BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
January 19 2020
Number of Permits per Day: 14
Elevation: 1324 feet
"This trip will be taking off from Fall Lake up through Newton Falls portage onto Pipestone Bay campsites. 3 day, 2 night trip into the wilderness.
First trip! 5 days Basswood Falls
July 29, 2014
Mudro Lake (23)
Number of Days:
Basswood Lake, Fall Lake, Newton Lake
This was our first time in the BWCA and the excitement was simply overflowing for both of us to get under way. We had arrived at our outfitter the day prior and went over our equipment and spent the night in the bunkhouse.
We woke at 6am and got our selves ready. Had a quick breakfast at 7 that the outfitter provided and we were in the truck by 7:40 headed for Fall Lake. We pulled up right at 8:00 and there was a towboat waiting for us with our canoe already loaded up top and two men waiting to help us load our gear. This was our first view of the Boundary Waters and it took a minute to sink in that we were actually there! It was mostly sunny, 75 F and a little windy. Seemed like the perfect day.
We boarded our tow boat and made our way towards the northern most part of the motor zone to be dropped off. The tow would take us through Fall and Newton Lakes and into Basswood Lake. The entire boat ride there, which was about a hour and twenty minutes total with portages, we never saw another person. I was not at all prepared to portage a motor boat. The thought hadn't occurred to me until I was jumping out and helping to lift it to get the portage wheels underneath and then sprinting with the boat uphill over rocky terrain against the wind... It was probably because of the adrenaline and excitement that I was able to help out as much as I did. I'm not as young as I once was. After 2 portages with the boat we were dropped off near campsite 1558 which was not occupied. By now it was about 9:00am, our towboat driver left and we were a pretty good way into the Boundary Waters. We spent about an hour just getting ourselves prepared and oriented. Loaded the canoe and started to paddle for Basswood Falls. The paddle to the first portage took some time. We were taking our time just looking everywhere and taking in the beauty. It didn't take me too long to adjust to the speed of our travel versus the map. I began to easily identify land points and islands which made me feel much more comfortable navigating this vast area. At one point, about and hour after we paddled away from our drop point, we were paddling past a point that had a campsite and an older gentleman sitting by himself at camp. We wave to him. About 5 seconds later he yells to us: "You're holding the paddle the wrong way" At first I laughed like he was joking, but then I realized we were using bent shaft paddles (never had before) and so we both flipped out paddles around and what do you know! Paddling suddenly seemed easier! About 5 more seconds and he yells; "THATS how they are SUPPOSED to work!" Pride only mildly bruised. Fortunately he said something to us or we probably would have paddled the whole trip with the paddles backwards. I'm sure he was thinking..."NOOBS"
We probably got to the first portage around 12:30. This was the portage around Upper Basswood Falls. The one that's 340r and would soon try to break our will. This portage was pretty busy. There were a couple of larger groups coming and going and I was a little surprised to see so many people, but I knew this was a popular area, so I just got on the trail as soon as it was clear. We tried to single portage, but it was too much for us. We had to stop several times along the way. Near the half way point along this monster portage a thunderstorm swept over us rather quickly. We dropped the canoe and both packs and grabbed our rain gear. I had frogg toggs for us both and they came in handy! They kept us dry throughout the storm which only lasted a short while. We opted to leave the canoe around the half way point of the portage and return for it because it was slowing us even more to go 150 feet and rest. There was enough of a clearing to do that and that worked for us. What a way to start our trip. We were both exhausted and wet. But somehow those things didn't dampen our spirits. We knew where we were headed and enthusiastically got back in to paddle.
There were some very mild looking rapids after that portage. We saw a group of 2 canoes go through but opted to safely portage around them even though we were tired. There really isn't a portage marked on the map at this spot. I imagine the water level was higher and that made it look more intimidating.
As we continued up Basswood River, we were about to portage around a set of rapids and we noticed the campsite near the portage was empty. I told my partner that it would probably be a good idea to stop for the day, as we were tired and still needed to set up camp. She reluctantly agreed, but was happy later that we made the decision.
