BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog

July 28 2017

Entry Point 19 - Stuart River

Stuart River entry point allows overnight paddle only. This entry point is supported by Kawishiwi Ranger Station near the city of Ely, MN. The distance from ranger station to entry point is 28 miles. Access is a 480-rod portage to the Stuart River.

Number of Permits per Day: 1
Elevation: 1237 feet
Latitude: 48.0955
Longitude: -91.9887
Stuart River - 19

Portage Clearing-or should we say Ice clearing trip-May 2008

by Bogwalker
Trip Report

Entry Date: May 03, 2008
Entry Point: Stuart River
Exit Point: Mudro Lake (23)
Number of Days: 8
Group Size: 2

Trip Introduction:
This started out being a trip with two large groups doing portage clearing along two different routes. As it became obvious that many lakes would still be ice covered the crew quickly dwindled to two hardcore paddlers (ok maybe fools is a better word). Portagekeeper aka Joe and Bogwalker aka Steve were those two hardcore fools.

Day 1 of 8


Friday May 2nd[paragraph break]

I took the day off from work but I still needed to take my wife into her work at 5:00 am. After I got home from dropping her off I finished packing and learned that I still needed a couple of things so I stopped at Wal-mart (only thing open at 7:00 am) to get some white gas for the stove and a new armless umbrella chair. Got some snacks for the road and stopped back home to pack the fresh food in the cooler and to say good bye to the dogs as everyone else was either at work or school. I left home about 9:00 am.[paragraph break]

Arrived in Ely at about 1:30 and stopped at Subway for a chicken teriyaki 6” sub. It was pretty tasty. Not much activity in Ely yet as too many lakes still had ice on them. I really was not concerned.[paragraph break]

Cruised over to VNO and talked to John and the staff as they prepped the minnow tanks for the incoming bait for next weekend’s fishing opener. John’s Forest service ice reports from a fly over of Stuart were not encouraging. He said they claimed the ice was still shore to shore and opaque white-not looking very black yet. He did make a bet with Joe and I that Stuart would be open at least to the island site with the current from the falls and being so close to shore. I accepted the bet hoping Joe and I would lose.[paragraph break]

I drove over to Cook to see Joe who was going to arrive home from work at about 3:30. We did a little repacking and discussed our options if we encountered too much ice. We were both committed to going and knew, if nothing else, it would be an adventure to remember.[paragraph break]

Went back to Ely and met Kevin who was going in for a solo trip on Lake One. Had dinner at Sir G’s and then we hit the sack at the lower loft at VNO. It was a cold evening and I knew not much ice was going to be melting tonight. I think we were one of only a couple of paddlers spending the night in Ely. I do love the solitude.[paragraph break]

I should mention here about the change in plans. Originally my partner Josh and I were going to enter on Saturday with Joe and the rest of the group arriving on Monday and meeting us on Stuart Lake. Josh lives in Illinois and the thought of driving that far not knowing if a trip was even possible was not an option. I could not disagree with him. Others who were traveling a long distance also decided against going. Joe and I discussed just canceling but we were determined so Joe arranged to go in with me on Saturday. The route would be Stuart River EP up through Fox, Rush, Dark to Iron and Crooked and south through Friday Bay, Niki, Chippewa, Wagosh into Fourtown via the Moosecamp River and out at Mudro.

 



Day 2 of 8


Saturday May 3rd[paragraph break]

I woke up about 5:30 am after a really good night’s sleep. Often the night before a trip I never sleep much-for some reason this year I had no problem. Kevin was already up and ready to get going. We left VNO and headed for Britton’s for breakfast.[paragraph break]

Britton’s is always a great early breakfast stop in Ely. The food is amazing in quality and quantity and the homemade wheat toast is addicting. Coffee has some bite and the staff really takes care of you. Many others were in the café when we were there talking about a wedding and other local topics. Kevin and I finished our breakfast and said our farewells. He was headed toward Lake One while I was headed up the Echo trail to meet up with Joe at Mudro EP.[paragraph break]

I arrived at the Mudro EP at 7:30 right on time and there was Joe waiting for me as planned. He had arrived moments before me. I parked the van in the empty Chain Saw Sisters parking lot and had a brief moment of sadness looking at the stairs to nowhere with the building gone. I will miss CSS and the cold beer on exits. Joe and I threw my packs and gear in his Jeep and off we went to the Stuart River EP.[paragraph break] The Forest service had not yet reposted the summer EP signs so we had to keep our eyes peeled for the small winter signs they post to avoid vandalism to the larger, nicer summer signs. Larry and I missed the turn off last spring, but this year I knew better and we found it with no problem.[paragraph break]

