttering out and back from under its parent’s wing. We ended at Canoe Lake and camped at the first campsite on the western end of the lake. It is a big, secluded campsite, with good elevation that made for a lovely view and infrequent traffic from other paddlers. We set up camp and decided to explore the clear and beautiful Crystal Lake.
As we came to the end of the portage, I was in awe after seeing a large and majestic loon nesting within 10 feet of us. She and her partner had chosen the end of the portage to build their nest and wait for their young to hatch. A place we humans would not think a good choice, yet she and her eggs were somewhat hidden and protected in a bed of blue irises.
As we explored, we had the enjoyment of sitting in our canoe and silently giggling as we watched a plump beaver swim, hunt for the perfect stick, and struggle onto a rock to have a snack. As we were paddling back across Crystal, Matthew spotted something in the woods. At first he thought it was a bear but as the size of the creature registered, he realized it was a moose. All day we observed animals in their habitat and now it was our turn to be observed, for the moose was standing in the woods watching us paddle along! I could not believe Matthew spotted her, for she blended into the woods oh so well.
We spent the rest of the evening cooking dinner, sitting by the firing and sharing stories from our past. The next day was lovely and sunny and we spent the day sunning ourselves on warm rocks by the lake and reading until it was time to paddle home. As we made our way back to Bearskin, I realized how privileged I am to have the opportunity to experience the BWCA and how thankful and lucky I am to now live in this majestic place.
One of our long time staff members has spent the summer recovering from two knee surgeries. Limits on activity have forced Ruby to mostly work from home this summer. She now no longer needs to wear her cone, and is looking forward to the day when she can be inactive by choice, and not due to doctor’s orders.
Motivating her recovery is her desire to be able to go for a swim, and climb onto the couch.
I have been on many canoe trips in my life and just as many, if not more, climbing trips. Combining the two into one cohesive experience, however, was a rare first. This wasn’t an elaborate trip. The plan was simply to paddle in, get a camp site, climb for two days, and paddle out. But if that is all there was to the story, the best parts would be overlooked.
You know the parts I am referring to. I would call them moments of magic. It is the beauty only found in the remote places protected for such magic to occur. I find these experiences come at the most unexpected times. While searching for a campsite and fighting a strong headwind, Lindsey looked behind us and blurted out, “What kind of a duck is that?” I turned just in time to see an otter’s head slip under the surface of the water. Three of those furry little critters popped up to check us out as we made our way through their home. I don’t know if they were as excited to see us as we were to see them, but I like to believe that maybe they were.
The magic moments often include a totally new or novel experience, like climbing in a totally new place. Rock Climbing is an endeavor in problem solving from start-to-finish, especially when that place has never been visited before. Finding solid anchors comes first, then setting up the systems, and finally the most exciting part: the climbing itself. The added magic of having the wilderness lakes all around can be almost overwhelming to the senses.
One more bit of awe and wonder came after continually hearing the loons making a ton of noise. We speculated as to what the sounds may be intended to communicate. Eventually, we came up with a pretty fare interpretation by watching the loons making these noises. It looked as though the young loons were attempting to fly for the first time. The noise sounded like that of excitement and fear mixed with great effort. Although we never saw one of those young loons successfully take off, it was so special to share in such a special moment.
I really hope these moments of magic are felt by all the creatures we encountered. Maybe the loons, otters, and other creatures are as excited to live in the BWCA as we are.
This week Kate and I paddled a route from East Bearskin to the Vegetable Chain, at the same time running a shuttle for long-time guests Mark and Carol Morgen.
The Vegetable chain is a series of lakes that connect the east end of Crocodile Lake to the Shoe Lake Road. The Vegetables are unique in that they are outside the BWCA, but still non-motorized. They are also the only other access to Crocodile besides East Bearskin. The Vegetables to E. Bearskin is a great day trip, but involves a very long and impractical car shuttle To get around this problem, it was decided that Kate and I would paddle from East Bearskin and end at the Shoe Lake Road (the uphill but downwind direction) and Mark and Carol would come the opposite way. When Kate and I finished, Mark’s truck would be waiting for us.