BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
July 23 2017
Moose Lake entry point allows overnight paddle or motor (25 HP max). This entry point is supported by Kawishiwi Ranger Station near the city of Ely, MN. The distance from ranger station to entry point is 21 miles. Access is an boat landing or canoe launch at Moose Lake. Many trip options for paddlers with additional portages. This area was affected by blowdown in 1999.
Number of Permits per Day: 27
Elevation: 1356 feet
Moose Lake - 25
Number of Permits per Day: 27
Elevation: 1356 feet
Moose Lake - 25
Smoke on the Water, Loons in the Wind
August 09, 2005
Number of Days:
This is the first trip Eric and I went on with just the two of us, back in August of 2005.
Part 1 of 8
Eric and I arrive in Ely five days before our entry date giving us plenty of time to visit with his family before we disappear into the wilderness. We go swimming in White Iron almost every day with his neice and nephews and head out onto the lake in the evenings with his brothers and sisters to watch the stars come out. [paragraph break] One morning we all get up dark and early and drive to a favorite fishing lake. When we get there, the wind is driving whitecaps into the shore and we abandon our hopes of fishing that day. Instead, we have lunch beside the lake and head back down the portage trail to pick the blueberries we saw on the way in. In ten minutes we fill a tupperware sandwich box; by the time we leave we have two gallons of berries! [paragraph break] Eric's Mom's Excellent Blueberry Pie: Combine 5 C fresh blueberries, 2/3 C sugar, 1/4 C flour. Pour berry mixture into dough-lined pie dish, cover with top crust. Bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes, lower heat to 350 and bake for 30 minutes. Serve warm. [paragraph break] Before we head out, Eric and I have a quest to complete--we scour Ely and surrounding outfitters in search of my very first paddle. It seems as if I pick up a hundred paddles before I find The One. It's so light and beautiful, it moulds to the shape of my hand and feels like an extension of my body. Hardly able to contain my excitement, we head back to the house to try it out. [paragraph break] My paddle is wonderful. It's as if the canoe is paddling itself. I'm glad to have paddled with the old clunky loaner paddles for all those years so that I can now truly appreciate how exquisite a good paddle feels. As we're paddling, we see a helicopter with a bucket dangling below it headed down the lake. We follow and two points down we see a small fire the helicopter is dumping water on. Everything is so dry this year and there are already several fires burning in the Boundary Waters. Needless to say, we won't be sitting around any campfires on our trip this year.
Part 2 of 8
Day 1 - Tuesday, August 09, 2005 [paragraph break] Moose Lake - Newfound Lake - Sucker Lake - Birch Lake - Melon Lake - Seed Lake - Knife Lake [paragraph break] My journal entry for this first day is as follows: [paragraph break] "Paddle paddle paddle portage portage portage make camp (Eric does the dishes!) go to sleep." [paragraph break] Ok, so that doesn't entirely cover the day, but we're both tired and we've both been through this portion of the Boundary Waters so many times that we're operating mostly on auto-pilot. We paddle late into the afternoon, set up camp on Knife Lake and enjoy a beautiful sunset. Later, a blood-red crescent moon sets between the trees to the accompianment of mournful loon calls. [paragraph break]
Part 3 of 8
Day 2 - Wednesday, August 10, 2005 [paragraph break] South Arm Knife Lake - Eddie Lake - Jenny Lake - Annie Lake - Ogishkemuncie Lake - Spice Lake [paragraph break] We had a long day yesterday--covered a lot of ground and made camp pretty late--so it's taking forever to get out of the tent, make breakfast, pack, and get on the water this morning. When camping, it sometimes takes me awhile to relax and to let go of all the worries of the "real world." One thing I have trouble letting go of is a schedule and this is causing some tensions. Or maybe the actual problem is that I'm a morning person (once I'm awake I'm ready to get moving and see what there is to see) and Eric is most definitely not (it seems to take him at least an hour from the time he wakes up until the time when he's actually awake). This is the first trip Eric and I have gone on where it’s just the two of us and also our first trip to the Boundary Waters since we started dating so it’s kind of a crash course in relationships. [paragraph break] Well, we make it to Eddy Lake for lunch and, after stashing our gear to the side of the incredible monotonic portage, we backtrack to the falls for lunch. Everything is mossy and cool and wet and it seems as if we’re eating in an enchanted grotto. Sunshine dapples the water and highlights dancing sparkles rushing through the verdant shade. The strain I felt this morning drains away. We finish lunch and continue on towards Ogishkemuncie. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] Things on the campsite front aren’t looking good—every site we pass is full and we hear from people coming towards us that there aren't any empty sites on Ogish. It’s already late afternoon so we cross our fingers and head towards Spice Lake hoping that no one has taken that lake’s one campsite. Hallelujah! We don’t have to paddle into the evening and we have a whole little lake to ourselves! [paragraph break] We quickly set up camp and head back out to see if we can catch our dinner. We’re only on the water for about five minutes before Eric catches a nice sized Northern. Now it’s time for me to live up to a promise… A couple of months ago, Eric gave me a beautiful puukko knife on the condition that I help him clean a fish the next time we went to the Boundary Waters. I was really touched since in his family a puukko knife is sort of a coming-of-age gift that the kids can’t wait to earn, but now I need to “man up” so to speak. [paragraph break] A little confession--flopping fish freak me out. I have no trouble baiting a hook with leeches or worms and I can even pass someone a minnow hand-to-hand, but once someone actually catches a fish and it’s banging around while they get the hook out, it’s all I can do to stay in the boat. In school I dissected hearts, eyeballs, frogs, squid and even a fetal pig without problem so it’s not that I’m squeamish about guts--but when things flop around! Ugh! I guess if it was a matter of survival, I’d have to make sure I was surviving somewhere with an abundant supply of mac and cheese. [paragraph break] Anyhow, we make it to a nice flat rock away from camp and begin the ordeal. I try, I really do, to grab the flopping fish and cut off its head but my sweaty, clammy hands simply will not reach out towards the horrid thing. Eric relents and says that as long as I watch, he’ll go ahead and clean the fish. It’s terrible, but I do watch and once the last spasmodic twitching dies away, I help with the descaling and filleting. [paragraph break] By the time we make it back to camp, I have firmly repressed all memory of the nightmare and happily fry up and enjoy the fillets which mysteriously appeared in our pan. I cheerfully wash the dishes tonight (a chore which Eric loathes) and realize that relationships are made stronger by helping one another through the flopping fish and dirty dishes of life. [paragraph break]
Part 4 of 8
Day 3 - Thursday, August 11, 2005[paragraph break] Spice Lake - Ogishkemuncie Lake - Kingfisher Lake - Jasper Lake – Alpine Lake – Red Rock Lake – Alpine Lake [paragraph break] We are being so lazy this trip! The sun has long since risen by the time we roll out of the tent and our paddle-late-into-the-day-to-find-a-campsite-because-we-got-a-late-start-because-we-were-tired-after-paddling-late-into-the-day-to-find-a-campsite routine seems to be firmly entrenched. Either Eric's rubbing off on me or I'm finally starting to relax because instead of breaking camp and getting an earlier start, we… go swimming! The sun’s up and warm and we have the beautiful little lake to ourselves, so we take advantage of the inviting water. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] Before noon we’re on the water headed for Red Rock Lake. It’s a quiet, hazy day with a taste of smoke in the air. In a narrow part of a lake we paddle beside a protective mother loon and her very inquisitive chick. They do a little dance on the water with the baby loon swimming out from behind its mother to see us saying “cheep cheep cheep” and the mother swimming in front so that she’s between us and her baby. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] While having lunch by a little waterfall between Jasper and Alpine, two ranger ladies come up to warn us about the fires and to tell us that all the campsites on the east side of Red Rock are closed. They give us a skeptical look when we say that we’d planned to camp on that lake. Again they warn us to stay away from the fire, any campsites on the east side of the lake, and from the fire planes. With all the warnings, we’re beginning to question the wisdom of camping there, but decide it won’t hurt to look. [paragraph break] Hoses, connected to pumps in the lake, are laid out along the length of the portage between Alpine and Red Rock and sprinklers are attached to the trees. A sign is posted at the end of the portage cautioning visitors about the fires. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] Warnings from rangers and caution signs tied to trees, sprinklers laid out along the portage, and smoke billowing out across the lake… Are we really thinking of camping here? Maybe, maybe not, but we sure want to get a closer look. We head for the first campsite on the western shore of the lake to check it out. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] It’s an awe inspiring sight -- the whole eastern shore is smoldering and the bays are filled with smoke. Occasionally a tree (balsam, we assume) bursts into crackling flame. It must be deafening up close. A water bomber appears, dumps its load on the southern side of the fire, flies over us and circles back to Seagull to refill and return. It all just seems so surreal. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] [paragraph break] When the wind starts blowing the smoke in our direction, we decide that entrusting our lives to changeable weather and the U.S. Forest Service probably wouldn’t make for a very restful night. So it’s back over the sprinkler portage to Alpine. [paragraph break] All in all a good decision. Alpine is much quieter, far less smoky, and we don’t feel as likely to be burned to a crisp by morning. Still though, we have a plan worked out incase we need to evacuate in the middle of the night. It was worth coming back to Alpine for the added peace of mind but also for the view from the throne at our campsite! It’s up a steep path way up on the top of a hill and looks down through the trees to the lake. It starts to sprinkle so we turn in early and listen for the crackle of any approaching flames. [paragraph break]
