Pine Lake Family Reunion


By Ben Strege Print Icon Print Report View/Leave Comments (2)
Dates:September 6-10, 2012
Entry Point:1 - Trout Lake (BWCA)
Type:Canoeing
Lakes:Pine, Trout, Vermilion

In the works for about a year, our big family canoe trip was finally going to be a reality. My sister Carolyn and her husband (Todd), my sister Allison and her husband (Jeff), Katherine (another sister), my dad, my wife (Auralee), and I were very excited for this trip. It had been too many years since we did a big family trip like this. Moreover, this group had never gone all together - Jeff wasn't a part of the family yet the last time we did a huge trip.

When I reserved the permit in January, we had decided to enter at EP #50 - Cross Bay Lake and go to Frost Lake. I thought that having sand beaches would be great, especially on this trip. I also had never been to that area, giving it more appeal to me. However, as the date of the trip got closer, I started rethinking where we should go. First of all, I wasn't looking forward to driving 5 1/2 hours to the entry point on Thursday morning. Secondly, since "semi-seclusion" was a goal, I checked to see how many permits were taken from the surrounding entry points - pretty much all of them.

I presented some alternatives to the family. The suggestions were all closer to home - only 1 1/2 hours away. Some suggestions were Slim Lake, Cummings Lake, and Bootleg Lake. However, a fire sprang up on Cummings Lake just before the trip, so that option was out. The fire also ruled out Slim Lake - may or may not have been affected by the fire, but we didn't want to chance it. I wanted to try Bootleg Lake (I could absolutely guarantee seclusion on that lake), but the river levels were really low and the paddling time could have been over 8 hours. We settled on going to Pine Lake, entering at EP #1 - Trout Lake. Auralee, my dad, and I had been to the lake before and really liked it, so I thought it was a good choice. I was also pretty sure that there was a campsite on the lake that could support our large group.

Auralee and I drove to my parent's place on Wednesday night. I got to meet Jack and George, Carolyn and Todd's twin boys, and see Emerson, Allison and Jeff's boy. All three of my nephews were almost one year old, and we were going to leave all of them, along with Weston (3 years old) with their grandmother over the weekend. Poor Nana! (After it was all done, she said she had fun with all of them, but I imagine it was exhausting.) My dad and I got everything ready that night, but we weren't able to get to bed until 1:00 AM.

Thursday morning came too early for me, but at least I didn't have to drive. We left at about 5:00 AM so we could get on the water at sunrise. We wanted to get off of Lake Vermilion before the wind came up.

The parking lot at Moccasin Point was nearly empty. Everyone was enthusiastic while we unloaded everything. It didn't take long for the first mishap to occur. While Jeff and my dad were unloading a canoe, Jeff caught his foot between the cement slabs on the landing and went down in a heap. The canoe crashed to the ground. Knowing damage to either the canoe or Jeff would put a serious dent in our trip, we all rushed to make sure Jeff and the canoe were OK (not necessarily in that order). Jeff had a big cut on his leg, but he insisted he was fine (Allison made him get it patched up when we arrived at camp). The canoe had no discernible damage, so we were able to finish getting ready.

At 7:00 AM, we were finally ready to go. Auralee and I were together in a Wenonah Minnesota II. My dad, Todd, and Carolyn were in a Minnesota III, and Jeff, Allison, and Katherine were in the other Minnesota III. There was a light wind on Vermilion when we shoved off, but nothing that we couldn't handle. There were a few boats on the lake, so we had to deal with their wakes once in a while. Overall, it was a nice paddle on Vermilion. I have always liked that lake and the region for some reason. I have always thought it was extraordinarily beautiful.

Because we had a shorter canoe and only two paddlers, Auralee and I fell about 5 minutes behind the others. There are two portages to Trout Lake - a shorter, canoe-only portage and the longer, smooth, motor-boat portage. We opted to take the canoe-only portage because it was 1/4 the length of the motor-boat portage. To get to the portage, we had to navigate a narrow, shallow creek. Auralee and I caught up to the others in the creek where they were working on getting over a beaver dam (something that had not been there on my other trips to this area). After a few minutes, along with soaked shoes, socks, and pants, we were all able to get over the dam and land at the portage.

The Vermilion-Trout portage, I think, is really pretty. I love the mix of deciduous and evergreens. The leaves were starting to turn, and the forest was a cascade of colors. Yes, the portage was pretty - until we got to the end. The water was really low, even for this time of year (hence the problem with forest fires). The Trout Lake side of the portage is usually really shallow normally, so the low water made it even more difficult. We basically had to put the canoes on a mud shelf instead of in the water. I tried loading the canoes by rock-hopping since the mud was at least calf deep and would probably steal my boots. After a lot of work (and some laughter), we were able to push off and start the short paddle on Trout Lake.

Trout Lake is fairly large, but we only had to go a short distance on it. In fact, we didn't have to go out on the main part of the lake at all. The portage to Pine Lake is near the southern end of the lake. We arrived there and unloaded the canoes with no problems. Now we just had to traverse the one-mile portage. Todd, Jeff, and I took the canoes. I was right behind Jeff almost the entire way. Jeff had the cut on his leg, and near the end, there were small, stiff bushes lining the path. They were at just the right height to scrape Jeff's legs as he went past. He was trying to suck it up, but I'm sure that didn't feel good. Everyone else took a pack, dropped it off halfway, and went back and got the last load. Those of us carrying the canoes went back and picked up the packs that were dropped halfway. Doing this (one-and-a-half portages) instead of double portaging saves quite a bit of time on a long portage like this one.

