BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
September 23 2023
Number of Permits per Day: 1
Elevation: 1237 feet
Stuart River - 19
Four Solos 2007
October 06, 2007
Moose/Portage River (north) (16)
Number of Days:
This was our annual Four Solos Trip. We had planned for several months and agreed upon a Little Gabbro Entry Point. It didn’t have our regular 300+ rod portage, but it did have a couple 200+ rods and a 100+ rod portage on the first day so we judged it OK. However, the water levels were running high – very unusual for the fall. So a couple weeks before put-in Steve suggested a Stuart River Entry. Normally the water levels are too low in the fall for this trip, but not this year, so the change was made.
Just for the record, by my figuring Ely is 370 miles away from home one-way and should take about 7 1/2 hours to get there. It’ll be another hour to the entry point from Ely. Because we are going into the BWCA after October 1st, we need only have a free, self-issued permit. And because there are no quota limits after October 1st we each get our own permit. So instead of being one group of four we are four groups of one. We do this so that we each have a copy of the permit for when we go off on our own. I never really thought about it but it might have some effect on the NFS statistics.
Temperatures are erratic for the October trip. One year the highs were in the 80s and another year it struggled to get above 30. The lows have range from 20 to 45. My guess for this year for planning purposes was: High 55 & Low 30. It turned out I was right on. I even knew that rain was forecasted. What I didn’t realize was how overcast and windy it would be.
I got up at my normal time this Friday morning as if I were going to work. Instead I loaded my solo canoe on the roof of my car, which I had packed the night before, and made the 5-minute drive to the Nodine Truck Stop. I had breakfast while waiting for Jim who was meeting me there at 9:00 a.m.
Jim was right on time. We transferred my canoe and gear to his car. After work my son and wife would pick up my car and take it back home. Jim and I pulled away at 9:30 a.m. and arrived in Ely at 4:30 p.m. Seven hours was excellent time for us to make the drive up. We made a couple of rest stops and made a lunch stop at Subway in Superior, WI. In addition we made a little diversion at Joe Pietrek Junior County Park by Independence, WI. It is a nice little campground right on the Trempealeau River that Jim wanted to show me. Might be a nice canoe rendezvous place. We also hit quite a large detour on Hwy 2 and construction on Hwy 1. Seven hours was great time indeed.
Once in Ely we checked in at Voyageur North Canoe Outfitter (VNO). We talked with Lynn and John for a bit. Lynn told us that Larry and Steve were already at the VNO loft, our lodging for the night. We’d be in the "Lower Loft" (i.e. the ground floor – I prefer to call it the "Upper Basement". :-) ).
Lynn also told us that we’d be sharing the loft that night. The Lower Loft is a main room with small refrigerator, picnic table and futon; a bathroom; and three bedrooms. I think one bedroom had a single bunk (2 beds) and the other two had 2 bunks (4 beds). Each bedroom had its own door lock so that you could secure your stuff.
After visiting with Steve and Larry, the four of us decided to head to the Ely Steakhouse. Lynn recommended the Bucky Burger. Why would the Ely Steakhouse have a "Bucky" Burger? A Gopher Burger I would understand, but why a burger with the name of the University of Wisconsin mascot? Perhaps it was foreshadowing of what we’d see in a couple nights. Anyway, the burger was good.
We went back to the Lower Loft to talk about the trip and share some Budweiser that Jim brought along. You know how food tastes better in the BWCA? Well the same thing happens with Bud in a bunkhouse in Ely. :-)
Well we had to get up early, so it was off to bed at … who knows. But we had a dilemma. We had four 50-something guys in a room with only two lower bunks. Who would climb to the top bunks? I tried to convince everyone that I wet the bed and the lower bunk would get an unwanted shower if I slept on top. I didn’t convince anyone. Somehow it was decided that the youngsters would take the top bunks – Steve and I.
Sometime after we were all asleep, our loft-mates arrived. They weren’t too quiet. They even tried our locked door rattling the handle. Jim, finally got up, stuck his head out the door, and told them we were trying to sleep. They were good after that. I think they were surprised that people were in there even though they knew they were sharing the loft. In their defense, I believe there were two groups out there, and they didn’t know there was a third group sharing the loft.
