BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
January 27 2020
Number of Permits per Day: 9
Elevation: 1653 feet
Kawishiwi Lake - 37
Kawishiwi Lake Solo with LG - 2014
July 24, 2014
Number of Days:
Conditions are clear (above), calm and foggy as the trip begins on Kawishiwi Lake. Being able to practically launch from the campsite makes an early morning departure very easy. I will look for this kind of launch set up in the future. The paddle through Kawishiwi Lake and river is beautiful and peaceful. Arrived at Square Lake noting the fire damage covering at least 75% of the lake. There was one group on the eastern camp site, I stopped to check out the western camp site. Very grown over and un-used. I tried to find the NW portage into Baskatong Lake without success. The burned area made it difficult to find the portage trail. River areas were not overly burned, but the lakes of Square, Kawasachong, Townline were all 75% burned over. The very southern tip of Polly was also burned, but rest of trip was green. I think this is increasing the campsite pressure on Polly (See notes for Tuesday) as well as Koma and Malberg. There were available campsites on Malberg, but I was probably too picky. I passed up a site I could see on the east side of the lake because it looked like it was getting a lot of sun. Some really nice sights were taken. I couldn’t find one of the sites on NE end of the lake. Ended up taking the SW corner of the West Arm of the lake because I saw a group approaching from the north and was getting nervous I wouldn’t find a site. The site was very “shrubby because of blowdown. I ended up hanging the hammock back in the woods and bush wacking in and out.
This was a closer to normal travel day, with a little bit of exploring on the way. The portage from Boulder to cap is interrupted by a small lake/stream. I paddled the stream to the West almost even with my destination Cap Lake, which was just to the north of my most westerly position if I had chosen to bushwack over a hill. Although I was guessing this was the case, I didn’t know for sure until I was able to look at the GPS markers from my SPOT device after the trip. The second leg of the portage is also different, in that it comes to a T on a 200 rod portage between Cap and Ledge Lakes. Once on Cap Lake, I stopped at the camp site to have lunch. I sat in the shade of a small tree in the middle of a blueberry patch to eat my Peanut butter and Jelly Tortillas while snacking on blueberries. Yummy. The campsite was a little odd in that there was quite a vertical ledge to climb in order to get to the top of an exposed rock where the fire grate was. I did not see much in the way of tent pads at this site. Another highlight of my paddling as the afternoon wore on, was the small narrows between Fraser and Thomas Lakes. It felt like I was paddling through a small canyon, and the high walls created a cool shady spot.
It was sunny with a light breeze when I found a very nice campsite on the north end of Thomas lake. There were two very close together within sight of each other. I discovered later that I had paddled beyond the first (eastern) campsite unaware of it’s location. The site I stopped at had a large open grassy flat area that could have accommodated at least 4 tents and an elevated campfire area. My first thought was, this would is nice enough to stay at for a layover day. I set up my hammock back of the campfire area and began to rig my tarp. I was interrupted by a sudden loud buzzing sound and looked up to see a large dragonfly captured in a spider web. I got a couple good minutes of film of the struggle between the fly and spider. With the spider drama over, I noticed that a weather front would be arriving shortly. I was able to finish setting up my tarp and get everything under it, before a gale of wind, rain and instant waves hit the site. From sunny and calm to stormy and rainy in less than an hour. I spent some time tweaking my tarp, setting weighted drip lines so the water didn’t pool too much on the tarp while my dinner of chili rehydrated.
I woke to a very wet and rainy morning, reinforcing the idea of having a layover day (the first of my solo career). It was pouring buckets, so I took the opportunity to direct a drip line into my teapot, figuring the tarp had been washed for several hours. I quickly collected water for my two water bottles and teapot. The water was very clean and tasty.
With most wood being soaked from the heavy rains I had a hard time getting a little twig fire going in my wood stove to make my oatmeal. I regrouped and went in search of a dead and down tree. I was able to find a large one with most of its 4 inch branches sawn off. All that was let were Little 4-6 inch nubs... perfect. I cut off several parts at three inch lengths. A perfect length to sit and use in the little wood stove. Went back to camp and split the Mimi logs into pencil sized pieces, all nice and dry and ready to burn. Warm oatmeal here I come.
After breakfast (the process probably took 2-3 hours, I was not in a hurry to go anywhere) I laid back in my hammock and listened to a couple of DAB readings and some music, drifting in/out of a nap.
