Day 1 of 6
Day 1: Twin Cities to Ely/Babbitt. [paragraph break] Since Papa D wasn’t going to be able head up at the same time as me, Kid and Rob J, he gave us his four runner and the three of us started for Ely on Sunday, May 15th at 1pm. Damn it felt good to be on the road, all your obligations and responsibilities of life at home are null and void as soon as you hit the freeway, and the only concern I really had was if we were going to have enough food. Webb and Papa D were only a couple hours behind us and we were making good time. A quick stop in Ely to grab a Mackenzie map from Piragis, and a couple rented packs at the Lodge, in which CBO was gracious enough to drive down and drop off for us, then over to Babbitt to stay with my aunt and uncle who were nice enough to put up us for a night (and cook us some unbelievably good BBQ chicken). Somehow Papa and Webb managed to beat us to Babbitt, now how did THAT happen?! Of course Webb did 80 the whole way. Got all our clothes permethrined and the usual pack and prep took till about 2am. The Kid and I have become somewhat of gear junkies and we probably spent more on new gear than we did on our entire rentals. We managed about 4 hours of sleep before we were up at 6am and loading the cars.
Day 2 of 6
Day 2: Mudro Lake to Horse Lake: 3 portages – 80 rods, 160 rods, 90 rods. [paragraph break] We stop in Ely for breakfast at Subway and to pick up a few last minute things, then up to CBO for our transport. Can’t say enough good things about CBO, they were great. We get dropped off at Mudro around 10:30am, quite a bit later than I’d hoped but I really didn’t care, we were HERE! The weather was gorgeous, it was about 65 degrees and mostly sunny with a slight breeze at a cross wind for us. I really took a liking my 16.5’ Wenonah Prism Solo. Last year I soloed a tandem Bell Magic Royalex and hated it. This was a completely new experience. The little skiff was quick and agile and had great handling. The first 80 rod portage from Mudro to Sandpit was brutal. 40 rods up and 40 rods back down with lots of ankle twisting rocks, a couple fallen trees, and a very steep decline at the end. We had a bit of trouble tracking down the entrance to the next 160 rod from Sandpit to Tin Can Mike. There were a lot of fallen logs in the bay of the portage entrance and it took a bit of exploration to find it. Even though this was the longest portage of the trip, it was by far the easiest. 160 rods of wide, flat and simple terrain and we crushed the entire double portage in about 45 min, with a quick lunch of pb and j’s at the end. The 90 rod from Tin Can Mike to Horse was pretty routine, and I saw some old wolf scat and fresher bear scat on the trail. Finally we were on our destination lake. I’d had my hopes set on the northern island campsite on Horse, and REALLY prayed it wasn’t occupied. However as we started nearing the middle of the lake, I could see people swimming on the rock peninsula of the island, and did I just see a tent? Yup, it was taken. Major bummer. We settled on the middle of the three campsites on the east end of the lake. I liked this one though. Very roomy, good landing spot and a couple of promising looking bays on either side. As we pull up to the landing and start unloading, it happens again. The Kid, without looking over the side of the canoe to see where he stepping, tumbled out in almost 5 ft of water. He managed to keep his head dry this time though, but was thoroughly soaked otherwise. You’d think he’d have learned from last year when he did the same thing at our first campsite landing on Ensign, only that time he was completely submerged. I stifle a chuckle and ask if he’s alright. No harm, no foul, and the quick dry gear held up well. Camp is set up fast and it feels great to get into dry socks and shoes. Papa D tested out the waters in front of the campsite and managed to snag a decent gator that threw the lure as he was pulling it up to the rock. This is a good sign. Haven’t been at camp for an hour and already fish are biting. After a nice nap and a delicious steak and potato dinner (as is tradition on the first evening of every trip), we hit the waters for some serious walleye fishing. Rob J and Kid are hunting gators, Webb and Papa drop some minnows into the bay just north of the campsite, and I decide to head up the lake to a couple spots I had heard were good. I had just dropped down my first jig and minnow right next to the island site and when Papa radios me and says “Walleye success! Get back over here!” As quick as lighting I speed back to the bay above our campsite. They had pulled a nice eater eye. I drop my minnow back down and BAM, nab a nice 18” wally. Papa and Webb started slamming the eyes and I grabbed a nice 30” gator that gave me a couple good runs under the canoe. We fished till about an hour after sunset and decided to head in for a fish fry. Rob J and Kid had already gone back to camp 30 min earlier and Rob J had retired to his tent. As I was paddling back to the landing I hear a “SHHHHIIIIIINK, *Plop*”……my stringer with my delicious wally on it was apparently not connected to my canoe as secure as I thought, and down to the bottom they both went. Damn. That’s upsetting. Thankfully Webb and Papa had four nice eaters and our fish fry was still on. Webb and I sliced and diced em and Kid, who turned out to be a master chef, prepped them for the pan. Let me make this perfectly clear; there is nothing, and I mean nothing better than fresh walleye thrown on the skillet and fried up less than an hour after being pulled from the lake. The best filet mignon in the world doesn’t even compare. These fillets were carefully seasoned, breaded with shore lunch and panko, and fried to crisp, brown perfection. At 11pm, we ate what I would argue to be the best meal of the trip. Full and content, we put day 1 on the trail to rest.
