BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
May 21 2022
Number of Permits per Day: 2
Elevation: 1564 feet
Island River - 34
The Big Solo Loop – From Hog Creek to Kawishiwi Lake the Long Way
June 23, 2021
Kawishiwi Lake (37)
Number of Days:
Woke up in Minneapolis and hit the road with my young Labrador Rainy. She’s only 2 ½, but this would be her 7th and most challenging trip. We got to the Hog Creek entry point parking lot and began unpacking about 12:30pm. I was a bit worried about this trip because while much of it would be in remote areas, it would also pass through a number of popular entry lakes where I was concerned about crowds. I was also concerned by the large number of horse and deer flies which started harassing us as we unloaded. Thankfully, while there were horse and deer flies throughout the trip to deal with, they were probably worse in the parking lot than anywhere else.
We loaded up the boat and paddled 150 yards to our first and only portage of the day, then wound our way slowly through the numerous twists and turns of Hog Creek. Just past the last beaver dam we passed a group of women heading out who informed me that they had just left the second site on the right side. They also warned me that the wind on the open lake was kicking up some pretty good waves. About a half hour later I entered the lake and headed toward their campsite. The winds were from the west and the waves were formidable. Unfortunately their site was already taken so I kept going, winding through the islands on the east side looking for an opening. At one point while exposed to the open lake, waves were coming from two directions, and were large enough that I shipped some water over the gunwale. Happily I found a site on the northeast side open and gladly took it, even though there was an occupied site just across the water on a small island.
I pitched my tent and tarp, but left my bug net packed since no bugs seemed to be bothering us. I boiled two cups of water and poured them in a pouch and waited for my dinner to reanimate. I gladly went to bed about 8pm, with the sun still up and my close neighbors having fun around their campfire. In my tent I laughed at my rainfly which looked like it had been kissed by a moose. Guess that’s what happens when you leave a fuchsia Post-it note in the tent bag and put the tarp away wet. Thankfully, this was the only day where I encountered steady winds of anything more than 5 mph.
Perent Lake to unnamed lake southeast of Boga Lake; 7.2 miles, 11 portages + beaver dams, 331 rods.
I was up about 5:00 am. Had an easy breakfast and coffee and broke camp as quickly as I could. There was huge mayfly hatch again, and also swarms of mosquitos were active. I wanted to get a jump on the day as I knew it would get hot, and that I had a long way to go – 11 portages – just to get to the first campsite on the Perent River. I had not been able to find any recent information on the condition of the river; I just knew the water levels were low but had no idea how that might affect my trip.
I filled the dirty water bag just off shore and set up my gravity filter at the first portage. I knew carrying a liter of water for the day would not be nearly enough, and it wasn’t. I had to set up the filter twice that day, and probably went through 6-7 liters while paddling.
The Perent River starts out as s simple, straight slow-water river like many others in the BWCA, with some small lake-like sections here and there which allow just enough wind to brush away the bugs. Horse and deer flies were a bit annoying, but were manageable with a bit of Lemon Eucalyptus bug spray on both of our heads, ears, and necks. Rainy has also learned that if I swat her with a fly swatter not to take it personally – she knows I am hitting biting flies and ignores it. I kept a fly swatter and a spare handy in the boat at all times. While the flies were with us pretty much every day, they seemed to inexplicably come and go from time to time, give us both a nice break. Also, very thankfully, there were only a handful of stable flies here and there. I loathe them most of all.
After maybe an hour I found myself paddling out of the older, denser forest and into the young growth of the Pagami Creek Fire burn, which I would paddle in and out of throughout the trip. The tall burned snags stand nearly everywhere, and there are some areas of exposed rock still that would not likely have been visible pre-burn, but the growing pines cover much of the burn and are generally 8-10 feet in most places and are very dense. I found the burn area fascinating.
Though the water levels were low – perhaps a foot or two below normal – the river was still very navigable. Some portages would surely have been easier to land with higher water, and some rock gardens easier to negotiate, but it was all still doable. That said, I still hit rather quite a few rocks on the river and on portage landings. I suspect this would have happened with higher water too, though. I will likely refinish the bottom of my canoe after this trip.
