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


Ladies’ Trip

Tammi and I met this summer and quickly became close friends. Tammi has traveled and lived in many places and although she is a native Midwesterner, this summer is Tammi’s first time in the BWCA.

We decided it would be a fun adventure to take a BWCA trip together. It would be my first “only-female” trip and I was excited to see what it be like compared to the trips I have taken with mixed-gender groups. We only had two days off from work, so we decided on a short overnight paddle on Seagull Lake.

Seagull is a big, beautiful lake with a ton of cool islands and a few lakes to portage to. On the day of our trip we woke up to rain, mixed with fog and a chilly breeze. In fact it was rainy and cold for almost our entire trip. We knew we would have to be creative and stay positive to make this a fun experience.

Due to the rain and wind, Seagull’s waters were choppy and a bit unpredictable. We found a campsite on an island with great trees that created a wind barrier. After setting up camp we spent the day paddling and exploring different islands. We then portaged over to a small lake called Rog Lake with one campsite on it. Tammi was having a blast getting out of the canoe and exploring random places and I had a blast attempting to leave her behind.

Ladies trip 1Ladies Trip 2Ladies Trip 3

After being cold and wet for most the day, we headed back to camp, ready to spend the evening warm and dry. We decided to forgo attempting to build a fire due to Tammi’s brilliant idea to make a fort out of our tents and some tarps.

Ladies Trip 4

It was a fun process deciding how to set up this amazing fortress, and made us feel like kids again.  It allowed us to spend the evening warm and dry in our tents, hanging out and cooking.

The next morning it was still raining, but we were determined to start a fire. It took quite a while to cut the wood, make kindling and tinder, and peel lots of birch bark in order to get our fire started. We spent another hour or so babysitting the fire before we decided it was too much work to keep it going. We decided to pack up camp and make our way home through the moody waters of Seagull. We ended our trip with a warm sauna and reflecting on our adventure.

Overall, I realize there was a different energy about our experience than other trips I have been on. We communicated about every part of our adventure, made decisions together, explored, shared stories, laughed and kept each other in positive spaces. Tammi commented that she thought it would not have been as fun if it has been warm and sunny. Something about having to endure the rain and cold, being creative and depending on each other was a truly connecting and unforgettable experience.  I can’t wait for our next ladies’ trip.

— Lindsey

Ladies Trip 5

The Grandpa Roy Loop

The Grandpa Roy loop

The Grandpa Roy loop

Last week Kate and I paddled one of our favorite day trips, the Grandpa Roy loop.  The loop starts and ends at Trails’ End Campground, and takes you through Saganaga, Roy, Grandpa and Seagull Lakes.  It is a very scenic route, with two small remote lakes sandwiched between two huge island filled lakes.  The route sticks out to me because of how pleasant and beautiful the two portages from Roy to Grandpa and Grandpa the Seagull are. Walking them is one of the most enjoyable parts of the loop.

— Quinn

Entering the BWCA

Entering the BWCA

Roy lake from the portage

Roy lake from the portage

Strolling along the portage from Roy to Grandpa

Strolling along the portage from Roy to Grandpa

Rose Falls and the Stairway Portage

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.

Stairway portageThis 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.

IMG_3888   (Lindsey wandering into the Falls)


(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.

— Matthew

Reflections on June

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. lindsey portage

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.

Matthew Tent 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.

loonAs 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.

— Lindsey

matthew Portage

From East Bearskin to the Vegetable chain ( a different type of canoe shuttle)

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.

— Quinn


South Bean Lake to East Bearskin


Lilly pads on Crocodile

Lily pads on Crocodile

Meeting the Morgans at a portage

Meeting the Morgens at a portage

East end of Crocodile

East end of Crocodile

Parsnip Lake on the Vegetable Chain

Parsnip Lake on the Vegetable Chain