Boundary Waters Blog
A night in the Boundary Waters is too much for some people. A 7-day summer canoe trip feels like an eternity to most kids. Most people never even think about winter camping yet two Minnesota adventurers are going to spend an entire year in the BWCA.
Amy and Dave Freeman of Wilderness Classroom Organization are embarking on their trip this September. They plan to paddle during the liquid months and use sled dogs during the frozen months to travel over 3000 miles.
Why are they doing this? “To promote preserving the area from the effects of sulfide-ore copper mining.”
This isn’t their first expedition and I’m sure it won’t be there last. They were named National Geographic Explorers of the year in 2014 for their North American Odyssey. They have kayaked around Lake Superior and biked and paddled their way across South America as well. For that trip Amy took along one of my pink canoe paddles.
We first met Amy when she worked at a Gunflint Trail canoe outfitter years ago. She and her husband split their time between Ely and Grand Marais when they aren’t out on an adventure. We wish them the best on their newest pursuit.
Some people say it isn’t that hot here because it isn’t that humid. Others say it’s much hotter where they are from. I say, “It’s hot for here.”
People who live near the biggest air conditioner(Lake Superior) don’t feel “hot” very often. A nice day in Grand Marais, Minnesota is when the sun is shining and it’s 60 degrees. At the end of the Gunflint Trail it can get hot but we usually don’t have a prolonged heat wave. And up here, a heat wave is happening now.
We had over 80 degree temperatures on seven of the past ten days. Yesterday the temperature soared up to 92 degrees. I have a bad memory but I can’t remember the last time we had temperatures this hot for this long.
It is supposed to be in the 90′s again today. Thank goodness I have a river to cool off in throughout the day because I can’t handle the heat.
We’re hoping for some rain tomorrow to cool things off and give the blueberries a drink. The forecast calls for more “hot” weather throughout the weekend.
And while temperatures may not feel hot to you, they certainly do to this Gunflint gal.
Visitors of Voyageur Canoe Outfitters are able to take advantage of our awesome location on the very edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Every day something amazing and awe inspiring happens and if you’re lucky and looking then you get to see it.
Last week one of our tow boat drivers was coming back to our dock and he saw a mother moose and her calf swimming across the river. He used his radio to tell us about it and others were able to go out onto the dock and enjoy it.
Anna and Joe were out fishing on Gull Lake Friday afternoon. A loon was swimming with her newborn chick on her back when suddenly an eagle swooped in and stole her chick. Feathers flew, loons cried and within seconds the chick and eagle were gone.
Josh and I took a quick fishing break yesterday. We heard a noise in the woods and pretty soon a small black bear came out to the water’s edge. It ripped apart a log, sat in the water and when it finally noticed us retreated back into the woods.
We caught some smallmouth bass and as Josh was reeling in a small one a northern pike attacked it. The little bass got away but we netted the 30″ northern pike and then released it.
Yes, there are cool things happening near Voyageur all of the time. We invite you to come see for yourself.
People are out and about on the Gunflint Trail. There are vehicles parked along side of the road at some of the well-known blueberry picking spots. We’ve seen people with bug nets and ice cream buckets crouched down in the weeds. Are the blueberries ready?
In my expert opinion, maybe. If they are ready to be picked then this year won’t be one of the better years for picking. I think the pickers have jumped the gun because I’m seeing more green berries than blue ones and that equals difficult/time consuming picking. I much prefer picking when all of the berries are ripe and ready to be picked.
Maybe this is the only time those blueberry pickers have to pick. It is better than nothing and if you don’t mind moving, squatting, reaching, standing, moving, squatting, reaching, standing and finding small or green berries in your bucket then the berry picking is fine.
I would like to say, “You won’t find me out picking yet.” but that would be a lie. I have been out looking for berries and I have picked some too. But I have spent more time driving and wandering around than I have actually picking but that’s ok too. With the hot weather in the forecast I urge everyone to bring along plenty of water, take time to get out of the sun and don’t wander too far from the road.
