BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
July 05 2020
Number of Permits per Day: 14
Elevation: 1381 feet
Trout Lake - 1
BWCAW 2011 - Summer to late fall in 7 days
September 09, 2011
Number of Days:
I'm up at the usual time in the morning & help the kids get off to school. Once that was done, I spent a last few minutes with my wife in person before heading out. A couple errands need to be completed before I can get to Kenosha and pick up Joe - I need a tire rotation and want to stop at Woodman's to see if I can't find the elusive Ragu in a pouch. Unfortunately, even the massively stocked shelves at Woodman's didn't have what we needed. We decided to stop at Zup's in Ely as a last ditch effort, hoping they'd have it.
Foiled by the grocery store, I head into town to Joe's house to finish packing, load up all our gear, and have lunch before hitting the road.
We're finally headed out around 2PM for our drive to Ely. The plan is to stop at the rest stop by the Laurentian Divide for a few hours sleep. It's beautiful outside today, bright strong sunshine is on our faces as we head North, then West, then North again through Wisconsin.
We make a brief stop in Delafield at the Sports Authority there hoping to get some fishing supplies as I have a $10 of $10 purchase coupon. Their fishing selection is truly crappy and we end up getting some leaders and a LED glow stick looking thing which we'll use as our tent light. It turns out there's a tackle shop underneath what I've always referred to as 'The Happy Barn' because it used to have a huge smiley face on one side. We head in and come out later with jigs, a rattling rap, some extra line, and some Gulp baits. Back on the road we make good time through Wisconsin, and soon we're stopping a little wihle before sunset at a rest stop to eat some subs we had made earlier. I make a quick call home to talk to my family, and Joe does the same. Neither of us are able to finish our sandwiches and we decide to save them for later if we get hungry.
Soon it's dark and we're getting closer to Superior. We stop to fill up the car and before long we're crossing the bridge into Minnesota. We make the rest stop we targeted around 10PM and after stretching our legs a bit settle back in to the car to try to get a few hours of fitful, excited sleep.
Our cell phone alarms go off at 4. Stretch a bit and wait for the car to defog the glass (next time - sleep w/a window cracked!) and soon we're on our way in the predawn dark towards Ely. In the sky overhead we see bands which we're not sure if they're aurora or clouds. Turns out they were aurora.
We hit Brittons shortly after 5, and there are a few other groups eating as well. Lots of vehicles with canoes on top or on a trailer, and I see a boat with a neat red/white/blue finish. The stuffed hash browns are awesome and we both eat until we can't fit any more. As we're eating a group of fire fighters come in and sit at the counter, I'm tempted to ask them if they've been working the Pagami fire but in the end leave them in peace. We have a little time to kill before Zup's opens so we cruise around a little and end up stopping at Miners Lake to watch the sunrise. We get some pretty photos as we soak up the Northwoods in silence. [paragraph break] After a bit we head back up to the car and we decide to camp out in Zup's parking lot as we wait for them to open. Soon enough we see customers walking through the door a few minutes early so we hop out and see what they have. Foiled again! We end up settling for a pasta sauce mix and a tube of tomato paste.
Shopping done, we follow the GPS' directions as we make our way up the Echo Trail. Before long we get to Echo Trail Outfitters - I picked them only because of their proximity to our EP. Now that I know that Ely is but a short drive to many entry points I'll consider possibly using another outfit for future trips, although it really will depend on where we head next.
We get to the outfitter and after a short drive through their property we realize that the big house we passed back up on the hill was the office and the owners' residence. We've got about 30 minutes before they open so we rearrange the contents of the back of the Prius a bit until I hear a voice ask, 'Are one of you guys Allan Short?' - I guess Laurie was waiting for us and was happy to help us out before they officially opened. Thanks ETO! Shortly after our permit is in order and we're ready to get our new ride for the week. We drive over to their rental storage area and we're presented with our first decision - which boat? At first I pick a Q17 that looks like its kevlar, we get it up to the car and only then realize it's duralight. Thinking of the mile portage we're planning on doing later in our trip we end up re-racking the Q17 and pick a Spirit II over a MNII. In the end I think we made a good choice, but I'm somewhat ignorant of canoes other than reading Joe @ Red Rock's undying love for the Q17 on his website.
A few minutes later we're getting our PFD's and paddles - Joe takes a bent shaft for up front and I take a cheapo as it's hopefully just going to be our spare. I picked up a BB Beavertail from another bwca.com member a few weeks earlier. We load up our new gear and get the boat secured on the car and take off for the put in.
We get to the parking lot and I'm surprised at it's size (I thought it looked big) and also how we seem to be the only people there. I want to get a photo of the canoe atop my car, I've been dreaming of getting my own boat and this is as close as I'll get for a while. [paragraph break] The parking lot being devoid of people works to our advantage as we need to change into paddling clothes. Only after we're changed and starting to take our stuff down to the put in do other vehicles arrive. A group of 5 or 6 people older than us are getting dropped off. We exchange pleasantries as we pass through them carrying our final loads. One last stop at the car to stash wallets, put leftover food under the floor in the trunk, and lock up. We're ready to go!
