BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
October 21 2021
Number of Permits per Day: 9
Elevation: 1653 feet
Kawishiwi Lake - 37
2016 BWCA solo loop Kawishiwi Lake - Alice - Fraser - Boulder - Malberg - Kawishiwi Lake
August 31, 2016
Number of Days:
Exit: EP #37, Kawishiwi Lake, Saturday, September 10, 2106
Route: North through Polly to Malberg, west to the Kawishiwi River, south to FishDance pictographs, north through Alice, Thomas, and Fraser, then east to Sagus (& Shepo), Roe, and Cap where I turned south to Boulder, Adams, Beaver, and Trapline before returning to the Kawishiwi River, Malberg, Polly, and Kawishiwi Lake. The route (including double portage mileage) was about 70+/- miles with about 21 miles of [double] portaging. The portages were generally not hard – the Cap-to-Boulder portage was the most challenging. There were a few extra beaver dam pullovers, bushwhacks, and extensions.
Summary: The weather was generally good, although a little warmer than my usual time frame of later in September. I missed the autumn foliage. It rained a couple of times at night while I was in the tent, and there was a thunderstorm with lightning, thunder, and heavy rain for several hours on the afternoon of Friday, September 9th. This trip took me to places I had not seen before and on to some larger lakes - Alice, Thomas, Fraser and parts of Adams that I had not seen. The trip went according to plan and was very enjoyable.
Pre-trip: I left Morgantown, WV, early on Sunday morning, August 28th, and had an uneventful drive to Gaylord, MI, and on to Duluth, MN, the following day. I was joined for dinner at the Duluth Grill by Ginny (PuffinGin) and Steve (inspector13), whom I had met previously. It was a pleasure to also be joined by Mike (Round River) and Ben (nctry), whom I had never met. We had a very enjoyable, although too short, dinner meeting. Steve joined me for a late breakfast at Duluth Grill the next morning on his way home. I took my time wandering up the North Shore, stopping at a couple of places suggested by Steve, before stopping at Sawtooth Outfitters in Tofte to Pick up my permit and canoe. I continued on to Grand Marais, checked in at Nelson’s, and had dinner at The Crooked Spoon. I made final preparations for the morning when I returned to Nelson’s, read a little, and went to bed.
Prologue: After my 2014 trip with Steve (inspector13) from Kawishiwi Lake to Little Saganaga Lake to Sawbill Lake, I had planned a long trip in 2015, which would take me from Cross Bay to Round Lake via Snipe, Copper, Tuscarora, Crooked, Little Saganaga, Ledge, Wisini, Eddy, Gabimichigami, Crooked, Missing Link, and Round. I was in good shape for the 2014 trip and maintained that pretty well, although my exercising was interrupted for 4-6 weeks by the removal of a [skin] cancer from my foot about 8 weeks before the trip. The 2015 trip was a debacle. I came down with a bad cold two days before leaving Morgantown and struggled with not feeling 100% the whole trip. I was fatigued, weak, and had no stamina. After returning home I received the vague after-the-fact diagnosis of “post-viral fatigue syndrome” (?). I could barely lift the canoe or my packs and had difficulty portaging them. I got as far as Mora before returning to Tuscarora and staying there until going to Missing Link, and then Round. I’m not as young as I used to be. Doubt crept in, it lingered, nibbled away at my confidence. There was a certain amount of trepidation going into this year’s trip.
