Wednesday, December 24, 2008

09-16-07 Sunday

There was no need for a fire last night. It was a nice fall evening. Good thing I didn’t need a fire because my tent was pretty close to the fire grate.

The last two nights I got cold the last couple hours just before daybreak. Last night I was going to out smart myself as I thought it was going to get cold, since it was a clear night. So I put on my heavy fleece top and bottoms as well as my heavy wool socks. Well, that didn’t work out as planned. I needed to take off my fleece bottoms because I was way too warm.

When I woke up a couple times last night I could hear a slight breeze blowing through the tree tops. It must have been from the north because there were no ripples on the surface of the water.

I woke up at 0600 am but I didn’t crawl out of my tent until 0638 am. I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep any longer, but I laid there until it was time to go take some photos of the sunrise. I was prepared to take some, but the sunrise wasn’t spectacular.

My campsite is a south facing site. The river in front of me goes basically south to north, but right in front of the campsite the rivers turns to the west. This campsite is on the outside bend of the river. The sun didn’t begin to shine on the trees along west shore until 0744 am.

While cooking breakfast a Spruce Grouse flew up behind me in one of the trees in camp. I attempted to get some photos of the grouse, but most of the photos captured mostly tree branches and very little of the bird.

I still haven’t made up my mind on how far I was going to travel today. If I camp where I had lunch yesterday, but then tomorrow would be a much longer day. I still want to see the pictographs on the Island River.

When I looked at the map last night it looked to be about 10 miles to the pictographs from this campsite, then another 4 miles back to the Island River landing off the Tomahawk Road, and finally about a mile walk back to my Suburban.

Another possibility would be to camp somewhere along the Island River outside of the BWCA.
Well, I’ll begin paddling and I’ll make some decisions based upon what time I get to the junction of the Isabella River and Island River. I was headed upstream at 0855 am. The sun was out and I could now feel the warmth of the morning sun. The current really wasn’t that noticeable until I stopped paddling, then I began to float downstream. There were some areas of the river where the current was slightly stronger.

It’s a little too early in the season for the Tamaracks to be turning color so there wasn’t much in the way of color change in the coniferous forest right now.

When I was at my campsite it was in the shade and it was still a little cool so I left long underwear on underneath my North Face nylon pants. I had a long sleeve polypro top over my cool-max t-shirt. My fleece top came off as soon as I started paddling.

The sun continued to beat down on me and I don’t have any sunscreen. When I started two days ago it was in the 20’s, snowing with strong winds.

When I got to the area of Rice Lake I paddled through all the standing Wild Rice before reaching the downstream side of the 130 rod portage. There are many old growth Northern White Cedars here at this portage. When I carried all my gear across the portage I decide to break for lunch since it was now 1130 am. I sat at the end of the portage sweating in the sun, so I grabbed my PFD and walked back along the trail in get out of the sun. The sun was feeling very hot on my face plus I was beginning to overheat since I still had my long underpants on.

After lunch I continued paddling to the junction of the Island River with the Isabella River. I decided to continue on and not stop at the campsite where I had lunch yesterday. I needed a change of scenery so I paddled up the Island River. There were two short portages before I reached the area where the river widens up, about a mile from the BWCA entry point.

This area was choked with standing Wild Rice that was past the picking phase. I probably had to paddle about a half mile in the Wild Rice before I came to a narrow channe leading the way up the river. There was a wooden Bridge at the Tomahawk Road that I needed to paddle underneath before I pulled over at the landing at the BWCA entry point of the Island River.

There was a truck parked in the lot and a canoe further down. It didn’t look like the canoe belongs with the truck.

It was still very warm out at this point. It was early enough in the afternoon to paddle the 4 to 5 miles to the pictographs and then paddle the same distance back and still walk the mile back to my Suburban. It was going to be a long day, but it’s wasn’t going to get any shorter thinking about it.

Off I went paddling upstream in search of the Island River pictographs. The Wild Rice was growing up along each shore, but there was a decent channel down the middle to paddle. About half way down to the next portage I beached my canoe right on top of a large round rock. Based upon all the paint marks on the rock I’m obviously not the first one to hit this rock that is smack dab in the middle of the river. With the brackish water I never even saw it.

I had to step out of my canoe onto the rock with one foot while the other foot stayed in the canoe while pushing myself free.

I arrived at the first set of rapids and the water was really flowing due to all the recent heavy rains. The water normally wouldn’t be flowing this fast at this time of the year. I looked for an obvious portage, but I sure didn’t see one. There wasn’t any well worn portage like those inside the BWCA.

The shore was scattered with large and medium size boulders. There was no easy landing and the river appeared to be deep. Looking all along the shore I finally saw what looked to be a possible area. It would be very tricky to get out on the slippery rocks, unload my canoe, and then get my gear to solid ground without having my canoe swept down the current.

If I could accomplish this feat I could become a circus performer. I stuck my paddle in the water and confirmed that the water was deep. I continued to scour the area for a better place, but there weren’t any better options. I did see another area just downstream where I would be able to wedge my canoe between the rocks, but I still had the same problem getting everything over the rocks to the rocks on shore where there was no water.

I made it, but it sure wasn’t pretty. There was no way I could lift up my canoe from where I had it wedged. I had to drag the canoe across the tops of all the sharp and round top boulders to the rocky, brushy shore. The epoxy against the rocks didn’t sound like it was doing any good, but there was nothing else I could do.

