BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
July 05 2020
Number of Permits per Day: 14
Elevation: 1381 feet
Trout Lake - 1
The Sundial PMA
May 26, 2008
Stuart River (19)
Number of Days:
The trip started off slow & cold. We got started late, didn’t make good time, made a bad decision to sit down & eat in Ely, & came out to horizontal drizzle & what felt like mid-40s temps. Driving up the Echo Trail, we dropped the bike at our Stuart River exit point & drove back to Mudro. Paddling down the small stream & into Mudro, I suddenly had a picture of the bike lock key in the armrest of the car – we had to backtrack to the entry point to retrieve it. Ultimate shove off time: 5PM. Yikes! We hustled (for us) through the three portages into Fourtown, including the “Mountain Goat” portage, & paddled up the west coast of Fourtown, taking the only campsite before the portage into Boot. I caught a 12” walleye off shore (a good omen we figured!) & lost two jigs to marauding pike, only one of which came close enough to see. Then we had a fun encounter. My friend Kevin went back to his tent & I went to the privy. Standing there after dark, I saw a blue light coming through the trees. Wondering why Kevin was walking the woods in the dark, I stood & watched as it came closer, & closer, until suddenly there were two – eyes. Glowing blue. I swear! About ten feet away. I started yelling to scare whatever it was off & to summon John & Kevin. It retreated up a tree & we never got a good look at it. We’re guessing a pine marten. With glowing blue eyes & no other light source? Or a chupacabra. Gave me the creeps.
Woke up to frost on the life jackets & a temp of 25 degrees. After the “eyes” I was glad to wake up at all! A good travel day that warmed up into the low 60s. We broke camp & portaged into Boot, Fairy, & Gun, which had a nice little waterfall tumbling to the west of the portage. Met a gentleman soloing into Gull who I chatted with for a few minutes about the Beartrap River, which he’d canoed previously with his son. Portaging into Mudhole we were very, very, grateful for the high water; otherwise it would have been a long, muddy slog into canoeable water. We moved through Thunder & into Beartrap, where the single campsite was mercifully unoccupied. We fish a bit, caught a few pike, watched the immature bald eagles criss-crossing the sky, & had our only fire of the trip as the temp plummeted yet again. But we were set for our assault on the Beartrap River.
Another sub-zero morning, although we slept a little later to rest up for our entrance to the Sundial PMA.
We found the first “portage” around the mouth of the Beartrap River easily enough. The trail was rough & had deadfall - they all were and/or did - but wasn’t too bad. The Beartrap River was beautiful. There were beaver dams big & small, vertical portages, false portages, more dams, leeches, & finally a welcome widening where Spring Creek joined the Beartrap headed north. All told we counted eight beaver dams, some mercifully blown out, others requiring a graceful leap from the canoe. We were happy to reach Sunday Lake, with an obvious & open campsite-area on the northern point of the lake. Before I had my tent out of the pack I had six ticks. I moved.
My first cast off the camp yielded a 30”, 8 lb. Northern, & I caught another of similar size not long after. We spent the late evening drifting for a walleye dinner, catching one eater, a couple of walleye dwarves, & another eater with a massive tapeworm trailing out of his, ah, you-know-what. One of my companions promptly declared he’d lost his appetite & the lucky ‘eater’ fish went back in the water, little worse for the wear. Freeze-dry for us tonight!
A quick portage out of Sunday & we were on the lazy Beartrap, heading west, until we located, with surprising ease, Sterling Creek where the Beartrap turned north. The narrow creek snaked lazily back & forth in the river valley, gifting us with more beaver dams & unfortunately placed log jams. We had a bit of a time finding the first portage, but finally found it & followed it to the next pool. Wherein we located another faint portage, short, another quick paddle, & another short portage. Coming back we strayed a bit & found what appeared to be the far end of one long, continuous portage that went all the way back to the first. Huh.
And then we hit Sterling. What a beautiful lake. We stopped at a campsite, paddled around, figured the island was a lot better, & went back for our stuff. Heading back, we trolled & caught two pike, a walleye, & the vicious leading edge of a thunderstorm. We rode the tail wind to the island & hurriedly set up camp before the deluge started. It rained on & off the rest of the day & all night, only minimally impacting our enjoyment of the view, the solitude, & the walleye frying in the pan. What a fantastic day.
Woke to rain hammering the fly of my tent, nearing it’s tenth birthday & still dry inside! We quickly decided on a layover day rather than brave our longest bushwhack in a damp, dripping forest.
