Ye Old Menogyn Guides
"Old Guides Trip, Summer 1962" by Jim Riley, Guide 1955-57

 The voice on the answering machine was a familiar one. "Hey Ril'. It's Norm. Let's go fishing." Norm was my canoeing buddy over the last 32 years and my friend over an even longer period than that. Although Norm taught in Burnsville, Minnesota, and I taught in Springfield, Missouri, we had managed most summers to get together for some kind of trip, never quite matching in magnitude that great trip we made together with Bud Bonn and Ben Ferrier across northern Saskatchewan in 1961. I got married the next summer and he a couple of summers after that.

As soon as our kids could hold a paddle our two families were out on the trail together. A series of inked loops with dates and cryptic markings indicating fishing success marks the large map on the wall of my cabin. The map was made by piecing together the pages of a Fisher map book and gluing them to the wall. Even at this scale the curvature of the earth makes itself apparent by a slight mismatching of the edges of the pages. That effect is far outweighed, however, by the wrinkling and tearing caused by the constant shifting of my frame cabin on the east end of West Bearskin.

The map brings back memories every time I look at it. There is the infamous North Brule loop that starts out where the North Brule crosses the Gunflint Trail loops through Vista and Horseshoe and then moves north through Caribou to Poplar Lake. Infamous because it proved the old adage in the boundary waters that no matter how good the river may look on the map, unless it is on a standard route you are liable to spend more time walking in the river pulling over beaver dams and obstructions than paddling on it. I have to keep reminding my wife that we did see a magnificent bull moose on that trip which made up for the hours of dragging the canoe.

Then there is the loop starting off the Gunflint Trail just a short distance southwest of Gunflint Lake. Norm and I had carefully planned this trip to be an easy paddle and portage beginning at the Round Lake put-in and coming out through Tuscarora. Our families were almost identical. We both had a girl followed by a boy and wives who had never paddled a canoe before they met us. We were determined that this was going to be an enjoyable trip. There was only one hitch. The maps showed a one-mile portage out of Tuscarora Lake. This was nothing to daunt two "old guides" of the north woods but certainly not something our wives and elementary school age kids would look forward to. But, not to worry. The maps must be wrong.

For years we had been passing signs advertising Tuscarora Lodge as we made constant trips inland from Grand Marais on Lake Superior to our cabins on West Bearskin. Now everyone knows that no lodge can exist if you have to take a one-mile portage to get in or out of it. The map must be wrong. There must be a road coming out of Tuscarora for the use of the clients of the lodge. Well, we were half right as we discovered when we pushed out canoes out onto Tuscarora Lake whose surface was dimpled by a lightly falling rain and whose beautiful shore was unmarred by any human structure.

There is a road leading to Tuscarora Lodge. However, Tuscarora Lodge is on Round Lake not on Tuscarora. To this day my wife reminds me of the mile portage out to the road and I try to convince her of the unreasonableness of naming a lodge Tuscarora when, in fact, it is on Round Lake. The dates on the map begin to thin out in the eighties reflecting the increasing difficulty with which we could find time to get our families together as our wives took jobs outside the home in part to meet the costs of books and tuition as our kids entered college. Squeezing a four-day round-trip drive, visits to relatives, and a canoe trip into the two-week vacation my wife received on her new job was all but impossible.

This summer, however, with seniority, my wife had earned four weeks vacation and we planned to spend at least three of it "up north" so there would be time for Norm and me to "hit the trail" again although with two of the four kids married and all of them holding jobs it was unlikely that it would consist of the family trips we had before. I called Norm and said that of course I wanted to go fishing. We set some tentative dates, exchanged stories about events during the past year, and began planning routes. We would figure out the details in the spring.

The first week in June I got another phone call. "Hey Ril'. How about if we invite a few other guys on the trip?" Norm's wife had surprised him with a birthday party to which she had invited an "old guide" from the Minneapolis area, and two former directors of Camp Menogyn and their wives. Norm and I had both had our first wilderness canoeing experiences in the fifties at YMCA Camp located on West Bearskin. We had worked at the camp during our college years and the wilderness became so much a part of us that we joined with two other "guides" and bought an old log cabin on West Bearskin. We named it the "Drifter's".

Over the past thirty odd years the Drifter's has become stopping place for hundreds of relatives and friends and friends of friends, many of them visiting the BWCAW for the first time. Norm had casually asked at his birthday party if anyone was interested in a trip this summer and the response was an instant "sure thing". One thing led to another and soon the idea of an "old guides" trip was born. We would send out an invitation to as many of the Camp Menogyn guides from 1955/56 as we could find. Quickly the responses came back. From Ohio Chuck Nelson responded he would be there. From the Minneapolis area Dave Fackler was unsure whether his schedule would allow it but he would come if at all possible. Coley Carlson in Seattle, Washington, was so excited about the prospect that he called Norm three times before 9:00 A.M. the same morning to check on details. Roger Strand called from Willmar to say he would be there. Bud Bonn had been at the birthday party and was in on it from the beginning.

There were others who called and who were enthusiastic but because of prior commitments and duties could not be there this year. Norm's son Steve, a twenty-three year old student at the University of Minnesota, Duluth was invited along as "insurance". He was referred to as the SJD Freight Company. Just in case the canoes proved too much for us half-century plus old guides Stephan J. Dahl would rescue us. But without doubt the best news was that Phil Brain, Jr., camp director during the time that we were guides was going to be going with us. Along with me, Jim Riley, from Missouri, that made a party of nine. A nice number for a canoe trip.

The plan was to meet at West Bearskin at five p.m. on the 29th of July. We would have a grand reunion meal that evening as we planned the details of the trip and then leave the next morning. We would be out three nights and return Sunday early enough for Coley to catch an evening flight to Seattle from Minneapolis. Norm would bring his Guide canoe, a fiberglass model that we had paddled across Saskatchewan in '61 and in which I introduced my wife to the hazards of white water paddling on our honeymoon. (We knocked a hole in the bottom of it on the Granite River but that is another story.) We would borrow a Grumman from Norm's brother-in-law and I would bring an old aluminum canoe of my own.

