BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
February 28 2021
Number of Permits per Day: 6
Elevation: 1364 feet
Four Old Girls Tackle the BWCA
August 24, 2009
Moose/Portage River (north)
Mudro Lake (23)
Number of Days:
8-22-09 We arrived in Ely, MN, in the late afternoon and went immediately to Voyageur North Outfitters. This trip to the BWCA has been a long time in planning and we were anxious to meet the folks we'd been talking to via e-mail for a year. Once welcomed and checked-in we toured around the town (lovely!), stood in front of the web cam so our friends and relatives could see we'd arrived, and toured the North American Bear Center (very educational!). We spent the evening doing laundry and sorting clothes for what to take into the BWCA (we'd been on the road for a week already).
8-23-09 Our day began with paperwork, being fitted for paddles and life vests, learning how to lift and carry a canoe, buying fishing lures for walleye, and going over BWCA and "Leave No Trace" dos and don'ts. We spent the afternoon shopping in Ely, visited the International Wolf Center and the "Rootbeer Lady's Museum", and eating ice cream. After dinner, we packed our personal gear in VNO packs and had lessons in how to work the "Spot" and satellite phone, and met our guide, Andy Creevy. We are ready!
Monday, August 24, 2009--Entering the BWCA!
8-24-09 We were up at 5 AM and ready to leave for Entry Site #16 at 7:15. Actually, we were ready at 6:30, but the appointed time was 7:15. It took an hour to drive from Ely to Entry Site #16 along progressively more primitive roads but, at last, we arrived. Canoes and an unbelievable amount of gear were unloaded from the van. Our "first" portage was the 160 rods from our drop point to the actual Entry Site #16, Moose River. Having an excess of energy, we all grabbed something and made short work of transporting gear and the 2 canoes provided by VNO down to the Moose River. Andy supervised the loading of the canoes and we were ready to start. Judy and Debra were in the double canoe. Andy gave Debra the 30-second course in steering a canoe and they were off--in somewhat of a zigzag course, but upright and on the water. Andy put me in the bow, Diana in the middle, and he took steering in the triple canoe. Then we were off too. We had an exhilarating paddle for about 5 minutes before coming to our 2nd portage (the first "real" portage)of the morning. The portage along Moose River was only 20 rods, so we whipped the gear and canoes across the portage and continued up the Moose River to our 3rd portage, also on Moose River. We entered Nina Moose Lake and crossed it, stopping at a sandy beach for a break and much appreciated snack before entering Nina Moose River. We had 2 portages on Nina Moose River, a 70 rod portage and a 100 rod portage. Maybe we were just tired, but this last portage seemed really long. At this point, I decided that portaging was akin to backpacking with a very ill-fitting backpack and considerably more weight than the 30 pounds I'd normally carry in my pack. Portaging is the pits!
Although all the scenery we've seen is very pretty (we asked for a route rich in scenery), I think we enjoyed this river the most today with its wild rice, white and yellow water lilies, and quiet reflections. It was definitely what we were thinking we'd see up here. All that was missing was a moose. A majestic bald eagle flew right over us and we saw several more in the distance, though, so we didn't miss the moose too much. The day was sunny and pleasant.
Leaving Nina Moose River, we entered Lake Agnes just as the wind came up. There were some 1 to 1 1/2-foot white caps on the lake. We had to paddle across the lake, so this made for some harder paddling than we'd experienced so far. The first 2 campsites were occupied, but Andy guided us to the 3rd site, a nice one on a point. Having stopped enroute to gather some wood from an old beaver house, Andy quickly got a fire going so we could have some cocoa and a late lunch before setting up camp. The nice thing about having a guide (other than not getting lost) is that he gets the camp set-up and does the cooking. We had discussed whether or not to hire a guide. It more than doubled the cost of our trip and we were not sure we really needed a guide. Judy and I are comfortable with map and compass (at least on land) and we've done a fair amount of wilderness travel, Judy had a good GPS unit with appropriate maps, and we had rented a satellite phone from VNO as the ultimate back-up if all else failed and we really got lost. In the end, our husbands decided that a guide was a good safety net, so we hired one. As we look back at our trip, we are glad we hired Andy. We would have been able to manage by ourselves, but we would not have traveled nearly as far as we did and doing all the camp work would have made the trip considerably harder for us physically, particularly putting up the tarp and gathering firewood. Neither of these items are normally part of our backpacking experiences. Andy is also a great cook. After a day's paddling, it is great to have someone prepare dinner for you!
