BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
December 03 2023
Number of Permits per Day: 4
Elevation: 1664 feet
Hog Creek - 36
Kawishiwi Lake to Little Saganaga by way of Boulder Lake
September 09, 2007
Number of Days:
Our 2006 trip followed the “Interstate Highway” (Entry 30) called the numbered Lakes. The lakes are the fast path to the east (like an Interstate), and we were aiming for the “secondary” and “minimum maintenance” roads of the interior. The numbered lakes were pretty, but looked to be loved to death. The country took on a good feel after Lake Four with narrower portage trails and less-used campsites (except some on Insula).
The section of Kawishiwi River between Insula and Alice was a gem. The river was splendidly decked out in its fall colors, and there was hardly a whisper from the wind or us, and we slowed the pace and milked the route for every moment. We were feeling pretty good. So far, there had been plenty of nice vacant campsites. We paddled on, intent on reaching the “turn-off” for Trapline – Beaver – Adams. For sure an empty campsite will greet us there. WRONG.
No vacancy was the order of the day on the section of the Kawishiwi River NW of Malberg Lake. By this point, we were 12 miles into the day, it was 3:30 PM, and our stomachs cried food. At best we had about 3.5 hours of light left and this was not going according to plan. I had secret plans for this day (September 20, 2006), and they were to make a chocolate cake for my son’s 26th birthday (complete with candle and a special ration of “fire water”). We could not help thinking, why here? For the past many miles, there were no people. Why here? Duh, look at the map. These folks came in straight north out of the entry at Kawishiwi Lake, that is why.
After a small bit of adversity the day ended with a golden lining. We found a site up river from the pack (of people). The fact that we would have to back track down river the next day was no big deal. The cake did not get made, because I got in a huff when the stove failed (simple things cause great angst when you are tired). That was a big deal.
After dark, our day turned golden with the help from another pack (wolves). Never had I heard such a beautiful chorus and harmony. I could feel the hairs on my neck, come to attention, one by one. As fast as the serenade started, it stopped. We stood there in silence. The fog on the Kawishiwi rolled in, and dampness penetrated. We rolled into our sacks, and that moment set a desire to return to this same country in 2007 (but not by Lake One).
And with that, fast forward to year 2007. We had a grand plan to do a route shaped like a lollypop. The stick being the north-south path to Malberg from Kawishiwi Lake (and return). On top of the stick, was the candy; a circular route that would generally take us through Little Saganaga, Gabimichigami, Ogishkemuncie, Kekekabic, Fraser, Boulder, and eventually back to Malberg. In the first days of our 2007 trip, we reduced the size of the candy to a loop around Beaver, Smite, Adams, Boulder, Ledge, and Little Saganaga. In retrospect, I am glad we toned it down to spend time on lakes around Boulder, but we also missed the opportunity to paddle some grand country further north.
The photos are: 1) a section of the Kawishiwi River just south of the portage into Trapline Lake (2006) and 2) a good sign on Lake Insula (2006)
The summer of 2007 crawled along. On many a night Matt (my son), Nate, and I would talk about the trip over a tall cool one at Skinner’s (a Brookings, SD Pub). Invariably, Nate and Matt would start the conversation off as “so, old man, is it September yet”? And we would talk, and share a common thread, about the border country.
Water levels in 2006 were not good and 2007 was on track to be wretched. Low water made some passages near impossible and portage trails twice as long. I worried about getting through the meanders north of Kawishiwi Lake if the summer continued dry. Summer went from dry to drought. The BWCA had already seen the Ham Lake fire in May. About mid-August came the fire ban over the entire Superior NF including the BWCA.
I watched the USGS Kawishiwi River gage slowly go down, down, down…. My neighbor, a regular at entry #37, was quick to inform me that he doubted we would get through in September. I started to have doubts about entry #37, but held tight. We bought extra fuel bottles, and figured our nights without fire would be cut short (and cold) if the fire ban stays in effect. Doom and gloom.
September came; I watched the weather record at Sawbill Canoe Outfitters. September 1, 2007, 0.14 inches. September 3, 2007, 0.24 inches. OK baby, you are on a roll. And then September 6, 2007, 4.82 inches. Bang! The flood gates opened. BWCA.com was a-buzz with postings and speculation about lifting the ban. Word that the ban was lifted was posted by a member on September 9 (before Superior NF updated their page). I called Tofte Ranger Station to make sure I got it right. The FIRE BAN WAS LIFTED, alleluia.
The rain continued through September with 9.62 inches recorded at Sawbill. The Kawishiwi River Gage # 05124480 sprang to life going from under 30 cfs to 159 cfs on our entry date (9/9). We had water to float canoes (and a bit more).
The graph is a hydrograph (USGS stream flow gage) of the Kawishiwi River (near Ely) showing the rapid response of the Kawishiwi River to the rains of early September 2007.