Oh, and by the way, the raspberries are ripe and ready to be picked!
We had the pleasure of meeting two adventurers at Voyageur Canoe Outfitters on Tuesday. Nick Canney and paddling partner Mujo Catic started their canoe trip on May 1st at the Stuart River Portage. They plan to camp and canoe in the BWCA until mid-October.
They will have spent over five months canoeing by the time they are finished with their trip. What an excellent adventure. So far they have paddled 150 miles and they haven’t seen a moose yet. They have caught fish and on the opener they caught a 22″ northern pike. As they were reeling it in a larger(around 11 pounds) northern pike grabbed it. They were able to get both fish into the canoe and were quite excited about it.
Nick Canney and Mujo Catic love the outdoors and they hope their trip sparks the interest of other young people so they too will venture into the Boundary Waters. We hope they inspire others to paddle the BWCA and continue to have a wonderful journey.
A guest of ours put together a nice video of his group in the Boundary Waters. I love to see people’s videos and photos of their time spent in the canoe country wilderness. I also love to share these items with my blog readers so if you have some to share then please email them to me, I’d appreciate it.
There are a few cuss words in the middle of the video but I still give it a 5 star rating. Thanks for sharing Len! Video Courtesy of Len Brewer of Killshots, a company that specializes in creating graphics for hunting and fishing websites.
Canoe Fishing trip into the BWCA on June 3, 2015.
Do you consider a camping chair in the Boundary Waters a necessity or a luxury? For me it depends upon the type of trip I am taking and how much portaging I’ll be doing. When we plan to set up a base camp it’s nice to bring along a lightweight camp chair.
Now days there are a large variety of camp chairs to choose from. When we started outfitting canoe trips into the BWCA over 20 years ago the two options were the big sling type camp chairs by Coleman or a Crazy Creek chair. While the big chairs are comfortable they are far from lightweight and Crazy Creek chairs are nice but they don’t get you off of the ground.
The ground is great when it’s dry, level and insect free. Many campsites have logs to sit on, nice rocks to stretch out on and comfortable places to sit. However it’s nice to have a chair that gets you off of the ground and away from biting ants, crawling insects and a wet bottom.
I have two camp chairs I really like, one is the Alite Monarch Butterfly and the other a Big Agnes Helinox. The Helinox Camp One Chair is the most comfortable but weighs 2 pounds while the Alite only weighs a little over 1 pound. The Alite is about $30 less expensive at $69 and the Helinox at $99.
Other companies make camp chairs including Therm-a-Rest, Alps Mountaineering and of course Coleman. Do you have a favorite camping chair? Is it a necessity in the BWCA or a luxury? Let me know.
It’s true, headlines scare me. And I got a little bit scared after reading about the boy pinned in a rapids in the BWCA at the beginning of July. He was there for hours, they had no way to communicate with the outside world and the story could have had a very unhappy ending. He was with his church youth group and with the help of rescuers he lived and is able to tell his story of faith.
When I heard about this story Mike and Josh, along with their church group was about to embark on their week long Quetico Park wilderness canoe trip on the Falls Chain. This chain is known for current and waterfalls and the boys going along were 14 and 15-year-olds. It’s that, “I am invincible.” stage of life for boys. They did make it home without incidence and all went well.
How about the “Brain Eating Amoeba” headline? A Minnesota boy died earlier this month from swimming in a lake because he developed a condition known as primary amebic meningoencephalitis or PAM. The amoeba(Naegleria fowleri) is a single celled organism sometimes found in the sediment at the bottom of warm bodies of fresh water. When water that contains this amoeba enters through the nose it makes its way to the brain and the result is almost always fatal.
These are scary and awful headlines indeed. I feel for the families and friends of the victims of these awful headlines. But these headlines are few and far between. More common are headlines describing kidnappings, attempted rapes, burglaries, fatal car crashes, shootings and more.
