BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
July 02 2020
Number of Permits per Day: 14
Elevation: 1381 feet
Trout Lake - 1
Back Into The Outdoors: A Moose loop
June 01, 2018
Number of Days:
This year (2018) I wanted to get back in touch with my outdoorsy self. It has been over a decade since I last went on a canoeing or hiking trip. I was a Boy Scout (could say I still am!) and I went to the BWCA once when I was 14 with a couple dads and sons, but I have not been since. After getting into astronomy and being reminded how rare and beautiful our planet is, I wanted to immerse myself in nature, and enjoy it while I still can (and I’m really glad I did). Thus, I decided to start doing research, buy gear, and plan a trip to the BWCA. I ended up planning two trips for 2018 with two different groups; one trip was 3 guys for 9 days starting June 1, and one trip was 2 guys for 6 days starting Sept 8 (planned to be 8, but thunderstorms cut it short). Both trips went pretty well, with a few hiccups each (to be expected).
In both June and September, we entered through Moose Lake and got outfitted by Williams & Hall (friendly and affordable). This would be my first time using an outfitter on a lake, so the experience was new to me, and I’m glad to say it was very positive.
Having almost all of the gear necessary, all we had to rent was the canoe, paddles, overnight lodging, and a tow in and out. W&H was very accommodating and we had no problems showing up to the bunkhouse a little after midnight on Friday night after work, both times. The bunkhouse beds with the spring suspensions are OK at best, but I sleep better on my inflatable pad. The beds with the hard wooden boards were not good even with doubled-up cushions – I should have brought my pad in with me (even if I might not have been able to sleep well due to excitement anyway). In the mornings, we got up early, sorted our gear, stopped in the dining hall for a quick pancake, bacon, and eggs breakfast with OJ and coffee (perfect way to start the day), and brought our gear down to the dock to catch our tow. On the way back, we were each offered a cold beer or soda and handed a towel to take a much-appreciated shower. Their shower rooms are very nice and I can’t tell you how good it feels to even just rinse off with warm water and put on a clean set of clothes before you drive home. That cold beer sure hits the spot too.
The overall cost of outfitting through W&H was very reasonable when split between multiple people. Combined with the cost of gas up to Ely and back, and all the food we brought with us, it was less than $500/person for both the 2-person and 3-person groups. Pretty affordable for a week-long vacation if you ask me! I would recommend Williams & Hall to anyone who likes the idea of what I just described. They were easy to work with, friendly, had good gear, and seemed affordable or on par with any other outfitter for cost.
* Food *
For food storage, we used a 10 gallon blue barrel acquired on eBay. In June with 3 guys, we put that inside a large 110L MEC dry sack, which had more food in it. About 4 days into the June trip, we were able to fit everything in the barrel, so we didn’t have to hang the MEC pack at night anymore. In September, all food for 8 days fit into the barrel, and we used a LevelSix harness set for 60L which carried the barrel nicely. Those harnesses ain’t cheap though! I was thankful to be able to borrow one. In June we came back with about a third of the barrel full of food; in September we came back with half a barrel left - too many snacks and some high volume stuff like a brick of lard we ended up not using.
* Gear *
For everything else, a CCS Guide and GG Quetico fit all of the gear for both trips, being a little more compact for the 2-person trip. We had most of the amenities, including FlexLite chairs, a Silky folding saw, Fiskars splitting axe, and a group tarp, but we went as light as possible on our gear for both trips and were mostly successful. On both trips, every person had a day pack with personal items like toiletries, gloves, water, tackle, survival gear, camera gear, etc. We also brought 1 fishing rod each for both trips, though next year I think I will buy a second rod as my trip will be fishing-focused. We double-portaged everything and were about average for speed in both portaging and paddling, our travel times coming in roughly 10-20% longer than estimated on PP (which we knew were just rough estimates, of course).
June 1-9, 2018
* Route Overview *
The route we planned to take would bring us on a nice loop around the northeast-central BWCA, the Moose Lake area, I’ll call it. First, a tow to the Birch portage, then down Knife to SAK for 1 night, through Eddy and Kek ponds to Kekekabic for 3-4 nights, then down to Fraser for 1 night, over to Ima for 1 night, then up to Ensign for the last 1-2 nights, and out through Splash. Due to significant wind on the first day (and throughout the trip really) we opted to stop early on Knife, close to the Knife-Bonnie portage, so we ended up not seeing Eddy Falls or the Kek Ponds. Day 2 was Knife to Kek through Bonnie, Spoon, and Pickle. We ended up doing 3 nights on Kekekabic and 2 nights on Ensign. Overall the route was really enjoyable and offered a variety of terrain.
