Jay Cooke State Park

It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that the North Shore of Lake Superior is a crowded place in the summer.  When planning our Duluth adventure, The Adventuress and I looked at each of the state parks, but only found one that 1.) had a campsite available for two nights, and 2.) did not involve a long hike from the car to the campsite.  The park that we found ended up not being on the North Shore, but was close enough.

Jay Cooke State Park is a heavily forested park on the St. Louis River south of Duluth.  It is at the eastern most end of Minnesota Highway 210, which made it easy for us to navigate there.  Historically, the river made navigation not as easy here.  The park is home to the Grand Portage of the St. Louis River, used first by Native Americans for who knows how long, and then by French fur traders in the 1700’s and up until the rail road built a bridge through the area in the mid 1800’s.  Pennsylvania financier Jay Cooke donated the initial plot of land for the park as part of a rail road deal.  He had originally intended for Duluth to be a “new Chicago”, though the financial panic of 1873 and his subsequent bankruptcy scaled those plans back.

The towns of Thompson and Carlton are right outside the park.  The Black Bear Casino and Resort is nearby, if you’re into that sort of thing.  We arrived in Carlton just at the tail end of Carlton Daze, which appears to be the local version of a small town block party.  The main street had been closed off to traffic for a street dance type event.  A couple of local bars were keeping the celebration going through the evening, after the food trucks and other tents had closed down.  Carlton is also on a number of  trails through the area, such as the William Munger State Trail and St. Louis River State Water Trail.

We didn’t know what to expect when we arrived at Jay Cooke.  As we drove into the park, outstanding views of the St. Louis River were presented around every corner.  We were used to the wide muddy scene of the Missouri.  The St. Louis turned out to be wide and rocky.  Each rock formed a rapid, and the river continuously roared, making the necessity of the Grand Portage readily apparent.

After setting up camp, we went for a walk.  The Swinging Bridge is the most famous man-made feature of the park. This incarnation of the bridge was recently opened, as the previous bridge had been swept away in a flood in 2012.  This same storm took out a section of Highway 210 in the eastern side of the park.  The bridge isn’t nearly as treacherous as the memorabilia at the visitor’s center made out.  Fellow park goers did seem to enjoy making the span bounce by jumping up and down in the middle.

On the other side of the bridge are a number of trails.  The Superior Trail and the North Country National Scenic Trail run through this area.  There are also a number of local park trails.  The area immediately by the bridge, and on the rocks upstream of the bridge were busy, but a short hike downstream provided some much needed solitude.

A short drive up 210 brought us to Oldenburg Point, a nice picnic area with tremendous views of the river valley.  Sizable stone picnic shelters are also found here, a remnant of the CCC work that took place in the 1930’s.

The campground was compact, but the trees provided privacy for each campsite.  Wood was available at the visitor’s center, along with various sundries.  A gas station and grocery store can be found in Carlton, though the hours of the grocery seemed to be limited.

The weather was cooperative, until it was time to break camp.  We ended up taking down the tent in between rain showers.  Not long after pulling out of the campsite, the real downpour started.  We ended up going to the River Inn, which is an indoor picnic shelter with a large fireplace and nature center.  Rain must be a common occurrence here, there were a number of rainy day activities for the kiddos available in the shelter.

We found Jay Cooke State Park to be a pleasant place to stay and explore.  I hope next time to stay longer to further explore the trails and historic features in the park.

Fort Pierre National Grasslands Bioblitz

Adventuress is a nature gal, and heard about a Bioblitz happening at Ft. Pierre National Grasslands in the middle of June.  Naturally, the first thing I asked was “What’s a bioblitz?”

“Oh, it’ll be great!  We’ll meet with a bunch of other nature types and inventory all the plants we come across.”

I’m usually suspicious of anything involving other people, but Adventuress seemed intent on doing this.  So, at the end of the work week we piled into the car with Adventure Dog and headed south to Pierre.

We camped at Griffin Park in Pierre.  The park is next to the river, by the hospital.  The camping area was a little confusing for us.  Eventually, we figured out that we could just pitch our tent anywhere on the grass by the RV parking.  The facilities were a little spartan, but manageable.  We were awoken at 1 in the morning by two gentlemen who loudly expressed their deep concern to each other about being respectful to the other campers.  Thankfully, it started raining, which convinced them to abandon the conversation and head in for the night.

