BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
December 09 2023
Number of Permits per Day: 3
Elevation: 1392 feet
Farm Lake - 31
May 28, 2022
South Kawishiwi River
Number of Days:
The plan was to drive north today and camp near the put-in. Now that Virginia, MN has a DC fast charger, it is much easier to drive our EV. While the car charged, we hiked along the Mesabi Trail and checked out some overlooks of the mine.
Once we arrived in Ely, I hopped out at Piragis to pick up the rental canoe and get our permit, while the boys plugged in the car at the library's level 2 charger. They walked down to sign their waivers and receive the warnings about the cold, high water conditions. After portaging the canoe back to the car, we strolled to the Boathouse restaurant for a delicious supper.
We drove to the Birch Lake campsite for the night. Joey helped Stew learn how to put up our spare 4-person tent that we weren't taking on trail. Apparently, Joey walked away from the lesson at a critical point that we only discovered the next morning...stay tuned.
The mist started about 6:30am and I should have listened to my gut whispering I should get everyone up to start packing before it got worse. However, I hate always being the one to say, "Go, go, go!" So instead, we got up as the rain strengthened around 7:30, threw a tarp up and started getting our gear into trail ready form. At this point, we discovered the error in tent assembly last night as the rain started pouring through the peak vents. Stew had put the tent fly on upside down! Too funny! Fortunately, I had already packed my down sleeping bag so only my pad got wet.
After granola for breakfast and coffee for Stew, we were ready for our drive to the South Kawishiwi River put-in. I had never been to this EP before, but it was easy to find using the directions in the Beymer book. His mileages are always spot on.
A quick unload, attached bow and stern lines to the rented MN III canoe, fastened in the spare paddle, fishing gear, and a rescue rope (just in case someone needs help given the high water this spring). People started coming across the portage to the parking lot, starting with a group of 6 who flung their 3 canoes off their shoulders onto the rocky ground. OUCH! It hurts when I see any canoe being treated like that. A bit later another large group and a solo canoeist crossed paths with us on the portage. We didn't see anyone entering, only exiting. Maybe the rainy weather or the high water had so many people exiting on Saturday of a 3-day weekend, or maybe it was just happen stance, but it seemed strange.
We single portaged, so we made short work of the 124 rod portage. We had received a brief scouting report from the 1st group. They had entered at Farm Lake and stayed on Clear Lake. They said the 5 rod portage had more water running THROUGH it than the river channel itself. So they chose to skip the portage and just paddle down the river, but didn't think we would be able to paddle upstream. We took their advice with a grain of salt. Turns out the portage was dry as a bone and quick and easy. To reenter the river, we chose the landing furthest from the main river channel due to the strong current. A group was camped at the site across from the portage, but otherwise we didn't see anyone else at the 8 sites we passed.
We headed to site 1131 near the "bottom" of the Kawishiwi triangle. Delightfully, it was also empty and we paddled up the swift water narrows to pull into the upstream landing area tucked in a little bay. Since the weather forecast is for a showery weekend, we decided we would basecamp. Tomorrow we can paddle around the triangle and end up back at our cozy campsite. Today was mostly misty as the rain only lasted until we got on the river, though it was quite windy in the afternoon.
Stew loved this campsite for the shore fishing. He was able to play with the eddy lines a lot. At one point, he thought he snagged on something downstream and started walking the cliffside. When he got over the top of the lure, he realized he actually had a nice northern on the line. He had multiple ledges below him, but managed to land the fish on the 3rd ledge up. As he was calculating how to get to it asap, it gave a big flop and knocked the hook loose. Stew watched helplessly as it flip flopped its way down from ledge to ledge until it finally slid back into the water. I awoke from my nap very confused as I heard Stew shouting, "Dinner just rolled into the river!!!" I was trying to wrap my brain around how the food bag could've come out of the pack and then rolled off the flat part of the campsite. It did give me a heck of a harsh wake up before he explained. Later, as the "one that got away" tale was retold, we joked that fish will be picking pine needles out of its gills for a week.
