08 September 2011

The Waters of the Soul...

“For me and for thousands with similar inclinations, the most important passion of life is the overpowering desire to escape periodically from the clutches of a mechanistic civilization. To us, the enjoyment of solitude, complete independence, and the beauty of undefiled panoramas is absolutely essential to happiness.”
—Bob Marshall

Bob said it much better than I can muster. To me, it is the independence, the solitude, along with the wild places that are most appealing in life. The quiet natural world speaks a universal language that if you listen closely enough to, you’ll find it soothes the soul in a manner than no modern contrivance of man can. These are the primary reasons that led me to the place I now live, there are other secondary reasons to be sure, for the most part driven by the condition the world at large finds itself.

"Up North is a certain way the wind feels on your face and the way an old wool shirt feels on your back. It’s the peace that comes over you when you sit down to read one of your old trip journals, or the anticipation that bubbles inside when you start sorting through your tackle box in the early spring.

Up north is the smell of the Duluth pack hanging in your basement and the sound of pots clinking across the lake. It’s a raindrop clinging to a pine needle and the dancing light of a campfire on the faces of friends.

Up north is a lone set of cross-country ski tracks across a wilderness lake and wood smoke rising from a cabin chimney. It’s bunchberries in June, blueberries in July and wild rice in September.

Each of us has an up north. It’s a time and place far from the here and now. It’s a map on the wall, a dream in the making, a tugging at one’s soul. For those who feel the tug, who make the dream happen, who put the map in the packsack and go, the world is never quite the same again.

We have been Up North. And part of us always will be.”

-Sam Cook as quoted from his book "Up North."

For those who’ve spent considerable time in the North Country that passage from Sam Cook probably rings a few bells. It’s not just a place, it becomes a state of mind, a way of living really. After a time, I've come to realize that the way I view and experience the world 'outside' my chosen place to live has changed. Noise and lots of it is the best way I can describe it I guess, along with the hustle and bustle, a strange sense that everyone seems to be hell bent on frustration, either being so, or making sure someone else is. I've come to hate leaving and when I am gone I long for the quiet places.

Water is amazing. If there was ever an inter-connective substance in this world it must be water. All life depends on it in one fashion or another, it flows, falls, covers and crests over much of the planet and the inhabitants thereof. It's also my preferred word to describe the soul. From a moment to another it can rage and run, it can be cool or hot, lay flat and placid, calm and smooth as glass. Water reflects much as the soul reflects, the inner workings of a man. Sometimes cloudy, murky, perhaps bitter, another clear and still, yet another a boiling and seething rage.

Because of this I've come to believe one can feed the soul through time in and on the water. Sounds crazy I guess, but I cannot deny the affect that this time spent, has upon my demeanor, my mood, and my thoughts.

There is a place, deep in the North Woods, where I go to find the things that cannot be found, the act of searching, is all that is really required. A place filled with the wonder of the North Woods, and the quiet waters of the Boundary Wilderness.

“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

A trip to the Boundary Waters Wilderness is a bit of a complicated affair. The BWCAW is 1,090,000 acres of wilderness, over 1,000 individual lakes, with more than a 1,500 miles of canoe routes. This was the place of my latest foray into the wilderness.

Morning launch onto Brule lake. Weather was clear, one of those crystal September days, in the low 60s. This was a single pack trip, my Frost River Timber Cruiser was absolutely loaded to the hilt though, and weighed in around 65 pounds. Part of this was my fault, as I chose to take some things I find rather enjoyable, like a fourteen pound cast iron skillet. I know, and yes I felt and paid for every ounce of it on the many portages of this trip. Still, in the end it was worth it. More on that later.

Paddling away from the entry point and the beauty starts right away.

The leaves are starting to change already, Quaking Aspens were starting to turn.

Heading North West to our first portage, some four miles away.

We fished periodically along the way, friend of mine who went along for this trip caught this hog of a Walleye. 

About half way to the portage we stopped for a breather on an island. The wind was really starting to pick up and making progress was getting challenging. 

Skies were mostly clear, it really was a beautiful day, even with the wind, which was whipping the water up at a pretty good pace.

Running out of water and coming up on our first portage, a short one needing little effort.

About twenty minutes later we were back on open water, though not for long, another short portage was coming up.

Took a few minutes to float along with the wind at my back before the next portage.

Shot of the portage. Most of them are like this, abrupt hard stop on some boulders and a path into the dark woods.

Open water again and a short couple miles to our first camp, clouds on the horizon were starting to get heavy. A warning of what was to come on the next day.

Some images of the first camp site. We had quite the view out over the lake across a point of an island and the far side.

