BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
July 10 2020
Number of Permits per Day: 7
Elevation: 1230 feet
My son Remy and I, and my friend Keith and his son Charlie put our canoes into Lake one at 9:30 Monday morning after dropping off a car at the Snowbank Lake landing. Lake One can be tricky to navigate. On our way to Lake Two we turned East too early and ended up paddling about a mile out of our way into a dead-end bay before we realized our mistake. We blamed the fact that Lake One was split between Fisher Maps #10 and #4 for our error. If the entire lake had been visible at once on a single map, we would not have made the wrong turn. Once we got back on course we portaged the 30 rods into a pond and then portaged the 40 rods into Lake Two. The weather was nice, and there was a bit of a tail wind out of the West. We stopped for lunch on the shore of Lake Two. After lunch we canoed through the North end of Lake Three and into Lake Four. We stopped for the night at a campsite on the West shore of Lake Four, just North of the channel heading toward Hudson Lake. We had to battle swarms of mosquitoes as we set up the tents. We then had a nice refreshing swim. Because we had brought steaks along for the first night, we didn't go fishing.
On Tuesday morning we had a bacon and eggs breakfast then packed up camp and headed out in our canoes. As we canoed past our campsite, we realized that Remy & I had left our hammocks pitched between trees. We landed again and quickly packed them up. Once again we had beautiful weather. We paddled East and completed 3 short portages before entering Hudson Lake. The 105 rod portage into Lake Insula was exhausting! Lake Insula is a large gorgeous lake broken up by multiple islands and penninsulas. We had lunch at a campsite on a large island just East of Hudson Lake. It felt like we had a tail wind as we were heading East, and then as we turned North it seemed like the wind shifted and was at our backs once again. We navigated Lake Insula flawlessly and camped for the night on the island just West of Williamson Island. After setting up the tents and a refreshing swim, Remy & I got back into the canoe and tried to catch some fish. We had no luck! At 9PM that night, just as we were going to bed, a thunderstorm rolled through. That night I was awakened several times by the loud croaking of bullfrogs from the shallows around our island. What noisy neighbors!
By Wednesday morning the weather had cleared, but the wind was now coming from the Northwest, pretty much in our faces. We paddled to the North end of Lake Insula and tackled the largest portage of our trip. The 180 rod walk to Kiana Lake actually seemed easier than the 105 rod carry into Lake Insula. We headed onward into Thomas Lake where we really started feeling the headwind. We finally made it to the campsite just Northeast of the portage into Thomas Pond in time for lunch. After lunch we proceeded across Thomas Pond and into Thomas Creek after hiking across the famous Kekekabic Trail. We managed to easily run the rapids in Thomas Creek and avoid the 2 short portages. We camped for the night on Hatchet Lake at the northern campsite. It was cool and windy, so we didn't swim. There was lots of threatening weather going by to the North of us, but we stayed dry. After supper we canoed back to Thomas Creek to fish and look for moose. No luck on either count, but we did see a beaver swimmming.
The weather was nice again Thursday morning, but the wind was out of the West which was the direction we were heading. We portaged into Ima Lake and canoed across it. Before portaging into Jordan Lake, we watched a bald eagle sitting in a tree get harrassed repeatedly by a seagull. The narrow channel leading into Jordan Lake is quite beautiful. It is narrow like a river with big rock outcroppings. We paddled across Jordan, Cattyman, Adventure, and Jitterbug Lakes. We found the Eastern campsite on Ahsub Lake taken, so we camped at the Western campsite which had a great place for swimming in front of it. There was a very brave loon in front of the campsite who didn't seem to mind if we got close to it. We tried our luck at fishing, but only caught 1 smallmouth which was too small to eat. Between 5:00 and 7:30 that evening we saw a number of canoes heading across Ahsub Lake from Disappointment Lake to Jitterbug Lake. We weren't sure where they were planning to camp, but it was getting late.
On Friday we awoke again to good weather. We paddled the length of Disappointment Lake and portaged into to Parent Lake and then on to Snowbank Lake. It was July 4th, and as we entered Snowbank Lake the sounfd of firecrackers reminded us we weren't in the wilderness anaymore. After a brief splash war on our way across Snowbank, we made it to the landing and our car was still there. What a great trip!
