BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
March 23 2019
Number of Permits per Day: 27
Elevation: 1356 feet
Moose Lake - 25
Solo Trek into Quetico - No Country for Old Men
June 16, 2010
Number of Days:
Day One. Prairie Portage to Burke Lake. Easy day, a morning tow up to Prairie Portage - a nice conversation with the lone lass completing forms and collecting fees and I paddled my wooden solo across Basswood on the calm waters of Bayley Bay. Over the years I've developed a system of GPS, Fischer Maps and a canoe mounted compass to compensate for my dismal navigation skills - the sandy beach showed up precisely where it was supposed to be.[paragraph break] I paddled in turned parallel to the shore and got out - a quick double pass over the Yellow Brick Road Portage and I was at Burke Lake. I grabbed a Five Star campsite on Burke as I sensed that the forecasted afternoon thunder storms might be arriving a bit early. In setting up camp I opened my campstool and found it still covered with the dust of Alaska and Canada's roads from a trip a year earlier. I washed the dust of the Dempster and Dalton off in the clear waters of Burke Lake.[paragraph break][paragraph break] The air grew hot, heavy and still as I fixed my first evening Steak and Hashbrowns over the fire. The birds - earlier singing and flitting about - grew silent as the clouds darkened and the weather closed in. No chance I was going to miss this blow.[paragraph break][IMG]http://i54.photobucket.com/albums/g96/Beemer10/P6170015.jpg[/IMG] I walked down to the lake and pulled my little solo canoe up on shore, flipped it and tied the bow painter off to a handy branch… testing the knot with a tug. The wind started to quicken as I dropped the sides of my tarp, and buttoned up the packs. I walked over to my Hennessey Hammock and double checked the tarp and anchor pegs. The first drops pelted me as I walked over to my waiting campstool under the tarp.[paragraph break] I have never - in nearly 40 years of camping in the Canadian Boreal Forest - seen a rainstorm like this one. Based on nothing but a guess, I'll wager over 4" of rain fell in a six hour period. Wave after wave of rain drenched my little island and whipped my campsite, fortunately the wind wasn't too bad - but that would change. And soon.[paragraph break] Everything got damp as I read my book, smoked my cigar and sipped my Sour Mash. I eventually decided that the rain, rolling thunder and cracking lightning were going to continue all night so I retired to my hammock. [paragraph break]
Day Two. Burke Lake to Isabella Lake. A Bluebird morning - the birds were back as I rose, drank my coffee, ate my Powerbar and packed up a soggy camp. I paddled glassy water as I headed North on Burke and made my way to Basswood's North Bay. [paragraph break] Suddenly there was wind. A lot of wind. Really a lot of wind. I later found that winds that day were 30-40 MPH with 55 MPH gusts. White caps with blowing spray and tendrils of streaming Spindrift foam - waves with crests 10-14 feet apart as the waves cranked up over the 3-4 mile reach of North Bay. When you see Spindrift - you are seeing Gale Force winds.[paragraph break] Great - well, a chance to defy the wilderness gods again and to see how good a paddler I really am. I loaded my little handmade canoe - checked the trim, cinched my PFD and headed out, careful to quarter across the waves blowing out of the Southwest.
