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Boundary Waters:

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Boats & Gear

Boundary Waters Gear List

Bell Wildfire (Royalex)

Blackhawk Ariel

Mad River Independence (sold)

Wenonah Prism (sold)
-cane seat installation
-thwart replacement

Custom portage pads

Seat-mounted portage yoke

Outside canoe shelter

Inside canoe storage



Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

To Lake Agnes and Back via the Moose River

August 12-19, 2008

This was the first trip to the Boundary Waters for both my son and me. I thoroughly enjoyed it and plan to return next year.

The boat

Bell Morningstar (15’6”) in BlackGold, weighing 48 lbs, plus three paddles and a telescoping tarp pole, with a total portage weight of ~52 lbs.  Handled very well with two 170 lb paddlers – maneuverable in rivers and not too slow on open water (average cruising speed of almost 4 mph in light to moderate winds).  Tracked OK when trimmed carefully.

The gear

  • Knudsen Kanu-Pac II (~45 lbs)
  • Cabela’s Boundary Waters dry bag (~42 lbs)
  • Day bag (~20 lbs)
  • (2) small three-legged folding chairs (4 lbs each)
  • Campmor pop-up tent (14 lbs with Cooke 10x12 tarp)
  • Pelican case for the cameras, batteries and lenses.
  • Water filter: Platypus Clean Stream, both convenient and fast.  It must have worked because neither of us got sick.
  • Cameras: Canon 40D with 28-135mm and 70-300mm lenses; Olympus 720SW (waterproof).

Total gear weight: about 130 lbs, including at least 10 lbs of stuff we didn’t need.

The paddles:

  • Sawyer Kai 10 degree bent - 50”: carbon fiber & bamboo, small blade, very lightweight.  The perfect paddle for higher-cadence bow paddling.
  • Grey Owl freestyle - 54”: great for open-water use in the stern.
  • Bending Branches Black Widow Plus - 52”: made of black willow, very light, great for river use in the stern.
This trip was a birthday present for my son, Arnie, who turned 26 a couple of days after we got back.

The food:

Our meals were pretty straightforward:

  • Breakfast – Quaker granola with raisins, sunflower seeds, dry milk, non-dairy creamer and beef jerky.
  • Lunch – bannock and pemmican (shredded beef jerky, black cherry paste, rolled oats, bone marrow, molasses)
  • Dinner – from the dehydrated foods shelf (several varieties), supplemental rice and pilaf (also several varieties), chocolate pudding, and a bit of some fine Spanish sherry.

The trip:

Monday, Aug. 11

Arnie and I collect, assemble, sort, pack, unpack, and repack gear.  Takes us about 8 hours.  My wife Paula fixes a memorable steak dinner.

Tuesday, Aug. 12

Oregon, Wis. to Duluth, Minn. to pick up the permit, then up Hwy 2 to Ely.  Travel time 8:30. 
Overnight at Voyageur North Outfitters.

Wednesday, Aug. 13

Destination: Lake Agnes 8.2 miles with 5 portages of 371 rods (mileages estimated with MapSource, portages per Fisher)   We enter at Moose River North (EP16) in an occasional light rain.

It isn’t really this dark:


Heading off into the Moose River:


Mosquitoes are present, though not swarming, off and on most of the day, maybe because it always seems like either morning or evening.  Takes 2:30 to get to Nina-Moose Lake, where we stop for lunch and filter our first batch of water.  Takes another 3 hours to get to Lake Agnes, where we camp on the point nearest the portage to the Boulder River.  I make note of these times for reference on the way back.  This was the only time we use the tarp, since the weather is dry for the rest of the trip.  When packing up the tent, we forget to include the collapsible pole for the fly.  We make a replacement later from a dead spruce.


There’s an interesting sky developing out of the overcast, which Arnie points out to me:


Thursday, Aug. 14

Destination: Lake Ge-Be-On-E-Quet (Gebe)
6.2 miles with 4 portages of 370 rods.

At the end of our first trip down the 160-rod portage into Oyster Lake we meet a man about 60 years old, shouldering his canoe, who asks us if we’re heading back empty-handed and rather firmly suggests that we might take a couple of his items.  I tell him sure, something that can be hand-carried.  A quick look reveals several very large packs, a 60L food barrel (quite heavy) and a plastic drop-in seat.  Arnie and I look at each other as if to say, “Who made him the trail boss?”  We return empty-handed.

Having gotten off to a late start, we make it only to Green Lake.  It’s a good thing the single campsite there is open.  We’re tired but Arnie is determined not to backtrack to the open site on Rocky Lake, yet too tired to continue into Lake Gebe (via the 120-rod portage).  I discover one of the differences between us, which I will continue to observe throughout the trip: endurance, or the ability to reach down and find the energy to press on (or not).  I note with a smile how like him I was at the same age – so ready to charge ahead at the start.


Friday, Aug. 15

Destination: Lac La Croix, east end of Fish Stake Narrows
9.1 miles with 3 portages of 180 rods.

