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We’re back from our 5 day canoe trip into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness! This is a two part post:

  • Part 1: Trip prep, route details, daily journal of days 1-3
  • Part 2: Day 4-5, gear faves, what worked and didn’t work on my first BWCA canoe trip and a bug furry surprise at the end!

Welcome to Part 2!

  • 7 Women
  • 30 miles
  • 10 lakes
  • 4 rivers 
  • 16 portages
  • 18 beaver dams 
  • 5 days

Woo! LETS GO!

Day 4:  Oyster Lake – Oyster River – Lake Agnes – Nina Moose River – Nina Moose Lake

  • Distance 7.5 mi
  • 3 lakes
  • 2 rivers
  • 4 portages 60, 170, 20, 96 rods

The rain passed, but the morning started out cloudy.  A hefty breakfast of eggs, hashbrowns and bacon got us all warmed up and ready to hit the water again for another day of adventure. One of our portages ended up being a shallow paddle between Oyster Lake and the Oyster River- thanks rain!  Portage number two was 160 rods and led to Lake Agnes, a larger lake that has 17 campsites and has had a history of bear activity.  It had a nice sandy beach that was perfect for a quick swim after a humid,  sweaty portage. 

Along the Nina Moose river, we had two portages, long waving fields of wild rice, saw several beavers, a bald eagle and more trumpeter swans. Nina Moose Lake is a medium sized lake, but the weather was shifting, and the wind was starting to gust and blow us around a little bit.  We eyed each campsite from the middle of the lake and saw that several were already occupied, even though it was still early in the afternoon.  Aha!  A campsite was found!  The gray skies and wind made for murky tadpole water to filter and no swimming at camp.  We also had to figure out where to set up the big green tarp so our tent would stay dry.  One forecast said zero percent chance for rain, the other said rain in the evening… it did rain, and we stayed dry this time.

Our evening was filled with more delicious food, camp chores and conversations around the campfire.  No time for painting tonight, early bedtime.

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Day 5:  Nina Moose Lake – Moose River – EP16

  • Distance 5 miles
  • 13 beaver dams

A little after 4am I awoke to a sound coming from across the lake.  My brain took a second to identify it…Low key yelling?  A weird dog barking?  Grunting? OH NO!  Someone has a bear in their campsite!!

I grabbed my headlamp and hustled to the shore.  Pam was already there, looking out and assessing the situation.  We decided the best plan was to relocate all of our food to the fire ring area and build a bright, noisy crackling fire just in case Mr. or Mrs. bear decided to swim over and see if we had any breakfast.  Pinecones and birch bark burned great and started the rest of our wood even after the soaking rain!  We saw headlamps moving in the dark across the lake and heard the humans yell, bang pots and pans and try to scare off the bear several more times before sunrise.  A couple of people in our group woke up, but the best plan was to let everyone sleep, letting that bear know we were up with a bright, noisy fire, food packs in sight and… as a last resort we’d unleash the ear splitting sound of SEVEN screaming Women and the banging of every “clangable” camping item on that poor animal until it left. 

After an exciting start to the day, we had another delish breakfast and hit the water by 9. Today, we paddle out along the Moose River and head back home. 

We did not see any moose on the Moose River, but the moody gray sky, contrasted with the warm yellow of the fields of wild rice against the contrast of the dark river is the view I will remember. I will also remember crossing over THIRTEEN beaver dams in one day on this river.  Whew, the beavers are really busy, but we got into a rhythm of problem solving and navigating that made crossing them a fun challenge.

Our final portage out of the wilderness was 160 rods, and all of us sat and looked on in wonder as Pam, our fearless leader, once again hefted a 50 lb portage pack and a three person canoe right out of the water, over boulders and marched straight up a hill.  That’s got to be well over 100 lbs with pfds attached and all of the trimmings.  She is a force of nature and we are all grateful to have her as our leader,  teacher and friend.

Our trip came to an end at Entry point 16.  One by one, each woman crested the hill with a pack or a canoe on their shoulders, a smile on their face and a boost of inner strength.  WE DID IT!  We unloaded all of our gear by the entry point sign and celebrated with a delicious lunch of curry cashew chicken salad while we waited the hour for our shuttle to arrive. 

As we prepared our lunch, a group of canoeists came up the hill.  Pam asked them if they had seen any bears, because of the commotion we heard on Nina Moose Lake.  IT WAS THEIR CAMP!  They filled us in on the 11pm raid and then the re-securing of food that was met with another raid in the morning, with a few return visits.  The bear was a mama with three cubs and they knew how to get a food bag down from a tree.  This was likely a family of bears that have been habituated and accessed campers food from nearby campsites for some time.  The campers said that they sprayed the adult bear with bear spray, but after it had eaten enough of their food that they had to end their trip a day early.  