We struck camp in the morning and headed to the local Perkins for a muffin breakfast.  Coffee and ginormous muffins in hand, we met the rest of the blitzers at the grasslands HQ.  This being a government operation, there were safety briefings to attend and paperwork to fill out.  They had been warned ahead of time that Adventure Dog would be along, so veterinary information was available just in case.  A couple of birding groups had headed out earlier that morning.  There was also a fish group, but they had done their survey earlier that week.

I’s dotted and t’s crossed, we headed out into the grasslands.  The first thing that hit me was the almost total lack of trees.  I’ve been out to western ND a number of times, but this was something else.  I could see why “Dances With Wolves” was filmed here.  We pulled into the first area, and began the blitz.


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Usually I see grasslands from afar while zipping down the road, or in the fall while pheasant hunting.  In the fall, the plants have pretty much run their course and are various shades of brown.  Now, in the late spring, the grass was green, and dotted with a multitude of colors from wildflowers.  I took in the scene as the botanists began their hunt.  There wasn’t a lot I could offer to their Latin laced observations, so I mostly hung back and kept Adventure Dog out of the way, and tried to absorb what knowledge I could.

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The first area thoroughly scouted, we moved on to the next.  This new location was on the other side of the rise, just down the road from the first spot.  This area had a small creek running through it.  The botanists resumed their hunt, and again I stayed back a bit.  Odd dragonflies buzzed around.  A family of mule deer wandered through, eyeing us suspiciously.  The botanists were so consumed with the plants that they never noticed our deer audience.  Meadowlarks and orioles provided background music.


The third and final stop of the blitz was Sheriff’s Dam.  We met up with some of the birders there, and continued looking for interesting plants. There was some excitement as a wildflower not previously seen in this area was spotted.  Soon after, an American Bittern popped up to surprise everyone.  Of course, this bird was too camera shy to let anyone get a decent photo.  By this time, it was 90 degrees and high noon.  I took Adventure Dog back to the car and let her cool off in the lake.  Soon, the rest of the group joined us.  Lunches were broken out, and we ate and chatted while storm clouds built to the north.

Now that the blitzing was over, the hosts had one final treat.  We drove up to a fenn on the grasslands.  An arachnologist gave a presentation on how spiders were captured for study.  He had a couple different traps that were used.  One was a ramp trap where spiders marched up a metal ramp and would fall into a plastic container filled with a glycol solution.  The solution was effective at preserving the structure of the spiders, and the DNA of their cells.  Next, he demonstrated his vacuum pack, which looked like something out of Ghostbusters.  This gadget was a little less successful on this day, as nothing came up during the demo.

The blitzing day done, we headed back to Pierre for a quick stop at the state capitol.  We took the scenic route home, which took us up to Mobridge, and across Lake Oahe.  We drove through Standing Rock during the golden hour, and were treated to a beautiful view of the broken plains there.

It was a good, but long day.  I learned a great deal, and Adventuress had a good time.  Adventure Dog would have liked to have run free for a while, but the heat wouldn’t allow it.  I don’t know if we filled out any of the missing pictures in the soon to be updated Ft. Pierre wildlife guide, but we had fun trying.

Eagle Mountain

On a recent trip to northeast Minnesota, The Adventuress and I decided to make the trek to Eagle Mountain.  The weather reports kept showing that Monday would be rain free, so we took the day and headed up the North Shore.  The weather was perfect for the hike, and getting there was a breeze (with only minor delays for road construction).

The highest point in Minnesota is supposedly also one of the most remote of the highest points in the U.S.  If you measure remoteness by availability of cell phone signals, this is probably true.  Minnesota is also the state with the highest point located the closest to the lowest point, at Lake Superior.  In the end, this means that its a relatively short trip to dip your toes in the cool waters of the lake after the hot hike to the summit. For all the guff that North Dakota gets about being flat, it turns out that at 2300 feet, Eagle Mountain is 1200 feet lower than White Butte (ND’s highest point at 3500 ft).