Day Three - Isabella to Sarah Lake The morning broke cloudy with temps probably in the high 50s. The solid overcast was punctuated by occasional periods of light rain and mist. Great. [IMG]http://i54.photobucket.com/albums/g96/Beemer10/P6180041.jpg[/IMG] My maps, marked up back when I went thru this area seven years ago, showed that the portages over to Unnamed and Side Lake were tough. I vaguely recalled a portage with a lot of slick granite that seemed to go straight up from the water's edge - well, I was about to find out if my memories were correct.[paragraph break][IMG]http://i54.photobucket.com/albums/g96/Beemer10/P6180044.jpg[/IMG] Yep, that first portage was going to be a treat. Canadian Shield granite with a little ledge to get out on…. and then up, up and more up the veined pink and black granite. The wet and slippery granite. I flipped the canoe onto my shoulders and tested each and every step as I advanced up the portage. A misstep, a slip here and at best I tear up am arm or knee and smash the canoe…. at worst I tear a tendon or break something else and get to wonder how many days or weeks I would wait for rescue… or death. Seriously, I think this route has been substantially abandoned since the beaver dam below Kashapiwi blew out a couple of years ago. The condition of the portages tended to confirm that few pass this way anymore. I'd seen just one pair of paddlers since leaving Burke.[paragraph break] I eventually made it over with my canoe and then portaged my pack. The next portage over to Side Lake was noted in my maps as being very high with the downward portion featuring a jumble of thousands of rounded rocks to navigate. Yep, and even more fun in the growing rain and lowering mist. I slowly made my way across - single portaging with a pack in front was unthinkable - every footfall had to be calculated and tested carefully. The route over to Sarah from Side Lake offered two options, a single portage over Heart attack Hill or a slower and allegedly easier route that followed the stream. It was only midday and I was already feeling it. I ate a Cliff Bar and pondered my options, eventually deciding on the lower stream route - three short portages and I would be on Sarah, my day's destination. The first portage was quick, but muddy.[paragraph break] I pressed on to the second - more grade here. I decided to lead with my pack - and worked my way up the steep grade step by step. On an especially tricky section of off camber steps in the granite…. my head slammed into something solid. I staggered and saw stars. Literally. I'd been so intent on watching my feet that I didn't even see the large pine that had been blown across the portage by the storms of the last few days. I walked right into it. And hard as evidenced by the growing lump on my forehead - fortunately my hat had saved me from any abrasions or puncture wounds.[paragraph break] The pine was about 5'6" above the steep grade on the portage - exactly the worst height - too high to step over and too low to stoop under, especially with a canoe on your shoulders.[paragraph break] I dropped my pack and removed my weapons.[paragraph break][IMG]http://i54.photobucket.com/albums/g96/Beemer10/P6180049.jpg[/IMG] The Swedish hatchet and saw - as razor sharp as I could make them - took 45 minutes of sustained sweaty effort to make the two required cuts in the green sappy pine. I tossed the resulting six foot trunk into the woods. I was pretty whipped by the time that portage was reopened. I eventually made Sarah and found a nice campsite. The day started to clear up as I made a mid afternoon camp. I noted with a chuckle that there was a fairly new concrete block as part of the firepit. How on earth had that gotten here? I wondered if someone had not been the victim of a cruel practical joke.[paragraph break] I was filtering water and saw a group of four paddlers in a pair of Tandems. They were as well from Illinois - one of their canoes was a beautiful wood canvas craft, which the owner verified weighed close to 100 pounds after a week on the water. What a beautiful craft - but a formidable canoe to flip and portage. [paragraph break] I paddled around empty Sarah fishing and gathering shore bound Beaver wood for the evening's fire. Fishing was good around small stream that fed into the lake - I used a Zulu Spook plastic and tied into an immense Northern literally three feet off the shore. A lot of flailing and splashing - he bit off my 30# mono leader and spat out the ripped and torn white plastic lure. The hook never set properly.[paragraph break] Ah well, I count hooking up those big Northerns as a catch in my catch and release mindset. I never relish trying to extract a deeply set hook from those sharp teeth - barb or no barb.[paragraph break] The beaver wood snapped and crackled in the fire as I relaxed on the rocks in a Crazy Creek 'recliner' and read my book. I gathered enough beaver wood that the next eventual travellers would have a good supply cut, split and stored next to the fire ring with birch bark underneath.
