Woodland Caribou 2012


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Dates:August 18-29, 2012
Entry Point:19 - Leano Lake (Woodland Caribou)
Type:Canoeing

Woodland Caribou Provincial Park (WCPP)

Journal Notes- Aug. 18-29, 2012 By Jerry Fruetel and Bob Anderson

This is a travel log of four seasoned BWCAW tripper’s first adventure into the more remote region of Woodland Caribou Provincial Park. Bob Anderson and Jerry Fruetel both Urban Boatbuilders Board members, Barry Christenson, President of the MN chapter of the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association and life long friend Dave May were looking for a wilderness trip in late August devoid of other canoeists. To put it into perspective, the BWCAW typically get over a million visitors per season while the WCPP typically get less than a thousand. In our 10 day trip we saw 2 canoes and 3 people. Our route was 60 miles, 10 days / 9 nights. Leano, Kilburn, Middle Kilburn, Dragon, Talon, South Aegean, Paull, Jake (aka Jack), Lunch, East Lunch, Bunny, Leano. We rented a Souris River 18’ Wilderness—46 lb. Kevlar from Red Lake Outfitters and Barry brought his Bell Canoe Works 17’ Canadienne--- 45 lb. Kevlar

2012-08-19_010_Woodland Caribou Park canoe route

Sat. Aug. 18. Departed from Twin Cities and crossed the border at Fort Frances, Ontario. Good dinner and overnight at Riverview Lodge in Dryden. Smell of paper mill throughout the town.

Aug. 19.

Manager of Four Seasons Sport Shop in Ear Falls explained cairn-like rocks along highway. Called ‘inuksuk’, they traditionally were erected by natives as way finding points along trails and portages, and as a ‘welcome’ message to travelers. Today, provincial parks staff erect them as way finding points, but discourage travelers from erecting them and potentially causing confusion.

Ate poutine, the popular French-Canadian ‘heart attack on a plate’ involving french fries, beef gravy and melted cheese curds, at restaurant in Cochenour, near Red Lake. Gold Corp. owns/operates one of the worlds’ riches gold mines in Red Lake (pop. 4,800). Has 4 million oz. of proven/probable gold reserves, with a half million oz. mined annually.

Harlan Schwartz (Red Lake Outfitters) shuttled us to the Leano Lake put-in in his truck. The 2+ hr. ride on unmaintained wilderness road was rough, but manageable. Harlan does virtually all the outfitting in WCPP, employing a fleet of eighteen Souris River 18’ Wilderness kevlar canoes. Everywhere he goes, Harlan brings his Husky-mix dog (for companionship), a chain-saw (for downed trees) and a classic 1942 Model 94 Winchester 30-30 carbine (for bears).

2012-08-19_005_Woodland Caribou Barry Dave Jerry Bob

Portaged 325M (the portages are marked in meters) to put-in around 4:20 p.m. and paddled to our first campsite in light, ‘pissing’ rain. Campsite: south end of Leano L. (50° 46’ 16” N; 94° 26’ 42” W)

2012-08-19_039_Woodland Caribou Leano Lake.JPG

Aug. 20.

Sunrise and clouds were reflected in the bay. Loons cruised in low for a long, gradual landing. Paddled south with 4 portages to Kilburn L. Paused an hour while partners retrieved gear left behind at last portage.

Pitched camp and Dave caught northern pike on first cast from shore. Jerry’s pike resisted capture and buried the treble hook in Jerry’s calf, with no permanent damage. Bob caught and tossed back a 12” walleye thinking more would soon follow. No such luck, in fact we didn’t catch another walleye the whole trip. Dined on fish tacos. Wolves howled at dusk. Hungry mosquitoes whined around the mosquito netting, but eventually quieted down. Loud beaver splashed close by in middle of the night. Campsite: Island on Kilburn L. (50° 41’ 60” N; 94° 30’ 33” W)

Aug. 21.

Long, tough, slow day. Several portages, including a steep, rough 600M portage into Dragon L. Leg and shoulder muscles weren’t fully adjusted yet to the portaging routine, and we were carrying substantial gear and food (half freeze-dried, half regular fare). The combination of half freeze-dried and half regular fare worked well. The freeze-dried was light weight and provided for an instant meal when time as short and the regular fare provided for a good variety.

2012-08-21_107_Woodland Caribou Jerry

Found sandy beach near the portage out of Dragon L. Recent moose and wolf tracks along the beach. Saw distinctive 3-leaf bog plant, some type of arrowhead plant.

2012-08-21_134_Woodland Caribou Dragon Lake Moose Tracks

Met our match between Dragon L. and Boomerang L. Leaving Dragon L., we were prepared to portage and drag through the creek and over beaver dams, but discovered it was nearly impassable. Creek was too narrow and twisty to line the canoes, and the soggy footing made portaging difficult. We advanced within 1/3 mile of navigable water, but turned back to avoid reaching camp after dark.

2012-08-21_160_Woodland Caribou Dragon to Boomerang

Retraced our steps and pitched camp on upper Dragon L. Campsite: Dragon L. (50° 43’ 42” N; 94° 36’ 55” W)

Aug. 22-23.

Paddled and portaged ten hrs. today, exiting the north end of Dragon L., west through Talon L., then north into South Aegean L. One portage had 21 downed trees on it, making for slow going. Most portages have an eye-level ‘blaze’ slashed into a pine tree at the put-in/take-out, so paddlers can see it from the water. But many blazes are badly weathered, making it a challenge to find the portage.

2012-08-22_199_Woodland Caribou Dave.