In the early hours we left Brookings, SD. We had planned to pick up our permit at Sawbill, stay at the USFS Campground on Sawbill, and drive to Kawishiwi Lake early AM September 9. However, plans changed by 3 PM. We had our permit in hand, a souvenir T-shirt from Sawbill Outfitters, and fishing licenses. Our work here was done. We headed down the road toward the smaller USFS Campground at Kawishiwi Lake (5 or 6 sites). Except for the rigs in the parking lot, the campsite was empty. Selection of site was made on accessibility to the lake. After that it was Dinty Moore Beef Stew and brew time. We turned in as night crept in and as rain began to fall.
The photo was taken at The USFS CG on Kawishiwi Lake
We woke to rain and suited up for the day. This will become routine for much of the trip. Breakfast was wolfed down, and we hauled our canoes and gear to the lake only a few steps away. (Kawishiwi Lake was convenient in respect to an early start.). The trip lies ahead, the planning behind. Let’s get it on.
It is 8 AM and our paddles take their first bites. We will be at our Lake Polly campsite at 12 noon.
Water to float a canoe was my chief concern with the late season trip out of Kawishiwi Lake. The meanders between Kawishiwi and Square and Square to Kawasaschong could present a logistical nightmare in low water. Fortunately, all my concerns were laid to rest with the nearly 6 inches of rain that fell a few days before our trip. The meandering streams were beautiful even under a gray sky and a great way to start our trip. Memories of our 2006 “bog slogs” came to life as we looked at the muddy extended portage trails along the water that we paddled on. Visitors earlier in the season did not have the same “paddling moment” as we now enjoyed, and this is opposite of the norm.
The portage into Townline was our first significant portage. Up to here, we only got out of the canoes once to do a short hop over the hump on the east end of Square (20r). I think that even the beavers were behind in their dam maintenance, because we floated over several dams (at ramming speed) along the meanders. The 179 into Townline was made easier by the willing hands of a group that we met at the portage. They were heading back across the trail to pick up their goods, and cheerfully said, “we might as well take your packs with us”. Yup, sure, I can go for that. Thank you.
In passing, this group had spent the night on Adams during the monsoon rains of a few days ago. They said that the rain was unbelievably intense, and sort of like tenting under a water fall. One of the ladies was quick to say that they stayed dry with the graces of good gear during the deluge. Amen to good gear. They also were paddling 38 lb ultra lights. Good gear all around.
The rest of the way into Lake Polly was a snap. The soggy, gray day turned to sun, and we stopped at the 2nd site (from the south) on the east shore. This particular campsite was “adequate” by our standards. We do not make it a point to search for the picture perfect spots. It is important to be able to pitch the tents on reasonable flat ground without standing dead snags over the tent ground. Beyond that, we do a quick check for camp cleanliness. Litter and dead fish would have us moving on, as would an overused latrine. In terms of quality, the site was middle of the road, and we decided to call it a day.
It seems it always takes a few days on the trail to find your “canoe legs”. Who does what and when? We fell into a pretty good groove for a first day on the trail. I cooked, and Nate and I would do alternate days from this point on. Matthew would tend to the care of our fire needs and Dave would tend to camp chores.
The two photos are: 1) The meandering stream north of Kawishiwi Lake and 2) East of Square, 3) Lake Polly camp
Onward to the East Arm of Malberg and a planned layover (for fishing). On the water at 9 AM. We will be camped on the 2nd campsite from south on the east arm of Malberg by 12:30.
This was what ya call a darn good day for paddling. None of the trails presented problems. No wind and the sun was shining. The little 24r from Koma to Malberg was a neat spot for photo opportunities, and we photographed the rock mid stream in the Kawishiwi that has probably been captured by many before us. The Kawishiwi was rolling along pretty good for September, and the narrows on the east arm of Malberg were picture perfect. We saw only one group camped next to the portage into Frond Lake.
Camp was made on the 2nd campsite from south on the east arm of Malberg. This site was fine for the day, and looked perfect for fishing. There were plenty of good flat tent spots and reasonably good views of the lake. But was not good in terms of finding a place to hang food packs, good firewood, or being protected from tomorrow’s wind.
After supper we picked up one walleye, ate it, and sipped scotch in front of the fire. It was a good day and we had high expectations for tomorrow……… but, is that rain? Slowly, the little patters became distinct. It was dark and time to hit the sack anyway.
In my tent, I listened as the intensity of the drops increased as did the wind. Sleep was not good as the wind tore at my tent. I kept thinking about a big snag down the shoreline. My saving grace was that my tent was pitched in the wind shadow of a rather huge boulder…….. so, maybe if it falls it will hit the boulder first.
The photos are: 1) Morning at Polly 2) north on Polly, and 3) The rock at the end of the portage into Malberg (south end)
Daylight in the swamp. Morning breaks under a dismal gray sky and cold rain patters on the fly. Crap. What happened to yesterday? Overnight the temperature dropped and it was not about to recover today (our fishing day). Outside the wind was in a hurry and directly out of the NW and directly into our camp. The nice camp of yesterday was a terrible choice for today because there was no protection from the wind.
