This spring kate and my canoe trip took us to Pickle lake, Ontario. Pickle Lake is small town (about 300 people), and is the northern most town you can drive to in Ontario. Our route started at Stirland Lake, a 120 mile drive on the north rd from pickle lake, and ended at Mud Lake, about 20 miles out of town. On the drive to Pickle lake we crossed over Rat Rapids, the starting point for the Albany river where centuries ago my parents started their trip to James bay.
We put in at Stirland lake after a long drive. We had missed the put in the first time, over shooting it by about 10 miles. This seemed a bigger deal at the time as the 240 mile round trip is very near the limit of a full tank of gas in my truck. I did have an extra 5 gal., but I could just imagine our pour shuttle driver stuck with an empty tank 40 miles from town.
We paddled across Stirland lake to our first portage, which crossed an island with rapids on either side. There was a wonderful campsite at the end of the portage, and had we covered more than 2 miles, I might have stopped. The North Pipestone continued this pattern of slow lake like sections separated by short shallow rapids. Most of the rapids didn’t seem runnable, either too rocky or ending in a shallow ledge. We passed many beautiful places to camp, but unfortunately stopped seeing them around the time we would normally stop. We paddled on and ended up on a nice wooded island on Sasiginaga lake. During the day we saw a moose, eight otters (including a group a seven) and a whole bunch of eagles.
Our second day saw the end of the N. Pipestone, and our ascent on the Morris. The North Pipestone finished as it started, with short rapids and big rocks. More of the rapids were runnable. We paddled across Kecheokagan Lake in a dead calm with the sun beating down on us. Kecheokagan Lake is the end of both the N. Pipestone, and the Morris River, while the Pipestone itself flows through on its way to the Winisk River and Hudson Bay. We reached the Morris, and began to paddle upstream. Travel was fairly easy, with little current in most sections, broken up by large rapids or small falls. The first two portages, although short, were challenging. The second portage especially consisted primarily of sections of either shallow swamp, or a crisscross of knee to waist high fallen spruce. In between these were sections of fallen spruce crisscrossing shallow swamp. We made camp at a nice site on the third portage, next to a powerful rapids.
On day three we continued up the Morris. The Morris widened, and was often more like a lake than river. In narrow parts the current increased, and we often had to paddle up small swifts. We portaged only once, and paddled straight into Kinloch lake. Along the way we had to stop and stretch our legs, something portaging usually takes care of. At one stop we pulled up to a nice rock and found two tent frames made of cut spruce. The framing was well done, and it looked like a nice place for an extended camp. Entering Kinloch we found a long lake filled with deep bays and islands. We made camp on a very nice large rock about a third of the way down.
On day 4 we faced the possibility of a no portage day. We had a good deal of Kinloch to cover, and then two smaller but long lakes in Obabika and Otonoobe. At the end of these lakes we would portage over a long height of land portage into Williams lake, the largest lake on our route. From that point on, the water below us would be flowing into James, not Hudson bay. The day was again very hot, and we took stretch breaks every 1 ½ to 2 hours. At a narrows on Kinloch, we were treated to a Moose approaching the water and swimming to the other side. On Obabika we saw a group of five otters sprint onto shore from the water, only to re-emerge a minute later chasing each other into the lake. We stopped for lunch on a shaded island. The chance of not portaging all day was now gone, since we were very close to the height of land portage. We were ready to stretch our legs, and wondered what kind of shape the portage would be in. It turned out to be ok, with mostly good footing and just clusters of downed trees blocking the path. We took a couple short breaks, but made it across to Williams without much trouble. We paddled out from a narrow bay on Williams into a large section of the lake, and made our way to a cluster of island where we found an excellent campsite. We swam for the third day in a row.
Day five started with a long paddle on Williams lake. This was the only lake we were on that was more of a circle than long and narrow shaped, but a large peninsula in the middle of the lake made it so we had to paddle much of the shore line and not cut across the lake. The morning was still and scenic with many rock islands. As we approached the long bay the lead to the Williams river, we heard the sound of an outboard and soon saw the only group of people we would see on the trip. Two motor boats stopped and talked to us, probably more surprised to see us then us them. A bit farther down the lake we passed the fly in outpost they were staying at. We paddled off of Williams Lake, and started down the Williams river. The Williams River was a small water way with many short sections of rapids. Some were runnable, others too shallow or made too dangerous by low over hanging trees. We scouted everything we ran, and sometimes were able to eddy out after the start of the rapids and shorten the portage. The portage around the longest set of rapids was in the worst shape, but most were pleasant walks through fairly open spruce forest. Near the end of the day we paddled in a very brief but very hard down pour, before making camp on an island on Otoskwin Lake.
