BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
September 22 2023
Number of Permits per Day: 5
Elevation: 1166 feet
On the Water- Monday July 20th-
On the water late considering how far we need to go today. Up the Horse river to the falls by 6pm. Started raining and NO campsites available. Mudrow-Alruss-Tin can Mike-Horse Lake-Horse River-Basswood. 13 miles by water. (not counting portages)
Tuesday July 21st-
Rain all night, all morning and all day. Went north by petroglyphs, table rock and the the Crocked Lake Narrows across Thursday bay to campsite. Basswood-Crooked Lake-Wednesday Bay-Thursday Bay. 11 miles in the rain.
Wednesday July 22nd-
Up early and calm winds to take advantage of, considering the big water we have to cross. Found beaver dam to lift over and did a portage from hell between Pandos lake and Chippewa Lake. VERY steep and slippery after rain. Many mud holes. Then the mile portage after Wagosh Lake to Gun Lake. Never saw another soul in a canoe or campsite the entire day! Thursday bay-Friday Bay-Pandos Lake-Chippewa Lake-Wagosh lake-Gun Lake. 11 miles by water.
Thursday July 23rd-
Finally had a dry night. got everything dry!!! A few portages today to Fourtown Lake campsite. Easy day by comparison. Gun Lake-Fairy Lake-Boot Lake-Fourtown Lake. 6 miles. Put the long miles at the first of the week for a buffer for contingencies!
Friday July 24th-
Last day. Stormed last night bad. A few portages today with one bad one between Fourtown Lake and Mudrow lake. To entry point by 1pm. Ready for a hot shower! 4 miles
45 miles by water
13 miles by portage (3 trips each)
58 miles total.
Long way to Wednesday Bay
July 25, 2023
Mudro Lake (restricted--no camping on Horse Lake)
Number of Days:
Alarms were set the night before. Why? I'll never know. The anticipation had been building for months and I just knew that sleep would be tough to come by. It eventually came but only for a few hours. I was wide awake and staring at 2:30 AM on my phone. It would be of no value to get up. Our entry point was a convenient 30 minutes away from VNO and I had zero interest in paddling in the dark. I stayed put and eventually around the 4:30 AM mark I arose from the bed, grabbed the last hot shower for a week and then roused my paddling partner.
This was my 6th consecutive year visiting the BWCA and I was getting pretty good at these wonderful adventures. Over the course of 6 years I went from using Goodwill backpacks and old pots and pans from the house and a quite old K-Mart tent to much more modern lightweight gear. I had everything precisely packed, weighed and measured. I had route plans and back up route plans and the weather forecast looked to be perfect. My paddling partner not so. This was his first trip and he was anxious to say the least. I'm not sure what was stuck in his head but I did my best to relieve his nervousness.
We roused quickly and waited nearby for a gas station to open for a cup of coffee and then we were off down the Echo Trail. Arriving at #23 Mudro in a scant 30 minutes we began to unload. Not another soul was present at this early hour and we enjoyed the solitude and one on one of our first portage of the trip and my bowman (Chris) first ever portage.
Pickett Creek has been pretty low the past few years and this year was none the different. A quick stroll through the grass had us in knee deep water shortly. A quick tutorial on how and why we load the canoe the way we do and how to trim and balance once we are seated was spelled out for Chris and we were off.
Pickett Creek was a quick paddle with a couple walk through/pull overs. I was sad to see the big pine that stretched over the creek had been chain-sawed. I'm sure it was necessary but it was always a fun gauge to see the water level change from entry to exit. For the record this was my 4th time out of Mudro so I was pretty familiar with the landscape and portages etc.
We reached the end of Mudro Lake and started the portage into Sandpit. This would be Chris's first real test as the Sandpit side of the portage is pretty steep. We were double portaging and the three trips across were pretty uneventful even though our packs were stuffed and heavy!
