Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Drew's Fall Solo Trip - 2011

For those of you who have followed our e-newsletter and blog over the years, you might remember that I have taken yearly trips with my uncle from Santa Fe. Well, for the first time in years, he was unable to make it up here for our trip. While I really missed my tripping partner, I could not let it keep me from heading into the wilderness so I went out and did a solo canoe trip. Join me for another fun adventure. My choice was to travel in the Crab Lake area and just take it easy, not put tons of miles on, find solitude, and get to know the area even more than I already did. Time to paddle……..
Burntside (Van Vac landing) to Crab to Clark to Glimmer
It’s just a wonderful day to start a trip. Actually, it’s a bit warm for October with a slight breeze from the southeast. It will be good to get back to this portion of the BWCA and paddle amongst some of the very beautiful islands of Burntside Lake. After a nice paddle, I get to the long portage to Crab Lake. It’s not a bad portage, just long. The first section, which was made a few years back, has a bit of up and down, but once it connects to the old portage, it’s just a gentle climb to the lake. It took about 1 ½ - 2 hours to double portage it. Now that I am all set to put my paddle in the water at Crab, I make a mental note that the last person I saw was on Burnstide.
My journey would take me to all the small lakes to the south and west of Crab. Simple as that. I take the beautiful, red pine, park-like portage to Clark and once on the lake, go check out that campsite. After that, I head over to Glimmer where I plan to stay for the night. The afternoon is lazy as I take a little nap, watch a pileated woodpecker search for food and a beaver slap its tail numerous times, and just enjoy the little lake’s view. It’s not going to rain so I leave the rain fly off the tent.
Evening arrives and I take an evening paddle around the lake and then have a small campfire. It’s been a wonderful day and I still have many more days/nights in the Boundary Waters.
Glimmer to Clark to Meat to Sprite to Phantom
While eating breakfast on Glimmer, four otters swam by. Seeing otters is such a treat. Nice way to start the day.
Pretty easy travelling day. It is hot outside, though. Not what I wanted in October. My thermometer reads 80 degrees and there is a bit of a wind. It’s nice to be on small lakes when it’s windy. Meat Lake’s water level was very low and actually two separate bodies of water instead of one. Once on Phantom, it was another very leisurly afternoon and evening hanging around the great campsite and paddling the lake a few times. Hanging out at camp was great. I just sat in the shade and watched the wilderness around and above me. A kingfisher was active and I watched two bald eagles soaring high overhead. What a view they must have.
The night is clear so I don’t put the rain fly on. A Sierra Designs Lightning tent without the fly is amazing. It’s all screen and you feel like you are right in the woods. Of course, the view is incredible in all directions.
For this day, I must go back to last night and tell you about a memorable experience. As I was in my sleeping bag trying to fall asleep, I could hear something coming closer to me from a small trail along the lake. It got closer and closer and then was right near me and quickly stopped, putting it’s paw down hard as if startled by the tent, and turned around. Hearing it go into the brush and just up above me on the hill, the howling began. The wolf was very close and started a series of deep howls about 20 seconds apart. Next, from what I would say was the other side of Clark, a wolf pack started answering this lone wolf. Let the chorus begin. This exchange went on all night. The lone wolf worked its way to a spot just down the shore from my site and spent the night there. About each hour, it would howl and then the response from the other lake would occur. What a thrill to be so close to the action. It was a night to remember and I didn’t want to sleep because I wanted to listen. As the daylight started, the lone wolf started moving furthur down the lake as each howl had more distance to it. The exchanges stopped and it was time for me to move on, but I will always remember this spot and what happened during the night.
Phantom to Boulder to Phantom to Battle to Hassel to Saca
This site on Phantom will be hard to leave. It’s a good one. But, more wilderness calls, so I load up my canoe and decide that because I’m in this little corner of the BWCA, I better check out Boulder Lake since I haven’t been there for years. Boulder is a remote lake and quite nice. After getting out and walking around the Boulder campsite, I decide to paddle into the south bay and see what’s in there. As I turn into it, I see something on the shoreline. Three wolves are getting a morning drink. Now I’m seeing wolves! They are beautiful! Two of them get spooked off and one lingers for just enough time to allow me to take a picture. This trip is turning into an adventure with the wolves.
Back to Phantom and onward. The wind is picking up from the southeast so at least I do not have to paddle hard into it. Besides the wolves on Boulder, there was a beaver on Battle slapping its tail to let me know it was around, a bald eagle flying above Saca, and as I sat in camp at Saca, a deer wandered along the opposite shoreline.
