June 2019 BWCAW Trip
2019 Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness trip report
2019-06-10 Got back last night, well technically very early this morning, from our 2019 Boundary Waters Canoe Area wilderness trip with my two sons and one grandson. At the last minute before the trip I decided NOT to take along my portable radio stuff. GOOD decision. There was no time or energy for that. Further, not having that "distraction" allowed me to enjoy the shared experience with John, Charles and Elijah rather than being off under a tree somewhere swatting mosquitoes doing my own thing! Suffice it to say the trip was another wonderful experience.
Day One, Friday, June 7
Our route started at Entry Point 77, about 15 miles north of Ely, MN on Echo Trail (Route 116). From there we went northward through South Hegman, North Hegman, Trease and Angleworm Lakes, ending the first day at a campsite on Home Lake. The four portages that first day ranged in length from five Rods to 460 Rods.
The biggest challenge of the day was what the outfitter described as one of the hardest portages in the Wilderness, 460 Rods!
A Rod is 16-1/2 feet, so that portage was just a bit less than a mile and a half! That doesn't seem like much but if you're stumbling along with a canoe on your shoulders and a pack on your back, it's a long ways! That portage included a bog, sharp turns difficult to manage with a canoe, some fairly steep climbs and descents, beautiful forest, rocks and boulders and more!
Thankfully, John and Charles had the canoes on their shoulders and Elijah and I were just carrying packs. Nonetheless, we were all pooped at the end of that portage and NOT UNHAPPY that the campsite wasn't too much further!
Day two, Saturday, June 8
The second day took us more or less back southward from Home Lake through Gull, Gun, Fairy and Boot Lakes to our campsite on Fourtown Lake. The five portages that day ranged from 240 Rods, the first one, to 15 Rods. The biggest challenge that day was the wind from the south blowing in our face all day. Especially on Boot Lake, the wind and waves took a lot of hard rowing. I don't know which takes the most energy, portaging or paddling but on a windy day there is no time to catch a breath when paddling. I think all our arm and gut muscles were tuckered out that night.
The campsite that night was clearly one of the best one could wish for on any lake anywhere. It was on a rounded south facing point with a water-level rock rim all the way from the northwest "armpit" of the point around to the east side. The inland part of the point was covered with beautiful trees.
It also had the most amazing "cook top" with the fire grate setting at about waist height with carefully chosen smooth flat rocks on each side that someone had neatly stacked. We were a bit concerned about rain and wind that night but the wind died down as night came on and not a single drop of rain fell! We were so thankful.
The first night's campsite was also a very nice one with only slightly less spectacular views. John and Charles were sleeping in hammocks and the first night's hammock hanging options were a bit better. Elijah and I slept in a tent which worked great in both sites.
Day Three, Sunday, June 9
Two things got us on the water at 8:00am, an hour earlier than the previous two days. First we had to get to the end get the car, load the canoes and drive four hours back to the Minneapolis area to drop off John and then continue on to Burlington, WI, a total of about 600 miles. Second, rain was predicted mid morning and we don't like camping and canoeing in the rain!
Thankfully the wind was not a big issue that third day as we still had to go south, but it was noticeably cooler and the sky wasn't as cloud free. We could see things building so didn't waste any time. Continuing southward, Fourtown lake narrows to a small river or stream between trees and cliffs which provides kind of an intimate and cozy feeling. The water also became shallow and rocky so one had to be vigilant. But that also added to the fun as we paddled slowly and carefully through those areas.
The first portage that day was at a vary narrow part with a beaver dam in front and large, jagged slippery rocks where you disembark. It was tricky but no one or gear was damaged. The portage itself was only about ten Rods long but climbed steeply up about ten feet over a large rock and back down a bit more gradually to water level. The way was scattered with sharp jagged rocks making those ten Rods tricky and dangerous should you take a fall. But no one did. Then we had to put back in the water at another rocky and slippery spot.
THEN, we paddled maybe ten rods diagonally across the puddle trapped between two beaver dams. You could hear small rapids on ahead. Out of the canoes again at a slightly less challenging rocky spot. This portage was a hundred and forty Rods up and along a rather sharp embankment then along a somewhat narrow trail. It didn't seem particularly treacherous since trees were all along the trail and down the side of the embankment. Should you slip off the trail you would likely have some pain but would certainly live to tell about it! It then descended gradually back to water level with an almost beach like place to board the canoes, the easiest re-boarding of the entire trip.