It had been almost a year since I had undergone a total hip replacement and I was feeling the effects of it. Fortunately for me it was not ball and socket pain but more ligaments and tendons being stretched and worked hard for the first time in a year. I worried that it may get worse and I still had the Horse Portage to double portage from Basswood Lake into Basswood River.
We moved on into Sandpit, still alone in our adventure, and turned into the bay where a tiny portage led us into the wonderful Range River. For some reason I really like this little river. At first it winds through some tall marsh grasses with dark waters and opens into a boulder choked landscape with more boulders just under the surface than visible. It was here we encountered our first voyageurs. A group of young boys who seemed to hit every hidden rock and gleefully laughed and cheered each other on with calls of, "Rock up here on the left, make sure you go right" and "Dude, I told you there was a rock right in front of us!" I smiled at them and their sense of adventure and happiness made me happy. I didn't care that they were loud, they were having fun and out in the wild instead of parked in front of a video game.
We paddled the Range River until it opened up into Jackfish Bay of Basswood Lake. The first order of business was to rig up our fishing rods with some crankbaits so we could troll across the bay. With that business out of the way we began the long 8 mile paddle towards Upper Basswood Falls. According to the weather forecast we were expecting SSW winds which would have given us a perfect tail wind however as we soon found out they were more SSE which once we got out in the open developed some waves. Nothing huge but we were right in the trough and fully loaded. We were not in any immediate danger but I was worried about two things. #1. Wind usually gets stronger as the day progresses #2. I had a rookie paddler in the bow.
We made our way to site # 1571 and were going to have lunch and take a break form the non-stop paddling in the wind. After exploring the site we liked it so much we decided to stay. Our day one objective was something closer to the Basswood River but we had only one hard timeline and that was exiting on day 7. The BWCA truly was our oyster for a week and no plans were solid. Everything was 'to be determined'.
We set up camp and filtered almost 2 gallons of water, had a lunch of sausage sticks, cheese and Ritz crackers. Then we swam. It was warm and this site had a sand beach and the sand continued out into the water to shoulder deep. It was luxurious as we had worked up quite a sweat. We then relaxed and discussed our next steps, what our short term goals were for the next day and of course we discussed the long portage around Upper Basswood Falls. Chris was still pretty worried about it but I reassured him it was easy but long.
As the day progressed into evening we enjoyed our Happy Hour which consisted of a shot of Pickle Vodka each ( it is truly delicious) and for me a fruity cup of Sangria and for Chris a Crown Royal with orange gatorade. We repeated this happy hour every night of the trip. Yes it is extra weight to portage but I think it's worth it. A nice celebration to end the adventures of the day.
Dinner was bow tie pasta with diced tomatoes, Italian Sausages and parmesan cheese. It was quite good I can assure you. We eat pretty good in the BWCA. It all boils down to how much you want to carry.
We headed off to bed before dark had taken the night and were sound asleep...until the storm hit. We had left the fly off the tent being presumptuous that we would awaken if it started to rain and we could just throw the fly on real quick like. Well it wasn't the rain but the thunder that awoke me. I have no idea what time it was but I woke Chris and told him we better put the fly on as I had heard thunder. 2 minutes later we were back on our cots listening to the thunder increase in cadence and soon the rain began. It picked up in earnest and soon I was holding my hands against the tent sides for fear it would cave in due to the constant winds which I would guesstimate at 30-35 mph. The storm passed eventually and the tent did not collapse. We were using cots so we were dry and soon drifted back to sleep. ~Mudro Lake, Sandpit Lake, Basswood Lake
As I peeled the zipper open on my Alps Mountaineering Lynx 4 person tent I realized it was going to be an interesting morning breaking camp. Everything was soaked and I mean everything. After a quick breakfast of coffee and cinnamon raisin bagels slathered in peanut butter we began the arduous task of breaking camp. What normally would take 15-20 minutes took closer to an hour. Not only was everything wet but it had rained so hard that the water had splashed mud on all the gear. The tent protector sheet was solid mud on the bottom and had to be hung up for a spell and as much of the mud wiped off as we could get. In the end it was all packed but still wet which unfortunately made the packs a bit heavier than they were the day before.