We awaken to serenity:


On the portage trail from Green Lake to Lake Gebe we spot a really big deer print. "S'pose that was made by a moose? I hear they live in these parts."


The Fisher map shows the portage at the top of Lake Gebe about 100 yards SE of where it actually is. Believing the map, I bushwhack parallel to the shore for about a half hour, trying to intersect the portage trail. There seem to be a lot of little dead-end trails, but we'd met people who had come south through that portage so it doesn't make sense that the portage would be obscure. Finally I remember that the portages have been next to the "rapids" and decide to check it out (the GPS shows the portage in exactly the right spot, but up to now I've assumed the map was right). As we approach the portage we see a couple who have just emerged, ready to shove off on Lake Gebe. duh....


While crashing around in the underbrush looking for the portage trail, I find a section of what I guess is a moose's backbone, then a pelvis. This is the closest we come to large wildlife:


Other wildlife we see on the trip include a friendly chipmunk, a warbler of some sort, a nuthatch, a couple of beaver, an osprey, an eagle, loons and a few gulls.


Gebe Creek Falls:


Lilies on Gebe Creek:


We encounter a moderate headwind on LLC. Arnie tires in the bow, so we trade places. We hadn't yet arranged the packs for proper trim and the boat is a bit stern-light, so I add draw and sweep angles to my forward stroke to help him steer. The Kai paddle's small blade helps me keep up a good cadence of short, quick strokes.

We find the campsites in Fish Stake Narrows occupied so we turn south and get the first site, which is on a small point east of Kelsey Lake and in view of the pictographs on the Canadian side. This campsite is aswarm in mosquitoes, the only one where we have any significant issue with the little vampires. In the early evening I spot a loon slowly swimming around the little bay on the east side of the site. S/he looks around a lot but stays in about the same place without diving.


Finally another loon shows up and they make some fascinating displays, with synchronized head movements and diving. It seems like a date, with the first loon having arrived early.


The moonrise over the Canadian side is awesome:


Saturday, Aug. 16

Destination: Lake Agnes
7.5 miles with 1 portage of 115 rods.

We head out into a picture-perfect day and I capture Arnie at his best:


After taking the requisite pictures of the pictographs on LaCroix we have a nice paddle into Boulder Bay, where Arnie spots the feature that he says must surely be the Bay's namesake:


We stop for lunch and more water, and I get stung by a wasp. I have 6 Epi-pens along and thankfully this is the only time one is needed. After a bit of wooziness and the expected adrenaline rush I'm back to normal.

The 115-rod portage to Lake Agnes - the only one of the day, and a fairly easy one - is tiring, reflecting our depleted condition. Then we discover a stiff headwind. We stop at our first campsite to retrieve the tent pole (we wonder how many BWCA campers encounter someone returning to retrieve a lost item) and continue on to find an open site. After some effort we manage to get around the west-facing point in the upper part of the lake - it's like the Aleutian Peninsula, with rocks extending well into the lake beyond where the land stops, though on a smaller scale. All the sites on the peninsula are occupied except for the one on the north side, which is steep and lumpy, yet a most welcome port of call. The only flat spot is a small area behind an enormous rock, but it turns out to be quite pleasant.


I can't argue with the photo ops:



Sunday, Aug. 17

Destination: Nowhere.

By this point we're tired and in need of rest. I had built 1-2 layover days into the trip, so we decide to stay put for a day. I hang out by the lake and read while Arnie carves some kitchen utensils for his girlfriend, Kelly. I'm disappointed to see a number of trees with assorted axe damage. I suppose no matter where you go, there are those who don't see the bigger picture. I'd like to think our natural systems are resilient enough to absorb their short-sightedness, but I fear they are not. What's the difference between those responsible for slashing trees and those responsible for oil spills? We could discuss such matters, but for the moment I'm more interested in reading about one family's life in the backwoods of Ontario in the 1830s ("Roughing It In the Bush" by Susanna Moodie).


Monday, Aug. 18

Destination: EP16 - back where we started
8.2 miles with 5 portages of 371 rods

We have a very nice day on the way back out.

Here's the Moose River waterfall from a different perspective (it's nice to have a waterproof camera):


Trail's end:


Total 39 miles with 18 portages of 1,407 rods (4.4 miles but with double portaging actually 13.2 miles)

Total distance 48 miles.

Had a great steak dinner at the Ely Steakhouse and spent the night at VNO.


Tuesday, Aug. 19

Destination Oregon (Wis.)
Got home in 8 hours flat, unpacked, and Arnie drove back to Milwaukee.

This was a good first-time BWCA trip. I'd gladly do it again and am already planning next year's trip.


Pictures taken on the water (from in the boat) and on portages are from an Olympus 720SW. Those from land were taken with a Canon 40D with a 28-135mm zoom lens (effective zoom range 45-216 mm due to 1.6 crop factor).



Comments and suggestions welcome. Feel free to e-mail me.
Last updated January 5, 2012
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