BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
February 19 2020
Number of Permits per Day: 7
Elevation: 1348 feet
A favorite route offering many trip options and memorable things to see including;
World Class fishing for all four BWCA Species
Soaring granite hills and cliffs
Tumbling rapids and waterfalls
Wildlife, including Moose
Vistas from high points across the region if you're willing to climb. Rating Easy to Moderate. Day One. Get to EP16 off of the Echo Trail early. The initial portage is long, but well worn and smooth, sloping gently downgrade to the launch area. Load your canoe and head North. You'll be paddling with the slight current on this narrow winding river. The water is clear and make sure to tell the bowperson to watch for looming rocks!
Bushman goes back to the BWCA
July 27, 2019
Moose/Portage River (north)
Number of Days:
The alarm clock rang it shrill whistle just as I had finally closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep. A long sleepless night of laying in bed thinking about all of the stuff I was forgetting and all of the stuff I was taking that I did not need, coupled with pure excitement had left me with only a handful of hours rest. No problem though, adrenaline would carry me to Minnesota!
It was 3 am Saturday morning July 27th. The truck was all packed and all that needed to be done was to take the steaks from the freezer and transfer them to the small cooler full of ice packs. A quick shower and I woke the rest of the crew.
My intro to the BWCA was the year prior when just my son and I went. This year I had invited a few more. Unfortunately they both backed out. I received a phone call from my father a few days after my older brother backed out due to health reasons.
A little history on my father... Dad and I have spent hundreds of nights together in the wilderness be it up at deer camp in northern Michigan for a week straight, deep in the state forest of which we never left until we departed for home. Eeking out a week or more survival in a freezing cold pop up camper or horsebacking the mountains of Montana in search of the elusive Rocky Mountain Elk. A trip to Quebec for an amazing caribou hunt coupled with some of the most amazing lake trout fishing I have ever witnessed or stalking the plains and canyons of Wyoming after the Pronghorn Antelope or in the past decade one of our fly in fishing trips to Canada. We have done so much and always together.
Dad lives in Florida now and has been through some very serious heart complications of which one was a major heart attack that left him without a pulse for over ten minutes while en-route to the hospital. They were able to get his heart going again but he had lapsed into a coma and the doctors kept him in a coma and induced him into a state of hypothermia to hopefully combat the long duration of no heartbeat. After a few days of laying in a bed ice cold to the touch they started to bring him off the coma medicine and began warming his body up. The staff at the hospital told us to not hope for much. The chances were very slim that he would wake or for that matter be a cognitive individual if he did.
True to Bushman form and on Good Friday none the less he awoke from his coma, responded to commands and walked out of the hospital a week or so later. With some minor short term memory loss that lasted for several months he had miraculously came back for another shot at life.
Dad spent the next couple years combatting the effects of that heart attack and suffered from massive bouts of A-fib but the doctors kept working and he had several surgeries and at least for now has his heart back under control.
During those few years our adventures ceased and I yearned for the days of the backwoods and the feeling of animosity among the trees. It was these times that I discovered the BWCA and my step son Joe and I went on our first big adventure alone.
Back to that phone call.... "Hey Pops, how's it going?" "Good son and you?" "Great, just busy and all with work and getting ready to head for Minnesota in a few weeks." "Yeah, too bad about jr. backing out." "Yep, it sucks but it is what it is. His health comes first." "For sure. I was talking with Mom the other day about me taking his place. What do you think?"
So there you have it, our third voyageur was to be my Dad. After so many years in hiatus he was attempting a comeback. So after changing a bit of the route and making the trip more of a basecamp style trip we nailed it down.
All three of us were very excited. Perhaps me most of all.
I awoke dad and Joe and shortly after that we were loaded in the truck and headed for Minnesota. A long 14 hour drive up through the upper peninsula of Michigan and around the tip of lake Superior and we found ourselves in Ely, Minnesota. Right smack dab in the middle of the Blueberry Festival. The town was packed.