Day six started our descent of the Otoswin River. We paddled the length of Otoskwin Lake, one of the nicest lakes of the trip, and soon were at the portage around long current rapids. The rapids had a lot of water, and looked like they were probably beyond the limits of what we would run on a trip. The portage veered away from the river after a while, and the sheer length of the rapids made scouting the whole thing impractical. We took the 1600m portage, and found it an easy walk, with good footing and few obstructions. We took a short break at the bottom of the rapids and then carried on our way. After making our way down Froats Lake, we hit the junction of the Dobie and Otoskwin rivers. Although there were only small swifts, the power and current of the river were evident. Our next stop was a longer set of rapids above Bow Lake. We took a long time scouting these, and eventually lined down river right for a bit, then paddled an easy sneak route down the right side. To the left of our route there was a massive ledge booming away. We had taken a long time scouting, and decided to stop for the night on a nice rock formation next to the rapids. While very pretty, the site did need some work, and deadfall had to be removed for a tent pad.
Our seventh day was our lone day of bad weather. We woke up to a light rain, and it continued for most of the day. We had a very strong headwind on Bow Lake which made for slow going. After Bow Lake the rapids were very fun, easy lines with huge waves. We portaged once, around a giant V in the middle of a rapid. We put our canoe in inside the eddy below the drop and were surprised to see that the upstream current created by the eddy was making a small rapids flowing upstream. We ran the rest of the rapids and were on our way. Eventually the river lost its gradient, and the banks became lower and less rocky. We continued on in the rain, and stopped for the night at the last rapids before our take out at Mud Lake. The campsite was next to a beautiful rapid, but the kitchen area was a low wet bug hole. We made good use of our bug shelter and shirts, and sat under the tarp for much of the night. The rain stopped right before dinner for just long enough for us to get a fire going, only to start up again and rain fairly heavily. Our fire put up a good fight, but eventually went out, and the camp stove was fired up.
Our last day we woke up to a light rain, and decided to wait a bit to see if it would stop. We lucked out and had on and off rain at near perfect intervals. We left the tent and packed up without rain, ate breakfast under the tarp while it rained; only to have it stop again for the rest of the day once we set off. We paddled for a few hours down the remainder of the Otoskwin and Mud lake to our take out point. We found my truck safe and sound, and had a nice conversation with a guy who lives on the lake every summer. Although he wasn’t there when we dropped off my truck, he had obviously been keeping a eye on it while we were paddling.
We drove back to Pickle lake and then continued to Upsala, where we stopped for the night. The next day we ran some errands in Thunder Bay and returned home. Overall it was a great trip with perfect weather, and a nice mix of lakes and rivers. I expect we will be returning to the pickle lake area sooner rather than later.
This spring Kate and I took a canoe trip in the Nakina, Ontario region. The Nakina region is about 300 miles north of Grand Marais, and is known for its world class fishing, and abundant wildlife. The area is not a well-known paddling destination, but should be, offering a huge number of wilderness routes.
For the first three days of our trip, we were plagued with bad weather, it rained constantly (unless it snowed), the highs were around or below 50, and the lows about freezing. We stayed mostly dry, but it was harder to enjoy our surroundings. On the fourth day the sun came out, and the next three days were perfect, if not a bit too sunny. We finished in an on and off light mist on our seventh day.
Starting out on the Gripp River
On the Gripp
Our first camp. It was a bit cold and windy to enjoy the nice open area provided by the sloping rock.
Summit lake on our second day. Summit lake is interesting because the lake itself sits on the height of land, with outlets flowing both south to Superior, and north the the James Bay drainage. This interesting fact does not make it any more enjoyable to paddle in a gale.
Our second day ended at the falls on the Powitick river. We were delayed for much of the day waiting out lighting. Along the way we ran some fun rapids and saw three moose.
Camp at the falls
Day three on the Kap river. We paddled more fun and challenging rapids, all in the same cold, wet weather. Once we started heading east, the wind became very strong against us. We pulled over and made a rough camp on shore. After a quick supper, we crawled into our tent and dry sleeping bags for the night.
Day four was hopeful looking. Kate starts to lose some layers by taking down her hood.
