BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
March 06 2021
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.
The trouble with beavers - Father and Son first trip
June 12, 2020
Number of Days:
We got a bit of a late start this morning. I underestimated the sleeping power of a 21 year old male and how long it would take to pack up camp. That would turn into a consistent routine for the trip. We were supposed to have a tow from our outfitter at 8:30, but ended up getting there close to 9:00. I called to let them know and it was fine. LaTourell’s did a great job getting us set up for this. I’d use them again in a heartbeat. Anyway we get our canoe rental squared away, had them show us how to flip it up on our shoulders and were off on the tow to splash lake. Luke from LaTourell’s had a pickup in the area, but not for a while, so he helped us walk our gear in. The extra hands made for a quick single portage. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] As we’re setting our stuff down in Splash lake, a group was unloading coming the other way and another group of older gentlemen were coming into the portage, so I felt a bit rushed. We threw everything in the canoe and shoved off. I was trying not to be in others way. In hindsight I’d have been better off taking a minute and getting all squared away. The older gentleman must have thought we were total putzes with how we handled the boat getting out the portage area and into the lake. Especially since we soon realized we were in the canoe backwards. Yup I mixed up the back and front of the canoe. I share this detail for two reasons, first hoping you all get a kick out of it, and second because it comes up again in a couple days. Looking back on it, it’ll make one heck of a memory. As we tried to paddle out across Splash lake I was really struggling to handle the boat. I’d done this before and knew it shouldn’t have been this difficult. Any little turn and the wind was grabbing the boat and spinning us around. I was really frustrated and just couldn’t figure it out! Finally we realized our mistake and one at a time carefully turned around. Now Brock was in the back of the boat and has almost no paddling experience. I told him what to do to steer and we managed to make it across the lake to the Ensign portage without more issues. I’d have loved to of seen us from another boat. We must have just looked like total fools! [paragraph break] The portage into Ensign was unremarkable except for how busy it was. Again several groups coming and going. I wanted to get our fishing rods rigged up before heading across Ensign, but the portage was not the place to do it. We moved down shore a ways and took a few minutes to get squared away before heading out. We trolled across Ensign and ended up catching our only walleye of the trip. This lake was our first long stretch of paddling. By mid-way across the lake we seemed to be doing okay at it. We stopped for our BLT lunch at one of the few open campsites on the south shore. We’d been pushing against a south east wind so far and were ready for a break anyway. I’d originally hoped to drop into Ashigan to fish but realized we didn’t have time for that, so on we went. [paragraph break] Reaching the east end of the lake, we turned north and headed for the Vera portage. I’d heard this portage was a beast and oddly we were looking forward to it as our first challenging portage. The two so far hardly even counted as portages. It did not disappoint, although really I’d call it a good hike, not the monster impassable hill some reports would have you think it is. It’s got a couple climbs but it’s not bad. I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again. We double portaged and on the way back I stopped up on top of the hill to get a picture. I decided to check to see if I had cell service and did. I surprised my wife with a quick phone call to say hi then shut the phone back down and moved on. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] Vera is a beautiful lake with a lot less people, but there was another group a bit ahead of us. I thought they may be headed for the highest rated site on the south side, and they were. We took the site on the north shore, it is also a great site and worked just fine. After setting camp up we paddled back out to gather some wood and to fish a bit, then went back to cook our brats for dinner. We went back out again to try for some dusk fishing. No luck fishing on this lake at all. [paragraph break] This night was going to be really clear skies, so I set an alarm for 12:30 in the morning to wake up and see the stars. I wanted to get a photo of the milky way as well. I’m a skilled photographer but night star pictures are something I’ve had limited practice with and I wanted this chance. The stars were amazing! I loved seeing it. The photo didn’t turn out to my standards but it’s okay.