Wednesday, 8/31, Day 1: I’m never as organized as I think I am on entry morning, so did not get on the water until after 9:00, but was on the NW site (#1072) on Polly a little after 1:00. Polly was the least busy I have ever seen it. The rangers coming in at Kawishiwi had told me I would have no trouble finding a site as only three were occupied. I saw only two. The water levels were good on the way north, wind was moderate, and there were a couple of extra beaver dams – one lift over and one just before entering Kawasachong that required a short, but not too complicated bushwhack around it. I was able to paddle right by one of the portages. It was a warm day, but cloud cover made it more bearable. I had made some additional changes in gear to lighten my load, primarily switching to a 3-lb solo tent, as well as paring down the repair kit and first aid kit to align with solo needs, and eliminating a few odds and ends. I took a little less clothing since I was going in earlier and the forecast was pretty warm compared to the end of last year’s trip. My two packs, including 12 days of food (14.5 lbs. in two Ursacks), weighed 49 lbs. I had rented a Northstar Northwind solo canoe weighing 29 lbs. Today at the portages, I had unloaded the heavier pack and left it with my PFD, paddle, and water bottle, while I carried the small pack and canoe across the portage before returning for the second load. This portage routine worked well for me – it was simple, efficient, and saved me time and energy – so I continued it for the rest of the trip. I had not set up the tent before I left, but it was pretty simple – stake down two corners, Insert pole, stake down other two corners, guy out ends and sides. I also had to repair one pack’s hip belt which had become unattached. A little Super Glue and Gorilla Tape took care of that. I ate dinner on a granite outcrop by camp and watched a beaver swim out of the bay where there was a lodge. It was a pleasant evening and the forecast was good until Saturday evening, when there would be a 50% chance of thunderstorms. I decided to travel as long as the forecast was good to avoid problems later. I felt good, travel went well today. Things were looking up.
Thursday, 9/1, Day 2: I left about 9:00 on a nice cool morning and 5 hours later I took site #1036 on the Kawishiwi River below Amber. The sites on the river before that had been occupied and I feared the ones down by Fishdance might be, so I took site #1036. It was not a heavily used site, but was more than adequate for me. The landing and fire area were so-so, but there were a couple of decent small tent pads. A couple of canoes paddled by while I was setting up – the last people I would see for two days. The weather was a little warm and winds were light today. The traveling went well today. There were a couple of beaver dam issues going to Malberg and the portage from Malberg to Record Creek and the Kawishiwi River was extended farther due to low water, but nothing really out of the ordinary. I felt good, although my legs and shoulders were a little sore and tired from all the unaccustomed work of portaging. My back was pretty sore and stiff from the bending, stooping, squatting, lifting, and paddling, but it gets that way after a few hours of sitting or driving too. I was trying to move along while the weather was good, even though I had a couple of weather days built in to my travel plan. I wanted to see the Fishdance pictographs tomorrow morning, then get well up Alice by noon or 1:00 before the wind picked up. It was a bigger lake than I usually paddle and I was thinking it might be pretty busy. There was almost no portaging between here and Alice and very little from there to Fraser except for the Cacabic to Thomas portage and a short one to Sagus, where I planned to spend the night before setting off across Roe and Cap to Boulder. The legs would get a little rest before tackling the Cap-Boulder portage. The Northwind solo was a very nice canoe. It was light and roomy – way more room than I needed. The seat seemed very low though.
Friday, 9/2, Day 3: I started off about 8:30 – earlier than yesterday, but not as early as I had hoped. It was a nice morning, warmer than yesterday morning. I soon saw the portage landing on the left shore and pulled in, unloaded and set off. The portage was an awkward thing, very tight, some downfall, and it seemed much longer than 18 rods. It ended at a mud hole where others had obviously floundered. I made an awkward work-around on some rocks, through some brush, loaded up and shoved off out towards the main channel of the river. I took one last look back as I started downstream and saw an obvious and very easy portage landing . . . I paddled down to the Fishdance pictographs and back upriver to the portage to Alice. The wind had picked up this morning and after the portage I started off on Alice in moderate winds. Alice was a bigger lake than I’m used to paddling on and I headed towards one of the east-side camps I could see in the distance. It looked like a beach site and I thought maybe it was the third one up the east side, but I was a long way from shore and not really sure which one it was. It was a long way away. Half way across the wind picked up with some stronger gusts. I made a beeline for that site. There didn’t seem to be anybody there; in fact, there didn’t seem to be anybody on the lake. There were no paddlers on the lake and no campers visible at any of the sites. It was almost 11:30 so I had some lunch and water while I waited for the wind to slack off. It didn’t – it just got stronger. It was blowing straight into the site, which turned out to be the 5th one up the east side on a peninsula jutting out towards the west. The site faced south directly into the wind and there was no shelter from the wind. I had some coffee, explored around the site, and at 3:30 decided to call it home tonight. It was a pretty nice site (#1169) except for being open to the south wind today. I’m not as crazy about beach (sand) sites as some people, but it was an easy landing and a spacious site with nice tent pads. It was a warm afternoon – the sun felt hot – but tomorrow would be warmer with an increasing chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon and winds of 15-25 mph forecast. There was a 40-70% chance of thunderstorms for the next several days and it was hard to tell how the weather would affect travel. I’d never actually been in the BW during a thunderstorm with lightning. I’d been in some heavy rains, but no thunder and lightning. I planned an early start beat the wind and get to Fraser or Sagus before any afternoon thunderstorms. The wind continued to blow until just before sunset.