From Duluth, we took Highway 61 north to Lutsen (pronounced LOOT-sen, for those of you who haven’t grown up around Scandinavians), then Cook County Route 4 up to “The Grade”.  County 4 winds through the Superior National Forest, and is an easy drive over pavement and gravel.  The trailhead is 4 miles east of the County 4 intersection, and isn’t too hard to spot.  The signage in the area was useful and kept us on track.

At the trailhead, there is a parking lot, basic restroom facilities (meaning a vault toilet with no running water), a picnic table, and the registration booth.  The trail enters the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA), so registration is required before hitting the trail.  For day trips, there is no fee or permit limit (as of 2016).  A sign about a mile into the trail marks the BWCA border.

The trail itself is heavily wooded and can be thick with mosquitoes.  Bug proof clothing is a big help, as is bug spray.  The terrain is easy to navigate.  The inclines and declines are modest, at least at the start. Until you get to Whale Lake, it doesn’t seem like the trail climbs much with all the non-switchback up and downs. The biggest obstacles are the rocks and tree roots. Hiking sticks are a great help to navigate through the roots and rocks without falling.  There are a couple sections that go over boggy ground.  A board walk is in place over these areas, which should keep your feet dry. Water is available at Whale Lake, though it should probably be filtered or treated before drinking. The Adventuress found the Whale Lake water to be particularly tasty (after filtering, of course).

We set off on the trail at about 12:30 pm.  Along the trail, we spotted a wide variety of mushrooms and wildflowers.  You could say, we were tripping on mushrooms the whole way (ha!).  Wild blueberries grow along the trail, and happened to be in season.  For wildlife, there was the occasional butterfly, bird, and dragonfly, but the trail seems to be too busy for wildlife/human interactions.

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The trail splits on the west side of Whale Lake.  Going left will take you to the summit, while going right will eventually lead you to Brule Lake, which is quite a ways into the BWCA and probably not where you want to go on a day trip.  There is a prominent sign to lead hikers in the right direction.  After the trail leaves Whale Lake, the incline is more noticeable.  The deciduous trees give way to pines, and the forest thins out a bit.  Just before reaching the summit, the trees clear out and the BWCA spreads out before you.   The trail also gets a bit lost here, as the ground turns into granite boulders.  Just keep climbing, and the trail will make itself visible again.

At the summit, a large black plaque marks the Highest Point in Minnesota.  The immediate view is treed in, so go back down to the clearing to enjoy the view before heading back down the way you came.

The Adventuress and I did the 7 mile hike in about 5 hours.  We could have shaved a bit off if we didn’t stop to check out the plants and mushrooms, or take a break at the summit.  Between the two of us, we used about 2 1/2 20 oz. bottles of water.   The one hangup occurred while we were trying to leave the parking lot.  Two gentlemen standing by our car were so involved in talking about portages in the BWCA that they didn’t notice we were trying to leave.  Who knew portage talk could be so riveting?


We finished off the day resting our toes in the waters of Lake Superior at Temperance River State Park.  There, The Adventuress rediscovered her childhood passion of rock collecting.  The water was refreshingly cool, and the sunset was spectacular.

It was a beautiful hike on a beautiful day.  It would be interesting to do the same hike in the fall or winter to see the change in season.  We didn’t find the trail to be all that strenuous.  If you happen to be in the Lutsen area, a hike to the summit of Minnesota would be a good way to spend a chunk of the day.

Yosemite Day 1 (June 7th)

After the madness of the weekend, post rush hour San Francisco was pretty tame.  It took a few minutes to figure out how to get down to the airport, but that trip went smoothly.  Soon, my rented Hyundai Accent was zipping down the 101 towards Palo Alto, and eventually towards Groveland.

The GPS continually guided me east, across the bay and through the hills on the east side.  The urban jungle gave way to rolling hills covered in tall, tan grass and spread out trees.  The countryside looked a lot like western North Dakota, only with more tress.  After crossing the Don Pedro Reservoir (which appeared a good deal lower than normal), it was back into the hills.

The trip to Groveland was much shorter than expected, so it was off into Yosemite right away.  The forest was thick in this area, except for a large area that had obviously been hit with a fire in the past couple years.  I’d later find out that the Rim Fire in 2013 had burned a large portion of this area, but hadn’t directly affected some of the more famous areas of Yosemite.