Roger would bring a hand-built, canvas-covered canoe that he had just finished building this past year. Surely the most beautiful canoe any of us had paddled. Not the kind one would normally risk on the Granite rocks of the BWCAW but as Roger said, "this was not a normal trip". Phil, who would celebrate his seventy seventh birthday in June decided to bring out of retirement a Cedar paddle made especially for him by Billy Needham, a draftsman from Duluth who had come up to West Bearskin during the depression and stayed to become a locally famous trapper and guide. .

Roger had two tents and lots of Duluth packs. In fact, the name STRAND was stenciled on so much equipment that someone asked Phil if he had checked out the camp's equipment rooms when Roger quit guiding in the 50's. Norm supplied a tent and I came up with one that I paid $17.50 for in a surplus store. There was some doubt as to whether $17.50 could actually buy something to keep the rain off let alone keep mosquitoes away but it proved a decent investment. We put together a cook kit from odds and ends that Bud and I had to complete our outfitting. Norm planned the menu and bought the food. He also applied for the travel permit with an entry point at Duncan.

The Bearskin to Duncan portage had been crossed dozens of times by each member of this group. It was the first portage we hit as we took our groups of campers out of Menogyn and headed for any of several different routes leading west, north, or south from Bearskin. There were other decisions to be made, of course: where each of us would sleep that night before the trip, who would actually pack the food, what items would be eaten on a particular day, where we would camp, how far we would go, etc. But as Roger was fond of saying, "it'll happen". And somehow it did. As people started arriving, equipment was inspected and packed and food for the trip was sorted according to day and meal. There were a few surprises as old friends who had not seen one another in some cases for more than thirty years groped in their memory to match graying or missing hair, and somewhat altered physiques with the dim images of the twenty year old college students they had known in the fifties.

But things quickly fell into place as a half dozen conversations simultaneously crossed one another and three decades melted away as we became the "guides" we once were, reminiscing about friends, trips we had made, and fish we had caught. We sat in the "Ranger Cabin" at the very end of Bearskin. Because the Drifter's could only sleep four and my cabin was filled with family we enlisted the cabin owned by Norm's brother and sister-in-law. At one time it was used by the forestry service as accommodations for the ranger who had to climb the nearby fire tower in times of fire danger, hence its name. A beautifully constructed cabin sitting on top of a north-south esker it gives a magnificent view the entire length of the lake and we watched the sunset as we ate lasagna prepared by Norm's daughter, Sue, and drank wine especially selected by Coley from "his winery" in the west and brought with him on the flight from Seattle.

The stars shone down on a calm lake as half of us made our way back to the Drifter's for the night. Breakfast was to be back at the Ranger Cabin and would consist of bacon and eggs, pancakes, and fruit flavored yogurt. We hadn't decided exactly when but like Roger said, "it'll happen". It happened a little earlier than I expected as Norm's boat pulled up to my dock with the guy's who had slept at the Drifter's to pick me up to go over to the Ranger cabin for breakfast. It was a cold morning. In fact, the entire summer had been cold. Residents on the lake claimed it had snowed on the 4th of July and I believed them.

Mist was rising off the lake as we headed across. When we approached the end of the lake Coley stood on the end of the pointed dock on the public access and waved at us. We waved back. He then began waving with both arms and jumping up and down. Strange behavior even for an old guide. We pulled over, thinking that perhaps he wanted a ride to breakfast although the Ranger cabin was less than a hundred yards from where he was standing. Excitedly he pointed to the shallow pond known as Bogenho, which connects with West Bearskin via a culvert running under Clearwater Road. The sun was just coming up over the far end. The mist, trapped by the hills on both sides was even thicker than on Bearskin.

Then we saw them. Three moose. At least two bulls with racks still in velvet that seemed to stretch six feet across. They were casually walking down the middle of Bogenho, feeding as they went, oblivious to the rest of the world. No one who has seen a bull moose in its natural habitat can doubt that it is truly lord of its domain. Weeks after the trip was over I wondered if I hadn't embroidered the scene a bit in my memory. It was too perfect. But then the pictures arrived that Coley had taken. There, framed by the evergreens and shrouded in mist was Bogenho and in the middle, head just rising out of the water and antlers still dripping was one of the moose, just as I had remembered it. After the moose moved into the woods we moved into the Ranger Cabin for breakfast.

It's always good to get an early start. After breakfast we finished packing our personal belongings into the Duluth packs that Roger had provided. Then Norm reminded us of the new rule that the entire group had to watch the DNR video. The day before when he had gone to pick up the travel permit at Clearwater lodge, Norm assured the girl behind the counter that we all had wilderness canoeing experience. It didn't matter. We still needed to watch the video. As we got ready to go, a group of several canoes was putting in at the landing and heading for the Duncan portage.

We decided to walk down to Clearwater. It is just about a mile from West Bearskin and is the first portage if you decide to go from Bearskin east along the border to the Fowls at the head of the Pigeon River. It was never my favorite portage but generally by the end of each summer we were toughened up enough that it didn't bother us much. Nevertheless, it didn't prevent us from pulling an "old guide's" trick. Back in the fifties we seldom used the ultra light freeze-dried meals available to campers today. Also there were no regulations against cans and bottles in the BWCA so our food packs contained lots of them. As a result, when heading out on the first day with a large group, it was not unusual for a food pack to approach 150 pounds.

With the look of a true martyr I would accept the burden of portaging the canoe from Bearskin to Clearwater leaving the food pack to a much relieved camper whom I had already carefully selected from the group as being the biggest and toughest to paddle in my canoe. A typical sixteen-foot aluminum canoe weighs about 65 to 70 pounds half that of the food pack in those days. Once he has learned how to balance one properly a skilled portager can actually run with a canoe, no handed. I would much prefer a canoe to a food pack---at the beginning of the trip. Somewhere along the line as food is eaten, the food pack gradually becomes lighter than the canoe. It is at this point that the truly skillful guide can be distinguished from the merely competent one by the manner in which he convinces his camper/paddling companion by example that the canoe is really an easy item to portage. When done properly one can have one's companion actually believe you are doing him a favor by allowing him to portage the canoe just as the food pack drops below sixty-five pounds.

