There suddenly seems to be more interest in Woodland Caribou. I thought I'd make a more detailed trip report to give you some idea of the distances we covered and the sights and obstacles we encountered. A warning: this is written 8 months after the trip from notes written on a map. Don't trust my memory; I know from emailing Claire the Ranger that my memory of a portage near Rostoul Lake does not match with what she knows. Read this for a general sense of things and not as the final word on portages and routes.
Planning for Woodland Caribou takes more work. You can't just buy a map and start paddling or even planning a route. You have to get the Canadian Gov. 1:50,000 black and white topo map and merge the canoe routes printed on the map you buy from Woodland Caribou Prov. Park (WCPP). For this trip you'd need 52L/15 "Rostoul Lake" and 52L/16 "Medicine Stone Lake." Campsites are not marked. Some lakes are not named on the topo map but are on the WCPP map; it's a good idea to write them in. To find the location of pictographs you have to talk to the rangers in Red Lake or email Hegyi or others and mark them on your map. The topo map is much smaller than the McKenzie (1:31,680) and I followed Jim Hegyi's idea and scanned in my route and enlarged it 1.5x, printed it on photo paper and put each in a plastic bag. I was careful to overlap each section. This worked but you do not get the level of detail you are used to in the BWCA. For example the contour interval on McKenzie is 20', or the Canadian it is 30 meters. My friend and I probably spent half an hour per day debating where we were. There is no traffic to guide youyou don't see people emerging from the woods with canoes and realize where the next portage is. It might be a good idea to put in some waypoints and use a GPS to point you in the right direction. We covered approximately 85 miles in 5 days and did 41 portages. We used 2 solo canoes (I posted the relative merits of each at the canoecountry.com bulletin board on July 7, 2000). Here's the day-by-day account: Day 1. It's a long way to Red Lake, Ontario from Tennessee. I knew that Ely, MN is about 20 hours of driving and this was farther north. So we left at 5:00 a.m. and 13 hrs later were in a Super 8 Motel in Rice Lake, WI. We saw a lot of corn; not much else happened. Day 2. Headed out early and stopped in Duluth where we must have looked like the Tennessee rubes we are: t-shirts and shorts with the temp. in the 40's. We froze as we walked across the parking lot to a grocery store. We were hard-core. Ate in the car only stopped for gas and pee breaks and mostly tried to combine the two. Soon were in International Falls. Maybe most of you tundra dwellers know this but we were surprised to find the customs station in the middle of a paper mill. Signs warned of remotely operated locomotives (this was freaky to the normally placid NF who had recently lost a 16 year-old daughter to a train), wood chips rattled overhead in some kind of pipe. The customs folks were tough on usrapid-fire questions, "Any liquor, any tobacco, any guns?" Then they'd repeat in a different order, "Where you going? Any tobacco?" For some reason I hesitated a split second on the tobacco question. "Pull over here." They searched the cab but mercifully did not delve into all our camping gear where we had a good deal of home-dehydrated food. Finally we were cleared. But then, "Radar detectors are illegal."
"What should I do with it?"
"Throw it away." I stuck it under the seat.
NF, a poverty lawyer, critiqued my answers to their questions for the next hour. Why did I hesitate about tobacco? Etc. On to Red Lake. The road begins badly but improves. Civilization slips away and you drive through endless trees and ponds. Some incredible logging has been done and there are some immense paper mills. The days are 16.5 hrs long and it is still bright when we get to Red Lake and find the Ranger station. We chat, go over pictograph locations, portage conditions. It's very friendly. The rangers have time to talk, love their park and I had emailed Claire so we had a friendly chat. A guy was standing around and joined the conversation; it was the outfitter (Goldseekers) from whom we were renting NF's canoe. So he led us to his shop, which was his house. His wife brought coffee down from the house warmed in a tea cozy and put in the sugar and cream for him (why doesn't my wife doesn't do that!). Soon we were off. We realized that we could get to our put-in at Leano Lake before sunset and skip our planned stay at a campground in Red Lake. We then drove an incredible 50 miles down a gravel logging road to the put-in. Vast clear cuts stretched to the horizon in places. We ate a quick meal standing in the mosquitoes near my truck and then headed out. Note that the permits don't require you to enter at a certain time or date. We paddled 15 min. to a rocky point and set up camp. Whew it seemed like a long time ago we were in Rice Lake. But here we were. No sounds at all, no people. We hit the sack.
