Danger in the boundary waters

runningmt

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Did a nine day trip back in ‘91 when I was 18 years old with a good friend. Got the permit, gathered a few things, strapped an old aluminum canoe to the Delta ‘88, and left Fergus Falls to Ely.

We had a 5x7 crude hand drawn map of the lake chain, simple camping gear, fishing gear, and a couple boxes of fake potatoes to go with all the fish we were gonna catch.

Fortunately the camping gear included slickers for both of us, as it rained every day, and all day for a few of the days. Getting a fire started every night at a new location was a challenge, and our sleeping bags were pretty wet every night.

While incredibly naive and stupid to not bring any food, we did catch enough fish to eat every day, even if it felt like sacrilege to kill big smallmouth a few times. We were pretty used to catching pike in MN, so that was the most common table fair. Boiling water was our only option for drinking, as we didn’t have any means to filter, and didn’t bring any iodine.

We saw moose, and even found a moose paddle, cliff-dived into frigid early June waters in Quetico (illegally, as we didn’t have a permit to enter), caught huge smallmouth on light tackle, portaged to isolated lakes, and didn’t see another soul for the entire trip.

I had a point and shoot with a few rolls of film, as I have always liked to take a bunch of photos. The rain kept the camera in the bag most of the time, but I’ve got some pictures of fish, campsites, portages.

Looking back, it seems scary how invincible we thought we were, how ill-prepared we were, even though we were skilled outdoorsmen for our ages. If something bad would’ve happened, we did not have any first aid, of course no way to communicate with the outside world, and no planning for a “what if” situation.

Now, even on quick day trips in the mountains here in SW MT, I’ve got my phone, gps, satellite communication, first aid, rain gear, plenty of food and water, and a plan that my wife is aware of.

I want to do BW one more time in my life, although this time I will be better prepared. I know I will appreciate the experience more now than I did then, but I bet the memories won’t be as rich.
 

BrentD

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I've had many trips into the BW and grew up in a cabin on a lake that was half in, half out of the BW. It is a great place, but I would not consider it particularly dangerous if you use some common sense. I think I've pulled three groups out of the water at one point or another over all of those years. All three were just plain stupid or careless. Use you noggin, and you will be fine.

My first job was working for an outfitter that flew in a plane load of customers from Chicago every Friday and sent them out for a week. We got some really "interesting" people that were amazingly naïve, but we never lost a single one. If they can do it, anyone can. Just use your head.
 

crock239

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Boundary Waters or Quetico trip is definitely on my bucket list....although probably not when there's still ice on some waters.

I think I'd like to do it at least twice....first trip without the kids and another with them when they're old enough to help paddle.

Edit: actually, come to think of it, if WY or CO isn't generous in the next few weeks...:unsure:
 

Walkathon

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I know a guy from Northern MN that was struck by lightning while camping in the BWCA. He survived, and didn't have any lasting effects. I believe the lightning struck a tree nearby and he was far enough away to survive the event. I've camped on some of the lakes near the area, but haven't made it to the actual BWCA. I'd like to go someday.
 

Gellar

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Did a nine day trip back in ‘91 when I was 18 years old with a good friend. Got the permit, gathered a few things, strapped an old aluminum canoe to the Delta ‘88, and left Fergus Falls to Ely.

We had a 5x7 crude hand drawn map of the lake chain, simple camping gear, fishing gear, and a couple boxes of fake potatoes to go with all the fish we were gonna catch.

Fortunately the camping gear included slickers for both of us, as it rained every day, and all day for a few of the days. Getting a fire started every night at a new location was a challenge, and our sleeping bags were pretty wet every night.

While incredibly naive and stupid to not bring any food, we did catch enough fish to eat every day, even if it felt like sacrilege to kill big smallmouth a few times. We were pretty used to catching pike in MN, so that was the most common table fair. Boiling water was our only option for drinking, as we didn’t have any means to filter, and didn’t bring any iodine.

We saw moose, and even found a moose paddle, cliff-dived into frigid early June waters in Quetico (illegally, as we didn’t have a permit to enter), caught huge smallmouth on light tackle, portaged to isolated lakes, and didn’t see another soul for the entire trip.

I had a point and shoot with a few rolls of film, as I have always liked to take a bunch of photos. The rain kept the camera in the bag most of the time, but I’ve got some pictures of fish, campsites, portages.

Looking back, it seems scary how invincible we thought we were, how ill-prepared we were, even though we were skilled outdoorsmen for our ages. If something bad would’ve happened, we did not have any first aid, of course no way to communicate with the outside world, and no planning for a “what if” situation.

Now, even on quick day trips in the mountains here in SW MT, I’ve got my phone, gps, satellite communication, first aid, rain gear, plenty of food and water, and a plan that my wife is aware of.

I want to do BW one more time in my life, although this time I will be better prepared. I know I will appreciate the experience more now than I did then, but I bet the memories won’t be as rich.
I reflect often as I am packing gear or planning for a trip at how simple it used to be and miss those days.

