Thursday, September 27, 2007

A New Arrival

On Monday Lee and Eva brought their baby home. The first thing he did at home was meet Tucker and Diva. Tucker was most interested and very restrained in his greeting. Diva was not the least bit interested and has continued to be uninterested. Then the flood of staff, friends, and neighbors started. The baby also made his first trip down to the lodge.

It is wonderful to have a baby at Gunflint again. The nursery is not just ready but actually being used.

Believe it or not, there have been other things happening at Gunflint. Last week we had another big windstorm. One large poplar tree landed on four canoes and brushed against Lee and Eva’s house. Usually that pile of canoes goes 2 stacks higher so we were really lucky. Bonnie was also happy that she had put away most of the Kevlar canoes for the winter.

All last week we had wind and rain every day. Sheryl and Bonnie were out on a canoe trip exploring the BWCA during that time. Every day one of us would say, “I sure hope Sheryl and Bonnie are doing okay.” Well, we need not have worried. In spite of wind in their face every day, in spite of rain, in spite of trees down on portages, and in spite of flooded portages, they had a ball. Those of you who talk with them next summer about your canoe trip will really be getting up-to-date information.

On Saturday, we woke up to perfect fall weather. Right now we are in the midst of glorious Indian summer. The wind last week came too early to blow the leaves off the trees. In fact there are still some green leaves on the trees. The peak of fall color is a week or so out. Don’t let that stop you from getting out. It is still wonderful in the woods. This is my absolute favorite time to be out.

Right now for me outside means cleaning up the garden. There are still some green beans to be picked. Broccoli is popping up. Jalapenos are ripening. I have 8-9 pumpkins to bring in to finish changing color. I think the parsley is also slowly growing. The last of the parsley goes into the dehydrator for use all winter long. The sun is out and after lunch I will be too.

Bruce tells me that the partridge hunting is great. Not only is he getting birds but he is also seeing coveys! For the uninitiated, a covey is a family of three or more partridge seen together. We will be eating partridge this winter. They are a little larger than Cornish game hens. If we are trying to watch our diet, Bruce and I can split one for dinner. We rarely do that, preferring to have leftovers for lunch the next day. The traditional Kerfoot partridge dinner is partridge cooked in a Cream of Mushroom soup sauce, wild rice, and baked acorn squash.

With a new healthy grandson (grandchild #7), life is good in the Kerfoot household. We are definitely counting our blessings.

Friday, September 21, 2007

New blogger

Hi everyone... My name’s Matt, and I’ve been at Gunflint Lodge for about a month now. I’m one of the winter Guest Services people (along with Sally, Kat and Dave). Lee asked me if I’d write something for the blog about my experiences here so far.

I’ve been trying to get outside as much as possible, to try and get a feel for this part of the world. I’m from New York; this is the first time I’ve been up the Gunflint Trail and into the Boundary Waters.

The thing that I’m most impressed with so far is how pristine everything is. I’ve spent a lot of time traveling around the country, and I’ve never been somewhere so natural and so untouched. It’s awesome how the Gunflint Trail just kind of puts you right in the middle of such a huge wilderness.

The best day so far has been canoeing in the Boundary Waters, starting from Round Lake, which is only about 5 miles from the lodge. Bonnie at the Outfitters recommended this trip for me and I’m glad she did. (Dave at the front desk says he’s done this same loop at least 30 times).

It was a little windy, but blue skies and it was warm enough to stop to go swimming in Snipe Lake. The trip was about 5 hours, and I didn’t see another person the entire time, despite how nice it was outside. That brings me back to how secluded we are up here. It’s amazing to have such a pristine wilderness in your backyard. Lots of guests talk about quitting their jobs and coming to work for the lodge, and I’m trying hard not to take for granted where we get to live.

It got really cold a couple weeks ago... we had snow flurries one morning. Not sure how much time there is left for going on canoe trips. I went on Seagull Lake for a little bit this afternoon (another really nice spot). I’m looking forward to trying cross country skiing and snow-shoeing for the first time once the snow really sticks.

For now, I'll get outside as much as possible and try and give you some first-hand accounts of what is going on out there in the woods.