The afternoon brings a really strong sustained wind and I am now windbound at the Saca site. Unfortunately, the wind is directly hitting the site and there’s not much I can do. Even setting up the tent was a real chore. My canoe is up in camp, but apparently not tucked away far enough. All of the sudden I watch the canoe get lifted into the air and back down to earth on the granite. Ouch! I run over to grab it before it keeps going and assess the damage. The canoe has some damage, but will be no problem to paddle out. There are some “good” scratches and bent gunwales, but I’ll make it back home. Now, I’m feeling very low that my canoe has been damaged. I was so excited all day because of the wolves I saw and this brought be way down. Oh well, at least I can paddle the canoe and it doesn’t have a massive hole or something and I am in the Boundary Waters afterall. Now the canoe is tucked under a tree in the woods. The wind won’t toss it around the rest of the day.
It’s all about the wind this afternoon. I do get in the tent to see if I can take a nap, but the wind just keeps making me think a tree is going to come down or something. The weather turns a bit and some rain falls as well so the evening and night consists of dinner and tent time.
Saca to Crab
Before I even got out of the tent, a pack of wolves howled in the distance. As I ate breakfast, I watched another pileated woodpecker looking for its own meal. The wind was certainly down from yesterday so I will move on. Before I get to the portage to Crab, I paddle the entire southern shore of Saca. The water is calm on that end.
Back to Crab Lake and I know where I want to stay so I head to the middle site on the east side. As I head over that way, I see my first canoe. It is heading toward the portage to Little Crab Lake and beyond. At my site, I wander around figuring out where I want my tent located (lots of choices) and then I take a walk all around the island. It’s another wonderful spot to be camped with white pines towering overhead.
The wind is strong, but not like yesterday so I go and try my luck at fishing in some areas that are calmer. No luck, but it’s nice to just be out on the water. The day is cooler, too, and I’m not dealing with the heat of the past few days.
Evening is breezy; dinner is delicious; and there was a thought in my mind that if it’s calm out tomorrow, it might be a good day to cross Burntside and get home. Time will tell.
Layover on Crab
After a little bit of rain overnight, the morning weather is perfect. It’s calm, quiet, my campsite is five stars, and I’m the only one on the lake, so now there is no way that I’m leaving this place. Life is too good! Whatever slight breeze there happens to be is coming from the east and there is smoke in the air. I wonder if it is from the Pagami Creek fire.
While eating breakfast, I watch a beaver swimming, bringing branches to its winter home. But, now it is time to get in the canoe and circle the lake and walk around all the campsites. This is a wonderful kind of day……just paddling the calm lake and taking in the surroundings. I check out the five northern sites before heading back to camp for lunch. Saw one canoe heading north while walking around one of the sites.
Lunch is relaxing and I decide to close my eyes in the tent for a little bit. What a day! Eventually, I want to paddle to the campsites I didn’t see during my morning paddle. While doing this, I stop in the middle of the lake and just float in the calm autumn air. Crab is like glass. I have now walked around each site on this lake (and each lake on my journey) so am ready to help out all the Piragis clients who want to head into this section of the Boundary Waters.
My last evening and night are simple. I just enjoyed camp and walked around the island. Too bad I knew it was time to leave in the morning, but trips must end at some point.
Crab to Burntside
Got up, ate, packed and started the trip back so I could beat any wind that might cause any problems. Now it’s time to take the long Crab portage back to Burntside. Will anything be different as I walk it five days later?
The strong wind from a few days earlier has knocked over some trees! That’s one major change and one of the trees is large, but stuck leaning on other trees so it is no problem getting past. From a wildlife stand point, I see one of the largest piles of wolf scat that I’ve ever seen and it’s fresh so I keep my eyes and ears open just in case I get lucky. Eventually I complete the portage and am ready to get back in the canoe after walking for about four miles.
The day is sunny and not too windy. Burntside should not be a problem today. On the way back to the parking lot, I stay to the north of Waters Island and paddle amidst a bunch of other islands enjoying the scenery and some of the picturesque cabins. No need to rush when paddling. Eventually I make my way to my vehicle and head on home with more memories from another trip into the wilderness.
This trip goes to show you that you don’t have to put tons of miles on when you have six days. Just moving camp with easy days is fun. You’ll have all afternoon to hang out, fish, swim, paddle the shoreline, and get to know a lake intimately. If you look at a map and follow what I did, it was hardly any miles for a trip of that length and a few travel days were minimal.
I will never forget my wolf encounters. There was one sad part about them….my uncle couldn’t be there. But, we’ll have many more trips and hopefully have more sighting of wolves, moose, otters, etc.
Think about the Crab Lake area for a future trip. If you are willing to do some work to get in there, you have some good options for a route. This is a place for some solitude if you are looking for it because there are a lot of little lakes that have only one campsite. If you get it, you have the lake to yourself.
Let me know if you have any questions or comments. I’d be happy to help you set up a trip in the area. There are a lot of different routes you can take……some easy, some difficult.
Hope you enjoyed the journey. Send in your trip story and we’d be happy to post it in a future newsletter of ours. Summer is coming! Make sure you plan a trip because you just never know what you will see around the bend.