Pow Wow Hiking Trip Report -- October 2001

Trip Planning

I spent months and countless hours researching and preparing for this hike.  I was going to try to hike the abandoned east loop of the original Pow Wow trail.  It starts south of Isabella lake, circles around to the east of Isabella, up to Fungus and Whittier Lakes, back west to Pow Wow Lake and finally meets up with the existing Pow Wow trail at its eastern most point to the north of Isabella Lake.  After nine previous BW hiking trips, eight of which have been solo, I felt I was ready for something new, challenging and different.  I wanted the physical and mental challenge.  I wanted to do it alone, to experience the solitude of the place, to have a chance at seeing more wildlife.  For more on my pre-trip planning, see my trip planning web page .

Monday, 10/15/2001

At 3:53am I wake in anticipation of my alarm, but elect to go back to sleep.  At 4:36am the drone of my alarm wakes me.  Despite not feeling good the day before, I'm eager to get this trip started.  This will be my first and only BWCA trip this year.  I've planned a trip that will test me, but also be my most rewarding yet.

At 5:18am I pull out of my parents.  I drive thru downtown Duluth at 7:30am.  I stop for gas and my last meal in Two Harbors.  I pull into the Tofte Ranger Station just after 9:00am.  The lady at the front desk remembers me from my phone call last Friday and says she's got someone for me to talk to.  I never did get his name, but a guy comes out and we discuss the trail and other related things.  It struck me early on that he didn't have much hands on experience on either Pow Wow Trail.  Turns out to be a lot of small talk.  He does mention that according to some of there numbers, excluding Kek Trail Club maintenance crews, the Pow Wow Trail only sees about 20 hikers per year.  I still remember thinking that's how many hikers the Appalachain Trail (AT) sees per day in the Smokies. God, I love this place!

Before long I started getting the impression I was lied to on Friday afternoon.  The front desk lady said I needed a PMA reservation and that it had to be picked up in person.  I had assumed that I didn't because it was off-season, but had called to make sure and to ask which entry point I needed to put on my permit since I was going in a "non-entry point".  So as I'm talking to this guy I finally ask about the need for a PMA reservation .  He indicates, as I thought, that I didn't need one this time of year.  I'm not sure if she was just ignorant or if they (more than just her) wanted to check me out to make sure I had what it took to hike my route.  Regardless, it didn't take me long to accept it and be grateful for the opportunity to discuss my plans and the area I was about to hike.  He had no info on the reported route from Maniwaki to Andek to Baskatong, an area just to the north of my hike I'm considering as a possible canoe bushwacking PMA route.  After thirty minutes or so, it was time to get going and start my much anticipated trip.

I took back roads, 40 miles of them, to the Isabella Lake parking lot.  I saw four whitetails and a spruce hen along the way.  I forgot to get water so I stopped at the Island River landing to pump some.  It started to rain lightly off and on, something that would continue all day long.  After a lot of organizing and packing I hit the trail/road just after 11:30am.

Thirty minutes of steady hiking got me to the end of the primative road.  I stopped for a break.  Just as I was ready to get back on the trail a USFS van pulls up.  Two women get out and approach me.  We exchange greetings and I ask what they are up to.  They indicate they are checking out the boundaries.  I assume looking for any illegal motorized vehicle traffic as moose hunting season concluded the day before.  I wonder if they are checking up on me.  They start by telling me the trail is not maintained and that opens up the conversation.

Another good, informative exchange.  Ellan, the one that takes a lead roll in talking to me, tells me that someone illegally cleared the trail past Perent River a few years back.  She indicates she would like an update on trail conditions if I'd be willing.  I agree and ask for her email.  As she gives me her email address I realize that this is the same women that I ran into on Boga Lake in 1998.  She was nice and informative both times.  After a very pleasant and helpful conversation I pick up my pack, exchange goodbye's, and take off down the trail.

While I didn't see evidence of it at the trailhead, it becomes apparent that moose hunters (maybe grouse hunters) have taken a four wheeler down this trail.  The trail has a good tread, always discernable.  Brush, alder, spruce and balsam all crowd me at times, but nothing problematic.  As with the regular Pow Wow, there are places were the trail opens up a little in the piney sections, but it's usually brush covered.