We drove the short distance from Echo trail to the parking lot and were amazed by all the cars. There were 4 vehicles plus a forest service truck which had us baffled. If Stuart is iced over where are all these people going to be found? The forest service truck had arrived moments before us and the ranger had some VCC students who were going to do some portage clearing work. Joe and I smiled on our good fortune as they would take out all the big stuff so all we had to do was nip back the brush. I took some of my gear down to the beginning of the portage trail and looked down the trail. Maybe 100 yards from the start of the portage was a significant amount of snow. This was our first sign that spring had not yet arrived. Upon closer inspection it was snow that was drifted in about knee deep still. This would not be the only snow or other winter-like conditions we would encounter on this trip. Hey at least there are no bugs. Weather was overcast and about 35 when we arrived at the portage.[paragraph break]

We walked the portage with the ranger that Joe knew discussing conditions and the strange spring weather as the kids cleared a couple of deadfalls up ahead. Joe and I had to double portage so we carried for a while and then dropped to go back for the other half of our loads. The kids finished their work and we were on our own-well except for trying to figure out who we would see ahead based on all the vehicles at the parking lot. All along the way we saw fairly fresh foot prints so we knew whoever was ahead of us either went in yesterday or more likely early that morning.[paragraph break]

The portage was in pretty good shape and we encountered only marginal clearing opportunities. We nipped back brush on the return trips for our gear. When we reached the spot where Swamp Creek crosses the portage for the first time things got a little interesting. The foot rocks were completely underwater and very slick. We carefully crossed watching each other ready to assist if needed. We made it across without incident. I knelt down and felt the water which was bone chilling cold.[paragraph break]

A little further we reached the half bridge to nowhere over Swamp Creek and discussed our options. The beaver dam that used to hold back Swamp Creek had blown out fall of 2007 and now the water level was at an awkward stage. It was too high to cross at the hummocks and too low to paddle easily. We found some limbs and sticks back in the woods and made a make shift dock to load from. We got far enough out for the canoe to float and loaded up and pushed and pushed in the muck to free ourselves. We finally were able to put our paddles in the water and start the paddling portion of our journey. A short paddle and we were on Stuart River.[paragraph break]

Joe had brought his recently purchased Bell Northstar for us to paddle. It is a nice canoe and rather short at 16' which would really come in handy in a couple of days. However, right now, the shorter length was a challenge as we tried to figure out how to place our packs in the canoe for proper trim. We quickly learned that we did not have it trimmed right yet as we fought the canoe to track straight, paddle and be stable. It was a nerve wracking first few minutes paddling as we knew the water was cold and we did not want to experience it firsthand.[paragraph break]

The first portage arrived none too soon and when we landed we first looked at how we could load the canoe differently at the far end. This was only a 100 rod portage so we carried a load all the way across and nipped on the way back each of us taking a side. Once back at the far end we would pick up our other load and head back across.[paragraph break]

This time we loaded the canoe better and the Northstar was not as much of a battle. That change in packing made both of us feel better. We still discussed some fine tuning for the next portage but we were pretty set now for the rest of the trip on where each pack would travel.[paragraph break]

As we walked the next portage some of our answers regarding the other people started clearing up. Here was a group of three with very little gear and only one canoe. They were a bit disappointed to see us and I guess the feeling was mutual. They said they were on a scouting trip to see Stuart Lake for the fishing opener the next weekend. They also told us that Stuart was solid ice shore to shore and we would not get to any campsites. This was not unexpected news but was still disappointing to hear as Joe and I had hoped we could at least get to the southern island site. After we left the other crew we surmised they really were not scouting but probably stashed a canoe and some gear to lighten their loads for a fast entrance for the opener. We did not care and never looked for their stash even though we are sure that is what they did. They had 3 of the cars at the EP but that still did not explain the 4th vehicle.[paragraph break]

Water levels were extremely high all along this route and we encountered no Beaver Dams that we could not just paddle over. Even the water entrance to White Feather Lake was high enough to paddle and if nothing else we could stay there as White Feather looked ice free except for some ice piled on shore in places. It looked like it had gone out in the last 24 hours. I have to admit being in the BW knowing you are one of the first paddlers of the year was exciting.[paragraph break]

We landed at the portage near the small lake called Contest. Joe has always been an adventurer and this was a lake neither of us had been to yet and we figured we had time to explore. We dropped most of our gear at the portage and decided to bushwack into little Contest Lake. It was a challenge as the small creek was too narrow to paddle and the floating bog surrounding the creek was very spongy and open in spots. Saw a stubborn snapping turtle blocking our way who was pretty lethargic and not moving really fast. We took turns walking forward and throwing the canoe line to each other to pull it through. We made it and paddled Contest Lake for our enjoyment. It is always fun getting to paddle lakes few ever see. It was definitely worth the effort.[paragraph break]