Day 3 of 6
Day 3: Horse Lake Layover. [paragraph break] Woke up at 5 for a bathroom break and the sun was just coming up through the trees behind the campsite. I seriously contemplate jumping in the canoe and doing some early fishing, but it was coooold and the warm sleeping bag was too inviting. I think around 10am everyone started stirring. Breakfast was bacon and eggs. Kid and I planned on day tripping to Jackfish Bay to hunt for some big pike with big reputations. Webb, Rob J, and Papa got ready to fish Horse Lake while Kid and I set off. It felt great to canoe in tandem. I can handle a solo just fine, but it was good to have some power in the bow. Kid and I flew across the water in the lightly packed canoe with renewed energy and a heightened sense of adventure. The day was promising at a sunny 75 degrees with a light breeze. We crossed the 160 again only to have to turn an immediate left at Sandpit to enter another 160 rod, only this time there was supposed to be a trail to the Agnes River on our left somewhere, but we couldn’t find it! We portaged the entire thing, only to turn around at the end and go all the way back, of course we blew right past the side trail. Agnes River was really fun to paddle through. We had a couple muddy detours through unmarked portages, encountered some friendly (or protective) eagles, and fought some serious waves on Jackfish Bay. No pike though. The southern end of Jackfish claimed 2 of my lures in 15 minutes and I lost the crank handle to my reel over the edge trying to free a snag. Fortunately I always bring an extra rod and reel. So Kid and I head back home fishless. No worries though, the adventure is what counts anyway. We return to find the camp quiet as everyone is passed out. I check the dough I began rising the night before and make a quick dinner of crooked doughnuts (fried bread topped with maple syrup) and some breakfast sausages. After dinner we had back out for more walleye hunting with no success. The pike however were ravenous, and Kid and Papa D managed to snag a couple 35” gators. Now it’s a long standing tradition that whoever catches the biggest fish on a trip gets their meal and first beer bought for them at our dinner in Ely on the exit day. Well I brought with me a Rapala electric scale, but it was stuck on kilograms and we couldn’t get it changed. Papa and Kid’s pike are almost twins. The first weigh in comes up with Kid’s fish at 2.13kg and Papa’s at 2.11kg. Well that’s a little too close for comfort so a re-weigh is called. After initial weigh in, Papa’s pike got set on the ground and covered with bark, pine needles and dirt, so I took it down to the lake and washed it off, (we were planning on eating both of these). Well that didn’t sit well with Kid, because the next weigh in had Papa’s pike at 2.14kg, and Kid’s at 2.12kg, and he claimed there was new “water weight.” Kid is furious at this point and demands to go clean off his fish too. So, chuckling to ourselves we say “Go right ahead.” He goes to the lake and “cleans” his pike. As he’s walking back with the fish held vertically, mouth up, someone says, “Hey Kid, flip the pike upside down.” Kid then turns the pike upside down and fountain of pike water comes pouring out of the fish’s mouth. At this point we’re all laughing so hard we’re almost in tears, but Kid didn’t think it was so funny. He says “F*** you guys,” and promptly hurls the big pike at Papa and me. We had to think fast and duck or be chomped by a flying pike’s gaping maw. This was of course all in good fun, and Kid arguably ended up winning the big fish and had a free meal and beer at the end of the trip. Rob J fillets up the fish and with our belly’s full for the second night in a row, we head to bed early for a 6am start up the Horse River.
