We had talked about doing a river camping trip in the kayaks but got the idea last fall to do the canoe trip instead. Go big or go home, right?? This meant five days in the wilderness with no running water or showers, cell reception and the possibility of running into moose and bears. Sign me up!!!
We went through an outfitter (Ely Outfitting Company) so all we had to do was show up with clothes and a first aid kit. They provided a two person, lightweight kevlar canoe, camping gear, a backwoods kitchen setup, packs, food, fishing rods and tackle, etc. It made it pretty easy to plan.
We drove up and took the scenic route through Duluth so we could see Lake Superior and camped at Tettegouche State Park. I had camped there five years ago on a cycling trip around the lake and it was such a great spot.
The next morning before we took off to Ely we did a short half mile hike to High Falls within the campground. It's the biggest waterfall fully in the state of Minnesota and pretty cool to see.
Off to Ely! After arriving at the outfitter we watched a short video on the Boundary Waters that showed how to handle various situations (black bears seem pretty friendly) we got an overview of our gear, how to move the canoe and we would then be off to launch the next day. Here's our approximate route:
The red/yellow spots are portages...land crossings where you have to take all the gear out of your canoe, carry the canoe across what is essentially a hiking trail (anywhere from 20 yards to over a half mile) and then get all your gear.
Finally - we were off!
The first portage after Snowbank Lake was ridiculously busy. It was also the second longest portage we had in the entire trip so we had to jump right in. After a few portages, however, we got our system down and started to get through much faster.
We stopped at one of the open campsites along the way for lunch. Why am I drying my shirt on the left? Probably because it was warm and DEFINITELY not because I fell into the water after losing my footing on a mossy rock getting out of the canoe. Yeah, definitely not that...
Action shot of the man, the myth, the legend...
For those that asked how much gear we took - a lot.
This is what each portage looked like. Some were more obvious than others and we navigated mostly by looking at the map, setting our direction with the help of a compass and trying to identify various land features to make sure we were on the right path (i.e. a small island, against a shoreline, spotting a marked campsite, etc.) but we did use offline maps on our phone's GPS as a backup at times.
Our campsite the first night. We were tired boys.
Most of the food we were given was backpacking type food where you just have to add water and re-hydrate. The first night we had fresh food like steaks (they were, uh, a little tough) and baked potatoes. But the rest of the food was pretty good. And we were also introduced to a little slice of heaven called Fry Bread.
Hanging our food packs from bears. Notice the claw marks on the tree. We didn't see any on the trip but there were signs of bears in spots. To avoid the chance of coming across one in your tent you're supposed to hang your food pack 150 feet from your tents and the latrines are 150 feet away from that as well. No bears that night but we were treated to a great, calm morning on the water.
All water has to be boiled or filtered. We were given a pump filter but for drinking water Justin and I brought LifeStraw water bottles. The filter is part of the lid and straw so all we had to do was dip the bottle in the lake, screw the cap back on and we were good to go. Highly recommended.
Our next campsite was on a small island so we had it all to ourselves. Justin thought it would be a good time to bust out the hammock which was a perfect idea.
Even had some time to do some fishing!
Everything is scenic out here.
The lake the next morning (Lake Insula) started out very serene but the wind picked up and we fought some wind and current while we paddled two hours to get through that very big lake. After the two hours we entered the burn line. Six years ago 10% of the Boundary Waters caught fire (from lightning, not someone that didn't put out a campfire, thankfully) and the re-growth is coming back very quickly.
We pushed on and somehow made it all the way to Lake Two on the third day. This meant we could stay at the same campsite for two nights in a row and we lucked out on an incredible one. We were on a peninsula and had a great spot for a hammock, a really good fire pit and a rock ledge on the back that had great views. We even had cell phone reception which was a nice surprise and could check in back home.
Who doesn't like hammocks??
The next day was spent laying around, fishing and relaxing. On our last day we only had about an hour of paddling to arrive at our pick up spot. Since we had cell reception on the peninsula (but not 100 yards away from it in several directions oddly enough) we requested an earlier pick up time and got on the road.
It was a trip we'll never forget. It was hard work in spots (all the portaging, fighting wind at times, things like that) but unplugging for a week and getting back to some simplicity was well worth it. And surprisingly, two accountants that sit behind a desk all day didn't get lost! I call that a win! Unless next time...