Every day, we saw many other fresh false ‘blazes’ closer to the ground on jack pine trees. The outfitter says they’re made by starving beavers.

Found large bone on portage trail, probably moose.

Noticed several Mourning Cloak butterflies flying about. By trip’s end we had seen many hundreds, all seemingly in mint condition, as if newly born.

Campsite: South Aegean L. (50° 47’ 14” N; 94° 47’ 43” W). We laid over a day on South Aegean to relax, clean up and fish. Caught some 2-3 lb. pike morning and afternoon, but lake trout were scarce. They prefer water temps around 50° F, which this time of year means they hang out in 30+ feet of water. The waters around our South Aegean campsite were only 20’ deep and nearly 60° F, unsuitable for trout fishing.

Weather conditions change quickly in WCPP, and there was a lot of bad weather around us, but fortunately not on us.

Excellent dinner of Italian/Cajun fusion, including linguini with shore lunch fried pike.

Jerry awoke to heavy footsteps near his hammock three times after midnight the 22nd. He assumed his partners were up taking a “pee break”. But only one of them reported getting up that night. Since there are few deer or bears in this area, most likely the noise was caused by caribou or moose passing through.

2012-08-23_249_Woodland Caribou South Aegean Lake Barry Dave Bob

Aug. 24.

Disappointed we couldn’t spot the pictographs located near Paull L., but our portages were good, weather was ideal, and Paull Lake was perhaps the most beautiful area we’ve seen yet. It has classic Canadian lakes scenery, with numerous islands, channels, and rock faces.

Finally found a deep water pool and caught a small lake trout, which we marinated and poached for dinner.

Spotted an eagle, but wonder why we’ve seen few birds of any sort, except some loons and a hawk. Gulls have been conspicuous by their absence.

2012-08-25_315_Woodland Caribou Paull Lake

Campsite: Paull L. (50° 45’ 54” N; 94° 38’ 06” W). We had a spacious campsite, but rain came at 2 a.m. Jerry’s hammock uprooted a support tree and he sagged to the ground until morning. Much of the terrain is rock covered by 6-10 inches of lush green lichens. Thus, trees have shallow root structures and are rather easily uprooted.

Aug. 25.

Steep ‘stairway to heaven’ portage was challenging. We startled a bull moose in the cove at the end of a 400M portage on Paull L. No time for a photo as he crashed off through the brush.

2012-08-25_327_Woodland Caribou Jerry

Wind increased steadily to 30+mph, but it was a southerly tail wind, which helped us cruise from Paull L. to Jake L., our paddles functioning more as rudders than paddles. Our camp site map was inaccurate, so we had to back track ½ mile into the wind to find the site. Wind increased in camp to an estimated 40+mph. Campsite: Jake (aka Jack) L. (50° 50’ 20” N; 94° 34’ 15” W)

2012-08-25_385_Woodland Caribou Jake Lake

Aug. 26.

Started on Jake L. with strong headwinds and intermittent rain. Fortunately, temps have been moderate this trip, mostly 50-75°F, sparing us from chills or over heating.

Paused to photograph insect-eating pitcher plants growing in bunches in shallow bays.

2012-08-26_419_Woodland Caribou Pitcher Plant

Met two paddlers single-portaging at East Lunch Lake. They’re from Mankato, MN and were on their 15th annual WCPP trip. Our double-portaging method is less taxing physically, but there’s no question it slows us down considerably.

This is but the second canoe we’ve seen on our trip. We also saw one solo canoeist off in the distance when we were on South Agean.

After searching awhile, we found a great campsite (roomy, level, scenic) on the first lake (unnamed) west of Bunny L. Campsite: Island on first lake (unnamed) west of Bunny L. (50° 47’ 25” N; 94° 31’ 35” W)

2012-08-26_449_Woodland Caribou No Name Lake (West of Bunny)

Aug. 27.

Short paddle through Bunny L. to Leano L. to a campsite not far below and across from our put-in/take-out spot. We rested in the afternoon, and then went fishing. Water was too shallow and warm (60°F) for trout, so Jerry and Barry went after pike in the lily pads, and caught two for dinner. The pike we’ve caught on this trip are aggressive; they hit the lure hard and put up a strong fight. As his nickname suggests, on several occasions Dave “One-Cast” May landed pike on his first cast from shore after arriving at a campsite.

Found dilapidated old half-log cabin remains near campsite. Curious why the owner located it in the woods, with no lake view.

2012-08-27_463_Woodland Caribou Leano Lake

Relaxed around the campfire and watched the waxing moon slowly sinking in the sky, its reflection on the water. Wolves howled in the distance. Campsite: Leano L. (50° 47’ 05” N; 94° 26’ 22” W)

Aug. 28. Homeward.

Short paddle to take-out and 325M portage to parking lot by 10:30 a.m. We expected outfitter to arrive by noon, and were resigned to camp overnight when he hadn’t arrived by 2. Outfitter arrived at 3, and we stopped to pick and eat wild blueberries on the ride back to Red Lake. Outfitter’s dog picked berries with his mouth and ate as many or more than the rest of us!

Saw pretty adult moose at dusk, while driving to Dryden. Stayed overnight at Riverview Lodge.

Saturday, Aug. 29: Saw young bear near the road, south of Dryden. Arrived back in Twin Cities around 5 pm. Round trip from Bloomington was nearly 1,200 miles.

Reflections: On future trips I would make sure we visited Paull L and probably skip Kilburn L. I would also consider taking my own truck (a small SUV doesn’t have the needed ground clearance) from Red Lake to the entry point of Leano L.