BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
April 20 2018
Number of Permits per Day: 27
Elevation: 1356 feet
Moose Lake - 25
Solo trip, following the Root Beer Lady
July 08, 2006
Number of Days:
Solo Trip Report – July 8, 2006 Moose Lake EP
I reached Ely Midday, secured my permit, a handful of leeches and quickly headed East on the Fernberg Road. My Brother-in-law and nephew were at the BSA High Adventure Camp ready to embark on their first BWCA trip, having journeyed all the way from Charlotte…. and I wanted to say hello. (Naturally both had the ‘benefit’ of me being in the family and filling their heads with tales of this mystical area for years – I just hoped the reality lived up to the expectations I’d set!?!)
The wind was howling out of the Southwest as I pulled into the BSA Base. I easily found them and we chatted for a few minutes – turns out that they were undergoing a crash course in wilderness camping ethics, canoe flipping and so forth. We got the requisite pictures and I headed to the public launch next door to set off on my first true solo canoe trip.
I lifted my stripper canoe off my car, carried her down to the beach, brought down my bags and parked the car.
As I loaded my canoe I again noted the wind swooping down the lake with increasing ferocity and the white caps building. Nonetheless I pushed off into this gale… and decided 15 seconds later that it’d be really smart to wait this one out. I coasted to the island across from the EP, took out my chair, a book and a cigar and started my vacation just feet into the BWCA.
It wasn’t until after 5 that the wind died down and I set off again heading up Moose eventually to Ensign – my planned first night’s camp location. I hugged the lee shore and quickly (I still had a decent tail wind) made it to Splash. The portage here is really lovely as the rapids quietly enter the bay on Sucker Lake.
I decided to skip the liftover portage into Ensign from Splash by paddling up the stream – the depth was right, but the current was strong. I did make it through…. but just barely!
It was nearly eight when I set up camp on a high campsite on an Ensign island. Since the sky was a brilliant blue and the winds had slackened, I decided to skip setting up my rain fly, fixed a quick supper, set up my Hennessey Hammock and went to bed.
Naturally it rained and stormed about 2 AM – but no damage was done.
First rediscovery – when I solo camp I eat little. I’d brought a few pasteurized eggs and some precooked bacon – I fixed myself a quick breakfast, then prepared coffee in my new Jet Boil. I packed quickly, returned my canoe to the water, loaded the packs and headed down Ensign to the portage over to Vera.
Ensign is a lovely lake and the calm early morning offered easy paddling. The easy part ended when I reached the portage to Vera.
I wanted to retrace the ‘winter route’ that Dorothy Moulter had used when she went to town from Isle of Pines. This shorter winter route would have avoided the rapids on the Knife Lake portages and the attendant bad ice…. but sure included some significant portages! The portage from Ensign to Vera needs to be approached with respect. The altimeter on my GPS showed that leaving Ensign I climbed nearly 160 feet up with few breaks, first with the canoe and then with the packs (My goal of single portaging was quickly dashed – those days are behind me!) My respect for Dorothy’s toughness is growing by the trip.
BTW, the combination of Fisher maps and my GPS proved to be perfect. Portages and campsites were located easily.
Vera is a really pretty lake with some lovely campsites. I stopped on Vera for lunch at a pretty campsite – and decided to kick back and spend this day exploring the lake.
Vera is supposed to have abundant Walleyes and some Northerns, but my best fishing could scare up nothing this beautiful day.
Evening fell with the breeze shifting and strengthening out of the Northeast. Temps fell into the low 50s this evening.
I portaged over to Knife on a long, but nicely maintained portage.
I spoke to a couple of college-aged kids as I arrived at the cool waters of Knife and lowered my canoe into the water. I pointed out Dorothy’s Island across the way, but it wasn’t evident that they had any idea of I was talking about.
Dead for just over 20 years and already her legend is fading into the mists of time.
I paddled up Knife aiming for the magical Kingdom of the South Arm. I stopped for lunch at the same campsite that I had occupied with several friends in May – what had been green, lush and abloom in May was now hot, sunny and dry. And it still didn’t have a decent tent pad!
I paddled on past the burn of last fall on the Southern shore Eat of the portage to Bonnie – it was great to see how quickly it was greening up as vegetation reclaims the thin soil, ash and rock.
I trolled a floating silver and black floating Rap and kept busy catching and releasing Bass (including several over 2 pounds) and small Northerns as I paddled West hugging the southern shore.
The miles go quickly on Knife when the water is calm.
I reached the South Arm and aimed at a campsite that had been recommended to me as a great place – only to see that it was occupied. The occupants were out, but as I paddled by I noticed a 2 gallon red plastic gas can on the shore. Odd – but I thought perhaps they were using it for water.
I paddled across the bay and found a nice island site. I unloaded the canoe and again started the ritual of setting up a solo camp.
(Note - the fallen and rotting birch logs were left by a previous camper. These are seldom worth a darn as firewood, after the resin rich bark is burned. I prefer to gather shore wood - often washed off of beaver dams - for firewood. Perfectly seasoned and easily split, this makes for a far better fire.) I reclined back on my new Crazy Creek lounger – very comfortable for lounging – and was reading when I heard a motor. I at first thought it might be the Forest Service plane – but no… the occupants of the campsite across the bay were powering past with a 5 hp engine attached to their canoe!?!
Their gas can had indeed been for gas.
I think they had figured out the schedule for the Forest Service planes and flouted the rules and ethics of the area with abandon. If I’d had a Satellite phone I would have called in and dropped a dime on them.