It starts to warm up, but it's still windy when I break out into the open.  I debate taking off my fleece jacket, but leave it on.  After almost an hour I come to the first significant obstacle, a beaver dam.  There are actually two dams, separated by only a 100 yards or so.  They are easy to cross.  Here I jump four black ducks not far from the trail.  As the day unfolds I end up seeing five grouse, two red squirrels, a couple rodents and these ducks. Not bad.  More ruffed grouse than I expected after hearing of some low numbers in central MN.  

After another 25 minutes I reach a second beaver dam.  Like the first, this one had recently been breached.  The beaver had just started rebuilding.  There was also a pretty big culvert along the dam.   Then another 25 minutes I reached a streem crossing I'd seen on the map.  The stream was dammed (expect anything else) and I could see parts of the old boardwalk in the dam.  None of it was usable, just the occasional board or section sticking out of the dam.

Right on schedule, 25 minutes later, I reach my planned camp for the evening.  The Perent River crossing still has a bridge right next to the good campsite.  It's a good spot, except for the fishing (or lack of it).  This, my first day, I do five easy miles and get into camp before 3:00pm.  I have plenty of time to take pictures, write, do some unfruitful fishing and check out the area.

It rotates between brief sunshine and brief showers, but the showers are never too heavy. About 5:30pm I attempt to make dinner, southwestern chicken mixed with salsa on tortillas.  I light my stove and gas goes everywhere, which mean the entire stove, including the base, is on fire.  After a minute or two it burns itself out.  Thinking I made some sort of mistake, I tray again and again I have gas and flames pretty much everywhere.  I put my food on the stove in an attempt to heat it, but it never gets quite hot.  With the stove not working and the woods more than a little wet, I start out eating my warm (definitely not hot) meal.  By the time I eat the last tortilla rollup it's no longer even warm.

As I finish up I notice the sky has gone dark.  I rush to put on my fleece jacket and start putting things away before the next shower...which looks like it might be harder than the earlier ones.  As I've gotten most things put away and get ready to hang my pack, it begins to ice.  Not snow, not rain, but ice.  It gradually turns into snow and then basically stops not more than fifteen minutes after starting up.  The wind is bitingly cold and out of the west, right into camp.  It was 48° when I was hiking, cooled to 40° by the time I reached camp and now it was 35°.  I decide to head for my tent around 6:30pm.  I write in my journal, look at maps and turn in before 8:00pm.

It was a really good first day.  I had no problems route finding.  I made good time over a decent trail.  I expected this part of the trail to be the easiest and was glad there were no serious surprises.  As is standard, I experienced some cold precipitation, but I'm prepared and it doesn't bother me whatsoever.  I have warm, dry long underware to slip into and find my down bag warm in the damp 30° night.  My hike today was relatively short, a good warmup for the rest of the trip.  I get to bed early before what I anticipate will be the first of three difficult days.  Despite my anticipation of the coming days, my tired body has no problem falling asleep.

Tuesday, 10/16/2001

I wake up numerous times at night and only once, early, do I hear it raining or snowing.  Some might say that I couldn't sleep well, I think my body just isn't used to more than four or five hours of sleep in one day.  It's probably been months since I got more than six hours.  It wasn't a restless awakening, just an awareness than I was no longer sleeping.  After each, it usually only took a few minutes to fall back asleep.  At one point my watch read 5:40am and it was still dark, the next thing I knew it was 7:40am, light out and snowing.  It switches often between snow and ice, but it's coming down fairly good at 8:00am.  It's just starting to accumulate as I venture out of the security of my tent.  With my stove not working, I eat yesterday's PowerBar for breakfast and skip the stove/fire thing.  Even without the hot breakfast, I'm not on the trail until almost 9:30am.

Awesome, totally awesome!!!  Not 100 yards up the trail from camp, as I'm walking up a hill that opens up somewhat, I look up and there is a wolf.  In the blink of an eye he turns and takes off the other way.  I'm pumped!  Not 30 yards away from me was a real, live, wild timber wolf.  The quick look didn't allow for all the details, but he was mostly a cream color, lighter than I'd imagined in my hundreds of daydreams (and night time ones as well) of this moment.  He had a few darker blotches on his body.  I didn't hear others (pack?), but my heart really started beating and I'm not sure I would have heard a pack of elephants.  Excitement gave way to cautious fear.  Surely he had heard me, he probably knew I camped there last night, so why did he let me get so close?  I look for a stick and can only find a wimpy 18" one.  I get my nerve together and continue hiking up the trail.  In one word, awesome!