After our late lunch, we put up our individual tents and explored our camp area. One of the first things we were introduced to was the latrine. We'd seen photos of them in several BWCA books, but the "real thing" is rather stark. I guess the best that can be said is they all had nice views of the woods. Debra warned us all to be careful as she slipped and almost fell in--not a pleasant thought. We had dinner around 5:30--grilled chicken, mashed potatoes and corn with strawberry cheesecake for desert. We'd brought a box of wine with and toasted our first day in the BWCA. I used the sat phone to call my husband and let him know we'd survived the first day and he said our "Spot" was working. We had not planned to take a "Spot", but we had a $20 credit and VNO said many people found them quite useful, so we took one with us. As it turned out, "Spot" was more useful than the sat phone. Not long after dark, we were curled in our sleeping bags sawing up a lot of lumber.
8-25-09 Up at 6 AM, we had a great breakfast of hash browns and scrambled eggs with ham slices and tortias. So far, VNO is definitely living up to its reputation for great food! This morning was cloudy but not cold, with a bit of wind. By 9 we were on the water paddling across Lake Agnes to our first portage of 24 rods, then another short paddle to our 2nd portage of 65 rods into Boulder Bay. Along in here we enjoyed watching a family of river otters observing us. They are just as cute as their photos! Eagles and Canada geese also graced our way. We paddled across Lac La Croix to our 3rd and last portage for today--but definitely the worst. This 80 rod portage was in Canada and was total mud. It was so slippery that trying to keep out of the mud by walking on tree trunks that had been thrown into the mud was dangerous. The only way was to just walk straight through the mud! Diana actually got stuck in the mud at one point--we've walked across quick sand that was easier to negotiate than this mud. Even the portage landings were mud! I kept reminding myself that some women pay big bucks in fancy spas to get smeared with mud. Our initial plan had been to find a campsite somewhere near Rebecca Falls, but on the US side, and view Rebecca Falls tomorrow morning. We paddled through Bottle Lake and into Iron Lake without finding a vacant site. Finally, we stopped for a late lunch around 2 PM at the first vacant campsite we found. As Diana got out of the canoe, she slipped and fell into the water. Andy started to grab her, but I shouted, "Wait--I want a photo!" Diana graciously sat in the water while I grabbed my camera and took the photo. Andy leaned over her and waved--it is one of my favorite photos. We enjoyed lunch but the site was weedy and buggy, so we decided to keep paddling in hopes of finding a better campsite.
After lunch, Andy gave me the 15-second canoe steering course and I took the back of the triple canoe with Debra in front and Diana in the middle. Andy took steering in the double with Judy in front. Steering a canoe is definitely harder than it looks. Just when I thought I had it figured out, the canoe would swerve off at 90-degrees to where I wanted it. I really think I prefer paddling to steering. I can paddle forever, but steering is hard work! We paddled further into Iron Lake and finally found a decent campsite just before 4 PM. We will be able to paddle across Iron Lake between Three and Four Islands to Rebecca Falls in the morning--not as close as we'd hoped to be, but OK. Our campsite was decent, but short of trees, so we didn't put the tarp up. We were pretty tired by the time we got to camp, so we took a rest and broke out the wine to toast our 2nd day on the water. Later, Andy made Polish sausages, corn and mashed potatoes with Apples & Spice for desert. After dinner, we explored the shoreline and picked blueberries while listening to loons and watching a beautiful sunset. It wasn't long after sunset that we collapsed in our tents, sated with wild blueberries and Polish sausages.
8-26-09 We were up at 6 AM to admire the drifting fog on Iron Lake. Andy fortified us for the day with French toast, maple syrup, and sausages. By 9 the fog had cleared and we were on the water paddling over to Rebecca Falls. The falls, even this late in the year, were impressive. We walked along a narrow trail that hugged the edge of the falls and admired the mosses and ferns that grew in the area, and feasted on more wild blueberries. Today Andy has promised that we will have only one portage at Curtain Falls. This is only a short paddle from Rebecca Falls and we made short work of it. The 120 rod portage was our longest so far, and also the hardest as it was uphill. Judy and Diana took a wrong trail and got to do the portage twice! Once at the Crooked Lake end of the portage, we took time to enjoy Curtain Falls. If you ever want to feel like you are standing on the edge of the world and watching the waters pour over the world's lip, this is your place. It is not that the falls are so high, it is the angle you can find walking just below the upper lip of the falls and looking up at the water swirling down.
