I tried to do a trip in WCPP in 2012. I messed up, crashed my car, and that trip was cancelled. So, I tried again, and this time actually completed the trip. Andy and I both tried to get some of our buddies to go along with us, but as work schedules locked the other guys in we determined that we would go regardless. This was Andy’s “Happy Retirement” trip, so we had a good reason to make it happen.
This trip was quite different for me in many ways. Of course, this was my first WCPP paddle. It was also the longest canoe trip I have ever been on. It was the first time I was not responsible for outfitting at least one extra person. And, we started the trip with the goal of traveling less and fishing more. I have always had a travel more/fish less mentality. As things turned out less traveling was a good thing. So, let’s get into a day-by-day recount….
Aug. 12, 2014 – I had been preparing food for a couple days. Last minute ordering of a few items, re-packaging others, and getting everything I could into vacuum packed Seal –A-Meal packaging. I finished cooking bacon on the morning g of the 12th and then waited for Andy to show up. Andy got messed up by construction on the road and didn’t arrive until almost 1:00 p.m. We dumped everything in his truck and hit the road immediately to get to Duluth for the night. Just about 20 miles south of Superior, WI, a huge black bear ran at the car as we were driving northbound on US 53. It seemed it would collide with us right at Andy’s side view mirror. I yelled to Andy, “Look out!”, but he was concentrating ahead and never saw the beast. The bear veered off at the last second and I watched it in my side view as it lumbered into the woods . Whew!
Aug. 13, 2014 – Up early and on the road. Stopped for breakfast in Virginia, MN, crossed the border at International Falls at around 10:30 and headed north toward Dryden. We rolled into Dryden right around 1:00 p.m. and stopped at the supermarket. Once the last forgotten items were purchased, we headed for Red Lake. Arrived in Red Lake in late afternoon, checked in at the hotel, and went down to Red Lake Outfitters to get permits, etc. Harlan had a few beers left by Bob Baldwin and his son, and he offered us some. We started chatting, and customers were coming and going, and over the next hour or so we finished up our paperwork and headed back up to the hotel. After dinner, Andy and I brought all our gear to the conference room of the hotel. Andy and I are both used to outfitting several people for canoe trips, so we had brought about 2 or 3 times as much gear as we needed. We spent the evening sorting gear and food and repacking everything that we were bringing in. We had at least two large containers of stuff we were leaving in the truck.
Aug. 14, 2014 – I got up around 5 a.m. showered and went to the lobby to have breakfast. Andy came down about an hour later and we finished up, got our packs into the truck and drove to RLO. Harlan was waiting with the group of 4 women who would be sharing our shuttle into Douglas Lake. We got everything loaded and shoved off around 7:30. On the way up the lake, Harlan stopped to show us some pictographs. It was nice to see them. We spent a few minutes there, and then continued on up to the 850m portage.
|The put-in on Douglas Lake|
There was a small party waiting to get the shuttle out and all that gear really crowded the landing. So we unloaded the boat and immediately started hauling gear over to Douglas. Once we were at Douglas, we asked the women to go first and Andy and I took our time to load up and push off. We had 10 days and were in no hurry. We paddled into a head wind down Douglas and arrived at the portage (125m) to Hatchet Lake shortly after noon.
I took the canoe over and as I came back for the second load, the four women were just pulling up. They had stopped for lunch, but Andy and I did not see them. We thought they were way ahead of us. We all completed the portage and set off into Hatchet. It was about a 6km paddle to the next portage. We arrived basically at the same time as the women. The landings in WCPP are not really made for 3 boats at a time. We asked the women to go on ahead and we waited some time to allow them to complete the portage and launch into Upper Hatchet Lake.
The 450m portage to Upper Hatchet is steep and Andy and I both have knee issues. We took our time finishing and then decided to have lunch before paddling into Upper Hatchet. We wanted to make sure the women ahead of us had cleared the next portage well before we got there. Well, by the time we had finished eating, loading the boats and shoved off, the wind had really kicked up. We were faced by some pretty heavy headwinds and decent chop.
