Having just returned from north of Ely, Minnesota this past week, I’ve been reflecting on our incredible experience in the Boundary Waters.
I left the Twin Cities with a palpable excitement since I would be returning to the river and lakes of my very first wilderness canoe adventure of 1973. My excitement grew as Tom and I arrived at Echo Trail Outfitters, our overnight stop before getting on trail the next morning. There we found our hosts, Robin and Scott, and our fellow adventurers, Chris and Pat, enjoying the beautiful evening and finishing up their BBQ dinner.
Little did we know what awaited us in the morning…Snow and sub-freezing temps!!! Our enthusiasm was dampened a bit, but when we arrived at the Moose River entry point memories of my first trip flooded over me. By the time we completed the 160 rod “warm up” portage to the landing on the river, I was fully into the trip and my enthusiasm and excitement returned.
Traversing the Moose River in the cold, blowing wind and snow flurries with hardly any trees budding made me think we were in late October rather than mid-May.
Lunch was spent next to cascades on the portage just north of Nina Moose Lake.
As we left the Moose River into Agnes Lake the weather started to clear and the wind began to ebb. We decided to look for a campsite there rather than portaging into Boulder Creek and Lac La Croix. The rest of the evening was absolutely gorgeous as we transition from winter to spring. Beer boiled shrimp was the bill o’ fare (oops, I forgot the butter dunking sauce). As the sun set, the temperature dropped significantly and we endured a very chilly night again.
Our sheltered campsite gave hints of wind as we awoke, but the sun was shining and it warmed nicely as we ate breakfast and contemplated our route out of Agnes Lake. As we left our campsite we didn’t realize how strong the wind was from the east. Turning the corner around the point and heading toward the portage to the Oyster River the sudden wind and waves created a level of anxiety that I wasn’t too comfortable with. Kneeling on the deck of the canoe made me more stable, both physically and mentally. My memories of last year kept the anxiety a bit higher than was warranted by the conditions, but the water was really cold!!!
The Oyster River meanders through a beautiful wetland as it flows from Oyster Lake into the Moose River. We headed upstream to the portage into Oyster Lake and found a serene stream cascading from the lake into the river. The wind was building as we had lunch on the lake side of the portage, so we elected to look for a site on the lake. Luckily we found one quickly on the opposite, but windward side of the lake on a narrow isthmus of lake between the main lake and the north bay. Fortunately, the leeward side of the isthmus was sheltered and we were able to set up our site without any problems.
The sky clouded up and started to rain, so we rushed about setting up a couple of tarps to cover the eating area and to stow some of our gear. That configuration worked well for about an hour until the wind suddenly shifted almost 180 degrees and started blowing the rain under the tarps. The sudden wind shift also brought a chill to the air and we knew that we were in for a cold, windy, and, potentially wet night.
Well, a wet night in a freezing sort of way…the wind blew hard all night and we could hear the snow pelting the tent, too. We awoke to a fresh blanket of snow on the ground and tent. I was too cozy in my sleeping bag to get up right away, but eventually arose and did a little photography. Winter photography. The weather eventually cleared and the wind settled a bit, but not before a mid-morning nap and reading of the book I brought for just this situation. We decided to stay the rest of the trip at this campsite.
Sunday morning brought a beautiful day and the opportunity to do a day trip through Rocky and Green Lakes to Ge-Be-on-Equat Lake. This had been our intended destination, but with all the wind it was just as well. On the north end of this gorgeous lake is the headwaters of a small stream, Ge-Be-on-Equat Creek. The cascades, ferns, and the pine/cedar tree canopy reminded me so much of the Trail of the Cedars and Avalanche Gorge albeit on a less grand scale.
After an all to short time to shoot photos, we headed back to our camp. Of course, the wind began to build as we launched from the portage into Green Lake. It was a long trip back and it didn’t help that I was dehydrated. Too many pictures and not enough water. Dinner and fluids and a beautiful sunset brought a lovely day to an end. And, it was actually almost too warm in the tent that night.
Windbound again…The next morning began with continued clearing and wind again. Lounging around the camp and watching other canoeists braving the choppy water. Tom and I eventually spent a couple of hours trolling the waters of the main part of the lake after the wind changed direction to the NNW. No luck fishing, but when we returned Chris pointed out a rock and tree scene that had caught his eye. Using the techniques I learned from one of Doug Johnson’s assignments at the Glacier workshop, I explored the scene from multiple angles and ideas.
Tuesday morning we set off for home. We explored the rest of Oyster Creek downstream from the portage into Agnes Lake. It meanders through beautiful sections of wetland and over a few beaver dams before it enters the Moose River. We lunched at the same portage on our first day. A shoot at the upper portion of the cascades was interrupted by a rain storm.
As I portaged our canoe the half mile off the Moose River to the parking lot, I was dealing with mixed emotions. I was so sorry to leave, but filled with joy from the memories of the week. A reawakening after a long, depressing winter.
Thanks to Chris, Pat, and Tom from inviting along for a wonderful trip.