BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
February 17 2019
Number of Permits per Day: 14
Elevation: 1381 feet
Trout Lake - 1
Mudro to Bear Trap and return
July 16, 2008
Mudro Lake (restricted--no camping on Horse Lake)
Number of Days:
Laurie and I had driven from Duluth to Ely and stayed overnight with my brother who was renting a cabin in the area. It was a nice evening of fishing on White Iron lake - five walleye and 1 smallmouth, followed by a good nights sleep before the Wednesday am. trip to the outfitter. We had also picked up our permit in Duluth Tuesday before heading North.
The two of us awoke about 6:30 and loaded the car, said goodbye to my brother, and headed in to Canoe Country Outfitters in downtown Ely. These guys are excellent to do business with, know the BWCA in and out, have all the gear you need, and the knowledge of routes, campsites, etc. We were loaded with 2 granite gear packs (#4 and #3) and an 18' WeNoNah Champlain in less than half an hour. A good breakfast at Vertins in Ely followed, and then we were on our way North.
The put-in at Mudro was crowded, lots of people unloading canoes and sorting out gear. We filled our packs and walked our gear in to the landing area, and were ready to depart within twenty minutes or so, leaving the crowds behind still sorting their food.
The river into Mudro was low, we had to drag the canoe for the first fifty yards or so downstream before jumping in. Lots of rocks along the route into Mudro lake, with a couple of scrapes and some near-misses. We finally gained Mudro lake proper and enjoyed a nice paddle to the far end outlet, with the stress of daily life slowly melting off and being replaced by the serenity that only the BWCAW can provide.
The first portage was rocky as usual, but we were careful to twist no ankles and single-carried the gear into the next landing. Off again across the pond, we were soon at the foot of the notorious second portage. I had experience with this brute last summer and had no preconceived notions of doing a single carry. I packed the #4 on Laurie, picked up the boat, and off we went, working our way up and down and over the rocks to the other end. I left Laurie there to relax and cool her feet in the water while I went back for the other pack. The double carry slowed us a bit, but we weren't racing anyone anyway.
A quick hop over the final portage and we were on our way into Fourtown lake. The winds were light and variable which resulted in mostly flat water and a very enjoyable paddle through to the Boot lake portage. We saw just one group camping on Fourtown, inhabiting the site just up the shore from this portage landing. Water levels here were up, as the creek between Boot and Fourtown was actually a flowing river, making nice white noise as it rushed through the rocks near the landing. Last year I had landed a canoe at the creek outlet and never even known there was water coming through there in anything more than a mere trickling brook. The portage to Boot lake went quick as we single carried, though there was some pretty good muck to deal with on this trail. I gave in to having muddy feet and just waded right through the muck, while Laurie picked a more or less dry route around the edges. Like Fourtown lake, Boot was calm water and enjoyable to paddle making for a quick trip through. All the sites in Boot lake were empty, so all paddlers had either moved on, or headed back into the Mudro landing earlier in the day.
We reached the portage landing into Fairy lake and carried across, finding the lake serene, calm, and void of other travelers. Realizing that, we made haste to the campsite on the East side of the lake and made landing just as some dark clouds came rolling in from the Northwest. We hoisted a tarp, popped up the tent, and settled in for a 5pm nap to recoup some of the energy it took us late-forties folks to get out here. The nap was welcome, and at 6pm we crawled out again to don our rain gear as some light rain began to fall. Then I pumped some water, casted a few lines from the shore, and started in on dinner. Freeze-dried "Mountain Home" beef stroganoff hit the spot, eaten in light rain right next to the fire grate there on Fairy lake. We spent some time poking about the campsite, which is lovely...I'd rate it 4 or 4.5 stars, though I strongly recommend against the temptation to park your tent next to the lake just North of the fire grate. At first glance this looks like a dandy pad, until you look uphill and notice that every thunderstorm will send a fresh torrent gushing into your tent. Park the tents further up the hill, and whoever gets the top has the best site, in my opinion. Close to the latrine and a soft bed of needles to lie upon make this a great location. A good "hanging tree" is nearby, and just left of that is a blueberry thicket that is second to none I've seen in a BWCA campsite. Those who camp here in the next two weeks (or in any late July trip) will have an enjoyable time picking dozens of berries. The view of Fairy lake from the rock just beyond is absolutely fantastic, just don't slip on the rock and tumble down into the lake from here. ;-)
The previous tenant(s) had left a sizable cache of firewood (they must have had huge wrists!) next to the grate, but rather than tend fire in the rain we, being Wet and tired, crawled into the tent at about 8:30 as the sun had hidden behind the clouds and it seemed like twilight time. We chatted about the day, complained of the ankle biting flies and abundant mosquitoes back in the trees, and started dozing off for the night. Dozing well too, until 10 pm when the local siren went off.