No rain coat!
Rocks on Stewart lake, the first of a series of large lakes. These lakes had fly in fishing camps on them, and because of them we saw more people than our first three days (none).
The site on Stone Lake. This might be the nicest place I’ve camped. Perfect site for the time, the sloping rocks let us dry out some wet gear.
Site on Stone
Stone lake in the morning. On day five we had a mile long portage through a swamp, and then a big open water crossing on Ara lake. I woke up early to see what the wind was doing. We decided to leave at our normal time, and had no issues with the wind.
Ara lake. This lake seemed huge.
Meta Lake. By the time we were on Meta the winds were starting to kick up.
I had been warned about the Portage from Meta to Abamasagi. The person who had helped me plan the trip and did our shuttle had said it was the one portage he swore he would never do again (although he has since reportedly been over it this year). When we went over it, the water was so high I could float the canoe through much of it.
Abamasagi Lake. The wind was really coming up behind us.
The next day we decided to take it easy and only move a few miles down the lake to a beach site marked on my map. The water was so high that much of the beach was under water, as well as the fire ring.
Our beach site from the lake.
We moved the fire ring to above water.
The morning of our seventh day, packing up.
Final few miles on the Kowkash river. Shortly before this photo we ran a drop that in hindsight might not have been wise. We had a good clear V, but once we were in the rapids it became clear how big the wave train was. Kate spent much of the run too high in the air to paddle. Our cover was the only reason we didn’t swamp.
Overall it was a good trip. We paddled a new interesting area, and had the full range of weather. We saw great wildlife, including eight moose and a woodland caribou. I was able to catch fish, which means fishing must have been excellent. I hope to return to the area again to explore more of the routes the Nakina region has to offer, and would be happy to share the information I have gathered to anyone interested in a trip in this area. A good starting point for planning a trip in the area is http://www.greenstonewildernesstrails.ca under the “trails” section. The site has info for many routes, including the Steel river, which Kate and I paddled last year.
Kate and I recently took a four-day trip to One Island Lake. Rush Lake had been our intended target, but due to the 12-15″ of snow we received in the two days prior to our trip, we decided to stop one lake short. In the end this was a blessing, as we found a very nice sheltered site that protected us from the wild winds we saw on day three.
We don’t have any photos from our trip in, as it was hard going and documenting it was far from my mind.
Our site on One Island
Rush Lake in the wind
The creek between Skipper and Little Rush
Cooking at night. Brownies in the oven in back.
It’s been a while now since I’ve posted, so here is, in pictures, a brief summery of life at the outfitters since my last post.
We went on a nice trip to The Pikes with my parents
We bought a small Newfoundland puppy, Ruby
Who turned into this, not little but still very much a puppy
We took a couple of nice winter trips
In early summer we paddled through the frost river area
The summer was very busy. We were able to get out on day trips, but had to live vicariously through outfitting clients for any overnight tripping
In the Fall, we could finally get away and paddled the Steel River Loop in Ontario
We’ve had a good winter with good skiing, low, but enough snow, and very few pictures taken (or they would be in the blog).
Within the next year or so I plan on posting on this blog again.
With BWCA permits harder to come by, combined with the urge to do some river paddling, Kate and I decided to paddle Northern Wisconsin’s Bois Brule River.
The Bois Brule appealed to us because of its scenic, wilderness setting and because it has some fun, fast-moving water. Although we had no plans to fish, the Brule is also a famous trout river. So much so that it is known as the “River of Presidents,” for the five US Presidents who have vacationed and fished on its shores.
The trip started with a drive through Duluth, to Superior, WI. The next day we drove to the outfitter who would be doing our shuttle, both to our put-in point, and the take-out. As on the Buffalo River, we were told that our trip was unrealistic in distance, and that it was a three day trip, not the two day trip that we had planned. It took some convincing but finally they conceded and we were on our way. We shared the shuttle bus with a very large group planning to conduct their bachelor party floating down the river. The huge bus was packed with people, coolers, kegs, and a dog. We were lucky enough to beat the bachelor party to the water, but they were a very nice, social group, and it did seem like an interesting way to spend a bachelor party.
Early on the Brule
The river itself was scenic and wooded. I was surprised at the number of mature white pine lining the shore. Also beautiful, in a very different way, were the old buildings, many built right on the water.
A typical cabin along the river
The water itself was shallow and filled with small riffles and a couple rapids. In a few spots the river widened into small, very shallow lakes filled with fishermen.
