Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Dark Colored Pictographs- Fall 2007 Isabella Area Solo Canoe Trip

In July 2007 I did most of the Hunter’s Island loop in Quetico. This was a solo trip of 161 miles in eleven days. The trip report I wrote, Quetico’s Trees, Rocks and Water: A Solo Journey, is posted on

When I was done with that trip I began thinking what other paddling adventure I wanted to do in the fall. The problem I faced when I was thinking on where I wanted to go was that we're in a drought and there was very little water in the rivers where I wanted to go.

The fall of 2007, in September and October, I decided to go back up to the Isabella area in Minnesota to do a short solo canoe trip. This area is in the Superior National Forest in Northeastern Minnesota. The areas where I paddled were just inside the BWCA and a small part just outside of it. I hoped to complete this trip in September, but I revised my initial plans once I arrive in the area in September so I went back in October to finish what I didn't accomplish on the first trip. I’ve mentioned before that I worked for the US Forest Service out of the Isabella Ranger District from 1980 to 1983 out of Isabella, Minnesota. Some of these areas where I went I had never been to in the past and some of the other areas I haven't been to in about 25 years.

On 09-05-07 I posted a message under the, Trip Planning Forum, on the website, asking if anyone had paddled the Perent River recently and if so, what the water levels were like. Although I really didn’t expect a response because this river is not traveled by too many people due to the many portages in such a short distance, but I thought I would see if anyone had done it. Well, just as I thought I didn’t get a response.

On 09-11-07 I posted some tentative plans on the website after I decided to go to this area, since it had recently rained a significant amount in the area. I wanted to paddle the Perent River between Hog Creek and Isabella Lake. This river is not paddled too often due to about 12-13 portages in such a short distance. I’ve never been on the Perent River and this was one of the reasons for me going to this area. The second reason was to see the only known dark colored pictographs in Minnesota. These pictographs are along the Island River just outside of the BWCA.

These dark colored pictographs are unusual for several reasons. They are very high above the water without any ledge or handholds for someone to use when they were drawn.Therefore, a ladder of some sort had to be used, such as a tree or other item to climb. The symbols are several feet high and a black pigment was used to drawn them. One other reason they are unique is that these pictographs face north. All the other pictograph sites have some direct sunlight that shine on them during the day.

The following were my general tentative plans that I posted on the website:

Day 1: Island River to the SE (Not in the BWCA) to see the pictographs. I may or may not camp on the river.Day 2: Entering Hog Creek and paddle to Perent LakeDay 3: Perent River to Isabella Lake. I might see if I can find the old portage that goes to Ferne Lake. This portage is no longer maintained and I was aware some people haven’t found it lately. Ferne Lake is in the Fungus Lake Primitive Management area.Day 4: Isabella Lake to Quadqa LakeDay 5: Back outMy plan for Day 2 was to leave my Suburban in the parking lot of Isabella Lake and then riding my Mountain Bike approximately 25 miles to the start of my canoe trip at Hog Creek. On this trip I would be placing more emphasis on photography than covering a large amount of ground like most of my other solo canoe trips. I've never been on the Perent River and with the recent rains this was to time to do it. Some of the other areas where I would be paddling I haven’t been to in about 20 to 25 years.These were only tentative plans and things may change depending on the weather once I got to the area.

09-13-07 Thursday

My alarm went off at 0600 am. I wanted to be on the road by 0800 am. I made it! I was in my Suburban all packed up and heading north at 0746 am.

The sky was a hazy, blue color with a temperature of 62 degrees, but it was windy. The sky further to the north had a grayer haze to it. Traffic was light and after going 45 minutes the sky to the west became very dark. Rain was now coming my way. I continued to drive north through some areas where it had recently rained as the pavement was wet in front of me. It was raining in Hinckley when I got there. The temperature had dropped to 54 degrees.

It continued to rain on and off as I made my way north toward Duluth. I decided to call Char at the Isabella Work Station to see if she or someone else was going to be there when I arrived in the afternoon or if I would need to drive to Tofte to pick up my permit.

I arrived in Duluth at 1002 am. Last year I stopped at the Duluth Pack Store and shopped for 10 whole minutes. Let’s see how long I’m in there this year. I stayed a half hour. I was fortunate to be able to park on the street near the store. Someone was just pulling out of a parking spot when I arrived.

Usually when I stop in the store I buy some books. It was no different this time. I bought the new edition of the Snow Walker’s Companion by Garrett and Alexandra Conover and Indian Creek Chronicles by Peter Fromm.

