1,200 miles of liquid routes. 90 pounds of yellow Kevlar canoes. Three days without access to civilization. 15 years since my mother first decided that her ideal family vacation would involve prehistoric-sized mosquitoes, dehydrated hashbrowns, and the world’s most unstable form of water transportation. Welcome to the Boundary Waters of Minnesota and Canada.
Rule #1: Whatever you carry in, you carry out. Our gear includes a small gas stove (we cannot cut live vegetation for firewood); two rolls of toilet paper (that must be buried in a hole 6-8 inches deep); and biodegradable dish soap (to rinse off cooking utensils, at least 150 feet from all lakes and streams).
Entrance to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is heavily controlled by a system of permits, monitored by the U.S. Forest Service. Guests can either apply individually, or through one of the 80+ licensed outfitters operating from both the US and Canadian shores. The Mutchler family organized our stay through Moose Track Adventures, based out of Ely, Minnesota.
The Mutchler Clan suffers from the Curse of Disastrous Family Vacations. Hearing my parents argue about our location – “Have we passed these trees before?” “I don’t know, aren’t you reading the map?” – is foreshadowing of what’s to come…
Rule #2: Never attempt to take rapids going upstream. I was about to capture the hilarity of their massive spill, when I realized my father was stuck under the canoe and unable to breath…
The Boundary Waters “…allows visitors to canoe, portage and camp in the spirit of the French Voyageurs of 200 years ago.”
Covering over 1 million acres, the Boundary Waters has some 2,000 designated camp sites available on a first-come, first-serve basis. When we discover a spot overlooking Clear Lake, we are pleased to find this “outhouse”; however, we’ll still have to pack our feces-stained t.p. back to Ely when the trip is done.
Every night, any dinner remains and items that smelled of food must be hoisted into a tree away from our tents. Because Black Bears, (those sneaky late-night thieves), have been known to jump from branches onto the food bags, ours needs to hang at least 12 feet off the ground and 10 feet away from the trunk. This also keeps it away from the moose, deer, beaver, bobcats, wolves and lynx native to the region.
The sun’s drowsy goodbye is always more beautiful without the distraction of electricity or artificial lighting. Unfortunately, this also means we can’t see the vampirical hordes of Minnesota mosquitoes, which attack with such strength that a trip to “Ol’ Number Four” inevitably results in 15 bites on inappropriate areas of your bum.
Rule #3: Don’t get possessive. “What are those people doing out there?” I demand to know one morning, irritated that someone else has dared to venture into eyesight. Though there are six other designated camp spots around Farm Lake, we rarely see another human. Isolated from man-made sounds or other people, we feel a special sense of belonging; and, perhaps, even temporary ownership…
Though our Moose Track hostess could not confirm, legally, that the water out here is safe to drink, we do anyway. It also teems with fish life- Walleye, Lake Trout, Pike, Crayfish, and my favorite, the Fiesty Smallmouth.
At the start of our trip – prior to the tipping canoe; the bug bites and dehydrated meals; days without showers and shoulder burns from portaging – my parents said “72 hours is not long enough! Next time we do this, we’ll stay a week.” Now, within a mile of Moose Tracks base camp, the theme has changed. “We’re too old for this!” “Raise your hand if you need a beer?” “I would, but I can’t feel my muscles anymore…”
Visit the US Forest Service for more information on fishing, camping and canoeing the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.