BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
December 10 2023
Number of Permits per Day: 1
Elevation: 1237 feet
Stuart River - 19
Angleworm to Stuart River 7/17-7/25
July 16, 2004
Stuart River (19)
Number of Days:
Twin Cities to Ely via Duluth
Contrary to our normal routine in beginning a trip (we usually leave late at night, arriving even later in Duluth, sleeping for a few hours and then heading to the EP early), this time we left the Twin Cities around noon, stopped in Duluth for dinner and our permit, then continued up Highway 61 to Highway 2 towards Ely. We cruised into Ely shortly after 7 p.m., picked up some leeches, filled the gas tank and headed north up the Echo Trail, arriving at our campsite at the Fenske Lake campground just after 8 o'clock. We surveyed the site, set up the tent, then sat around the fire, re-strung our fishing rods and talked, too excited to go to sleep. Eventually, we did go to bed, around 11 o'clock.
Angleworm Lake, Home Lake, Gull Lake, Mudhole Lake, Thunder Lake, Beartrap Lake
We woke up just before sunrise, about 5:15 a.m., and walked down to watch the mist lift off the lake. After the sun rose, we broke camp, had some trail mix, a Clif Bar and an apple, made sure everything was properly packed and headed to our Entry Point at Angleworm Lake, arriving around 7:15. This was the earliest we had ever put in. We were apprehensive about the 716 rod portage that lay ahead, but we were excited and we knew that would carry us through it.
The portage was hard, but not any harder than we had expected. We took breaks every 1200 steps or so, which worked out well as we counted the entire portage off at 4760 steps, which gave us three breaks. The second break was by far the best, as it crossed a narrow section of bedrock between two large beaver ponds, complete with standing deadwood in the water. What a beautiful sight on our first portage (see pictures below). At the end of the portage, we were tired, but we had arrived at BWCA water--a glorious sight the first morning of any trip. We launched into Angleworm Lake and worked our way northward. We passed one canoe going the other way, the only people we would see until Tuesday afternoon.
After a couple mile paddle, we got to the portage to Home Lake. At 65 rods, this portage was cake, especially after our long first hike. Home Lake looked nice, but we pressed on and soon came to the 272 rod portage to Gull Lake. This portage was fairly easy, though it was definitely longer than 272 rods. We counted it out at 2200 steps, or 330 rods. (Warning: math detour-- 4760 steps / 716 rods = 6.65 steps/rod, so 2200 steps / 6.65 steps per rod = 330 rods). Not that it mattered much, but it's the principle of the thing, you know. I just like to know how far I'm walking on each portage. Anyway, we paddled across Gull Lake, portaged 43 rods to Mudhole Lake (not a very fitting name, actually a pretty little pond), paddled for 10 minutes, then portaged 61 rods into Thunder Lake. Both of these portages are easy. We paddled halfway up Thunder to the 5 rod portage to Beartrap Lake (the only portage we've ever just carried the canoe across as you can see one end of the portage from the other). At this point we were excited and hoping that the one site on Beartrap was available. As the point we believed the site to be on came into view, we thought we spotted the glint of a canoe--false alarm, just a shiny rock by the shore. Then the next point came into view and we thought we spotted a tent ("Gah, there's a tent there." "But it's right by the shore--who would set their tent up on the shore?" "Yeah, but it looks like a tent." "It does...and there's a tree leaning on it." "Big rock?" "Yep, big rock"). In our defense, it did really look like a dome tent from farther away...and we were suffering from first day I-want-everything-to-be-perfect syndrome, hence we were preparing ourselves for the worst. After all that, when we did find the site, it was unoccupied.
We set up camp around mid-afternoon, admired the intricate bench system (see picture below), had a late lunch and lazed around for a bit. An hour or two before dusk, we headed out to fish for some dinner. Twenty minutes later, at the inlet from Home Creek, in six feet of water, under some lilly pads, I hooked a 17" 1.5 lb. walleye (first fish from the left in montage below) on a spinnerbait (he must have chased off all the Northerns). Boy did he taste great, baked in the coals with some garlic power and oil along with some beans and rice. After dinner we headed off to bed.
We woke up quite sore this day, but happy just to be there. After breakfast, and some relaxation/reading time, we headed out to scout the portage to the Beartrap River, as it is no longer an "official" (not red on the new McKenzie Maps) portage. Except for some dense brush and a downed tree that was parallel to the ground at a height of about five feet (see picture below--this was taken Tuesday, as we portaged to the River), the portage was in good shape. As we walked back to Beartrap Lake, a surprise thunder storm/downpour came out of nowhere. We waited it out and it only lasted about 45 minutes. This would be the only major rain we'd see on the entire trip. After we got back to the campsite, we spotted some crayfish near the shore, so we rigged up some fishing line attached to a stick with a hook on the end, baited the hooks with a bit of worm and proceeded to catch five decent sized crayfish, which we boiled and added to the beans and rice for dinner. After a spectacular sunset (see picture below), we went to bed.
