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Home » Adventures » BWCAW » Day 4

Monday, June 19 — Getting Back on Schedule

Day 4 Route

Route I Paddled This Day
14.1 Miles
8 Portages (358 rods)

I intended to be on the water by 6 a.m. to make up for lost time, but a steady drizzle rapped against my tent encouraging me to remain within its confines. Another hour of slumber allowed nature to clear this wet distraction, although even after packing my boat I headed into precarious weather.

To avoid my first portage, I walked the rapids from Jasper to Ogishkemunci Lake. The stream was about shin deep, and I floated my boat against the current, guiding it behind me. The footing across the smooth, underwater rocks was wobbly, but I avoided inadvertently submersing myself. A person actually efficient at portaging probably would not save any time using the rapid route. For me, however, fighting the moving water was a little quicker and a fun diversion anyway, as opposed to carrying a boat again.

Waterfall between Agamok and Mueller Lake

Waterfall between Agamok and Mueller Lake. The bridge is part of the Kekekabic Trail.

The morning was mostly overcast and threatening, but a blue patch of sky appeared occasionally. A light mist scared me into putting on my rain gear. (Note to self: adding clothes in a small boat in open water is extremely tipsy). The precautionary layers went unused though. Heavy rains fell on other parts of Ogishkemunci Lake, but the torrent avoided me.

The wind had shifted from the prior day and now pushed at my back. The vector change made paddling much more pleasant and allowed me to make steady progress. Any schedule recovery was negated though, as I incorrectly navigated the zigzag through the peninsula in Ogishkemunci Lake and had difficulty finding the correct route. (Look at the daily paddle route to see a drunken sailor’s course.)

Time to Carry Again

The carry to Mueller Lake was very rugged, negotiating a steep, rocky trail. After conquering that obstacle, a very short paddle presented me with a long but easy walk to Agamok Lake. A nice waterfall located a little from the portage trail provided a nice distraction (follow the Kekekabic Trail to see it). The guidebook and map showed an alternative three short portage solution instead of a single long one, but that option did not appear to be maintained. I never planned to use that route though, so I did not look very hard for it either. Arriving at Agamok Lake, I encountered a shoreline inhabited by new growth forest gently rising from the calm water.

Gabimichigami Lake

The open expanses of Gabimichigami Lake

Although the morning was gloomy, the weather improved throughout the afternoon. By the end of the day I could even feel the symptoms of prolonged exposure to the sun, despite wearing long sleeves as SPF ∞ much of the day (since I did not bother to pack sunscreen).

Avoiding another portage, I walked the shallow river to Gabimichigami Lake. The stream did not have any rapids but was too shallow and swift moving to paddle. It emerged into the wide, open expanses of Gabimichigami Lake. Thankfully the wind was still in my favor and did not create any large swells. Although not strictly necessary, I plotted a heading across the lake to my next portage trail using a map and compass. Because of my poor track record with these tools, the exercise was mostly for education and practice. Surprisingly though, I found the trailhead exactly where my measurements predicted. Better lucky than good, as they say.

While crossing the portage trail to Little Saganaga Lake, I encountered a couple escorting their dog through the Boundary Waters. Canine companions were allowed, but the extra work to bring a mutt along must have been enormous. Although I am sure they just wanted the whole family together on their vacation.

Little Saganaga Lake was interesting to cross because it was dotted with a plethora of tiny islands. Each one looked identical from my vantage point inside a canoe. Despite my best efforts though, I island hopped between them without getting lost.

Off the Beaten Path

Beaver Dam

A beaver dam creating a swamp

At this point in my outing, I veered from the more popular lakes. The portages leading to Elton Lake were lightly frequented and partially overgrown. Before arriving at that lake though, the trail crossed a swamp formed behind a beaver dam. A narrow open channel ran down the middle, but I still had to force my boat across a bed of lilies and grass. The west end became very shallow, and I resorted to walking my boat through extremely disgusting, warm muck with who knows what growing inside.

After the tumultuous crossing, I was rewarded with several nice rock outcroppings along Elton Lake’s shore. I planned to stay at the southern most site, but someone had already claimed it for the night. Rather than backtrack the couple hundred yards to the lake’s other campsite (forward, not backward, upward not forward, and always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom), I decided to complete the next day’s initial portage and stay on Makwa Lake.

Following the crossing I arrived at camp exhausted from a ten-hour day of human-powered movement across the water. Although long and tiring, the paddling went drastically better than before. My skill handling the boat improved slightly, and a lack of headwind simplified my travels. I more than made up all my lost ground…err water.

Makwa Lake

My site framed a great picture of Makwa Lake.

I spent the evening relaxing on dry land, with anything damp drying in the evening sun. Unfortunately, countless crawling, buzzing bugs also occupied the site, although nothing much bit. I had a very peaceful evening resting on bare rocks on the waters edge, with a gentle breeze added for good measure. A slight headache perturbed my rest, probably caused by one or more of the following: not enough food and water, an entire day in the sun, paddling for ten hours, or carrying a boat on my head multiple times.

Other Thoughts

Finally, a couple other random items I discovered throughout my second full day of canoeing. I originally planned to keep my maps rolled in a tube (having paid a couple extra dollars to have them shipped that way), and pull them out as needed. Rolling the maps prevents illegible creases and keeps them in pristine condition, but that arrangement was not practical for navigation. Perhaps it was just my lack of experience, but I constantly referenced the maps as I crossed lakes and trails to minimize the chance of becoming lost. Rolling and unrolling them that frequently would have been tirelessly burdensome. I instead folded them into quadrants, with only the relevant section exposed in a transparent map case. The enclosure kept them clean and dry while also providing easy access as I tried to navigate through the wilderness.

I also devised a slightly better method to carry my boat from lake to lake, as I did it eight times that day. I first wore my PFD higher than normal. If I looked down, I could then position the boat such that the weight pressed down on my shoulders, but the PFD provided some cushion. I had to hunch over for this method to work, so my back also bore a good portion of the stress. At least I was young, and my body could recover from the torture. Only a crooked chiropractor (pun intended) would recommend carrying a boat in such a manner, but sadly it was still better than my technique the previous day.