Good question. Obviously, certain areas of the Boundary Waters would be overly crowded if there weren’t some limits on where and when paddlers could enter each lake. But there’s another really good reason to enter at the correct place, one that matters even more to your family and friends – if you fail to return on time and your panicked family starts worrying about you, when you have entered at the correct entry point the people who search for you will at least know where to look.
The wildly windy conditions of the past few days meant that many paddlers were windbound, frequently just biding their time at a campsite until the turbulent weather subsided. Whenever you head out on a BWCA trip, you should plan for this possibility. Forewarn your family members that in case of a delay during blustery weather, it’s more probable that you are waiting out the wind than that you have perished at the bottom of a windy wilderness lake.
Still, sometimes family members are determined to worry. Maybe they will even call the outfitters who rented you the canoe. And the forest service. And the Cook County sheriff. And everybody else they can think of, because they really, really care that you are safe. In that case, it’s vitally important that you went into the BWCA where your permit said you were going to enter.
During the windy conditions of the past few days, we were all worried about many paddlers. Dave Seaton, of Hungry Jack Outfitters, was especially concerned about a late returning father and two sons whose permit said they entered on our lake, East Bearskin. At one point Dave borrowed the largest Bearskin motor boat to head out through the gusty wind and white-capped waves in search of this family of paddlers, with no success. When they hadn’t returned by the next morning, Quinn took the boat out again to look for them, as well as for a young couple who’d rented paddles from us to go out on a day trip and didn’t return. No luck. (The couple did show up later that day, and their story is a great one!) The forest service called, asking to borrow a boat to search for the family.
All day we watched for the family to return, getting excited every time we spotted a canoe that might have 3 people in it. We asked every paddler who came back if they had seen the family—many canoeists could give us an accounting of all the paddlers they’d passed, but nobody matched the description of the missing family.
As it turned out, there was a good reason nobody found the group. They weren’t there. They took a permit for entry point #64, but went in to the BWCA elsewhere.
Nobody plans to be the focus of a BWCA search. Nobody expects to be greatly delayed on their canoe trip. Nobody intends to make other people worry. But in the vast wilderness surrounding the Gunflint Trail and the Boundary Waters, there are no guarantees that everything will go as planned. As tempting as it might be to enter the BWCA where ever you wish to go in, remember that if things go wrong, many other people may be involved in the search for you. It is selfish and thoughtless to create a situation where other people might end up hunting for you in the wrong place.
“Is it necessary to enter the BWCAW at the entry point and date shown on your permit?” That’s not just an annoying first question on the BWCA permit test. “Yes! Entry points regulate visitor distribution and support solitude,” is what the test form answers. But it’s not just about rules to limit the density of people on your favorite BWCA lake – going in at the right entry point just might keep you, and the people who might go out looking for you, a little safer in a wilderness environment.