Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Getting it all together -- canoe camping in the BWCA

By the mid 1980s I had completed a second run down the Owens River and had canoed on many dozen lakes throughout California.  Yet, I yearned for a real canoe camping adventure, so I collected catalogs from outfitters in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) in Minnesota; Algonquin Park in Ontario, Canada; and the Allagash River in Maine.  I decided to go to the Boundary Waters.  I had a good steady job with a two-week vacation coming up, and I could actually afford to buy some quality gear.

I had plenty of wilderness camping experience, and this time I was aware I needed better canoeing skills before setting off on a wilderness canoe camping trip.  I read several books about canoeing and canoe camping.  Lucky for me I  obtained a copy of Bill Mason's Path of the Paddle.  I practiced paddling techniques gleaned from Mason's book, and eventually felt I was ready for anything that didn't include serious whitewater.

Harry's turn to cook.

I purchased all the latest camping gear: rubberized dry bags, nylon taffeta tent, down sleeping bag, Whisperlite camp stove, "Bean" boots, wool clothing, Gore-Tex paddle jacket, and an assortment of gadgets to smooth out the rough edges of a wilderness trip.  

The trip we chose from Boundary Waters Canoe Outfitters, Inc. was for a total eight days.  It included 23 lakes, two rivers, and a few small ponds.  I never added up the total portages, but I know the end result was measured in miles, not yards.  And, the best part was that Boundary Waters Canoe Outfitters included the canoe, paddles, lifejackets, and a Deluth pack with all the food we needed for the week.  All we had to tote on the airplane was three dry bag packs.

There is nothing like spending a late September week in the true wilderness of the boundary water's hardwood forests.  We caught walleye, northern pike, and lake trout.  We saw plenty of wildlife, including one huge moose that swan across a lake with us.  We listened to the enchanting call of loons across mirror-smooth lakes.  We watched satellites traversing the Milky Way.  And best of all, we didn't see another human being for more than four days.  The BWCA will fulfill anyone's sense of adventure and make you believe that you could actually learn to be self-sufficient and live off the land.  

Harry, my canoeing partner, and I relived that trip many times over the next several years.  Maybe our next trip would be a multi-day run, paddling down a river in Canada or the great North Woods.    

Before you go checkout my “BWCA Wolves and Loons” slideshow…


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