Lake One to Alice - 4 days of sunshine
June 15, 2015
Number of Days:
The portages were all well-traveled and easy to find, but we had a mishap on one of the short portages from Lake Four into Hudson. These were along the shore to avoid the rapids of the kawashiwi as it flowed from Husdon to Lake Four. At the end of the portage there was a good landing for boats, but we weren’t sure if it was the end or not as it was clear you would have to paddle upstream through a little rapid of faster water. There might have been an additional section to the trail leading around it, but it didn’t look good enough to explore further, and we didn’t bother. My wife and I went first and paddled hard and topped the riffle without a problem; there really weren’t any rocks to navigate around. We are experienced enough to know the difference that a carbon paddle can make in a day’s fatigue and were all using Wenonah blacklight’s. The canoe behind us came up next and right after topping the fast water the stern paddler cracked the paddle blade during a stroke. The canoe started moving backwards for a second heading back down river, but he quickly freed the spare paddle and stayed in safe water. The paddle broke across one side of the blade only, about 3 inches below where the blade meets the shaft. The other side was intact and there were no rock chips or other damage evident: I think it was just a hard dig and a weak spot in the composite layup. Lesson Two: when swinging carbon, every canoe should have their own spare paddle- we had three days left with no other spares, and if it were my paddle that broke, my spare-less canoe would have probably floated backwards down into the rapids. (two days later we met some boyscouts who were complaining about all the mud on that particular portage….that we didn’t know was there because we had unintentionally skipped it[and broken a paddle]). On Husdon Lake we had a little bit of a wind chop, and got blown off course quite a bit when I landed a big bike. Well, bigger than any fish I’d ever caught before. Our canoe was 31 inches across at the beam and the fish had that beat by a little. I had brought a small trout net but never used it: The best landing tools ended up being a needle-nose pliers to remove the hook and a glove to grip the fish and keep the slime off of your hand. The 105rd from Hudson to Insula was a little bit of a climb, but it was a pretty hike- along the river canyon. I can only imagine what it was like before the burn- or what it might be in 100 years. Insula was a tricky navigation, with all the islands and long skinny bays. The wind was with us for most of the lake until we got up out of the burn area into the northern end where we started fighting a tough headwind coming from the bigger parts of the lake. If you have ever wondered what “The Rock” is that is marked on all the maps of Insula, it is…well…a rock. It serves as a good landmark, but there’s nothing really special about it. You get a bunch of sean connery/ Nicholas cage and Dwayne Johnson jokes, but it’s otherwise unremarkable from any other rock in the BWCA. We were all tired from a long day and ended up stopping at site #1335 on the eastern shore at about 1:30pm. After a good 14 miles of paddling, It was quickly decided that this was home for the night. Hammocks were out and we were napping in the breeze soon after arriving. It was hard to fish from shore as we had an offshore wind coming at us about all afternoon. Dinner was steaks and mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus and cabernet. The wilderness feast is a good reason for picking a First-day route with little portaging! The wind settled overnight and we stayed up late enjoying company of good friends around the campfire, with a little good whiskey as an after-dinner digestif.
We all slept in the next morning and found that those who ate more asparagus had less of a “dehydrated state + maybe a little too much alcohol” headache. Noted :) . I was testing a homemade alcohol stove that I kept nested in a little kit with a cup/cozy/small fuel bottle/ and vacuum-sealed Via coffee packet. The goal was a silent cup of hot coffee whenever you wanted it (first thing in the morning without waking anyone else). It worked well and I kept it ready-to-go throughout the trip. Breakfast was a new recipe of dehydrated peanut-butter-banana-grape nuts spread on toasted English muffins. It was good, but looked like nutty turds. I would make it again, but package it differently to make preparation easier and less messy.
We packed up and headed North on Insula without being sure of our destination for the night. The plan was to find a cool campsite and stop whenever the group felt like it. I caught another good sized pike on a big crossing of Insula. Fishing is awesome when there really isn’t much work involved other than paddling a little harder to make up for the extra drag. We crossed the three greasy portages into Alice and at points had sucking mud knee-high. Sometimes you can skirt the mud on the side or jump across, but with a canoe and a pack there is often little choice but to strap your Tevas on tight and head straight through. Alice was pretty, with more open water, partial cliff-lined western shore, and sandy beach campsites to the east. We crossed and paddled up the eastern shore.
Site #1169 was open and was everything we wanted to see. Nice sandy beach, sheltered tent pads, plenty of solid hammock trees, and a large cooking area. There was also a south wind that was funneled into the bay right at our campsite. Afternoon swimming commenced, and after camp chores I tried some fishing. First casting topwater bait, then crank lures with no success. I tried taking a tandem canoe out solo, kneeling in the center, but it was too difficult to both hold my position and fish at the same time. It had also clouded over and was a little cold. Discouraged, I gathered some firewood and piled rocks up to improve the wind-break for the fire grate. Then I had an idea and made an anchor with a rock and spare length of cord. It worked great! I anchored the canoe in 15 feet of water off the shore and it pointed into the wind and stayed put. There was a pair of loons fishing and after waiting for them to move on I casted to where they had been. I had a soft plastic storm swimbait that looked like a baby pike and not 4 casts later I had hooked into a 19” walleye. Just in time for dinner!