I hope people don’t alter their plans to go swimming in lakes or take canoe trips because of the headlines. Even though they are scare inducing the chances of something like that happening are rare and the benefits of participating in these activities are endless.
“Good Night Loon” is a popular children’s book title, Good-Bye Bear is not. Good-Bye and Good Riddance is what we’re saying about our overly friendly neighborhood bear. The lodge loving bear has been dealt with for the last time.
We are sad the bear had to die but knew it needed to. It had been getting way too bold and it was just a matter of time before someone was going to get caught in a bad situation with the bear.
On Saturday night Tony and Hannah returned to their lodge unit and noticed the screen pulled out and the window wide open. When they peered inside they saw the bear, sprawled out on his stomach, on the kitchen floor, happily munching on potato chips and pretzels. They made a phone call to the neighbor since Mike and I were in town. This neighbor knew about the problem and has a big hunting career(he’s killed one other nuisance bear in his 40 plus years of life.
With the thought of getting rid of the bear in the safest manner they walked back to the lodge unit where the bear was still eating chips. He aimed the gun through the window and perfectly executed the bear with one kill shot. The bear did not suffer and died while enjoying his last meal.
Not so perfectly thought out was the mess the execution of the bear would make inside Tony and Hannah’s living quarters. There are no pictures recorded of the carnage but from what I was told it looked like a mob execution. Thankfully the crew members lent a hand in getting the mess cleaned up but there are still some blood stains on the deck.
We can open our windows once again and let the fresh breezes cool us off. Except for Elsa in the kitchen who has a very determined squirrel who chews a new hole in the screen every day in an attempt to get at her delicious baked goods. And the saga continues.
The great debate continues about SPOT Locators and products similar to them. SPOT stands for Satellite Positioning and Tracking and they provide a way to track someone or something using satellites. Especially popular for the wilderness adventurer these devices have raised quite a few issues over the years.
A standard SPOT locator allows you to transmit a couple of messages, one stating you are “ok”, another asking for “help” and the third activating “911″. If you activate the “Help” button then whoever you have given access to your account or decided to send emails to will be notified. If you activate the “911” button then emergency service agencies will be activated.
The challenge with using these devices is there is no way to know what type of emergency is happening or if indeed it is a real emergency. Some people consider being tired or hungry while hiking a mountain an emergency and put rescuers in danger for no reason. Sometimes buttons get accidentally hit and other times a device can malfunction as was the case with the camp across the river from us earlier this year.
The campers were out canoeing when a thunderstorm rolled in. They got to shore to wait it out and sometime during this storm lightning interfered with the transmission and caused their locator to activate 911. They remained where they were to wait out the storm and rescuers believed it was a true emergency. When the locator started moving again there was a bit of confusion but rescuers pursued them from the east, west and from above in the form of a beaver airplane. They found the group and found out everything was “Ok” which was great news.
However, in this instance and in many other instances the lives of the volunteer rescuers were interrupted. These people were pulled away from their normal lives, possibly their work, family or sleep. They put themselves at risk by hiking, paddling, climbing or portaging rugged terrain in an effort to find the campers. As volunteers they get paid nothing for their time or effort. As for the resources used by the USFS like the beaver that flew to find this group, the USFS does not have a way to “bill” for their services. So money that could be used for the forest is wasted on a non-emergency.
We send out SPOT Locators if groups want to rent them so this just as easily could have happened to us. Someone could easily make a mistake or choose to call something an emergency and the same thing would happen. These devices are terrific if they work but dead batteries, user error and misuse can make them a big headache too.
The stories of rescues are awesome and everyone involved is thankful for the devices that notified them. I just wonder how people who are sent out on non-essential rescues feel?
Is there something better than a SPOT out there? The camp has switched devices, some people praise satellite phones and others choose to use nothing. Is a false sense of security given when these devices are taken along on a wilderness trip? No gadget can take into consideration common sense so it’s really up to the user and whenever humans are involved there’s always room for error.