I don’t remember what time we got up. I think I got up at 5:00 a.m., got ready, and woke the others at 5:30. I think we got revenge on our loft-mates for the night before. We weren’t trying to be noisy, but we were four guys getting ready for our trip. I know we were loud enough to wake them. I hope they got back to sleep after we left.
We went to Briton’s for breakfast. My first time! I’ve done Vertin’s, Cranberries, and Journey’s End before (and maybe others), but somehow never made it to Briton’s. Nice place. Big servings. GREAT apple cinnamon jelly! There was nothing pretentious about it, a good, hometown, everyday café.
After breakfast it was up the Echo Trail to the Stuart River Entry Point parking lot. Unloaded the gear and shuttled a car to the Moose River Entry Point parking lot. At some point in the previous 12 hours we had decided to take out at Moose River.
We started the Stuart River Portage at 9:00 a.m. and made it to Stuart Lake at 5:00 p.m. All the portages were easy although some were long. Also some put-ins/take outs were a bit tough presumably from the high water.
The bridge near the end of the first portage, the one going over Swamp Creek, was washed out. That was OK. The water was high enough to paddle the creek, shortening this portage by 60 rods. We had a 400-rod portage rather than a 460-rod.
On our last portage of the day, the 88-rod into Stuart Lake, we met up with another group coming in. I was surprised – first because another group had the same idea as us, and second because they were behind us and caught up. I thought we were moving pretty well. However, we were double portaging, and they single. They passed us and launched perhaps 10 minutes ahead of us.
Wouldn’t ya know it – 5 campsites on Stuart and they took the campsite we were heading for, the island site. That was OK; we went to the NW site (#1824), which turned out to be a nicer site anyway. Our site had lots of tent spaces, places for canoes, nice landing, and a good supply of firewood. It was an excellent site.
It had rained earlier while we were shuttling cars but didn’t the rest of the day, though it was very wet, drippy, humid, and totally overcast. The temperature was pretty good – in the 50s – but the wind picked up later making it seem cooler. The weather wasn’t the best, but it was great being in the BWCA and the company superb!
I had a hard time getting the fire going. Steve gave it a try after me and was successful. The wood was very wet.
What a supper we had! Steak, four-cheese mash potatoes, three cheese biscuits, and apple cinnamon parfait for desert. Then later we had coco with schnapps and smores bars. Yeah, we ate well!
It rained a bit early before I got up. The day was totally overcast, windy, and gloomy. I didn’t mind. I am one of those odd ducks that don’t mind a bit of adversity when camping. It adds to the adventure of a BWCA trip. I actually enjoy sitting under a tarp in the rain (so long as the rain stays out and it’s not too cold). IMHO, chairs are a must in these conditions. Sitting on the damp ground (actually soaked this trip) is a sure way to get sick when living outside. Jim, Steve, and I had typical umbrella chairs. Larry had one of those thermarest conversion chairs. Larry mentioned at one point that next October he’s going to consider a chair with legs for the trip.
This was the morning that Steve made breakfast. His specialty is buckwheat pancakes with (real Vermont) maple syrup. Bacon and coco round out the meal. Great stuff.
It was a scheduled layover day. The plan was to have the day to do what we like – perhaps a day trip. I know Larry wanted to take some pictures, but at 11:30 a.m. it was dusk-like, not good for photography. Besides it was rainy, and windy, though not too cold.
It rained off and on until 2:00 p.m. when the wind dropped and rain stopped. We all toured around the lake -- sometimes we’re paired up, sometimes we were alone. Larry and Jim headed to the falls to take pictures; Steve took the portage to Nibin Lake, and I paddled the shoreline of Stuart and checked out the other campsites.
Supper was a noodle side dish with foil chicken added and chocolate chip cake for desert. Very good.
For sleeping arrangements, Steve and I each had a two-man tent, while Larry and Jim shared Larry’s CCS Lean-Two. Steve has an REI half dome and I have a Big Agnes Sunnyside II. All of us were happy with our shelters.
