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Portage, campsite and other signs (of civilization)

Aug 10, 2018
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Blairsville, PA (about 30 mi E of PGH)
The recent thread drift on the "Why are you here?" as well as Al's "thunderbox" thread makes me think that Glenn is correct and maybe a separate thread should be started relative to destinations, amenities and what we like / dislike in our trips.

I really like that the BWCA does not have portages or campsites marked and it never occurred to me that there were no picnic tables until Bill mentioned that they were removed years ago (honestly, who takes a picnic table on a camping trip? Although I can easily see why they decided not to portage it back out). I thought the lack of signage added greatly to the "wilderness" feel and it was like a million acre scavenger hunt.

At the same time, I'm planning a trip up Geraldon way this summer (like most, I'm being heavily assisted by Mem) and I think the contrast to (possibly) marked portages might be an interesting twist on the trip report (and might keep me from going over a waterfall which would also be helpful).

So the question is: What amenities do you like/dislike when tripping? Do campsite signs & picnic tables detract from your enjoyment or enhance the experience? Which areas would you recommend to people who desire the creature comforts and which are the best to avoid all signs that someone has been there before? (yes, a bit selfishly, that last bit of information might be used to pad my personal bucket list, so thanks in advance for that)
I have no problem marking carries, trails, designated campsites and leantos in the Adirondacks. For most of my canoe camping trips, I camp at the designated sites (some locations do not even allow camping elsewhere even if you follow the 150 ft. rule). Backpacking is another story; I often try to "stealth" camp. I review the topo map ahead of the trip, identify some off-trail locations (that meet the 150 ft. rule), enter them as waypoints in my GPS unit and try to camp at them (or nearby). I hammock camp, so I not restricted to finding only clear and level ground. I've found that there are some slight inconveniences with doing this: difficulties getting to the location, getting water in camp and sacrificing having a campfire. For me the pay-off has been great; I've camped at some special locations (particularly in the West Canada Lakes Wilderness) and really enjoyed the solitude that comes with camping away from the main trail and designated campsites/leantos.
I don't mind portage signs as long as they are unobtrusive. Unless I use binoculars to look for the sign I still need to consult a map to avoid paddling around looking for it. I don't usually see the sign until I'm pretty close anyway.

I don't mind seeing other people on trips, but I don't know how I'd feel about people on every campsite on every lake. Too many people as well as too many bugs is enough for me to stick to the shoulder season. Too many people is also the reason I just got a 40 pound tripper. Hopefully I'll be able to loose the crowds with some long portages.
The Ontario Provincial Parks I'm familiar with - Quetico, Wabakimi, Woodland Caribou - have only (nominally) maintained portages. There are sites with some clearing and usually a fire ring, but you can camp anywhere. (I find it easier to use the existing sites and believe more in the spirit of LNT.) I find those parks most my liking, but recognize heavier denser use - like in BWCAW and ADK - requires less "wilderness" practices.
I like small portage signs and official camp site badges to mark locations, I think they help maintain the tundra and footprint of man.

One of my pet peeves is seeing signs of civilization when on a long portage. When I am working that hard in the woods I like to maintain the illusion that I am in the middle of nowhere and with one misstep I'll die if I shatter my leg. This fall, in the ADK, I did a mile long portage and it ended at a golf course, it also had road access and day trippers putting in. WTH, I'm at my anaerobic threshold and in pain from the pressure points of the load I'm carrying and there are golf carts, cars and picnickers. I want to be rewarded with wilderness after an uncomfortable portage.
A discussion of this sort on another board indicated the canoe rests were missed, but not portage signs or picnic tables. Reportedly at both ends of every portage. I will say it can get crowded with canoes at landings, and see these could help, if they were used.

I BWCAW, motorized boats are allowed in a few big lakes. Outfitters offer tow service - take you and gear and canoes in a ways. Popular is Moose Lake tow to the border for trips in Canada. They never have bothered me much, and I frequently entered in Moose, but there is a contingent who would like them banned. You can plan many trips and never be on a motor lake.

I have no problem with signed ports, etc, in fact I'm one of the culprits who does it. Back in the day, when canoe routes were one of the main methods of movement, there were many different ways ports were marked. Lob trees, blazes, cairns, etc.

Many years ago I read an article in a prominent canoe magazine about about three very well known wilderness canoeists who did the Steel Loop. One of them protested vociferously about the portage signs, saying that this was the end of wilderness canoeing in Canada.

Our school club had put those signs up after clearing all the ports. The protesting canoe guru took advantage of those cleared ports to run a payed trip, where each participant was charged 1600 American bucks for an 8 day guided trip with said canoe guru. I guess the signs and cleared ports didn't wreck the wilderness that much for him.

Portages were usually in much better shape over a hundred years ago, as people used them frequently. These "Hair Shirt" types who moan and beatch about flagging tape and signs should stick to what they do best, carrying their excrement out in Zip Locks and starting forest fires when they burn their toilet paper. God save me from the whole LNT zealot crusades!
starting forest fires when they burn their toilet paper. God save me from the whole LNT zealot crusades!

I almost started a tundra fire on our Anderson River trip in the NWT, in 1999. I had wandered away from camp, a hundred yards or so, to do my business before breakfast. As I had hundreds of times before, i rolled back the tundra sod, and made the deposit, along with the toilet paper. I then lit the toilet paper on fire, rolling the sod back only after the fire went out, and then stomped the sod back in place. The site remained pristine. I was satisfied. Back at camp, I just happened to notice smoke rising from the pristine cat hole. Yikes! I raced back with my Nalgene bottle to douse the impending disaster.

Our approach is now different, as mentioned in a recent, previous post. Using our Reliance toilet, we save the toilet paper in a paper bag. When the bag is full, we burn it in the campfire. This sounds somewhat gross, I know. But not at all. The TP paper bag is in a sealable dry bag. No smell. No mess. No fuss. Convenient, safe and respectful to the environment.
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I can't imagine that a few plastic signs will "end wilderness canoeing in Canada" and anyone using public land for profit should be more grateful to those who enable his business (and, thereby, line his pocket). Guy sounds like an @$$ and they're usually best ignored.

I'm really looking forward to contrasting the Steel river loop to the BWCA. If the signs harsh my wilderness mellow, I'll complain in the TR and you can then install solar powered, big flashy ones to make sure I never return. :LOL:
I realize I first learned to appreciate trails when I was in my 20's and enjoying Nordic skiing. I started out bushwhacking around the fields and forests surrounding the home I grew up in. I disliked intensely the odd skidoo track I'd come across. They seemed to scar an otherwise unblemished winter scene. After moving to Quebec the fun only got better. I failed to see my own hypocrisy when I started to track my own trails through the forests. "Unblemished" became a relative descriptor. And then one day I came across signage and a well groomed trail, and within an afternoon out went my "heroism" and in came my appreciation of help from others. It sure was nice to have some aid in my enjoyment of all that snow. Stepping off marked trails is still fun, tho' I no longer ski, but I appreciate the help trails and signage provide to guide me.