Yak-packing in Voyaguers Ntnl Park

This past weekend was our second big adventure of the year; the three-day, two-night, yak-packing trip into Voyageurs National Park. Even though we had planned a few months ahead on this one, reservations were scarce for any of the boat-in camping. Only a few sites remained at the time we were booking, so our choices were heavily limited. When it was all booked, our first night’s stay would be about 9 miles from our put-in point at Ash River Visitor’s Center. That’s a pretty long paddle for us, and even more so when we throw in all the extra weight of camping supplies in the kayaks. The second night would bring us half-way back, breaking up the return trip into two shorter paddles.

We watched the weather the week leading up to the trip, knowing that only high winds or torrential rainfall would keep us from going. At times, both appeared to be in our way, but the weather lightened in the days before, to just rain chances on all three days. We felt good about our rain-camping ability after our rough weekend in the tent, and fixes made, not far back. Rain was not going to keep us away, and the wind was forecast in the high single digits on all three days, although we would have a head wind for our return.

The dogs went to a kennel the day before we set out. Waking early on Saturday, Kerri and I were at our launch point well before 7 am. We hoped to be on the water by 7, but just as we arrived, so did the rain. Kerri double checked her weather app which stated as a fact, “no rain” as it continued to fall. Not heavy, but enough  to put us into jackets and load up under fire from the sky above. By 7:30 we pushed off from land and started paddling. The rain continued to fall but our rain jackets and home-made kayak skirts (simple garbage bags draped over our cockpit openings) were working perfectly.

We paddled for an hour under the company of the rain, but were all smiles anyway. We slithered around islands and kept mindful of the local in their motor-boats just starting their day of fishing. Midway through our paddle, the rain was lightening, and the sky was opening up small patches of blue. The temperatures began to rise as well, making the final two miles pretty hot under the rain coats which we were too un-trusting to remove.

As we approached the island we would call home on the first night, the skies opened up with bright white clouds to our left and right, and full blue above us. I pointed to my left to the land only a few hundred yards away and exclaimed, “that is Canada”. And it most definitely was. We were – in the most literal sense – kayaking on the Canadian-American border.  We stayed state-side and got the first glimpse of our campsite after just under 9 miles of kayaking. My back was killing me, as is usual after only 3 or 4 miles, but we made it unscathed. Looking out from our camp, directly across the water, still stood Canada.

Our camp was quickly erected, and Kerri went straight to work finding a cell signal. I mocked her until the phone was turned off and the books came out instead. We read for hours, ate our re-hydrated meals, tinkered about a few more islands in the kayaks, and burned off a bundle of firewood (less to carry tomorrow) well before sunset. As much as we wanted, we were not going to see the darkness this night. Kerri put me to sleep (thanks in part to my trusty sleeping pills) with a wrist-rub warranted due to a wrist-pain that sprung up from the long paddle.

I must be getting accustomed to sleeping in a tent (finally) as I woke at 5:30 am refreshed and ready to start the day. We took it slow and easy, with coffee and breakfast at a leisurely pace before starting the process of packing everything back up and loading it all back into the kayaks. We were actually ready to hit the water by 9 am, not that we tried to get moving that early. We didn’t want to arrive at our next site too early, as it may still have occupants.

Luckily, we had a stop to make on our path back to the next night’s camp. After 3 miles of paddling, we docked on the island that once housed the I.W. Steven’s Resort. Mr Stevens purchased the island back in the 30’s and built a few structures himself. He ran it as an exclusive resort for decades and then lived there by himself until 1979. He left the island at 94 years old, having lived more than 4 decades alone on it. The buildings still stand today… thankfully, as a rain storm came in on us just as we started exploring the resort buildings (all left open for visitors). We ran back to the kayaks to seal up the cockpits and grab our bag of food. We would take refuge in Mr Stevens’ home and eat tuna sandwiches while the rain blew past.

Two more miles of kayaking got us to our new home. Just in time too, as my wrist was getting much worse. Once again, we were in place by mid-day and had the entirety of the afternoon to setup, eat, and explore our 500 foot by 1000 foot island. It didn’t take long. So, once again the books came out and we read while the peace of the lake surrounded us. I eventually laid down in the tent and took an I-have-no-idea-how-long nap. Kerri joined.

We were up just in time for dinner preparations and yet another bundle of firewood to burn, again lightening our load for the remainder of the trip back to the truck. A cocktail and a few cookies around the fire rounded out the night before we settled in for some sleep. This time it was Kerri who got the wrist rub, as now one of hers was in pain as well. She zonked, and I soon followed.

We slept in on the final morning. The winds were high and we were in no mood to paddle the final four miles in it so feet were being dragged in our eating and packing up. We did not set out until nearly 11 am, just as the wind died to to just a whisper. We lucked out. Normally the wind is mellow early, kicking up around this time. Although there was still a good breeze, we had it fairly easy all the way back, until the final quarter mile or so. There, the wind howled at us as if in some attempt to keep us from making land. With wrists screaming out in pain, and shoulders and backs tired of the kayaks and paddling, we pulled back into the launch point after 18 miles of kayaking.

We both agreed, multiple times through out the weekend, that it was a long weekend. Not that we did not enjoy ourselves, we did, big time. I was constantly reminding myself just where I was, and the scenery around me, and just how amazing it all was. But once again I fear that I am growing accustomed to the amazing. What would have blown my mind five years ago, now brings a quick smile to my face and appreciation to my heart. I fear that living this amazing life is slowly degrading that amazement over time.  Not that I am going to stop!

We left Voyageurs already (a few days early) and have begun the long awaited Southern push to get back “home”. Home being the West, of course. With Cumberland Island being the South-Eastern precipice of this year’s trip, Voyageurs was our Northern precipice. Within just a few short weeks I will be in my home state of Colorado, to see my son and take care of some paperwork so I can keep living the life on the road.

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7 Responses

  1. Ingrid says:

    Ah, thanks for rekindling some fond memories. Hubby and I used to canoe and pack-in in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Loved our trips including the challenges of weather and mosquitoes. As many times as we talk about a revisit, we know we won’t – our hearts belong in the west.

    • Van-Tramp says:

      Yep, Kerri and I do not see a return so we desperately wanted to make this happen no matter what. So happy we did!

  2. Bob B. says:

    Another great post, when I was younger I paddled much of the park. Your pictures make me want to go back, but I’ll need a lighter canoe. I’ve also cross country skied in the park, it is peacefully beautiful in the winter. Your pictures of Mr. Stevens camp was interesting, another person who lived most of her life there was ” Dorthy Molter” the root beer lady. If you passed through Ely Mn. You may have visited her cabin, it was move in the winter one piece at a time. If you missed it there is a book on her life “Dorthy Molter the Root Beer Lady”

  3. Michele Overaacker says:

    Sounds like a wonderful and beautiful yak-packing trip, except for the sore wrists and your sore back. How lucky you were to have shelter during one of the downpours! Loved all the pictures! There must not be a bears there, since you were able to bring tuna sandwiches.

    • Van-Tramp says:

      They say there are bears (we brought our spray) so the tuna was in factory sealed packets.
      Wrist and back are feeling better today.

  4. Michele Overaacker says:

    So glad the wrists and back are feeling better today!

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