I didn’t like the feeling I was getting at this portage. I can’t really explain it. I walked the rocky, brushing trail to see if it actually came out somewhere. I would have a tough time portaging it with my gear. I thought to myself that I have another 8 miles to paddle in this heat. I still had my long underwear on. This area is an accident looking to happen. If this was the only way to get to the pictographs I would have just dealt with it, but I knew there was another access to the pictographs that would be easier.

I stumbled back to my canoe and gear to see if there was another place that was an easier place to get my canoe back in the river. I was walking on top of the rocks in the river when I slipped and fell hard on my butt on a rock while my left hand broke my fall. I am lucky I didn’t break my ring finger on my left hand. I ended up in the water up to my crotch. That was too close to getting hurt.

Now I was pushing my canoe back across the same rocks back to the water that I had pulled it across earlier. I needed to try and get the stern in the water to load the canoe with my camera case, water bottlers and my large pack. I continued to push my canoe across the rocks as the epoxy across the rocks sound grew louder. I held onto the canoe as the stern hit the water preventing it from flipping over with some of my gear inside. I balanced on the top of another slippery rock while I was able to drop my last pack in the bow. I made it off the rocks without too much more trouble.

Back at the Island River landing I hid my pelican case with my camera gear in the weeds while leaving my two packs in my canoe. I took my large camera and water bottle while I walked back to my Suburban that was parked in the parking lot of Isabella Lake a mile away. I walked back at a fast pace while taking a few photos along the Tomahawk Road.

My Suburban was where I had left it and it was still intact. I drove back to the landing where my canoe was and threw my gear in the Suburban. I tied the canoe to the top and off I went to the next put-in. The landing is down the railroad grade road that now is open to the public. When I worked with the Forest Service in the early 1980’s this road was blocked off at both ends with a sturdy gate that was always locked.

A short distance down this road is the canoe landing. This put in will put me in the wide part of the river past the portage where I just had so many problems. This area of the river is completely covered with Wild Rice until I got to the main channel.

I hastily threw my small pack that contained some water, food, my rain gear, some warm clothes just in case something happened. I started toward the pictographs at 0335 pm and I should be there in about an hour. What I forgot was my yoke. I didn’t think there were anymore portages, but I was wrong.

The one map that I had out navigating with didn’t show this section of the river on it. The other map when I needed it had the word, portage, written in small print. There wasn’t any red line marking the portage like my other maps. When I rounded a bend I could hear the sound of rushing water from the rapids and I could see the foam floating on top of the water from being agitated.

The first thing I noticed when I got to the take out was that it was flat and sandy. That’s good news! It didn’t appear from this end that it was going to be anything like the previous portage. I flipped my canoe up and rested the seat on top of my head since I didn’t have my portage yoke. No problem this portage was flat, easy and about 25 to 30 rods long.

Once I got to the upstream side of the portage I put my canoe in the water and I began my quest to check the rocks along the north side of the river for the first set of pictographs that were supposed to be on a rock in the river. When I got to the dark colored pictographs I realized I should have been looking for the rock along the south shore. I guess I wasn’t thinking clearly.

Anyways, I saw the rock face up ahead where I knew the pictographs were going to be. I got my camera out and began taking some photos of this impressive rock face. I slowly paddled upstream looking for the pictographs. There they were! They appeared faded.
I saw some sort of animal with antlers on the right. There was a human like figure with its arms down and fingers spread.

To the left of the human like figure was the number 3 that appeared to be scratched or etched into the stone. Then I saw what appeared to be lines that were crossing at right angles to one another. I continued to take some photos these the dark colored pictographs.

When I was done looking at these pictographs I paddled downstream along the south shore in the area where first set of pictographs should be, but I didn’t see them. From everything I read these pictographs on the rock in the river weren’t in good shape. Maybe they were covered with down trees or maybe they were no longer visible. I just don’t know.

I made it back to the flat, easy portage. When I went across the first time I stopped at the campsite at the downstream side of the portage and saw that there were some names craved into a half log used as a seat. This time I got my camera out and took some photos of this “Visitor Log” that had several names craved into the log dated 5/28/2003.

I continued paddling back the way I had come and made it back to the landing at 0635 pm. It was a long day with all the heat, long underwear and all. Once the canoe was secured to the top of my Suburban I quickly threw the packs in the Suburban.

Should I throw up my tent somewhere or should I just drive home. After washing my face I decided to drive to Ely then head home. I drove the Tomahawk Road to the west to Highway One. The sun was at such a low angle that I needed to slow down to a crawl several times because the sun was temporarily blinding me. There were sections of the road where the recent heavy rains had washed portions of it away.

The first thing I did when I got to Ely was to stop at the Dairy Queen for my usual meal after a BWCA canoe trip. I’ve written about this in other trip reports. My usual after a BWCA canoe trip Dairy Queen meal is a double hamburger with mustard and fries. I was still hungry so I drove down to the Northern Grounds restaurant and picked up two large coffees with a slice of rhubarb and strawberry pie.

I made one other quick stop to Piragis’s. I couldn’t stay inside the building for too long because it seemed usually hot inside, so I picked up one book and quickly left.

I left Ely for home at 0745 pm and pulled into my driveway at 1140 pm.

In June I picked up some new rain gear because I needed to replace my old rain jacket that I’ve had for several years. I picked up a Cabela’s Gore-tex Guide Wear Jacket and bibs that I brought along for this trip. It worked well for this type of trip, but I wouldn’t bring it along for every trip.

A few days before this canoe trip this area of the Superior National Forest received anywhere from 3 to 11 inches of rain bringing the water levels back up.

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