The snow lets up, but its accumulated on most of the spruce and balsam that line the trail.  Within minutes I have snow and ice on my hiking pants.  It's cold, but my trunk is dry and I continue on, not letting my freezing wet legs bother me.  It is these conditions, however, that have my camera in my backpack and leave me without photographic proof of my prized sighting of the day.

There are some blowdowns, but I'm surprised at how easy the trail is to follow.  I never see any of the other trails as indicated by my McKenzie Map.  These trails are most likely old logging roads that predate the old logging road I'm following (now an old trail).  Actually, I see lots of possible old trails/logging roads, but none have a tread or even look as though anyone or anything has used them in the past 30-50 years.

I don't hit the trail until almost 9:30am.  Way late, but the snow has slowed me down.  At 10:20am I reach my first serious obstacle of day 2.  A pond has covered the trail for about 60 yards.  The hike around looks reasonably short, maybe 300 yards total.  The hike is short, but there are blowdowns everywhere.  I connect up with the trail without a problem, but bushwacking thru a tangle of downed trees with a pack can get difficult, especially when most things still have enough snow around to make things wet, slippery and difficult.  A hundred yards after I connect back up to the trail I run into a long beaver dam.  It was this beaver dam that caused the pond to rise and cover the trail and cause this detour.  I grab a balance stick and walk the dam without incident.  My wet hands are really getting cold, especially after walking the dam holding a stick.  I push on.  At 10:50am, I reach the first stream crossing.  Shit!  There is no dam.  There was a bridge, which is now only half there.  I need to get across a two foot deep and ten foot long section of open water.

While I have never previously forded a stream by removing my boots and donning sandals, I'm prepared and figure it is the best approach here.  There are no decent logs around that would allow me to fashon some sort of bridge.  I'm really not interested in taking out my saw and building one either.  It's 35° to 40° and I'm soaking wet below the waist.  The last thing I need is more cold, wet conditions.   My options are pretty simple:  turn back or wade across.  I mentally and physically prepared too long for this trip to let a little ten foot section of knee deep water wreck my trip.  

I leave my pants on, but take off my boots, socks and gators.  I have sandals so I put those on.  The footing tests out as solid.  After a short prayer and some mental preparation I cross quickly.  While uncertain about the sturdiness of the second section of the footbridge, I cross on it and find it in relatively good condition after what's likely to be fifteen or more years of neglect.  On the other side I dry off with my packtowel and put my wet (from the melting snow found on every tree/bush lining the trail) socks and boots on.  Not knowing how many more of these crossing I may have to do, I leave my gators off, but loop them thru my pack.

Stream crossings #2 and #3 are easy.  Both are simply ditches with running water.  The first has a culvert in the middle of the ditch, and like most in the BW, not doing anything useful today.

I endure occasional showers, usually of the snow variety, intermixed with sunny skies.  It's still under 40°, but I'm still making progress.  I think about hypothermia as my legs are wet and freezing.  I find that I'm surprisingly chilly even with my Gore-tex rainjacket over my T-shirt and long sleeve (cotton) shirt.  While chilly, I feel relatively warm and push on.

I look for the trail to Tomahawk Lake, but never see one.  I must admit, when I was walking/squeezing my way thru wet, snowy pines I sometimes forgot to look for the spur trail to Tomahawk.  But, these spur trails are usually marked in some way like a rock cairn that helps.  I didn't see anything.  No big deal, my goal for the day was Fungus Lake.