This morning, though, we were not portaging anything, just making the stroll down the road, remembering the old days. Clearwater Lodge, now on the National Register of Historic Places, was built and originally run by Charlie Boostrom, a local legend. Although it has changed hands many times since we were guiding, the building itself hasn't changed much. It is a large two-story building built of whole logs probably cut in the vicinity. A porch flows around two sides and affords a view of Clearwater Lake. As we approached it, we looked for signs that it was showing its age. It is over sixty years old now, which, just coincidentally, is the age of most of us in the group, are approaching. We were relieved to find that it is holding up well. The floors are still solid and the inside walls around the fireplace have taken on a patina from the smoke of a half-century of fires. Among the trophies and stuffed fish that line the walls is a large lake trout, close to thirty pounds, that had been caught in Clearwater.

Norm remembered the summer thirty-five years earlier that Jerry Schliep, son of Art and Luverne, then owners of Clearwater Lodge, caught the fish. A small brass plaque affixed to the mounting board proved he was right. We rang the bell on the counter of the small store in the lobby and a young woman appeared to wait on us. After telling her we were here to pick up our travel permit and watch the video Norm recognized her and asked her name. When she answered "Anna Nekola” Norm said, "Jim and I paddled from International Falls to Bearskin with your father, Pete, back in the sixties."

With a look of wonder or perhaps amusement she said, "that was before I was born" and loaded up the VCR with the video for this bunch of slightly aging old guides to view. In spite of the irony of our having perhaps a hundred years of canoeing experience between us while we watched a video intended for novices we enjoyed it. It was well done and got its message across. The day was warming up as we walked back down the road to Bearskin. Another group of four canoes was pushing off from the landing and heading west. The BWCAW was never this busy when we were guiding. In fact, at that time it was known simply as the Boundary Waters and the wide spread popularity that it enjoys today was just beginning. There was no need then to limit the numbers of canoeists entering the area. It was very uncommon to meet another group. When we did we would frequently cross the lake just to say hello and exchange stories and information.

Now as we looked around the landing there were several empty trailers capable of carrying six canoes at a time parked there waiting for canoeists to return from their trips. A couple of canoes with the names of outfitters stenciled on them were pulled up and turned over waiting either to be picked up by the outfitters or by canoeists who had not yet arrived. It was time for us to get moving. We paired up and stepped off into canoes with no particular attempt to plan who canoed with whom. There were four canoes and nine of us in the group. Norm and his son Steve were in his blue Guide canoe, Dave joined Roger in his hand built chestnut, Phil, Bud, and Charley were in the Grumman, and Coley and I were in my off-brand, beat-up, aluminum canoe. Coley and I started out ahead because I had forgotten some items at my cabin. The group would catch up with us. I had never met Coley before. Both he and Chuck had finished guiding in 1955 and I didn't start until 1956. It didn't matter. There is something that develops in an individual as a result of guiding and paddling with dozens of different partners, most of them strangers, as we all had done while at the camp, which allows one to fall into an easy rhythm of paddling and conversation.

The tandem canoe is a marvelous vehicle. A standard 17-foot canoe can easily carry over 900 pounds. With two adults and two normal packsacks it is only moderately loaded and responds well to the coordinated efforts of two paddlers with emphasis on the word coordinated. The physics of the canoe is such that the stern paddler has greater leverage and without compensation in his stroke the canoe will constantly curve away from the side on which he is paddling. Every experienced paddler knows this but it produces its own psychological effect. By virtue of your grip on the paddle you can feel the results of not only your own efforts as you pull the canoe through the resisting water but also that of your partner.

Best results are achieved when the two strokes are coordinated together. Strain, both physical and mental, begins to build after a long period of paddling or even short periods if it is against a wind. As you pull your paddle through the water you begin to judge the effect of your partner's efforts. It is during these periods of stress that the strongest bonds of friendship between two canoeists can be broken. (I remember seeing a honeymooning couple start out on their first day down the Granite River. The contrast between that scene and the one several days later as they returned caused me to vow that if I ever got married I would never take my wife on a canoe trip. I broke the vow the first summer of my marriage and thirty summers later I am glad I did.)

The problem is that the bowman cannot see what the stern man is doing. Unless he has complete trust he begins to suspect that the stern man is slacking off back there, ruddering instead of "J-stroking". The stern man on the other hand is paddling as hard as he can and he "knows" the bowman isn't doing his job because he can see him and what's more the stern man has to keep compensating for the bowman's weak stroke. It is when you are able to overcome this psychological effect that the possibilities of strong bonding occur. Friendships are made, as a result, which last a lifetime.

Each of the nine of us had paddled with dozens of partners over the years, some of them old friends, many of them first time campers, and many of them people we had known for only hours before. Although we were all confident that everyone in the group had been a good paddler at one time with the proper attitude to carry their own load, thirty-five years had passed since most of us were in our prime and we didn't know what to expect from our partners or even from ourselves. Thus it was with some relief as we crossed the lake that I felt Coley and I fall into the rhythm of old friends. I could keep up with him and wouldn't be a burden.

Coley had never met my wife and they became acquainted on the dock. While I searched for forgotten items another group of canoes was headed down the lake. Eventually I got everything together and we pushed off for the Duncan portage. Roger and Dave had passed us in the Chestnut. The Guide canoe and the Grumman were falling in behind. A light breeze was against us causing small waves to slap against the bow of the canoe as we moved through the water. The feel of the paddle was good. I felt just like I did on the first guides' break-in trip I had taken in 1956.