The first view I had of Half Dome.
The first view I had of Half Dome.

Fortunately, there are a number of turn-offs on the highways that go through the park, and most happen to have great views of scenery.  It didn’t take too long before I had my first view of Half Dome.

One of the iconic falls in the Yosemite Valley.
One of the iconic falls in the Yosemite Valley.

Then it was off into the Yosemite Valley with views of Bridalveil Falls, El Capitan, and the other summits that surround the valley.

After leaving the falls, the creek flows into the Merced River.
After leaving the falls, the creek flows into the Merced River.
Experimented a bit with the shutter speed on this one. Pretty pleased how it turned out.
Experimented a bit with the shutter speed on this one. Pretty pleased how it turned out.

Traffic ends up being thick in the valley, even in the evening.  Reluctantly, I started back towards Groveland to check into the inn.  Yosemite Riverside Inn is nestled into a bend on the South Fork of the Toulumne River.  Interestingly, it appears that the city of San Jose owns a youth camp right next to the inn grounds.  Check in and unpacking done, it was off to the nearby towns to scour for supplies for tomorrow’s hike, and to find some dinner.

A view from the overlook near Buck Meadows.
A view from the overlook near Buck Meadows.

On the way back to the hotel, I stopped to enjoy the view of Stanislaus National Forest.  The area north of Highway 120 was regrowing after the Rim Fire has burned most of the trees.  It was a little odd to see so much relatively bare hillsides after driving through such a heavily forested area.


BWCA Trip Day 5 – July 23 2015

Woke up with the sun. This is getting to be a habit. I actually slept really well, must be getting used to this pad. To bad I’m not staying another day or two.  Right as I was about to break camp, it rained. Fortunately, it only lasted a couple minutes, but the tent and ground tarp had to be packed out wet.

Paddled back to the portage. The lake was quite a site. A rock just outside of the bay had a vaguely bird like top. The top of the rock stood up, pooped, and waddled to the water. The “rock” turned out to be a grebe, sitting on a rock.

It was misty around the portage. I saw what looked like a dog sniffing around the portage. It looked at me, then turned and trotted off down the trail. It had a long, bushy tail, and I then realized that I had been looking at a wolf.

The portage was a long slog. The first trip wasn’t too bad with the gear and food packs. The bugs were awful, but my scent at that time might have had something to do with that.  Putting on a mosquito net kept the bugs off my face, but it gets surprisingly hot under that net.

Hauling the canoe was torture. The yoke wasn’t set perfectly right, so I had to stop and adjust it a bit. Apparently I hadn’t adjusted it well enough, because it slipped again almost right away. The third time was the charm, but the remaining march seemed to take forever.

Finally made it to the entry point. Loaded up, and paddled back to the launch. Had a moment of confusion where I thought the landing was further down the shore, but committed to the landing in front of me. Turned out I had made the right choice, as my ride showed up shortly after I landed.

Barry had a couple cold drinks waiting for me. We chatted about the wolf and pheasant hunting the whole trip back to the outfitter. After dropping the gear off, I chatted a bit with John about the trip and what I saw. Pleasantries done, I finally showered up for the first time in 5 days.  It was good to feel clean again.

I had a really good time on this trip, though it was a lot of work.  I’ll definitely head back up to the Boundary Waters again.  I can see why so many people are repeat visitors.  With an area that size, it can take years to see it all.

I learned a lot on this trip as well.  I have a better idea of how to pack for a back country excursion, what gear works and what doesn’t, and what kind of food to bring.  My paddling technique improved after 5 days of continuos paddling. And I’m more confident in my ability to work through problems in front of me.  I’m glad I went through an outfitter to put this together, or the experience would have been less enjoyable.

BWCA Trip Day 4 – July 22 2015

The aches and pains set in this morning, it took a little while to get going. Fortunately, I had some ibuprofen along, which helped me function enough to start moving.

The portage to Hassel wasn’t too bad, but a bit long. Shoes were the footwear of the day, I think my landings and launches were cleaner because of my new footwear. I lost my sandals when I took the canoe, fortunately they were easy to find. A valuable lesson learned: if it isn’t strapped down don’t expect it to be there the next time you look.

