Solo in the Boundary Waters
A Journal by Bryan Hansel
Monday, September 22, 2003 Day One
Baker Lake, Peterson Lake, Kelly Lake, Jack Lake, Weird Lake, S. Temperance Lake, N. Temperance Lake, Sitka Lake, end on Cherokee Lake (site west of last portage) approximately 11 miles.
Put in today at 10:00 AM after driving threw the night and only stopping at a rest stop for 3 hours. I missed the turn for Baker Lake and drove a little further, so I’m going to cut the gas close for the return trip to town. On the drive from the ranger station to Baker I saw a dog like animal standing in the middle of the road in the haze from slight fog and rain. It was huge. It looked at my car and then took off into the woods. I assume it was a Wolf -- a lone wolf just standing in the road in the mist and picking its own way in life.
The portages today were tough. With no sleep and little memory of how hard it is to portage, they were a surprise. My back is killing me right now.
The leaves are turning colors. They are beautiful, but I didn’t get much of chance to shoot pictures. It was raining, or misting, or sprinkling the whole day. South Temperance was my favorite lake today. The lake is high in elevation, islands dot its surface and the blow downs from the 1998 windstorm were growing back. The fall colors were red, yellow, and orange all saturated against the white trunks with no branches of the aspens and birch left standing from the storm. It almost seemed like you could touch the clouds.
Another soloist had taken the campsite on the South Temperance that I wanted, so I pushed on and both of the sites on the North Temperance were occupied. I tried to find the third, which the map marked on an island, but it looked like blow downs had destroyed it.
My only option was to get over to Cherokee Lake. 245 rods (3920 feet) later I managed to find an open site. As I walked to the lake I looked to the north site, which was taken. I about gave up, but I loaded my boat and pushed out into the wind and found a site that was close-by. I could see the other site to my north from were I was at, but the joy it gave me to come ashore and know that I was staying here filled me.
I can’t believe the number of people up here this fall, and I wanted solitude. I’m a little lonely after day one and wondered why I came up here alone. Is it for the solitude or companionship?
I Cliff Jacobsoned my food today, because I was too tired to hang it. My trip could be over in the morning if Cliff’s scheme of scent proofing the food and putting it in a dry bag and stashing it on the ground outside of camp fails. I’m so tired I wouldn’t mind. Tomorrow is another long day. I head into the Frost River System, or maybe I’ll sleep late and then paddle six miles to the next site. Should have brought a fishing pole.
I’m a little concerned about being alone this long. I may cut my trip short. I’m not sure yet. Before I left, Wes and I had a conversation while leaning up against the map case surrounded by boats at the local canoe and kayak shop.
Tuesday, September 23 Day Two
Cherokee Lake, 15 rd, Gordon Lake, 140 rd, Unload Lake, 40 rd, Frost Lake, camped on northwest most site next to a stream. 6 miles.
The quiet here on Frost Lake is so overwhelming that any sound falls like the end of the world. I can hear my ears ringing.
To recount the day…
Woke up at 8:00AM to rain and drizzle, so I started to get ready for the day but stopped. Spray blown under my tarp all night long pelted me. I slide further under my tarp and my feet stuck out the door. I redid my tarp and got back in and fell asleep until 12:30.
The rain stopped and I packed up. As I ate lunch on the rock in front of my campsite, the clouds started to part, and the sun broke. By the time I paddled out of the site, the day had become partly cloudy. So, I spent time photographing Cherokee Lake.
The portage out of Cherokee and onto Gordon was easy. I remembered it from last year. At the start of the portage to Unload Lake, I met Bob, who was also doing the Frost River. We talked about how excited we were to do this river. I recognized his rain jacket, canoe and dog as the same who were at the campsite I wanted on the North Temperance. His dog was very friendly and loved to be petted. I shot some photos across the portage and burned a roll at Unload Lake.