Andy said we now had a 2-hour paddle up Crooked Lake to our campsite. We planned to stay here two nights, so we wanted a really decent campsite. It was a lovely day to paddle and we enjoyed watching the otters, eagles, and loons. I am again steering the triple canoe and getting a bit better at steering but still not liking it. Our 2-hour paddle became a 3-hour paddle. We took a wrong turn into Saturday Bay and had to backtrack. Andy had hoped to camp in Friday Bay, but the sites were all full. We finally found a very nice campsite on Crooked Lake. Andy and Debra paddled a little further along the shore to see if any better campsites were available, but returned about a half hour later to say we'd stay here. Andy fixed us a late lunch of toasted cheese sandwiches (why do they never taste this good when I fix them at home?) and then he got our tarp up and camp magically appeared. Judy and I had bought fishing licenses and bait, so we broke out the poles and fished from the shore. We didn't catch anything, but sometimes fishing is just a good excuse to sit and enjoy the scenery. We watched several eagles, loons and otters swim by, and even 2 beavers. Dinner was "spaghetti" (actually noodles in a tomato sauce) on tortias and Tripleberry Cobbler for desert. This was our least favorite meal of the trip--if you mark it "spaghetti", I expect real spaghetti. Near dusk, Judy and I took the double canoe and explored around a little inlet near our camp. The beaver house in it looked like it was occupied and we got some nice photos of it silhouetted against the sunset. Needless to say, sleep was not a problem tonight (either).
8-27-09 What can I say, 6 AM is our normal time to get up. Since we are not traveling today, there was no real hurry to do anything. I fished a bit from shore but got no encouragement from the fish, so just sat and watched 5 or 6 loons "fishing" as a group. At least it looked like they were working as a group, but I'm not sure if loons do that. A nice eagle was in the area too. Andy had breakfast ready by 8:15--hash browns, bacon "patties" and cheese omelets. About 9 Judy, me and Andy loaded into the triple canoe and paddled into Friday Bay for some fishing. We fished around a couple of small islands for awhile and Andy caught 2 walleye, then we landed on a larger island and fished from shore for awhile. Judy caught her first walleye and I got a nice small mouth bass. We enjoyed watching four eagles fly around the area. We fished a bit longer, catching and losing several nice fish, then got back into the canoe and slowly trolled along the shore back to camp. About half-way back I hooked the largest fish I've ever caught, a 7 to 8 pound walleye! I couldn't believe it and Andy was just as tickled at my catch as I was. We did some photos and then carefully let the big fish go back to its cool depths. Andy said the larger fish are not as tasty as the smaller ones and it was a good breeding fish. We continued on our way and Andy and I each caught a nice bass. Since we had 7 fish by this time, plenty for the 5 of us, we let my large bass go. We arrived back at camp about 2:30 and had toasted cheese sandwiches and tea for lunch. After lunch I settled down on a comfortable rock by the shore to do a little reading. Our stringer of 7 fish was in the water nearby awaiting dinner (ours) when I noticed a strange underwater rock moving toward them. The stringer was attached to the triple canoe. When the slack started to straighten out of it, I abandoned my book and grabbed the canoe end of the stringer and pulled. Surprise! A huge snapping turtle was attempting to steal our fish. The turtle let go, but proceeded to lurk in the area and made several more tries at our fish. Debra and I called Andy and he came to see what was happening. In his best guide fashion, he stepped into the water and grabbed the turtle's tail and hauled it ashore. It was even bigger out of the water! The shell was a big as a garbage can lid and it must have weighed at least 60 pounds. It kept clawing at the rock with long claws that made a lot of racket on the rock, and it opened its huge mouth and snapped at us while trying to lunge at us. We hoped that Andy had a good hold on that very unhappy snapping turtle. We took photos and then let it lumber back into the water--none of us were interested in turtle soup for dinner. Debra and I sat on the shore and kept watch over our fish for another hour. The turtle did not come close to shore again, but we did see it poke its head up out of the water and look toward us several times.
Later, Andy cleaned the fish and prepared the fillets for roasting in his special recipe over our fire. Dinner was succulent roast walleye and bass fillets with wild rice soup and blueberry scones for desert. Can this man cook, or what! It had started to rain lightly about 4 PM and continued off and on until about 7:30. The soft pitter-pat on the tarp, the campfire and the smells of our dinner cooking made for a wonderful evening in camp--and a glass of wine didn't hurt either. Judy thought she saw a mink run off with one of the fish skeletons, and we watched a river otter drag one out of the water and down the shore. We could hear him crunching the bones from 50 yards away. As usual, we slept like bears in mid-winter.
