Day 1 of 7
Saturday, May 28, 2016s I bought a Northstar Northwind 17 back in March, and this would be it's first trip to the BWCA. It was the first time I tried sleeping in the truck the night before entry (dad slept like a rock, I tossed and turned with anticipatory excitement). I got up in the middle of the night to pee, and while peeing an owl hooted what felt like 2 feet from my ear and I just about peed all over myself. I only brought one other pair of pants! I'd do the sleeping in the truck thing again, because it was mighty nice to get up in the morning and start portaging right away. We hauled our packs down the 160 rod portage to the Moose River, then sat down and had a light breakfast of energy bars and some muffins from home. We were on the water by 7 am and made it to Nina Moose Lake pretty quickly. We continued past the sandy beach as you leave NML and up the Nina Moose River to Agnes, able to paddle through several beaver dams. On one of the portages, a beautiful, large bald eagle swooped down along the rapids several times while I hauled the canoe. Picturesque. My uneasiness about the busyness of Memorial Day weekend was quickly put to rest as we encountered 3 groups leaving on our way in before even reaching Agnes. Our most ambitious goal for today was to make it to Boulder Bay of Lac La Croix, or Agnes if my dad was feeling it. I was excited to be making good time because it meant our chances of reaching LLC today were good. Our plan on this trip was for me to double portage (main pack on 1st trip across, then medium backpack and canoe on 2nd trip) while my dad single portaged with our food pack). However, my dad, with an artificial knee took the food pack and backpack across every portage along with the rod locker so that I could carry the canoe by itself on my 2nd trip. This helped us reach the point campsite in Boulder Bay by 3pm which shattered our expectations. We even contemplated continuing on to Iron, but we decided to set up camp and relax after a wonderful first day. We even pulled a few walleyes from shore after setting up camp. We paddled over to the Boulder River and tried to fish over there with little luck. The Northwind did receive her first big scratch from one of the sneaky boulders just below the surface on this aptly named river. Glad to get that scratch out of the way as there will be many more to come. ~Nina Moose Lake, Agnes, Lake, Lac La Croix
Nina Moose Lake,
Lac La Croix,
Day 2 of 7
Sunday, May 29, 2016 We woke up well rested after an uneventful night at our campsite. I slept like a rock to make up for the lack of sleep in the truck the night before. We had set up a bare bones camp because we planned to get up, eat some oatmeal and head out for Iron right away. We were on the water by 7 once again and it was a short paddle to the portage into the main part of LLC. The portage trail forks about 2/3's of the way and the left trail goes to the LLC Ranger Cabin which was fun to check out. It has a sweet boathouse, I wonder what year it was built? We had debated paddling over to Bottle Portage which we've done many times because a friend had told us that the two portages due east that go through a beaver pond of a lake were treacherous and full of poison ivy. I wanted to try the two portages just for a change from our usual routine. The 1st one is real close to the ranger cabin, maybe 70 rods to the "beaver pond" and the 2nd one from the beaver pond to Iron is 240 rods. The beaver pond was something to behold, there were tons of standing dead trees in the pond, and lots of treacherous stumps lurking around the surface, but we took our time and eventually found the landing on the SE side of the pond. The 240 rod portage had one muddy gulch where we had to navigate a downed tree, but otherwise wasn't bad at all. I'd go this route over Bottle Portage any day. I thought dad would take a break halfway through and I expected to run into him at some point but he just powered through. The feeling when you first see the water on the Iron Lake side of this portage is magical. We sat there a few minutes taking it in. We paddled straight for the Peterson Bay Island campsite as it is one of our favs and we were pleased to find it vacant. Not 10 minutes after pulling ashore, two different groups paddled by with full canoes, it wasn't even 11 yet. After setting up camp and having a celebratory pull from the Fireball Whiskey, we headed into Peterson Bay to fish a little. We pulled in a few walleyes for dinner and paddled back to camp after visiting Beartrap Falls. Shore lunch for dinner with some rice and freshly filtered water was enough to put me to bed a happy man. Another gorgeous day in the BWCA. I love this place. We fell asleep to the sounds of loons calling.
Day 3 of 7
Monday, May 30, 2016 Today we paddled over to one of our favorite honeypot fishing spots which did not disappoint because we caught our dinner in less than 15 minutes, and after some catch and release for a while we went back for lunch and relaxation because the weather was gorgeous. I explored the island and found a few ladyslippers growing on the SW side of the island. I had found a few in years past, but the tricky thing about the ladyslipper is that it is not a perennial and it has a very low success rate of its seeds which is what makes it hard to find. The ones I found were in full bloom and awesome. I stocked us up on firewood and then we headed back out into Peterson Bay where the walleyes were biting like crazy (to this point, we had caught maybe 25 fish and all were walleyes except 1 Pike and 1 SMB. A couple of guys from Kentucky paddled by and watched us pull in a few walleyes and they were shocked. They said all they wanted was walleyes, but all they were catching was bass and pike. I chuckled at the irony and gave them a few ideas to help (they kept mispronouncing Rapala) which I found hilarious mostly because I'm not quite sure how to pronounce it either. They said "rah-paula" with the emphasis on the "paula".
