Backpacking River to River (a section) 3/23-3/25

So my 2 daughters and I spend 3 days/2 nights on a short backpacking excursion. In past years we’ve done some back-country canoeing trips in the BWCA (starting here) for 4-6 days at a time. We started at midday on Thursday in intermittent rain, temp about 45.

trip start

This is us at the observation trail at the “Garden of the Gods” in Shawnee National Forest.

We hiked until about 4:30 and stopped at a riverside just past Herod. The rain stopped after about an hour and a half or so. We had prepared quickly because the kids were on spring break, so we just had freeze dried dinners.

We were serenaded to sleep by a small number of coyotes which must have been not far away. They didn’t bother us that night or the next day.

We got up at about 7, with the sun and broke camp and started walking about 9. We walked through the “One Horse Gap” and some interesting rock formations and small caves. This day we noticed our map differed from the markings and trail guides. This would be a problem the next day. After a second crossing of “Little Lusk Creek” we camped for the night.

The next morning we got greeted by rain, or at least drizzle. We thought we had about 6-7 miles out so we skipped breakfast (snacking as we started on bars, nuts and fruit as we walked and shortly thereafter got confused by signs and lost the trail. This made our day about 11 miles not 7. Two pictures of our travel that day follow:


We passed lots of large exposed rock formations

Streams are obstacles for hikers

The stream crossings were not ones you could do by walking on logs or stones without getting wet`

The main purpose of this trip was to test out some new equipment. Rain gear worked fine. Packs were fine. We forgot a few things and the pack bladders for water (we had one) will be gotten for all of us for our next trip. We need to condition ourselves to walking a little better (at least I do, at 55 I can’t just pick up and walk 10 miles a day after holding a sedentary job. Swimming uses enough different muscles that I’m going to have to get ready for May).

Where In the World

So my daughter’s and I are heading South to go on a two to three day backpacking trip. In previous years we have gone on canoe trips in the Boundary Waters (BWCA) which I recommend highly if you do the backwoods thing. In conversations the girls indicated a desire to try backpacking. This past January we purchased backpacks and this week are doing a “test run” of our equipment on a short trip. In late May we plan to go for 7-10 days in North Central Pennslyvania on the Susquenahnock Trail System (and perhaps the Black Forest Trail). Before we do that we want to get feedback on shoes, packs and so on and have a chance to make corrections before the “big hike”. 

We are going to be hiking in the Shawnee National Forest in the far Southern tip of Illinois on the River to River trail. We are driving tonight into the area to get an early start tomorrow.  Or as early as you can get with college age kids on Spring Break. 

Back from the Woods (BWCA specifically)

So. We came back out a little early. One thought we had was that although we had 7 nights/8 days food, discretion as better part of valor had us planning after a day or so for a 6 night/7 days trip in case things didn’t go as planned. In part that was because of the rugged nature of the terrain we were navigating. If you start here and scroll around you can follow the descriptions below. This is a rough description of the loop we traversed, but we did the loop in one more day/night and didn’t stay exactly where the loop suggests. For the first time, for me, we had for the three of us, two packs (a day pack) and one canoe and thus managed go through our portages in just one trip.

  1. We started at Sawbill on Saturday (15th) at 9:30. We traveled to Phoebe lake for the first night’s stay. It was quite warm. We swam in the lake right from our campsite. We saw nobody all day after passing two groups in canoes exiting on Alton Lake in the morning.
  2. The second day we were planning to make it to Koma Lake, but were getting broken in and decided to take an early break and stayed at Lake Polly, which was quite full with other campers but we found a campsite and spent the night. We didn’t swim.
  3. Monday we traveled to Boze Lake (through Koma and Malberg lakes … following on the map, Boze is directly east from Malberg). We had a little difficulty finding the portage to the river toward Boze. The river itself had lots of semi-artificial obstructions which he had to haul the canoe over (beaver constructions). We saw several beaver on the way. One was very close to the canoe, but looked us over and decided we weren’t worth a tail slap and dive. On the┬áportage from the river in to Boze lake, we took a slight (there was a path) wrong turn and came to the lake through the campsite which worked out just fine. We had some nice swimming on Boze.
  4. The portages to Trail lake (were we stayed the next night) were very very rugged. Rocks. trees, obstructions, difficulty in following the trail at all each managed to surface as difficulties from here to Wine lake after which the portages became more navigable. Our first portage out of Trail going East in fact when we finished it there was a small lake/beaver marsh there but it took us almost 2 hours to find the correct portage. Clearly we were not the only ones to get it wrong, as there were some pretty well worn clearly worn trails that didn’t go anywhere useful. Our campsite on Trail was very nice on a high outcropping. After dinner high winds picked up and it rained all night … and through the next day.
  5. Temps never got quite to 60 all day. It was raining off and on all day. By the time we got to Wine lake it was pouring very hard, like being in a shower (a shower at 55 degrees). We were all wet and shivering. I’d fell down in a stream and was soaked. Because of the time lost finding the second portage we didn’t get to camp until 4:30pm. We erected camp (putting up our tent and a rain tarp over the eating area in record time, probably about 10 minutes. Quickly we changed into what dry clothes we had left (if we had any) and steamed up some hot chocolate. That helped immensely. We ate and retired to our tent at 7 pm that night. Our sleeping bags were all wet but they mostly dried up when we got in them within the hour. We decided if it was not raining the next day we’d set up lines and dry out and stay where we were. But if it was raining we’d push out with my daughter’s repeated mantra of “but … hot showers!”. And during the next day it didn’t clear up until after 4pm. So …
  6. After a long (mile and a half+) portage we left Wine, went to Zenith via Frederick and on to the Kelso River and on out to the outfitter (and those showers).