BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
January 28 2020
Number of Permits per Day: 2
Elevation: 1595 feet
Isabella Lake - 35
Split Trip - Solo-Duo / Isabella-Meeds
August 05, 2016
Meeds Lake (48)
Number of Days:
I had picked up my entry permit in Duluth and slept there after driving up from Minneapolis Thursday night. An early start on Friday meant I found my way to the Isabella put-in and was through the first portage by 9 am.
I have backpacked solo before in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, but this was to be my first solo canoe trip. Over the winter, I'd bought an old 15.5' Bell Drifter. I'd tested it on some local lakes and felt comfortable paddling it around. Experience-wise, I'd spent a lot of time on the water and in the woods, but this was still a first. As I double-carried my gear from the car through the comfortable portage to Isabella, I was ridiculously excited.
This trip was about rest. No big agenda, no aggressive schedule, just some short paddles, a lot of books. The last couple years have been a non-stop blur of motion as we've moved with four kids, switched jobs and career paths, found new schools and a new home. It was time for some quiet.
Isabella Lake was not quiet. Even at the early hour the wind was picking up from the north. My original plan had me going straight north and finding a campsite on the north side of the lake for night one, but the whitecaps rolling across the lake meant I would try something else. So I elected to head east along the south shore, make the quick jump into Boga Lake and then find something up the Perent River or on Boga.
As soon as I got out on the water, I realized this paddle would be slow, arduous, and bumpy. The canoe handled and tracked wonderfully with my heavy pack stashed in the bow while I sat or kneeled in the stern. I was able to duck behind a few islands.
A brief, but light rain had me contemplating finding a spot on shore to dig out my rain jacket, but as I needed the portage into the Boga Lake, I decided to push for the landing and the rain shortly stopped.
When I found the outlet that leads to the portage and ducked into the cove, the wind immediately died down. I knew I'd made a wise decision. I casted my line a few times and then decided it was time to hit the portage into Boga.
This was my first time portaging solo and it went smoothly. In no time, I was looking out at Boga Lake just as an eagle took off near me and a fish jumped twenty feet out. Timing is everything. Boga was calm, but small and I knew the site on the Perent River was preferable so I scraped over some rocks and paddled up the wide river a bit to a beautiful site that would be my home for two nights.
I ate lunch, set up camp, and then spent most of the afternoon underneath the tarp reading while the weather alternated between sun and rain. After dinner, I paddled the river a bit, caught a few small walleyes, and climbed into my hammock for bed early. Despite wind and rain, I was already hooked on solo paddling.
Isabella and the Perent River have a great deal of fire damage. Just north of my campsite, the landscape turned into a burned-out, apocalyptic-looking scene, but my site was wooded and the view was pristine as morning dawned, I ate my oatmeal, and pondered what to do that day.
As the weather warmed up, I decided to go up the Perent River a bit and see what there was to see.
A forest was being reborn. My entire morning through the next two portage up the Perent was filled with burnt stumps, raspberry bushes, and quiet. There's a beauty to this, though. Sitting on top of a large rock along the river, I had a 360 degree view that would have been obscured before the fire.
I was back at my campsite by lunch and spent the rest of the afternoon reading and like the night before, ate dinner, caught a few small walleye and went to bed early.
There was a nice mist on the river as I packed up my gear and got ready to head back to Isabella. The empty campsites on Boga and near the portage back into Isabella were both full as I retraced Friday's paddle-steps. As I entered Isabella, there was an eerie silence. The whitecaps from Friday morning had completely vanished and as I paddled west across the lake, the silence became creepy. When there are no leaves on the trees, you don't hear the breeze. There were no waves whatsoever, no birds singing in the trees, no sound at all. The drops off my paddle sounded like thunderclaps as I sat in the middle of the lake and listened to ... nothing. In my 42 years, I don't think I've experienced anything quieter than those hours on Isabella Lake.
A group on the southwest island site was just leaving and I made my camp nestled among the cedars on this beautiful site. It's amazing that a fire will devastate one island and miss another.
Later that afternoon, I paddled to the portage into the Isabella River, explored a bit, caught a nice pike. I was back in time for my nightly routine of a pre-dinner swim, a leisurely meal, and some reading around the fire before climbing into the hammock for a good night's sleep.
Boga Lake, Isabella Lake
I was supposed to meet dad in Grand Marais at noon so I packed up early and paddled across the lake to the portage and was at the car and loaded up for the ride out by 9am. Three nights was a great time frame for my first solo and the minimal portaging allowed me to test my canoe, my portaging ability, and my ability to be alone. All three passed.
After stopping at Temperance River State Park for a shower, I met dad in Grand Marais where he got his fishing license and we drove up the Gunflint Trail to Rockwood Lodge, where our permits waited for us.
The guys at Rockwood were great and sent us off well. We had originally planned on five days, but as we wound through Poplar Lake's cabins, we were already discussing the dire forecast of thunderstorms on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.
The portage from Poplar to Meeds is hilly, long, and beautiful. The double carry took the wind out of my sails and I was really hoping we wouldn't have any trouble finding a site on Meeds. The first site was open, we set up camp, ate dinner, and caught a few walleye that evening.
This was the first time in a long while that my dad and I had been together on something like this. Growing up, mom and my sister were always with us. Nowadays, my kids are usually along for the adventures. We needed this time.
Things were falling apart as the day ended. My shoes and sandals both required duct tape to hold the soles on. The canoe had a minor crack in it that I temporarily patched with duct tape. My tarp had a few small holes that required more duct tape. Thankfully dad had a new roll because my tape wouldn't have lasted.
It wasn't an easy day. I was tired from the drive, the paddling, and the long portage. We crashed early.
The day started gray and ominous. We had originally planned on heading toward Omega or Winchell, but over the fire the night before decided with the advent of a multi-day thunderstorm looming, being nearer to the entry point was desirable. We left our gear at our site on Meeds and hopped over the few short portages to explore Caribou.
This was my first time in the eastern part of the BW. I'd heard this was moose territory, but there were none to be found as the skies grew more and more ominous and the wind began picking up. We had thought we might check out Horseshoe as well, but as the weather looked to be coming in, we hightailed it back to Meeds.
The wind was whipping as we put our canoe back into Meeds and paddled hard back to our site. Of course, the sun started coming out as we ate our lunch, though, and the weather turned nice, but the waves were up and neither of us felt like paddling. We set up our hammocks, read, and napped for the afternoon.
After dinner, we paddled back up the south shore of Meeds and had nice luck catching more walleyes with chartreuse cranks and spoons between the shore and the chain of islands.
That evening, we chatted late into the night around the fire. We decided to pack up the next day rather than gut out three days of storms.
After packing up and portaging into Caribou, we knew the weather was coming. With our ranger on, we crossed into Lizz, and then Poplar and were out by 11am. More rain was coming and we knew we made the right decision.
A stop in Grand Marais for donuts and coffee and then our paths diverged as dad headed east from Duluth back to Michigan and I headed south towards the metro area.
I was more tired than expected, but glad to have a few days at home where I could clean things up and then welcome my family back from their time in Michigan.
Dad and I will be going on another trip next year. Maybe a few night's longer, maybe not. Either way, it's good to be alone for a while and it's good to be with your dad for a while.
P.S. I've got a lot of video to edit and will post a link to a video report when it's done.