By mid afternoon, the rain had stopped, the skies cleared and I set out for the northwest end of the lake and the Kekekabic trail. Thought I might do some hiking and exploring. The paddle was nice and I met a group searching for the little 10 rod portage that was part of the route to get to the Kek’. After a false start into the wrong bay, we found the portage and they allowed me to jump across first. I thanked them and did the portage, short paddle and I was on my way down the Kekekabic after storing my canoe out of the way of the group coming up behind me. The Kekekabic bisects the portage at a small waterfall and stream via a one log foot bridge. I hiked northeast from the bridge for a ways through very wet vegetation. I usually wear my long pants, but was wearing shorts for this excursion. I’d done laundry before I left and the long pants were hanging to dry. I stopped and put my rain pants. The vegetation dried, the trail baked in the sun, and my legs remained soaked, now with sweat. I realized that at least for this trip, my enjoyment of walking trails stemmed from the anticipation of getting to water and paddling. So, this is a long paragraph about a short walk. I turned around and on my way back discovered the trailside campsite I’d passed. I stopped and had a late lunch.
When I got back to my canoe I ran into the church group I’d meet earlier. They were enjoying a break at the little river/waterfall at the bridge. I chatted with the guides of the group. They were from Camp Olson with a group of high schoolers on an 8 day trip. I remember doing the same thing at their age, guiding for Camp Vermillion. Many many fond memories. I helped them take a group picture at the foot bridge and they returned the favor for me. I headed back to camp. When I returned to camp I found that another youth group had occupied the camp site to the west of mine. I’d paddled past it the day before without noticing it. I thought I was in the west campsite, when in fact I’d taken the eastern one.
Back at camp, I made tacos again for supper and prepared for an early departure the next morning, then off to bed to listen to a couple of chapters of my book.
Ultimately this ended up be a long paddling day. I’d decided to take the loop of lakes to the southwest of Thomas lake on my way to Alice lake, instead of the long portage from the east end of Thomas to the North end of Alice. Given the wind I encountered on Alice later, it was a fortuitous choice.
I departed at dawn before the sun had risen above the horizon and had a very peaceful paddle down the length of Thomas and into Kiana lake. Some lakes capture the imagination, and Kiana was such lake for me. On the calm water, the small twisty bays appeared greener than normal and enchanted. When on a solo trip I love to just paddle and portage, and this day was all of that and then some. After working my way across Kiana, a 180 rod portage and through the corner of Insula I began to paddle the Kawishiwi River. The Kawishiwi River is different than any of the other rivers and streams I’ve paddled in the BWCA. the banks of all the others are lined by flat grassy areas, bogs and flat low lying tamarack swamps. The banks of the Kawishiwi are like the shores of a narrow lake, usually you don’t even notice the current. It is pronounced at points where the river narrows, but otherwise of little influence on the speed and direction of the canoe.
At a wide spot in the river I came across a boulder smaller is size that a VW bug, sticking out of the water with a single small pine tree about 12 inches tall growing from the top. LG and I stopped at the “island” for some pictures. It was a perfect size for my little traveling companion.
The Kawishiwi river passes through the southeastern end of Alice. At this point I discovered the river had been protecting me from some a wind that had been building throughout the morning. Good sized waves were coming in from the northwest. Not enormous, and they would have been easy to handle in a tandem canoe with my friend Chris, but large enough to provide an adrenaline rush for me and my canoe. I feel much more stable in the Wilderness vs. the Magic mentioned below. The short time on Alice went well.
There are two portages between Alice and Fishdance. When I get to the end of the second 90 rod portage, I discover a bent shaft Bending Branches Sunburst paddle with a wooden blade and carbon fiber shaft. I hadn’t seen anybody so far this day and assume it is from a group travelling in my direction. They will likely come back to get it. It appears to have some kind of BSA decal. If that is the case, I can understand in the hubbub of a bigger group, how an item could be left behind. I’m guessing they will be back to get it before I return with my second load. When I return with my pack the paddle is still there. I check it out, it is very long 52” and light, in contrast to my 48” bent shaft paddle that fits my smaller 5’6” frame. I put it back where it was and head south to find the pictographs on Fishdance Lake, hoping the owners come back for it before I need to make a decision to carry it out. I find the pictographs with little trouble, and enjoy looking at them. Across the lake from the pictographs is an occupied campsite with a person and dog launching a canoe heading south. I start to paddle over, as they paddle away to the south. A casual “chase” ensues as I paddle close enough to make contact. When I’m about 50 yards away I get her attention and we talk briefly enough to determine she is not the paddle’s owner and she’s only seen one other group and they were headed north.
