BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
December 10 2023
Number of Permits per Day: 1
Elevation: 1249 feet
North Kawishiwi River - 29
Solo Trip Report -- Insula, Hope Lake, North Wilder
May 25, 2008
Number of Days:
Stopped at The Great Outdoors to say hello to the owner (a frequent poster on bwca.com) and chatted for a few minutes. I arrived at the Lake One landing around 8:30am and paddled away by 9am.
No stops along the way (though I ate a Clif bar while walking back for the canoe on the Hudson-Insula portage). Arrived an an island camp in the southern portion of Lake Insula by 3pm. No occupied campsites between entering Insula and arriving at this island.
As usual with the first trip of the year, I have trouble slipping into wilderness-mode right away. That, and I'm quite tired from using muscles I haven't used in over eight months (though I did just paddle and portage over 13 miles solo). I take a 1/2 hour nap to refresh myself. When I get up, it looks like it might rain. I begin fixing dinner -- dark clouds blow through but no rain. I notice two loons floating by as dinner cooks.
I take a few more pictures as long as the camera is out.
I head to the tent at sunset (though the sun sets behind clouds as well as behind the island I'm camped on). I'm awaked by voices a bit later (maybe around 11pm?) and I notice a light shining into camp. When the light hits my tent, I hear a loud expletive from a voice out on the water. By the time I wake up enough to realize it's people looking for a campsite (well after dark), put on clothes and walk down to the water, I notice they've started a fire (and set up camp, one would guess) on the next island east of me -- though no official campsite is on that island. I head back to the tent and go back to sleep. I wake again during the night to quite the thunder storm and downpour, though I stay dry (kind of a trial-by-storm for my new tent).
I'm up before 8am. I make coffee and oatmeal. It rains lightly on and off during breakfast.
I take my time breaking camp to keep as many things dry as possible. The rain lets up and I leave camp around 11am. Within minutes, it starts raining hard -- so much for dry gear. I also find myself paddling into the wind. I tack from island to island and eventually get into the bay leading to the portage to Hope Creek (and into the PMA) by about 12:30pm. The portage is hard to spot until you're right at the shore. The landing seems obvious, but the trail climbs steeply and parallel to shore, so you don't see it until you land.
The portage isn't bad after the initial climb, except for many, many blowdowns (some waist-high and a foot in diameter). Soon I'm ready to launch into the PMA.
There are two beaver dams before reaching the next portage on the creek. This portage is what I think of when I picture a PMA: one ~50 ft. and two ~25 sections are swampy (8" deep water, 5-10 ft. wide) with no way around. Nothing like walking a balance beam with a canoe on your shoulders...and the balance beam is wet, slippery and round. I use my paddle to keep my balance, even while carrying the canoe. The third portage is on a point just south of the creek inflow from Hope Lake -- this one is very easy, almost like a regular portage, if a bit brushy.
I locate an area to camp on the large peninsula in the southeast area of the lake. Camp is made by 3:30pm.
It's still windy and cold, but the rain has stopped, so it's somewhat pleasant under the tarp. I read for a while (Around the Day in Eighty Worlds by Julio Cortazar). I notice two mergansers floating by on the lake.
I was somewhat hesitant to buy a graduated neutral density filter for my camera, but after I experience what I can do with it with regards to sunsets, I find it worth every penny.
I head to the tent around 10pm and fall asleep shortly thereafter.
I wake up several times during the morning, but I don't drag myself out of the tent until nearly 11am! I must have been tired...
I stay in camp, read, gather wood and fish a bit. I catch a 2lb smallie, but let it go as it's too much meat for one person.
I read more Cortazar and some Gary Snyder (The Practice of the Wild) -- the Snyder is hard to get into at first (too much environmentalism, too much chastising modern society)...I just want to read his thoughts on life and the natural world. It gets better after the first chapter or so -- anecdotes and history almost akin to Annie Dillard. A hummingbird buzzes by while I'm reading. The local red squirrel shows up to yell at me a bit so I get the camera out.
