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

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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