Picket Creek is low. We knew this going up and we knew we'd have to walk farther before putting in. We gently dip the boat into the water and start loading our packs in. Joe gets into the bow and I take my usual place in the stern and we're off.
Soon we're at the rocky lift over just before Mudro and in short order we're on the lake headed for Sandpit. We meet a group at the portage who remark they'd rather be doing this portage headed our direction, but for all I heard of how terrible or tough it was going to be in the end we were over it with no difficulty.
We make short work of the portages, stopping to finish off our sandwiches from the night before on the Horse side of the portage from Tin Can Mike. As we're sitting we can see the campsite we're targeting and hope the group we see that just rounded the bend doesn't have plans on stopping there. Nope! They paddle on. We clear off the portage and get on the water, and as we pass them besides saying hello we ask how the fishing was since we can see their poles. They give us some tips, then blow us away by asking 'Want some bait?' Wow! Do we ever! They happily give us what was left of their crawlers and leeches. I know in a way we're doing them a favor by essentially taking some of their trash, but one man's trash is another man's treasure.... A few minutes later we're at the campsite and it is indeed open! It took us 4 hours of not really paddling all that hard to reach here and boy are we thrilled to get our first campsite choice. We unload the boat, get the tent set up, check out the biffy, find a suitable tree for hanging our bag, then head out to filter some water.
Back in camp we change into our dry shoes and leave our paddling shoes and socks out to dry in the warm sun. [paragraph break] There’s a resident squirrel in camp. He doesn’t appear to be looking for a handout from us. He’s fun to watch as he scurries around stashing pine cones for winter.
Before long it's time to start a fire for dinner and we're very grateful to the last group that occupied the site to leave us a nice stack of welcome wood. Dinner tonight is steaks; red potatos with rosemary, garlic, and salt; and fresh green beans from my garden also with garlic. [paragraph break] The food pack's going to be a little lighter tomorrow! Neither of us mind the extra weight of steaks for our first night, it's almost that extra little carrot to help us get to our day's destination - not that we really need incentive since we're in the Boundary Waters after all... Dinner's delicious, the steaks were awesome and the potatoes and green beans turn out perfect. We sip some scotch as the light fades, and the moon and stars come out.
We go hang out on the big rock face by the fire area to look at stars for a while, then we decide to try our luck at fishing from shore. I land the first fish of the trip, a pretty large sized bluegill - Not knowing it'd be our only eater sized fish for most of the trip, and still stuffed from dinner we let it go. [paragraph break] Back by the fire I adjust the logs to get what's left of them burned up before we turn in to bed while Joe takes some photos of me playing with the fire.
Tired, full, and happy beyond belief we make sure the fire is dead out then head into the tent to sleep under the stars.
We're up early, before 7 tearing down camp and getting ready for the day's travel up the Horse. We're hoping to get as far as Thursday Bay on Crooked, we've been eyeing the 'Hilton' site as our destination. After a quick breakfast of coffee and oatmeal we're loading up the boat. We stop just before the start of the river to fill our water bottles and my camelbak, we know this is going to be a long and hard day's work. [paragraph break]
All of the groups we passed yesterday that we talked with told us what we already knew - water on the river is exceptionally low and we're looking at 7-8 portages before we get to Lower Basswood Falls.
We feel up to the challenge, so off we go! We have the river to ourselves at first, then while stopping for a break we see another group appear behind us. Somewhere around this time Joe finds an almost empty tube of toothpaste sitting on a rock, it's a strange place to find it, I don't think I'd want to brush my teeth in the Horse... We play leapfrog with the other group, then at one point while letting them pass we see another group behind them! This one is a husband and wife, they're camped on Horse and just daytripping to see the falls. We let both groups pass as we're moving slower than them double portaging. At one of the official portages we see a fleece hanging on a tree. We know it didn't belong to the groups that passed us, and unsure what exactly to do we end up taking it. Maybe we can find its owner. Either way, we know its going to get colder so hopefully its owner doesn't miss it too much. We stop for a bit and admire a beaver's engineering at one point on the river, and have some trail mix and jerky. [paragraph break] [paragraph break]
Before long we've passed the worst part of the river and we're on the wider open parts leading up to the falls. We have to get out at one point and line the boat as we don't have a deep enough draft to paddle. Other times we just have a hard time keeping the boat centered in the weedy, narrow channel. I think we need to work on our coordination, and my new paddle seems to move more water with less effort. In the end we make it to Lower Basswood Falls just fine. We stop to admire the falls for a few minutes and then run into a group daytripping to see the pictos. They ask us about our Horse experience as they're considering moving on to Horse tomorrow. We tell them what everybody else had told us - 'The Horse sucks!' It took us about 4 hours to paddle the length of the river to the falls.
