BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
September 18 2021
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!
Best Friends and The Big Jump: Lake One to Insula
July 23, 2018
Number of Days:
We packed the cars and drove from Minneapolis to a cabin outside Ely, to which we had a tenuous family connection. No dogs allowed in the cabin so we set up our tents on the wooden deck. WE ate our defrosting veggie burgers as dusk fell and we had the worst mosquitos of the whole trip.
Monday, July 23, 2018
We woke early and made our way to Kawishiwi Outfitters to collect our permit and get on the water. We were soon paddling on the popular waters of Lake One and a good thing two because our plan was to push all the way through to Insula. We were hoping to snag Williamson island for our week-long base camp.
As we got our bearings we quickly learned how each of our pups (new to canoe tripping) would effect our travel. Kaya, our friend’s 70lb German wirehaired pointer, mostly just slept at her people’s feet. My dog Riley, a 38lb hound mix, needed to watch everything go by. To do this she need a good vantage point; she decided that on top of the gear worked for her, no matter how precarious that seemed to us. From her perch she could let us know whenever she wanted us to be going in some direction other than our current course. Whenever we approached a peninsula, she wanted to get out and explore and she would let us know her desire with whimpers and whines. When we pulled up to a portage, if she didn’t see an easy way to dry shore she would wait, not wanted to get unnecessarily wet (little princess that she is). As we passed by other canoes, she wanted to go over and say hello and would let us know with her hound vocals. If she ever saw our friends’ canoe ahead of us and she saw her friend Kaya, she would persistently insist that we catch up and overtake them. She just had to be the leader of the pack, I suppose.
With all these new quirks that came with our dogs – and some less than pleasant portages with pups pulling – we made our way from Lake One to Two, to Three, to Four, then on to Hudson, and finally to Insula. On Insula, our campsite of choice was taken but we happily landed at 1327, which was quite nice with both some sandy shallows and a rocky drop off for wading and swimming.
geotramper (one of the two friends and a fellow forum user) and I woke early, eager to get fishing and also to scout nearby island campsites (where we would be more comfortable letting the dogs off leash unsupervised). We had no bites but did find the occupants of one island gone and on Williamson Island – the prize! – they were packing up! We returned to camp and packed up, moved, set back up and enjoyed the rest of an overcast day with some fishing and relaxation. It was a bit windy but geotramper caught a nice pike trolling around the island. We baked it in tinfoil, delicious.
We set out on a day trip to Fishdance lake, and it’s petroglyph cliff. All I really remember from that travel was the brutal wind on the south end of Alice. While it started overcast, the sun peaked out, then burst forth with the light and warmth of a perfect summer lake day.
Arriving at Fishdance, we admired the petroglyphs and tried to imagine their artists. We pulled up our canoes on the bank next to the cliffs and walked up to the top where we found patches and patches of perfectly ripe blue berries – the first hint of the day’s true magic. After gorging on blueberries, we ate lunch and lounged on the cliff top’s rocks.
When we were done eating, it was time to jump. We walked back down to the canoes and while I stayed with the dogs, the others swam around the bottom to test the depth. Satisfied of safety, they walked to where we’d eaten lunch and made the leap. Swimming around, hey climbed out near me and while one of them stayed with the dogs the other three of us walked up to the top. I’d made that jump once before, two years earlier on a previous trip, but it’s quite a ways down and I remember my stomach dropping out just before I flung myself into the air. We took turns staying with the dogs until everyone had had a couple turns to jump and the exhilaration was bordering on exhausting. But then I requested one more jump for me and my girlfriend with geotramper behind with his camera.
I don’t think I knew for sure until that moment that I was planning to propose that day. I’d intended to marry her for years, but I never planned a specific proposal. Even driving north earlier that weekend, I’d had a vague sense, “maybe on this trip would be a good time to propose.” But I certainly hadn’t brought a ring or coordinated with my buddy geotramper to take the perfect engagement photos. On the other hand, maybe part of me had planned it this way. After all, one of her favorite adventures is cliff jumping.
So as we walked towards the top, geotramper hung back and found an outcropping from which he had a great angle to photograph the jump. At the edge we held hands and she asked “Ready?” But I hesitated, we stepped back, I knelt, and asked her to marry me. She said “Yes!”, with a big smile and pulled me up to kiss her. Then, hand in hand, we leapt off together.
