After our first backpacking trip, we decided that this was definitely something that we wanted to continue doing, and we needed to start planning our next trip. We typically take a trip somewhere for our anniversary in September, so we figured that would be a great time for our next backpacking adventure. While looking for destination ideas, I found an article in Backpacker magazine that stated that September 2012 was supposed to be a good time to try to see the northern lights. It also stated that northern Minnesota was the best bet for seeing them in the lower 48 states. Since seeing the northern lights is on our bucket list, we decided on the Angleworm Lake Trail in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area near Ely, MN.
We quickly decided that some of our current gear was not going to be sufficient for this trip. First of all, this was our first trip in an area with a decent bear population. Since we had no experience with hanging our food, be decided to purchase a bear canister. Since we live in Missouri, the selection of bear canisters in our outdoor stores was limited. We ended up with a Counter Assault Bear Keg. It was probably a bit large for our needs, but it worked. We also realized that our Osprey Kestrel 32 backpacks definitely were not going to have the capacity for the Bear Keg, our sleeping bags, and clothes for a cooler weather trip. We both decided on Gregory packs, the Baltoro 75 for me and the Deva 70 for Tammy.
Upon arrival in Ely, we visited the North American Bear Center, the International Wolf Center, and the Superior National Forest park office to pick up our permits. That night we stayed at the Superior National Forest – Fall Lake campground. We awoke on a chilly next morning and headed to the trailhead. We began hiking in what was near perfect hiking weather. It was a little cool in the shade, but quickly warmed up in the sun. We had our heads on a swivel as we started hiking, knowing that there were bears, moose, and wolves in these woods. We also quickly realized that this hike was going to be a little more difficult than we expected. My pack weighed in at about 45lbs. and Tammy’s was just a little under 40lbs. The effects of this were apparent after just a couple miles, as muscles we didn’t realize we had started to become sore.
I had carefully planned this trip and mapped out each of our campsites, insuring that we wouldn’t have too far to hike on any given day, and that we would have a decent view to the north on as many nights as possible. With that being said, we all know that even the best plans fail. As late afternoon approached on the first day, we were looking for the first campsite, without any luck. As we reached a point where we knew that we had passed the campsite, my hiking partner was becoming frustrated, to say the least. We made the decision to push on to the next campsite which stretched our mileage on the first day significantly further than expected. When we finally arrived at this campsite, we realized there was not a view to the north, so there would be no looking for the aurora on this night. Other than that, this was a great campsite. It was right next to the lake and had places to sit, cook, and had a privy. We set up camp, ate dinner, and started to reevaluate the stops for the remainder of the trip due to our change of plans this day.
We couldn’t help but to think about bears that night as we were laying in the tent. I was just sure that there would be one playing soccer with the bear canister during the night. We also kept hearing something occasionally slapping the surface of the lake. It was a startling sound amid the silence. We later learned that it was the beavers slapping the water with their tails.
The thermometer read a little less than 40 degrees when we woke the next morning. It was chilly, but beautiful. The lake was completely still and the sun was just starting to come up. I retrieved the bear canister and quickly inspected it for signs of attempted entry. There were none. While I am glad that our food was safe, there was part of me that was hoping for claw marks on the canister that I could show off. Tammy awoke shortly thereafter and we prepared breakfast. We were not in a huge hurry, as we had decided we were only going to hike a short distance on this day and camp by Whiskey Jack Lake. This way, we can recover from the prior day and it would be our last chance to have a good view to the north at night.
We arrived at Whiskey Jack Lake early in the afternoon. It was nice to relax next to the lake for the rest of the afternoon. Even better, the sky was clear so it looked like it would be a perfect night to watch the aurora. We sat next to the lake as the sun began to set. About the same time, the clouds started to roll in. By the time darkness fell on the lake, the sky was covered in clouds. I decided to go to bed and set an alarm to get up in a few hours to check and see if the clouds were gone. Unfortunately, when I checked, they were still there.
The next day brought more beautiful scenery and great hiking. The trail looped around and eventually returned to the shore of Angleworm Lake. There were a couple sketchy sections of the trail this day. One of which
was crossing a beaver dam. It was at this point I thought of our location and realized that we were many miles from any civilization and hadn’t seen another person since we started hiking. While I enjoy the solitude, the “what if” scenarios of getting hurt out there were a bit scary. This later prompted us to purchase a DeLorme in-Reach to be prepared in case something did happen on future trips.
The last night we found a spot to camp that had a great view overlooking the lake. We had noticed earlier in the day that our Katadyn Hiker Pro water filter kept getting more difficult to pump. That night, as we gathered water, it broke. The valve that kept the water from going back into the lake was no longer functioning, allowing the water to return to the lake instead of getting filtered into our bottles. Luckily, I was able to get Tammy to help me so we could kink the input hose on each pump to keep the water from returning to the lake. It was a very slow process, but it worked. We later learned that there is algae in some of the Boundary Waters lakes that will clog water filters. Ours just got clogged to the point that it broke. When I returned home, I contacted Katadyn and they were nice enough to me a replacement for the broken housing.
The next morning, we were sad that the trip was coming to an end, but there is always that part that is ready to return to civilization as well. As we started hiking, we saw a person canoeing across the lake. That was the first person we saw while we were on the trail. The hike out was rather easy, and we were glad to see the car at the trailhead. Unfortunately, we did not see and bears, moose, wolves, or the northern lights on this trip. Even though we did not see what we were hoping to, the scenery that we did see made up for it. It was a beautiful trail and the weather while we were there was great for hiking. I have always been one that prefers to go south on vacation, but this trip has started to change my mindset.