Friendly reminder:  A fed bear is a dead bear.  Unfortunately, this story will probably not end well for the bears due to the threat to human safety. Securing your food is not only for your safety, but the health of the wildlife that inhabit these wild spaces.  Fear of bears should not keep us from camping and hiking in wild spaces, but it is critical to know how to do it right and check with the rangers for recent bear activity to understand the food storage requirements and conditions of the area you are recreating in.

photo: Pam Wright

Gear Faves

Granite Gear Superior One Portage Pack– this baby is a hauler.  Granite Gear sent me this pack for the trip, and it was really great at holding everything. It fit well in the canoe and distributed the weight on my hips so that I was able to carry 50 lbs without it hanging only off of my shoulders. They also sent me a smaller hip belt a week before the trip so I could get the fit just right. GG has made great strides in their inclusive fit/design so everyone can enjoy the outdoors and their slogan is “Born in the Boundary Waters and tougher than granite”. This pack is proof of that.

Granite Gear Dry sacks – these were great for keeping all of my gear dry and organized.  I like that they were brightly colored and easy to remember what I had in each colored sack. These will be coming along with me on future backpacking and backpacking trips!

Granite Gear Air Zip ditty– these little guys are a secret weapon for staying organized.  I brought a hipwing fanny pack with a ditch kit/emergency kit but it was too small to fit my daily snacks and sunscreen.  So I clipped a one liter air zip ditty to the outside of my portage pack and it was really handy to have access in the boat.  The vibrant colors are also nice and make it easy to remember where things are.

Grandpa’s Crazy Creek Chair – this chair ended up being one of my unexpected favorites of the trip.  Don’t laugh, but I brought TWO chairs on this trip:  my REI Flex lite chair (which is great) and my Grandpa’s brand new Crazy Creek Chair that I inherited.  I brought them both because I couldn’t decide, thought I might want the back support in the canoe and figured they would both get used somehow…  the Crazy creek had higher back support, fit perfectly in the slot behind the straps in my portage pack (so it was easy to access) and made for a nice mat to stretch out on or share as a dry seat with a friend when it was unclipped and lay flat.  I never did end up trying it in the canoe seat, but it got lots of use on land!

REI Sahara Hoodie- this sun shirt can get warm in hotter temps but was the perfect layer on this trip. I’ve had it for a little over a year and wore it every day on this trip.  The hood was a great layer of sun and wind protection when exposed on the lake and I like the peachy pink color.

Kuhl Free Flex Roll up Pants – I’ve been wearing these pants for a little less than a year and they have served me well in the Grand Canyon, and many hikes.  This was the first time I’ve worn them in water and it was really nice to have a roll-up snap option and they dried quick after the many portages and beaver dam crossings.

Enlightened Equipment Revelation Quilt– I have several pieces of warm gear made by this local Minnesota cottage gear company. I sold three sleeping bags to buy my first quilt and it’s performed well on every trip since. After 6 years of quilt ownership, this was the first trip that I had to test out the dry down feature. I was relieved that my body heat dried my quilt quickly after a leaky tent incident.  I credit the thin fabric and dry down technology- it’s not just marketing, folks.  It dried really quick and saved my bacon.  Whew.

The rest of the gear I brought can be found on these gear posts. I left my cooking gear and some other items that were shared as a group at home, but if you would like to learn more about the gear I depend on, and how I have lightened my load backpacking, these post are for you!

Final Thoughts

If you’ve made it this far…thank you for reading. This is the part of the story that it’s taken me a couple of weeks to sort out.  There were parts of this trip that I really enjoyed and I’m grateful that I finally had the opportunity to finally explore the BWCA in a canoe.  But, there are also parts that I didn’t love and am not super anxious to do again at this point in time. I learned that I have some physical considerations that may mean that I have to take a different approach if I do it again.  Despite training my body for carrying a canoe, it did NOT work for my neck issues.  I learned this about half-way through my first real portage and was disappointed for the rest of the trip that I was not able to carry a canoe without pain and numbness.  I also experienced an uncomfortable side effect that made me feel like I was still rocking side to side in a canoe every time I closed my eyes during the trip. This lasted 4-5 days after I got back home and made it hard to fall asleep at night. After laying low for a couple of weeks to get my system back in order, this taught me that I may be more of a land dweller or 1-2 hours in a boat kind of gal.  Despite these challenges, it was an incredible trip with some super rad women, and am so grateful that I was able to experience the wilderness in a whole new way! Check out part 1 to learn about our trip prep, route and read more about days 1-3 on the water!

Have you explored the Boundary Waters by foot, canoe or even dogsled? Its an amazing wilderness that deserves our respect, protection and awe! Share your stories in the comment or join the conversation on Wandering Pine Facebook and Instagram.

Happy Trails!

~WP

Other posts about the BWCA you may enjoy:

Backpacking the Border Route

Backpacking the Sioux Hustler Trail

Women and Wolves Weekend- Ely MN

Paddling and Painting on the Gunflint Trail

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