The day after I graduated high school my buddy said he wanted to go fishing, somewhere other than we always went. I said I know where we can go. Within a few hours we had all of our gear packed and my single cab pickup hooked up to my parents boat for a week long trip to northern Minnesota. We had all of the cash from our graduation parties and my mom gave us her credit card to buy groceries. I am sure we forgot a lot of stuff and would have been more comfortable with a bigger camp, but we had a blast and still talk about that trip 20 years later.
 

Gellar

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I've had many trips into the BW and grew up in a cabin on a lake that was half in, half out of the BW. It is a great place, but I would not consider it particularly dangerous if you use some common sense. I think I've pulled three groups out of the water at one point or another over all of those years. All three were just plain stupid or careless. Use you noggin, and you will be fine.

My first job was working for an outfitter that flew in a plane load of customers from Chicago every Friday and sent them out for a week. We got some really "interesting" people that were amazingly naïve, but we never lost a single one. If they can do it, anyone can. Just use your head.
In 2009 during my 7 or 8th year of college I worked for an outfitter around Ely. We saw some interesting people too. I recall having to help a husband and wife group out of the boundary waters because the husband had slipped and reinjured a previous knee. For the most part the people without experience were very cautious. Probably to cautious at times. Some of the people who thought they had experience in the boundary waters but did not know crap from sh!t were the ones that I worried about. I cant count on one hand all of the 40 year old somethings who would start the trip off with "I was in boy scouts, I know how to paddle a canoe" before they knew it they would be pushing off the opposite shore with their paddle to get pointed back to the middle of the lake.
 

Gellar

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I know a guy from Northern MN that was struck by lightning while camping in the BWCA. He survived, and didn't have any lasting effects. I believe the lightning struck a tree nearby and he was far enough away to survive the event. I've camped on some of the lakes near the area, but haven't made it to the actual BWCA. I'd like to go someday.
The summer I worked in Ely was 10 years after the big blow down. Many people came to the outfitter who were in the BWCA during the blow down and wanted to see how it had recovered. Some people had some very harrowing close encounters.

I think last year or the year before I recall a story of a girl scout getting struck by lightning. She survived if I remember correctly. a quick google search found the article: https://www.twincities.com/2019/07/...couts-struck-by-lightning-in-boundary-waters/
 

MNElkNut

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Been there once, but it was an uneventful trip. My dad, however, woke up one fall morning in the BWCA and found a skim of ice on the lake. Oh boy. They had checked the forecast, but it got much colder than anticipated. The front of the canoe would go up on the ice and then fall through for the first hour or so. Barely got warm enough to melt the ice and they got the heck out!
 

Gellar

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Been there once, but it was an uneventful trip. My dad, however, woke up one fall morning in the BWCA and found a skim of ice on the lake. Oh boy. They had checked the forecast, but it got much colder than anticipated. The front of the canoe would go up on the ice and then fall through for the first hour or so. Barely got warm enough to melt the ice and they got the heck out!
My dream hunt is a BWCA moose hunt. obviously that wont happen. I've thought about a BWCA deer hunt. With rifle season starting in November I have considered the possibility of being froze in and will probably go earlier during bow season.
 

BrentD

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My dream hunt is a BWCA moose hunt. obviously that wont happen. I've thought about a BWCA deer hunt. With rifle season starting in November I have considered the possibility of being froze in and will probably go earlier during bow season.
I had my moose all picked out and ready to go, for the first moose season in MN in 50 yrs. And then we had to move to Illinois. Felt like a death sentence.

Why not a BWCA grouse hunt?
 

crock239

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I had my moose all picked out and ready to go, for the first moose season in MN in 50 yrs. And then we had to move to Illinois. Felt like a death sentence.

Why not a BWCA grouse hunt?
I didn't even realize hunting in BWCA was a possibility....you mean I could do a backcountry canoeing trip with fishing rods AND a shotgun? Very interesting...
 

Gellar

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Absolutely. It is all huntable. That said, it is not really the best hunting habitat for most things, but that's not the point.
The superior forest does prescribed burns and there are a few fires every year. I’d look a few years back and try hunting those edges.

It is illegal to discharge a firearm within so many feet of campsites and portage trails. There may be better hunting outside the bwca, but still within the superior forest and there are still plenty of lakes to canoe.
I didn't even realize hunting in BWCA was a possibility....you mean I could do a backcountry canoeing trip with fishing rods AND a shotgun? Very interesting...
 

Ben Nicholson

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Late to the party, but I've taken many trips into the BWCA. We have a family cabin north of Grand Rapids so it's a short trip to Ely. I was supposed to be going tomorrow, however kids activities (softball and lacrosse) made me turn our permit back in. If my son and I don't draw our WY pronghorn tags we're really considering a BWCA rifle deer hunt as a backup. Like Gellar said look for recent burns... kind of like elk hunting.
 

Northwoods

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There have been multiple incidents this spring in the Boundary Waters similar to to one in the article. I’ve never seen the water this high. I think this is the guy that I advised not to take that route this spring. Nobody listens.
 

Gellar

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There have been multiple incidents this spring in the Boundary Waters similar to to one in the article. I’ve never seen the water this high. I think this is the guy that I advised not to take that route this spring. Nobody listens.
I kind of lay blame on many of the outfitters and the Usfs for allowing some of these people to go in.
 
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