In preparation for our upcoming BWCA paddling/camping trip, we decided to test out our skills and equipment at the nearby Lake Elmo Park Reserve (just east of the Twin Cities). Since we had no desire to unnecessarily ‘rough it’ while within sight of our cars, we loaded up the cars with creature-comfort items (e.g. chairs, air mattress, coolers, ice, etc). We did try to identify equipment and techniques that may prove useful for the Boundary Waters area.
The weather started off beautifully with clear skies and pleasant temperatures. Although we didn’t arrive until almost 8 p.m., we began putting up our tents before the sun sank too low in the western sky.
I quickly prepped my $35 Coleman tent purchased years ago. Used once before, I always thought it was a decent tent. Despite the cloudless skies, the forecast spoke of strong rains and thunderstorms after midnight. Instead of putting my water-proof tarp under the tent, I made a make-shift rain fly to supplement the tent’s natural one. It didn’t look good and was terribly noisy in the wind, but I felt I would be quite dry.
After inflating my ridiculous double-sized air matress, I put all of my supplies in my two dry bags – in case my tent was leakier than expected. If I only could have such creature comforts up north!
As the sun set and the stars came out, we (tried to) start a fire. We had quite a bit of trouble getting our fire started, as the firewood was wet. Even the few bits of paper we had resisted lighting due to the humidity. After almost giving up on the campfire, we discovered a novel use for the battery-powered air-mattress pump: an automated, high-velocity bellows! Within minutes the wood dried out and we finally had a roaring fire.
Despite being only a few miles outside of the Twin Cities, the sky was amazingly full of stars. I stayed up a bit past 1 a.m. to watch the stars become occluded by fast-moving clouds. Those fast-moving clouds were themselves replaced by lightning-filled thunderclouds. This night would be a rainy, windy and lightning-filled night!
As I enjoyed a unique view of a thunderstorm, I saw flashlights flicker on in the next tent. Next I heard muffled voices and one of my fellow campers exit her tent for her dry car. The next morning would reveal the disaster that you see above and below.
It turns out their borrowed tent was completely inadequate for any in-climate weather. The roof design allowed for the rain to pool above the tent, and the material was so porous as to allow the pooled water to drip through to the sleeping compartments. My tent was quite water-proof, so I felt quite bad about their overnight troubles.
The weather was still cold, rainy and windy until after noon, so we decided to take a quick trip out of the park to grab a warm breakfast and to see if we might be able to pick up a drier tent. The weather was forecast to clear up that afternoon, so they stuck with their original equipment.
The clearing weather gave me an opportunity to test my newest piece of ‘equipment’ – a portable hammock. Just before our trip, my wife generously agreed to get me an ENO DoubleNest hammock that packs down to the size of a large grapefruit. I am a HUGE fan of hammocks, and the thought of having a packable hammock that can even be used instead of a tent on future kayak camping trips is nice.
The afternoon was fairly blustery, so we spent it biking around the area and hiking around the park. Despite a few ticks that decided to persistently harass one of us, the day went by far better than last night. Utilizing our air-mattress bellows, we were able to keep the fire going this evening. Despite a last-ditch effort to destroy our evening with rain, we managed to keep the fire going through a final Saturday evening downpour.
Overnight, we put up with incredible winds. My improvised rain fly on the tent is far from silent as it flaps in the wind, so I didn’t exactly sleep very deeply.
We were only able to get camping reservations at the ‘equestrian’ camping sites, which turns out to afford a number of amenities that more primitive camping would not have. For instance, there was a hand pump for water.
Nearby, there was also a large barn probably used to store maintenance equipment and a series of portable toilets that proved popular overnight. I was intrigued why so many cars were driving around the sites after midnight, until I noticed the majority of them were headed for the portable toilets. People were sure ‘roughing it’ while camping by driving the 1000 feet to their toilets in their SUVs.
After packing up the campsite and our gear, we headed off to explores the lakes of the reserve. There are two major lakes within Lake Elmo Park Reserve. The canoe-only lake is Eagle Point Lake. Accessible via a short, butterfly-filled trail from a small parking lot, this Eagle Point Lake is quite irregularly shaped with a number of reeds and grass growing at the shore. Stupidly, I had left my camera in the car. We examined the canoe-launch, but thanks to our local drought, the lake appeared to be many feet lower than usual. I could have launched from there, but I would have had to walk about about 10 feet through very muddy shallow water. Since I was hoping to let my fellow campers try out the inflatable kayak, we headed over to Lake Elmo to see how that looked.
The lake was quite a bit larger than I was expecting, but not nearly large enough for the number of power boats. I guess I am biased, but it seems I would want a much larger lake to put such huge, expensive ski boats.
Lake Elmo is a long, narrow lake surrounded by residential houses and filled with recreational power boaters. The only convenient entry point was nearby the main boat launch, so we needed to time things carefully when paddling around that highly congested area. The day was nearly cloudless and very warm, but extremely high winds meant that paddling out into the lake would result in a lot of blowing and drifting off course.
The water was remarkably clear. The shore was nice and flat, sandy, and covered in smooth stones. I made a quick inflation in the beating sun and my first wet-entry launch from the shore.
Sticking close to the western shore to keep the wind down and the powerboats out of my hair, I paddled around the shallow waters just north of the boat launch. The clear water provided clear views of extremely large carp swimming about. Although hard to see in the photos above and below, any oblong dark spot in these photos is actually a carp swimming just under the surface. In some places, there were a dozen of them drifting around. As always, they paid little attention to me until I would try to paddle over to them.
There were quite a few carp swimming about, but always just out of clear view of the camera.
Since I wasn’t doing my standard solo paddling, I decided to run north to the water tower of the town of Lake Elmo. Unfortunately I couldn’t get a clear photo of the water tower thanks to the wind, so I gave up and headed back for the launch site to see if my fellow campers were leaving from boredom.
I was most thankful that the weather had finally turned nice. The cloudy weather had pushed on, and now it was wonderfully warm in the late morning sun.
I had forgotten to put one of the black inserts in the bow the boat. Oops.
The boat launch was a busy place, so I took my time hoping that there might be a break in the boats pulling in and out of the water.
The stream of boats launching was constant. In fact, when we were leaving, there were, at times, 4-5 trucks queued at the top of the launch waiting to access the water.
Here, one of my fellow campers — she bore the brunt of the downpour on Friday night — is trying her hand at the inflatable kayak. She got far wetter on Friday night than this Sunday morning.
After both of my fellow campers took a spin around the shore, we decided to head back for home. We called our trip successful and fun, although we did learn a lot about the importance of equipment. I think this was invaluable preparation for the Boundary Waters trip.
Despite our troubles with the weather, I’m happy to report this trip a success.
My schedule becomes quite full before the Boundary Waters trip later in mid-July. For the Fourth of July, I am first driving 12 hours to visit family for a couple days before I jet off to New Hampshire for a scientific conference. The conference is held in some sort of fancy resort, and the pamphlets say there is kayaking available. Perhaps I can sneak some time in there and get another kayaking post out before hitting the beautiful waters of northern Minnesota. I can’t wait!