Well, I finally did it. I’ve been wanting to take a Boundary Waters trip since 2011 when I went along with a scout troop. That trip was fun, but I wanted to go on a trip without all the teenage goofiness.
This year I was determined. I was going to go, even if it was a solo trip. Fortunately I ended up getting to go with some good friends. My wife (Caroline) and 8 year old son (Ryan) came, my brother-in-law Spencer, a friend from Church (Ricky), and some friends from school (Jie and Yuanyuan). So there were 7 of us all together.
Our planned trip was June 9 – 14 (6 days) We ended up coming back a day early due to weather and gear malfunctions. More on that later!
Our actual route: Enter at entry point 24, Fall Lake. Went up Pipestone, up Basswood lake, down Basswood river, up Horse River, across Horse Lake, across Tin Can Mike lake, Sandpit lake and exited at Mudro.
We had planned on portaging from Sandpit back to Jackfish and then down to Fall Lake where we put in, but the aforementioned issues led us to alter our route.
We self-outfitted, including planning all our own meals. You can see our meal list here.
We made a whole lot of jerkey. 3 large rump roasts worth. The butcher sliced it thin for me so I didn’t even have to do that part. We made maple, BBQ, lemon-pepper and spicy. They all turned out really well, but BBQ was the favorite.
We borrowed 3 canoes from friends, and I made home-made canoe racks from scrap lumber to carry them. This one fits two canoes and is wrapped in an old yoga mat that someone left in my garage for the last year. If that someone needs it replaced, let me know. The other rack was similar, but fit just one canoe on our van.
Here’s all our food. We ate very very well. Each person was responsible for carrying their own snack bag which they could eat whenever they wanted. The meals were divided up between people’s packs.
I made my annual fishing gear purchasing trip right before we left.
We treated our clothes with permethrin to keep ticks and mosquitoes at bay. We didn’t see a single tick, and I only got two mosquito bites so I think it probably worked.
Off We Go!
Here’s Ryan, Caroline an I about to start on our trip! Ryan is 8. I told him he could come with if he learned to swim, which he did.
On our first day we traveled about 12 miles. We had two short portages and lots of paddling. We went across Fall Lake, up to Pipestone bay and then up to a camp site on Basswood lake. We got into Basswood at about 4pm and the site we were hoping for was taken. We had a slightly discouraging time finding a site in the rain but ended up getting a place to set up camp. A very very muddy place. Still, we kept warm, ate steak, got some sleep and made plans for the next day.
Day 2 started with a very short canoe ride followed by our longest portage. It is marked as 361 rods, which is 1.1 miles. We double-portaged, which means we took 2 trips. So we walked 3.3 miles (2.2 with gear, 1.1 going back).
Between that portage, two smaller portages and a bunch of paddling we only traveled 6 miles total.
Here we are resting and planning after the long portage. We decided to sacrifice a rest day (we had planned on 2 rest days) in order to have two shorter travel days.
After paddling downstream for a bit we got to an island with rapids on either side of it. The larger rapids is named wheelbarrow falls. I’m not sure that the smaller rapids has a name. We portaged the smaller rapids because the larger rapids portage is in Canada and we weren’t sure how that would work with our Chinese friends’ visas.
This portage was lots of fun. Ankle to knee deep water for much of the trail. Here’s Caroline getting ready to carry her stuff down the portage.
Here’s a video of me carrying the canoe along the portage.
We found a nice campsite right before the mouth of the Horse river. There was a nice big rock which we fished and swam off of.
Ryan caught a clam. It actually had his rubber worm inside it. He also caught a pike but it flipped off at the last minute and bounced down the rock back into the river.
Ryan with his favorite rubber fish. It’s a good lure.
Spencer had less luck. Sorry Spencer.
Here’s Ryan jumping into the river.
Jie and Yuanyuan paddling by some rapids on the Horse River.
There were 3 small portages around rapids, and three smaller rapids without portages. People going downstream could just ride through these smaller rapids, and we tried hard to paddle up them. Two of our three canoes made it up the first two rapids, One canoe needed a push to get up them.
Since the water was warm I just jumped in and pushed them.
On the third smaller rapid, no one could make it up by paddle power. We used a rope and I got upstream to pull people up it while they steered and paddled.
The campsite our friend Andy had told us about on Horse Lake was taken, but we found a suitable replacement site near by. There was a large camping area of grass and dandelions where we set up camp. The trail up to the latrines was a field of wild roses and goldenrod all in bloom. It was the prettiest walk to the toilet I’ve ever seen. There was also an abundance of reasonably burnable wood.
Here’s Ricky eating some trail mix by the canoe landing.
Caroline and I hanging out at the camp site.