8-28-09 This morning is cloudy, but not cold. Andy tells us that we will have no portages today, but we will have a long paddle, so we decide to have a cold breakfast and are on the water by 7:50 AM. He also suggests we put our rain gear on, "just in case". As I was walking down the rock face to get into the canoe I slipped and fell hard on my hip and elbow. I was OK and got right up, but I think Andy had momentary visions of broken bones and air rescues--he turned about 8 shades paler than usual. I did come home with a great bruise on my hip though. Today I am in the back of the double canoe steering with Judy in front. Andy takes the triple canoe with Debra and Diana. I find that I like the smaller canoe very much. It is easier for me to steer. About an hour into our paddle it begins to mist, then rain fairly hard. It went on like this the whole day, but we had good rain gear to keep us dry and it was not really cold. The wind was mostly behind us and never really strong.
We stopped for a quick break at Table Rock about 10:30. Peanut butter and grape jelly sandwiches have never tasted so good. Not far from our eventual campsite we stopped to view native rock paintings. They were very faint and hard to see, much different from the ones we are used to seeing around home. I guess the harsher climate here has caused them to fade more quickly then the ones we see in Utah, New Mexico and Arizona. Still, they are interesting and make you wonder about the lives of those who painted them on the rock.
About 1:30 PM we found a nice campsite near Lower Basswood Falls. The one right by the falls was taken, but we could still see the falls from our camp. Andy got our tarp up and a fire going right away so we all had cocoa or coffee and got warm again. We put our tents up while Andy went to a small island near us to harvest downed wood. He piled it around our fire so that it would dry. Once we had our dry camp clothes on, we put our socks over kindling and leaned them near the fire to dry. About 2:30 we had lunch--"camp quesadias" (tortias with cheese and salami heated over the fire). We sat around the fire all afternoon watching seagulls, eagles, and ravens. It rained all afternoon, alternating from mist to heavy rain, but it was never cold and the wind never blew hard enough to push rain under our tarp. Finally, it began to clear around 6 PM. We had dinner at 7 (lasagna with meat sauce and garlic bread). Since this was Debra's 59th birthday, Andy made a special lemon pie and decorated it with an orange icing happy face. She was totally surprised! After an extra glass of wine (or two) we retired to our tents and were snoring happily by 9 PM.
8-29-09 The sky was cloudy at 6 AM with occasional patches of blue and some wind. It was cooler, probably 45 or 50-degrees. We had a wonderful breakfast of Peasant Omelets and cranberry scones, and were on the water by 8:50. We put on our rain gear again, and I added my vest under my rain jacket. We had only a short paddle over to Lower Basswood Falls for an equally short portage. Then we paddled across an arm of Crooked Lake and into the Horse River. Our second portage on the Horse River was 73 rods, and a third of 48 rods followed. We enjoyed Horse River very much. It wound between banks with water lilies and wild grasses and many different types of water flowers. Occasionally, we passed a beaver house. After the 3rd portage, we came to a small rapid which Andy directed us to paddle up and through. Even though it was very small, Judy and I could not get our double canoe up it. Andy got the triple canoe up the rapid, then jumped onto the rocks and helped us get the double canoe up it. It is hard work paddling against the current of even small rapids while trying to dodge rocks! Our 4th (and last of the day) portage was 58 rods, but fairly easy. We were beginning to think we were "home free" when Andy told us that we would have to paddle up four more "little" rapids. I think I'd rather portage these "little" rapids, but there were no portage trails available. It was very hard paddling and by the 4th rapid (which was bigger than the others), Judy and I just piled out of the canoe and pushed it through the rapid. This wasn't much easier than paddling, but at least we didn't have to dodge rocks. The water was a bit deep and the rocks slippery though. As my Grandmother would have said, we got wet clear to "possible". It was with great relief that we finally got the canoes into Horse Lake. The campsite Andy had hoped to get had just been taken as we paddled past, but the next one was lovely with nicely placed trees and tent sites. Andy got the camp stove fired up and we had cream of wild rice soup and cheese quesadias for lunch. While Andy put the tarp up, we got our tents up and changed into dry shoes and socks. Our pants had already dried (thank you Supplex!) and we spent the afternoon puttering around camp and fishing from shore. Andy caught a nice Northern. He explained that most people didn't eat them because they are so bony, but he would show us how to fix them, if we wanted him to. Of course we did! Around 3:30 PM Judy, Andy and I went out fishing in the triple canoe. We paddled down the shore a bit and around some small islands. Andy and I both caught a nice bass. At one point, we looked up into a tree on one of the islands and saw a large eagle watching us. What a beautiful bird it was! Judy had her line snapped twice by Northerns and I had mine snapped once. The wind was coming up again, so we paddled back to camp around 6:15.