The planned dinner was dehydrated burritos with beans, corn, salsa, chicken, guac, and rice, but now it had turned into fish tacos. Also as an experiment I had packed some small corn tortillas to fry into chips and it worked extremely well. We snacked on hot salty chips while waiting for the taco stuff to rehydrate. Fried the fish and for the second night enjoyed an amazing dinner! We fished until dark, catching little, and then hot tea by the fire before bed.
Breakfast was instant carnation and grapenuts cereal. We broke camp and headed back across Alice to make a 2-day return trip. My friend in the other canoe was trolling too by this point and had another big northern on the line in the middle of Alice but it came off the hook as we were trying to land it. It had bit the plastic front lip clear off of his minnow. Back on Insula, I’m not sure if it was a snag or a sharp bite, but my line snapped and my lucky rappala lure was gone. It was a long paddle south and east through insula in a hot sun, and kind-of disheartening to be in the burn area again. There was almost a traffic-jam at the Insula-Hudson portage: one scout group with 4 canoes lingering at the far landing and two other small groups waiting to cross. Luckily our food pack was a lot lighter and we had a well-practiced portage routine by then, so we could get through and out of the way quickly.
On Hudson, we caught a pair of moderate-size pike as we paddled through. Our plan was to go back on “the path less traveled” and from Hudson we went north to Fire lake. This took us out of the burn and to a quiet, narrow channel. There was someone camped on the north bay of Hudson, but after that we didn’t see another soul. By this time we were tired, and it was after 3pm. We looked at the sites on the West end of Fire, but decided to keep going. (couldn’t find the west-most site on Fire lake #1482, and further research shows that others haven’t found it there either). Short portages to the north arm of Lake Four. It was serene back here, and not heavily traveled. We found site #1483 and were ready to stop!
Dinner was the priority as it was nearing 5:00 after a long day and almost 14 miles paddling. An easy-to-make meal of potatoes, stuffing, gravy, and chicken was quickly demolished. This site had a south-facing view and the weather was dead calm and clear. Once the sun went down I stayed awake to try some milky way photos. No rainflys that night and we slept under the stars.
I woke up expecting to have the sun in my face, but instead there was a cool wind and grey clouds…too grey. It looked like rain and I quickly took down my hammock while making coffee and went to rig a tarp over the gear/kitchen. The night that we purposely did not prepare for rain we almost woke up to it. There were a few sprinkles, but we escaped a true rain and can claim a rain-free trip. Breakfast was oatmeal and dried fruit… and more than one cup of coffee. Always not ready to leave on the last day. We reluctantly packed our things for the last time and headed west on the north arm of Lake Four. I trolled a baby torpedo on top and came up with a single smallmouth bass. We traveled from Lake Four, to Bridge Lake, and then the long 167rd portage to Rifle lake. It was… long. Very scenic. At one point there was a double-trunk tree down about chest level with no way to go under it. It took two people to lift over the canoes/ packs one at a time.
Bridge Lake was beautiful, and we all agreed might deserve a return trip someday. On to Lake Two, and the two quick portages back to Lake One. The wind was against us all for all of the last two lakes, but we had cheeseburgers on our minds and made good time back to the entry. A change of clothes and back to Ely for burgers and beers at the Boathouse pub. (If you’ve never had the blueberry blonde beer they make, you’re missing out.) Piragis handled the broken paddle very well- they have always been great, and will get our business again. All in all, this was a fantastic trip. No rain, little-to-no bugs (I might have gotten 1 mosquito bite), good fishing, good eating, and quality adventure time with good friends.
[paragraph break] Lessons Learned:
-Print copies of map/route to stash in bottom of pack.
-keep a spare paddle accessible in each canoe
-prepare camp for rain before going to sleep; even if its clear and you are sleeping outside.
[paragraph break] Things that worked well:
-adjustable rod holders clamped to center of rear thwart.
-dehydrated taco/burrito filling
-soaking clothes/packs/hammocks/soft goods in permethrin
-bungee dealees. First time I’ve tried them, and they are fast and amazing for lashing things to the boat.
-gravity water filter. I love my MSR miniworks, but the gravity system made lots of water for group cooking while you were doing other things.
-Fronky-style hammock bugnet (look it up if you’re into hammocking).
-Fish glove. For grip when landing and cleaning fish.
-Fresh Fried tortilla chips.