The portage from Hassel to Saca Lake was well hidden, but I found it eventually. The detail on the map wasn’t enough to point me to the right spot. The trail was marked on the GPS, but the unit had my location off by about 20 feet.  After a half hour of wandering back and forth along the shore line (and a few minutes of starting down a deceptive game trail), I finally found it, and trekked to Saca Lake.

Saca is another pretty lake. I could see staying there one day. There was a group camping on the lake, the first people I’d seen since yesterday morning. I found the portage to Crab Lake on a rocky point. It was a nice place to have lunch. A humming bird tried to join me. It was a large one, but disappeared when I tried to get a camera out. Wildlife are so camera shy!

A group came down from the trail from Crab, three men and 4 or so boys. They are staying at Crab, and were in Saca to fish (one guy was adamant that they weren’t going to take any fish back with them).

After getting back to Crab Lake, the next few hours were spent trying to find the perfect site to camp for the last night. Rain was in the forecast, so I tried to take that into account. After several hours of searching, and hemming and hawing over a couple sites, I finally decided to camp at the sight where I had seen the deer the day before.

After committing, a couple of problems became apparent:

It was on a boulder, with almost no dirt to stake down

The setting red hot sun bathed the whole site all afternoon and evening.

The stake issue was solved by tying paracord to sticks and the tent stakeouts, and using rocks to hold the stick down. The sun ended up not being much of a problem after I left the door to the tent open all evening.

One last dinner, and I tried to pre-pack as much as possible for tomorrow’s exit. This has been fun, but I’m read to get back to civilization.

Today’s Wildlife:

Loons, ravens, ruffed grouse, 2 kinds of humming birds, one with a white head and body with reddish brown wings, the other was not colored the same but the same size. Didn’t get the greatest look at them, but they were quite big for humming birds.

BWCA Trip Day 3 – July 21 2015

The goal today was Battle Lake, and it was a battle to get there.

The sleepless nights had caught up, and so I started out later than I wanted. Breakfast today was reconstituted hash browns and a western omelet (powdered eggs). The cooking process was a little more involved than I would have liked, especially for a day when I was going to break camp. It wasn’t until almost 9am that everything was loaded up and I got underway.

On the way to the portage, I swung by one of the camp sites. A doe was browsing around the area, and ran off after seeing me.

The portage to Clark Lake is well hidden in the vegetation, it took a bit to find it. The landing area was mucky, which would turn out to be a theme for the day.

It took three trips to portage to Clark Lake. The camp site on Clark looks like a nice place to stay. The lake itself is small and scenic, though it looked low. There were a couple of shorelines that were full of sun bleached rocks. It turned out the west portage to Meat Lake was a swamp. The first 20 feet or so were tough to navigate, stepping from rock to branch to keep out of the muck.  I suspect the portage is a little farther inland when the water is higher, in a much more stable area.

It took three trips to portage to Meat Lake as well. I resolved to try to do each portage in two trips from now on. Meat Lake was … something. Apparently, the water level in the lake has dropped off drastically, because the lake was split in two. It turned out the portage leads you to a pond, which was once part of the lake, but is now separated by a 30 foot stretch of land. Crossing the strip, I startled a family of grebes, who took off before I could get any kind of camera out.

I spent at least a couple of hours trying to find the portage to Sprite Lake. According to the map, the portage was on an inlet between two points of land. I went to the spot on the map, approaching the inlet from the south side. All I saw was a brook. GPS showed a totally different shape for the lake, and was no help. After paddling around for a bit, I went to the north side of the north point, and bushwhacked a bit. A pond was there, just where it was supposed to be according to the map.

Frustrated, I was about ready to give up, then decided to try one more time. Going back to Clark was not appealing, and Meat Lake did not seem to be the most scenic place around. Tried from the north side of the inlet, and there it was, just like the map said. The extra vegetation from the low lake level had hidden the portage landing.

Relieved, I assembled the gear and prepared to head out again. I had worn sandals since Sunday, and my feet were starting to protest. I switched into shoes, and two tripped to Sprite Lake. It seemed that all the water that was supposed to be in Meat Lake had been held up in Sprite. Compared to the previous portages, this one was easy.

