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In the Wild…..Days 5 and 6 July 1, 2010

Posted by Barbara in Life, Northern Tier, Scouting.
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Days one and two

Days three and four

Day Five:

We got up and on the water about 8:20 this morning.   There was a light wind as we crossed over to our first portage.  It gave Brady a chance to reinforce the training he’d been doing for the first few days.  Tack into the waves at a 15 – 20 degree angle.  Don’t let waves broadside you.  Paddle like an indian – close to the shore.  The waves are lighter, so you conserve energy, you can see whatever is to be seen on the shoreline, and you are encouraged because you can see the shoreline go by more quickly and see your progress.

The portage was short and not outstanding, I guess, because I wrote nothing about it.  After the big one yesterday, I guess it felt easy in comparison.  Today’s adventure would be totally different.

We finished our portage and pushed on to Graveyard Island – so named because there is a fake gravesite on the south point of the island, built by a crew that was windbound there for three days in years past.  This was where we had planned to spend last night, so if we could push through the next day’s plan we’d be back on schedule for our 100-mile patch.  We headed off across the small bay with a plan to follow the coast of lake Elsie down toward the south, then cross a narrow area to get to our next portage and over to the smaller lakes and the Gamble River where wind would be less of a problem.   However, as we got to the point of the bay to turn south, the wind had shifted and we were pointed into a headwind.   As we paddled, the wind picked up higher and higher until there were whitecaps on the lake.   We were paddling maybe 25 – 40 feet from the shoreline and still couldn’t make any headway against the wind – so Brady and Robert called for us to turn around.   We were going to go back to the Graveyard Island campsite and wait out the wind.    I didn’t hear the call and it took a few minutes of me fighting to go south and Sean, in the back of the canoe, fighting to turn back north, before we communicated the plan and began to work as a team again.    By the time we got around the point into our little bay, the wind was even stronger.  It was a challenge for Brady to get the little lightweight We-no-nah over to the shore without capsizing.   We huddled in a tiny protected inlet until we were all gathered together again.  I was saying a prayer for Brady and our youngest scout, who had been behind us and had gone out of sight for a moment, and for our sister crew, who I hoped had already found a safe place to ride it out.

This was definitely the most worrisome part of our trek, for me.  I wasn’t frightened, because we knew what to do to control our situation and were doing it – and because I didn’t want the boys to be frightened.  But I was definitely concerned about safety for Brady and our smallest scout who were behind the group and out of sight as they pulled over to the shoreline.     In a few minutes, they came around the point, walking their canoe.  Robert had seen them get to the shore and had walked back over land to help them get down to us.  In time, they made it up to where we waited and we all rested a bit before walking our own canoes on around the shoreline of the little bay until we reached a likely point to cross over to the island.  Walking was safer, but not easy because the rocks under the water were slippery and unpredictable.  The water went from ankle-deep to waist-deep with no warning, so keeping us all together as we walked took some effort.    The primary rule kicks in here – just hang on to the canoe.

Once on the island, the boys stretched out to warm up in the sun and dry out from the cold water we’d been chest-high in.  Robert did his regular safety-check of the island and found a couple of trees he thought would not survive the wind, which I’m sure was hitting gale-force gusts.  He projected their direction of fall and decided they were far enough away that they would not cause us a problem when they fell.  Brady tied a clothesline at the safety point and told the boys not to explore beyond that until the wind let up.   A bit later,  as we stood in camp, I heard the ‘crack’ that told us Robert’s tree had, indeed, gone down.   Several more on the island and many more, as we finished our trek, also went down.

The wind didn’t break until quite late, so we made camp on the island, put on dry clothes and shoes and enjoyed the spot.  I think Robert never quite relaxed until the wind died down.  He was watching the trees closer to camp and hoping there were no weak ones that would be a problem to us.   But by evening, the wind was down.  We were a full day behind schedule now, so we went to bed about 8:00 pm (no problem – everyone was worn out from fighting the waves earlier) and had a wake-up call scheduled for 4:00.  That’s okay – it’s light by 4:00 up here.