~Splash Lake, Ensign Lake, Vera Lake
We got going earlier this morning, but still not early enough. The goal for the day was to make it to Kekakabic then we’d rest there a day. We had a lot of water and many portages to cover today. As we went into Trader we saw a group ahead of us headed toward Missionary, so we decided to walk back into Neglige and check it out. We didn’t take the canoe or gear just walked it with the fishing poles. The portage is an interesting one. I’d take gear back there, but only if staying a couple days. It is tight and twisty with some steep rock faces to deal with. Nothing unpassable but a challenge. I fished from shore for a few minutes with no luck then we walked back. That is a lake I’m hoping to get back to someday to stay a while. [paragraph break] Moving on to Missionary, we fished for lake trout here. The wind was once again not our friend and made it difficult. We spent way too much time and lost way too much tackle on this lake with zero luck. By the time we moved on it was early-afternoon already. [paragraph break] The portage into Skoota was the most challenging portage so far. Again very passable, just longer and narrower than we’d dealt with so far. We ran into an older couple on the portage and the brief chat with them turned out to be our last conversation with anyone but ourselves for the next couple days. Skoota was the first lake we’d not seen anyone else on. It is a gem of a lake with lots of islands. We trolled spoons for pike around the islands on the south shore and caught half a dozen nice pike in the 26”-29” range. They were a lot of fun. At this point the wind was getting serious. It was becoming a real challenge for our inexperienced selves to deal with. We debated on holding up here or on Dix for the night but really wanted a rest day tomorrow so decided to push to Kekakabic. We stopped to scarf down some food before paddling straight through Dix and into Spoon. I was very worried about what Kek would look like coming in on the north shore with these strong south winds. [paragraph break] Spoon was another lake I’d have liked to spend more time on, but as it turned out we’d paddle it’s length tomorrow. The portage to Pickle is short and steep. The landing is easy to miss. Just listen for the moving water. The winds we’d been fighting all afternoon were whipping even little pickle lake into a bit more than I was comfortable paddling. Since we were headed straight into it and the distance was short we went ahead. Soon enough we were out of the worst of the waves with no issue. By this point it was getting late, at least 4PM. I’d been keeping an eye out for and noting empty campsites in case Kek was what I was expecting it to be. Several sites were open and the area was generally pretty open. Coming into Pickle we could see the site just west of the portage to Kek was open as well. We unloaded at the portage and foolishly grabbed the heavy load first. We walked the portage and laid eyes on Kek. The wind was hard out of the south at this point. I took one look at the lake and knew I wasn’t going to paddle it. The waves were rolling white caps at least a foot and half high. Maybe with more skill and maybe if we hadn’t been worn out, but as it was it was a no go. [paragraph break] We back tracked and headed for the open site on Pickle by the portage. It turned out it was open for a reason. The site is up on a large rock outcropping. It makes for great view, but not much for good tent pads. The latrine was overgrown with wild roses. Pretty but the thorns were no fun. Anyway it was late enough now that this was home for the evening. We got camp set up but had no desire to go find wood, so the steaks became steak bites cooked over the stove instead of steaks over the fire. Diner hit the spot and we both turned in early. [paragraph break] ~Vera Lake, Trader Lake, Neglige Lake, Missionary Lake, Skoota Lake, Dix Lake, Spoon Lake, Pickle Lake, Kekekabic Lake, Pickle Lake
The next morning we still had hopes of making it to Kek with a nice short day today. The wind had been blowing all night and was about the same so I wasn’t hopeful. We decided to give Kek another look just to see. This time we took the light packs first. Sure enough it was again rolling white caps with a strong south wind. There was another group of two canoes less than 100 yards off shore working their way into the wind. They seemed to just be standing still. We debated trying it, even thinking if we could cut across and get into the long east end it might not be so bad. But, we had to remind ourselves that not 48 hours prior we’d gotten into the boat backwards, and had no real knowledge of how to handle a boat in those conditions. Plus we were both quite run down from the long day prior and needed a lighter day today. So, safety won out and we decided we wouldn’t be spending anytime on Kekakabic this trip. We did stand in the lake just to say we did. [paragraph break]