We made decent time completing the 4.5 mile paddle to the portage at the top of Upper Basswood Falls. Our decision to make camp early the day before paid off in spades because there were no camps available near the falls. I saw an interesting sight near the falls at one of the camps. It appeared a group was having a sermon or religious ceremony and I remembered a trip report on here where a group had done the same thing. I saw long white robes or capes? I'm not sure what they are called but I secretly hoped it was the same group I had read about and they were up here again doing what they love and enjoying nature in all of God's glory.
We began the long portage around the falls and encountered a few groups. The folks around the falls were having a good time splashing and swimming at the top of the falls. We got some pics but mostly put our heads down and completed the double portage in 1:45 minutes. We weren't fast but just steady. We stopped halfway and took a breather for a few minutes but the skeets soon had us up and moving again. My hip was pretty irritated at this point but luckily the portage is pretty much flat so that helped.
Soon enough we were back on the water and on our way to Wheelbarrow Falls. The portage was quick and easy but the current was swirling pretty good so I didn't get any pictures. We were on a mission to get to the next camp, go for a swim and dry out all our gear.
Down the river we went and I was reminded with every paddle stroke how much I loved this area. The Basswood River is just a beautiful paddle! We encountered whitetail deer, eagles, loons, swans and even geese. I don't recall ever seeing geese in the BWCA.
We set up camp just upriver of Lower Basswood Falls at a really nice site even though it had a few big pines that had uprooted. We promptly hung up and cleaned our gear up and went for a swim. As the shadows grew longer we enjoyed our obligatory happy hour and then moved onto dinner. Tonight was Black Beans and Rice with Smoked sausage. Delish as usual.
We had a bunny venture into camp and I was able to get within 8 foot or so for a picture.
Soon enough it was off to bed and once again we left the fly off but had to wake up in the middle of the night to put it back on as a few rain showers passed through the night. Nothing like the night before.
Awake again at the crack of dawn. We are both early risers and we were greeted by a wonderful sunrise. A whitetail deer grazed across the river as the colors above it changed from purple to blue and then faded into orange as the sun began it's climb into the sky.
We were in no hurry as our next camp was to be somewhere near Thursday Bay. We enjoyed fresh coffee made in our French press cups and enjoyed another breakfast of PB and bagels. The bagels are bulky and the PB is heavy but it sure is an easy breakfast and you are rewarded with carbs and protein. We broke camp and were able to dry our gear before packing it. I think we were on the water before 9am. A quick paddle across the river to the Canadian portage around LBF and back into the water we went.
This area was quite crowded as expected and this is the first time I had seen a camp on the Canadian portage trail and it was a big one. They had the whole area covered. They were still sleeping when we went by the first time but a few had arisen on our second trip. I had no idea if they were Quetico campers or illegal BWCA campers. I wasn't going to ask and I just hoped everyone was following rules. I'll be honest though it sucks having a camp in one of the most scenic spots as it takes away from the beauty of the falls and in order to see all of it you would have to walk through their campsite. I snapped a few pics best I could and we moved on.
Our paddle into Crooked Lake was amazing as usual. This may be in the top three of my favorite areas. The lake twists and turns and granite outcroppings appear around every bend. Small bays full of grasses and water lilly are tucked into hidden corners. We passed our first occupied camp and a lady in a solo was chatting with two gentlemen. The men solicited us for whiskey and cigarettes and stated that they would pay! We laughed and told them we had neither. The cigarettes' was a true statement but we were not giving up the small amount of whiskey we carried in our pack. From that point on we never saw another soul until we reached our next camp between Wed/Thurs Bay.
