BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
February 09 2023
Number of Permits per Day: 27
Elevation: 1356 feet
Moose Lake - 25
Reconnecting: 2 weeks wandering in the BWCA
July 17, 2021
Number of Days:
Our EP was supposed to be Mudro on 7/17. Originally we planned to leave the Twin Cities early in the morning of the 17th. However, plans changed at the last minute when my brother asked to get together at my sister's cabin on the 15th/16th. So we drove to Grand Marais, and camped at her cabin on the 15th. The next day, we did a short hike and started the drive to Ely.
Due to the last minute changes, we were concerned about finding a place to camp. At Fenske Lake Campground, we were given the "overflow" spot, then the site manager put up the "no vacancy" sign. Whew!
We drove back to the ranger station to get our permit. When we pulled up at the station, there was Nancy Moundalexis sitting on a bench. Who is Nancy you ask? She is the ranger in all the permit videos, of course. This is as close to a movie star as I will ever get, but I resisted asking for a photo with her. We chatted and she warned us that our permit may have some issues.
Inside, they explained the upcoming closure for Mudro on the 17th. We were given the following choices: Go in at Mudro this very afternoon (it was already 3pm), Stuart River, Moose, or go try our luck in a different district. Yipes! On the spot decision! We had already set up at the Fenske campground and it felt too late to enter today. Besides, if Mudro was closing, how would we be able to return to our car in 2 weeks? Stuart River was on the wrong side of the closure for our planned trip, and I definitely didn't want to drive to a different district. So we went for Moose. My husband was appreciative that I have become such a BWCA geek and knew where everything was without having to do research.
With a Moose permit secured, we headed into town to explore and get some food. Decided to put a deposit on one of the used Piragis canoes. Our current canoe choices are an '80s Old Town Tripper (80+lbs) and a '80s Mad River Kevlar (64 lbs). It is time to get a modern lightweight canoe for next summer. Then we had a delicious early dinner at The Chocolate Moose and retired to the campground for a restless night of sleep in a 2-person tent with leaking sleeping pads (we kept our regular trail gear packed for a quick morning start).
The tight quarters and deflating pad had me up early and ready to get going. Stew was not so eager, but he went along with it. Super hazy morning with an orange-red ball of a sun trying to peek through. Quick drive to the Moose Lake entry. The parking lot was much emptier than when I took a weekend solo trip last September. We were on the water by 7am and all was quiet except for one towboat buzzing past.
On the 190 rod portage to Wind Lake, we did a 1.5 portage. Not quite as efficient as single portaging, but definitely faster than double portaging for a longer portage like this. Stew took the canoe and pack basket all the way across while I took the small blue pack ("baby blue"), daypack, PFDs and paddles about halfway across and returned for the giant blue pack ("big blue"). When Stew reached the end, he started to return for the load I left at the halfway point, but a member of a large group that had been doubling back for their remaining packs had already brought it to the end for us. The group also informed us about the low water difficulties with the next portage.
It was shaping up to be a very hazy, smoky day and we were questioning our decision to head west. The plan was to get to Pipestone Bay. The day was incredibly still and the water was perfectly reflecting the hazy sky. It was extremely disorienting with the water and sky blending into one, combined with the poor visibility. Visibility was less than a mile.
The portage from Wind Lake into Wind Bay required getting out significantly early due to the low water in the stream leading to the original landing. The stream was just a big river of mud. We got out just before the beaver house which looked like it was wearing an Easter hat (big clump of fireweed in bloom). This meant we had to portage through a dry bog area with plenty of tripping hazards and hummocky footing. It was slow going and we both nearly landed on our faces. I took the "baby blue" load just past the original landing...as soon as I could find a poison ivy free zone to set it down, and then returned for "big blue". The extra distance from the low water landing added about 80-90 rods by our estimate.
Speaking of poison ivy, I have never seen much in the BWCA until this trip. But it was all over many of the portages and campsites around Moose and Basswood Lakes. `
We met a group of women as we crossed the main part of the portage. It looked like a camp group. We took a break at the end of the portage and then set off across the glassy lake. We went down into Hoist Bay and Back Bay. We stopped at a campsite which a group of motorboats just left so we could use the latrine and eat a bit of lunch. Disgusting! They had cleaned/filleted their fish and then dumped all the remains in the water at one of 2 landings for the site. It was just floating in the water where you get out. The sad thing was, the group was dads with their sons so they are teaching the next generation to be irresponsible.
We did the 70 rod portage from Back Bay into Pipestone Bay and started looking for a campsite. The one directly across from the portage (#1566) was the only one open in that part of the bay, so we set up camp. This site feels like being in a huge cathedral. It is flat and open with lots of very tall red pines. Incredibly hot today so a swim and a nap under the shady pines felt good.
