BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
August 19 2019
Number of Permits per Day: 14
Elevation: 1381 feet
Trout Lake - 1
Tippy Canoe & Broken Soles (EP 23)
July 26, 2011
Number of Days:
Lewis (Herkamer) - 28
Cheryl (Herk's Mother) - 50ish
Mark (Herk's Father) - 55ish
Tessa (Yellow Lab) - soon to be 4 (Rookie)
Mark (Stern) & Cheryl (Bow) - 1984 Wenonah Jensen 18' Kevlar Canoe (More on this canoe later)
Lewis (Solo w/Tessa) - 1974 Radisson 14' Lightweight Aluminum Canoe
During the mid to late 1990's our family took 5 trips to BWCA. We all found that we loved the outdoors and the pristine wilderness and always had fond memories of our time. The last trip we took was in 2000 just before my senior year of high school. Once I graduated, things became hectic and we never pinned down another trip. We all talked about returning one day and finally, one day last winter, we decided that it was time to make our return!
We typically like to enter and find a small, dead-end or lightly used lake with just one or two sites. Somewhere that we can base-camp and spend lots of time fishing. We also like to venture to an area where we have not been before.
After much deliberation, we decided to enter at Mudro and make our way through the Boot/Fairy/Gun route to Moosecamp where we would spend at least the first several days before deciding what to do next. We reserved our EP 23 Permit for entry on Tuesday July 26th with plans to exit on Saturday August 6th (total of 11 days). We also reserved PMA nights for the Tick Lake PMA for August 1st, 2nd, and 3rd with hopes of at least exploring the area.
Our next order of business was to replace our two Old Town Penobscot 16s with something a bit lighter. Mark and Cheryl looked for an Ultralight Kevlar and ended up finding a great deal on an 18' 1984 Wenonah Jensen which, although it is technically a racing canoe, seemed to work well when tested. I, on the other hand, was looking for something a bit more rugged. I am a big guy and wanted something that would offer a bit more support and could be banged around a bit.
I settled on a 14' 1974 Radisson Lightweight aluminum canoe that weighs about 40 pounds stock. I was a bit hesitant to go with the shorter 14' due to the fact that shorter canoes don't usually track well, but this one worked like a charm. It kept a straight line and I had very little trouble keeping up with my parent's canoe. This canoe is foam lined so you don't get the noise of a typical aluminum canoe and with a 38" beam, even purposeful tipping took some effort.
We spent the next several months making preparations and, with the excitement building during the last week, got everything packed and ready to go! We set out from Carrollton, Ohio at about 5:45a.m. on Sunday July 24th for the 1000 mile trip to Ely. We pushed our first day of travel and stayed at a hotel near Munising, MI in the UP. An early hotel breakfast the next morning, and we were back on the road.
We arrived in the Ely area at about 3:30 which gave us plenty of time to stop and pick up our permits and fishing licenses and then get checked into the Adventure Inn for the night. We then hit up the Stony Ridge Cafe for dinner. We were just looking for a burger, but these were inhuman! Massive does not even begin to describe! (Beware the sausage! It will light your mouth on fire!) After a delicious and VERY filling meal, we browsed the Ely Surplus Store (next to Piragis) for some last minute items and souvenirs.
We returned to the hotel where we discovered our first lesson of the trip: "Always ensure that you have everything when you leave a hotel room... Especially the two goose down, traveling pillows you just left in northern Michigan!" Went to bed early totally stoked for our entry the next day!
Entry Day!!! We arose at 5:50 and made our way to Britton's Cafe for breakfast based on recommendations found here on BWCA.com. The stuffed hash browns were great for a last meal! After only one short wrong turn, we arrived at the entry point at about 8:45 and were on the water (so to speak) by 9:30. We carried our gear over the short smooth/level entry portage to Picket Creek and loaded the canoes.
I set off as my parents finished loading and about 100 yards down the creek, I came to our first obstruction. A fairly small beaver dam that required a simple lift-over. My parents walked the section as it was very shallow and sandy and lifted over. In the process, our cook kit bag fell overboard but luckily we did not lose anything. A quick rearrange and another 300-400 yards of walking and the stream bed dropped off to canoeable depths.
We ran into a couple of more small pull-overs just as the creek enters Mudro where just getting out of the canoe and floating it through the rocks was sufficient. Finally at our fist lake, we breathed in the awesomeness of Boundary Waters and slowly canoed our way across to the portage. Here we learned lesson number two: "Make sure you have your map accessible" We pulled up alongside each other and dug out the map just to make sure we were at the right place.
