Day 1, Saturday, August 15
Excited to get up North, we got up early and were on the road by 5:45 am and drove to Northern Minnesota with stops only for gas and restroom breaks until stopping in Silver Bay for lunch at the Northwoods Family Grill where I got a pretty delicious half rack of ribs, fries and a salad. Amber got pancakes smothered in berry sauce and whipped cream with a piece of bacon, and Lorraine got a burger she declared "alright" with "cold fries."
After lunch, we headed to Sawtooth Outfitters to pick up our permit and a 17 ft Wenonah Boundary Waters canoe. The process at the outfitter went smoother and quicker than expected. The only surprise was that they talked me out of renting a carbon fiber bent shaft paddle. I've been coveted some of these and thought I would rent one to decide if I should buy my own, but I guess it will have to wait until another day...
After picking up the canoe, we headed up the Sawbill Trail hoping to get a site at the Kawishiwi Lake Campground. After a slow, bumpy trek, we arrived at the campground around 3:30 pm to see the first site available, so we grabbed it without checking for any better options, and it turns out that it was the only open site. About half and hour later, someone showed up looking for a site, so we likely lucked out during a narrow window. The site was small but nice with a lakefront "beach." Amber wanted to fish, so we filled out a day permit and paddled around Kawishiwi with a line in the water for about a half hour. we paddled near some loons that had no qualms with us, and they gave a nice display, but of course I didn't have the camera with us. I was really tired, so we went to bed around 8:00 without a fire.
Day 2, Sunday, August 16
|Paddling Kawishiwi River|
|Burn area from 2011 Pagami Creek fire|
|Bear on Polly!|
|Sunset on Polly Lake|
Day 3, Monday, August 17
|One of several beaver dams|
|Rapids at Malber to Koma portage|
|Amber Lake beach site|
|Amber Lake sunset|
Day 4, Tuesday, August 18
I was ready to sleep in again and got up shortly after 8:00 when Lorraine came back to the tent to warm up on a cool morning. We had pancakes (with peanut butter and jelly or nutella) and bacon for breakfast. I journaled and charged the batteries while Amber played along the shoreline.
|Petroglyph on Fishdance Lake|
Day 5, Wednesday, August 19
After coaxing a back rub from my wife, I finally got out of the tent to a wet, windy morning. All of our important gear stayed dry in the dry bags, and the tarp held through the night. A little water seeped through the tent, but we decided to use a liner (aka an "innie") in the tent, keeping the small amount of water between the innie and the tent floor. Amber slept until after 10:00, which was fine because it was pretty chilly and wet, and it was the first time of the trip that I felt cold. Not wanting to take out my last dry layers, I just put on my rain gear and socks. I warmed up and entertained myself by walking around taking pictures and videos of a woodpecker and playing truth or day with Amber. Since there's no video, you can't prove I did the chicken dance ;).
We hung out the rest of the day at the site enjoying Amber Lake to ourselves. For lunch we had bean dish, which contains a variety of beans, ground beef, bacon, brown sugar and other delicious flavorings. The cool wind and rain continued, so I made a fire. Despite everything being wet, I was able to saw and split some logs to get dry kindling. It was also a good learning experience for my daughter who now knows where to find dry wood even after days of rain. After a couple hours, I became frustrated with the weather and decided to retreat to the tent. My family soon followed, but I think I was the only one who actually managed a nap. I got up in time for a spaghetti dinner and more cold rain. We were all ready for bed early that night again because of the unpleasant weather.
Day 6, Thursday, August 20
The plan was to wake up early and get back toward the entry point, but the weather was miserable with steady winds, rain and temps in the high 40s or low 50s. It was definitely outside our comfort zone for paddling with a 7 year old. So, despite having packed up my sleeping bag and pad, I retreated to the tent after a couple of cold hours in the blowing rain. The weather was forecast for a partly sunny afternoon, so we prepared for a late start, keeping a close eye on the conditions.