My packs are much better today. I put my lunches in my Daypack and used my Therm-a-rest as a frame for my Duluth Pack. It also fit into the canoe better that way. I would still have to place the pack into the canoe sideways and then twist it between the narrow gunwales of my Bell Magic to get it into position to lay flat on the floor of the canoe.
Frost Lake is a huge lake protected by big portages. On the map it looks very deep, many topo lines. In the center a single rock sticks out of the water. I paddled to it on route to my campsite. There were rocks underwater around it, so I wedged my canoe onto them and took pictures. Some minnows at the surface of the water seemed to stare at me. I bet this lake has some bigger fish just waiting to get their mouth around these small minnows.
When I reached my campsite, I could see that the shore was a large curving sand beach. I pulled ashore. I walked up and down the beach before checking out the campsite, and found moose and deer tracks. There is a swampy area to the sites north, which I bet fills with moose in the morning. I set my alarm early and will check it out in the morning.
I spent time taking pictures. I almost wish that I had taken a site on the east shore, because the sky lit up with red at sunset. I bet it was something to behold. I imagine Bob and his dog watched it from their east shore site.
The after dinner fire sputtered out in a pathetic attempt. A small fire burned slowly and then went out before starting anything else in the tepee of wood I built.
Wednesday, September 24 Day Three
Day Three started at 1:30AM when a thunderstorm blew in. This disrupted an otherwise clear and starry night. The Northern Lights were even out.
The storm blew in, saturated the sand and forced one of my stakes out of the ground. The stake held the string to a log I was using for a tarp pole. The log crashed down onto my head. I saw a flash of white not lightning and dazed I took a second to figure out what happened. The rain torrented in a while until I finally figured out that a tarp on my face was not good. The head of my down sleeping bag was getting soaked. I jumped to action out of the tarp, set the log upright, staked the rope out, and threw an extra log over the stake. I fought to stay dry the rest of the night. The wind blew so hard that the waves hitting the shore of the beach vibrated through the ground. I felt every break of every wave until the storm ended at about 3:00 AM and I found myself curled up in the middle of the tarp.
I woke up too tired to shoot much of the sunrise. The clouds were receding over the lake and at about 7:30 the sun broke through. I ate cereal and milk. It was great to be in the sun. I packed up and paddled off towards my first portage from the Frost Lake into the Frost River. As I lifted my first load, my canoe, I looked out on the Lake and saw Bob and his dog about a 10-minute paddle away from the portage. I thought that he and I must have the same patterns.
On the return trip, he labored up hill, and as he passed said, “Imagine this. Out of all the times to do the Frost. It looks like we will do it together.” I felt a little apprehensive. This was supposed to be a solo trip for me. I wanted to do this without running into another person all day. So, I high tailed the portage and set off down the Frost. The first portage on the river was canoeable, so I canoed it. And as I turned the corner, I saw a moose crossing Octopus Lake. It was huge, and when he saw me he stopped. I snapped a picture, and he did something that made water splash up around him. I had no doubts that his huge rack could easily slip under my canoe and flip me into the cold water. I backed off, and he crossed, disappeared onto the shore. I sped up and saw him shake off all the water in his fur like a giant dog. Then he walked off.
The Frost River is mainly small creeks and streams that are dammed by beavers and surrounded on both sides by granite cliffs. It has several runnable rapids. I don’t recommend doing them in a Kevlar canoe. I now have some gel coat repair to do. The leaves where in full fall color today. It made the trip a fiery sight on the eyes.
It seemed like a perfect day until mid afternoon when the hail started. I quickly put on rain gear and the sun peaked back out by the time my pants were on. The sun lasted about twenty minutes, and then I saw a wall of rain coming my way. I buttoned up, zipped up and pulled my hood over just in time to be hit by the wind that was blowing the rain sideways. Then the rain. I paddled my hardest into the rain and got nowhere.