The portages were fairly easy to find, though I had to look for one or two, and mostly they were in ok condition except for being overgrown. One portage toward the end of the day seemed out of place. My Fisher map made it look on the north side of the river, but I could see no landing there at all. I could see a clear landing on the south side, and there was a path (of sorts) which led to the next navigable section of river, but it looked less like a real portage and more like a couple moose had just walked through. I was also expecting it to be about 20 rods, but think it was closer to 50. I could see where two tents had been set up as stealth camps, and a small fire had been lit next to a large rock. Someone must have gotten stuck there. The two campsites just east of there were very definitely closed and overgrown – not really there you could say. It’s a long stretch of river without much forgiveness.
Paddling on toward what I hoped would be the last portage of the day I entered a narrows and surprised a raft of otters. Several started doing their little bobbing and barking thing then dove, and one popped up just about 4 feet from my boat, startling both me and Rainy. They all got past me and then came up to complain a little.
I did the last and fairly easy 20 rod portage to an unnamed lake with a campsite which was practically at the end of the portage. It was up on a rock knob with one semi-living tree near the fire grate; not much room but it would have to do. I pitched my tent and bug net as the big flies were active. Maybe 15 yards behind the rock knob was a decent sized tent pad that was full of tall wild flowers. The latrine a bit further back had a sarsaparilla plant growing out of it. Clearly this site was not used much. Because of the flies, I squeezed my tent in right next to the bug net. I was feeling pretty spent, and was again glad to head to the tent after refueling.
Unnamed lake southeast of Boga to campsite 1930 on Isabella River; 7.0 miles, 4 portages, 74 rods.
I let myself sleep in a bit. I had been up for a while in the night. It seemed Rainy had picked up quite a few wood ticks while rolling in the grass and flowers, and they did not seem to like her tick treatment so they were abandoning her and crawling on to me. Between midnight and 2 am, I picked 11 off of me and stuck them on some tape from my first aid kit. We had a few ticks throughout the trip, but this site seemed to be loaded.
We did an easy portage into Boga Lake and felt like we were paddling back into civilization again. I expected Isabella to be crowded (all the permits for days before were gone), but that did not seem to be the case. One of the two sites on Boga was open, the first site on Isabella’s east side, and several sites I could see on the west side were open as well. It was sunny and almost dead calm as I crossed. I talked to one guy fishing who’s comment suggested fishing was very slow.
I portaged into the Isabella River and paddled to its confluence with the Little Isabella River coming up from the south where I took campsite 1930. It was a shorter travel day than I wanted, but it was hot and I was not in the mood to do the 130 rod portage. There are only a couple campsites open past that 130, and I decided to play it safe.
The campsite was nice enough, and with basically one fairly good size open area to set up tents and tarp by the fire grate. It looked like it had been re-habilitated not long ago. It had a fancy new square latrine that was about 150 yards back, with a wide path cleared leading back to it. The site was fairly closed in by the young grown of pines, but I could just see a pair of canoes go past. The bugs were tolerable that afternoon and evening, but the next morning the mosquitos were as bad as I think I have ever encountered in the BWCA. The number of them between my tent’s screen and rain fly was just unbelievable – like 300-400 or so – all of which got whipped up when I tried to take the tent down.
Isabella River to Bald Eagle Lake, 11.0 miles, 6 portages, 448 rods.
The weather radio forecast had predicted a period of “unstable” weather starting today and continuing well into the next week with a 50% chance of showers or thunderstorms for today. I woke up to cloudy and dark skies, and hoped the rain would hold off, and was on the water by 7:00am.
I quickly came to the 130 rod portage, and it was not all that bad. There was good boardwalk crossing over a wet, boggy area, and there was actually a bridge across a small ravine. I felt good having not pushed too hard the day before, and the portage went by pretty easily.
I passed the entrance to Rice Lake and entered what my map showed to be a very swampy section of river. The river was very easy to paddle here (not a lot of weeds or anything), but it did really feel like being in a huge swamp because there just didn’t seem to be any shore anywhere.
