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

First fish and a walking stick

By TuscaroraBorealis Print Icon Print Report View/Leave Comments (0)
Dates:May 23-30, 2015
Entry Point:54 - Seagull Lake (BWCA)
Lakes:Agamok, Alpine, Bingshick, Elusion, Fay, French, Gabimichigami, Glee, Glossy Squat, Jasper, Little Saganaga, Mueller, Ogishkemuncie, Paulson, Peter, Rattle, Rog, Sea Gull, Seahorse, Virgin, Warclub

Day One - May 23, 2015

The drive up the night before provided a couple noteworthy animal sightings (a fox & a mother bear with 2 cubs) which helped fuel our 3 year old (Aurora) daughter’s pre-trip excitement. Tuscarora Lodge & Outfitters provided us a bunkhouse for the night and a delicious French toast breakfast in the morning. Afterwards, Andy & Sue got our permit and gave us some welcome last second advice and friendly well wishes, then sent us on our way.

It was a short drive to Blankenburg Landing on Sea Gull Lake where we shared the boat ramp with a couple of other canoeists. An interesting note about this landing: The Blankenburg’s were an undeniably influential family in the development of the Gunflint Trail as a recreational destination. They started several of the resorts up here, including Gunflint Lodge. Their legacy is memorialized here at this landing, where there is also a beautiful small sandy beach.

Blankenburg Landing

Soon we were out on the water paddling south for the Paulson Lake portage. Aurora had received a toy fishing rod from the Easter Bunny earlier this spring and had spent the weeks leading up to our trip practicing casting in our yard. Now it was to time to put that hard work to the test. For the most part she did quite well and giggled with glee whenever she had a good cast. I hoped that she would be able to take a crack at trolling with the real thing later in the trip.

Fishing Sea Gull

It was shaping up to be an absolutely gorgeous day, and thankfully Sea Gull afforded us a most pleasurable paddle down its SW orientated underbelly.

There were only 2 campsites on Paulson Lake, and then it would be several lakes/portages before we’d run across another. So, of course, it was our great hope that the prolonged 515 rod Paulson portage would be our one and only overland trek of the day. There was only one way to find out….

The trail starts out at a nice open landing where the small charming creek, (that the portage parallels), tumbles into Sea Gull Lake. Layers were hastily shed as the trail quickly climbs up to the first, of many, outstanding panoramic overlooks that were peppered throughout this portage. The creek also provided a stunningly scenic backdrop with countless miniature cascading rapids & waterfalls, as well as a number of ponds where the beavers had dammed up the flow.

Paulson portage creek

Sea Gull lake overlook

Amazing quantities of flowering blueberry plants encroached on the trail at every turn. At about the mid-point, there was a pile of large rocks with a dark opening that looked like it could’ve been a wolf’s (or some other animal) den. There had been plenty of scat along the trail, so we didn’t investigate too closely and scurried quickly past.

As an added safety measure, we each kept our Motorola walkie talkie/ weather radios on - and on our person at all times. So, in the event of any emergency, we could immediately contact the other person. Fortunately, we never needed to use them for that purpose.

tiny plants

Currently one of Aurora’s favorite songs is “Rocks and Roots” from Jerry Vandiver’s excellent CD “True and Deep (songs for the heart of the paddler).” Well, this lengthy portage gave her ample opportunity for an up close firsthand look at the inspiration for that song. And, on a few occasions, they got the better of her and, inevitably, a few tears were shed. But, I’m both happy & proud to say, her stubborn determination won out in the end and, (while carrying her North Face backpack), she made it all the way across with very little assistance.

Besides the aforementioned rocks and roots, there had been hindrances of every kind – swamps, muck, bugs, creek crossings and several substantial climbs. But, even though this was clearly an exhausting portage, during one of our poses I recall both Vickie & I agreeing that this portage was truly an awesome experience. And, the time that has passed since this undertaking has only solidified our feelings.

Although very tough, perhaps my favorite section was how the portage finished up in magnificently picturesque fashion, tracing around the rim of a steep gorge before dropping precipitously downhill to pass by one last small idyllic set of rapids dumping out of Paulson Lake through an enchanting, aromatic grove of large cedar trees. As mentioned, this was also perhaps the toughest piece of the portage. Besides the steep drop, the path ran into the water where there were large boulders (some submerged) that we needed to vigilantly hopscotch across. Once back on dry land, there were a number of large cedar trees leaning over the trail. These proved to be very complex to negotiate, as they were impossible to get over, and crawling under was only possible without wearing a pack. So, we had to drag them behind us. The landing was mercifully blessed with several large cedar trees that provided sturdy back rests and luxuriant shade.