Camp # 1859 I had stayed at this camp on my first ever BWCA trip and I had wanted to get back to it ever since. It's a great site, high up on a double tired granite step. Perfect for one or two tents but one is the best. We stayed here for 3 nights. We had been trolling the entire time once we passed LBF and had acquired enough fish for a delectable dinner of fish tacos with Mexican Rice. To say it was great would most likely be an understatement. Of course we had happy hour as well which may or may not have been extended as we knew we were "home: for a few day.
Off to bed we went right as the skeets made their nightly appearance. ~Crooked Lake
Today we fish! We had breakfast, secured camp and hit the water early. The sun had yet to grace us with its presence. I loaded the food barrel into the canoe for ballast as well as for any wandering bears' sake. We headed north towards Thursday bay.
I have always taken a fish finder and placed the transducer under my seat in a baggie full of water and shot through the hull with it. It works but this year I purchased a mount for it and was able to place it directly in the water. It worked so much better and I could get surface temps too. Today the surface temp was around 74 degrees.
We trolled all the way into Thursday Bay paying special attention to all the neck downs, currents and little islands. That's where the majority of the fish were. To put it lightly we smashed 'em and not just little fish either.
Our two biggest fish were a 38" Northern and a 26" walleye. The best thing is they were both caught at the same time. There is a neck down at an island just north of site 1858 and we repeatedly caught fish here. We trolled back and forth through there a few times. There is a shallow weed flat just before you get into the neck down and it's fairly shallow through it as well but right where it begins to open back up it drops off about 8' and its like a little glory hole!
Little current and Big current were productive as well and as luck would have it I finally seen my first otters up there. Just on the north side of Thursday Bay we had made a turn to head back east and south when I heard a weird wheezing sound. From videos at home I knew exactly what it was. A family of otters were swimming away rom an island right toward us. We stopped paddling and watched them float on their backs and talk to us for a minute before they slipped under the surface and out of sight. I was ecstatic. I had wanted to see otters more than I wanted to see a moose.
We fished the entire area for most of the day and even caught fish through 2pm. Nary a soul in site all day. It was like we were in another world where nobody existed. I couldn't believe it was this empty up here. This is a popular area for fishing and camping but even more so for a thoroughfare for loop trippers yet it was empty. I was extremely thankful and we counted our blessing as well as our fish!
We returned to camp and tied a long paracord to a tree and backed the canoe out as far as the paracord would reach and dropped the stringer of fish. It was about 20 foot deep and they were still quite lively when we pulled them out for dinner.
We kept an extra fish or two more than the night before so we feasted on nothing but pan fried fish for dinner. Fat and content we enjoyed a beautiful sky, saw another deer and discovered that there was an eagles nest up the hill behind our site. We had numerous sightings of the parent eagle/s and it wasn't until the next day when we went on a hike I actually discovered what tree the nest was in. I couldn't really see the nest but I could hear the eagles chick talking and the ground below was a pretty good indicator as well.
Today we fished again and to begin we headed south into the bay. We caught smallmouth, walleye and pike but threw them all back as once we fished this bay we were headed back north again to the honey holes. The wind was up a little but nothing to worry about. Chris was getting his paddling down pretty good and he had lost all of the premonitions in his head from the beginning of the trip. He had settled in and was enjoying himself immensely.
We turned north, anxious for the action of the honey holes, and trolled our way back to the land of the fish. We caught a couple small ones on the way up there but as fishing goes something had turned off the bite and we were unable to put any fish on the stringer. I didn't mind so much as we also explore the area checking out a few sites and getting out to stretch legs and backs. Have I said how much I love this area?
We soon found ourselves back at camp, did some hiking behind camp up to the top of the giant cliff. What a view. After gathering up some firewood we headed back to camp. Tonight's dinner was pizza. Quite simple to make with a tortilla covered in squeeze bottle pizza sauce, mozzarella string cheese (keeps very well) and pepperoni to top. Cover that with another tortilla and drop it on to the skillet over the fire. Flip until you like the way it looks and devour.
