Day 1 of 4
Saturday, September 02, 2023 After a restful night at Canoe Country Outfitter's house on East Camp Street, we did some final packing and secured a couple of last-minute gear items at the outfitter's store. Having worked with and stayed with the Olsons at C.C.O. on numerous previous trips, being here again made me feel right at home. Their fine service is always appreciated. Next, it was off to a hearty breakfast at Britton's Cafe, another spot in Ely that has come to seem quite familiar. It's the same friendly faces greeting and serving you their generous portions year after year! Our newbies were impressed as well.[paragraph break] Finally, we were off to hit the water with a short trip from town out to the Fall Lake entry point. We found this to be a great way to start the trip with plenty of room at the landing to get organized before launch. To cap it off, the water was quite calm with only a slight ripple to the surface. That is always a bonus on larger lakes like Fall or the waters we would navigate later in the day and for the most part we were able to enjoy these conditions all the way to our campsite for the evening.[paragraph break] Upon reaching our first portage from Fall Lake to Newton, we were again pleased to experience an easy landing and a smooth, flat trail. This was the first time I'd been on a portage that regularly sees portage wheels and the absence of roots, boulders and bumps seemed odd at first but I sure didn't mind once I had a pack on my back and a canoe overhead. On the return trip across the portage for the last of our gear, I checked out the side trail that revealed a pretty view north out over the "falls" from Fall Lake to Newton. This is really just a riffle through some rocks in the channel but was still very scenic on this beautiful morning. The view seemed to once again be welcoming me home to what I've come to know on my BWCA trips and I could feel it inviting us to experience more of what awaited us on this adventure.[paragraph break] Once on Newton we decided to take the long way around the western side of the first big island we encounterd, unsure that we'd be able to sneak through the rocks and rushes guarding the narrow channel on the island's east side. Coming around the island, we obversed a few other canoes that did indeed navigate that narrow channel so we noted it for our return trip. Reaching the portage from Newton Lake to Pipestone Bay, there were more choices to make as this end of the portage has two landings. Our map showed the landing more commonly used by paddlers but just to the west of that is the landing used if you are wheeling a motorboat across the portage. As before, the boat landing was flatter and smoother than a usual canoe landing and in this case also made for a slightly shorter path than the other option did. This portage also had a scenic "pull-out" where one can get a view of Pipestone Falls. This cascade is more of an actual falls with whitewater you can hear rushing over a distinct drop of several feet.[paragraph break] After a falls photo-op we finished our final portage of the day and continued north into Pipestone Bay. The continued calm waters made for an easy paddle to our lunch stop at campsite 1588 along Pipestone Bay's western shore. We were only here for about half an hour but the site was nice enough that we could have spent the night had we needed to. Instead, it was onward north to see what other sites may be available.[paragraph break] Once we got through the skinniest part of Lewis Narrows, we did start to think about grabbing a campsite for the evening and stopped at site 1592 by the rock wall and nice landing right on the point, before the water turns west toward Jackfish Bay. This spot requires a short walk uphill on some rock "stairs" to get to the main site, but once up there it was quite appealing with lots of room and several tent-pad choices. We did check out another site or two nearby but did not find a better option so we decided to call this home for the next couple of nights.[paragraph break] Back in the day, this site had been a small resort and there were several artifacts as evidence of this including a drainage pipe and an iron trough that each came right out of the hill and ran down to the lake. The fire grate here is set up nicely, backed up against a big boulder that kind of acts as the centerpiece of the site. With the dry conditions, good firewood was abundant and we used it to cook our supper of fresh steaks and foil-wrapped potatoes, carrots and onions which we topped off with a dessert of Snack-Pak pudding. An inviting path out the back of the site led us down to a big lake-side rock from which I caught and released a few smallmouth bass before we enjoyed a little bit of bourbon around the fire and then turned in for the night. The day's unseasonably warm temperatures continued into the evening so that meant we were going to sleep on, rather than in, our sleeping bags. Still, we all slept comfortably (except for that damn noisy owl!) after a long but successful first day.
