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May 24 2022

Entry Point 33 - Little Gabbro Lake

Little Gabbro Lake entry point allows overnight paddle only. This entry point is supported by Kawishiwi Ranger Station near the city of Ely, MN. The distance from ranger station to entry point is 23 miles. Access is a 200-rod portage from the parking lot to Little Gabbro Lake.

Number of Permits per Day: 1.5
Elevation: 1235 feet
Latitude: 47.8423
Longitude: -91.6316
Little Gabbro Lake - 33

What a blast! Gabbro - BE - Pietro - Kawishiwi - Clear

by Badgerboy
Trip Report

Entry Date: June 21, 2008
Entry Point: Little Gabbro Lake
Exit Point: Farm Lake (31)
Number of Days: 6
Group Size: 4

Trip Introduction:
I have talked about organizing this trip for 2 years and finally made it happen. My Dad first hit the BWCA in 1955 as a kid before the Boundary Waters Park existed. He and I went with the Scouts in 1976 into Quetico so it was time to take my boys up for there first trip. What an experience.

Day 1 of 6

Saturday, June 21, 2008 We flew up from Atlanta on Thursday June 19. Stayed at my in-laws in the Minneapolis area and then headed up to Ely on Friday morning. The participants: my Father-in-law Dick, my Dad Bob, and my two sons Raleigh (15) and Keegan (10). Dick drove his RV up towing his boat, what a great ride to Ely! Due to some health concerns Dick planned to hang out in the Ely area and fish while we went on the trip. We arrived early afternoon and went out to Moosetrack Adventures to meet Joan and check out our canoes and such. All was well in order and we planned to meet the next morning at 6:45a for a ride over to EP 33 to kick off the trip. Raleigh is a big baseball player so after dinner in Ely he somehow found out there was an American Legion tournament in town so we went over and watched a game before pakcing and hitting the sack. We spent the night in the RV and had a room at the Adventure Inn.

Today (Saturday) was my Dad's 70th Bday so we had a small celebration and headed to Britons for breakfast 5:30a. Keegan had a breakfast plate almost as big as he was!! A quick stop to see TGO and pick up some leeches and minnows and we were off. We had a good time meeting Jim the "Crankbait King" and he gave us some good fishing advice for the boys. We hooked up with Josh at MTA and hit EP 33 by about 7:15a. We had a bit of perplexing start in that there were 3 groups entering at 33 this morning yet there were only supposed to be 2 permits granted. One group was a bit sheepish when I asked about their permit and they told some story about a screw up at the USFS. This same group also failed to show much etiquette and more or less took over the launch area despite arriving last amongst the 3 groups. We worked the portage to Gabbro and changed into our wetfoot gear. I would be paddling with Keegan and my Dad with Raleigh.

We paddled our way out of Lil Gabbro and into Gabbro heading for Bald Eagle. Our target was the first campsite in B.E. (1719) so off we went throughly enjoying the beauty and quiet. To our disappointment we reached the campsite only to find our "friends", the extra party from EP 33, occupying the site. We check around the bend into B.E. and ended up heading back into Gabbro and taking the first campsite (1717) and settling in. This is a really nice campsite which could easily support 3-4 tents. Other than seeing lots of paddlers going by we really enjoyed the site. The boys hit the back bay looking at the rapids and did some fishing. Dad and I made camp and I set to work cooking some fresh walleye and northern the boys caught for dinner. All and all a great first Day despite some sporadic rain.    


Day 2 of 6

Sunday, June 22, 2008 The plan for today was to hang around the area and fish. After a good breakfast of pancakes we were off. We avoided the obvious portage next to the rapids into B.E. and headed back into the bay to the right of the rapids for the much simpler portage into B.E.. It is not on most maps but that is the way to go. Because of the high water the rapids from B.E. into Gabbro were very runable (going downstream) and we took several turns through them as the boys thought this was big fun. We ate lunch in the canoe and fished till evening. We had good success for pike in the bays around the rapids. My Dad, who is not a fisherman, caught his first couple of fish in over 60 years or so he claims.  We also hit some walleye near evening around the back side of campsite 1717 along the rock dropoffs. We made one last circuit to run the rapids. During this trip I gave Keegan my rod with a silver rap and told him to cast into the tiny little bay that is on the B.E. side of the "secret" portage while I worked the canoe over the rocks. On his 3rd cast I heard the drag start to sing and turned to see his pole bent in half and a huge smile on his face. I had not used a steel leader which I would very quickly regret. He got the Northern up to the rocks and were about to drag him up when the fish rolled and snapped the line. He was major bummed and I was so mad I jumped up and down a couple of times and ended up twisting an ankle! While I nursed my ankle we tied on a steel leader and another silver rap and I gave the rod back to Keegan and told him to try again. This time it was his 2nd cast and he had a fish on (I still don't have the canoe over the portage). As he played this fish he joked about how cool it would be if this was the same fish. He finally pulled his "monster" up on the rocks and he let out a whoop of joy. Then to our utter amazement we discovered that in fact this was the same fish as it had both rapala's in its mouth, that was one hungry fish! We headed back to camp and had steak and fish for dinner.