Met a Forest Service crew doing some work on one of the short portages, which looked in good shape. In general, the portages on this side of Isabella were in better condition than on the east side. I also found that I was able to dodge two of the short portaged by running the rapids. I would not have expected this in low water, but it was quite easy.
As I turned around one corner of the river I encountered a pair of Trumpeter Swans with two cygnets, all four of which started swimming downriver the way I was going. The river was just about 20-25 yards wide here and I tried to get around them on the opposite side, but they just kept going. Finally one adult turned with the two cygnets, and one adult continued on course making a lot of noise in front of me. I tried to give him every chance to turn by squeezing up next to the edge of the weeds, but he (?) was clearly intent on leading me away. About 100 yards on he (?) dipped his neck and started flapping his wings in the water in a false effort to take off. These are big birds which huge wings, and this was suddenly almost too much action for Rainy to handle. She stood up excited (a violation of boat rules) and I quickly yelled at her and tapped her on the back with my paddle to get her seated again. The swan did not take off, just splashed a lot to make sure we would follow. He would do this 2 more times in the next quarter mile, then finally just turned and swam back toward his family.
I exited the burn once again, and after a short paddle did the last portage of the day of 190 rods into Bald Eagle Lake. I have to say, the length aside, the portages were in better shape the river faster paddling west of Isabella compared to the eastern upstream parts.
The first campsite on the right was open. That southern end of Bald Eagle is still sort of “river-y” and I contemplated heading on looking for another site, but could see heads above the reads heading my way so landed and started unpacking. The site was ok, bigger and more open than I had had for two nights, and more heavily used. With all the swamp around there, it would also be overrun by mosquitos in the morning once again, but I would be off the rivers for a while so hoped that would not continue.
With the tent, tarp, and bug shelters up, I set about my standard nightly ritual; feed Rainy, slice some Soprassata sausage and smoked cheddar, pour a splash of bourbon, and wait for my home dehydrated meal to come back to life – then go to bed with the sun still up. The rain held off.
Bald Eagle Lake to South Kawishiwi River; 8.8 miles, 3 portages, 155 rods
Another slow start, with me not being on the water until about 8:30am. Seems like I’ve been alternating early start long days with later start shorter ones. Today the weather forecast was for showers and thunderstorms possible in the morning, then probable again in the afternoon with a 70% chance of precipitation.
I paddled across Bald Eagle and landed to on the north end to inspect the rapids running into Gabbro. I had not been on these lakes before so was not sure what to expect. I was very tempted to run them, but balked when I looked at one rock ridge at an angle, concerned it might turn my canoe sideways. Besides, I was already on shore and the portage was about 15 feet across flat rock. Maybe next time if the water is higher.
While Bald Eagle may not have rung my bell, I found Gabbro to be an especially beautiful lake, with many points, islands, and rocky cliffs. I could see why it was popular, and was surprised to find more than 50% of the campsites open as I crossed it about 11am.
Also as I was crossing Gabbro, I was noticing how the clouds were forming. There had been just a few scattered ones on Bald Eagle, but I could see more and more puffy clouds forming. I remembered a post by Whitewolf in the Weather Stuff group about using clouds to predict weather, and I thought these clouds with smaller rising tufts looked like cumulus castellanus, which he explained predicted likely thunderstorms by afternoon. I paddled a little harder.
My mind also flashed back to another recent thread about who dips and who does not. It was already hot and I’d gone through a full liter. I was not excited about filtering at the portages, and even less interested in carrying water over portages, so in the middle of Gabbro I just dunked my Nalgene down under the surface and filled her up. I would do this several times a day for the next several days, as 5-7 liters were needed each day just while travelling. Flash forward – no GI problems have manifested as of the time of this writing, and likely would have shown by now. I still filtered every evening.
I waited briefly at the 120 rod portage out of Gabbro as scout troop 62 finished up. My hat’s off to their adult leaders who were doing quite the job of wrangling scouts and carrying gear across the portage. This was a young troop.
