The first day of "summer" greeted me with cool, clear windy weather at 5 a.m. I was on the water at 6:22 a.m. beginning the ascent to Brule 8 miles upstream. The river presented a few riffles for about a mile above Copper Range Campground then it switched to flat, fast water all the way to Highway 2. Poling was difficult due to strong southerly winds, which quickly pushed my lightened bow in the wrong direction. I soon resorted to paddling since river depths were adequate and good progress was made in the stiff current.
The banks of the river grew taller and appeared to have less clay than that noted downstream. Reduced erosion of clay banks into the river resulted in a considerable improvement in the river's clarity. The improved light penetration provided favorable conditions for the development of small beds of submersed aquatic vegetation that was occasionally seen in small eddies or pools. The Brule River meanders through its valley in a serpentine-like fashion for several miles in the reach between Copper Range Campground and Highway 2. The towering pine, spruce and fir trees on the river's bluff were truly spectacular. The river's shoreline was almost entirely undeveloped. The only major exception was a 50-ft long by 6-ft high weather and river beaten gray wooden wall that stood along the left descending bank in sharp contrast to the sylvan shoreline.
I reached the wayside above Hwy 2 at 11:11 a.m. I stretched my legs and made a short walk into Brule to find a phone and call home. Tim answered the phone and I was glad to hear that he made it home without incident. I expressed some excitement about completing the first phase of my ascent of the Brule, something he could appreciate since he had glanced at its fast waters and rapids a few days earlier.
Two trout fisherman were casting flies into rain-sprinkled riffles at the DNR's Bois Brule Campground about a mile south of Highway 2. I tied my canoe to a branch of a large spruce tree near one of the canoe campsites at 1:30 p.m. then walked about a quarter mile to the Ranger Station to pick up the balance of my food. I had made prior arrangements with Kevin Feind, DNR ranger, to store three of my plastic food containers in one of their large sheds. Kevin was not in so I told one of his assistant rangers, "I was here to pick up my stash." She looked bewildered and bit concerned until I introduced myself then she recognized my name from my registration at Copper Range Campground the previous evening. I asked her to thank Kevin again for his assistance in my pre-trip planning and allowing me to cache my food in their garage. All three canisters of food were intact despite the presence of mice droppings on the sealed lids.
I returned to the canoe and consulted the maps and guessed what the weather might bring this afternoon. It was very tempting to set up camp at the beautiful canoe campsites that border the Bois Brule at the lower portion of the campground. However, since it was early afternoon and the weather was cool and rainy with no changes in sight, I decided to continue my ascent.
Just upstream of the campground rests Little Joe rapids, a formidable narrow rapids where the river makes a sharp bend and drops about 3 ft in a relatively short distance. The current was too swift to pole while rocks and overhanging alders on both banks offered no passage along the bank. I had to make a short 30-yard portage on the right side. The bank was several feet high and patches of poison ivy required vigilance when I looked for hand holds to pull my gear up the steep bank.
As I poled through Hall Rapids, I met two canoes, which suddenly appeared while I was in mid-stream. I don't know who was more startled but it was obvious by the pale look on the women's face in the bow of the lead canoe that I had better move and move quickly. I apologized for not seeing them coming and offered them 8 ft of clearance on my left side while I held my bow straight into the swift turbulent current. One of the canoeists in the second canoe laughed at my predicament and shouted, "Your going the wrong way" as they quickly shot by. This was not the first time I had heard this phrase on this trip and I suspect this obvious statement was a mean of opening up friendly dialogue, just like remarking on the weather with a stranger you pass on a sidewalk. At Williamson Rapids about one-half mile upstream, I met two more canoes but this time I had seen their approach and poled over to the left bank to provide them passage. They were experienced whitewater canoeists who obviously knew what they were doing as they adeptly avoided rocks and choose only the fastest chutes. As they passed by I shouted at them over the roar of the rapids and asked them "if there were any more canoes in their party." I was stunned when I heard them say, "44 more." I thanked them for their warning and proceeded upstream with some uneasiness.