We shove off and start North up Crooked into a stiff headwind. This will be the theme for the rest of our paddle days on this trip. But, the sun was strong and warm still on our backs and in short time we were at the pictos. We didn't spend a lot of time there because we knew we had a long paddle ahead of us, and in hindsight I wish we had stayed a little longer because we would discover our plans of coming back the next day weren't really possible. The wind is getting channeled down Crooked from Wednesday Bay. It's not terrible, but it's certainly slowing us down some. We round the corner at Table Rock and stop for a moment to get the obligatory picture - [paragraph break]
We started discussing which campsites were of interest as a backup in case the site we wanted was occupied. I know we're both getting tired, too. It's been a long paddle into the wind today, plus the river. So far since leaving the falls and picto area we haven't seen anybody, and every campsite we've passed is open. We press on, passing through the 'current' narrows just before Thursday Bay. Still, not a soul to be found and every campsite empty. We're pulling into the little bay that has the campsite we want, and I can tell by both of our paddle strokes that we won't be traveling much further if the site is taken. The first site on the bay, on the Western shore is open. It looks decent from the water. We can see our desired destination, and even better it's open! We paddle around the rock peninsula and find a suitable landing. Exhausted, we unload the boat and set up camp. Before we can change out of our wet clothes, however, we need to go out and fill our water containers. The plan is to lay over one day then press on to Friday Bay for another night. Our water full, we head in and pull the boat up for the night. There's another nice pile of welcome wood at this site, and we're even more grateful to the last group to stay here for this. The site itself is alright. There aren't a lot of pad options, at least that we can see, so we end up pitching the tent not too far from the fire area. Forecast for tonight has no rain again so we decide to leave the fly off the tent.
Dinner tonight is backwoods pizza. Instead of buying a box crust mix we opted instead to get a pair of boboli 8" crusts. They fit pretty well along the side of our food bucket. I get the pepperoni sliced while Joe tends the fire and gets the crusts going. We lay down a layer of foil on the grate, weighted down by rocks, then put the crusts on top of that. Then we tented another piece of foil on the top to trap heat and melt the mozzerella. In the end, they turned out great! [paragraph break]
After dinner, dishes, and a nip of scotch we try some more night fishing from the rocky shore. It seems to drop off pretty quickly and we're hoping there's something hungry down there. We'd like to eat some fish! Unfortunately, the cold front that's coming has turned off the fish or at least we can't find them...
We walk out a bit into the lake on the sandy side of the campsite to wash off. The water feels cool and refreshing, and it's nice to rub off the grime from earlier in the day. We take the time to rinse out our clothes and set up a line in camp so they can dry.
After washing up, we hang around the fire well past midnight enjoying each other's company and the wilderness around us. At one point I hear sounds across the bay from us, sounds like rustling in the trees. For a little while I'm concerned that a bear maybe smelled the pizzas and wanted his share, but in the end I see ripples in the moonlight and my mystery animal turns out to be a beaver.
We put out the fire and head to bed. It's been a long day but we both agree that any day in the BW is a good day.
Winds started off this morning strong out of the South. Some of our clothes on the line from last night got blown off, but nothing is missing. We roll out of bed after 9 and get a fire going for breakfast. Today we're having bacon, pancakes, and hash browns. Joe tries to get a photo of me doing air flips on the pancakes but doesn't manage to get one in midair. [paragraph break] Meals are slow to cook.... We have a single 8" frying pan, and while it does a very good job we just can't make a whole lot on it. Note for future trips - larger frying pan, maybe a griddle? Breakfast takes us a couple hours, after the bacon we make the pancakes one at a time, followed by the hash browns. Everything gets eaten almost immediately after it comes off the fire. [paragraph break] A pair of Gray Jays come by for a bit, one of them taking a perch on the top of the wood pile to check us out. We try to get a couple more pictures of them but they have other plans than posing for photographs. [paragraph break] We're staying put for today. The weather radio says that there's a strong system moving in today that will bring winds from the North with some decent gusts. After breakfast we busy ourselves pitching the tarp as there's also rain in the forecast. I can't really find a good way to pitch the tarp in this site... It always ends up opening to the North and West and that's the direction the winds are coming from now. After the wind pulls out the stakes on the tarp for the billionth time we start looking for natural anchors to use. In the end we get the tarp up. It's not pretty, snaps like crazy in the wind, but it will do. [paragraph break] It's now midafternoon and we need to get water, so we head out. Bad idea.... We get pushed down the bay and have to claw our way back towards our campsite. I get maybe a liter of water filtered before we decide it's not worth it getting blown around in every direction and head back in. We ended up BDB'ing the filter intake to our spare paddle so it got out from shore a little and did the rest of our pumping in this camp from shore. Not ideal, but filtered water is better than not. For dishes we're using lake water that gets boiled on the grate, plus filtered water for rinsing.
Temps are falling this afternoon and we end up putting on another layer to stay warm. At one point Joe discovers a downside to leaving the fly off the tent - the wind is blowing a fine layer of sand and silt into the tent thru the mesh and all over our stuff. We get the fly on the tent and toss the broom inside to use later. We go out in search for firewood because we're going to need it. Tonight's is predicted to be for sure our last frost free night. We had a couple little sprinkles but nothing too bad. I see what looks like a huge storm cloud to the SE of us, it appears the rain has stayed away for the day.