Day 2 of 4
Sunday, September 03, 2023 While the evening had cooled things off just a bit, the morning sun on day two seemed to confirm the forecast that this was to be our warmest day of the trip. My usual September-morning long sleeves stayed packed and I even considered donning shorts right away, though I usually prefer long pants on these trips for protection from the sun and bugs. The mosquitos were almost non-existant this year but the sun was indeed promising to be a factor so the shorts stayed packed as well. A delicious bacon and eggs breakfast was a great way to start the day with the taste of campfire coffee adding that extra something that again made me feel at home out here in the woods.[paragraph break] A study of the map indicated that a day trip north to Upper Basswood Falls would be be in order with an attempt at some fishing here and there as part of the journey. After cleaning up from breakfast, we gathered our fishing gear and packed a lunch before taking off for the falls. The north end of Jackfish Bay, and the main body of Basswood as it opens up toward Canada, have a reputation of being quite bouncy as the wind can kick up significant waves so we were grateful that once again the breeze was minimal. After about an hour of paddling the muffled roar up ahead signaled that we were closing in on our target destination. Soon, we were landing the canoes at the American-side portage and started down the trail toward the falls. The quick incline and rocky nature at the start of this pathway made me glad we were only here on a daytrip and not loaded down with gear or a canoe.[paragraph break] After a few rod's distance a side trail led to a break in the trees and there before us were the falls with the Canadian shore just across the stream. The timing of our visit and the dry summer meant that the falls were not running at peak volume but they were still going strong enough that we could admire the view and feel that our trip to this scenic spot was worthwhile. Further exploration down the trail brought us to a river-side campsite that was open and seemed like the perfect place for lunch so we broke out some summer sausage, cheese (which even in it's "softer" state tasted pretty good), snack bars and trail mix. Powdered drink mix flavored our water bottles and for an easy, no-cook lunch it was overall a rather good meal.[paragraph break] Energized by lunch, we decided it was time to start back to our campsite. Along the way, we determined that a few small bays and inlets looked promising for fish. Doug's new miniture baitcasting rig was being uncooperative but with the hot weather so were the fish anyway and after a short time we decided to head back to camp and later try our luck there. Once we returned to the campsite and commenced fishing again we were able to find at least some action from our previously-productive lake-side rock. This included a snakey little northern who went back swimming again and a couple of smallies--one barely keepable and one of them a decent 15-incher that Jim was able to bring in. While this was not enough for a meal of fillets, it was a fine-enough amount for chopping up and adding to the fish chowder mix we had packed along. This is what we did and the fish chowder was excellent, complimenting the also-tasty dehydrated southwestern-style chicken and rice. Even with few fish caught, we did not go hungry![paragraph break] A quick post-dinner dip in the lake was quite refreshing and helped make the evening's campfire (and bourbon!) that much more enjoyable, providing the perfect end to another fun day. This night the temps had cooled just enough that actually sleeping IN the sleeping bag was suitable and we all caught some good Zzz's in anticipation of our pending travel the next day.