Raleigh took off after dinner to the back bay to take a shot with some minnows in the weeds. Just about the time I was going to get him with the flashlight he came around the bend with a huge smile and 2 nice Crappie. He had found alot of crappie action but only kept the 2 big ones as he was worried about keeping the fish cold till morning. We spent a while star gazing and then hit the sack.     


Day 3 of 6

Monday, June 23, 2008 We got a bit of a late start this morning. The plan was to head back and do the Clearwater circuit exiting from Turtle back onto B.E.. We paddled the short distance over to the portage to Gull and hit the ground. We knew we had to double portage so my Dad and I headed off with a canoe and the boys with a pack. We had been told this portage was pretty tough. While it does have some good size ups and downs and a real boggy section it is not that bad. It does take you through the heart of the recent fire area. We found this area to be really cool and spent some time just looking around on our trip back to pick up the second load. 

About half way through the portage you start to see the area that burned last year. Here are some pics:    There are many flowers to be seen along the portage due to the fire including a rare find of 7 Lady Slippers!!! One section of the portage near where we took these pictures was very wet and at one point I was up to my knees in muck. The mosquitoes seemed to be rather hungry on this portage. We repacked the canoes and paddled the pretty little river before the next portage into Gull. 

The short portage into Gull is easy from the river. We met another group heading towards B.E. and had a brief chat. We paddled to the point outside the bay that holds the portage to Pietro and ate a shore lunch. Dad went out to pump some water and to our relief the water from Gull (and Pietro for that matter) had much less tannins than Gabbro and B.E. and was much more drinkable particularly for the boys. 

There appeared to be only one campsite on Gull occupied. We hit the portage to Pietro as we had hopes of possibly making it to Clearwater this night. The portage from Gull to Pietro is a mess. The majority of the portage is a swamp and due to high water it was muddy the entire way. We did find two "alternative" paths off to the right that others had used to keep you out of the muck on our 2nd trip through and these were helpful. On the Pietro end of this portage we found 2 ground bees hives. Luckily we were able to load up and get by without any stings. If you are in this area be very careful where you set packs!!! We held up about 15 yards short of the end during our dbl portage. 

By the time we got through the portage we knew we were going to spend the night on Pietro. We checked all the campsites starting with the southern most and found the only real good campsite was the one closest to the portage to Camdre (1738). We had the lake to ourselves. While my Dad and I set up camp the boys tossed out some slip bobbers with leeches right off the campsite shoreline. Keegan's bobber had barely settled on his first cast before it went under with authority. He promptly reeled in a nice smallmouth. When the same exact thing happed to Raleigh we knew we had the right spot. For the next 45 minutes the boys were in the midst of a smalley frenzy as the caught and released more than a dozen fish each. We kept 4 bice ones for dinner. At one point my Dad and I just sat down and watched as the smalley jumped and fought on the other end of the boys poles. What a joy to watch!! 

Pietro can be sliced lengthwise in regards to fire damage. Sadly the NW side with all the campsites is on the burnt side. Pietro must have been a beautiful lake prior to the fire. The undergrowth is well on its way back. and we saw many loaded blueberry bushes in parts of the lake. The fishing on the lake was awesome. There is obviously plenty of firewood and the 3 campsites we were able to find all had latrines. While the campistes are not pretty due to fire damage the fishing is awesome and the lake worth visiting. We finished our dinner of smallmouth and potatoes and hit the sack pretty weary with some rain starting to come down.


Day 4 of 6

Tuesday, June 24, 2008 Tuesday arrived with dark clouds and some rain. After talking to Dad I realized were not going to make it all the way back into Clearwater and out again and make our exit date. We made the decision to back track and head back to B.E.. I was disappointed in not getting back to Clearwater and making the loop but I knew it was the right decision. We broke camp and did some fishing and had good luck with the walleyes. By the time we started to head out toward Gull. late morning, the wind had really picked up and we had white caps on the lake. Keegan and I found it a real challenge to get back to the portage. We had water almost coming over the edge of the canoe and with only 10 yr old power up front we had to battle to get across the lake but we finally made it safe and sound. That is one tough kid!