After a short distance we came to our final portage, thirty Rods, which took us into Mudro Lake for our final paddle eastward to Entry Points 22/23. The last section of that paddle took us through a rather long, meandering and shallow marsh through water grass and reeds, much like I imagine the place along the Nile where Moses' mother set him afloat in that little papyrus basket described in Genesis chapter two! What made it interesting and a bit unnerving was that the grass and reeds are just at or above eye level so you really can't see where you are going very well. With little side channels along the way it would be easy to get confused. One thing that helped with navigation there were the white scrape marks on some of the rocks barely below the surface made by previous canoes! They served as unofficial but unmistakable trail markers! Hope no one had to buy one of those rented $3000 canoes due to their trail-marking for us!
Coming to the end
It all ended kind of abruptly at the Pickett Lake/Mudro Access point about noon on the closest thing to a sandy beach we had seen the entire trip. As we hit the beach there was a canoe and two guys just launching for a multi-day fishing trip two days north somewhere. We were soon followed by two ladies ending a nine day adventure, and others. That is a very busy "port" with every slot in a rather large parking lot filled and several groups coming or going.
Our original trip plan was to continue on west through Pickett Lake into Nells Lake with another three portages and a road walk. That would have put us just a couple miles from our car back at entry point 77. But when we rented the canoes in Ely we were strongly advised NOT to try that last leg as the portages have not been maintained for years and are considered impassable. THAT meant our car was eight miles away!
But John always has a plan. His plan was to run those eight miles and drive back and pick up Charles, Elijah and me. That plan bothered me the entire trip. So I suggested he see if he couldn't catch a ride. He approached the two nine-day-trip ladies and they agreed to do that. But, just then the outfitter's van showed up dropping off two canoes and four guys. The driver agreed to take John to the car. The result? About half an hour later just as it started sprinkling we were loading up our gear and canoes to head back to Ely!
Miracles and high points?
Elijah's shoe blew out on the last short portage, not on the 460 Rod one two days earlier! Two marvelous campsites. Elijah, just a month from his 14th birthday, happily carried one of the largest packs of our four and not only kept the pace but had energy left over each day! We survived - and in retrospect - enjoyed that 460 Rod portage. There were some mosquitoes and biting flies but they weren't crazy. Weather was perfect night and day! In fact, we may have enjoyed the best two days of the year for canoeing and camping! Amazing scenery everywhere we looked. The peaceful stone-silence of the place with no man made noises other than the ones we made ourselves. No encounters with any threatening animals! Except for the first meal, the food was almost delicious, certainly down-able! I accept responsibility for that one exception. Even I could barely swallow those bacon ranch chicken wraps for some reason. I must have messed up the mixture. And mine made with lemon tuna was undeniably terrible! Sorry guys! The wonderful showers and nice meal in Ely after it was over. Only one minor mishap when Elijah went in up to his knee in the bog fairly early on that 460 Rod portage. His attitude was admirable. Melissa, Jeri and Sharon, our wonderful wives and mothers, who not only let us go but cheered us on and happily enjoyed the experience vicariously, glad NOT to be with us! For me the high point was enjoying and admiring my two son's and grandson! God has blessed Sharon and me beyond measure through all of our children and grandchildren and now great grandchildren.
2019-05-14 This morning I made a "gadget" that allows me to measure the current requirements of something plugged into a power pole cable. My motivation was to measure the actual power requirements of of my QCX and x5105. On Receive the QCX draws 120mA while the x5105 draws 350mA. The QCX draws 500mA on transmit compared with 1780mA for the x5105. At 30% transmit duty cycle, I calculated that the QCX would draw 250mAh while the x5105 would draw 850mAh. So my 4.5Ah Bioenno battery should run the QCX for 18 hours while it would run the x5105 about 5.5 hours. More "data" for deciding on which rig to take on the Boundary Waters trip.
2019-05-08 I think about my ham radio setup for this trip a lot. Having recently built a QRPLabs 40 meter QCX transceiver I'm wondering about that as my rig and the 40 meter speaker wire inverted vee I just cut and tested this morning. That would be about as simple, inexpensive yet good setup I can imagine. Further, playing around on the bands with the QCX and my x5105 the past couple of weeks I'm near concluding 40 meters is where I'm most likely to find success anyway. Most operating will likely be in the late afternoon or evenings, say 4-8pm. Twenty might be open for the first hour or so but forty will be near it's best during that time and there is almost always activity there. It would be nice to have SSB capability but my experience indicates that is less likely in the evenings whereas CW is alive nearly any time. Another thing I like about the QCX is that should I lose it overboard the financial loss wouldn't be so great as losing the x5105! Finally, weight would be a big difference. Seven pounds, including a carrying bag, is about the minimum with the x5105. The same package with the QCX comes in at Five pounds.
