Tracing a North Woods border route of water and land that has transported people of every ilk for centuries, a group’s canoe trip in early June through the eastern lakes of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was every bit a trip into the past. It also informed the present and was classic adventure. Over the next five weeks, we’ll tell of the trip on a historic water trail, of its joys and challenges, and of a new appreciation, for a father and son, of the BWCA’s diverse beauty. Join the adventure.
DAY 1 Gunflint Lake
About halfway between Rainy Lake and Lake Superior along the Voyageur’s Highway, the lake boasts the iconic Gunflint Lodge — the launch spot for our group. Gunflint is named for deposits of chert, a 2-billion-year-old black rock that both Ojibwe Indians and voyageurs used to spark their flintlock rifles. The Gunflint Trail, which runs northwest from Grand Marais, Minn., to the BWCA, takes its name from the lake.
As the name implies, this 80-rod portage is a wooden staircase — two actually, of more than 90 steps each. From Rose Lake to Duncan Lake, the stairs cover an elevation change of about 120 feet, and they parallel the pretty Rose Falls. Duncan Lake, with seven campsites, is known for great fishing.
Posés and pipes
Voyageurs didn’t measure their distances in miles or feet. They measured portages by “posés,” a posé being French for a spot where burdens are laid down. So a lengthy portage might have three or four resting spots, or posés. And on lakes, they paddled for 50 minutes per hour, stopping to smoke a pipe in the last 10 minutes. Thus, the length of a lake was measured in pipes.