We checked in with VNO. Loaded up our Wenonah Seneca and other gear and headed to town for supper and a cold beer. We were sound asleep by 9pm in the VNO bunkhouse.
4am I arise and jump in the shower, it's hot and feels great. It will be the last one for some time. Dressed and ready to rock I wake up the guys and head next door for coffee. Back at the bunkhouse the guys are preparing for the day ahead and I greet them with steaming cups of coffee.
We make sure the room is tidy and nothing is left behind including the steaks in the freezer. The truck is already loaded. The steaks, encased in ziploc freezer bags I drop into the food barrel and off we go. There is hardly a soul awake in this wonderful little town and it seems as though we may have the jump on everyone else.
I rocket down the Echo Trail and before we know it we are unloading our gear at the portage head of Moose River North. It is just beginning to break daylight. I park the truck and head back to the portage. We almost need a flashlight!
On this trip we will be double portaging. We have restricted Dad to only carrying the small lunchbox sized tackle box and 2 paddles. While his heart is beating in rhythm it doesn't pump the blood near as good as it used to. His heart only works about 30% as good as a normal person so his physical activities are slow and deliberate. No problem for us and I welcome the chance to double portage so I can enjoy the portages without a canoe over my head. Dad keeps pace well enough that he is waiting at the canoe after Joe and I return from the second portage.
We head down the Moose River trying to gracefully maneuver the 20' Seneca around the tight, twisty bends of the Moose River without much success. Joe was in the bow and I the stern and we flat out sometimes just couldn't make it turn fast enough without losing speed or back paddling.
Somewhere along the river I think it was shortly after the second portage I reached into my pocket to get out my phone for picture and as I drew it out I heard a plunk in the water. It was my billfold. I forgot I had it in my pocket for driving and now it was at the bottom of the Moose River. There was no hope for recovery. The water was more than paddle deep at that point and blacker than the darkest of nights. Oh well.
We had all agreed that if needed we would stop on Agnes if we had bad weather or if it was too much for Dad but we hit Agnes pretty early and everyone was feeling great and it was only one more portage into Boulder Bay so we paddled on.
We took the 118 rod portage int the Eastern side of the Boulder River. The Boulder River side of that portage was quite marshy and while soft we managed to load and board without too much trouble. I can only imagine what that side is like when it has rained a lot or in the spring.
We paddled down the Boulder River and into Boulder Bay. We passed the the first two sites on the Island in Boulder Bay as our goal was Tiger Bay. We made it up to Tiger Bay and all the sites were taken. I was anticipating this as it is very popular. We began to backtrack and pretty much all the sites in that vicinity were occupied except the island site # 173. We didn't really like it at first and spent some time paddling around looking elsewhere but the distance to other campsites was lengthy and the shadows were growing long. It wasn't worth the risk so we climbed the hill up to what would be a really cool site for a few days. We set up camp and rested the remainder of the day away. The steaks hit the grill that evening and we sipped Sangria from tiny tin cups.
As the sun began to set our yawns grew more and more frequent. It had been a very long two days and I was spent and I'm positive dad and Joe were too.
The skeeters drove us into the tents before it was completely dark and well frankly I don't remember how the night went and that is a good thing.
Weak daylight filtered through the walls of the tent, muted orange mixed with a dull brown. Only bright enough to make out the largest of the objects within the tent. One of which was my step son. A soft snore whispered form his lips and I smiled. He had slept pretty good. To be young again. I sat up, my body stiff from the previous day's activities coupled with the nights rest on an unfamiliar Thermarest sleeping pad. A groan escaped into the early dawn as I sat up, barely audible but enough that Joe's snoring abruptly ceased. I sat still for a few moments until his whispering snores resumed. Carefully and quietly I slipped on my clothes and shoes and exited the tent. Joe slept on.