As the shadows got longer I paddled over the Eddy Falls. The northern shore of the South Arm looks like something out of a Dr. Seuss book – sculpted hills, many with their South ends clipped off by the most recently passing glacier.
At Eddy Falls – clearly audible as you approach – there were several other canoes with their occupants trying their fishing luck. None of us seemed to have what these fish wanted. The calm winds and approaching evening encouraged me to try different complex rigs, but apart from some small bass, dinner was not being served.
I broke camp early and began to paddle leisurely back to the West end of Knife. I slowly trolled a lindy rig with a leech and continued to annoy the Smallmouth Bass population on Knife.
I can’t imagine a better way to spend a summer day.
The miles rolled by and I eventually wound up at Robbins Island across from Dorothy’s Isle of Pines.
I paid my respects to Dorothy – nothing of her resort is left except the rocks that supported the dock and of course ‘her’ special rock, though whether it was deposited by glaciers or friends is not clear.
By sheer luck the Western most campsite on Robbins was open. I set up camp – this is a very nice campsite and one that could accommodate up to three tents.. its well up from the water with views 250 degrees around – you’re essentially camped on a high point. There is lots of shade from cedars and has a nice fire pit area with the tops of the fire pit logs chipped and worn down to flat for comfortable seating. Anyhow this campsite positioned me well for my exit the next day.
I read and munched on gorp until I fixed a simple Raman Noodle dinner and went fishing. Once again I was stumped on this West end of Knife, my leeches were gone so I was working my way thru my collection of usually successful Raps, buzzbaits, spinners and spoons to no avail.
(On the other hand I’d rather be stumped fishing up there than anywhere else!)
I retired to my Hennessey Hammock and kicked back for a perfect sleep.
I set my watch alarm for 5:00AM. When it went off I rolled out and quickly knocked down my small camp. Keeping an organized set of packs is far easier with one or two people than it is with a group!
I paddled West to Big Knife Portage, and moved towards Carp Portage – I spied a deer drinking in the calm shallows.
As I moved along the international boundary, I noticed that my GPS started acting up – it seemed to lose accuracy and occasionally the Topo map, reverting to the almost useless built in base map.
This happened only when nearly straddling the International boundary and the problem went away completely as I moved a couple of hundred feet into US waters. I did not observe this problem on the same route in May.
Fortunately it’s hard to get lost on this well worn and travelled route.
I was pushing off from the portage heading into Birch and noticed a guy about my age with several ‘just past middle aged’ women. These gals were game and doing it, their pink nylon jogging suits and bright white sneakers still pristine. A ‘tad out of shape’, they needed assistance in getting out of their canoes, but they gamely shouldered packs and started off down the portage.
I wondered what these outfits would look like after the four portages to come. Anyhow, it was great to see some first timers experiencing this for the first time.
I reached Prairie Portage and stopped by on the outside chance that I could hitch a ride on a returning jonboat. There was a family from Kentucky there with two beautiful Border Collies heading up to Emerald Lake in Quetico. The dogs were well behaved but fascinated by the commotion… and the occasional Crayfish they could dislodge by moving small rocks with their paws.
We chatted for a few minutes – I told them about the ancient grove of Cedars on the Eastern shore of Emerald – and I headed South realizing that the odds of a tow showing up this late in the day were slim.
I paddled uneventfully back to the EP and parking lot, loaded up and stopped by Cranberries in Ely for my ceremonial exit meal (and a couple of beers). I’d covered 15 miles with six portages this day.
I then headed up to Canada for the balance of my vacation joining my wife and another couple at their remote cabin in Ontario.
Observations and gear reviews.
Jet Boil. An excellent system for solo canoeing. I used less than ½ of one cartridge of fuel, and made daily coffee, occasional eggs and bacon on a small frying pan using their pan adaptor, and made boiling water based meals every night. Two cups of water are brought to a boil in a matter of 80 seconds or so. The fuel usage is so small that I was amazed. Two Thumbs up.
Crazy Creek Lounger. Great for lounging and useless for just sitting and trying to eat. Sturdy, light weight and well designed, I’ll not hesitate to take it again for painless campfire lounging – but will also take a folding stool for meals and cooking purposes.
One Thumb up.
Hennessey Hammock. This is my third or forth trip with this, and I can honestly say that I sleep more soundly in this rig than I do in my own bed. Occasionally finding two of the right diameter trees placed the right distance apart can be difficult, but IMHO worth the effort.
Two big thumbs up
Garmin 60CS loaded with the Topo software for the BWCA (US Topo 24K) and the BWCA portage and campsite overlay from Quiet Journey is slick. I team this with a Fisher Map and always know precisely where I am (except when straddling the International Boundary without the Canadian software loaded.) Battery usage is negligible – 2 ½ days for a pair of AA batteries. The additional functionality of tracking elevation changes and so forth makes this a fun and useful tool. I place it in the canoe by attaching a handlebar mount to the foot brace, thus securely positioning it for easy use. I just left it in place when portaging.
Two thumbs up
Bell Canoe Footbrace. I saw this in the Piragis catalog and bought it to solve a comfort problem with my stripper. Telescoping aluminum tubes and carbon fiber/foam braces make this easily adjustable, strong and very light. Teamed with the CVCA Tractor seat back band – which BTW works fine with the caned seat in my stripper – and my paddling power, endurance and speed got way better.
Two thumbs up