Sunday, July 24 – Saturday, July 30, 2016
Length: 7 days, 6 nights
Route: Poplar Lake (Entry point 47) to Tuscarora Outfitters (near Grand Marais, MN)
- Day 1: Poplar Lake to Lizz (46) to Caribou (69) [2 portages]: 115 rods
Campsite 645 on Caribou Lake (excellent views, landing, spacious level)
- Day 2: Caribou Lake to Horseshoe (22) to Allen (52) to Pillsbery (95) [3 portages]: 169 rods
Campsite 625 on Pillsbery (tiny, steep, crappiest site of trip)
- Day 3: Pillsbery Lake to Hensen (52) to Omega (31) to Kiskadinna (37) [3 portages]: 120 rods
Campsite 589 on Kiskadinna (large rock escarpment, very little seating)
- Day 4: Kiskadinna Lake to Muskeg (185) to Long Island (6 + 24) [3 portages]: 215 rods
Campsite 563 on Long Island (very spacious)
- Day 5: Long Island Lake to Karl to Lower George (28) to Rib (35) [2 portages]: 63 rods
Campsite 560 on Rib (steep climb to campsite, spacious)
- Day 6: Rib Lake to Cross Bay (58) to Ham (15) [2 portages]: 73 rods
Campsite 553 on Ham (view of waterfall, spacious, trails nearby, bees)
- Day 7: Ham Lake to 2 small, unnamed lakes to take-out (38, 66) [2 portages]: 104 rods
TOTAL LAKES: 18
TOTAL PORTAGES: 17
TOTAL RODS: 859 rods (14,174 feet; 2.7 miles)
859 rods x 3 (incl. repeat trips) = 2,577 rods (42,521 feet; 8.1 miles)
Participants: 5 adults (33-74yrs); 3 children (8-13yrs); 2 dogs (5-11yrs)
- Jonah, 13
- Lily, 10
- Harrison, 8
- Abby, 5 (dog, Spaniel Mix)
- Haepi, 11 (dog, Boston Terrier)
- Wenonah, 18’, Kevlar, approx. 40lbs.
- Wenonah Spirit II, 17’, Kevlar composite, 54lbs.
- Souris River, 17’, Kevlar, approx. 40lbs. (rental)
- 4 large Duluth-style portage packs
- 2 food packs
- 2 adult backpacks
- 3 kids backpacks
At the end of July, the Daniewicz family embarked on a 7-day/6-night trip into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota. The group included five able-bodied adults (33-74 years old), three youths (8-13 years old), and two dogs (a Spaniel mix, 5; and a Boston Terrier, 11). The route began at Poplar Lake (Entry Point #47) and took us through 18 lakes and 17 portages. This trip report will include high- and lowlights of campsites and portages and some notes on meals.
For the uninitiated, portages are overland trails that link lakes to one another. To travel from one lake to the next, the group has to carry all canoes and packs across a portage. In canoeing parlance, portages are measured in rods, with one rod equaling 16.5 feet. The distance alone does not indicate the difficulty of a particular portage, as other conditions such as steepness, muddiness, and general state of maintenance could affect the level of difficulty.
We decided that each person should take two trips each across a portage, except for the person who carried the heaviest canoe (our Wenonah Spirit II, weighing 54lbs). Balancing a canoe on your shoulders across a trail is no joke. Neither is carrying a 60-80lb portage pack on your back. The kids did their share by carrying the smaller packs, including their own, and various loose items such as paddles and life jackets. Jonah (13) ended up carrying some larger packs, such as a big Duluth-style pack full of mostly light sleeping bags, and a food pack as it gradually became lighter. Even Haepi, an 11 year-old Boston Terrier, carried a pack full of his dog food!
Some of the first few portages we did on the trip were extremely muddy and very tricky to traverse. For me, it helped to use one of the paddles as a walking stick to test out the stability of rocks and mud bogs. Lily (10) stepped thigh-deep into a bog on the first day, but she was a trooper and didn’t really complain about it. The 95-rod portage from Allen to Pillsbery was particularly nasty. After a while, you just have to accept that this is going to be a dirty-DIRTY trip, and traipse through the mud without caring how gross your legs and feet get. The kids learned this lesson much earlier than I did.
The 31-rod distance from Omega to Kiskadinna belied its difficulty. It was a short portage, but very steep and with some sharp turns. These conditions proved especially tricky for those carrying canoes. This portage helped prepare us for the monster to come the next day:
Before our trip, we researched some of the portages on our route. Folks on various BWCA forums named the portage between Kiskadinna and Muskeg, “The Wall,” an apt moniker for an extremely steep trail. The first half of this trail was overgrown and somewhat muddy – you have to use your canoe or paddle to push through all the foliage creeping into the narrow trail – and the second half consisted of descending “the wall.” At 185 rods (x 2 trips = approx. 1.75 miles), this portage was the longest of our trip, and boy, was it GRUESOME. It probably took at least two hours for us to complete the portage.
