Day 74 – July 4th, 2009 Moose Lake 6-miles 50-70 o F SW Winds 5-10 mph Sunny
Slept 12 hours at Sucker Lake Camp. Down-sized and re-packed outfit. Left camp at 4 p.m. Paddled 6 miles in headwind to arrive at 7 p.m. at Sommers Canoe Base (140 staff) on Moose Lake (also known formally as the Northern Tier National High Adventure Base of the Boy Scouts of America) where I began guiding wilderness canoe trips in 1982. Received a very warm welcome from fellow “Charlie Guide” (Trail Interpreter) Bobby Johnson, who introduced me to many fellow staff and then helped me raid the Base kitchen (a tradition). Because of the July 4th Holiday, the Base was relatively quiet, however, the sauna (pronounced sow-na) was stoked extremely hot, right to my liking. I leisured the dirt and pains away with loyly (the essence of the traditional Finnish sauna: combining the healing qualities of cedar wood, hot stone-produced steam and intense heat). A spare cabin bunk with a real mattress put me to sleep instantly, with Kitigan by my side.
Day 75 – 7/5/2009 Sommers Canoe Base – Layover 55-75 o F NW Winds 5-15 mph Sunny
Breakfast with staff. Laundry, phone calls, wrote letters. Sent myself a package home in the mail with all the things I decided I no longer needed on the trail and didn’t want to carry further (used maps, empty second fuel bottle, fry pan, extra spoon, etc.) Gave informal presentation to about 30 staff with great interest in my journey and using a birchbark canoe. Pitched canoe. Wind picked up so I decided to lay over. Attended the rendezvous for crews coming off the water (end of 10-day canoe trip), which was extremely well done, with stories, skits, songs, campfire, musket firings, and more. Slept in my tent at canoe landing for early start in morning.
Day 76 – 7/6/2009 Knife Lake 15-miles 50-75 oF W Winds 10-25 mph Whitecaps Sunny
Up at 3:30 a.m. for an early departure by moonlight, when to my surprise a canoe landed with three Sommers trail staff just returning from Kekekabic Lake, after night-paddling to finish a 1-day, 40-mile detail to check up on a trail-work crew. On the water by 4:30 a.m. Breakfasted with strong coffee on east end of Birch Lake at 9 a.m., and discreetly chased a confused motorboat operator out of the non-motorized wilderness area. Large Bald Eagle snatched a fish out of the shallows 20 feet in front of my canoe: spectacular site! After 5 portages (@ 25-75 rods) made Knife Lake camp on Robbins Island at 6 p.m. A beautiful, perfectly calm evening, in which I thought of night paddling the length of Knife Lake under the full moon, but my forearm muscles needed rest, so I stayed put and relaxed. I watched two young women cruise by at 9 p.m., making easy mileage on calm water and deep in quiet conversation that time-on-trail with a good partner fosters.
Day 77 – 7/7/2009 Ottertrack Lake – Full Moon 14 miles 50-75 o F NE Winds 5-15 mph Sunny
Early start on calm water. Hiked up to Thunder Point vista. Hugged north shorelines to shelter headwinds. Saw a large cow moose in brush at 30-feet on Little Knife Lake. Watched a bald eagle attempt to fly across a narrows, only to drop and swim the last 20 yards. He looked healthy, but was obviously injured. He managed to fly up to a nearby tree and rested. Portaged up to Gijikiki (Cedar) Lake, Rivalry Lake and Lake of the Clouds, a very steep series of portages to gorgeous lakes with a stunning cliff-ridgeline. Wilderness Fishing Guide Kelly Murphy from Ely first told me about Lake of the Clouds while we were mushing through Ottertrack Lake with Brian Fredericksen years ago, and now I’ve finally been there. Thanks Kelly! Visited the pictographs on Ottertrack Lake and made camp at dark near John Tanner’s campsite.