Then I take photographic advantage of the early evening light.
After dinner, while sitting and reading by the fire, I realize that I feel so "me" at that moment that I should document it for posterity.
I then take further advantage of the light.
The sunset was beautiful.
I head to the tent around 10pm -- tons of spring peepers calling after sunset. Also an alarmist beaver or two are smacking their tails on the water off shore from camp and there's one lonely grouse drumming away in the woods. Ah, I'm so glad to be home...
I'm up around 11am again today (though no excuse of tiredness this time). While drying my socks on the tarp, I notice a wood-colored inchworm.
I also remember to take a picture of Nibi's "South America Rock" though the water appears to be much higher than it was in June of 2004.
Nibi's South America Rock -- June 2003
Photo Copyright LHR Images -- Used by permission
I decide to go see the rapids leading to South Hope Lake. After I shove off, I pause to take a picture of camp from the water.
An eagle soars overhead and accompanies me along the way to the rapids. I locate the rapids (more of a mini-rapids), have some lunch (a helicopter flew over during lunch, which I find quite curious) and take pictures.
I head back toward camp and fish a bit along the way. I catch and release a small northern and another 2 lb. smallie. Back at camp, casting from shore I land a 1 lb. smallie -- perfect dinner for one!
After dinner, the sunset is again excellent for photography -- though there are no clouds tonight, the dark blue hue of the sky serves just as well.
I spot a beaver swimming by (I've noticed in PMAs I tend to see more wildlife, but from a greater distance -- which makes sense as the animals are probably less used to humans).
I head to the tent around 10pm and drift off to sleep.
I'm awakened around 5:30am by wolves howling nearby (which makes sense, as there was wolf scat on the portage into Hope Lake). I'm up before 9am. I eat breakfast and take a few pictures.
I leave camp around 10am. While crossing the swampy portage three times (since I'm double-portaging), I come up with a BWCA Haiku:
Also, during a short break I take a self-portrait that just may end up on a book jacket some day...my buddy dubbed it my "Hunter S. Thompson" shot.
On the Hudson side of the Insula-Hudson portage I chat with some guys for a few minutes (the only people I speak to between Sunday and Sunday). I see three groups on Hudson -- all heading east. I did not see any occupied sites on the southern portion of Insula and only one visibly occupied site on Hudson. I head south up Wilder Creek and arrive on North Wilder Lake around 4pm.
Here's a shot looking east along Wilder Creek from the portage landing.
As I'm tired and it looks like rain (and I know North Wilder has a nice campsite -- I stayed there during my first solo two years ago), I decide to camp here and day-trip to South Wilder in the next day or two. I have camp set by 5pm. It starts raining as soon as the tent and tarp are up, so I retreat under the tarp.
I read Gary Snyder for a while (and cross out one chapter in the Table of Contents -- too much persuasion and politics, not enough nature and thought). I spot two loons near the small island off shore. They appear to perhaps be scouting for nesting sites.
I hear people across the lake, but there are no campsites there. Perhaps hikers on the Pow Wow Trail? My map shows no sites there, but there could be a hiking site. No sunset tonight, just rain off and on and growing dusk. I head to the tent by 9:30pm
Moist and gray all day. Rain and mist. Anything already wet stayed wet. I sit under the tarp and read. I realize that eating sunflower seeds in the shell can be a lot like fishing from shore -- lots of work with little or no reward (although you do become intimately familiar with contours: the contours of your mouth, with seeds; the contours of the lake bottom, with fishing). Almost no wildlife out and about today. I take pictures during some breaks in the rain.
I finish reading the Gary Snyder. I read more Cortazar -- barely survived it. He is absolutely devestating to the soul, but in a good way -- as exercise damages muscles, though ultimately makes them stronger.
I head to the tent by 10pm -- more rain and strong wind soon afterwards.