That evening back in camp we took some time alone together with Riley to enjoy the incredible sunset as a new family.
P.S. -- One more piece of excitement for the day: A new personal best SM from just a few casts at the top of the portage between Kawishiwi River and Insula.
~Insula, Lake, Alice Lake, Fishdance Lake
It was a gray day and we had a slow morning and a big breakfast – eggs, bacon, hash browns. WE hung around camp most of the morning and tried fishing the drop offs at a nearby island campsite in the afternoon. As the day wore on, geotramper and I headed out to fish for walleye, the sun still hiding behind a wall of clouds.
On our way to the inlet at the portage to Kawishiwi, he caught a nice 18 incher while trolling a firetiger shad rap. Once we were set up on the moving water, we had a good time. After a few bass, and a large pike who broke off my deep tail dancer I was eventually rewarded for switching to a simple hook and leech with another eater-sized walleye. We cleaned them at a rock on the way back to camp and ate them with some delicious mac and cheese.
It was a beautiful clear sunny day and no one wanted to do anything. We lazed around the south-facing rock outcroppings of Williamson Island and relaxed; swimming, wading, and catching tiny rock bass. Eventually, our friends took a brief paddle, but my girlfriend fiancé and I just basked in the blissful sunshine.
In the late afternoon we all finally got in our canoes and paddled around exploring Lake Insula. We had some fun cliff jumping from The Rock, then enjoyed the sandy beach at campsite 1332 (NE of The Rock).
That night the moon was full and rose late over the far wooded shoreline. It reflected its incredible brightness off the water so that it shone like a second sun and lit our camp nearly like day.
A cloudless, sunny, still day greeted us when we woke and prepared to make our long paddle back towards the EP for an easy exit tomorrow. We made good time and enjoyed the wonderful day. On Lake Three the wind began picking up but we paddled into it wand still reached Lake Two around midday. Seeing it was not so busy we decided to paddle onwards to make our exit even easier the next morning. On Lake One, we struggled to find an open campsite and noticed a cloud bank moving in, threatening rain. To make matters worse we circled an island looking for two campsites (1672 and 1673) that are misplaced on the Voyageur Map series that I had. (In fact, they look mislabeled on the BWCA.com map as well. They should be on the peninsula just above the island they appear to be on.)
We ended up in a race against distant thunder, fighting the wind until we finally found a site only to have the storm dissipate before hitting us. Relieved, we gratefully dug in to a late lunch and our spirits rose with our blood sugar. We enjoyed our last afternoon of the trip fishing from camp.
We rose early, packed up camp, and moved out on the glassy, mist-covered water. We relished our last bits of quiet stillness as we paddled out of Lake One and into the channel of the Kawishiwi River. We saw the first signs of early morning life as we passed Kawishiwi Outfitters.
We thought we were concluding the trip’s excitement, but in one of the last narrow sections of river before the pull out a huge beaver appeared. It swam just ahead of our canoe. Remember at the beginning of the week I learned that my dog Riley wanted to greet everyone and everything she saw? Well, this enticement – a beaver about her size, swimming perpetually just out of her reach – was too much. She jumped out of the canoe and into the water, doggy paddling in a bee line for the beaver who immediately smacked its tail and dove. Now my dog was out of her element, buoyed by a doggy PFD, with a tree-chewing monstrosity somewhere below her. For one ridiculous moment I wondered what a beaver’s incisors would do to a dog’s leg or whether its powerful tail could knock her unconscious. Then she was within reach and I lifted her back into the canoe where she dripped and trembled with the frustration of being denied her prey.
We drove home to Minneapolis without incident. Since this trip, I’ve returned to the BWCA with my wife, the same two friends, and our dogs each year. We celebrated their engagement a year later, and last year we made the trip back to MN during the pandemic (having moved to CA). Now I’m finally finishing this trip report as I prepare to drive north next month to make this pilgrimage back.
I want to end by acknowledging that this place I hold so holy is not mine. The BWCA is stolen land; it was and is cared for and lived with by the Ojibwe peoples, including some presently living within the Grand Portage Reservation.