BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
July 12 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!
Paddle with Dad: Lake One to Insula
June 25, 2017
Number of Days:
The alarm on phone buzzed and I rolled over in my sleeping bag. It was 5am and it felt like I’d just laid down. Well, I really had. The trip had really began for me a day earlier when I woke up in my Twin Cities apartment, played an Ultimate Frisbee tournament all day, packed the car, tied the canoe on, and left on 35W at 10pm. I’d arrived at my little brother’s studio+ in Duluth around 1am and spent a few hours asleep on the kitchen floor next to my dad. Now we were all waking up, my little brother for work, and me and my dad we headed up to Ely and the BWCA.
My dad drove up the north shore as I slept more until we stopped in Two Harbors for breakfast at McDonald’s. As we turned away from the big lake it began to rain on and off hard enough to slow our progress up Route 1. We reached Kawishiwi Lodge and Outfitters around 9 and picked up a few last essentials including jigs, leeches, a fishing license for Dad, and info about the dangerous rapids between Lakes One and Two (take the long way around). Lastly, we repacked in the boat house and got on the water at about 10 or 11am.
The paddle started off wonderful! The rain was a warm, slow drizzle and we were in awe as we adjusted out minds and bodies to the quiet and solitude. That first awe and excitement is always so sweet. My navigation skills took a bit to come back and we had some confusion finding the portages to Lake Two. By the time we were paddling into Three, though, I had the hang of it again of how the map distances correspond to real world distances. As we reached the far end of Lake Four the rain increased in intensity and the temperature began to drop.
We handled the three portages from Four to Hudson in quick succession. They weren’t bad, but they were soaking wet with big puddles of chilled rainwater. We put on more layers before paddling across Hudson. That helped but the wind was picking up and the rain was only getting harder. We paddled hard against the wind and simply to keep warm. The portage into Insula is beautiful, but we didn’t have the time, energy, or body heat to appreciate it.
On Insula we were paddling through the still-comparatively-barren burned area. We were feeling a bit barren ourselves as we were running out of energy, cold, and our extra layers were wet by now as well. We headed east for two miles around the big, misshapen island and the large, bulbous peninsula. As we rounded the peninsula and headed north we were now looking at fully green shores, untouched by the fire. However, we were also headed directly into the wind, which seemed stronger than ever. The rain was harder too, and it was colder. Frankly, it was miserable. Finally, we could see our site, #1337, and finished the final push.
We landed, and went straight for the tent. We were legitimately concerned about hypothermia at this point and new we should get dry and warm as quick as we could. Once the tent and rainfly were up, we each peeled off our GORE-TEX and wet layers and climbed into sleeping bags. We ate nuts and trail muffins, drank copious amounts of water, and were finally warm enough to fall asleep.
We probably napped for couple hours and when we woke up the rain and wind had both slowed. We set up a tarp for a kitchen area, hung a bear bag, and made dinner. Dinner was chicken from a bag and vegetables we’d chopped at home all spiced, steamed, and stewed in the same pot. Some delicious and warming broth at the bottom! We ate under the tarp as the day’s last grey light faded – there was no chance of getting a fire started.
Monday, June 26, 2017
We woke to a bright and shining morning. First thing I did was tie on a jig and put it out with a leech. I caught a nice smallie in the shallows just feet from camp. When my dad returned from the woods with the bear bag, we ate breakfast and then set about drying our clothes and gear in the sun. We took it easy that morning, still tired from our paddle in stayed dry and walked on small trails around the peninsula on which we were camped. We came across a (snapping?) turtle who looked like she was laying eggs.
That afternoon we paddled out into the chunk of Insula adjacent to our site. I trolled a Deep Tail Dancer as we circled The Rock. When we rounded the southern end I hooked into sizeable pike and fought it for a while as the wind picked up. Although it’s not saying much, this was probably the biggest pike I’ve hooked and I was surprised by how many runs it made. Meanwhile the sky was getting darker as a squall headed towards us across the water. Finally, I thought the fish was ready to come in and I held the line as I reached for it with my undersized net. One more big thrash and I knew my mistake as the line snapped. At the same instant the squall hit us, a cold wind picked up and it started to rain. The bright sun of that morning was nowhere to be seen and the water was dark as the exhausted pike rolled on its surface with the Tail Dancer t-boned in its mouth. We fought the wind and managed to keep the fish in view long enough to make a pass and I had its nose in my net, but my little trout net wasn’t deep enough and the weight of its tail against the water flipped the whole fish out. We scanned the choppy surface as we were buffeted by the wind but we couldn’t see the pike anymore. As quickly as it had come, the darkness and rain moved on and the warm sun shone down on us again. I vowed to buy a bigger net.
