It was our last morning in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. About half of us woke up at dawn to paddle out into the lake and watch the sunrise. The water was perfectly placid, and we felt at peace as we silently watched the colors change from grey to pink to orange when the sun rays burst through the clouds. We returned to camp to have a relaxing morning with our cedar tea and hot sweet rice breakfast.
We were camped on Brule Lake, the biggest lake of our trip. Our campsite was on an island, and had a steep trail up a hill. There was a bare rock at the top where we could overlook the entire lake. We had hiked up the previous evening to watch the sunset and sing some tunes with a ukulele before roasting s’mores over our campfire.
The trip had been an adventure. We began at Sawbill Lake, made our way north through Cherokee Lake and into Long Island Lake, where we spent two nights on a tiny island in the middle of the lake. We continued over a difficult portage towards Winchell Lake, and finished in Brule Lake via Cliff Lake and the Cone Lakes. We portaged up to six times per day. We paddled through narrow streams, where we often had to step out of the boat to push it through shallow muddy sections. We had to empty the canoes to lift them over beaver dams on several occasions. We marveled at soaring bald eagles, massive white pine trees, calling loons, and intricate lichens growing on the surface of huge rocks. We were lucky to have the wind at our backs for several days in a row.
As we were finishing our dishes and packing our things away on our last morning on Brule Lake, a strong wind suddenly rushed through the trees. Big waves with whitecaps began to form on the lake. We felt sprinkles of rain falling, and then a downpour as we frantically packed things away in their waterproof liners. I began to get worried, because I knew what a stiff wind could do to the water on a big lake such as Brule Lake. To add to the concern, we needed to paddle due South, and the wind was blowing directly out of the West. This would create big waves parallel to our boats, increasing the danger of tipping.
My co-leader and I agreed to pack up camp quickly, because it might have taken us a lot longer than expected to make it to our pick-up location. We briefed our participants on paddling in big waves, loaded our boats, and pushed out into the wind.
About five minutes after we got out on the water, the wind suddenly stopped. The rain was still falling hard, but we took a moment to enjoy the sound of the drops hitting the calm water. We rafted up our canoes, and floated in the middle of the lake, enjoying the sights and sounds of rain in the wilderness.
The return to Wolf Ridge was bittersweet. We were greeted at our pick-up location by two smiling Wolf Ridge faces carrying fresh apples and carrots for us. We waved goodbye to the Boundary Waters as the clouds and rain cleared, and continued on our way home. I have confidence that we will all be back.