* Route Duration *
PP says 41.2mi; my friend had his Garmin tracking us but I don’t know the actual distance. I think it was around 44mi, which accounts for mistakes and sightseeing on some lakes like Wisini. Getting to Knife took us about 4 hours on the dot. We stopped early on Knife due to a strong 15-20mph headwind about 2 hours later, landing us at our camp at around 3:30pm. We did not see many people this day, especially once on Knife. The travel down to Kekekabic was fairly quick but those portages should not be underestimated, with lots of elevation change, and some steep landings. Pickle-Kek was probably my least favorite if I remember correctly. Kek to Fraser was not bad, with a 5 or 6 hour travel time, and was not much affected by wind due to most of the time being spent on small lakes and portages. This was the most isolated day by far; we saw no one all day including on Kek until we got to Fraser, and I think we saw 2 groups of 2 canoes and that was it. The Kek-Strup portage is also one to remember. Fraser to Ima was a gorgeous day and didn’t take too long at all despite even more wind. Ima to Ensign was pretty easy compared to the area around Kek, with mostly flat, well-worn portages. Even with us stopping for the better part of an hour at Cattyman Falls for lunch and sightseeing, we still got to Ensign in 5 or 6 hours, with a campsite by 3 or 3:30pm. Ensign was very busy and every site from Ashigan to Trident was taken (using binoculars), until we got to the northwest tip and found that site open.
* Route Difficulty *
I think this route is definitely beginner-intermediate; if difficulty was graded 1-10, I’d put this at maybe 4/10. The last portage into and first portage out of Kek are the hardest of the trip and I would rate them a 7/10 for difficulty probably – not awful but the elevation changes can be quite exhausting with 50 extra pounds on you and you do need to watch your footing in some sections. The area around Ensign-Ima-Fraser is pretty easy and I would rate that area maybe a 2.5/10 (not a completely flat walk through the woods, but only very-out-of-shape people will find it challenging). If I had kids, at least 7 or 8 years old, so they can actually carry their own bags and maybe paddles and rods and PFDs, I wouldn’t have too much hesitation about bringing them on this route. The biggest concern is Knife, Kekekabic, Fraser, Thomas, and Ima, as far as big water goes. Ensign is kinda big too I suppose. As long as you play it safe and smart if there are whitecaps, and cut into waves that aren’t as treacherous, there’s not too much to worry about. The headwind on Knife was not worrisome for stability, but on Kekekabic we had to paddle away from the campsite we wanted, just to cut back into the waves, twice. We were actually a little concerned during that 20 minute stretch of paddling but we had a MN3 which is a low, aggressive canoe. Pick a more stable canoe if you’re concerned about instability (caused by nature or by inexperienced paddlers).
* Trip Log *
I will be transcribing and paraphrasing what I wrote in my journal during the trip, but also elaboration/reflection after the fact. I will also add a fun bit at the end – I tracked as many songs that got stuck in my head as possible, to see if there was any correlation. I didn’t notice any correlation other than a 4/4 time signature (easy to walk/march to) and recency of having heard a song, but I think the list is interesting/entertaining anyway so I’ll include it. For reference, the two friends I was with will be called G and E.
On the water today!! We had a great pancake & bacon breakfast with OJ and coffee. It was really great. We caught the tow and were paddling after the portage into Birch by 9:30am. We enjoyed relatively low wind and overcast skies but man it's cold. 45-65F. The portages & paddle up to Knife were great, spirits high all around.
Once on Knife however we had more trouble with wind. It was easily a 15-20mph wind straight in our faces (better than at our sides). We paddled as far as we could make ourselves paddle. We didn't make it to SAK, but we got a decent almost-island-basically-peninsula site close to the Bonnie portage down to Kek. The wind was sustained through the late evening and blew right through the campsite.