After the trail turns NE south of Tomahawk Lake, I run into three beaver dams in the mile and a half stretch to the next bend in the trail.  They are all fairly long.  They seem evenly dispersed.  As I reach the third one I see a moose on the far end.  The cow is right where I need to walk so I decide to go back, put my pack down, take out my camera and wait for a bit.  I have a healthy respect for these animals.  As happened in 1989 on the other end of the Pow Wow, this moose walks along the dam towards me.  The wind is blowing at me so she cannot smell me.  She gets within 30 feet after ten minutes.  For another fifteen minutes she enters the water to feed never more than 50 feet from me.  I'm shivering, but cannot tell if it's because of the cold north wind and my exposed location or if it's because I have a cow moose feeding so close to me.  While she is eating only feet from me I hear another moose about 30 yards away behind the beaver dam.  It never fully reveals itself, but I can hear it periodically.  Later I see it to be a calf who was probably "instructed" by the mother to feed in a more protected area.  While the experience was awesome, I was cold and it was time to get moving.  After about 30 minutes I show myself to both moose.  I don't do anything dramatic, I just walk out from behind a few small, scrubby pines on a little point that sticks out from the dam that I'd been standing on and go about putting on my backpack.  The cow walks off, not startled, in the same direction in which she came.  I pick up my pack and head out across the dam (and towards the moose).  The mose are feeding again as I approach the far side of the dam.  The cow, feeding in the water, waits until I'm only about 40 yards away before signalling to her young that it's time to leave.

Wolf and moose at close range in one day!!!  This is one of the reasons I'm here.  I must admit, while the opportunity to see more wildlife was one of the reasons I choose this route, I never even dreamed of seeing either a wolf or moose at such close range, much less seeing both of them in one day.

My pants dry off as I watch the moose and I'm hoping they can stay that way.  The trail is equally bad with brush, but almost dry now that we've had another hour of wind and sun to dry them off.  It doesn't take me long to near the point where the trail does a 90° turn to the NW.  The difficult thing about this area was that I wasn't quite sure where the trail turned to the NW.  I suspected the logging road continued to the NE while the trail, possibly not a logging road turned NW.  Different maps had the trail in different locations.  I'd preset a waypoint in my GPS unit so I knew as I approached the general area to begin looking.  Before hitting the waypoint, I spot an old cairn and then another to the left of it.  I even spot an old firering.  I look around and find some old blazes on a couple branches.  While a little before I'd thought to find the trail and while the trail along the logging appeared to continue, I took the turnoff after a short break.

I see a few blue blazes and I feel more confident that I'm going in the right direction.  Within a hundred yards, however, I loose any sign of a trail.  I just start walking to the NE after loosing the trail.  I look for an animal trail or any route that looks a little easier than just robo-bushwacking.  I keep surprising myself by running into blue blazes every few minutes.  I can even see remnants of a trail once in a while, but the going is rough most of the time.  I use a combination of my GPS unit, a compass and the sun to keep on course.  I play cat & mouse with blazes for about two-thirds of the way to Fungus Lake and then I loose them for good.  I suspect that I veered too far west.  Using the GPS unit I notice the suspected campsite on Fungus Lake is almost straight east of my position.  I turn and walk towards my pre-trip waypoint.  I've basically been bushwacking since I left the old logging road more than a mile to the south, but everything is going surprising well.  I reach the lake and an old logging road runs parallel to the shore, but I see no campsite.  After a good search both near the water and a ways back along the old logging road, still no campsite.  I find a flat spot among some red pines and make camp.  The pines appear to have been planted about 40 years ago and are 8"-12" in diameter.  I setup camp far enough away from the water that the wind is not a factor.  I unpack and attach my rainfly to a a couple pines and bushes near the water to dry out.  It's 3:45pm, still plent early to make camp. I like the pace of this trip so far. Early into camp with plenty of time to spare. Relaxation is available. I have time to dwell this afternoon on how the trip has already lived up to my expectations. It is great being out here!

After an hour of drying things off and seting up camp, I decide to eat.  With the stove broken and no good place to light a fire, I opt for my lunch.  It's a bagel with crunchy peanut butter.  After dinner I get water, hang my pack and start into the tent around 6:00pm as the sun begins to set.  I write in my journal and relax until almost 7:30pm then turn in.  It's clear and cold, already in the mid 20's.  I turn my water bottles upside down trying to keep them from freezing up completely.  Luckily the day cleared up and I've dried off.  My only wet equipment is my boots, always the last thing to dry out.