Each summer before the first campers arrive at Menogyn the staff goes out on a guides' break-in trip. The "old" guides returning from previous summers show their tricks and techniques to the new guides and both old and new break in their muscles and equipment. Every one of us has his favorite story about some particular break-in trip. It was easily the most enjoyable trip of the summer. Four of the nine of us had been on that same break-in 1956. Coley and Chuck had finished their Menogyn guiding days the summer before. Steve had not been born yet. Phil was camp director that summer and a new assistant director, Jim Gilbert took the group out.

Here we were, off again. Except I was 36 years older. Bearskin to Duncan is a relatively easy portage. There is one hill at the beginning and another at the end but it is not very long and there are canoe rests along the way. As each canoe pulled up on the portage old habits came back easily. Paddles were leaned against a tree so as not to be stepped on and broken. Duluth packs lifted out by the "ears" and not the straps so as not to tear the straps loose. We had considerable gear with us as well as the four canoes so I had expected that we would make two trips across each portage, something I would never have considered in the fifties.

There was no need to assign loads. Casually and easily, each person selected something to carry across. The three decades since we had all worked at Camp Menogyn melted away. Canoes were loaded onto shoulders and started across the portage. Packs were doubled up in a manner according to the preference of the individual. Some prefer one in front and one in back for balance. Others prefer to carry both on the back one on top of the other with the thought that it frees the chest for easier breathing. The first individuals reached the far side of the portage, dropped off their loads and headed back for a second trip. With very smooth teamwork, as though we had been working together for years, all the gear was transported and we were on our way across Duncan.

We passed three campsites on the way to Rose Lake. All of them filled. Duncan narrows down to a shallow channel as one approaches Stairway Portage. Normally one has to be careful not to run aground on the rocks, but the lakes were abnormally high this summer. The depth of the channel can be deceiving though. One summer, as my wife and I were taking a family of friends on their first trip into a wilderness area to see Stairway Portage and the falls, their canoe became hung up on a rock. Their pre teenage son quickly offered to get them loose and jumped over the side in what he took to be about two feet of water. What he didn't know was that there was an additional two feet of muck below the water.

He let out a primordial scream as he felt himself apparently sinking out of sight into the depths of the deep. It evidently had no ill effects on him though. The last I heard, he was living in Alaska after numerous experiences, including a climb on Mount Everest. Stairway is so called because of the portage that must ascend or descend, depending on direction, the two hundred-foot difference between the levels of Rose and Duncan. It is on one of the standard routes taken by the voyageurs and probably always had at least a number of stone steps built into it.

Today, as a result of the efforts of the DNR, there are one hundred and ten wooden steps in addition to some number of informal stone steps. If one is moving by canoe along the border route through Rose it is one of two options. The other is known as the "long portage" or by some the "railway portage". This second option is just over a mile long, hence its name, and follows along an abandoned logging railroad right-of-way. The portion leading into the east end of Rose is frequently mucky and water covered. Although the long portage is spectacularly beautiful to cross-country ski in the wintertime, I much prefer instead to get to Rose via Stairway during the summer.

Part way down stairway is a canoe rest and an outcropping of rock that gives you a good view of the falls formed in the stream that runs out of Duncan. The spray from the falls causes moss to grow and ferns to cover the rocks surrounding the stream. At the bottom of the falls is a small pool. The more adventuresome can clamber down to the pool and allow the falls to beat down on their heads. Several logs are jammed up where the stream leaves the pool and look as though they came over the falls themselves. Although they probably came over in the much higher water of early spring it causes one to think twice about standing under the falls. None of us decides to do so today.

As I stand at the top of the stairs they fill the entire field of view allowed by the triangular shape of the bow of the canoe extending forward over my head. Thirty-five years ago I used to take this portage ten times a summer. Thirty-five years ago! As I start down, I realize that we will either have to take the long portage or come back up the stairs to get back out of Rose. I make it to the bottom without event. We had decided to eat lunch at the top of the portage on the other side of the stream.

Thirty years ago it had been a favorite campsite. It's attractiveness as a campsite had been just too much. Over-use has forced the DNR to close it as a tent site although it is still a favorite lunch stop. An open area just at the top of the falls, bounded by a large hill to the south and east, the stream on the west and a sheer drop of thirty feet or so to the north, it had room for three or four tents. There was a perfect natural fireplace with flat, rock ledges all around on which one could place pots and pans and other cooking paraphernalia.

Looking to the north there was and still is a tremendous view across Rose to the Canadian side and the palisades flanking the channel into Arrow Lake. The cliff edge has always been a favorite site for taking pictures but something did not seem quite right today as we tried to line up human subjects with familiar landmarks in the background. Then I remembered. There used to be a large double-topped fir growing up from below the cliff that was so unusual that it was included in every picture. I searched for it and found it. It was hidden now behind a cedar that had grown from a crevice in the cliff. Thirty years had taken its toll not only on us but also on the fir. Whether due to age, disease, or drought I couldn't tell but the old fir was now just a dried-out, rotted trunk with only a pair of spindly sticks at the top to indicate what was once its claim to fame. Sooner or later a wind will blow it down and it will form part of the humus on the forest floor providing nourishment for young plants sinking their roots into every crevice they can find to maintain their hold in this rocky, glaciated land.

Lunch today was to be a trail standard, peanut butter and jelly, and salami and onion sandwiches, and "hooch" to drink. "Hooch" is whatever flavor or brand of powdered drink that happens to be pulled out of the food pack on a particular day. Then came the first of several discoveries. In the process of getting organized and collecting together food and equipment, some things had been stored at the Drifter's, some at the Ranger Cabin, and some at my cabin. The bread had been stored in the freezer at my cabin. We had forgotten to put it in the food pack. No matter, we had plenty of Rye-Krisp along and there were even those who opined that sandwiches were tastier and healthier when made from Rye-Krisp. As we ate lunch and looked at the lake more than a hundred feet below us each had several memories and a favorite story of time spent on Rose.

