SUBSCRIBE | NEWSLETTERS | MAPS | VIDEOS | BLOGS | MARKETPLACE | CONTESTS
TRY BACKPACKER FREE!
SUBSCRIBE NOW and get
2 Free Issues and 3 Free Gifts!
Full Name:
Address 1:
Address 2:
City:
State:
Zip Code:
Email: (required)
If I like it and decide to continue, I'll pay just $12.00, and receive a full one-year subscription (9 issues in all), a 73% savings off the newsstand price! If for any reason I decide not to continue, I'll write "cancel" on the invoice and owe nothing.
Your subscription includes 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Or click here to pay now and get 2 extra issues
Offer valid in US only.

Also on Backpacker.com


Enter Zip Code

Backpacker Magazine – September 2010

Disappearing Act: Paddling the Boundary Waters

Want to vanish into the quietest, wildest corners of the Boundary Waters? Say these magic words: Primitive Management Area.

by: Gustave Axelson

The author and co-hort paddle across Ester Lake. (Layne Kennedy)
The author and co-hort paddle across Ester Lake. (Layne Kennedy)
Crossing 10-foot-deep Nawakwa Lake. (Layne Kennedy)
Crossing 10-foot-deep Nawakwa Lake. (Layne Kennedy)
Catching a four-pound northern pike. (Layne Kennedy)
Catching a four-pound northern pike. (Layne Kennedy)
Bushwacking from Gift Lake to Fish Lake. (Layne Kennedy)
Bushwacking from Gift Lake to Fish Lake. (Layne Kennedy)
Solitude guaranteed.
Solitude guaranteed.

trip iconDOWNLOAD THIS TRIP: Pitfall Lake PMA
Paddle-and-portage 40 miles on a four-night tour with just your companions and a few moose, wolves, and loons
The next morning, we leave the relative comforts behind and learn what Primitive Management Area actually means: war zone. Branches snap and curses fly as we bull overturned canoes through a tangle of brush and tree limbs. "Have we reached hell?" Kooi grins as he mops up a bloody forearm, courtesy of a black spruce that didn't yield the right-of-way. Earlier, we'd crossed Pitfall's threshold at Link Lake, then paddled a sinuous and overgrown arm to a short overland crossing to Gift Lake. Now, we're negotiating a beaver dam, teeter-tottering on the flotsam of sunken logs with packs held over our heads. The logs sink six inches into the swamp under our weight.

Paddling on, we cross into the western expanse of the 30,000-acre Cavity Lake Fire, which burned halfway into Pitfall Lake PMA in 2006. The sun shines brightly here, since there's no forest canopy. We see rock ridges that were exposed when the duff burned away and boulders that were cracked open by the fire's intense heat. It's eerily silent; not even a songbird calls. Only our dipping paddles make any sound.

From Gift we paddle and portage onto Fish Lake, then consult the topo to find a route to our day's goal--Nawakwa Lake, just four miles from Ester. The shortest way tracks through a clump of bushy green cedar trees. We land the canoes at the cedars and start humping our gear overland, only to meet up with a tangle of fallen trees. A flat, 30-yard portage takes more than an hour as we manhandle our canoes over and under the Pick Up Sticks puzzle of timber. "This had better be worth it," says Kooi, looking at his scratched-up arms and legs.




Subscribe to Backpacker magazine
Sign up for our free weekly e-newsletter
Name:
Address 1:
Address 2:
City:
State:
Zip:
Email (req):

Reader Rating: -

READERS COMMENTS

Barry
Sep 30, 2010

Ijust returned from a short 4 day solo trip into one of most popular areas in the BWCA. The trick to a wilderness experience going in late Sept or early Oct, and try going solo.

Steve Cash
Sep 30, 2010

I want to go where no one has even heard of the place and the maps are left blank....

Matthew Davis
Sep 30, 2010

If you want to have a wilderness experience in the BWCAW, you could also try backpacking since less than 1% of the BWCAW's use is by foot.

The Kekekabic and Border Route Trails offer about 100 miles with world-class scenery along the way. About 70 being inside the BWCAW. For more info, visit kek.org or borderroutetrail.org.

Matthew Davis
Sep 30, 2010

If you want to have a wilderness experience in the BWCAW, you could also try backpacking since less than 1% of the BWCAW's use is by foot.

The Kekekabic and Border Route Trails offer about 100 miles with world-class scenery along the way. About 70 being inside the BWCAW. For more info, visit kek.org or borderroutetrail.org.

Joe H.
Sep 30, 2010

Have been going to BWCAW 1-2 times a year for 20+ years. You DO get "wilderness" experiences without trekking back to "primitive" areas. Just returned from 6-day trip where the 1st portage is 1.25 miles -- that weeds out a lot of people. In 6 days we saw ONE person. You need navigation skills, as there are NO markers and lots of portages and lakes, but a compass & map & away you go. Preparedness is mandatory, as it is wilderness. No cans or bottles, and take out what you bring in. Great.

Richard Beamish
Sep 30, 2010

Been to the Boundary Waters several times. If you really want a wilderness canoe experience then I would recommend either Wakabiki or WCCP Park in Ontario. Took a 14 day trip to Wabakimi into 2008 and did not see a soul for 7 days.

ADD A COMMENT

Your rating:
Your Name:

Comment:

My Profile Join Now

Most recent threads

The Political Arena
PTB time is upon us, agree?
Posted On: Aug 23, 2014
Submitted By: Ben2World
The Political Arena
At what age did you come back....
Posted On: Aug 23, 2014
Submitted By: Ecocentric
Go
View all Gear
Find a retailer

Special sections - Expert handbooks for key trails, techniques and gear

Check out Montana in Warren Miller's Ticket to Ride
Warren Miller athletes charge hard and reflect on Big Sky country, their love for this space and the immense energy allotted to the people who reside in Montana.

Boost Your Apps
Add powerful tools and exclusive maps to your BACKPACKER apps through our partnership with Trimble Outdoors.

Carry the Best Maps
With BACKPACKER PRO Maps, get life-list destinations and local trips on adventure-ready waterproof myTopo paper.

FREE Rocky Mountain Trip Planner
Sign up for a free Rocky Mountain National Park trip planning kit from our sister site MyRockyMountainPark.com.

Follow BackpackerMag on Twitter Follow Backpacker on Facebook
Get 2 FREE Trial Issues and 3 FREE GIFTS
Survival Skills 101 • Eat Better
The Best Trails in America
YES! Please send me my FREE trial issues of Backpacker
and my 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Full Name:
City:
Address 1:
Zip Code:
State:
Address 2:
Email (required):
Free trial offer valid for US subscribers only. Canadian subscriptions | International subscriptions