Boundary Waters Canoe Area

Some long-lost Pix and notes from a 7 day trip I took to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Superior National Forest in the summer of 1973.  The BWCA is near Ely Minnesota up against the Canadian border (broad pink line).  I went with another Navy guy while I was stationed at Coastal River Division 21 at Great Lakes IL..
We started at Pipestone Outfitters in Winton MN (now possibly called Packsack Outfitters). I just brought my small pack with a few essentials but they set us up with everything else we needed, including chow which started with fresh pork chops for the first night out.  Canoeing is similar to backpacking but you have the canoe to “carry” the weight so it’s pretty easy on the knees etc.  However, I blew out my old Seiko self-winding wristwatch while paddling during the trip.

Map of a tiny area that we covered. Once we got out of Fall Lake we didn’t see anyone else during the rest of the trip. This is truly wilderness.

Upper Left: A typical lakeside campsite, this one on Pipestone Bay at 48 Deg 2.56N x 91 Deg 41.39W. This is way before GPS so navigation relied on map and compass. Makes you appreciate the skills of the indians and early explorers who used these waterways as a superhighway for thousands of miles.
UR: Pipestone “Falls”. This country is essentially FLAT for thousands of square miles so a little ripple like this is called a “falls”. You still had to portage around it though. Lots of rocks.
LL: A Denizen of the Lake; local box turtle found sunning on a log. Dinner? No. We didn’t fish although most visitors probably do. In those days Active Duty military did not need a fishing license while in a National Forest but for some reason we didn’t bring any gear.
This was the “Admiral Zumwalt” years in the USN. Manggey hair was sort of OK but I still needed a major haircut! Glad that era ended.
LR: Typical campfire/chow hall. We carried big cooking gear, including pots, frying pan and a fire grate, stuff you would not take backpacking. Luxury items….

Upper Left: Still water a lot of the time but this is bad for MOSQUITOES !! When it was windy we paddled along the leeward shorelines to make travel easier but the bugs were worse there. Bring some Jungle Juice and a head net. They were not too bad during the day but dawn and dusk were a problem, as expected. You quickly learn to make camp on the windward side of the island/lake which is usually what you don’t do.
UR: View from a typical shoreline campsite. Lots of firewood available, no neighbors.
LL: Typical portage around a “falls” or rapids. Portages are measured in “rods” which equals one canoe-length. They required several trips for the boat and gear. No big deal.
LR: Another campsite. It rained a few times so firewood stored under the canoe, laundry drying (and repelling mosquitoes!)

In today’s terms, this region would be called a Wilderness Area. Even back then, no motorized vehicles, no outboard motors, no unburnable containers (glass, cans, foil etc.), it was even unlawful to fly over it. You could paddle from Lake Superior all the way north to Hudson Bay via this huge network of interconnected lakes and streams.

We drank the water right out of the lake and didn’t get sick – we were far from any civilization. However, this whole area is overlaying the Mesabi iron range deposits so the lake water had a distinctive reddish color. Probably also from the tannin from all the trees. The water tasted fine but we soon learned that drinking it made us very thirsty. Weird. After a few days we decided to collect rain water with our poncho’s and that worked great. No more problems.

A great area to explore – I recommend it !