It was a short walk to Phantom Lake, but it looked like the trail went on. It was getting late in the day (almost 5 by this point). I could camp at Phantom, go across Phantom to Boulder Lake, or continue on to Battle. I decided to hike down the trail and see where it lead. As it turned out the portage to Battle was right there.

If I had to do the trip over again, I would have camped at Battle at least a couple nights. This lake is just beautiful. The shores are rocky, but scalable. The lake was full of loons and beaver. The water was almost perfectly still. The camp site was on a higher point, and had an excellent view.

I was so exhausted by the time the camp was set up, I didn’t have the energy to cook dinner. I got a camp fire going, munched on trail mix, and just watched the fire and listened to the loons and ravens.

A little exploring revealed a patch of wild blueberries right next to camp. Delicious, but the berries are so small, you’d need to eat the whole patch to put a dent in your appetite. It was an excellent complement to the trail mix.

Once again, the mosquitoes forced me inside after sunset. The trials of the day had me brooding a bit. I had made it to my goal, but I was too tired to really enjoy it. I thought I wanted solitude, to get away from people, but now that I had it, I realized it wasn’t what I really wanted. I wanted to share the experience with someone, someone who would help share the load and enjoy the area as much as I was. I dozed off contemplating ways to find like minded individuals for the next big adventure.

Wildlife today: deer, grebes, beaver, loons, ravens

BWCA Trip Day 2 – July 20 2015

Not long after I had fallen asleep, I awoke to the sound of rain pattering on the tent. Normally, the rainfly would handle it, but there’s more stuff involved this time around and not everything fits into the tent.

A quick inventory from memory didn’t turn up anything that would get too damaged from the rain. “The food bag!” flashed in my mind, as I leapt up and ran outside. Wait, should I bring it in? Wasn’t there a lot of advice indicating its a really bad idea to bring your food inside your tent? I came to a quick compromise and set the bag next to the tent, then gathered up the remaining external gear, like the fishing pole and life jacket, and piled them next to the tent. There was a “Now what?” moment, until I remembered the tarp.  With it being pitch black and raining, there wasn’t much time to plan out a proper strategy to hang the thing, so it was just draped over the tent and miscellaneous gear.  After staking and tying down the tarp, I called it good and crawled back inside to the still dry tent.

Up at dawn, the site didn’t look too bad. The tarp had done its job, and the rain hadn’t been hard enough to flood the campsite.  A beaver family swam by me as I filled my water bottles by the lake. The tarp was redone so it hung above the tent, and provided a nice dry area around the tent. Unfortunately, I needed to stoop quite a bit to get in or out.

After breakfast, I paddled north to Little Crab Lake. The strong westerly winds made headway difficult, just like yesterday. The lake lived up to its name, it was a smaller version of Crab Lake.  The creek that lead to Lunetta Lake was shallow and full of lily pads. The whole area is marshland. Headway was manageable until I reached the lake. The wind seemed to be worse today, any attempts to enter the lake caused me to get shoved onto the marsh that made up the east shore. A muddy, stinky area. Dejected, I headed back to Little Crab Lake, had lunch at the portage, then went back to camp.

The afternoon was wiled away fishing and relaxing. It was difficult to just sit and enjoy the sights, as I kept thinking “I should be doing something right now.” Eventually, I was able to settle down and relax. A group paddled by camp on their way north. This lake was busier than I had been lead to believe.

Rain came through while I was making dinner. The downpour only lasted a few minutes but the tarp performed as expected. After the rain, the wind stopped. It was quiet for the first time in two days. A rainbow appeared on the other side of the lake. This was just the kind of thing I had come for.

Again, the mosquitoes drove me into the tent shortly after sunset. Birds were calling left and right. Loons were coming in for landing and taking off right next to camp. Not the sort of music that lulls one to sleep, but it was a nice change from the roar of wind blowing through trees.

Today’s wildlife: beaver, blue jays, loons. The island next to camp seems to be a blue jay haven.