We continued on toward the final portage and Joe and I circled around through the gorge to the back side portage entrance to Stuart Lake. This takes some elevation and a good 30 rods off the portage. Plus if Stuart really was iced over we would camp here as It is not an official portage and we had gotten clearance from the ranger we saw at the beginning of the portage. Well at least he said he did not care and doubted anyone would be by to check anyway. That was enough of a clearance for us. We dropped our gear at the portage entrance, grabbed our nippers and cameras and headed for the lake to see what was up. Knowing no one else was ahead of us and probably not behind us our pace slowed as we approached the far end of the portage.[paragraph break]

All of a sudden we came upon the other cars owners. A husband and wife who had gone into Sterling Lake for a couple of nights R&R. They also said that Stuart was iced over but all the lakes headed toward Sterling were open. He felt ice would go out on Stuart in the next 24 hours as it was looking pretty black in places. I guess that was better news as we knew we could access the lake, just not sure we could access a campsite.[paragraph break]

The bay in front of the falls was indeed clear of ice, but the rest of the lake was still covered. It looked like there was no way to access the island so we decided to stay put, set up camp on the portage and hope Sunday would be a better day.[paragraph break]

We cleared most of the portage and went back and cleared the backdoor portage a little bit so we could set up our makeshift camp. There would be no fire tonight and our trowels would get some work digging a cat hole. We had dinner saving our steaks for tomorrow night when we should be at a campsite where fire grate existed.[paragraph break]

It was a cool evening but a nice evening. Joe and I talked about options and decided we would just wait it out and see what happened. I had a Maker’s Mark nightcap, thought about what Kevin may have experienced so far on his trip and went to sleep to the sound of wolves howling nearby.

 



Day 3 of 8


Sunday May 4th.[paragraph break]

Joe and I woke up and we had a quick breakfast of oatmeal, strong coffee and energy bars before finishing clearing the portage. Our goal for today was to make it to the campsite on the island in the south part of the lake.[paragraph break]

After clearing the last part of the portage we packed up and headed down to Stuart Lake and started heading for the island. As we got out of the bay in front of the falls it became clear that getting to the island was going to be harder than we thought. Ice was shore to shore and opaque white in most places to the island. There was a building wind from the south which we thought might help during the day so we decided to do some exploring on Stuart in the little bit of open water and try for the campsite later hoping conditions improved.[paragraph break] We knew the husband and wife team we had met yesterday had accessed Nibin and beyond so we went over to land at that portage and walk it for fun and adventure. I had walked the Stuart to Nibin portage last October on the 4 solos trip so I knew it was a challenge but passable without packs and canoe. With canoes and packs it would be much more work. Little did we know as we walked the portage that this adventure would pay off for us in the next couple of days.[paragraph break]

The portage to Nibin is about 200 rods of deadfall, hard to follow trail and narrow spots. It is easy to lose the trail. After a little bit I put my gloves on to avoid getting them any more scraped up from the brush. We found our way to the other side and commented that we were glad to have gotten over to see Nibin, but just as glad we did not bring our gear and canoes across that portage. We stopped to admire the lake, catch our breath and head back to Stuart for lunch.[paragraph break]

One thing you need to be aware of on ice covered lakes where ice is moving is not to get caught somewhere as the ice sheet moves with the wind. Passages and openings can close in a short time leaving you stuck where you are. When we got back to the Stuart end of the portage we were surprised how much the ice had moved which had taken the once large opening to the portage and made it a fairly small one. We were still able to get out on the lake again, but we needed to watch the ice. We felt we had time for lunch and sat down on the granite slab and watched the ice move hoping it would move enough to make access to the island possible. There was no way to access the other campsites on Stuart with the ice moving north.[paragraph break]

After lunch we were determined to get to the island. From the Nibin portage it appeared the ice had pulled away from shore a little and might allow us access as the island is not that far from shore and has a shallow channel between it and the main shoreline that we thought might be open. Off we went dodging ice sheets that had broken off knowing any mistake could possibly put us into the dangerous water. As we got closer to the ice sheet between us and the island our task became clear. The final few hundred yards or so would require some ice clearing to get to the island.[paragraph break]