With lunch over we walked down the stairs, loaded our canoes and pushed out into the lake. At least, two canoes did. Bud, it seems, was waiting at the top of the stairs wondering where Phil was while Phil and Chuck were waiting at the bottom of the stairs wondering where Bud was. Eventually, the three of them got together and started after the rest of us.

Rose was relatively calm as Coley and I, in the lead canoe, searched the south shore for an empty campsite. We approached several sites only to have the glint of aluminum from a beached canoe or a flash of color from a tent indicate that it was occupied. One empty site was tentatively considered and then rejected as being less than desirable. Finally, a site at the extreme east end was found to be not only empty but also met our criteria of easy access from the water, a view, and prospect of a breeze to keep the bugs away.

As we pulled up onto the gently sloping point, each of us began searching for the ideal tent site. One spot rejected because it was obviously too rocky, another as being too exposed to the sun, and still another because it was tilted. It doesn't take much of a tilt to cause the sleeper, in the course of a night, to slide off an air mattress or sleeping pad and down to one end of the tent. As I remembered such experiences in the past it occurred to me that I had forgotten not only one sleeping pad but two sleeping pads back at the cabin. I had relished the thought of packing the extra pad so that I could gloat over one of my companions, at least one of whom would surely forget theirs. I would pull out the extra pad at the last minute and, with ostentatious phrases of self-serving charity, offer it to them.

Alas, not only did they all remember their pads but none of them had the same deviousness of character as I as to pack in an extra pad so as to gloat over a friend. "Well, it's only for two nights", I thought, "and I have slept on the bare ground many times". My criteria for selection of a tent site became that of finding the softest possible surface. In the end four tents were set up. Mine beneath some pines on a bed of dried needles, one further up the slope where it would be sheltered from any strong winds which might come up, one at the edge of the clearing about ten feet above the water to give it a good view of the lake, and finally Roger's tent with its skylight roof situated with nothing but the clear sky above it.

Next came the process of setting up the cooking area and getting ready to prepare the evening meal. Back in the 50's, before the more stringent rules of the BWCA prevented canned goods, the staple meats at the camp were surplus beef and pork packed in brown gravy in number 10 cans. If freeze-dried meats were available we hadn't heard of them. This evening would be different though. Since it was only a short trip to our first campsite we decided we would eat high off the hog (or, more literally, toward the rear of the cow). We had frozen nine steaks and packed them together in the center of the food pack where we were confident they would stay frozen until we were ready to cook them. We might eat macaroni and cheese tomorrow night but tonight would be a feast. With no real concern for weight we also planned baked potatoes and Crazy Wacky Cake. The latter was a recipe our family had picked up from somewhere which utilized vinegar and oil as the agent providing the raising power instead of eggs. It is absolutely guaranteed not to fall as it is turned round in the reflector oven to evenly bake all sides. Its deep chocolate color also nicely camouflages any areas overly done by a blazing fire. There is nothing like a cake slowly baking by an open fire after the meal is over to promote campfire comraderie at its ultimate.

Usually by the time it is done the sun has gone down, and all of the "old guide" stories are in full swing. By unspoken consensus Roger was the chief camp cook. A canoe was turned upside down and leveled within reach of the fireplace. The kettle pack was unpacked and its contents laid out on the top of the canoe. Individuals who had finished setting up their tents and laying out their sleeping bags began assuming various chores. The biggest pot had to be filled with water. Roger had acquired a filtered hand pump guaranteed to filter out all the bad "wee-be-gees" that might be found in the water.

Although most of us had been drinking the lake water from a cup dipped directly over the side of the canoe for more than thirty-five years with no ill effects, it wouldn't hurt to play it safe and use the pump for cooking and drinking water. Someone took the pump and pot and headed for the end of the point. The food pack was opened and food sorted out into supper, breakfast, and lunch for the coming meals. The steaks were still frozen so there was no danger of their having gone bad. Roger came across the plastic jar filled with the vinegar and oil mixture for the Crazy Wacky cake and with a wrinkled nose inquired if anyone knew its genesis.

Norm, who had been bragging for two days about how I could bake this cake without a flaw immediately, identified it. I was actually a little nervous about it. I had baked the cake dozens of times before a campfire and it usually turned out edible but this time would be different. Instead of the usual reflector oven we were going to use a Dutch oven of a new design that Norm had gotten from a friend of his. Besides, I would have all of my old heroes watching me. Bud, Charlie, Coley, Fackler, Roger; these were all names of guides I had heard of and admired during my very first days in the boundary waters. In addition Phil Brain was there. Phil probably introduced more people to wilderness camping than anyone I have ever heard of.

What if the cake fell? What if the Dutch oven burned the cake to a crisp rather than baking it? What if . . . ? I needn't have worried. As I searched through the pile of bags and boxes that had been taken out of the food pack it became apparent that we had forgotten to include the other important ingredients of the cake, the flour, sugar, and chocolate mixture. All we had was vinegar and oil. Oh well, "it really would have been a great cake", I told everybody, "but since we have steak and potatoes it probably would have been too much anyway". "Say, where are the potatoes?” someone asked. A quick survey of the food from the food pack indicated that although the steaks had made it the potatoes evidently were back at West Bearskin along with the cake mixture and the bread we were supposed to have had for lunch. "And so are the dinner rolls ", exclaimed Norm in dismay.

He had planned a truly exceptional dinner for the first night, steak, potatoes, dinner rolls, chocolate cake, . . . A frantic search began to see what other essential items had been forgotten. Thankfully, the canoe tickets (T.P. to some) were where they belonged. Then someone noticed that we had no silverware! While Roger continued to prepare the steaks Steve and Bud trudged off into the woods to find suitable forked sticks which we could press into service as utensils with which to eat our elegant meal. In very short order nine forks of varying degrees of elegance were cut out of young alder bushes. They were not only very serviceable but actually added to the rustic atmosphere here in the wilderness. My thoughts turned to the soup that was on the menu for tomorrow.