At first we thought it was a tornado warning, then we realized where we were and thought it was a VERY CLOSE wolf pack...for a few seconds, but then we realized it was a single voice and it just kept going and going...for almost a full minute. And by then I knew it could only be one animal...a moose (cow?) was letting loose her lonesome bale to whoever would listen on Fairy lake. It was unbelievably cool, and she had my full attention as she started in again on her second of three loud and long bellers. She was easily within 200 yards, perhaps in the marsh just SE of the firegrate, or perhaps on the granite bluff across the small bay. It was a transcendent moment, one that I'll remember for a long, long time, and easily our best memory of the trip.
In the morning daylight brought us a scattered sky, and we talked excitedly about the moose from the previous night. Her call was so impressive, we decided then and there to stay another day, just to see if we could hear it again that night. Laurie spend the day reading in the sun and took time to join me in casting from shore on occasion. I brought in a small yet edible northern pike, but released him anyway, and Laurie brought in her first smallmouth from the bay (which is loaded with smallmouth of all sizes). We released the 1.5 lb smallmouth she caught as well. The day was passed going over the map, dozing in the sunshine, fishing, watching a trio who had come in to "day fish" Fairy lake, counting the groups passing through (6 groups "out", two groups "in") and finally enjoying a dinner of Mountain-Home Chicken and mashed potatoes, which was a bit complicated to prepare but the flavoring in the spuds made the chicken quite enjoyable. We took time to browse the extensive blueberry patch after hanging the food for the night and each found a handful of ripe berries for dessert...a nice treat. Then off to bed to await the siren which, sadly, never came that night. Still...the night before had been a wonderful event, and we were pleased to be able to hear it even once. The night was spent peacefully enough, as we had Fairy lake to ourselves for the second consecutive night.
We awoke to nice weather, had our coffee and struck camp early. Breakfast was a protein shake for each of us (powdered mix with water added), a handful of vitamins and we were off. The protein shakes are a great way to have a quick meal while traveling and really save on space in the food bag, as well as fuel for the stove. We were off to the portage to Gun lake by 8 am., and there met an Outward Bound group coming into Fairy who were on day 4 of their 22 day trip and had their aluminum canoes loaded to the gunwales. We did what became our standard portage, Laurie making 1 trip, me making 2; canoe first and returning to get the pack. It was nice to enter uncharted territory for me, I hadn't been on Gun lake before, and found it beautiful and of a nice size. It looked like good fishing could be had around the rocks near the "top of the grip", but we were moving onward and so headed for the portage landing for Gull. The weather was amenable, with broken clouds and light winds, making for a nice paddle across the lake. The landing at the Gull portage is an interesting one, with a good drop-off that makes coming along-side the right approach (as opposed to head on). A nice waterfall could be heard through the trees, making the uphill portage easier if not even shorter. There had been a couple of groups camped on Gun, but we found Gull abandoned, and lovely. The East campsite on Gull lake is top notch, I've not seen its equal in the BWCA, but more on that later. We paddled on past it, along the lovely North shore and another campsite before finding the portage that leads Northward to Mudhole. A sandy-gravel landing loaded with minnows was a welcome change, and we took the opportunity to soak our feet and douse our heads with cool water. This portage (given the name of the lake on the other end) looked intimidating from the South side. The trail disappeared into tall grass within a few feet of the landing and one had the idea that you would soon be struggling through floating bog-like terrain for the whole fifty rods. Not the case at all, but rather the trail passed through the grass (with FRESH moose tracks in the soft earth) and then into a lovely little forest trail that was a joy to walk through right to the Mudhole landing. There were fish-nest swirls in the little sandy landing at Mudhole, so there ARE fish of some sort in that little lake...and it seems deep enough, to be sure, but the water is very darkly stained from the peaty bog surrounding the water. I should think the lake is spring fed, as it seems to be the headwater for some of the Gull-Gun-Fairy-Boot-Fourtown system. One of the interesting features of Mudhole is how rapidly the water depth drops off from the "shore" on all sides...we could paddle right next to the bog without scraping any bottom. Additionally, it seemed the put-in from the Gull side had been "cut-out" of the bog and, if so, it was hard work well done by someone.
