The Gumby Trip

Sometimes it doesn't pay to get out of the tent in the morning...

Well, these things will happen once in a while, I guess. Back in the days before teaching eliminated such possibilities, Tom, Paul, and I decided to take a little post-Labor Day spin to the BWCAW. Our plan was to enter at Lake 1 near Ely and loop up to Knife Lake on the Canadian border and come back down through Moose Lake. That would leave us a mere 4 miles from the car at the end of the trip. Easily hiked or hitched. Little did we know that we would end up much further away than that.

Ultimately, the fate of this trip hinged on the fact that there were three of us and only one canoe. As you can see from the parking lot photo we had lots of stuff and we began to wonder where it would all go. By the time we got all of it and all of us into the Grumman canoe we had mere inches of freeboard. Fortunately, the winds were pretty calm and we made pretty good time despite getting temporarily lost trying to find the entrance to Lake 1. The excuse, I recall, was that we were "getting used to the scale of the maps" after not making a trip up there for two years. In any case, after we fought through the congestion at the double portage across the little pond connecting Lakes 1 and 2 we were able to find an empty campsite in a bay at the east end of Lake 4. We had a cheery fire and Tom (in the orange rain jacket) cooked up the green beans while Paul prepared the chicken -- I must have been setting up tents or something. Because of a late start and still-frozen chicken, we ended up eating in the dark...and the rain. We made a mockery of hanging the food pack -- it was high enough that mice could not get to it, but with a sufficient running leap a squirrel probably could have gotten into it.

View from the Stern North Shore of Fraser Lake
Wisini Site Sunset on Wisini

Our second day dawned quite nicely -- the rain ended overnight and we were only slightly damp. By the time we started portaging into Hudson Lake we had developed a rhythm for dealing with the portages -- it was essentially diffusion. Eventually, with enough trips across, everything and everyone seemed to make it okay. We crossed Hudson without any real trouble, though we were still trying to get used to steering our overloaded canoe. Think barge. We stopped for lunch on the far side of the Hudson-Insula portage. As you can see, the weather was still pretty nice which was good since we had some relatively big water to cross that day. We put in some good paddling for a barge -- from Insula we went up through Kiana and Thomas Lakes and took a break at the canal between Thomas and Fraser. In addition to improving my barge-handling skills I was also getting used to the unusual view from the rear of the craft. Looking to the left or right provided different views. We made camp on Wisini for our second overnight. With the removal of certain boundary conditions, the area quickly became strewn with material. The view from our site was really nice even though we could not watch the sunset.

Tom at Kek Ponds Kek Stream View Toward Kek Ponds
Clouds Over Eddy Dennis @ Eddy Falls South Arm

We made our way up to Kekekabic Lake on the third day and traveled the length of it to the east. When we came to the Kek Ponds we were expecting portages that were, in the words of Breyer, "little more than liftovers." Well, they were a bit more than that, but at least there was no congestion on the five portages as we made our way across them. We made camp on Eddy Lake in the eastern bay. As the evening wore on the winds began to pick up, setting the trees around us to swaying. Fortunately, we were pretty well sheltered from this west wind, but we began to concerned about how we would fare the next day since we were supposed to head west on the South Arm of Knife Lake. The wind seemed only to get worse overnight, and I took a hike over a ridge behind our campsite to have a look west. Looking toward the Kek Ponds seemed okay -- just a little overcast -- but to the northwest the weather appeared more ominous. We made the Eddy to South Arm and portage and were somewhat dismayed with the sight that greeted us. The wind was coming right down the lake, and with that running start the waves were piling up pretty good. In our still-overloaded canoe we did not stand a chance.

Lichens Paul at South Arm Site Lichens

We hung out on the portage looking at the falls and various lichens, hoping the winds would subside. We also started discussing time constraints at this time -- one of us had to be back in the real world two days hence. The way things were looking it appeared that this would be impossible unless the winds let up or we dumped one of the passengers. Eventually, we decided that we would get as far as we could down South Arm by double-tripping. So Paul and Tom took all of the stuff except me down the shoreline to the first campsite they encountered. Then they came back to get me. It was during these trips back and forth that Paul began whistling the theme-song from Hawaii Five-O (900K WAV format) in earnest. When all of us and all of our gear were at the site we thought that sucked so bad we just set up camp.The wind continued to blow all day long and we spent a miserable day on the south shore (in the wind and out of the sun).

Portage Seagull
Tom @ Seagull Site Seagull Sunrise Tom's Car

Naturally, the wind had not let up at all by the morning of our fifth day. At this point we made our fateful decision to exit out of Seagull Lake. It was our wildest hope that there would be some sort of livery service that we could buy into to take us back to Ely. With shame in our hearts, we turned tail and paddled with the wind to the east and Seagull Lake. By the time we made camp at the west end of Seagull, the winds had started to subside and the sun even peaked out. Equally naturally, the sixth day dawned quite serene and calm on Seagull Lake. At this point, however, we had committed ourselves to exiting and we could not take the extra days to travel back to Lake 1. When we reached Seagull Outfitters at the east end of the lake we were told that there definitely was not a livery service to Ely and that these things are usually arranged in advance. We had already guessed as much. Our options were limited at this point -- we could try to hitchhike down the Gunflint Trail to Grand Marais and then back up to Ely to get the car and drive back to Seagull Lake, but that could take the better part of a day (or more, since we were not creditable in appearance at that point in the trip). We floated a significant amount of money into the negotiations to scare up someone willing to haul our sorry selves well over one hundred miles one way. In a short while, due to the vigorous efforts of the outfitter somebody agreed to drive us back to the vehicle. To add insult to injury, Tom's car experienced major overheating problems on the way back to Minneapolis. Thus was born the legend of The Gumby Trip...

View JPEGs of maps showing this route: Map 1 (200k) & Map 2 (300k)

Last Update on December 15, 1998

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