I head back stopping at the pictographs again and head towards Kawishiwi Lake. I stop at the portage to check on the paddle again. It is still there. Now I have to decide, leave it, or pack it out. Is it more likely that someone will return for it, or that someone will come along and just keep it? Upon closer inspection, I find that the carbon fiber shaft is cracked about a foot below the handle, not snapped in two, but a blow from the correct angle would easily cause more damage. The fact the paddle is broken helps me make my decision. It adds one more what if. What if it’s been abandoned because it was broken and the presumed scout didn’t want to face the consequences of breaking a $200 paddle. The BSA decal made me assume I could call the Boy Scout canoe base when I got out to help me find the owner. Turns out story I make up in my head, and assumptions were all wrong. I’ll tell the tale of the paddle in it’s proper place, later in the story. For now, I wrap a couple pieces of duct tape around the crack to stabilize it and continue on my way. Carrying three paddles, instead of two paddles, doesn’t really change anything. When canoeing I do like to have everything but the paddles in a pack. When I come to a portage my life preserver and map case are clipped to my main pack. I put on the smaller day pack and portage the canoe. Then enjoy the walk back to get the main pack and paddles.
I depart the canoe landing with the extra paddle resting next to my spare paddle. I must have really been in the paddle zone, because about 5 minutes later, the woman I’d spoken to earlier says hello. She’s about 20 feet from me approaching from my right. I am startled and laugh at myself. She’s paddling a tandem canoe backwards with a dog in the front. Her husband is in camp taking a nap with their other dog. We have a nice chat. I show her the paddle. Upon hearing it’s broken she reinforces my idea that it was abandoned. We were both wrong.
We part ways and I continue northeast up Kawishiwi River. I don’t know it yet, but the 10 miles I’ve covered so far haven’t gotten me to the halfway point of my destination yet. I stop at a campsite for lunch when I see a large group at a portage coming in my direction. They will pass by me as I eat and are not the owner of the paddle. I can see that there is a weather system coming in. I remember being told that it is the conditions to the north that are the ones that will pass over me in canoe country. That assumption seems to hold as grey stormy looking clouds pass by going south. My travels keep me in a “sunny slot”, but I can see that others must be getting wet near by. I start to be aware of campsites I might stop at for the day. If a nice one is available, I will take it, but it’s too early to take a bad one. When I get to Malberg Lake, I’m hoping that the nice campsite west of my first nights stay is available. I won’t stop at my first campsite, it wasn’t that good. Alas, it is occupied. The folks at it are just setting things up. I’m not willing to paddle around the lake looking for something, I’ll continue on and if something is open, check it out. Otherwise, I’m guessing there are open sites on Koma.
When I get to Koma, I check out the three sites on the north end. All three of them just don’t feel right. There is a good bit of wind damage and leaning trees at each one. I’m assuming I’ll be getting some windy weather later and don’t want to spend the night wondering if something is going to fall on me. So, two more portages to Lake Polly, there were a lot of nice campsites there, earlier in the week when I passed through. I’ve been on the water a good 12 hours and am ready to stay at one of them. As soon as I get on Lake Polly, I can tell that two prime sites at the north end of the lake are occupied. Assuming there is less canoe traffic down the eastern arm of the lake I head towards the two campsites there. The first is unoccupied, but has the same issue where all good hanging locations are in the path of trees that are already leaning over them. I continue on towards the end of the arm with the wind and finally find an empty campsite, in the shade, with a few down trees, but I think I can make it work. Well, the forest service service has other ideas. There is a notice posted on the fire grate. Campsite closed. I am grateful that they have been around to check on the conditions of the campsites after the wind storm that went through a couple of weeks earlier, but I’m starting to get tired, and am facing a paddle back into the wind to check on anymore campsites, and it is evening. Now I need to be systematic. I’m ready to check every site on the lake moving from north to south. Well, I do just that, working my way northwest to southeast as I weave my way from anticipation to disappointment each time. It isn’t until I get to the last site on the south end of the lake, a little before the sun gets to the horizon, that I find an available camping location.
Until then I’d been considering other options. Knowing everything was pretty much burned out between Polly and Square Lake I was thinking about finding a spot off a portage trail. I could do that without making a fire and hanging the hammock would not have left a tent trace. On a clear day/night, I think I could keep going. If it were to turn stormy, I think I’d have found a place off the trail. Anyway, the site is serviceable, but it has seen a lot of action over the recent years. The Pigami Creek fire passed within 50 yards of the site as it burned the tip of the lake including the portage just to the south of the campsite. There are many trees that have also blown down at this site over the years and recently. Everything still standing looks healthy, but more “alone” than is typical. The canopy is thinner than normal because of the trees that have been taken down by wind. However there are some very good trees spaced well for hanging the hammock near the fire pit. I hang the hammock and batten down the hatches. Too tired to cook, I snack until full. I’m so close to my entry point, I know that I’ll leave the next day, a day earlier than planned. The pull of family and food (hamburger or pizza, or maybe a large breakfast? hmmm) is too strong for me to be that close to the exit, and not head out.