We're expecting to be wind bound tomorrow. The winds are really whipping out of the North, and if we plan on going to Friday Bay then South we're going to have to pass over some pretty deep water on Crooked. Plus, Thursday and Friday Bays open up to the North into Quetico and that'll allow the wind to strengthen and maybe produce waves. White caps mean danger.
We decided no Moosecamp River this trip. It was a pretty slim possibility anyhow, considering that we are stuck tomorrow and Joe's wife Trisha is expecting to hear from us on Friday. He neglected to make sure she was aware of the possiblility of getting wind bound at one or more campsites, and if she doesn't hear from him she'll start to worry.
The forest is really dry. There hasn't been a lot of rain up here this summer, and every piece of down wood we touch snaps off in our hands. Firewood isn't a problem to find either, I find a nice bunch of small downed trees up on the ridge that we use for burning and tarp poles. Listening to the weather radio tonight all we hear is a special announcement looping regarding a meeting about the Pagami Creek fire. It wasn't very large and seemed on its way to containment when we went up, but something must be going very badly if all we can hear on the weather radio is information about a meeting. Hope whatever going on isn't too bad...
We've got plenty of food to tide us over, but the lack of fish is a bummer. I didn't haul a bottle of peanut oil and a package of shore lunch 550 miles for nothing, I hope!
We're in bed relatively early. Tired of being in the wind and having dust blown in our eyes and noses.
Slept pretty well last night. Our mummy bags are doing a fine job of keeping us warm. There's a frost advisory on for tonight, lows are supposed to be in the low 30s. Tomorrow night is supposed to be even colder. Forecast for tomorrow isn't really all that great for paddling.... Winds again from the North around 15mph. Neither of us really want to travel but it's looking like if we really want to be out on Friday then that's what we have to do.
Broke out the cold weather gear today. Wearing my long john bottoms as an extra layer on my legs. I love how fast zip offs dry, but they don't really retain heat all that well.
We tried our hand at fishing off and on today. In the morning we paddled out of our bay and headed towards a campsite by the narrows. We tried all over the place and at one point Joe had a fish on! But..... it threw the lure and got away. While exploring the campsite I found some bear scat near the latrine -
Apparently the bear knew this was the place to do it! I also found some mouse chewed boxers near a tree. It went into our growing trash bags. We decided to head back towards camp and along the way tried to stop at a little island to fish from shore there. Its too windy for us to land safely on this little spit so we turned towards camp and let the wind do most of the work. As we passed by our campsite we got another shot of the firegrate area to try to show how windy it is out... [paragraph break] We walked up and down the shore from our campsite hoping to get some fish. All we came up with was an empty and pierced spray paint can, an empty can of Copenhagen, and Joe caught a very slender yet heavy branch - [paragraph break] I ended up catching two little baby bass from the dropoff by camp on leeches, after a quick photo they were promptly returned to their home. [paragraph break] The weather's been rolling in today. It has been alternating between sunny and cloudy/rainy. We have an interesting vantage point on the weather from this campsite as we can usually see the rain at the end of the bay a few minutes before it reaches us. Some pretty dark clouds coming from the North. Here's what we saw from the North, West, and South: [paragraph break] Before long the rain starts to fall in earnest, and so we secure things around the firegrate and under the tarp then head into the tent to get dry and away from the elements. [paragraph break] Joe mixes up a couple apple bannocks for us to have for breakfast tomorrow. He made a bunch of mixes at home and all we had to do was rehydrate the apples a little and add to the batter. They cook like pancakes on the stove and come out perfect.
Dinner tonight is fairly simple and easy to clean - we make up some ramen. I love oriental and always eat it as a soup. Joe prefers it less like a soup and more like flavored noodles.... but he discovers soon that after the fact he'd rather have soup. The beef flavoring is strong for his tastes and if he'd kept in the water it would have been less overwhelming. In the end he gets almost all of it down and dumps the couple forkfuls left into my soup.
After dinner is done we set about taking down the tarp. The forecast no longer calls for the chance of rain tonight and its one less thing to have to pack up in the morning.
Somewhat of an early night again. If we're traveling tomorrow then we need to be up early. Alarm's set for a little after 6.
7:30AM - We're tearing down camp and getting ready to travel. Weather radio says winds from the NW 10-15. We're trying to get past Friday Bay, maybe as far as Gun. It's cold out this morning, low 30s.
We'll see how the day's paddle goes....
Shortly after leaving camp while in the calm part of the narrows before it opens up to Thursday Bay we saw and spoke with a husband/wife tandem. They were doing a Quetico trip but decided to turn around. No idea where or why they turned around, but if it was because they were trying to go North into Thursday then I don't blame them. The wind was in our faces for much of the morning. Paddling across Thursday Bay was very difficult. We encountered solid white caps and rollers in the deep and wide parts of the bay, and we had to go further North than we would have so we'd be able to turn with the wind to get to Friday Bay. In the end we had a good strategy and Joe and I make a good team.
Took a breather and talked strategy for a minute or two between Thursday and Friday Bays before heading back out into it. We made somewhat of a beeline for an island in the middle of Friday hoping the lee side would be protected and have a decent enough landing for us to be able to get out for a little while and eat a snack. Paddling in Friday isn't quite as treacherous as Thursday but it still isn't a walk in the park. We make it to the island and it has a shelf on the Southern side that makes a good landing with no wind for our break. [paragraph break]
After our break we find the portage to Papoose Creek easily enough and we stop to bid farewell to the Canadian shore.
