BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
July 05 2020
Number of Permits per Day: 14
Elevation: 1381 feet
Trout Lake - 1
First BWCA Trip #23 Loop
August 12, 2018
Number of Days:
The stillness of the morning woke me with a start. Unaccustomed to such quiet, I awoke thinking something must be wrong. I opened my eyes and stared at a foreign scene. Above me, an expanse of grey speckled in dark brown.
“My tent!” I realized. The grey nylon and mesh were speckled with sap from a previous camping trip under some leaky white pines. I lay quietly for a moment, unaware of the time and only briefly aware of the root under my sleeping bag. Crawling from the tent and into the early dawn of the day I stood, stretched and breathed in the beauty of my surroundings.
Directly in front of me lay a small expanse of flat glass water with several islands speckled throughout. The eastern far side, no more than a quarter of a mile away, was our neighboring nation of Canada. To the South of me lay a narrow channel with steep rising sides of granite which gave it a feel of an entry into another world. To the north, a highway of water leading to everything and anything I had not yet discovered and behind camp to the west rose a small mountain of granite that towered above everything else in the area and begged to be climbed and explored.
Nothing moved, not a wisp of wind not even a stir of a dragonfly’s wings. The air was already heavy with the heat of the upcoming day, yet the sun remained hidden behind the eastern tree line. Sun parched moss and lichens clung to the granite surfaces that made up the floor of our camp and they crunched underfoot whenever I stepped off the main camp area. The shadowy silhouettes of the trees soon gave way to deep green boughs and lush treetops as the sun began to creep over the tree line. It gave definition to the world around me that only moments ago was left up to my imagination. Both were equally beautiful.
By the time the sun had hit me square in the face I had already boiled water and ran it through my French Press coffee cup and I was standing on the first of two tiers of granite ledges that lined the front of our camp. Fishing rod in one hand and coffee in the other I set out casting a crankbait around the edges of the camp. My campmate, my son Joe, lay sound asleep in his bag inside the tent.
It was late in the year 2017 when an internet acquaintance announced his plans to visit Quetico with his son for a 30-day adventure. His name is Mike and his job is to travel all over Canada seeking out top-notch fly-in fishing outfitters and reporting in his magazine. He had helped me with a fly in trip in 2017 which would turn out to be, most likely, my Fathers last fly-in fishing trip. I had never heard of Quetico before, so a quick Google search revealed another universe. This ultimately led to my discovery of the BWCA and how easily one could have an adventure quite like my father and I’s beloved fly-in trips. Dad has been battling chronic heart failure since 2017 and is now currently on the heart transplant list. I did not want to give up on my yearly adventure trip, so I recruited my stepson Joe and the fire was lit.
After countless hours of research and YouTube videos and calls to VNO in Ely, we set our sights on entry #23 Mudro Lake in August of 2018. The plan was to enter at first light on Sunday the 12th. The trip route would be Mudro to Lower Basswood Falls the first day via the Horse River. Camp 1 would be somewhere in the vicinity of LBF. The second day would be a camp somewhere in Wednesday or Thursday bay of Crooked Lake. Day 3 would have us in Friday Bay and day 4 would see us travel the small lakes of Papoose, Chippewa, Nikki, and Wagosh across the tip of Gun and into Bullet lake and into Moosecamp Lake for a 2-night stay. Day 5 would have us running the Moosecamp Lake River down into Fourtown and out to Mudro. Day 6 would see us on our way home.
The trip did not go exactly as planned, in fact, the only thing that was the same was the actual route.
It was the last day of my work week. We had been on a 12-hour shift with a two-shift rotation. I was scheduled for 12 hours on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday as well as 8 hours on Saturday. The next shift would take over on Sunday thru Tuesday and then they would take the next Saturday and then we would switch again the following week. It was a grueling schedule, to say the least especially in the heat of the summer. I can’t tell you how ready I was to head for Minnesota.
