Sunday, September 20, 2020

Road Trip Part 3, Canoeing the Boundary Waters by, Ely, Minnesota: September 13-19, 2020

The First Portage

We arrived in Ely on Saturday afternoon September 12. In Ely, most indoor dining is closed, but we had an amazing gourmet dinner at Insula Restaurant. We enjoyed our to-go meal at their outside picnic table and they even supplied metal flatware and wine glasses. On Sunday morning we met David, our canoe guide, for a canoeing lesson. The weather was perfect and he was a very patient teacher. Later in the day our other canoe team members arrived and we met up at Piragis Outfitting to gather our equipment and discuss details of our trip. 

The five night-6 day camping/canoe trip officially began Monday morning September 14. The other canoeing members are Gary (Dan's cousin), Janie (Gary's spouse), Matt (Janie's brother) and his spouse Cathy. They are all experienced canoeists.

With Dave's guidance, we got the hang of paddling. We weren't particularly fast, but we managed. Of course, having Dave in our canoe lowered our paddling handicap. What we weren't familiar with was portaging with heavy packs. The boundary waters are a series of lakes separated by land which means that you must find the portage trail, unload the canoe, load the packs and other stuff onto your backs, and carry the canoe down/up the trail to the water. Again, we had Dave and he carried the canoe and often carried a gear or food pack, too. The portage distances for our trip ranged from 25 yards to 3/4 mile.

One of the causes of Portaging
Dan carrying a gear pack and Dave who carried the canoe and pack

Dan's pack has the tent, 2 sleeping bags, 2 folding camp chairs, 2 pillows, 2 pads, and his personal items. I carried a similar sized pack with some of our food supplies. Each time the packs had to be carried, I wished that we'd chosen more dehydrated foods instead of fruits, vegetables, and our first night steaks.

Another cause of portages is beavers as they like to build dams across the waterways. The first dam we confronted had a 3-foot difference in water levels. They were very busy beavers.


Our first night I was awakened by the howls of wolves which was both eerie and exciting. During the week I saw Painted turtles, squirrels, chipmunks, sage grouse, Canada geese, Trumpeter swans, bald eagles, baby beavers running away, and a lovely mink. We did not see moose or bears.

Our first morning on the Boundary Waters

Photo by Gary Golding

Photo by Gary Golding

Breakfast the first morning-Photo by Gary Golding

That first morning two trumpeter swans trumpeted like a blaring bus horn as they landed not far from our campsite. We saw quite a few family groups of trumpeter swans during our week.

Trumpeter Swan Family

A Gaggle of Canada Geese


Beaver Lodge

Portage scenes:




Because setting up camp and taking it back down to move on is so time consuming, we decided to spend two nights at a campsite before moving on. That choice allowed us to spend more time on the water exploring other parts of the Boundary Waters. One trip took us briefly into international waters as we inadvertently strayed into Canadian Waters. Overcast skies kept the Canadian patrol drones from flying that day. On that trip we visited Curtain Falls. One side is in the US while the other side of the fall is in Canada.

Boundary marker on the US side

Looking at Canada across Curtain Falls

Our weather was dry and mostly temperate except for two nights (our 3rd and 4th) when the temperatures dipped into the mid-20s. Dan had a zero-degree rated sleeping bag and mine was rated to 20 degrees. Those nights we both slept with hats and lots of layers and still slept cold. 

Our tent with a view (second campsite)

After our first cold night, we woke to find that our waterproof socks were frozen as was everything else that was outside the tent.



Because the lake water was warmer than the air temperature, we had "sea smoke" or in this case lake smoke as the sun came up and a trumpeter swan family swam past.


After thawing out and having breakfast, we paddled to another lake for lunch and pictographs. It took a while, but we found a pictograph almost camouflaged on a lichen covered rock face.




As the day warmed, conditions were beautifully warm and clear which meant the next night was also below freezing. This time I looked forward to photographing the rising steam caused by the temperature differential.



Dave, Dan, and frozen dishes

Much of the area we paddled had wild rice growing along the shorelines. Most of the seeds had long been harvested by the trumpeter swans leaving only the stalks behind.

Wild Rice Stalks


Enjoying the late sun on our last night


The last Sunrise on the Boundary Waters

Our group

We paddled and portaged back to the spot we began at 6 days ago. This time we were paddling against the current in the narrower waterways. The busy beaver had been even busier since we last portaged around its dam.



Painted Turtle sunning itself

A little more fall color

The Last Portage

Our trip was really good. Our fellow paddlers asked if we were up for doing another canoe trip again. If Dave was in our canoe again, sure thing! We were canoe novices, and Dave made everything easier for us. If we do canoe/camp again, I would still take my camera and two lenses; I would take far less clothing and choose dehydrated (not the dehydrated Pad Thai-it was awful) over fresh food. Those packs were heavy.

Back at the outfitter, Gary's cell phone connected to the internet and this is when we found out that RBG died the night before. Her body wasn't even cold and President Trump was already searching for her replacement. After being away from all news for 6 days, we were suddenly plunged into the awful reality of our country’s polarized politics. I had hoped the de-stressed, wilderness glow would last a little longer. Besides being sad about the passing of a hero, my first thought was the words uttered by Joseph Welch during the McCarthy hearings in 1954, "have you no sense of decency, sir?" Obviously no!

The last morning, we grabbed some hot drinks and breakfast at Front Porch before continuing our road trip. A faint scent of smoke was in the air and the sun was lightly veiled. This smoke was coming from Montana fires.

View of Ely at Sunrise

Next stop: Columbus, Ohio

No comments:

Post a Comment