What the heck do we do with this day? White caps were rolling down the bay and there ain’t no way I am going to even try to fish from a canoe. Fishing into the wind off shore was near impossible. We feel trapped and damned if we move on and damned if we stay……… The day was spent collecting firewood, dozing, and drinking coffee (with a tad of Scotch). Not a good day.
Photos show Malberg Camp and the narrows on the NE arm of Malberg
Blue sky, nothing but blue sky. Onward to the west arm of Beaver Lake (NE corner of section 2).
Under the boredom and gloom of day 3, we studied the maps and reconsidered plans to visit Gabimichigami, Ogishkemuncie, Kekekabic Lakes (say that fast 3 times). We voted to slow it down and do the journey rather than focus on the destination. Beaver lake was calling us and we decided to do a smaller loop of Beaver, Smite, Adams, Boulder, Ledge, "the chain of 3-letter word lakes" and (eventually) Little Saganga. Maybe the wind helped in our decision. We had no desire to be on the big lakes with big wind. Besides, I like the small lake environment.
This day had all of the essence of a perfect paddle in the north country. Ahead of us lie narrow water ways, the sun was shining, there was little wind, and once again Ma Nature was turning her land crimson and gold. We hit the water and headed for the 48r into the Kawishiwi River.
East east Malberg into the Kawishiwi River is a gem of a portage (5 stars) having a gentle rise out of Malberg, topping off, and then downhill to the river. Along the trail, we could hear the rush of water in the rapids below. The trail had a natural feel (like a trail should) and not like the beaten paths into Malberg. At the end, we were greeted by the Kawishiwi River as she tumbled from rapids into calm water. Here the trail became one with the river along a sloping rock that continued into the brackish water of the Kawishiwi. One slip, and we too would be one with the river.
After the portage we paddled down river (SW) and then north to Trapline. This whole section of water is idyllic, and the day made it even more so. In 2006, the 60r into Trapline was a bog slog, and most likely the actual portage then was 120r (maybe more) with much of it mud. We anticipated the worst, but were greeted with the best. High water erased the need of portage. We floated into Trapline (over a couple beaver dams) and this was in stark contrast to the forced march of 2006. There is one campsite on Trapline. It is tiny, but nice. I also think that the site is not marked correctly on the map. We did the 30r into Beaver after testing whether we could get through the water way that the portage goes around. We could not make it, but it was worth the try.
Beaver Lake has two campsites, and without doubt the site on the east shore after Trapline is the five star hotel. The site has a commanding view of the lake and plenty of good spots for tents. We now intended to layover on Beaver to do a bit of exploring and fishing. After our exposure on Malberg to the wind, we had no desire for commanding views. We wanted a small spot tucked into vegetation (something not desirable when the bugs are out), and we moved on to check out the west end of the lake.
The west end campsite is near a dead end lake called Fischer and on the route to Smite. For now, it is home. Matthew bent to the task of repairing the stone work around the fire pit, and the rest of us worked at cramming the tents into available space. This spot did not have the look of being recently used. Before long, our site looked like home. We put a pot of coffee on, found a good branch to hang the food, and the world was a perfect place. Fishing looked good, but proved otherwise. We worked the coves, the points and most places in between. No fish tonight. This is our second day without seeing another soul.
Photos show: 1) Portage trail from east arm of Malberg to the Kawishiwi R, 2) west of the 40r on the Kawishiwi, and 3) SW end of Trapline Lake
Morning breaks under a gray sky and cold rain patters on the fly. Crap again. Ummm, didn’t we just do this on Malberg? We dinked around camp, drank several pots of coffee and watched the wind rise. This ain’t gonna keep us in camp. We packed the day packs and headed for the portage into Fisher.
Fisher Lake was not inviting and sat in a very gloomy (somewhat depressing) setting. Maybe it was due to the rain and wind. About 90% of the shoreline was covered in “dog hair” thickets of cedar. We paddled the entire perimeter of the lake (against the wind to the west and riding the wind back). The only campsite is situated under a heavy canopy of cedar and it had a rather dark and gloomy feel. The fire pit (under a layer of cedar duff) had not seen use in a long time. The latrine did not look like a latrine, but more like a developed “spring house”. Water filled the pit and was clear right to the gravel bottom. If not for the fiberglass throne on top, you might be tempted to dip a cup.
On the way to the portage we picked up a couple fish and decided, time for supper. For most of the day, it has rained and has been windy. Before supper we had an appetizer of fresh fish. Supper was prepared after dark, and the rain showers let up. We got our fire started, ate, poured our ration of Scotch, and (with full bellies) had it pretty good. Actually, it was a relaxing day in spite of the rain, but hoping for a better day tomorrow. This is our third day without seeing another soul.
Matthew takes great pride in his campfire skills, and the first photo shows the condition of the fire grate when we arrived at camp. The 2nd photo shows the fire grate after Matthew's stone work. A well constructed stone wall around the fire grate keeps the fire in place and also directs the heat to those who need it (us). Also the rocks make great places to put pans and dishes while cooking on the grate (before the evening fire).