I burst out in laughter. Then sun. Then rain. Then the rain got old and I opened up the Magic and made up some ground. I got to Afta Lake at about 4:00. I knew that Bob would need to camp here. I paddled on. I didn’t want to have to share a site with him. I made it to Whipped Lake in a small window of no rain. I got my tarp up and got under it, then the rain started again. I didn’t cook – only ate candy bars, gorp and beef jerky. A meal mom would be proud of.
During a break in the rain, I managed to pump some water. I’m a little afraid of camping longer in this tarp. I’m really at the edge of my comfort boundaries. My canoe is currently a wind and rain block at one end of the tarp and I’m not getting any rain in at the other. It looks like it will rain all tonight and probably tomorrow. A screw up by me could be bad in this 40-degree temperature. My down bag is already wet on the feet and at the head. I’m a little worried. This is the first time I’ve been worried in the woods. I never worried this much on my 2160-mile thru-hike of the AT. I want to get to the car and go home. I think I could make it to the car by 7:00 PM tomorrow, but I would be so tired. I may get most of the way tomorrow and paddle the rest on Friday.
Thursday, September 25 Day Four
Today started early. I actually woke up at 7 and started to take down camp. It looked like it was going to clear up. There were patches of blue in the sky, but as I was cooking breakfast the wind blew in some dark clouds.
I ate oatmeal with dried fruit while bundled in every item of clothing that I brought. It was cold. After eating I stripped down to my fleece vest, Dri-Clime Wind Shirt, life vest, and rain pants and top. I loaded the canoe now more careful of the stems, and set off into the wind down Whipped Lake.
I faced a choice at this point. Should I go down a chain of lakes into Mora Lake or portage 100 rods into Mora. I’m generally lazy, so I choose the lakes. It went from Whipped to a lake with no name to Time Lake to Mora. It took me 2 hours. Had I had my Bell Wildfire, I would have run the rapids connecting the lakes but with the Magic I rock hopped and portaged where no portage trails existed. At one point I lined my canoe down rapids. My ropes are much too short. After knots, I only had 20 feet to work with. It left me no room to maneuver the canoe while I jumped, leaped, splashed, balanced and teetered on rocks down the shore.
This chain of lake lived with colors of fall, many of the trees highlighted against grey palisades of Canadian Shield Granite. Although, it cost me an hour and a half verses the portage, I smiled at the end. I was sweating and shed layers by the end. My heart and chest warmed up from the work.
I think last night I was slightly hypothermic. When I got to camp I had just laid in my sleeping bag for 2 hours and stared at the roof of the tarp. I didn’t regain my spirits until I chowed a half bag of gorp and two snickers, beef jerky and peanut butter cups.
At Mora I portaged into Little Saganga Lake. This put me another day away from my car. Even though I felt like I wanted to go back to the car, something pushed me further into the Boundary Waters. I struggled with this choice. I thought a lot of what ifs. It is lonely up here by yourself. I didn’t see anyone all day. A plane with floats did fly overhead. I wonder if someone got hurt. How would I get out if I got hurt? I have no cell phone, no beacon – only myself.
Little Saganaga Lake nailed me with wind from the west and one to two foot waves with a larger one about every seven waves. On the big ones, my bow would break free of the water. I paddled as hard as I could, my shoulders started to ache, but the waves hit; one, two, three, four, five, six, brace into the air with my bow, splash and into the next smaller one. The canoe stayed dry and never did it feel out of control.
I hid behind Islands to get a break on this large lake.
At one, I found a nice campsite to eat lunch at. The sun broke the clouds up and the Barometric pressure was rising. I hoped this would be the rest of the day. The site looked north, south, and east. To the north I could see the wind whipped lake all the way across to the shore a mile and a half away. To the east and south the water rested calmly in a protected bay. I shot a roll of film, then sat down to dry out in the sun and eat. I had to dry out because I was slightly still wet from when I sat to filter water at the end of the Mora/Little Sag portage and I fell in. I’m not sure how it happed, but maybe I was just awe struck from the portage, which rivaled many Smoky Mountain creek hikes for its beauty. The water connecting Mora and the Little Sag coursed down long and swift, dodged around boulders, and down falls.