We paddled for a bit and realized we were not making much progress. We pulled over to shore and tried to wait out the wind for an hour and a half or so. The wind got harder and we decided to try to find a campsite. This is when we realized we had made a big mistake. We never consulted with Harlan about the map set I had made from the internet and the WCPP Park campsite map. We did not really know exactly where the campsites were. We had an idea, but the scale of the park campsite map makes it very difficult to place campsites with accuracy on finer scale maps. We went to where I had guessed was a campsite. But it was just a narrow beach with a bog behind it. When the sun went down, we knew it would be skeeter city! We didn’t want to paddle out into the chop without better knowledge of our final destination. We decided to go back to the portage landing, sleep there and then get up in the morning and head out.
We made a little camp by the landing, cooked steaks and corn on the cob, had a little nip and sat by the fire for an hour or two.
We hit the hay just after sundown. It sure is nice to get that first night in the woods. The weather was cool and clear! Perfect sleeping weather!
|Andy sits at our first campsite|
|Hammock hangs across portage trail|
Aug. 15, 2014 - We got up to a beautiful sky and nice weather. We took our time making breakfast and coffee. Then we broke camp and hit the water in late morning, leisurely paddling…into a head wind. We did the 400m portage into Embryo Lake and had lunch before hitting the water again. Of course, with afternoon came the strong headwind as we paddled south and west to the end of Embryo. And cloud cover blew in with the westerly wind. As we approached the west end of Embryo, it was getting on toward late afternoon. Without knowledge that we had accurate campsite info on our maps, we decided to make camp early at the site I had marked for the end of Embryo.
It was a good decision, because my map was wrong. The campsite is actually on the other side of the lake from where I had guessed it would be. The campsites in WCPP are not big, wide open, tromped down sites like you find in the BWCA. The campsites are small and not easily visible from the water. We paddled around for about an hour trying to find the site. After 3 or 4 “not it” stops we finally found the site on the west shore. The sun was well to the west by this time and we were glad to call it a day.
|Campsite - Night 2 West end of Embryo|
|Andy retrieves the wandering paddle|
By the time Andy got back to camp, neither one of us wanted to cook. We had salami and cheese sandwiches for dinner. I didn’t even want an after dinner drink. I just wanted to crawl into my hammock and sleep. I had a beautiful lake view spot to hang my hammock and I pitched the tarp in porch mode. The wind blew steady all night and I slept like a rock!
|Moose feeding in the shallows|
|Breakfast is all done!|
Andy looked at the maps for a few seconds and then asked me, “How many portages have we done today, three or four?” We had only done 3 portages and we were on Edgar Lake, not Optic. We had paddled almost all the way to the west end of Edgar, turned around and paddled almost all the way to the east end of Edgar, and then had paddle all the way back again. We paddled about 2 extra miles before realizing my mistake.
|Andy checks the map|
Once we got to the REAL 70m portage, it was a quick up and over and we were on our way southwest.
|Falls at the 70m portage|
We passed a fishing camp that had a couple guys there. They had a cleaning table full of fish and gave us a wave as we went by. The sun was well to the west as we headed for the narrows in the middle of Optic. As we came through the narrows, we spotted what looked a campsite on a point the eastern shore. We paddled over to check it out. It was a campsite, but it did not match the description I had been given at all. It was small, rough, and not appealing at all. I had been told to look for a primo site.
As we stood on that camp site, I looked west and saw what appeared to be another campsite. We agreed to go check it out. When we got there, I jumped out and scrambled up a steep rock. Sure enough, this was the nice site we were looking for! We unloaded, and began to fully explore.
The site is big by WCPP standards. It has a big kitchen area, a fire pit in the open, a nice rock next to the fire pit to set things on, two nice tent pads back in the woods, and an auxiliary fire pit back by the tent pads. Oh, and plenty of shore fishing spots. We set up camp and started a fire. We had stove top chicken bowl for dinner.
We made some nice after dinner palliatives, put some logs on the fire and generally felt good. The stars put on a spectacular show that night. It is always fun to look at the wilderness night sky! It was a wonderful closing to what I remembered at the end of the day was my 57th birthday!
Aug. 17, 2014 – The sky was overcast when we got up on Day 4. And the wind was blowing hard and steady. We decided that we would just stay put as neither of us wanted to paddle in a howling wind. As the day went on, the clouds broke up and we had some nice sunny stretches. Andy tried fishing, but with the lake stirred up by the wind, he only caught a couple small northerns. None of the fish were worth eating so he released them.
