Day 1 of 5
Wednesday, October 18, 2017 Last night my son and I left our house in Mounds View and drove up to my dad's place in Stanchfield, MN to spend the night and finish packing. We woke at 3:30 am and were on the road by 4 so that we could make it to Ely for breakfast and bait from VNO. We pulled into Ely at 7:20 which gave us plenty of time to hit Britton's for breakfast and we showed up in the VNO parking lot 5 minutes before they opened. We got the last fatheads that VNO had for the season and we were on the Echo Trail by 8:30. The parking lot at EP 23 was almost empty, just two other cars, when we got there which was a good sign. We unloaded and got on the water at about 9:15 am, lots of daylight and a tailwind to push us along. We paddled through Mudro, Sandpit and Tin Can Mike lakes and that brought us to the portage into Horse Lake where we stopped on the Horse end of the portage for a snack and to relax for a few minutes. There was a father/son paddling the southern bay of Horse when we got there and they gradually worked there way over to us. We chatted a bit and wished them a safe trip out, and we decided not to camp on Horse and try to make it all the way to Lower Basswood Falls. Once onto the main part of Horse Lake, the wind showed us just how strong it was today as white caps trailed us all the way across. A couple of times I had a hard time keeping the nose of my Northwind pointed in the right direction, but we soon made it into the shelter of the mouth of the Horse River. I've never done this river before so we made a few mistakes. We could have lined the canoe through three sets of rapids that are not marked with portages on the map, so we portaged them which made things take longer. We won't make the same mistake on our way home. So instead of doing 3 portages on the Horse River, we did 6 and it took us 4.5 hours to get to the Basswood River (I was hoping to do it in 3), but we landed at the campsite at the top of Lower Basswood Falls at 4:30 and this would be our home for the next 3 days. It was fun watching my son, Douglas, explore the campsite and marvel a the waterfall. He was like a kid exploring a new, huge playground for the first time. It was fun trying to follow him around with the camera to capture some cool moments. Douglas helped my dad set up the tent while I got some camp stove pizza cooking and we chowed overlooking the waterfall and had some Snickers bars for dessert. We rigged up our rods and tried fishing at the top and bottom of the waterfall, but to no avail and as daylight started to dwindle we got a fire going and cleaned the dishes from dinner. Douglas helped gather sticks and assorted dead and downed wood pieces for our fire (something we've been working on both at home, and while camping at various state parks this summer). I brought 3 of those pouches that kids can throw in the fire to make it light up all kinds of cool colors so Douglas threw one of those in the fire after we got it really cooking and we enjoyed the "Northern Lights" in the fire pit since the real thing wasn't forecasted to make an appearance. We spotted some shooting stars and some satellites passing overhead as it was a crystal clear night. We crashed around 9:30 to the white noise of the waterfall. ~Mudro Lake, Sandpit Lake, Tin Can Mike Lake, Horse Lake, Crooked Lake
Day 2 of 5
Thursday, October 19, 2017 I awoke early, before daylight, and crept out of the tent to a glorious morning. It was a little breezy, but the temp was around 50 degrees which was perfect. I sat on a rock ledge overlooking the falls and snapped a couple of nice sunrise pictures. I felt rested enough, but not fully because Douglas was squirming around like there was a mouse in his bag all night long and so I woke a lot. I forgot how active of a sleeper he can be.