We saw 3 kingfishers today. And we had the cutest young chipmunk in our campsite climbing serviceberry trees and munching down the berries. He was light enough to get out on the thinnest branches. Good to see a chipmunk gathering natural food rather than begging.
When Stew was setting up the bear rope, he was using the carabiners/pulley as a throwing weight on the end of the rope like he usually does. However, this time they got stuck about 30 feet up and we could not get them down. We managed to still hang the pack, though it was a pain to not have the pulley. We'll worry about how to get it down in the morning.
Tonight we discussed where we want to go for the next couple days. One idea was to drop south and portage into Sandpit and then make our way to Horse Lake, then Horse River to reach the Basswood River just east of the closure area. But that feels like it goes against the intent of closing the Mudro entry point. So while technically legal at the time we were discussing it, we decided against it. We will just plan to stay on Basswood Lake but visit the Upper Falls before turning east. Turns out that was a very wise decision...
Distance: 13 miles Time: 7am-1pm
We slept with the rain fly off the tent last night and it barely cooled down enough to tuck into our sleeping bags. We slept until 7am.
Down to business first thing. We had to get the carabiners unstuck. Motto for the day: "If you ever think you won't need that bunch of paracord and should just leave it home, think again!"
To be honest, Stew loves this kind of challenge. We have "rescued" other bear ropes abandoned at campsites by less creative people. He found some dead, straight young spruce trees off in the woods. At first, he bound 2 of them together to make a long pole. It was hard to control. The next improvement was to make a guide loop to help guide the pole up the bear rope. This resulted in being able to get the carabiner clump free from the total jam, but still unable to get it to travel down the backside. So he added a short, stiff "hook" stick to the end of the long pole. He was able to hook the biners and got it to come down 6" while I whipped the rope from the front to decrease friction. But 6" was all it would come down. The final improvement was to add a 3rd dead spruce and re-lash them in a stiffer formation. He was finally able to get decent tension on the carabiners. Success! Stew absolutely enjoyed the trouble shooting and was quite the proud "fisherman" when all was said and done. Though, it did take 45 minutes...
Lessons learned: Do not throw a rope into a tight V of branches...too much friction. And don't leave the lid off the jug of coffee! (It got kicked over while we worked).
On the water around 9:20, but the lake was like glass again with an occasional puff of a tailwind so we arrived at Upper Basswood Falls pretty quickly. Stew trolled a bit in the bay before the falls while I paddled us around. Then we parked the canoe on the shore before the portage and walked over to the falls. Stew caught a bass, but it fought like crazy and freed itself. Then he moved down to the bigger pool and caught and released a walleye. While he was enjoying the excitement of fishing, I cooled off in the water and took some pictures. We decided to partake in an early lunch and enjoy the falls.
A group of Scouts showed up, and we chatted with the guide and some of the dads while the boys explored the shore. Just as they left, a ranger showed up. He apologized for not being in uniform, but was there to inform us that the closures had been expanded today. The Upper Falls was now the eastern boundary. Therefore, we needed to move on immediately. He explained that with 7 fires burning just over the border in Quetico, there was fear that they would join together and explode into one giant fire. As we left, we saw his partner (in uniform) and they were setting up to "park" at the portage entrance for the day.
We left around 12:30 and headed east with a slight headwind at times. But the wind felt good since it was really HOT today. Supposed to be 90 and it felt like it. We paddled at training pace and arrived at site #1624 pretty quickly. This campsite has a nice beach (for those that like that), but has a lot of poison ivy. So if you bring kids there, watch out! Quiet on the lake today. I had a great swim while Stew napped. Saw an eagle's nest with 2 juveniles sitting on the rim.
Later, a mommy merganser brought her brood of 7 babes to the beach. They were hilarious to watch. They would all flap really hard and hydroplane across the top of the water. They would form an arc and cruise toward the beach really fast. We figured out they were hunting minnows by driving them up onto the beach as a team. They would gobble them down, and later we found a few dead ones they didn't quite finish consuming. I had never witnessed this behavior before, and felt thrilled to see it. This is what I love about these trips. No matter how many times I come, I always experience something new.
When we walked down the beach later, we found more fish remains thanks to some irresponsible humans. The rectangular skin from someone's fillets were left lying all over the rocky end of the beach. Ridiculous.
We made pizza for dinner which was a pain on the stove, but it didn't burn. I had planned the menus and packed all the food for our 3 different trips back in May, so the campfire ban hadn't been in place. I made the decision it wasn't worth making any changes after the ban was announced.
Distance: 10 miles Time: 9:20am-1:40pm including 2 hours of fishing/lunch
We departed the campsite around 8:30 after a granola breakfast. We planned to paddle a long way today and make our way off of Basswood Lake. We decided to stop for a stretch break every hour and to switch bow and stern positions to keep things equal since we both prefer stern. We spotted another eagle nest near our campsite. The juveniles were very vocal.