When I got to Illgen Falls on the Baptism River I decided to stop and take a few photos of the falls. I made a few more stops along Highway One as I made my way to Isabella. I got to the Isabella Work Station at 1pm.

I stopped in at the warehouses in back of the compound. This one warehouse has now been turned into an office where they issue permits and an employee work area. I talked with Char who I have spoken to a couple times over the phone recently. I told her I used to work out of Isabella in the early 1980’s when it was the Ranger Station. I asked her about a couple of people who I knew back then.

During the drive up this morning I was trying to determine what I should actually do on this trip. The wind had been blowing very hard the entire drive up to Isabella. I’ve tentatively planned to paddle the Island River today, and then I would bicycle over to Hog Creek tomorrow to begin my canoe trip.

When I worked for the US Forest Service I worked as a Recreation Technician. I patrolled the dispersed camping sites within the Isabella Ranger District. Sometimes I would drive a big loop to some of the different areas that I would check during the day. I wanted to travel this loop today, but if I did that it wouldn’t leave me much time to visit the pictographs on the Island River and return today.

My other concern was what the water level would be between Perent Lake and Isabella Lake. If it was low it would be real bony, but it doesn’t appear I’m going to have a problem after driving through the forest today and seeing the water in some of the streams that are usually dry or very low at this time of year.

Well, I made up my mind and made of change to my original plans. I got the last permit for Isabella Lake for tomorrow, Friday, 09-14-07, so I could drive the loop today. Tomorrow I would enter Isabella Lake and paddle to the east toward Ferne Lake. Depending on the wind!

When I left Char at the Isabella Work Station I drove to the Little Isabella Campground further up Highway One and changed into my paddling clothes. I walked to the Little Isabella River where I have done some Brook Trout fishing in the past. The creek had more water in it than I ever have seen in the past.

Next I drove back through the town of Isabella to the dirt road that went east out of town. (Forest Road (FR) 172) When I worked for the Forest Service I knew this road being called the Dumbbell Lake Road. Maybe that was what all the Forest Service employees called it. Now I see a road sign and the sign says, “Wanless Road”. Back when I worked up here there were very few road signs. Most of them were the Forest Road number signs at the junctions on some of the main forest roads.

(While I’m writing in my journal at the parking lot of Isabella Lake, it’s 0837 pm and I just went in the tent because it started to rain)

While I drove east down the Wanless Road I stopped at several places along the road to take a few photos before reaching Divide Lake. Divide Lake is about 5 miles east of Isabella on the Wanless Road. Divide Lake gets its name because it’s on the Laurentian Divide. The Laurentian Divide separates the watershed of rivers that flow north to the Arctic Ocean from the watershed of the rivers that flow southeast through the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean. The Laurentian Divide is also known as the Northern Divide.

I remember camping here several times in the past before all the upgrades to the campsites. There are now three pay sites to choose from to camp.

Around the lake is a rolling two mile hiking trail that I walked a short distance on to get a feel for it. The portion I walked was very easy walking with good footing. I recall fishing for Rainbow trout in this lake and Hogback Lake further to the east. Both of these lakes were designated trout lakes and were stocked with trout. I don’t believe the lakes are stocked any longer.

Next stop was Hogback Lake about 7 miles from Divide Lake on the same road. Years ago I had walked the trails around these lakes, but today I just looked over the area. There have been changes to this parking area.

I left Hogback Lake and turned left to go north on County Road 7 to continue around the loop. I’ve never been to Wye Lake when I worked here in the 80’s, but there is now a portage trail to the lake. Wye Lake is near the junction of Co. Rd 7 and FR 369. I knew FR 369 as the Sawbill Landing Road. I walked the portage down to the lake and saw some large white-caps waves on the lake.

Afterwards I got back into my Suburban and continued on to Silver Island Lake. There is newer road to this lake now. This has always been a very popular fishing lake. That has to be the reason for this upgraded road to the lake.

Now I was on my way to Section 29 Lake off of FR 356. The campsites here have been upgraded. There are two maybe three camping sites with an outhouse. This was another popular fishing lake when I worked up here.

Instead of taking the forest roads the long way around to Isabella Lake from Section 29 Lake I jumped on the old railroad grade (FR 379) that would eventually parallel a portion of the Island River. It would come out about a mile south of Isabella Lake on the Tomahawk Rd (FR 377).

