BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
February 26 2021
Number of Permits per Day: 6
Elevation: 1364 feet
Opener Weekend '08-EP 16 to Oyster and back home via Ramshead
May 09, 2008
Moose/Portage River (north)
Number of Days:
We got a nice early start-I think we were on the road by 6 from south Minneapolis. I got my usual 1 hour of sleep after working the evening Thursday and finishing our packing at the last minute. I am known to fall asleep in the car with my buddy (strangely not with anyone else) when returning from fly fishing outings. He had agreed to drive and I to sleep. But I was too geeked up and ready for the maiden voyage of an ambitious 2008 softwater season campaign (5 BWCA trips planned ranging from 4-6 days in length). Did I mention how nice it is to live only about 4 hours from the BWCA?
We made it to Ely well before noon and had a couple orders of business…bait, permit and lunch. TGO, VNO, SUBWAY. We were hoping to make it to Oyster for night 1 and do some laker fishing in the am. Also hoping to get some up to date ice conditions in Ely. Unfortunately the only ice report we could get for Oyster was a couple days old (still frozen) but its accuracy was being called into question.
We headed up the Echo Trail and hit the portage at EP#16 Moose River North by 1pm? It was a beautiful “blue bird sky” kinda day-with the crispness of fall air. The river had a nice current and dragging bottom on sand bars as on a trip a couple years ago was not an issue. It was a quick paddle up to Nina Moose and I thought the portages were in pretty good shape (read not too muddy) in spite of last fall’s heavy rains and this winters accumulations. There were no unexpected or unmarked portages or even beaver dam liftovers. One hairy corner/downed tree(s) but nothing crazy.
Our (my) energy and enthusiasm for single portaging waned about this time and we backed off our pace a bit. We conquered the two portages along the river between Nina Moose and Agnes and soon we were paddling on a surprisingly quiet Agnes Lake (I expected crowds here when I saw the EP parking lot with 12-15 vehicles). I really expected crowds after not seeing a single group stopped at Nina Moose. With the sun still high in the sky we turned our attention to the western exit to Oyster. I should stop here and say thanks to Beemer and the gang who convinced me I needed to try the Chota Quetico Trekkers with Brookies. I loved them and felt freed from tip toeing and balance beaming my way across wet portages. Without this footwear the Agnes to Oyster River portage would have been much worse. As it were, it was soupy/riverine in places with some elevation change. The log-walk landing on the Oyster River side was largely submerged and muddy but still no challenge for my footwear. I like the way Bannock writes a new gear review at the end of his trip reports so I will spare you more bragging about my new gear…until then? Don’t know if I’ve ever felt a colder river than the Oyster-and we would soon find out why. The remaining 60 rod portage to Oyster Lake was over a beautiful trail with duff footing. Aside from the occasional moose track or wolf scat there were no other mammalian “footprints” on this trail (nor did there appear to be on the Agnes to Oyster River portage). Nearing the lake we were treated to the beginnings of what would be a great sunset.
When we reached Oyster we figured out: #1) why the Oyster River was so cold, b) why there were no other footprints and VII) that the 2 day old ice report/prediction was right…Oyster Lake was still frozen over. We tossed a couple rocks on the ice and proved that it was rotting and ready to crumble given some help. So we loaded up my Alumacraft battering ram and set off to break up some ice. We thought we could see a little open water on the opposite-western peninsula shore (near the supposed 5 star, peninsula-spanning, “saddle” campsite) but soon proved to ourselves that even though the ice was rotting and “honeycombed” it is not as easy to paddle through as say…soft water. Winded and weary there was no way to make it there. So we identified the closest campsite probably just a few hundred yards north of the portage. It proved to be a really nice site with a good stash of split firewood (leftover from the winter?) but at the same time needed some cleaning up. Probably only 1, maybe 2 decent tent pads. Great bear rope branch right in the middle of camp (I know most would recommend hanging a ways outside of camp). After setting up camp we whipped up a special first night dinner of ribeyes cooked over the fire (yes on “the” grate) and mac and sneeze. We were so full we swore off dessert. We were treated to a beautiful sunset and had the whole lake to ourselves! One of my favorite and probably most durably memorable days ever in the BWCA!
Saturday woke up to a still frozen over Oyster. The ice was still 2-3 inches thick but “honeycombed” and fragile. Followed the shoreline north from our campsite and broke our way to the north end of the lake which was more open (probably owing to more sun exposure and wind direction). It sounded like shattering glass as we worked our way along whether the ice was breaking up directly at the hands of our paddles or crumbling in our wake. We portaged via the northwestern peninsula spanning campsite to the narrow shallow western bay of Oyster which was wide open. The western side of Oyster in general was open except just south of that 5 star site in the NW corner. It rained all day on Saturday, sometimes light, sometimes less lightly. Amazingly over the course of the day all the ice disappeared (thanks to the rain and wind-certainly not the sun or warmth!). We could hear the ice shifting and crashing into shore at times.
We fished all day and (I) caught three decent lakers trolling crankbaits (20 to 25")-okay I actually lost one of them right next to the boat. My greatest regret is that my buddy never hooked up. We were doing the same things-alternately fishing the same lures-trolling from the same boat in the same water. Total luck on my part. I was surprised that we didn’t pick up a pike or smallie all day. I did snag up and land an eight-way bottom-bouncing menagerie which was humorous and at the same time proved that some people have; a) no brain, or b) no scruples.
Grilled lemon-peppered laker for dinner. Note to self 25” is too big for 2 people to comfortably eat (and Clayton and I aren’t little princesses around the dinner table)…especially when I insisted on a side of 2 packages of Pasta Roni Garlic and Olive Oil Vermicelli. Again no room for dessert. Good thing because the cold zapped my dexterity to operate the stove or open the food barrel. About 7 maybe 8 pm the cold rain changed to snow. Hot Chai Latte and Jim Beam never tasted so good! Got about an inch that night. We still had the lake to ourselves.
