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Boundary Waters Gear List

Bell Wildfire (Royalex)

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-cane seat installation
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BWCA - September 2009

Page 5: Days 8-9


Day 8, Sept. 16: Ima Lake to Disappointment Lake

Map (opens in a new window)

Today I'm up at 7:00 and leave at 9:15, maintaining my two-hour packing time. The wind is still from the south at 10-15+ mph with occasional whitecaps. I hope to make it to the south end of Disappointment Lake but in view of the wind I adjust my plan to include an option to camp on Ahsub Lake. However, by noon the sky clears and during the day the wind moderates enough that even on big Disappointment it's no longer a problem. As a bonus, today is pleasantly cooler than the past few days.

It rained pine needles during the night.

Ima Lake tent pad


This is what it looks like as I leave the campsite:

Ima Lake cloudbank


Although I have my GPS handy, I rarely use it on this trip beyond planning the next travel day's route. Today, though, I have to give Garmin credit for finding me - twice. I make the all-too-common mistake of letting confidence in my skills degenerate into complacency, an error that can lead all too easily to disaster. In this case it consists of four common errors, all of which I know full well not to do:
-- failing to orient the map to the direction of travel;
-- not using the compass;
-- not taking all available information into account; and
-- overestimating the distance traveled.

The result is that I make a wrong turn at the west end of Ima Lake, and another one in Jordan Lake. Those little jaunts cost me a good 45 minutes and from then on when I suspect a navigational error I ask Garmin for an opinion. Luckily for my ego I have to consult the GPS only one or two more times.

What's really interesting about this lost-and-found dynamic is the third error: not believing what the eyes see. The mind creates a theory about one's location, and then it becomes blind to contrary information, dismissing or incorrectly interpreting what's otherwise plain as day. Staying flexible - i.e., adapting one's thoughts to reality- is easier said than done.

Once I get out of Jordan Lake the chances of getting lost become pretty slim. Even so, I've been warned that Jitterbug Lake has a lot of reeds and is hard to navigate, and when I get there I place the compass next to the GPS on the pack in front of me. I see the compass needle pointing 45 degrees away from the GPS heading and wrongly conclude that I'm in the middle of a huge aberration in the earth's magnetic field. I learn later that the error is caused by the compass's close proximity to the GPS, and by moving them a foot apart the two readings coincide. They never taught me about that in orienteering class back in the 70s.

Jitterbug turns out to be an easy lake to follow, with a little boulevard leading to the portage landing. It has quite a fine little dock.

Portage Jitterbug to Ahsub


The other end of this portage leads to the Ahsub Mud Flats. The water looks only a few inches deep, but when I put I try to touch the bottom with my paddle I find only loose silt at least two feet deep. Along this stretch I see a lone - or rather, Solitary - sandpiper skittering about pursuing its own livelihood.

Ahsub mud flats


Disappointment Lake greets me with the portage landing at the north end. It is so full of sharp rocks, and so narrow, that there's nowhere to put the boat on land except crossways on top of the rocks, which blocks the entire landing. Left in the water, tethered to shore, it would have been bashed on the rocks by the south wind. The best bet on this portage is to bring the boat across last.

Because of Frank's comment about bear activity in the northern part of the lake, I've shifted my target to the island campsite in the south. For some reason, when I spot it I feel a strong sense of welcome, as though I've come home. With today's moderate breeze it takes several attempts to find a safe place to land. When I get unloaded and take in my surroundings I feel as though I'm finally, truly, after eight days, where I belong.

Disappointment Lake campsite


Some notes on cooking:

I mentioned earlier that I left the Coleman stove behind. Other than making bannock, the only reason I need heat is for hot water to rehydrate my dinners. For that I use an Esbit stove, pictured below. The stove, fuel tablets and heat shield all fit in my small cooking pot. Each fuel tablet is good for two dinners that need 10-12 ounces of boiling water. This little device has seen a lot of use (it's marked "W. Germany" on the bottom, which dates it to before 1990).

Esbit stove folded Esbit stove in hand

Esbit stove unfolded Esbit stove aflame

Esbit stove with pot


Yet another sunset.