We're exhausted by this point, more than we realized, and ate lunch of Joe wraps (tortilla, salami, pepperoni, cheese, mustard - brownie points if you know which Joe this is in reference to). The salami was amazing. Then we processed firewood and got water and set up the tent. This took us about 2 hours after landing. The site was windy but thankfully it means no bugs. At least almost none. We had a fabulous steak, mashed potatoes, and shallot dinner, cooked over the fire. Thanks G.
After getting back from the BWCA and looking to leave reviews for the campsites we stayed at, I found that our Knife campsite had a history of bear sightings. I am thankful to be able to say we did not encounter one! I didn't think it was that great of a site at the time, maybe I still don't, but it was decent for sure. I ended up checking it out in September but it was taken.
We had some sips of whiskey and put out the fire around 11 for bed. Sleep came easy. I did not dream.
Wind... so much wind... We decided to push to Kek and got on the water just after 10am, a little later than desired but we didn't feel the need to rush. The portages to Bonnie/Spoon/Pickle were OK, a little challenging going uphill on some of them. Pickle to Kek however, I could have done without. Still didn't mind it that much, considering I was out in the Boundary Waters! We hit Kek and the wind was brutal. I mean brutal - the waves were treacherous for our MN3 which has only maybe 6 inches above the water line. Water came over the side a frew times. It was a very stressful paddle to the west side of Kek where we stopped at the first site we could see. We had to get out of the water.
The site turned out to be pretty nice actually, with a great view to the east down Kek, from the firepit. This wasn't the site we thought we wanted, but after looking at the maps again, this WAS the site we wanted, and I had it mistaken for the one even further west.
We set up the tent and tarp for bag/gear protection from rain as there was a 70% chance of rain (according to the weather radio). It is raining as I write this at 5:20pm. We ate Joe wraps an hour ago and now we are relaxing. Hoping for good weather tomorrow. I'll take rain over wind at this point.
We retired to the tent quite early due to our somewhat stressful day. E and I were reading while G snored away, when I mentioned that we still had to hang the food bag and tie up the barrel. We weren't necessarily set on staying in the tent for the rest of the evening, which is why we didn't do it before we went in. We figured G wasn't about to get up and help us so we put our clothes back on and headed out into the drizzle and did what we had to do. I was not particularly proud of the knots we used to secure the bag and barrel. :)
It had been cloudy both days so far without a single break for sunlight. We were hoping to wake up to a beautiful calm morning.
Rain. Light, not windy. We were a bit slow moving. Egg and hash brown mix for breakfast, but G didn't secure the handle on his frying pan and dumped a quarter of it on the ground. Whoops. We ate the rest w/o frying it up; it was a little hard but not terrible. I proceeded to clean it all up, which was difficult because it was spread all over some rocks, in little nooks and crannies on the ground, all over the ground... took me like 20 minutes to be comfortable with the level of cleanliness. I don't want bears. After hanging for a bit, we strung up our rods and headed out for some fishing in the light drizzle around 12:30pm. Around 2 we put back in as the wind picked up, which got worse quickly after we got to shore. BUT!! We all caught out first lakers!!! G got the first, then E, then G got another, then me. All of them were probably 15-18 inches, perfect eaters. Chartruse jig heads and white twister tails were money. We just hit a dropoff 150ft from our campsite (only about 40ft away from shoreline) and it was game on.
G proceeded to clean them all and managed to cut himself -three- times. One was bad and it was just due to him not paying attention to where his index finger was on the blade as he pressed it into the fish. His finger was bleeding quite a bit, but nowhere near to a truly dangerous amount. We got him cleaned up and temporarily bandaged, and then he finished cleaning the fish!! Then we swapped out his bandage for a slightly looser one with more bacitracin (spoiler: no problems with it throughout the trip). We fried up the fish in small nuggets with vegetable oil and O M G... some of the best fish I've ever had. Best from MN for sure, best I've ever caught for sure. We were in heaven from these 4 lakers and relaxed in our camp, quite content. Due to rain and wind, we didn't have a fire that night.
Finally some holes in the clouds appeared and illuminated the hills around Kek. It felt magical. We were all giddy, filming the little bit of blue sky we could see, taking photos of the hillsides as more and more holes opened up. We went to the tent around 10pm and played Five Crowns until 11pm and hit the hay. As I stepped out to take a leak around midnight or 1am, the sky had completely cleared up, and there were endless stars as far as the eye could see. I was tempted to grab my binoculars and stay out for 20 minutes, but I didn't feel like risking some bugs, as it was dead calm.