If anyone more experienced than me knows (or can guess) what becomes of fish that break off with big lures in their mouths, I’d love to know what you think. Sure, I wanted to retrieve my $11 lure, but I was more concerned about the pike. If it didn’t die of exhaustion, I assume it starved unable to shake out the solidly lodged hooks?
Disappointed by my ineptitude and careless damage to the resident of the beautiful place I was visiting, I sat around dejectedly. But it’s hard for me to stay sour for long up there and soon it was time to cook dinner. I set about preparing a boil-in-bag Indian dish. I heard a shout from the water and went over to see my dad with a fish on. He’s not a fisherman but had brought a pole along to join in with me. After he landed the nice smallie he told me with wide eyes how he had seen the fish feet from shore. He had put a leech on his jig and tossed it out nearby, assuming it would be ignored. He was amazed that the idea of fishing had actually worked. He was exhilarated and it was a great feeling to watch.
We had a fire that night with dinner and a still evening provided a peaceful view of the sun’s last rays.
I was up early and tried to repeat our shore-fishing successes, but had no luck this time. I did manage to spot a big hare at the edge of camp and get a blurry picture. We ate a quick breakfast, packed ourselves some lunch, and headed out. We paddled north through the small passage, east passed Eagle Island (my name, given for the gang of bald eagles perched on dead trees on the island’s southern point), around Williamson Island, north through the narrows, and finally east to the portage to the Kawishiwi River. We spent the middle of the day fishing the rapids.
I had a pretty good few hours. I caught two eater-sized walleye using the TGO method to swirl a leech in the end of the rapids. I caught a personal best smallie at just over 18 inches – also on a plain leech and hook. And finally I hooked a pike just under 30 inches. This was on my lighter rod with lighter line and I was standing on solid shore, so I took my sweet time fighting this one. When he finally let himself come into the shallows the hook was just barely tucked into the corner of his mouth. It slipped right out when I pushed. I pointed him towards the deep water and he swam down slowly but directly. I love that thrill of a good release as much as I love the catching. This one felt especially good after f@*$!ng up the last one.
Unfortunately, my dad didn’t catch anything. Worse than that, I was just sort of in my own world and didn’t help him get anything. He came out to fish with me, not to watch me fish. We talked about it later and I apologized for ignoring him.
On the way back to camp, we stopped at Williamson Island. I’d read about it on these forums including the story/history/legend the Williamson family made this their annual getaway and carved their name in the rock. It’s a beautiful place and I resolved to come back and stay there (see my trip report from 2018!).
Over a walleye dinner we had some really good father son talk. I talked about my girlfriend and told him of the problems we were having. He told me about getting back to rock climbing and hiking after a bad fall and broken leg the past fall. It was good to be up there with him. Then it was night, we went to sleep, and prepared for our travel day out the next morning.
We were up early and on the water with a gray morning. It was warm enough and calm, making for a beautiful paddle through the burned southern half of Insula. This time we noticed the bright pink/purple flowers amidst the gray.
As we went it got darker and cooler. On Lake 2 it began to drizzle. On Lake 1 it was raining hard and the wind had picked up. That last mile or two dragged on and on. We didn’t want to leave, so we were working against ourselves as well as the elements. By the time we got to the EP, it was pouring and we were soaked to the skin and cold. It seemed the BWCA wanted to send us off the way it had welcomed us.
We had a sauna and shower at Kawishiwi Lodge and bought T-shirts. (Well, we left money for them after the proprietor on the phone told us to reach behind the counter and choose our favorites.) We drove slowly in mist and rain back down to Duluth. We met up with my brother for dinner at Va Bene Caffe – a delicious Italian feast! It’s not often the three of us get some time together, so that part’s worth including. Next time my bro will come with us on the trip.