Part 5 of 8
Day 4 - Friday, August 12, 2005 [paragraph break] Alpine Lake – Red Rock Lake – Red Rock Bay – Saganaga Lake – Swamp Lake – Ottertrack Lake – Gijikiki Lake [paragraph break] A fairly early start and it’s across the portage into Red Rock for the third time. This morning it looks like the fire has died down—white smoke (steam?) hangs in the trees with an occasional column of darker smoke rising up and away from us. We see the two ranger ladies again and they’re glad we didn’t spend the night on Red Rock. Watching them paddle away is impressive—they sure can make a canoe move! We see a Forest Service boat on Red Rock Bay and assume it’s theirs. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] Out of the bay and into Saganaga. It is huge. Eric adds up the distance and we can see across seven miles of uninterrupted water to the opposite shore. But actually, we can’t see the opposite shore because of the curvature of the earth. We can see the tree tops, but from our vantage point in a canoe, the far shore is below the water. Trippy, huh? [paragraph break] As we approach Rocky Point the wind begins to freshen. Saganaga has white caps. This wind can't be helping the firefighters. We stop in the lee to don our life jackets, have some trail mix, and prepare ourselves for a marathon journey into the wind. I’m in the bow so I scooch my seat as far forward as it will go and rearrange the packs so they’re as close to the front as possible. [paragraph break] Waves never look as big in pictures as they do in real life. From his pilot father, Eric learned how to tell wind speed based on its effects. With breaking waves, foam ribbons snaking through the troughs, and whole poplar trees waving on land, he figures we’re paddling against a 25 or 30 mph wind. Eric checks the map to see just how many miles we'll be paddling against this gale. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] With waves breaking over the bow to soak me and singing at the tops of our lungs, we battle our way towards Swamp Lake. We only see two other canoes--both of them headed the opposite direction and both containing people giving us (what I hope) are very impressed looks. Our progress down the lake is agonizingly slow and the people resting at campsites on shore have plenty of time to stare. At one point while we’re both paddling as hard as we can, I look across and see that the shore is not moving--I burst out laughing. I’m working harder than I ever have in my life and I’m loving it. [paragraph break] We _finally_ make it to Swamp Lake and the wind is still howling. We’re pleased to discover a little wooden platform leading over all the mud at the beginning of Monument Portage. We had wondered why they call it Monument Portage. Now we know. I always get a kick out of even the tiny border markers so this portage is like finding the mother lode. We finish lunch (it’s late afternoon by now) and, after taking a bunch of pictures to forestall getting back into the canoe and facing the wind again, shove off into Ottertrack. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] Here we have a choice to make. We could either drop down to the South Arm of Knife by way of Ester and Hanson, or we could get there by going through a bunch of little lakes (including Cherry, a favorite of ours). Of course we decide that 12 miles of paddling into the wind for today and 2 portages for tomorrow won’t suffice, so--laughing at the sheer insanity of it--we decide to paddle 4 more miles into the wind so that we can have 9 portages tomorrow. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] On Ottertrack the wind comes in drawn-out gusts rather than the sustained gale of Saganaga so there are brief moments where we can stop and take pictures without being blown off the lake. It’s a beautiful lake--steep hills rise out of the water on either side interspersed with towering granite cliffs. A plaque dedicated to Benny Ambrose is affixed to one of the cliffs. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] We make it to the next portage (with shouts of joy) and climb up it to Gijikiki Lake. I’ve never seen a portage with switchbacks before. There’s about 100 feet of elevation gain in the first half of the portage and the portage is only 50 rods long! There’s a magnificent view of Ottertrack from the top of the portage and some blueberries so it was well worth the climb. A short paddle and (around 7 pm) we arrive at the blessedly empty island campsite on Gijikiki. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] By the time we finish setting up camp, eating dinner, and cleaning up, the half moon is setting into the glow which still lingers from the sun. We put the canoe back in the water and paddle into the stillness of night. The water is oily and calm and the reflected moonlight shivers in a breeze. In the middle of the lake we lie down in the canoe and watch the stars appear. A couple of meteors streak by and Eric plays a soft and haunting tune on his ocarina. With ripples lapping at the canoe, gently rocking us beneath the starry sky, I feel as if the universe is entirely within our reach. We follow the trail of the moon back to our campsite and gratefully sink into sleep. [paragraph break]
Part 6 of 8