I managed to reflect on this while eating cheese, Hudson Bay Bread topped with peanut butter.
After lunch I paddled on the now calm Little Sag and found a great campsite. I pulled ashore and walked around the campsite. Huge 100-year-old white pines guarded the ground, which was cloaked in a layer of fallen pine needles. It was almost too perfect, but didn’t face the direction that I wanted to see. I paddled across to a site that I could see north and see the sunrise. I pulled into camp at 3:00. Then set up my tarp with all I had learned in the past few days:
This set-up put me in the center of the tarp away from spray or splash. I’m convinced that the tarp will hold now after last night’s winds. I wonder if it is worth the weight savings. I’d say it is about 1 ¾ pounds total. A good lightweight tent comes in at 4 pounds. It is only 2 ¼ pounds more. If I’d left home two days of food, I would have made up the weight. Since, I now cut back the trip my pack weight would have been the same.
In camp I walked around and found a cliff that looked east over the Little Sag. I took a roll of pictures, and another later from a small rock island, which I scared two red headed mergansers off.
For dinner I had Mountain House’s Pasta Primavera and Grand Canyon Cheese Cake from Enertia. Both where outstanding.
After I got back from the rock island picture taking expedition, I started a fire. I made sure this one would work, as I already stashed my bear bag (Jacobson style again.) I need to get a bearicade canister.
I saw a mink run across the front of the camp as I made the fire. It paused as it ran past my canoe. The barometric pressure started to drop, so I expected to be rained on again. I thought my trip should end on Monday or Tuesday. It will be ½ of what I paned, but it sure is a long time not to talk to anybody.
In two days I will see my first Indian pictographs. I’m pretty excited. I’m going to take many pictures and if I get a new tattoo maybe I incorporate them somehow. I doubt I’ll get a tattoo.
This day was a good day. I’m a little worried about tomorrow. The weather will be my nemesis. The further I get from the car, the more I have to depend on myself to be comfortable and to survive. When I left snow was forecasted for Friday. We will see. It’ll be a cold and chilly night tonight.
Friday, September 26 Day Five
It rained last night after I feel asleep. It wasn’t bad and I stayed dry from my new tarp set-up. I used it again today, but set much lower to the ground and I added an extra guy line to the side. Now both have them. The highlight of today was the campsite. It is on a small cliff above the water about 10 feet high. The cooking area with a metal grill marked Forest Service sits on the edge of this cliff and looks west down an arm of Sagus Lake. Had there been a sunset, instead of a steady graying of the clouds, it would have been good. Back from the cliff is a bunch of white pine trees. Their shed needles provide a great bed to lie on. There were two weird things from this campsite; someone used a wire to hang two bones from a tree. I removed the bones and buried them at sea, and second, someone built a basket out of nylon line and twigs. It is quite big and sort of looks like a birdcage. Was someone trying to catch a Grey Jay or is this a statement. I thought, of the cage of home. I wondered if my path was the right one or if I had been trap in a basket of nylon and twigs.
At breakfast this morning on the Little Sag, a Grey Jay flew about three feet from me and landed. It chirped at me, and then flew away. The jay waited out of sight for a minute and then came back and landed close by again. It chirped and stared at me bagging for food. After it saw I wasn’t going to provide any of my extra food it flew off. I felt guilty not giving it anything, so I left some dry fruit and as I got into my canoe, the Jay came down from it’s hiding spot and took the fruit.
Little Sag was calm as I set off onto it. I passed the cliff of granite I took pictures from and then rounded the corner to find a larger bubble shaped outcropping of Canadian Shield granite. I beat from the top you could see the whole lake. It was that tall. I portaged onto a lake that was manmade. You could see the stone they used as a dam. I wondered, who or why someone would build a small lake next to a big one. Then I portaged 19 rods onto Elton Lake, 45 rods to Makwa, 100 rods to Hoe Lake, 40 rods to Fee Lake, portaged into Vee Lake.