We found the portage out to Thunder without much trouble, and it required another broadside approach to gracefully dis-embark from the craft. Plenty of mosquitoes here what with the ready breeding grounds available, and so we didn't tarry but got right to carrying over to Thunder. This portage was a mess, with a lot of mud on the Thunder side to make carrying just a bit difficult, and I was also troubled with picking up tidbits of trash I found in the trail along the way. We finally gained the Thunder side with canoe and packs, and set off across the lake. The first camp on the South side looked small-ish, though we didn't look about. The second one on the point across looked nice and expansive, with ready fishing off shore and we considered this a fall-back should our objective camp on Bear Trap be found already occupied. Thunder is a beautiful lake, and I'd love to return and fish it seriously some time as it looked to be filled with "fishy" shoreline. In the narrows that follows the second campsite we paddled upon a mother Redhead hen and her red-headed chicks (eight of them) which made us smile broadly...they were so cute. Thunder wound around again to the West, and soon we were at the small creek and portage, with its nearby campsite (vacant at that time), and we hoisted canoe and gear across to the remote and quite lovely Bear Trap lake. I crossed my fingers in hopes that the camp-site would be open and it indeed was, so we made landfall there and unloaded the boat and began setting up camp. We'd been there about an hour before another canoe came 'round the island to the North of the site and, seeing us there, headed back for Thunder. We'd achieved our objective in good time that day. The camp site at Bear Trap lake is a nice one, but it used to be nicer for there was a large wooden setup with nice benches and logs for sitting once upon a time. That has been de-constructed now and the logs have been mostly scattered in the trees around the site. What was worse was that the spring rains had left the ground water so high that the latrine was full and had obviously been "fuller" with evidence that it had spread widely around the latrine in past days, then evaporated. This was not ok with Laurie or I, who had no desire to leave our mark in the woods or use the latrine in its current condition. We talked about abandoning camp and moving back to Thunder, but assumed our site of choice there would now be full with the folks who had seen us camping here and gone back, so we resolved to stay just 1 night and start back, perhaps to Thunder, the next day.
With camp up we took to fishing, looking for our first good meal of walleye on the trip, and we headed off to the island just North of the campsite. We drifted past the NW and W sides, and then into the channel between the island and point, having to reel in due to the shallow rocks in that area. I had made an impromptu anchor of an old torn up tent sack loaded with rocks and dropped it on the far side (East side) of that narrows and we casted in various directions before Laurie landed a 15 inch "eater". Further casts yielded no further fish, but we gleefully made landfall on the North side of the island on a narrow rock point and there enjoyed our walleye dinner with a fillet each, and M-H Beef Stew (not the best dried meal of the trip by far). Beef stew may not make our list on future trips, but the walleye melted in our mouths. By meals end the sun had set and we were working on twilight time, so we beat feet back to the camp and hung the food sack. This campsite has the best food hanging tree I've seen, with the limb hanging out over the water and a "brother tree" nearby to wrap a single rope around. We retreated to the tent and relaxed, only then stopping to count the portages and carry's we'd made that day, and realized that for a couple of old folks we'd had a pretty good day of it, and we were happy to be spending the night in the remoteness of Bear Trap. It was fun to be there, having spent the past two months staring at the blue spot on the map and reading about others trips through the area, though I knew we'd have to leave a day earlier than planned due to the latrine situation. Oh well. Even so we were serenaded to sleep by beautiful loon-song and awoke only twice to the gentle gnawing of a mouse or something such outside the tent working on getting into something...hopefully not one of our packs!