Sunday woke up with a plan to head down to Ramshead for some pike fishing. Portaged back to the Oyster River and ran into a group we had followed up the Moose River. Nice group-hope they enjoyed their stay on Oyster! Paddled down the Oyster River all the way back to Moose River (south of Agnes). Paddled right over a couple beaver dams. Ran the section of rapids rather than taking the 20 rod portage without any difficulty. Once back on the Moose River south of Agnes we trolled and picked up some nortons on raps. Got one decent pike ~34". Paddled up Ramshead Creek to the 160 rod portage. This was pretty soupy in a couple places. After hopping back in the canoe we were surprised to find a nice beaver dam gateway to Ramshead Lake. Portage on the left.
Now for the fun part. This all happened about 2-3pm on Sunday. I would be curious to know if anyone had similar experience or trouble with a group of paddlers in this area. We trolled down Ramshead and quickly realized we were not alone. There appeared to be only one group on the lake but they were making their presence known. There appeared to be two canoes. One green-presumably royalex boat (based on color) but it was parked at the NW campsite just north of the midlake islands so it was too far away to get more identifiers. The other boat was white or shiney aluminum and this was paddled by a couple teens to the larger eastern island. The teens were yelling at the top of their lungs back to the group at camp-and vice-versa. I thought it was pretty obnoxious but not criminal. When they realized they weren't alone the teens yelled (honestly you could hear them ACROSS the lake) "we've got company.” I felt like their yelling might be an attempt to drive us away and keep the lake to themselves. We kept paddling and didn't say anything, gesture anything or in any way invite a confrontation. We kept trolling heading for a campsite further down the western shore which I had hoped would be sheltered from their noise. We were now on the south side of the islands probably 100-150 yards SW from the teens on the island. At that point we were scared crapless by what I think was a gunshot. Looking back based on the gunsmoke it was clearly fired out over the water. It appeared to have been fired within a 90 degree cone-generally in our direction. I doubt that they were firing on us but I understood it to be an intimidation tactic/harassment. In retrospect it is possible that the noise was a firecracker. Regardless it was illegal and poor form. Rather than invite trouble we decided to hightail it out of there. At that point the boys were chopping wood on the island. We assumed they were getting firewood for camp but by the time we reached the south end of the lake it was clear that the kids were now starting a fire on the island (no campsite, no firegrate, not a brain between 'em). when we reached the portage to Lamb the smoke was 20-30 ft high and billowing. The portage to Lamb was actually really nice-airy and flat. The portage from Lamb to Nina Moose was as advertised-brutal. The initial climb from Lamb was tough. In fact the climbing never seemed to end. There were some wet sections and the portage was just plain long ~2/3 mile. There was one large downed tree in the trail which we were able to skirt around. Probably should have chopped and dragged it off the trail but we were exhausted and split up so we didn't-sorry! We were bummed that we didn't get to do our fly fishing for pike on Ramshead but we had a beautiful night and sunset on the southern campsite between the Moose and Portage Rivers. Great site for 1 tent. We made muffins in the bakepacker oven in honor of Clayton’s Birthday.
Monday we broke camp and paddled back up the Moose River. With the high water and current I honestly was expecting worse. Portages were a little more wet on the way out after the Saturday rain/snow. We came across a lost PFD (name Hughes inside) and a blue handheld CB radio on one of the portages (I believe it was the second 20-ish rodder as we were headed upstream-would have been their first short one) and placed both on a stump at the northern end of the portage. We made it from Nina Moose to the car in 2 hours with a pretty leisurely pace-double portaging. Just as we got to our cars it started raining and by the time we arrived in Ely there were snowflakes in the air. We stopped at the Ely Steakhouse for a cold beer and warm meat before the return trip to the Twin Cities.
All in all it was a great trip and I’m glad Clayton and I got to take a trip before he returns to the wild west. As I mentioned earlier I wish I could have put him on some more fish, and I wish our plans hadn’t been altered by the group on Ramshead but we had an enjoyable and memorable trip nonetheless.
New gear reviews:
Frost River Packs; Old No. 7 used as a food pack-all of the Frost River packs are extremely well built. The waxed canvas fabric resists water and dirt. Leather padded shoulder straps, and brass buckles and hand-pounded rivets give the packs nostalgic appeal. Fully loaded with food/cook gear the Old No. 7 gets a little heavy. We did use the waist belt but admittedly were not comfortable using the tumpline. I got two of these packs used but in great condition in the offseason. I expect that they will outlast me.
Woodsman-I LOVE the Woodsman-lots of space, comfy padded leather straps. Comes with tumpline and waist belt neither of which we used. Great pack for a junior camper (with all the same features of the Old No 7-just downsized) 10 years +, or as a day pack. I plan to use mine as a day pack for most future trips. Plenty of room for tarp, rain gear for two, water bottles, water filter, lunch
Chota Quetico Trekkers and Brookie liners-As mentioned above these worked great! No more pussy-footing around the portages. On a warm day/season I can see where the Brookies would get warm and I found my calves sweating a bit. Once wet inside the Brookies do take awhile to dry. I found the standard footbeds in the Trekkers to not offer much. My feet slid around and the cushion could have been better. I replaced the liners with Superfeet and am very happy with the change. Unfortunately the Brookies will no longer be available. The Trekkers will remain available from Piragis as I understand it but not elsewhere.
Orikaso Fold up Big Bowl-I love these things. Great for mixing or eating from. Double as a plate when unfolded. Lick ‘em clean. They take up absolutely no space in the food pack and weigh next to nothing. I plan to bring at least 1 for every paddler in the future (when I am outfitting/leading).