Doug and my dad crawled out of the tent shortly after sunrise and I greeted Doug with a hot bowl of oatmeal and dad with a hot cup of coffee. After breakfast we fished at the bottom of the falls where dad landed a nice Walleye, probably 3-4 pounder, which we strung up to a bush at the shoreline. We all hiked back up to camp at the top of the falls to get the canoe so we could fish Crooked Lake a little and when we came back, Doug spotted two otter's fighting over Dad's walleye. I ran over, but it was too late, 3/4 of dad's walleye was gone and there was a family of 4 otter's spy hopping out of the water and hissing at us like we're the bad guys! I've been robbed by snapping turtles before, but this was a first for me. We fished from land a little and dad lost a big northern right at shore (it's my fault as she slipped away as I tried to grab her and cut the line). We fished some more in Crooked, Douglas and I each LDR'd (long distance released) one, but dad was able to eater sized northerns so the skunk was out of the canoe. I snapped a few pics of Doug by one of the International Boundary Markers. He thought it was pretty awesome to straddle "the border". After a snack lunch, Doug wanted to go hiking to explore our area a little so off we went while dad fished and relaxed at the bottom of the falls. I knew there was a USFS Ranger Storage Shed around here somewhere, but I wasn't sure where and Douglas led us right to it. The trail was getting really narrow, more like a game trail and I wanted to turn back, but Doug insisted we go just a little farther and we stumbled right into the cabin. It was cool and Doug was fascinated as he proceeded to ask me question after question about it. I wish I had more answers. We peeked in one of the windows and all I could see was lumber, some latrines, and a couple of wheel barrows.
Back at camp we cooked up some Knorr rice/pasta blend and pan fried the northern for a delicious dinner and then we cleaned up and headed to the bottom of the falls to see if the evening bite would be better. It was slow, however, I was able to land a Walleye right at sunset that was almost a replica of my dad's in the 3-4 pound range so we strung that one up in an eddy just below the falls, close to our campsite hoping that the otter family wouldn't find it. We had a fire back at camp and Doug hit the wall and crawled into his bag at 8, dad and I sat by the fire sipping some whisky while we solved the worlds problems and set the agenda for tomorrow. It was another crystal clear night and we watched satellites and stars for a while. I think we made it until 9:30 again before turning in. Saw one other canoe today, they stopped for lunch at a site down stream from the falls and then headed down Crooked Lake.
Day 3 of 5
Friday, October 20, 2017 Last night was the coolest so far, but we were all cozy as can be. It was about 40 degrees this morning as we all slept in a bit and got up 15 minutes or so after sunrise. I heard some critter chatter, so I immediately got nervous about our Walleye strung up, but this noise was coming from the opposite direction over by where our minnows were floating above the falls. I ran over just in time to see the otter family trying to tear into our minnows. They were unsuccessful but quick to share some otter scolding with me as they scurried off into the Basswood River. I walked down to check on the Walleye and she was safely tied off, unharmed, I think we may have found a safe spot. Here's a shot in daylight of the walleye.
Today we paddled over to the Pictographs, fishing the American side along the way. The Pictos were gorgeous, some of the best I've seen, and the sheer number of them blew me away. There's probably a dozen drawings, some clearer than others, but it was fascinating. We took some pics and video and continued fishing and checking out campsites as we drifted along. I caught a perch which went back, dad pulled in two eater size walleyes and Doug had no luck. We paddled back for a lunch of bagels and peanut butter and some relaxation time. It is hot out today, lower 70's, unbelieveable.
After lunch we fished below the falls again as Doug didn't feel like sitting in the boat anymore today. That's when it happened, I was watching Doug and I's slip bobbers sitting in about 10 feet of water with jigs tipped with minnows when my bobber went down like a reverse rocket. I set the hook and at first thought I was on a log or rock, because all I felt was weight, no fight. Then my drag squealed so delightfully I just about peed myself as 30 yards of line was gone in about 5 seconds. I tightened up the drag a bit and told Doug to reel in. My dad was across a little cove from us and I motioned for him to grab his gloves and come over as I may need some help. What followed was 15 minutes of battle between me and the biggest northern I've ever hooked into. She made about 10 runs, each time I had to two-hand my rod to fight it. Finally, on the 4th landing attempt, we landed a monster pike, probably in the 36-40" range and weighing around 15 pounds. I wanted to get her back in the water so we didn't take any measurements.