We stopped for lunch at one of the canoe landings along the way. Sitting on a park bench, it seemed very different from our usual lunch, sitting on a random island or set of rocks surrounded by wilderness, but it was convenient and enjoyable still.
Downstream from the landing the current picked up a bit, and before the city of Brule we bounced down the biggest rapid of the trip so far, a class II known as Little Joe’s Rapid.
The Brule landing, right below the rapids, was a mob scene. Teenagers in sit-on=top kayaks had clogged the river, and navigating our way through was likely more challenging and dangerous than any swift water we had encountered. Once free, we entered a long section of the river filled with winding switchbacks and slow water. I have to admit that this stretch was not the most interesting I have ever paddled. Although it is the most remote section of the river, the distant sound of the highway and the constant near ninety degree turns made me enjoy this section less then the others.
One of the many herons we saw along the way
As we neared the campground, the water speed up and the river straightened. The campground was in many ways similar to the Forest Service campground at Bearskin. While not as beautiful as many of the BWCA campsites that we are accustomed to, it was still a nice, quiet place to spend the night.
The next day we began the stretch that makes this river a paddling destination. For nine miles, the river is filled with nearly continuous class I to class II rapids, and every so often tumbles over ledges that very much push class III. Although the river had a bit more water than typical for mid-summer, the ledges were still a bit boney, and it was hard to run them without feeling some rock against the bottom of the canoe.
The first set of bigger rapids
One of the ledges
The last ledge
We stopped for lunch at the last boat landing before Lake Superior, and chatted with a nice couple traveling the same route as us. They had never paddled the last section of the river, and like us, were filled with anticipation for ending in the big lake. The last section was shallow and filled with riffles and rocks. It also contained the only portage of the river, around a dam built to keep invading Sea Lampreys out of the river. The portage, of course, was a complete log jam, an odd fact considering we had seen relatively few people on the river. People don’t seem to pack with portaging in mind when on a river with only one portage.
Our first glimpse of Superior
We knew we were nearing the end of our trip when the tree line began to diminish. We went around a bend and Superior came into view. Paddling out of the mouth of the river into Lake Superior was a unique experience. The shallow, sandy shores of the lake were too inviting for us to turn down and we ended the trip with a quick swim and then headed back home.
Kate on the big lake
It’s been a very eventful last few weeks around Bearskin. We are happy to be renting a lot of canoes, and maybe even happier to be renting a lot of cabins. We are busier this summer than we have been recently, and it feels like it. While it seems hectic at times, and certainly exhausting, it has also been quite fun and we’re never at a loss for something to do.
The Gunflint Canoe Races were held on July 21st. They are a fundraiser for the Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department, and are always one of the highlights of the summer.
Unlike many canoe races, you won’t find any Kevlar canoes, or bent shaft paddles at the Gunflint races. The golden rule of the races is only aluminum and roylex canoes and only straight paddles. A common misconception is that these rules are in place simply to level the playing field. In truth, if allowed access to high-end racing equipment, many of the locals would reach such high speeds that we would soon be witness to the kind of high speed wrecks commonly seen in jet boat racing. So for the safety of the participants, but mainly the spectators, that shiny new Grumman is the hottest canoe there.
Over the past three years, Bearskin has steadily improved at the races, and this year was our best yet. The canoe races start with the long distance race. Fellow Bearskin employee Ryan and I were able to place second, despite our inexperience paddling together. Maybe next year we’ll do a few practice runs.
The start of the long distance race
In the women’s sprint race, sisters, Kate and Laura Vernon, edged out a win over another Bearskin team of Kaitlin and Emily. Kate has done nothing but win this event since she came to Bearskin, and may have to move to the men division soon.
Finish of the women’s race
Kate and I were also able to repeat in the Co-ed sprint. We do spend a lot of time together in a canoe, and sometimes it pays off. Not in a financial sense, of course, unless we can dream up some kind of canoe racing, barn storming tour.
Bearskin was less successful in the broken paddle and backwards paddle. Ryan and Dixie fell victim to the chaos around them in the backwards. It’s hard enough to keep a backwards traveling canoe straight, but it’s near impossible when being crashed into by other canoes.
The start of the broken paddle looked as though Bearskin would again finish off the podium, but a late surge by Ryan and Kaitlin, coupled with an untimely loss of control by other teams near the finish line, resulted in a third place finish for Bearskin.