Day Four. Sarah to the Tuck River.[paragraph break] What a beautiful day! Sarah to Tuck to Robinson with a couple of unnamed lakes in there for good measure. These tended to be better travelled portages, but when I headed down the Tuck River I was back in the 'seldom travelled area' of badly overgrown portages, almost invisible landings and deep muddy tracks.[IMG]http://i54.photobucket.com/albums/g96/Beemer10/P6170017-1.jpg[/IMG] The Tuck River is a pretty route - when on the water. When on the messy portages, I broke out my knife and saw and resumed my portage clearing ways, pruning hundreds of offending branches trying to establish some recognizable route for future paddlers.[paragraph break] [IMG]http://i54.photobucket.com/albums/g96/Beemer10/P6200069.jpg[/IMG][IMG]http://i54.photobucket.com/albums/g96/Beemer10/P6180034.jpg[/IMG] Sorry, I wasn't able to do much about the calf deep mud puddles though. The river terminates in broad bay of the river, or Basswood, I couldn't tell - a warm shallow body of water with dense weeds at the entrance. Just follow the route of least resistance to get to open water. I saw three Trumpeter Swans (I think) out on the bay.[paragraph break] I grabbed a high campsite at the bottom of the bay - and availing myself to the bright sunshine I filled and set out the solar shower to warm up. What a treat - nearly hot water and a full long shower. Soap, shampoo and new clothes - I felt like a new man.[paragraph break] I also picked off a tick that was starting to burrow into the back of my calf crushing him with the chunk of my leg still in his jaws.[paragraph break] Dinner was another Freeze dried item eaten directly from the pouch as I watched the busy beavers swimming to and from their lodge on the edge of the bay. [paragraph break] I tried fishing, but this area was really shallow and I was too beat to go too far. I gathered beaver wood for my evening fire from the shore - future campers on this route will again find several days worth of nice dry wood waiting for them cut and split to order.
Day Five - Tuck River to an unnamed Island campsite on Basswood. The lower reaches of the Tuck River entering Basswood have a rather impressive collection of fading Pictographs - Pelicans, long manned canoes and herds of Moose populate the walls of the soaring cliffs.
[IMG]http://i54.photobucket.com/albums/g96/Beemer10/P6200075.jpg[/IMG] [IMG]http://i54.photobucket.com/albums/g96/Beemer10/P6200076.jpg[/IMG] [IMG]http://i54.photobucket.com/albums/g96/Beemer10/P6200084.jpg[/IMG]
[paragraph break] I saw a couple of base campers with early lines in the water as I paddled the still waters and slow current. My precious wooden canoe had started to leak - a quick inspection showed that the rigors of Quetico travel had chipped the stern where I'd laid up multiple layers of glass mat and epoxy. I peeled off several feet of Duct tape from my Nalgene Bottle and effected a field repair that more or less worked. The real repair would have to wait.[paragraph break] Wow - back to the world of people. This route, Upper and Lower Basswood Falls and Wheelbarrow Falls sees traffic. I encountered several youth groups, and a couple of families (one of whom had a woman in the bow seat whose face clearly said that she had absolutely no idea why she was there).[paragraph break] One extended family I encountered - from Utah and Iowa was wearily loading their Kevlar Wenonahs… on the rocks below Lower Basswood Falls. I noted that these were rented from our friends over at VNO and suggested that the proper technique was to wet foot this and load the heavy packs into the canoes…. in the water, not on the big rocks. I'm pretty sure they thought I was a canoe cop - but they removed the packs and slipped the canoe into shallow water before reloading.[paragraph break] The 320 Rod portage around Basswood Falls is long, but pretty level and frequently travelled. I volunteered to carry packs for some staggering and dazed preteens with stocking caps on ?!? on my empty return leg. I think they appreciated my effort, but it was hard to tell. However generally nice kids with good attitudes, especially in the Church Groups I met.[paragraph break] That last portage was it for me that day. I sought out an island campsite and found a nice one amidst a cluster of small islands and set up camp. [IMG]http://i54.photobucket.com/albums/g96/Beemer10/P6220115.jpg[/IMG] That little gem of a site featured early ripening Blueberries and some notable fishing from shore. Carefully navigating the rocks down to the water I fished the shallows between my island and a tiny rock hump perhaps 40 feet away with a small Mepps Spinner - my second cast caught a 3 1/2 pound Smallie with an exceptionally bad attitude. He leaped out of the water at least 3 times as I reeled him in. [paragraph break] I swear he glared at me as I carefully removed the (barbless) hook and released him for another day.[paragraph break] A clear calm evening so I left the tarp off the HH and slept under the bright stars…. so close I thought I could reach out and touch them.