My son Joe was going with me and after he finished work that day, he was headed for a wedding that Friday night. He was also sick with a head/chest cold. The plan was to leave early Saturday morning and drive straight through to Ely where we would hopefully arrive in time to load our rental gear from Voyageur North Outfitters, grab some dinner and a quick tour of the town and head for bed in the VNO bunkhouse.
I decided to take the route down through Chicago and we left my house at 2:00 am Saturday morning.
I was already exhausted from the work day and the excitement of the trip left me without any sleep or even a brief nap before departure.
Joe was feeling terrible and once he was in the truck and covered with a blanket he was lights out until sometime in Wisconsin.
While there was zero traffic the trip around Chicago was so slow, stopping every so often to pay tolls. It seemed to take forever. It took us about 14 hours to reach Ely. Of course, being cooped up with Joe in the truck I felt the manifestation of my own chest and head cold the first night in Ely.
We checked in at VNO, loaded up our Wenonah Boundary Waters Kevlar canoe, paddles and PFDs. Everything else was packed in our packs and all ready to go. We picked up a pound of leeches at Skubes (I think it was the last pound in town) and tucked them in the fridge of the bunkhouse.
Once our gear was secure along with our permits, fishing licenses etc we headed to the ranger station to pick up our PMA permit. We were really hoping to go into the Tick Lake PMA and spend a night on Jackfish Lake. We secured the PMA permit and from the ranger station, we headed down the Echo Trail towards Entry #23. I wanted to see where it was and familiarize myself with the roads as we would be driving in the dark, very early the next morning.
Back in town we parked the truck and started walking to town. We wanted a steak dinner and a handful of beers before bed. Neither one of us would give up the beers to be the driver so we started walking.
It was hot. The temps hovered around 90 degrees and by the time we made it to the first little tavern I was soaked through, but that first beer was amazing! We stopped at another place and had a beer there as well, I can’t remember the name, I think it was Rockwood. After that, we went to The Ely Steak House and had a big dinner and a pitcher of beer.
By this time the temps were coming down and we enjoyed a nice leisurely stroll back to VNO and shut it down for the night.
We awoke early, showered, gathered up our overnight items and snagged the leeches out of the fridge and were headed downstairs to the truck well before daylight. The gas station right next door is always open, so it was super convenient to grab a large coffee and we were on the road towards the Echo Trail.
We were at the Mudro Lake entry point just as it was beginning to break daylight and unfortunately so was every other permit holder for the day. So much for early bird gets the worm. I decided to sit back and let everyone else go first. I wanted nothing to do with the debacle at the portage trailhead.
I am amazed at what some people go through just to get started on a trip. A little bickering, a lot of running back and forth in the parking lot retrieving things from vehicles forgotten. We sat back, enjoyed our coffee and watched the festivities.
Our gear was completely packed and ready so all we had to do was unload it and off we go. Just before it was time to unload, I pulled off the canoe and secured the fishing rods to the thwarts and strapped in our canoe seats. I really like the stadium-style seats with the backrests and small pockets. Yes, they add a few pounds to the canoe but to me, it’s worth it. I simply use small ratchet straps to secure them in. The front ratchet strap I leave a long tail on so I can use it as a balance strap for portaging. On flat portages, I can secure it to my waist and go hands-free on the trail. This was my first trip and I did not have all the standard gear but we made do with our Ozark Trail backpacks and a Goodwill external frame backpack (which we nicknamed later the death pack) In our canoe from front to back was the following: Joe’s seat and PFD (the seats fold and snap close so we were able to put our PFDs in there on the portage trail) Joe’s backpack and Leeches The equipment backpack (death pack) and food dry bag. My backpack and 2 bag chairs Fishfinder mount Rods/ spare paddle secured on both sides of the canoe using twisty things. My seat. Go Pro clamp mount.
