Saturday, June 17, 2017

BWCA - 2017

     Yup, I'm pooped. Expected it and wasn't disappointed. At 70 I don't take to the boonies like I once did. However, being with my grandson Jakob and his dad Ryan for three days was a good, good time but as I said, I'm pooped. Will write more when my brain and body are rested.

     For a simple three day trip ours had pretty much everything, nine kinds of weather, plenty of time on the water, a variety of insects none in great abundance, a touch of irony, better than crappy fishing, no one fell out of the boat, and a single campground rabbit. Never had one of those before and this one was near tame, no doubt to fool us into complacency.
The Terror
     Most bunnies are harmless but for some reason this one gave me the willies. It was a terrifying beast with glowing eyes. Made me think of the rabbit in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Worst of all, we had no Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch to fend off the terror. Dying at the hands of a small rodent wasn't something I'd ever expected to happen in the Boundary Waters and I made damned sure such would not happen to us. However, we kept our eyes peeled whenever we were out and about. It always pays to be prepared.
     I had a few realistic worries about this trip and as usual they were pretty much on the money. The Ranger in Grand Marais always says there's a black fly hatch but will never tell me how many will suck blood from my head and ankles. Yeah, the little buggers love to crawl up under my pants to draw a festering line around the top of my socks. Odd thing is the itching doesn't start till I get back home. Maybe body oils and dirt are better than After Bite.
     The canoe rental went slick though I should have been paying more attention to the number on the bow of the canoe. I'd asked for a twenty foot Wenonah! with the idea that bigger is better. Instead we were given a three-seater by Northwind by Northstar (used to be Bell). Same number of seats and a pretty boat for sure but a foot and a half shorter. We did manage to squeeze ourselves in but Jakob and I had no leg room. Oh well, we didn't have far to paddle.
Ryan and Jakob
     The access on McFarland is far too civilized. In fact the entire north and east shores of the lake are lined with cabins. Some wilderness, eh? However, a few of them are downright attractive if you like that kind of stuff. Me, I lean toward barely habitable with a few bats under the steel roof. Some of the cabins we passed looked like they might even have indoor plumbing. Wouldn't surprise me if the Home and Garden Channel will soon be up here doing rehabs with the lesser structures. Who knows, the hardware store in Grand Marais might even stock granite counter tops and subway tiles these days? Don't know how my Uncle Emil would take that.
     The paddle up McFarland was relatively easy though I had to keep my cursing to myself. Profanity in all forms is what I do to let off steam before the pressure builds to boiling. Yeah, I was doing my best to deceive the eleven year old in front of me. The tailwind's function was to kept us moving while I kept us generally traveling in the right direction. Took a few minutes till I came up with a system to keep Jakob from banging paddles with me or vice-versa. When I'd give him a 'hut', he'd switch sides and he was good at it. Still, I struggled and tired easily, as I hadn't had a paddle in my hand in better than a year.
     We also had the opportunity to ride the white horses on our way down Pine. Picked up that image for white caps from one of Sigurd Olson's books. It's a popular, poetic term I've always felt lacking. Could be I'm a little short when it comes to poesy and have a hard time seeing horses in the water when there's no reason for them to be there. But the waves sure do sound neat when you're riding alongside them as they're breaking. The shushing also reminded me to pay attention and keep the boat traveling straight downwind.
     Originally I'd planned camping on the single south shore site. It's close to good fishing and situated near both portages to the two uphill trout lakes. But with the wind and waves I quickly came to see it as an all or nothing option. Should it be taken we'd have to dangerously paddle cross-lake and cross-wave to find another. And, as I said, I was pooping out. Through my fifties I was pretty much tireless when it came to paddling but somewhere around sixty-two my energy level began to wane just a little. Now, at seventy the physical downhill is starting to turn into an avalanche. However, on Pine I pulled out my ace in the hole, wisdom. Wisdom is a good thing and is respected as a sign of tempered intelligence. But truth be known, in my case wisdom is powered by a fear of death or at the least, pain, neither of which appeals to me. I began to look elsewhere.
     First choice, third down the lake and best on the water, was taken. Once again the eleven year old in front of me curbed my foul tongue but did decide he had to take a leak. All three of us handled it nicely. I like Jakob a lot, even have a grandfatherly love for him but dear Lord, he sure is hard on my vocabulary. The fourth site wasn't there and the fifth sucked as to its landing. It was the sixth that was the winner because of its magnificent, gently sloping, immense basalt slab shoreline. Even a bimbo like me could grind ashore on such a spot. We were home for the next three days.