Once I got to Isabella Lake I grabbed my camera and tripod. I walked the west portion of the Pow Wow Hiking Trail to the foot bridge that goes over the Isabella River. This area is to the west of Isabella Lake. The trail head has also been re routed. Now it starts in the parking lot. I used to access the hiking trail from off the Tomahawk Road. The first portion of the Pow Wow trail used to be an old logging road. The alders are now covering the roadway from both sides of the road. I remember in the spring of 1981 my supervisor at the time and I walked north along the trail. Then we continued on the trail when it turned to the west at the first junction. We were checking some of the side trails off this part of the trail. We were keeping our eyes open for the possibility of finding some moose antler sheds. There was still some patchy snow on the ground, when I found a moose antler that was in good shape. We began looking around the immediate area for the other shed. Not too far away, Terry, found the matching antler shed. I still have this antler to this day, almost twenty-eight years later.

There were several cars parked in the Isabella Lake parking lot and all the BWCA permits for tomorrow are taken. There’s a campsite next to the Pow Wow trail on the west side of the portage that’s available in case I can’t find one tomorrow, depending on the wind direction. Isabella Lake is a fairly shallow lake so the waves on the lake can get quite large. I’ve seen some big waves on this lake in the past.

It was time to make camp. I decide to camp in the parking lot instead of going elsewhere. The parking area is very large. I set up my tent and cooked some spaghetti. For dessert I made some pudding.

After eating I walked the portage down to the lake. There really wasn’t anything too interesting to take any pictures of, but I took some anyways. It was getting dark out so I walked back up to the parking lot.

I looked at my watch when I got back to my tent and it was 0856 pm. I decided to get my maps out to see where I might head tomorrow.

09-14-07 Friday

When I got done looking at my maps last night I read some. I crawled into my sleeping bag wearing my wool long underwear bottoms, top and hat. I brought my old blue and orange sleeping bag that I bought from Eastern Mountain Sports (EMS Lob Pine) in 1978. This store used to be just west of Snelling Ave on County Road B2. Now that I think about it I believe the first Minnesota REI store was near by, around the corner on Snelling Ave just south of County Road B2.

This sleeping bag is now only good to be used as warm weather sleeping bag, but I did bring an older winter bag just in case. I bought a Merino Wool sleeping bag liner for this trip. Well, at first I was way too warm when I got into my sleeping bag. Sometime during the night I took off my poly pro socks, then my wool long underwear bottoms.

The temperature dropped significantly so I needed to put both the socks and bottoms back on. It continued to rain on and off all night long. The wind continued to blow hard and it sure was consistent. Even with putting my clothes back on I could feel the cold seeping through the sleeping bag.

I grabbed my winter bag that was already in the tent and pulled it over me like a blanket. I warmed up immediately. I was going to put on my fleece pants, but it was much quicker to throw the winter bag over me.

It was snowing at 0715 am. I don’t know when it actually started to snow, but I could hear the distinct sounds of snow hitting the sides of the tent when I woke. When I looked out of the tent I told myself that I was right, It was in fact snowing!

I put on my boots and went outside. It was nasty out. I checked out the latrine and took some photos of the snow. By the time I got back in the tent my hands were very cold. I found my fingerless wool gloves and put them on. I tried to go back to sleep because I was trying to prolong my misery due to the wind, snow and cold temperatures, but all I did was toss from one side to the other. This was unlike me to try to go back to sleep at this time in the morning, because once I’m up at a reasonable time I get up.

There really wasn’t any use in trying to get on the lake too early today because the wind was blowing so hard. If I got on the lake now all I would be doing is finding the first campsite and ride out the weather.

Well, I stayed in the tent until 0900 am. Finally I told myself, either get up or go home! I crawled out of my tent and there was a guy over by a small pickup truck. I went over to talk with him. He told me his name was Duane and he was from Faribault, Minnesota.

Duane told me this was his first solo trip with his Bell solo canoe. He had been out since last Saturday. Duane said the lake was real choppy and he had some problems negotiating the wind and waves coming back to the landing. Duane looked pretty cold from his short distance paddle that actually took him much longer with the weather.

I started coffee and began breakfast when Duane walked over to where I was cooking. Duane accepted my offer to have some coffee. We talked for about a half hour or so.

It didn’t look like the wind was going to let up at all. I just finished breakfast when two guys walked up the portage from the lake. One guy was from the Twin Cities and the other guy was from Two Harbors. They said they were out for a couple days and had done some fishing. They were camped on Boga Lake on the point. They said it was a nice site.

It was 1000 am now. I decided I would go get my canoe set up and head toward this camp site. Then tomorrow I could do a day trip into Ferne Lake.

The sky looked like it would start to clear up, then it would cloud back up, then snow hard for 5 to 10 minutes, clear up, get cloudy, snow. This would go on about 20 times.

