BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
January 20 2020
Number of Permits per Day: 27
Elevation: 1356 feet
Moose Lake - 25
First Timers from Birch to Knife - Lessons Learned
August 26, 2019
Number of Days:
We drove up from Ohio over the course of two days, with the second day having time to stop in Ely for some last-minute gear. We then headed to Williams and Hall Outfitters on Moose Lake. W&H provided two Minnesota 2s, all our food, and 2 Duluth packs. We had brought the rest of the gear with us.
After a good nights sleep and breakfast at the Outfitters, we got an 8 AM tow to the portage between Sucker and Birch. It was an easy <10 rod carry-over, but gave us an opportunity to get familiar with carrying the boats and gear.
We had a very pleasant paddle up Birch, ogling over loons and bald eagles like a bunch of southerners. We then started the series of 5 portages along the US-CAN border to Knife Lake. We double-portaged the whole way and didn't have any real issues. These portages varied in length, but were all relatively flat and dry. The first from Birch to Carp was probably my personal favorite, but there was plenty of nice scenery at each.
After finishing the portages and a quick lunch on the Knife landing, we cruised to Isle of Pine. My dad had met Dorothy Molter on his last visit and he reminisced about the Root Beer lady. We checked out Bacon Striped Rock. The outfitter had told us some people thought it was good luck to kiss the rock, while others thought it was good luck to pee on it. We opted for neither.
We paddled on, with the island site on Amoeber Lake in mind. However, the wind picked up and we stopped at campsite 1460 on Knife Lake just SW of Thunder Point. We set up camp just before the rain started. We grilled up some steaks and went to bed early.
Lesson Learned: Bring a bigger tarp. Better yet, bring 2 or 3.
Campsite 1460 was a great peninsula site with landings from the north and south. The site consisted of an elevated field with room for 5+ tents and multiple Hammock possibilities. The cooking area overlooked a bay to the south. Both the site and southern bay were protected from the wind, which mostly came from the west. The hike to the latrine was steep and difficult. There was also no way to put up a tarp close to the fire grate.
We were land-locked by wind and rain for the majority of the day. The bay to the south did remain calm, even through the roughest winds, which allowed us to break the monotony with some trips for firewood collecting, fishing, and recreational paddling. We investigated our peninsula on foot, including a trail that continued past the latrine. This trail ultimately led to a rocky point with views east down Knife, including Thunder Point.
Originally, I had hopes of doing long day trips, including trips to Ottertrack, Cherry, and Eddy Falls. However, the lost day made it clear that some things were not going to happen.
Lesson learned: Have flexible goals.
Lesson learned: Even under a tarp, things won't necessarily dry quickly in certain conditions.
Wind and rain again.
We spent the morning doing more of the same. I was realizing that none of my day trips might happen. By lunch time, a few of us were getting cabin fever. There appeared to be a break in the wind. Also, one of us managed to get a cell signal and the weather forecast looked like it was improving. We decided the least we could do is make a break for Thunder Point, which was probably <1/2 a mile away.
As we rounded the point of our peninsula, it was clear the wind had picked back up. With uncertainty, we pressed on. We made it to Thunder Point and hiked up. The view was nice, but somewhat tainted by worry over the return trip into the wind. We waited a while, but there was no break. With dinner approaching and no real cold-weather gear, we decided to make a break for it.
By the time we reached the middle of Knife, the wind and waves reached a peak. It became increasingly difficult to keep the unloaded canoes pointed into the wind. Eventually, the wind caught one of them and sent two of us swimming. Very fortunately, the wind was pushing us toward an occupied camp. The other boat dragged the two swimmers to shore, where the strangers were extremely hospitable, allowing us to warm by their fire. Meanwhile, our capsized boat was blown not too far down the shore.
We spent the next 4 hours warming up and collecting our gear from the shoreline. We were only about 1/2 of a mile from our campsite and the wind had died down slightly. However, nobody wanted to swim again and the party was slightly panicked to be cold, wet, and separated from their gear. So we waited for the waters to be very calm, which happened as the sun began to descend. We then made the very easy paddle back to our camp.
Lesson Learned: Respect the wind. At the very least, stay out of big water and stay close to shore.
Lesson Learned: A dry bag with some warm clothes and a few other survival items should come on every trip, no matter how small.
Lesson Learned: Minnesota 2's, like most large canoes, handle better with a bit of gear. If heading into the wind, trim with a lower bow.
Lesson learned: A sat phone or similar device isn't a terrible idea.
Lesson learned: Solitude is nice, but having neighbors can have benefits.
Morale wasn't real high after yesterday, but a warm bed and a cup of coffee helped a bit. We tore down camp early and planned to get as close to home as possible before the end of the day. We made it through the Knife to Carp portages, before wind picked up again around noon. We waited on Carp for it to calm down while watching soaring bald eagles, moving clouds, and 2 playful otters. It was sunny today, which seemed like the first time for the whole trip.
Ultimately, the wind never ceased and we made camp for the night after watching a beautiful sunset. After 3 days of wet feet and flimsy water shoes, I was surprised to find my feet had multiple cuts and splinters. I treated the injuries, while drying my feet at camp.
Lesson learned: While ankle support isn't a bad idea, thick socks and a solid sole should probably be the minimum footwear outside of camp.
We woke up to a light, but very manageable wind. Knowing we couldn't afford any more delays, we tore down camp in record speed and paddled the remainder of Carp and Birch without a break. It was a pretty paddle with the best weather we had experienced to that point. On another day, it would have been blissful, but most of us were ready for warm showers. We arrived at the Birch to Sucker portage by mid-morning.
We were towed back and got cleaned up. We decompressed with the outfitter. We decompressed a little more over some greasy food in Ely. More greasy food and alcohol in Eau Claire, Wisconsin helped even more.
Ultimately, the weather resulted in some far from idyllic days. However, I'm glad I went. I learned a lot about the wilderness and formed stronger bonds with my fellow travelers, including my dad. Also, the wilderness was pretty darn beautiful. The opportunity to navigate it and overcome it's challenges was a rewarding experience. I would not be opposed to returning and am confident the lessons learned on this trip would make me a better BWCA tripper.
Lesson learned: BWCA provides opportunities for type 1, type 2, and (unfortunately) type 3 fun. Numerous factors determine what you experience. Many of those factors are internal, but some are also beyond your control.