We started out portaging with me carrying my backpack and the canoe. Joe would carry his backpack, paddles and the bag chairs half way and drop them and head back for the equipment pack, food bag, and the leeches. Everything else was in the canoe. I would drop my load at the end of the trail and head back for his halfway load. We did this for the first day and I might add it was a bit of a pain. Joe is skinnier than I am and every time he would drop, I would have to re-adjust all the straps to fit my torso.
Plus, it was heavy!
We only saw three groups that day and they were all headed at us and I presume they were on their way out. I hoped by picking a Sunday that the weekend warriors would be clearing out and there would be good sites available. On the trail between Tin Can Mike and Sandpit I had to step off the boardwalk for a lady coming at me with a canoe on her shoulders. The boardwalk was about 24” off the ground at that point and it was quite the battle to hop off into the marshy ground and get back up once she had passed.
We wasted no time in reaching the Horse River. I had read so much about campsite availability around Lower Basswood Falls that I was determined to blast my way through and reach a site in time or at least have time to find an unoccupied one. In hindsight, we had plenty of time as we only saw one other group and they were headed upstream on the Horse River and only a single campsite was taken around the falls. Oh well, had we gone slow Murphy’s Law would have had all the sites taken.
The Horse River was great. So beautiful but we were really getting worn out. Joe’s cold had made it deep into my chest and my head was pounding from the sinus pressure. The temperature was once again around 90 degrees. Those last few portages on the Horse all but had me exhausted. I just wanted a full breath of air!
We reached the falls portage and quickly slipped into Canada and around the falls. We did not even stop to check them out. The plan was to get camp set up down the river a bit and come back the next morning and check them out. We set up on site # 1550 which was a nice site. The tent pads were back in the brush down a trail. You couldn’t see the falls from this site. There was a large beaver lodge to the west of the site and the area behind camp was very thick. We ended up paddling out to the island in front of camp to the north for some firewood. We didn’t need much as we were both headed for an early night.
We had a small dinner and took a quick dip in the water and after a small cup of wine, we were off to bed where our colds would double in severity overnight.
I awoke early and slogged my way out of the tent. It was already warm. I located the stove and fuel and set about boiling some water for coffee. I was using a coffee cup with a built-in French press and it worked great. I love that thing! I had coffee and grabbed my fishing rod.
The first cast I caught a small smallmouth bass on a crankbait right from shore. I enjoyed those first few moments of the day. Yes, I was stiff and sore from the prior day’s exertions but standing on a granite ledge watching the sun come up in the BWCA Wilderness is well worth it…every time.
Joe awoke sometime later and had coffee and I whipped up a quick breakfast. We packed up camp and headed upstream to explore the falls.
Lower Basswood falls were extraordinary! The amount of water rushing through those two spots is amazing. The fact that you can get so up close and personal is even better. We played around the falls for about an hour and set off downstream. We stopped for a picture with the boundary post on the small island just downstream of the falls.
I set out my rod to begin trolling our way down the Basswood River. I built a clamp on style holder for the fish finder and rod holder. It spanned across the canoe in front of me and pinched on to each of the gunnels. It had a hole drilled in one side to hold my rod. It worked perfectly. The transducer I put in a foam block inside of a baggie of water. It shot right thru the hull under my seat.
I caught my first walleye just as we approached the pictographs and hung him on the stringer for dinner. We paddled and trolled all the way to Table Rock before stopping.
There was a spot not too far before Table rock where I noticed a small island with a great weed/reed bed on the deep side or lakeside. I just knew it was going to hold a pike, so I paddled over and took out my favorite weedless spoon. I tossed it onto the reeds and swam it thru and out into the deeper water. Once it hit that break it was slammed. I have not felt a hit like that ever! It went on a run as I just in time loosened up my drag. At the end of his run, I tightened back up and put some pressure on it. Whatever it was gave me the biggest head shake I have ever felt. My rod whipped back and forth and then he was gone. I was heartbroken. I reeled in my lifeless line only to find that whatever it was had ripped my snap swivel open and the spoon simply slid off the end. That head shake though…
Table rock was awesome. We played around there some and even waded out offshore a bit and caught several fish. Walleye, pike, and bass all from the same spot. There was a campsite behind and in the brush a bit which would be really neat to stay at but I imagine you would be inundated with travelers stopping to see the table.
