I woke to Ryan packing up camp. We had plans to be packed and hiking back to the boat before 10 am and I was behind schedule. Did I feel pressure to move quicker? No, not really but we had discussed the night before that the heat of the day would exacerbate the hike through the woods. I made coffee and worked on packing my gear as efficiently as possible. The camp needed to be as pristine as possible. We were meticulous to make sure that nothing made by a human was left behind. Any rocks that were moved were put back as close as possible to their original locations and orientation. Water was filtered and bottled for the hike to come. After we both walked the campsite and the outer perimeter of where we stayed and were satisfied that in a few days time the evidence of our presence (mostly from trampled plants) would be gone the hike began.
The comfort of the red pines quickly deteriorated into the dense forest and within a few minutes, we began descending. Where we live the bluffs are typically between four hundred and six hundred feet above the lowest point in the valley. Here we are talking about fifty or sixty feet typically, that said I would choose the bluffs anyday. Once we got to the low elevation it inevitably turned into the marsh, black spruce tops could be seen in the immediate distance. Last years trip saw us marching through this exact location and it wasn’t bad. If the boggy areas have a thick mattress of moss they are easier to navigate. The mosquitos were here in large numbers but for the most part, we preferred this section to the thick ankle grabbing, tree busting sections that lie behind and in front of us. We were getting close to the shore of the lake we beached the boat on when we came across a small pond in our path… Unsure if the ground below was solid enough to hold our weight we opted to hike around which would end up taking us on a winding path down boulders and through a spring fed creek then back to the red pines we visited the year prior.
Back at the canoe, it was nearly noon and we were both glad to see the comfort of the boat. I relished in the prospect of catching fish for dinner. We dropped our packs, filtered more water and rigged the one fly rod we had with us. Remembering lessons from the year before we targeted the southern shore. The water was glass, not even a slight breeze was felt. We knew it was going to be a good day two casts in when a smallmouth bass nailed my bright white and red streamer. Admittedly I was hoping to catch pike but anything that would feed us well was appreciated. Ryan paddled and I fished until we had dinner and released plenty of other fish. All caught were small and largemouth bass. We thought maybe I missed one opportunity at a pike but neither of us saw the fish so we couldn’t be sure.
We paddled north along the west shore of the lake with the intention of visiting the site we stayed at the year prior. Pulling up to the camp it became very apparent that the lake level was down a good foot or more. A downed jack pine that served as a guiding log to bring the boat in was exposed to the air when it had been mostly submerged the year before. We exited the boat and scoured the site for any trash which some (not a ton) was found and hauled out. I thought of the year before and what we learned from staying at in this location. We paddled to the northern site on the lake and set up camp. With fish in tow morale was high, we had plenty of drinking water and the weather was perfect. The decision was made to cook the fish and eat dinner early so we could head out and try our hand at popper fishing before dusk. The bass was a welcome change from the dehydrated food we had been eating and for the second year in a row, the foil packs proved to be one of the lightest most efficient ways to cook fish I’ve come across aside from grilling the fish over open coals. Popper fishing was spectacular, for nearly two hours the fish comically crushed a red and white popper we fished. Taking turns every other Ryan was able to land his first bass on a fly rod and a few more. The day ended watching the sunset from the canoe and we turned in early.
The final full day was one of relative relaxation. I woke early to climb a large rock off the edge our campsite to sit and watch the sun and listen to the loons. We passed on breakfast due to the fish we ate the night before. Things were calm on the lake and we were looking forward to fishing the southern shore again. We took our time and got out before noon which saw the wind pick up and push the boat around a bit. Unsure if the wind was the culprit but the fishing was much slower. Dinner for a second night was kept off one largemouth bass and we headed back to camp early. We stopped by the portage in to find a downed red pine I had taken a mental note of on our hike in. It still had needles on it and I believed it was full of fatwood, turns out it was. A brief word on the importance of fatwood in the Northwoods. It is worth knowing what fatwood is and how to find it, the ability to be in the pouring rain and have a source of fuel that will burn long enough to dry and light small kindling is very important. This stuff is easy to find if you know what to look for and it uses far fewer calories than other methods of creating fire. If you have a spark and fatwood you will be warm in the north woods.
I tried once again to create fire with a bow drill but for the second year in a row my heart wasn’t in it and the materials were less than desirable. I ended up spending close to two hours procuring the needed materials and then another hour working with them to get close to a workable set up but after a conversation with Ryan we both agreed that if we needed a fire in the north woods the fatwood approach would be the most efficient and effective way to get the job done. This is probably a cop out on my part, perhaps my only regret from this trip. We made dinner early and went back out after the bass but again they were less than willing the way they had been the night before. The final night in the BWCA found us sitting in front of our fire and enjoying the stars for another evening before heading to bed.
Coffee started the morning from my hammock as it had the days prior. We packed and did a thorough check of the campsite before heading to the boat to paddle out. The skies were clear and the morning paddle was calm unlike the year prior which found us paddling for six hours in the pouring rain. The slight tailwind and paddling downstream resulted in nearly an hour shaved off the paddle out, this was the fastest we’d made the trip and we weren’t pushing to get out fast. Even last year in the rain when we wanted out we both knew that this paddle is our last chance to soak in all that we love about the Northwoods before exiting for potentially another year. No rain, not a drop the entire time and while some might be envious I enjoy the challenge of different conditions. Not that I wanted it to storm or anything and yes life was made far easier without the threat of being wet and cold but I love sitting in my hammock under a tarp watching the rain descend around me. 2nd year in the BWCA is in the books and we learned from the past, made adjustments and were better off for it. Next year will be a totally different trip but we both plan to come back to this special place someday in the future.