Tuesday, September 27, 2011

30 Miles There & Back: A Boundary Waters Adventure

A glass-calm bay in the Boundary Waters
We moved away from Ely, MN eight years ago when we transferred to the University of Idaho (U of I) after graduation from Vermilion Community College (VCC)and we had not returned since. But not for a lack of desire.  Finally after all these long years it worked out that I had enough vacation days, money set aside, and children old enough to leave with their grandparents for a week that we were able to return.

So on August 20th, 2011 after I worked my job's booth at an area farmers market I raced off to my parents where my lovely wife (and the best paddling partner I have ever had the pleasure of sharing 16 feet of Royalex with) was dropping off our two lovely daughters.  Upon arrival, I was pleasantly surprised that my wife had actually come to a complete stop before unloading the kids.  We parted from the children with some sadness and reservations which my wife exhibited in the somewhat strange reaction of doing a combination of cartwheels mixed with wild sprinting and shouts that might otherwise be construed as joy.

And thus began our 8-hour drive from Iowa to Ely, MN.  The drive up foreshadowed much of how the entire trip (and following weeks) would go: almost non-existent arguing, lots of laughing and conversation.  We arrived in Ely a touch later than we hoped and found the Fall Lake Campground to be completely filled up and, as luck would have it, so were ALL the hotels in Ely.  We ended up staying in a little cabin at the Silver Rapids Lodge for the night; the only place available within an hours drive.

Silver Rapids Lodge Cabin
The cabin was nice but the bed was a touch short for my 6'4" frame, but it was nice to have a shower in the morning.  We had time before we had to check out so we ate a breakfast of bacon and eggs on the porch then went down to the lake (Garden Lake) to drink coffee and watch for loons.  Didn't see any.
Vermilion Community College
Once we had finished our coffee we packed the van back up and drove into Ely where we were going to visit old haunts, pick up souveniers, and basically kill time until 1:00 PM when the campsites at Fall Lake would start to open back up again.

It was amazing how many people that we ran into that we knew and remebered us after eight long years.

In the above photo you can see me standing outside of VCC where I obtained my A.S. in Wilderness Management.
View from Fall Lake Campsite
After lunch we drove back out to Fall Lake and found a BEAUTIFUL campsite with good access to the water for forays in the canoe, we also saw and heard our first Common loon of the trip.  No matter how many times I see and hear them it never gets old.

While we camped at the Fall Lake Campground we had several friends that we went to school with at VCC, and later on , the U of I, stop by for a visit.  We cooked up venison steaks on the fire and I made bannock in a reflector oven, but I'll save that for a future blog post.
Paddling across Newton Lake
The following morning we loaded our car camping gear back in our van and our wilderness gear into the canoe and took off paddling on our glorious 4-day trip into the Boundary Waters.

We paddled across Fall Lake to our first portage of 90 rods ( a rod is 16.5', or roughly the length of a canoe) and double portaged our gear into Newton Lake.
Lunch spot below Pipestone Falls, Pipestone Bay, Basswood Lake
After the relatively short paddle down the length of Newton Lake we arrived at the Newton-Pipestone Portage of 80 rods where we double portaged agin then had a nice lunch on the rocks where we could listen to the Pipestone Falls behind us.

Normally the Newton-Pipestone Portage is as busy as an interstate, but this day it was very quiet, which I liked.

Once we had finished our hasty lunch below the falls we started our long paddle up Pipestone Bay of Basswood Lake, then into Jackfish Bay where we turned to the east, passed through the narrows and into Basswood Lake proper.  

Here we debated whether we should continue paddling up the west shore of Basswood nearer to the Basswood River (and busier campsites) or opt to camp at the first nice site we came to.  We opted for the latter.
Campsite #55 Basswood Lake

We chose a campsite that connected what would have been a large island to the mainland except for a narrow stip of land no more than 30 yards wide.  It had two beautiful sandy beach landings on either side of the isthmus and I thought it would have a good breeze to keep the bugs down. Did I ever hit the nail on the head, but more on that will come later.
Campsite #55 Basswood Lake

My lovely wife started water to boil to purify it, and got supper on the fire while I started on the tent.  Once she had everything going she came over to lend me a hand.  As I got things more under control she turned to check on supper when she said in an amazingly calm voice "Oh look honey, there's a Black bear" and she was right.  

The not too terribly large bear (I guessed it to be around 200 lbs) was bee-lining for our food pack so I bee-lined it for the bear.  I ran straight at the bear, my heart pounding in my ears and I was mildly disconcerted that the bear wasn't leaving yet.  I wasn't sure what I was going to do if I arrived at the food pack and the bear didn't leave but I thought I could take it.  I mean Davy Crockett killed one when he was only three.  How hard can it be really?  But here I jest.  The bear ran like it's ass was on fire once I was in 6' of it an thankfully didn't make off with a morsel of food.

Needless to say I felt like a real badass during supper having defended my wife in the wilderness from a wild animal that eats mostly berries and insect larve(I'm hoping someone over at The Art of Manliness will read this and want an article).
Campsite #55 Basswood Lake
I'd like to say the rest of our stay at Site #55 was uneventful but it wasn't.  Remember how I mentioned I picked the site due to the good breeze it would get to keep the bugs away?  Well it did a bang up job.  Point of fact there were NO bugs our first night, or the entire next day as the breezes picked up to 40 miles per hour with gusts up to 60...

Luckily our tent withstood the wind and no trees fell on us or our gear.  Late the second day in camp the winds died to nothing and the following morning we began the next leg of our trip which I am going to save for another post.  Until then here is a route map of the trip we took. Stay tuned...!
Upper Basswood Falls, Basswood River


JavaJ said...

Sounds like an AWESOME trip - can't wait to read more & I thoroughly enjoyed the accompanying photos!

Anonymous said...

Glad you enjoyed it. I'll get to work on the next installments ASAP!

Mel said...

Leaving the kids with grandparents? You can do that? Why didn't someone tell me that?

What a great trip, thanks for sharing it!

BornRandy said...

I went on a boundry waters canoe trip in the mid 70s with my Boy Scout troup. We started at Ely and spent 10 days on the water. It is was a grand trip that I still remember 40 some years later.