Paulson portage gorge

Paulson Lake takes its name from J.A. Paulson, principal investor in the ill fated Paulson mines that was located near here. Apparently only one load of ore was ever shipped before the mine closed. Both the Kekekabic and Centennial Hiking Trails offer opportunities to visit several of the significant areas associated with this mine. The Chik-Wauk Museum also has a prominent historic display, including several artifacts.

A quick study of the map shows that Paulson Lake was affected by both the Cavity Lake & Ham Lake fires. And, even if you weren’t aware of that, the countless tall limbless spires seen in every direction on the horizon of rolling hills will immediately educate a person to that fact. One thing I later found peculiarly interesting, was the fact that there were several large red pines scattered around the lake that somehow survived. Not large stands mind you, just individual trees here and there amidst the mass devastation. I wondered how they steered clear of what I thought would be an unavoidable fate.

We needn’t have fretted over campsite availability, as both sites were unoccupied. Pre-trip planning indicated that the island site was supposed to be the better of the two. So, after catching our breath a bit, we wearily paddled over to claim our camp.

Waters were fairly calm, so the rocky landing didn’t pose any problems. This elevated site boasted an outstanding multi-directional view with southern exposure. On the down side - the tent pads were noticeably sloping, tarp rigging was challenging and the trail to the latrine required extra caution. Never the less, we were home and happy for it.

Tonight for supper it would be jambalaya. Fresh shrimp and andouille sausage deliciously complemented our dehydrated peppers and onions. To Aurora’s delight, it was s’mores for dessert. The rest of the evening was spent putting the finishing touches on getting camp set up and then just unwinding, relaxing and enjoying this little slice of heaven we had carved out for ourselves. I’ve always kind of relished that feeling of sore exhaustion at the end of a day like this. I consider it an indication that I’ve lived life to the fullest.

Paulson canpfirePaulson camp #

Daily travels, 1 portage totaling 515 rods.

Day Two - May 24, 2015

Eggs are one of Aurora’s favorite breakfast meals. Since we didn’t want to carry fresh eggs across the long portage (and beyond), we had searched extensively for a viable dehydrated option. After trying them at home, we found that Ova-Easy egg crystals proved to be about as close to the real thing as one could hope for. So much so, that they instantly became a staple for all future trips! As the trip wore on, we experimented - adding dehydrated peppers, onions and mushrooms as tasty supplements.

We had been out canoeing with Aurora prior to this trip, and we had brought the poles along on those occasions. Admittedly those forays were more about shaking some of the rust off our paddling muscles than catching fish. But, I kind of figured she’d at least hook into a perch or bluegill along the way. All the while, secretly I was hoping that she wouldn’t catch anything so she could honestly claim her first fish was caught in canoe country. (Like that would somehow grant her some sort of special privileges or prestige.) Anyhow, she never did catch a fish on these outings so my secret desire was intact heading into this trip.

Our plan for today was to head for Bingshick Lake. But, first we wanted to give Paulson Lake a closer look and do some fishing. Not much more than a stone’s throw from camp, Vickie hooked into a small lake trout. Shortly thereafter I had one myself. We continued paddling our way around our island fishing & exploring. As we started working our way south towards the Glossy Lake portage, another fish hit my line. This time I told Aurora to grab the pole. I kept a hand on the rod while she did most of the reeling. Her first fish! And, it was a lake trout to boot!

First fish

island camp view

I think it was safe to say I was more excited than she was. There were a couple of loons hanging out near our canoe & she quickly lost interest in fishing, more intent on guessing where they might pop up next. And while she didn’t seem to place any great significance on the moment, for me it was a special checkpoint in her outdoor life that had gone almost as perfectly as I had envisioned it could.

After the loons retreated, we headed over to the short (16 rod) Glossy Lake portage. We were greeted with a small landing to a trail that climbed for most of its length. Next, the 36 rod trail to Elusion Lake was more of an up & down with a large spruce tree recently fallen across the path that we had to hack through. The 83 rod out of Elusion had a decent landing but, then climbed very steeply up a makeshift staircase. The gradient then decreased; but still rose until it crested at a nice overlook of Glee Lake before dropping down on a rocky path that became wet & muddy before terminating at a mosquito infested landing, where we then had to navigate a small narrow creek before reaching the lake.

Glee creek

Our final portage before reaching Bingshick Lake also had a tough hill to surmount before the trail leveled off near the junction with the Kekekabic Hiking Trail, becoming wetter and more marsh like the closer we got to the lake.

We trolled the length of the lake until we reached the campsite at the far eastern end. Then we pulled off to have lunch & relax a bit. I had stayed here several years back & had it rated as a 2 star back then, but now would give it all of a 3 star rating. Thus, indicating to me that it is recovering quite nicely. Or, perhaps, I’m becoming a softy in my old age?

