Location: Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota
Every Boy Scout who enjoys paddling dreams of paddling the Boundary Waters of Minnesota. This is perhaps the capital of freshwater kayaking and canoeing in the United States. Its also a fishing destination. I simply could not pass up such a destination!
I decided to kayak around the Kabetogama Peninsula (Kabetogama is pronounced cab'toga-ma) of the Voyageurs National Park area. This was a serious undertaking which required some serious gear! I found an excellent outfitter with Northern Lights Resort in the town of Kabetogama, Minnesota. They were very kind and set me up with a touring Kayak and all the necessary gear for $27/a day (great price).
So I set off for a complete circumnavigation of the Kabetogama Peninsula! Right from the beginning it was raining. This is classic for Minnesota! It can be cold and rainy straight into June! I set off just one week before the season opener for fishing. This ended up being an opportune time for some serious wilderness solitude. It was warm enough to kayak comfortably but there were absolutely no boats or crowds!
I don't think I've ever experienced a wilderness quite as immense as the North Woods of Minnesota. I've traveled in some pretty empty places; the Sierras of California, the Great Basin of Nevada, the Olympic Peninsula of Washington, the deserts of Utah, ect. Yet, I never felt so completely alone as I did in the Boundary Waters. In a wonderful way, I felt like somehow, humans did not belong here. It was almost like I was an intruder. This is truly the edge of an incomprehensibly large wilderness; there is NOTHING between here and the Hudson Bay. If I were to head North, it is conceivable that I could simply not see another human from here to the North Pole.
There were hundreds of islands, inlets and smaller bays. Getting lost would be so easy up here so it was a constant challenge in navigation. I bought some hardcore navigational charts for the entire area and depended on my compass as a lifeline. Cell phone and GPS coverage are very spotty.
I can't deny that I felt a strange sense of loneliness on the first day of kayaking. I've been on the road for a full 25 days now. Although I've had good times with some friends, the majority of this time I've been alone. I guess it all just hit me on that first day. This isn't my first time dealing with loneliness; I've spent weeks alone in the wilderness. For me, its a feeling that simply passes with time. By nightfall on the first day, I was back to enjoying the solitude!
I was able to cover 20 miles on my first day. This included the Gold Portage on the North Western edge of Lake Kabetogama, Black Bay, North Rainy Lake and finally through the narrows to South Rainy Lake. I actually camped out on the island that separated USA from Canada (on the US side, of course!). The Black Bay was particularly enjoyable; I listened to a cacophony of loon calls. Kayaking the Rainy Lake section was very windy, but I finally found that island.
The next morning was hell. As most these things go, it started off well! I was in great spirits and hit the water early. I came around the very exposed Soldier Point and headed off into the southern part of Rainy Lake. As I was kayaking in the furthest section from land, a GALE FORCE wind hit me! I mean it- there were white caps, full-on waves and everything. I was literally 5 miles away from being halfway around the peninsula. Nevertheless, it was so bad that I had to turn around. Or rather, I had to let the wind and current take me. It was so bad, that it was useless to try and fight it. I paddled (drifted ) to about a mile south of Soldier Point and was able to make my way back to the island where I camped. The wind and waves were simply intolerable.
In true Minnesota fashion, an hour later it was sunny. I had lost too much time to try and paddle in that direction. Fortunately, the wind was at my back as I retraced my path. It wasn't that discouraging to turn around though! The sun was finally shining and I enjoyed my paddle back to the Black Bay.
I had to go back through the Gold Portage but I was able to camp on Lake Kabetogama again. I found me a nice little site with a dock, a tent pad, and even a bear locker! There are perhaps 70 campsites in the Voyageurs National Park area that have such amenities.
The third day was just a short paddle back to Northern Lights Resort! It was sunny and very windy again today. Paddling into wind is too frustrating for me, I was glad for the shorter paddle. Anyone who intends on paddling in the lakes of Minnesota should be prepared for Ocean-like conditions.
All in all, it was a 55 mile trek! Its funny because a full circumnavigation around the Kabetogama peninsula is around 60 miles in length. I pretty much did half of it, twice! Oh well, its just one more reason to come back here! If you would like to kayak in Voyageurs National Park, let me know and I'll help you with your plans!