This portage from Fee to Vee felt like a wet Iowa cow field without the pies. The grass was knee high and shrubs were starting to take over. It must have been a lake at one point. The map shows it that way, but it is dry now.
These lakes I just mentioned where in full fall color and had cliffs and neat features. Next started what I could describe as small lakes, big portages: Vee, 100 rods, Ledge lake (less than 10 minutes to paddle), 200 rods, Cap Lake (10 minutes), 140 rods to Roe Lake. It seemed like the hills were disappearing and it was becoming flat, 30 rods and to my home of Sagus Lake.
I saw an otter and two beavers today. The beavers slapped their tails. I thought a lot today about the turn I missed driving to Baker Lake. And I remembered the wolf, which almost looked like it wasn’t there. The wolf is such a majestic animal and the lone wolf knows what he is doing out there. It never questions where it is going. It never asks, “Have I taken the right path?” The fog made that seem unreal. I wondered if I really had seen the wolf.
I passed on a fire, because all the portaging and little paddling did me in. The temperature registered at a hot 55 F. I wished it would cool down to 40 for the night and get to 60 F during the days. Sunny and 60 would be perfect.
Saturday, September 27 Day Six
Sagus, 20 rods, Shep, 10 rods, Thomas Lake, Fraser Lake, 232 rods, Cacabic Lake, 10 rods, Alice Lake and forced camp.
Today was a fun frustrating day. It was raining when I woke up, so I stayed in bed until 9:00 am, but took down camp and munched Gorp and Granola bars quickly. I knew I hadn’t been drinking enough water, so I pumped two quarts before I shoved off into the wind blown lake. I was excited that these two lakes would be my last west bound into the wind lakes on the trip. The rest would be southbound and then east bound. I was a little worried about the wind. I planned the three of the biggest lakes on my trip for today. Fraser and Thomas had islands about ½ way across them to block the build up of waves. They produced fun waves, but smaller than those on the Little Sag the other day. It was a nice break in the monotony of yesterday’s small lake, big portage routine. These two lakes let me all out paddle for about 3 to 4 miles straight.
Then one of the biggest and certainly worst portages so far got in the way of enjoyment. 232 rods. Up and down hills, and through a 20-yard long pool of knee-deep boot eating mud. It was horrible. By the time I reached the other side on both trips I was sweating up a storm. I had soaked my T-Shirt and Dry-Clime. It was sprinkling so I kept both on under my rain jacket. Mistake.
Luckily, in my favor when I got to the other side the rain stopped and I was able to stand arms out and slowly spin around while the wind flashed of my sweat from my shirt. By the time I was dry the rain started again, so I suited up in my armor of shirt, dri-clime, and lifevest, Precip and shoved off into the lake. It was a small and narrow lake that lead to Alice.
Alice was the most open lake on my trip at approximately 2 miles long and 1 ¼ miles wide, it was an open expanse of water with no islands to break the wind, but first on its east side was a narrow run of water about 3 miles long. I portaged onto the north side of this run and about ½ way this colorful run opened into Alice. I plan lunch on Alice, so as I entered the lake and notice the waves – less than on the Little Sag I went towards the first site. I paddled further into the Lake and the waves became bigger and bigger. I skipped the campsite knowing that I had to get across this beast of a lake. I realized I should have stuck to the west shore instead of the east, but it was too late to turn around. As I rounded the corner I saw a huge sand beach and the sheets of ran had stopped. The sun broke out between the clouds, but the waves started to get bigger. They rose taller than my gunwales when I fell into a trough. I figured my safest beat was to head to the shore and wait out the last of the rain. I turned in and on numerous occasions my stems broke free of the water as I rode on top of a wave. It seemed like an eternity of stroke, stroke, stroke, brace, draw, and then the waves started to break on rocks. It became a rock garden and all my moves from freestyle practice came into play. I dodge here, pried there. The waves got taller and broke here and there on a rock. Foam here and white tops there, and coming over the white tops into the calm behind. There was no time to slow down, I jumped boat and grabbed the handle and pulled the canoe onto shore out of the pounding waves. I moped my brow and pulled out my camera. I wanted to get pictures of this before it disappeared.