Beartrap Lake, Beartrap River, Sunday Lake, Sterling Creek, Sterling Lake
Ah, our second travel day. We decided to toss a line off shore as we made pancakes for breakfast, and after a bit of playing around, I managed to bring in a 17" 1 lb. walleye (second fish from left in montage below). We breaded it with some garlic powder and pancake batter and fried it up. After that, we broke camp and headed out to the 200 rod portage to the Beartrap River. Just over halfway through the portage, my camping partner felt a bit of a twinge in his back. He tried stretching it out, but that didn't help, so I finished the portage, then came back and carried the canoe while he finished with just his pack (today would be the first day in five trips that we've double portaged).
For anyone who is wondering, the Beartrap River (the southeastern entrance into the Sundial Lake PMA) is gorgeous. It's about as wide as a normal river in that area (Moose River, Stuart River, etc.) but the land rises sharply on both sides and was burned by the White Feather Fire in '97, so the slopes are covered with fresh, abundant underbrush dotted with standing charcoaled trunks. As we paddled up toward Sunday Lake, we pulled over six or seven beaver dams not including the huge one that has a 60 rod portage around it and the ensuing rapids (see picture below).
On Sunday Lake, we saw a large group (four canoes, nine people and a dog) camped on the western shore, though we did not talk to them as we did not pass close enough. These would be the last people we would see until Friday evening. We then portaged 17 rods to continue down the Beartrap River. At this point, the river widened out considerably, at least quadruple the size it had been before Sunday Lake. About short paddle later, we started looking for the inflow from Sterling Creek. Eventually, we found a very small channel (about two to three feet wide and two feet deep) back in the weeds. For a half-mile or so, we would stand up in the canoe, located open water ahead, and push the canoe that way. We finally came to a more open portion of the creek (eight to ten feet wide) and stopped to take a picture of the view back towards the Beartrap River (see picture below). We pulled over six or so beaver dams (one so large we had to go around through the weeds) before we came to where the creek ended at some emergent rocks. Unfortunately, there was no sign of the portage.
First, we walked the packs up the center of the creek, jumping from rock to rock until we again reached open water about 100 yards upstream. But when we went back for the canoe, we realized that it would be impossible to do the same while carrying the canoe. So we went back up to where the packs were, and bushwacked directly inland from the creek. After ten minutes of pushing through the woods, we came upon what appeared to be the portage (or used to be--now it's more of a moose path), so we followed it back to where it found the creek (portage access from the creek is down a 40 ft. beaver run), went back, bushwacked the packs up to the moose path, went back to the canoe, paddled it back down to the beaver run and portaged it up to the packs. Then we took just the packs and decided to walk the rest of the path to make sure it led where we wanted to go--Sterling Lake. The old portage is listed at 160 rods, but this moose path measures out to a bit longer than that--it follows the creek, then crosses a bog, then climps up and over a hill, then through some deadfall then puts in at Sterling Creek again. So we dropped the packs at the landing and went back to get the canoe. At this point, it's getting late, we estimated that we had another hour or less before dusk and we had been traveling (through swamps and bogs and bushwacking) for nearly eight hours. So we went as fast as we were safely able to go, back to the landing. We put in, paddled for a few minutes, then just carried the canoe over the 8 rod portage into Sterling Lake.
What a treat. Sterling Lake is a beautiful little lake that, as far as we could tell, gets little or no usage. We paddled hard down the main body of the lake and up into the north bay and made camp on the island there. We landed, unloaded, set up camp and got a fire going just as the sun sank behind the trees. We had made it just in time. We ate some beans and rice and went to bed, but not before removing 10 or so ticks each. Gotta love bushwacking!
We woke up to the end of a very light rain and fished off the island for breakfast. We caught and threw back several 8"-10" walleyes before landing a 19" 2 lb. beauty (third fish from left in montage below) which we breaded with our "Garlic Pancake Fish Mix) and ate. The weather began to clear, so we explored the island (it was COVERED in blueberries) and sat and read for a while. the island was also big enough that we could each go off and be entirely alone. Around noon, the wind started to blow hard out of the west, so instead of exploring the lake, we sat around and had blueberry pancakes for lunch and went swimming (we needed a bath badly) on the lee side of the island. then we read a bit more. for dinner, we caught some of those little walleyes and added them to the beans and rice--it was divine. The wind was still blowing, but the clouds coming through made for an unbelievable sunset (see picture below). Just as the sun went behind the trees, it started to rain a little, so we went to bed and were asleep before full darkness set in.