Additional photos show: 3) fish, and 4) Beaver Lake NW
Onward to the west arm of Adams Lake. Morning breaks under a dismal gray sky and cold rain patters on the fly. Crap again and again. Ummm, didn’t we just do this? I listened to the rain while getting dressed, and then there was a different sound. Uhhh, that ain’t rain. That sounds like sleet. I unzipped a corner and peeked out. Yup, sleet. About then a chorus of “ya gotta be #!%* me, that’s sleet coming down”. And just as quickly, sleet turned to snow………. Nate and Matt yell out, “so we having #!@&**$$ fun yet”?
I have picked up wet gear many times. There is wet, and then there is wet. Nothing beats wet like a tent covered in wet snow. Nothing beats feeling damp like rain gear in damp snow. We mumbled a lot that morning, but still got on the water by 9AM and headed for the portage to Smite…….
Smite is an interesting name for a lake. In our case we were smitten. The 60r trail to Smite from Beaver would not be so bad, if the rocks were dry, and we weren’t grumbling about the snow (now mixed with rain). The trail (more or less) seemed to basically wind around boulders and hang on a ledge along the drainage. Vegetation seemed to have the upper hand in a couple spots. All in all, it gave a feeling that we were generally bush whacking (but in a directed way). Once on the lake we were whacked by a couple of snow squalls, and then things started to calm (fewer squalls).
Smite really is a beautiful little lake and the portage out was in sharp contrast to the portage in. We never found the 40r portage out of the lake. We paddled between a couple big rocks and then the water way opened up. OK, I guess this is Adams Lake. Smite can mean being hit by a hard blow or being hit by love. I think in the end, beauty outweighed the blow.
In this area our plans were for short hops between lakes. Today was no exception and an early stop was welcomed to get the tents up and dried. We selected the first site on the NW shore of Adams (next to the invisible portage from Smite). The site was small but adequate for the day. We know from past experience that the island camp near the south end is a good one. The day remained cold with snow squalls on and off. We sipped a fair amount of coffee, our tents dried in the wind, and we picked up a few fish for supper. This was our forth day without seeing another soul.
Photos show: 1) loading at Beaver, 2) portage from Beaver to Smite Lake, 3) NE end of Smite Lake
Morning broke clear and cold. The little bit of water left in our cups was as frozen as we were crawling from the warmth of the sleeping bags out to a new day. Biscuits, gravy and coffee lit the internal fires and we pushed off to Boulder by 9:30 AM. We were prepared for the worst going into Boulder and had planned how we would beat the bushes into Boulder. Again, we were anticipating conditions based on the 2006 experience. In 2006, low water made it very difficult to get close to the portage into Boulder.
The air was still and morning fog hung in the bays as we made our way across Adams to the portage. I even had the opportunity to put on my sunglasses. High water and a beaver dam eliminated the portage on the Adams side of the portage into Boulder. The north portage was far short of 20r and more like a pull-over. In between the portages shown on the maps, we scraped a few rocks but stayed in the canoes. High water, ya got to love it. These conditions were so different than last September.
There are three campsites on Boulder. We checked out the south shore, found it adequate, decided to be picky and moved toward the island. The island camp is a good one with nice easy access, and a big rock to lie on like a lizard. There are good flat tent spots too. We pitched the tents and then retired to the rock…….. oh to be warm again. The wind still carried a bite, but we sprawled out in a protected little niche, pulled off our boots and aired out our toes. Little pleasures are big. I found a fish pole and case at this site. It looked to be someone’s back country special.
This was our 5th day without seeing another soul, but more importantly it did not rain or snow. A good easy day of going with the flow.
Morning broke clear and cold, but warmer than yesterday. Finally we get a break. When we opted out of the big loop to the Kekekabic country, we dealt ourselves plenty of time for a relaxed pace of travel. We have been doing just that. Slow is good when wandering about.
We were on the water at 9 AM and being gently guided north on Boulder by a south breeze. There were some odd cloud formations in the sky this AM and a hint of a halo around the sun. But at the moment we had an Indian Summer and a dandy day. One of our longer portages and the “cross roads” lies ahead. Robert Johnson went down to the cross roads, met the devil, signed over his soul, and was given the gift of delta blues. We don’t expect to see the devil, we have full bellies, fresh socks, and a copy of the portage cross roads trail map that Beymer provided in his books……… his gift to us without asking for our souls (only $16.95 and worth the exchange of money). If you come this way, pack the map.
I expected a tough trail and confusion where the north-south trail crosses the slough. What I found was a relatively easy portage over well maintained and easy to follow trails. The trail gains elevation out of Boulder and then drops to the slough. At the slough turn left, follow the trail along the bank and stop at the first clearing (very short distance). On the other side of the slough, the trail takes off up hill. Two of us crossed the slough, and then sent the empty canoe across for gear…… shuttle service. Basically this saved us from properly loading the canoes and provided a little fun.