Disappointment Lake sunset


Today's statistics:

Distance 8 miles (longer than planned, thanks to navigational errors)
Total time 5 hours
Paddling time 2:45
Portaging time 2:15

Six portages of 148 rods (all triple carries):
1. Ima Lake to Jordan Lake: 5 rods, 20 minutes
2. Jordan Lake to Cattyman Lake: 58 rods, 30 minutes
3. Cattyman Lake to Adventure Lake: 5 rods, 15 minutes
4. Adventure Lake to Jitterbug Lake: 40 rods, 30 minutes
5. Jitterbug Lake to Ahsub Lake: 15 rods, 20 minutes
6. Ahsub Lake to Disappointment Lake: 25 rods, 20 minutes

Tomorrow: Rest


Day 9, Sept. 17: Disappointment Lake

Every day in the Boundary Waters is good, but today is perfect: a light breeze, just enough sun for warmth, and a feeling of truly being home. I finish my book, make more blueberry bannock, do the usual daily yoga, and enjoy the sunset without taking pictures.

I accomplish nothing, and not a moment is wasted.

My original plan - and the main focus of this trip - was to hike the Disappointment Mountain and Benezie Loop segments of the PowWow Trail. Having settled into just being here I have no desire to return to the "doing" mode that marked (and marred) the first few days of the trip. If I could do it over I'd have spent only two, or maybe just one, night on Lake Three and saved the time for the trails in this area. As it is, nothing is lost, and I've gained an appreciation of letting go in order to be present with what's at hand. So the day is spent happily and without the need for goals or success.

Today I see a couple of really dumb things:

  • In the undergrowth just outside the campsite clearing there are several large fish skins, some eggshells, and a lot of corn husks. Did the slobs think their island was safe because bears don't swim? (And would they be right?)

  • In the late afternoon a tandem canoe approaches the island and the stern paddler (apparently the father, with his 20-ish son in the bow) asks if he could see my map. They're on a day trip but have forgotten their map and are lost, which in itself doesn't seem so dumb, or is maybe just average dumb. But they don't know which campsite they're at. That's dumb. All they know is that it faces east and looks out on open water. This information narrows the possibilities to the site on the west side of the upper part of the lake. The coup de stupidité is the father's refusal to take my spare map. But I finally prevail upon him, and as they paddle away I shake my head, wondering if they just aren't visual thinkers, or if something serious is happening in the human gene pool.

One year ago today my right shoulder was separated in a motorcycle accident. Now it's paddling and portaging, stronger even than the left side, though not as stable. I could not have known, nor would I have believed, that I could be this strong and active again. Yet one more thing to be grateful for.

What's so great about this campsite? For one, the view.

Disappointment Lake view


This site is the best of the trip, despite being a bit hilly and with very limited access. But it feels very spacious with mostly open forest and a stony beach that goes almost all the way around the island. This makes it easy to take in the great view from just about any direction. Like the other sites, it has only one level tent pad, but unlike them it has two others that are flat enough for sleeping. Overall I'd rate it a 4, with a bump to 4.5 for sheer livability. On the down side, there are several dead pines around the site, which would make me a bit nervous in a windstorm.

Disappointment Lake campsite 1


Disappointment Lake campsite 2


Rather than haul the boat up the rocks I put a couple of logs under it and tied it to an exposed root.

Disappointment Lake campsite boat storage


The only thing that saves the access is a small rock shelf. This was hard to work with by myself in the wind, but easy in calm water. Other than being hard to find, it shouldn't present a problem for a tandem team in most conditions.

Disappointment Lake campsite landing


Tonight is my last night in the BWCA. Although I have enough food to stay another day I decide to stick with the plan and leave in the morning. I suppose it's a matter of internal momentum, since I thoroughly enjoy this campsite and I'm reluctant to re-enter the civilized world. I go to bed with a little regret that it took several days to get into the flow of the trip, but with a much greater feeling of satisfaction for having done it.


Tomorrow: Snowbank Lake and on to Madeline Island


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Last updated October 20, 2009
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