We have a lot of cool packages planned for the winter, so give us a call at the lodge and come on up!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Fall Moves On

Over the Labor Day week, the Lawson family from Omaha visited us. Five of them with guides took a day trip down the Granite River. Over the years this has been one of their favorite trips, as is the case with many other guests. Usually the Lawsons are here during blueberry season and there are lots of blueberries down the river.

On this trip they found that the water levels were unbelievably low. The third portage down the river is the Pine Lake Portage of about 100 rods. Their canoes drifted into what appeared to be a grassy area. Lynn Lawson was in a canoe with her husband, Rick, in the stern. She stepped out of the canoe and I will let the following pictures tell the story of what happened.

Even getting Lynn out of the muck proved to be a project. She had nothing solid beneath her legs to push on. No one could get in to help her because they would just sink too. Eventually they cobbled together a log and another canoe to pull her out. Luckily, Lynn is a really good sport.

Since their visit we have had lots and lots of rain. As a result water levels are now back to normal. Bruce and I took some people over to Little Rock Falls the other day. In spite of the aftermath of the Ham Lake Fire, standing at the top of the falls is still breathtaking. We look forward to watching the forest re-grow. We also look forward to wonderful blueberry picking over the next few years. The second portage on the Granite River is not called Blueberry Portage for nothing.

As I mentioned before, the creek in between Cabin #3 and Cabin #1 is now flowing again. It is such a mild looking creek that guests have trouble believing the problems it can create. Every winter the creek freezes over. But more water continues to run over the frozen ice until the entire little valley is filled with ice over the bridge and almost up to the stairs leading down from Cabin #3. We often have to stop using the path until spring melt.

Originally Bruce’s mother, Justine, built Cabin #2 right along the creek. After all what is nicer than to hear the creek burbling along at night? Well, this ice build up happened then too. Old Cabin #2 was rocked and rolled every single year by the ice.

When it came time to replace Cabin #2 with Cabin #2/9, Bruce was determined to not have the cabin shifting every spring. As a result he dug 36 post holes for the cabin to sit on. Cement pads were poured in the holes and block posts (all carefully leveled) went on top of the pads. They were also located further away from the creek but, as it turned out, not far enough away.
Even this new cabin got caught in the ice build up from the creek. Ice moved the supporting posts and the cabin every spring. Several years the ice even flooded into the cabin itself. Eventually, the spring twisting and turning wore out the cabin. It was removed and the present Cabin #1 (set quite far back and above the creek) replaced it.

Don’t try to understand our numbering system for cabins from the above little information. Into the early 1960’s, the cabins were numbered pretty much in a straight line from west to east. Then we started adding and replacing cabin. The old boat house became Cabin #14 where Cabin #6 is now located. Somehow Cabin #15 got added to Cabins 6, 7, and 8 in the Trading Post building on the west side even though the last cabin on the east was #12. Then things got really messed up as we took out buildings and replaced them.

The question arises as to why we didn’t just renumber everything in order again. It sounds like a logical thing to do. The problem comes in when you call to make your reservation for Cabin #9. Did you want old #9 or new #9? For several years after renumbering, this conversation is replayed over and over. So we took the easy way out and our numbering is not completely in order. In fact, we skip a few numbers (12, 13, 14, and 15) in the middle. Some resorters who may be smarter than us just give their cabins names.

On another note, we did finally get our frost. It took out much of the garden. Bruce managed to harvest most everything. We have piles and piles of squash – acorn, spaghetti, and butternut. They will all get used in the lodge kitchen over the winter. He has 15 5-gallon buckets of tomatoes to ripen in the green house. Anything that you order with fresh tomatoes in the dining room will be really good for the next month or so. The unused tomatoes will be frozen for winter use.
Traditionally we have always known that a frost can come anytime after Labor Day. These last few years it has been October before the first frost. Things are back to normal this year. In fact, with the frost we also got snow flurries. Perhaps this means lots of snow this winter. One can only hope so.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Fall Events

In our own lives, each of us have events that occur annually. Often they are “official” days like birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, etc. Other events are times that mark the change of the seasons. On Tuesday we had one of those change of the season days on the Gunflint Trail.