Station Rapids is located in a narrow bend in the Brule where an old railroad bridge crossing is found. Due to the sharp bend, it was impossible to see upstream, a necessity to avoid being hit or upsetting descending canoeists. I decided to wade the rapids along the right bank since the opposite shore contained the fastest water and a several foot high rip-rapped bank. As I approached the narrow passage under the bridge the current speed and depth seemed to increase. This was also at the point where the river bends to the west. I had to hold the canoe with my left hand while grabbing onto the old bridge's rockworks with my right hand. I had almost made the bend when part of the stonework gave way where the river had extracted previous stones. A sudden burst of terror overcame me since I thought the remaining stone abutment would collapse and fall on me. I thanked God that it remained intact and rested briefly to gain some strength before swinging the stern of the canoe around the remaining bridge support and returned to poling. Ascending these short rapids was one of the most difficult passages I encountered in the last three days.
The river settled down as I approached Lucius Lake and I had fun greeting many middle school kids from Bloomington, Minnesota that made up the anticipated 44-canoe flotilla. I counted the canoes as they passed by and let them know of their rank in their downstream procession. The young canoeists seemed to have little prior canoeing experience based on their inability to steer a straight course and general aimless meandering. However, they remained in good spirits in spite of the cold rainy weather. Towards the end of the pack, I met a lone canoe containing three shivering, obviously shaken and exhausted girls who wondered how far it was to the canoe landing (Winneboujou). I did not have the heart to tell them it was another three miles and would likely take them another hour based on their rate of speed. Instead, I tried to raise their spirits and told them that, "it wasn't too far and that they were doing a good job." I also avoided the discussion of the upcoming series of rapids that were sure to give them additional agitation. I felt sorry for them and angry with their leaders for not ensuring they had the necessary rain gear to complete their trip in such foul weather.
"Winneboujou stands out preeminently as the Chippewa traditionary hero and demi-god. He could do everything. Once he went to sleep on the banks of the Brule, at this spot and the south wind, being in a playful mood, blew his canoe down river and far out into the lake (Superior). When he awoke he blue his whistle and the North Wind brought it back instantaneously. Ever since then the North Wind has been his favorite wind. He picked up some pebbles one day and cast them after a deer that had swam into Lake Superior to escape him, and up sprang the Apostle Islands."
The Brule's Winneboujou Club - "On April 2, 1890, the Winneboujou Club was incorporated as a Minnesota nonprofit corporation. Its purpose was to be the cultivation among its members of the science and art of fishing with rod, and the cultivation and protection of brook trout and other game fishes." The current holdings include 240 acres along the Bois Brule just south of Hwy B and North of Lucias Lake.
At 5:30 p.m. I found a small private open-sided wooden shelter on the southern end of Big Lake just below Little Twin Rapids on east bank. A sign posted just below the crest of the roof proclaimed, "Noyes Landing - Please be our guest and respect our property". Considering the wet weather, lateness of the day, and absence of nearby public lands, I did not give second thought to passing up this clear invitation to spend the night. The shelter was about ten by fifteen feet in area and contained a relatively large heavy picnic table with two benches that rested on a gray weather beaten wooden floor. After dinner I moved the table and benches to one side and laid out my tarp and sleeping bag over the floor. Two canoeists passed camp at 7 p.m. for a rather late excursion on a dark, misty and cold summer evening. I was in bed by 8 p.m. and fought numerous mosquitoes for a while until a got fed up and jumped out of my bag to retrieve my nylon mosquito netting. After establishing a facial barrier to the biting bugs, I soon drifted off to sleep at the sounds of the nearby rapids, wind and light rain falling on the old asphalt shingles of the streamside shelter.
Canoiest near DNR's Brule Campground.
"Guardian of the Docks" at Winneboujou Club.