     An hour's work found the tent up, rain tarp strung, and the kitchen organized. My intention was to go full bore and hang the food pack but lacked a towering white pine with a spreading branch. Oh well, we were only a two hour paddle from the car. So long as an invading bear didn't eat us (meaning me), we were good.
     The only time I had bears in camp was back in '94. The moon threw their shadows on the tent as they silently passed by. There's an old saw saying if you hear something in camp it's not a bear. Yup, this pair sure was quiet. Not knowing what to do I made a loud series of kissing sounds. Who in their right mind makes kissing sounds to fend of a possible killer? Maybe that's what the bears were thinking as they ran off. "Holy crap! This weirdo has love on his mind. And he's probably ugly as sin. Best skedaddle."
     By now I was figuring Jake and Ryan had fishing on their minds. But having spent many days in one camp or another, food was at the top of my list. Food had been a big concern right from the get-go. During the early years I'd tried a fair number of freeze dried meals and found them to almost be tolerable. I'd heard they'd gotten better over the years but I recall the ads back in the nineties as saying something like 'Ummm, ummm! They sure do eat good.' Didn't take a genius to figure out if freeze dried was trying to taste as good as fresh food, why not take fresh food? So that's what we had.
Besides snack food, we carried a mid-sized cooler with steaks, eight burgers (with carefully packed buns), frozen homemade spaghetti sauce, two dozen eggs, sausages, frozen hash browns, butter, and fruit. Also packed enough gas to keep the stove going indefinitely. Since this trip involved no portaging, weight wasn't a problem.
Food Altar
     Truth was, we were in no hurry. The wind was still up, even built as the day passed. We putzed the afternoon around camp. Even broke open a Gary Paulsen young man's novel to enjoyably pass the time. Reading has always been a part of my time in the wilderness. Usually I seek literature but my definition has fuzzy borders. Paulsen fit in nicely though his youth stories lack the edge of his adult tales. When I first found him on the library shelves Paulsen would occasionally lay a line on me that'd stop me in my tracks, set the book down, and stare off into the distance till my hackles relaxed. Good writer indeed.
     Come evening the camp was growing restless from a lack of fishing. And I began to fear an insurrection unless something was done about it. One of the reasons we were sitting on my second acceptable choice as to site had to do with the extended point no more than ten paddling minutes away. It gave us just enough protection from the east wind to maybe get in a few casts. Also, the ten foot wide whitecaps of the afternoon had shrunk and retreated to the main channel of the lake. We loaded and paddled out. To be honest I don't recall if any fish were boated. Ryan definitely had a couple on the line, might even have lost one before I could fire off a photo. But should I ask him he'd no doubt tell me in detail every nanosecond of the fights. I blame my lack on short term memory problems and being Jakob's go-fer.
     Ryan had two rods up front, one rigged with a spinner (what else? Though over the days he sometimes switched to a Shad Rap, probably 'cause they're made in Iowa)) and the other a jig-plastic combination. Jakob and I were rigged the same but also carried a third rod. At all times I felt it my function to make sure Jake had a rod in his hand and two ready to go, stashed in the stern behind me. Should he throw a bird's nest it was my task to either untangle it or shorten the line (God bless Swiss Army knives). Not that I'm complaining, no sir. Over the years I'd thrown my share of lures and caught way more than my share of fish, lack of a few more wasn't going to alter my enjoyment of being on the water. Being of service to my grandson was time well spent (I'd originally written 'pleasure' but realized that to be a lie. And 'joy' sure didn't cut the mustard either). Also gave me the chance to see how loops form in fishing line; some were obvious, some merely an act of one of the lesser gods. Over the years I'd seen enough zephyrs come dancing over the water simply to play havoc with the canoe. A man learns to pay them their due. Those lesser gods require no sacrificed goats but do like to be noticed now and then.
Most were larger
     Anyhow, here's a shot of Ryan and a Boundary Waters smallmouth bass. Ryan is the larger of the two. The mist hanging in the cross-lake trees tells me it was shot on the second day. As it turned out the rain gear we had on was our usual uniform of the day. Once back in camp it didn't take long before we packed it in. Eleven year olds and codgers need their sleep. Besides, the bones and shoulder of my fight arm felt like they'd been hammered. Haven't as yet figured out an exercise to get me ready for prolonged j-stoking besides prolonged j-stoking. The tent was ready and waiting and we were willing.
     We'd brought Ryan and Jakob's four man Kelty tent. I'd not as yet given much thought to its having two doors beyond, "Two doors, neat." Figured it no more than a minor convenience till I gave it some practical thought while we assembled it in the afternoon. At my age a man most often rises in the middle of the night to take a leak. Turned out Ryan's bladder was taking on a similar habit. Guess I was also when I was his age. We put Jakob in the middle. I'll let you color in the rest of the picture.