It was the day of the first howling wind. All morning long the wind simply howled outside my office window. It was a wonderful feeling to be inside and to hear that wind. So often we spend our days in buildings that don’t allow the natural sounds to enter. Up here I can enjoy them.

During the summer months, our windows are open especially at night. I can regularly hear the loons and owls call during the night. For some time this summer I heard a call that sounded like the backup horn on a truck. Another neighbor asked about that sound. Finally I asked a real birder who told me it was the call of the saw-whet owl. Learn something new every day.

On our canoe trip I laid in my sleeping bag listening to the night sounds. The loons were there. The chipmunks and squirrels were also there. From the inside of a tent they make enough noise to be a bear.

Anyway, back to Tuesday and the howling winds. That afternoon Eva and I went to town with Dog Tucker and Cat Diva for their annual physicals and shots. The wind had blown trees down along the Trail. The county trucks were busily cutting them and keeping the road open. Every fall when we have the first really windy day, trees come down all over. These must be the ones that have rotted just enough during the preceding summer to now be vulnerable to strong winds. We tried to count how many were down but then we would get to talking and miss a few. Let’s just say that there were lots of trees down of all sizes.

That day was also the first time the local forecast had a frost warning. With the garden we pay attention to early frost warnings. Traditionally they can come any time after Labor Day. Usually I could care less about the weather but frost takes out my basil in a minute. So I harvested all the basil before going to town. When we got home, Eva and I spent a little time getting in tomatoes. Then it was parsley, summer squash and zucchini. Naturally because I was prepared, we didn’t get the frost.

Tuesday night was a raw windy night. It was time for our first fire in the fireplace for this fall. That may not sound like much to you but Bruce and I really look forward to it. Before building this house, we hemmed and hawed about wood vs. gas fireplaces and finally decided we were wood people. Gas just doesn't cut it with someone who was raised with a wood fire all his life.

I know the wood makes a mess on the carpet with all its dirt and tiny chips. In the winter going out to fill the wood box is a project. Keeping a good supply of firewood is also a project, but one that we both enjoy. You know the old saying about wood fires – they warm you twice. Once when you gather the wood and once when you burn the wood. For us, the sounds, smells, and sights of an actual wood fire cannot be beat.

So Tuesday was one of the days we mark our calendar by. It was the first howling wind, the first frost warning, and the first fire in the fireplace. Fall is truly here. Winter is coming and summer has passed for this year.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Quetico, Part 3

Bruce and I are back from and overnight trip to the Cities. Here is the final chapter of our Quetico Trip for this year.

During the morning of Day Seven, we finished the last portages on the Falls Chain. On one of them there was a huge jackpine that had blown over sometime during the summer. The needles on the tree were still green. The root-pad was perpendicular to the ground and about 12 feet tall.

Our last portage of the day was Dead Man’s Portage on Saganagons. This just eliminates a long paddle around a peninsula. Then we headed to the west end of the lake near the Slate Lake Portage. Melissa and I waited on the campsite while Tom and Bruce went into Slate Lake to checkout the campsites. One was very poor and the other was in use. We kept the campsite in Saganagons.

Here is a picture from that site the next morning.

Bruce and Tom stopped to talk with the party on the Slate Lake campsite. Remember the four men from Kentucky who were ahead of us at the Cache Bay Ranger Station? They were the ones at the campsite. Instead of our trip, they had elected to take the Silver Falls portage and then the short one into Slate Lake. They had chairs and a table. Their week had been spent at this campsite while they fished all over.

Day Eight was another layover day. We woke up to little rain. Both gals said (in their tents), “Let’s go home.” Both guys said, “It’s too far to paddle in.” So we stayed. Bruce and Tom decided to go into Jasper Lake to see what that was like. Melissa and I stayed at camp. The sky lightened up and the sun came out. We bath and washed our hair. At this point our dirty clothes smelled so badly that the tent stunk when we went in after our baths. I borrowed one of Melissa’s books and read the afternoon away. She did the same.

The guys came home with 5 bass for dinner. Bruce filleted them. As we sat preparing dinner, we looked across and saw two eagles sitting on a tree. They must have sat there for another 4 hours after we noticed them. We played our last game of Yahtzee and went to bed.