While I was packing up and preparing my canoe I saw another two guys driving through the parking lot. I thought they were with the Forest Service, but I’m not to sure. They just looked at me, drove off and returned shortly. I was busy packing and I didn’t see them leave again, but when I looked to see where they were I couldn’t find them.

I was getting ready to portage my gear down to the lake when a mini van with a small trailer pulled in the parking lot. Inside was an adult male and female with three small children. They were from the Twin Cities. I asked them where they were headed and they said the campsite on Boga Lake. This was the same one I planned to go to after speaking with the two guys earlier. This couple asked me if this was where I was going to go, but I told them they could have the campsite. I told them it was vacant because two guys had just returned from camping at the site.

When I portaged some of my gear down to the lake there were some very large white caps. The strong wind was blowing from the northwest to a more northerly direction. I looked at the family of five with their two canoes and wondered how they were going to get to Boga Lake with the wind blowing the way it was. They didn’t appear to be dressed for this inclement weather.

When I spoke to the lady who was wearing blue jeans she commented on my Cabela’s Extreme Wear rain gear. She said that’s what they needed to be wearing. I agreed with her.

I went back up the portage trail to move my Suburban closer to the trail head and to grab the rest of my gear.

The family of five quickly had their canoe gear together and they were now on the water heading to the east. I couldn’t believe they were attempting to paddle in the big waves dressed in their minimal clothing in this weather. They would be getting the full brunt of the wind and waves if they attempted to get to the portage to Boga Lake. They headed east along the shore and were quickly out of my sight when they rounded a point land near this landing. If I had to guess this family made it to the first campsite on the right not far from the landing and stopped. I was actually nervous thinking what could happen to them in those waves.

I shoved off, but I didn’t note the time since another snow squall was passing and the wind intensified. I moved very slowly off to the west in the large waves. I thought to myself, "What the hell am I doing!" The snow was being blown hard, stinging my face and coating my glasses to where I couldn’t see.

All I could do now was cautiously paddle to the west keeping the canoe upright. There was a campsite about a half mile away. If I made it that far I was going to stop and reassess the situation. I made it to this campsite. I been on this site before, but I have never camped on it.

I parked my canoe on the sand beach, took some photos and walked along the shore to the west to the next point. When I looked further to the west around the small point that I was now standing on I could see the waves and they didn’t appear to be as bad as from where I just came. The shore to the north was now closer to this shore and it was taming the wind.

When I got back into my canoe I continued in a westerly direction. Eventually, I crossed the lake in a northwest direction to check on another campsite. It was a small site that faced to the south. There were enough open areas for three or four tents, though.

I stopped by another campsite to check it out. When I was done looking this campsite over, I went over into a couple of bays along the north shore and padded around for a couple hours looking the area over. When I got done with that I paddled to the west to the portage that crossed the Pow Wow Hiking Trail. This was in the same area that I walked to yesterday.

Next I paddled back to the east past the campsite I would eventually camp on. There was another campsite further east that I wanted to look over. There were some people camped there so I wasn’t able to check this site out. I turned around and came back to the campsite where I set up camp around 0300 pm.

Supper was chicken and venison with couscous and vanilla pudding. Yes, venison! I had dehydrated both chicken and venison. The chicken was pretty chewy so I decided to add some venison to it. I made some coffee afterwards while I sat back on my therm-a- rest chair. I had the back of the chair up against a large rock while snacking on some gorp while writing in my journal.

The weather hasn’t been all that good, so I’ve been wearing my rain gear the entire day. Actually I took the jacket off for awhile, but I put it back on about a half hour ago as well as some light weight polypro gloves. It’s cool out while sitting still. It’s 0628 pm and I can feel the temperature slowly dropping. The wind is still blowing more from the NW, but I’m sheltered by the trees on this campsite.

I’m waiting for the sun to go down, so I can hopefully get some photos. Someone had left some smaller pieces of wood by the fire grate. I haven’t had a fire in a while so maybe I’ll have one tonight.

Earlier, the family of five that I saw at the landing said the winds were supposed to die down, but I didn’t ask them when.

The way the weather has been I’m glad I changed my plans yesterday, because it wouldn’t have been too fun biking the 25 miles to Hog Creek today.

Isabella Lake is a large shallow lake that is surrounded by mostly cedars, black spruce, balsam and a few birches.

The time is now 0635 pm. I’m going to stop writing now to make some more coffee and walk around a little to get the blood flowing to warm me up. I’m fine; its just sitting around that I get cool as the temperature continues to go down.