The series of portages from Mudro to Fourtown are a rather unique lot. The first 30 rodder is basically a boulder field and, while short, could end a trip very early. Tessa got to carry her pack for the first time and it took her a bit to get used to it. When we first put it on her, she stumbled around a bit, rolled a few feet down a hill and promptly fell in the water! She quickly righted herself but still seemed quite unsure about this "thing" on her back. We all had a good laugh and made our way to the other side with me and Mark double portaging for canoes.
We loaded up for a quick 150 yard paddle and came to the 140 rod middle portage. This portage is a strenuous one with several good rocky hills and plenty of ankle grabbers. We took our time and enjoyed the 100 foot drop off on one side in the middle of the portage. Tessa had figured out her pack by this time and seemed to be enjoying herself.
Another quick load for a 100 yard paddle and we were at the last of the three. Luckily the water levels were down a bit so we were able to take the first left and walk down the stream bed for a bit rather than having to negotiate the 20-25 foot cliff (for lack of a better word) at the other end. I would hate to do that when it is wet!
Finally!! We got to paddle for awhile! We made our way down the short stream into Fourtown and encountered a mild head-wind. (We always seem to have the wind in our faces!) We took a leisurely pace and arrived at the portage to Boot at about 2:00. Realizing that it was still quite a distance to Moosecamp we decided to stop for lunch and re-assess. We prefer to be in camp between 3:00 and 4:00 to allow plenty of time for setup, swimming, and relaxing so we decided that we would find one of the sites on Boot to stay for the night. Here we also learned our next lesson: "Make sure you get the camera out of the glove box before you leave the entry point!" (Sorry for no pictures!!)
We made the very easy portage to Boot and began the campsite search. We settled on Site 1094 which is the middle site on this lake. It was a very nice site with a decent canoe landing, a couple of good tent pads, and plenty of bear bag trees. There is one tree near the fire grate that is partially uprooted and leaning at a strange angle into another tree. I wouldn’t pitch a tent under that one! We got camp set up and took a quick swim. A quick and easy dinner of Old El Paso Tortilla Stuffers and a Black Bean Soup and we were all ready to relax. As usual the mosquitoes came out at dusk and we headed to bed (Tessa Sleeps with me in my Marmot Titan 3 Tent.)
We woke up this morning to the sound of raindrops on our tents (And the sound of water running through my parent's tent!) A quick examination showed a shallow gully running down the center of the tent spot with nearly the entire site draining through it. You really could not tell when it was dry. That combined with a mis-folded ground cloth, and you had a nice damp tent. Luckily it was only the sleeping mats that got wet so dry time was minimal. My tent (which I bought new for this and future trips) stayed perfectly dry!
We prepared Fresh Eggs, Pre-Cooked Bacon and Hungry Jack Hash Browns for breakfast in the light rain. (We brought 2 dozen fresh eggs for eating over the first 4-5 days.) We then went back to our tents for naps/rest. By about 11 the rain stopped and we decided to stay put for today.
We headed out fishing and other than some 4-6" sunfish/rock bass and one 12" walleye that flipped the lure as I was lifting him into the canoe, we had no luck. A nice lunch of granola bars and we took to enjoying our solitude! I pulled out my first book (The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand) and did some reading.
My parents headed back out to try their luck on the other side of the lake. They returned with no fish, but yet another lesson: "Always make sure you check over your equipment before fishing." While they were quietly sitting there fishing, there was a metallic clunk and then a splash! After looking at each other in confusion, Mark realized that the small screw that holds the handle on his spinning reel had just found a new home at the bottom of Boot lake! Being a bit of a MacGyver, he was able to fashion a replacement screw out of a hook and a couple of lead weights. (It didn't look pretty, but it held up for the entire trip!)
We had a wonderful Camp Pizza for dinner and played some cards. Another quick swim and, upon hearing the mosquitoes buzzing, hit the sack! The loons were amazing this evening! So many different types of vocalizations and it sounded like there were a lot of loons out there! Had they come to welcome us back after our 10 year absence?
We awoke this morning to a beautiful day! We had Bacon, Egg and Cheese Breakfast Wraps and began tearing down camp to proceed on our way. As we packed up, we began to see the first hints of what would eventually send our trip plans into disarray! We were on the water by about 10:30 and made quick progress across the easy portage to Fairy and then on to Gun. Today we actually had a tail-wind once we made the turn into the "barrel" of the gun. We met a couple of groups coming from the 300 rod portage to Wagosh and inquired about conditions for future reference.
We found the portage to Bullet near a rocky stream and prepared for our first trip across. About 2/3 of the way across, the portage turned to swamp and it appears that perhaps a beaver got a bit ambitious and raised the water level a bit. We slogged our way through and went back for the rest. The landing on the Bullet side was swampy and required some interesting maneuvering to get into the canoes.
