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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



Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

Tour of Seagull and Alpine Lakes (Out-and-Back)
September 6-9, 2014


Page 1: Overview

This trip was supposed to take me 10 days, looping through Seagull, Alpine, Ogishkemuncie, South Arm Knife, Amoeber, Hanson, and Ester, then back through Alpine and Seagull. It doesn't turn out that way.

Note: Each link opens in a new window.

The Boats

This trip I'm paddling my Hemlock Peregrine (15'8", kevlar/graphite/fiberglass with wood trim). Naked, it weighs just 32 lbs., but with removable portage yoke and a couple of tarp poles lashed into the stern, it weighs in at 44 lbs. This is its first trip fully loaded.

The Gear

  • Paddles: Bell/Mitchell 10-degree bent, Sanborn Canoe custom Minnesota straight shaft.
  • Shelters: Sierra Designs Zeta 2 tent (7 lbs.), CCS 10x12 tarp (3 lbs.), 6x8 lightweight poly tarp.
  • Packs: Kondos Outfitter Personal Canoe Pack (5,000 cu. in., 50 lbs.), a Sea to Summit Hydraulic Dry Pack (65 liters, about 20 lbs.), and a day pack (about 15 lbs.).
  • Water filter: Platypus CleanStream, Katadyn filtration water bottle.
  • Camera: Olympus TG-1 (waterproof).
  • Cookset: 1.3-qt. stainless steel pot, Esbit solid fuel stove with wind shield, small utensil bag, covered mug.
  • Cabela's Gore-Tex lined snake boots.

The Food

Meals are pretty straightforward:

  • Breakfast: granola with dried fruit and a half-and-half mix of instant nonfat dry milk and Nido Milk.
  • Lunch: beef jerky, tortillas and trail mix.
  • Dinners: Several Hawk Vittles and Mountain House dehydrated meals as well as a few homemade dehydrated meals, most of which I bring back home.

I use a BearVault 500 because of the beef jerky and trail mix, 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 the food carefully at night and it's never been disturbed, except one time when certain curious rodents investigated a dry bag with trail mix in it.

Someone asked about what the food weighs and how much space it takes up. The Bear Vault weighs 2.5 lbs and the food box another half pound. Including 30 oz. of wine, the food itself weighs 19 lbs, for a total packed load of 23 lbs. I don't remember if that includes the cook set, but that's only 2 lbs so it hardly matters.

Ten days' worth of food laid out ...

... and packed up:


The Map

A map of the area can be found here. Leave the map open and you'll be able to follow along on each of the travel days.

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:

Trip Statistics (you really want to know this):

  Total distance: 15 mi.
  Total time: 6.5 hours
  Portages: 2 (200 rods)
  Portage-walking distance: 600 rods (1.8 mi.)


Trip report by day

Day 0 – Saturday, Sept. 6 – Through the Portal Partly

It's a long day, taking nearly 9 hours to reach Rockwood Lodge on Poplar Lake. On the way up I have many moments of wondering if I really want to do this. Have I hit Day 4 before I'm even there? Am I unconsciously stressed about turning 65 in two days? I tell myself I'm familiar with the dynamics and expect it will go away once I'm paddling, although in truth I've never turned 65 before.

Dinner at Trail Center is OK but unmemorable. A large group of adults occupies two rooms of the bunkhouse. They're working out logistics and it's clear that most of them are experienced. I appreciate that they're also quiet.


Day 1 - Sunday, Sept. 7 - Cramped Quarters

This is the last day I can legitimately sing, "When I'm Sixty-Four." After today it's just a fantasy.

Breakfast is another delightful meal at Gunflint Lodge. Despite taking my time I still manage to launch by 9:30. It's a gorgeous day: sunny, in the 60s, and with light southerly winds. I wander through Seagull Lake and get confused by the islands in the northern part, though I don't get lost. The Alpine end of the portage isn't much to look at, but what I see there brings a smile.


It's a pretty picture as I continue on into Alpine Lake.


That odd-looking contraption in the bow is my portage yoke.