Day six:

We were actually on the water by 6:15 this morning.  The wind was just starting to pick up a little and we needed to clear away from the bigger lake before it got up too much.  Brady had offered the boys a couple of options for re-routing our trip due to having lost a full day to the wind.  We could have opted for a pick-up at Dashua lake rather than paddling all the way back to base, or we could have shortened the trip by taking a different route.   The boys opted to work harder and keep as near as we could to our original plan.   The weather isn’t done with us yet, and Brady will offer options more than once.  But this team is set to see it through.

We’re in rain gear this morning, because even tho there is no thunder, it looks likely to rain on us.  And it does.

From the Graveyard camp, we went down the coast of lake Elsie and took the northernmost of the southern portages.  This was a bit shorter route than the alternatives – but, as Brady said, pretty steep at the start.  I learned that when Brady said something, I should take it seriously.  It was oh-my-goodness steep, if one considered climbing it with a portage pack.   Brady and Robert picked up their canoes and headed up the  hill pretty quickly.   I know Brady is hurting as much as the rest of us – this is his first trip of the year, as well.  But he goes off strong and in a good mood, anyway.

The boys and Sean and I decided that teamwork would be an improvement over individual effort – so we helped each other up the hill – one person climbing without a pack behind another who was loaded.    In this way, we all made it up the steepest part without falling.  A ‘turtle’ right there would have been really dangerous.  Sean helped us all – so he’d climbed the hill 4 or 5 times before he picked up his canoe to climb it for himself.     We cleared that portage and out into Mable (lake), through a short river connection into Sandford lake.   Sandford is a big, beautiful clear lake.  The water was so clear you could see so deep into it.  It was one of the places I felt okay about filling my water bottle from out in the middle of the lake and drinking it without worrying about stopping for purification.   Across Sandford and down to Froggie’s Rock – which would have been our planned campground for the previous night.

Froggie’s Rock was really a beautiful area.  The wind was picking up as we got there, so we broke for lunch and enjoyed the little sheltered bay there.  It was such a pretty site, I think we all would have enjoyed staying put – but the weather settled down and we had a chance to make up some time – so after a nice break, we hit the waves once again.

From there we took the Irene portage across into lake Irene.  This was one of our longer portages – not too steep, but with lots of trees down across the path – some of which had come down in the wind storm the day before.  Thankfully, there were also large boulders along the way, just the right height for resting a pack.   One of the boys, bless his heart, had offered to carry the Gray Whale that had given me such a hard time on the earlier portage.  It had a broken strap that was tied into place and very difficult to adjust.  It proved too unwieldy for him, as well, and one of the other boys ended up with it.  I was so impressed and grateful for their willingness to help.

I ended up with the cook box and J (my son) with a food box and we made the entire long portage without a fall.  I was still very slow climbing over the trees and trying to help the boys get back up if they were down along the way.  Brady and Robert fought their way through most of it – although even Brady had to put the canoe down to find a way around a downfall where the canopy of the tree was across the path.  He and Robert later came back with leathermen and hacked off branches so the rest of us could pass through.   Sean and J finished their portage and came back to lay logs across a small stream that also blocked our path, and then came on back to help us with encouragement and guidance about the trail ahead.     Thanks, guys.  🙂

They tell me we have only one more difficult portage on the trip.  I hope it’s true, as I’ve threatened our crew leader with double portaging to carry my pack if it isn’t.   He just grinned.

We crossed Irene and hit the Gamble River, following it down to Little Gull lake and on to our campsite for the night.  The river was fun, although the downed trees gave us plenty of opportunity for playing Duck, Duck, Goose (playing limbo to get ourselves and canoes under the trees), occasionally walking the canoes over higher ground, since the river and lakes were all low a bit this year.   It was a very pleasant change from the lake paddling.  The midges and mosquitoes are much worse here, however.    Excuse me, while I put this down to go find some bug spray.

It was a long day – we covered 23 miles and 2 (or was it 3 or 4?) portages.  Time to sleep.

Days seven and eight

Days nine and ten

We must go beyond textbooks, go out into the bypaths and untrodden depths of the wilderness and travel and explore and tell the world the glories of our journey.   ~John Hope Franklin

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