Once we were past The Wall, we had to traverse the swamp that is Muskeg Lake and go through two short portages to get into Long Island Lake, our stop for the night. Thirty rods total? Easy peasy, right? NOPE. The first little portage wasn’t a portage at all, but a beaver dam. We all got out of our canoes, about knee-deep into the water (or higher if you’re short like me), and led the boats across the dam. Not that big of a deal. Then we couldn’t even FIND the next portage, until we realized that yet another beaver dam had diverted a creek into what was supposed to be the trail. The first half of this portage was through a creek full of slippery rocks, forcing us to go through slowly and carefully.
Day 4 was by far the most difficult and tiring of the portages during our trip. After that, we got closer to civilization and the portages became dryer, easier, and better maintained. More like walks in the park, really. On the first day, I needed help getting a pack onto my back before I got going. But by the last day, and after The Wall, I felt strong as an ox and could hoist those Duluth packs onto my back and huff along as quickly down a trail as the kids could. I’m also happy to report that I only fell over once during the entirety of the trip. I felt like a turtle fallen on her shell, but Katie helped me up and the whole thing was just kind of funny. And I also want to make it known that my wife carried a canoe on her shoulders like a boss, and I couldn’t be more proud.
Notes on Meals:
- Eggs and bacon – We brought actual eggs to make scrambled eggs to go with bacon. The bacon was great, but we all agreed that the eggs were too much trouble. Next time we will bring just freeze-dried eggs, which were just as good.
- Bagels – The bagels were heavy and required us to bring cream cheese. We will probably skip these next time around.
- Pancakes – Pancakes were great, but required quite a bit of work. They are good for a leisurely breakfast maybe once a trip.
- Breakfast tacos with freeze-dried eggs and dehydrated refried-beans – This was a giant hit and was very easy. Definitely recommend!
- Oatmeal – Oatmeal was our easy breakfast staple.
- Sausage with cheese and crackers – We picked up some Ukrainian sausage from Kramarczuk’s meat market in downtown Minneapolis. It managed to last about four days (we kept it in a small cooler for the first two days). For cheese we brought both Kaukauna cheese and Easy Cheese. Most people seemed to like the Kaukauna cheese best, but it got pretty messy. Katie was grossed out and preferred the Easy Cheese.
- Beef jerky with cheese and crackers – Everyone really loved the beef jerky. We decided that we could have skipped the sausage and just brought beef jerky.
- Trail mix and dried fruit – These were both good lunch fillers.
- General lunch note: We are both getting a little tired of cheese and crackers and sausage/beef jerky for lunches. We’ll have to brainstorm before our next trip for other ideas.
- Night 1 - Chili-cheese hot dogs with baked-beans – The hot dogs were great (especially with the addition of Wolf’s chili). The beans were heavy and probably not necessary.
- Night 2 – Ribeye steak with potatoes and veggies and mac and cheese – For whatever reason, steaks are not the best camping dinner (except for flank steak). The mac and cheese was great!
- Night 3 – Flank steak – This was the highlight meal of the trip! We had dehydrated beans and tortillas on the side.
- Night 4 – Mountain House freeze-dried spaghetti – This was a favorite of our freeze-dried meals. The only negative is that the red sauce is really hard to wash off of dishes.
- Night 5 – Mountain House freeze-dried beef stroganoff – Another tasty freeze-dried meal.
- Night 6 – Mountain House freeze-dried pepper steak – This meal was not too bad, but was not as good as the other freeze-dried meals.
- General dinner notes: Tabasco is a great addition to all meals! (This also applies to breakfast.) Pringles were very popular as an after dinner snack and the kids loved that we brought Oreos. S’mores (with Ghirardelli dark chocolate raspberry squares) and Jiffy Pop were also fun on a couple of nights after dinner.
General Thoughts on the Trip:
The beautiful scenery and seclusion on this route more than compensated for the difficult portages. We encountered very few people until the last one or two days. We were lucky and had almost perfect weather (only one morning of rain). The kids did a great job of carrying packs on the portages and helping around camp. We had a few very nice campsites with excellent views. I thought the toughest portage was the 31-rod portage from Omega to Kiskadinna. The Wall was long and tiring, but was not too bad overall. (It would have been much more difficult traveling the other direction!) Overall, we all had a blast and I would recommend this trip if you don’t mind a little work and want to really get away from the crowds.