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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

Exploring Lakes One, Two and Three

May 19-24, 2009

The plan for this trip is to enter at Lake One (EP30), travel through Rifle, Bridge and Fire Lakes, ending up in Lake Insula.  The return route is to stop at North Wilder Lake for three days and hike the Powwow Trail before coming out through Horseshoe and Lakes Three, Two and One.  After that, I plan to paddle the Bois Brule River and possibly the Flambeau River before going home.  We shall see that things don’t turn out quite this way.

The boat

Wenonah Prism (16’6”, Kevlar 49 “alloy”) with portage yoke, totaling 50 lbs.

The gear

  • Paddles: Sawyer Kai 10 degree bent (primary); Grey Owl freestyle (backup).
  • Packs: NRS frameless pack (with tent, 18 lbs.) and Knudsen Kanu-Pac II (everything else, 55-60 lbs.)
  • Campmor pop-up tent and Cooke 10x12 tarp
  • Water filter: Platypus CleanStream
  • Camera: Olympus 720SW (waterproof)

Total gear weight ~ 75 lbs., including eight days’ worth of food.

The food

My meals are pretty straightforward:

  • Breakfast:  Quaker granola with raisins, sunflower seeds, dry milk, and non-dairy creamer.
  • Lunch:  Bannock and pemmican (shredded beef jerky, dried cranberries and blueberries, rolled oats, bone marrow, and brown sugar).
  • Snacks: High-protein chocolate granola bars (South Beach Diet) and beef tenderloin jerky.
  • Dinner:  From the dehydrated foods shelf (several varieties).

The body

I suffered a separated right shoulder last fall and my biggest concern on this trip was how it would handle the work of paddling and portaging.  As it turns out, thanks to a winter’s worth of physical therapy my upper body is fine.  My hip flexor, gluteus medius, and external oblique muscles, on the other hand, have much to say about their sudden introduction to exercise.

The map

Can be found here (opens in a new window).

Total length: 27 miles and 10 portages totaling 255 rods (plus a 2-rod portage in the southern part of Lake Three).

The trip

Tuesday, May 19

Travel from Oregon, Wis. to Ely (475 miles).  Enjoy dinner, fine conversation and very comfortable accommodations Chez Monthei.  Many thanks to Wilderness Mama and Papa for their invitation and engaging hospitality.  It was a pleasure to meet and spend some time with them and their other guests, Cossack and Vale Heath.


Wednesday, May 20

As we’re getting ready to leave, someone mentions that it’s already getting windy and wishes me luck; I have a vague foreboding that this will later become a significant issue.  We take pictures of the moment, the one below showing Wilderness Papa (holding Jock), Cossack, Wilderness Mama and Vale Heath.  I think they’re wishing me well as I head out for the trip.  Maybe they’re amused at my innocent confidence.  Their looks seem to say: “Been there, done that, glad it’s not me” (Wilderness Papa); “He doesn’t realize what he’s getting into” (Cossack); “Boys will be boys” (Wilderness Mama); “This doesn’t look good” (Vale Heath); and “Scratch me behind the ears” (Jock) - but of course this is all conjecture.


I enter Lake One at Kawishiwi Lodge at about 11:00 a.m., making a mistake I would make twice more: leaving too late in the day.


My transportation for the next several days:


The first portage, leading from Lake One to the pond before Lake Two:


The rapids would be inviting in a whitewater boat:


The end of the portage, heading into the pond:


The portage from the pond to Lake Two bypasses another impressive rapid, guarded by a creature from the Black Lagoon:


I set out this morning into a S-SW wind blowing at 15-20 mph, and somewhere in the middle of Lake One I hear someone say it's 22-28 mph.  In channels and around the edges of islands I’d say it’s more like 30-35 mph.