We switched spots at Lincoln Island and then pulled over 45 minutes later at site #1658 to eat part of our lunch. However, as we were eating, thunder started rumbling to the north and west. With the smoke haze, it has been challenging to do normal weather watching and predictions and we don't carry a weather radio. We watched and waited for awhile and debated our next move. Stew was concerned that if we didn't get further off the wide open parts of the lake while it was calm, we could have issues if the wind gets strong later. We decided to hug the shore and go for the campsite cluster by Beaver Island. There were still 3 motorboats sitting out in the middle of the lake who were at a much higher risk of a lightning strike than us. We reached site #2088 and debated taking it. Much shorter day than planned. A sudden flash of lightning and crack of thunder close by made the decision easy for us. We set up the tarp and sat around in the rain deciding whether we should wait it out and continue or set up the tent. Since we have zero agenda and a highly flexible itinerary, we decided to set up camp. Annoyingly, there was a group illegally camped right across from us on Beaver Island and they were loud!
On the up side, there was a family of rabbits that kept hopping through our site and a pretty little "fairy garden" space back in the woods.
We are really enjoying traveling together. A little relationship history, we met while paddling whitewater rivers with friends. We trained and raced whitewater slalom together and competed nationally and internationally on kayak polo teams. So our relationship has been built around working together on the water. The chance to do a trip with just the 2 of us has been refreshing and rejuvenating...maybe recapturing a little taste of our "youth".
I had presoaked the wild rice for our soup dinner tonight and it made cooking everything very fast. Some key lime cookies for dessert and we were all set for a good night's sleep.
We planned an early start to hopefully avoid the wind, but the wind blew all night, so we didn't rush out of camp. Wind shifted to the NE and we awoke to solid cloud cover. We felt a couple sprinkles, but it never amounted to much. Big breakfast of eggs, hashbrowns, bacon, cheese, and vegetables. Hot coffee for Stew. He has mostly been doing cold brew coffee because we have had no-cook breakfasts, so he enjoyed savoring a hot cup o' joe.
We left around 8am and reached Prairie Portage in under an hour. It was confusing because of a very prominent sign saying AREA CLOSED at the start of the 28 rod portage canoeists use on the Canadian side. We finally decided the sign was meant for the fee box aspect of entering Quetico proper. So we went ahead and portaged across. My son said they had the same confusion when they went through that area and his counselor finally decided they should be cautious and do the portage on the American side. But when they got to it, some motorboat folks said, "It is a lot easier to do the short portage, that is what all the canoeists do." So they paddled back over and did the 28 rod one.
Stew mentioned that it would be nice to start single portaging, so I started contemplating how I could pull that off as we paddled through Sucker and Birch Lakes. After we passed through the narrows between these 2 lakes, we spotted something fairly large swimming from an island to the main shore. A moose? No, its head was too low in the water. Then I got a clear view of its nose. A young bear! We watched it swim the whole way and as it clambered onto shore in a cedar grove it bleated for its momma. We could hear them crashing through the woods but couldn't see them.
As we passed the short portage coming in from Sucker Lake, we started to see a LOT of canoes. The wind was still in our face. We cranked into high gear and flew past a group of scouts. They were a pretty novice group with one tired young man attempting to paddle on his left side with his right elbow resting on his knee. The mom in me wanted to say, "Sit up straight young man! If you engage your core muscles, paddling will be much easier." But I managed to bite my tongue.
We chatted with their guide briefly after he commented on our mid-80s Mad River canoe. Then Stew asked the boys if they had seen any wildlife yet. They murmured no and Stew said, "Well look up." There was a huge bald eagle perched right overhead. As we reached the first portage, we were relieved to see the group directly ahead of us was extremely efficient at portaging. They disappeared with their gear all in one trip. I decided to strap the daypack to the top of Big Blue along with the PFDs. Then I carried Big Blue on my back and Baby Blue on my front along with the 2 paddles. Worked well, though too heavy for portages over 1/2 mile. It worked well enough to use that method the rest of the day. Given the heavy traffic jams at the portages, I was very glad we were able to single portage! When I reached the end of the portage dumping us into Knife Lake, I came over the final rise to a sea of canoes, people, and packs. I couldn't even spot Stew at first. Relieved to see him at last (3 rows out!), I quickly waded to him, dumped the packs and we took off ASAP. He had counted more than 10 canoes there, not including us.