Joey and I started cooking dinner on the stove while Stew did some more shore fishing. As Joey went to fetch him for dinner, he watched in horror as Stew slipped and fell into the river. Dry shoes and socks soaked as well as his pants soaked to mid thigh. Fortunately, he was able to just barely catch himself before he ended up in the full current. He came back up and ate. Then Joey set about getting a fire started to help dry stuff. Tough going with the wet wood, but he persisted and succeeded. We used the fire to help dry some additional wood for tomorrow morning's biscuits and gravy.
Break-in trip Reason #1: "Mom, can I borrow your headlamp?" "It's daylight, why do you need it?" "Too dark in my hammock to read." "Where's your headlamp?" "Plugged in at home, charging." "Good thing this isn't your Arctic trip!"
Break-in trip Reason #2: Our new bear ropes are too short. We realized we never measured our old ones. Made it work tonight, but definitely need to remedy before our 2 week trip.
Break-in trip Reason #3: I discovered my solo tent is much better in the rain if I add extra stakes to the fly. Normally, I don't carry extra stakes, but I had brought an extra tarp on this trip and I used those stakes. Before my solo trip, I will invest in some lightweight extras for my tent.
Break-in trip Reason #4: Stew's new used sleeping pad is too big for his hammock.
We all slept warm and cozy in our respective cocoons despite chilly temps. The night was a symphony of chorus frogs and toads with an intermittent solo by a white-throated sparrow. The dawn broke with an abundance of optimistic bird calls, all hoping to be the one picked by a mate today.
We had a simple morning putzing around camp and cooking up a perfect pan of cheesy biscuits and country gravy with sausage. We rehung the food pack and packed some basics for our day trip. Since the weather was still iffy and we planned to paddle the whole triangle (about 12 miles) we brought a daypack with lunch, a tarp, and rain gear. We also brought the pack basket with a bag of warm, dry clothes, a sleeping bag and pad as well as the 1st aid kit. We planned a clockwise trip so the long portages would be completed by lunchtime. The main goal for the day was to cover a lot of miles with relatively light loads as a way to train up a bit.
We heard an unusual frog call today. It sounded like a spring peeper combined with a cricket noise. Maybe an aggression call by a spring peeper? We saw a lot of people coming across the 175 rod portage into Clear Lake, probably from Farm Lake start. All of them were overpacked and were double carrying their canoes instead of portaging them on their shoulders. They all looked crabby and miserable. A couple people arrived at the Clear Lake landing with their 2nd load just as we were starting off. They had left their 1st load including a canoe and lots of junk strewn across 90% of the landing. They had the nerve to get cranky at us shimmying past and snapped that there were a bunch more canoes coming. We ignored them and made quick work of the portage, stepping aside as other canoes trickled through.
At the infamous (in our family) 210 rod portage, Joey headed across with the canoe while I scouted for a lunch spot. This is the portage Joey first did 6 years earlier (age 13) and got incredibly mad at me because he mistakenly thought it was 120 rods rather than 210. Back then, he had made a valiant effort to carry his pack the whole way and almost made it before realizing it was much longer and psyched himself out. He stormed back yelling at me that I had lied to him (I hadn't lied, just hadn't corrected him when he mentioned the length as 120 rods earlier) before hiding and pouting in the brush at the end of the trail. What a difference 6 years make! Now he just runs any size load across in no time and comes back for more.
I found a lovely overlook of the rapids about halfway along the trail (between the 2 boardwalk sections). After we finished eating, Joey and I bushwhacked downstream to the falls, then managed to find a thin, little used trail back to the portage that brought us out by the west end on the westernmost boardwalk. It was really hard to find and clearly hasn't been used much since a lot of trees had fallen. We spent about an hour with lunch and exploring. We saw lots of wolf scat, some of it fresh. We also found a radio that seemed to have been lost for quite awhile and had a dead battery. We took it back with us (and then lost it on a fall hunting trip this October...something about that radio...).
