BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
February 26 2021
Number of Permits per Day: 8
Elevation: 1191 feet
Snowbank Lake - 27
Getting back to the woods - 2013
October 16, 2013
North Kawishiwi River
Little Gabbro Lake (33)
Number of Days:
I'm trying to recall this trip 6 years later, so keep in mind it is subject to all the fallibility of the human memory. But I wanted to get it down on *paper* before I truly forgot it all.
I did not really plan hardly any of this trip. I just remember stirring up a hornet's nest of "let's go camping!" amongst the fellas I wanted to come with me. Lo and behold, I got my brother Keith and 3 others (Wade, Andy, Trent) to agree to go, and Wade took the bull by the horns and actually planned the EP, contacted an outfitter, and bought some maps.
That was about all I knew going into it. We were going camping in the Boundary Waters and I was stoked. We were also bringing some true greenhorns. For Andy and Trent, this would be pretty much their first time paddling a canoe, and first time sleeping in a tent in any sort of remote place. But they were game, and we figured we had it covered.
Since it was planned fairly last minute, we were trying to squeeze the trip into the shortest possible time away from home/work as we could. I worked a full day on Wednesday then drove up to Andy's house in Milwaukee from mine in the Chicago area. I crashed with him that night, then woke verrrrry early Thursday, picked up Trent and headed west & north. This was our entry day.
That's right, we woke up in Milwaukee on our entry day. I had no idea this isn't how it's normally done.
But, we made hay and booked through Wisconsin up to Fenske Lake Outfitters, where we met Keith & Wade. I'm not sure what time it was, but doing the math, it's at least 8 hours from Milwaukee to Fenske....maybe we left at 5am...that puts us there at 1pm at the very earliest. Normally, this is the time of day that we start panicking if we haven't found our campsite yet, but didn't know any different this year.
We had to pack bags and get situated with various rental equipment at Fenske Outfitters, then eventually they drove us to our EP...#29, the North Kawishiwi River, and we set sail.
The interesting thing about that EP, which none of us had any idea was interesting or different in any way at the time, is that you have to paddle through 2 entire lakes (not exactly small ones either), and take a pretty damn long portage before you are even in the Boundary Waters. You go through Ojibway Lake and Triangle Lake, then a 200 rod portage before emerging onto the North Kawishiwi River.
So, that we did.
I honestly have a hard time recalling what I was thinking or what my emotions were like at the time. I do remember sharing a canoe with Trent (the first timer), who remarked almost immediately as we launched our boat onto the first lake..."yeah, this is sweet..." So, he was sold already. That peacefulness and remoteness sets in quick, and we were digging it.
So we get to the Kawishiwi and start heading south. And the sun starts to get low. And we start to notice all the river campsites are taken.
Panic did not set in, but we started to realize the reality of what we were up against. We needed to find a vacant spot before the sun went down. Eventually we did find one in a bay on the river. I don't remember it being a great site, but it certainly fit the bill for our first night.
It was unseasonably warm (hot) and the mosquitoes were still out in full force even though it was September. I jumped in the lake to wash off accumulated grime from the day's travels, and we cooked up a fish I caught on the way to the site and some other food for dinner.
And then enjoyed our first night as a group in the woods. Had a nice fire, some cocktails, and tried to get Andy good and scared of the bears that were going to be haunting his tent at night...he was solo, and it was his first night ever camping, so we made sure he knew it wasn't safe and that those sounds he'd be hearing laying in his tent were definitely malicious critters out to get him.
Woke up and had a good breakfast and packed up camp, as we wanted to switch sites and get to some different areas. We didn't have a specific plan, but were going to keep heading down the river toward Little Gabbro/Gabbro and just see what we found.
We took the portage into Little Gabbro and turned east toward Gabbro. The narrows between these two lakes is a really cool area, with a bunch of little islands and rock outcroppings. We landed at one or two sites along the way and ultimately were deciding between the last site by the bay right before you enter into Gabbro (1711), and the first site on Gabbro proper, elevated up on an island (2135). We were torn, and took a vote, and I think I was the only one who choose the island site, but was not disappointed at all. I was game for either.
So we made camp, and quite honestly don't remember exactly how we spent the day. There was definitely some swimming (still HOT for this time of year) and some fishing. We had luck in the narrows between the two lakes, getting pike & bass at a fairly steady rate.
I think we had a fish fry and just otherwise enjoyed nice weather and a really nice campsite. It's elevated and pretty open to the lake, so the view from here was phenomenal, and there was plenty of space around camp. Nice firegrate and nice level tent pads. Probably the only drawback is the amount of groups that paddle by fairly close to your site, and the fact that another campsite is visible to the south across the opening to Gabbro. Something about having to see someone else's tent makes me sad when I'm in the BW.
This day is again not clear in my head any longer....but we did not move camps and I'm sure did a lot of swimming and fishing. We were within pretty easy striking distance to our exit through the portage into/out of Little Gabbro (ep 33), so moving didn't make a lot of sense.
Weather was once again perfect and warm, and we were loving our campsite and just hanging out together. The fish were biting again as well, so that's always a plus.
Exit day. We packed up and headed over across Little Gabbro to the portage out of there, where the outfitter was going to meet us. I remember this portage out being fairly long, and EXTREMELY buggy. It was warm and humid and under the canopy of the forest on the portage trail, every mosquito in northern Minnesota must have come to life.
The outfitter picked us up and drove us back to their location on Fenske Lake where we showered up and gave them back their rental equipment and sorted all our stuff back into our respective cars. Me and the Milwaukee duo drove all the way back there, then I continued on to Chicago. Keith and Wade just had to get back to the Twin Cities.
So, all in all it was an awesome trip and made all of us fall in the love with the Boundary Waters...we've come back as more or less this same group every year since and plan to continue doing so for as long as we still can.
One interesting thing I think about when I think back to this trip is how different of an experience it was for me personally than every trip since. I went in basically blind, not having planned the route at all and not really knowing anything about the varieties of EP's available, the different areas of the Boundary Waters, etc. I just jumped in the canoe and followed Wade's lead, who was the one who planned that stuff. It wasn't until after this trip that I became obsessed with learning the area and staring at the maps of all the lakes and daydreaming about possible routes. For this one, I was just along for the ride and part of me really looks back fondly at that experience. I just kind of soaked up being in the woods in a cool place with my buddies without worrying about the maps or the different lakes around that I was missing or whatever.
Either way, awesome trip, and the first of many awesome trips that have come and will come!