The boat handles very well but its narrowness gives me some trouble. The main pack is almost as wide as the boat and there isn't enough room for my feet, or even one foot, between the pack and the hull. I generally kneel and stretch my legs out from time to time, but today I can't stretch out at all. After several hours this is a problem. Each time I get out of the boat - at portage landings and campsites - my knees hurt more than the previous time. I'm stuck with this arrangement for several reasons. Next time I'll use a different pack, but for now this is what I've got.


I check out out campsites 8 (C2068) and 18 (C0479) on Alpine and find they aren't the nice spots others have claimed. Site 8 is awful, with nothing level. Site 18 is almost as bad but could be used in an emergency. I land at site 21 (C0342) in the early afternoon and find it a bit small but nice, with level, grassy tent pads and a nice view.


Evening brings a wonderful soft light and a rising moon (it's there, just left of the cloud).


Day 2 - Monday, Sept. 8 - Prudence Prevails

I'm up early, looking forward to another good travel day, despite the complaints coming from my knees. I try to explain the benefits of Vitamin I (ibuprofen) but they're not convinced. I think about staying put to give them a rest, but I really don't want to layover on this small campsite. As usual I get a weather forecast, hoping it will offer something positive. It doesn't. Instead, it's clear that if I stay here it will be for another four days.

- Today: sunny, temps around 70, SW wind 10-15 mph (more likely 10-20+).
- Tues.: SW wind 10-15 mph (more likely 10-20+), rain at night.
- Wed.: rain, temps in the mid-40s, wind 15-25 mph (more likely 20-30).
- Thurs.: temps around 50, still windy.
- Fri.: temps in the 50s, less wind.

At 7:00 the wind is already up, meaning I'll have a 15-25 mph headwind. Knowing that the wind is always stronger than the forecast, and that it's not supposed to settle down overnight, I can expect Tuesday to offer the same situation as today. It doesn't take long to realize that I have two options: (a) stay put for the next four days, one of them being virtually tentbound; or (b) take the headwind - done that before, don't want to do it again. Something in me says, "No way!" This isn't just whining, it's open revolt. After a brief discussion, and taking my ouchy knees into account, I realize pressing on would be asking for trouble. On top of the awful forecast, I'm concerned that I could do serious damage to my knees. So rather than pressing on regardless, I decide to head back out. Even with a crosswind and tailwind, the paddling is perhaps the hardest I've ever done, and in hazardous conditions. But it's still better than if I'd gone in the other direction.

Seagull Lake is rough, and I can't take a picture or even get a drink until things settle down a bit. Much of the time the waves are a foot or higher (the boat has only 8-9 inches of freeboard) and the boat takes water from the bigger ones. After a couple of wettings I remember to gauge the size of the waves and lean the boat away from the bigger before they hit. This makes them easier to deal with, but if I break focus I'll risk swamping. So things are pretty dicey until I get a tailwind along Threemile Island. I manage to get this shot during a brief lull when the wind drops to about 20 mph.


I get back to the landing exhausted but in one piece and mostly dry, although it takes a moment to persuade my knees to do their job. I load the car and am ready to head out when some old fart (i.e., a guy about my age ) shows up with an Old Town Canadienne, a 17-foot tandem canoe that weighs about 65 lbs. I ask if his partner is nearby and he tells me he's heading out by himself for several days. I suggest that he not be deceived by the relatively flat water in the landing's fairly sheltered area; it's a whole lot worse in the main part of the lake. He's undaunted, so I tell him the first campsite looks good and was open when I passed it an hour earlier. I wish him luck and leave him to his fate. Then, 25 miles later, I apply palm to forehead when it strikes me that I could have offered to go with him. All things considered (including my still-aching knees), that's my only regret about this trip.

I spend a restful night at Amnicon Falls State Park in northern Wisconsin and I'm back home the next afternoon.


Lessons Learned

Next time I use this skinny little speedster of a boat I'm going to set up the packs to give myself some legroom.


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Last updated October 4, 2014
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