Day 5 - Saturday, August 13, 2005 [paragraph break] Gijikiki Lake – Rivalry Lake – Lake of the Clouds – Lunar Lake – Cherry Lake – Topaz Lake – Amoeber Lake - Knife Lake – South Arm Knife Lake – Knife Lake [paragraph break] [paragraph break] Ah, a beautiful day for portaging! When I first peek out the tent, the lake is calm and tinged a delicate pink. It fades to silver and I am still in the tent. By the time we’re on the water, the sky is bright blue with fluffy white clouds. It’s a short carry into tiny Rivalry Lake and an even shorter paddle to the next portage. I think it took us longer to put everything into the canoe than it did to cross the lake. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] A slightly longer portage into Lake of the Clouds winds along the bottom of a cliff and so far is the only place we’ve been bothered by mosquitoes. With the canoe over his head, Eric didn’t even see the cliff until we reached the lake. We figure someone must have been standing atop the cliff, looking down into the reflected sky when they named the lake. [paragraph break] Another short hop and we’re in Lunar Lake which is ringed with dead trees. We notice a beaver dam at the portage into Cherry Lake and figure the water must have risen too high for the trees near shore. The beaver dam might also explain the beautiful little pocket of grassy, marshy prairie that’s ringed in wild flowers but marked on the map as a little pond. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] The portage starts off steep and rocky with a tiny hidden stream gurgling along then opens into this little piece of Kansas. It’s so unexpectedly lush and green--it even smells and sounds different. Grasshoppers chirp and I breathe in the smell of green grass warmed in the sun as we make our way to Cherry Lake. [paragraph break] We still have a long ways to go so we don’t stop to climb the cliffs on Cherry Lake. We push on through Topaz, Amoeber, and into South Arm Knife. The portages have all been short (the longest was 83 rods), but all the unloading and reloading is really starting to wear on us. By the time we get to the South Arm of Knife, the wind is picking up and brings with it rain. Cold, cold rain. We paddle on and on and on looking for an open campsite. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] At last--the last site on Knife before the portage into Vera is open. Once again, it’s 7 and we’re just getting into camp. The temperature is falling so we hastily set up the tent, change into dry clothes, and start dinner. It’s a pretty site with a view to the setting sun. After washing up, we head to bed for a chilly night. [paragraph break]
Part 7 of 8
Day 6 - Sunday, August 14, 2005 [paragraph break] Knife Lake – Vera Lake – Ensign Lake – Splash Lake – Newfound Lake – Moose Lake [paragraph break] Our last day. We try to get an early start and are moderately successful. After a dehydrated Mexican omelet (much improved with a liberal amount of hot sauce), we’re at the portage into Vera. Boy, am I glad we didn’t have to cross this one last night. It’s steep and the downhill portion in the middle gives false hope of a nearing end. What a view though! And after that portage, Vera Lake looks so inviting that, despite the chilly, breezy day, I convince Eric to stop at an island for a swim. So invigorating. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] Well, the breeze picks up and the clouds are starting to clump together so we head to the Ensign Lake portage. Another steep one. From the bare rocky patch at the top there’s a view to hills in the distance, very reminiscent of a Missouri vista. We had planned on fishing Ensign Lake but we’re already unsure if we’ll meet our ride on time. Through Splash and by the time we reach Newfound, the wind is really picking up. There are whitecaps on Moose and I’m ready to be done. Seeing the tow boats whizzing by while we’re battling the wind is so disheartening and knowing that we’re only working this hard to get out of the Boundary Waters is sad. [paragraph break] About four hours later than we anticipated, we meet Eric’s dad at the public landing. We head to their house on White Iron for amazingly wonderful hot showers and a huge dinner of home-smoked ribs with his parents, brother, and nephews. [paragraph break] This has been a remarkable trip. We reveled in the beauty of the wilderness, saw the destruction which fires can cause, battled against the wind, pushed ourselves over never-ending portages, and most importantly learned that we can depend on one another. It was a full two weeks in the real world before the bliss of this trip began to began to fade, but the joy of struggling and succeeding is still with me today. [paragraph break]
Part 8 of 8
Epilogue [paragraph break] The Alpine Lake Fire began on August 6, 2005, from a lightning strike and burned 1,335 acres of forest between Alpine, Seagull, Red Rock, and Grandpa Lakes before it was contained on August 20, 2005. Damage done to the region by the Alpine Lake Fire was minor compared to the devastation caused by fires in subsequent years. [paragraph break] The Cavity Lake Fire, also begun by lightning, destroyed 31,830 acres between July 14 and August 8, 2006. The area was again ravaged in May of 2007 when an untended campfire sparked the Ham Lake Fire which consumed more than 75,000 acres in the United States and Canada and burned 147 buildings. Vast tracts of wilderness and the homes and livelihoods of many people were destroyed, but a few months later, regrowth and rebuilding had already begun.
discuss this trip report (9 comments) - last post on June 10, 2011