Bingshick campsite

While Vickie got lunch started, Aurora & I headed off to explore some of the Kekekabic Hiking Trail (which was easily accessible from this site). A short ways from camp, in the creek that enters from the east, we were treated to an up close intimate viewing of 3 loons frolicking in the water. Aurora has really taken a fancy to loons, so this was an extra special treat for her.

While this area is showing significant signs of recovery from the fire, the charred stumps and dead trees scattered about were a stark reminder of the devastation the fire left behind.

Back in camp, Vickie informed us that she forgot to pack the minestrone soup mix. So it was just rehydrated hamburger & vegetables for lunch. I told Vickie if that’s the worst thing that happens, I’ll call it a great day. It’s all part of tripping in canoe country. Being able to roll with the punches and satisfactorily play the cards you’re dealt.

I’d heard there used to be a cabin on the lake near the creek. As we paddled over to investigate, an armada of 4 canoes was paddling in and claimed the other campsite on the lake. We found no evidence of a cabin. Perhaps the fire burned what was left? Or, maybe we weren’t even looking in the right area? With that, we left Bingshick Lake to the group that just arrived and began our journey back to our camp on Paulson Lake.

Of course we knew what to expect portage wise as we started back. We marveled at how Aurora negotiated some of the steep sections. We’re not sure exactly where or when but, at some point this morning (or perhaps last night) in camp, Aurora had discovered an old chewed up beaver stick that functioned perfectly for her as a walking stick. And watching her put it to estimable use on the tough sections of portages, was as cute as it was inspiring. She would remain loyal to it for the rest of the trip.

walking stick

Elusion stairway

There was a red moss covered rock just out from the southern shore on Glossy Lake that caught our eye.

Red rock

If today had been all about fishing; we would have done well to stay on Paulson Lake. While Bingshick Lake was essentially a dead sea, Paulson more than made up for it. Once back on our home waters, we scarcely had time to paddle. Literally it was one right after the other. Aurora even reeled in a few more fish. I’d rarely caught any game fish like this, much less lake trout. It got to the point where Vickie sarcastically quipped, “This almost isn’t even fun anymore!”

Paulson laker

The fishing had been so fast & furious that we hadn’t been paying close of attention to our course. When we finally got a chance to regain our bearings, we were nearing the other campsite – so we decided to give it a look see while taking an opportunity to stretch out as well.

A steep landing led up to an expansive site that didn’t provide much in the way of shelter (trees) or tarp options. There were a few decent tent pads, nice views of the lake and there was lots of room to hike & explore. We lingered awhile on the long sloping rock face, relaxing in the luxuriant warm spring air of the late afternoon.

camp 2

Later, back in camp, Aurora & I sat by the lakeshore enjoying tossing rocks into the water while waiting for some cooking coals to form under the fire grate to grill the rib eyes & potatoes for supper.

Throwing rocks

Once again it was s’mores for dessert. The bugs were more of a nuisance tonight, and chased us to the tent a bit earlier than we would’ve liked. We all had to come out a short while later, to enjoy the spectacle of a splendid color drenched sunset before officially calling it a night.

Paulson sunset

Daily travels, 8 portages totaling 250 rods.

Day Three - May 25, 2015

Overcast skies greeted us this morning. Providentially, it didn’t start raining until I was taking the tarp down. So, at least we were able to pack up most everything while it was still dry.

For the first few portages today, we retraced our route from our day trip yesterday. Since everything was getting wet and slippery, the strategy we very quickly decided upon was to have Aurora only cross the trails once. So I would go across first, and then head back for my next load. Simultaneously, Vickie would be coming across with her load and Aurora. She would then wait (with Aurora) for me to return with my next load. Then I’d wait with Aurora for Vickie to bring her next load across. Rinse & repeat. Multiple trips across the trails today allowed me to better appreciate some of the overlooks and surrounding scenery, unencumbered by my canoe helmet.

Glee overlook

The 83 rod portage from Elusion Lake to Glee provided a nice overlook. But, it was also long enough that I decided to tuck Aurora under the canoe, out of the rain, while she waited. This helped keep her dry & warm while she ate her cinnamon & raisin bagel. But, while bug spray did help, the Glee end of the portage once again proved to be a sanctuary for exceedingly voracious mosquitoes. And, Aurora would show the ill effects a day or so later.

Hiding under canoe

Once on Glee Lake, we would veer off our route from yesterday and head for Fay Lake. This was a short (22 rod) portage that was slightly overgrown. Next we paddled west towards the Chub River portage. While there are some rocks and a slight up & down to contend with, I’ve always liked this one. Of course there are the rapids, but I think the view down the Chub River is what I appreciate most.