2019-04-21 The weather won! We've postponed the trip to the second weekend in June as ice is still on the lakes and weather projections for this coming week are not favorable. More time to play with both the camping and radio gear!
2019-04-20 According to the Outfitter in Ely, MN where we are thinking of renting the canoe the lakes are still at least somewhat frozen where we want to go. So.... We'll have to see what the next week brings. Maybe a totally different Plan B! That's the fun of planning an outdoor trip, we control few if any of the variables!
2018-04-18 Late Yesterday I began seriously packing my backpack for the canoe trip to the Boundary Waters of Northern Minnesota next week. The full hammock setup plus the radio kit shown below came to 26 lbs. And I still have room in my backpack for food and clothes. Got the clothes laid out in the guest bedroom, just have to decide what to take. Probably will take two long sleeved shirts, one of marina wool for sleeping, marina wool long johns for sleeping, two short sleeved shirts and two hiking pants, one for sleeping if needed. I'll try to keep the marina wool shirt, long johns and one pants in a special dry bag for sleeping wear. They can also serve as backup during the day if needed.
I'm still thinking about foot wear. Your feet get wet while hiking/canoeing. I have a light weight pair of running shoes that I think will be my main pair. They are made of webbing and if they get wet will dry fairly quickly. I may take something for camp shoes as well. Socks are another issue. I'll probably just take a couple pair of nylon or synthetic ankle socks. They'll give some foot protection while portaging but will also dry quickly when wet. I've got a heavy wool set of socks for sleeping. Keeping your feet warm at night is important.
2019-04-17 The photos are of my radio kit ready to go. Of course since the trip isn't for a week it might still change but I don't think so. The kit includes:
Top Left: Bag Packed. Top Center: Antenna systems. Top Right: Rig. Bottom Left: Extra battery. Bottom Center: DIY protective envelops for radio, etc. Bottom Right: Note Pad.
I'll be operating in the Superior National Forrest which is designated K-4491 in the Parks On The Air Registry for ham radio.
2019-04-16 We are forging ahead with plans for our Boundary Waters trip next week (4/25-28. Weather is actually looking pretty good with warmish days and coldish nights. I put together our "dinners" and "breakfasts" tonight. Dinner will be Santa Fe Cheesy Beans and Rice and Breakfast will be Healthy Instant Oatmeal Packets. My wife and I enjoyed the beans and rice for lunch today.
2019-04-11 Yesterday, in spite of the fact that it snowed and stayed below 40 all day here, I got out my hammock stuff and hung two of them in the garage (it was rainy/snowy outside) just to remind myself how to do it and make sure I have all the bits and pieces in place. I was a few days behind my my listening to the Chronological Bible New Living Translation so decided to lay in the hammock and listen to a couple days worth to help catch up. That killed two birds with one stone, helped me get caught up and gave me a chance to see if the under quilt and top quilt would keep me warm. I had all cotton clothes on, blue jeans, cotton shirt, denim jacket and thin socks. I was NOT warm! Not sure if that was my clothes or what but does worry me a bit given the likelyhood of overnight temperatures in the 30's in the Boundary Waters in couple weeks!
2019-04-01 Yesterday the three of us reviewed things and committed to moving ahead with plans for our boundary waters trip the last weekend in April. The tentative route we are considering starts at South Hegman Lake and is described on page 122 of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wester Region book by Beymer and Dzierzak. titled "The Angleworm Fairy Route," The entry point is number 77. It includes three nights and is described as "a terrific route for seasoned canoeists with only threee days to spend in the wilderness." With a difficulty rating of "Challenging," it covers 22 miles, 13 lakes, 3 creeks and 15 portages. The book indicates that most portages are "quite easy," one is 1.5 miles long!
2019-03-08 My two son's and I had a trip to the Boundary Waters planned for last Fall. But winter came too early and we had to scrap that. Now we are preparing for one either the last weekend of April or the first weekend of May of this year. That's pretty early so weather could once again be an issue. We'll see.
I just watched a YouTube video of ham radio operator K8MRD operating from a lawn chair in the middle of a small lake in Michigan. That rekindled my interest in getting out and doing some portable operating. Then the idea of taking my x5105 package on this planned canoe trip hit me. I chatted via text messaging with my son, John, our primary organizer and he is encouraging me! The two primary "fears" are weight and waterproofing. The radio, batteries, wire, etc. will weight about six pounds including a wire antenna. The Wolf River Coils vertical would add another 4 lbs, so ten pounds total. As to waterproofing, I'll have to see what might be possible. Anyway, it is an intriguing idea.