BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
April 19 2021
Number of Permits per Day: 1
Elevation: 1237 feet
Stuart River - 19
Fall Backpacking on the Angleworm Trail
October 19, 2017
Number of Days:
We spent the night before at the Adventure Inn in Ely, and got breakfast at Britton's before heading up the Echo Trail. There was just one car in the EP parking lot when we arrived. We took off down the leaf-strewn trail under a mostly sunny sky on a dry, cool day.
M was using trekking poles for the first time, at my recommendation given the beaver dam, but lots of XC ski experience meant she took to them immediately, and we cruised down the shared portage portion of the trail, arriving at the bottom of Angleworm in less than an hour. The trail gets more hairy once it turns off the portage, and I was confirmed in my suspicion that the west side is the most strenuous part of the loop as we slowed our pace considerably on the undulating terrain. We stopped at the crappy northern campsite on the west side of Angleworm for lunch, where we saw our first other person, a man hiking solo, going the same direction as us, who passed us while we had lunch. I got a bit nervous that he may also intend to take the Whisky Jack Lake site, but realized that trying to catch him would just ruin the hike for M, so started considering which alternate site we'd take if he got there first.
As we got back on the trail a pair of guys met us coming the other way, on their way out, having spent the night up at the Home Lake site the night before. They warned us of strong winds on Whisky Jack, and told us that the other dude who'd passed us was planning to stop at Home Lake for the night. I thanked them, but secretly hoped they were right about strong winds on Whisky Jack - I had a new Hilleberg tent along that I wanted to try out under difficult conditions.
The stretch from that site up to Home Lake had been difficult for my brother, and while M had no real trouble with it, it was definitely mentally tough for her too. I'm not sure what it is about this stretch - I don't find it difficult, but then I'm a long-distance runner so maybe that factors in. The spectacular views down onto the lake, the secluded forest parts, and the dramatic (and technically difficult) drops back down to lake level, with climbs back up again, make this part really interesting to me.
At Home we said hello to the hiker who'd passed us, and indeed he was stopping for the day. Knowing there should be nobody else on the trail now, we took our time and enjoyed the scenery along the substantially-easier northern stretch. The trail gets a bit harder to follow along this portion, especially with all the leaves off and covering the trail, but the BWAC does a good job of placing cairns along this trail, so we had no real concerns with wayfinding.
Descending on to the Whisky Jack site, M hurried to find the site unoccupied, and we sat down to rest, satisfied after a challenging 8-mile hike to the site.
We spent the remaining afternoon setting up camp and relaxing. I made up some fry bread and jambalaya, and we decided not to start a fire despite it being a bit chilly. We made it an early night, played some cards in the tent, and got a pretty good night's sleep.
We slept in probably the latest I've ever slept in the Boundary Waters on Friday, an intentional camp day to relax and unwind given that the Angleworm Trail is too short to break into three hiking days without looping back. We were still lying in the tent when I heard the solo hiker from the day before coming by on the trail, so clearly he'd made an early morning of it, but it was well after 8 by the time I started making coffee. M helped me make a big breakfast, and we spent the rest of the day relaxing. As so often happens, I'd forgotten to take any pictures the first day, so I made up for it on day 2. As always happens in the woods, despite having worked fairly hard, we found we were less hungry than expected, so we skipped lunch, and then ate our lunch - biscuits and chili - at almost dinner time, leaving the freeze-dried dinner we brought in the bear vault. We sat in the hammock and watched the stars come out over the almost glass-like lake, while we had a Trailtopia apple crisp, which M now basically requires at some point in the woods.
M loves Ely and she knew we had a good bit of a hike in front of us, so she woke up early and shook me awake to get going. We took the time for a proper breakfast, but still had camp broken and were on the trail again by 9. It was a substantially warmer day than the first day, with our thermometer showing it around 60 as we hit the trail.
The section of the trail from Whisky Jack to the beaver dam is substantially easier than the west side of Angleworm, but it's also a bit harder to follow the trail. We moved significantly faster than we had on Thursday, and we were staring at the beaver dam(s) just an hour after we started. M had never crossed a beaver dam before, but she eagerly went first, describing it on the other side as "the scariest but coolest thing I've done on a hike". The dam was in really good shape and neither of us got our feet too wet, but we were still both glad to have our trekking poles along.
Just south of the beaver dam M recognized the spot where we'd turned back the year before. Coming at it from the north on a warm, sunny day, it's really obvious where the trail is; but looking back from the south we could both see why we'd been baffled by this segment of trail, in the rain, on a 35 degree day the year before.
Just down from that spot we encountered the trunks and poles that keep the trail above the swampy muck of the southeast side of Angleworm, and enjoyed balancing on the logs, knowing we were nearly done.
I'd recalled the route as being 14 miles so had prepared M for four miles of trail before reaching the portage for the last two miles; but the GPS showed just 3.5 miles as we reached the clearing where the trails diverge to go up either side of the lake. We headed back onto the portage segment, balanced our way back across the log bridges, and made good time heading back up, reaching our car well before noon. Back in Ely, we had coffee and lunch at the Front Porch Café, went to Piragis to pick up some used gear, and spent some time looking around before K joined us for dinner at the Ely Steakhouse, a night at the Grand Ely Lodge, and a trip to the Bear Center to round out the weekend.