The Magic handled this well, but if I would have been paddling my Wildfire, it would have been much easier and more fun. The Magic doesn’t want to surf, like the Wildfire likes to. I suppose this is good for touring in big waves.
As I shot pictures, I noticed in the distance a wall of rain. With it came a wind that must have blown steady at 25 to 30 mph. The trees were bent over and I had to lean into the wind to avoid doing the same. The waves got much taller and there was no way I could launch back into them with an open boat. The campsite was completely open to the wind. There was no way to tarp camp here and be comfortable. I leaned on the backside of a tree to get out of the wind. I pulled my hood up and notice the backside of the tree was dry even while the full force of wind and now sideways sleet and rain hit it.
Then in order to stay warm, I walked down the beach. It rounded a corner and in the corner was a calm small bay. The wind wasn’t blowing too hard here and I could launch to the next campsite, which looked much more protected. I portaged my canoe and gear about 25 rods, loaded up while standing on a submerged plate of granite and pushed out.
It didn’t take long for the waves to hit me. They had much more force and were the largest I’d ever been in. From wave top to wave top on the biggest was about the length of my boat. These were big swells. Afraid I pushed towards shore. About every ten waves the big ones would hit. I braced and held steady. I moved in closer to shore in case I swamped and had to swim for it. It wouldn’t take long for my boat and gear to blow in behind me. I feared going over, but paddled on towards the next site. I turned in and again dodged rocks. Finally, I came ashore at a better campsite. I debated setting out again. The point lay just ½ mile away. I needed to get around that to go down the final section of the lake and into the portage trail that would put me on small lakes the rest of the trip. I walked around the site and found a good place that I could set up my tarp. I decided to pull out the tarp and wait until 5 to see if conditions got better.
I set up the tarp and waited. I slowly got colder so more and more items came out of the pack. Slowly I moved in and knew that I was stuck. I crawled into my sleeping bag at about 6 and stared at the gray ceiling of my tarp. Here I was stuck against my will. I was forced into a path that I didn’t want to take and the weather wouldn’t let up. Winds, waves, wind, rain, and pounding of the waves with a risk that was too big for me to take. I hoped by tomorrow they would calm down. I was shooting for the car by Wed, but that would require a marathon now.
It was a goal now, that car with it’s tank of gas on empty, a sort of salvation from the constant rain and loneliness of this trip, but by the time I would get back to Iowa, I thought, I knew I would want to come back.
Sunday, September 28 Day Seven
Alice, 20 rd, lake, 70 rd, Kawishiwi River, 15 rd, River Lake, Kawishiwi River, 42 rd, Malberg Lake, 24 rd, Kamo Lake, 127 rd, Kawishiwi River, 48 rd, Kawishiwi River, 19 rd, Lake Polly, 97 rd, Phoebe River, 16 rd, Phoebe River, 92 rd, Phoebe River, 25 rd, Phoebe River, 50 rd, Hazel Lake and Camp. 17 miles (w/ side trip)
On the 7th day I far from rested. It was a long day. 8:30 to 6:00. I went long and hard with only a 30 minute lunch and 15 min break at 3.
The day started on Alice with a nice non-windy wake-up. Pleased, I spent a half hour taking pictures then took down most of camp and just as I was ready to make breakfast the wind started. I shoved some dried fruit into my mouth, packed as fast as possible and hit the water.