It was still incredibly hot and we went through a lot of water that day. I had two Sawyer mini filters that worked great. As Joe paddled, I would dip the bag into the water and fill it and then squeeze it right into our Nalgene bottles. Only took a few minutes to fill both.
After much debate, we decided not to venture into the PMA. Our colds were sapping any extra energy we could muster and it just didn’t seem like the right thing to do. I don’t regret the decision but would still like to do a bushwhack camp someday. We paddled by the portage into the PMA and went through a narrow gorge in Wednesday bay and found site # 1859.
1859 sat high on a granite bluff overlooking a beautiful stretch of Wednesday bay that was dotted with islands. There was an impressive cliff right behind camp and we climbed it the next day. The views were breathtaking. This was my favorite site on this trip and we spent two nights here.
There wasn’t much for tent pads and someone had cut some of the branches off a live pine to make a better tent pad. We utilized the area and even used the cut branches (still green needled) as a broom to sweep off the huge granite floor of the campsite. We walked around barefoot after that. Someone had also built a sawhorse looking structure out of pine logs. I’m not sure for what purpose but I wished I would have dismantled it and burned it or at least tossed the logs back into the woods and burned the rope. We let it sit untouched.
There was a great swimming hole right in front of camp and you can jump off the edge of the granite and into the water. It was refreshing as the temps were still in the 90s. They would finally break on the second night of camp 1859. We fished a lot in front of camp around the islands and caught several eater size walleyes. We ate fish twice at this camp. Once just fried in a pan and the other was fish tacos. Delicious. I will remember next trip to bring long socks or gaiters to protect my ankle from those damn flies. Man, those little guys can bite! I think bug spray is like ranch dressing to them. Nothing deters them! They even bit through the mesh on my water shoes!
We had breakfast and packed up camp. Our next campsite was either going to be at the southern end of Friday bay or go for broke and head for Moosecamp lake which I had read was a great lake with good walleye fishing.
The paddle across the top of Crooked was quick. There was a breeze at the top of Thursday bay but oddly enough it dissipated once we crossed the open section. This area was amazing. I will go back here again someday. I love all the little islands which make up the Crooked lake archipelagos. It was fun to read the map and decipher where we were and where we were going. I truly felt like a voyageur!
We made it into Friday bay in no time flat. All three campsites inside the bay were taken. It was still quite early in the day, around 10 am, so instead of backtracking to one of the sites at the top of Friday bay we pushed for Moosecamp Lake.
It was at this stage of the trip we began to encounter more and more traffic.
We portaged down through Papoose Creek and though Papoose lake into Chippewa. These lakes were quite weedy and the small creeks that connect them were shallow and choked with vegetation. It was a constant paddle to keep forward momentum. It was still neat to see the change in scenery from giant granite and broad expanses of water to a swampier tighter area. I fully expected to see a moose at any moment. The other two small lakes were much the same and I passed up the two open sites on Chippewa and Niki. The one on Wagosh was taken. I imagine these sites were quite buggy and I wasn’t a huge fan of the lakes either. I don’t imagine the fishing was very good either.
We hopscotched these lakes with two other groups and soon found ourselves at the 327-rod portage that leads into Gun Lake. It was a nice portage although it seemed to go uphill forever. We double portaged everything from this point out. It just didn’t seem worth the extra effort to 1.5x portage anymore.
Once we arrived at Gun lake there was a canoe fishing right at the end of the portage. We made the quick portage into Bullet lake and another small one into Moosecamp Lake.