My last full day of this trip. I sleep in a bit and get up around 10:30am. I have coffee and read some Cortazar.
I take a couple of pictures as long as the camera is out.
I then pack lunch and set off of my day-trip to South Wilder Lake. I really love paddling these small creeks.
The creek ends abruptly, with barely enough room to turn the canoe to land.
It's about a 45 rod walk to South Wilder. I take some pictures but I don't stay long -- too many flies.
Looking down the creek from the South Wilder end -- notice the tiered beaver dams.
The entire shoreline was full of Leatherleaf in bloom -- which is treat, as it blooms very early in the year.
A Pileated Woodpecker must also frequent this area.
Here's a view of the entrance (across a small pond) to South Wilder
The portage between North and South Wilder crosses the creek on some downed logs (this is also the Pow Wow Trail crossing)
This is why the portage begins a ways back and you have to cross the creek on foot
I make my way back to the canoe and start paddling back to North Wilder. I pause to admire an impressive beaver dam on such a small creek
A view toward North Wilder from about halfway down the creek
I want to figure out where those voices last night were coming from, so I head to the portage landing that leads to Harbor Lake (and crosses the Pow Wow Trail). After landing, I take a picture of my camp from across the lake.
I find the trail crossing and head north on the Pow Wow. Within a few minutes, I find a spur trail and follow it to a campsite. I realize that I couldn't see the campers (or their presumed fire) from my site as an island is directly in the viewing path. The site is small, but adequate.
I then paddled to the northern end of North Wilder Lake and I locate "Nibi's North Wilder island pine tree"! I looked scouted a bit for the tree (it's quite distinctive) on my solo here two years ago, but did not locate it (I did not explore the north end that time).
Nibi's North Wilder Island Tree -- June 2001
Photo Copyright LHR Images -- Used by permission
View southward from the north end of North Wilder
I drift south with the wind and jig for a while -- no luck. I troll back toward camp -- no luck. Perhaps there are no fish in North Wilder (or I just wasn't trying hard enough). Just south of camp I notice six or seven Painted Turtles on a log.
I drift a bit closer and the more skittish ones flee into the water, leaving three brave turtles eyeing me with great interest.
Back at camp I read a bit and then cannot resist taking more pictures.
About 6:30 or 7:00, two successive flocks of geese flew over -- the honking seemed to set the peepers to chirping prematurely (after the flock flew out of audio range, they stopped within minutes, only to start again with the next flock and then stop again until after dark).
I spot a spider silouhetted against the sky, as well as a beaver patrolling off shore.
I read more Cortazar.
As it's my last night, I'm reluctant to head to bed. I sit on the top of a rock at the shore (it rises 2-3 feet above the ground and then slopes at a 45 degree angle about 5 feet into the water) in half-lotus pose (yoga) and looked up at the stars, enjoying a smoke and some whiskey, the embers of a dying fire behind me. Bliss.
Of course, karma has to come in somewhere to keep me on my toes after all that peacefulness. When I went to get water to douse the fire, the beaver from earlier had returned unseen and slapped his tail about 15 feet off shore -- I just about had a heart attack.
Left camp around 11am. I had trouble finding the portage from Harbor to Brewis. I finally spotted a trail back through the weeds and blowdown.
This is the canoe halfway between the main lake and the (flooded) portage landing, looking back out on Harbor Lake
This is the view toward the portage (I had to saw through that blowdown -- not easy to do while in a canoe)
Standing on the portage, the beginning of the actual portage is to the right, across the water
Paddled into the wind (quite strong on Horseshoe Lake) until Lake Two, then it calmed a bit. Though I noticed rain on the horizon. Brief cloudburst-downpours while on the pond portages between Lake Two and Lake One. Arrived at the landing around 5pm.
To Ely around 7pm (didn't want to leave the landing). Had a burger at Vertin's, then headed south to St. Paul and back to reality...