BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
August 19 2019
Number of Permits per Day: 14
Elevation: 1381 feet
Trout Lake - 1
October Adventures in Paradise
October 20, 2010
Number of Days:
There was much anticipation for this venture to the BWCA. Since I'm a teacher, I wanted to plan a trip during the MEA weekend to take advantage of my "extra" days off. Finding people to go considering the time of the year proved to be easier than I thought. When it was all said and done, we had a group of six sharing three canoes. With ages in parenthesis, the party included my dad (56), brother Ben (35), brother Jacob (21), nephew Chris (12), a family friend named Jeff (52), and myself (30).
I kind of felt a lot of pressure, because it was me who decided when and where we were going (I was honored to have this responsibility). We decided to enter through the Mudro Lake EP, a new area for all of us. After doing much reading in Pauly's book and the Breymer books, the Mudro-Horse Lake area sounded like a great place to visit. After looking on the CCBB boards and getting great advice, I knew this is where I wanted to go!
The week earlier, my dad and Jacob hit up the Dilworth, MN, Wal-Mart to buy food/misc. supplies for the trip. We thought it'd be fun to buy as many "Great Value" branded items as possible (I know...we're easily entertained). We were just curious if the store-brand stuff is as good as the name-brand stuff. We had a blast planning our meals, figuring out how much we needed, and getting it all packed up.
My dad packed all the food/clothes/tents/sleeping bags/etc all on his own the weekend before we left! (Thanks, Dad). He has collected a potpurri of packs over the years, but it's all been tried and true in the BWCA. We've never had issues with anything he's packed up!
We all live in Hawley, MN, which is 20 miles east of Fargo, ND. We packed everything up at 5 PM on Wednesday, the 20th, and left for Ely! Ben drove his Tahoe and Jeff took his Suburban. Jeff carried 2 canoes, while Ben had 1 strapped to the top. We went through the Taco John's drive-thru in Detroit Lakes for a quick supper. Everything went well until we got to the Tower area. Following Jeff, he took a right off of 169 onto some other road because of a detour, but we ended up in Babbitt! Both vehicles even had GPS...we were listening to music in the Tahoe and got sidetracked--never did find out why Jeff/Dad took their wrong turn. Ooops....we regrouped and managed to arrive in Ely through the east side of town shortly after 10:30 PM.
We rented a big room at the Adventure Inn (4 double beds). It was nice to get out of the rigs after a long drive. We all visited until about 12:30 before we finally called it a night, as the Weather Channel on the TV was left on through the night. I like how the Weather Channel in Ely still uses the really old graphics/radar for the Locals on the 8s !!! LOL!!!....we heard that snow was a possibility Thursday morning....would the ground be white in the morning??
I got up at about 5:15 AM...I couldn't sleep as I was excited for our big day! I looked at the Weather Channel...and....YEP...for the current conditions, it said SNOW! I looked outside, and saw a light dusting on the roofs, but nothing too major. Still, it was unique. Slowly, everyone else got up out of bed. I decided to take a quick shower (I figured I'd get my money's worth, right?). We had a nice stay at the Adventure Inn! It was perfect!
We decided to go grab breakfast before hitting the water, and this ended up being one of my favorite memories of the trip. We went west into town and ate at the Northern Grounds Cafe. What a tremendous place! We all got our fill of breakfast food by the lone worker (who ran the till AND cooked the food!). It wasn't disappointing. A few other Ely locals were there as well. As I waited for my food, I enjoyed looking at the BWCA map encased in the table! My dad and I were retracing trips of year's past. This was my 11th trip to the BWCA, but only 4th since 1995 and 2nd-ever over MEA. After a trip down memory lane, we scarfed our food with ease! At around 8:30 AM, we left and headed out to Mudro.
We experienced more deja-vu on the way to Mudro...we missed the Echo Trail on CR 88...Ooops...we backtracked a few miles and later found the Echo Trail. As we went north, we noticed more and more snow on the trees and cliffs! It was sweet! I was hoping to say I'd canoed with snow on the ground. We traveled the Echo Trail for 8 miles and turned off on the Forest Service road.
After many twists and turns, we arrived at the Mudro EP parking lot! What a beautiful, peaceful area!
We got out and just took in the view! Most EP's are bustling with cars/people....we were the only ones there! I got out, and while my dad, Jeff, and Ben were getting things ready, I took a moment to sightsee. I looked out toward Pickett Lake and saw the remnants of the railroad bridge (cool). Snow capped the cliffs and trees. Chainsaw Sister's former location was interesting to ponder about. I thought it was pretty cool to see snow in the background!
We unloaded the two rigs and made a few trips down the 30-rod portage to the creek. The portage was very picturesque...the babbling brook...the snow melting off the trees...the sun beaming through the trees. It was a very easy portage. We loaded the three canoes up relatively easily. My dad and Jacob were in an old 17-foot Grumman that belongs to my uncle Roger. Ben and his son Chris were in another Grumman. Jeff and I paddled in Jeff's Bell Royalex Canoe. It would be my first voyage in a non-aluminum canoe. We took a few more photos before we left the EP. My dad, who is 56 but acts like he's 25, and I were set for another BWCA adventure!
Getting to this EP, seeing the canoe hit the water, and breathing in sub 32 degree oxygen was just heaven on Earth for me! I felt so fortunate to be there right then and there...to experience something so peaceful, beautiful, and tranquil! Our goal for the day was to arrive at the island campsite on the north end of Horse Lake. At 9:45 AM, we hit the water and hoped to get our spot early in the afternoon.