In the morning a brief inspection showed no damage to any gear, so we could only guess at what the critter was after. We enjoyed fresh coffee over a morning fire (the previous tenant had been gracious enough to leave the firegrate stuffed with tinder and a nice supply of wrist-sized fuel at the ready). While enjoying coffee a group of four canoes traversed Bear-Trap East to West, obviously intent on the old portage trail at the West end, headed for the river and parts North of Sunday lake. We silently wished them well, and sat back to enjoy the eagle flying overhead, and the loon who took to warning her kin of the other birds presence. We took our time and cooked up some breakfast of dried egg and bacon bits...not too bad but I don't like the cleanup of the "frypan" version of dried eggs much. Not that I really enjoy the "prepare in bag" version all that much either. ;-/
We broke camp about ten-ish and with full canoe headed back toward Thunder, finding the lake once again empty (where were the folks who had seen us at Bear Trap and turned back?). We presumed they may have camped along the NE ridge of Thunder and let us slip past them, or perhaps they had headed back out to Gull? We stopped at the "second" campsite on Thunder, the one on the point facing South, and perused the grounds thinking of staying there for the day/night. This is a nice enough site, room for at least five tents or more if you are ok with going back into the trees a bit, and the latrine wasn't full of water (which was an upgrade as far as we were concerned). Still, Laurie's heart pined for the East site on Gull lake, and we decided to abandon the remote look and feel of Thunder for the possibility of being stung in not getting one of the more desirable campsites in a less remote area. So we paddled over to the landing and headed back through Mudhole (bugs!) and into Gull (more FRESH moose track!). Surprisingly, we found Gull totally abandoned, and we made camp at the East site with joy in our hearts and felt as if we'd checked into the wilderness Hilton or something. This site has it all, tons of tent pads, lots of ready firewood, and more rocks to fish off (or sun yourself on) than you can shake a stick at. A nice built-in livewell adorns the "fishing point" here, and there are pike and smallmouth to be had in the bay to your right as you stand on the point looking out at the lake. We luxuriated in a long afternoon nap, and then spend the rest of the day in leisure, reading in the sun and casting rapala's from shore. We resolved to get up early the next morning and catch walleye for breakfast, having heard that there was good "eye" fishing on the West end. There was abundant firewood stacked next to the grate, but none built in the hearth, so I left one of my "one match" signature fire stacks there for the next camper to enjoy. Also, there was a canoe seat (or camp seat) that had been left there by a previous party. We had no idea how long it had been there (just left? One day? Two months?) so we didn't pack it out with us but left it for the next group should someone be in need (we had seats in our canoe so didn't need one) and we also didn't know if the person who left it may return to claim it. We dined on Mountain Home Jamaican chicken with rice, and felt that it just wasn't what we had hoped for...it isn't likely to remain on the dining list for next year, though it did fill a hole in the tummy and provide that much needed "full" feeling...so it wasn't a total loss.
That night I awoke at least three times with a start, each time sobering myself up with an internal conversation of "remember where you are...something MUST have just woke you up" and, listening intently, found only silence. Not just "quiet"...but absolute silence. No noise whatsoever. There was no breeze in the trees, no wave lapping on shore, no loon calling, no bird chirping, no mouse or chipmunk stirring...nothing at all. Zilch. It was eerie, and each time I awoke I was stunned with the abject silence of the surroundings. I can only think that it was my system being shocked by the complete lack of external noise that woke me up with such a start, for each time I roused I had a sense of impending danger for some reason...as if a large bear had snapped a twig and woke me up. Each time I found nothing and, after five minutes or so, succumbed to sleep once more.
In the morning, both Laurie and I commented on the silence of the previous night as being almost scary...we've spent our share of time in the woods camping, but never had such a quiet evening as that one. And yet...it felt good at the same time. We both felt rested and enjoyed our morning coffee on the South facing rock looking out on the lake with a sense of wonder in that we'd been there for almost a day and hadn't seen or heard another human. No one had traveled through, and no planes had flown over...it was just what I had been looking for on this trip, but I had expected to find that on Bear Trap or Thunder lake...and not on Gull.
We finished our coffee, had a protein shake, struck camp and left our gear in packs at the landing site, and then headed out in the canoe for a morning of fishing. We trolled the North shore, with Laurie getting all the action. She pulled in a little perch, I got a snag, she got a northern, I got another snag, and then we arrived at the rocks just west of the middle campsite on Gull. There are some huge boulders in the water here...and while we casted about, we snagged just as many as we reeled in, so we headed just west of there, to the little bay in front of the portage to Mudhole. I recalled the gravel shore, the huge supply of minnows, the presence of weeds and reeds, and thought this looked like a "fishy" bay. I was right. Laurie pulled in three fish in her first three casts, and though they were all too small, they were a walleye, northern, and smallmouth in that order. I'd never seen that before in my long life of fishing, and she was smiling wide like a kid who'd just caught his first. I may just have a fishing' buddy for life after that morning, and it only got better. Seeing as the fish she landed were small-ish, I suggested we try a little deeper and we trolled out beyond the weeds to the West, toward the Western-most campsite. We'd gone not fifty feet when she tied into, and landed, a beautiful nineteen inch walleye. As I removed it and put it on the stringer, I suggested we try drifting past that spot again, and turned the boat around right in front of the camp spot there when she pulled in another 17". It was all I could do to get them off her hook and on to the stringer before she'd land another walleye and within half an hour we were ready to head off for a shore lunch that couldn't be beat. We feasted on walleye dipped in Shore-lunch breading and pan fried with a side of Mountain Home wild rice mixed with M-H dried peas. While we ate our fill, a party came in through the West entrance to the lake and moved across and out (we presumed) toward Thunder and Bear Trap. We wished them well with their trip. Our bellies full of fish, we paddled over to the East camp, picked up our packs and bid adieu to the beautiful fishery of Gull lake. I'd go back there to camp, enjoy the silence, and eat the fish, any day of the week. Just call me up...I'm on board.