Day 3. We headed out early. Beautiful day, sunny, warm, some wind. NF was initiated to portaging on a 300 m. going into Bunny Lake. He had some trouble making turns in the portage with his 16' boat. The trail was narrow, flat but muddy. Across Bunny and then south to Boot Jack. We saw a cow and calf Woodland Caribou crossing in front of us. We were excited: 1.5 hrs and we had already seen a caribou; it would turn out to be our only one. Exiting Boot Jack we followed a small river with several portages: 50, 140, 25, 50, 75, 300 meters. I tried to cross a small stream on a little footbridge; but it turned out to be a bunch of logs washed up by the high water and I slipped, cut my shin and ended up in thigh deep water. NF observed this and invented the pontoon techniqueput the boat across the water and walk across and then pick up the canoe. We did this several times. The 300 m. ended with a long shallow muddy section that had to be waded and then we were on long and narrow Paull Lake. Our first pictograph was near the end of this lake so we pushed on against a light head wind. We couldn't find the pictograph; we learned later that it was under water, not high overhead as I expected. We stopped at a rocky bay to camp. Bad choice. Terrible mosquitoes; we had to eat with head nets. Also was hard to hang our food packmostly black spruce and a few small birches. We quickly got into the tent. The woods are pretty moss and lichen everywheresoft sleeping. This took 9 hrs. We only saw one group, two canoes fishing on Paull.
Day 4. We left early the next day. A gray day with stronger wind from the West. We were heading west toward South Aegean. We found a fish pictograph there, red and just at the water line but remarkably bright. We became disoriented in all the islands in S. Aegean but eventually found the 80 m. portage into Aegean. (Portages are hard to find since they are often marked with a blaze which becomes gray like the rest of the tree and also looks a lot like beaver chewings.) We went NE in Aegean and passed a group of 2 canoes going SW. Battled a head wind when we turned W. Finally got to Wrist and found a rocky point to spend the night near the 850 m. portage to Jigsaw. No mosquitoes; from then on we always camped on points and not bays. This took 8.5 hrs. with a lunch break somewhere. Sunny by the time we set up camp. People had camped here before and we realized that seeing a fire ring on a rocky point was a pretty good way to find a campsite. Someone else had probably cleared a place for the tent. After paddling all day, this seemed like a bonus. "Camp anywhere," sounds great; but why reinvent the wheel?
Day 5. NF, a triathlete, had wanted to push on to Jigsaw the day before. Luckily I prevailed because this was a rough portage. 850 m. is long and this was narrow and boggy. NF could barely weave his canoe between the trees. At some point he was worrying so much about the canoe that he stepped into knee-deep muskeg and had to put his canoe down and lever himself out, almost leaving his shoe behind. I was ahead and slipped on an angled rock when the moss gave way. Jigsaw was well named; but we navigated through the many islands easily. It looked like perfect moose country but we only saw a couple of loons, which keep a greater distance away than in the BWCA. We paddled north on Haven. A fire had wiped out most of the forest here. It was a very bizarre scenebare pink rocks with scattered vegetation. It looked like the desert, except we were floating in a huge lake and things were muddy. Several times the immensity of the place struck me. To the North there was nothing but spruce forests all the way to Hudson Bay. I was just a little dot on a lake, not much different that a seagull or a loon. One of the lessons of wilderness is humility. Then up and down a steeper than usual 600 m. portage to Cyclops. As you start down the trail, it really does look like an eye with an island being the pupil. Underfoot were charred branches and pink rock, the remains of the fire. Coming out of Cyclops, where we also got disoriented, we faced our hardest portagea blow down of many meters covered the whole path. We had to shove our canoe over trees while at the same time contending with mosquitoes and black flies. Our head nets were absolutely necessary; don't leave home without one! We stopped for lunch on a point near an island on Rostoul Lake. While we ate, a wind grew out of the north. It didn't really reach us; but it produced white caps on the water ahead of us that was not in the lee of the island. We waited for a while and it subsided somewhat. This is where my little canoe has disadvantages. It bounces over the waves and it is hard to make much headway. NF