Jeff and I were the first ones to leave shore. The Pickett Creek was a bit shallow at first, but we were able to manage our way down the meandering creek. The creek is quite narrow...barely enough room for one canoe (as others have mentioned!). Luckily, we didn't meet anyone coming our way.
The scenery was downright amazing! Traveling to the east, everything on the north shore was sunny and the snow was melting. Everything on the right side was still shaded and covered with snow! Amazing sight! I took several photos while canoeing, but only a few turned out...these are of the Pickett Creek area.
The creek was amazing! After we made our way through the little beaver dam and around the rocks, we arrived at Mudro. Mudro's a nice little lake. The lone campsite on the north part of the lake isn't anything too spectacular...I wonder how much that site gets used considering how close it is to the EP...any ideas? There were many high cliffs throughout the lake...easier to see with the deciduous trees having no leaves.
By the time we crossed Mudro, what was left of the snow was gone and clear, sunny skies dominated the view above us. We arrived at our first real test of the trip...the 80-rod Sandpit Portage...boy...this was a little tricky, but it wasn't as bad as I had envisioned. The first half of it was rather tame...just a little rocky. The downhill jaunt, however, was nothing like I've ever seen! The sharp rocks..awkward slope...I was glad we came in the way we did! The part about it that concerned me the most was having all of the wet leaves on the rocks...it was a cat and mouse game as to where a guy should land his feet. We decided prior to this portage that we'd make two trips...it was probably a good idea to do so! Jeff took our canoe, and Ben and Jacob took the others. My 12-year old nephew Chris survived his first portage of 2010, too.
After a few minutes, we trudged through the portage and headed across Sandpit. Sandpit is a unique lake! There are many cliffs that line the southern shores. The lone campsite on Sandpit looked alright as we paddled past it. Jeff and I paddled to the NE end of the lake attempting to locate the portage. We saw several "logs" pushed up against the shore and standing up from the water! It was a sight to see. I assume they are from the old logging days...neat to see some historical elements of days past. After winding our way around the logs, we found the portage to Tin Can Mike...the landing was very good, and it sat adjacent to a huge cliff on the south side! We joked that it was a good thing we didn't have portages like that.
This was the easiest 160-rodder I've ever been on...flat and very scenic along the way! We decided to do this one in one swoop. Jeff spotted a grouse 20 rods into the portage, and we all were able to get a "bird's-eye" view. There was a nice boardwalk toward the end of the portage where the woods suddenly opened up to a large bog/marshy area. The landing on the TCM side was ok, but the view of the lake there was beautiful! It would be a great spot for a campsite IMO.
As we hit the water at TCM Lake at 11:45 AM or so, the skies began to cloud up at a rapid pace. The winds picked up from the SW a little, which helped us up to our next portage. Jeff came through big time when we whipped out a bag of dried cranberries and apricots! Yummy!...it's amazing what a little food can do for the spirit/soul.
TCM is another unique lake...if I would have had the time, I would have liked to explore all of the bays of this lake. The only campsite we got close to was the one closest to the portage...it looked a little too wide in the open on a point...I wouldn't call it a 5-star site.
We arrived to our final portage of the day...TCM to Horse under partly sunny skies. This 85-rodder again wasn't too strenuous. The landing was nice, and a gradual uphill climb was in order to reach the portage. We were greeted 5 rods into it by a hefty downed birch tree. Luckily, we were able to walk over it without much trouble. We double tripped this portage. On the Horse side, I found an old plastic paddle on shore. By the time the others had come to the end of the portage, the skies turned dark gray and the wind howled from the west. We had the rainjackets packed away as the forecast called for NO rain. Even with ominous-looking skies, we pressed forward.
Two minutes after shoving off, it started sleeting....REALLY HARD! It was both chaotic and exciting! "What in the world is going on?" I asked my self! All three canoes were enjoying the moment! It sleeted for a good five minutes. We talked earlier in the day about eating lunch at the second campsite on Horse Lake, so we made our way to the north....when we got there, the sleeting stopped and we were again greeted by more sunshine! We landed on shore at a little before 1 PM. Jacob and I scouted the campsite, and this one was a beauty! There are tremendous lake views to the south, east, and north. The landing on the south side is steep, but the view atop the hill is spectacular. A nice fire area was there, with plenty of space for tents and extra firewood.
We dined on PB-J sandwiches, granola bars, Twizzlers, Pringles, and summer sausage. It's funny how good PB-J tastes near a canoe in the middle of the wilderness...yet...I haven't had one at home in years! We filled our canteens with bottled water before we left, and mixed up some regular old-school Kool-Aid...yep! It was tasty. Ben and Jeff both made a cell phone call on the top right before we hit the water again. We were hoping to reach the north side of Horse to claim our site!
After lunch, we paddled north to claim a site on Horse Lake. 20 seconds after we left shore, I totally forgot to look for the logging ring that I've read so much about at that site....we paddled closely up the shore north of the landing until Jeff and I spotted it! Interesting to say the least! Throughout this first day, I really tried to envision what it must have been like logging in this area....the sounds of sawing down trees and the banter of the lumberjacks....the sights of logs amid the lakewater, the trains on the impromptu railways scattered about the wilderness....our generation may have it better than earlier generations, but one thing I do know...my ancestors knew how to get things done AND worked a heckuva lot harder than most folks nowadays do!!!
