Jul 5, 2011

Cloud camp

One of my goals for the summer was a multi-night solo camp, so last week when I was the only one off work I set out on a trip to a nearby 'mountain' lake that was full of brook trout. These are not actual mountains, but the eastern section of the boundary waters is often called the 'Minnesota Mountains' - and it is exceptionally rugged terrain. The overall elevations are not impressive on paper, but the climbs you can find here are certainly challenging, especially with a full pack and canoe on your shoulders.
My destination was 'three lakes in' and well above neighboring West Pike Lake. To get there, I paddled the entire six miles of Clearwater after the day's work was done, into an east wind, then portaged 214 rods to West Pike, then paddled a short distance to the final portage, which was 80 rods of steep climbing. It's like carrying a canoe and full pack up a ladder made of wet rocks and roots, and I was shot by the time I reached the top, where I saw the lake's only campsite unoccupied (whoo!). By this time I had about 30 minutes of light and there was thunder on the horizon, so I paddled across to the site and got to work on my rain fly and hammock.

Since our Clearwater Loop trip I've been fascinated by hammockry, and I intend to camp only in hammocks if possible from here on out. It's a good thing I brought that rain fly, because five minutes after I set it up over my hammock the rain started, along with energized wind. I was too tired to start a fire in the rain with wet wood so I quickly cooked a few Zup's wild rice brats in the frying pan and writhed into the hammock for the night, where I sipped on whiskey and read a large slice of Bill Bryson's Walk in the Woods, which was given to me by a guest that had hiked three days on the Border Route Trail the week before. All the while I watched lightening and listened to the thunder and rain.

It seemed the clouds were right on top of me.

The next day I had a delicious breakfast: One pound of thick pepper bacon (also from Zup's!) and four eggs, with an entire pot of coffee... Then I tested the box shitter... Then I sawed up and split a couple large chunks of cedar and read more of my book, before heading out to look for brookies. I got about halfway around the lake on my first trolling run when I caught a nice 11-incher (below). Later I got a foot-long brookie in the same area, casting the same lure, but with the added bonus of seeing the strike, which always thrills me (he escaped getting his picture made, the rascal!). Had I not brought a pile of delicious meats with me, I would have eaten a great brookie dinner, but I was well-meated so I let them go.

I didn't fish very long. Like solo camping, solo fishing is relaxing but lonesome. I'd much rather have company.
Solo camping did offer the opportunity for lots of hammock-reading and note-taking for my book project, thinking, and napping. The sunset on night two was outstanding, and I cooked my brats on a one-person cedar fire, making sure to leave plenty of good split firewood for the camp's next visitor (bonus camping points!).

Click images to view full size panoramas

Since I had to work at 1 the next day, I planned on getting up at first light and setting a course home, but I awoke to the densest fog I have ever seen. My hammock was maybe ten feet from the shore, and I couldn't see the lake. Could barely see the tree my hammock was hanging in! It was an odd feeling, like cloud camping. Regrettably, I didn't get a photo of this, but I'm sure the Fuji wouldn't have done the scene justice. I went back to sleep for another hour (or two) and then had to turbo-paddle to get back to the lodge by noon-thirty. Being out of the office and up here for over two months is starting to show - I worked a full shift and cooked dinner for 16 and wasn't even sore, even though the entire adventure required a great deal of energy.

July is here and there is lots more to do: I'll have posts on berry picking (strawberries are here!) and slip bobbering leeches on a dynamite walleye lake in the near future. And next week I am heading west, meeting up with Slowhand Lucious, Chinwhisker Charlie and Warden Cass for some big water trolling and cabin shenanigans at the other end of the boundary waters.