We unloaded and looked around. This was site 1542 I believe. It was really private because it was on a narrow part of the river giving it some cozy feeling and the end of the river in both directions were obscured by peninsulas jetting out. Also the gentle sound of rapids played in the background. It was a nice little site. The camp furniture was sparse, but we made the best of it. Best part was we didn't see another person or canoe for the rest of the day. It was like our own private paradise for a while.
As I was telling my partner I was glad we had stopped because sites up ahead closer to the falls might be full, Mother Nature churned up a cold wind and we saw flashes of lightning up North. We immediately went into "get the tent ready" mode and our pace and heart rates quickened as the storm grew more imminent with each minute. We scrambled to get it set up in the wind before the rain got to us. The tent pad was quite a ways back from the water, so it took some time to move stuff back there. We managed to get our packs under tarp and the rest of our stuff in the tent about 2 seconds before the downpour came. I am not even exaggerating. I zipped the tent door closed and we waited the storm out which lasted about 30 minutes. It cleared, briefly, and I went out to check the site when another hard downpour rolled in. Back to the tent for another round. After it cleared we had a peaceful evening. We were able to get a fire started and make dinner. After we ate I fished a few casts off shore and caught a little Northern, about 18" on a Jig and Leech near a downed tree limb. I thought it was a Bass when I hooked it. This was the only fish I wasn't able to get a photo of. It was also my only fish that night. I was too tired to do any more fishing.
Alarm went off at 6am but we both ignored getting up for another hour and a half. We were feeling the pain of that mile long portage! After waking and making coffee I made us breakfast which consisted of bacon and over medium eggs. This would be our last non-dried meal of the trip. It hit the SPOT! We cleaned up camp, packed up and hit the water by 10:00. I wasn't upset at getting a late start. We wanted to move at an easy pace and we were both happy with where we were.
As we paddled away from our site we entered a larger stretch of water heading North just before Wheelbarrow Falls. As we paddled Northward we saw ominous clouds moving our direction and heard distant thunder. A light rain started to descend. I could tell it was blowing off of the larger storm moving towards us. I opted to stop short of the Wheelbarrow Falls portage because I didn't want to be on this big stretch of open water if that storm came. We pulled off on a long peninsula and covered everything with the canoe and prepared. As we waited we made lunch of Salami & Mustard on Pita with a handful of trail mix.
The storm never hit us, it blew by to the West, so we continued towards the Wheelbarrow falls portage. As we approached I was having a hard time locating the portage visually. I saw what appeared to be a relatively flat large rock which was "near" where I thought the portage was. As we got close I realized it wasn't, but wanted to stop just for a minute to get my bearings and make sure we were not going to paddle over the falls :) I went to exit the canoe and place one foot on the rock outside and when I shifted my weight to that side my foot slipped and I fell. I instinctively grabbed the closest thing which was the side of the canoe. I successfully dumped my partner and almost all of our gear! Fortunately there was enough rock below the canoe to keep us from going under. We were able to save the canoe from totally flipping and thankfully nothing fell out besides us. But the canoe was pretty full of water and everything in it was soaked. My partner was NOT happy! I felt terrible, as I am usually pretty good on my feet. We had to unload the canoe, dump out all the water, reload it and get in. Had this happened 2 feet farther from shore it may have been a LOT worse than it was. We were absolutely soaked, as was our gear, but we were safe.
By now, after all the commotion, another canoe had approached and I saw where the portage was and we headed that direction which was just a hundred feet closer to the falls. This portage wasn't bad. Half way through I got a very strong smell of pine. It smelled so good! It filled the air everywhere along the entire remainder of the portage. Once I got to the end I saw why...there was a very large, newly downed tree right at the portage into the falls. It was fresh and smelled amazing.