Following the logging ring, we entered the largest portion of the lake. Up to this point, we haven't seen anyone in the BWCA. We notice no canoeists anywhere on Horse Lake, either. The wind picked up with sheer intensity from the west. Veering toward the right side of the lake, whitecaps seemingly came out of nowhere and dominated the lake. Jeff and I did our best to not only prevent capsizing, but to also keep a close distance to the other two canoes! I worried about Ben and Chris as Chris, being only 12, hasn't had much experience on open water like this. In any event, we press onward. We communicate to each other that we wanted to stop/rest at the campsite near the Horse River...so...we paddle until we get there...or so we thought. Hugging the shore, we soon battled riccochetting waves bouncing off of the rocky shore on an island back to us...the sky is overcast and the wind continues to assault us.
After a few more arduous moments, we landed the canoes on a nice sandy beach that stretched for quite a distance. We get out of the canoes and explore the shoreline and beyond. After looking for 10 minutes or so, we find no evidence of a latrine or fire grate. We continue to the north...we see a make-shift fire grate with rocks and indications of a recent fire, but nothing official. We get out our McKenzie map and look at it....we realize then and there that we are still a little ways south of the site we are trying to get to...however, on the McKenzie map, I notice that even though there is no red campsite "dot" where we were, the word "campsite" was typed on the map where we were....any info on this?...
We get back into the canoes, and the wind has died down some. We go around the point and then easily spot the campsite. We get there in a matter of minutes. It's about 2:30 PM now, and after we all scope the site out, we all agree that this site would suit us just fine! What a gorgeous site! The site lies on a point extending to the west with awesome views to the south, west, and north. Red pines tower above you, and several trails lead everywhere for more sight-seeing opportunities! After we located the latrine up the hill, the clouds started to break just enough to allow spotty sunshine down to us!
Our group got busy getting to work once we made our decision. Dad, Jeff, Jacob, and Ben put up our two tents and organized them with our sleeping bags. Dad, Jacob, and I found an abundance of downed trees/branches for firewood. I spent most of the afternoon sawing smaller logs and later chopping them with our ole' hatchet (sawing and splitting give me some "alone" time, which I sometimes like). Chris tried his luck at fishing for awhile and later Ben and Jeff did, too, with no luck unfortunately. Dad, Jeff, and Ben solved our north wind problem going over the fire grate by connecting two large blue tarps between two pine trees, which provided a wind barrier for our camp. The fire grate itself was 5-star! Several rocks and large logs surrouned the grate, which allowed us to have some nice fires.
By about 5:30 with the temp in the upper 30's we were ready for some food. It was time for my dad to show off his culinary talents to the rest of the group! We left two canoes near the shore area, but one canoe is always brought up to camp to serve as our "table" for miscellaneous purposes. We find some rocks to balance it out and so it's sturdy. Mostly, the canoe serves as my dad's cabinet for meals/problem solving. Eating in the BWCA is probably my favorite part about being in camp! For supper tonight, we had spaghetti. Dad had the noodles in one pot and his pre-made sauce w/the ground beef in another. We also had some garlic bread for the occasion. Soon, we were up to our ears in spaghetti, and we feasted on it like Italian royalty! As we eat, we admire the sun setting in the west through the pines and clouds in the sky...absolutely breath-taking. Following the dishes, we look forward to spending a crisp, fall evening under the stars and full moon. Dad busts out the bag containing hot cocoa, and we begin to have our fill.
Before darkness totally hits, two things occur. First, we make out the near full moon (of if you want to be really technical...the waxing gibbous moon) rising and shining through the pine-birch forest in the east. I love full moons, especially in the BWCA. Second, we were in for a real treat. With all of us sitting around the fire, we hear at first a faint high-pitched sound. Right away, I said, "Oh...a loon! Cool." However, a few seconds later, several high-pitched noises are heard....we then realize...it's not loons...but....WOLVES! WOW...their ooooo-ing could be heard from the north-west side of Horse Lake. Where they were exactly, I have no clue. I didn't really care!...this was exciting!...I've never heard timberwolves before! After a few minutes of howling, they stopped. Excitement filled our camp, but my brother Ben was concerned at this point! Seeing this, I decided to do what most little brothers do to their older brothers...agonize them!
To make light of Ben's worries about the newly-discovered wolf pack in our area, I decided to sing and make up my own verson of Warren Zevon's classic song from yesteryear... "Werewolves of London." Zevon's song is one of my favorites...one of the few songs I know by heart. I decided, then, that my rendition would be entitled, "Werewolves of Horse Lake" of course. My first verse went something like this....
"We heard 'em howling 'round our wooded camp,
Ben said, we better not let 'em in.
Six male campers got mutulated late last night,
Werewolves of Horse Lake again."
"Aw-ooooo....Werewolves of Horse Lake.....Aw-oooooo"
Of course, my dad broke out in laughter, as we both sort of have that same dry humor. Thus, this was the song I would sing periodically throughout the rest of the trip! Ha ha...After a 10 minutes break, we heard the wolves howling again...this time, for an even longer time period. The howling went on and off for about an hour (7 PM- 8 PM). This was by far one of my most memorable outdoors moments of my life! After the wolves left, we could hear the faint sound of rapids from the south east.I figured it was from the portage around rapids into Fourtown Lake, which we would later take on our way out.