Our original plan was to spend two nights on Kek then travel to Eddy or the South Arm of the Knife for two more nights before starting to head back via the border route. With Kek being out we decided to go through Sema instead. We figured we could get there today, then spend three nights in one camp. We back tracked up to Spoon and headed east. This really is a beautiful lake and despite being quote worn down we really enjoyed paddling it. We just took our time and enjoyed the views. I was surprised at how sparse the trees were on the north east side. Most of the forests we’d seen so far were very dense, almost impassable. This was a barren hillside with a few trees here are there. Even a few burnt trees looking like a fire had hit the are a few years ago, but I don’t see record of one on the maps I’ve seen showing fire history. If anyone knows the story on this area I’d love to find out. [paragraph break]
As we neared the far end of Spoon it was clear we were once again in lands less traveled. The portage into the first pond between Spoon and Sema was a little challenging to locate and one of the least traveled we’d seen so far, but otherwise unremarkable. The pond itself was very different than the waters we’d traveled so far. It had lots of tall reed type weed beds. We spent a few minutes tossing weed-less style baits around with no luck before paddling on. The portage into the next pond is where things got interesting. This portage was the first one of the trip we’d had difficulty finding. A beaver had built a large dam just west of the actual portage which changed things a bit. At the time I thought this was the end of the pond and in looking around, I couldn’t see an obvious way past the dam. I climbed out and swamp stomped my way around looking for the portage. I located it and then realized the dam was not the real portage and hence no obvious way around it. [paragraph break]
I came back the canoe to get the first load. On stepping over the dam I stepped on a large slippery rock. Both feet slipped out from under me, and I flew up into the air – think cartoon style – and I landed hard on that rock, right on my tailbone. I don’t know that I actually flew, but it felt like I did, so I’m saying I did. Either way it hurt, really bad and. Now I was up to my armpits in cold water on a cool overcast windy day. Any energy I had left was gone. It was a wind out of the sails kind of moment. As I stood there cursing and trying to stand up I knew I was hurt. I just wasn’t sure how bad yet. Brock had slipped and cut his knee up as well while waiting for me. After a few minutes to compose ourselves as many horrible thoughts coursed through my mind, we grabbed the pack and canoe and moved on. I was able to walk okay, but my back and buttocks really hurt. The second trip and actual portage was nothing special after the fall on the dam. Getting back into the canoe at the next pond was interesting. I was in a lot of pain. Sitting on anything really hurt and we were only on day three! I knew this wasn’t good. [paragraph break]
The 2nd pond was even more of a shift in the landscape. It was even more marsh like. This was the first time I’d truly had trouble navigating. Granted I probably wasn’t thinking clearly, thanks to the pain, but we struggled to find the portage. I used the GPS app (Gaia GPS) on my phone to help and found it right where it should have been. Up and over a steep little portage into Sema we went. [paragraph break]
At this point we headed for the campsite on Sema to dry off, have some lunch, and reassess our situation to decide what to do. I was cold from being wet and knew I had to get dry soon before things went from bad to worse. I threw on my rain jacket to help stay warm while we paddled to the site. It’s really a shame I didn’t get to enjoy Sema. It’s another lake off the beaten path that’s worth a visit. The camp site was small but workable for our purposes and some wonderful soul had left a stack of wood cut and ready by the fire grate. We started a fire right away to warm up and dry off. The breeze was blowing up through the narrow path of trees up into the site making a great place to hang my shirt to dry. I used the fire to stay warm and dry my shorts. [paragraph break]
After a bit of a rest, dry clothes , and a hot lunch of refried beans, rice, cheese and crushed up Fritos – and let me tell you that hit the spot – we decided to push on and get to the south arm of the knife. Only one more portage to go. There were several highly rated sites near where that portage came in and once there we planned to find a site and stay put for a couple nights. [paragraph break]
