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Home » Adventures » BWCAW » Day 7

Thursday, June 22 — Meeting my Northern Neighbor

Day 7 Route

Route I Paddled This Day
9.9 Miles
12 Portages (640 rods)

The nights had been unseasonably warm, but the morning finally greeted this canoer with a more typical cool breeze. The chill did not speed my departure, and I took an elongated time to emerge fully from slumber.

Once I did start, a very short row across Cap Lake led me to the first of many portages for the day. I trudged through the forest as usual carrying my gear. When I arrived at Roe Lake though, a big moose lumbered several dozen yards away in the water. The hefty animal stood majestically in the swampy grass munching on the plants. After many miles scrambling through the wilderness, I could finally see a large mammal up close. He even allowed me to snap a couple pictures before vacating the area. What an astounding way to start the day!

The initial excitement of encountering a moose gave way to an extended day of paddling and portaging. The day’s events melded together in my memory; it was hard to differentiate the individual portages. Even immediately after completing a trail and resuming paddling, it would seem like an eternity passed since I walked the just completed crossing. Perhaps survival instinct took effect — at least with the amnesia I could not clearly remember all prior suffering and energy expended during the multitude of carries. My focus was on what lay ahead and not what I just endured.

A moose

Hello Mr. Moose

One exception to this monotonous rule was the portage between Wisini and Strup Lake. Although short, it was the best maintained and built trail I encountered. A stone staircase descended gracefully to the lake below, where a makeshift dock assisted in launching boats. Someone took great pride and performed a massive amount of hard, dedicated work to construct that masterpiece.

The impressive portage leading to Strup Lake prepared the way for one of the prettier lakes. Many large rock formations and taller bluffs lined the shoreline. The features varied the scenery, which mainly had been forests. Although the woods were great, they became a little stagnant after the long morning.

I ate lunch in my boat just off the portage in the harbor of Kekekabic Lake. This lake would present my only large open water crossing for the day. A little headwind slowed progress, but I powered through the hindrance on the way across. My compass and navigation skills which proved themselves so well on Gabimichigami Lake ran dry as the bearing I calculated landed me about half a mile west of my intended destination. In an attempt to defend my poor performance, shooting a heading using a cheap compass with a slowly settling needle in a small boat being spun by the wind was a very difficult task. That was little excuse for being impatient and making inaccurate measurements. Despite the error, I eventually discovered the portage trail and left Kekekabic Lake.

It Tastes Like Burning

Burned out trees

The devastation from a fire

I crossed several additional small lakes before encountering some very recent firm damage (within the last year) along Bonnie Lake. I pondered whether my campsite on South Arm of the Knife Lake would even exist or if charred rubble would be the only remnants. The portage to South Knife Lake passed entirely through burnt trees, implying that my campsite may indeed have no longer existed. Only small shrubs and grass emerged through the destroyed stumps. The smell of burnt wood still permeated the area.

The damage followed the shore west towards my campsite, but ceased just before reaching it. Solid, untarnished trees still surrounded the site. The fire had been so close though that the pit toilet was actually located in the middle of the inferno’s devastation. A commode sitting in the middle of short, burned tree trunks looked a little odd, and did not offer much privacy. The area was sparsely visited though, and the squirrels did not care very much. This destruction may have actually been the result of a prescribed burn, designed to prevent future uncontrollable conflagrations.

My unblemished campsite was exquisite. Canada sat across the lake, plant life protected my tent, and a nice rock shore provided seating to enjoy the daylight. Few things in life are better than a sunny afternoon in the middle of nowhere with only a couple of clouds in the sky. To top if off, I stuck my feet in the cool lake to relax as I read. Of course, for this tranquility and bliss, I had to cover fifty miles in an uncomfortable canoe through remote Minnesota wilderness, but anything worth doing takes some effort.

Interesting rock formation

The nearly perfect campsite relaxed me a little too much and I became fidgety, so I endeavored to explore the area consumed by flames. If it had contained anything interesting, those items must have been destroyed by the fire. All I accomplished in my skirmish was covering my pants with soot. While climbing through these fallen trees in search of anything, my legs were tired — more than they should have been. The fatigue could have been from the numerous portages, or perhaps that gallivanting in canoe country for a week after a marathon was finally taking its toll. I still had many miles on the water and a couple tough portages ahead of me so I needed to find strength somewhere.

After returning, I drastically reduced the length of the carbon cycle and built a small fire in the early evening to satisfy my inner pyro. I had nothing to cook over the flames, but still enjoyed making the fire dance.

Thunder Thunder Thunder Thunder Point!

As evening approached I paddled to Thunder Point, situated on west end of the island that splits Knife Lake, to watch the sunset. A scramble up a steep trail provided an elevated view of the nearby border. Night’s emergence was better than the previous day, but still not very memorable.


Since I would be on a remote island after dark, I had fully prepared for night tracking on the short hop back. I marked the campsite in my GPS, took a precise bearing while it was still light, and had my headlamp along. All this preparation was unneeded as I easily returned to camp with plenty of light still remaining. This quick return trip was one of the best experiences I had paddling though. The wind had dropped to nil, so my boat slid gently across a sheet of glass as the last of daylight faded away. The ripples of my wake pushed across the undisturbed water. The only sound interrupting the peace was my infrequent paddle and the birds’ relentless chirping. I could hear individual drops of water from my oar strike the lake and see the resulting waves spread. It was truly an amazing experience.

Having already watched the sunset, I wanted to wait for the stars’ encore performance. Unfortunately, their show started very late, and I was an old grouch that could not remain awake long enough while still surviving the bugs. So despite having front row seats, I missed the display.

Speaking of insects, I had also depleted my bug repellent reserves, which were vitally important. At least I did not have many portages during my last two sailing days so my contact with the enemy would be limited. Even with little exposure, I still expected to be really itchy in the coming days.