There is joy in paddling a canoe. The feel of the blade slipping into the water, the sight of the swirl created by the pull and the forward momentum gained with each stroke is a beautiful thing. Floating on top of the water, watching the ripples or reflection of the sky on the surface as you glide along with no sounds of a motor is trance inducing.
Canoeing is a fairly inexpensive activity and a wonderful thing for people of any age to do but especially for kids. That’s why I was disappointed to not see a paddling sport listed as one of the popular outdoor activities for people ages 6-24 years-old.
The Outdoor Insight magazine listed the Most Popular Youth Outdoor Activities for the above age group. Here is what they have.
- Running, Jogging & Trail Running 25.6%
- Bicycling(Road, Mountain & BMX 21.2%
- Camping(Car, Backyard & RV) 18.5%
- Fishing(Fresh, Salt & Fly) 18%
- Hiking 12.8%
There are places to paddle all over and there is no shortage of canoes or kayaks. Paddling is easy to learn how to do and something kids can do on their own with very little worry for their adults. All you have to do is find a place where there isn’t much boat traffic, put a life vest on and off they go. It’s good exercise and great for their brain.
We offer discounted rates for kids and youth groups at Voyageur and we also include the free use of a canoe with our housing rentals. I encourage you to bring your kids up to Voyageur and get them into a canoe. It’s a lifelong sport that has huge benefits and besides that, it’s tons of fun.
I’m sure there’s at least one person who is waiting for an update on the bear situation at Voyageur. The good news is the bear hasn’t gotten into any buildings lately. He did bite into Elsa’s liquid laundry detergent and proceeded to drag her empty cooler into the woods but that is about it. He was a “no show” on his execution nights so lucky for him he is still alive, so is the toad.
What toad you ask? The toad the VCO crew watched get swallowed by a snake this morning. They didn’t want to intervene with nature so they did nothing to help the toad as it was slowly devoured by a snake. Good thing for the toad the snake sucked off more than it could suck and the toad exited the snake and hopped away with only an injured leg.
Speaking of injuries… The Voyageur Crew performed amazingly at the annual canoe races with only a few bumps and bruises to show for it. I’ll have a full re-cap in a later blog.
There are a few blueberries beginning to ripen but not enough to warrant a picking day yet. A week possibly two and there should be some good picking. Raspberries are looking better for those with patience. The forecast for the next week looks amazing so get yourself up to the BWCA and visit us at Voyaguer!
I’ll leave you with an amazing photo taken by crew member Evan Gates.
There aren’t too many “popular” day trip routes into the Boundary Waters but there is something about waterfalls that attracts the masses. There are a couple of these that see higher use than other areas of the BWCA and one of them is the route to Stairway Portage.
At a USFS Cooperator meeting the officials mentioned the “Q and P” words about the popular day trip into Stairway Portage. What this might mean is having a quota of the number of groups per day that would be allowed to go to the falls. There would be some reservable permit to enter on a specific day, maybe even a specific time of day? Who knows, it was mentioned and that means there has been talk about it.
When they first brought this up I cringed as this is the usual response. You see, over the years we’ve had new rules, laws and changes that usually involve having to pay money in order to try to make money. An example is the number of tow boats we can have and the fact we have to pay a percentage of our profits to the USFS.
So, I cringed but after taking our BWCA canoe trip in that area last week I’m wondering if it might not be such a bad idea? I didn’t think that many people would visit the falls but I guess I’ve not paddled or hiked in that area much during the summer.
Not many people make the drive all of the way to the end of the Gunflint Trail but quite a few make the trip up to mid-trail. Combine that with a number of resorts in the area and cabin owners who live in the area and there’s a fairly large population in the height of the summer.
It’s an easy trip to see the falls with just one 80-rod portage between West Bearskin and Duncan and an easy 20-rod from Hungry Jack Lake to West Bearskin. A quick paddle across Duncan and your at the portage. There’s no need to carry your canoe down to Rose Lake unless you are continuing on your way.