Given the crowds, we decided to just paddle into the bay to the right and take the first open campsite we found. I guess people don't like to paddle into bays because the first site was empty. Stew wanted to fish, so we unloaded our packs and went out fishing before setting up camp. Canoe after canoe just kept paddling past in both directions, but the bay stayed pretty quiet. We walked the portage to Portage Lake just to take a peek and we spotted a tiny little baby painted turtle swimming in the shallows. So cute! Back at the campsite, we set up. This is an odd little campsite. Two tent sites are close to the fire grate area, but rocky and very exposed to the sun. However, a path leading along the shore further into the bay revealed a lovely tent site sheltered among the pines and overlooking the lake. The biggest issue with this campsite is the latrine location. Wow! It is a hike. Over hill, over dale, around and around. I had to pee so bad, I finally gave up and took a squat off to the side of the trail before continuing my exploration to finally find it. Stew heard me laughing as I walked back, counting how many steps to get back. It was so ludicrous. From the edge of the main clearing to the latrine is 164 steps! Plus add another 100 steps back to our tent site and bathroom trips required serious advance planning!
Stew decided to portage the canoe over to Portage Lake and do some fishing while I chilled around camp. Around 5pm, a group paddled up looking for a site. I mentioned the site deeper in the bay was open, but they decided to keep paddling up Knife. A bit later, another pair of people paddled up and decided to take the other site in the bay. Even later, a bigger group stopped by trying to find a site so I told them the 2 campsites over on Portage Lake were open and the portage was short/easy. Stew saw them when they arrived and they were appreciative we had given them that intel. Stew caught a nice sized bass so we shifted dinner plans to have the fish along with some potato and bacon soup. We don't filet our fish, just toss it in a pan with skin on and a tiny touch of oil. Easy clean up. Knife is a beautiful lake. The geology of the slate rock layers turned on their side is stunning...though rough walking at times. The water is crystal clear, a beautiful blue-green hue more reminiscent of glacial lakes than BWCA lakes. The birch and poplar trees are already turning yellow and losing leaves due to the drought so there is a fall like feel when it cools off at night. [paragraph break] Distance: 11.6 miles Portages: 283 rods plus Stew's trip to Portage and back Time: 8:05-12:15 including brief lunch stop [paragraph break] ~Basswood Lake, Sucker Lake, Birch Lake, Carp Lake, Melon Lake, Seed Lake, Knife Lake
Once we passed the inlet to South Arm Knife, the traffic quieted down significantly. We didn't see anyone between there and the turn off to Amoeber. Before the portage to Amoeber we pulled over on a smooth rock to eat some lunch. We watched a couple come over the portage. As they paddled out, they stopped to chat because they noticed our Mad River canoe and wondered if we were from out east. They were super nice folks from New Hampshire on their first BWCA trip. They are the kind of people you could chat with for a very long time...chatted fishing, Northern Forest Canoe Trail (they have section paddled all but 2 sections), other trips we have done, Maine (my husband lived there for awhile), and much more. We chatted for over 30 minutes before heading our separate directions.
The portages in and out of Amoeber are short, but rocky. They parallel rocky brooks among dark, mossy cedar forests. Quiet and scenic. One of the two sites on Amoeber was occupied. We saw one group passing through, and then met another group just as they finished coming over from Topaz. We were open to camping on Topaz or Cherry so when the site on Topaz was open, we took it. Nice to have a lake to ourselves for the night. I had a peaceful swim while Stew napped.
On this trip, I am reading "Braiding Sweetgrass" by Robin Wall Kimmerer. This morning, I read a chapter about the animacy of language. The author discussed how English focuses more on nouns than verbs: about 70% nouns and 30% verbs. But Potawatomi (and other indigenous languages) are the reverse: 30% nouns, 70% verbs. So instead of a noun for a bay, they use a verb "to be a bay". This gives animation to a bay. Instead of just a definition of water with land on 3 sides, it becomes a living thing with relationships to what is in, around, and above it. "Be a bay" captures so much more of the reality of the place. Sometimes this concept is easier to understand if you try out the difference being calling someone "a human being" versus describing them as "being human". The verb provides so much more depth. So today, I tried to think with more animacy. What does it mean to be wind, to be lake, to be tree, to be lichen? Try it! It adds a depth of relationship to what you see, hear, and experience. I think this idea of natural objects being animate is what draws me to the wilderness. I am not drawn simply by seeing a tree or a lake, but by witnessing what it is to be tree, be lake, or be rock.
Dinner was a new addition to our traditional menu plan, beef stroganoff. I generally assemble all our meals versus buying commercial products. This recipe was one I pieced together with various ingredients I had in my ingredient inventory and it was a HUGE success. Absolutely delicious!
Distance: 10 miles Portages: 40 rods Time: 3 hours, 10 minutes of travel time plus a relaxing hour long lunch and chat
~Knife Lake, Amoeber Lake, Topaz Lake
Sprinkled all night, but the ground was still dry. It started raining harder about mid-morning. We slept until 7:30 and then assembled a big breakfast of eggs, sausage, and potatoes.