In addition to the wolf and moose I see a hawk, a spruce grouse, a pilated woodpecker and a few voles around camp.  No matter how you look at it, a great day!

Wednesday, 10/17/2001

It never felt like I fell asleep last night.  My feet were a little cold, but the rest of my body was fine.  Much earlier than expected I heard my watch alarm go off...6:15am.  It's still dark out and I realize that I'll need good light to pick up and follow any trail this morning.  With that thought fresh in my mind I doze a little more and then mentally prepare myself to get up at 7:00am.  It is cold!  I put on both my fleece jacket and my Gore-tex rainjacket for warmth.  My thermometer reads low 20's, but it feels colder.  My boots are frozen solid.  Luckily I opened them up last night so I can slip them on, but there will be no lacing until they thaw some.

I slowly go about picking up camp.  No breakfast.  I do spend a fair amount of time admiring God's beauty as the sun comes up and everything is covered in frost.  I take some pictures.  I try to get as much frost off my tent and fly as possible before packing up.  After each little job, I stop to warm my frozen fingers.  I'll need to put wool mittens/gloves on my list next time.  At 8:30am I finally hoist my pack and say goodbye to a secluded campsite near the shore of quiet Fungus Lake.

A noticable and blazed trail is only five feet from where I put up my tent last night.  I start hiking north on this trail, but hold little hope of following it because I was unable to follow it the afternoon before when looking for a campsite.  After making one good guess, I find I'm able to follow it all way up the shore.  As I'm leaving the NW shore of the lake I spot a flat, cleared spot among some pines.  While no firegrate is present, I'm pretty sure it is the campsite I was looking for yesterday.  It might have made things a little easier the afternoon before, but it was as far from a classic BW campsite as you get.

With patience I'm able to follow the mostly flagged trail to Whittier Lake.  I loose it a couple times, but it usually doesn't take long to find it.  Whittier Lake is even more beautiful in the morning sun than Fungus.  There are large areas of bog on the south shore.  Everything is covered in frost and appears brilliant reflecting the angled morning sun.  Colors are bright and contrasting.  I am forced to stop and take pictures.  I am forced to stop and admire.  While I haven't spent much time meditating on this solo trip thru a very remote area of the BW, I find myself in a trance near the shore of Whittier.  One thought runs thru my mind repeatedly, "Thank you, God!"  I'm no Sig Olson, I can't articulate the deep thoughts and feelings that enter my mind/soul/body at times like these.  I'll just say that this was one of those spiritual moments I came for.

As I make my way north from Whittier, I find it hard to stay on the trail.  The trail doesn't follow a logging road through this area so I consider myself lucky to have stayed so close to the trail.  Two different blue color blazes, half on the ground, give me confidence that I'm traveling in the right direction.  A rare yellow blaze is even seen from time to time.  At times, they are relatively heavy, but with ridges, spruce/alder bog and a bunch of other messy elements, it's hard to stay found on a twenty year abandoned trail.  As my luck would have it, everytime I give up on seeing the trail again after loosing it for a hundred yards or more, I realize that I'm walking on it again.  While I'd like to credit my route finding skills, my instinct, my ability to spot game trails and scan the brush and trees for the best route, I'm thinking it was another power that kept me on track.  The route is pretty rough north of Whittier.  Lots of blowdowns and other obstacles.  At one point I climb a twenty foot high rock outcropping to see if I can see water to the east or any sign of the trail and suddenly realize the blaze on the ground under my feet.  After another lost and found experience, I see a number of blue blazes on a hillside and follow the trail to the top in an area that opens up a little and then I notice a cairn and a three way intersection.  A logging road runs from the south to the NW.  The trail I'm on runs into this old logging road from the east.

At first I'm confused.  I then convince myself that the trail to the NW is the one I need to follow.  I even spot a blue blaze or two.  The trail is the best I've been on since the first day.  The brush and pines are surprisingly sparse.  While there are no great views along this section of trail (one beaver dam and another beaver pond), its a very pleasant hike.  I'm grateful after quite a bit of bushwacking.  Again, what a wonderful experience!  I'm just loving life.