Dinner was the walleye, fried in my Grandmother's frying pan. That pan has been in the family for sixty plus years. I could not begin to guess the number of campfires it has seen, or how many meals have been prepared in it. I know I used it heavily on this trip, virtually all main meals were prepared in it, along with Bannock bread.

This was my first time using a gravity feed water filter. I cannot say enough good things about these. My old pump is going on the shelf, gravity feed is the only way to go.

Some pictures of my shelter and hammock. This was to be the typical set up for the trip. The BushCraft Outfitters tarp worked flawlessly through out the trip, as did the Skeeter-Beater Pro hammock.

View from the hammock.

Night came on at about 8:20, had a nice view to the east but not the west unfortunately. Spent some time around the fire and called it a day.

Might be tough to tell from the images, but it was raining the next morning. It would hammer for fifteen to twenty minutes then blow out. It did this all day and made for difficult travel. We had four lakes and three portages to cover, none of them were done dry. Still managed to get some bacon and eggs together for energy for the very trying day ahead.

On the water and on the way to the first portage, which was an easy one. Later we'd have a 147 rod portage over very rough terrain. Up down and over boulder, hard turns mud and overhanging trees and limbs. It was one of the worst portages I've had to make. Because of this I put the camera away as I was concerned about busting it on a bad spill, not to mention the rain.

Some of the scenery on the way to our next campsite, wish the pictures of the Loons had come out a little better.

We got to our camp late in the day, not a lot of light left so our shelters went up quickly and I tossed dinner together which was Spanish rice and chicken.

Next morning I wasn't feeling breakfast, we set out to explore the lake and do some fishing. Our packs were heavy and we decided to eat through the weight, releasing any fish we caught.

The weather on Winchell was fantastic in the morning and we had good paddling until the end of the day. The paddle back to camp was into the wind and very challenging.

The pictures of the family of Otters were not the best. I was too far away for the zoom on my regular lens to get in good and tight. I hadn't put the 300mm in the canoe for the day and they took off before I could get close enough for some really good pictures.

Took a break from the wind on the lee side of an island on the way back to camp.

We got back to camp late, and I was so tired I forgot to get a pic of dinner. Beans, long grain wild rice, and steak tips. Was a dang fine meal. Night was coming on again and we had south facing camp so the sunset pics were not available yet again.

The next morning we went heavy on breakfast, it was going to be a long day. We had four portages in front of us, a 27, 200, 37, and a 25. We were both dreading the 200 and knew we'd need some energy. Nine eggs and a pound of bacon!

Some Loons on the way.

Coming up on the first portage.

Back on open water for a few minutes, then the beginning of the 200 rod portage.

This is the type of terrain typical on that 200 rod portage, though some of it was quite a bit worse. A 'rod' is an old English form of measurement and equals 16 feet, making a 200 rod portage 3,200 feet.

There is nothing so sweet as the sight of the open water waiting at the end of a long rough portage.

Back on open water but not for long.

Looking up from the bottom of a steep portage.

Resting at the end of the last portage and then back on the water.

Some of the scenery along the way to our next camp.

Eagles and some Turkey Vultures I think.

Some images of my shelter and the camp.

Over the days we'd spent so far, I'd been showing my compadre some typical tarp and hammock set ups. Here are some pics of his final efforts. I loaned him my BushCraft Outfitters survival tarp for this.

Supper was fried summer sausage and some Spanish rice. While many might think me crazy for carrying such a heavy pan, and I know there are lighter ways to go, I really enjoyed using Grandma's old pan up on the Boundary waters. Cooking was a breeze and clean up was a snap.

We finally got a campsite facing the sunset. The following images are just a few of the total number I took. Couldn't put just one of them up!

We got an early start the next morning, the scenery was simply stunning. It was our last day and we were gifted with the serene beauty of the Boundary Waters.

Ending where it began.

This was a very memorable trip, and will be back again next year if not again later this year. Once you've paddled the Boundary Waters, you can't help but return. It calls, as does the wilderness in general to the souls seeking what can seemingly only be found in the far reaches. We are all but lengthening shadows cast by a sinking sun, go and do, the memories last forever.


  1. Great trip report! I hope to get up there to see this great place soon.

  2. Besides that I love your canoe, the scenery ain't to bad, either. Great photos and write-up.

  3. I know I told you on BCUSA, but I'll reiterate here. The photo documentation of this trip is stunning. Truly God's country. I find myself looking these photos several times a week. Thank you for taking the time to take us on this journey with you.

    jstalljon from BCUSA

  4. Hey thanks brother, I appreciate that.

  5. Outstanding post.
    Looks like a great time in a great place.

  6. Really enjoyed the post on Boundary Waters - glad there are people who still respect the wilderness as you do. Thanks for sharing a stunning trip with us, and with such beautiful photography.

  7. You are a man with many talents. We love your blogs.