It rained all night. In the morning it did stop long enough to eat breakfast and break camp. We were paddling by 9:30, and the rain started again. Sometimes it rained very hard. At one point I couldn’t wait to reach a portage to empty my canoe. It had so much water in it it was hard to control. Larry tried bailing Becca but said the water was coming in as fast as he could bail.
So those were the conditions as we traveled up the Dahlgren River to the Boulder River to Lake Agnes. The rain lessened but the wind picked up when we reached Agnes. The plan was to take a lunch break at Agnes before pushing on to Nina Moose Lake. We stopped at 2:00 p.m. at a nice campsite (#1803). We were all wet, and tired, and taking a chill. In addition, the wind really picked up and created rollers on the lake. The wind made the decision for us. This would be our campsite for the night.
Our campsite on Stuart had multiple resident mice (I hate them), but this site had a pet chipmunk that Steve named Aggie (after Lake Agnes). He was a friendly little guy, though we had to keep shooing him away. He even visited Larry and Jim inside the Lean-Two.
Of course everything was wet and we spent a lot of time trying to stay warm, dry, and out of the wind. Right at dusk we saw a critter near the shoreline apparently digging for turtle eggs. All four of us instantly recognized it as a badger. That was a first for me and I believe for the others as well. None of us had seen a badger in the BWCA before. I wondered if the Bucky Burger at the Ely Steakhouse was a foreshadowing of this moment. Well, I got to add a new critter to my BWCA animal sighted list. I never would have guessed that I would have seen a badger and a cougar (from 2000) before seeing a wolf or a bear in the BWCA. BTW – I tried getting a picture of the badger but they didn’t come out.
We had Jim’s chili for supper with his wife’s famous corn muffins. Jim’s chili and Steve’s buckwheat pancakes have become traditions for the Four Solo Trip. They are good traditions.
There was no fire that night. All the wood was soaked and the wind howling, so we deemed it not worth the hassle of getting a fire going. Besides, with the corn muffins for supper we decide to forego the reflector oven biscuits.
There was wind and rain all night. It also got cold. I, however, was dry, warm and comfortable. I slept very well.
The plan was to rise at 7:00 a.m. and be on the water by 8:30. I knew the way the wind was blowing our plans had to be altered. Besides I didn’t want to leave my warm sleeping bag in my dry, wind-free tent. I didn’t get up until Jim got me up at 10:00 a.m. (am I bad!).
I joined the other three. There was no question about it we were wind bound! Jim and I wouldn’t get home tonight as planned; Steve would miss his business meeting tomorrow, and; Larry ... Well, Larry didn’t care. He’s on vacation all the time!
We focused on keeping warm. Jim entertained us with dances such as the Norwegian Disco, the Norwegian Reggae Disco, and the Jimmy Gin. We did a lot of laughing. If laughing doesn’t keep you warm it at least distracts you from being cold. I did a little exploring on foot and checked out the nearby campsite. When I returned Steve and I cleaned up the fire pit area, and cut, split, and stacked firewood.
Our efforts paid off, and we got a fire started. It didn’t throw a lot of heat, but it gave us a place to gather and something to do. The fire grate is a good place for drying firewood, which is then placed under the grate to burn. Such was the routine.
We didn’t have an extra supper with us but we still had plenty to eat. I had the biscuit mix not used the night before, and we had coco, so we got something warm. The rest of supper was the extra snacks and lunches we had along. We huddled against a large rock outcropping to get out of the wind while we ate.
The wind died a little during the night and changed directions. The plan was to get up at first light and be on the water by 7:00 a.m. I woke at 6:00 and it was totally black out. I guess none of us realized how late first light was. I got dressed and woke the others. We began breaking camp in the dark. I don’t know when we got on the water, but it was light and definitely later than 7:00.
The wind was still blowing, though not nearly as hard as the day before. It was out of the west, and we were on the eastern shore, so the plan was to dash across the lake to the protection of the west shore and hug the shore till we reached the Nina Moose River. The plan worked well. I had only one iffy moment and that was when the wind was at my back and I began surfing.
We paddled upstream to Nina Moose Lake. As soon as we entered the lake the seat on my canoe broke. I pulled over at a campsite to rig it with Jim’s help. Wouldn’t ya know it! I got wet getting back into the canoe. Darn! Why do I always do that? It is always at shore either getting in or out. Geesh! Well, it’s better than out on the lake, so I should be grateful.