     Come morning I was up and about at my usual six a.m. The boys weren't. Almost wrote they looked too peaceful to disturb but both were unseen and buried deep in their bags. Gave me the thought disturbing them might have the same effect as sticking my hand down a badger hole to find out what might be inside. I dressed and crawled out as silently as I could. That the two slept through my stumbling, farting, and cursing was a tribute to their fatigue.
     Back at home I begin my day with fifteen minutes of stretching. Some might call my attempts yoga. Some would be wrong. Up here in the woods I did no such thing. One look at the muddy, pounded duff, and stone forest floor told me organic is nowhere near as soft as synthetic. The carpeting back home might give me cancer but at least I'd die with clean fingernails. As a substitute I wandered the camp, admired the Japanese woodblock print hills across the lake as the misty-fog crept down from the peaks. I don't get all warm and gooey on the inside when confronted by such beauty but I do take notice. Next order of business was firing up the stove and heating the already made and waiting coffee. Now, that does get me warm and gooey on the inside and will usually remind my sleeping intestines that they're overfull. Reason enough to wander uphill and pay the fiberglass stool homage.
     Along the well trod trek I scanned the woods for deadfall cedar. Two years earlier on East Pike Lake, my nephew Brian and I had stumbled on a treasure trove of beautifully dried limbs and small, dead trunks. Lacking a productive outlet in my waning years, one of the things I do is band saw carve little pine trees from nature provided wood. A few eighteen inch long, two inch diameter sticks would have been wonderful to illegally gather and take home. But I didn't. Over the last two years I'd steeled my resolve and was determined to not make that mistake again. So as I thumped my way along the path my eyes continually scanned the underbrush. My God, this site was surrounded by hundreds of northern white cedar and every damned one of them was alive and healthy. I left my frustrations in the latrine and wandered down a more peaceful soul.
     Outside of the Hansen novel there was nothing to read besides the labeling on food packages. Once done with that, I again wandered to the shore in hope of finding enlightenment in the descending fog. Pulled my camera after eleven seconds of contemplation then fired off a few attempts at some artsy photos.
Artsy Photo
     Around seven-fifteen I could take it no more and rousted the two deadheads. Breakfast was simple, half a pound of sausages were scrambled together with eight eggs in one pan, in the other four hash brown patties and a slathering of butter were chopped and crisped together. Breakfast on a Coleman stove usually takes but ten minutes from beginning to end, eating even less. Top that off with coffee and cookies or granola bar and you're ready for the day. Well, maybe if the wind was down or rain might not be moving in. Truth was the wind was tolerable and we went exploring with loaded fishing rods.
     The fog never left us on Wednesday but was kind enough to remain stuck in the pine and spruce needles of the hills. Again we hit the protected bay then crossed the lake in rising whitecaps. The water gods paint the tips of waves white to remind foolish canoe men to keep their wits about them. We quartered them wisely with only a little grunting and muttering from the stern seat.
     The south shore was dented with a series of small bays but it was the points that proved productive. That is if a half dozen hits and three bass to the boat filled the bill. Yeah, the fishing was slow throughout our three days. Jakob never did catch his big fish though he had and lost a three pounder. His dad tried to convince him that counted but Jake was having nothing to do with Ryan's logic. In his mind a caught fish is one that's in your hand in the photo. Good for Jakob, he's a young man of growing principle.
     We did do one side trip with intentions of some trout fishing. The weather remained overcast, threatened rain, and there was a chop on the water. Good conditions for both walleyes and trout. The portage to Vale Lake rose directly across from our site and the tiny lake was supposed provide a fair chance to land a brook trout. My son Allan and I had fished Vale better than twenty years earlier and had gotten a good tan chasing the trout from one shore to another. So, I remembered the portage. Yup, remembered it well. Starts out steep and quickly grows much steeper as it turns into a boulder pile. The last ten rods is a misery of rubble begging for broken limbs. Back in '95 we carried our gear and aluminum canoe. I had no intentions of doing so this time. For sure I couldn't hoist the beast and had no intentions of putting the misery on my son-in-law. The Minnesota DNR said it was possible to shore fish Vale and there was no reason to doubt such a fine organization. I'd packed an ultralight rod and reel spooled with four pound test in hopes of giving it a go. Also carried a seven foot, buggy whip of a Shakespeare fiberglass rod made in 1956, reeled and spooled the same way. Each was tipped with a tiny, homemade spinner. Yes sir, we were ready.
