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Boundary Waters Solo, September 2004

September 19th, Sunday

Portaged into the Boundary Waters today using the 320-rod Skipper/Portage Lake entry point. Because I double portaged it, total 15,390 feet of hiking. Now that’s a long portage.

The leaves on the portage were turning colors as most of them were younger bushes and trees; the tallest pines and birch were all blown down and charred from a burn. The trail itself was being closed in by a tremendous amount of growth energized by an open canopy that allowed the sun to beat down. About a third of the way across I passed moose tracks, and about half of the way across I crossed an old road.

The wind is blowing hard tonight, but its sound in comforting. I felt some dread coming into the BWCAW today, and I’m not sure why. I guess I was just anxious to get into the woods. The plan is that I’ll canoe solo until Ilena can meet me on Friday for the weekend.

The campsite is nice but full of blow down, the grill overlooks the lake and sits on a large slab of Canadian Shield. Viens of harder rock rise from the surface of the rock and flow into the water. The trees are turning yellow and red on the way to the privy. I found a freshly downed birch tree and cut some bark off of it to save as a fire starter or to turn into a mini birch bark canoe.

September 20th, Monday

Boot sucking swamp

sucked my boots off;

canoe overhead

The portages are what made today stand out. Each one was over 100 rods and each ended in a narrow east-west lake. Palisades of fractured granite surrounded Rose Lake, the most beautiful of them all, and trees in red and yellow fall color hung on and toped the palisades. Some of the cliffs rose sixty to seventy feet overhead.

Much like yesterdays portage, todays took me through blow down areas. Looking to the north or south would present a view of trees torn from the ground and laid one on top of an other in no real pattern. The few trees, sporting only crowns, left standing contrasted with the sky. I’d say out of every 100 trees, one still stood. They looked naked with only a crown and then below only stubs of branches remained on the trunks. A few standing trees were just trunks standing dead.

In all this destruction, new brush tangled the ground and encroached on the trail. This new brush- future trees was full with the vibrant read and yellows of fall. Life rebounds after destruction.

September 21st, Tuesday

cold fall rain,

defiant under a tarp,

listening to Ani DiFranco

The rain started in the middle of the night and has continued all day. It took a lot of energy to get up and put up a tarp, but at 10:30, I managed to get up and do it. Now, I’m sitting under my gray tarp under a gray sky, watching the rain pit the surface of the gray lake – Long Island Lake.

It is in the 60s and I’m slightly chilled, but have no desire to get into my sleeping bag in my tent. I brought a radio with me on this trip and now at 1:00 find myself listening to Ani DiFranco playing songs live, cuts from her songs, and an interview.

Soon, I’m going to have to duck out of the tarp, walk to the water’s edge, sit on a rock, and pump water.

The radio says it should stop raining tonight, but if it doesn’t, I have to paddle tomorrow anyway to meet up with Ilena on Friday.

September 22nd, Wednesday

sitting eating dinner

an otter runs by

stinky fish head in its mouth.

This morning the sun made a less than gallant effort to breach the clouds, but then gave up at the same time I put my boat into the water. It tried again later, but the clouds won out.

Another gray and dreary day, but with no rain so far, except for a small bout. Because I don’t really have far to go to meet up with Ilena on Friday, I took a campsite on South Temperance Lake. It’s the one, I’d wanted to have last fall. As a mater of fact, my route today followed two trips I’d taken in the past.

I started on Long Island Lake and portaged over to Gordon and down into Cherokee, which is backwards of a route that I took with Ilena, Steve and Dan in 2002. I passed the portage where Dan fell in. His canoe’s stern stem hung up on top of a rock as he was getting in and over he went. I also passed two of our campsites going to Cherokee.

Then I passed my first campsite from my solo trip last fall and have portaged from Cherokee to South Temperance along the same route as last fall.

It’s hard to believe that I’m up here again by myself – this is my 3rd solo trip to the BWCAW in two years. It almost seems routine now to be up here by myself & but I can’t wait for Friday when I finally get to see Ilena and spend a couple of days with her up here.

This lake feels like a high mountain lake, because when you look either way you see islands spotting the lake in front of hills. The hills all end 100 feet at the highest and you can’t see past them. With the Brule to the east, it also looks like you are viewing the end of the lake and down a slope of the mountain. The lake is lapping the rocks on shore over and over; relaxing.

wrapped up sitting still

next to lapping water;

the wind walks towards me.

September 23rd, Thursday

in a hammock


a yellow leaf falls

The camp is set, and all my food and cook gear is laid out by the fire grill, behind me, my tent is tautly pitched on a small landing and behind that is my hammock hung between two stout trees. The sun is still high in the sky this afternoon; its rays are reaching through the trees, lighting up the campsite. A slight breeze airs out my sleeping bag hung neatly over the branches of a tree next to the grill.

From the grill forward is a rock of grey granite, which slopes from the grill dropping and entering the water. This lake is Vern Lake, and is a brown sort of color. Hopefully, it will add flavor to tonight’s stew.

Today, started with a slight fog over the S. Temp, which slowly disappeared but when the wind picked up it blew a thick fog from the Brule over to the S. Temp. Until about 9:30, when the fog disappeared there was very limited visibility, and forced me to navigate by compass. For the most part, though, the sun blazed all day.

From S. Temp. I portaged into the Brule, which is a big lake several miles long and wide. It is spotted with several big islands and surrounded by big hills. This is the lake that you think of when you want a cabin to retire in.

Then I swung around Jock Mock point and portage over into Juno. The second I saw Juno, I saw two moose feeding on the edge of the water. when they saw me, they waltzed slowly into the water and swam across the lake. Only their head and racks were visible as they swam across the lake.

Juno and Vern Lakes were hit hard by the straight-line winds that devastated much of the BWCAW. The Forest Service has burned here and you feel like you’re walking through a burned area out west. Granite outcropping are visible, branchless burnt trunks jot the hills and thick underbrush is attempting to reclaim the land. Right now, the leaves are changing and all the hills follow a pattern from water to top. The pattern of trees is evergreens, then a red colored brush, then yellow, and finally a translucent yellow-green. It really is stunning.

On the portages as you top the hills there are views down the lakes. They invoke a feeling of awe and wonderment. And you can’t wait to get on the next one. This area is full of rebirth, like a circle they have passed from birth, growth, falling, and death, to birth again. It’s a good place to be.

And a hammock makes it even better! This has been a slow relaxing trip, which was much needed after my 15 day, 560-mile Mississippi River trip that I took in August. It’s funny how different similar trips can be. Both on the river and here, I was paddling, but here, I’m going much slower, smelling the coffee, and taking time for myself to center and fighting off the need to go further and harder. Another good solo trip in the BWCAW.

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