After breakfast, I was sitting in the tent putting in my contact lenses and the rain was noisy on the tent fly, I heard singing but couldn't make out the words. Sounded like an old spiritual chant...either native or voyageur. A very eerie feeling swept over me as the history of this area just poured into my soul. I laughed when I later found out it was a boy scout group singing the chorus to "Yellow Submarine" by the Beatles over and over again to keep up their spirits as they paddled in the rain.
We met the group at the portage from Cherry to Hansen where they had been waiting for 35 minutes for 2 other groups coming into Topaz to complete the portage. They had even gotten out to help the other groups. They asked if we were fast at portaging and when we replied that we single portage, they offered to let us go first. Very nice group. Not knowing anything about this portage, we leapt from the boat and set off at a brisk pace. Yikes! Should have let the young guns go first. This portage was STRAIGHT UP and up and up and up. The scouts caught us pretty quickly as we gasped for air on the climb. One of the boys joked it was the stairway to heaven (or maybe hell I muttered under my breath).
Stew got pretty winded carrying the canoe and pack basket, so at the top we switched the canoe to me. The second half went down, down, down and was slippery in the rain...one of the scouts wiped out pretty hard, but was unhurt. The springiness of youth!
Today was the first day worth trying out my new Enlightened Equipment raincoat. Wow! I have never worn such a comfortable rain jacket. Very lightweight and incredibly breathable. I stayed bone dry even with portaging. Stew discovered his new wind jacket that he thought was also waterproof (I tried to cast doubt before the trip) was definitely not waterproof so he just wore his wool shirt under it.
The next portage into SAK had some climbing but was much easier in general including some sections of sandy path with no rocks. Unfortunately, a canoe coming the other direction almost ran into Stew. They were both going around a super tight, blind corner. Stew stopped, but the other guy didn't see him. Stew had to yell, "Stop! Stop!" and then had to step to the side. But Stew didn't realize he was standing in a trough and ended up having to drop the canoe.
Easy paddle on SAK and we stopped on a little island to eat some lunch on the rocks. After lunch, we portaged over to Eddy Lake. Plenty of scouts playing in the falls, but Eddy Lake was empty. We set up camp and then at about 5:30 we went over to visit the falls. By then, everyone else had left so we enjoyed it by ourselves. We had a late dinner of pasta salad with lemon mousse for dessert.
Distance: 8.5 miles Portages: 265 rods Time: 3.5 hours including 1/2 hour lunch
~Topaz Lake, Cherry Lake, Hanson Lake, South Arm Knife Lake, Eddy Lake
We found a 6th tent stake today! I can't believe how many stakes people lose. Stew dubbed it "idiot hunting." He announced, "I'll find a tent stake." He walked over to some rocks that folks had used to hold a guy line and BAM, there was a stake...lol.
We had a strong headwind for most of today. Wind out the east/southeast. No Boy Scouts today and a lot fewer people, in general. We chatted with a nice pair of guys, one of whom was returning to Kekekabic after a trip 14 years ago when an aggressive bear stole their food.
For lunch, we hiked over to Agamok Falls. We chatted with a couple as we finished that portage who once had a Mad River canoe like ours.
Gabi had big waves, but when does Gabi not have big waves! A few came over the bow, but subsided once we got a half mile out. Once we reached Little Sag, we seemed to have the place to ourselves. We are exhausted, but that satisfying kind of exhaustion. Tomorrow will be a layover day for sure. Dang it is hot today! Feeling overheated even after a swim.
As we started orgainzing for dinner around 5pm, a thunderstorm started moving in. So we got the fly on the tent, set up a tarp for our cooking area, prepped the bear rope, and settled in to cook.Stew even left some stubby branches on the little dead spruce he sized for a center pole under the tarp so we were able to hang the cooking water bucket and water filter right there within easy reach. All I had to do was reach over my head and tilt the bucket to pour into the pot. I moved a nearby log and supported it with a rock so I had a perfect back rest with the extra pack under my butt. Great for lounging and cooking. Chicken soup with dumplings followed by tapioca pudding.
It took awhile for the actual line of storms to hit us as the 1st set passed north of us. But by the time we climbed in the tent, the rain/thunder/lightning was starting in earnest. We had to turn on our headlamps by 7:30 because the storm made it so dark.
Distance: 9 miles Portages: 336 rods (8 portages) Time: 5.5 hours including the walk to the falls for lunch
Layover day. Another big T-storm moved in early this morning. Stew got up to relieve his bladder at 4am and could see lightning on the horizon. By 5am, it was going full tilt with heavy rain and major lightning. I hope it didn't start any more fires.