Chub River overlook

Voyageur maps seem to indicate that the next portage is on the north side of the river. I had been through here years ago, and seem to recall the portage being on the south side. Never the less, as we approached Vickie said the north side showed more promise. What I certainly didn’t remember was the large beaver dam here at the start of what we presumed was the portage. Vickie hopped out to investigate. She found no trace of a trail. So, I crawled out and headed across the beaver dam to the south side. At the base of the dam I quickly located the portage. Maybe my memory isn’t totally shot after all?

Certainly it was nice to have located the trail, but the dam wasn’t going to be easy to get down and the trail was completely polluted with slippery round melon sized boulders. So, even though this was only a 15 rod portage, it was definitely one of the more challenging trails we encountered on this trip. At least there was a neat little overhanging rock ledge where Aurora could duck out of the rain while I unloaded the canoe.

Portaging over a beaver dam

As the rain persisted, I don’t know if the thermometer crossed the 60 degree mark today. And even though we had done several challenging portages (especially considering the current conditions) spirits remained high. Having a 3 year old along, who kept a positive attitude throughout, made complaining unthinkable. Of course we didn’t have much in the way of legal options to cut the day short, as the first designated campsites along our present route were on French Lake, which was now only one short (17 rod) portage away.

Laughing in the rain

With water thundering down to French Lake alongside the trail, it was difficult to comprehend how the portage out of Seahorse Lake could be as flat as it was. Aurora wanted to take a closer look but, there were no discernible paths & it looked like it would be a tough bushwhack to get a decent look at the cascading water. So, we just paddled out and tried to look back. Unfortunately, with the profusion of overhanging foliage, this didn’t provide much of a perspective either.

The wind was slowly starting to gain some momentum. There is a campsite just east of this portage, so we paddled over for an inspection. The fire pretty much cleaned this one out. There were no sizable trees of any kind, so we just paddled by without giving it a closer look. We now headed for the second campsite located on the other end of the lake, aided by the escalating winds at our back.

As we pulled up, the waves were beginning to become uncomfortable. Vickie, crawled out onto the steep granite slope that served as a landing for this site, while I haphazardly clung to a nearby overhanging cedar branch trying to hold our position as best as I could. She reported there was a tent pad as well as a place for the tarp. Good enough for me!

French Lake campsite

At first this site didn’t look like much. But, under the present circumstances it served us quite well. We were able to set up the tarp to block the brunt of the wind & somewhat shelter the entrance to the tent as well. There was a nice sitting rock down by the lake which provided a nice view of the recovering forest around the lake. Although, with the wind still blowing, I only gave it a cursory examination.

Under normal conditions, having the fire grate facing into the woods would certainly be a downer. But, it helped out today. Providing enough shelter from the wind so that I felt comfortable having a fire. While both Vickie & I prepared supper and put the finishing touches on getting camp setup, Aurora spent her time teasing me by taking my hat and calling it hers. I thought she looked pretty stylish in it.

I wanna be a cowboy

The remainder of the evening was spent drying out & staying warm. Copious amounts of hot chocolate were consumed; aiding immensely in this endeavor, while the resident squirrel provided free entertainment. The wind and rain petered out for good before we hit the sack for the night.

Daily travels, 7 portages totaling 219 rods.

Day Four - May 26, 2015

The early morning air was crisp but, blue skies and sunshine quickly took the edge off. By this point in our trip we had become fairly proficient in getting camp tore down. Our hopeful destination for today was Gabimichigami (Gabi) Lake. We opted for the more direct Peter Lake route, which had one long portage versus going through Powell Lake which would require several shorter portages.

Both Vickie & I concurred that we thought the portage into Peter Lake was a walk in the park. Of course this fact should be tempered by considering the portages we’d done to get here. The portage started out in a low lying area & even had a substantial length of boardwalk to cross before it finally started climbing. At about the mid-point of the trail was an enormous boulder that looked (to me) like a giant gorilla head. As the trail began dropping down to Peter, there were a few panoramic overlooks to behold and take a person’s mind off the task at hand.

French ~ Peter portage boardwalk

Gorilla head

Peter Lake overlook

Of course if we had been heading in the other direction, and had to climb up out of Peter Lake, our opinion of this trail might be harsher. But, what really made this portage unforgettable was when Aurora quizzically chimed in and asked, “Why did God have to make this portage so long?” Indeed!

As I waited with Aurora for Vickie to bring her next load across, I decided to pull out one of our camp chairs. No sense not taking full advantage of the resources available! As I sat in comfort, assimilating the solitude of the moment, my eyes eventually settled on Aurora sitting quietly by the lakeshore contentedly looking out across the watery blue expanse. I wondered to myself what contemplations might be going through her mind. Was she enjoying herself? Was there something else she’d rather be doing? Did she miss the comforts of home? Before I became completely lost in the thought, her eyes met mine – and smiling, she ran over and jumped into my lap. I guess that answers those questions.