The process was one of looking as far forward as possible and trying to determine the best, easiest way over to any open water that would get us to the island. It definitely was not a straight line. We stayed near the south shore of the lake primarily as the ice was starting to pull away due to the wind. Every so often a crack would open ahead of us that we thought we could push our way through. By using our paddles, the heavy nippers and even putting one foot on the ice as we simultaneously lifted the bow and slid across the ice which would submerge under us as we were on it we made our way. We hacked at the ice with paddles and nippers. We backed up and rammed at the ice. We slid across the ice. We did everything we could think of and at one point almost retreated to the portage to camp-but Joe and I really wanted steak for dinner so we were determined.[paragraph break] It took us a couple of hours of really hard work where we made progress in inches not miles. I am sure our travel speed was measured in feet per hour not miles per hour. About 5:00 we finally made it through the ice to the last stretch of open water in front of the island. We made it!! We were finally on an official campsite and hoped no one else was coming into Stuart as there were no other sites accessible. We used the Sat phone to call our wives as well as Lynn at VNO to give them a report. Before we left John at VNO had bet us we would make this campsite on day 1. He lost the bet so Joe and I would each receive a VNO thermal mug upon our return. Thanks John and Lynn. We sure wish we would have lost that bet.[paragraph break]

That evening the comforts of an actual campsite were appreciated. The steak Joe had brought in from Zup’s was fabulous. We relaxed around a campsite and had an actual latrine for our bathroom visits. I should mention here that Joe and I had plenty of food already purchased for the bigger groups. Much of it fresh as we knew the cool weather would allow fresh food to stay fresh longer. With the sudden drop off of people due to the ice conditions we needed to eat alot of this fresh food. Oh well. We were going to have steak two nights, polish another and venison another-we ate like kings!! Good thing too as we were going to need all the calories.[paragraph break]

We discussed the route knowing that access to Fox Lake was not possible currently. We also knew we had some time as we really had not planning on exiting Stuart until Tuesday and it was only Sunday. If nothing else tomorrow could be another layover day. We will just wait and see what tomorrow brings.[paragraph break]

After dinner the wind died, the fog started roiling in and it started to snow. That is just the way an early May trip should be.

 



Day 4 of 8


Monday May 5th[paragraph break]

Joe and I woke to a glorious morning, bright sunshine and the remnants of the snow. It was calm and cold however which would not help in breaking and melting ice. I made a breakfast of buckwheat pancakes and bacon with real Vermont Maple syrup. It is a tradition of mine to make this breakfast once every trip. It never is turned down. Seeing we were probably not moving today we had plenty of time.[paragraph break]

As we ate breakfast Joe and I discussed exploring the lake to see what options as far as portages we might have. First we would head for the portage out toward Fox in the Northeast corner of the lake. Joe also wanted to try to find and access the old hiking trail that was east of Stuart Lake and went all the way to Iron. We cleaned up the dishes and packed some spare clothes and food just in case the ice shifted stranding us somewhere.[paragraph break]

The sun shone brightly giving us encouragement and the wind started to pick up from the west. Not sure this was a welcome sign however. As we paddled across Stuart we could see that we could access the east shore that entered the NE bay but just barely. We landed the canoe on a rock shelf and looked to see if we could portage the shoreline to the Fox portage. This was not possible. From here Joe bushwhacked into the woods to see if he could find the old portage trail while I explored the shoreline. As I explored I took a big rock and threw it onto the ice hoping to see if break through. It sat on top of the ice. It looked like there was still about a foot of ice in spots. My spirits sank thinking we would have to just head back out through Stuart River once our time was up. Of course we still had to see if we could get to the portage to the Dahlgren River.[paragraph break]

Joe came back after trying to find the trail with no luck. Too much time has passed since it was used and is no longer visible. He also tried to figure a way to the portage to Fox with no success. I showed Joe the rock I threw and we threw a few more. Some stayed on top, some sank into the ice a little ways and some busted right through in thin spots. The good news is there were thin spots, the bad news is any idea we may have had of walking on the ice was definitely out. Trust me that thought never really entered our mind.[paragraph break]

We got back into the canoe and paddled back south of the island and around it to see what the west side of the lake looked like. The ice had pulled away from the island so we could almost paddle around the entire island. Only the north side of the island was still blocked in. Unfortunately the ice was still covering the portage to the Dahlgren River as well as blocking access to any other campsite on the lake. Again we hoped no one would enter as they would have to share with us which we were fine with but assumed others would be disappointed. We paddled back to our campsite to relax, have dinner and talk about Tuesday. We really felt we needed to do something other than just sit on Stuart.[paragraph break]

