The Great Minnesota Scavenger Hunt

Checkpoint MN has begun!  The event is a scavenger hunt of sorts across ten sites in Minnesota.  Take a selfie with the Checkpoint sign at each site to earn points which can be redeemed for fabulous prizes.  The hunt goes through the end of January 2016, so don’t delay!

This isn’t a bad idea to get people out and about in Minnesota during a time of year where people aren’t usually touring.  I’m looking forward to trying it out next time I’m in that area.

Apple Creek

The hottest day of the year (so far) may not be the best time to paddle down a small, sheltered stream, but there I was.  Apple Creek is a small, muddy tributary to the Missouri River.  It winds through most of Burleigh County, but the section I paddled started at Swenson Park, on Highway 1804 just south of Bismarck.  There is a low-flow dam just upstream from the park (you can see it on the other side of the highway when you put in).  If you put in further upstream you’ll want to be aware of this obstacle.

The water in the creek is warm and muddy.  Depending on water levels, the banks are likely to be muddy as well.  The current isn’t very strong, especially later in the summer.  Paddling against the current is no harder than paddling on a lake.  This may not be the case in the springtime, when runoff swells the creek considerably.  The creek is not the most refreshing place to be on a hot day, but it doesn’t take a lot of effort to get to the Missouri River.

As you travel south, you’ll get excellent, close up views of the river bluffs below University Of Mary.  Much of the hillside below the campus was burned in a grass fire in the early spring of 2015.  Some bluff faces are bare, giving you a view into the geological history of the area.

The creek enters the Oahe-Burleigh County Wildlife Management Area before reaching the river.  A survey marker on the east bank of the creek marks the WMA boundary.  Depending on the vegetation, you should also see signs near the fence line by the marker.  The land between Swenson Park and the WMA is privately owned.

The creek enters the Missouri upstream of The Desert landing.  The creek actually enters on a side channel, not the main channel.  You’ll know you’ve reached the Missouri when the water becomes noticeably clearer and colder.  If the conditions are right, you may see a hard line where the rivers meet.

There are a number of trip options.  A point-to-point trip can be made from Swenson Park to The Desert.  If you’re feeling ambitious, you could even go from The Desert to Swenson Park.  An out-and-back trip can be started from either Swenson Park or The Desert.  If you do start from The Desert, expect roughly an hour to paddle upstream to the side channel.  Between Swenson Park and the Missouri takes roughly 1.5 to 2 hours in either direction.

Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park Trails

The trails in Fort Lincoln State Park may not be epic in length, but they are a scenic way to spend an afternoon.  The Scouts Trail winds through the hills west of the calvary post, to north, then east of the infantry post.  The terrain is mostly open prairie and rolling hills, with a few wooded areas.  The views include the cities of Bismarck and Mandan, a great overlook of the cavalry post, and a unique perspective on the infantry blockhouses.

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.