By the time I reach the middle of Lake Two I’m tired enough to scrap the plan to portage into Rifle Lake.  I decide to continue into Lake Three and take the first site that becomes available, though in hindsight it appears I take the worse of the two options.  I finally reach the first campsite in Lake Three after 2-1/2 hours of mostly hard paddling into this headwind.  Although Lakes One and Two have a lot of open campsites, it doesn’t occur to me to take one until I’m pretty beat and have already changed my route plan.  The channel leading into Lake Three is a wind tunnel, with the tops blowing off the foot-high waves.  It takes everything I have to make it around the point and reach the campsite’s landing.


The landing has a nice grassy area where I can pull the boat up while still loaded.


The wet area on the shoreline reveals more about the wind than the current wave conditions do:



I haven’t quite finished the lunch my wife had packed for me the day before.  An apple never tasted so good in my tired, dehydrated and hungry state.  I am grateful beyond measure and it seems only right to honor it, and her.


There’s no shelter from the wind except in the tent, so I rig the canoe as a windbreak for cooking.


By 7:00 p.m. things have finally settled down.



Just a few hours earlier I had struggled up this channel, a wind tunnel full of waves and froth.


I’d heard that gray jays were bold, but I’m still surprised to see one come within eight feet of me.  A few more come by to visit, but none as confident as this one:


Today’s caloric intake includes:

  • Granola - 700
  • Apple – 100
  • Chocolate granola bar – 140
  • Small piece of pemmican – 100?
  • Wild rice pilaf with chicken – 500?

Total ~ 1,500-1,600 calories

Thanks to daily doses of bannock, I take in more during the rest of the trip, but when I get back home I find I’ve lost about 3 pounds, which leaves me with only about 8 to go.  I’ll probably eat them back in a week.

To round out the day’s weather there are thunderstorms most of the night. Thanks to the sloped site and the plastic liner inside the tent, everything stays dry.


Thursday, May 21

This morning is bright and clear, and I take my time getting up and packed.  I’ll pay for it later thanks to a N-NW wind at 10-20 mph.

As I paddle away from the campsite I take a shot to reveal a more complete view of it.  I would gladly stay there again.


The next portage is from Lake Four to the pond leading to Fire Lake.  This is the beginning …


… and this is the end:


It’s a very short paddle to the portage leading to Fire Lake:


The next portage goes from Fire Lake to Hudson Lake, beginning here …


… and ending here:


Immediately after this portage I stop for a 20-minute lunch break at the first campsite at the north end of Hudson Lake, which is on the left bank a few hundred yards from the portage out of Fire Lake.  There is room for only one tent, and the ground is a moonscape; it looks like someone walked around in the mud, and then the mud dried.  I’m glad it’s only 2:30 p.m. and I’m not desperate to find a place to spend the night.

Coming down the north arm of Hudson Lake I enjoy a rare tailwind.  The GPS tells me that in 27 minutes of mixed paddling and resting I average 3.3 mph, with a maximum speed of 4.9 mph.  I later find that with no wind at all and steady paddling I average over 3.5 mph.  The Prism is true to its reputation as having excellent glide.

Instead of heading into Lake Insula as planned, I turn west into Hudson in order to get to my destination on North Wilder Lake sooner.  After passing by a few occupied campsites and a few more that look marginal, I stop at the one just before the stream leading to North Wilder.  It’s a nice site with several flat tent pads and the kitchen area has a great spot for a long red table.  The wind drowns out the sound of the rapids ¾ of a mile to the west, a voice that speaks to me long after the air is still. I pass through this area in September and the rapids is a mere trickle.


Friday, May 22

Once again I get a late start.  Instead of heading south into North Wilder I decide to avoid the portages in that area and access the Powwow Trail where it crosses the portage from Lake Three to Horseshoe.  So I target the south end of Lake Three, thinking that a campsite will be available there later, just as there have been many open sites during the trip so far.  This proves to be a fateful decision (insert theme to “Jaws”).  But for now, back to the route.