We saw a lot of wolf tracks and no other human tracks. The climb out of the slough caused a bit of puffing, but once on top, the going was easy to the “cross roads” and onward to Ledge lake. The trail up the hill from the slough had been recently maintained, and whoever did the work, my hat is off to you. This system of portage trails (from Boulder to Ledge) ranks high in my “favored portages column”. There is a remote feeling to the trails, and there are a couple of nice views from the top (if you go off trail a bit).
Ledge Lake has one campsite, it was empty, and we decided to stop. The campsite is small, had a pretty view, and accommodated our tents. The lake is also small, pretty, and (I think) very shallow. I blamed the “shallow factor” on the absence of fish in the pan. The rest of the day was spent searching for the illusive fish, exploring the lake, and basking in the sun. We were in T-shirts when just the other day snow was beating us. In late afternoon one canoe passed our camp. They were coming from Thomas and they were now forced to head on to Fee. We had gone nearly six days without contact with others.
Photos show: 1) morning at Boulder Camp, 2) our ferry across the slough on the way to the "cross roads", 3) Ledge Lake (the canoe belongs to our group)
Morning broke cloudy, warmer (than yesterday) and definitely more humid. The short trip to Hoe was uneventful with the exception of a place we call moose meadows. I have not run across many meadows or tamarack in the BWCA. Moose meadows had the tamarack and a great number of moose beds. The piles of moose do-do looked a few days old. Wow, would this have been a trip to stumble into a bunch of sleepy eyed moose. The meadows also had a bunch of crazed beaver that seemed intent on adding one more lake to the BWCA. To follow the trail will mean really wet feet (and knees?). We skirted the meadows/forest perimeter and kept dry.
From the look of the forest on the north side of Fee, I suspect that we were on the perimeter of the area hit by the blow down. The Fee campsite is rather exposed. It has two good tent pads, but one sits under a "widow maker". The camp on Ledge and Hoe are much better by comparison.
Hoe Lake has one campsite and from the water it doesn’t look like much. But the site, was pretty nice (flat spots for tents, fire wood, and place to hang the food packs (which, by now, has gone from 2 to 1). The day has actually been hot and humid and we have been in t-shirts for most of it. Fishing was not productive on Hoe. I picked up 3 “shakers” (small, axe-handle northerns shaken off the hook).
After supper we soaked our feet and dried them before the fire (another small pleasure). In the distance, thunder rumbled and slowly became more ominous. The old adage that cirrus clouds (seen on the morning of Day 8) are the precursor to bad weather comes true, and we head for the tents before the deluge. Thunderstorms are humbling and the nylon walls of the tent don’t really inspire a feeling of being protected from the elements. In the dark I watched the lighting flash, waited on the thunder, and waited on the wind. Fortunately, the wind never came, just the rain and plenty of it.
Photos show: 1) leaving Ledge Lake camp, and 2) looking west down Hoe as rain moves towards us
Onward to Little Saganaga and the end of the line for us. Morning broke heavy in clouds, warm, and very humid. Today will be our last short hop, and the plan is to explore the SW part of Little Saganaga, do a bit of fishing, and get a good night sleep before our return path to Kawishiwi Lake.
We started the day in t-shirts again. It is hard to believe that we were bundled up a few days ago. The portage from Hoe to Makwa was generally flat(ish) with steep decline close to Makwa. Nate was carrying one canoe and he took off for Makwa before me. I was surprised to see someone coming over the trail from Makwa. I chatted for a while with the guy as the rest of his party (4 men) trickled in over the trail. Then, I shouldered my canoe for the carry to Makwa. I thought I had a friendly interaction with the guy that I talked to.
On arriving at the Makwa side, I heard another story. Nate was livid. “those guys didn’t move an inch for me…… they could see my balancing act with the canoe…… they had packs….. ya think they would have stepped aside?” Oh boy, of all the least likely places to have an incident. We headed back to get the rest of our packs, and now it was our turn to meet them carrying their canoes…… we yielded the trail to the canoes, and I am sure that we will get the Portage Trail Etiquette award for our good manners. We could have easily done an “eye for an eye” in this situation.
Elton Lake was a long, narrow, and pretty lake (like most we have been on). The topography was interesting and beckoned us to stop. Had it not been for the plan to hit Little Sag, and the fact that we were now running out of time, we would have stopped to spend the night. The portages from Elton to Little Saganaga could stand some brush clearing and the little Saganaga sides were very muddy. However, after the rain(s) we have seen, muddy trails have been the norm and not the exception.
Little Saganaga fulfilled our expectations as a pretty lake until we paddled far enough NE to spot the scorched earth from the forest fire earlier this season (I think we might have been looking at part of the Ham Lake fire). We were sobered as we surveyed the scene of blackened bare rock and standing dead snags. I don’t think I could ever forgive myself if my actions resulted in something that looked like this. “Remember, only you can prevent forest fires”…… I remember Smoky.
