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Bell Wildfire (Royalex)

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Mad River Independence (sold)

Wenonah Prism (sold)
-cane seat installation
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Custom portage pads

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Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

Short Loop out of Seagull Lake

September 12-16, 2012

 

Page 1: Overview

The Plan

This trip consists of two loops out of Seagull Lake, connected by the long, narrow border lakes of Ottertrack and Knife, and taking about ten days. Entering at Seagull, I plan to travel through Alpine, Red Rock, Saganaga, Ottertrack, Knife, Ester, Hanson, the South Arm of Knife Lake, back through Knife and Ottertrack, across the top of Saganaga, and back via the Seagull River. It was a good plan. Maybe another time, when there are no local forest fires. I'm happy to be able to celebrate my recent 63rd birthday in this way, no matter how short the trip.

The Gear

  • Boat: Mad River Independence (15’8”, fiberglass with wood trim); with two telescoping tarp poles (1.5 lbs. each) and a folding chair (3 lbs) lashed in, total weight is a bit over 50 lbs.
  • Paddles: Sanborn Canoe custom Minnesota straight shaft; Bending Branches Espresso straight.
  • Shelter: Sierra Designs Zeta 2 tent (6 lbs.), CCS 10x12 tarp (3 lbs.), 6x8 lightweight poly tarp.
  • Packs: Kondos Outfitter Personal Canoe Pack (5,000 cu. in., starting around 60 lbs.), a 40-liter dry bag (13 lbs with tent, tarp and shoes); day pack (12 lbs.).
  • Water filter: Platypus CleanStream.
  • Cameras: Olympus 720SW (waterproof) and Canon 40D in Witz Sport Locker, 6 lbs.
  • Cookset: Esbit solid fuel stove with wind shield, 1.3-qt. pot with lid, bowl, and 10-oz. mug.

The Food

Meals are pretty straightforward:

  • Breakfast: granola with dried blueberries and raisins, and a half-and-half mix of instant nonfat dry milk and Nido Milk. Also some instant oatmeal.
  • Lunch: beef jerky, tortillas and trail mix.
  • Dinners: Several Hawk Vittles and Mountain House dehydrated meals as well as a few homemade meals using freeze-dried ground beef and a variety of dehydrated ingredients such as gnocchi, couscous, mushrooms, peppers, and tomatoes. Dinners are accompanied by tortillas or bread sticks. Desserts are chocolate pudding and Chambord.

I use a BearVault 500 because of the beef jerky, trail mix and granola, which are aromatic no matter how well they're sealed. My dog ignores the Bear Vault when it's closed, but I wonder if a bear would smell anything. I stash my food carefully at night and it's never been disturbed, except for certain curious rodents investigating a dry bag with trail mix in it.

The Map

Click here for a map of the planned and actual routes (opens in a new window).

Trip Statistics (you really want to know this):

  Total distance: 32 mi.
  Traveling time: 15:00
  Portages: 6 (178 rods)
  Portaging time: 2:02
  Portages avoided: 1 for 9 rods
  Portage-walking distance: 534 rods (1.7 mi.)

Note: Campsite numbers are the ones painted on the latrines.  The figures in parentheses indicate the site numbers from this commonly-used file: bwca-camp+port-wpt.gdb, located at this site: http://w3.cs.jmu.edu/arch/hobbies/camp/maps/bwca/.

Other Stuff

My physical condition remains quite good except for my left knee, which went lame during a morning run several weeks ago. My doctor thought it was a torn meniscus and gave me an anti-inflammatory, which helped. He also told me to put off the BW trip so as not to make it worse. I'll be more careful than usual on portages and around camp. The knee acts up a bit, preventing me from kneeling in the boat as much as I'd like, but it's not much of a limitation.

I wonder how my SealSkinz Waterblocker socks will work. I usually use Gore-Tex lined snake boots so this is somewhat experimental. It turns out the socks work fine but they don't breathe well enough to prevent my feet from getting sweaty.

 

Day 0 – Tuesday, Sept. 11 – Through the Portal Partly

After a stop in Two Harbors to pick up the Sanborn paddle, I arrive at Rockwood Lodge on Poplar Lake before 5:00 p.m. Dinner down the road at Trail Center is very good: salmon, pilaf, brussels sprouts, and a cold glass of Moose Drool. Yes, brussels sprouts. I'd be happy to try their menu again.

I consider past solo trips and their themes of divorce and recovery, and how far I've come in the past few years. I decide the theme of this trip/retreat is joy - the simple joy of being present in a world I understand and belong in.

 

Day 1 – Wednesday, Sept. 12 – Steady Wind, and Lots of It

Breakfast is a great omelet at Gunflint Lodge.

I drive around Trail's End campground but can't find the landing for Seagull Lake, which is supposed to be at the south edge of the campground. It would help to look at a posted map, but I suffer from male-brain syndrome (overly self-reliant) and put in at the landing on Gull Lake. It's 9:00 and the wind is already up.

 

Right away I have to line through a small rapid ...

and then carry a short (35 rod) portage into Seagull Lake.

 

It seems like a good way to start. I head generally west, taking advantage of whatever sheltering landforms I can. The wind is from the west at 10-20 mph with gusts to 30, and waves are kicking up to nearly a foot in unprotected places. After two hours and four miles of tough paddling I take refuge at site 39 (C0475) on Seagull Lake.

 

The fire grate is on a bald rock with no trees, but the tent pads are nicely sheltered behind the rock - and level. It's a good site for one night, but too small for a layover. The temperature is in the upper 60s so it's quite comfortable.

 

Around 4:00 I see and smell smoke from the Emerald Lake fire, which is in Canada on the other side of Knife Lake. After last year's experience with the Pagami Creek fire, and not knowing how far away or how big this fire is, I arrange gear so that I can get out quickly if need be.

 

Dinner is couscous with ground beef, mushrooms, tomatoes, and a tortilla.

In the evening the smoke plume continues to blow to the east, nearly overhead. I've been nervous the past two hours and have prioritized my stuff in case I have to beat a hasty retreat. I'm not sure where I'd go in the dark, though. I'd be more comfortable with a northerly wind shift, but the forecast is for the westerly wind to continue tomorrow. I find a small cinder on the big rock right where I'd been stepping. Although it's cold, clearly it's new, and its arrival doesn't ease my mind.

The smoke makes the sunset strangely appealing.

 

An after-dark trip to the latrine reveals a light "snow" of ash in the beam of my headlamp. I'm glad there's no red glow in the western sky. Otherwise it's a clear and warm night, only getting down into the mid-50s.

Day 1 summary:
Total distance 3.5 miles in 1:50
1 portage of 35 rods in 0:28

 

Trip report by day

Days 2-3: Sept. 13-14 - Seagull to Saganaga

Days 4-5: Sept. 15-16 - Saganaga to the Monument Portage and Back

 

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Comments and suggestions welcome. Feel free to e-mail me.
Last updated October 2, 2012
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