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In the wild – Days 3 and 4 June 30, 2010

Posted by Barbara in Life, Northern Tier, Scouting.
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For the first two days, click here.

Day three:

We woke to a beautiful, still morning on the lake.   The reflections in the water are truly mirror clear.  Amazing.

Even after the long day and the major awakening of yesterday’s portages,  the boys all waked up smiling and enthusiastic.   After a good breakfast of granola and milk, hot chocolate and coffee, we loaded the canoes, tucked a snack bar in our pockets and set out.

Our first portage was a short one around a rapids.  Challenging to get out and over the rocks, but still doable and that was encouraging.  I actually carried the light-weight canoe around this one.  It doesn’t weigh as much as the bags, but the balancing act and weight on the shoulders makes it not easy.   After this one, Brady pretty much started each portage by carrying his own pack plus the We-no-nah and leading the way.   That left just enough bags and canoes to go around.  Robert and Sean, our older eagle scout who was serving as a leader on the crew,  carried the aluminum canoes (they weigh about 76 lbs each) and the rest of us took up whichever pack was needful at the time.

The second portage was longer, but not so steep.  The third was about ½ mile long and through thick woods.  The boys all did great and everyone carried at least one successful portage, not without difficulties, but with a will and good attitude.  Brady is encouraging the scoutmaster to be helpful, but not do more for the boys than is essential – give them a chance to succeed.  They did.

We rounded one point in our canoes and found a pair of loons – obviously in a nesting ground, since they were offering the low hoo-hoo call they use only in that location.   They surfaced and dove in front of our canoe several times, apparently hoping to lead us away.  It worked.  We had no desire at all to bother them, but most surely enjoyed the display.

We found a neat camp on White Otter lake – across from the castle.   It was on an island – the lower part suitable for cooking and fishing.  Tents were at the top of the hill with a great view of the lake.  The boys tried their hand at both canoe fishing and fly fishing and Robert (the scoutmaster)  brought in a couple of nice small-mouth bass.  Brady poached them for dinner and they were delicious!  I hope they catch more tomorrow!

The night was quiet and so clear.  I got up about 1:00 am for some skywatching.  Not surprisingly, the boys weren’t quite game for that  astronomy merit badge.  They seemed to think they’d earned their rest – and I couldn’t argue with that.  But it was great to visit the galaxy from such a beautiful and remote location.   I saw the milky way more clearly than I remember since I was little.   My only regret from the trip is that we never saw the Northern Lights – although I had standing orders to wake everyone, whether they wanted it or not,  if the lights were up.

Day four:

I woke up this morning about 4:30.  That’s earlier than my norm, but the sun is already up and the tent is bright.  So I get up and sit in the quiet to write the journal.   This morning is beautiful, still and clear.   I love that we camped at the top of the little hill because my view down the lake is awesome.  Looks like it will be a bright day and I’ll be reminding the boys to use sunscreen.  The mom part of me takes over occasionally and I have to work at keeping it to a minimum so I don’t make them all sorry I came.

Had breakfast burritos for breakfast.  They were actually good – except that powdered eggs were not the boys’ favorite part.  We were on the water about 9:00 – a bit of a late start for what promises to be a big day.  First stop:  White Otter Castle.  This is a 3-story home built in the wilderness by a 60-year old man who cut, shaped and placed all the logs single-handedly.   It’s pretty amazing, and worth the time.   Where there’s a will, there’s a way.   I’m going to need that lesson shortly.

We had 3 portages today.  The first, about 1/4 mile, was over a trail used by snow-mobiles in the winter.  That meant it was pretty level and relatively easy.  We’re finally getting the hang of this portaging thing.  The second was about twice as long and many times more difficult.  As Robert says, it isn’t the distance of a portage that creates the challenge – it’s the terrain.   I wish I had more pictures of this one, but in the bustle of getting each canoe unloaded and moved down the trail so the next could unload, there wasn’t time to think about photography.  And once I had a pack up on my back, there was no thinking about anything else at all.

It started with a rocky landing – out of the canoe onto slippery boulders.  Each heavy pack had to be 2-manned over the rocks and water to the shore.  In a year where the lakes were more full from snowmelt and rain, we might have been able to float in to a better area to unload, but no such luck this year.