We came about and headed down lake to the big island (in section 18) to avoid looking over the depressing landscape of fire. The island had one campsite and we called it home. Again this campsite does not look like much from the lake.
There are plenty of nice sites on Little Saganaga. The maze of small islands at the top of section 18 were real pretty, but sites looked loved to death. I remember those sites as the ones with orange peels left in the fire pit. Dave and I picked them up and flung them back into the bush. Peels are organic, they will decompose, but why leave garbage for another to find (or pick up)?
The big island site doesn’t have a commanding view or look like much from the lake, but it was very nice. I know this area witnessed some of the winds from the 1999 storm, and it was remarkable to see the stately white pines on this island standing. The flat ground for tents was in and around the big pines, and it looked idyllic until later that night.
A noble effort was made to catch a fish for supper. No bet, and no bite. On one of our many trolling runs we spotted an old USFS cabin. Of course this captured our curiosity and we stopped to look around a bit. I suppose that the USFS has a policy to let these old buildings go to pot, and that is a shame. It looks like the cabin is still used as a base for maintenance and as a dump. I could not believe the accumulation of crap surrounding the place. There is history in these old log buildings and regardless of wilderness they should be maintained and kept tidy.
With evening came dead calm, and a perfect night for fire watching. We sat around in t-shirts. There was a feel in the air, and we didn’t need a weather man to tell us something was coming in our direction. And, it came, first with little drops, and those little drops turned to sheets of rain. This time we got the wind and it was howling right out of the west. The storm made for a restless and long night, and I couldn’t help thinking about those damn big pines we were under.
Photos show: 1) leaving Hoe Lake, 2) USFS cabin on Little Saganaga, 3) Little Saganaga looking NW from our island camp, 3) Little Saganaga calm before the storm
We need to head south and time ain’t on our side anymore. I found myself in need to visit Ma Nature well before 6AM. I was fully awake, listening to the wind, and waiting for light. In September, it is pretty dark at this hour. But, I didn’t need light to know what was going on down on the water. I only had to listen.
The waves were beating on our northwest exposure which was the entrance to this camp site. It won’t be pretty out there. I switched on the flashlight and studied the maps. I was thinking that we could bush whack to the south side of the island, and then run south in the wind shadow to the 140r (SW corner) out of Little Saganaga (rather than face the waves to get to the two 19r portages that brought us in to Little Saganaga).
I was not the only restless soul that morning and it only took a bit of stirring around, to get Matt and Nate to holler over, "Ya getting up?". I said, "it don't sound good out there"........ "yeah, we know, been up most of the night......." The rain started to let up and we crawled from our tents to do a survey of the day and the past night. Simply put, the day sucked, and the rain was huge overnight.
Our coffee mugs (left around the fire) were filled to the brim and that amounted to at least 4 inches of rain. Little lakes were everywhere including the “bath tub floors”. For the most part, our bags were dry thanks to the thermal-rest pads. We picked up camp and as we were doing that, the wind seemed to let up, and damn if it wasn’t shifting too. It was “now-or-never”. We brewed a pot of coffee, fried some SPAM singles, topped the SPAM with cheese and we were ready for bear.
On the water at 7:30 and for the moment the angry waves had calmed. The 19r portages that were wet on the way into Little Sag were now a swamp. We cruised down Elton without much wind, but the cruise stopped at Makwa. The wind that was thinking of turning around, had made the u-turn, and now we faced it head on. It would be in our face for the next two days. The portage from Makwa to the no-name lake looked liked a small water fall. I was pretty sure that the water fall was our trail. Nate and Matthew weren’t so sure; “that ain’t the trail, it’s a creek”. In any event, we landed and followed “the creek” uphill.
Wind and rain were in our face as we came down tiny Panhandle Lake. The map showed that the portage was in the SE corner next to the drainage, and that is exactly where we spotted an opening. The portage should be a cakewalk. We were hugging the east shore and maybe we should have scanned the shore further up from the drainage. The spot where we landed looked on par with some of the lesser maintained (and lesser used) portages that we had been on.
It was not a super highway, but it was a trail. I shouldered the canoe and headed off into the brush only to find the trail get progressively worse with downed trees. When I got to the knee-deep drainage, I plopped the canoe into the stream as a bridge. The brush held the canoe tight, and I started back for another pack. I met Nate, Matt, and Dave. They said “Boy, this trail sucks”, and I said, “you ain’t seen nothing yet” With no further explanation I said, “when you get to the canoe, step into it to get across”. I knew they had no idea what I was talking about and that gave me a perverted sort of kick.
In our minds, the trail was in need of maintenance, and we wondered how this trail had missed being cleared. Naturally, we assumed that the trail crews had been asleep on the job, and they received countless profanities as we stumbled and hauled our canoes over dead fall. We reached Pan Lake. Nate and I surveyed the thick brush between us and water. Matt arrived with the Duluth packs, “Ok, how do you suggest we get the canoes into that lake”? We eventually noticed a clearing to our right, and looked at it dumbfounded. Nate: “What the hell is that”? Joe: “Uhh, that looks like a portage trail”. Matt: “What the hell is it doing over there”?
