Tippy Canoe and the Mutchlers Too: A Photo Vacation Through the Boundary Waters

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.

Camping & portage gear- Boundary Waters, Minnesota

Because the Boundary Waters is part of the National Wilderness Preservation System, visitors must not leave any human trace.

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).

Moose Tracks Outfitters- Boundary Waters, MN

60 years ago, this trip was made with heavy, cumbersome steel canoes. The newer models weigh roughly 45 pounds: light enough for my mother to lift off the boat dock.

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.

Farm Lake, Boundary Waters, MN

Lost on Farm Lake, after three hours of paddling.

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…

Boundary Waters, MN

Soaked and upset, Joan and Chuck drag their canoe into the shallows after tipping it and losing sandals, books and a camera.

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…

Portaging- Boundary Waters, MN

Chris, my 6’2″ brother, portages our canoe down a seemingly endless trail.

The Boundary Waters “…allows visitors to canoe, portage and camp in the spirit of the French Voyageurs of 200 years ago.”

Camp toilet- Boundary Waters, MN

Lucky enough to find a designated camp site, we won’t have to bury our poop in the ground. Instead, we can go to “Ol’ Number Four”, where the hole has already been dug for us.

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.

Raising the bear bag- Boundary Waters, MN

“How many Mutchlers does it take to raise a bear bag?”

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.

Sunset on Clear Lake, Boundary Waters, MN

Sunset on Clear Lake.

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.

Farm Lake, Boundary Waters, MN

The neighbors are trespassing on our front yard.

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…

Fly fishing on Farm Lake- Boundary Waters, MN

Dad fly fishes on Farm Lake; today, he will catch the biggest Walleye of his life.  True to the rules of our permit, he will also let it go.

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.

Clear Lake, Boundary Waters, MN

Paddling back out of the Boundary Waters, my brother and I, forearms dying, offer a smile of victory- we’ve survived.

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…”

Mutchler Family Vacation- Boundary Waters, MN

A smelly, but proud, end to the 2012 Mutchler Family Vacation.

Visit the US Forest Service for more information on fishing, camping and canoeing the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

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5 responses to “Tippy Canoe and the Mutchlers Too: A Photo Vacation Through the Boundary Waters

    • Thanks, Kurt! You should look into a trip there- you certainly don’t have to be a hard-core adventurist to enjoy the area, and it is probably one of the cooler US locations I’ve ever visited.

      • Ya for sure. I used to live in Duluth when I was little but never made it up there on a trip. Will have to mark it down for a future summer trip.

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