Day Nine was the last day. We were so close to Silver Falls that we could hear it in the quiet of the morning. We ate breakfast, packed and took off. During breakfast we looked across the water and saw the eagles sitting on the same tree they had been on the night before.

One lift-over and Silver Falls was all we had to portage. The picture shows us at the end of the portage. It does not show what awaited us in Cache Bay.

There we had a southwest wind that was right in our faces. We had to paddle into it to get to the Ranger Station. The waves were big enough that an occasional one put some water in the canoe. When paddling in wind like this, I always think about the fact that the waves are getting small with each stroke into them.

Our stop at Cache Bay was a welcome break. Janice, the ranger, has been there for many years. We had a good time exchanging news (read gossip). Then it was out to our last paddle to American Point. The wind didn’t seem to give us much help but we knew it was only a short paddle. We ate lunch while waiting for our tow.

The tow down Saganaga was wonderful. The shower at home, dinner at a table, and relaxing in a soft chair after dinner were equally wonderful but the bed was best of all! Now it is time to plan next year’s trip.
P. S.: For those of you who read this blog regularly, Lee's last blog mentioned that the creek by Cabin #3 had no water running in it for the first time in a longer than any of us can remember. We have now had enough rain that there is water in the creek again. I have some stories about that creek over the years but they will have to wait til next time.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Quetico, Part 2

Day Four was going to be different than any day we had ever spent in the Quetico or BWCA. We started the morning going down the Mack Creek. A series of four beaver dams had kept the water levels high enough to float us. After the last dam, however, there was very little water. Bruce and Tom ended up pulling the canoes (with gear and wives) through several inches of water. All this time it was raining. It was a warm day but our canoes were accumulating enough water to add considerable weight. The gals bailed. The shallow water of the creek last only for a couple blocks and we were able to float some of it.

Suddenly we were in the Wawiag River. With three to five foot high mud banks and no rocks, it is quite different from what we normally see. The river is 50-75 feet wide. It easily floats canoes and gave us a small current at our backs. That was the good part of the river. The difficult part was that it was continually winding around. The rain kept coming down and we had no idea how long until our destination – Kawa Bay.

Finally we came to the first portage around a log jam and rapids. The portage also had a campsite. We decided to stop for lunch. Since we were all soaking wet, Bruce and Tom got a fire going. The fire warmed us from the outside.. A cup of hot chocolate warmed us from the inside. After a long lunch break, we took off again.

It seemed like we paddled forever. There were lots of beaver houses and freshly cut beaver wood. High bush cranberries (American Viburnium) grew on the banks. Lots of Arrowroot plants were growing in the water. We saw moose tracks on the banks but no animals. Much of the river had been burned over and seemed to have about 10 years of new growth. There was a second portage. We also had 4 log jams to negotiate. Going through them is a good test of any marriage as we picked our way, push floating logs around and tried to paddle over a couple large logs. After about 2 ½ hours of paddling, we reached Kawa Bay. It was a welcome sight. There are almost no other spots in the Quetico/BWCA area where you paddle a river all day long.

We paddled to the first campsite on an island. A large white goose-like bird was in front of us and calling loudly. From the sound he made, we think he must have been a trumpeter swan. The campsite looked lovely as we pulled in. By this time we were all pretty quick about getting our gear set up.

Day Five was our first rest day. It could not have come at a better time and place. The sun was out in the morning. The guys took off to get some fish for dinner. Melissa started drying stuff and organizing. I was not too interested in that project until she shamed me into it. Everything got a nice dose of sunshine. Melissa and I washed our hair and bathed. The guys went swimming after lunch.

Shortly before lunch, Tom and Bruce returned with six beautiful walleyes and a canoe full of dry fire wood. After a full day of rain, we were not too concerned about forest fires.

This picture shows our lunch that day – 3 walleyes. I don’t know if we enjoyed the fish or the stump stools the most. Dinner that night was more walleye with fried onions and broccoli/cheddar rice. After a day of rest, we even had enough energy for a couple games of Yahtzee.

On Day Six we got up at 6:00 a.m. and ate a quick breakfast. It was to be a long day of paddling and we didn’t want to fight the wind. As you can see from the picture, there wasn’t much wind that day. It took us two hours to get to Kawnipi. Next was to start up the Falls Chain.