Saturday, 9/3, Day 4: It was a crazy day! I woke up in the middle of the night and the wind was roaring straight up Alice into camp. It was still blowing when I woke up and I wasn’t real sure what I was going to do. I wanted off Alice and this site that was totally open to the coming weather with no place to hide. I walked around the point and up to the north side of the peninsula. It was sheltered and much calmer. If I could get around the point and headed north, I’d quickly be there and safely on my way to Cacabic and Thomas. I’d have to head almost directly into the wind and make an almost 180 degree turn to the north. I packed everything up and put it in the canoe down at water’s edge. Then I waited for a lull in the wind. When it came, I moved quickly. I only needed a few minutes to make the turn, negotiate a rocky area and turn behind the peninsula and . . . I was in a different world. In a few more minutes I was paddling up the calm narrow arm towards Cacabic. It was a nice paddle with a short portage to Cacabic, a shallow, lily pad filled lake. After paddling around there for a while, I paddled into the creek to the northeast and pushed my way up to the landing. There was mud all around, but the landing was solid. The portage was a nice walk in the woods - slightly long but not difficult. There was some boardwalk with some rotted and loose boards across a low area where you had to watch your step. A lot of blowdown had been cleared on the portage. It ended at a nice sandy area on Thomas. I paddled up Thomas and through the narrows to Fraser, headed for the last campsite at the northeast end. I still had seen no one since the Kawishiwi River on the second afternoon. I was surprised not to have seen anyone on Alice or Thomas, especially with Labor Day two days away. I thought Alice and Thomas were popular destinations. I saw no one as I paddled the length of Fraser either . . . until the last campsite before the portage to Sagus, which was occupied. I headed on to Sagus to get one of the two useable sites there and make tomorrow’s travel to Boulder as short and easy as possible. I got to Sagus a little after 1:00 and found it full! Go figure. That’s the last thing I expected. Now what? The site on Cap was a long way away and it didn’t sound inviting from the 1-star review. It was a long way back to the last site on Fraser and I didn’t pass close enough to be sure it was empty. I was tired and frustrated. I decided to go to a 3-star rated site on Shepo. Surely it wouldn’t be occupied! It was open and I took it. 3-star? It was little used, small, so-so landing and fire area. It was really hemmed in by brush and trees. There was no good place for a tarp. I found a decent pad for my small tent with a slight slope from head to toe right between the fire area and latrine trail. Speaking of the latrine – a pine tree had fallen inches from the front of the latrine. I had to sit down from the side, swing my legs to the front with my knees in my chest, and put my feet up on the tree. It was conducive to the task and as an added bonus, there was a fresh pine scent around the latrine - a rare luxury! There was an increasing chance of thunderstorms the next day, so I planned an early start for Boulder, which would be a long, hard day with a lot of portaging. I was planning to take a layover day there since there was a 70-80% chance of thunderstorms Sunday night through Monday night. I’d been traveling every day to take advantage of the weather and I was tired – I needed a rest day. After Monday night the chance of thunderstorms was 40-50%, so I hoped for enough days of moderate travel to make an easy out on the following Sunday.
