Don Baumgartner takes getting away from it all to another level.
The New London man has taken several wilderness trips over the years, including one last August to Canada’s Woodland Caribou Provincial Park.
“It’s the adventure,” he said after talking about his two-week trip as part of a lecture series at Mosquito Hill Nature Center.
“Do I want an adrenaline-pumping situation?” he asked. “No, I don’t need that. It’s knowing I can do it.”
Baumgartner first visited the 1.1-million-acre park in western Ontario two years ago and plans a return trip later this year. He brought his 3-year-old husky, Nikita, along for the ride.
He first visited Woodland Caribou in 2013 with a partner and they explored the park by canoe.
“With the dog, it was a whole different adventure and it ended up being less hassle than I thought it would be,” Baumgartner said. “She didn’t run away or anything like that. She was so good and I didn’t even have to deal with her.”
He said there’s a good reason why Woodland Caribou is so appealing.
“(Minnesota’s) Boundary Waters (Canoe Area Wilderness) gets 50,000 visitors a year and (Ontario’s) Quetico (Provincial Park) gets 25,000 a year,” he said. “It’s further north than Quetico and definitely gives you a different look. Seven- or eight-hundred people go into the park alone and that’s hardly any. I went 12 1/2 days without seeing a soul.”
Baumgartner and Nikita’s gear included a Wenonah canoe that weighed about 40 pounds. They paddled 105 miles through Woodland Caribou’s lakes, rivers and streams and also used more than 50 portages.
“I was just going wherever I wanted to go,” Baumgartner said. “Some of the portages were just a couple of hundred feet to get around rapids, but I had to load and unload the canoe. That got old, but it’s part of the game.”
He and Nikita entered Canada at International Falls, Minn., and continued north to Red Lake, Ontario, a 13-hour drive from New London.
They also brought 28 pounds of food for Baumgartner and just under 10 for Nikita.
“Just about everything I had was packaged so it wouldn’t smell,” Baumgartner said. “If it takes more than 10 minutes to prepare, it isn’t worth it. My dog doesn’t get people food, but she got a lot of noodles. She was in seventh heaven.”
Nikita spent the trip wearing a vest or life jacket, according to Baumgartner.
“She knew right away this wasn’t her backyard,” he said. “She was always alert. She’d let me know right away if something was there.”
The pair camped in a tent each night and insects weren’t a problem.
“Insects were nil,” Baumgartner said. “Mosquitoes can be nasty, just like northern Wisconsin. I love paddling in August, September and October. I didn’t carry a watch and only took two naps the whole trip. You get into a motion and want to keep moving.”
Woodland Caribou is known for its wildlife, including moose and caribou, but Baumgartner didn’t get a glimpse of either.
“Would I love to see moose?” he asked. “Yeah, but we didn’t. There are definitely moose up there. The outfitter was surprised I didn’t see any for that time of year.”
Baumgartner also brought his fishing gear, but hardly used it.
“I fished for three hours and it’s probably one of the top fishing areas in the world,” he said.
“It was more of the same for the most part,” he said of the scenery. “One area I went to was remote on really tiny lakes. The bluffs were incredible there. That area was gorgeous. That gave me a little different look.”
Baumgartner used maps and a Garmin GPS unit as guides.
“I always worked off the maps, but if I had a question, I would fire up the Garmin,” he said. “You pay attention and keep track on the map of where you’re at. I pull the Garmin out if I say, ‘I’m not sure I know where I’m at.’ I never had a feeling like, ‘Oh, man, I’m out of my realm.’ I can say, ‘I’m not sure I know where I am.; I’m not much into electronics in the wilderness, but they’re nice.”
Baumgartner first used a GPS unit on a sub-arctic trip to northern Canada’s Thelon River three years ago.
“Do you need it?” he said. “No. The maps are pretty good. The portages aren’t right where they say, but you can figure out the land contours and say, ‘There’s got to be a portage in this neck of the woods.’
“I know I’m by myself out there,” he added. “When you go solo, nobody’s helping you. If you want a fire, you have to cut wood. You have to think about what you’re doing, like my tent blowing in the lake. That ain’t happening again.”
Baumgartner’s gear also included a solar battery charging pack. He also shot more than 100 photos, filmed video and spoke into a recorder.
He also used an insulated mattress.
“When you’re out there that long, you have to sleep good or your next day is going to be long,” he said. “One night, I laid in the tent listening for an hour to the wind just whistling through the trees. I loved it.”
After nearly two weeks of not seeing another human, it was time for Baumgartner and Nikita to head home.
He contacted his outfitter, who picked the pair up on the shore of a lake and brought them back to Red Lake.
“When we got home, she moped around for three days,” Baumgartner said. “She didn’t want to be home.”
Baumgartner has already started planning his next trip to the park.
“I haven’t been in the southwestern part of the park,” he said. “Knowing there hasn’t been many people that have even seen this, that’s exciting. That’s part of the adventure.
“Sometimes, you have to pay for the view,” he said. “That’s kind of what you’re doing. It’s a lot of work to get there, but man, what you see, it’s crazy.”