From Ensign, we didn’t take the direct route since the scenic route has always been more our taste. Besides, who wants a straight out and back trip anyways? We turned north into Trident since neither of us had ever been that way. The portages were steep, overgrown, and rather poison ivy covered, but we made good time up to the border. The portages would be familiar again as we pushed east. We encountered another group on the portage, two people with three packs and a canoe.Thankfully, all three were Portage North and/or Kondos packs which gave me some pride in seeing our gear doing what it does best. We made it to Carp Lake just as the sun was setting. This beautiful scene was canoe paddling at its best and spirits were high. As we rounded the corner, we heard a loud exclamation from the southern campsite “Dad, come quick, Uncle **** hooked himself!” With a fair bit of wilderness first aid knowledge between us and some experience with self-hooking besides, we figured we should at least go follow up on the situation. The gentleman had hooked himself in the thigh, but seemed rather nonchalant about it as he referred to it as “I hooked myself AGAIN.” After their assurance that they could handle it, we made our way for the portage. It was fun recollecting here as our first season guiding brought us this way for staff training. We made it to Seed and ended up walking the canoe through the rapids thereafter. This would have been a normal routine had the sun not already departed and visibility dramatically declined. We took the final portage into Knife in the dark and arrived by about 10:30 and set out into the darkness for our destination. Embarrassingly, these two seasoned wilderness guides would actually get a tad turned around on Knife since a storm system to the north pretty well darkened the sky. We caught ourselves before going too far, and pulled off on a point not far from Isle of the Pines. We sat on a rock by the shore and admired the stars and pulled our special treat from the packs: two Dorothy Molter root beers and a block of fancy cheese from Mitska’s. Now I know, folks will say that it isn’t the same recipe that Dorothy made. Others will say we should know better than to bring a glass bottle into the BWCA, they are forbidden! But we wanted to do this moment right and we are the last people to ever leave a bottle behind (I even routinely use a larger pack than I need so I have space to carry other people’s garbage out.) In any case, it was special to sit and drink root beer, watch the stars, and experience the raw power of the storm which was lighting up the sky with lightning behind us.
The impending storm had us a tad nervous for how theremainder of our overnight paddle would proceed, so we made good time to the portage. Long portages always feel longer in the dark but, with minimal gear, we moved well across to Vera. From here, things would be a slog. The tiredness would begin to set in on the paddle stretches as we struggled to stay focused on the task at hand. Portaging would prove a welcome reprieve to wake back up a bit. Snacks helped too. Also the lightning flashing in the distance was beautiful to watch as it never seemed to get closer. In fact, it never even made a sound. In the silent flashing, we were able to get fading views of trees and clouds who passed in and out of the shadows from the brief moments of lightning. Finally back on Ensign, we paddled around the corner. I forgot my lesson learned in my fatigue and, all of a sudden, the poor canoe came to a grinding halt. Sigh…. big rock. Wonder if anyone lying in their tents on Ensign were questioning that noise! We back out to open water and made our way to Boot, not traveling as efficiently as we had been some 6-7 hours earlier. Over the portages we went into Boot and eventually out the pond and on to Snowbank. Little did we know what lay ahead. Despite being 3:30 in the morning at this point, there remained a huge chop on the lake, this time into our faces. It would be a struggle southward towards the car. As we worked our way across the lake, the horizon began brightening ever so slightly. It’s a strange feeling to begin paddling mid-afternoon, enjoy the beauty of the sunset, and to still be paddling as the sun began to rise again. We pulled off mid-lake for a break and a snack before the last push. The primary stability of the Beaver was being called into question again as the big chop and the tired paddlers made for a potentially wet combination. As we set off towards the parking lot, the skies finally opened up for some good wind-propelled rain. We limped back into the landing by about 6:00 after a long, hard fight across Snowbank. This little adventure was a cool one. We were able to push ourselves a bit and share in a one-of-a-kind experience. It seemed surreal in a way to spend time on the incomparable Knife Lake without any camping before or after. Sleep would follow shortly after returning to camp with dreams filled with beautiful scenery, fascinating history, and the challenges set before us in a way that only wild places can.