Sunday, 9/4, Day 5: Today was going to be a hard day from Sagus, but after backtracking to Shepo for a campsite, it was going to be even longer with more portaging, some of which was going to be difficult. It was even longer and harder than I thought, and with some more craziness. I was on the water at 8:00, but in my haste I forgot there were two portages out of Shepo – one to Sagus and one to Fraser. By the time I realized my error, it was easier to paddle Fraser to the Sagus portage. I portaged into Sagus, paddled up to the northeast end and portaged into Roe, a shallow lake in a marshy area. I knew the portage from Roe to Cap was far back in the creek on the left side, but still almost paddled by it hidden up a narrow side channel behind weeds. I headed off on the 140-rod portage to Cap and was surprised to arrive at a lake in 5 minutes. I double checked the map. There were no other portages out of Roe to anywhere else and this lake looked like Cap. It was definitely not 140 rods, less than half that probably. I stopped to check out the Cap site and have lunch. There was a bit of rock climbing to the elevated and open fire area. It was a rather Spartan site. I paddled to the portage to Ledge or Boulder. I was eager to get to Boulder and set up camp before the weather turned later in the afternoon. My camera battery died with the picture of the Cap site and I didn’t want to take time to dig another one out of the bottom of whichever pack it was in. I wish I had pictures of this portage. I climbed the portage towards Ledge and came to the Boulder turnoff in about 80-100 rods (10 minutes). On the way to Boulder, I maneuvered around a small blowdown without much difficulty. At the bottom of a steep descent, I crossed a creek that is slightly over knee deep (I have short legs). It took me about 25 minutes to do this section, so it seems to be much longer than 135 rods, probably at least twice that distance. There was a fairly strong wind blowing into the landing at Boulder when I arrived. I secured the canoe and headed back for the second pack. I tried to cross the creek on a submerged rock bridge, but slipped and fell. I was wet and muddy to the waist and almost to my shoulder on the right side. On the way back up the Cap-Ledge portage with the second pack, one of the shoulder strap attachments came loose like the waist belt repair I made earlier in the trip. I stopped and emptied the pack to find the repair kit in the bottom; fortunately it was in that pack and not the other one down at Boulder. I put some Gorilla Tape over it, loaded it back up, and headed on up the hill toward the Boulder turnoff. In a couple of minutes it came loose again. This was going to require Super Glue and Gorilla Tape. I lugged it the rest of the way to the Boulder turnoff, unloaded it again – why didn’t I put the repair kit on top? – dug out the Super Glue, applied some with more Gorilla Tape, reloaded and headed towards Boulder. I needed to get to Boulder and get a campsite – surely all those people on Sagus wouldn’t be camped on Boulder now!? When I arrived at Boulder the sky was dark and the wind was blowing hard up the lake into the portage landing. I pondered what to do. I was tired and wanted to get a campsite, set up, and relax. I needed to clean up from my slip, and get the tarp up before any rain. I pondered some more. The wind and waves were almost directly at me. The first campsite was just around the point and on the right. I decided to paddle directly towards the island to the left of the point, figuring it would give me a little shelter from the wind when I turned. I paddled hard toward the island, quartering slightly into the waves, and turned the corner . . . into a wind tunnel! I paddled harder, head down, barely creeping forward against the wind and waves. I looked up and there was the campsite directly to my right. I was almost past it. There was no one there! I don’t know what I’d have done if there was . . . I turned quickly for it – mistake #2, #3, # whatever – and I was sideways to the wind and waves, which pushed me towards the landing. I had no control and just rode it towards shore, jumped out when I got close, and drug it in to the landing. I unloaded and secured the canoe. It was 2:00. I took a quick look around the site, starting filtering some water, unpacked some clean, dry clothes, stripped all the dirty ones off, put my boots on, waded in and rinsed the dirty clothes and myself. After air drying – thank god it was warm – I put the clean clothes on, made coffee, hung clothes up to dry, and ate a snack. I surveyed the site while drinking the coffee and decided where to put the tent. The strong wind made it difficult to set up, but I got it done. I tried to get an updated forecast on the weather radio, but reception wasn’t good enough. The weather seemed OK at the moment so I sat down to make some notes and look at the map before supper. Suddenly a few stray raindrops fell and I hurried to eat, stash the food, and put things away. Then I decided to set up the tarp even though it was windy as hell and I knew it would be a difficult task. I got something rigged up just before dark and got in the tent to look at maps and notes. It started to rain shortly after that and it rained harder and harder, driven by the strong wind.