The first four campsites on this section of the Kawishiwi were all taken, and by folks who looked poised to stay there for a while. I did the 30 rod up and down portage, and was glad to find I had a section of the river all to myself. Thunderheads were now forming all around, and I could hear thunder as I went to inspect the to two campsites on this section. Both were good, but I chose the outer, more easterly one as it was a bit more open (maybe fewer bugs), but had enough trees blocking the westerly wind in case of storm. This was a very nice site, with big red pines and few bugs. I set my tarp up sans-bug shelter over the fire grate with a low set up ready for a storm from the west-southwest. I even brought up my canoe as an added wind break as the thunder got louder. My tent was set just uphill 15 yards from the fire grate, but there was a good sized hill with taller trees just a bit further which would more likely attract any possible lightening. With camp set and the storms still developing, Rainy and I played with her tennis ball for a bit, then went for a swim to cool off and clean up.
Since I had stopped paddling a bit early, I opted to toss some fresh dough, sliced some good pepperoni, and rehydrate some of my homemade pizza sauce for a calzone made on my MSR stove in a frying pan. It’s such an easy way to do pizza, and so good.
After dinner, the winds suddenly shifted from the west-southwest to the east – nearly 180º. Now my tarp was set wrong. I moved my canoe, hoisted this line and lowered that one, and got ready for the storm that I now expected from the other side. Spoiler alert – it did not come. I could see a big storm pass by me on the west side (my weather radio was telling people in the Ely area to seek cover), and another storm was forming and passed just east of me. I still had partially sunny skies, though I had been waiting for 3 hours for a storm I thought was minutes away. It all went around me.
South Kawishiwi River to Lake 2; 9.75 miles, 9 portages, 220 rods
My portage and rod count for this day might be a little off, as I did manage to skip the first two 15 rod portages by lining my canoe up the rapids. I don’t think I’ve properly lined before, and it would have helped if I had a longer front line. I’m not sure if lining saved me any time or effort, but it was certainly more adventurous.
Once again the day started out with only a few puffy clouds, but they began to multiply and inflate and become ever more menacing in appearance by mid-day. Today’s forecast for storms; 50%.
I did the few little maze-like portages that take you down to Lake One. For the first time, it felt busy. The close by campsites were full with what seemed like really big tents and lawn chairs, and there were lots of canoes out on the water. I paddled on toward Lake Two as some of those puffy, castle-like clouds grew larger and darker and started to produce thunder. The strange thing was that it was very hard to tell which direction they were going. The wind was from the southwest – that was easy to read, but it was not clear if the clouds were moving that way or not. I was keeping an eye on particularly larger thunderhead to my northeast as I got nearer the portage to Lake Two, when the wind shifted 180º. I now was concerned that storm was about to come my way. I looked around, and amazingly the campsite straight east of me was open so I paddled over there in case I needed off the lake. I landed and scouted places to pop up a tarp, and watched the storm cloud. I waited about 20 minutes, and the storm just didn’t seem to be getting any closer. After a few more minutes, I just paddled on toward the portage.
I did the two little portages and paddled out onto Lake Two, with the wind now back from the southwest. More storms looked like they were brewing to the south and west, so I looked ashore and found the two campsites just to the north were open. I took the westerly one and set up for a storm from the lake. An hour later, the wind shifted 180º - AGAIN – and I had to set my bourbon down and raise this side of the tarp and lower that side – AGAIN. Once again, no storm hit – but I did get about 15 minutes of sprinkles.
Lake Two to Insula; 12.0 miles, 4 portages, 165 rods
On the water just after 7:00am. Chatted briefly with a couple fishing who asked if I had any ideas or tips as they had no luck. I had nothing to offer, but told them I had heard that all over so far. Just past them a canoe paddled toward me and I was intercepted by two USFS rangers checking permits. As I dug mine out of my PFD they asked if it was our first day out. I think I impressed them just a little bit when I said it was my 7th, and that I started on Hog Creek and was on my way back. They were very fun to talk to for a few minutes.
A young couple caught up to me at the second short portage out of Lake Four. In chatting one mentioned they thought it might storm shortly. I knew the forecast was only for 20% chance today, and after the last two days said I really didn’t think it would. They were single portaging and passed on by.