After taking a short rest and writing the above paragraph on the beautiful trail, it turns uglier.  At first it was simply more pines to squeeze thru.  This really wasn't bad.  I pass by Nuthatch Lake...calling it a swamp might be generous.  I've passed numerous places with open water much larger than this that aren't even on the map, much less named.  On the north shore I stop in a clearing and take a picture of a moose skeleton.  Actually, it was just the upper neck and part of the skull.  There is wolf scat everywhere along the trail.  At noon it's still only 38 °.  I haven't seen a cloud yet, having to endure the beautiful sunny skies.

I spot the trail intersection with the Ferne Lake Trail.  There's even a cairn at the intersection, but the trail itself looks pretty faint.  I can see the old logging road, just not a distinct tread.  No worry, I continue on towards Pow Wow Lake, my destination tonight.  I pass along a couple beaver ponds, but no real dams until I reach the part of the trail where it turns south towards Pow Wow Lake.  Here, there is a decent beaver dam, but not too big.  I cross but can't find the logging road on the other side.  I search to the north, but see nothing.  Then I search to the south.  A marsh extends a quarter mile or more to the south.  I look into the woods (west shore) but find no logging road.  I then look south and over another dam.  I see the remnants of an old logging road cutting right thru the marsh going south.  The water is at least a foot below the beaver dams or it's possible that I would not only be unable to see the trail cutting south through the swamp, I'd be forced to do a long, arduous bushwack around.  On the trail, in plain view is a 1 liter (or quart) green 7up bottle.  I elect to chuck it into the woods, but find myself thinking about this for the next hour or so.  Was this a historical artifact that should remain untouched or was this trash.  I didn't feel secure enough about my future to pick up every piece of trash I saw.  There were a number of other, some rather large, relects from the logging era.  I'm not sure the 7up bottle was from the logging era, but maybe something from the early 1970's.  After much reflection, I come to no conclusion.  In what is a really remote area, I found the bottle an eyesore.  Some of the other logging relects didn't strike me as eyesores.  I feel better about my decision, but not sure if I'll ever feel confident that I did the "right thing."  

The trail to the south was wet, but not over my boots.  After a quarter mile or so the trail gains a foot of elevation and dries out.  It's overgrown with pines, alder and even some tamarack.  It gets worse as I make my way south.  By the time I hit the NE corner of Pow Wow Lake they are the worst I've seen along the trail.  I toil over and around the alder parallel to the north shore of the lake.  Right when my GPS unit says I should be at the campsite I see a USFS firegrate right on the trail, not ten feet from the lakeshore.  There are alder and weeds growing out from underneath it.  It clearly hasn't been used in years.  I see a little place to put a tent to the north of the trail in the ten feet before a rock wall reaches a dozen feet straight up.  The tent pad sits right under a large spruce.  It feels like a good place.  I don't like putting tent door within two feet of the trail, but my options are limited.  I sure hope that I don't end up seeing any day hikers out for a grouse hunt.

My GPS pre-trip waypoints have been right on today.  Nuthatch Lake, the north turn and now Pow Wow Lake campsite are all perfectly located.  It's been helpful, but not essential, thankfully.

When I get into camp I go about getting it cleaned up so I can put my tent up.  I clean up some alder and the lower branches of the large spruce towering over my tent pad.  The pad looks flat and soft.  I see a trail up the rock wall and take it.  It leads to another firepit (no firegrate).  I follow it back further and see an area almost flat enough to setup a tent...almost.  I see a trail extending further back into the woods and wonder if it could be a latrine.  What do you know, a fiberglass latrine!  It looks like a virgin...nothing but a few leaves at the bottom of the pit.

With my stove broken and it being sunny and now fairly warm, I decide I need a fire and hot food tonight.  I got into camp around 3:00pm so I have enough time to setup camp, have a fire and eat a warm dinner.  I cut some firewood and break it up.  I lay out my rainfly and ground cloth to dry.  I decide to try fishing.  I rig up and cast out...tough along the alder covered shore.  Weeds!  It's too shallow.  I pick up my stuff and move east along the shore.  I try three more times as I make it a few hundred yards down the shoreline...too shallow everywhere.  I give up!  Need a canoe.  It's now past 4:00pm and I decide to get serious about the fire and dinner.