Day 4 of 6
Day 4: Horse River to Crooked Lake. 3 “official” portages. 58 rods, 48, rods, and 73 rods. Some un-official ones as well. [paragraph break] We were up at 6am. After some delicious sausage, egg, and cheese breakfast burritos, we broke down camp and pushed off the landing by 7am. I’ve never been up that early or broken down camp so efficiently with this many people. It was good start for what was shaping up to be an encouraging day. The weather again was mint. About 70 degrees, a light breeze, and a few tufts of clouds dotted against the big blue blanket. The Horse River was a blast! I’d heard that sometimes if the water was high enough, you could ride some of the light rapids past the unmarked portages. There were about 5 unmarked portages and as we come up to the first set of rapids, I think I can squeeze through that nice flow on the right side there. Too small for a tandem, but I can make it in my solo. The guys continue on to the unmarked portage and I say nothing to them as I head for the rushing water. Here we go…… “WEEEEEEEE!!!” *KLANK* *KLUNK* The canoe heaves to the right on a submerged rock and I scrape to a stop at a 45 degree angle. I have to step out on another rock to pull and right the canoe. Lost my sunglasses but that’s it. I make it through and wait patiently for the guys on the other side of the portage. As the guys finish up, we notice another group of 4 right behind us. We’re on a mission for the Lower Basswood Falls site. I want this site bad and after missing our first choice on Monday, I’m bent on nabbing this one, and these people might just be after the SAME SITE!!! The amazing race is on. We were able to scoot through the 4 other small rapids sections and avoid the rest of the unmarked portages. Papa and Webb got stuck on the last one. They skidded onto a submerged rock and the canoe spun like a top 180 degrees with the rushing water pushing them around, but they masterfully pulled their way out of it. Kid eventually spoke with the group behind us to find out that they were continuing up to the Day bays; it was fun while it lasted, and we just finished the last portage of the day. I race on ahead of the group to where I think our campsite is. I pull my canoe up to the island in front of the 12 rod portage which is on the other side of the raging rapids. I jump to the other side of the island to look upon our desired campsite and my heart drops. It’s taken. Bummer. The site at the top of the falls is open though it has a very steep landing. We circle around the other end of the island and start setting up camp. “That’s Canada right there gentleman,” I say to them pointing across Crooked Lake to the 12 rod portage in the Quetico. This campsite is decent. It’s atop a small bluff right at the beginning of the falls. The downside is the sand flies, they’re everywhere in small clouds that get under everything! I look for a good branch to throw up our food pack and notice that in about 3 other trees, there’s about 4 ft of rope hanging from branches with frayed ends on them. The implications of these rope pieces doesn’t register right away. We do some exploring and follow a trail along the falls down to Crooked Lake and right along the campsite at the bottom of the falls. That evening we all decide go nab some wallies after a nice hot dish dinner of bbq pouch chicken and Lipton rice. We scoot around the island and beach the canoe at the 12 rod portage and step onto Canadian soil. I’m the first one to push off from the portage and start heading to the U.S. side of the lake. I look across to the campsite located on the other side and see a medium sized black bear patrolling the bluff. “GUYS GUYS! LOOK AT THE BEAR,” I yell to the others behind me. We manage to get pretty close to the bear before he takes back off into the woods. COOL. Webb nabs the first eye but can’t find anymore at that spot. We tool around until Papa hits another one on a drop off next to an island. Webb manages to grab 3 more and Papa and I hook into another 1 apiece. By the time we start heading back we’ve got 5 good eaters. We get back to camp about 9 and the last of the sunset is beginning to darken. I go to the food barrels to grab the panko, shore lunch, and seasonings. Hey, I could’ve sworn the lid on that barrel was closed when we left…hmmm where the hell is the seasonings bag. Wait, the last pound of bacon is not in here, neither is the red beans and rice, or the bear creek soup mix. The packs are sitting under our huge tarp which is extending into the camp from the tree line. I look back towards the trees and even though the light is almost non-existent, I can just make out a wrapper trail leading into the woods. Something definitely got into our food barrel. We have 2, 20 gallon bear barrels in a pack harness. Someone, and we have yet to determine who, only clamped the clamp to the lid of one of the barrels, and not to the barrel AND the lid. I survey the damage back into the forest and alert the rest of the crew. Our best guess (even after seeing a bear) is that it was a raccoon, no one wanted believe it was bear. So we pick up what we can and fry up the fish. Well the fish might as well have been a dinner bell, because shortly after we finish eating, we start to hear branches breaking by the tarp. What ensued for the rest of the night was utter chaos. It took till about midnight before we determined that it really was a bear. We continued to hear the bear trudging around on the outskirts of camp, and a couple times we shone our flashlights into the woods to see a pair of beady eyes glaring back, what we didn’t realize is that it was really 2 bears. About midnight, I walk over to the tarp for something that I can’t remember. The food pack is high up in a tree at this point. I know I was rummaging through a pack when I hear some rustling behind me. I turn around and shine my flashlight toward the sound in the woods and my light comes upon a medium size black bear with a bag of Vigo red beans and rice in its mouth…not 10 ft away from me. Now most people would’ve screamed like a little girl and ran away…which, needless to say, is exactly what I did. It’s one thing to encounter a bear in the daytime where you can see its movements and know what it’s doing, but in the dead of night, it’s a whole different ball game. We were pretty freaked out, but spent about 2 hours yelling, banging pots and pans, and chasing away these bears, but no matter how hard we tried, they always came back. At this point, I think it was Webb and I that were the only ones who actually saw a bear. Rob J still thinks it’s a raccoon, Papa wouldn’t leave a 10 ft radius from the fire, and Kid refused to believe anything until he saw it with his own eyes. Finally at about 1am, we’re exhausted from the bear drama and need to get some sleep. There’s already talk of moving camp in the morning. So we wait till we hear another bear trudging around and chase it back as far as you can in the middle of the night, and we retire hoping the damn things don’t come back.