Once out on Hudson I stopped to apply sunscreen as I could feel my legs starting to get warm. I should have put it on an hour or so before. On the eastern side of Hudson I stopped and floated for a few minutes before the portage to have some snack mix and homemade beef jerky. The 105 portage over to Insula has a steep climb on each end with most of the portage on top of the hill, and exposed to the sun since the Pagami Creek Fire. It felt hot, and I was drinking a lot of water. There were more thunderheads forming in several directions, but once again it was hard to tell which way they were moving, if they were moving at all.
On the insula side I could hear rumblings of thunder again as I packed up my canoe. I paddled out about 100 yards and stopped, as I could now see the sky to the northeast, and it was very dark, with a dark low-hanging part like a wall cloud and it was coming my way. I turned around and went back to the portage. I tied my canoe, grabbed the 7x7 foot 1.1 ounce silnylon tarp (homemade) from under my canoe seat and the Thermorest pad Rainy sits on in the canoe and made a quick shelter next to a fallen log. I had less than 60 seconds before there was a downpour, and lightening was getting closer too. Rainy and I crawled under the low tarp and onto the pad which helped keep us dry and was more comfortable than rock, and though not much insulation might just help reduce any ground current in case of close by lightening. Fortunately there was a hill behind with taller trees to help reduce this risk.
After about 20-30 minutes, the downpour faded and the storm was mostly over except for a few last thunder claps. My canoe had in that short time collected several inches of water, so I had to unload just to empty it. Another group was now coming across the portage, and with some blue sky above I stared off, again.
This time I made it about 250 yards off shore when – this is getting old – the wind shifted 180º. I kept paddling, and to my surprise the storm that just passed over appeared to be coming back over me again. A light rain started falling, and a bolt of lightning struck about a quarter mile to my right. Now the closest land was straight ahead and I paddled hard, landed, and got my small shelter out once again. Rainy and I sat under it on the pad for another 20-30 minutes. I put a leash on (both times) just to make sure she could not run in case of a close ground strike, and I held her between my legs to keep her off the ground. She really took it well.
When the storm moved off for the second time, I emptied my canoe again and started paddling. I could see the group behind me, as well as three other groups in front of me had ditched on shore and taken cover. Everyone seemed ok. I paddled on, and the sky cleared up a little.
I passed through the burn area up to the northern forested part of Insula, and took a mediocre campsite on an island with a sandy beach. The sun was now out so I set out all sorts of gear like a lawn sale in hopes of it getting dry. Camp was wet up and I played fetch with Rainy for a while before dinner. Just after we ate, I heard a loud crashing sound just back behind my tent. It sounded like timber, but there was absolutely no wind. Given it was a single sound rather than a continuous sound I assumed bear instead of moose, so grabbed a leash for Rainy and my bear spray, pulled the safety off the spray, and walked back to investigate. By my tent, I noticed a 30+ foot balsam fir had just tipped over – 10 feet from my tent, and with no wind. It did not look that healthy, and its root system was weak. That was weird, but I guess it was just it’s time.
A few minutes after that, the wind picked up again from the east, and a small thunderstorm blew in causing me to run to gather all my drying stuff asap. That storm moved south west, and was followed by one more smaller one around dusk. And I didn’t think it would rain today.
Insula to Amber; 8.05 miles, 4 portages, 120 rods
Up and on the water just after 7:00am. Sky is mostly clear – for now anyway – but I think the chance of showers is even lower today. I paddle up to the top of Insula and turn westlery toward Alice. I stop on Alice briefly just to look around, and see that the two sites left and right both look open, but I’m hoping to camp on an old favorite site on Amber so I keep going.
On the 70 rod portage I met a group of young women heading the other way. I think they were all in their mid to late teens, and they were already on their day 16 and had a ways to go! They were very strong and very impressive, and I told them so.