I got up & cast off the island with my silver spoon, searching for Mr. Pike to amuse me until Kevin & John were fully roused. A few casts & I got hit, & reeled in...a 17” walleye. I quickly switched over to a Rapala & cast to the same spot & wham! 23” walleye. What a way to start the day – a beautiful, big, fat, healthy walleye on a lake we practically owned for this day.
So we fished & paddled Sterling in the mist, drizzle, rain, & periods of dry. We caught pike & eyes on certain points & shorelines, nothing on other long stretches of the lake. There was a nice bog directly west of our island that looked terribly moosey, but no such luck on this trip. The island is classic, with a low canoe landing on the west point & a high, jagged rock wall on the north looking over the water. On the south face there was plenty of gentle rock, perfect for strolling & casting.
As the day went on the rain tapered off, though the clouds remained, & our tents slowly began to dry. We went to bed happy with our spell of quiet & knowing it was nearly over.
Our last day in the Sundial PMA proved to be difficult. We talked about how normally, as the rhythms of the wilderness set in, we got stronger. Paddling, portaging, hiking, all became natural as muscles grew acclimated. Not this trip. Bushwhacking took it’s toll on all of us. We agreed that each day we felt more tired, & despite eleven hours of sleep & a layover day, we left Sterling Lake weary.
The portage leaving Sterling was the most difficult to find of the trip. It was discovered only by spreading out along the shore we knew it had once been on & tromping randomly through the forest (we’d found this a reliable, if slow, method of locating faint, lost portages). The portage into Bibon was tough, with one particular rock-face sloping down at about a 45 degree angle (John walked it with the canoe – all hail the mighty gripping Tevas & the size of John’s cahones! And his obvious brain damage...). Bibon & Nibin proved to be small, non-descript lakes notable only for their remoteness.
The portage from Nibin to Stuart...sucked. It started in ankle-sucking mud, wandered across a small meadow, branched into a false trail ending in a blizzard of saplings. Backtracking, we found the old portage went through a bog. We followed it, & came out tired & scraped at the other end on Stuart Lake to the unsightly sight of a...canoe? We went back for the second load & emerged, exhausted, to lay panting & groaning on the huge rock face on the east bank of Stuart. After a period of self-pity we gathered ourselves enough to paddle to the campsite on the point, which commanded a stunning view south over Stuart.
Another blessed layover day to recuperate. We spent the day fishing & paddling Stuart, & hiked the portage to the Dahlgren River to admire the pines, a gorgeous hike that I wouldn’t miss if I were in the area again. On the paddle over I lost my favorite spoon paddling to a monstrous hit – the alligator northern I’d been looking for was in deep water, & after a few good thrashes & a short run snapped my 20 lb. Fireline. I might have cursed, maybe even loudly.
A thunderstorm chased us off the lake, literally, around noon & slapped the tents good about one minute after we pulled ashore & pelted for cover. After the storm we lounged, reading, hiking the point, & generally being lazy as we watched the sky slowly clear.
Nightfall brought another surprise. With a Nalgene mostly full of leeches – we’d not needed them – I grabbed my book & went down to the water to “fish” with a leech & bobber. Well, I read about two paragraphs as hungry walleyes grabbed every leech I threw out, eventually emptying the Nalgene. They were all in one small box, big as a boxing ring, & if you could hit it with the bobber, you’d catch a fish. What a fun hour. We caught & released more than a dozen walleyes in the hour before sunset
Time to go home. A long day on the Stuart River commenced, with more blown-out beaver dams. And I asked before the trip & no one knew - & now I know that yes, there are pike in White Feather Lake. We paddled, portaged, paddled, rinse & repeat. The Stuart is a beautiful, winding river that ambles, in no hurry, to the south. Beautiful, that is, until the final bend before the big portage.
A huge beaver dam had evidently blown out, leaving what looked like the aftermath of a world war, or the face of the moon. Years or decades of mud covered everything in black, stink, & brown. Luckily there was an old pier-like structure thrust out into the pond where we could load the canoe. The landscape was devastated but fascinating. We saw more birds in that short stretch than the entire rest of the trip; witnessed two beaver lodges with the entrance holes exposed; & found out just how much mud weighs stuck to the bottom of the canoe (roughly the equivalent of concrete). We paddled through the wasteland slowly & levered ourselves inch by inch up the old ‘portage’ entrance until we found the bottom of the endless muck & exited the canoe to challenge the long, but not difficult, portage out.