Bearskin was back on top again after I won the men’s solo race.
Finish of the men’s solo race
The women’s gunnel pumping race was next. In what may have been the longest, most confusing gunnel pumping exhibition ever, Laura was the third participant to cross the finish line. I’m not here to pass judgment on whether her methods, or those of her competitors, fell within the pre-established rules of the race. But she crossed that line third.
For anyone out there who does not believe that it is indeed possible to propel a canoe 100ft by bobbing up and down while balancing on the gunnels, watching this race would not have changed your mind.
The grand finale was the men’s gunnel pumping. Ryan had been training in earnest for this event, and had placed high expectations on himself. The perfect gunnel pumper’s body would be short, with a low center of gravity, but with enough weight to push the canoe deep into the water. Ryan, lacking in both shortness and weight, gave it his best effort, but ended up a DNF. He did, however, manage to keep his canoe free enough of water to be able to paddle to shore.
Curtis Blake, Bearskin’s fishing guide, fared no better, despite being heavily favored by many in attendance. After an explosive start which put him out in front of his competitors, Curtis was unable to hold on and ended up all wet. While we admire the flare and style Curtis exhibited in his brief stint atop the gunnels, we are hoping that next year he can end the races on a high note for Bearskin.
The start of the gunnel pump race. Curtis, our fishing guide, is in red.
The season is in full swing at Bearskin, and outfitting is finally a real live business. We have trips reserved, and are renting our Kevlars out at a much higher rate then I had imagined we would. High-end canoes and equipment for rent has meshed well with our lodging business, and while it is still very early, we are optimistic about the outfitting addition to the business.
For Kate and me, it had been awhile since we had been out on a trip of any sort. Taking advantage of a couple of days with no plans, we decided to do a quick overnight down the Granite River, starting at Gunflint and ending at Seagull.
We brought a roylex boat and tried to avoid as many portages as possible, exploring some of the less traveled sections of the river. The water is still very low, and large sections of the river were impassable.
I had not been on the Granite River in two years, and it was fun to see how it is recovering from the burn. While the landscape is still completely changed, the area is now full of green.
Below Little Rock Falls
The Portage into Clove
Lining down some rifles. The downed tree made this un-runnable
We didn’t run into many other people on the river, outside of a large group of hunyucks gathered at Sag falls (large group as in 20+). We had a beautiful site on Sag, and made a surprisingly successful attempt at baking muffins.
Site on Sag
Tent pad on Sag
Friday morning was calm and overcast, with dark skies ahead that foretold a heavy rain. As we approached the Seagull River it began to pour. We stayed fairly dry, and took advantage of a brief pause in the rain to eat lunch near Trail’s End Campground. We finished the trip on Seagull Lake and pulled the canoe up onto the dock of Andy’s house, a fellow Bearskin employee. We shuttled cars and gear back and forth and finally ended up back at Bearskin to warm up and dry off.
All wet at Trails End
Directly after Canoecopia, Kate and I took a trip down the Buffalo River. It was a wonderful way to escape from the sunny 54 degree weather of Northern Minnesota to the sunny 55 degree weather of Arkansas, and to finally get back on the water. The Buffalo River is the first river to be designated as a national river and is known for its towering bluffs, and clear turquoise tinted water.
I had been researching this trip for a while, and decided to start in Ponca, one of the first put in points on the river, and then paddle to Buffalo Point. The route called for paddling 95 miles over five days and, assuming that we could average around twenty miles a day, would give us a bit of wiggle room.
Many years ago my parents paddled the same river. So long ago, in fact, that there are now new species of animals residing there (elk were re-introduced in 1981). While my parents were on the river, the water jumped to flood stage, meaning the trip consisted of paddling over bridges at breakneck speed. This would not be the case for us, as the river level was quite low. Through April and March I kept a watchful eye on the water levels, hoping they would be high when we arrived, making the rapids more interesting and the mileage easier.
Two days after Canoecopia, we arrived in Ponca at the Buffalo Outdoor Center, the outfitter/ resort that would provide us both lodging and a car shuttle from put-in to take- out. For those who like to stay at two or more resorts a year, I would recommend taking a look at the Buffalo Outdoor Center. (For those who go to one, I would only recommend Bearskin Lodge). Perched on top of what we in Minnesota would call a mountain, the cabin offered a spectacular view of the hill surrounding it.