Day Six - Day trip to the Magic kingdom[paragraph break] One of our members once told me about a hidden bay on Basswood where he once caught all four common species of fish in a single day - a bay where all Quetico conditions exist in a small magical area. When the morning fogs lifted for a few minutes I found the secret opening, entered and paddled part of the bay. [paragraph break] He was right - amazing fishing - Bass and Northerns slammed my lure relentlessly. Streams, shallows, sunken islands, below surface structure and deep Trout waters - all in one area protected by towering cliffs, bluffs, Cedars, White Pines and drifting fog. This is textbook fishing.[paragraph break] Definitely a destination of choice for future trips - unfortunately I'm sworn to secrecy as to the actual coordinates guys! [paragraph break] I paddled back to my camp a happy guy.[paragraph break]
Day Seven - Island in Basswood back to Moose Lake.[paragraph break] I was awake at 4:30, caught a beautiful sunrise, broke camp and was on the water by 6:00 AM. I paddled glassy waters thru the morning mists mile after mile - not even a breath of wind. [IMG]http://i54.photobucket.com/albums/g96/Beemer10/P6190055.jpg[/IMG] [paragraph break] Eventually I crossed back into the States, Wind Bay and the portage over to Wind Lake. The BWCA certainly has more far people than Quetico - on Wind Lake I passed some serious base campers with two room Cabela tents, folding chairs and I imagine boom boxes under their dining tables. Wind Lake is an easy destination, one longish portage off Moose and you've arrived.[paragraph break] Anyhow, I met some nice people on the portages, and spent some time photographing some of the beautiful late Spring flowers that lined my final portage.[paragraph break][IMG]http://i54.photobucket.com/albums/g96/Beemer10/P6170030.jpg[/IMG][IMG]http://i54.photobucket.com/albums/g96/Beemer10/P6170029.jpg[/IMG] Moose Lake was an easy paddle back to my car. I returned to Ely and doing the right thing, I swung into the US Customs office.[paragraph break] I think I was the first person to show up at this voluntary check point that day, anyhow I clearly surprised the two young officers. One looked at my small sheath knife and Leatherman and asked if this was a gun. After ascertaining that I was not armed with a strangely tiny Glock, I was asked for my passport and to remove my hat and sunglasses. We went through the usual questions and reverifying that I had not made any wilderness purchases I retrieved my unstamped passport and was surprised when they then buckled on their holsters…. and asked to inspect my car.[paragraph break] My pack was dug through - not sure what they were seeking, but they didn't find anything other than damp and certainly smelly gear.[paragraph break] Bye guys, I wonder how long a posting to Ely, Minnesota would last for these officers…. I'll bet their excitement ramps up even further in February![paragraph break] Dinner at the DQ, a six pack, a chat with Lynn and I retired back to my VNO Bunkhouse for the evening. Nice trip!
Comments - [paragraph break] Pack - I use the CCS Pioneer Pack and like it. Enough capacity for solo tripping, but a manageable size. I use a Kondos Guide Pack for my Olive Jar which is my sealed food container.[paragraph break] Stove - I love the Jetboil for solo trips. I eat little and the fact that I can get two cups of water to a boil in 40 seconds means convenience and very little fuel consumption.[paragraph break] Food - As noted I eat little - breakfasts of Cliff Bars or Granola Bars and coffee - lunch of a Power Bar and a freeze dried dinner works for me. I use a low sugar lemonade mix for my trail drinking.[paragraph break] Sleeping shelter - I use and am comfortable in the Hennessey Hammock system. Tarp - I use the Kelty Noah's Tarp and it's OK, not great. I'll eventually replace it with something like a CCS or Kondos rectangular tarp.[paragraph break] Canoe - I have my wooden stripper which again proved to be very seaworthy in rough water- but they are obviously more fragile than other materials. I find that using the CVCA back sling and the Bell footbrace make padding far more leveraged and comfortable. [paragraph break] Camera - I use a Weatherproof Olympus camera - I like that I never have to worry about watertight boxes- digging it out and so forth. I take a lot more pictures and am happy with the point and shoot ease and quality.