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

2021 Trips - Why I Love to Share the Wilderness

By Riley Smith Print Icon Print Report View/Leave Comments (0)
Dates:September 11-13, 2021
Entry Point:60 - Duncan Lake (BWCA)
Lakes:Bearskin, Clearwater, Duncan, Mountain, Rose, Rove, Watap

For a little backstory, my sister and I are very different people. I have alwaysbeen infatuatedwith the outdoors; she is not. I have spent time guiding and as an outdoor educator; she’s an interior designer. So Iwas takenaback and yet pretty excited when she asked when I would bring her on a Boundary Waters trip. At the time, I was living on the Gunflint Trail and we set a stretch of days that she would be coming up. Now the pressure was on to plan the best possible trip that would show her how amazing this placereallyis. My first decision would be to find an entry permit.Each BWCA entry point is special in some way, but, for me, the greatest entry pointsin terms ofraw beautyare foundeast of the Gunflint Trail. Those permits can be difficult toacquire, especially mid-season. I waitedpatientlyandeventuallycame up with a permit for EP 60 – Duncan Lake. As we talked about packing and planning, she mentioned that one of her big goals was to see a moose in the wild. In the back of my guiding mind, I knew how tough it can be when someone’s main goal is to see a wild animal. There are of course ways to increase your odds, but animals are always hit-or-miss.
The day finally came and my sister drove up to spend the night before we headed off onto our adventure the next day.I took the opportunity to bring her to an iconic Gunflint overlook at Honeymoon Bluff for a world-class sunset. On our drive back to camp, a car stopped in the middle of the road.I began to smile since only two things usually stop traffic in the northwoods: down trees and wildlife (and I was optimistic it was the latter.)Justthen, a Moose peaked out from behind the car in front of us and my sister’s main goalwas fulfilled. So far, so good in convincing her that this place is special. The next day, we started off our trip from Bearskin Lake.The place is sentimental to me because it was from this same landing that our dad brought me on my first Boundary Waters trip with a group of fathers and sons from school. We crossed the lake and arrived at her first true portage and what a gem to start with.The portage into Duncan crosses up and over a gentle ridge through a grove of old-growth White Pine before culminating in an expansive view of Duncan Lake with its ampitheatre-esqu ridges all around. Duncan was calm this morning as we headed for the back bay above the famous stairway portage. Webrieflychecked out the falls before heading down the stairs to Rose Lake. Rose, for those who have never had the pleasure, is one of the Boundary Waters’ best. It has so many attributes of a perfect lake. We took the site nearest the portage.The site is nice enough in it of itself, but the location within earshot of the falls and with a view looking out towards the huge palisades on the Canadian shore set it apart.
For the afternoon, I had an ace up my sleeve. I knew from experience that one of the greatest overlooks in the whole BW was a hike along the Border Route away.We stashed the canoe at the landing to Stairway, spent some more time at the falls, and then headed west along the Border Route Trail. We took in the view at the first overlook above the stairway portage. This spot is a magical sunrise spot if you ever get the chance. Then we pushed on past the pond, up past the next overlook, before arriving at the famous West Rose overlook.This rock face sits about 400 ft above the lake below and has a westward view that stretches to the end of Rose, past Rat Lake, past South lake, and even beyond the Height of Land portage and into North Lake. After spending time at the overlook, we headed back to our site on Rose.After dinner, I set about our various campsite chores for the night while my sister spent some time down by the water taking it all in. As I was working on my hammock, I heard her say “what is this animal swimming in the water?”I assumed we had gotten lucky with a beaver siting, but, when I turned around, it was in fact an Otter swimming up to our campsite.They are adorable little buggers and their visit provided yet another unforgettable evening in canoe country.
The next morning, we awoke to a sunrise cloaked in dense fog. The air was wet and heavy and the far shoreline was completely obscured. We managed to get on the water before it burnt offentirely.As we headed east through the fog, I couldn’t help but explain the history and the significance of the next challenge known as the Long Portage. It proved a bit of an obstacle this day, butthankfullyit was far less flooded than it had been earlier in the year. With that single hurdle overcome, she got to check off one of canoe country’s most iconic portages.
Rove Lake is my personal favorite inall ofthe Boundary Waters for so many reasons. It’s also where we would try to check off one of her other goals for the trip. I played the part of the trolling motor as she fished her way down Rove. Fishing wasn’t great this day, but she did hook into a Smalley near the east end which she was quite excited about.The narrows between Rove and Watap are my favorite part of the route as the awe-inspiring wall of stone commands the view.I have had the pleasure of visiting this place many times inall ofthe seasons, and each of those memories came pouring back to me as my sister took in that beautiful scene for the first time.From Watap, we crossed the portage into Mountain alongside the “big monuments” marking the US/Canada border.Only a select few portages cross back and forth across the border (most are on one side or the other) and these get special oversized markers. Those along the Monument portage are far and away the most famous, but these are the same. Mountain Lake and its crystal clear waters meet us on the far side.I haven’t seen the western cove on Mountain since last year’s tornado, but the cliff closest hasapparentlychanged in appearance quite a bit.We pass over the shipwreck next to the portage into Clearwater before climbing up and over to my favorite BW entry-point lake. We took a campsite midway down which faces the palisades. Watching the moonrise over the cliffs later that night was a magical ending to a magical trip. It was incredible how many things seemed to fall in lineperfectly.As so many parts of the canoe tripping experience have become normalized to me, it was eye opening to see and hear my sister process it all for the first time. I was able to share my favorite place at its very best with her and make a memory that I will always keep. On her way home, a bear crossed in front of the car, checking off another of the northwood’s iconic creatures.And later she cast away any doubts about the success of the trip when I received the “I’ll let ya know when to start planning the next one” text.I know our next trip may never live up to thisnearlyperfect first one, but I also know that in every trip into the BW is the chance for unforgettable experiences and priceless memories.And as much as I love canoe country, the opportunity to share it again and again only multiplies my own
experience through the people who share it with me.

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