Out To Jack And Back
I took my two oldest sons (age nine and twelve) on our first boundary waters trip. Previous canoe camping experience consisted of a few overnight trips on the lower Wisconsin River (and one two night trip on the lower WI River.)
I chose Baker Lake to stay on smaller water. We had a slight head wind for three days and a slight tail wind for one. Overall, the wind was favorable. We did have rain on two days.
We made it to Jack Lake, five miles into the wilderness paddling over four lakes and hiking over three portages.
Day One (9-3-19)
Baker Lake EP 39 – BWCA Tofte, MN Baker Lake to Kelly Lake (~4 miles src: Back Country Navigator)
Weather Rainy and then Cloudy 56 F
Group Size 3 people in two canoes: MLG – Old Town Pack, RDG and CTG Old Town Canadienne
Start Time 12:30 pm End Time ~3:30 pm
The day started out with a rain shower in the morning. The weather forecast called for it to blow over by noon. I decided to wait out the rain at the motel. I timed it so we show up at the entry point around noon.
There was a light drizzle when we reached the entry point, so we paddled with our rain gear on. The first portage was short and wasn’t too bad. After the portage, there was a boulder field that required me getting out of the canoe to maneuver around the rocks before the lake opened up.
We paddled into a slight head wind and made it to a carry over. Shown as a 3 rod portage on the map. This brought us to Kelly.
We paddled up Kelly through a very weedy area. I was extremely happy to find our intended camp site open. I set up a tarp because of the drizzle. This served us well as I put the gear bags under the tarp. The rain cleared up for a few hours, enough time for us to have our first night steak dinner. It rained overnight.
Day Two (9-4-19)
Kelly Lake to Jack Lake (~1 mile src:BCN)
Weather Partly Sunny 43 to 65 F
This would be the coldest morning. We bundled up with an extra layer and our toques. Oatmeal was on the menu for breakfast along with hot chocolate for the boys and coffee for me.
The boys went off fishing while I packed up camp. They were very excited when my oldest son caught his first northern pike, which he thought was a muskie at first. Later, just as I was almost all packed up, my oldest caught an eater sized small mouth bass. I filleted it and fried it in ghee over the pocket rocket.
We then loaded up and crossed the short distance to the 65 rod portage to Jack. This portage would be the longest of the trip. Unfortunately, I learned my oldest son would not be able to carry his canoe by himself. Also, just as we had almost finished the portage, my youngest pointed out that we had left the leeches at the camp site. My oldest had to go back for them. We then carried the solo canoe by the grab handles over the portage.
We had a nice paddle to the elevated camp site on Jack. I was happy to find the site open. This site had a rock staircase leading up to an open area. There were lots of trails around the camp site to explore. These mostly lead to nice views of Jack lake. Unfortunately, there was no real good place to fish from shore.
We got the tent set up and the gravity filter started. Then we all went out in the Canadienne and fished for a while with no success.
Dinner of beans and rice was made. It was quite filling and the boys enjoyed it.
As it started to get dark, the boys were ready to get to bed. I stayed up for a while to try to do some star gazing. As I was sitting, I began to hear howling. I sat and listened to the howling of what I concluded were wolves for many minutes. The sound was somehow mournful. I also noticed howling from more than one direction as one wolf would answer the first when the first stopped. It seemed like the noise was carrying a very far distance. I was glad that I stayed up for this unique experience.
Day Three (9-5-19)
Jack Lake to Kelly Lake (~1 mile src:BCN)
Weather Partly Sunny then a thunderstorm and drizzle 45 to 65 F
Another breakfast of oatmeal and hot chocolate today. The boys decided to put their hot chocolate into their oatmeal and eat it all at once. I forgot to drink my coffee this morning.
After we packed up camp we paddled out to the front of the point and tried fishing for awhile. We met a couple from Minnesota who asked if we were leaving because they wanted the campsite where we had spent the night. I told them that we were all packed up and would be on our way soon.
After fishing for 15 minutes with no bites, we paddled back to the 65 rod portage to Kelly. We crossed the portage faster today after learning the best way to manage the solo canoe. My oldest and I each carried a pack and one end of the canoe.
As we were proceeding down the portage, we met two guys from Wisconsin who were crossing the portage as part of the Cherokee Loop. We chatted for a few minutes. Then we put on our headlamps and explored the abandoned mine. You can’t get very far in the mine before running into water at which point we decided it was best to turn around and head back.
We paddled the short distance back to our first camp site. This site is within sight of the portage. We got the tent set up and the gravity water filter started. The boys went off to fish from shore.
After I got the rain fly of the tent staked out, I looked up to see dark gray clouds rolling in. I decided it was time to set up the tarp. Just as I got the ridge line hung, it started to rain. It rained lightly for maybe 15 minutes and then let up. This gave me time to finish setting up the tarp. After about 10 minutes, it started to thunder. Shortly thereafter, it opened up and poured down rain. The heaviest rain lasted for 15-20 minutes. We were very glad to be under the tarp and not out in the canoe when this happened.