We continued to, and up, the Moose River. That was quite a work out. I mean, who paddles upstream during high water? Not only that, but there was a lot of maneuvering involved. It was an interesting stretch of water but no real problems. I was tired when we finally reached our final portage.
Jim had Budweiser waiting for us in his car. It was yummy. Another good tradition is to always, ALWAYS, have cold beer in the car for the take out! The car shuttle was made and the cars loaded. We said our goodbyes and were on the road at 3:00 p.m. Steve and Larry went back to Ely to check in at VNO and take showers. Jim and I started back home going the other direction on the Echo Trail through Buyck.
The drive home was uneventful but enjoyable. Time went fast. Jim had me home about 11:00 p.m. He probably made it home about midnight.
It was a great trip!!
Notes about things to remember to do differently, or to take, or to leave home, or to fix, or to adjust:
Firewood tarp – Even if firewood is wet to start with it will dry out if put under cover for a few hours. We didn't have a fire one night because of wet wood. Another night we had one because we got some wood under a tarp for a few hours.
Lighter & Fire starter – I kept my BIC lighter in with my wax fire starters. The BIC didn’t CLICK. I think it got waxed. Store the lighter in a separate plastic bag to protect against wax contamination.
Rain Pants – Mine did a good job of keeping me warm but not dry. I think it was because the crotch was ripped out from bow to stern. I need to buy a new pair – ones with zippers or snaps so I can put them on while wearing boots.
Pants – I had two pair of summer, nylon, zip-off pants. One was a good idea, but for October my second pair needs to be something warmer. I was OK because of my long johns and rain pants.
Warmer Hat – I took two blaze orange hats. I should have taken a blaze orange hat for portaging and a warmer fleece hat for camp.
Dry Gloves – I had two pair of gloves. Both were soaked all the time. They helped with heat, but were not fun to wear. I expected my paddling gloves to be wet, but my camp gloves were wet too just by virtue of everything I handled was wet. I need at least one pair of waterproof gloves.
Camp Shoes – I brought a pair of crocks as camp shoes, but at the last minute I made a wise decision and tossed them into my take-out bag in the car and substituted my take-out shoes -- LL Bean moccasins (Bean boots without the tops.). They worked pretty well. My feet would have been soaked in crocks.
Canoe Shoes – This is not related to this trip but since I’m thinking of it I want to get it down on paper. I need new canoe shoes for warm weather. This past summer my LL Bean Canoe Shoes finally died. I like them but they are no longer made. Research and purchase is needed.
Flashlights – One of my flashlights broke when I dropped it. My other flashlight (a single AAA battery light, i.e. tiny) was poorly designed. It went through a couple batteries because the switch was being pushed on in the pack and/or pocket. It is time for me to get a good flashlight/headlight. Might as well go for LED lights, maybe both a headlight and a small flashlight.
Extra Days Food – Bring an extra day's food. In the past I would bring some minute rice and dry vegetable soup mix. I could add fish chunks to it or salami, or cheese, or make dumplings, etc. But I never used it, so this time I didn't bring it. Of course, this is the time we could have used it.
Fastpacking – Resist the urge to "Fastpack" (you use just your tent's footprint and fly - no tent body - to reduce weight and bulk). I was lucky. I planned to fastpack and at the last minute decided to take the tent body along. I would have been miserable without it.
Duct Tape – My duct tape didn't work. It was good stuff but old. I don't know if that was the problem or if it was because everything was wet and cold. I'm guessing the cold reduces its stickiness. At any rate, replace my duct tape for next season. Get some good stuff.
Canoe – Sawyer Autumn Mist. It is made of "Goldenglass", a fiberglass/Kevlar mix. It is 14’ 10" long, about 28" wide, and 12" deep. This isn’t really new. I used it on a BWCA trip in July as well. I’m happy with it. However, I am getting a reputation of getting a new solo every season. I wonder what I will be paddling next October?
Canoe Seat – My canoe seat broke on the way out. I was able to field repair it to get me out. It does need to be repaired, however.