Day 78 – 7/8/2009 Saganaga Lake 14-miles 50-75 o F NE Winds 5-15 mph Sunny
On water by 5 a.m. Watched large snapping turtle swim under canoe in clear water while loading. Otter at Ben Ambrose’s homesite. Ran into fellow Charlie Guide Fred Marks on the east end of Ottertrack Lake with his crew on day 8 of their trip around Hunter’s Island. Fred had visited with me the summer before at Grand Portage when he paddled through on the Hudson Bay trip which he completed late last summer. Caught a nice lake trout (8-10 pounder). Carried across Monument Portage (70 rods) and paddled through the series of narrows on the west end of Saganaga Lake, a really pretty area. Stopped at 1 p.m., where the big part of Sag Lake opens up, due to headwinds. Cooked dinner and rested until the wind died down. Back on water at 6 p.m. Paddled around American/Rocky Point in rough seas and crossed to Munker Island. Camped at dark.
Day 79 – 7/9/2009 Granite River 7-miles 60-70 o F SE Winds 20-35 mph Cloudy
Up at 3 a.m., on water by 4 a.m. Concerned about safe big water crossing and rough seas, thus the early start by moonlight. Light wind already increasing by sunrise, but successfully crossed into Red Sucker Bay without incident. Portaged around Saganaga Falls (36 rods) and pitched canoe while I breakfasted from 8-9:30 a.m. Now the wind had picked up to a serious south blow, 20-25 mph, gusting to 35 mph. I slowly but easily wind-ferried upriver and portaged around Horsetail Rapids (27 rods) and made camp by noon on a Canadian island on Maraboeuf Lake. It felt really good to have used the early mornings of the last few days to position myself for a safe crossing on Saganaga, a serious, big body of water, when the wind blows. Now, I’m on the safe side of Sag, so let the wind blow! Sweetgrass by the cookstove made cooking dinner a delight! Pitched canoe, again.
Day 80 – 7/10/2009 Windbound on Granite River 60-75 o F W Winds 20-35 mph Cloudy
Whitecaps at wake-up means windbound! Slept 16 hours.
Day 81 – 7/11/2009 Clove Lake 8-miles 45-60 o F Gusting High N Winds 15-30 mph Cloudy/Cool
Early start. Crossed Maraboeuf Lake just in time, before whitecaps. Crossed 6 portages (@ 20-75 rods). Lined up last rapids, only to chip too much pitch off of canoe on rocks (saved a carry, but lost time overall due to damage repair). Saw pictograph near Granite Lake. Stiff tailwind all day. Made camp near Pine Portage (110 rods) for early start in morning. Dried gear and repaired canoe. Collected pitch.
Day 82 – 7/12/2009 Gunflint Lake 8-miles 45-70 o F NW Winds 10-15 mph Clear/Sunny
Early 3 a.m. start on Pine Portage in moonlight. Upper Granite River a narrow water flow through an impressive granite bedrock and boulder landscape. Carried over 5 portages, including Blueberry Portage and Little Rock Falls. Saw first baby loon with its mother. Crossed Magnetic Lake and Gunflint Lake by 10 a.m. Landed at Gunflint Lake public access and cached canoe and gear in woods with Kitigan on guard duty. Walked to Gunflint Lodge to make phone calls, shower and have a good lunch at the Red Paddle Bistro. Sheryl Hinderman advised me of several bears with cubs prowling the area this summer.
Days 83-85 7/13-15/2009 Gunflint Lake Layover
I’ll stay at Gunflint Lake for a few days to update the online journal, do some minor canoe repairs, resupply and rest up. The trip has been truly inspiring for me to this point. The country from Lac La Croix to Grand Portage is payoff for inland river toil. Kitigan and I are both well, physically and mentally. The remaining 75 miles, while still rugged and beautiful, are more mountainous, have longer portages, and are larger lakes, which, when the wind blows, can make canoe travel difficult. We will carefully push on toward the Grand Portage Rendezvous and the end of the “Arrowhead Journey”. The way of traditional wilderness life and the laws of nature are ancient truths: worth experiencing and preserving, and are insights to human survival.