The Trout-Pine portage is actually enjoyable despite its length. It is a beautiful portage. Since it was the beginning of fall, some of the trees were turning, and there were leaves littering the ground. Near Pine Lake, the portage descends into a bog. Coming out of the trees, you can see the entire expanse of the bog, which is quite striking. The path is elevated, so walking through the bog isn't a problem.

Auralee, my dad, and I had come to Pine Lake the year before. We had stopped at one of the northern campsites, and if I remembered correctly, it was big enough to fit our group. That is, if I remembered correctly. I wasn't certain, so I was crossing my fingers. We stopped at a campsite along the way (on the western shore near the portage) to take a look, but that one was too small. We kept going to the one I hoped was open and big enough. As we paddled up to the sandy landing, we could see that at least it was open. Now we just had to hope there were enough tent pads. I didn't need to fear - my memory was good enough this time. There was plenty of room for our group. We were able to easily put up our four tents.

We had lunch, and then a few of us decided to try out the fishing. Auralee and I went out and tried the eastern shore starting at the campsite and moving south. Near the campsite along that shore, I caught a half-pound bluegill. It fought really hard for such a small fish. From eating one last year, I knew I didn't like bluegill, but we kept it in case someone else wanted to try it. After talking to the others, we let it go since we didn't catch enough fish for a meal that night and no one really wanted to clean it.
 

Bluegill on Pine Lake
Bluegill on Pine Lake
 

 


On Friday Auralee and I fished the north end of the lake. My goal for the trip was to take pictures and rate every campsite on Pine Lake. As we fished, we stopped at the campsites we passed. We were the only group camping on the lake, so we didn't have to skip any. My wife was a good sport in all of this. We caught a few fish, but nothing to brag about. The rest of the group, though, did well enough that we were able to have a fish dinner that night.

Saturday was a dreary, rainy, windy day. Auralee and I went to the south end of the lake. We stopped at a few campsites, but the wind was so bad that we couldn't get to all of them on the south end. We weren't having any luck fishing, either. In the afternoon, we stayed in the campsite, read books, played games, and enjoyed the brief intervals of no rain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rainy Day at Camp
Rainy Day at Camp
 

 


The sky cleared off for a little bit in the evening. One good thing about going through all of the rain was the spectacular rainbow we got to see after dinner. Gorgeous...

 

 

 

Rainbow on Pine
Rainbow on Pine

 

 

Shore in Sunlight
Shore in Sunlight
 


Sunday was going to be our last day in camp. Thankfully, the weather was nice. Along with spending most of the day fishing, Auralee and I were able to finish photographing and rating all of the campsites. In the southern bay, we climbed a hill to see the view and get a good picture of the lake.

 

 

 

 

 

Pine Lake View
Pine Lake View
 

 


After our tour of the southern bay, we were just about to head through the narrows when Auralee hooked a fish. We were both surprised to see the fish on the other end - a white sucker. We think that she snagged it while we were trolling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sucker on Pine
Sucker on Pine
 

 


We headed back to the campsite to see how everyone else's fishing went. We had one small walleye. Dad, Carolyn, and Todd didn't have much luck, either - just small fish. Allison, Jeff, and Katherine, though, did very well. As usual, Katherine was able to catch the most and the biggest fish during the trip (how does she do that?). Katherine had caught a 3+ pound walleye. That fish combined with the others was enough to make a good meal for us. I counted ourselves fortunate that we were able to catch enough fish for 3 meals, something I thought we would not be able to do.

For the last day in camp, we made it mandatory that everyone take a bath. Although the water was cool, the sun was out and the wind wasn't too bad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mandatory Baths
Mandatory Baths
 

 


We also decided to take our group picture in the water. We first tried taking it from the beach, but the sun was behind us, so the lighting wasn't right. Then we tried putting the camera on the canoe so we could take the picture with the sun in front of us. After a couple of tries (I had trouble getting back in position after setting the 10-second timer), we finally got a picture that we liked.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Family on Pine Lake
Family on Pine Lake
 

 


We enjoyed our last evening cooking marshmallows by the fire and talking. It was a good way to end our trip.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marshmallows by the Fire
Marshmallows by the Fire
 

 


On Monday morning we woke up early, packed everything, and paddled out. We left at sunrise so we could avoid the wind on the big lakes. By the time we got to Vermilion, though, the wind had really picked up. We were able to make it back to Moccasin Point without incident, but it was tough going at times.

The most memorable part of the trip back was the last portage. Instead of taking the canoe portage, we decided to try out the motor boat portage. It was three times longer, but we figured the wide, smooth trail would make up for it. It was definitely the easiest 150-rod portage I have ever been on. Todd, Jeff, and I again took the canoes. As we neared the end, we started racing to see who could get to the end first (I'm not sure who started that...). When we came out in the open, the wind caught my canoe and almost swung me completely around - Todd won the race.

The three of us went back to get the second load. We met up with the rest of the group at the halfway point and were able to enjoy a nice, leisurely hike through the woods together. When we approached the end and could see Allison and Auralee (who had made it to the end and started loading the canoes), my dad took off at a run. The rest of us were so surprised that it took us a couple of seconds to realize what he was doing. Alas, it was too late, and we couldn't catch up. The old man had beaten all of the young guys! It was one of those situations that words can't really describe. Those of us that witnessed it, though, will have a hard time forgetting.

When we arrived back at the landing, we were able to put on clean socks and shoes - always a blessing. We stopped at Dairy Queen in Virginia for lunch and recounted the stories and memories the trip had made for all of us.