We looked at the weather which was starting to produce a good breeze, and thought about staying another night on Gull rather than head South...but we thought of the moose on Fairy lake and decided to see if we could get that East camp site again, and if not we'd head into Boot and camp at the "middle" point there. So we paddled over to the portage on the East end of Gull where a 3x3 buck stood eating wild rice shoots and we packed down to Gun Lake and bid our farewell to lovely Gull. Gun was reasonably quiet water even with the good breeze (from the NW) and so we enjoyed a nice easy paddle through the "grip" and down to the portage where we met a group that was inbound and headed for Crooked lake. They looked like serious fishermen, and while I couldn't persuade them to head up to Gull for the walleye, they were interested in what we'd been using. I bid them good luck with their trip and we headed back into Fairy lake, finding our East site open again so we headed for that...just as a group hit the South landing. We were already on the water though, so we had the jump on them and soon were back at our old camp spot enjoying the view from the hilltop. We were looking forward to another late night moose possibility, but the group that had hit the lake from the South took up residence at the NE site near the portage to Gun, and proceeded to swim and frolic complete with war whoops and yelps that echoed across the lake and, I'm almost certain, well into Boot and Gun on either side. Refreshingly, someone in that camp blew a whistle at 8pm and all was silent after that (and for the next morning). However...there was no evening moose call, though we did enjoy some terrific loon calls that night. Dinner was M-H lasagne with meat and cheese, and it was good...that one stays on the list for next year. We topped it off with M-H raspberry crumble, also a good choice, and took delight in our last evening in the BWCA, snapping photos as the sun subsided into the trees.
We awoke and struck camp right away, packing all our gear down to the lake. This was for two reasons; one to get going early, and two to get away from the mosquitoes up the hill! We had coffee and scrambled eggs in pouches on the rocks and talked about the day and the portages ahead, as well as the days and the portages that were behind us on this trip...and then it was time to head out. We bid adieu to Fairy lake and it's fantastic East camp, and headed for the landing. I pumped water on the way across and was dismayed to find that my Katadyn Vario was plugging up after only five days and maybe forty liters of water. The info said the filter can be expected to last up to 500 gallons and we'd only put through 10! I was not amused. Fairy lake was where my Katadyn Hiker Pro had burst its case last summer, leaving me and my friend stranded with only 1.8 liters of fresh water between us. I was able to pump four fresh liters through the filter, but it was obviously plugging up, and I was happy we were headed out as we hadn't brought a spare filter cartridge (who would expect that you could only put ten gallons through a five hundred gallon filter?). I'm open to opinion's on better water filtration than Katadyn, if you have a fave please let me know.
We made the short portage into Boot in good stead, now finding that the spring along side that portage had quit running, and so the trail was dry. The paddle through Boot lake was lovely, with a small breeze at our backs and none of the campsites occupied, we watched loons swimming along side, skirted some rocks that lie just under the surface at the corner of the boot, and soaked up the white noise of the running rapids that drop off toward Fourtown lake. That portage had dried up since we'd come in, what with just a trace of rain our first night, and so I kept my sandals muck-free on the return. It seemed the wind was starting to whip up across Foretown, greeting us with a fresh breeze, so we struck out right away from the landing and took in the sights of a lovely doe grazing near waters edge from the island as we passed through the narrows. Coming out the other side of that island the breeze had dropped and we had flat water to paddle all the way into the stream on the South end, and we easily made our way into the first of three portages. There we were met with good news that the beaver dam on Pickett lake had been knocked out, so that the river from Mudro to the landing was running high and we wouldn't have to drag our canoe over the rocks to get back to the car. I welcomed that news, as I'd struggled with that the year before and it wasn't all that fun getting the boat through the rocks.
The portages passed without incident, though there were many paddlers going in and coming out that passed each other along the way through. I passed on some fishing tips about Gull to a group who was headed in and may be going that way, and that made the notorious second portage seem a wee shorter than it had last year. A quick jaunt through the rocks of the last portage and we were paddling across Mudro, reminiscing on a beautiful trip, commenting on our luck with terrific weather, and wondering where we should put in next year (or will we go again this fall?).
In no time we'd paddled to the landing and loaded the car, returned the canoe in Ely, and were sitting in the Boathouse cafe and brewpub eating a burger and sipping bloody mary's. The buffalo wings there are scorching hot! After a side trip to Ely's Music Outfitters, we had new tunes for the trip home and were headed out, our wilderness needs met for another few months. Now...about that shower!