Monday, 9/5, Day 6: I awoke to the sound of pouring rain. I re-staked one corner of the tarp, tightened the lines, and found a pole to raise the middle, which helped. The rain continued until late morning when the wind died down, but it remained heavily overcast with a 70% chance of thunderstorms through tonight. I needed this layover day to recover from the accumulated fatigue and soreness of the previous five days of travel. The forecast was good for tomorrow (Tuesday) and early on the following day, but not so good Wednesday afternoon. The Thursday and Friday forecast was not so good, but Saturday and Sunday (exit day) was better. I wanted to exit at Kawishiwi Lake no later than noon or 1:00 on Sunday. I wanted to be on Polly or Kawasachong Saturday night. I decided if the weather update later was still good, I’d try to travel a good distance tomorrow. Any forecast less than a 50% chance of rain would be a travel day unless the wind was strong and gusty. I sat on a rock in front of camp to eat lunch after the rain stopped and was serenaded by a loon. I sat quietly and listened to the loon. The sky was heavily overcast and we were alone on Boulder. Time passed and a light, misty rain fell for a brief period. I had seen no one since leaving Fraser two days ago. The portages between Fraser and Boulder obviously see little use and were brushy and overgrown. The area had a remote, wild feeling.
Tuesday, 9/6, Day 7: It rained around midnight last night and I awoke to a gray, gloomy morning. The forecast was a 20% chance of showers and I debated for a while before deciding to trust the forecast and take advantage of some nice traveling weather. There was a higher chance of showers for every day after today, so I headed off a little after 9:00 with no particular destination in mind. It was cool and overcast with only a slight breeze, and I wanted to take advantage of that as long as it lasted. I paddled the length of Boulder and entered the stream to Adams. It was a beautiful and intimate paddle from Boulder to Adams. There were the two short portages on the map, plus one around a beaver dam, and two beaver dam pullovers. Then I was on Adams. Adams was beautiful, brooding quietly under the low gray overcast. I had been on Adams a couple of years ago, but only on the southeastern part. I paddled around the northwestern part of the lake soaking in the beauty and briefly contemplated going through Smite Lake to Beaver before heading for the Adams to Beaver portage, where I saw the first paddler since leaving Fraser on Sunday morning. He was unloading various dry bags from a portage pack and stashing them in his kayak. We had a brief conversation and I was on my way to Beaver. I paddled down Beaver – a nice lake in its own right – and portaged into Trapline Lake. There was a beaver dam pullover on the way to the Trapline-Kawishiwi River portage, which is around two beaver dams, and there was another one under construction just beyond the end of the portage, necessitating a little extra maneuvering. It was getting a little later in the afternoon as I paddled the Kawishiwi River under dark clouds. I was getting tired and wanted to get camp set up. I stopped to look at the campsite by Record Creek, but opted to go on to Malberg. I decided to take the NW site (#1042) if it was open; if not, I’d go for the narrows site, or whatever else was half decent. The NW site was open and I took it at 2:30. I prefer the narrows site, but didn’t want to paddle all the way there to find it occupied. I saw a couple of canoes at the portage across from the site about a half hour later. They were there a long time . . . It was a nice day for paddling and traveling. I was glad I decided to head out and made it here, but I was a little sore and tired. Tomorrow’s forecast is better than the rest of the week, so I’ll probably head for Polly. I can exit from Polly to Kawishiwi Lake in about four hours, but if things are looking good for some travel on Saturday, I might head to Kawasachong for the final night. The sky was clearing at sunset and it was a little cooler, which would be nicer for sleeping.