The next morning after a breakfast of fried bacon, and eggs boiled so as to accommodate eating with forked sticks, a number of us began contemplating climbing the palisades on the northeast end of the lake. Roger was busy carving spoons for lunch. Forked sticks just don't hack it as an eating utensil when confronted with vegetable soup. Coley had gotten out his easel and was already sketching in the palisades when we exacted a promise from him to paint us in at the top when we got there. There was some discussion as to how large our figures would be when seen from this distance and whether we would be recognizable in the finished painting.

We paddled across the bay and began a relatively easy climb up the wooded talus slope at the base of the palisade. As the slope became steeper and we had to pull ourselves hand over hand from tree trunk to tree trunk, Phil decided that contemplation of the lake was just as good from the sandy beach at lake level as from the top of the palisades and chose to wait for us at the bottom. Eventually the talus slope reached the vertical bedrock of the palisades and we had to climb vertically a short distance before reaching the path that led gently upward toward the summit.

The view from the top is breathtaking. We could see all of Rose stretching out below us. Coley, painting the scene from lake level across the bay, was barely distinguishable and we waved to make sure he saw us for inclusion in the picture. A stream runs along the base of the cliff from a smaller lake and flows into Rose. Judging from the sandy reef with small trees growing out of it, arcing across the mouth of the stream, beavers have evidently kept it dammed for at least tens of years if not hundreds. The beaver pond backed up behind the dam is dotted with lodges and the V-shaped wake created by a beaver cruising the calm water was easily discernible from this height.

The area below looks like excellent moose territory as well and I decide to make a trip over at sunrise tomorrow to see if I can surprise one feeding. Time is irrelevant as we sit on the rocky edge and let the wind sweep over us. An eagle soars in the updraft created as the almost constant west wind meets the immense wall of rock. Small birds flitter through the trees so quickly that it is difficult to spot and identify them. I have the impression that we are at the top of the world although I know that the high peak on the south of Rose at about 2000 feet above sea level is considerably higher than we are now. We exchange stories about places we have climbed, take pictures, and reluctantly start back down.

Phil has made himself comfortable on the sand beach and greets us as we come out of the woods. On a warm day the sandy bottom of this bay makes it a nice place for a swim. Inspection of the beach shows lots of moose prints in the sand and I decide to come back early tomorrow morning to see if I can surprise one. When we get back to our campsite, Coley has put in a red speck at the top of the palisade in his painting to represent Norm's red shirt. A couple of other dashes of color makes up the rest of our group. Individuals are certainly insignificant against the background of this tremendous wilderness.

Roger has been busy while we were gone. He shows us several different prototypes of spoon he has been carving. Someone notes that the prototype with the upturned handle resembles Roger's nose and the rest of us look for comparisons with the various shapes and sizes of the remaining spoons. They turn out to be quite serviceable and the variations in their appearances allow us to easily identify them from meal to meal, reducing the need to get them particularly clean between meals. This is good since the porous wood soon takes on the color and taste of whatever it has been dipped in and, as personal taste varies from camper to camper, their individuality allowed each of us to "adopt" a spoon and have exclusive use of it throughout the rest of the trip.

After supper dishes are done and several of us have followed Chuck's example and taken a swim in the cool water of Rose Lake, we relax around the campsite. At one point there is a discussion about socialized medicine between Coley, Chuck, and me. We don't resolve any significant problems but the various viewpoints of a physician, a sociologist, and a physicist make for an interesting discussion. Meanwhile, Bud decided he would go fishing. He tells us he got a terrific buy on some fishing gear on the home shopping channel. Rod, reel, lures, hooks, hundreds of items for just ten dollars. As he starts to assemble his gear he is puzzled by the apparent lack of eyes in the fishhooks. Someone suggests he glue the line to the hooks but he discovers that the eyes are just covered over with varnish and his faith in the home-shopping channel is renewed.

A light mist starts descending and we head for the tents, welcoming the opportunity to rest a bit. The tents are close enough that for a while conversation continues between tents as well as within individual tents. After a half-hour or so I realize that conversation has stopped and gentle snoring is coming from a couple of locations. I climb into my sleeping bag and the next thing I know it is morning.

At the first sign of light I climb out of the tent without waking Coley and take a canoe across the bay to the beaver pond. The dam has raised the water of the pond about three feet above the level of Rose Lake. Scrub brush and small trees almost entirely cover the dam and I use them as cover as I climb to the top of the dam hoping to catch a moose unawares. A beaver is swimming along the dam about ten feet away, evidently checking for leaks. He doesn't see me and swims past without the characteristic splash of the tail when an intruder is spotted.

Then across the pond, walking in the young trees at the base of the palisade, I see a young moose. He is coming my way and I slowly move back into the brush hoping that he will move into the pond to feed on the roots of the lily pads that dot its surface. After a few minutes I peek out into the pond to see if he is there yet. No sign of him. I move back into the brush and wait a while longer. Still no sign. Disappointed I move back toward the beach hoping to circle around and catch him coming out of the woods. I emerge from the brush and turn left just as he emerges from the brush a short distance away and turns right to face me.

We stand there face to face for a few short moments, a presbyopic physicist and a myopic ungulate. The moose is an incredible animal, at once ugly and ungainly looking yet amazingly graceful as it steps its way through the swamps in search of food. It is uniquely built to fit a niche in its ecosystem. Its large, cloven hoofs spread in the muck allowing it to carry a nearly half ton body through the soft swamp. Six feet tall at the shoulders, it can stand in a beaver pond equally deep and reach down to the bottom to root out lily pad roots.

When the head comes up dripping with water and full of vegetation, the long twitching ears are alert for sound and appear to be searching the horizon like some form of sonar to make up for its notoriously poor eye sight. My moose, however, is not standing in water. He is standing less than ten feet away occupying a good deal of my field of vision on a narrow strip of sandy beach that doesn't allow either one of us much room for maneuvering. I slowly ease back into the brush hoping that he will continue past me and allow me to get a close up photograph. Although I hear nothing the moose has apparently decided to move off in the other direction and by the time I venture onto the beach again there is no sign of him except for a set of tracks leading into the woods.