The travel through Papoose to Niki, Chippewa, and Wagosh is relatively uneventful. We spot most of the campsites and I note that they’re all empty. Clouds start rolling in while we’re headed South and before long a light rain starts to fall on us. The rain slacks off then starts anew with what I first think are heavy drops, but then notice the ‘drops’ are sticking to my sweater. Sleet? Hail?! We both burst out laughing, giddy with the strangeness of it all. [paragraph break] We get to the portage from Chippewa to Wagosh as the sleet/hail comes and goes. By now there’s a nice layer on top of us, our packs, and in the bottom of the canoe. Joe portages the boat and despite his best efforts he can’t bounce out the layer of sleet that’s accumulated on the bottom of the boat. The portage trail is a little wet and by the time we get to the other side it’s covered in a layer of sleet. [paragraph break]
As we paddle across Wagosh the sleet/hail and rain continues to turn on and off. We’re at the 320 rod portage to Gun. Joe takes the food pack while I take the canoe. We both swear that we read that the portage is relatively flat and not that difficult of a walk. Turns out there’s quite an elevation change – you gain about 100 feet before descending 40 feet to Gun. Maybe it’s an easier carry the other direction.… Either way, I had to take a couple short breaks along the way. At one spot I stop there is a topless tree which is the perfect height for me to rest the bow on and get out from under the canoe for a minute. Joe keeps walking, so I put the canoe back on my shoulders and finish the portage. After a couple minutes to catch our breath we head back to get our second load. I leave my gloves behind on my seat and Joe leaves his hat, a decision I think both of us regret before too long. The rain and sleet starts back up as we get to our stuff and Joe’s head is pretty drenched. I don’t miss my gloves too much as my hands and feet tolerate cold pretty well, but little did I think that they’d be absorbing all the rainwater. About halfway through the portage the sleet gets replaced by wet snow and we have another, but shorter breakout of giggles at the sight of it.
It takes us about 20 minutes per leg to do the portage, and just about an hour after we started we’re pushing off into Gun. There’s fog swirling around on the lake, and it makes for a pretty scene. The wind catches some of the fog and creates little dust devils with the mist. [paragraph break] The portage has taken a lot out of us. Similarly to how I could tell when paddling in to our campsite at Thursday Bay that we were ready to be done for the day, I can tell again that Gun will be the lake we camp on provided there’s a site.
As we paddle down the barrel and past the trigger we start to see campsites and can tell they’re occupied. We continue on…. There’s a 4 star on the Northern shore of the handle area that I’m hoping for, somehow we miss the middle campsite before our target so we’re unable to tell if it’s occupied. We pull up to the 4 star and sure enough it’s open! Joe take a quick look at it from the boat and says, ‘No, this isn’t it.’ Meaning he doesn’t like the looks of it and wants to continue. OK – there’s a site directly across from us we can see from here. Looks unoccupied. We paddle over, not noticing at first the wind is helping to push us toward it. There’s lots of chop and small waves breaking on the shore of the campsite as we get out to look around. The fire grate’s backside is to the wind, and it’s pretty darn breezy here. We look at each other and agree – this is definitely not it!
Decision time. We know we’re laying over tomorrow, but the shadows are already getting long and we have no idea the status of campsites on the lakes further South. We decide to paddle back to the 4 star through the headwind.
Exhausted, we park the boat, get out, and drag our stuff up onto shore. The site looks decent enough although there really aren’t a lot of flat options for the tent and nothing by the fire area workable for flying the tarp. We listen to the forecast and decide not to bother with the tarp since there’s only a slight chance of rain tonight and nothing for the rest of our trip. We decide where to pitch the tent, and before too long we’re getting out of our wet travel clothes and into our camp stuff. Neither of us wants to float the boat again today to go out for water so we filter from shore again. The pump is getting hard to push again. I take a look at the filter and it doesn’t look too bad – and if I wait for a couple seconds between strokes the first stroke is always easier than subsequent ones. I don’t know, maybe a new filter or at least a replacement cartridge is in order before our next trip. Suddenly a gravity bag is appealing for once we’re at camp, but I know that I’ll still want to carry a pump so I can get water any time.
Joe gets dinner going while I refill all our water containers as well as the collapsible jug that we use around camp. Breakfast for dinner – we have the last carton of dehydrated hash browns and a pack of 15 pieces of bacon. Both have been awesome on this trip and I’m grateful to bwca.com and the recipe forum for cluing me in to the hash browns.
We sit quietly around the fire cursing the wind for directing the smoke onto us, as we carefully dry out our socks and my gloves. Stars are out tonight and we look at them for a bit before putting out the fire and turning in.
Tomorrow we’re going to explore Fairy and Boot as there’s supposed to be decent fishing around both, and we are determined to have fish for a meal before we leave. We will not get skunked, we’re on a mission to find fish!