Upon re-entering the world outside of my orange and brown Kelty tent I was greeted with one of the most serene sights in all of nature. A beautiful lake stretched out before me, still as glass while sheer granite walls embraced the water as if it they were the guardians of the night, protecting the dark waters as they slept. Towering evergreens framed the entire backdrop as still as a drop of dew just before it falls from a leaf. They waited silent and patient for the sun to warm the thermals and send them gracefully into their daytime dance recitals.
I slowly made my way to the edge of the precipice that served as boundary to our towering hillside camp. Nothing moved, not a leaf nor a pine needle. Not even an acrobatic dragonfly broke the stillness. I marveled at the unencumbered beauty and I felt my soul begin to re-fill after a year long hiatus.
There are only a few things that I can compare to the sights and wonders of these mornings in the BWCA. The solitude, the quiet stillness and the steaming cup of fresh pressed coffee. One would be my 3 year old's eyes on Christmas morning for a comparison.
Not long after the guys awoke and stumbled from their tents, rubbing their eyes and groaning as I had not long ago. I smiled and boiled up some water on my little pocket stove. I scooped some fresh ground Bigby coffee into their mugs and poured the hot water in. After a few minutes of steeping the screens were pressed down and the world's best cup of coffee was ready. We use French Press thermal travel mugs made by Bodum. They are plastic, lightweight and incredibly easy to use and clean.
We relaxed around camp for the morning. None of us were eager to jump back into the canoe but took our time with coffee and I whipped up a breakfast of fried eggs and bacon on an English muffin.
Soon enough we were eager to be out exploring and fishing. We hit the water with the pan of heading back into Bouder Bay to see if one of the campsites was empty. We still were not sold on our current site and left our options open.
Into Boulder Bay we went, trolling crankbaits the entire time. We picked up a handful of walleye and smallmouth bass. Much to our dismay the sites were still all taken. Although we kept a keen vigil it was our fate to stay in the campsite we had. The traffic in and out of Boulder Bay and down from LLC was more than enough to know that any vacated site would be filled up quite quick. We grew quite fond of our site anyways and we were all happy to be staying there.
As we made our way south towards the short portage into the Boulder River Dad snagged up in about 7 foot of water. We reversed directions and started paddling towards the snag. We could almost always un-snag by reversing over the object. As we neared the site where the line disappeared into the water Dad began to pull up on the rod, putting tension on the line to unfree the snag. It seemed to be stuck pretty good. He gave the rod a couple quick snaps to see if he could jerk it free when all of the sudden his rod tip was pulled into the water and his drag began to scream. All hell broke loose.
What seemed like an hour (more like 15 minute) the fish was close enough that I got my first glimpse. It was a tank! I knew the net would do us no good in this situation so I had Dad gently bring the fish to my right side and very slowly I slid my hand up behind the gill plate ready to pull back at the first sign of rejuvenation of the monster pike. It was tuckered out. Dad was fishing with 8lb test mono and a medium light rod. No leader. It took awhile to get the fish in close. We quickly measured it and took a few photos and then spent the next few minutes reviving the old girl before she/he finally took off of its own accord. We waited around for sometime to make sure it wasn't going to resurface belly up. A magnificent creature and I was worried we may have taken too long. Water temps were still pretty chilly which would explain why it was only in 7' of water. What a great moment we all had together.
We trolled around for awhile longer but the wind began to blow pretty hard. While tucked in the bay it wasn't terrible and we could still effectively troll and keep a heading but as we headed north it was more than we could overcome. We tried to hug the western shoreline with the notion that once we parallelled camp we would turn and let the wind blow us home but we couldn't even do that. We ended up getting blown across the bay and had to power paddle our way up the eastern side. we finally made it back to camp and decided that was it for paddling today. We had kept a few walleye and one small pike so I filetted them up for dinner and we enjoyed a great dinner of cajun fried fish.
We had a small campfire but once again were drove into the tents at dark by the skeeters.