The next morning we drove back to the main office to arrange our shuttle. When we arrived we were told that we would be putting in two miles down the river at Steel Creek, due to low water. Reaching Buffalo Point from Steel Creek was also deemed impossible, because of the amount of dragging we would have to do early on. Now, I spend a lot of time on the North Brule, and after getting a canoe from Horseshoe Lake to the Lima Grade in low water, might consider myself an expert on canoe dragging. Nevertheless, I was admittedly out of my element in Arkansas, and was willing to listen to the advice I was being given. Eventually we decided that after a day or two, we would call from one of the payphones located at the national forest campgrounds spread throughout the river.
Launching from Steel Creek
Hemmed in Hollow
We arrived at Steel Creek a little later than we had planned, and began to unload our gear. The weather was warm, but overcast, and while the river’s beauty was obvious, the gloom of the day obscured some of it. We had been repeatedly told that the first 12 miles of the river was the most scenic, and it certainly was breathtaking. We stopped to hike to Hemmed in Hollow, the highest trickle (waterfall) in Mid-America. The falls are very pretty, with much of the water turning into a fine mist before it reaches the ground.
At this point, river travel consisted of fairly good sized portions of paddling intermingled with many shallow rapids, maybe half of which were runable. The going was hard and slow, but we did manage to make a little over 15 miles before making camp. Our first campsite was a lot like the rest of the trips, high above the river in the woods. The wood in the area was very dry. It seemed that all you would need to do was look at it wrong and it would burst into flames. Needless to say, we were able to make a fire with little effort. After a long day we decided to make a simple meal of grilled cheese and hash browns before turning in for the night.
First night’s camp
The second day we made a little better time, and spent less time dragging and more time in the canoe. We arrived at our first opportunity to call our shuttle but still didn’t have much of a feel for our pace. We decided to agree on a much shorter trip, with the understanding that we might again change. The day itself was brilliant and sunny, and the second twelve miles was at least as pretty as the first. It was encouraging to see a gradual increase in the depth of the river, and at the end of the day we were about 22 miles farther down the river than we were the night before.
Second night’s camp
Chef Kate. Zero portages = Wannigan
The next day the sun came out in full force, highlighting the already spectacular scenery surrounding us. The water became deeper, and the rapids bigger and more fun. The sun being out over the last two days had also brought wildlife to the river’s edge; we were lucky enough to see a herd of elk. As a whole the trip was a success in terms of viewing wildlife. We saw mink, an otter, deer (including one swimming across a rapids), herons, eagles, and even the remains of an armadillo. The sun also had the effect of warming two travelers from Northern Minnesota to a breaking point, and we finally summoned up the courage to go for a swim. The swim, while refreshing, was not lengthy, and soon we were back in the boat.
View in the morning
Later that day, we would encounter what looked to be a possibly insurmountable obstacle in our quest for Buffalo Point. As we rounded a bend in the river we noticed smoke pouring from the forest ahead. With the smell of wood smoke thick in the air, we decided to pull over well before thick haze and see if we could get a better look from shore. The area was very dry and, probably due to the number of spring breakers using the hiking trails in the area, seemed to be the unattended campfire capital of the world. After much observation, we decided it looked safe to paddle past, after which we would be downwind of the fire. A mile long paddle cleared us from any smoke, and once through it we noticed a small sign on shore telling us that the hiking trail was closed due to prescribed burns in the area. Presumably the river was still open.
The “forest fire”
That night we camped in what was becoming our standard campsite, up from the river with a view of magnificent bluffs. This site also set itself apart because most of the area was covered in lush green grass. We had a wonderful pizza dinner and prepared for bed. Despite delaying for the fire, we had made another 25 miles, and being that we were camped no more than two miles from the original take-out point, our prospects for going the distance were looking up.
We awoke to an overcast day, with the feel of inevitable rain in the air. The cooler air was actually a bit of a relief after the unrelenting sun of the day before. We paddled past Tyler Bend early in the day, and decided to call from the small town of Gilbert to change our take out. We called from the Gilbert General Store, an odd little store right off the river. While using the phone, we were told that not only were they expecting rain, but also four inches of snow. The owner cautioned us to camp high and watch the river level. From what we could tell, most people camping who do not camp at the large campgrounds on the Buffalo River instead camp on beaches very near the water. Stories from my parents about their washed out trip had led me to be more cautious and always camp high. In the end I would say that because of this our sites were dryer, and also much nicer, if not less accessible.
