When we got to the parking lot, it was funny to see all of the different license plates from around the country that were here. Thankfully it was a Wednesday, so there was only one other group there, and they were returning. I think I saw license plates from Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, both Dakotas, Iowa, Missouri, Texas, North Carolina, Ontario, Tennessee, and New York among the few cars that were there.
So we got to the business of unpacking the car and unloading the canoe. We weren't very experienced portagers, so all three of us carried the canoe down to the landing on Moose Lake. This picture was taken as we first got the canoe down to the water. That portaging philosophy would change after a couple portages. We started bringing all of the stuff down, and ate the sandwiches we bought from the gas station. We were about ready to head out.
At about 9:00 am we set off on the longest camping trip any of us had ever been on. It was going to be interesting. The first thing we noticed was there was a motorboat service running canoeists out a ways into the Boundary Waters, that must be for the wimp paddlers! We headed across from the landing to the pretty large island, where a small plaque welcomed us to the wilderness.
The sun was out and there was a 10 mph southwest wind at our back, which was nice. We met a couple groups returning, and they looked pretty worn out, so we knew we were in for an adventure. A couple of those motorboats passed pretty close to us and their wakes (even though there was a 25 horsepower limit) were always treacherous. Especially with our canoe riding low in the water with three people and all of our gear. Thankfully most motorboat operators were courteous and either gave us a wide berth or made sure their wake would hit us head on. Having it hit head on prevented any rocking from side to side and in turn any people losing their balance and plunging into the water.
We navigated around some small islands and headed due west for a short period. There were some cool campsite locations everywhere, so it was looking good. There was a metal pole sticking out of the water near the northern shore of the little point jutting west into Newfound Lake. That was to warn motorboats and canoeists of a large rock and a couple of logs pretty close to the surface. We cruised close by to see what was there. Then turning back northeast, we started into Newfound Lake. There were several motorboats fishing off in the little bays on the west side of Newfound, having a good day I'm sure.
We paddled a little further up the east shore of Newfound before stopping to take a break. Heading back out after snagging some water and some of Bri's Deluxe Trail Mix, we paddled northeast. We passed to the east of Horseshoe Island (you know, the island that looks like a horseshoe in the middle of Newfound Lake). A few awesome campsites were spotted as we passed by. They were occupied, but we were planning on where we would spend our last night out here. Hopefully the people would be gone when we got there.
Another narrows marked the entrance to Sucker Lake. By this team it was getting pretty warm out, and the paddlers had taken their shirts off to cool down. No one's back got too lobsterized the first day, thankfully, 'cause that woulda been fun sleeping on sunburn. As we were paddling up the lake, Tracy noticed on the map that if there was a trail at the northeast corner of the lake, we wouldn't have to keep paddling with motorboats. We could just portage to Birch Lake. So we stopped at a good spot and considered the options. While we were stopped, we noticed something that looked suspiciously like a portage landing just to our northeast along the shore. So we hopped in the canoe and went to go check it out.
Yep, it was a portage, and a short one at that. It was only about 5 rods. OK, explanation, a rod is about 5.5 yards, or 16.5 feet, or about 1 canoe length. So this one was about 27.5 yards. Not bad. First we tried to carry the canoe with all of the stuff in it. And it wasn't going to go very far that way. So, we emptied all of the heavy stuff out of it and all three of us carried it over a small rocky area down a short trail to Birch Lake. That was interesting.
So we continued along Birch Lake, thinking how cool it was to be canoeing right along the U.S. - Canadian border. One half of the canoe in Ontario, the other in Minnesota. Quetico is Ontario's equivalent to the Boundary Waters, and it's pretty big as well. Making sure we didn't end up in one of the bays into Ontario, we stayed mainly to the east side of Birch Lake. However, we were moving faster than expected and ended up in a small bay on the east side of Birch Lake. We were wondering where the heck the lake went, 'cause it was looking pretty swampy and not fun to portage anywhere. After paddling around for about a half an hour in there, we finally got back on the right track and back into Birch Lake. Our punishment for that, paddling into the wind for a little bit in order to get back into the main lake.
After we got back on the main lake, travel went smoothly. We were thinking of portaging to Frog Lake, a good distance (100 rods = 550 yds.) southeast of Birch Lake. We beached the canoe and began walking the portage trail to Frog Lake. There were plenty o' mosquitoes trying to dine on us, and the trail began descending into a pretty swampy area. It woulda been tricky to get past that part. Then we rounded a corner and saw the trail disappear underwater for as far as we could see. One tentative step to see how deep it was nearly swallowed my foot in the muck below. So, we decided to scrap the Frog Lake plan and head for the campsite we had seen just northeast of the portage.
We beached the canoe at the campsite in the mid-afternoon. We began unpacking everything and setting up the tent. Thankfully we were allowed to have campfires during the evening hours. We were concerned that we weren't going to be allowed campfires because of the huge windstorm that struck the Boundary Waters on July 4, 1999 with 100+ mph winds. It had been a wet season so far, so they were being cautious, but letting people have campfires. (And it continued to be a wet season while we were there, too!)
After setting up the tent, getting stuff ready to sleep, Tracy and I decided to go swimming, even though it was beginning to cloud over and the temperature wasn't really all that warm. And yeah, we freezed some of our extremities off while we swam. We played catch with a mini football that I brought along. We dried off and let our sandals air out for a while. We then noticed the variety of colors present on our legs. That was pretty humorous. After throwing real shoes and some sweatpants on, we went and explored the area around the camp. There was a pretty cool cliff area just to the east of the campsite (take a look at the topography - red lines - on the map). We climbed that, but there were too many trees to get a decent view of anything. We did gather some good firewood and got ready to make our first meal.
And from the menu we selected spaghetti. Using water from our 7.5 gallon supply (3 2.5 gallon jugs from Elmer's in Escanaba), we boiled the spaghetti in two main pans. It took a while, but eventually the spaghetti got cooked. Topping it off with catsup and Mrs. Dash, we scarfed down the noodles. The food supply was looking good. For dessert, I think it was Quaker Chewies again, and more trail mix. After washing the dishes, we found a suitable tree and hung up the bag of food. Brian got absolutely devoured on his hands by mosquitoes while trying to throw the rope over a tree branch. It was insane. The moes really weren't that bad out in the main campsite where the wind could blow through, but in the woods it was another story. They especially got hungry right after sunset.
Then, as we relaxed by the fire we saw a loon out in the lake checking us out. I went over and snapped a picture of him. We also noticed dark clouds moving in from the west. Great... It was going to rain. We made sure the canoe was flipped over, the rain fly was snug on the tent and anything else we didn't want wet was covered by our tarp - a necessity on this trip. And then it started to pour. We huddled under a tree, as there was no lightning or thunder evident in this storm. We watched the rain put the fire out for us.
After realizing it wasn't going to stop for a while, we scurried to the tent, whipped off our shoes, and dove in. We played a little cards and talked for a while about the trip before deciding to go to sleep. It was an interesting start to the trip. There was definitely much more to come.
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