The landing for the portage is deceiving. It tricks you with a nice wide sandy beach. The portage quickly goes down the figurative hill from there. This was our first experience with a muddy portage. Without the mud the 200 rod portage wouldn’t have been bad at all, but given how dry it had been I doubt it’s even any better. In wetter years it would be very difficult. While my sandals with wool socks had performed admirably to this point, here I was wishing for a good pair of boots. We both ended up falling into the mud at least once and lost a shoe or two in the process. Eventually we made it across. The trip back without gear and the second lighter trip were both far easier. It really hit me how much your mobility is compromised carrying a canoe over your head or 70 lbs. on your back. [paragraph break] The site we were hoping for (1432) was just to our northeast. It was taken, but the one across the channel was open, so site 1431 became our home for the next three nights. It’s a great site that was too big for just the two of us. It could easily hold 9 people. I almost felt bad taking it, almost. It was starting to rain a little so we setup the tarp first then got the rest of camp up. We were both exhausted at this point. So much for a lighter day. I told Brock he could sleep in as late as he wanted the next day as we had no plans at all. Had beef stroganoff for dinner and turned in early. [paragraph break] ~Kekekabic Lake, Pickle Lake, Spoon Lake, Sema Lake, South Arm Knife Lake
I was up early and in a lot of pain this morning. I got up and going had some coffee, snacks, and pain meds then explored the trails around camp and hung out until Brock got up. We made biscuits, gravy, and ova-easy eggs for breakfast. Biscuits fried up like a thick pancake worked out really well. [paragraph break]
Brock had developed a substantial blister on one foot by now that wasn’t looking too good, so we decided to try to keep it dry today. We wanted to try our luck fishing the deep bay between our site and a little cove to the southwest. It looked like a good place to gather some wood as well. We trolled for lakers then tried our luck in the cove at some bass. Despite being able to see the bass swimming below us, we couldn’t get a bite to save our lives. [paragraph break] We gathered some washed up dry beaver wood from near a lodge in the area. After the dam yesterday I didn’t mind stealing some of it now. This is when we coined the catch phrase for the trip. “Beaver are a$$holes.”. Every time we saw a dam or lodge from now on that was what we said. [paragraph break] Today, especially this afternoon and evening, was a low point for me. As we were out on the water it was getting hot and I was hurting. Getting in and out to gather wood was almost as bad as just sitting. Brock would have done it, but with trying to keep his foot dry, I did instead. I was terrified of falling again and making it worse. I was starting to wonder if I wasn’t over my head with this trip and if I’d be able pull my weight getting us out of here. I knew it was just the pain and that we had at least one more day of resting before we had to go anywhere so I just went with it. See what tomorrow brings. I ended up showing Brock how to make our dehydrated chili for diner, not even eating myself, and going to bed. I slept for 12+ hours. ~South Arm Knife Lake
Today we wanted to get going earlier and take a little day trip to Eddy falls. I’d had a big ambitious loop up through cherry planned but with the condition I was in, that wasn’t happening. We decided to head up to the falls and take it from there. Turned out to be a great decision. Brock’s foot was doing better. A day of keeping it dry really helped. He took a turn handling the stern of the canoe today and did quite well. I tried explaining the J-Stroke but I’m not sure I was doing it right anyway, so we mostly stuck with switching sides and an occasional rudder pry to steer. [paragraph break] We first fished where the stream comes out before even heading up to the falls. Cast, fish, cast fish, cast, fish etc. for at least twenty casts between us – it was crazy! We both caught plenty of small mouth including a couple nice sized fish in a very short time. My biggest was maybe 12” or so but still lots of fun. For neither of us ever catching a bass before today it was a huge success. After fishing a bit we headed up into the falls. Climbing into and sitting in the falls with that water pounding down on me, I could literately feel my energy restored. It was like the energy of the falls was transferred to me and restored my spirits. From a very low day yesterday to a fantastic high today. It was that kind of a day where you realize once again in life that without the lows, the highs would mean nothing. [paragraph break] After hanging out in the falls we walked back down to the stream and fished a little more. Brock had found the hole where the larger fish were hanging out and was pulling really nice fish out every couple of casts. We literally lost track of how many we caught. Brock caught one we measured at 16” an another that comparing the photos was around 20”. I tried fishing some more but was having no luck and was ready to call it a day. Brock was not, so I grabbed our life vests and laid them out in the shade to lay down and rest on. I needed to rest, but no reason I couldn’t do it here while Brock had a great time fishing. After several hours, we finally decided to call it and head back to camp for our pizza calzone lunch. We spent the rest of the day swimming and just hanging out. Overall a much better day. Shepard’s Pie for dinner and planning for tomorrow rounded out the evening.