Since this was our last night in the BWCA, I tried the sat phone. I not only got a signal and talked to my husband, but it didn't cut me off before I could say "good-bye", as it had the previous 2 times. I read a lot of "spy novels" (Clancy, Baldacci, Brown, Rosenberg, etc.) and if our real life covert operators depend on sat phones like the one we had, their lives truly hang by threads. The sat phone only worked with absolutely clear skies, worked best at the beginning and end of our trip (e.g. nearest civilization), and was likely to cut you off in mid-sentence and refuse to reconnect or find a signal. The opening message when the sat phone was powered up is "Safety, your most important call". We got a big laugh out of that because it was impossible to make any call 90% of the time. The "Spot", which was added on a whim, proved considerably more useful. It sent our signals out in cloudy or clear weather and, had we needed it to, I'm sure it would have sent an emergency 911 signal. I would certainly trust it over the sat phone in an emergency situation. Plus, even though our husbands couldn't talk to us, they could follow our trail and have some assurance that we were OK. Next time, we'll take the "Spot" and leave the sat phone.
Dinner was mashed potatoes with beef stroganoff and pan-fried bass and Northern. We were surprised at how good the Northern was, but my personal favorite is still the walleye. Desert was Tripleberry Cobbler. It was a lovely evening and we just sat around the camp fire and watched the stars. The wind went down and the sky was very clear. Andy's weather radio forecast lows in the low 40's or high 30's--our coldest night yet--but the bags VNO included in our outfit were very warm and cozy. We slept like happy little caterpillars in warm cocoons.
8-30-09 Up at our usual 6 AM. We had a leisurely breakfast of blueberry pancakes and hot maple syrup. This is our last morning and our pick-up doesn't arrive until 1 PM, so we are in no real hurry. The fog was quite thick this morning. At times we couldn't see either end of Horse Lake, or even the trees across from us. It was cool, but not cold--all-in-all, a lovely morning with a hint of fall to come. By 9 we are packed and on the water. A paddle down Horse Lake and a portage of 166 rods puts us into Murphy (or Tin Can Murphy) Lake. This was an interesting portage because much of it was along a board walk through a swamp. The board walk made walking through the swamp very easy. A short paddle down Murphy Lake led to another portage of 160 rods into Sand Pit Lake. We enjoyed a leisurely paddle to our 3rd portage of 100 rods into Mudro Lake. This was our hardest portage of the whole trip--we later learned it was aptly called "Heart Attack Hill". This 100 rod portage was mostly straight up a hill of boulders. Judy has always carried our double canoe on portages and I don't know how she managed to get the canoe up the hill. When we walked back on the trail to get the remaining gear bags, she took one look down the steep hill and said, "Good gosh, I didn't know it was that steep!" I guess there is something to be said for not being able to see the trail ahead from beneath a canoe. Along the upper part of this trail, Debra spotted 3 Ruffed Grouse in the shrubbery and trees beside the trail. Two of them crossed the trail in front of us, so we got really good looks at them.
Mudro Lake started out looking like just another lake, but it rapidly narrowed into an interesting, narrow channel winding through cattails and other grasses. Judy and I felt justified in stopping now and then to take photos of the plants and lovely flowers. After all, we'd just hauled our selves, two canoes, and half a ton of gear up "Heart Attack Hill"! At the end of Mudro Lake was our last portage--relatively short and mercifully flat, with a large yellow VNO van at the end of it. This was an easy portage, although I'm sure it seemed even easier due to the comparison to our last portage. We were greeted with a cold Hamm's Beer and enjoyed watching our canoes and gear being loaded onto the van. And, yes, we had even arrived right on time at 1 PM. Our 45 minute drive back to civilization hardly prepared us for seeing so many people and cars once we reached Ely.
Once back in Ely at VNO, we unloaded and turned in our gear, thanked Andy and said good-bye to him, and then drew straws for the shower. We had arranged to spend the night in VNO's "bunkhouse", and it was wonderful to be able to wash clothes and stand in a hot shower. After cleaning up, the four of us went to our favorite Ely restaurant, the Chocolate Moose, and had a celebratory dinner! The trip was fun and exciting--we all had a great time and, although not all of us are interested in doing it again, none of us regret doing it. VNO did a great job supplying us with food (actually, more than we could eat!) and first-rate gear, and securing our guide, Andy, for us. Andy was worth his weight in gold to us. Yes, we could have done it alone, but we are into fun and enjoyment, not trying to prove what tough women we are (we've already done that and got the T-shirts). He gave us the leisure to enjoy our time in BWCA. So, "Thanks, Andy!" and, "Thanks VNO!" We had a great time and you'll see some of us again.