When offered the option between staying home to write or venturing into the BWCAW with good friends last week, it was a no-brainer. At least for me.
I love canoeing with women. We chat all day long, work well as a team, and feel empowered managing tough portages on our own. I took my first canoe trip in eighth grade with a church group through Camp Menogyn, and I assumed only guys could carry the canoes. Life has taught me differently. I’ve done the majority of my canoeing since then with women, and we manage just fine, thank you. On this trip we schlepped our stuff through a total of 20 portages and paddled 18 lakes (actually 9 each way) and who knows how many miles of river, about 40 miles in all—and we’re all in our 50’s and 60’s. I just realized I’m the oldest at 67. In spite of my advanced years I carried my Mad River Explorer across all 20 portages, then hiked back to haul a pack across 16 of them. That’s 36 portages. Not bad for an old girl.
We headed out on a sunny Tuesday morning, and my pulse raced as we drove up the scenic Sawbill Trail into the wilderness. Into heaven. I am forever thankful to live so close to the Boundary Waters, though I’m a bit embarrassed that I don’t get into it more often. We were six women with six Duluth packs—a lot to squeeze into two canoes. We figured it out.
After paddling a little over a mile across Kawishiwi Lake, we forged into a swampy river, which boggled my mind. I loved the peaceful paddle through reeds and lily pads. The water lilies were in full bloom; they like to wait for the end of summer, as we do. Less bugs for us, but I’m not just sure what their logic is.
We traveled all morning through a burn, which is devastating yet beautiful in its own way. It breaks my heart, though, to consider how many majestic white pines were lost in the flames.
Our first few portages were short, both less than a football field, so the major work was unloading canoes, heaving up our loads, then reloading the canoes at the other end. Three of us went back for a second trip through the portage for the extra packs. Piece of cake for wilderness women!
Square Lake, more river, then we were stunned to silence by a rare sight as we emerged onto Kawasachong Lake : a swan. Bird experts Ann and Annie weren’t sure whether it was a whistling swan or a trumpeter, but it was awesome. None of us had ever seen a swan in this northern wilderness. We sat in our canoes hidden by the reeds, watching it feed as a young eagle perched on a tree behind it, probably sizing up whether it could manage this large feast. No dice, birdie. Mama and Papa were perched on the lake as well, supervising junior as he strove toward independence. I wonder how long it takes an eagle to fully fledge.
After lunch we faced the 181-rod portage, a little over a half mile. If you’ve ever carried 53 pounds on your shoulders for a half mile, you’ll understand. Luckily, the portage was mostly flat and well-maintained. And sunny, as we were still in the burn. We traveled about three miles in all through a corner of the Pagami Burn, a fire that destroyed 92,000 acres of wilderness in 2011.
Enough of that, though. Highlights of the trip:
Well, the swan. Then Wednesday morning we rose to a dreamy mist on Polly Lake. Magical.
We packed up and headed out, stopping at Malberg for lunch on a cliff overlooking a narrow waterway with an armada of 23 mergansers. What a hoot to watch them scurry, dive, flap and finally roost among the rocks. That is, until something startled them to action. Maybe it was us, rousing from our post-lunch doze.
That night our cozy campfire was interrupted when Ann exclaimed, “Look! The Northern Lights! ” We spent the rest of the night on our backs, marveling at the show of shimmering greens and pinks that pulsed through the sky. Oh, my. It’s been years…
The next day we paddled the Kawishiwi River to Fishdance, where we hoped to see the Native American pictographs. Yup. Amazing. Archeologists have determined that there were inhabitants here 10,000 years ago, but I have no idea how old the pictographs are. Old. My favorites were a canoe with two people in it and a pair of people carrying something, maybe three fish. It looks like a harp. There were also a number of red handprints on the rock. Of course we wondered how many pictographs have been lost over time due to rock flaking off and erosion. We lunched atop the cliff. I just can’t complain, except perhaps that it was a steep climb.
We saw beaver, more eagles, skinny dipped every day, and counted our blessings. Oh, it’s a good life, especially when the bugs are few and the sun resplendent. And the company? Sheer delight.
I’ll work on my books tomorrow. Today I’m reveling in the joy of my boundary waters adventure. As you can see, I wrote about it.