A First BWCA Solo Trip

This was a premeditated spontaneous trip, meaning I had been wanting to do this all summer but on Monday I made up my mind to do it and began planning in earnest. I left the Bearskin staff dock at 11:07 AM on September 2, 2015.  It was cool and a little overcast but it was predicted to be clear and warm by the afternoon, so I was optimistic.  I was full of nervous energy, excitement, and some trepidation.

This wasn’t my first solo trip.  I have car-camped plenty of times by myself, took a two-month bike and train trip last year, and have done a lot of hiking solo — but this was my first solo trip into the Boundary Waters.  I was still unsure of how to pack the solo canoe and portage solo, but like most of my adventures I figured I’d figure it out sooner or later.

I had planned on going to Crystal Lake, but being unsure of how long it would take to paddle and portage my backup plan was going to be Canoe Lake.  When I arrived at the first portage, from East Bearskin to Alder, I was quite the pathetic-looking site but I did manage to get all my gear and the canoe over in one go.

On the paddle across Alder I worked on how to better carry my gear without looking like a complete beginner.  The portage from Alder to Canoe went much more smoothly. I had an extra bungee cord so I attached the paddle across the braces and the seat, leaving my hands free. I actually looked like I knew what I was doing.

Canoe is pretty small with lots of beaver activity, but no sightings of the wily beasts.  The portage to Crystal was longer than the others and a little steeper, but all-in-all not bad.  I made it to the first campsite in Crystal by 4:30 and immediately set up camp before I went looking for some more wood. After a short scout for wood (someone had graciously left a nice little stack of pine), I headed back to camp.  I knew night would sneak up on me so I set about getting dinner ready and the fire started.  Good thing I started early, it took a while to get it into a full-fledged fire.  I did it and even cooked dinner over it.

(One of several beaver lodges on Canoe.)

As twilight approached the two loons that were close by in the lake made a different call than I had heard before and as it faded away, I looked up at the sound of wing beats.  I witnessed a young eagle fly above the treetops and at the spot where the loons were the eagle turned and flew over them, but they had spotted him/her and dove beneath the water.  Definitely gave me chill bumps. The night was warm and the stars were brilliant, so I stayed up for a little bit trying to pick out the constellations.  The call of the loons is an eerie and beautiful thing in the day, but it seems to take on a mystical quality at night.

The next morning was beautiful and warm.  I sat on the slick rock out by the lake where the sun had managed to touch the shore and made coffee, wrote in my journal, and read. I closed my eyes and could hear the squawk of the jays, the screech of the squirrels, and the slight hum of a few sparrows in the pines behind me.  After a second cup of coffee, I packed up camp and headed back to Canoe Lake where I was going to hike the portage to Johnson Falls.

The Falls were stunning. Not going to lie, I thought they’d just be some small little cascades of water but I was pleased to find some nice size falls.  Hung around for a bit and then headed back and home to East Bearskin.

(Crystal Lake as I drank my coffee in the AM.)

(The first set of falls at Johnson Falls.)

I would say it was certainly one of my most memorable trips thanks to the sunshine, easy paddling, and empowerment of learning a new skill.  I can’t wait to go again!

— Tammi


Canoing to Climb on the BWCAW

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.


— Matthew