Despite Lorraine not liking to paddle in the late afternoon, we postponed our exit until 1 pm, which turned out to be a good window for tolerable weather. We still encountered a few whitecaps and showers, compared to the last couple days, it was a big relief. Our main concern was whether we could find a campsite late in the day. We decided that if either of the two sites near the exit of Koma were open we'd take one, but they were taken, so we pushed on to Polly. We had not seen anyone on the move all day, so the stress of finding an open site continued to build. It was after 5:00 when we were making the portages between Koma and Polly, so I started thinking about where we might be able to stealth camp as a last resort. We finally encountered a group heading toward Malberg who said the southern island site on Polly was open. We really kicked it into high gear to race to the site and found it open around 6 pm but not before getting stuck on a rock shelf just northwest of the site. I ended up climbing out of the boat to push off after several attempts to free ourselves. It's weird to get out of the canoe in the middle of a lake, but it did the trick and we were able to push off.
The island site is really nice and big with several tent pads and nearly unlimited opportunities to hang hammocks. The biggest problem with the site is that it's infested with mice, but they didn't damage any of our gear as we had feared. Amber did have a mouse run up her leg and freaked out, although her reaction was less sever than I would have expected. It didn't even send her running for the tent. We wished for more time at this site, so we decided to delay our start out until late the next morning, which would also allow some of our gear to dry. We had Knorr buttery noodles with foil-package tuna for a late supper. We then enjoyed the moon and stars until we were ready to crash.
Day 7, Friday, August 21
I woke up to nicer weather than I'd seen in days and looked forward to dry gear and pleasant traveling. By the time we ate a late breakfast of hash browns and bacon and got packed up with was about 11 am. What we expected to be a 4 hour trip (as it was on the way in) turned out to take nearly 6 hours due to the crowds and persistent winds out of the south. We spent a quite of bit of time waiting for groups to pass us or for them to load and unload at portages. The difference in the crowds between our entry on Sunday and exit on Friday were night and day. We did have some nice conversation with a family of four from Oshkosh. We talked gear, boats, local trips, etc. It was nice to encounter another family with similar interests, and I hope we run into them again, possibly at Canoecopia. Our plan was to stay our last night on Kawishiwi Lake for a quick paddle out on Saturday, but it was full, so we headed to Sawbill to stay at the campground. We managed to get the last open site at the campground. We showered, grabbed some snacks and ate dinner before crashing.
Day 8, Saturday, August 22
Saturday morning we packed up and headed home after a quick stop to return the canoe at Sawtooth Outfitters and grab breakfast at a little bakery. The reality of an ending to our vacation set in. The drive home was uneventful, and we got home in time to wash and air out our gear.
I really enjoy going into the back country and don't mind encountering people, but the crowds on some days were a bit overwhelming. Full lakes and bad weather make for dicey travel decisions. Obviously, the further we got from the entry point, the fewer people we saw. We had Amber Lake to ourselves for three days, and despite the weather, we probably enjoyed that time of solitude the most of the whole trip. Still, everyday can't be spent deep in as one has to travel to get there. We traveled further on this trip than our previous trips, and I'm already planning a longer trip for next time. It's unfortunate we had to come out a day before planned, but it worked out fine. The week just went by so fast.
We've learned a lot over the last couple years and have a system that works pretty well, but there is certainly some room for improvement. The biggest difference this year was that we rented an ultralight Kevlar canoe, and it really enhanced our trip over the heavy royalex prospector we normally paddle. Footwear is an ever evolving struggle, but I was pretty happy with my choices this year. I wore some fully enclosed Chaco water shoes that felt more like tennis shoes than any water shoes I've ever worn. I also brought some Cushe slippers for camp shoes, and they worked well. For Amber, we picked up some muck boots under the brand Tamarac, and they helped keep her feet dry, but she had trouble with comfort on the long portages. She already had two pairs of Neos leak on her, so we're still in search of the perfect solution.