It is so dry up here that it looks like September. The trees and plants are turning color and loosing their leaves. Sun exposed areas are wilted or dead (asters, blueberries, sumac, etc.). The blueberry crop is horrible. Even if the plant is still alive, the berries are miniscule. Stew tasted one yesterday and it had no flavor due to no flesh inside. No moisture = no sugars. The bits of rain we've had this trip are a fraction of what is needed and it's too late to help the berries this season. However, the weather does seem to be shifting back to a more normal pattern for the time being which is better than nothing.
Lazy morning. We finished our eggs and hash browns around 10 and then climbed back into the tent. The sun came out but the wind is blowing hard.
Lunch at 1:30. Wind still blowing. Naps, reading, and convinced Stew to play some rummy.
Dinner around 5:30. Still blowing but there were fewer whitecaps so we circumnavigated the island for about an hour of fishing. No bites, but we had a very friendly loon paddle up to us. It spent a long time just watching and studying us. Saw an eagle's nest. Then a big eagle swooped overhead and perched in a dead tree. A beaver was out for a swim before it returned to its big lodge nearby. We watched the sunset. It looked like a Florida sunset, big orange ball that dropped quickly past the horizon.
~Little Saganaga Lake
The wind was light when we started out this morning, but by the time we reached Elton it was building. We tried to find the 2 short portages from Little Sag to Elton, but were unsuccessful on the 1st attempt and just decided to go to the long one. Maybe not a great choice. It was easy to find, but quite overgrown and hard to see your feet. It climbs at a modest rate, flattens out, and then drops back down to the lake. Do NOT step off the portage path...LOL. [paragraph break] This morning we repacked so we only have Big Blue, the pack basket, and the daypack. So I can finally single portage without having to carry 2 packs at a time. The timing was good because it would have been tough to double pack or double portage the Elton portage. The next 3 portages were nice. Cliffs on Makwa Lake [paragraph break] Then came the portage from Panhandle to Pan. We went to the location shown on both maps: down in the start of the little thumb and found a landing. We started following the trail and it was obviously travelled. But then it started winding around in crazy tight turns, was very overgrown, and much longer than advertised. It also took us parallel to the shoreline of Pan for long stretch. We reached a beautiful beach landing, looked to our right, and saw a beautiful wide, flat portage trail. When I followed it, it went straight as an arrow to a spot on Panhandle Lake that was much further north than the map had indicated. UGH! This photo shows what the Panhandle entrance to the portage should look like.
Lunch spot on Pan [paragraph break] The wind on Pan Lake was brutal. I hate round lakes because there is never anywhere to hide from the wind. Gabi is always the same way when I am there. The 2 portages from Pan to Anit are actually one long portage that goes around a beaver pond. It is rocky but easy to follow. The portage into Kivaniva has 2 landings at the Kivaniva end. Use the one furthest up the stream because even in low water conditions it was deep enough to pole your way through. We took the campsite on Kivaniva. Not great for swimming but it has a shady tent site. Makwa was beautiful and I hope to stay there some day. It has a beautiful zebra striped cliff at the west end. [paragraph break] This was my first time through this area and some of the portages are really pretty. We didn't see any people after we left Little Sag. I felt a lot of gratitude and connection to the plants and trees today. I saw the tiniest baby toad...about the size of a bean. We had red dragonflies flitting about as we paused in the lee of an island on Pan Lake. I looked them up later and found them to be Meadowhawk dragonflies...possibly the Autumn Meadowhawk.
After a dinner of tuna noodle casserole with peas, we headed out fishing for an hour. A couple canoes came thru around 5:20 and continued south.
Quote of the day: "No ants allowed in my naughty bits!!!"
Distance: 7.5 miles Portages: 490+ rods Time: 4.5 hours including 1/2 hour lunch and an hour of fishing along the route
~Little Saganaga Lake, Elton Lake, Makwa Lake, Panhandle Lake, Pan Lake, Anit Lake, Kivaniva Lake
Sunrise on Kivaniva Lake [paragraph break] What a surreal, zen day. We slept with the fly off the tent. Stew woke me just after 11pm to see the beautiful, orange moon. Beaver was slapping its tail all night. Then I woke just before the sun started to rise through the trees. Classic mist on the water morning with perfect calm.Raspberry-vanilla oatmeal for breakfast.
Portaged easily into the Kawishiwi River. It was so calm and quiet that it felt strange to speak except an occasional whisper. We just padded and paddled as quietly as possible. This area is pretty...pool, narrow rocky passage, repeat again and again. Didn't see any people until well after the 2nd portage. The campsites were all open.
Joe Pye Weed [paragraph break] At the Fishdance Lake end of the 18 rod portage, we found someone's disposable camera sitting on a rock. I'll try to find the owner through bwca.com. We saw a group of 3 gray jays (aka Canada jays, whiskey jacks). I hadn't seen any of them for awhile. Then we saw a flicker. In a narrow spot near the pictos, both sides of the lake were absolutely teeming with birds. In addition, 2 red squirrels were racing pell-mell through the bushes and down to the shore until one declared victory by leaping onto a driftwood log. Then it ran up the trunk of the log and leapt at a bird perched on a branch. The bird flew off in a huff.