Chris hit the sack around 8:30 PM. For the remainder of the night, we told stories and jokes while enjoying our time in God's country, sipping our cocoa and coffee. I found out that Jeff is quite the storyteller, as I heard a couple of jokes that got me chuckling. We all seemlingly took turns tending our good-sized fire. Jacob gave me a title that stuck for the rest of the trip..."FIREBRO." We formed a FIREBRO fraternity, thus deeming ourselves captians of the campfires. Periodically, I went out to the point to the west a few times to get glimpses as the moon as it rised through the pines in the east. I looked to the west, wondering just what in the world those wolves were up to...and how far were they really away?...
As the night drew on, the temps dropped and dropped under the clear skies. At about 10:30 PM, we all decided to call it a night. Ben, Chris, and Jacob slept in Ben's 4-man tent while Dad, Jeff, and I slept in my dad's trusy 4-man Hillary tent that he's had forever! Dad put a battery lantern atop the tent to give us some light. With lows projected to be in the upper 20's, I was hoping for two things as I closed my eyes:
1. To keep warm.
2. I prayed I wouldn't have to go to the bathroom!!!!
I pinched myself as I had just lived one of my most enjoyable days of human life.its been so long since Ive been up here....you dont realize the pure, simple, good things in life until their either gone or you havent experienced them in quite some time....what a terrific day it was! The first of four full days in canoe country was a success. ~Mudro Lake, Sandpit Lake, Tin Can Mike Lake, Horse Lake
Falling asleep proved to be quite easy last night. I first awoke at about 5 AM, and my dad coincidentally was awake as well. While it was still dark out, nature called us and we both stepped out to take care of business. There was no frost out at first view, but I was positive it was around 30 F. She was chilly out, but the view was spectacular! The near full-moon dominated the western portion of the sky in its grandeur! Our campsite was the perfect location to witness this amazing lunar event! I went back to bed, and slept in for a couple of more hours. I was pleasantly surprised how well I slept considering the cool conditions. However, as my family and wife can attest, there could be nuclear war going on outside the tent, and I'd still be sleeping through it! :)
We all got up between 6:30-7:30 AM. Dad got the fire going again before any of us got up. One by one, like zombies coming back to life, we began to stumble out of our tents. However, the crisp morning air filling your lungs is an effective way to perk you up so to speak. My brother Jacob had a thermometer with, and at 7 AM it read 28 degrees--sweet!! Despite all of the paddling/portaging we did, and being I haven't done this in over 3 years, my body was primed for anything that came my way. The rest of the party was in high spirits, too. On the menu this morning was pancakes, bacon, and eggs. Again, it was Dad doing the cooking, and we managed to do the eating. We joked again about the wolves, the wrong turns on the way to Ely, and the near-death experiences in the white-caps trying to get to our site! As the rest ate, I took a brief walk to the eastern point of our site. I captured some great photos of the sun rising up over the pine trees and reflecting onto a huge white pine next to me. There was little wind (from the south).
Today was going to be our sight-seeing day. With temperatures forecasted to be around 60 F and sunny skies, we decided this would be the day to go out on an adventure. Our decision? Paddle up the Horse River and fish the Lower Basswood Falls. We quickly cleaned up camp, packed our lunch, took our fishing gear, loaded up the canoe, and shoved off. I was excited to be back in the water. Its nice to be grounded, but Ive always felt that the action of the BWCA is in the water! We left camp at around 9 AM, with the sun starting to creep higher up into the sky.
I was a little nervous about traveling on the Horse River. I'd read a lot about the river levels of the Horse, and most reports said that the river level was low.....well they were right! To get into the river from Horse Lake, we had to pull our canoes through a small channel of submerged rocks...the channel was about three feet widewide enough for one canoe! It was crazy! It was a mix of sun/shade for the first couple of miles of the river. We had to pull over another time in a neat area before the first portage. It was fun trying to maneuver through the rocks, yet a little scary, because getting wet meant an unpleasant day of being cold or worse! Many laughs were shared as we tiptoed the rocks, shimmy-ing the canoes through the light rapids.
There are three actual portages on the Horse River en route to the Falls, and all are easy! On the first portage, a 58-rodder, we saw two freshly-cut deciduous trees downed thanks to beavers! The shavings were everywhere around the tree, and we could hear scurrying in the woodsvery cool! The Horse River is like most rivers in the BWCA....shallow in spots, rocky in othersnot much of a current. We did notice, though, that as we paddled, the river became more shallow. After the 48-rod portage in the middle of the river, we enjoyed a nice, wide stretch of river up to the 73-rod portage. It was there, we saw our first sign of other human life! A man from Maine (I think) was wrapping up week solo trip, returning from the Crooked Lake area! We talked briefly as he was in a hurry to get to South Hegman by tomorrow. Seeing another person out here was fulfilling, because it meant that there are people who share the same desire as the rest of us in being out in this cathedral of nature, deep into October no less!
The end of the 73-rodder was a relief, but the least-enjoyable part of our day was about to begin. About a quarter-mile into the river after the portage, it became so shallow, we had to actually get out and walk our canoes! COLD!!!! WOW!!! The river was sandy in most spots, but mucky/muddy in others. You could easily tell that the rivers level was abnormally low.sand bars extended on both sides of the riverwith everything brown/yellowand seeing all of the sand, it almost looked sort of like being on an African river! I was waiting to see a zebra, wildebeest, or an elephant!! There were several birds, but no signs of moose anywhere. There was about a ½ mile stretch where it was paddle/push, but then, it was over with.
