May–June 2024

From the Editor

Lessons Learned

It was magic hour in the Boundary Waters. My friend Patrick and I paddled up to a flat, rocky section of mainland a couple of hundred yards from the island campsite where the rest of our crew was prepping for dinner. We unloaded our fillet knives and two freshly caught northern pike, then got to work. The early evening sun cut through the cool spring air, warming us as we broke down the fish. No one would accuse us of being master butchers, but we did our best to navigate around the pikes’ pesky Y-bones. 

Finished, we placed the fillets in a large Ziploc bag and loaded our gear back into the canoe. I climbed into the stern, took my seat, and placed my paddle on the rock to steady the boat for Patrick. My friend must have been tired from a long day of fishing because he took a single careless step into the bow, and the next thing we knew we were both in the water. The cold was breathtaking, but we had enough sense to climb back onto the rocks rather than swim after our canoe, which had flipped over and was now slowly floating into the middle of the channel. 

After a moment of panic, we decided the best thing to do was yell for help, hoping someone in our group would hear us. Minutes passed, and I began to worry. Our campsite was on the other side of the island from where we stood. Would our cries reach camp? Dripping wet and shivering, we continued to scream. 

Finally, a canoe emerged from around a point on the island. Our friends Thom and Kaarl. They paddled so hard it looked like their Wenonah was powered by a small motor. When they were close, Patrick and I assured them that we were OK and sheepishly asked them to fetch our canoe. After Thom and Kaarl guided our boat back to the mainland, we tipped it over and were surprised to see the bag of fish floating there along with the rest of our gear. 

Back at camp, Patrick and I changed clothes and warmed up around a fire. Thom explained that when the group heard our cries, they’d expected the worst. A fillet injury maybe. Or a run-in with a bear. Our friends even went as far as prepping a satellite phone in case we were in real trouble. 

Patrick and I were lucky that day. What if it had just been the two of us on the trip? Would we have had to strip down and swim after the canoe? Start bushwhacking? Wait for help? Our accident was a reminder that for wilderness travelers, things can go south in an instant. Just ask John Pierce, subject of our story “Into the Storm," which tells of his encounter with a violent blowdown in the Boundary Waters. To survive the ordeal, Pierce used lessons learned from a previous experience with a BWCA storm. I certainly learned my own lessons from that canoe mishap. In fact, after the trip I visited the U.S. Forest Service website to bone up on my wilderness safety knowledge. 

Stay alert outdoors this summer, and thanks, as always, for reading MCV

Chris Clayton, editor in chief