When we got up, it was cold and windy, but the morning mist was fantastic (see pictures below). We got a fire going, caught a 14" walleye and ate it with our breading and some blueberry pancakes. We then went to scout the portage from Sterling Lake to Bibon Lake, which we would take the next day. As we walked the portage we noticed numerous large moose and bear tracks in the mud and we found what seemed to be a large rib bone (12-14" long) at the Bibon end of the portage. We also sawed through a large downed tree that was over another downed tree in the middle of the portage. That was an adventure. Ever tried to saw through a 12" diameter trunk with a Sven Saw while the 20 feet of trunk on either side works to stop the blad from moving? Yeah, it was fun, but we did it! On the way back to camp, we caught a 24" 3 lb. northern (far right in fish montage) near some lily pads. We put him on the stringer to save for dinner. He spent the next several hours trying to pull the canoe (to which he was anchored) off shore and into the lake. Just before dinner, while just casting a jointed rapala off shore, I hooked an 18" 2.5 lb. walleye (also on the far right in the fish montage) about five feet from shore. I think I need to fish these out of the way lakes more often! We ate the northern (all of it!) for dinner with beans and rice and we saved the walleye for breakfast (we triple-bagged the fillets and sunk them in about eight feet of water). After dark, while getting water for dishes, we noticed lots and lots of crayfish. So we pulled out our crayfish rigs from Monday and before long, we had pulled in 25 crayfish. We put them in the cooking pots overnight, enjoyed the pulsating northern lights for a while and then went to bed a bit late.
Sterling Lake, Bibon Lake, Nibin Lake, Stuart Lake
We got up, ate breaded walleye (nothing found the fillets overnight!) and boiled crayfish (see picture below) for breakfast, broke camp, said goodbye to our island and headed for the 148 rod portage to Bibon. It climbs steeply in the first 30 rods or so, but then evens out and slopes downward the rest of the way. There was a portage listed between Bibon and Nibbin, but we were able to paddle directly through the connecting waterway (I love traveling in that little canoe!). But then the trouble began. We couldn't find the portage from Nibbin to Stuart Lake. We pulled in twice and searched to no avail. We finally landed and bushwacked inland, looping through the woods for nearly an hour, until we found it, then followed it back to the shore--there was a downed tree blocking the landing and the view of the landing from the lake. Then we duplicated our plan from the Sterling Creek portage, taking just the packs to make sure this was really the portage. Halfway to Stuart, we took a wrong turn without realizing it (this portage, like the Sterling Creek portage, was little more than a moose-path) and ended up at some moose-beds in a marsh. So we retraced our steps, found the correct fork (hidden by underbrush, of course), finished the portage and went back for the canoe and the fishing gear. Stuart Lake was windy, but the waves weren't too bad, only 8-10" or so.
Unfortunately, at this point we had to deal with the reality that there were other people on the lake. Four out of the five sites were taken, so we took the only remaining site, the one out on the point on the north side of the lake. Not a great site, but definitely workable for one night. We set up camp, fished the shallow north bay for a bit and generally enjoyed our last night and our last sunset (see pictures below).
Stuart Lake, Stuart River, Whitefeather Lake
We got up, had a Clif Bar and trail mix for breakfast, broke camp and hit the water. We paddled south across Stuart, stopped to see the "Falls" (not much water going through, but some cool rock erosions). We then set off down our first maintained portage in six days--what a difference that makes! The water was low on the Stuart River between Stuart Lake and the big beaver dam south of the 14 rod (closer to 30 rod) portage. After that, we cruised down the river and detoured into White Feather Lake--a pretty little lake with one campsite, would make a nice, easy solo trip (but we didn't survey the site, as there were people there). The last two portages were difficult to find, even though two groups had gone through the other way that morning (one Outward Bound crew in four Aluminum tanks swerving all over the river--one sideways at one point as they passed us--and one two canoe party that had just finished a meal at the north end of the 85 rod portage and took about 10-15 minutes to pack up and clear out while we waited in clear view...grrr...). I think both portages would have been easy to find had we entered through Stuart River and passed through them going the other way, but we didn't, so we had to search the weedy shoreline a bit.
The final portage was a 460 rod to the Echo Trail. Very easy portage, only made slightly more difficult by the length--we single tripped it with one break after 2000 steps (about 300 rods) then it was just 900 more steps to the end. It was also quite the scenic portage, as it had a floating bridge (at least it was floating when we crossed it) across Swamp Creek and one of the largest Red Pines I've seen up there (except for the ones on the Sioux-Hustler Trail north of the portage between Hustler and Oyster), I could barely get my arms halfway around the trunk. The tree was actually outside the BWCA, about 950 steps from the Echo Trail--definitely worth hiking in to see if you're passing by the Stuart River EP.
Then we stashed the gear and the canoe and walked back to our entry point at Angleworm (about a four mile jaunt), drove the car back to the gear, loaded everything in and headed back towards Ely. We stopped at Cranberry's for a beer and a "Baron" burger, then drove to Duluth, arriving around 1 a.m. at the Runway Bar in Hermantown, where we had the honor of witnessing an interesting spectacle--a cover band playing everything from Bon Jovi to "Mustang Sally", complete with lead singer in matching leather bandana and pants. Let me tell you, going from the BW to a crowded Hermantown bar is quite the culture shock...but the beer was cold. :o) After that, we headed off to bed at Nanna's.
Here's a montage of our best fish from the trip...
Duluth to Twin Cities
We split wood and cleaned Nanna's chimney to pay her back for room and board, as per usual. :o) Then we headed back to the Cities, glad to be arriving in mid-afternoon, rather than our usual post-midnight return time.
Here are our trip maps--paddling in red, portaging in blue and camps in purple...