We paddled through the shallow waters of Bullet to the final portage right next to the beaver dam. This portage seemed quite a bit shorter than the distance printed on the map, but the landing on Moosecamp was a mud hole! There were a couple of rocks to stand on to load/enter canoes, but then it required some tricky maneuvering to get out of the little inlet and into open water. This portage is located about 100-150 yards back a little tiny inlet and is very difficult to find from Moosecamp for first timers. We had to give 2 different groups directions during our time here!
In the process of making this final portage of the day, Cheryl's sole was broken. 15-20 years of camping and hiking had taken its toll! Fortunately we were done portaging for the day, but we knew that our grand PMA exploration plans were now history, and we would still have to find a solution for our exit!! A few strips of emergency duct tape on the back half of the sole of Cheryl's 20 year old Vasque hiking boots and they would, with care, see us through the end of the trip!
Having seen pictures of the middle site (#1089) on Moosecamp, we decided to head there first and check it out. It is a great site set about 6-8 feet above the water on a large sloping rock that extends along the shore to a marvelous sand beach and deep swimming hole. There are multiple possible tent locations and a very nice view! However, we had also received intelligence (props to Bogwalker) that the far East site (#1090) was also very nice and decided to leave a pack and some small gear as a way to reserve this site and check out the other!
We began the paddle down the lake with a moderate tail-wind which just prior to arriving at the east site, turned into a frenzy! The sudden wind and waves were enough to put even the most seasoned paddler on edge. We managed to use the little bay near the campsite to turn around and made a quick decision to return to the other site. This experience showed us one thing, just how unstable the Jensen is for maneuvering in wind and waves. After nearly going over and quickly retrieving Cheryl's hat from the water, we began the slow paddle back upwind. With arms burning, we arrived back at the site and got our camp set up.
We were a little later than normal and had a very good dinner of Chili and Cheesy Biscuits. We went for a swim and cooled off in the wonderfully cool water! Mark grabbed a rod and threw a few casts along the weeds next to the beach and in just a few minutes, had nabbed a 20-22" pike. We let this one go as we have found that keeping fish overnight is just a huge invitation to turtles!
We enjoyed a BW sunset and made our way to the tents for the night!
We woke up again to a beautiful Boundary Waters Sunrise and prepared the last of our eggs with more bacon and hash browns. We took a refreshing morning swim and let Tessa do some swimming/Frisbee. Every day since the rain had fallen, we were noticing more and more of the Biting Stable Flies emerging. They seemed to enjoy our ankles but what they really wanted was Tessa! They were incessant and being from Ohio where the bugs do not seem to bother her, she did not understand them... She just knew that they hurt. A lot! After our swim, we decided to take a nap and let her get some relief from them.
We got up for lunch of Trail Mix and Granola bars and decided to check out the third site on the lake. We also decided to try catching some fish for dinner. We canoed up the lake and found the 3rd site to be small and unimpressive. We then moved to the southern shore and allowed ourselves to drift with the wind while casting crank-baits, spoons, and whatever else struck our fancy in toward shore.
I hung back a bit to put some distance between our boats and soon caught a good eater pike and a decent smallmouth. Coming around a point, I caught up to my parents lounging on the shore and asked if they had had any luck. No. I was the hero of the day and we all headed back to camp to prepare dinner. Our first fish meal was excellent with lightly breaded, pan fried fish and flavored instant rice.
Once again we were bombarded with flies so after a quick swim to cool off, me, Cheryl, and Tessa went into the tent to play some cards while Mark went back out to try his luck. He returned at dusk and with the calls of about 6 loons on the lake, we went to bed!
We woke up this morning to the mystical sound of the loons (which had not quieted much all night long.) Having made the hard decision last night to cut our time at Moosecamp short and see if there were greener pastures elsewhere, we enjoyed a hearty breakfast of Pancakes and Bacon and packed up camp.
We had come to the decision that we were unprepared for how bad the flies were this year. They had turned parts of Tessa's ears into raw feeding grounds and our ankles were barely faring better. Also weighing heavily into the equation was the instability of the Jensen canoe for anything but traveling. The constant corrections were causing unnecessary back pain. Combine those factors with Cheryl's broken sole, and we decided to make the trip down the Moosecamp river several days early and see how things looked on Fourtown. If they were no better, we would push on out the next day and spend a night in Ely to re-group and consider our next move.
We loaded up the canoes and were just pushing off when a bank of dark clouds rolled in from the southwest. Deciding that we had sufficient time to travel down the lake to the east site, we pushed off and, with a fair tailwind, made good time. We paddled into the same small bay that we had used just two days before and watched as the storm passed just to the south of us.