For dinner we had Wild Rice Soup from Bear Creek with some buns and pan fried Walleye, and it was amazing and oh so filling. After a few Snickers bars we bummed around camp and had another fire as Douglas explored the area. I can't believe how warm it was today, I didn't bring any shorts, which I would have worn today. It's been tough locating the fish and Douglas has yet to land one so I'm discouraged by that. I consider myself a decent fisherman right along with my dad, but we're no pros and it's been hard finding a depth/presentation that is consistent. I think the warmer than average water temp has delayed the fish from strapping on the feedbag. We slept well, and I had my bag unzipped the majority of the night as temps were in the low 50's. We saw two other canoes today, one made camp at the site at the bottom of LBF, and another we saw while viewing the pictos...I believe they were Canadian.
Day 4 of 5
Saturday, October 21, 2017 We rose with the sun and immediately started packing up while I made breakfast. Our goal today was to head back to Horse or Tin Can Mike to camp our last night closer to the EP so that we could be back in Ely around lunch time and home by dinner tomorrow. I knew we could navigate the Horse River faster if we lined through the rapids which we were able to do and made it to Horse Lake in only 3 hours travelling upstream. I'd like to think lining made all the difference, but we were able to single portage as we had eaten about 3/4 of our food. The point campsite by the river was occupied so we paddled south to the campsite by the "pinch" between the southern bay and the main lake and it was a gem. Nice kitchen, tent pads and beautiful rock point where you can see the entire northern lake. There's also a sweet logging relic on that rock point as well. I treated my hard working son and dad to our first "hot lunch" of the trip as I prepared a Mountain House Mexican Rice and Beans meal that was awesome. I wish I had brought a few tortillas and hot sauce, that would have made it even better...next time. Douglas filtered some water, spotted a grouse and we tried fishing the "pinch" to no avail. Doug and I hiked around and spotted two Bald Eagles soaring above us, one was an adolescent as it didn't have the white tail or head yet. They were fun to watch. Doug climbed some glacial boulders near our site and then we ventured back for dinner. Tonight's dinner was a BWCA.com recipe from the Camp Cooking Forum, stuffing with foil pack chicken smothered with gravy. Awesome. It was gobbled up in no time and we ate the last of our Snickers bars for dessert. It was threatening rain all day, but all we got was a drizzle during our paddle today which was nice because we didn't need to dry out much back at camp except our sweaty clothes. We tuned in the Gopher hockey game for a while on the radio before we all got tired by the start of the 2nd period and turned in for the night. It rained around midnight and again at 2 am, but the wind picked up like crazy after that and by morning the tent fly was almost dry.
Day 5 of 5
Sunday, October 22, 2017 The temps were chillier today, but still 10 degrees above normal for this time of year. We packed up camp and hit the water after breakfast at 8:15. We had to paddle into a stiff headwind so I was glad that we were camped in this southern bay and not up on the main part of the lake where I'm sure there were whitecaps. We had an easy go of it single portaging and saw someone camped on the eastern site of Tin Can Mike, and another group heading in as we crossed Sandpit Lake. As we fought the wind and paddled south, I was already beginning to think of next June's trip and I had to stop myself and enjoy our last few moments in the BWCA. As we paddled across Mudro, I stopped and took it all in for a moment or two and turned to see my dad and Douglas apparently doing the same thing. There's something magical and spiritual about this place that demands respect and it is times like these that I am so thankful that we have such a treasure right in our own backyard of northern Minnesota. I feel so lucky to be able to share this pristine and untrammeled wilderness with my dad and son and I hope that we can continue to experience this wilderness and all of it's glorious bounty for many years to come. We made it to the EP at 10:40 and were in Ely by 11:45 enjoying a $5 lunch at the DQ before gassing up and heading home. We had Paul Allen to keep us company as we listened to the Vikes beat the Ravens on the radio during the drive home. We put my Northwind in my dad's pole barn for the winter (thanks dad) and Doug and I continued home to see his mom and two younger sisters who were thrilled to see Doug, not as thrilled about daddy's "pokey" beard.