We felt if we were going to make it to Mudro to exit on Friday we needed to get moving considering we also had portage clearing to do. The problem was our route was blocked and it did not look like it would open on Tuesday or maybe even Wednesday. We could make it out on time if we left by Wednesday but that would be moving really fast and we did not know what ice conditions were on Iron, Crooked and the rest of our route. The small lakes we weren't worried about, but those big lakes could still have significant ice covering them which had us concerned as well.[paragraph break]

That’s when we started discussing going through the PMA via Nibin, Bibon and Sterling. Yes it would be difficult but we both knew people who had done it and the husband and wife we met had just been through there and confirmed those lakes were open all the way to Sterling.[paragraph break]

We looked at all the options and decided we would go through the PMA. We knew even though the route was probably shorter than our original route we needed to get moving as we were unsure how difficult it would be.[paragraph break]

We had dinner, discussed it more and formulated our revamped plan. Tuesday we would get at least to Sterling and hopefully Sunday Lake. It would be an adventure that would not include clearing portages, but we would be moving.[paragraph break] That evening we watched the ice from a different perspective. We no longer worried about what it would do as long as it allowed us off the island.[paragraph break]

 



Day 5 of 8


Tuesday May 6th[paragraph break]

We woke up early, got packed and ate some oatmeal, It was a clear, crisp morning perfect for bushwhack travel. Our goal for the day was to get to Sunday Lake or at least to Sterling Lake. We both felt we would rather stay on Sterling for solitude, but figured no one would be on Sunday either and it would get us closer to the original route and the portage clearing work we were supposed to be doing. We figured once we got out of the PMA we could clear portages that we travelled on as well as a few others that we could access. At least then we would feel our trip had accomplished some of why we were there.[paragraph break]

We were both glad we had walked the portage to Nibin on Sunday. We knew what we had in front of us. I will admit there was one deadfall that we cleared as we had to in order to get the canoe through. The portage took a couple of hours and a lot out of us so we took a breather at the entrance to Nibin Lake. Nibin is a nice little lake and we knew we had a short paddle so a breather here was a good idea.[paragraph break]

After a few minutes we paddled to the portage between Nibin and Bibon although as we got close it appeared that we could just paddle it. There is a small creek that flows between the two lakes and a small lift over portage when water is normal or low. This spring with the extremely high water paddling through was not a problem. Even though the portage was less than 10 rods we did not have to get out of the canoes. A few more minutes and we were at the easily spotted portage landing from Bibon to Sterling and new territory. The portage landing had a big enough area off to its side for a nice camp if you ever decide to stay on this lake.[paragraph break]

We decided to eat lunch here as we used a lot of energy on the portage from Stuart and we knew it would be a while until we were at Sterling Lake. We felt we needed to fill our tanks before the portage.[paragraph break]

Sitting here on the granite slab on Bibon Lake had me feeling pretty good. I knew the portage from Stuart was maybe the hardest of the route to Sunday and we had done it. I was very happy to be paddling in ice free water in a place I had tried to access in September of 2005 but could not due to low water levels. I can see why low water in this area is a big problem and I am glad the water levels are extremely high this spring.[paragraph break]

Lunch being over we head down the portage to Sterling. Once again we are bushwhacking although somehow it does not seem as bad as the portage from Stuart to Nibin. There are still deadfalls and obstacles but not as many. We get to the landing at Sterling and relax again for a few minutes. There seems to be time to get to Sunday Lake and we only have Sterling creek, some of the Beartrap River and then that last portage to get there. Seems doable and we are determined and maybe a little crazy.[paragraph break]

Sterling is a gorgeous lake. We paddle past the opening to the bay to the north where the island is that I know many have camped on. Joe and I briefly discuss going up to see it, but our mind is made up and we paddle on.[paragraph break]

Soon enough we come to where Sterling Creek starts its journey east to the Beartrap River. It is a very Moosey looking spot and we hope maybe we will get lucky. Shortly after starting down the portage trail we see tracks. Maybe we will get lucky but we see no moose.[paragraph break]

The portage into Sterling Creek is not too bad. The current in the creek should make the section headed to Beartrap River go fairly quickly. The very high water level means that most beaver dams are easily shot over and there are numerous channels to follow. Sometimes we choose the wrong channel and have to back track. There are a few spots where the current is pretty intense making for a fun ride. We quickly make our way to Beartrap, we are really glad we are paddling with the current and not upstream. I bet it takes 1/3 the time going the direction we are going.[paragraph break] It is quite obvious when you approach the Beartrap River for a couple of reasons. First it is very wide at this point. When you are used to creeks and streams this wide river seems huge. Second you start paddling upstream and even though it is not whitewater the work required is a lot more. We know getting to Sunday Lake from here is not too much longer and only one short portage between us and home for the night. Joe and I are proud of getting through the toughest part of the route from Stuart to Sunday and still have some energy left.[paragraph break]