We got a fire going and it fairly roared for several hours as the wind acted like a bellows. I explored the shoreline for a bit to the south of the site. It seemed there might be something in the way of a possible tent site down that way, but I found nothing. I cut several logs, as did Andy. It turned out to be a good idea as rain moved in the next day. While Andy fished in the afternoon, I went for a swim and did laundry. With the wind and sun everything was dry within an hour or so. I sat by the fire and read for a few hours later in the day and Andy tried fishing from shore for a couple hours. All in all it was a lazy day in camp.
|The Yule Log|
We made spaghetti and sauce for dinner. I had brought dried peppers and mushrooms, and tomato powder this year. The tomato powder mixed up into sauce very nicely and had a good tomato flavor. With the Italian seasoning, mushrooms, and peppers we had ourselves a zingy, zesty Italian feast!
Aug, 18, 2014 - We woke to a gray, misty, windy morning. It had rained steadily during the night, but I was warm and toasty in the hammock. I had optimal hanging conditions with two large trees 15 feet apart and plenty of spots to tie off the tarp. Andy was nice and dry in his tent, too.
We slowly got up, and decided to cook breakfast on Andy’s Whisperlite. We had a big breakfast and then Andy decided to try fishing a bit. While he fished, I worked on getting the fire going. After 45 minutes or so Andy came up from the water and was pleased to find a hot fire burning. We split some small logs and got a good blaze going. Then Andy decided that it was time to put up Tarpus Maximus, his 10x12 CCS tarp. The campsite has plenty of tie out options and over the next several minutes we rigged the tarp and re-rigged the tarp until we had it just how we liked it.
|Tarpus Maximus is fully deployed|
We put our good buddy, Yule Log, on the fire to provide us unending warmth and glee! Just as we were settling in for some quiet time, a couple guys came paddling up. We invited them to stay for lunch. It was Bob Dowling and his son. They had flown into the west end of the park and were paddling out to Johnson to be picked up by Harlan. Bob has been in WCPP many times and had reliable campsite information for us. Boy, were we glad to hear that! It was such a relief to have accurate information to show you where you will sleep at night!
|Lunch with Bob(seated) and Josh|
After lunch, and after our guests had paddled off, Andy went back to fishing from shore. He caught us a nice walleye for dinner. We had Cajun blackened walleye tacos for dinner. WOW! What a feast! We got the fire up with Yule Log, our trusty and amazingly long lived primary heat source, and sat for about an hour chatting. The clouds were still covering the sky when I went to bed, but the wind died down during the night.
Aug. 19, 2014 – We got up on Day 6 to a partially overcast sky and light wind. We knew exactly where we were going today thanks to Bob’s advice on campsites. We would paddle into Telescope Lake and stay at the island site that Bob marked on our map. Knowing our distance gave us the luxury of having a good breakfast and taking time breaking camp. As the wind had died down last night we had dew on our tarps. We wiped them down and let them dry a bit during the morning. At mid-morning we started breaking camp. We were packed and on the water just before the sun was noon high.
I don’t know how, but I got turned around on Edgar Lake again! I think the earth’s gravitational filed must have some odd effect at that specific latitude and longitude on the electrical patterns in my brain! “Andy, just take the damn map!” Andy was chuckling pretty good, but he steered us right and we made the end of Edgar in mid-afternoon. We had a little break at each portage because the falls at each were just so nice to look at and listen to. The sun was blazing and we were hot, but we felt really good.
|Andy is enjoying one end of a portage|
A short paddle through Stewart Lake and we entered Telescope about 3:45. As we entered the lake we were met with one of those wonderful paddling experiences. Perfectly flat water! As we paddled we just kept exclaiming how amazing it was to paddle in such conditions. In the middle of a hot, sunny afternoon there was no wind. The shore line trees and the puffy clouds were mirrored in the water. It was so quiet that we just stopped paddling every ten minutes or so just so we could experience silence. It is a rare treat for city guys to hear nothing while we float serenely in glass smooth water! We didn’t want it to end and we paddled slowly.
|A paddler's dream...glass smooth water on a sunny afternoon!|
Eventually, we approached the island. Bob had told us there was a really nice campsite on the southwest point of the island. We were paddling to it when we saw a couple up on the site. We were bummed, but we paddled up and asked if they knew of any other sites nearby. They said just follow the island shore there were two other sites on the northern shore of the island. Cool! The weather was just so nice and another site was just a few minutes away! Everything seemed perfect!