The wood burns well and I have a nice little fire going immediately.  After about 15 minutes I start putting together some tortilla pizzas...a favorite of mine at home and in the woods.  I eat six 10 inch tortillas, a good chunk of peperonni, 6oz of shredded mozerella cheese and some salsa.  An excellent hot meal that fills me up and puts a smile on my face.

After dinner I set up my now dry tent.  I also cut a little more firewood for breakfast tomorrow morning.  While the PowerBar breakfast has worked well, I think I'll try oatmeal if the weather cooperates in the morning.  Tent up, camp cleaned up, firewood replenished, I notice it's almost dark.  I play with the remnants of my fire for a few minutes before heading to the tent.  In the tent around 7:15pm, I write in my journal until 8:00pm.  I study the map, do a little stargazing on a brilliantly clear night and mentally prepare myself for one more day.

No wolf, no moose, no dear or bear...well it was still a great day in the BWCA.  Three ruffed grouse, a red squirrel and a hawk that even screached at me.  I'm only about three miles from the maintained Pow Wow trail.  This close to Pow Wow, I'm thinking I should have an easy day tomorrow.  Thinking about heading north once I hit the Pow Wow to do some more exploring north of Pose, maybe even over towards the north end of the Arrow Lake region.  It hits me, while challenging, this trip really hasn't been too difficult.  I'm glad I only planned on five miles a day, especially this time of year when daylight is short and precious.  I feel blessed.  There is no other place, no other thing I'd rather be doing.  Life is good!

Thursday, 10/18/2001

What a day!  I thought the three plus miles to the Pow Wow Trail would be relatively easy.  I couldn't have been more wrong.  It might have been an issue of expectations.  The three previous days, while not easy, were actually easier than I had mentally prepared for.  Now I'd lowered my expectations of difficulty just as I reach the toughest stretch of trail.

I got up at 1:00am to relieve myself.  I noticed the clear skies had clouded over.  I planned to get up early, but once again overslept.  I crawled out of my bag at 7:40am.  I planned hot oatmeal so I knew it would take a little longer to get packed up.  The fire lit right up and the oatmeal hit the spot.  As I started taking down my tent, it started sprinkling.  I finshied up and broke camp just before 9:00am.

Just a couple hundred yards from camp it started!  Where the trail was supposed to be there was water, lots of water.  The beaver dammed up the valley the trail runs thru as it heads west from Pow Wow Lake.  A quarter mile of bushwacking along the north shore of the pond later, I meet back up with the trail in the bottom of the valley.  I hang out on the trail for a bit until I approach the other intersection with the Ferne Lake Trail.  Here, another even larger swamp, covers the trail.  I spot a huge bull moose about 200 yards out.  He was curious at first, but then methodically makes his way thru the swamp for the far shore.  Beautiful sight...another great memory.  I search for the trail on the south shore of the slough, but it doesn't take long to realize that the trail runs thru the middle of the swamp.  I spot the Ferne Lake Trail and then head into the woods along the south shore of the pond.  I try to stay about 50 yards back from the water, back away from any beaver activity or wind damage that might happen near the shore.  I spend at least a half mile, if not three quarters of a mile bushwacking around this trail covering beaver pond.  This was often tough, shin-crushing bushwacking.  My shins get really dinged up.  The woods are wet from the almost constant light sprinkle.  Neither the trail, the pond, nor the shore run straight.  In an attempt to avoid some beaver cuts well away from shore I loose the shoreline.  Using my GPS I push myself back onto the trail.  After following it for awhile, I see what may have been the trail to Arrow Lake.  It's not an old logging road, but it looks like it may go up along the creek to Arrow.  Shortly after this I run into a 40 yard long section of open water on the trail.  It's bog on all sides and it looks like at least a half mile bushwack around this 40 yards of water.  I decide to try the sandals. I'm thinking it'll only  be ankle deep but want to avoid wet feet (even though the rest of me is soaked from the morning rain and bushwacking).  The water is surprisingly deep, over my knees, but I make it across before I loose all feeling in my legs due to the numbingly cold water.  I know this little section of open water had ice on it 24 hours earlier.  The fact that it had warmed up one or two degrees didn't make it warm.