If we had a head of steam, you would have now heard it escaping in a long hiss….. We had used valuable time and energy for naught. The big question, how did we miss that trail and end up bushwhacking this portage?
There was not much said after we got all our gear assembled at the trail head. We were tired and sick of being wet, but what really bothered us was the simple-minded screw-up on the portage. I said, time for lunch, and we sat along the trail eating salami and cheese. Occasionally we looked down the “good trail” and over at the “bad trail”. We just smiled and shook our heads.
I think with every canoe trip, you learn something about yourself and your ability. The Panhandle to Pan Lake portage was the low of this trip, and it happened at a time when our patience was starting to wear thin. We pushed off, and headed south across Pan and Anit to Kivaniva. On one of these portages we crossed yet another stream. There was no lack of running water either on the trails or in the creeks.
Kivaniva has one campsite and we decided to check it out. It was now 2:30 PM, the site looked good, and we decided to stay put. Today, we did about 6 miles and 470r of portages on 8 trails. That distance took 7 hours! With the exception of lunch, we were working at the miles. I think the combination of muddy trails, wind, and one screw-up made for a long day.
Our evening fire did not come easy. The forest was dripping wet, but we got the fire started and little by little it grew to dry our pant cuffs. And, like the fire, slow but sure, the wind died and the sky cleared. Our evening Scotch was a little more tasty tonight as we gazed across Kivaniva and watched reflections of the forest under a half moon. Fog slowly crept in giving the opposite shore a surreal "Hollywood-Monster-Movie" effect. Time to call it a day, and to the sacks we went.
It is exactly one day shy of a year since I last heard the Kawishiwi wolves. As I went through the ritual of undressing and dressing for bed (pulling on my long johns and fleece and wool hat and socks), there came a sound like no other. And, as in 2006, the sound of the wolves penetrated to the bone. There is only a fine line between this "modern man" and primitive man. At night, the forest is dark and primitive man feared that dark because there were things out there that would eat him. I suppose we are not that far up the evolutionary ladder to totally separate ourselves from primitive fears. The call of the wolf is a primitive reminder of our past. The wolves rule the night, and we are only frail visitors to their land.
Hairs on my neck, knew what to do, come to attention, one by one. As fast as the serenade started, it stopped. There was silence in our camp. I whispered over to Matt and Nate, “did you hear that”? “Yeah”. And just like 2006, the fog on the Kawishiwi rolled in, and dampness penetrated. We rolled into our sacks, and called it a day to remember.
Photos show: 1) Nate and Matt SW bound on Makwa, 2) break time on the south end of the 60r out of Makwa 3) the "misplaced portage" between Panhandle and Pan, 4) Looking south over Kivaniva as fog rolled in and just before the wolves began to howl
I unzipped my tent on the lake side and looked out to the east. I fully expected to see a clear sky, but the sky was brilliant red. The little adage of “red sky in morning, sailor take warning” spun around in my head. Surely, we will not get rain again?
Our breakfast of biscuits and gravy slowly energized the system, and I think we made 2 pots of cowboy coffee. This is the first morning in a few days that we were not threatened by impending weather doom….. But still, that red sky? We were on the water before 8 and maybe the canoe gods were smiling on their wayward sons. The section of Kawishiwi before the portage into Malberg was a delight, as was the portage into Malberg. However, the sky just got heavier and heavier, and soon it has got to spring a leak. In anticipation of the leak, Dave and I pulled ashore in the NE narrows of Malberg to pull on our rain pants, while Matt and Nate chafed at the bit to get “down lake”. By Koma, the heavens opened.
Portage trails, just as the day before, took on the look of small creeks. By the time we made the north end of Polly we were dealing with both rain and a rising south wind. Of course we are going south. Why is it that I remember so few days (from many canoe trips) when I had the wind at my back rather than in my face? Under a greasy sky with increasing ominous rumbles, we landed at the first campsite on the north end of Polly. It was a fine enough campsite and offered protection from the south wind. After slogging around the site looking at tent sites, Matt says, “we need to get down this lake now…….. because if this wind picks up, we will pay tomorrow”.
I did not feel like moving, but Matt was right. Thunder rumbles seemed to become more distant, and it was now or never.
On this trip, the lakes were not very complicated, and I had been "dead on" with my “dead reckoning” navigation (an eye on the shore and an eye on the map). Last year, I was a bit “off” on an occasion or two. On the first few days, I was having a hard time reconciling "map scale" to the real world, and sadly became the recipient of many jabs. But I had regained my stature as “true north” on this trip. Before shoving off, I said lets keep the first island to our right and then head to the campsite on the peninsula between the main lake and the east arm. At that point, turn south to keep the shore on our left. Those directions seem rather simple minded, but in driving rain and rolling swells things become confusing real quick.