The rest of the triangle went smoothly. Water levels were high enough that we could have run some of the sections like the ducks we watched, but we decided to take all of the portages. Some of the portages were still mildly flooded and I can only imagine how dangerous it was at the highest flood stage a week or two ago. A few campsites along the route were occupied, but most were empty. Stew was bummed that he had forgotten the fishing gear back at the campsite so he didn't get to do any trolling.
The whole route took us about 6 hours including the hour long lunch. Back at the campsite, we enjoyed watching the loons and mergansers diving into the current to catch fish. I also learned the spring plumage of male mergansers is very different than their summer or fall plumage. They are black/white with red/orange on the bill. I should remember to bring a bird book on future May trips since the birds are at their most abundant and active this time of year with plenty of migratory birds alongside the regulars. In terms of guide books I think May is best for birds, June for wildflowers, July for berries along with butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies, and August/September is best for mushroom identification.
We had a couple visitors around the campsite... ...turtle taking a walkabout ...this little tough guy became our mascot and traveled home with us. [paragraph break] Early morning thunderstorms. I love my new stake out system for my solo tent. All of us lounged around in our shelters until about 8:45am waiting for the rain to slow down. Since some light sprinkles continued we cooked our oatmeal on the stove under the tarp. We reluctantly tore down camp, not eager to head home. We didn't pull away from the campsite until noon.
The wind had strong gusts from the east so we had some tailwinds, some headwinds, and some side gusts. Stew trolled while Joey and I paddled gently while we had current and a tailwind. Once the headwinds hit us, Stew added his powerful strokes and we flew quite quickly.
The portage out to the parking area had a lot more water on it as well as a freshly fallen tree that required some teamwork to pass. Stew didn't feel up to carrying the canoe and I wanted a turn so we took all the packs over first and then Joey and I returned for the daypack and canoe. It reminded me that I need to get into much better shape before the Grand Portage trip in September.
We loaded up and returned the canoe to Piragis. We always get compliments for returning the new canoes with no scratches. We drove to Virginia to charge up the car. We decided to only charge for 35 minutes before driving to Moose Lake to finish charging while eating dinner at the Lazy Moose restaurant. Fortunately, we managed to arrive about 30 minutes before closing.
On our way to Moose Lake, we had started hearing the approach of a big line of storms. We started watching the radar and listening to the weather reports. This storm was stretched across most of MN and it was producing numerous tornadoes and straight line winds, hail, and ferocious rains. We knew we would have to pull off the freeway before it crossed our path, but the challenge was figuring out where. We didn't get off at Hinckley, but a mile before the Beroun exit, the gust front loomed ominously over the road in front of us and had signs of severe downbursts. We pulled off at the exit and turned left to "hide" out at the tiny Marathon gas station.
Less than 60 seconds after pulling into the parking lot, the rain hit hard and fast. Then the hail began! Nearby trees vanished from sight as the wind drove the drove horizontally. We pulled forward under the canopy. Our car was shaking and we couldn't see anything! The station attendant invited everyone into the building if they felt more comfortable. Stew went in to talk to others about the conditions. One guy had exited the freeway right after us and had watched as a tree fell across the road to the right. Glad we turned left!
After 15-20 minutes, we headed back to the freeway but traveled at lower speeds due to the debris strewn on the road in places (branches, metal, and more) and sections with hard downpours, but the hail was done and the wind was more normal. We were all very happy to arrive home safe and sound. That was the scariest storm I have been in without a basement to hunker down in. A couple weeks later, as I drove north again, I saw an entire row of trees twisted and snapped off near the Hinckley exit. Glad we had chosen Beroun.
This was a wonderful break-in trip and I especially appreciate that our son still wants to trip with us.