We sleep in some and are out of the tent before 9. We get the food down and get coffee on. Breakfast today is a continuation of last night’s dinner. Since we’re going to have a fair amount of paddling still ahead of us tomorrow we decide to polish off the rest of the bacon and pancake mix. We find some dehydrated apples for bannock and I decide to mix them into the pancakes – works well! Note for future trips, 1 package of dehydrated pancake mix from WalMart is not quite enough for two people… only makes 5 pancakes. 2 packages is borderline too much and coupled with a package of bacon apiece we had a hard time finishing our breakfast! Not wanting to start a fire yet as we’re going to daytrip we make breakfast on the stove. This causes breakfast to drag out for a few hours, but gives Joe some more chances to catch a pancake flip on camera. Success! [paragraph break] Once we’re done eating and camp is cleaned up we head out. The boat moves swiftly and effortlessly across the lake as we head to the Fairy portage. A group passes us headed the opposite direction, but too far away to exchange anything other than a wave. They seem to be headed for our campsite, maybe it’s one of several possible destinations for them?
We portage quickly over to Fairy and get our lines wet as we aimlessly meander around the lake. Neither of us catch anything although Joe later tells me he thinks he had some nibbles. I’m trolling a Mepps and Joe’s casting & retrieving a leech on a jig. Since we’re not finding anything we decide to head over to the ‘hotspot’ I saw noted online on Boot. We spend a little time inside the SW bay of Fairy looking for signs of the portage, but nothing really sticks out. At one point we notice two canoes headed south on Fairy and they’re headed for the next bay over to the East. We were looking in the wrong place! We quickly follow suit and a short time later we’re at the portage to Boot. We stop and chat with one of the groups we saw on the water, turns out they’re MN DNR. One of the guys quickly assures us he’s not going to check our licenses or harass us, they’re in the Wilderness collecting moss and other samples as he’s a botanist. He tells us they spent the last few days on Jackfish in the Tick Lake PMA. In hindsight I wish I had asked if they went West through the PMA and hooked up with Niki, or if they paddled through Crooked. Either way, I’m a bit in awe merely because they spent time in the PMA. Today would have been a good day for paddling the bays of Crooked – it’s sunny, low 50’s, and winds are a gentle breeze from the West.
I portage the boat and Joe talks with them a little more. Once Joe catches up to me we put in to Boot and immediately start looking for the fish. There’s lots of lily pads in the area around the hotspot. After losing the Rattling Rap to them I switch over first to a leech on a bobber then just straight bottom bouncing leeches on an orange jig head. Joe reports he thinks he’s feeling nibbles and I tell him I feel the same thing. I hook up with something that may have been a fish under the pads but after a little bit the line goes slack and all I reel in are some weeds. The wind’s blowing us a little away from the lily pads and I finally figure out, at least in my mind, the right way to jig. A couple minutes later I hook up with a fish! It’s a little bass but we’re just elated to have found something hungry. I let it go, and keep looking for something eater sized. After a bit we’re rewarded with a small, but keepable sized ‘eye. It goes on the stringer and we keep looking. Turns out we’ve apparently run out of luck and eyeing the sun and shadows getting longer we head back for camp. We have to stop to get some firewood too, along the way as the site had a small pile when we got there but it was largely depleted after yesterday. On Gun, Joe hops out and walks the shoreline a bit and tosses in a bunch of downed birch he finds.
We head back to camp with our bounty just as the sun starts to touch the trees to our West. I make short work of the firewood using the bashing log in camp and before long we have a fire going. Joe gets to work on some coffee while I fillet the fish, and he makes a startling discovery – we’re out of coffee! Noooooo! To take his mind off the coffee, Joe decides to make one last effort to add to our dinner from shore. [paragraph break]
Knowing this is our last night makes the fact we're out of coffee somewhat easier to take. I finish the fillets and get them breaded, then head out by myself in the canoe towards the opposite shore to ditch the carcass. The Spirit is fun to paddle by myself although I know I’m not doing it right – I’m just sitting in the stern and the front half of the boat is completely out of the water. It’s a beautiful night and a pretty sunset and I’m simply happy to be out to appreciate it. My task done I head back to camp and discover Joe’s been having to constantly nurse the fire to keep it going. Before I get out of the boat, though Joe gets a picture of me – [paragraph break] There are lots of hot embers but we can’t keep a flame going. Surprisingly, even though the wood we collected was near shore but not in the water a lot of it is damp. We alternate stirring the coals and blowing to coax out a flame.
We get the oil in the pan and heat it up. Once Joe declares the oil is ready we start dropping in the breaded pieces. Ohhh man, it’s so delicious! We wish we could have been able to do this on our 2nd night and not our last, but at least we got our fish dinner. [paragraph break] Once dinner’s done the leftover oil helps to keep our fire going for the rest of the night. We had planned on filtering and reusing the oil throughout the trip, but since this was the last night and our only fry we decide to burn it instead. At least this way I can take the leftover oil home and use it for something else.
Dishes get washed, rinsed, and dried. At some point Joe discovers we have a resident mouse, so that prompts a quick straightening up of our stuff and getting our trash bag on top of the bucket so the mouse can’t get to it. The moon is a late riser tonight and we enjoy seeing the band of the Milky Way for certain the first time of the trip.