We got some light rains so we set up the tarp. The rope it was hung over sagged, so we lashed two paddles together to make it taller. I mostly got the lashings right, but here Spencer is re-teaching me some of the finer points I had forgotten.
We managed to get some fishing in before it got too late. Here’s my 3lb, 19 inch walleye and Ryan’s nice little bass.
We made tempura battered walleye and bass and it was delicious. We later went back and caught some sunfish and more bass so we could use up the rest of the batter.
Here’s Ricky with his little bass.
And Jie with the first fish he ever caught! Nice work Jie!
That night it rained pretty well and both our tent and Ricky’s tent started leaking. We moved the tents under the tarp and made it through the night just fine.
Day 4 was a rest day. Sort of. It started out that way!
Caroline was washing Ryan’s face with a wet-wipe and bumped his loose tooth. It finally fell out into his grubby little hands. Nice work Ryan!
Ryan spent some time “peeling sticks”. He likes to use his pocket knife to peel the bark off in different patterns.
Ryan took some time to teach Yuanyuan how to peel sticks with a knife.
By this point Caroline’s hair was looking pretty awesome. Does it remind you of a certain evil someone?
Ryan caught a nice big sunfish. Spencer made up for his previous poor fishing record by catching 4 fish in 4 casts right before Ryan caught this one. After those 4 casts the fishing dried up again.
Caroline and Yuanyuan share some hot chocolate.
About 3 or so in the afternoon several of us were out on the lake fishing. Very quickly the weather turned and it started to rain. After about 15 minutes of light drizzle the wind picked up. It was a bit hard to get back to camp. Fortunately we were all in or near the bay and not out on the main part of the lake.
A troop of scouts out on Basswood actually capsized and had to be flown out.
The wind was gusty, 10-20 mph with gusts up to 30 mpg — at least that’s what the weather forecast said. About this time our tarp collapsed from the wind and rain and crushed our tent, snapping the poles. The tent was a Walmart tent Caroline and I bought 10 years ago, so it’s not really a surprise that it broke, just bad timing.
Between our broken poles, the wind and Ricky’s leaky tent we decided to relocate from the open grassy area down to the side of a little hill. We set up a sort of tarp lean-to and moved all the gear inside.
Little did we know that our tarp (about 5 years old, also from Walmart) was leaky too. The rain was so heavy that the little leaks added up quickly to puddles. Our sleeping bags got soaked and the temperatures dropped. We had Ryan sleep in with Jie and Yuanyuan who were using our friend Andy’s good tent. Ryan had a GREAT time playing telephone and other games with them. If they hadn’t been there Ryan would’ve been a sad miserable little fellow hanging out with us in our wet cold situation.
The rest of us did our best to stay warm and dry. Spencer managed to find a dryish spot within the tarp. Ricky set up his tent once the rain stopped around midnight and snuggled a water-bottle filled with near boiling water.
Caroline and I turned a canoe sideways and made a lean-to with some other tarps and our tent’s rain fly. I stayed up most of the night trying to get my clothes to dry and keeping the fire going.
It was easily my least comfortable night camping ever. I don’t know what the actual temperatures were, but the forecast said it was going to be in the high 30s to low 40s. With wet gear it was just plain uncomfortable and bordering dangerous. The fire didn’t project much heat since our wood was all damp and a little punky. What ended up working OK was to heat our gallon camp pot up to boiling temps and then snuggle it.
I managed to burn holes in my wool socks, 1 t-shirt and 1-long sleeve shirt, as well as adding small burning ash holes to my rain gear as I tried to get things dry.
The weather forecasts on the morning of day 5 said that after midnight there would be more storms and rain. At this point almost everyone’s clothes were all wet, we were down a tent and our tarp was leaky. We decided to call it a trip and cut things short a day. The weather was beautiful the whole time we were traveling and it only started to get cloudy after we were on the road back home.
The closest entry point was Mudro, which is not where our vehicles were at. We decided to get to Mudro and try to bum a ride. Fortunately it worked.
Here’s Caroline with a full load of gear on a portage.
Tin Can Mike lake was the first lake after Horse. It was absolutely beautiful with all sorts of rocky formations. I think I’d like to make that my next destination.
The portage from Tin Can Mike to Sandpit lake had this little waterfall. I tried to get Ryan to drink from it, but he was unimpressed. “NO! THERE’S DIRT”.
We squeezed in a bit of last minute fishing along the way. Nothing was biting though.
We made it to Mudro and I got a ride back to Fall Lake to pick up a vehicle. After some shuttling around we finally got back to Ely by about 4, ate a nice dinner at Subway and headed back to Minneapolis. We arrived safely home at about 11 PM and slept very very well.
Final Advice From Ryan
Finally, Ryan has some advice for all of you who are considering a trip to the Boundary Waters.