Aurora still hadn’t really warmed up to the idea of going potty in the woods. So, we had to paddle to the nearest campsite for her to do her deed.

I’m by no means an authority on the subject, but I believe the area surrounding Peter Lake had to have been hit about the hardest by the 2006 Cavity Lake Fire. As we worked our way westward, it was incredibly fascinating to see the forest regeneration from our perspective out on the lake. The dark spruce trees inter-mixed with the soft pastel spring foliage of the birch & poplar trees provided a stunningly stark contrast.

Peter Lake shorelinePeter camp

While we really didn’t investigate them too thoroughly, the eastern most camp site appeared to the nicest on the lake. The next site down the lake was absolutely awful. Just past the last site on the northern shore we briefly ran aground or, more appropriately, ran arock. Extrication was quick and easy, and we proceed to the Gabi portage.

This portage wasn’t too difficult, a basic up & over with some wet rocky footing on the Gabi end. As we paddled away, Aurora let out a plaintive cry, “My stick!!!” We’d inadvertently forgotten her stick back at the landing. It wasn’t all that far back, but we successfully reasoned with & convinced her we’d be back for it tomorrow. Meltdown averted!

We paddled around the large peninsula jutting out from the southern shore to begin searching for our new home. The mainland site looked OK, but we were hoping for something better. So we circled the nearby small island. At the landing, Vickie got out to check it out. She gave it a thumb up, so I finished pulling the canoe up & began unloading. Aurora was instantly enthralled with all the little rocks she could toss into the lake.

This was a beautifully elevated site adorned with a large expanse of open level ground. While the fire grate area was exposed, it did offer a commanding panoramic view of the sprawling expanse of this large lake. There was a few trails that spider webbed out beseeching future exploration and hopeful firewood gathering, of which cursory examination revealed a small finger of granite on the backside that served as an exceptional sitting/fishing rock.

Initially we disagreed about where to put the tent versus the tarp but, once both were up; the issue was never mentioned again, so we must’ve gotten it right. And, for the first time on this trip I dug out the hammock & set it up as well. The hammock pulled double duty, serving as a swing for Aurora while dutifully performing its more traditional role for Vickie & I.

There was a preponderance of pin cherry trees flowering in this camp. Indeed they were found in abundance most everywhere we traveled on this trip.

Pin cherry blossoms

After camp was up, the breeze faded and Gabi transformed itself into a liquid mirror. This was a most impressive occurrence considering the vastness of open water out in front of us. On the downside, this brought the maddening drone of countless bugs to our attention. Thankfully they just lingered in the air and, (noise not withstanding), didn’t bother us.

This site afforded us superlative accommodations for viewing of the sunset. Loons serenading from across the lake put the idyllic finishing touches on a truly inspiring canoe country evening.

Dusk on Gabi

Daily travels, 2 portages totaling 189 rods.

Day Five - May 27, 2015

As promised, right after breakfast we paddled over to grab Auroras’ coveted walking stick at the landing for the portage to Peter Lake. Of course this was right on our way to our day tripping destination, Little Saganaga Lake (Lil’ Sag’).

Lil’ Sag’ is, without a doubt, truly one of the crown jewels of the BWCA. I know that the portage in from Mora Lake gets all the hype but, for my money, the vertical trail in from Virgin Lake is the best way to unveil Lil’ Sag’ to first timers (like Vickie & Aurora were). And, as if on cue, after cresting the hill - an eagle soaring high over this island studded masterpiece dramatically emphasized the point.

Lil' Sag' overlook

Out on the lake, as we traveled SE towards the scenic Mora Lake portage, I drifted slightly off course. This error afforded us an opportunity to pull off at a very nice campsite to reconnoiter. The elevated vantage provided a clear, expansive view westward across the pine crested islands and beyond. I lounged in the aura of this impressive scene, enjoying a Clif bar while Vickie brought Aurora back to the potty.

Lil' Sag' campsite

Once we re-orientated ourselves, we quickly found our way to the famed Lil’ Sag’ – Mora portage trail.

The water was as high as I’ve seen it while at this portage. And, as one might expect, the rapids and swiftly rushing water did not disappoint. It was Aurora who pointed out some of the less obvious signs of beauty that were also right in front of our noses. This is always one of the most fascinating aspects of tripping with a child. What is gonna trip their trigger? It never ceases to amaze me at how attentive she really is.


Our stomachs were beginning to rumble…. So, after pushing off from the portage landing, we scouted for an accommodating spot (i.e. campsite) to pull off and have lunch. We were hopeful of finding something that also provided Aurora a safe, open area to play. The first few sites we passed didn’t seem to fit the bill for one reason or another. A playful otter family briefly kept us entertained, before we settled on the island site at the entrance to the bay leading to Elm Lake.