Day 5 of 6
Day 5: Layover on Crooked Lake. [paragraph break] I awake to a branch snapping. I look at my watch and a very irritated 4am glares back at me. Still, I can hear something that sounds like clawing on a tree. I unzip the tent and look at the tree our food pack is hanging from. Sure enough, the bear is halfway up the tree, chewing on our bear rope. I quickly wake up the rest of camp. Now no one is left with any doubt, because there is definitely a bear in the tree. After snapping a couple pics, I start to yell at it and bang some pots, but it was resilient and stayed up there for a good 10 minutes before slowly backing down. As soon as it hit the ground I chase after it yelling and throwing rocks. Some of the guys (ahem, Kid) barely even stuck their head out of the tent to see the bear, and then promptly returned to sleep. I try and get some rest back in the tent but I’m far too nervous to sleep. I close my eyes and drift into a kind of weary rest, but again am pulled out of the haze by the sounds of shuffling and pots banging around. I look out our tent window towards the fire to see the biggest black bear EVER! Not even kidding, the thing had to be 350-400 lbs. This is definitely NOT the same bear that was in our tree 2 hours ago. “Papa, Webb, there is a giant bear 5 ft from your tent right now.” I look at my watch, its 6 am and there’s a significant amount of light, though it’s a bit overcast. I watch the bear for a sec and then look across the campsite to see Rob J taking a morning leak. As he’s standing there, back to the campsite and looking out across the lake, the big fella starts rumbling towards him and stops about 15 ft away and just stares at Rob J, sniffing the air. “Uh Rob, there’s a bear behind you,” I say in a loud enough whisper. Rob turns around to see the bear watching him and says to it, “Hey, a little privacy here please!” You just can’t make this stuff up. I wanna get this thing out of camp, the last thing we want is for it to feel comfortable here. So I dash out of camp, grab a some pots and start yelling and banging and the thing bounds up the hill behind camp and stops, sits down on its haunches and just stares at Rob and I. I take advantage in this quick, calm lapse and nab a video of the big fella, I was able to get about 10 ft from him. Rob snaps a couple more photos, everyone else is still in their tents. I start to creep closer to him and then he turns and starts to run away. I chase after him yelling. This time though I can see where I’m going and I must have chased him back at least half a mile into the woods before I give up pursuit. I return to camp and wake up Kid. I, he, and Rob J have plans to head up Crooked to see the pictographs. Webb and Papa sleep and after a quick breakfast of oatmeal and hot chocolate, we tell the guys that if they hear anything in camp, it won’t be us, then we set off up Crooked to see the pictographs. The water is glass and we glide up the lake. I’m keeping my eye open for any campsites that are free, but everything in the vicinity is taken. Pictographs were cool and we got some really good pictures of the bluff they were on. The rest of the day passes without incident. We get back to camp and Papa, Webb, and I head out for some afternoon walleye fishing. I find a really nice spot just to the left of the exiting falls. A little honey hole that we caught multiple eyes, a big fat pike, and a couple smallies. Papa caught a HUGE 20” smally that gave him a really good fight. We head in and fry up the fish for lunch. This is where the term, “You don’t catch, you don’t eat,” really comes into play. We’d lost close to 2 days worth of food to the bears and we were on EXTREMELY short rations, and it really came down to catching fish if we wanted a solid meal…and we still had 2 days left on the trail. After a fish lunch a couple of us head back to the tents for a late afternoon nap. At about 6pm, Webb, Papa, and I head back out for some more fishing. It must be about 8pm when Kid and Rob J come barreling out to me on the lake with a wild look in their eyes. “We gotta get out of camp like now!” says Rob J. So what happened was after we left for fishing, Rob J and Kid stayed behind, and who comes rumbling back into camp but our 400lb black furry friend. Rob J chased him away about 6 times, but finally the bear came back, reared up on 2 feet, snorted, and bluff charged him, skidding to a stop 5 ft from him. That was it for Rob and Kid, they are on the bears turf now and a bluff charge is scary enough. So we round up Webb and Papa who