Surprise! Surprise! Some snow still remains on May 11th at the Baker Lake EntryPoint.
Driving up from Tennessee, I almost stopped for the night in Superior, WI but didn't find a motel on the busy highway or in the rundown downtown that appealed to me. I pushed on to Two Harbors but didn't like what I found and continued on along the north shore of Lake Superior. I found a little motel just before the Silver Bay tunnel. It turned out to be great. It was right on the shore; I could see ducks, gulls and boats going by. Knotty pine inside and room to walk outside. No phone, no credit cards, spotty TV. It also had baseboard heat which meant no noise from a constantly running fan--a noise that I am getting increasingly tired of.
Tofte, the site of the ranger station, was 60 miles up the road. On the drive I saw several deer along the right-of-way and a fox with a mouse in its mouth. The rangers were very friendly and we had a good discussion about wildlife (a wolf sighting in Tofte), the weather (unusually cold) and Snowy Owls (not likely to see one now).
On a previous trip I had wandered on various forest roads for about 50 miles trying to get from Ely to Kawishiwi Lake. Apparently signs had been removed or even rearranged. I made sure of the route with the rangers. It turned out to be simple but had its moments. The low point was seeing the remains of a clear-cut operation that left only ragged piles of branches and bark. I have trouble reconciling this kind of destruction in an area where visitors are prohibited from cutting any live trees. The high point was almost grazing a moose that crossed the road in front of me. I travel slowly on these gravel roads just for this reason. I don't want my trip to be canceled this close to the entry point.
I was surprised to see the remains of a snow bank at the Baker Lake put-in. I had paddled up the Little Indian Sioux River last year at the same time. The trees were out and I was comfortable in a light shirt. This year only a few scattered pussy willows were budding and I needed a jacket. But the cool weather did not discourage people; there were about 20 cars in the parking lot.
As I crossed Baker Lake and continued on across Peterson and Kelly Lakes, I saw many fishermen and met people at almost all the short portages. Two guys from Michigan were doing the same route I was doing; they had their Bob Beymer book in hand and were hoping to get to Frost Lake in one day (I considered this a stretch). They were paddling an Old Town Prospector and were using backpacking packs. Since I was single portaging, I moved ahead of them. I remembered that someone had posted on the CanoeCountry.com bulletin board that they were coming from Michigan for a ten-day trip. I encountered these two guys again when I had to backtrack on Jack Lake to make sure I was in the main part of the lake. They were eating lunch at an official campsite and I confirmed 1) that I was on the right course and 2) they hadn't posted any messages. I never encountered them again.
As I rested from the long 240 r. portage into South Temperance Lake, I kept trying to figure out a moving white shape across the water. It turned out to be a family setting up their tent on the southernmost campsite on the lake. I thought I had threaded my way through the islands of this lake but when a large expanse of open water appeared to the east where there should have been a small bay, I realized that in daydreaming about the remains of a forest fire on the eastern shore of the lake I had entered Brule Lake. I backtracked, found the 55 r. portage and camped at the first campsite on North Temperance Lake. This took me about 6 hours to cover about 10 miles, including the Brule side trip.
I was entertained in the cool damp woods by a Spruce Grouse (very tame, according to Peterson's) whose "drumming" consisted of noisily flying from the ground to low branches and back. It didn't seem to be working; no mates appeared. My presence had no effect on the bird.
I retired early to my new Sierra Designs solo tent and began to read a novel of the Civil War, "The Last Full Measure." The misery of the Lee's soldiers as they retreated from Gettysburg in the mud made my complaints about the cold seem trivial. Sleep came quickly; my last thoughts were hopes of warmer weather in the morning.