Sunday has one spot suitable to camp. The former campsite is close to the portage in from the river just north from there. It is easily seen from the portage landing. We paddle over, unload and relax proud of our accomplishment and of seeing an area we both have wanted to see. Now our decision to go through the PMA sure looks like it was a good one. We did not underestimate the portage difficulty, and because of this reality check we were able to manage through. We are tired and sore but have enough energy to set up camp, get things hung up and dried out and make dinner. It is a truly gorgeous day and it has warmed up quite a bit. We even see some early bugs. Tomorrow we want to try to get to Thunder, Gull or Gun but we don’t need to hurry now. We feel we have plenty of time to get out on time unless the weather turns. From Joe’s weather radio that seems unlikely. The paddle tomorrow will be easy and relaxing and no sense of having to go further than we feel is necessary. In addition we will get the nippers and saws out to do some clearing. We are looking forward to that.[paragraph break] We will be exiting the PMA once we reach Beartrap Lake so we will need to start the clearing work again. That’s ok-it is after all why we came.

 



Day 6 of 8


Wednesday May 7th[paragraph break]

We get up ready to start our travel day toward Thunder, Gull or Gun. We get our portage clearing tools ready for action and get packed and on the water. We know the first part of travel today along the Beartrap River will be the hardest. It is a beautiful morning and is already starting to warm up as we get into the canoe. We have reached that point in the trip where everything is becoming routine and packing, loading and moving are second nature.[paragraph break]

Crossing Sunday Lake it is easy to see where the Beartrap River enters the lake. There is a wide delta like area with lots of grass. You just have to find the channel. The river starts out here narrow and twisty which requires some steering by both paddlers plus we are going into a stiff current which can easily push you into trees and shore if you overcorrect. Even so the paddle is enjoyable and we paddle quietly hoping to see wildlife.[paragraph break] After a while the river becomes a series of rocky rapids, beaver dams and white water requiring numerous portages through some pretty tough terrain. The area had burned sometime ago and there is lots of evidence of the fire in the charred tree trunks. The numerous portages and warmer temps are taking their toll and we are tiring. Thankfully the river is coming to an end and we hope we can skip the last portage into Beartrap due to the higher water levels.[paragraph break]

We finally arrive at the spot where the river heads east toward Beartrap Lake and we find out that skipping the portage is not possible. The river widens and goes every which way where it is coming in from a lengthy set of rapids and small falls. Guess we get out and walk. We land the canoe and start the 300 rod portage to Beartrap Lake.[paragraph break]

This is a very rugged portage with some deadfall but an easily followed trail. Seeing it is the start of the PMA area we should not clear it so it remains a tough portage. The portage takes a lot out of us so we decide to have lunch at the far end knowing we probably would see no one. Regardless we stash our gear in the woods and get off the trail somewhat to eat our lunch just in case someone comes by.[paragraph break]

After lunch we are off onto Beartrap Lake and then head across the short portage into Thunder Lake.[paragraph break]

Thunder is a pretty lake that seems to be calling to us to stop here. We are more tired than we expect, maybe due to the heat, maybe the difficulty of the Beartrap River and the portage into Beartrap and maybe the day before catching up with us. Whatever the reason we have time in our schedule and decide to stop here for the night. We first paddle past the campsite on the western shore and decide to check out the site further south to see if it is nicer. The site further south is partially under water and tent pads have puddles so we decide to go back to the first site we passed. We decide to drop our gear and head over to clear Thunder to Mudhole and Mudhole to Gull portages so we won't have to in the morning. There are a couple of trees to cut and lots of nipping so it takes a little time. Afterwards we head back to camp and set up our tents and get ready for the evening. [paragraph break]

This site on Thunder has nice views but is not real big. There are spots for a couple of tents, but it would be hard for a bigger group. The fire grate is very near to the water and not much room for a kitchen but seeing there are only the two of us it works. Joe and I are not real picky when it comes to sites but we do appreciate the nice ones.[paragraph break]

It is warm enough that both of us do some laundry and bathe. We had taken some shore baths before during the trip, but this is a thorough cleansing and it feels really good. We relax and walk the site and read in the afternoon. Dinner is spaghetti and it tastes great. We have some pudding for dessert. A couple of nightcaps and it is bed time. Bed feels really good tonight.[paragraph break] We are feeling good about where we are and talk about getting to Moosecamp Lake tomorrow for our final night. We know starting tomorrow it is getting close to fishing opener weekend so our string of not seeing others may come to an end. We have had a great trip so far with good weather, not too hot, not too cold and limited rain and snow. We have been safe and the wind has never been a big problem. Outside of frigid water temperatures the trip has been perfect. We hope it continues that way.