When I paddle back across the bay, Roger and Dave are preparing to make breakfast. While Roger is mixing up the pancake batter Dave is trying to build a fire out of slightly wet wood. We have a Coleman stove along for most of the cooking but a wood fire saves on fuel and yields some warmth as a bonus. Every guide prides himself on being able to start a fire under the worst conditions, so Dave makes a great fuss out of the fact that it was going to take real skill to light the rain soaked drift wood we had collected yesterday. He vows, however, to start the breakfast fire with a single match.

Roger stops beating the batter to watch as Dave strikes a wooden match with a flourish and drops it on the sodden mess in the fireplace. Roger's jaw dropped as the wood immediately burst into flame and Dave roared with laughter. A little Coleman fuel properly applied will do wonders for one's fire building abilities. The rest of the group gradually assembled around the fire waiting for the coffee to boil and the pancakes to be made.

Dave comments on the utility of his Philson pants as trail pants and the red suspenders holding them up. I had never heard of Philson pants before but I had heard the legends, some of them self-made, of Dave's wearing apparel. When cooking out on the trail, a guide's pants become covered with everything from flour to fish guts to peanut butter, which then gets baked to a patina by the heat of the campfire. After a single week on the trail, blue jeans are sometimes ready for the rag heap. Dave claimed he could wear his Philson pants an entire summer without washing. When he returned to the base camp he would simply step out of them and stand them upside down in the corner until he was ready to hit the trail again.

By now the batter for the first pancake had been poured into the frying pan and bubbles were starting to form. J.W. Brown, the cook at Menogyn when I was there, told us to watch the edge of the pancake. When it started to get firm and dry it was time to flip it. Half the enjoyment of pancakes on the trail is in the flipping. A griddle and pancake turner are more efficient at getting them cooked six at a time but for pure enjoyment nothing beats flipping a pancake into the air with a frying pan and having it land with a satisfying thunk, uncooked side down, golden brown side up, in the center of the pan.

As the group gathered around watching in hungry admiration, Dave began the preliminary, tentative movements with the wrist which loosen up the far edge of the pancake prior to the decisive thrust into the air which sends the pancake spinning upward, making a turn of exactly one hundred and eighty degrees before being caught in its downward flight in the descending frying pan. A successful flip is truly one of the most satisfying experiences a camp cook can have. Unfortunately for Dave he was not using his own cook kit and no one had warned him that this frying pan had a folding handle. Too late. As he began his upward thrust he realized what was happening. Instead of the pancake separating from the pan in a graceful arcing motion the handle folded, the pan pivoted around the hinge, and unceremoniously dumped its contents onto Dave's forearm. The half-cooked pancake draped itself, raw side down, over Dave's arm looking somewhat like a serving towel draped over the arm of a waiter in a high-class restaurant. After the laughter died down Dave made minor adjustments to the folding handle and locked it in place. Soon a stack of pancakes was being passed around the assembled group to be covered with syrup and eaten with the aid of forked sticks as the sun began to warm the air.

There had been some discussion about the proper way to brew coffee over a campfire. There was a vague idea that somehow egg in the coffee improved its clarity and its taste. I had thought that dropping eggshells into the brewed coffee was sufficient to do the trick but someone insisted that the way to do it was to mix the grounds with a beaten raw egg before cooking. The theory was that this would cause the grounds to form a coherent mass at the bottom of the pot producing a crystal clear brew free of any cloudiness. It sounded good, and, since we had some extra eggs, we tried it. The coffee was indeed clear and tasted as good as any, however, when the pot was emptied the sight of the congealed brownish-gray mass at the bottom detracted somewhat from the culinary success. After breakfast we broke camp and set out across a choppy Rose Lake heading for Stairway Portage.

When paddling at an angle to the wind it is difficult to keep the canoe headed at the proper angle to the waves and on track to one's destination. From time to time I try to twist in the stern seat to get a glance backward to see how the following canoes are doing. Each time I do so a wave splashes up over the gunn'ls and I have to correct the aim of the canoe. It is not really a rough crossing but it brings to mind many times in the BWCAW when I have seen it much worse. We sometimes scoff at the safety regulations intended to protect lives, particularly if we consider ourselves skillful woodsmen, but I have long since made it a personal rule to always wear a flotation device while in a canoe. I am a good swimmer and know from personal experience that a swamped canoe will float but the slight inconvenience of wearing a life jacket is far outweighed by the extra insurance it offers if one were to swamp in deep water.

Stairway Portage going down is an impressive sight. Stairway Portage going up is outright intimidating. When we were working at the camp if we had a group that we really wanted to test to see if they could handle a particularly difficult trip we would take them on a one day circle route that began at West Bearskin, crossed over to Daniels, and then continued to Rose, Duncan, and back to West Bearskin. In the process the group would have to go up Stairway Portage. If they survived that we assumed they had been properly broken in.

Here I was with a canoe on my shoulders, looking up at Stairway for the first time in more years than I cared to remember. We would surely be broken-in if we survived it one more time. To my surprise we all made it to the top and across the portage as though we had been doing this sort of thing all summer long. We had planned to camp on Duncan but as we came out of the narrow channel that leads from Rose falls it quickly became apparent that all the campsites on the lake were occupied. We crossed Duncan and waited at the Duncan-Moss Lake portage while two of the group walked across to see if the campsite on the east end of Moss was empty. It wasn't. After a short conference we headed for West Bearskin.

There is a campsite at the northwest corner between the Duncan and Daniels portage. None of us had ever had cause to camp there before because it was so close to the base camp but this was our last option so we decided to spend the last night camped across the bay from the director's cabin of Camp Menogyn. The director's cabin was built of large diameter white pine in the late forties by Charlie Boostrum, as were all of the camp buildings at the time, except for a little frame shack that the guide's slept in. Charlie had become a legend in this area of the BWCAW. Examples of his log work include Clearwater Lodge as well as the old Brain cabin built for Phil's dad and now owned by Willis Raff right next door to my cabin on West Bearskin.