There are two small islands at the west end of Hudson Lake that are part of a river-wide ledge and form three separate drops (the rapids that sang to me all night).  I scout the opening closest to the portage and think for a moment I can run it.  When I look at it from downstream I see that it’s a complex, 2-3 foot drop that would surely swamp my loaded touring boat.  Here’s the view that convinces me with the route I thought of running at far left:


I don’t get pictures of the next two portages, but the second one – between the narrow west end of Hudson Lake and the pond where Lake Four begins - is memorable.  Both my map and someone else’s indicate it’s 25 rods, but it’s at least twice as long as that, maybe three times. (In September my GPS measures it at 52 rods.)   It’s a rutty, rooty, rocky, and muddy – though relatively level - ankle-twister, and I’m glad to be wearing my knee-high snake boots because they save me from several sprains.  But somehow I pull a muscle in my right calf while schlepping my big pack, and the rest of my foot travel is done very carefully.

The east side of Lake Three is occupied.  The campsite across from the Lake Three-Horseshoe portage is supposed to be a good one, but it's populated by a group of twenty-something males who are flying a large skull-and-crossbones flag and engaging in loud and spirited conversation. This almost makes me glad none of the nearby sites is open.

At this point any reasonable person would have portaged 20 rods into Horseshoe Lake and probably had a choice among the three or four campsites there. But no, I have to make this "The Learning Experience Trip." So I head back up Lake Three in the hope of falling upon a five-star campsite in the next 15 minutes. I check out each of the two sites at the south end, which are both open, and pass them by (no level tent pads and just plain ugly). The two sites to the north of them are both occupied. I also pass on the site just east of where I spent the first night.  Despite a growing anxiety about finding a workable campsite, I’m glad to see others enjoying themselves. I turn northeast in my continuing search for a miracle.

After five hours of steady paddling I finally land in the bay on the north side of the lake.  The western site turns turns out to be quite level and a good place for a rest day.  There are multiple level tent pads and nice southern exposure.  Here’s what it looks like after the food bag is hung:


After three tough days I’m tired and dehydrated. On the positive side, there have been very few mosquitoes, and the ones I do encounter must be cold because they move slowly.


Saturday, May 23

This is a rest day and I quietly celebrate my oldest sister turning 57. Happy birthday, Julie!

It’s a beautiful day with temperatures in the mid-60s.  Recalling the purpose of the trip, I’m happy to spend it contemplatively.  I’ve been “doing” for four days straight and it takes me a while to find my breath.  I listen to a few dharma talks on the MP3 player, read some of Thich Nhat Hanh’s book “Teachings on Love,” and enjoy some stories by Barbara Kingsolver.  Plus there’s more stretching and massage for my leg, and a few sessions of yoga for the other muscles.  I return over and over to simply being present and discover yet again that although it’s a simple thing, it’s not so easy.  Yet with each return to the moment there’s a sense of letting go, and in the letting go a discovery of something fresh, like lifting your head from a meaningless task and enjoying the breeze in your hair.

The site doesn’t offer too many photo ops and I don’t have my good camera along, but I manage to get a few:


One shot had decent composition but a lot of noise, so I turned it into something impressionistic:


Despite stretching and massage, I’m still limping due to the calf muscle I injured yesterday.  I begin a lengthy debate about whether to pursue the Powwow Trail hike or to pack up in the morning and head home.  My trip plan calls for some river paddling in northern Wisconsin on Monday and Tuesday, but the forecast is for thunderstorms then.  I argue with myself about whether I’ll be able to hike and if it’s better to travel during nice weather or rain.  I don’t know who won the argument, but I decide to pack up in the morning and go home.  I leave the hiking for when my leg’s healed, and the rivers for better weather.

Tonight there are thunderstorms and 10-20 mph winds from the south, but it clears around midnight.


Sun., May 24

The next morning I awake to a wonderful fog – though this time it’s outside of my head.






At length the fog burns away and I head out, leaving only ripples and memories:



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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