This was a great day.
Up at 6:30am. Out of tent by 7. SUN!!!!!!! Clear sky and sun. Amazing sight. Finally. FINALLY!!!!
We had the gourmet oatmeal for breakfast (slow cook oats and dried fruit) and decided to go on a hike for firewood. We found some cedar and pine without too much trouble, really enjoying the open area around this site. There is a fantastic lookout point near where we got the wood, where you can see basically all of Kekekabic. It is an incredible sight. Even though it rained last night, with the wet ground as evidence, the wood we got was pretty dry! Epic splitting ensued. If the wind cooperates, we're gonna have an epic fire tonight. Feeling like a part of this place, almost. Learning more respect for nature. Oh, and there are dragonflies EVERYWHERE. They are chowing down so hard. There are almost no skeeters out here anymore. Loving my dragon buddies.
Decided to throw a line out at 1pm with a firetiger rattling lipless crankbait, not expecting much if any action considering they're fairly shallow lures and lakers are deep. Well, thankfully, the water was still cold enough where I managed to entice a laker to come up and hit my lure, after only 10 casts or so. It turned out to be a gorgeous fish, measuring just about 20 inches long (new personal record!). Gonna eat that guy for dinner. Buffalo chicken wraps for lunch at 2pm. Wind has picked up a bit. So much wind on this trip. SO much.
We hung out for a few hours, soaking in the sun, lounging about. When dinner time rolled around (lunch was usually around 3pm, dinner around 7pm) we cooked my trout for dinner in foil with lemon and spices, along with some hash browns. We also stayed up to stargaze by the fire and it was incredible, even without true darkness adaptation. So many stars. The Milky Way was super apparent, like thick, dense clouds streaking across the sky from horizon to horizon. My Canon image-stabilized binoculars were a good idea, even if they do weigh 3lbs. G and E could not believe how many stars were visible. The thick portions of the Milky Way, to the south, just seemed to be jam packed, with knots and clumps of stars everywhere.
We went to bed around midnight and zonked out almost immediately. I even beat G to sleep, which is good because that guy snores.
Up at 5am by alarm to avoid wind and waves on Kek. It ended up being dead calm, the lake was like glass. What a crazy contrast from day 2. Suddenly the big scary lake was the big beautiful lake. I almost didn't want to leave. Okay, I really didn't want to leave.
The paddle down to the Strup portage was absolutely gorgeous, with fog on the water, slowly dissipating, and the tucked-away section close to the portage is a charming little area, where we heard an endless, almost crowded flurry of bird songs. These are the moments I came to love.
Strup portage sucked, and from Wisini to Ahmakose too. Very steep. Felt quite remote, with lots of bugs and no people seen all day. Got to Fraser at noon and had a campsite in a NW bay (only site there) by 2pm. Lots of flies, horseflies and bees and dragonflies. The site was pretty small and the water wasn't nearly as clear or cold as Kek, but it was an alright site for sure. A huge tree had fallen or was cut right at the front of the site, with a huge root system visible above ground. Large cliffs on either side of the bay gave us some beautiful scenery.
Almost forgot to mention, GORGEOUS day. Clear and sunny, no wind. Like paddling on glass with the occasional ripple. Beautiful day. Wind started to move in around 4:30pm, likely bringing a storm tonight.
I'm now resting in the tent away from the sun and flies and bees. Probably gonna move to Ima tomorrow and Ensign the next day to be close to our exit, and to get a full day on Ensign for some walleye fishin. Hard to believe it's already been 5 days but also not really. It's been a good trip.
Long day. Out of camp at 10? Battled few waves on Fraser. Enjoyed a nice river system or creek or whatever you wanna call it (Hatchet area). Best part of the day for me. Rest was portages that took too long from standing around and applying sunscreen, smoking cigarettes (not me), etc. A lot of it could have been done on the water, but instead I stood around and got eaten by bugs while the guys did their thing. Oh well..... most of the day was absolutely gorgeous.