We went back through the same two portages only to find B.E. was also whitecaps. At the portage getting us into Gull we met this group of friends:

Once back in B.E. Keegan and I hugged the shore and got pushed by the wind backward a couple of times but we finally made it into Gabbro still pretty dry and stronger for the experience. Our intent was to grab a campsite in the B.E./ Gabbro rapids area but all were taken. We ended up paddling all the way to the other end of Gabbro and finding campsite 2135 open. We were tired and it was dinner time so were we about ready to take whatever we found. Wow, what a campsite! On a island with a beautiful view, a fire pit on a cliff looking out over Gabbro and tent pads cushioned by lots of pine needles!! Heaven sent!

Once again Raleigh took off to the opposite side of the island to fish the rock cliffs for walleye. He had good luck and caught several fish. We set up camp and ate a late dinner. While we finished up dessert the boys got to see there first Northern lights display. While it was a bit dim it was impressive nonetheless.     


Day 5 of 6

Wednesday, June 25, 2008 The goal today was to get up to Clear lake for some fishing before heading out on Thursday afternoon. We packed up camp after some awesome blueberry pancakes and headed toward the Kawishiwi River. At the rapids out of Gabbro into Little Gabbro we saw this gent:

We wanted to try and run the rapids and skip the 120 rod portage. After a look at the rapids we realized the portage was the way to go. The first run looks like fun and very navigable but the next set 50 yards or so downstream would have been to tough for us.   

We hit the portage and quickly made our way to the Kawishiwi. This portage was in great shape and easy to travel. The trip down the Kawishiwi was delightful. We ate lunch along the way and enjoyed the scenery. 

The portage into Clear was short but a little muddy. Keegan continued to impress me by hauling more than his weight. 

We arrived in Clear Lake to the sounds of a Scout troop on the first campsite, sounded like they were having lots of fun! We finally found a campsite (1689) open and settled in with rain showers on the way. We quickly set up camp so we would have some cover and then cooked our final dinner which again included some fish. After dinner the skies cleared and we set out to fish the lake. We ended up taking several walleye and the boys got into a big bunch of panfish and smallmouth which kept them busy for an hour or so. We noticed a lot of crayfish and minnows in the lake. The boys decided they wanted to forego fishing the the next morning on Clear Lake and head back early in hopes of catching their other grandfather at our exit point before he went out for the day so they could fish with him. Grandpa Dick grew up in southern Minnesota and the boys absolutely love to fish with him. The mosquitoes were pretty brutal for some reason on Clear so we called it a night. 


Day 6 of 6

Thursday, June 26, 2008 We awoke at sunrise to see this:  Awesome!! We skipped breakfast and broke camp and hit the water by 6am. The lake was silent and beautiful. As we made the short paddle to the portage to the Kawishiwi on the way to Farm lake a loon popped up 20 feet from our canoe. He was as surprised as Keegan and I were and was back under before I could snap a picture.

The portage heading toward Farm was excellent. Well traveled and very dry for the most part. We waved goodbye to our last portage, we hoped, and took a nice paddle down he river. We ran both rapids heading in that direction not needing to portage.  The rest of the paddle was very leisurely, this part of the river has little or no noticeable current and we enjoyed the scenery.


The fishing was great but next time we need to spend more time in this arena. We saw at least one bald eagle every day and the list of other wildlife includes: beaver, whitetail, snakes, herons, turtles, ducks, and otters.

I know we can trim the food pack a bit and still eat like kings. We did pretty well not over packing on clothes. I think next time we will leave the lantern behind and just rely on flashlights. Good sandals and warm socks are a must and I might rethink taking boots for the portages and just do them in our wetfoot gear.

What an excellent adventure. My Dad was really excited to have gone back and truly enjoyed the trip. He convinced me that it is more about attitude than age in that at 70 years he more than carried his weight on the trip. In fact he found that he would rather portage the canoes than the Duluth packs so after the 2nd day he carried the canoes on 95% of the portages and left the packs to boys and I. The boys are already talking about next year. Raleigh called one his best friend back home the day we got out and started recruiting him for next year. I was truly amazed and impressed at my boys ability to carry there weight and help out when necessary. When I asked Keegan to "dig in" when we were in the whitecaps he gave me all he had and we made it. I suspect they both learned a lot about themselves during this trip. I can't wait to get up there next year. I think these picks say it all.



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