We stopped for lunch at the site just across from the pictographs. Old feel to that site. Lounged around for awhile just absorbing the spirits of the forest, but then Stew started to feel too spooked and we headed toward the portages to Alice. We made quick work of the 2 portages and then met a couple fellows leaving the 2nd site on Alice. They gave us a scouting report of what was open. We decided to take advantage of the calm weather to cross to the north side. Stew trolled all the way across and caught one fish that wasn't big enough to keep.
We claimed the site on the NW tip of the northern island (#1174). Swam, then napped for an hour. This site has very interesting rock formations and colorful lichen. Curry rice for dinner and chocolate pudding for dessert. Thinking about Joey a lot tonight and wondering how his trip is going.
Distance: 12.5 miles Portages: 210 rods Time: 5.5 hours including an hour for the pictos and lunch
Last night, we read a chapter in Braiding Sweetgrass called "Umilicaria: Belly Button of the World". So this morning we went tripe hunting...rock tripe that is. We played around splashing water on them and watching them move, soften, and turn more greenish.
Lots of portages as we headed north today. The stream entrance to reach the 10 rod portage into Cacabic had extremely low water. We came upon a Boy Scout troop as we approached the narrows and they were out of their boats, searching for a way through. They were more heavily laden than us, so we got further along before needing to exit the canoe and walk the packs along the bog edge. Then we lined all the canoes up to the actual landing. We helped the scouts do the same. The portage itself was a steep up, then down.
The 240 rod portage to Thomas had rolling hills and boardwalks in good condition. Nothing too stressful despite its distance, but it was littered with Boy Scouts asking how far until the end and one who had turtled with his pack who I helped up.
Thomas and Fraser are lovely. It was my first time visiting these lakes and they would make a worthwhile destination. We stopped in the narrows between the 2 lakes and climbed up on the rocks for a scenic lunch spot. Hardly saw any people on either lake.
The other portages were as follows. The 15 rod to Gerund was very flat. The 30 rod to Ahmakose had a super steep beginning but with doable steps, then finished flat to the landing. Seems like the elevation marked on the map should be 1606 feet rather than 1506. The 90 rod portage to Wisini had plenty of up and down but it was more gentle and had decent footing. The 10 rod to Strup was incredibly easy. Finally, the 85 rod to Kekekabic had some ups and downs and had a steep drop to the Kekekabic landing.
We were really exhausted by the time we reached Kekekabic and just wanted to find a campsite quickly. Today was an example of how the length of the portages don't matter as much as the number of them. The loading and unloading is the most tiring part in my experience. Stew trolled a bit as we left the last portage. "Kris, I think I picked up a weed. Or is it a fish? No, must be a weed." Reeled it in to find the tiniest fish of all. Not sure how it even managed to bite the hook!
Campsite after campsite was full. It was quite a shock after days of only seeing a few people per day during the past 5 days. We paddled all the way to the west end of the lake without finding any open sites and could see the north side was full, too. We decided to try to find the site on the very west end (#1473). What a struggle! We searched and searched and finally found a tiny opening in the thick shrubs. The path opened into a tiny space under a massive evergreen. The fire grate was slightly overgrown and there was barely enough space to squeeze our 4P tent.
The swimming was horrible with a mucky, shallow bottom. However, the site is thick with hazelnuts. The latrine trail was littered with shells from the ones eaten by the squirrels. Some happy squirrel tummies at this spot.
We went out fishing before dinner. The water was incredibly clear and has stunning boulder drop offs. Caught a bass before the stable flies made us lose our minds as they feasted on our under dressed ankles. We had hardly seen any the whole trip so this attack took us by surprise.
Distance: 13 miles Portages: 480 rods Time: 5.75 hours including a 1/2 hour lunch stop
Wow! What a day! We started with a nice hot breakfast of oatmeal, bacon, and hot coffee instead of cold soak coffee. Had a nice tailwind on Kekekabic but our bodies were still moving kind of slow. The portage to Pickle Lake was a mix of gentle to moderate ups and downs. It made a good warm up for the day.
The portage into Spoon was steep at the Spoon end. Then things got exciting! As we entered the narrows to reach the portage into Dix, Stew whispered, "There's a moose." Now you have to understand that Stew is always thinking rocks are moose so I looked around doubtfully. But sure enough this time, way up ahead, was something very large and dark brown moving around right in the middle of the stream bed. As we got closer, you could see a huge head and antlers moving around, its nose dipping under the water to feed. The body was almost entirely submerged. Once in awhile it would get a leg up out of the muck and take a step forward. Then I noticed a cow almost completely submerged on the right side. She was staring at us and became nervous pretty quickly even though we were still a long way off. She lumbered to her feet (apparently she had been lying down to feed) and crashed off into the woods. But Mr. Bull Moose wasn't done with breakfast and did not care that we were watching. Stew started taking video on his phone as we kept a large distance between it and our canoe.