Once again we were off to bed as the skeets made their way into camp.
Today was kind of a sad day. Sad to leave this camp, sad to leave the great fishing, sad to leave the eagles. However, There was still a bit more new adventure to come. Our original plan was to head out Friday bay and come out through Fourtown into Mudro but we decided to back track. My hip was not bothering me anymore but I had developed a pinched nerve or something in my shoulder and really did not want to deal with the 300 rod portage into Gun Lake. So we backtracked...but not all the way.
Left camp pretty early. We had everything prepped and ready to go the night before. The food barrel was so much lighter now and we were able to spread out the weight a bit more evenly between the portage pack and the food barrel. We headed back towards LBF and stopped for a pic of the pictograph wall.
We portaged around LBF and back into the river and headed west to the Horse River. The plan was to hopefully find a camp on Tin Can Mike for the last night. We couldn't stay on Horse Lake as we were a Mudro restricted permit.
Our journey up the Horse River was a pleasant one. It was my 2nd time on the Horse River. Lot's of rice to paddle through to get into the main river but it was easy enough. We encountered a family of swans on the way.
Entering the main flow of the Horse River there were the marked portages and just a couple pull throughs/lift overs. We never had to leave the water to navigate the obstacles and they were kind of fun. The current would pick up as the water was squeezed between the exposed boulders and slow and steady was the name of the game. We passed a whitetail buck at least a 7-8 points grazing in the water and we were able to paddle by at about 30 yard and he stood there watching us. I couldn't believe he didn't take off. I should have gotten a picture but I figured as soon as I got within range of a decent pic he would have been gone anyways so I never took out the phone for a pic. A beautiful river and it was enjoyed thoroughly. Upon entering the bay into Horse Lake we encountered a submerged boulder that leaned us to one side pretty good. We didn't tip but it was comical at best being stuck on a rock in the middle of a larger area of water. Horse Lake looked pretty vacant from what we could see. It was in the middle of the day but the wind was picking up a bit so maybe that kept folks shore-bound. For us it was a quartering tail wind that had both of us paddling one side of the canoe to maintain a straight bearing. We soon hit the portage into Tin Can Mike and snagged the east side campsite. This camp was pretty beat up and had a big hornets nest way up in the pines which explained the constant bald faced hornets flying around camp. They didn't bother us and we didn't bother them. We didn't do much at this camp. Mostly lounged around. We were close to exit point and we could just chill now and have an easy morning. Dinner tonight was Bear Creek vegetable soup with egg noodles. It's very yummy and has been a staple on my trips. We hit the sack early again.
The lakes were small and once we finished the steep climb on the portage between Sandpit and Mudro the trip was all but over. A quick paddle across Mudro and soon our feet found asphalt which is always a bit of a weird feeling after being in the bush for 7 days. We unpacked the canoe and loaded the truck and before we knew it we were headed to town.
Upon arriving in Ely VNO unloaded our canoe and graced us with an ice cold beer. We usually get a nice dinner on our exit night but Ely was pretty slow and many of our usual places were not even open so we opted for a pizza delivery and grabbed a few cold beers. Hot showers, cold beer and pizza. Not a bad way to end the trip. Later that evening we had a nice chat with Tanner from VNO. Super cool guy. He's the type of guy you could sit for hours on end just chatting away. Purchased some souvenirs for the wife and kid and soon enough we were headed for the racks.
We left VNO around 3 am headed back to Michigan. A long 14 hour drive but soon enough we pulled into my driveway. Another year, another trip and another great set of memories. I only wished I lived closer so it would be easier to take more trips.
For me the BWCA brings a sense of wonderment, history, adventure but mostly peace. I have been to few places where I could just sit and stare and not be bored. Lost in the beauty, lost in the thoughts of the history that has passed the very ground beneath my feet. There is a sense of freedom and a sense of recovery as if you had been lost and now found. A recharging of the soul. Until next year my friend,