The first step down the trail was into moose muck.  My boot was stuck about ankle-deep, and yanking it out caused me to lose balance and sit down (less embarrassing than a full ‘turtle’.)   Sean helped me up and I tried around the right side.   A couple of steps in and I was down again.  Re-think this, get help to 2-man the pack over that first long puddle of muck and then load up again and go.   The kids are slogging through it with not so many problems – I’m beginning to envy their shorter legs and lighter weights.    Sean got the last kid and I going down the trail and then went back and had to make it on through with his canoe.   I’ve sure appreciated him this week.  He’s frequently the one to stay ’til last and help me after we get the kids all off.   I just stepped to the side and let him pass.   This one is going to take me a while.

The trail stayed passable, but difficult for maybe 50 feet before the next mud.  Each set of mud presented the challenge of finding footing with the pack, either around it or through.  And did I mention in was uphill a little over half the distance?!  Anyway, I passed first one and then another boy,  grounded or turtled with his pack.    Sometimes, the terrain allows you to grab a tree or crawl over to a boulder to help yourself up.  Other times, there isn’t much to do but sit and wait for some help to come back, unless you are strong enough to come up with that 50-80 lbs on your back.    I’m finally figuring out that our failure to fit the packs is a real problem.   Tonight, the leaders will have to see if we can fit some of them to ride more comfortably and easily.      It’s amazing how often these 13-14 year old boys manage to right themselves, get up and struggle onward.  I’ve seen our smallest scout (he must weigh maybe 90 lbs) get himself up with a pack weighing nearly as much as he himself.

At any rate, I mostly had to just let the downed boys rest, while I went on with my own pack.  The next real challenge came where some trees were down across the path.  I find it hard enough to step over low ones without losing balance – but some of these were almost waist high.  I tried resting the pack on one log while I swung my legs over – but it over-balanced and I ended up stranded with me on one side of the log and the pack stuck on the other.  No choice but to take it off, drag it over the next few logs and then balance it on top of a larger log while I rested a minute.  Then slipped it back on got it up.   I’ve done few things ever that took the physical concentration of that portage.  And my admiration for the kids just continued to grow.

On to the the next moose-muck puddle, and then the next.  Note:  go AROUND or step at the sides of mud when it’s deep.  Judge by the footprints in front of you.  If you can’t see footprints, it’s deep and they already re-filled with deep muck.  Step on tree-limbs that might have fallen or been dumped into the mud to help distribute weight.

There was about 1/2 mile of this when Robert and his son met me as they were coming back to see about the slower ones, with good news and bad news.  The good news:  “You’re almost there.”   The bad:  “There are some large puddles of knee to thigh-deep muck in front of you.”  They had stepped in, and sunk.

Staying hard to the left,  I made it within a few steps of the end when I turtled and the guys took pity and took my pack,  2-manning it to the end.

The end was a super-thick layer of moss mats (like thick peat moss) floating on the water.  You could actually walk on the mats and it was as though the ground itself moved under your feet.    Oh, and the pitcher plants and other insectivorous plants were thick!  An amazing place – once you aren’t carrying a portage pack.

Robert had gone back and helped to get the kids back on their feet and everyone made it to the end of this on their own.  I can’t even express what an arduous challenge that portage was.  One of the boys termed it ‘grueling’ and he was right,  but each boy made it through and each should look back on this knowing he gave what it took to finish the job.

Across a very small lake to the third portage, we met a crew of all girls going the way we had just come.  They were laughing and having a great time.  We warned them of the moose-muck and they cheered, “Time to get dirty!!”   You have to love it.

They warned us of slippery rocks on our next portage and my son found them – the hard way.  He twisted his ankle – not too badly, but enough that we tied it with a bandana and laced his boot tight to support it.  That was the only actual injury of the entire trip.

About now, the wind started picking up more.  It was 4:30.  We’d had no time to stop for lunch and now clouds were building and looked like rain.  We pushed on to a nearby camp site (Half-moon camp) to eat and see what the weather would do.  As it turned out, the thunder didn’t let up soon enough and we stayed there that night.  Brady made us cinnamon rolls and hot drinks for supper and we turned in early, hoping to make up time the next day.

Days five and six

Days seven and eight

Days nine and ten

In wilderness is the preservation of the world.   ~Henry David Thoreau

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