Day 4 of 7
Tuesday, May 31, 2016 We headed over to Curtain Falls and trekked to the top for our traditional photo opp and I had a new gopro camera along to capture some footage of the falls. We ran into a couple of soaking wet gentlemen who had flipped there canoe while paddling the current approaching the portage by the bottom of the falls. I've heard of many people tipping here, but never seen it myself. These guys were happy that all they lost was a pair of sunglasses. That water was cold and they were still shivering by the time we met them at the top of the portage. I walked down the old steps from the landing that Zup's used to use back in the 50's and through a slip bobber out into the eddy's along the current and I found the smallies! I must have been there about 20 minutes while my dad was enjoying a cigar and a spritual moment atop the falls and by the time he came down to me, I had three nice smallies on the stringer, enough for a nice dinner. I caught many more, but most were females with bellies full of roe so back they went. We hung out at the bottom of the falls for a while and caught some more fish and watch people paddle through the strong current to get to the portage.
Day 5 of 7
Wednesday, June 01, 2016 Today one heck of a storm sat right over us. Nothing scary, just gray skies for miles and endless rain. We spent the majority of the day sitting under the tarp chatting. In the midst of our chatting, my dad hears a crunch 100 or so feet away and we both turn to see a man walking towards us in a pfd with a map in his hand. I've never had someone wander into camp, especially on an island, so this was weird. He immediately apologized and said he was lost (been there) and he asked us to point out where we were on the map. We obliged and then chatted with the guy for a few minutes. It was a father and his two sons from Illinois on their first trip to the Boundary Waters. He had been dropped off by his sons on the west side of the island (they thought it was Three Island) to look for the campsite while they paddled around the island to try and get their bearings. Soon enough his sons came and picked him up and off they went after we recommended a few campsites to them.
Day 6 of 7
Thursday, June 02, 2016 We paddled out to fish and on our way we saw the Illinois guys at one of the campsites we recommended. They waved from shore as we paddled by and it looked like they had dried out considerably from the day before. We sure did get our money's worth out of our rain gear this year, it rained all day today as well. However, we were treated to some beautiful trumpeter swans hanging out near our campsite all afternoon. We also got to see some baby snapping turtles hatching at our campsite and running for the safety of the water. They were no bigger than a nickel. The rain gave way and we debated breaking camp and heading back toward Agnes, but in the end we decided to stay on Iron and try to make it out tomorrow by breaking camp early. Our last night on Iron was wonderful, with nice clear skies, a nice sunset and bald eagles hanging out in the trees around us. Dad and I have become quite symbiotic campers and things around camp are done fluidly and almost without thought as we knew we'd need to break camp early to make it out tomorrow. As usual, I wish we were staying at least another day.
Day 7 of 7
Friday, June 03, 2016 We woke early and started breaking down camp just as daylight started to show itself. We had one last hot breakfast and finished cleaning up camp. We had a couple fish left so we filleted them and put them in the empty leech locker with a couple of cold packs to see if they'd keep on the paddle out. We shoved off from our Iron Lake paradise at 8:30 with a slight headwind to keep us busy. We decided not to do Bottle Portage once again and the 240 rod and 70 rod portages to the Ranger Station went even smoother than on the way in. This will be the new standard route for us as it shaves quite a bit of paddling distance and avoids the crowds of Bottle. Once we got back to Boulder Bay we decided to follow the Boulder River down past the Dahlgren River to try the 115 rod portage into Agnes. The Boulder River is a gorgeous paddle and I'd recommend it, but the portage to Agnes was a little tough to find. It ended up being much further west than the map indicated but we found it after 10 minutes of searching. This is a true "muskeg" portage. There were logs laid across the first 25 feet or so of the portage landing which looked a little swampy and sure enough it was. Dad hopped out of the bow and proceeded to plunge about thigh deep in the muck. He had stepped right next to the logs because he thought it looked like better footing. I kind of looked at him smiling and he simply said "help". If his artificial knee can handle this, there's nothing he couldn't do. We managed to pull him out of the muck and save his boot in the process. I was already regretting the choice to do this portage, but that changed in the last 40 rods. The trail passes through a gorgeous canopy of pines, and you can see Agnes through the trees as you follow the boardwalk for the last 20 rods or so. The landing on the Agnes side was picturesque and two loons paddled in the bay greeting us with some cackles as we loaded back up for the paddle across Agnes. We stopped to munch on a Clif Bar and power up for the open water paddle across Agnes. Our decision to stay on Iron for our last night proved to be a good one as every sight we paddled past seemed to be occupied. There were lots of canoes on the lake today and I wondered how many of them were locals on a day trip. We got to Nina Moose Lake around 1 and the final stretch down the Moose River to the final landing was the quietest portion of our paddle. We didn't say a word for the last hour or so as it seemed as though we were both trying to soak in our last minutes in the wilderness. The last portage up to EP 16 was smooth and we enjoyed a couple of warm Grain Belt's before we loaded everything up and started the 4 hour drive back home. I'm so grateful to have these trips with my dad year after year and I'm just as grateful that we Minnesotans are fortunate enough to have this gem of a wilderness area in our own backyard. Next year will be the most special yet as we will be joined by a third generation when my oldest , Douglas, my 5 year old son makes his first BW trip. I can't wait to share this amazing and sacred place with him and eventually my younger kids for years to come. Also, the fish we filleted and brought with us stayed fresh in with the cold packs the whole 7 hours it took us to paddle out. They made it to the dinner table at my house a few weeks later. Thanks for reading and stay safe fellow canoe campers.