Got to Ima at 2pm with bad wind and waves. Both island campsites were taken. Ended up at a site further west, on a rocky point, with TONS of blowdowns. We couldn't/didn't use the only tent pad due to a big half-down tree supported by a few other trees, right above the pad. (Later learned this blowdown happened in 2016, apparently USFS doesn't think this was a risk??). I was not a fan of this site, save for the large seating area by the firepit, and the large rock face to lay on and watch the clouds go by.
We spent 3 hours eating lunch (tucked away behind a giant boulder away from the wind) and setting up camp. I don't know how the time went so fast. Wind sucked until 10pm, then mosquitoes came out like there was no tomorrow, and we all had to walk in loops as we ate our dinner fully clothed with rain gear on to stop ourselves from being eaten alive. The guys did some light astrophotography as it was clear, but I went to bed a little early and they followed not long after. If I'm being truthful, my attitude wasn't the best because of the travel stresses and the poor campsite condition, and I just wanted to fall asleep without any snoring.
I didn't sleep well given the bunch of roots and rocks under my spot (only flat place to put the tent) but I took it to spare the guys. Not expecting a thanks but an acknowledgement would have been nice. They may not have seen how bumpy the spot was though. Starting to be ready to leave. Sigh. Good trip, has ups and downs. At least the sunset was nice.
Slept in til 8. Made coffee for the guys, I didn't really want it as I wanted to get moving. Made some undercooked oatmeal because we forgot the exact amount of water needed. Then one of E's Coleman fuel canisters started hissing/leaking after we took it off the stove. We decided, if this thing is gonna bleed empty, we might as well make more coffee. So here I am writing this while we delay our travel to one of the BWCA's busiest lakes more and more. It just hit 10am and we have minimum 45 min of takedown/packing left. We're not gonna get to a site until 5pm at this rate and it'll probably be a crappy one due to all of the others being taken. Also we have our longest portage of 111 rods today. I want to get moving but I am always overruled. Getting tired of it.
The area around Jordan Lake is really beautiful. I could spend a few days hanging around there, fishing and eating and napping in a hammock in the shade.
The portages of the day were not bad at all and we made it to Ensign in ~5 hours, from 11am to 4pm. Met some bros playing music, with way too much gear, at Cattyman Falls. I wasn't thrilled about the music, but at least they had "Summer of '69" playing. It was a little nice to hear a tune on the 7th day, I'll admit, despite my feeling that it kind of ruins the spirit of being in the wilderness. The falls were awesome though and we got some great photos and videos. We ate lunch at the portage as well, I think Texas mesquite chicken wraps.
There were SO MANY crayfish/crawfish at the Ashigan-Ensign landing. You could have scooped them up with a bucket. At that time we also noticed that Ensign was completely calm, which one camper told us about on the Ashigan portage. "Super weird" he said. After seeing Kek completely flat I have to agree, seeing big water so calm is weird, especially given the near-constant wind we've had.
Our site on Ensign is secluded, a bit back in a bay, and it's got a great view. It was quite busy, with every site being full on the paddle up here. I was very relieved to find this site open, because the lake so busy, and we would've had to paddle back quite a ways to look for other sites. It was a sunny, calm day. It was hot.
We had problems getting stakes into the ground due to so many rocks, but we made it work by tying paracord around very large boulders and putting boulders on stakes that didn't go in very far. It worked out alright.
We had an awesome fire courtesy of the huge downed birch we got on a canoe firewood expedition, about 400 feet across the bay. We stayed up til 1am stargazing again, taking photos of the Milky Way, and enjoying the fire. It was a good day, despite my irritation earlier. I just didn't want to get screwed like the folks I've read about and have to backtrack significantly, or worse, leave the BWCA early because of no available sites. Thankfully that wasn't the case.
Oh yeah, we had Mountain House Chicken Teriyaki for dinner and it was bomb. Thoroughly enjoyed it.
Slept in til 8am. Tried to do pancakes, didn't work... heat wasn't even enough on the titanium pan and they ended up burning. We just had some GORP and bars and it was no big deal.