~South Arm Knife Lake
We had originally planned on an eight day trip with today being the day we started working our way back. While I was feeling better, sleeping on a blow up air mattress was painful and we were both satisfied with the trip and ready for a mattress and a shower. The wind had been whipping our butts the entire trip, so in deciding what to do, the wind played a major role in the decision. I was grateful for the accurate forecasts via the Garmin InReach mini I’d picked up for the trip. The winds were supposed to be calmer and from the south today vs stronger and from the northwest tomorrow. There are some good sized lakes along this route back that I wanted no part of being on the wrong side of the lake for. So, we decided to at least try to get back to Moose or near it today. That meant 14 miles of paddling. So far, we’d not traveled more than six or seven miles of paddling a day. We’d managed to hold about a three mile an hour average and there were far fewer and much shorter portages now. So we figured we’d at least give it a go and see how it went. [paragraph break] We finally got an early start and were on the water before 7:00am. We headed west down knife lake with a goal of stopping once we got to Isle of pines. The wind was almost non-existent this early and we were able to cut across the larger bays and make good time. Before we knew it we were at the isle of pines and checking out the ribbon rock. It’s really cool and a great place to stop at stretch for a few minutes. A quick snack and back in the boat we went. I had re-arranged my seat back this morning to be able to hang my tailbone off the back of the seat. Between that and alternating between from seated to kneeling I ended up being able to paddle okay. [paragraph break] As we headed into the knife river the banks began to narrow and we were simply astounded at the beauty of our surroundings. Several times we just stopped paddling and gazed around in wonder. I really enjoyed this section and would travel it again without hesitation. Before we knew it the portage was upon us and we were in Canada! My first time in Canada and Brock’s first in another country. I know it barely counts, but for a year when the border is closed, I’ll take it! These next couple small lakes were really clear beautiful little lakes. Particularly the little pond you end up in after the first knife portage on the Canadian side. We kept on going through Carp and Birch without any real issues. One more stop at a campsite for a quick break then back to Moose we went. [paragraph break] We made it to the Birch Moose portage (Indian portage as the I was told later) at around 1:00. Overall it turned out to be a good day of paddling. This is defiantly the easy way into and out of the Knife lake area. But then again it’s the path less traveled that makes all the difference, but I’ll leave that story to Frost. [paragraph break] We had planned on paddling Moose on the way back, maybe even staying a night on it, but with all that had happened we were done. As I sit here writing this eight weeks later, my tailbone is still not back to normal, almost but not quite. After we unloaded, I busted out the cell phone and called LaTourell’s to see if they could come get us. Once again they came through. They said “Sure, he just left on a tow, but as soon as he gets back we’ll send him your way. It’ll probably be about an hour. “ Another group was at the portage when we got there, also trying to get a ride in. They were still waiting when our boat pulled up 45 minutes later. I’ll use LaTourell’s again anytime I’m in region. [paragraph break] After a shower we headed back to town for dinner. Ely steakhouse was the only place we could find that had dine-in, again thanks to all the COVID rules, and even then only by reservation. So we made a reservation and headed that way. We were both immediately struck by just how different being back amongst society was. The only word that came to mind was abrasive. From total quiet and not speaking to anyone else for several days coming back to town was a bit of a shock on the senses. Anyway, dinner and off to home we went already planning the next trip! [paragraph break] Beavers are a$$holes!