This is where the trip took a turn. Every site on Moosecamp was taken. Now it was getting later in the day and I was feeling a bit uneasy. So, nothing else to do but paddle on. We entered the Moosecamp River and began our meandering slog. Water levels were not optimum and once again it was solid paddling to make any headway. By the time we reached the end of Moosecamp River, it was close to 5 pm. We were both exhausted. Little did we know it would soon get worse.
I knew Fourtown was a big lake with lots of sites so I didn’t think it would be a big deal to find one. I was wrong. We paddled the entire length of Fourtown Lake and every single site was taken.
I couldn’t believe it. The map showed around 15 sites yet everywhere we looked I saw a canoe or a tarp or a tent or heard hooting and hollering as the campers were well into their evening routine.
So, we paddled on. Tired, sick and now overcome with the dreaded feeling that we need to paddle fast now to get back to the truck before dark.
I do not recommend the portages out of Fourtown in the dusk after you’ve been paddling all day. While beautiful in their own way they are not at all a welcome sight at this stage of our day. We overcame that last day obstacle and made it back to the truck just before all light left from the sky. Tired, wet and hungry we loaded up and headed back to VNO.
We arrived back at VNO just as they were locking the door for the night. Lynn set us up with a room and we quickly headed into town to catch the last few minutes before Subway closed for a bite to eat.
August 15th 2018
We crashed hard that night after food and a shower and were on the road headed back to Michigan early the next day. Although this time we went back through the upper peninsula which was a way better drive and 2 hours quicker.
It was an epic last day for sure and it shaved two whole days off our trip but I’m not sure I could have done anything differently. At that hour in the day, there wasn’t any time for backtracking into other lakes to look for an unoccupied site. We would have most likely been caught in the dark and had to bushwhack a site.
I could have grabbed a site at one of the smaller lakes north of Moosecamp but my back up plan was Fourtown and its plethora of sites. Even now there really isn’t another game plan I would have made. I wish I would have stayed at the top of Friday Bay but we had only traveled a short time before arriving there. I thought for sure we had plenty of time. Had we have stopped who knows what may have happened. I know one thing for sure, I would have had an extra day!
At least we know now that we can cover some ground and grind it out with the best of them when we must. It was a real learning experience for sure.
Things gone right:
Fishfinder mount worked great
VNO is a great outfitter. Lynn did us a solid on our return that night for sure. Even after that grueling last day, I asked my son if he wanted to go next year. “Hell yes,” he said.
Lessons learned: External frame backpack from Goodwill was awful. I wanted to burn it when I got home but the wife took it back for some other unsuspecting soul to curse themselves with.
Hanging the food bag was a colossal pain. Food barrel next trip. (which I now own)
The Ozark Trail backpacks worked fine but I now own a Granite Gear Superior One portage pack which will allow us to consolidate both packs into one.
Don’t bring so much fishing gear! LOL Not sure I can ever do that.
I brought a lot of food but shorting ourselves those two days and being sick put a damper on food consumption. I brought more snack/sugary stuff then I think we would have eaten anyways.
Make sure the backup paddle isn’t heavier than your day paddle. We had a little short wooden one that weighed a ton.
Better water shoes leave the hiking boots at home. I know everyone says you need hiking boots and ankle support but I don’t. I did just fine in my water shoes for most of the trip the only bad thing was they were a bit soft in the soul and some of the rocks were jabbing my feet. Also, every time I stepped in the water they would fill up with sand and pebbles. I need something a bit more snug to help keep out the debris.
Never drive through Chicago when you can go through the UP.
Brought way too much stove fuel
Bag chairs were a solid PITA. Bringing different chairs next trip.
A most excellent experience and I can’t wait to go again. 2019 will find us in Lac la Croix around Tiger Bay/Boulder Bay area doing a basecamp style trip. Depending on traffic and site availability we may make a second camp on Iron lake or up further north and west into LLC.
I wish I could go twice a year but for now, I will settle for once. I have a toddler who will be three in April and in a few more years she will be joining me on these adventures. I just wish her Mom was more outdoorsy because I would love to take her as well.
Below is a link to the youtube video I did.