In short order Vickie had the tortellini boiling, while I rigged up one of the fishing poles. Vickie told me to keep an eye on lunch while she brought Aurora back to the potty. No sooner had they gotten into the woods when the sky opened up and it started raining. As I stood over our pot & stove, I could see blue sky a short distance away so I wasn’t too concerned. Looking out at the lake, I was perplexed at how it seemed the water was almost boiling. The light bulb finally went off when I realized it was hailing! I scurried under a nearby spruce tree and waited the storm out.

Vickie & Aurora were doing the same thing a little deeper in the woods. Fortunately, the hail wasn’t much bigger than pea sized & the downfall only lasted 5 minutes or so. But, another shorter blast followed soon after. After the excitement we enjoyed our lunch while keeping a wary eye on the weather.

Lil' Sag camp

As we headed back the weather was quite fickle, keeping us on edge. Thankfully Lil’ Sags’ many islands provided shelter from the unpredictable winds that seemed to whip up without warning. The weather never got really serious, but at one point we did have to scold Aurora about staying seated. This was the first time we needed to be really stern with her. Fortunately this worked out to be an on-the-fly teaching opportunity without a serious consequence. Although, regarding proper behavior in the canoe & on portages, we vowed to be more proactive, by trying to give her proper instruction before we were in the midst of a situation. We changed it up on the return trip, taking the Rattle Lake route back to Gabi’. The portages were short and straight forward, skirting around a series of cascading rapids.

Rattle Falls

By the time we finished the 30 rod portage, the wind calmed & blue skies had returned for good. We were even confident enough to try a little fishing. And, circled westward around the large island before returning to camp.

Gabi island camp view

Up to this point Aurora had been a real trooper. Even when her eye was nearly swollen shut from a bug bite, she never complained. But, tonight she was starting to talk more about her yellow blankie & toys we’d left in the van. Figuring that perhaps we were pushing her a little too hard, we decided to just stay in, or very close to, camp tomorrow & let her recharge a bit.

Yet again we were treated to a vivid color drenched sunset. Perhaps because we’d already decided that tomorrow would be a lazy day, this wound up being our latest night of the trip. So, after Aurora was asleep, Vickie & I stayed up enjoying the undemanding quiet time together.

Gabi sunset

Daily travels, 5 portages totaling 254 rods.

Day Six - May 28, 2015

One tremendously positive attribute this campsite had that neither of us even considered when formulating our initial assessment, was the makeshift sandbox. This unique feature helped Aurora keep herself occupied so Vickie & I could each enjoy a little ‘down time’ while in camp. I think there were a race track and a whole village of sandcastles created by the time we’d left. This morning Vickie decided to join in on the fun while I prepared pancakes for breakfast.

Gabi' sandpit

As I mentioned earlier, the hammock also served Aurora well as a swing, which provided another entertaining diversion. The swelling from the bug bite had gone down, and in a more general sense, I think staying near camp today helped recharge her batteries a bit.

Hammock swinging

When Aurora lost interest in the hammock, Vickie claimed it and did some reading & relaxing. Meanwhile I alternated between processing firewood & shore fishing. While fishing was nothing like what we’d had on Paulson Lake, the tranquil intimate setting & surroundings assured contentment would be an easily achievable goal; regardless of the modest success.

Gabi campsite

Later, Aurora cajoled me into coming down to the lakeshore to once again throw rocks with her. By the time we were finished, the rock shelf running out from shore was now littered with small rocks that stood out like a sore thumb when contrasted with the rest of the lake bottom.

As the day wore on, we decided to take a short hike around our island. Aurora informed us she would be the ‘shepherd’, (a term she equated to leader). There was an already well established trail running down to the sitting rock & beyond. We followed that into a red pine forest where travel was relatively easy. Our nature walk gave us an ideal opportunity to give our inquisitive little voyageur a front row tour of the woods. And, we tried to explain the sights, sounds & smells to the best of our abilities. Eventually the red pines gave way to spruce trees which gave way to thick underbrush, so we did an about face and hiked back towards camp.

Speaking of passing the torch on to the next generation, I’d also been showing Aurora how to build a fire. She excelled at filling our log cabin style fire with the twigs, leaves & needles. Of course we didn’t let her get too involved once the fire was lit, but beginning to pass these skills on reminded me of a few passages in the chapter Sigurd Olson dedicated to campfires in his iconic book, “The Singing Wilderness”.