could ride over the waves and he soon left me far behind. I was safe, just slow even though I was probably putting out the same energy as him. People were fishing from a motorboat at the small falls between Rostoul and Hansen and we actually saw them catch a fish. We headed south on Hansen, having passed the northern most point of our route. Somehow we became disoriented here even though it looks like a straight shot south on the map. We met a group of 2 canoes heading for Winnipeg, 28 days away! An older guy and 3 teenagers. They were taking a break and the boys look beat and very interested in their sandwiches. We found our best pictograph in a bay that runs E from the main lake. A caribou and a hand and a cross or "x" and various other markings. Soon we were camped on an island with a view of an empty fish camp with several red cabins across the lake. We also witnessed an awesome flight of a bald eagle who flew from one side of the lake to pluck something from the water and then return to its tree. A long glide for about .25 miles. It shows the eagle's far ranging vision. A storm came up that night with lightning, hail and rain. It was my turn to be freaked. We had recently lost a cat to lightning. It had died taking cover under a tree and the lightning had hit the tree and flowed through the roots. I could feel roots under the tent as the lightning flashed all around.
Day 6. We headed to Glenn and a light rain started and continued as we headed south through Mexican Hat. We turned east and saw some people camped at the falls at the 325 m. portage. The men were fishing in the rain; but the women were in big dome tents that they had set up. Around this time NF began to get cold. He had cotton/nylon pants and had neglected to put on his rain pants. I was wearing nylon pants and had put my rain pants in my lap so I was drier. So we pushed on but I noticed that NF's fingernails were a little blue and I insisted that we stop at Jake Lake. We'd been traveling for about 7.5 hrs. I put NF to work cutting 2 dead spruce trees into stove lengths and I put up a tarp. The rain stopped and we sat under the tarp and dried everything out and warmed up and eventually ate. I was wiped and got in the tent (a Timberline 2 for the record) first and slept so soundly that I didn't hear NF come in a little while later. A group of 2 canoes passed our camp. The bow guy in one canoe had an incredible stroke. He leaned forward as far as he could and then did a regular stroke with his arms but augmented it by bending back far past a vertical. They were flying and barely looked at us.
Day 7. We smelled the stable and passed through several small lakes and portages and arrived at the take out about 6 hrs. later. Drove to Red Lake. A note on the outfitter's door said the hot water was on for a shower and to just leave the canoe and that we could settle up later. We showered and headed south. Arrived in Duluth pretty late (no trouble with US customs) and couldn't find a room. Ended up in Superior, slept for 7 hrs. and headed for TN.
Day 8. Got home around 9 p.m. Wiped. But not too tired to attend our town's July 4th show. NF appeared and it seemed very strange to be watching a dog/owner look alike contest after all we had been through. Outwardly we looked like all the other people in shorts and t-shirts but inwardly we had experienced the Great Silence and had pushed ourselves physically. Even NF who had done some very arduous conditioning for his marathons and triathlons said that this trip was "hard training." We had seen ourselves against the backdrop of the boreal forest, we had survived and maybe even become a part of the vast web of life there and we were changed. We were not like all these soft people who chatted and partied and laughed all their lives. The wilderness was greater than us but, like Thoreau, we would not come to the end of our lives and realize that we had not confronted the essential facts of life. We had been, briefly, alive.had been through. Outwardly we looked like all the other people in shorts and t-shirts but inwardly we had experienced the Great Silence and had pushed ourselves physically. Even NF who had done some very arduous conditioning for his marathons and triathlons said that this trip was "hard training." We had seen ourselves against the backdrop of the boreal forest, we had survived and maybe even become a part of the vast web of life there and we were changed. We were not like all these soft people who chatted and partied and laughed all their lives. The wilderness was greater than us but, like Thoreau, we would not come to the end of our lives and realize that we had not confronted the essential facts of life. We had been, briefly, alive.