 



Day 7 of 8


Thursday May 8th[paragraph break]

We had a nice night on Thunder. It is such a pretty lake it is a shame to have to leave. The good news is we have two short portages that we cleared yesterday so we can get warmed up nicely before swinging axes using nippers and saws. Better to be warmed up and loose than start out nipping right away. Your back will appreciate the effort.[paragraph break]

We quickly cross Mudhole which is an aptly named lake. It has lots of water in it but it is still obvious why it is called what it is. Gull is a nice lake but not all that exciting, but I hear it holds fish. Too bad it is only Thursday and we have no gear.[paragraph break]

We land at the portage from Gull into Gun which is another short portage. It takes hardly any time to clear this portage and we are onto Gun to paddle to the far end across the north bay to the portage into Bullet Lake. Another rather easy portage and we are to the portage into Moosecamp Lake. At 44 rods this is the longest portage of the day that we need to clear so far. The portage we only walked from Thunder to Mudhole was a little longer but we had cleared that a day earlier. It is kind of nice doing these quick little portages as we continue on. There are a couple of trees to cut on this portage but nothing terribly tricky.[paragraph break]

As we get ready to load the canoe and get onto Moosecamp Lake we discuss if we should stop as planned or continue on. It is not even noon yet and we could stop but we could easily make it down to Fourtown. The discussion quickly turns to how long do we think it will take us to paddle the river? Do we think there will be campsites open when we get there and do we have enough energy? The answers are we feel it will take no more than 2-3 hours to get to Fourtown so we will be there before 4:00, although it is Thursday there should still be campsites-at least at the north end that we could get and after we eat some lunch we will have the energy. We decide to eat some lunch and then hit the lake and into the river and see what is open on Fourtown.[paragraph break] I was really hoping to camp on Moosecamp, but I know I will be back. At least I can say I was here. We paddle the short distance to where the river exits the lake. The nice thing is we are going with the current again and it has some flow to it.[paragraph break] If you have never been on the Moosecamp River you need to add it to your list of places to go. There are numerous logging artifacts in the water that are easily visible. Old Growth pines hundreds of feet long are permanently cemented into the river bottom. There are many eye hooks, chain remnants and other artifacts stuck into many of the logs. It is a nice place to paddle. A short distance along the river we come to the old sluiceway which must be lifted over. In this case the high water is not our friend as finding a safe place to lift over is tricky and we end up going well away from the current and have to walk the canoe through the flooded grassy area. It takes longer than we thought it should but we did it. Even these small accomplishments bring joy to the paddler.[paragraph break]

Moosecamp River we can tell often has numerous Beaver dams and many we see have blown out due to current or with the river being so high are easy for us to find a channel and paddle over. Only one dam creates a problem that we must lift over.

As we get into the area of the river with the high cliffs and hills along the channel the river changes. It becomes lazy-er and more windy. It is still pushing us along however. On the western shore we see a partially eaten moose carcass that must have died recently either killed by wolves or somehow just died or drowned. Joe and I paddle up near it to inspect to see if there are any antlers but none are available. We paddle on.[paragraph break] Soon enough the cliffs become very dramatic and we know we are getting close to Fourtown. It is a little windier today out of the SW so we know Fourtown could be a bit of work to paddle. We leave the quiet confines of the Moosecamp River expecting to see our first people in many days.[paragraph break]

As expected Fourtown is work as we head into a brisk wind. It is not so windy that we need to worry but it is work. We come to the North Bay and look and see that all campsites are open so we decide to continue on. The further south we get the less chance any wind will slow us tomorrow and the less distance we have to travel.[paragraph break]

We come to the next bay that holds campsites and we seem to see a canoe on shore. In some ways it is a disappointment as we now have seen people. As we get closer we see it is not a canoe after all but an ice pile on shore. So we are still very much alone.[paragraph break]

Joe has ever camped on Fourtown so I tell him the sites I think we should shoot for. There is one in the narrows that faces west toward the portage to Boot that I really like. We decide that is where we should get to. The wind has started picking up so it seems like a good idea to stop soon. That and the wind is starting to take its toll on us.[paragraph break]