We stayed ahead of the rain for nearly the entire day, and made good time. Our fourth day was probably our easiest, and because we were nearing our take out-point, we got off the water earlier then we had the days before. Despite this, it was our longest day of the trip, covering 28 miles. We set up camp in the rain, and cooked on our stove for the first time of the trip. After dinner we crawled in our tent, and stayed warm and dry falling asleep to the sound of the rain pounding down on the tent and tarp outside.
Waiting for the rain
There it is
When we awoke the next morning, we saw that the rain had never turned to snow. The ground, however, had turned to mud, and keeping clean was not an easy task. We stayed in camp much later then usual, only having a few miles to cover and hoping to wait out the rain. The rain kept up, but we stayed dry in rain gear, and our gear was protected by the canoe cover we were using. The take-out point at Buffalo Point was stunning, one of the best bluffs of the trip. We were covered in mud, loaded down with gear, and must have looked ridiculous to the people camped at the river accustomed to only seeing people out on day trips.
A muddy Kate
Take out at Buffalo Point
As we drove back to Ponca, we began to see snow. At the Buffalo Outdoor Center, we were asked if we would switch cabins due to a current guest being unable to drive out from the cabin they were staying in. As we arrived to the cabin we would be staying in, it became more and more evident that snow plow technology had not yet come this far south. I don’t mean this as a criticism, as I was told they only receive about 15 inches of snow a year, and a snow plow would be akin to Bearskin having air conditioners. We drove through a snow covered field to our cabin and unloaded in a howling wind. The cabin was beautiful, with a million dollar view that now looked as if we were sitting directly in the middle of a cloud. Luckly, by the next day the weather had cleared and we were able to at least briefly enjoy the view.
The following morning we begin our trek home. At one point we had to plow through snow so deep that my truck was skidding along on its chassis. Once we hit pavement the snow had long melted off, and we checked out, bought a shirt or two, and headed towards home. We would spent the night in Iowa City with former Bearskin employee Megan Lessard, who is good, before putting in a long ten hour day drive back to Bearskin.
In looking back, the trip ended up being a complete success, with everything working out nearly perfectly. It was cool to camp and paddle in a completely different environment than we’re used to, and fun to do it in mid-March. Hopefully this will just be the beginning of a good paddling season for us, a season that even on the trail might get started much sooner than we ever planned for.
On March 11th, Andy and I set out for Madison, Wisconsin for Canoecopia, the world’s largest paddle sports show. This is Bearskin’s second year there and this year, because of outfitting, it seemed like even more of a no-brainer to attend. Of the shows that I’ve been to, nothing really compares to Canoecopia. The sheer number of people who come to look at canoe and kayak gear is almost overwhelming. Hordes of paddling enthusiasts fill the convention center which hosts it, and at times the current of people flowing down the aisles and rows is so powerful that it’s nearly impossible to make any headway against it. Determined to talk to as many people as possible, Andy and I stayed sheltered in the eddy of our booth, and over the period of three days probably issued over a thousand friendly hellos.
Mark Morgen, a Bearskin guest and canoe builder, must be thanked for bringing one of his beautiful cedar strip canoes to the show and displaying it at our booth. Mark builds canoes under the name of St. Croix Canoes, and has a website, stcroixcanoes.com. If you’ve been to Bearskin recently, you may have noticed one of his canoes on display at the lodge. Mark stuck around at the booth for much of the show, and from a social standpoint, provided Andy and me some relief from each other.
Canoecopia is also a wonderful time to talk to other people in the industry, and to shop for some new gear. I picked up a big, heavy duty moving water paddle that can take abuse and move a lot of water. For Kate I bought a pair of Neoprene mittens that make her hands look like those of a penguin. They also have the added effect of keeping her hands warm and dry.
This year Canoecopia served as the film premier for a new paddling film, entitled ”This is Canoeing.” The film consists of many short segments on individual paddlers, including a piece on our musher Erik Simula’s birch bark canoe trip this summer. I was lucky enough to get to paddle the filmmaker around while she filmed this segment, and it was nice to catch up with her again at the show.
For Bearskin, the show seemed very successful. We were able to talk to a lot of people about staying at Bearskin, and also make some good paddle sport industry connections.
The website is finally up. The address is www.bearskinoutfitters.com. Soon there should be a link off of the Bearskin site. There are still a few glitches but almost anything you’d want to know is there.