After our trudging, the river opened up and we could hear Lower Basswood Falls! The wind was starting to pick up a tad, and we quickly paddled across the opened stretch of water. We made landfall on the Canadian side on the 12-rod portage around the Falls. As soon as the canoe touched the shoreline, I hopped out of the canoe, pulled Jeff up, and sprinted up the hill to check things out. Even though I've read that the falls havent been as spectacular due to low water levels, I was not disappointed. What an incredible sight! I can't imagine people trying to actually canoe down these things! Why?? We all took in the moment, and we were happy we made the trek to see these falls. We had a nice quick lunch of PB-J sandwiches, summer sausage, granola bars, dried fruit, Pringles, and our specially brewed Kool-Aid! It hit the spot, as that paddling/portaging/sludging worked up an appetite for me. We arrived at around noon, and we discussed the fact that since sunset was at 6:07, we needed to leave no later than 3 PM to get to camp by sunset.
Following lunch, it was time to FISH! We were all optimistic because wed heard so much about the fishing here. However, we were greatly saddened as NOBODY caught a single thing! It didnt matter, though, because we enjoyed the time there! Ben, Chris, and Jeff took a canoe out beyond the base of the falls, while Jacob, Dad, and I cast our lines from shore...didn't even get a nibble all afternoon. Dad and Jacob took quick cat-naps, as the temps soared! It got up to 62 F that day....a real treat...so much in fact, Dad decided to take advantage of the heat wave by taking a dip in the southern end of Crooked Lake, just a few feet beyond the base of the falls. Not originally knowing for sure if he was serious, Dad stripped down to his boxers and scouted the scene to find the perfect diving rock/lake area to dive into. At first, he had second thoughts of this venture, as he debated whether or not this would be a wise decision on his part. After about 10 minutes of deep thinking, he took the bull by the horns and dove right in! Unbelievable! A WHOO could be heard for miles I'm sure, as my dad responded to the cooler-than-average human swimming water he just dove into! We all laughed as he splashed around like a child in a bathtub, but he made it out of the water, dried off, and said he didn't regret doing it! Thats my dad!
After all of the commotion, seeing the sights around the Falls, and the time spent fishing, we lost track of the time. We looked at the time. YIKES...3:15 PM. We quickly packed up our stuff. Right before we left, we took some photos with the falls in the background. I so want to stay in this area somedaymaybe with my family....maybe with my son someday....such an exciting part of the BWCA! I love the sound of rapids! As I took my last photo, I paused to think of all of the people who've passed through this point....the BWCA cancers...the DNR/Forest Rangers....the traders....the Indians....a pretty historic place left as it has been for centuries!.You don't get that anywhere else in Minnesota outside of the BWCA!
We frantically paddled away from the falls and returned to the mucky-portion of the Horse River. This was the first time on the whole trip that I started to not enjoy it! I was sore, tired, and I didnt want to paddle/drag the canoe through much. Since Jeff carried the canoe all of the time and kindly pulled the canoe most of the time on the way to the falls, I did the pulling in the muck on the way back to camp. YUCK....what a mess...but the worst part was just the cold water...it felt like a thousand pins pricking your feet all at once. Ben and Chris were having a hard time getting through the shallow part of the river.I had hoped this part of the day didnt ruin their whole experience....the BWCA really tests your patience and attitude sometimes.this was one of those times!
As we got past the first of our three portages, the wind would pick up and die down out of the south. The sun was still in our favor about halfway to camp. After the middle portage, it became tricky to see sometimes because the sun at times was behind trees, creating really difficult shadows upon the river, making submerged logs/rocks hard to see. We all got hung up a few times, but had no close calls or anything. Going in a southwesterly direction, we, at times, faced directly into the sun, which is not easy either when youre on the water. However, at about 5 PM, the wind suddenly died, and it again became warm! We even saw water beetles/gnats/mosquitoes that were thick as thieves for the last two miles of the Horse River. CRAZY! We did the final portage and the pullovers with relative ease. I snapped many photos during this stretch, because the sights were fantastic! I wanted to capture this moment and keep it forever.....is there anything better than being out on BWCA water to see the moments prior to a sunset?? Ill never forget that two mile stretch of paddling!
When we made it to Horse Lake after the final slim-channeled pullover, it was a few minutes before 6 PM! We made it before the official sunset. Jeff and I cast a few lines into the lake on our way back to camp, but had no success. When we all arrived at camp, we quickly got things set up for supper. We hauled up the table canoe to set things up therefired up the fire, and Dad opened up his fine-dining establishment once again. On the menu tonight were brats, au-gratin potatoes, and chocolate pudding. It was good filler food, and the potatoes really hit the spot.againI never eat those unless we are in the BWCA.weird!
As the sky quickly went from bright, to semi-light, to dark, we did our chores, cleaned things up, built a toasty fire, and again sipped hot cocoa, ate smores, and told more stories. We briefly complained of not catching any fish, but soon laughed at the fact that we spent the entire day paddling/pushing canoes/fishing without catching fish....and that we could be doing far WORSE things....we had a lot to be thankful for. The weather was sunny and warm all day. I think it made some people in the group sleep a little easier!!!