managed to nab a couple eyes and a decent eater smally, and we take the 12 rod back around the hook. As we’re coming around the island to our campsite, we look at the top bluff where Rob J’s tent is, and there is the bear standing on the bluff overlooking the lake with Rob’s tackle box in its mouth shaking it furiously. I’m angry, this damn bear has caused us enough trouble. I head toward the landing despite the adamant requests of my partners to not go into camp. I land the canoe, run up the rock hill and start straight for the bear yelling at him. He sees me and takes off to the back of the campsite, same place he sat before. I chase him WAAAAY back again and head back to camp to survey the damage. He tore open the screen door on Kid and I’s tent, put a couple holes in Kid’s nice, expensive, synthetic sleeping bag, destroyed Webb’s camelbak, and did significant damage to a couple tackle boxes. Well it’s about 830 and the sun is almost down, but there’s no chance we’re staying here another night to deal with hungry, pesky, and aggressive bears. We pack up camp in about 20 minutes and go hunting for another site. EVERYTHING is taken. So, without much choice, we camp on the island situated between the 2 falls, basically it’s the island that separates U.S. from Canada. Now this is the second year in a row I’ve had to camp at a non-designated. I’m not happy that we have to do this, I’m pretty insistent about following the Bdubs rules to a T, but we really don’t have any other options. We fry up the fish and manage to scrummage some mashed potatoes and gravy out of the pack for dinner at about 10pm, we’re literally cooking on the border marker. The 5 of us sit down at the edge of the lake and take in the ridiculous amount of stars in the sky, contemplating and reminiscing the adventures of the past 4 days. Despite all that’s happen, we still manage to laugh it off. We head to bed with plans to be up around sunrise for our trip back up the Horse River and to Tin Can Mike for our last couple days.
If you'd like to see me chasing a 400lb black bear through the woods, you watch the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qq4ro0ebNZ8
Day 6 of 6
Day 6: Back up the Horse River to Tin Can Mike. [paragraph break] We’re up at about 5:30am, eat a breakfast of oatmeal, granola bars, and coffee/hot chocolate. Camp is broken down and we’re back on the trail by 6:15am. We make it all the way to the end of the first portage when Rob realizes he doesn’t have his fishing pole and reel, and we’re missing the extra paddle. No one remembers grabbing it so I hand the leadership and the map off to Kid along with my sturdy solo canoe and they push on ahead while Rob and I make a B- line back to our makeshift campsite to pick up his pole and the paddle. We head back again and actually manage to make it through almost all the rapids against the current. Man the Horse River is a lot of fun! As we’re nearing the last set of rapids, an elderly couple passes us and asks, “Is one of you Jim?” I say that’s me. “One of your guys dumped the canoe trying to make the rapids up ahead and lost the minnow bucket, I caught it floating down river and left it at the mouth of the portage.” We catch up to the group at the 90 rod portage from Horse to Tin Can Mike. The guys are waiting at the beginning of the portage for us, and said they hadn’t been there for more than 10 minutes. As Rob and I unload, Papa tells me that the group has made a unanimous decision that they would like to go home today. Now I REALLY don’t want to leave, but I understand the guys’ desire to head out a day early. The last few days have been pretty epic; we’re exhausted, sore, and hungry, so I concede. We stop at the first campsite on Tin Can Mike and I go to the highest point in the site and manage to get one bar of service, but that’s all I need. I call CBO and they said they’d have someone out there waiting for us. We make a quick lunch of the last of the food we have, shake and pour pancakes, and push on for the last leg of the trip. As we paddle down Picket Creek to our exit point I reflect on the past 6 days. I’ve had more adventures on this trip then I had on the past 3 combined. We arrive at Mudro and chat it up with a couple guys from Indiana who said they brought 75lbs of beer in with them, and had just finished the last of it that morning. Wow. CBO arrives 10 minutes later and our trip is complete. Webb and Papa head home and Rob J, The Kid, and I stop in Ely for beers and burgers at The Boathouse. Thanks Bdub, and I’ll see you in August!