The area around the waterfall is beautiful. There are short hikes to scenic vistas, flat areas for picnicking and getting wet in the spray of the waterfall to enjoy. We saw quite a few different groups during the three times we were there(once to get into Rose, once as a day trip while on Rose, and once to get out of Rose). It certainly didn’t seem like a wilderness area with groups portaging through, taking photos and enjoying the scenery.
The canoe traffic we saw while paddling Duncan helped make our decision easier to go camp in Rose Lake. Too many watercraft passing by on their way to see the falls for me to enjoy the solitude of the BWCA.
Of course, I hate to limit the number of people that can enjoy such a place but if it is detrimental to those who have overnight camping permits then is it fair to them? I don’t know, it’s a good question, what do you think?
I’m happy I’ve been able to make the trip to Stairway Portage and look forward to those steps again, over 100 in all!
The Boundary Waters is known for its canoeing and very few people take advantage of the awesome hiking opportunities that exist. The Gunflint Trail has endless hiking trails of all lengths including the Border Route Hiking Trail and all of it’s spur trails.
Last week I was able to get out and camp on Rose Lake. We chose a campsite that the Border Route Trail passes right through. It seems a little bit awkward to have a trail go right through your camp but in the four days we were there no one passed through. I love to hike so one day I hiked to the east and the next to the west.
The Border Route Trail begins at Magnetic Rock about 45 miles from Grand Marais and stretches all of the way to Lake Superior. There are a number of spur trails that I have hiked and I had been on both sections of the trail that I hiked but every time you hike a trail you see something new or find something else to appreciate.
Going to the east I quickly came upon the long canoe portage into Rove Lake. It was lowland that followed a creek and passed by many beaver ponds. Beaver activity was obvious everywhere with paths in the woods and chewed off stumps. The plants that grow around a swamp and wetlands are so interesting to look at and I really enjoy a particular scent that it gives off. I’m not sure what plant produces the smell but it reminds me of something similar to Patchouli.
After the portage trail ends the hiking trail heads into the woods and away from the lake. The trail isn’t like one you’ll find in a State Park as there are dead falls, rocks to scurry over and mud holes to slug through. I hiked a little over four miles to the intersection of where a trail leads down to the Clearwater Lake hiking campsite. The bummer about hiking from a campsite is that you travel the same path in as you do out, but as I’ve said before, you notice new things and a hike through the woods is always enjoyable.
Stairway Portage and the waterfalls were the destination for the second day of hiking. Josh decided he would hike there with me while Abby and Mike canoed and fished their way there. Josh actually took off like a gazelle immediately and I didn’t see him until I made it to the falls. His long legs, sure footing and athleticism was too much for his mother to keep up.
This part of the trail has more elevation change as it goes up to the bluffs overlooking Rose Lake. It’s spectacular scenery and there are places you can see back into Duncan Lake, Arrow Lake in Canada and even Rat and South Lake. Then there are parts of the trail that make you feel like you are in a jungle because there are so many Thimbleberry leaves covering the path and raspberry bushes scratching at your legs. It’s a little over 3 miles to get to Stairway Portage and when Mike and Abby got there, after catching a nice lake trout, we cooled off beneath the falls. This is a popular day trip spot and I’ll talk more about it in a different blog because this one is getting long enough.
After cooling off I turned back to hike home to the campsite while Josh fished and paddled with Mike and Abby. While this campsite was ideal for hiking any of the sites on Rose would be good if you don’t mind paddling to the Stairway Portage or the portage at the end of Rose. If you paddled there then you would avoid hiking through the campsite and you really don’t miss much of the trail at all. I could have hiked the Daniels Lake Spur Trail as another trip or the Caribou Rock Trail or even another section of the Border Route Trail along Rose that heads toward South Lake. Like I said, the opportunities are plentiful when it comes to hiking the BWCA especially when your camped on one of the lakes the Border Route Trail passes by.
The Border Route Trail is maintained by volunteers. You can help clear the trail, donate money or find out more information about the trail on their website. The photo below was taken from the web, my photos are still on my camera.