Just back from a challenging trip to the BWCA with my friend Ross. [photo gallery 1, photo gallery 2] We had intended to start on the Sawbill Trail, but were told to evacuate just as we got there due to the rapidly expanding Pagami Creek Fire. (Satellite photos show this plume forming in less than two hours!)
There was a very strong west wind and the fire had doubled in less than 24 hours. [video] So we headed for the Gunflint Trail and the extreme NE corner of the park. The shore of Lake Superior was still smokey, but we found clear air as we drove north. We entered at East Bearskin and after two short portages we established a base camp on Canoe Lake. [map] This turned out to be an excellent choice. Canoe is a smaller lake with great views and we had a pair of resident loons who were still wailing and laughing even though the breeding season was over.
We had a chance to get setup before it started raining. Then the rain came in bands with sun shafts and rainbows in between. “Better than a big screen TV” I said to my friend.
Over the next two days we endured rain, sleet, freezing temps, and SNOW! But the lake water was warm and our gear held up well.
Along the Johnson Falls Trail
On day two we hiked the long portage to Pine Lake and took the side trail to Johnson Falls. This was a cold, grey day but we managed to enjoy ourselves and take a few good photos. By the time we got back to our campsite, we were ready to get out of our wet clothes and head into the tents as soon as it got dark.
Misty Morning on Canoe Lake
On the third day we portaged into Crystal Lake, which lived up to its name. The water was very clear and deep. We ate lunch at the first of two campsites and then paddled down to the other end to find the portage into the next lake. We had read two lines in a guidebook that indicated there was a failed silver mine from the 1880’s there, so we set out to find it. Both the lake and mine are named after William Spaulding who thought there was significant wealth to be found there. By a process of elimination and a few good guesses we actually found it! A 16×8 foot hole reinforced with timbers. We could see no sign of the cabin and other paraphernalia mentioned by others. This really isn’t that surprising. The woods were very thick with lots of downed trees.
We saw a fair number of critters including Mergansers, Loons, Red Squirrels gathering white pinecones nearly as long as they were, and a lone Otter who swam around our shoreline. I decided to call our campsite Otter Point! We heard both Barred and Great Horned Owls, Piliated Woodpeckers and many smaller birds. And did I mention several Bald Eagles?!
So in the end, we had a great trip with some real challenges. Wet-boot portaging was only possible for me because the water was still warm from the summer. I’m going to reconsider my footwear before the next late season trip. Stay warm!