Day 3 of 4
Monday, September 04, 2023 Today's plan was that after a pancake breakfast we would strike camp and start heading back south toward our entry point. After getting packed up we got underway about mid-morning and set off targeting a final-night campsite that we had spotted a couple of days ago on the way in and which had looked inviting. Once again, relatively calm waters meant we could make excellent time, though this was just a bit more work than coming in as our now southerly travel was into the direction of prevailing winds and the slight breeze that was blowing in our face. As long as the waves didn't grow too large, this was just fine since the breeze was helping to keep us cool on yet another hot day. While I did spot one or two small rollers toward the middle of the lake, we were able to maintain a route that did not put us into any kind of difficulty regarding the wind or waves.[paragraph break] This brought us close to our intended campsite after less than two hours of paddling. Unfortunately, the site was already taken so we then needed to check out other options before ending travel for the day. We first went to site 1608 which is tucked around a point toward the eastern side of Pipestone Bay, about a mile north of the Pipestone to Newton portage. This site was not bad, with a wonderful view out over the lake and an appealing kitchen area. It would have worked for the night. However, since it was still short of noon and we would have needed to get a bit creative with placement of one of our tents, we decided to move further south to see what else we might find. We next checked out the site on Weegens point. After encountering a decent landing here you next need to trek up about a 15-rod, steep goat path to get to the main site. The site itself was not inviting enough to justify that climb each time we wanted to go to or from the water so we noped out of that option to check out yet another. Some passing fisherman hinted that the site across the bay may be open so we went to see it--#1614--for ourselves. This site had a very nice landing and did have just a short climb up another rock wall to the main camping area. It had a bit of a slant and a lot of bare ground but we found "flat enough" spaces for both of our tents and the view was nice. Plus, it was only about a 5-minute paddle to the portage we'd take the next morning and we could hear Pipestone Falls from this site which provided for some nice wilderness white noise. We pronunced it good enough for the night and celebrated finding our new home by having lunch.[paragraph break] After next getting camp set up it was then time for another quick dip and to see if we could catch some fish. Jim and I went over to a promising-looking deadfall while Doug and Kirby decided to try the very south end of Pipestone Bay toward the falls. By afternoon, the breeze had intensified so we decided to use a rock-in-a-mesh-bag anchor to try and hold position in the waves. We were a bit surprised to learn that only about 30 feet out from shore, the water was almost that deep as well but, again, the fallen tree looked like good structure so that's where we put down anchor. Jim was able to get a decent-size northern to accept our invitation for dinner but when the fish got a good look at us he changed his mind and spit the hook. Other than that a tiny walleye by Jim and a rock bass by me that we each released was all we were able to bring into the canoe so we decided to move closer to the falls and try our luck there. As with Doug and Kirby, Jim and I were not able to manage even a nibble here so it was going to be a fish-less meal for supper. Good old Mountain House dehydrated beef stew--it hit the spot and along with some rehydrated green beans and more pudding for dessert, we did not lack for food.[paragraph break] Another evening fire and the last of the bourbon finished this trip's final full day in the BWCA before we turned into our tents for the evening--a night that would again be spent on top of our sleeping bags due to temps that remained in the 70's all the way to morning.
Day 4 of 4
Tuesday, September 05, 2023 On our last morning we got up at first light and had a quick instant-oatmeal and coffee breakfast before striking camp and getting packed up for our trip out to the exit. The short paddle over to the portage into Newton and our trip across this trail seemed to be behind us in no time. On our way down Newton Lake, we spotted some otters playing near the shore--a sight that I seem to have encountered on my last day's paddle several times now! Are they saying, "So long 'till next time--we'll look forward to your return 'home'"?[paragraph break] Remembering the shortcut we had seen the other canoes take a few days earlier, on our way out we now aimed for the narrow channel on the east side of Newton's biggest island. This was indeed a bit of a tight squeeze but very navigable and reduced some paddling from what we had done on the way in. One more easy portage and we were on our final stretch across Fall Lake to the public landing. By now we were experiencing the strongest breeze of our entire trip and an occasional white cap was coming toward us. However, we did not have far to go, Fall Lake's Mile Island provided a bit of a windbreak and we able to quarter to the waves as needed so even now the wind and waves were not much of a problem. We were able to cruise onto shore and complete the trip well before noon.[paragraph break] Jim retrieved the vehicle and we then loaded up the gear and canoes in short order before returning to town and getting an eagerly-anticipated hot shower at C.C.O. Burgers and beers at The Boathouse put a nice cap on the experience before we hit the road for home. At The Boathouse, it was our waitress Robin's very first day on the job. If she provides the rest of her customers the same service we received, there's not a way that she won't succeed. Thank you and nice job Robin![paragraph break] Out of all the trips I've taken, this had been the first that I'd spent most of the time in a motors-allowed area. While we did encounter some motorboats, they were not overwhelming and didn't seem to significantly detract from the experience at all. Fall, Newton, Pipestone Bay and Basswood were all beautiful, the weather was great, the company was good and overall it was another fantastic trip. It all made me eager for my next adventure when I can once again return "home" to the BWCA.