On the 3rd portage Bruce remembered having good luck fishing last year so he decided to cast from shore at the base of the rapids. Within a couple of minutes, he hooked a bass and started reeling in. A northern came after the bass and tried to take it away from him. Bruce jerked the bass out of the northern’s mouth. Still the northern came after the bass. By now both fish were in very shallow water along the shore. The northern was very intent on getting this bass. Bruce quickly reached down and grabbed the northern with his hand. Here was our appetizer for dinner!

After the fourth portage we saw our first people since Cache Bay. It was a family of six in three boats. Ma, Pa and a small child in one boat, a young teenage boy in a kayak, and Grandma and Grandpa in a second canoe. They looked a little out of their element.

We camped that night in Sidney Lake. Played one game of Yahtzee after dinner but were too tired for a second game. In addition to 4 portages, we had paddled 17 miles that day. We were tough but it was still a long day.
Bruce and I have to go to Duluth later today and will not be back until Friday. I will post the final story of our canoe trip either tomorrow night or Friday morning.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Quetico, 2007

Bruce and I are back from California. Here is the first of three installments on our canoe trip. The pictures were all taken by Melissa Anderson. More than how difficult the trip was or how tired we were, these pictures show why we go on canoe trips. Views like these wipe your mind clean of all the worries and fuss back home.

On the 18th we left with our friends, Tom and Melissa, for another 9-day trip in the Quetico. We took a tow across Saganaga to American Point and then started paddling to the Cache Bay Ranger Station to check in. There was a party of four men from Kentucky ahead of us and two parties after us. Next was to paddle to the north end of Cache Bay.

At this point we departed from the normal route down the Silver Falls portage and took a series of four portages through three small lakes just east of Silver Falls. From personal experience, I can tell you not to take this route. Very, very, very few people appear to go this way. We did it to see what the route was like. The portages were poorly marked and poorly maintained. It took Bruce one hour of bushwhacking to find one of the portages.

By the time we got through all the portages and on to Saganagons Lake, we were all bushed. Part of it was that the route was tough and our bodies were not tough. Also all our food packs were filled with the entire trip’s rations. Anyway all of that sounded like pretty good excuses for being so tired.

We spent the night on the first campsite we saw. With the Ham Lake fire and the extremely dry conditions in August, we were all pretty concerned about safe campfires. The Quetico did not have a fire ban but it was still plenty dry. Tom and Bruce poured four or five buckets of water on the bushes all around the fire ring. They also kept a full bucket of water right near the fire during the entire time they were cooking. I have never seen them so conservative with fires.

This picture is dinner on our first night. Look how small the campfire is! That night we had fajita marinated onions, green peppers, and steak with wild rice. Dessert was cookies.

The next day we paddled to the east end of Saganagons and took the portage into Bitchu Lake. Then there was the portage into Ross Lake. This picture shows some of the marshy areas we paddled through. We were very thankful to the beavers for helping to keep the water level high.

The final portage of the day was the really killer – 2/3’s of a mile. Each of us had to carry two loads over the portage. We divided it into halves. By the time we were ready for the final half with the final loads, everyone was a little tired.

Tom and Bruce decided that they would make one extra trip so that Melissa and I could go ahead with one canoe to find the campsite. It made no sense because there was no one to fight over the campsite. Melissa and I, however, were so tired that we quickly accepted. We found the campsite and dragged ourselves out of the canoe. Then we sat and looked at the lake until the guys came. Not only had they gotten all the packs but they had also caught a northern for appetizers. It was wonderful.

On our third day we had just two portages. The first was short and easy. The second was about 1/3 of a mile and not quite as easy but we all made it. That day we stopped at 1:00 p.m. As we approached our island campsite, an otter dove into the water. Another otter ran into the woods when we circled round the island to look at the second campsite.

After setting up the tents, Tom and Bruce went out to catch a fish for appetizers that night. It was a bass this time. Melissa and I got the inside of the tents organized. The wind was quickly rising. We all settled in for a nap before dinner. By then the wind was really howling. It made the tent seem really cozy. By dinner time the wind had died down and we had a great dinner. Even with a nap, we all went to bed early.