     I'd bought the map we were using back in '92. In general it'd proved useful many times. A diagonal, upwind paddle brought us to the south shore where we began our search for the small path in the forest. Not always an easy thing to do as a portage and a beaver drag look pretty much the same from a canoe. Long story short, the map wasn't off by more than two hundred yards and we'd only once had the opportunity to dead end at a wall of northern white cedar. Probably the map was just as whacked back in '92 since the portage appeared about the same as I recalled, maybe a little more overgrown. We set off, Jakob in the lead, Ryan next, and me an ever-flagging last. I carefully cradled the rods, butt end first and cautiously inspected every one of my foot placements. Grace is no longer one of my strong points. Probably never was and these days remaining upright while passing over uneven terrain is a challenge.
     By the time I arrived at the lake Ryan and Jake could've had a tent erected, the stove fired up, grilled cheese sandwiches hot and ready, and been sporting a 'where've you been homeboy?' look on their faces. It was there along the shallow, rocky shore I discovered my Shakespeare was missing its spinner. Damnation! Another victim of the Sir Francis Bacon theory of him having made all of the Bard's fishing poles. Seems Shakespeare was an avid angler. Some even think he was actually Isaak Walton. Or maybe that Bacon was Walton but no one knows for sure and completely ignored sections of the Harvard library are filled with doctoral dissertations on the meaningless subject. As I stood there confused, staring skyward, and lost in musing, Ryan and Jakob set off down what looked to be the vaguest of paths. A real face whipper if I ever saw one. Took us close to a hundred yards before we found a crack in the shoreline brush and a perch to cast from. Me first was my thinking. Heck I'd carried the rods. Believe it was my second fling that hung the bottom and sheared the line. Looked like our trout fishing was done before it even started. The curse of Bacon strikes again. Anyhow, that's my excuse.
     Weather-wise we had it all except snow. One of the reasons I chose Pine Lake as our destination was the view. Pine is a seven mile long trench between a pair of ridges that rise nearly four hundred feet from the lake's shores. The hours can easily slip by while you're sitting in a camp chair simply enjoying the view. Thursday morning we awoke to a complete whiteout fog.
Another artsy photo
The lake had glassed out but visibility was down to twenty yards. Not a one of us could see squat but found the view every bit as intriguing as the cross lake hills. Finally the fog lifted and we were able to head out again. 
Once on the lake we worked our way down to what was supposed to be the best fishing water on the east half of Pine but by now the fog had burned off and the brilliant blue sky gave us an excuse to not catch much. Oddly enough I doubt I took more than two dozen casts throughout the three days and half of those were to work out loops in Jakob's reel. So my excuse for not catching anything is both golden and grandfatherly. But I sure had a good time.
     In the bay we briefly talked with a man fishing solo and using a kayak paddle to move from place to place. He said most of the campsites on Pine are situated near good walleye fishing. I'm not a walleye fisherman, plain and simple, unless I stumble on one by accident. Once discovered I can usually figure out a pattern and boat a few. But purposely targeting walleyes is not something I do by choice. I figured both Ryan and Jakob would have loved to tie into a few but happened to be cursed with sharing a canoe with the wrong man.
Last of the fog
     Maybe next year we'll head over to Crocodile Lake where the walleyes find you. There's a single portage, not long but hilly enough to call it a second step in Ryan and Jakob's Boundary Waters evolution. One portage, two tops is about all grandpa will be able to handle next year. In a pinch I could maybe do more but it'd have to be a heck of a pinch. Life, death, out of coffee.  
     Thursday proved to be a perfect ending to our trip. Jakob boated his first Boundary Waters smallmouth, we had intense fog, clear blue skies, a passing storm front wth a hackle raising  lightning strike right in front of us, and an intensely colorful sunset. Best of all, my simple spaghetti received Jakob's approval. Life was indeed good.
    Friday morning we broke camp and once again rode the white horses down wind. Don't know when we'll pay for our good fortune but for sure we owe something something for our two traveling tail winds.
     Usually it takes me a solid week to recover from such a trip, both mentally and physically. As I write these words my body says another trip would be a good thing. My mind said the same on the drive home. Yeah, I must have had a good time. We shot the connecting stream rapids effortlessly, call it eight seconds of fun. Midway down McFarland we caught one last, dangerous blast of wind as though the lake gods were swatting us on the butt and saying it was time to get off the water.
     These days it takes me a week to recover both mentally and physically from such a trip. However, my mind was already telling me on the drive home that I'd had a good time and another trip canoe trip was in order.

Jakob and Ryan


No comments:

Post a Comment