Bug-light and still-warm and sunny – 6 September days in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area

After some grocery shopping in Minneapolis (Spam comes in foil wrapped singles!), Rob and I drove to Ely, MN to meet up with Paul, another college friend who’s been living up in Northern WI. His teaching schedule allowed him to join us for this adventure. After deciding on a route with a permit available, we went to Piragis Outfitters to acquire a boat. We picked out a stable three-person Wenonah Seneca Kevlar Canoe that weighs about 55 lbs and assorted peripherals. They strapped the canoe to the top of Paul’s car and we were off to camp at Fall Lake for the night and depart the next morning. (We also did a run by Zupps grocery store in town. It had all the just add water food you could want for a BWCA trip including shelf-stable bacon as well as lots of meat on special including the $4 for 3 bacon wrapped pork chops that we bought for that night’s dinner.)

Route: Adams Boulder Route 30-2 from Boundary Waters Canoe Area Western Region by Robert Beymer. ~55 mi, 28 lake total, 2 creeks, 1 river, 31 portages

Day 1: Entrance 30 (Lake One) to Hudson Lake
Paul, Rob and I loaded the packs, set up the car shuttled, took a before shot and pushed off.

Us about to set off

Us about to set off from Lake One.

We started with Rob in the back, Paul up front and me in the middle. Lake One is confusing and needs some serious navigating from the get go. We got a bit out on the lake and with the wind cannot make the canoe go forward with all three of us paddling. We blew around in a couple circles in the center of the lake before pulling it together and making it through some hard to see passages leading to the rest of the lake. After the first portage into Lake Two, we did a bit of musical chairs and end up with a configuration that allowed us to actually move forward easily – Paul in back and Rob up front. With only a few short portages, we reached camp in an old burn zone off Hudson Lake before dark. The only problem bugs were some biting flies which really liked my exposed calves-not too bad at all! We cooked up some tasty red beans and rice from dinner and Bannock bread (Mike Friedman’s recipe with dark chocolate chunks and dried cranberries) for dessert. The site had a perfect table stump for eating around.


Paul carrying the canoe.

Day 2: Hudson Lake to Fishdance Lake
Just after leaving camp, we saw our first bald eagle of the trip perched in a tree. Our longest portage thus far, 105 rods, took us to Lake Insula, a huge lake spotted with islands. We made it through without too many mishaps. Rob reminded me how to set bearings with a compass and I navigated from the middle position. The canoe is so wide that it’s harder to paddle from there. We ended the day on an offshoot Kawishiwi River, which I’m not sure any of us remember how to pronounce correctly, called Fishdance Lake. A wall of cliffs on the lake labelled the “Fishdance Picture Rocks” has the remains of some Native American pictographs.


Pizza dough hands! We cooked pizza on the fire.


Rob and Paul taking a dip in Fishdance Lake during a sunbreak.

Day 3: Fishdance Lake to Boulder Lake
After the well-maintained portages of the first two days, we reached the edge of the more frequented part of the BWCA. Portages on this day resembled bushwhacking a bit more. I really needed a machete at times. We passed through a section of the river called River Lake then a wider section of the river that was just river. How do they distinguish between what’s a lake and what’s a river? After a 22-rod portage, we entered a creek-like section with a bunch of beaver dams that required liftovers. Approaching one such beaver dam, we saw two women digging through bags. Turns out they had capsized their canoe in two feet or less of water. Thankfully, we managed to avoid doing the same. Near the end of the day, we made it to Boulder Creek, our first actual creek of the trip. After looking for the first portage, we realized that we just needed to keep paddling up the outlet following the chain of disturbed plants. Eventually when paddling became difficult due to depth issues, we made the decision to look for the portage on foot. Bad idea, eventually we figured out that we should just keep paddling forward until we couldn’t anymore. After a beaver dam liftover or two, we made it through the creek and to Boulder Lake. The mouth of the lake had a string of boulders and we almost capsized getting through. Alas, we made it to the best campsite of the trip on an island in the middle of the lake – west facing sunning rocks for drying us and clothing, nice rock dock on the sheltered east side with east facing fire pit and lots of gloriously flat tent sites. We all took a wonderfully refreshing swim then dried out in the warm sun.


Drying everything after a swim in Boulder Lake.


Camping on the island in Boulder Lake.

At Boulder Lake Island Camp

At Boulder Lake Island Camp

Day 4: Boulder Lake to Thomas Lake
We began the day the with most difficult portage of the trip, a 220-rod portage over a ridge. The guidebook said to take the path until a creek/bog then follow the bog farther, cross the bog, ignore the obvious steep path, continue along the bog and take a NW portage path at the next intersection. We didn’t have any problems until the hitting the creek/bog. Walking alongside it was ridiculously bog-a-licous. If you didn’t step on the roots of the bog plant roots, you would sink foot deep in water and boot-sucking muck. Finally, we were able to get in the canoe and paddle for a ways until we found a dry portage trail. From then on, we had a relatively easy time making it to Thomas Lake.

Bog canoeing

Bog canoeing


One of the super boggy portage points.


Rob carrying the canoe.


Amanda carrying her share of the gear on a portage.

After passing two occupied island campsites, we finally found one on a peninsula of a peninsula that was pretty nice with a flat, stable bench, a dry-dock for dry foot canoe loading and west-facing access to get some sun and watch the sunset.

Sunset on our camp on Thomas Lake

Sunset on our camp on Thomas Lake

Day 5: Layover at Thomas Lake

After moving camp for four nights in a row, we decided to stay a second night on Thomas Lake. We all slept in until a glorious 10 am then made the best camping brunch ever – cheddar garlic biscuits and gravy accompanied by scrambled eggs with bacon. YUM! It was totally worth cleaning up the large number of dishes used in the cooking process.

Our amazing brunch of biscuits and gravy served with eggs scrambled with bacon. Everything was just add water except the shelf stable bacon.

Our amazing brunch of biscuits and gravy served with eggs scrambled with bacon. Everything was just add water except the shelf stable bacon.

By then time we finished breakfast, the day had warmed considerably and the bright sunlight bathed our little bay’s beach. It was time for some swimming. Stepping into the clear water, many minnows darted around our feet as we waded out into the bay.

Swimming in the bay on Thomas Lake

Wading in the bay on Thomas Lake

After we tired of swimming and dried out a bit, Rob, Paul and I broke out the cards and played 3-handed hearts. Paul won a game that was close in the end. Then we switched to 5,3,2 for a bit before deciding to get our last dinner of salmon pesto pasta going. With dinner complete, we called it a night early since we planned to get an early start for our last day.

Day 6: Thomas Lake to Snowbank Lake (Entrance 27) – Paddling out

Sunrise as we pack up camp on the last morning

Sunrise as we pack up camp on the last morning

With camp packed up in record time, we were on the lake before 8 am. The early start was nice as we saw some loons and the closest view of bald eagle on the trip. A seagull flew over some trees then dropped a fish about 20 feet from our canoe. A minute later, we saw an eagle chasing after him. It make a couple circles in the sky, then dived, talons grasping the dropped fish and carrying it away. As we were so busy enjoying the eagle, we didn’t quite pay attention to our position and got high centered on a surprise rock. Paul had to get partly out and push us off.

We continued our route out passing through a number of really small lakes. We passed more groups as we neared the exit in Snowbank Lake. On the last portage, we passed a couple young guys with an aluminum canoe, numerous plastic crates and a large rolling cooler. I wonder how far in they made it with all that stuff. By 3 pm, we had done the car shuttle and were headed back to Ely.

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