Campfires and Loon Calls: Travels in the Boundary Waters

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Tall trees come down to the water's edge, and rocky outcroppings appear everywhere. Unfortunately for us, the lake's many bays and coves prove a considerable obstacle to finding the portage to Crooked Lake, where we intend to camp for the night. We explore the nooks and crannies of Gillis Lake for the better part of an hour before we find the nearly hidden entrance to the rod Crooked Lake Portage. Once more our confidence in finding portages has been shattered.

Crooked Lake is well named. It has as many bays and coves as Gillis Lake, but it is a bit smaller than Gillis, about acres, and much shallower, only 66 feet at its deepest. We quickly learn as we paddle in Crooked Lake, searching for one of six campsites three of them on islands , that huge boulders lurk just beneath the surface, a considerable distance from shore in several places. I quickly move from landscape-gazing to boulder-watching, peering into the depths for a monster, canoe-busting boulder. Steve told me earlier that I should keep a keen lookout for underwater rocks when we are near shore, especially as we are rounding points of land that jut out into the lake.

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But in Crooked Lake, huge underwater rocks seem to appear anywhere and everywhere. We paddle slowly and successfully without any collisions. I am thankful for the sunny day that makes gazing down into the water relatively easy. We select a campsite with a view of an island directly across a narrow expanse of water. The campsite is high on the rocks, facing mostly south. Today we made six portages for a total of rods, about two-thirds as far as the previous day.

Yet I feel like we've done more — especially since we exhausted an hour searching for one of the portages. I have to remind myself that the search was a pleasant paddle, even if we didn't know where we were going.

Steve wasn't too concerned that we didn't quickly find the portage. Time for me to take a lesson from the younger generation. We pitch the tent and spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing and munching on trail mix and enjoying lemonade, which I've made from lake water treated with a bacteria-killing product called Potable Aqua. The lake water appears clear and clean — I can see 15 or more feet into it. Still, we know not to drink the water, no matter how clear it may look or how thirsty we may be. Invisible, stomach-upsetting bacteria lurk in even the clearest lake water. Potable Aqua leaves an aftertaste, but mixing the treated water with instant lemonade crystals results in a safe and tasty drink.

And on a warm afternoon, lemonade is much appreciated. In recent years we take the time to boil all our drinking water for a minimum of two minutes, which also does an excellent job of killing waterborne bacteria and other baddies. Bright sunshine. We have no thermometer, but I'm guessing high 80s. I'm writing this while sitting on a log by the fire ring at our spectacular campsite.

Even Steve, who doesn't comment much about these things, said this is one of the most attractive campsites he's seen. And he's seen a lot of them. For me this campsite is like one you see in an outdoors magazine, nature's beauty at its best. We're on a high jut of stony land, facing south toward a little island. A seagull rookery is about rods down the shore from our campsite — seagulls are everywhere.