So, we eventually set off on another cloudy, dreary day. This time we were heading for a specific campsite. Hopefully the site on Horseshoe Island wouldn't be snagged. It was a Wednesday, so we were hoping there weren't too many other groups on their first or last night in the wildnerness. Getting out of Vera Lake was just about as fun as getting to Vera Lake. There's a couple portages on the western edge of Vera Lake, and one just leads into a swamp. Thankfully, we followed the map well here, and found the correct portage that would take us down to Ensign Lake. And of course this portage was a huge one, too. We knew it was our last major portage, though, so that kept us going.
This portage climbed quickly away from Vera Lake and then was pretty level for most of the way. It was nice, well as nice as a 1/2-mile plus carry of a canoe can be. It even sloped slightly down most of the way. There was one section where it looked like the trail was blocked off by fallen trees, so there was a detour. We almost went the wrong way the first time, but by the time we had the canoe, we knew where we were going. The trail wasn't very rocky either, so it made footing pretty easy. However, once we got close to Ensign Lake, the trail just plunged incredibly steeply down to the shore. However, we switched off carrying the canoe at least 4 times during this portage and we survived it. We definitely were smiling once we loaded up the canoe and set off into Ensign Lake. There was a family fishing in that little northern bay where we entered the lake. As we paddled by, we talked with them about Vera Lake and the portage and the storm from yesterday.
Ensign Lake is known to be a popular fishing lake, and there were plenty of canoes around once we got to the main lake. Several groups of kids were around on this lake, we think they were church groups, as there were a couple church busses in the parking lot when we set off. Also, we've heard a few times from our friend Kyle Anderson and his Dad about their adventures in the Boundary Waters with a church group (especially carrying 10 hardcover books - including the Muslim Bible - around in a backpack on portages). As we paddled past several mini-islands southeastward into Ensign Lake, there were canoes with fishing kids in them everywhere. We had our last navigational error here as we missed the arm of the lake that extends westward. That didn't cost us all that much time, as we did notice that there wasn't any arm heading west further down the lake and we turned around.
A couple of youth group canoes were trying to ram each other as we entered into the arm heading west. And the one getting hit wasn't too happy about it. The adult leaders further up were growling back at them to hurry up. It was generally pretty funny to watch. I noticed as we headed west today that the lake was incredibly calm. It was a welcome change over the last couple days! I didn't care if it was cloudy and cool as long as there wasn't a 30 mph wind to paddle against!
We stopped at a small island right before the narrows in the lake. There we stretched out some more and had some trail mix. People were fishing all around us and we saw why Ensign Lake is such a popular fishing lake. I think 6 fish were caught in the 20 minutes we rested there. All of 'em looked big enough to keep. The narrows kept getting mention as a good fishin' hole, and as we set off we saw it wasn't exactly a well-kept secret. There must have been 20 canoes in that small area within the three black dots of our route through the narrows. Thankfully we didn't get caught in anyone's line. That's about as close as you come to a traffic jam in the Boundary Waters, I think.
After the narrows, there was considerably less people. There was supposed to be a 5-rod portage to Splash Lake, but the water appeared high enough, so we tried it. It was high enough, although we scraped bottom a little bit, we didn't have to carry the canoe at all. That was nice. We paddled down the creek-like thing toward Splash Lake. Splash Lake looked pretty cool, but we just wanted to head west to Newfound Lake and the campsite we wanted. There was a group a ways ahead of us on the creek thing, so we took our time, as we would have had to wait for them at the portage anyway. We finally got to the last portage! Click that link to hear a couple good stories about this portage.
We were greeted on the other side of the portage by none other than a huge motorboat and some more drizzle (Yep, rain again!). We had almost forgotten about them. This little bay heading east off of Newfound Lake was probably a good fishing spot off the main drag. Thankfully the motorboat was just trolling so there was no wake to endure. We continued west, as Horseshoe Island appeared around a corner. It looked like the campsite we wanted on the tip of the horseshoe was still available! We noticed another campsite on the small island that was occupied. That would have been a cool one to stay at, too. We kept expecting to see a tent or have a canoe fly around the corner of Horseshoe Island and snag that site we wanted, but thankfully we got there and staked our claim to the site.
It was an awesome campsite. There was a nice large area to beach the canoe, and we just flipped it over and let it start to dry. The sun began breaking through the rain showers, so we put some of our wet clothes on the canoe, too. We then set up the tent and explored the site. There was cool stuff everywhere. A small island jutted north into the lake and a large log provided a bridge out there. It was interesting trying to get out there when a motorboat would pass and its wake would barrage the log. At one point the log got pretty narrow, too, so that was a challenge. Thankfully, there wasn't over 2 feet of water underneath it. There were plenty of trees to hang our wet clothes from, too, and man did they need it! After exploring the camp for a while, we gathered up some firewood for the evening's dinner. We had saved the Pringles for the last day. Man, were they tasty! When that work was done, the sun was completely out, and Shawn headed back to the tent for another mini-nap while Tracy and I decided to check out some swimming. There was a cool underwater platform just to the east of the small island. We spent quite a bit of time there. We probably swam for an hour and a half. Pretty fun! There were some other kids swimming at the mini-island we passed on the way to Horseshoe. Also, a group further east on Horseshoe Island was trying to swamp their canoe, so that was funny as well.
After swimming, we started trying to catch fish and/or crayfish. We were chasing minnows around, and after much waiting, we snagged a crayfish. He's on that picture page, too. It took several tries to start the campfire, 'cause a lot of the small stuff was pretty wet from yesterday's deluge. We finally got it going, and we had a huge dinner this night. It was delectable, except for the fact that Mrs. Dash was getting old. We barely scraped by with minimal water for the paddle in to the car tomorrow. That's one thing that needs to be planned better. After dinner we hung up the food bag in an awesome spot far away from any trees. Then we got the fire going really good. We talked about the adventure that we had had over the past week. We also drooled about having Hardee's the next day. We hoped Famous Stars were still on special for 99¢. It was going to be nice to sleep in our own beds the next night. Of course it began to cloud up again, ruining any chance at Northern Lights viewing again. Oh well... Tracy turned in first, while Shawn and I stayed up talking about school, work, friends, and other stuff. Then suddenly, we heard gnawing coming from the direction of the food bag. We were then attacked by flying squirrels. After giving up the fight, we resigned ourselves to our tent and went to sleep listening to teeth on nylon. We actually slept pretty well that night.
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