Wednesday, 9/7, Day 8: It was a beautiful morning, cool with light fog and a slight overcast. I only planned to go to Polly, so did not rush to get on the water. I was on Polly at noon. I saw no one as I paddled down Malberg to the portage, but soon knew I was back in “civilization”. I met two paddlers at the end of the portage who were on their way to the Louse River. I passed a solo paddler and a tandem shortly after launching. Five paddlers in five minutes compared to going days and then seeing one or two people. I paddled down Polly without seeing anyone until I got close to my desired campsite (#1078), which was occupied, so I headed back to my first night’s campsite (#1072). It was early and I didn’t need to rush, but wanted camp set up and the tarp rigged before the thunderstorms arrived later in the day. A soloist paddled by headed south and there was a tandem fishing nearby in the afternoon. I was definitely back in civilization. It began clouding up in the late afternoon. There was a 70-80% chance of thunderstorms later in the evening and tomorrow, diminishing to 50% on Friday. Saturday and Sunday there was a 30% chance of showers. I’d stay here the next couple of days and do some paddling around Polly when the weather permitted and have a leisurely travel out Saturday and Sunday. I’d traveled over 60 miles in the eight days, which included a layover day and a couple of pretty short travel days. That was a big improvement from last year’s trip. The first five days I traveled to take advantage of the weather without a rest left me sore and tired. The layover on Boulder was good, but the long day after that was a little tiring. The short jaunt from Malberg to Polly was easy. I’d be well rested by the time I headed out from Polly and most of the food would be eaten.
Thursday, 9/8, Day 9: I awoke in the middle of the night last night to a blast of wind, accompanied by a flash of lightning, thunder, and a rush of rain pouring down. I closed the vestibule tight and laid awake for a while listening to the storm before drifting back to sleep. When I awoke in the morning, it was cooler and overcast. I stayed in the tent a little longer than normal before getting up for coffee and breakfast. I wandered around camp taking some pictures while more water filtered. A few patches of blue sky appeared and a ray of sunshine broke through, but a short time later the northwest wind ushered in a gray mass of clouds. There was a little chill in the air and I put on a wind vest. I was visited by a pair of gray jays. Small patches of blue appeared briefly in the sky, but it was still dominated by dark clouds. The wind had increased and it was colder. I was reminded not to cut back too much on clothing since it’s surprising how much colder it feels when it’s damp, gray, and windy. The clouds began to dissipate in mid-morning and the sun felt good. A pair of paddlers headed south from the portage while I ate a bag of OH Cinna Monkey Chomps and drank a bottle of water. The 800+ calories would go a long way towards refueling. I had worries about this long loop, especially after last year’s trip, but it went well. I had some tough days traveling through remote country and was sore and tired a couple of times, but did it without undue difficulty. That was a much-needed confidence builder. I need to develop a little more upper body and core strength, and a lot more leg strength and stamina. I also need to make a few more equipment and clothing changes. I have completed the loop except for the exit day and have several days to spare. I even did a little extra paddling around here and there. I would have preferred to spread those rest days out, but am glad I took advantage of the good weather to travel. The wind was stronger and gusty. I watched a pair of paddlers headed north work their way slowly up through the islands, sticking close to them as they sought shelter from the wind. They crept slowly forward, turning into the passage towards the portage just before a strong gust came along. A little later I watched a tandem and a solo paddle south down Polly from the portage. Their progress was quicker and easier than the previous tandem traveling north. I sat doing nothing. It was a peaceful, relaxed feeling and I enjoyed it. I thought about the trip. I had been consumed by the logistics of completing my loop – travel, navigation, weather, wind, campsites, mileage, schedules, and camp chores – prompted by doubts raised by last year’s failure. These things need to be done, but require considerable time, physical effort, and mental focus; sometimes so much that sights, sounds, and smells slipped by almost unnoticed – water, rock, sky, clouds, trees, plants, bird calls, wind murmuring through trees, rustling the leaves and grasses, the smell of the mud