Meanwhile, a group of 3 canoe with a scout troop had come over from the portage from Bonnie and were closing the gap behind us. We motioned quiet and they slowly slid forward. Then the moose waded back over to the left side shallows, took some more mouthfuls of weeds and sauntered into the woods. We started to slowly paddle toward the portage, but Stew was concerned the moose could come back out and charge us in the very narrow channel. Suddenly our hearts lurched as the moose crashed back out of the woods much closer to us. Fortunately, he only had food on his mind and went back to eating...and eating...and eating. There wasn't room to pass safely and we didn't want to appear as a threat. So we sat. Finally he moved back into the thick woods. We could hear him crashing along and could tell the shoreline was very steep there. The moose would stop and eat some leaves and branches once in awhile...we could see the shrubs swaying and jerking. We crept slowly forward watching carefully for a change in speed or direction.
Finally we reached the portage. However, now we had no way of knowing if we would cross paths with the moose on the portage, especially if he decided to cross over the path to meet up with the cow moose. So we stuck together tightly: Stew with the canoe and me walking with my nose almost touching the stern of the canoe. In the past, I have had success using a canoe as a big rack of antlers to intimidate a male moose into leaving. This whole moose event took 25 minutes! Never have I had such a front seat view of a moose eating and wading about.
The rest of the day, we just paddled and portaged fast enough to stay ahead of the scout troop. We lost them around Trader Lake or so. We didn't stop for lunch today because we were concerned about finding a campsite now that we were back in the vicinity of Moose Lake. We reached Vera before 1pm to start searching for a site. The first 4 were full and we were pretty sure the western most one would be also. Before we could see if it was full, another group paddled past it and pulled even with us. They asked about the sites further west. We told them they were all taken but there was an empty one on Missionary. We continued paddling while they sat discussing amongst themselves. We rounded the corner and found the last site was empty! Hallelujah! We pulled up and then saw that the other group had followed behind us in hopes of getting that site. We felt bad and would have shared if they had asked, but it was still pretty early in the day and there were sites on further lakes.
A bit later we heard some thunder, prepped for rain, took a swim, and chowed down some much needed lunch. A gentle rain started around 2pm and continued for a few hours. The sun came out at dinnertime. As I was journaling in the tent, the second of my 2 pens ran out of ink. Bummer! I love journaling every eve. Just then, Stew came back from a walk about looking for tent stakes (we were on a roll finding lost ones this trip) and said, "Nature provides what we need." and handed me a pen he had found! What are the chances?
Distance: 9 miles Portages: 475 rods Time: 4 hours 10 minutes including 25 minutes of moose watching
The wind was in our favor today, coming from the NE. The view atop the Vera to Ensign portage was lovely! Paddling on Ensign Lake was like old home week. First, a group waved us over to their campsite. It was the moose encounter scout group that had floated near us in silence. We chatted and shared about the awe and nervousness at ending up so close to it. Then on the portage out of Splash, we caught up to our mud buddy scout group who we had towed through the muck before Cacabic. We joked that they owed us a tow down Newfound. However, they headed north to get a peek at the Canadian border before they were due to meet another group at the Moose landing in the afternoon.
We were feeling strong and efficient today. Only took us 1 hour, 7 minutes from the last portage to the Moose takeout. Loads of people coming and going today including some Camp Widjiwagen groups. We loaded up, changed clothes and headed to the Chocolate Moose for lunch. Since we had to go to the Gunflint Trail to pick up Joey from Camp Menogyn the next day, we set off for Grand Marais then up the Trail to the Iron Lake campground. Nap and then dinner at Trail Center finished off our day.
Distance: 11 miles Portages: 213 rods Time: 3 hours 20 minutes
~Vera Lake, Ensign Lake, Splash Lake, Newfound Lake, Moose Lake
Friday, July 30 On the way to breakfast at Trail Center, we saw a fox kit cross the Gunflint Trail. Its sibling held back and then the 2 were frantic to get reunited, but freaked out by our car. We slowly passed and then spotted momma fox sitting outside their den in a rock outcrop. The kits were a beautiful combination of black, brown, gray, tan, and red.
After breakfast, we went to the Camp Menogyn landing to pick up Joey and his friend Alex. The drive back to the Cities felt like the fastest ever as we all shared stories and compared notes as to where we had been, what we had seen, and where we want to return! Lots adventures during their 1 month and our 2 weeks. All looking forward to next year.