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Jamie Crandall


Jamie Crandall

Excerpts from Paddling in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area

1. Manual for bad weather paddling
2. Memoir of events of August 17, 2002
3. Poem: What I remember of fear
4. Fiction: Heroes and Helpers
5. Letter to Voyageur North Outfitters
6. Interview/ Feature Article: Paddles and Puddles
7. Weather Report for Ely, MN
8. BWCA park brochure


3. What I remember of fear

trapped, taken hostage
by an unforgiving mother letting off steam
halfway to safety
when the vessel overturned, dropping
three souls
two backpacks
and one sense of security.
she would not protect us
should have known better
nowhere to go when the storm arrives.
every ‘should have’
every ‘right step’
every ‘now I know…’
moves me no closer to living in her graces
or makes me more worthy of her love
when she lets you go, it is for good.


6. Paddles and Puddles

For Jill Crandall, two words describe her BWCA trip in August 2002: “windy and scary.” She was on a week-long camping and canoeing trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Northern Minnesota, where motorized vehicles (even motorboats) are prohibited, and the number one rule is: ‘if you pack it in, pack it out.’ The camping trip was wet and dreary, and on top of that, Crandall remembers, “we didn’t even get a campsite on Fat Lake, our main destination for the trip.”

The trip had started out fine, like any other camping trip with preparations, says Crandall. These preparations included renting three canoes from Voyageur North Outfitters in Ely, MN. Voyageur North is a complete outfitting company, where you can obtain anything from cookstoves to sleeping mats to rain gear. Crandall’s group owned all the supplies they needed, except canoes. Along with the rental, they paid for a shuttle service from Ely to the entry point, about an hour’s drive.

The weather was rainy from the first day, but things didn’t get interestingly stormy until the fourth day of their trip. On day one, their first choice for a campsite on Loon Lake, a lake that borders Canada, was taken. This forced the group to continue to a smaller bay before they could find a designated BWCA camping site (marked by a fire grate and primitive latrine) to stay in for the night. The second day was much more of the same weather, and they were unable to stop at Fat Lake because there were already campers at the one and only site on the small, amazingly clear lake. BWCA regulations say that at each campsite, only one group permit is allowed at a time. Therefore Crandall’s group had to go on to the next lake to stay for the night.

The fourth night of their trip was spent on Oyster Lake, a medium-sized body of water about one and a half miles wide from the southwest end to the northeast end, and with a large peninsula protecting the western side of the lake. At the center of the lake, depths reach about 70 feet down. The granite and basalt cliffs along the shorelines are typical of lakes in the glacial region of Northern MN.

On the morning of August 16, the group slept in: “We weren’t in any hurry; we had gotten ahead of schedule because of not being able to stay at our chosen campsites.” Crandall remembers that they set off that morning at about 9am, rounded the corner of the peninsula, and it was when she saw the choppy water that she first felt scared. Not knowing that the whitecaps were peaking at about three feet high, two of the three canoes decided to head directly across the lake, Crandall says. A storm with 30 mile per hour winds was quickly descending upon the area, and within about 15 minutes of paddling, Crandall and her canoe, packs, and the two men she was in the boat with were all tipped and floating in the water. “Honestly, at that moment, it was funny,” she remembers with a grim chuckle, “because by the time we actually flipped, we all three knew it was going to happen. So it was like, ‘ok, we’re going to tip now.’”

Although she states that this experience wasn’t traumatic enough to change her outlook on life, (it just makes a good wilderness adventure story) Crandall says the worst part of the ordeal was “the swim that we had to make back to shore. That was awful.” Unable to empty their canoe of water, while swimming in the three-foot waves, the three paddlers left their floating packs with the other boat, and began the grueling swim to the nearest shore, which was back in the direction they had come from. Crandall admits that the humor was gone from the situation by this time, when one of the men simply said, “I have to start swimming now!” as he knew the struggle to stay afloat, even with a life preserver, was going to be daunting. The two other swimmers stayed with the canoe and pulled it ashore. During the swim, Crandall lost one pant leg from her nylon rain gear. She says, “a small rip in the knee kept tearing more and more as I kicked; at some point the pant leg was just gone!” She also remembers that she felt “like dead weight” to her swimming partner, who essentially pulled her and the canoe back.

After an uncertain amount of time (some in the group remember it took “all day,” others think they made it across the lake by early afternoon), they made it only about one mile for the day. They camped again on Oyster Lake that night, the opposite side of Oyster Lake. The first canoe full of paddlers had gone ‘into the waves’ and made it across the lake, spending the morning searching for their friends from the rocky shores. “We were standing there, freaking out, thinking: ‘where are they, where are they?’” Crandall’s cousin remembers. She says that the worst feeling was regret, asking herself “Why did we split up? Why did we go ahead and not keep the group together?”

She adds, “You learn from these mistakes, but in the end, they are just epic BWCA stories to share.” Crandall knew before the day was over, “We were wet, but fine.” As evidence, she points to a picture of herself and two friends on a smooth rock outcropping overlooking Oyster Lake, with waves crashing behind them. The huge smiles on their faces tell a story of victory: person vs. nature, a struggle as old as the protected National Wilderness area. In the photo, Jill Crandall’s rain gear has only one pant leg.

See you on the trails!!