So deeply ingrained in his feeling, and all it connotes, that even the building of a fire has a ritualistic significance. Whether he admits it or not, every act of preparation is vital and satisfying to civilized man. Although the fire may not be needed for warmth or protection or even the preparation of food, it is still a primal and psychological necessity. On any wilderness expedition it always serves as a climax to the adventures of the day, is as important to a complete experience as the final curtain to a play. It gives everyone an opportunity to participate in an act hallowed by the devotion of forgotten generations.

… He has not forgotten, and even today everyone is anxious to help the fire-builder get started. All join in the search for kindling, for resinous bits of wood and bark. How proudly each brings in his offering, what genuine satisfaction is shared when the flames take hold! As the fire burns, see how it is tended and groomed and fondled, how little chips are added as they fall away from the larger sticks, how every man polices the fringe before him and treats the blaze as the living thing it is”.

Our fire tonight was put to a special use. Vickie had brought some popcorn as an out of the ordinary treat. Aurora marveled as the tinfoil expanded, and then devoured several handfuls after it had cooled.


For the 3rd time in as many nights, the loons of Gabimichigami Lake hauntingly serenaded us as we huddled around our crackling campfire. It’s these fleeting moments that you just can’t put a price on, and is one of the main ingredients to what makes spending time in canoe country so special. This site had definitely endowed us with an exceptional home the past few days; it would be bittersweet having to leave tomorrow.

Day Seven - May 29, 2015

Another gray gloomy morning greeted us on a travel day. There was some minor wave action out on the lake, but we agreed to cut across the heart Gabi to the protruding peninsula on the northern shore. Rain started up shortly after we hit the water, but otherwise it was (thankfully) an uneventful crossing.

The short 16 rod portage into Agamok Lake proved to be both rocky & muddy, but level. Even in the persistent rain, long & narrow Agamok Lake exuded an unmistakable intimate ambiance that we had not yet experienced on this trip. I’m sure having just crossed the open expanse of Gabi undoubtedly intensified this feeling.

Agamok Lake

The rain had lightened to a sporadic mist by the time we reached the 112 rod portage to Mueller Lake. Never the less, this trail was treacherous due to all the slippery rocks. Of course, at about the halfway point, we set our loads down and hiked back to view Mueller Falls.

Mueller Falls bridge

Once again, due to the slippery rocks, we didn’t linger or explore as much as we likely would’ve otherwise. But, Aurora really enjoyed seeing a larger waterfall.

As I trudged into the Mueller Lake landing with our last load, I was instructed to pull up a chair. Aurora was going to sing me a song as a thank you for getting her back to see the waterfall. I can’t honestly say that I remember the words, but her performance sure warmed me up; on what was a cool damp day.

After paddling across Mueller Lake we hit the 103 rod portage to Ogishkemuncie Lake. This one has a tougher hill than our last portage but, the trail consists of more rubble & gravel thus providing far better footing on this wet day. And, I think its easier heading in this direction.

Our goal for the day was to at least make it to a campsite somewhere on the eastern half of Ogish’. We could see smoke coming from the 5 star island site just out from the portage and, the site straight north of us soon proved to be occupied as well. Before we even reached the narrows, Aurora had leaned back on my Duluth Pack and drifted off to sleep. There was still some intermittent drizzle, so I cinched up the hood on her rain jacket as best I could. Vickie & I quickly agreed to push on to Jasper Lake (regardless of campsite availability on Ogish’) so Aurora could sleep awhile longer.

Tired girl

At the Kingfisher portage we got to see a bear up close & personal. (Aurora was none too happy to be woken from her slumber.) Fortunately, by the time we reached the landing on Jasper Lake our happy go lucky girl had returned and she playfully stomped around in the shallow water and found a few more ‘cool’ rocks before we pushed off.

The nice site closest to the portage landing was open but, before officially claiming it we paddled over to visit the site just SE of the island. Vickie & I had stayed here on our first trip together, so it was something of a sentimental visit. There is nothing particularly noteworthy about this site and wouldn’t rate much more than 2 stars in most people’s book. It was just an unlikely, though welcome, sanctuary for us after a long cold & wet day. I think we were also some of the first people to stay there after the fire, because we did a lot of cleaning up of downed burnt trees.

Jasper camp 2

Once we had camp setup, it was a pleasant surprise to find a little welcome wood to lessen the burden of camp chores. There were a couple of nearly tame chipmunks scurrying about camp, which held Aurora’s interest while supper was being prepared.

chipmunkJasper camp

Aurora was still having fun but, we could see she was nearing her limit. Originally we had planned to spend one more night but, tonight after supper we decided, if conditions permitted; we’d paddle out tomorrow. Consequently, it would be an early night.

Daily travels, 5 portages totaling 296 rods.