At first, I thought that I over worried, but in the center of my ½ mile crossing I hit big waves again. Not like yesterday, but still much higher than my gunwales. The Magic was handling them fine broadside, so I just paddled straight to the point. As I neared it, the waves echoed off of the cliffs and reflected back, which created confused chop with the occasional set of three large ones cutting threw it. One wave actually broke into my canoe. This was unexpected wet wake-up call. As I rounded the bend the waves chased me from behind and helped push me to the portage.
On the portage I noticed that the ferns were turning brown and dieing off for the winter. They had realized the end of their summer road and had turned onto the fall path to winter.
After my first portage, I side tripped to some pictographs. I want to know what kind of paint lasts this long. It was a couple sets of pictographs. Some were so faded that I couldn’t see them anymore. The best ones depicted an elephant-like animal with a human above it. Then a cradle or something like that. In many places I noticed handprints. These people’s hands were much smaller than mine. I put my hand up against one to compare. If these are their handprints they were much smaller than mine. I tried to connect back through the ages to the mammoth hunters, who must have painted these, but all I could think was that their parents got sick of watching the kids and sent them over to the wall to paint. They were cool.
The Kawishiwi River was pretty. I paddled upstream the whole way although it is mostly lakes, so it didn’t matter. I’m not sure why they call some of these things rivers, but they do. As I passed the last island on the river before I portaged to Malberg I saw three people in a Coleman canoe paddling towards me. They had on ponchos that looked like they were from Wal-Mart. The girl, the duffer, was drawing on a pad of paper. They all had long hair and looked like Native Americans. I waved and said, “How’s it going?” They nodded and paddled on. My first contact with people in a couple of days, I wanted so bad to talk. All I got was a nod. I was amazed at what you can get by with in the woods if you have the will to go. I was impressed until I passed their campsite and noticed a red plastic throw away cup in the water, and later duck tape and a plastic bag of TP. It was like they were leaving a trail of breadcrumbs to follow home. I kept thinking back to that wolf I saw on the drive in. What would he think of all this trash? It would only leave its trail. He would know where he was going.
All the portages today were good and level. The one into Polly was very nice. It went through a pine forest with nettles all over the ground. I cranked my first trip across and then walked back for the second. On the second trip across I looked around. Noticed the pines and how tall they were and how they looked peaceful against the blue sky (Oh ya, clear today.) And how the sun warmed me as it filtered through the needles. Then I notice a widow maker hanging just above the trail. It took me three trips on the portage trail, a trail from lake to lake, before I noticed this widow maker hanging with only branches of the lower part of the tree holding the upper parts. How easy it would have been for that treetop to come tumbling down and hit me. The first two passes I wouldn’t have even seen it before it hit me. On the third, at least, I would have been prepared from looking around instead of thinking about the next lake.
The final run today was the Phoebe River. I almost stopped on Lake Polly, but if I did the Phoebe I saw I could make it to Hazel Lake and be even with where I wanted to be today. So, I set off and told myself I would have to be to camp by 6:00. It turned to a marathon race up the Phoebe. I made it to my campsite at 6:00.
I set up camp, took pictures of the sunset, started a fire, cooked dinner, and then watched the stars for a long time. There are so many stars, and the Milky Way was as clear as I have ever seen – just a long strand of bright white cloudiness, so many possibilities. I could almost reach out and touch them, but what we see is already in the past for whoever is out there. It’s like putting my hand on the pictograph.
I saw two otters, three beaver, and an eagle (It was being very vocal I found a stone whistle in Iowa that sounds very much like an eagle), and a ton of redheaded mergansers.
Monday, September 29 Day Eight
Hazel Lake – 140 rd – River – Knight Lake – Phoebe Lake – 85 rd – River – 5 rd – River – 15 rd – River – 15 rd – Grace Lake – A tough tough 285 rd – Beth Lake – 140 rd – Alton Lake – 30 rd – Sawbill Lake – 100 rd – Smoke Lake – SE Campsite
I slept badly last night. I couldn’t get my feet warm. The temperature dropped to freezing. Normally, I carry hand warmers, but forgot them. At 2:00 AM I tried to warm my feet, but had no luck. So I went back to sleep.