Morning dawned clear and quiet once again and with the promise of a bluebird day we were up and at em fairly early. Today's plan was to head up to see the pictographs and while travelling do some fishing.
After a breakfast of toasted raisin bagels with peanut butter we headed out. The first thing we tried was trolling around our little island. As we rounded the island a full 360 degrees and headed north from the landing Dad landed a very nice walleye. All of 26". Great start to the fishing.
We paddled up the western shoreline and into Never Fail Bay stopping whenever we felt like it to explore something or stretch our legs. We caught lots of walleye and smallies along this route. Never Fail Bay is really nice. If I was to go back to this area I would try for the site in the bay.
We stopped at the north eastern tip of the bay across from the portage to Kelsey lake and went for a swim. (see video) The entire time on the water there was just enough breeze to keep you refreshed but not enough to make the water choppy. It was a perfect paddle day if I have ever seen one.
We cut across LLC over to Canada and checked out the pictos. The moose is by far the best one. Still so clear.
We had burned most of the hours out of the day and we had a stringer full of fish so we paddled back to our island. I did try a deep diving crankbait out in the deep part of LLC. Was crossing my fingers for a Lake Trout but it did not happen.
We arrived back at camp and rested for a bit. Later the fish were filetted and we had an exceptional dinner of fish tacos with Spanish rice.
Once again the little flying devils drove us into our tents right at dark. Once again we didn't mind because the days events had us as tuckered as toddlers after visiting Chucky Cheese!
Wednesday morning we packed up camp and headed back south towards Lake Agnes. On the trip there we took the short portage out of the Boulder River which was pretty neat.
We met a few folks on the way and hopscotched the 2 portages with them. It didn't take long at all to reach Lake Agnes and we stopped and checked the first site my map showed on the north eastern shore. You could tell it was a site but we saw no fire grate or anything so we headed west across the lake and grabbed site #1796.
This was a great site and we enjoyed the remainder of the day napping in hammocks and a swim off the little sandy beach landing. Dad and I went out for an evening fish. We trolled around and across the lake a few times but the only thing I caught was a 14" Crappie. My personal best Crappie. He nailed a medium depth crankbait. I was super surprised as the lure wouldn't even fit in his mouth!
I decided to call the trip short by one day as the trip was taking a toll on Dad. He had forgot to bring sunblock (Joe and I don't use it) and he was pretty burnt. I knew he was tired and I didn't want to push it any further. The trip so far had been a complete success and there was no shame in calling in early.
We enjoyed a nice evening, had a fun question and answer (see video) and rested well.
As always on the last day of a trip there is a sense of excitement and sadness. We experienced both in different degrees.
Camp was packed in no time and soon enough we were on the water. There was no hurry to get back as we had a room booked in the VNO bunkhouse.
We took our time and re-traced our route through Agnes and into Nina Moose.
We weren't paying attention and we saw a canoe on the south eastern end of Nina Moose and naturally assumed it was coming out of the river so we headed that way and ended up trying to head up the Portage River. It didn't take us long to realize that this was not the same river we came in on. LOL
The canoe we saw was leaving the campsite next to the river.
After a quick turnaround we were soon headed south on the Moose River and after what seemed like forever we found the parking lot. The Moose river can be a bit of a slog but it had it's moments like the moment we rounded a turn and the sun had just peeked the trees and there were a million spider webs lit up on the grasses. It was spectacular. I had never seen anything like that.
We packed up the truck and before long we were enjoying a cold beer compliments of VNO when we checked back in.
An awesome hot shower and soon enough we were in the Ely Steakhouse for dinner and an ice cold pitcher of beer.
An early bed time back at the VNO bunkhouse and we all slept like babies.
Up early again I roused the guys and we were on the road as the sun was breaking the horizon. Settled in the truck with hot coffee we started our journey back to Michigan. A long 14 hour drive and we pulled into my driveway around 8 pm if I remember correctly.
We had an amazing trip and I can't wait to go back again.
Check out my video on youtube.