BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
February 19 2019
Number of Permits per Day: 14
Elevation: 1381 feet
Trout Lake - 1
Family Base Camp Trip to Horse Lake
July 12, 2008
Number of Days:
We had an old friend visit on Friday and spend the night. So we left a bit later than planned on Saturday. It worked out well though because he was heading the same way that we were . So we caravanned for a few hours.
We arrived at Jordan’s Canoe Outfitters around 8:30pm. We checked-in, took care of the paperwork, and did the final packing of the gear.
We decided to take 2 Souris River Quetico 18.5 canoes. The canoes are very stable and still pretty light. We put an adult in the back seat, a teenager in the front seat, a little girl and a dog in the middle seat. We still had plenty of space for 3 Duluth packs and other assorted gear.
We loaded the canoes on our minivan. We brought 2x4’s to set on the factory roof rack. The canoes were tied to the 2x4s. Then, the canoes were tied down to the front and back of the van. It was quite secure. By taking our own van, it was easier to leave on our schedule and gave us flexibility to determine when we came out of the woods.
Today was the big day. We woke up early and had a nice pancake and sausage breakfast with Jordans. We drove through Ely and bought 2 lbs of leeches from Voyageur North.
We got to the entry point and were pleased to see that it was pretty barren. We launched right after another family with 2 black Bell canoes. It turned out that they were also going to Horse. We followed them all the way and wound up camping next to them on Horse Lake.
The water was pretty low in Mudro. Last year, the creek was pretty deep and the paddle was easy. This year, the canoe drug along some sandy spots and got stuck on rocks in low water sections. We got out of creek and into Mudro. It was nice to be back paddling on a nice open lake.
It was raining slightly with a very strong, fairly cold wind. At least the wind was at our backs so the paddling was easier.
The portage from Mudro to Sandpit is quite hilly and rocky. It was quite an introduction to my daughters. Everyone worked hard and we made it across with a portage and a half. The water was also low in Sandpit and it was a bit tricky to load the canoes.
Sandpit was pretty and the portage to Tin Can Mike was uneventful but long. We paddled quickly through Tin Can Mike and portaged to Horse. We were finally on our lake.
We paddled past the south sites. We wanted to keep looking. The wind was coming hard out of the north but we kept pushing. We checked out the peninsula site near the Horse River. The family with the black Bell canoes was just setting up. We pushed on to the site north of the peninsula. The site was pretty nice but we wanted to at least check out the island site since I stayed there last year. We left one group and one canoe at the site and took the other canoe to the island site. The island site was nice but it was a bit exposed. There was a strong cold wind and the threat of rain. We figured that a site in the woods would work better. So, we settled in the second site near the Horse River.
We set up tents and started to relax. I had been very stressed. I kept having nightmares that all the Horse Lake sites would be taken and we would be out of luck. I was quite relieved to find nearly all the sites open.
It was fairly cold and windy. Angie and girls were wearing nearly all the clothes they owned. We were starting to wonder if we packed enough clothes. We had a nice steak dinner cooked on the fire grate and started to adjust to the slower rhythm of the Boundary Waters.
We woke to another perfectly beautiful BW day. It was sunny, clear, and crisp. We had a nice breakfast of pancakes and thick sliced bacon.
We paddled around the lake trolling Rapallas and looking for fish. We had a few bites and caught a few fish but nothing exciting.
I wound up catching a small walleye. After taking it off the hook, my depth finder was reading 5 feet deep. I was fairly far from shore and was expecting 25 feet of water. I played with depth finder a bit to see what was wrong. Everything looked right so I dropped my anchor rock in a basketball net. The rock immediately hit bottom. I knew that I found something special and marked the spot on my GPS. I drifted around a bit and discovered that I had found a submerged island. It rose to about 5 feet from the surface. All around was 20-25 feet of water. This turned out to be known as THE SPOT. I caught a few more walleye and a smallie. I took the fish home for dinner.
Side note: I took a Lowrance X67 Ice Machine depth finder. I bought the unit for ice fishing but it works great for the BW. It is entirely portable and the transducer shoots right through Kevlar canoes. I could clearly see depth and bottom structure. The unit comes with a 12 volt battery that is perfectly sized for a week in the BW. The unit is a bit heavy but it was well worth it.
It rained hard around 7pm. We hung out under our CCS tarp. The rain stopped and it was a nice night. BUT, there was no wind and the mosquitoes were awful. I tried to cook fish for dinner but the clouds of bugs were too thick. We ate as quickly as we could and went to bed.
Again, we woke to a perfect day. We had Cache Lake biscuits and gravy for breakfast. It was a BIG hit. All the girls absolutely loved it. All of the Cache Lake foods turned out to be great.
Now that I knew “the spot”, I couldn't wait to fish it. I went out around 11am. I took Bethany (age 7) and my wife. Bethany and I fished 2 poles with slip bobbers and leeches. My wife took pictures. We quickly caught about 10 nice smallmouth bass. They ranged from 15 inches to 20 inches. We had quite a few doubles. Most times, the bobber would go down within a few minutes of being cast. It was easily the best fishing I had ever experienced.
I went back to the spot around 3pm with Allison (age 13). We didn't have non-stop action but we caught 2 really nice bass. I caught one that was 20 inches and Allison caught one that was about 21 inches. They put up quite a fight and we had a blast.
We let all the bass go.
We had a nice campfire and relaxed. I had a nice cigar and a flask of port.