I put my boots back on only to run into more trail under water.  After a short, easy bushwack I walk a trail that doubles as a stream.  The stream eventually goes off to the left of the trail as I enter a marshy area.  At first the trail is dry and good, then I get to the stream crossing.  I only need to get across eight feet of knee deep water.  I think about sandals, but go with synching up my boot laces and doing a quick dip in and out.  Yes, my boots get wet, but it seemed inevitable the way the trail was going.

After this dip I run into back to back to back sections of trail that are marsh, yet almost crossable. I know water goes over a couple times, but its getting hard to tell exactly when.  

I look at the GPS, only a half mile from the maintained portion of the Pow Wow.  Again, I make the mistake of thinking I'm almost there, it's got to be a walk in the park from here.  Wrong!  I suddenly see a huge beaver dam right in the middle of a valley that the road runs thru.  I climb the dam and look at each shore and pick the north shore...more open, easier to bushwack.  After a quarter mile I realize that I've been walking on a peninsula.  There is no quick way around so I admit defeat and back track around the dam to the south shore.  In what turns out to be about a mile total, I finally reach the trail only a quarter mile from the Pow Wow.  The last quarter mile has some thick alders in places, but nothing like the bushwacking I've been doing much of the morning.  Around 1:00pm I reach the intersection of the Pow Wow.  I decide to eat my granola and finalize my plans.

It's a tough decision but I'm absolutely soaked, the weather doesn't appear to be clearing up and my feet are starting to hurt.  I've done what I came to do.  I had an awesome time and proved to myself I could do it.  With that, I decide to hike out.  I hoist my pack and start hiking down the Pow Wow at 1:12pm.  I reach my car a couple minutes before 3:00pm.  I never stop and rest, but do take a half dozen pictures on the way out.  By accident I notice a trail to the old Arrow Firetower.  If I hadn't committed to getting out, I'd have considered the hike.  I'm surprised to find two cars at the parking lot including a Wisconsin-plated Ford Explorer with a canoecountry.com bumper sticker located on the hiking trail side of the parking lot.  Twenty minutes of changing and packing later and I'm off.  Two trucks at Island River...place seems busy.

Animals for the day include one bull moose, two red squirrels, three woodcocks, five ruffed grouse, one solo merganser, one solo black duck and one flock of about fifteen black ducks.

Post-Trip Notes

The trail definitely is no longer hikable.  Individuals with enough experience, perseverence and desire can complete the route.  In nine previous BWCA hikes I'd seen one and a half (it was on the far side of a lake I was camped on and I could barely see it) moose and no wolves.  I see three moose and a wolf on this trip.  It was awesome bushwacking and hanging out on lakes that may not see another visitor for a year or more.  I am so glad that I planned and hiked this route.  I may not do it again, but it was a memorable experience that I will hold onto for the rest of my life.  Unless walking knee deep in freezing water and cutting your own trail sounds like fun, don't even consider trying this route.   Most people consider the maintained trails of the BWCA a real challenge. Please build up your experience on these trails first.  Just about everyone I know who has hiked BW hiking trails much has had some difficult, trying experiences.  Build up your history of responses to adverse conditions on the relative safety of an established hiking trail before taking it a step further.  If you consider it, please first read the Pow Wow hiking experience of Jason Rasmussen who demonstrates what can happen when things go wrong.  After this, see my post on the BWCA BB that analizes and discusses some important points concerning hiking in the BWCA.  I may make it sound easy at times, but a BWCA hike can be fatal if you are not prepared and experienced.  Last, feel free to send me an email discussing your ideas.

Many have asked me why I go solo so often and especially why I went solo on such a demanding, "dangerous" trip.  Let me respond in general by saying I think I went in a manner that put a premium on safety, while ensuring I got out of the trip what I actually came for.  Here are more specifics on why I went solo:

While solo BWCA trips have worked for me, they are clearly not for everyone.  I wouldn't trade my trek thru the Fungus Lake PMA area of the BW for anything.  I also don't want to encourage those who do not have the same level of experience and/or preparation to try a similar adventure.   Regardless of the level of risk on your next adventure, embrace the moment and enjoy.

October 2001 Pow Wow Hiking Trip Site
Ahmoo Creek Home

Posted: 16-Nov-2001
Updated: 30-Apr-2007