We went out fishing despite the wind, because we really wanted some walleye and we just wanted to do more fishing! It was quite windy though and we mostly trolled just because we didn't want to get blown all over the lake. Probably 15mph winds. I managed a small ~14-15 inch walleye on the same lipless crank I caught a laker on, near a shallow rocky/weedy area. Unfortunately, my next cast after stringing up the walleye had me snagged on the rocks, which I kind of expected, given the treble hooks on the somewhat heavy crankbait. I told G and E I would like to paddle over and get my winning lure back, but G for some reason thought he knew how hooked I was better than I did, and told me to just tighten the drag and rip on it. So I did, and the braid snapped. Good one G. Good one, self. Thankfully, G also got a walleye while trolling, 18 inches or so, so we had a decent amount of fish to eat for lunch.
When we got back to the site, I noticed that my zipoff pants, which I had unzipped, then pulled back up to cover my knees due to the bright sunlight, had one of the legs slide down without my noticing, and I now had a bright red knee. At least it's day 8... shouldn't be too much of problem for the next 24 hours!
We fried up the walleye on a very smoky fire that did not want to stay lit. Thankfully it was enough to get the walleye cooked. I got a little testy with G for spilling food at the site again (some loose Shore Lunch from the bag we were breading the walleye in) as I was not kidding about not wanting bears. I don't think Shore Lunch itself is going to attract a bear, but it's the principle about keeping a clean campsite, especially the cooking area. The (Cajun!) Shore Lunch was great, and we made some cheesy grits to go with it. I was happy to have had one fish meal, let alone two, but three was a nice treat.
We had a low fire rolling all day after that, and it actually turned into a nice fire after we dried out the wood on top of the fire grate (cycling out split pieces every 10-20 minutes) - great technique BTW!! It was too cloudy for stargazing that night, so we went to bed around 11:30pm. Decent day but ready to go. This wind though.
Got up at 7am to rain. Great sendoff. Had Black Bart Chili for breakfast - delicious. Also had some coffee. Got on the water by 9:54am and to the end of the Splash portage by 11:45am or so. The paddle down Ensign was uneventful, and the rain was actually kind of nice. It was really calm the entire time which was very much appreciated. The rain from earlier lightened to a drizzle and we took off our raincoats. The Splash landing was incredibly buggy, not something we expected, but thankfully the portage was super short so we were able to get away from the bugs quickly.
The narrow areas of Splash were absolutely gorgeous though. Lots of rocky cliffs with a variety of colors. You could really see the water line was dramatically lower than normal, and this was in early June! Little inlets with birds and loons were everywhere. It looked like a very fishy area. Kinda wish I had pulled out my rod for a few casts! It was a beautiful end to the trip. I can imagine this area being a really enjoyable start to a trip as well. If you're too focused on moving quick, you might miss the beauty. We welcomed the rain when it picked up a bit more, as it dampened our hair and gave us a slight natural shower. Let me tell you, a really good head scratch while it's raining and cleaning off your head and hands, after 9 days, is an incredibly cathartic experience.
Our tow back to W&H wasn't scheduled until 1pm, but the rapids on the Newfound-Splash side were nice, and the water there is shallow enough to wade across the channel entirely. We took some photos, ate some food, looked at some photos, reminisced and reflected, and just enjoyed our last hour or two in the wilderness. Some campers were entering and leaving during this time; one big exiting group asked me to take their picture and said they hadn't managed to get a chance to ask anyone to do it earlier in their trip. I was happy to oblige.
The tow back was quick (and cold!). We took a much-appreciated shower after downing our complimentary cold ones. Getting clean and putting clean clothes on (from the car) after a long trip like that felt so good. I am super happy with W&H. Very seamless experience and friendly people.
The drive home to Minneapolis took a while, but I'm gonna be glad to get home and rest. 9 days is no joke, but it was a good trip. I really enjoyed it, despite the occasional irritation -- gotta take the ups AND the downs in stride. I got a beautiful vacation out of it, and time with my best friends. We arrived at E's house around 8:30pm; after separating gear and some hugs, I took G home and got to my place just after 10pm. After bringing all of my gear up to my apartment, I brushed my teeth, hit the sheets, and passed out almost immediately.
Great trip. It will be one to remember.
This really was an excellent trip. It was my second trip in the BWCA ever, and first time in 14 years, with my first as a teenager in Boy Scouts. I did plenty of preparation beforehand and knew what to expect, so there were no real surprises and everything went pretty smoothly. I was so excited for this trip, and I was able to roll with the punches and ended up having a great time despite things like wind, wind, and more wind.
