5 Days in the BWCAW
By Nick Zdon
The entrance to Bower Trout Lake was a muddy one. We knew to expect the mud after the outfitter told us that morning that he usually has to hose down the canoes pretty good when they get them back from a group has just come out of Bower. But there’s really no way to prepare for it. Except to resign yourself to the fact that your feet are going to be muddy and wet until you get to the campsite and put your thoughts elsewhere.
We had a 5 day trek planned. The first day goal was to get to Swan Lake and set up camp. We’d use Swan as our home lake and fish and day trip from there. The first portage or two consisted of us falling into the natural rhythm that develops from paddling a canoe, unloading at the portage, hauling the gear, reloading the canoe and, setting out to paddle more. We soon found our cadence and the miles swept by. We reached Swan Lake by the afternoon, set up camp and cooked up a steak dinner.
The next few days were filled with bacon breakfasts, fishing (good sized Walleye, Smallmouth, and Northern Pike), paddling, day tripping, and asking each other, “What time do you think it is now?” None of us had thought to bring a watch. Not that we needed one. We knew well enough to head back to camp before it started to get dark, or when the sun was about two hands above the horizon.
Our first day trip included a 290 rod (a rod is 16 and a half feet) portage to neighboring Vernon Lake, where we hiked out to see the 20 ft waterfall of the South Brule River, which connects Vernon Lake with Brule Bay. As the river empties into Vernon Lake the natural eddy pools formed by uprooted trees made for the perfect place to take a dip and cool down before heading back to camp.
Our second day trip was not quite as successful. After fighting our way across an unmapped portage to fish Lac Lake we found nothing more than strong winds, which made fishing difficult. Even if we had been able to find where the fish were the winds made sure that we didn’t stay in one place too long. After an hour or two we pulled our canoes up to a rock outcropping to discuss our next move, and work on eating the massive amount of beef jerky we’d made especially for the trip. The area we rested at had been burned in a fire some time before. Pieces of charred trees still littered the ground. Although the field grasses were quite tall and there were wildflowers everywhere to add color to the gray day. The absence of trees created an interesting contrast from the usual dense forest found in the boundary waters, and it offered a unique picturesque view of Brule Mountain in the distance.
The trip back to our entry point, and our vehicles, offered a different view of the lakes and portages than the one we got 5 days earlier on our trek in. Obviously traveling east back across a lake you had previously traveled west across changes your bearings quite a bit. 180º to be exact. And having your map and compass at the ready can come in handy. We stopped briefly on Marshall Lake long enough to continue making a dent in the beef jerky and pull a few good sized Smallmouths out of the water just yards from the portage.
The drive home after a trip like this is always a quiet one. We’d all just spent 5 days in close quarters and had already made enough conversation with each other. But the drive home is a transitionary phase of the trip. The journey between two worlds. The portage from the remote wilderness back to everyday life.
46 Notes/ Hide
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- balaklavabalaklava said: i love minnesota
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- alexpolicastro said: Great post. Boundary Waters was the best canoeing and camping I have ever done. Our crew did over 50 miles of canoeing. Wish I could go back soon.
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