BWCA Trip Day 1 – July 19 2015

Sleep is hard to come by when you’re already keyed up, and you have to get up by a certain time that’s way earlier than the usual wakeup time.  Carousing boy scouts don’t help the situation any. Five AM finally arrived.  Time to get dressed, pick up the gear, and head out.

I dropped the gear off in the outfitter’s van, and wandered over to the gas station for breakfast.  A peanut butter crispy bar and coffee, breakfast of champions!  I was alert enough to notice that we were about to take off without some necessary gear, like a paddle and life jacket.  Apparently my driver was less awake than I was.  After that was straightened out, we headed out right about 6 AM.

After I was dropped off, I loaded the canoe and set off.  It was quiet, at first.  A point of land in the lake sheltered me from the west wind for the time being.  A loon swam not ten feet from me as I left the landing.  Whatever else would happen today, it was a beautiful morning.

As I passed Waters Island, the wind kicked in.  I learned that the canoe turns into a sail in the cross-wind, and I got tossed around quite a bit.  As I got closer to Dollar Island, the wind seemed to shift out of the south, pushing me further north than I wanted.  I ended up reaching the old entry point, which had gotten shut down a couple years ago due to a landowner dispute.  Eventually, I made it south to the proper entry point at about 8 AM.

As I prepped for the portage, two guys were coming back.  They reported that they had seen no one else on the lake, and had camped on the west side of the lake for a couple of nights in a beautiful spot.  Nice, a few days of solitude intact.  Trip 1 down the portage began with the backpack and the gear bag.  The portage from Entry Point 4 is over a mile long, and it feels like it.

It didn’t occur to me how heavy the canoe would be.  Especially when I had the massive food pack on my back.  I managed to haul both about a third of the way up the trail before I finally gave in.  If I had continued, it would have taken hours or I would have injured something.  Either option would have had a real negative impact on the trip.  I left the canoe at the clearing, then came back for it after dropping off the food pack.

While I was hauling the canoe to Crab Lake, I met another couple coming the opposite direction.  A third group was at the landing when I arrived.  So far, this didn’t seem like that isolated a place, but at least everyone I had met so far was going in the right direction for solitude.  Finally, I had arrived at Crab Lake with all of the gear.  It had taken over two hours to get to this point.

The wind was no better on Crab Lake.  The outfitter had recommended a couple of camp sites on the lake.  After getting tossed about by the wind, I arrived at the first one.  On any other day it would have been a nice site, but today it was fully open to the gale.  I stopped for lunch at the second.  It seemed OK at first, but it seemed pretty exposed.  Not as bad as the first site, but I thought it might still be a problem.  There was another on the lee side of the lake that looked promising.  As I approached, I  noticed a couple in a boat behind me.  They ended up at the camp site right across from me.  So much for having the lake to myself.

This site was ideal, and I began setting up camp.  Between fighting the wind, the portage, and the early start I was almost too tired to think.  I checked my phone, and found that I had service, though the signal was weak enough that battery life would be an issue.  I texted home to let the family know I was all right and not as isolated as they thought I’d be.  Then I set the phone in airplane mode and went back to work on my home for the next couple of days.

Once I had camp set up to my satisfaction, I did some fishing on the lee side of the island next to camp.  An anchor sock (or an anchor) would have been handy, as I spent half the time trying to get back to spots where I thought I was getting nibbles.  A couple of bass almost made it into the boat, but they proved to be excellent escape artists.  After getting bored with not catching anything, I explored the area a bit and checked out the portage to Little Crab Lake.

The first dinner of the trip was freeze dried Sweet & Sour Pork.  After the exertions of the day, a meal for two was barely enough for one.  With evening coming, the bear threat seemed real, so  protecting the remaining food became a priority. They may not be an issue in this area, but one can never be too careful.  After a few attempts, the food bag was hung in a tree, maybe even in a way that would prevent non-humans from getting to the contents.  Time will tell how effective the attempt was.

As the sun set, the mosquito army drove me into the tent.  The treated clothing had worked like a charm all day, but even they were no match for thousands of blood thirsty insects.  Sleep didn’t come quickly, hearing loons and other birds making their evening calls, along with the roar of the wind through the trees.

Wildlife spotted today:  blue jay, roughed grouse, loons, some type of squirrel with a small body and large head.