We douse the fire and head to the tent where we discuss tomorrow’s travel plan, how long it’ll take to get back to the car, and what time we’ll eventually get home. I figure with a South wind in our face and 10 miles to go it’s going to take a little less than 6 hours given our rate of travel on previous days. We decide on trying to get out around 8, with our absolute worst case departure of 9. I have a hard time writing in my trip journal as I’m simply exhausted from the trip and several times nearly drift off mid sentence. In the end I get it done and we drift off to sleep after midnight, but not before a noisy flock of ducks or geese pass by. I swear it sounds as if they flew right over the tent just a couple feet above it.
We’re up a little after 7 although both of us would have gladly slept later. There’s a mixture of excitement and sadness about us as we know this is the last little bit of the wilderness we’ll be seeing for many months. One thing we finally get a chance to see is some really good fog on the lake - [paragraph break]
I have the last pack of Ramen for breakfast and Joe has the last of the oatmeal. At one point we had talked about having the pasta for breakfast only because this will be the second trip where we’ve carried in and out some pasta. In the end, however, common sense prevails and we opt for the faster and far less messy breakfast options.
We pack up camp, do a last walk around and collect up all the garbage we’ve found here – 3 jiffy pops, one huge nail, a larger than regular size nail from the fire grate and two Shakespeare rods missing their reels discovered near another tent pad. Our bags packed, we secure the rods along the gunwales, float the boat, and load her up. Joe gets into the bow and I try to keep my feet dry even though I’m wearing my wet shoes. We shove off at 8:55AM. Before the portage Joe gets a couple shots of Gun in the morning quiet. [paragraph break]
The paddle South through Gun and Fairy is pretty uneventful, especially since we had seen these lakes and portages yesterday, and in no time we’re on Boot. We didn’t notice the wind until now and it’s stiff in our faces. We see people in most of the campsites we spot on Boot. Once we get to the toe area we have a little difficulty locating the portage until we go around a peninsula and it’s obvious right in front of us.
We portage across to Fourtown and I’m taken with how beautiful the view from the portage area looking towards the East is. I don’t know, guess I have a thing for islands… We take the opportunity to have lunch and we have some gorp, jerky, the rest of the string cheese, and wash it all down with a little scotch. Who cares if it’s 10:30? We don’t! [paragraph break]
I can see out past the islands that the lake has some chop. Nothing terrible but its obvious that the wind is still strong from the South. We paddle out and turn South towards the portage back to Mudro. We encounter a couple canoes, it looks like they’re moving sites or exiting today as they’re laden with gear but we never see them again. As we’re paddling we briefly get hung up on a flat submerged rock. Visions of Friday Bay flash into my head but after some weight shifting and pushing off with paddles we’re free. As we near the portage the wind intensifies in our face, almost as if the lake doesn’t want us to leave or it’s not done with us yet. [paragraph break]
We see a few groups at the portage and we hang offshore a bit waiting for a landing to open up. This is the much talked about portage with the steep rock face and it doesn’t disappoint even if we do end up taking the rocky stream bed instead. We encounter several solos who are headed back to the parking lot as well as a husband and wife tandem who tell us they’ve been coming to the BWCA for the last 43 years. [paragraph break]
The middle portage is absolutely breathtaking with how close the portage trail gets to the cliff sides and how far up we are. I’m in awe at several points and wish Joe were a little closer so I could ask him to get a picture. Oh well, he’s out of earshot and I don’t feel like standing around with the canoe on my shoulders so I finish out the portage and then go back for the second load. [paragraph break] We put in and are at another portage after just a minute on the water, and after one last portage we’re shoving off and paddling on to Mudro where it all began just 6 short days earlier.
Soon we’re at the lift over at the mouth of Picket Creek and we’re paddling upstream to the parking lot. It seems like the water’s become even more shallow in the week since we put in and we end up bottoming out about 75 yards downstream from the put in. We try lining to get past it, only to discover that in the end our best bet is to just bushwhack our way through the tall grass back to the trail. Other groups coming in are contemplating the reverse – bushwhacking their way to a deeper draft to start their trip. I end up stepping through the boggy ground midway up my calf while portaging out the canoe, so much for trying to keep my feet, or more importantly my sandals, dry. We finish carrying our stuff back to the car and while Joe was taking a load he was chatting with one of the groups coming in and learned a couple pieces of information – 1) There’s a fire ban in effect starting today. This makes us happy that we were able to have our trip and be able to use fire for light, warmth, and cooking. I wonder had we not been able if we would have had enough fuel for the stove. We carried in 3 large Jetboil cans and a partially used little MSR can as a backup, and by the end of the trip we had drained two of the large cans and had cracked the 3rd during breakfast the other day. A trip without campfires would have likely meant lots of early nights going to bed in the tent. 2) Joe hears something about 100,000 acres but doesn’t know what to make of it. The Pagami fire was 700 acres when we left, it’s incredible to think that this huge number could somehow be associated with it.