I got frustrated with the guys a few times for dilly-dallying or some minor thing, but we always managed to apologize soon after a snarky comment (I wasn't the only one) and we are just as strong of friends now, if not stronger. Ultimately we all pulled our weight and no one really had to worry about anyone slacking off. When we got near a portage, we'd call out obstacles and find a good landing spot. When we got out, everyone helped unload the canoe and put gear in a sensible location (not right in the middle of everything). We traded off carrying various combinations of packs, accessories, and the canoe, and no one ever complained about having to carry the food or the main gear bag or the canoe. When we got to our campsites for the first time, we each knew what to look for (flat tent pads, widowmakers, latrine, bugs/animals) and were all on the same page for what constituted a good and bad site. Setting up camp was always a group effort and went without a hitch for the most part. Water collection was never a point of contention thanks to the extremely convenient gravity filter, and even dish duties were taken without so much as a frown (often without anyone even having to ask). We looked out for each other and I felt really confident about our abilities (and safety) as a group. The late shove-offs weren't great, but there was nothing I could do, and letting it upset me wouldn't make it any better. I learned to just roll with things out there (of course knowing I would have to compromise, before even getting up there) and make the best of it. Quite thankfully, our occasional leisurely pace didn't screw us over for campsites.
We all wish we could have done more fishing. The wind was quite strong for most of the trip and we didn't want to constantly be paddling and stationkeeping, especially in a mostly-empty canoe. The fishing we did do turned out to be productive, and all of us were pleased with our catches. No one left without catching a fish. In 2019, though, we plan to do a fishing-focused trip around Iron/Crooked around the same time. Our only concern is that wind will limit us again, and Crooked is not a small lake.
We did pretty well with food, only bringing back maybe 6-10lbs. One dinner, some lunch stuff, some oatmeal, some GORP, a few bars, and some misc stuff. We could have survived another few days with what we had for sure, if we had to. Re-bagging the Mountain House/Alpine Aire meals into a single gallon ziploc saves a ton of space and we estimated about 1lb of plastic too! We just cut the name and instructions off of one of the bags (3 bags for 3 guys) and cooked it in a 3L pot. I will definitely re-bag all of my meals going forward, if volume is of any concern.
Staying on Moose Lake with an outfitter, and waking up with nothing to do but eat and hit the water was fantastic. The showers were a godsend as well, something all 3 of us were looking forward to. I will definitely try to stay with an outfitter that has showers for all of my future trips. It's just too good - now that I've done it, I don't want to sit in a car with 2 other just-as-dirty dudes for 5 hours on the way home.
This route really was excellent and I would do it again with a different group if they wanted some distance but didn't want the portages to be crazy hard. This tour showed off a ton of the area available from Moose; I like to think we hit basically all of the highlights. It would have been nice to see Eddy Falls, and I was really looking forward to maybe seeing a moose or some beavers or otters in the Kek ponds, though. At least I have something to go back for! My favorite lake was probably Kekekabic. The rolling hills as you look east from the west campsite are so grand. I would like to get back there some day, even that same site. Not only for the views, but to slay the lakers as well!
Thanks very much for reading!!
* Bonus *
These songs were stuck in my head for the trip, with some coming back time and time again, some only rising up for a portage and then being forgotten. I tried to find a correlation between them, but all I was able to discern is that most of them can be slowed with an easy 4/4 time signature which allows them to be sang while marching on a portage. When you see the song titles I have no doubt you will be able to imagine marching on a portage to these songs (if you know them). Some of the songs were ones I had recently listened to, and some were ones that popped into my head because of something I saw out there, or something my friends and I had discussed. Songs with an asterisk (*) are ones that played very frequently in my mind!
Alexisonfire - Rough Hands
The Weeknd - Can't Feel My Face *
Van Halen - Jump
Panic At The Disco - Camisado
Panic At The Disco - I Constantly Thank God For Esteban
N*Sync - Dirty Pop *
Backstreet Boys - Backstreet's Back
The Killers - Neon Tiger
Seether - Fake It *
Captain Jack - In The Navy
CHVRCHES - Deliverance *
Kanye West - Waves
Tech N9ne - R.O.O.T.
Tech N9ne - Check Yo' Temperature