In other news, Kate and I recently skied down to Alder Lake to camp and fish in this beautiful March weather we’ve been enjoying. While it wasn’t necessarily planned as such, it looks like this might have been the last good winter outing, and I thought I’d post some pictures.
We started out a little later than we’d hoped and began skiing down the lake on Erik’s dog sled trail. It was very warm and the sun was blinding as it reflected off of the snow. After months of maintaining a brilliant pale complexion, my face turned to its familiar tomato red.
Kate pulling on Bearskin
Erik’s trail made for a pretty fast trip down the lake. About two miles down he passed us, heading home from a tour. Although I see it almost every day, I still always enjoy watching Erik’s dogs run. We finally made it to the end of the lake and stopped for lunch just before the portage into Alder.
We skied on Alder a short way, and then left the packed trail and switched to snowshoes. The snow had drifted in spots but was never very deep, and we didn’t encounter any slush.
Leaving the dogsled trail on Alder
After searching for and finally finding a good site, we set about the camp chores of pitching the tent, looking for wood, and drilling a water hole. Due to our late start, by the time we were all set up it was beginning to get dark. The temperature dropped outside and we stayed in the warm tent, prepared soup for dinner, and went to bed early.
View of the tent and campsite
View of the inside of the tent
The next morning we woke up to one of the more beautiful sunrise scenes I’ve ever seen. The temperature had dropped to around zero and the trees had frosted up. The brilliant sunlight lit up the ice crystals on the branches, and for a little while the glow was nearly blinding. We snapped a few good photos and carried on with the morning, gathering wood and starting a fire.
Right outside the tent in the morning
Looking down the lake
After breakfast I tried my hand at fishing. Personally, I feel that the secret to ice fishing is low expectations, and the ability to realize that even those expectations will rarely be met. I’ve made peace with the fact that I would be perfectly satisfied to, on a nice enough day, just go sit and relax on a wilderness lake, enjoying my surroundings. Ice fishing is a fine way to do this without seeming to have lost all purpose and motivation.
So I surprised myself when I caught a pretty good sized fish. It’s much more fun when that happens.
Pretty good fish
The rest of the day was spent eating lunch, lounging around, and packing up. Only spending one night was painful, but a reality when you are making your living up north. The ski home was long and tiring, and the sun pounded down on us. The weight of the stove, and to a lesser degree the tent, slowed us down, but it would have been nearly impossible to stay dry in the unseasonably warm weather without it and it was well worth the extra work for the additional comfort it provided.
In summary I am very happy with the trip. I think it provided a good first experience for Kate, although I’m sure she would have been fine in much rougher conditions. Hopefully next time we can stay out for a few more days, and maybe make a couple camps. But for now I am looking forward to an entirely different experience on the Buffalo River in Arkansas, which we will be paddling for five days starting March 17th.
Canoe outfitting at Bearskin is starting to seem like a reality. Our first gear is starting to come in and it’s been very exciting. Already we’ve had tents set up (indoors), sleeping pads unrolled, and sleeping bags laid in. Everything looks good so far. The website is very close, only requiring some proof reading and spell checking. This is sure to be a tedious job, since they’ve never made a spell check I couldn’t stump, and I am thankful that there are better writers than I at Bearskin. Until the website is up, I invite anyone with questions to call Bearskin, and let us help you in anyway we can.
It’s been a mild winter on the Gunflint, and we’ve had a lot of opportunities to get out and enjoy the woods. Sometimes it seems like we’ve had three months of March weather, and already we’ve had more sunny days than we did this past summer (that’s right, 3+ sunny days).
I have from time to time taken some pictures when out and about. Early in the winter we walked down Clearwater Lake, connected with the border route trail and ended up on Watap. At this point we had very little snow, and snowshoes were more of a hindrance than help.
Looking down Clearwater Lake:
Cliffs on Watap:
A while later I took an overnight trip through Clearwater to West Pike. The second day I took a look at Gogebic, and then returned through Caribou and back to Clearwater. It was sunny and very warm for the winter the entire time, and wonderful to be outside.
Camp at West Pike:
Caribou on the way home:
More recently, Bob, Kate and I went out to Moss Lake and then Duncan to see if we could catch a fish or two. We couldn’t.
Sled hauling in:
Kate, unable to contain her excitment:
Bob, not catching anything:
Hopefully, I’ll be able to get out a few more times this winter, although my thoughts are slowly turning to paddling with a (not in Minnesota) mid-March canoe trip looming.