Tonight, I brought some hand warmer packets into my sleeping bag just in case I needed them. Dad and I talked briefly before I passed out. It was all that I hoped for in a day in the BWCA with my family, especially on our way back to camp. Seeing insects again was a sign that an Indian Summer was trying to become a reality. The actual full moon was in full force later in the evening. We awaited the chorus of wolves, but they must have had a concert at a lake not adjacent to ours. Oh well...beggars can't be choosers. ~Horse Lake, Basswood Lake, Horse Lake
Today was the most laid-back day of the trip. The day started horribly for me, as I woke up with a horrible headache. I'm not sure if it was because of the cold....something I ate....who knows! But it was really painful. I could've accepted the skull cramps more had I been poundin down drinks the night before, but that wasn't the case. I get headaches frequently, and my pain threshold is pretty high. Everyone was out and about by 7 AM, but I took some time getting out of bed. The morning was overcast, but rather mild as temps were in the upper 40s by 9 AM. Dad made French toast and sausage for breakfast. After eating a little bit and taking some ibuprofen, I crawled back into the tent. I put my head down, lying on my left side with two of those hand-warmer packets on my temple which hurt. Before I knew it, I fell asleep and woke up. It was almost NOON but I felt like a million bucks! Sweet!
Everyone in camp had been trying their luck fishing. Ben and Chris canoed to the north and middle portion of Horse Lake. Jeff took his canoe out with Jacob. My dad tried a few casts from shore, but everyone caught the same thing. NOTHING! While I was sleeping, the rest of the clan saw other canoeists, who were staying up on the far northeastern side of Horse. Four middle-aged men in two canoes, they were headed down the Horse River to the Lower Basswood Falls. As by brother Ben told me, they were about 30 feet from our shore on the point, when one of the canoeists had a huge northern up to his canoeas he was about to pull it in, his line broke and it got away!! There was a lot of hootin and hollerin....and a few four-letter words. Our group wished them good luck at the falls, and that gave everyone hope that maybe the fish will start biting.
Jacob and Chris later collected more firewood. Our saw for cutting downed timber broke, but Dad improvised and fixed it with an S hook from a bungee strap, and you really had to be cautious when sawing. For lunch, Dad threw some cut up summer sausage and threw it on the griddle. We had PB-J sandwiches, chips, granola bars, Twizzlers, trail mix, and Kool-Aid. The sun peaked out on and off for a couple of hours in the early afternoon. I spent some time to myself by going on a little hike to the north of camp. I really liked Horse Lake because of its accessibility to so many other areas. We didn't have time to go to Moosecamp or Fourtown today, but in the future, I'd like to come back here for like a week or so. Early afternoon, a solo canoeist paddled by our camp and picked out the campsite about a mile north of us on the east side of the lake.
By around 3PM, it became overcast again. After breaking/splitting the firewood for the night, and having our fill of fishing without catching fish, Dad decided to test out his coordination skills. On the south side of our camp, a little red pine jutted about 25 feet almost parallel to the water. We joked earlier in the day about walking out to the edge of the tree. Now, if it were August, it would be a no-brainer to try it. But in late October, no thanks. But my Dad can't back down from a challenge, so he began to shimmy his way along the tree! As he went along, he just about fell into the lake a couple of times. He made it past the halfway point to the top of the tree, and then had to maneuver to turn himself around to get back off the stupid tree and on to dry land. The whole thing took him about an hour....it was comical! After that, Dad tried to get Chris to take a little swim off our beach (which was nice and sandy, alas chilly water). After getting all of us to give Chris a little money to swim with Grandpa, both Dad and Chris swam for about 15 minutes! As they were swimming, the fishing group we saw earlier paddled past our campsite. I'm sure they where wondering what they heck was going on with people swimming! We asked them how the fishing went, and they replied by saying it was a waste of time....they didnt get anything. I didn't feel so bad about being skunked yesterday at LBF now.
At about 5 PM, Ben and I decided to paddle to the south off our site to refill our water jugs, while casting a few lines at the same time. We had a good talk, going down memory lane about all of our past canoe trips, and about how much fun this one had been so far. Being out in the middle of that lake, with a slight breeze from the north, with gray skies, and casting my line, I am still in just amazement how the Natives and Voyaguers survived up here! It's so fun to just get a little taste of what it was like to be in the middle of a (controlled) wilderness with nothing but water, trees, rocks, unknown wildlife, and the sky above surrounding you. After casting for 30 minutes with out luck, Ben and I decided to make our way back. Just then, Ben let out a loud, Ohhh Boy! I turned around and his rod was bent like a sickle.....did he have a fish? He started to reel it in as he was reeling, I was excited beyond reason....what did he have? It was a struggle as Ben later said. After a couple of minutes.I could see ita HUGE northern! Ben managed to get it close to the canoe. I got out the net....As I leaned over the side, trying not to capsize the empty canoe to net the northern, I had it in the net under the water.as I lifted the net up and as I was about to grab it, it flopped out of the net, broke Ben's line, and got away..NOOOO!!!!! We were SO ANGRY! I could taste that sucker right when I saw it....what a tease. We both realized, too, that it might have been the same northern that escaped the wrath of our fishing neighbors. If so, jeepers....I didn't know fish had 9 lives!!!