When we rounded the lee side of the islands we were hit smack in the face with wind, and rain. One thing was good, the rain was warm! One thing was bad, out here, there was no freedom to study maps and handle the canoe. I spotted the camp, kept it to my left and proceeded down lake. Later on, Matthew and Nate said they had completely lost it, and just decided to follow me with no questions asked (Sweet redemption compared to last year!). The going was tough until we hit the protected lee side of the peninsula. By the time we hit the campsite that we called home on day 1, we were ready to stop, and stop we did.
The remaining day was dismal. The wind really cranked up, and trees were going down in the forest outside of our campsite. We waited several hours (watching for weak trees) before putting up our tents. Supper was made in the rain, and at this point we didn’t even try to put up the tarp.
After supper, we lit the candle on Matt’s birthday chocolate cake (bake packer secret recipe), sang happy birthday and Matt opened his present. Matt said, “you mean, we been hauling around bottle (plastic) of beer all this time?” I just smiled. I had wished for a warmer day when the beer would have been really appreciated. But, it was beer. Matt shared, and shortly after the festivities there was nothing left to do, but take protection from the elements.
Before we turned in, we studied the waves. No one was real keen on taking the wind and waves broadside in the morning. We figured that if worse came to worse, we could follow the lake perimeter south for a ways and get around to the west-side portage trail. It was a restless night for all of us. I hate the wind at night even more than during the day.
Photos: 1) Morning at Kivaniva, 2) calm as glass across the Kawishiwi River heading to the east side portage into Malberg, 3) Birthday party at Polly, and 4) the start of another windy night
I think only Dave slept last night. But, using Dave as a standard is not so good because his tent could blow down around him, and still he would sleep. The wind has let up, but we are now real skeptics. Surely it will turn on us before we get to Kawishiwi Lake. Breakfast was made quickly and we loaded up the canoes. For the most part, I (and all of us) will not be saddened by getting out today.
The trails were a swamp, and by now, this was an expected condition. We found the 189r into Kawasachong a reprieve. On the trail, we had the upper hand against the wind which was now picking up to where it had been yesterday. Along the 189r, we could still hear trees going down, and one of those was now a new addition across the trail. This was an obstacle that called for shoving the canoe over the top, slithering through the branches, and picking up on the other side. Other than the tree, the portage seemed a lot easier going out than when we came in (even though we were now going up hill). Either we were running on adrenalin or the days on the trail had “buffed” us up (I think the latter).
Having the wind in our face getting out of the kidney-shaped part of Kawasachong was about our only difficult section of water. Once on the meanders into Square, the wind actually let up and made the paddle enjoyable. On Square, we stopped for a late breakfast/early lunch. Here we saw a weird weather condition. This morning, there was no fog. But as we ate, the wind came up and fog came in. By the time we got to Kawishiwi Lake, it was difficult to navigate because we could not see the islands. We skirted along the west shore, and soon the gravel beach at the boat launch sprung out of the fog. It was a good sound hearing that gravel under the hull.
Nate and I fetched the vehicles from the parking lot and before loading we toasted the trip with a Heineken. This is it. The end. Ahead of us Ely, a hot shower, a steak at the steak house, a soft bed with a roof, and a 450 mile drive the next day.
I think the best part of coming out is the hot shower (maybe the steak too). Before we left Kawishiwi Lake, we flipped coins to determine who gets the shower first. I won the toss for the room that Dave and I shared. The terms of the toss, were 15 minutes maximum in the shower. I used that 15 minutes, and a good part of that time was spent sitting in the tub, washing and rewashing my feet while a hot stream of water cascaded over my shoulders. Good things come in small ways.
Summary and parting thoughts:
I can’t say that this was one of our better trips. During our 13 days, we traveled 60 miles on 28 lakes and 40 portage trails. All of our portages were double portages, so I guess we actually had 120 portages (3 crossings X 40 trails). My favorite country still is the area around Beaver/Adams/Boulder. Of the 13 days, we had 9 with rain, and one with snow/rain. The trip was not difficult at our pace of travel because our daily dose of nasty portages were minimized. We expected to see moose on the water trails to Kawasachong lake, but saw none. Our largest wildlife spotting was a river otter on Fisher Lake.
The rain brought an end to a very dry spell and also provided easy water passages. But, the rain had a way of dampening our spirits after awhile. However, spirits are not dampened long, and we remember the best of this trip. And, regardless of what my report sounded like, it was not that bad. We carry heavy clothes and that is the difference between a terrible adventure and an adventure. I would do the trip again. The lakes are generally small and scenic and do not present impossible conditions with wind. Portages are numerous. I am writing this in early February 2008, and if all goes as planned we will launch or canoes (entry 14) on May 31 for an 8-day loop around Beartrack and Pocket. Then in September, my son and I plan to enter at 43 for a loop to Cherokee.
Cheers and happy paddling.
Photos are: 1) East side of Square Lake and the end of portages, 2) home is that way, 3) entrance to Square Lake, 4) the end and a toast to the trip