Once we saw that we were clear, it was time to face the river. having seen two groups come up the river in the time that we were on Moosecamp, we were confident that traveling downstream would be no issue. We arrived at the shallow weedy entrance to the river and, not entirely knowing what to expect, pushed on in. We made good progress and quickly arrived at the first obstacle, the man-made logging dam. This has a decent landing on the upstream side, but was a bit of an ordeal on the downstream side. There is no easy place to get in/out of the canoe on this side and it required a bit of finagling to get clear.
Another long, beautiful section of river followed before we came to one of the most ambitious beaver dams we have ever seen. Standing 4 feet above the downstream water level and at least 150 yards wide, this is a sight to be seen! Luckily, the size makes it easy to traverse and we were quickly back on our way.
We encountered 7 more beaver dams along the lower portion of the river with varying degrees of navigability. Several we were able to just skim over or pull over, while a couple required lifting over. I left a large chunk of my pride on one of these! I pulled up alongside and found what appeared to be the most secure place to step out. Unfortunately when I stood, the branches parted and suddenly I found myself hip deep in beaver dam with one foot still in the canoe! When they finally stopped laughing, Mark and Cheryl grabbed my canoe so I could extract myself. After prying my leg loose and pulling my canoe across the dam, I was back on the water. A lot dirtier and quite a bit wetter, but none the worse for wear!
We exited the mouth of the river early in the afternoon and found a nice landing for lunch. While we were enjoying our granola bars and astronaut ice cream sandwiches, (a special treat for the trip) we were surprised to hear multiple airplanes and even a helicopter flying overhead. Assuming a medical evac, we continued to find a campsite for the night.
As we paddled south along the eastern shore of Fourtown, we quickly realized that the air activity was a result of the massive column of smoke towering above the lake. Apparently the storm we had seen passing to the south earlier in the day had sparked a wildfire on the island near the portage to Boot lake.
We paddled our way through the smoke and picked the campsite on the point in the middle section of the lake (#1105). This is a nice large site with many tent pads and excellent landing and swimming areas. The way the wind was blowing today allowed an occasional cloud of smoke to roll through the site, keeping the bugs at bay.
We efficiently set up camp and enjoyed a dinner of Cheesy Bacon & Potato Soup with some Fried Bread Dough (or Bannock as I understand it). We enjoyed a relaxing swim and, at dusk, sat on the rocks and watched the fire burn across the lake. Occasionally a pine would go up in flames sending sparks high into the air. It was an awesome site to remind us of the power of nature!
As we headed to bed I prepared to sterilize a bottle of water and realized that our SteriPen, which had served us faithfully thus far, had run out its batteries and was now useless. (These will do about 50L of water on one set of batteries, not 200L as we had been led to believe.) This coupled with the return of the flies when the wind began to die down this evening confirmed our decision to head on out.
We awoke today a bit saddened that we were cutting short our stay. Unfortunately, sometimes things go wrong and you just have to deal with life as it comes. We enjoyed a quick breakfast of instant oatmeal and packed up to leave. We loaded up the canoes and with figurative tears glistening in our eyes pushed off.
We made good time across the lower end of Fourtown and arrived back at the trio of portages which, just a few days before, had slowed our progress significantly. Having streamlined our traveling routine, we made short work of the first of the three. We zipped across to the second and Mark and I took the canoes across the long, meandering trail and returned for the packs. a quick snack and brief rest and we heaved the packs onto our backs and continued. Walking the last few feet of this portage, Cheryl's sole gave up the ghost completely. The entire sole detached from the boot.
We made the final portage into Mudro and I pushed ahead while Mark & Cheryl fished their way across the lake with no luck. I paddled my way up the river making it all the way to the beaver dam before having to get out and walk the final 100 yards or so. I quickly hauled my gear to the parking lot and moved the vehicle up to begin loading. The timing was perfect and my parents arrived with their first load just as I pulled up. We quickly loaded and headed into town for the night.
We stopped for dinner at the Ely Steakhouse and enjoyed a nice fresh meal. We grabbed a few necessities at the local stores and headed to the Canoe on Inn where we stayed for the night.
After re-assessing and considering our options, we ended up making the decision to take the "luxury" route and spent the rest of our time at the NorthernAir Lodge on Mitchell Lake. It was a wonderfully relaxing stay and we were able to process so as to be better prepared next time.
Our trip home was also a great adventure as we spent 2 days exploring the UP of Michigan between Grand Marais and Paradise. Mark & Cheryl have already purchased a Wenonah Aurora for future trips and the Jenson will be for sale soon. (If you are interested please feel free to send me an e-mail.)
All in all we had a great trip. We survived the Tippy Canoe and the Broken Sole and learned some easy lessons for next time. I am already planning a 4 day 'First' solo for the week after the Fall Wing Night. I am totally psyched for both! So until next time... Enjoy the backwoods and remember to "Leave No Trace"!