As nightfall was upon us, we struck shore and beached our canoe. Everyone on shore heard our frustrating encounter with the one that got away. After a few laughs, we dug into our final supper of the trip, which is sort of a fun tradition weve always done on our final night. We buy several flavors of Ramen noodles, boil the noodles in our large cooking pot, and when the noodles are finished, we mix all of the flavors together and chow down. With cool temperatures, the Ramen tasted delicious! In the summer, Ramen isn't always the greatest meal, but it's handy because it's very light, it's cheap, and it fills you up beyond belief. Dad also unveiled an awesome surprise. He stuck a frozen two-liter of Mountain Dew in our styrofoam cooler! NECTAR FROM THE BWCA GODS! It helped the Ramen go down a lot smoother! I've never had soda pop in the BWCA---Dad said he had a little extra room, so he figured why not.
We enjoyed our final evening on Horse Lake with more stories, jokes, and laughs about our trip. It was a great evening, as there was no wind, and temps I'm guessing were right around 40. With the skies still cloudy, the moon was not visible totally, but the glow of it was apparent by around 8 PM. We had a little transistor radio, and we listened to the Yankees-Rangers game in the ALCS...and the Rangers won! Take that Yankees! Again...no wolves....and no bears thankfully. We all hit the sack at about 9:30 PM.~Horse Lake
We woke up to cloudy skies again, temps were right around 40 F, and there was a slight breeze out of the east as we tumbled out of our tents shortly before sunrise. With a chance of rain today, we all were in agreement to try to eat breakfast/pack up as soon as we could. For breakfast, we had some leftover bacon, sausages, summer sausage, and had instant oatmeal to fuel us for the paddle back to our vehicles. After inhaling our food, we began to disassemble camp. I rolled up sleeping bags and got my clothes all stuffed away. I took down our tent and Dad helped me pack it away. Dad got all the cooking stuff and whatever food we had left in its rightful place. Ben, Chris, and Jacob got their tent and bags packed up. Jeff tried his hand at fishing one last time with no luck. I also took some time to clean up camp a bit as there were scraps of firewood littered everywhere. Whoever came here next didn't have to worry about getting wood for a few nights anyway!
It's always sort of a jigsaw puzzle before you shove off shore because you're trying to get all packs to fit correctly in the canoes, and so they aren't too heavy/light. It took about 15 minutes of moving stuff around before it all sort of fit together. I took one final walk around the camp...pondering to myself how much of a pleasure the past three days had been for me. Sometimes in life, you want more money, more things, more success at your job, etc. The only thing I wanted now was more time to spend here. Until that time becomes readily available again, I said so long to our Horse Lake site, and we shoved off of shore.
We paddled our way into a southwesterly direction to the first of our seven portages. As we paddled away from camp, a slight wind picked up from the east again, and the paddle to the first portage was simple. The cloudy skies made the entire day seem sort of eerielike something ominous was about to happen. Being here this time of year taught me real quick that you have to pay closer attention to what youre doing...with few people around you, I realized that help would be a ways away in an event of a capsize, broken limb, etc. Personally, I enjoy cloudy days than sunny days. I'm fair skinned so a break from the sun is always welcomed. I just hoped that the rain would stay away. Paddling across Horse Lake was somber....it is a beautiful lakeand we had it to ourselves. From what I've read, this lake is a busy place in the summer months, so it was nice to be here when human activity was rather limited.
We arrived at the somewhat hidden portage landing tucked back into the south west corner of Horse, on the right side of the bay. It was an 80-rodder. During high water times, the portage can be shortened about 20 rods.I made the mistake of going to the shortened landing, but after I arrived there, I looked to see a impenetrable dam to my right, so I trudged my packs back to the trail and continued to the actual landing. The portage itself was easy, and very scenic as the creek was rumbling off in the distance. On that particular portage, I thought/wondered to myself how people in the past survived up here? How did they prepare themselves for winter? What would it be like to camp up here in the winter? I will find that out sometime before I die!!
We hopped into the canoes for a short paddle as the Horse/Fourtown Lakes meet to create this sort of creek/swamp area. We noticed all of the stumps from the logging days, as the shallow water made it easier to see them. We arrived to a short but steep 10 rod portage. The creek was full of huge old logs, a mixture of fallen trees and timber. Tricky landing area on the eastside of the portage that was rocky/mucky. It was pretty much a straight shot up, and then down to the other side. A few hundred feet beyond this portage were a bunch of exposed rocks with very minor rapids. We had to exit the canoes, walking on rocks, guiding/lifting the canoes through the rocks for about 100 feet to the other side. I worked up a healthy sweat!
After paddling for a half mile, we had another 10 rod portage through a campsite that sat on the extreme mid-eastern side of Fourtown. It was probably the least sheltered/private campsite I've ever seen in the BWCA, but you had a nice view into Fourtown and back to the bay to the east where we just came from. Also, a creek with mild rapids runs right through the site. I could see kids playing/swimming here for hours on a warm/sunny day. We took a bathroom break, and scouted the campsite out. In the woods along the shore, I discovered the skeleton of a freshly eaten animal. There were no teeth left, but I'm guessing it was either a wolf or a fox...all that was left were the skull, part of its backbone, and its ribs scattered all over the ground--an interesting site to say the least.