We dig out our drive home clothes and I walk down to the creek to wash the mud and muck off of my sandals and socks. My feet clean, I change into my street clothes for the drive home and we then load up the car. I turn on my phone and immediately get a notification that I have 3 new texts and a voice mail. All are from people that know where we were and are concerned for our safety, at this point I have no idea that the smoke from the fire caused such a ruckus back home around Chicago. I write back to everyone to let them know we’re out and fine. We’re officially back to the car at 2:12PM, just a little over 5 hours after we left Gun.
With the canoe secure on top we wave farewell to the older couple we met earlier on the Fourtown to Mudro portage and start the drive back to Echo Trail Outfitters. I call my wife, who presently gives me an earful for not telling her there was a forest fire in the BWCA. I guess Joe’s wife was worried about us in regards to the fire and ended up calling our outfitter a couple times to try to figure out where we were in relation to Pagami. In the end everybody’s happy and we get to the outfitter, return the canoe and gear, settle up for the rental, and get a couple souvenirs.
We drive into town to get a hot meal that doesn’t arrive one piece at a time at the Ely Steakhouse. Oh boy, the Bucky is one hell of a burger! When we get there the bar’s fairly quiet and empty and we get the bartender as our server. Joe, being in the same industry, remarks that he appears to have been doing this job for a while and the bartender is very attentive to our needs. We devour our burgers in near silence, Joe has the bar view and gets continually creeped out by the life size cutout in the corner of his eyesight. The couple times I catch a glimpse of it I get creeped out as well. I got the TV side of the table and as much as I try I end up getting sucked in by the big screen in front of my face. Its on the Weather Channel and it’s an hour long block of Storm Stories. Anybody remember when the Weather Channel was 24 hours a day weather without any of the extra junk?
We hit the road for home around 5 after stopping at the gas station to get a large coffee for me… We have a long drive ahead of us. The GPS says we’ll be back at Joe’s around 2. I figure 2:30 given time for bathroom and gas stops. We make our first pit stop at the same rest stop where we spend the night a week ago. When Joe had talked to Trisha earlier in the evening she told him that there was a pizza in the freezer for us if we wanted when we got back. We decide that the big meal we had in town should tide us over until we get back to Kenosha. Plus, we have snacks in the car.
Once in Duluth we’re soon crossing the bridge back into Wisconsin and I get turned around and we end up going back to Minnesota for a few minutes before crossing the bridge again. We stop for gas and more coffee around Eau Claire and Joe eventually falls asleep after 11. I call home again and talk with my wife for an hour or so… We’re having a garage sale the week after I get home and she’s telling me about the preparations as well as other news from the week we’ve been gone. We stop again for restrooms and coffee in Delafield, again where we had stopped a week earlier. The coffee has certainly been helping to keep me going. I know how much Joe wants to be home and see Trisha again, and I want to be sure to be home when the kids get up because Saturday is the start of Cub Scout Popcorn for my son and he’s going to want to get out selling.
Milwaukee and Racine counties fly by and pretty soon we’re exiting I94 at Hwy 50 in Kenosha. We pull in to Joe’s driveway right at 2:30. We head for the kitchen with all our stuff thinking that the linoleum will be easier to clean up than the carpet. Joe turns on the oven and gets the pizza ready while we start unpacking and dividing up our gear. We hear some noise upstairs and Trisha appears in the doorway, sleepy but happy to see us. The pizza finishes in the oven and we take it in the next room to unload Joe’s camera, look at the pictures, and I get a copy of them on a flash drive.
Our gear and leftover food divided I pack up the bags again and load up the car. It’s now 4AM and the tiredness is starting to take hold. I make it home about 45 minutes later after filling up the car again. I unload the car, spray it up with febreze, head inside the house and take a shower before collapsing into bed at 5:30. A few hours later I’ll be back out there, pounding the pavement with my son as he works towards the sales goal of $2700 he set for this year.
Post trip thoughts – [paragraph break]- Need more coffee! It was a near disaster when we discovered we had used up the grounds. Maybe next time instead of little coffee service packs we’ll just get a half or full pound bag of something. We seemed to have coffee a few times per day, especially when we were windbound. [paragraph break]- Maybe skip the pasta next time. It was a pain finding the dried cheese tortellini on the shelf and the fact we couldn’t find Ragu in a pouch was a bummer. [paragraph break]- We didn’t use nearly as much squeeze butter, pepperoni sticks, or gorp as we thought. The tropical mix we made was really awesome and maybe we just roll with that. [paragraph break]- Make more bannock! We had brought several mixes that just never got used. The apple bannocks we did end up making were awesome, even for breakfast the next day. I wish we had made at least one of the chocolate bannocks. The little I had tasted of them pre-trip were really good. [paragraph break]- September is a great time to go on a trip. I saw a total of 3 mosquitos the entire trip, and the biting flies weren’t around much once it got cooler out. The water was still warm enough to wash up in. [paragraph break]- Don’t let Joe have immediate veto power on any campsite, especially if its late in the day. He may not be thinking straight. =) [paragraph break]- Try to keep travel days to 10 miles or less unless otherwise unavoidable. I know we can do more, but is being so exhausted when you get to camp worth the extra distance?