After the fire, I went to sleep in the hammock. I had been reading about folks sleeping in hammocks and wanted to give it a try. The hammock was a Hammock Bliss with an insect net. I hung a Tyvek tarp over the hammock in case it rained.
We woke up early for the trip. I slept great in the hammock. I was comfortable and wasn't a bit cold. I used a Thermarest pad under me and a 35F sleeping bag.
We packed some snacks, rain gear and survival gear. We also took fishing gear.
The trip up the Horse River was nice. The first rapids were a bit interesting but we made it through. My wife and her crew portaged around that set of rapids. After that, we paddled the small rapids and portaged the three official portages.
After the third portage, we stopped to fish. Our outfitter said it was a good spot. We were not disappointed! As we got there, baitfish were breaking the surface and being snapped up by hungry fish. My oldest daughter quickly hooked a decent bass and was enjoying the fight. Then, her bass was t-boned by a large pike. It was quite a circus: 2 canoes, 2 adults, 4 girls, 2 dogs, a decent bass, and a very large pike. Eventually, the pike lost interest and let go. Emily reeled in the bass. It had pretty serious teeth marks on its sides. We caught a few more bass. One of the bass had a big cut on his side. I assume the pike got him too.
We finally left and continued to the falls. We were a bit concerned about being swept over so we approached the portage carefully. We carried the canoes over the portage and checked out the falls. They were worth the trip. The flow and drop were very impressive. I can't imagine what they look like in early spring.
As we were sitting by the falls, Emily had her camera slip from her lap and fall in the water. She was heartbroken. My wife, Angie, could see the camera in about 1 foot of water. She jumped in and quickly rescued the camera. We were pretty sure that both the camera and the pictures were gone. But we figured that we’d dry it out and see.
(Note: The disk worked as soon as we got home and we recovered all our pictures. The camera itself dried out a few days later and seems to be working fine.)
We were all a bit tired but we decided to push on to the Indian pictographs. It turned out to be a good decision. It wasn't far to the pictographs and they were pretty cool.
When we got back to the falls, it was a circus: People were going in both directions, several large groups of kids were swimming in the fast water below the falls, a few fishermen were trying their luck. We had seen enough people and left the falls.
We stopped at the fishing spot again. We caught a few more nice smallmouth bass. I tried a topwater bait and quickly caught a nice 20-21” smallie. I cast again and caught a much bigger fish. He turned out to be 35-40” pike. Since I didn't have a steel leader, I eventually lost the pike.
We paddled back to camp. We had to walk a few of the rapids but made it home. It was raining pretty hard when we got back to camp but we were all so hot and tired that it felt good. A few of us swam and showered in the rain. It felt great.
The trip took 9 hours. It was quite an adventure. I would definitely do it all again (except the dropping of the camera)
We just recovered from our day trip. We caught a few nice walleye from the spot for dinner. We swam and practiced recovering from a tipped canoe.
Again, we just hung around camp and relaxed.
At dusk, we tried to go for a canoe ride to enjoy the quiet still water. But, there was no wind and the mosquitoes were out in droves. We gave up on the canoeing idea and relaxed around a camp fire at our site.
I got up around 5am to go fishing. I thought I would try the spot for walleye instead of bass. I caught a few smallies and a few walleye.
We were considering staying until Sunday morning. But we realized that we wouldn't get home until about 2am on Monday. So we decided to pack up around 1:30. Since everyone was expecting to leave on Sunday, it was quite an event. But, we packed up quickly and official pushed off at 3:30pm.
It was interesting to paddle out starting in the early afternoon. We did not see a single other group on any of the portages from Horse Lake, to Fourtown, and down to Mudro. We passed a group camping on the rapids from Fourtown to Mudro. They seemed genuinely confused and concerned that we were heading out so late.
We got to the Mudro launch at 8:30 pm. I would highly recommend this approach to others. We had the difficult Fourtown-Mudro portages all to ourselves. We did not have to contend with several groups going out and several more groups coming in. We could take up the entire launch area and relax. Also, the weather was cool and comfortable. When I consider the alternative – hitting the portages at 10am to noon – I am even happier with our decision.
We got to Ely around 10:00pm and had dinner at DQ. The girls were happy to be back in civilization but felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment. (One side note, another group in the DQ was getting ready to hit the BW the next morning. They were wearing their headlamps. Only in Ely Minnesota could someone eat in a DQ wearing a headlamp and not look out of the ordinary.)
It turned out the Jordan’s had room in their bunkhouse. So we slept there. Again, I can’t say enough good things about Jordan’s. Everything about this trip was done professionally and courteously. Even though we called them at 10pm on a Saturday night, they still took the time to prepare a bunkhouse for us and provided us lodging at the very last minute.
We woke around 8am and took showers at Jordan’s. It was nice to be really clean again.
I unloaded the canoes and returned the rental packs to Jordan's. It turned out that they didn't even charge us for the last night’s stay in the bunkhouse. Normally, they put you up for the night before your trip. It was above and beyond to put us up on the night after our trip.
We stopped in Ely for breakfast at a diner and then bought t-shirts. We were all sort of basking in a feeling of accomplishment for having such a great trip and doing the work on the last day to get out so quickly.
We then drove home. We stopped at the Split Rock lighthouse for a walk. We stuck our feet in the water of Lake Superior. I went to school at Michigan Tech so I feel a tremendous bond with the big lake. But even I had forgot how clear and cold the water was.
We stopped at my dad’s in northern Wisconsin and got home around 10pm. We quickly unpacked some of the gear and spread it out to dry.
When we finally settled in our bed, my wife and I could not believe how fast the trip had gone by…