We waited the rain out under the tarp. It eventually began to taper off. It ended up being a light drizzle the rest of the evening. Not a lot of rain, but enough to keep our rain gear on and to cook under the tarp.
We started to catch small mouth bass at the inlet into Kelly. We kept three for dinner. I filleted them and fried them up. The boys were very excited to eat fish dinner. It wasn’t enough to fill us up though. The boys split a freeze dried lasagna which they enjoyed. I had a dehydrated chicken and dumplings which was rather plain and filling.
Once again we went to bed with the sun set.
Day Four (9-6-19)
Kelly Lake to Baker Lake (~4 miles src:BCN)
Weather Partly Sunny 54 to 70 F
I set an alarm for 6am. I started stuffing sleeping bags and pads before getting out of the tent. Today’s breakfast would be coffee for me, hot chocolate for the boys and breakfast bars all around.
We got packed up and pushed off to glass calm water and no wind. As we paddled down the weedy section of Kelly, a slight breeze started. Thankfully, and for the first time on the trip, it was a slight tailwind.
We pushed past the first carry over and proceeded down Peterson to what would be our final portage. I had to get out of the canoe and navigate the boulder field. My oldest was able to follow in the Pack without getting out of his canoe until he reached the portage.
We moved our gear across the portage and lingered a while exploring and wading in the small rapids. This was also the warmest day of our trip. The paddle from the portage to the boat launch was short and uneventful. We took it slowly and it was as if the wind was pushing us right to our exit. I was overcome with a great sense of joy as we completed our first boundary waters trip.
The gravel boat launch seemed like a sandy beach compared to the boulder fields we had been landing at for the entire trip. We loaded up as two groups were preparing to launch.
If I could give a one word summary of the trip it would be rocks. Rocks everywhere. Shin banging child tripping rocks. Different size rocks. Boulder fields after the portage. Protruding rocks smack dab in the middle of the portage trail. Odd angled rocks at the camp site landing. Rocks under my tent. Rocks of all different shapes and sizes.
Songs have been written. People mention “Canadian shield.” I never truly understood the uneven rockiness until I experienced it myself. I don’t know if words do it justice.
We moved every day. This gave us practice packing up and portaging. As I packed, unpacked and repacked each item in our outfit, I had the chance to question is this item worth it? Would I bring it again? Did I even use it on this trip? Is there a smaller lighter version of this?
The highlight of the trip was the fishing. We found fish and caught enough to have a fish dinner. It seemed like all the boys wanted to do was more fishing.
Gear That Worked Well
I was very pleased with the platypus 4 L gravity water filter. I was even happier when I handed it to my 12 year old son and told him to read the instructions and get it set up. He was able to perform this camp chore for the entire trip. This ensured our water supply and offloaded a chore from me.
I now know why people rave about their CCS tarps. We waited out a thunderstorm underneath one on our trip. We were dry while it poured down rain and thundered in the distance. The weather changed rapidly and I was glad I prioritized rain fly and tarp set up when we got to camp.
The sea to summit collapsible bucket was very useful. It helps gather water for the filter. It helps wash the dishes. It was by my side when filleting fish. It packs down compactly for transport.
The ugly stik fishing rod. I slipped on a rock and fell with this rod in my hands. (I think all members of our group slipped at least once on the rocks.) It survived seemingly unscathed and was good to reel in small mouth bass. I am not worried about fish breaking this rod.
Things to do Differently
I wet footed and portaged in my keen water shoes with darn tough wool socks. I was concerned before the trip that the water would be too cold, but the water temp was fine for wading. I would definitely wet foot again. This allowed the boys to keep their feet dry in their knee high rubber boots and helped save damage to the canoe.
The keens were three years old. I only wear them when canoeing, going to the beach or wading a river. I probably wear them ~20 days a year. They fell apart on day three. Luckily, I was leaving the next day and made it out with the shoes mostly intact. Based on my experience, keens are not BWCA portage trail approved.
I wanted to bring a back up to my MSR Pocket Rocket stove. I packed in a Trangia alcohol stove with the full cook kit and a bottle of fuel. I never used the cook kit or the stove. Next time, I will just bring another pocket rocket and an extra canister of fuel.
We never figured out how to make a nice camp fire. Everything I have read and heard recommends paddling away from camp, landing the canoe on shore and walking into the woods. I am not sure if it was the area I was in, but there was no obvious place to land a canoe other than the portages or camp sites. The forest was a tangled jungle of underbrush that would have been madness to bush wack through.
I left home uncertain whether my 12 year old could carry the solo canoe himself. Practically, this meant that he could not carry it himself on the portage trail. It would have been better to find this out in the comforts of home rather than in the wilderness.
I set up my tarp using the knots I knew before the trip. Namely the bowline, taut line hitch and truckers hitch. I got even more practice with these knots on the trip. However, I wished I would have learned and practiced the prusik before the trip as I thought my tarp set up would have benefited.