When I found out I was going to be a father I made a few changes in life. One was to commit to my wife and daughter more time and effort at home. Another was to commit to a yearly trip to the boundary waters canoe area. I had been to the BWCA a couple of times years ago when I was in college but now I would be the one planning the trip and implementing my own goals. Last year we made the trip during the third week of August. The list of goals included seeing as few people as possible (we saw none the entire trip), learn and use survival and bushcraft skills, navigate to a remote lake by compass and try to catch a few fish. Some goals were met and some were not. Driving home we thought about the goals we had set for ourselves and we both agreed that one crucial mistake was made early in the trip which contributed to some of our goals not being met. I should note here that the “we” in this situation is myself and Ryan. I lead a busy life and I have only a couple people I call close friends and even fewer people I would consider bringing with me on a trip like this. Ryan pulls his weight, never complains and works hard. He respects and appreciates my general goals and philosophy for this type of trip. We don’t go to camp and fish, we go to learn and work on skills that are needed to survive in the woods. Fire starting, orienteering, foraging, that sort of stuff. We both love fishing but it’s a secondary goal that we devote a some but not a significant amount of time to.
The 2018 iteration of this trip will see us paddling the same river as last year to the same lake. The main difference is we will not be stopping on the lake unless weather dictates we do so, instead we will continue to the end of the lake where we will beach the canoe and proceed to hike into the wilderness. Planned departure is between 4-5am which will put us on the southern edge of our lake at approx. noon. From there the plan will be to hike into a primitive management area several miles to a lake which few have seen in the past decade. In a primitive management area there are no trails, no campsites and no evidence of humans. We aim to keep it that way. Making our way to a specific rock outcropping on our targeted lake we will hang our hammocks and begin constructing our home away from home. One of my biggest goals is to be able to walk away from the place we will call “ours” for five nights feeling confident that if someone else were to stumble across it they would have no knowledge that other humans had spent time there. That means making conscious choices with regards to fire and cutting wood among other things. Nothing gives away human presence like branches sawed clean off, a clean cut branch sticks out like a sore thumb and is potentially visible for years.
We will fish some but it will be from shore and not knowing the lake we may find success elusive. We won’t be bringing the canoe with us as the hike through the bush will be difficult enough without a canoe on our shoulders. We have to try and cross two potential bodies of water that may or may not cause significant problems for us. We are both stubborn guys and have our minds made up but we understand that despite our best efforts we may not make it to our final destination. Part of being staying safe in the woods is knowing your limits and being smart. Mechanical injury four or five miles from any other potential person in a part of the BWCA that is truly wild and untouched could range from something that slows us down on one extreme to downright deadly on the other end of the spectrum. Bears, wolves and moose frequent the area we are traveling to and despite my diligent preparation we are both learning. Last year we learned a lot and I have no doubt that what we are attempting to do is difficult and potentially dangerous. This is not your typical paddle to a campsite and camp in the woods type of trip. We have common sense and we are well prepared. I have no problems with that type of trip but this is not our goal this year.
- See no other humans.
- Stay active to avoid homesickness (hit me hard last year as my daughter was only 6 months old at the time).
- Make fire only by means of flint, ferrocenium rod or friction. Friction fire is high on my list.
- Navigate and hike to the remote lake.
- Stare at the stars.
- Get up before dawn and watch the sunrise.
- Enjoy the simple silence of the lake.
- Stay safe.
I haven’t posted much lately simply because I’ve been working, spending time with my family and preparing for this trip. I make and dehydrate all our food. I had to do some gear inventory and preparation to adapt from what we learned last year which will hopefully help us this year. We leave in less than 24hr. I’ll bring back photos and stories that I won’t forget for years to come.