Up to this point, the day had gone fairly well, but it was about to take a nosedive. We paddled to the northwest out of the little bay. Just beyond the site we portaged through was a gorgeous campsite with huge pines on the right....as we paddled past it, you could see the site up on the hill--all the room underneath the red pines and nice view of the lake with tenting spots! It made me want to stop then and there to camp there and call in sick to school a couple days!!! But, I knew that wasn't right, so we kept paddling. A light drizzle began to fall on us now as we continued. Fourtown was a healthy-sized lake, and we were coming into the big/middle portion of it. With the drizzle making distant visibility a challenge, long story-short, I ended up misreading our map/location. Instead of taking a sharp left to the south to head to Mudro, we ended up paddling to the far west side of the lake, between the two large/one small island. After paddling around for awhile in the bay, my dad and I looked at the map again, and realized we needed to go back. We believed we were near the portage into Boot Lake but we never found that either. The wind picked up a bit from the eastno white caps, but enough to make it a little dicey.
We faced the east and decided to hug the shoreline to our right (south). We made the turn and then headed south toward Mudro. When we made the turn southward, we saw a canoe with a young couple far across the lake heading north. It didn't appear that their canoe had much gear in it. We wondered if they were just making a day trip, or if something had happened. The canoe was in no hurry to get our attention, so we just paddled on. This little getting lost ordeal wasted about two hours of our day, and now with the drizzle turning to light rain, we decided not to investigate the three lower sites on Fourtown with the old truck. I was bummed, but the rest of the group was anxious to leave the poor weather behind, and it was my fault getting us lost, so we continued to the three portages into Mudro.
I'd read so much about these three portages, and all of the sudden I became a little nervous. The rain at least died down to more of a fine mist, but things were wet enough to make things less than ideal. We didn't get our rain gear out because we were in the middle of the lake and the rain sort of kept us cool from the paddling. Getting from the bigger waters of Fourtown to the little channel at the extreme southern part of the lake was a relief. There was virtually no wind in the boggy creek-like area. The first portage was a 10-rodder. The landing on the north side on the east side of the creek was atrocious! It was a jagged rock shelf that literally went straight up! It was as rugged as I had envisioned! Getting up it, however, was only half the battle. The portage trail was extremely rocky, rooty, and wet (from the precip). We double tripped it, and loaded up the canoes.
We paddled for less than five minutes to the 141 rodder, with the north landing on the west side of the creek. This portage was a beast, but it was breathtaking! It went up/down/left/right/and everywhere in between. The canoe carriers did not double trip it, but the rest of us double tripped, deciding to not kill ourselves. The trail goes dangerously close to some very high bluffs overlooking the creek filled with rocks/fallen trees! One wrong step would result in certain death!! Some of the bluffs had to be at least 200-300 feet high. It was the most scenic portage I think I can ever remember. There were some areas of flat rock that was inclined enough to make it real slickhad a close call, but didnt fall. It was a relief when we were done with this beast! I was sweating like crazy! I strongly considered jumping into the creek here for a quick swim, but I chickened out. I regret not doing it...it would've been fun! We took a lunch break at the end of the portage, looking back to the north where the creeks rapids began. We munched on PB/J sandwiches, jerky, trail mix, licorice, Pringles, and Kool-Aid.
Following a nice 45 minute break, we paddled for a ¼ mile to the 30-rodder that connects to the northern side of Mudro. From what I'd read, this portage was the easiest of the three. There was no real elevation change to speak of, but the last 10 rods on the southern part of the portage was very rocky and hard to walk because rocks were jutting out everywhere. A large dam (which sort of looked man madeas did many other dams we saw today) was at the southern end of the portage. The view to the south was excellent, as you could view Mudro Lake in the distance. We climbed back into our canoes, knowing that the last portage of the day would be to our vehicles. Jeff and I, who were in the front of the pack for most of the trip, brought up the rearI wanted to savor as much as a could before we left. We paddled past the lone campsite on Mudro. I still wondered to myself how much that site actually gets used! I will camp there someday just to say I did it!!
Eventually, we made our way to Picket Creek with skies still overcast, little to no wind, and an ever-persisting mist continuing to make its presence. Temperatures didn't really warm up throughout the dayhovering in the mid-40s. The creek, not covered in snowfall as it was three days before, was about as quiet as a tomb. After breaking through the beginnings of a quaint beaver dam, we quietly paddled our way up the creek to the shallow, sandy landing of the 30-rodder to the parking lot. As we hit shore, I wished the Chainsaw Sisters Saloon was still in business. It would've been cool to have a cold one (or in my case a warm one) before heading home.
It was very bittersweet for me...this portage meant the end of the wilderness part of our trip, the part that I so had looked forward to and enjoyed the entire time. It meant an end for another trip and I knew it would likely be until 2011 until my next canoeing venture. However, I was looking forward to getting home to see my wife and one-year-old son, and out of the mist/cold. We all agreed as we landed on shore that it was a successful trip....an adventure we were all proud to be apart of. We gathered the gear and made our way down the little trail to the Mudro parking lot. Our vehicles were still the only ones in the lot. Before we left, my family posed for a photo in the parking lot as Jeff kindly took it.
As we left the Mudro access, it began to rainand it rained all the way back to Hawley. It probably was a good idea that we didnt visit the truck site on Fourtown. On the way home, we stopped and ate at McDonalds in Hibbing, and listened to the Packers-Vikings game which was the Sunday Night Game. At that time, there was still hope for the Vikes in the 2010 season, but, we all knew how that turned out. I arrived at my house at around 10:30 PM that night, ready to sleep, but wondering what returning to my day job as 3rd grade teacher would be and all of the things I'd have to do tomorrow....I quickly forgot about it as I fell asleep with memories of our trip in my head. ~Horse Lake, Fourtown Lake, Mudro Lake