Day Eight - May 30, 2015

Jasper morning

We were up early enough this morning to be treated to a couple of neat circumstances. First of all it was cold enough that there was a brief snow shower. Secondly, as I was eating breakfast I noticed a large object swimming across the narrows of Jasper Lake. At first I thought it might be a moose but, as it crawled ashore at the northern peninsula it proved to be a large bear! Vickie figured it was heading for us and immediately put Aurora’s bells on. Thankfully that would be the last we saw of it.

As I was about to sit down and put my portage boots on; per usual, there were a couple of Clif bars already lying on the chair. It’s these little things that I so easily take for granted, yet they are absolutely at the heart of what makes Vickie such a great tripping partner.

Jasper Falls

The portage into Alpine Lake also boasts a scenic waterfall, so we lingered here awhile. It was a crisp paddle across Alpine to the Rog Lake portage. There was a large sloping shelf of rock serving as a landing to this straight forward trail. While still cool, we were finally able to shed a few layers after completing this portage.

Rog Lake

Normally I don’t fish with a fully loaded canoe, but since we were heading out today & Rog Lake was where we had originally planned on staying; I couldn’t resist giving this crystal clear brook trout lake a try as we passed through. Fishing didn’t pan out, but it was a pleasant paddle none the less.

Fittingly, the last portage of the trip was short but very rocky before dropping down to a tight landing on Sea Gull Lake. On my last trip across I took one last photo of Rog Lake, savoring the experience of this portage & the trip as a whole.

Last portage

Travel would be by water the rest of the way, still we had our work cut out for us. We traced the southern shoreline eastward before eventually angling north towards the boat landing. The waves we encountered when exposing ourselves to a few of the large open water crossings got the blood pumping but, all in all, it wasn’t really too bad of a paddle back. The northern most site on Wolf Point served as our last rest stop before finishing up at Blankenburg Landing.

While we had felt Aurora was nearing her limit, perhaps the most enduring, reassuring comments that she made was when I was loading the canoe onto the van.

“Daddy, why are you putting the canoe up there?”

Because we have to go home.”

“AWWWW!!! But, I still want to canoe & camp!”

Those comments notwithstanding, Aurora was still very happy to be reunited with her toys & yellow blankie. Needless to say, it was quite the finish to an amazingly memorable trip.

Before motoring off to Trail Center for burgers and (most importantly) ice cream, we stopped off at Gunflint Northwood’s Outfitters. Our friend Jodi had taken a summer job there & we stopped in to see how things were going for her. It wasn’t too long after leaving Trail Center when Aurora passed out. If an indicator for having lived life to the fullest on our trip is exhaustion, I think the meter bottomed out, because she slept the whole way back to my parents’ house (over 2 hours away).

Wiped out

Considering how important it had been to her on this trip; after returning home, I took Aurora's walking stick and etched Paulson Lake on it, slathered it with some Watco oil, then ran a loop of CCS cordage through it and hung it on her headboard. Currently she hasn't paid a lot of attention to it, but perhaps one day, she will look at it with the fondness that Vickie & I do.

Stick at home

As I wrote this trip report, I must admit that (per usual) I worry too much about including the negative aspects of our adventure. Thus, conveying the sense that the trip was somehow an unsatisfactory experience. Well, certainly there were some unfortunate circumstances that we encountered all along the way. Of course it’s always nice when some things go to plan; but, in a lot of ways, it’s these less desirable occurrences that help us grow in our outdoor acumen and make the trip memorable. The bottom line is that at the end of the day, we all felt this was an extraordinary adventure for all the right reasons.

Of course having Aurora catch her first fish was a notable checkpoint, but watching her help build a fire & begin to learn the necessary skills was (and is) equally as inspiring. Also, I particularly savored the scenery, as I believe most of the overlooks that we passed by will soon become obstructed by the ever growing forest. It really is amazing how quickly the forest has regenerated.

By BWCA standards, this is an aggressive route, with several portages providing a substantial challenge. But, the tradeoff is, we really didn’t run across many people. As I recall, only once did we have to briefly share a portage (Agamok – Mueller) or pass closely by another canoe. We had to work for it but, for the most part, we kind of had the place to ourselves; which was incredibly rewarding.

Family photo on Paulson

Daily travels, 3 portages totaling 141 rods.

A couple words about the new gear we used on this trip: The CCS barrel pack was everything we'd cone to expect in a CCS product. Dan even added specialty pockets for our saw & hatchet. VERY satisfied with this purchase. Both Vickie & I also got the Sea to Summit inflatable pillows. They crush down to a size smaller than a baseball & only take a few puffs to inflate. We were both happy with the performance. We also got a small cheese grater at REI. A luxury item to be sure, but it saves a little time and didn't take upmuch room. And, it was nicer not having to eat the various dishes with the cheese in clumps.

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