We got to the site and it was a gem! It has a beautiful fire pit with a nice sitting log, nice flat tent pad and a perfect hanging site for my hammock.
|My waterside hang site|
We set camp and I decided to go for a swim. It was excellent! Andy decided to swim also, and we were both feeling refreshed as we lit a fire for dinner.
|Andy relaxes at the beautiful island site in Telescope Lake|
At the portage Andy and I let them go on ahead as they were trying to get to Douglas Lake to camp there ahead of their take out on Aug. 21. They had met as BWCA Outward Bound guides in their early 20’s and were back this year celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary with a trip through WCPP. We wished them well and watched them paddle out Embryo Lake.
Once we entered Embryo the wind was up and in our faces. So we had a four mile paddle into the wind again. At the portage we stopped and took more photos and some video. We made camp just past the portage in Upper Hatchet. We had camp set up about 3 hours before sundown or so.
The campsite was small and there really wasn’t any good spot to hang the hammock. I squinched it between a couple young evergreen trees close together. The sap was flowing and I got pretty sticky as I set up.
Andy pitched his tent on the only area that was remotely flat. He had a nice view of the sunrise as his tent door faced northeast. The fire pit was way down by the water and there was no real place to sit and watch a fire. We decided not to have a fire that night. Dinner was PakIt Gourmet Big Easy Gumbo. Andy was pleasantly surprised at how good the dehydrated food was. I had eaten the gumbo before and I knew it would be hot, flavorful, and filling. We had a nice star show and then retired for a good night’s sleep.
|Andy pitches his tent on the Upper Hatchet campsite|
Aug. 21, 2014 – Andy woke up very early and he watched as the clouds were painted pink, peach, and crimson by the rising sun. I was still asleep so Andy went back to bed after a few minutes. About 30 minutes later I got up and I watched as the sun climbed from just above the horizon for about 45 minutes. The sky had very few clouds when I first got up but the wind was already blowing and I could see clouds moving in from the west. After a bit I woke Andy and we again took out time eating, breaking camp, and packing the boat. We could just about see from our campsite the spot where the portage was on the far shore. Actually, we could see the opening for the little inlet, but it was only 1.5 miles. Of course, by the time we were on the water, the wind was stiffly in our face and it looked like a storm was blowing in from the southeast. But we did not have far to go and we figured there was no need to race, so we paddled slowly to the east.
On the portage I spotted a nice sized frog, so I pulled out my camera and snapped a few shots. We went slow and steady on the 450m portage into Hatchet. It was mostly downhill. I was a bit hasty on my first trip across and slipped off a rock and tumbled a little bit with the canoe over my head and shoulders. The yoke pad came loose and when I started back on the trail, the canoe kept sliding off my right shoulder.
At the end of the portage we took a little break and just enjoyed life for a few minutes. Then off across Hatchet toward Douglas. The wind was blowing straight from the east by the time we entered the Hatchet Lake channel. We got a few small wind shadows, but most of that 2 miles was into the wind. We were getting kind of fed up with the wind by this time, and were happy to get a little break as we entered the cove that leads to the portage.
|We spotted this little guy on a portage break|
The portage into Douglas is a nice short one and you can hear the water bubbling along beside you. We again took some photos and then head toward the campsite that Bob had told us about. It was only a few hundred yards past the put in. The landing is quite steep so we left the boat in the water for the day. We started to set camp and the rain started to sprinkle. I was in no mood to set up wet so I went at it pretty fast. Andy was confident that we would not get much real rain and he counseled a more relaxed approach. He was right. But it still took me some time to set everything properly. I had to really reinforce my anchor trees. I tied each to two other trees behind and still had some give when I sat in the hammock. But after some testing everything felt good.
Andy and I had to set up close together as there is only one safe tent pad right now. I tucked my hammock back into the trees as much as I could and Andy set up on the main tent pad. Two dead trees threaten the other tent pad and will eventually fall, but we weren’t messing with those. Then Andy set up his CCS in lean-to mode.
|Andy set the tarp. Note how close the sleeping quarters are.|
Andy messed around with his fishing gear for a while and I sat and read as we relaxed and settled in to our last campsite of the trip. Andy started casting from shore and one of his lures got snagged. It was one of his favorites so Andy went out in the boat, recovered his lure, and fished the southeast bay of Douglas Lake. He got a few strikes, but nothing would really hit. After 90 minutes or so he paddled back toward the swampy area behind our campsite. He found a northern pike nursery and caught several little fish. None of the fish were much more than a foot long and all were released with blessings to grow big and healthy for next year’s fishermen.