We entered the water again below Wheelbarrow Falls and continued on the river. We got to the portage around lower Basswood Falls which was very easy to see. It was also a little busy. A couple larger groups of younger guys, maybe youth groups. The portage was shallow and sandy like a beach. It was a nice easy place to land thankfully. We portaged around the falls and put in at the bottom ready to continue on. As we paddled away from and marveled at the falls, we both noticed that the campsite up on the small cliff side facing the falls appeared to be unoccupied. Even though it was still a little early in the day we were absolutely ecstatic to be able to take this site! We pulled the canoe over to the site entrance and I walked up just to make sure no one was there. Sure enough, it was ours! I called Carly up to see the view and we both got lost in the sheer marvelous beauty. One of Carly's biggest hopes was to camp below the falls and we just hit the jackpot. We were so happy that we decided we would layover here so we could spend the extra time in this extraordinary place! I will never forget the time here. The constant powerful sound of the falls just never ending as we looked around at some of the most beautiful scenery we had ever been able to be part of. We saw an Eagle that night fly nearby and perch on a tree for hours just watching, sharpening his claws. We stayed up late marveling at the solitude and sound of nature over a campfire that slowly dimmed until the stars began to really show. We had sore necks the next morning because we probably stood and starred for more than an hour with no break. We saw a small shooting star and counted how many satellites we could see. The sky was never so alive! As the fire died, the thought of falling asleep to the sound of the falls was very appealing, as was the thought of no agenda the next day, just relax and explore. Our route plan was supposed to take us through Thursday and Friday Bay down through Gun, but since we found this spot we decided to layover and take Horse River back.
6am Alarm and got up right about then. Couldn't wait to get coffee going. The nights have been pretty cold and that hot coffee in the morning is even more appealing. Whats even better is, the coffee our outfitter supplied was awesome! And we are both coffee snobs. We brought our own Peets, but opted to leave it behind after tasting the outfitters blend. As I got coffee going I had to admire the light mist on the water and the morning sun breaking through. This was one of those moments that I realized the pictures were never going to tell the story like we saw it. But we took many photos anyways, mostly to remind ourselves of the adventure we had and not so much to convince others of the beauty we experienced.
Breakfast today would be oatmeal. Carly scavenged around for berries and found very few. This obviously is a popular campsite, so anything nearby was pretty picked over.
Since we decided to layover here and enjoy the beauty, we got to do some exploring. Carly had been wanting to swim, so she took an early dive into the water, which was very cold, but she enjoyed it. I did not similarly appreciate the slightly frigid glacial water, but ultimately later in the day partook of one dive into the lake.
After the swim we wanted to explore the area around camp and gather fire wood for the night. We hiked for a couple of hours and got to the really high point between two of the bays. We never quite got to the other side to see the water, but we saw some amazing foliage, downed trees, cliffs, bugs. Hordes of red ants living in the rocks. I got to get very up close and personal with a golden dragonfly! I had the camera practically touching him and he was just posing. Macro lens worked great!
After hiking and cutting wood for the night we decided to jump in the canoe and paddle around the lower falls area. Carly wanted to go back to the portage to do some falls photography and exploring so we paddled across the lake to the portage and pulled the canoe out. While she photographed, I fished. I threw a deeper running lipped crankbait out into the churning water and dragged it back. I caught a few bass like that in the few minutes I was standing there. Moving water seemed to be a great spot to fish.
After fishing and photography we paddled back to camp for a bit, then went out in the canoe again for some fishing. We didn't catch anything while in the canoe, but found this little log cabin ranger station. It was weird to see. It was the only man made structure we had seen in days. The windows were boarded up and there was a no trespassing sign, property of USA on it. Paddled back to camp after some unsuccessful fishing. I got dinner going and made a fire. We fished just a bit more that night right from camp. Carly, who had been wanting to catch a fish, finally got into the walleyes! Except it was the same size as the lure :) It still counts! It would be another amazing night of the sound of waterfalls as we stayed warm around the campfire looking at the sky's endless star display. It was going to be sad to leave this place tomorrow.
We knew we had to leave today, so we got things packed up pretty quickly after breakfast. Our plan was to paddle about 6 hours up the Horse River into Fourtown and set up camp there for our last night.
To this point I haven't mentioned much about bugs. Here's why: I treated all of our clothing and gear with the Sawyer Permethrin Spray stuff. I also carried a Thermacell which, by the way, placed strategically next to the latrine 10 minutes prior to use makes for a MUCH more comfortable visit! I swear by it's effectiveness! We used 100% deet for cuffs and stuff and OTB Abyss shoes to help keep out leeches and stuff. My partner experienced a couple of bad nights on her legs, but they were tight fitting and thin material. Lesson learned for next trip. So bug report for the whole trip...loads of mosquitoes at dusk and dawn, otherwise not too bad. Horse flies on horse river were pretty annoying, glad I had a hat and head net.
