BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
April 05 2020
Number of Permits per Day: 2
Elevation: 1201 feet
South Kawishiwi River - 32
How to Destroy an Aluminum Canoe
June 10, 2015
South Kawishiwi River
Number of Days:
The goal today was to leave the Twin Cities around 6 pm and get up to our motel layover in Babbitt by 10 pm. With excitement, the four of us crammed all of our gear inside the car and we were off! After a quick Chipotle stop, it didn’t take long and we reached our destination for the night: ‘Alder Place: The Inn’ in Babbitt. Why did we stay here? Not sure. But we all got a huge kick out of it. You actually had to move one of the beds in order to open the door. Most definitely a fire hazard, but it felt like a good start to the trip.
The hilarity continued at our motel when we went to check out. To pay for our night, the front desk employee (who apparently has a room behind the desk) had to be woken up. He also didn’t know the price and had to step out from behind the desk to look at the sign advertising prices to know how much to charge us. Again, a good sign that adventure would be had!
After spending some time getting our packs ready, we drove the short half hour to River Point Resort where Steve got us our permits and prepared our canoes. We especially appreciated the coffee at the front desk since we hadn’t had any yet. In no time, the outfitter was driving us to our entry point just a few minutes away—South Kawishiwi River. Since River Point is on the Kawishiwi, we would just paddle back to the outfitter when it was time to leave.
A rod was certainly longer than I remembered from 8 years ago. About two thirds into the 147-rod portage, I was shocked we weren’t at the end of the trail yet. It was a little muddy and quite downhill, but all-in-all a good introduction to portaging for the rest of the group. We had determined we would single portage on this trip, Tim and I carrying the canoes while Jess and Heidi would each carry a food bag (in addition to our own packs, of course).
We met another group at the Kawishiwi side of the portage just leaving. A gentleman gave us a tip on a good campsite, and like that we were paddling. So beautiful. The other three could now see why I wanted to take them here.
As we paddled through the calm waters, we marveled at the beauty of nature and reveled in the amazing weather that morning.
We stopped for a needed lunch break at the north end of the bay. We hadn’t had breakfast, so a pot of coffee and some sandwiches were in order. Heidi decided to try her hand at fishing. Unfortunately, before long she hit a snag and Tim came to the rescue to unsnag the lure from lake bottom.
We continued on, enjoying the perfect weather and minimal portaging the Kawishiwi offers. Now I had suggested we shoot for Bald Eagle Lake as the far side of our loop. On the map I saw that the river narrowed and it looked like we could avoid the 122-rod portage into Little Gabbro. Well, as soon as we paddled up to the narrow, we realized that the 'narrow part of the river' was actually a nice long set of rapids, and we were at the bottom. Bushwhacking was briefly considered, as well as backtracking to the correct portage, but since it was already late in the day we settled on just changing our plans.
We paddled a small ways north to the first set of campsites and found the eastern one a suitable home for our first night—complete with welcome wood!
After our dinner of baked potatoes, hot dogs, and corn on the cob, we planned out our remaining route, had some boxed wine, and chatted the night away around the campfire.
We weren’t really looking at watches, but I would bet it wasn’t until 11 am or so that we paddled off.
The plan was now to do the triangle. So we paddled up to the northeast corner of the triangle and then headed west towards the falls. Somewhere along the way Heidi caught a nice-sized northern. We decided to keep it for dinner. This part of the river, just east of the falls portage, was extremely beautiful. I really wanted to stay at a campsite here, but I knew that we had to get further than this today. Soon we were in the midst of our 209-rod portage. Besides having to step over/duck under a few trees, it really wasn’t too bad. At the end of the portage we had our lunch break and took a short dip at the landing. We also checked out the side trail that led to a view of the rapids.
We weren’t too sure where we would camp tonight, though we had our eye on Clear Lake. Having reached the northwest corner, we started heading south. We eye the rapids near the campsite and decide a portage here is unnecessary as we shoot down them instead. (Side note: I don’t remember exactly what these rapids looked like, but I can now see this was likely not a smart idea.) We checked out the campsite at the bottom of the rapids and decide it’s a little small for our liking.
Here’s where our day started to go a bit awry. On our map, the portage into Clear Lake appears to start not quite at the end of the bay. Well, we found this downed tree and a landing, which we were positive was the start of the portage trail.
After trying to follow two different trails from this point, the trail dissipated, forcing us to backtrack—sometimes over downed trees. At this point, we were getting very frustrated. We decide to get back in the canoe and, since we had seen a few other canoes around, go find someone to ask where the portage was.
Fortuitously, we found another canoe within a few minutes of paddling. They informed us the portage was at the very end of the bay. As we went back to the rest of the group with the news and went to check out the supposed location, we immediately recognized what a ‘real’ portage trail looks like. Though this portage is technically not difficult, we were all beat and this one was especially hard for me. But eventually, we hit Clear Lake and were happy to be on a new body of water.
At this point daylight was fading (was it 6-7pm?), so we were in dire need of a campsite. One by one we checked each of the campsites on Clear Lake. We had looked at all but one and they were all full. If there were no campsites on this lake, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to portage again today. Luckily for us, the last campsite that was out of sight turned out to be open.