Back on the Kawishiwi River again I headed east, did the short portage, and paddled toward the swampy entrance to Amber. I had been to Amber a couple times perhaps 20 years ago and hoped the nice site was open, and it was. It’s a lovely site with 8-10 large red pines at the core, and flanked by cedar which offer some protection. It’s got a lovely beach and looks directly west for great sunsets. There is a game trail that runs through the campsite, and I once had a moose walk up to my tent and sniff it right at dawn. I’ve paddled hard enough, and I was planning to have a layover day on Amber to relax, cook, nap, and explore – and through the tennis ball until my arm gave out.
Amber Lake; no travel day
Slept in until 6:30. Got up, fed Rainy, and had long and lazy couple cups of coffee. Waited until about 9:00 to make pancakes for breakfast. Drank more coffee. Paddled to the other end of the lake to look around and check out the other campsite. Went back to camp and read for a while, then played with Rainy more then had a snack. Paddled out to the Kawishiwi River again to explore the path to Malberg for the next day. I had realized that as I switched from my Fisher to my McKenzie maps there was about a mile gap! No worries, I think I can figure it out tomorrow. Back to camp for the last of the sausage, cheddar and bourbon, and a nice tortellini dinner followed by some hammock time (thankfully no bugs). Organized all my food and gear for the next day to make for an easy exit. I was so grateful that after a long trip, that one site I had hoped for was open and I had such wonderful weather to enjoy it.
Amber Lake to Kawishiwi Lake, and hike to Hog Creek; 16.3 miles, 9 portages, 570 rods
Up a little before 5:00am. Unbelievably there seemed to be no mosquitos on the mesh of my tent as there had been the day before. That made packing it up so much nicer. Tent packed, I made some extra strong coffee and fried up some Spam and Eggs, cleaned up, and loaded the canoe.
Paddled back out the swampy, shallow entry to the Kawishiwi River and turned left. Before long I saw the inlet to the south and turned right looking for the portage to Malberg. I seemed to recall it being a bit messy and I was right. The portage on the north end had me up to my knees in muck dragging my canoe to shore. I was afraid Rainy would jump out and get stuck. Further on the beavers have flooded the middle part, so I had to reload my canoe and paddle 25 yards to a rock and then lift everything and the canoe up the 2 foot rock. Past that was more standing awful beaver water to wade through. I was so hoping Rainy would not stop to drink. Finally there was the south side of the portage with its nice, beach like landing where I could clean up.
It was now the Friday just before Independence Day, and I expected crowds from Malberg to the parking lot, but that is not what I found. I paddled through Malberg and only saw two sites taken, then on to Koma and saw no sites taken, then on to popular Polly, and only one of 8 sites I could see were taken. I was shocked. I am guessing a bunch of folks who planned on 7 day trips to fish quite on days 3 or 4, leaving a lot empty.
Between Polly and Kawasachang I passed 5 northbound groups, most of whom asked me about Polly and were happy to hear it was mostly empty when I passed. It was another hot day, and I filtered water at the south end of Polly and again on Kawishiwi Lake. After the 189 rod portage, which burned up all the Spam and Eggs I had in me, I was glad to have a pretty easy paddle back to the entry point. There was one large beave dam to unload and lift over after Kawasachang, and two more pull overs but on the bright side the 5 and 20 road portages were not needed as you can just paddle around.
I paddled down Kawishiwi Lake to the entry point and landed, but the usual feeling of the gladness was not there as my car was not in the parking lot. I still had a 2.3 mile hike, so pulled my gear ashore, grabbed a fly swatter (essential), the bug spray, some water and my car key and Rainy and I stared hiking. It was still hot, and I had never notice while driving how much of the way from Kawishiwi Lake to Hog Creek is up hill. Also with Rainy happily running ahead to look for sticks to show me, she attracted a lot of deer and horse flies. The bug spray worked well at stopping biting, but the swarm of 15-20 around her at any time was annoying us both. I swung the fly swatter back and forth above her head and from time to time felt it connect with the fly like I was swatting baseballs with a bat. Finally we made it to the Hog Creek lot where we were both eager to jump in and start up the AC for our short drive back to load up.
I wanted a trip with some challenge and adventure, and that’s just what I got. This was a truly great and memorable trip.