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Gunflint Lake Canoe Trip

Paul K
10/2/2018

    Earlier in this summer my parents purchased a cheap canoe from one of their work friends who was looking to get out of the sport. It's a faded orange Coleman Ram-X 15 canoe. Nothing fancy and the bottom was pretty beat up, but it floated and kept the water on the outside of the boat. Little did I know at the time, but this boat would open up a new world of opportunities. My friend who own's the Jeep that I went on the Trans Wisconsin Adventure Trail with informed me of some really cool lakes in Northern Minnesota that had camp sites that were only accessible by boat. One Friday night I packed up all of my gear and the canoe and drove up to the Twin Cities to pick up my friend and start the long trek to the Canadian border.

    The first night that we were up there we decided to stay at a secluded campsite at the end of a dirt road that we had found online. We were still about 30 minutes from the entry point on the lake, but it was midnight and I had been driving since I left work about 10 hours prior. We gathered fallen wood just as it started to sprinkle and managed to make a fire. The rain wasn't very bad so we stayed outside and hung out while getting rained on. We decided to camp in the car rather than take the time to set up a tent. I was surprised with how spacious my Saturn Vue was with all the seats folded down. The next morning we woke up, packed up what little we had out and set on the rest of the way to the entry point. For this trip we had decided to use entry point 57. We found someone selling firewood along the way and decided to pick up a bundle just to be safe. We were happy that we did.

     We got on the water around noon which was a bit later than we wanted to, but we managed to get a good nights sleep the night before and had a good time. We took off from entry point 57 and canoed for a few hours before we got hungry and decided to cook a food. We managed to find a sand bar to pull the canoe up on and heated up water for a freeze dried food. This was the first time either of us had tried the freeze dried food. We were both big fans and plan to go this route again in the future! The whole day was overcast and somewhat windy with a headwind the whole way. We slowly made our way from the west side of the lake towards the east taking in the beauty of the changing foliage. We had hoped to make it all of the way up to North Lake, but having set off so late in the day this proved to be too far for us. We decided to stop for a quick break on one of the islands on the west side of the lake.

     As we pulled our canoe up and out of the water we were astonished at the beauty of the island. A root staircase that was garnished with green moss led us from the clearing to an area that had a fire ring, bench, and a picknic table made from logs. Just beyond that was a flat grassy clearing which would be perfect for pitching a tent. We decided that this was the perfect spot to stop for the day and went about unloading our gear from the canoe and getting our tent set up. After we had everything set up, we split up. My friend started making the food from the freeze dried meals, and I went out to scavenge for firewood. We had one bundle of wood, but if we wanted to stay up any later than that we would need more. My luck came when I found an old piece of drift wood that was super dry. We managed to break this piece down into smaller campfire size pieces to burn throughout the night as we enjoyed our flasks and stainless steel growlers that we had brought (No Cans are allowed in the BWCA).

     The next day we awoke later than planned and started making breakfast and drinking water. (The freeze dried biscuits and gravy are pretty good, but I would not recommend the eggs!) When we woke up, we looked out over the lake, taking in the calm waters and trees changing colors off into the distance as we enjoyed our morning coffee. We packed everything up into our waterproof bags and loaded up the canoe preparing for our long trip back. We didn't know it at the time, but we were in for a wild ride.

     As soon as we left the island we realized it was going to be slow moving. We had another head wind, and the calm lake had turned into massive waves coming from what felt like every direction. We were paddling frantically, but going nowhere. My Garmin Tactix rated our speed much slower than the day before, but it was reassuring to see we were still moving when sometimes it felt like we were sitting still. After a few hours we did the math: We wouldn't make it back to the entry point before night fall, we had to figure something out. Looking at our maps we noticed that a few of the cabins were connected by road to the canoe launching point. If we got out and walked back to the car we could come and pick up our canoe and get on our way (I still had a 10 hour drive and work the next day.) We decided to do this and pulled our canoe out of the water removing our passports, wallets, keys, and a few bottles of water for the walk. A stranger was kind enough to let us hitch a ride in the back of his pick up truck, and we made it to our car, retrieved our gear, and started the long drive home only stopping twice to check out the Brewery in Grand Marais for some food and to get gas. I finally made it home exhausted at 4:30 am and slept for the few hours before work at 7:30. What an adventure!

The blue X marks where we entered the lake. We followed the red line to the island where we camped marked by the purple circle. The teal line is our return trip and the green X is roughly where we pulled the canoe out and ​started walking back to our car (the blue X)

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