It was a very elevated campsite with not a ton of room. And I remember there being candy bar wrappers everywhere. But, we were beyond happy to be home for the night. Heidi filleted the fish and we fried it up. This was supplemented with pretzel goldfish and beef stew. After another round of campfires, boxed wine, and good conversation, we drifted to sleep.
We’ve got it all figured out
Saturday was a continuation of the unbelievable weather we had been having. Sunny and 75. The plan today was to grab a campsite close to the edge of the BWCA to make Sunday morning’s paddle as short as possible.
We paddled past the campsite we ate lunch on the first day and made our way south down the Kawishiwi. We thought we would check out the small Bruin Lake and its lone campsite. It took us quite a while to find the site. Eventually we figured out the site was up away from the water (unlike most sites). It looked as if it hadn’t been used at all this season as the grass around the fire grate was 6 inches high. We opted not to use this site.
Instead, we took a gamble and went for the southernmost campsite, right across from the entry point we had been at days earlier. Sure enough, it was empty. We arrived at this site quite early in the day and spent the rest of the day fishing, relaxing, and soaking it all in.
For dinner we had instant mashed potatoes and summer sausage. For some reason, this meal really hit the spot!
That night the stars were incredible. They were so bright and they were reflecting off the glass-like water. Perfect last night in the Boundary Waters! That night we did have some skeeters, but being it was early in the season, this was the first we had really dealt with them.
Shoot! the Rapids!
We set an alarm to get an early start. After somberly packing up, we started making our way back towards the outfitters. Another perfect morning. Fog, sunshine, calm waters; perfect.
Now we knew there were four portages between here and the wider Kawishiwi, where the outfitter was located. We also knew that these portages were to avoid rapids. However, given our success with the rapids a couple days earlier, we decide that portaging seems like a bit of a waste of time.
So, we got to the first set of rapids and successfully shot through them without any hassle. After that point, we also went under a walking bridge—something that took us all aback as we were not used to seeing manmade objects like this.
As we headed towards the second set of rapids, my wife was adamant that we portage. I’m a bit more of a risk taker than she is. This particular section has an island in the middle, so you can choose to take the rapids on the left side or on the right side of the island. The portage trail is along the right shore, but I determine we should go to the left of the island to save time (haha, like 1 minute?). Again, my wife is not for this plan, but decides to go along with it.
Well, as we approach the rapids they look far larger than the previous ones we had been through. We immediately try to get to shore, but the current takes us through the rapids. We get almost all the way through them, when the canoe veers towards a large boulder at the bottom. Boom! We collide head on with the boulder. So far, no harm, but we are now stuck.
The current pushes the back of the canoe forward and now the boulder is contacting the canoe directly in the center of the canoe. The open end of the canoe tips towards the top of the rapids and as the rapids start to fill each end of the canoe, the force of the water bends the canoe around the boulder. It’s all a bit of a blur, but somehow Jess and I are able to grab all of our gear and swim to dry land. Meanwhile, we’re yelling at the other canoe, who was behind us, to get to shore. They also are not able to do, so are forced to shoot the rapids. They, however, are successful.
Now we still have the canoe to deal with. Tim hopped out of the other boat and we both waded into the rapids to try to dislodge the canoe. This was extremely difficult because of the water pressure. Finally, we were able to dislodge it and it floated into the bay. The ladies were able to snap a pic of this...
But the damage had been done. Huge gashes in the center of the canoe. Since we determined it was not buoyant and that we would not all fit in one canoe, we decided our course of action would be to have two people wait here and the other two go back to the outfitters to retrieve a different canoe. Still not really sure if that was the best course of action, but it was the best we could come up with the time.
Side note: as we were hanging out here we did see another canoe shoot through these rapids, but on the right side of the island instead of the left.
A country song resonated through my head as I waited there on the banks ‘A slammed door and a lesson learned, you gotta love a little crash and burn!’
It took Tim and Heidi a couple hours to get to the outfitters as we had underestimated how far away the outfitter was. Steve at River Point gave Tim and Heidi and pontoon ride back to the first set of rapids to cut down on time. And after about 3 hours of hanging out by the canoe, we finally saw them coming (man, they had to be tired, especially after portaging two canoes on the way back!)
We thought about just letting the broken canoe float through the rest of the rapids, but didn’t want to deal with the situation that it gets stuck.
We got a lot of looks as we passed by people on the river. My response to each of the them was the same: ‘Don’t shoot the rapids.” Once we did our last portage, we had Steve come back with the pontoon since it was quite a paddle from that point to the outfitter.
Steve thought this whole ordeal was pretty funny and he informed us we were very lucky we didn’t get hurt. And of course, Steve had the last laugh since I had to buy him a new canoe. I sure was glad I hadn’t rented a Kevlar canoe—that would have dented the pocketbook even more.
We ended up strapping the broken canoe to the top of our car with intentions of making it into bookshelves. We haven’t done that yet, but I am actually wondering if this thing could be fixed by a welder. Perhaps it is too damaged, but it might be worth asking a welder.
We stopped at Adventures in Virginia for some delicious burgers as we sifted through pictures, already excited for our next trip despite the incident that happened on this one.
On the way home, we stopped for some McDonalds soft serve and received more funny looks with the busted canoe strapped atop the car. Got home much later than expected, and with one more (broken) canoe than expected, but we got home safe and sound and had some great memories from a great adventure.