I think we broke camp by 8:30 and were on our way. We paddled up the Horse River which proved to be way more of a challenge than we were anticipating. There are 3 or 4 portages along the river which make for a lot of loading and unloading time. But even worse were the 6 or 8 set of rapids that had no portage. We had to wade through ankle to knee deep rapids on slippery rocks guiding the canoe along. It was also a time consuming process. By the time we got out of the river and into Horse lake we were already much later than we wanted to be. I think it had to be 4 or 5. We paddled all of Horse Lake only to find every campsite was taken. We found the portage over to Fourtown Lake where we met 2 other groups of travelers that we in a similar situation. They were all in search of a site. We were the slowest since we were tired and least experienced so those two groups moved ahead of us into Fourtown. There were more rapids involved here to add to our exhaustion and frustration. We made it into Fourtown and saw that one of the groups had gotten the first site right at the entrance to the lake. We felt optimistic. We paddled north only to find all sites taken. We crossed over to the West side and past every campsite that was take, we kept on South and found no campsites. We practically paddled every inch of Fourtown and never found a site. We had one nice couple offer to share their site with us, but we still have 4 more site to check on the lake and we were certain we would get one. Nope. We happened across a larger group, 2 families camping together that occupied 2 sites adjacent to one another. They offered for us to come and share with them. They showed us a rebel site which was next to theirs. Had a fire ring and just enough space for a small tent. By now, we had been paddling about 11 hours and decided that this would have to do. Totally exhausted we unload the canoe and begin to set up the tent at around 9. Despite the rough day, we were sad that tomorrow we would be paddling our way out of the wilderness. This site offered some firsts on our trip. We had a Western view so as we were getting things set up we had a beautiful sunset. We also had the company of a beaver who paddled around the front of our camp for quite some time.
I had determined that we needed 5 hours to get where we were going and we were being picked up at 3:00 so we planned to leave camp the next morning by 10am
We made a fire for a short while then gazed in sheer amazement at the sky with more stars than could even be imagined.
Another early morning. 6am and got the coffee going right away. Carly got up and we both fished for about half an hour right from camp. Caught a small northern, couple bass and a couple walleye. Just enough to keep our spirits up. We made breakfast while I collected about 5 pounds of blueberries! Since we were not at an actual campsite, the blueberry bushes were abundant! In an hour I was able to pick a huge bowlful! We had a nice oatmeal and blueberry breakfast and started to pack up camp. After the day we had yesterday, there weren't too many worries for obstacles today, as we were very close to our exit point. We managed to leave camp right on time at 10:00 as planned. The morning paddle was mostly uneventful as we slowly made our way out of Fourtown into Mudro. There were a couple more carry overs and then the very intimidating portage between Fourtown and Mudro. Very steep, big jagged rocks, mostly uphill, sheer drop offs a hundred feet down only inches off the portage path, a couple of downed trees to contend with. It was like the end of boot camp. Oh, you thought you were out of here? Haha! Here's one more punch to your quads that already can't function. At one point along this portage I stopped to sit for a couple minutes and drink some water. When I went to stand back up I literally could not do it. I was trying, but the fatigue combined with the weight of the pack just left me in a squatted position. I had to ask my partner to help me straighten up, then I was fine. We were just about done. The one phrase we kept repeating aloud to give us strength was "BACON CHEESEBURGER". We kept saying it over and over again like zombies. It was the vision of the bacon cheeseburger that gave us the strength to finish our mission :) Once that portage was cleared it was a mostly simple paddle across Mudro and through the marshy winding creek that leaves you by the parking lot. We saw a blue heron right next to us as we paddled through. As we got to the portage, and the end of our journey we both felt a relief that we were there. I was overwhelmed knowing what we had accomplished and what we had seen and experienced together out there in the wild. I was moved to tears at the combination of exhaustion and desire to never leave this place and felt a true sense of pride for having done it. As ready as we were to go sleep in a real bed and eat a real cheeseburger, we were not ready to leave this place. We were in the parking lot at 2:45 and our ride showed up just a couple minutes later. The half hour ride back was surreal. First time moving so fast in days. Saw a couple of nice views of lakes on the drive back but nothing like what we had just experienced. The only thing to do now is start planning the next one.