Paddle - BWCA, Quetico, Sylvania, and other paddling places

2020 Trips - Fall Color Weekend

By Riley Smith Print Icon Print Report View/Leave Comments (0)
Dates:September 28-29, 2020
Entry Point:68 - Pine Lake (BWCA)
Lakes:Long, Mcfarland, Pine, Stump

On this trip, I borrowed a canoe from camp. It turned out to be the worst-performing canoe I ever paddled. I knew this, but somewhere in my heart is this notion that all canoes deserve to be paddled, and this one obviously had stayed put awhile. The canoe was a 10-long Old Town solo that weighed 60 pounds despite the length, had a broken out seat, and no yoke. I rigged a clamp-on yoke using one from a Grumman which was far from ideal. Thankfully, the route in question was a short one.

I drove over to the far east for a put-in at McFarland Lake. There was a huge wind coming out of the west and, combined with the slowest hull I’ve ever paddled, it took a good two hours to make it to the portage. McFarland is such an interesting lake with one side full of cabins and the other with the wild character of canoe country and the magnificent palisade towering above autumn’s golden hues. The portage was a quick one; I didn’t even clamp the yoke on. I scouted out the campsite on the portage for a while. It feels like a campground! There was so much open space and litter lying everywhere. Once again, I picked up the garbage and stuffed it in my back. Pine had pretty decent whitecaps and my bobber of a canoe, tracking little better than a buoy, worked its way across the crosswind to the campsite in the corner. It became one of my all-time favorites with the view down Pine made especially wonderful in the fall. As I’m not great at sitting in camp for long periods on a solo trip, I set up my campsite and set off again into the gale. It took over an hour to reach my destination at the portage into Long. Now is where I would get to test the ridiculous yoke setup. I clamped it onto the gunwales as close to the balance point as I could and wracked my brain. I know this is a bad portage. Should I really be hauling this bathtub of a canoe up there? Is it worth it? I would like to see Stump Lake. With that thought, and a strong dose of optimism, I began my climb. The portage into long is only 147 rods long but gains 350 feet of elevation in that time. It’s also not well-travelled and what little traffic it sees rarely is carrying a canoe. Not one to be deterred by such trivial normalcy, I continued the ascent. There are a number of down trees on the portage which do help add traction to this mountain-goat-friendly portage. There are two or three level spots along the way to look back at the lake and ponder why I felt the need to lug this canoe up with me. Finally, after a good deal of huffing and puffing, I reached Long Lake. I paddled down the shore a ways, in awe of the scenery and marveling at the fact that I likely had this entire wilderness lake all to myself that day. It took a bit to spot the campsite from the Long side, but I soon did and enjoyed some time there gazing out into Stump Lake. It was a splendid way to spend part of an afternoon. I eventually refilled my water bottle and headed back to the canoe. At the portage, I briefly thought about how the craft I had would better suit me as a toboggan in this instance before grunting it up on my shoulders again for the descent. Going downhill always tests the joints more and I stepped carefully. After a somewhat rapid descent, I was back in the gale on Pine. It took a fraction of the time to return to my campsite that it did to leave it, and I was soon back prepping dinner and tucking in for a windy evening.

Come morning, the gusts were still coming from the west. I graciously rode the wind out to the portage, walking through the rapids, and then it was back to my car. Though I didn't travel far this trip, I was able to explore a new entry point as well as seeing canoe country adorned in the colors of fall. It also was a great photography trip for my annual calendar and a great opportunity for some solitude in the wilderness. Until the next one...

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