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Boundary Waters:

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Wisconsin's Flowages

Wolf and Peshtigo Rivers


Boats & Gear

Boundary Waters Gear List

Bell Wildfire (Royalex)

Blackhawk Ariel

Mad River Independence (sold)

Wenonah Prism (sold)
-cane seat installation
-thwart replacement

Custom portage pads

Seat-mounted portage yoke

Outside canoe shelter

Inside canoe storage



BWCA - September 2012

Page 3: Days 4-5
Saganaga to the Monument Portage and Back


Day 4 – Saturday, Sept. 15 – A Monumental Setback

Once again I leave a little after 8:00, this time destination Ester Lake. The wind is SE 10-15, but of course fickle due to land forms. It's nice paddling, though, due to sheltering shorelines and cross- and tailwinds. Not much headwind - for a change.

Near Swamp Lake I meet a tandem team on a 300-mile trip from International Falls to Lake Superior. They're well-equipped, including a spray skirt for their boat. They tell me the area to the west may be closed due to the Emerald Lake fire, which is burning in Canada on the other side of Knife Lake. This is a small fire - only about 750 acres - but the Forest Service is concerned about it jumping across the narrow border lakes. A couple of rangers paddle by but they're gone by the time I decide to try to ask them what's up. So I press on in the hope that the southeasterly wind has turned the fire back so that it no longer presents a danger to the area I'm planning to enter.

The portage into Swamp Lake crosses a narrow isthmus. I'm encouraged by the absence of a Forest Service "Portage Closed" sign.


The Monument Portage landing is a solidly-built pier. But what's that in the distance?

This is what:


Obviously, there's no (legal) entry to the next several days of my trip. Why couldn't this sign have been at the earlier portage? Oh well, there's no choice but to head back. On the return trip over the little isthmus portage I encounter this fellow:

It's a good foot across and moving with a purpose, so I yield the right of way.

I go back the way I came, hoping that one of the campsites before American Point is open. Looking for site 77 (C0339), I make a navigation error that puts me at a campsite in Canada. It looks good, and even has a nice fireplace made of rocks. Rocks? I forget for the moment that BWCA campsites have iron grates. After wandering around a bit I wonder why I can't find the latrine. Then it hits me and I hightail it back across the border. Site 77 is, of course, occupied, as are all the other sites until 72 (C2072), right on American point. The site has been heavily used, but it's still nice: open pine forest, several almost-level tent pads, and lots of tarping opportunities. I've seen worse views.


The sunset is red due to smoke from the Emerald Lake fire.

Dinner is wild rice pilaf with chicken and tortillas, followed by a liquid dessert of mocha java and Chambord.

In the afternoon I hear sounds from across the lagoon to the southeast that at first sound like they could be human, and then like an elephant seal or walrus. I've never heard a moose, but I've seen videos of bears bluff-charging and posturing pseudo-aggressively. This sounds like one or two bears moaning and groaning. It goes on for a short while, stops, and then resumes for a few minutes some time before full dark. I'm happy to note their direction hasn't changed. I'm more concerned about the chipmunks, who are very curious and confident, including the one I tossed out of my empty pack.

Before going to sleep I decide that I'll either layover here tomorrow or head out and go back in at another entry point.

Day 4 summary:
Total distance 11.0 miles in 5:25
2 portage of 24 rods in 0:24


Day 5 – Sunday, Sept. 16 – Out through a New Portage

Today's options: (a) Layover; (b) go to Lake One via Ely, 3+ hours away; (c) go to a park in northern Wisconsin.
Action: Dither
Decision: Head for Pattison State Park.
Reason: Showers.
Result: Leave at 10:00.

It's a beautiful day, sunny with light N-NW wind, mostly across my stern.


Somehow I make another navigation error and discover an old, unmarked portage leading to the Seagull River. I could easily turn around and go the right way, but no, I choose the portage over backtracking.
Clearly, someone has been here before me, and not long ago.


I land at the Gull Lake landing at 1:00 and get to Pattison in time to set up camp, shower, have dinner, and take a walk before a light rain starts. The soft patter lulls me to sleep as I recall images like this one that make even a short trip worthwhile.


Day 5 summary:
Total distance 7.4 miles in 2:45
1 portage of 44 rods in 0:20


Lessons Learned

  • Navigation errors are amazingly easy to make (relearned - not a new lesson).
  • It's easier and mostly more fun to have a tripping partner.
  • I use about one gallon of water a day.



When we get out of the glass bottles of our ego,
And we escape like squirrels turning in the cages of our personality
and get into the forests again,
we shall shiver with cold and fright
but things will happen to us
so that we don't know ourselves.

Cool, unlying life will rush in,
and passion will make our bodies taught with power,
we shall stamp our feet with new power
and old things will fall down,
we shall laugh, and institutions will curl up like burnt paper.

D. H. Lawrence



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Last updated October 8, 2012
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