When I awoke at 7:30, there was frost on the trees, my canoe, and the tarp. There were even little hail balls. It must have hailed in the night.
I ate a warm bowl of oatmeal and dried fruit that I was refused on Alice. Then set off onto a 140-rod portage. I kept stumbling on roots and rock. My balance seemed out of place.
The fall colors are at peak though, and I enjoyed them.
When I got out on the river and entered Knight Lake, I was still dazed. I couldn’t get my directions straight. North was south. East was west. I even thought I was on Phoebe Lake, when I was really on Knight Lake.
To add to my confusion, hail started. I got to shore and put on my raingear. Then set off into Phoebe. When the hail stopped I looked into the water and saw the reflection of the sun piercing threw the clouds. The reflection was ringed with Sundogs, which signify a change in weather is coming. When I looked up there were no sundogs.
By Grace Lake the wind had picked up again and I had to choose. North to a 147-rod portage to a lake to a 90-rod portage or a 285-rod portage. I took the 285-rod and as I headed towards it, driving hail started to pelt me in the back. The wind instantly kicked up big waves. As big as those on Little Sag, but nowhere as big as Alice’s. I rode them towards the portage. The hail melted almost as it landed.
The portage was long. It started to feel ever more out of place. It just didn’t seem like I was in the right place. I thought back to the widow maker hanging above the trail yesterday. Maybe it really fell and maybe I was half alive, but didn’t know I’d been hurt. Maybe I was dreaming this day. When I finally finished the portage the skies where blue, but no sooner than I launched, the wind kicked up and out of the sky snow started to fall.
Then the wind stopped. The snow fell and fell. At points on the waveless water, I couldn’t see in front of me, to the side or the back. By the time I was halfway across Beth Lake, the wind kicked up again, and it howled not unlike that of a wolf. A small at first howl, that grew louder as the wind spun through the valleys. Then louder again, and then like a wolf howling at the moon, the sound echoed across the lake creating waves started to pushed me to the portage. When I stepped ashore, I felt better. The air smelled clean and crisp and like winter, and I knew my directions again. I felt refreshed and ready to go.
The portage to Alton was pretty and colorful, but on Alton, I got nailed again with hail. I knew I could get winded on this long lake with northern winds, so I snuck up the west shore until I got to a small peninsula. It was directly across from one on the opposite side, but the skies where blue again and there was only a light wind. The crossing was easy and fast.
The Sawbill crossing was easy and the portage to Smoke uneventful. I got to camp at 6:20 with just enough time to set up cameras before the sunset. As I was setting up, I watched a fast moving storm cloud come in from the north. When the cloud ripped loose, it tossed rain sideways, mixed it with hail, and blew itself over so quickly, but when I looked up to the east at it, there was a rainbow.
Tuesday, September 30 Day Nine
Short day – Smoke Lake –
The day started out sunny and cold. I could see from my campsite what looked to be frost on the trees across the lake. Before I got my camera set-up, the sun melted it off.
The first portage placed me on Smoke Lake, which held water a green-yellow almost unearthly tone. The second portage was covered in snow. The sun was melting it off and the smell was fresh and invigorating. When the wind blew my skin would jump to the fresh fall/ early winter smell. The reviving snow. The coming winter. The end of Fall. The start of a new cycle.
Almost to the last lake, I ran into two friendly guys just starting their trip. We talked about fishing. They were having no luck. We talked about canoes. The one with a heavier beard and a nice red raincoat helped me lift my fully loaded magic over a small rock.
And I pushed off, letting them head off onto their adventure.
When I got back to my car, I noticed it was also covered in snow and that I had a lot more gas than I remembered. The fresh day and extra energy made this the perfect trip. I can’t wait to come back again next year.
[Editor's Note: Visit Bryan Hansel at his website: www.nessmuking.com.]
© 2007, Wesley Kisting