Posted by: Bearskin | June 4, 2009

Erik’s Journal: East Savanna River 5/23/09

5/23/09  Day #32   45 – 65º   Wind Calm   Clear, sunny  / E. Savanna River  Most remote section of river.  Crossed (portaged around) hundreds of deadfall and beaver dams.  Lots of wildlife: geese, ducks, birds, beavers, otters, mink.  Lost 4 hours in afternoon by taking a wrong creek and backtracking.  Saw beautiful trumpeter swans, white and huge.

Made camp just before dark on the only high ground in sight.  After my tent was set up, a huge cougar slowly approached, as if stalking me.  It came within 15 feet of me and crouched low, as if ready to spring and attack.  Kitigan growled low and we had a stand-off for over a minute.  I remained calm, non-threatening and held my ground.  Finally, the cougar slowly turned away and left us.

Uneasy about sleeping there, I quickly, but quietly, packed my tent and packed up, listening carefully at 5 second intervals.  As I packed up my last Duluth pack, I heard a large animal approaching.  What I thought was the cougar returning turned out to be an enormous black bear (biggest I’ve ever seen — I estimate about 500 pounds).  The bear came in through the brush loud and fast, as if he was headed straight for my food pack, which had been open until just a few minutes prior. 

I retreated to a nearby tree where I staged my packs and held Kitigan close on a leash. When the bear came within 20 feet, heading straight for me, I hollered “Whoa!”  The bear kept coming.  I next fired a warning shot into the air from my gun, and the bear stopped just 15 feet away from me.  He glared at me, swaying his huge head and neck back and forth.  I remained calm and again held my ground.  Kitigan growled, her hackles straight up.The bear slowly half-circled us and then meandered off.

I quickly carried my four packs 100 feet through the swamp to the canoe at the river’s edge.  It was now dark. We were exhausted and hungry and the canoe needed pitching.  By head-lamp I lit a candle and heated a small “pitch stick” to seal the cracks in the hull, all the while watching my back and Kitigan’s protective behavior.

By 11 PM we were back on the East Savanna River, a series of connected beaver ponds among a vast savanna of marsh.  The temperature was dropping and heavy fog set in.  My headlamp was near useless in the fog and I slowly paddled up current, watching the direction of reeds in the water alongside the canoe.  It was like a maze.

Wet, cold and hungry, I night-paddled until 3:30 AM, partly to stay warm and awake. Kitigan kept nodding off int he canoe, and we crossed 30-40 more beaver dams, unloading packs and dog, sliding the empty canoe up and over the dam if soft, or lifting the canoe if jagged, then reloading the canoe to continue. 

I could see the North Star and knew I was going the right direction.  The river narrowed to about 2 1/2 – 3 feet wide and 2 foot deep.  There was still significant current.  With no high ground available, I slept on a tall hummock of swamp grass under my canoe, in my hip boots, wet socks and rain coat  — which I’ve termed “shiver camp.”

Erik keeps a meticulous journal of his trip.  He has not been able to access a computer for quite awhile, so he tore out the pages of his journal and mailed them to Bearskin.  There are many pages of tiny print.  We will gradually type them up and add them to the blog over the next few days.  To be continued…



  1. […] a few publicized cases in the last several years. Even one of our favorite paddlers, Erik Simula, blogged about facing a big cat in the Arrowhead this summer. But when a motorist killed a cougar near […]

  2. Wow, never a dull moment with you! Glad to hear the miles are passing by, should be going downstream soon, eh? Thanks for the updates, your adventure is inspiring for sure.

  3. I am sitting in my backyard in mpls. reading this high adventure memoir. Holy shit no one would believe such an experience could be had. I was on the edge of my seat. Tommorow, I will be going solo with my dog, to George Crosby and will think of you and Kitigan. Hope you are warm and dry,Maureen Donahue and if you need anything I work at Midwest Mountaineering and would love to contribute something helpful.

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