While Andy was out I got a fire going. The fire pit was down a rock slope toward the water and was not really designed for sitting and watching a fire. But a good fire is always welcome and we made do with the seating as we could arrange it. While we didn’t get any real rain after our little sprinkle in mid-afternoon, we did have solid overcast, so no star show that night. Sausage, crackers, cheese and Pop-tarts for dinner.
Aug. 22, 2014 – Andy and I slept in. We got up and prepared a massive breakfast of eggs, bacon, hash browns, coffee, and tea. After sitting and digesting for a while we decided that we should get up and move around.
We puttered a bit in camp, I read a little bit, and then in mid-afternoon we went out fishing. We paddled northeast as we cast our lines on either side of the boat. The clouds broke up for a while and we had some nice sunny stretches. It actually got quite warm and humid as the day went on. After a couple hours of catching nothing we made our way back to camp. We had crackers, cheese and sausage with cocktails and just kicked back. I took up where I had left off with my book and Andy played with his fishing gear again. A couple came paddling up about 90 minutes before sundown looking for a campsite. We told them about the one they had just passed and also told them we had paddled past a site about 1 mile or so east of our current location. They said they were looking for an island site that showed on their map (again, Andy and I did not have much accurate campsite info) and off they went into the gloamin’. Andy decided that he wanted to try fishing around a marker that was just out in the bay in front of our site. Andy paddled out and while he was fishing a motor boat came driving up. It seemed the guy was going to start fishing right there next to Andy. I thought that pretty odd, but then he told Andy he was just picking up his marker.
|Andy retrieves his lure|
Well, Andy is nothing if not persistent, and he caught two nice fat walleye. He called in to me and I started a fire. It was getting dark by the time Andy got back. He cleaned the fish and then we had fish sautéed in ghee, lemon butter and seasoned salt. We also heated up some mixed vegetables I had vacuum packed. It was delicious.
There was far more fish than we could eat, so Andy packed the left over fish for breakfast.
We then stoked the flames and sat by the fire with some fine drinks and discussed our trip thus far. We were both feeling extremely pleased with the whole affair to this point. After congratulating ourselves for such a nice trip we hit the sack knowing we had a pretty easy day tomorrow.
We all began the 850m portage out of the park and over to Red Lake. After I took my second load over, I realized I had left my water bottle. I started back to the other side to get it. As I got to the sign indicating the park boundary, a smallish black bear trundled out onto the trail. It was maybe 15 yards in front of me. It turned its head and was surprised to see me. Off it ran into the woods on the south side of the trail. The bear seemed small enough to still have Momma around, so I started making lots of noise as I walked toward Douglas Lake. I met up with Andy coming the other way and he had my bottle. So I turned around and we hiked out to Red Lake.
It was nice to sit and chat with the other folks. They are from Maryland and both had careers in the biological sciences. They had circumnavigated the northern half of the park and had some great stories to tell! We sat for a few hours and Harlan came and picked us up. The ride back to Red Lake was bone jarring, to say the least. The waves were up and Harlan’s boat bounced from one peak to another. My old back was hurting pretty good by the time we made the pier.
After getting everything into the cars, and finishing up the final paperwork, I asked, “Andy, would you rather stay here tonight, and get a hot steak and cold beer, or do you want to take off for home in the cold, dark rain on narrow, moose infested roads that we don’t really know very well?”…Andy and I decided to stay the night in Red Lake. It was a very good option. We went to the Howie and ate like kings.
|A most excellent trip!|
Aug. 24, 2014 – We got up early on Sunday, had a quick shower, breakfast and hit the road by 7:30. It was a fun drive home, and I was quite pleased to discover Andy’s eclectic musical tastes are very similar to mine. Andy was able to pick up the New Glarus beer he had promised his buddy and we rolled into my house at 11:30 p.m.
As I said, this was a very different sort of canoe trip for me than all the others I have taken. The pace was much more leisurely. We didn’t have any specific time or distance to cover on any particular day. We intended to fish more than we actually did, but since I am the world’s worst fisherman, I didn’t miss it. I believe Andy really would have liked more time fishing in the boat. Fishing is his primary activity on canoe trips. We did get to see some beautiful wilderness in a park that is completely new to both of us. And, we spent many days not really knowing where we might camp exactly that night. I say we had a true adventure in Woodland Caribou Provincial Park.