Charlie was still active in the fifties when all of us had been at the camp. Periodically he would be called on to perform some chore that the camp staff did not have the skill or guts to do, such as blasting out a huge rock from the middle of an area we wanted to use as a volleyball court. I remember watching as Charlie placed a couple of sticks of dynamite on the rock, covered them with some dirt, and lit the fuse. The rest of us ran for cover as fast as we could go but Charlie, confident of the burn time after years of experience, nonchalantly stooped to pick a flower and spat out a wad of chewing tobacco before sauntering away to step behind a large birch just as "she blew" throwing rock and dirt for ten yards in all directions (or was it thirty? The blast gets bigger each year).

Now we were here, across the bay, seven old guides, the son of one of us, and the former camp director who had influenced all of our lives. After the tents were set up and camp generally put in order we stretched out beneath the big pines on the point. Stories were exchanged about former guides we had known, trips we had taken, and mishaps we had experienced. Steve heard a few stories about his dad that he had probably heard dozens of times before but perhaps with some new twists coming from someone else this time. Coley set up his easel and began to paint the scene in front of us. Phil began to reminisce, at first about camp experiences and then about the years he spent as a prisoner of war after the fall of Bataan. For three hours we were no longer a bunch of slightly-past-middle-aged men but were "Phil's boys" again as we listened to the stories he related.

Although I had known of his prisoner-of-war experience and that he had been through the infamous Bataan Death March I had never heard him speak of it before. The Rotary Club of Minneapolis had just published a small book of his memories entitled SOLDIER OF BATAAN which, as Phil states in the introduction, was an "attempt to communicate, one soldier's response to such an experience." Phil credits his years of wilderness camping with his ability to survive the ordeals of that episode. Beneath the pines with the water softly lapping at the shore, it hardly seems possible that such things did happen and continue to happen in the world.

We are roused out of our contemplations by Roger declaring that supper is ready. Macaroni and cheese are followed by instant pudding eaten with wooden spoons. Not my favorite meal, but after three days on the trail it is enough to fill me up. We clean up the supper dishes and after some small talk head for the tents as a light rain falls. Sleep comes quickly. The next morning after breakfast Bud leads an informal Sunday service. He suggests that we go around the group and each of us say a few words about what the wilderness experience in general and Camp Menogyn in particular has meant to us individually. There is hardly a dry eye as voices crack and we share our emotions with one another.

It is time to pack up for the last time. We had planned to stop at the camp for a Sauna and lunch before everyone headed for home but we were slightly behind schedule. Coley had to catch a plane in Minneapolis for the west coast that evening, so we head down the lake to sort out our gear at the Ranger Cabin. We decide that if we take Norm's big boat we can make it down the lake, have lunch at Menogyn, and still get Coley to Minneapolis on time. When we get to the camp we introduce ourselves to the present director, Dave Palmer, and his wife who take us on a tour around the camp. It is much larger than when we were there. New bunkhouses have been built. A new dining hall is quite impressive.

The staff seems much younger than we were, although it is obvious that most of them have already graduated from college and are thus several years older than we were when we were guiding. We are introduced to the campers who somehow don't seem quite as impressed with us as I assumed they would be. It is getting late. We express our thanks for the tour and lunch and pile back into the boat for the ride back down the lake. Norm is at the tiller and I am somewhere near the bow. We pass a large bay on the south side where the upside down hunk of an old 18 foot Larson lies rotting by the shore. It belonged to the Kaplans who used to own a cabin on the hill above. I wonder if they still do. It is the same boat we used to race down to the landing with the camp's 18 foot Larson powered by a 25 horse Johnson.

At the beginning of the summer we could sometimes win the race but long trips down the lake with heavy loads and many times pulling a loaded rubber pontoon behind us would take their toll on the motor and by the end of the summer the Kaplan boat usually had no trouble outrunning us. There was something about the huge, heavy wooden boats that the modern sleek aluminum jobs just do not have. Standing in the stern with my right foot on the gunn'l while steering with my left hand and looking out over the loaded boat for submerged rocks I used to feel like a latter day Viking as the boat cruised down the lake. How lucky I am to have had the experience.

We reach the end of the lake and quickly move to load up the cars and say our good-byes. We vow to do this again. Roger has packed up his truck and is headed back for Willmar. Coley, Phil, and Chuck will ride together back to the cities to try to get Coley to the airport on time. Bud is going to ride back with Steve. Norm and I will remain on the lake for a few more days. The summer is coming to an end for me. I have to head back down to Missouri to get ready for classes. "Hey Ril', lets do this again next summer. We could head south next time. Remember the northerns we caught in Cliff and Trap on that break in trip in '56? Ole couldn't join us this summer but he said if we did it again he would want to be included. And maybe Gilbert would want to go, and we could call........."

It is the following March as I write this. Although the daffodils are blooming down here I know that West Bearskin is still frozen. It's almost time to call Norm and start planning. The words of an old camp song come to mind "It's the far Northland that's a calling me away, As take I with my packsack to the road. It's the tang of pine and bracken comin' on the breeze, That calls me to the waterways once more. By Lake Duncan and Clearwater to the Bearskin I will go, Where you see the Loon and hear his plaintive wail. And if you're thinkin' in your inner heart there's swagger in my step, You’ve never been along the Border Trail." (We repeated the trip the following summer. Coley couldn't join us but Ashley Whitsell did. Norm Dahl died of complications brought on by Leukemia in February 1994, at age 56 years.)

OL’ GUIDES Back row: Jim Riley, Roger Strand, Phil Brain, Chuck Nelson, Coley Carlson Front Row: Steve Dahl, Norm Dahl, Bud Bond, Dave Fackler 1962