We get to the campsite and get out looking at the camp and we decide not to stay here. All the tent pads have 3 inches of water standing in them and it just is not a great site due to the water. If it was dry it would be great, but it is very possible it is going to rain tonight so we move on. I know a site around the corner that is huge with large tent pads that are higher and further away from the lake with a huge granite shelf sloping into the water. So far I am amazed that we have seen no one on Fourtown. It is Thursday before the opener and I know the water temps are probably too cold for many, but I would think there would be some fisherman up here. We have seen no ice on the lake and just a little on shore. I kind of think the ice went out of Fourtown on Wednesday based on what we see. It is fun knowing we are paddling the lake the day after the ice probably went out on it.[paragraph break]

We head around the corner to the east and the site is open. From here we can see all other sites to the south and there is no one occupying them. Amazingly enough we have Fourtown to ourselves and it is getting late enough now that I doubt anyone will be coming in tonight. Here we are on a huge lake where most days going forward from here on until September will be completely full of people, all campsites occupied and we have the place to ourselves. I’m not a greedy person, but I don’t mind thinking the lake is Joe and mine for a night.

 



Day 8 of 8


Friday May 9th[paragraph break]

Today is our last day. We get up and slowly break camp. We are excited to be leaving to see our families again and yet sad to be leaving. I know you all know what I’m talking about. Joe and I take our time eating, packing and getting prepared to leave. Our first stop will be to take Joe to see the truck and artifacts in the SE bay of Fourtown.[paragraph break]

As we pack, the first people we have seen since the day we enter appear heading up Fourtown Lake. They pass our site and take a left obviously headed for Boot. As we would see shortly they would appreciate our work on their way out. Too bad we did not get to the portages out of Fourtown before they came in.[paragraph break]

Joe and I make a short, lazy paddle over to the site of the truck and other logging era artifacts. We spend time looking at the truck bed and other stuff and decide to walk the rail bed but we don’t go all the way to Horse or beyond. It is obvious based on where the tree stumps are cut off that snowmobilers use this as a winter highway to Basswood. There are stumps that are cut off about 6-9” above the ground. There are also numerous camp spots with precut piles of wood and the tell tale signs of human use. There are even some of the old rail ties that are above the ground that show signs of snowmobile tread and studs. We head back and decide it is time to head out for Mudro and the EP.[paragraph break] First we have those three nasty little portages to cross and clear. With the high water the first portage leaves little choice but to climb the cliff and portage across. There is not much clearing to do on this portage but we have some nipping and pulling of some dead stuff off the trail. A short paddle and we are on to portage number two, affectionately called by some as the Mule portage. Up the hill we go huffing and puffing and find one deadfall, no-make that two, no make that three deadfalls to clear. This is the toughest clearing we have had to do on the entire trip and one of the deadfalls we do not dare touch due to the stress built up in the tree based on how it is hanging down the cliff. We clear one and cut the other off and push it back into the woods. I slip doing this and take a nice chunk of flesh off my palm. This is the first real injury of the trip which we must thank the lord for watching over us.[paragraph break]

We get to the Beaver dam and there are more people. It is getting busier as we go along with frequent human sightings now, but it is what we had expected. One more portage requiring a little clearing and we are done with the portages out of Fourtown and enter Mudro Lake. The landing here is one of the trickier ones with high water and rocks. We get in and paddle away headed over to Picket Creek and the way to the final portage.[paragraph break] We paddle past many other canoeists who wonder why we are leaving. When we tell them we saw no one for 7 days, battled ice and went through a PMA and are glad we made the effort I think they understand. Even though we did no fishing we had the time of our lives.[paragraph break]

Picket creek goes by quickly and we get out at the short portage up to the parking lot. Usually this is where the portage dogs find you but there is no such welcoming committee today and no cold beer at the top of the trail. We stash Joe’s canoe off to the side and throw the packs in the van. I change footwear and we head for the Stuart EP parking lot. The short drive is done quickly and there is no other car but Joe’s Jeep in the Stuart parking lot when we get there. I thought that was very Ironic.[paragraph break]

Joe says he is fine putting his canoe on top of his car on his own and I head for VNO to collect my mug from John and take a shower. I review the trip with John and go over all the details and conditions. Clean and refreshed I head for the Fall Lake campground to meet up with Cossack and his wife as they are up camping there. Along the way I call home and let them know I am fine and will be home about 11:00. I arrive at Fall Lake and Coss gets me a cold beer and we chat for a while before heading into Ely for dinner at the Ely Steak House with friends. It is a nice evening and a good meal and then it is time for me to head home. The drive home is tiring but I am excited to see the family and the dogs. I get home at 10:45 and quickly get to bed. Amazing how good cars eats and real beds feel but I am already wishing I was camped on the island on Stuart Lake tonight.[paragraph break]

 


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