I head to bed shortly after “supper” to listen to my book. A good while later just before the nighttime darkness is complete, the wind really kicks up and it starts to rain a bit. I get out of the hammock, put on my life jacket, head lamp, long pants and rain jacket, the SPOT goes in my pocket. I double check the condition of the trees. They are holding well, but I’m ready to be mobile if they begin to make noise. I double check two locations with large boulders. If trees were to start falling, these are my safe points for structural safety. The wind relaxes and the rain picks up, I head to bed, shoes on. I fall asleep quickly and sleep well the rest of the night. I wake to a calm clear sky morning.
As an aside, before I purchased my solo canoe I rented a Bell Magic for a trip with Chris and a work friend of his named Phil. They used my Bell Northwoods and I used the Magic as a test run of a solo boat five years ago in early May. It was a good learning experience for me. Despite 30 years of paddling experience that canoe was skittish and tippy for me. A surprise, I thought I had good balance. Ultimately it taught me a very good lesson, and I was able to learn from the lesson with the safety net that Chris and Phil provided. Trying to paddle into a heavy wind on Hudson Lake I bit off more than I could chew and capsized in frigid early May waters. Chris and Phil had seen what might happen, and had held back ready to respond if needed. They pulled me with the wind to a small nearby island. The wind blew my canoe and attached packs to the island. While I dried off, changed and warmed up in a wool blanket Chris and Phil went to fetch my two paddles which hadn’t followed me to the island. One paddle was easily captured, the second had hung up on some shrubbery near the wind blown shore. A large rock tossed in an attempt to dislodge the paddle for retrieval ended up breaking it in half. A small price to pay for several lessons learned. The lessons I learned. 1) This paddler can’t handle the same wind and waves solo as he can when with his life long friend and paddle partner Chris. So with my Wenonah Wilderness I have been working my way into wavier and windier conditions, exploring my limits. When testing myself, it is in warmer conditions, near shore, and in such a way that if I were to capsize, the wind/waves would take me too shore relatively quickly. 2) Always bring a spare paddle. 3) Be patient and prepared to stop and wait out the wind. 4) Travel smaller lakes during this learning process. 5) I am fallible. On a solo trip rescue is not certain, know how long it will take to get myself out of a capsize situation. I.e. If need be, stay near shore, take the long way, enjoy the shoreline.
What a beautiful morning, calm, clear and quiet. I want to be on the water alone as long a possible before traffic kicks in. Since I’m already dressed, it doesn’t take long to break camp. A couple hundred rods worth of portages are to be crossed before I will have much paddling to do. I enjoy a slow purposeful paddle through Kawasachong, and the Kawishiwi River, exploring little inlets and streams as I go. It isn’t until I am leaving the portage into Square that I see anyone. It is two guys geared up to the hilt, a rack of fishing rods attached to the canoe, they come charging around the corner. Apparently trying to match the speed of the bass boat that it looks like they typically use. They are eager to get wherever they are going, I can’t blame them, it’s a beautiful day. A while later I realize the two gentlemen were probably just anxious to secure a campsite. Turned out they were at the head of a parade of canoes. the most interesting group I passed started with “grandpa” in the front of a canoe with his son and toddler granddaughter in back followed by a husband/wife canoe with another 4-5 year old granddaughter accompanied by a teenage son in a kayak. Wow, 3 generations, very cool. They were on their way to Square to see if any campsites would accommodate their crew of nine. A fourth canoe was waiting to secure at a campsite on Kawishiwi that was about to clear out. I let them know that Square was mostly burned over. I didn’t know the size of one of the sites that had been occupied the morning I went into the BWCA, but wished them well. I little while later as I approached Kawishiwi Lake I saw a bright orange shirt topped by a bright yellow hat sitting in a canoe waiting for a campsite to empty. This had to be the fourth canoe from the previous group. It was, Grandma in the stern with a 10 year old granddaughter in the bow accompanied by the family dog. What a crew, I stopped to compliment grandma on having three generations out in the BWCA. What a lovely lady, full of joy and life. I really enjoyed our 20 minute conversation. She’d been coming to the BWCA every year for over 50 years and I don’t think she’ll be stopping that trend anytime soon. When the 9 person youth group left the campsite we parted ways. There are people you meet only briefly in life, but you know you’ll remember them for the rest of your life, she is one of them.
All that was left of my trip was the paddle across Kawishiwi Lake and a bird bath at a campsite in preparation for my drive home. What a great trip. I’m learning that if I want to be on a solo trip for an extended time, I need to plan a very large loop. I enjoy the paddling, and portaging, but once I get near my entry point, there is no turning back.
Post Trip Lost Paddle Report:
Based on the BSA Voyageur decal I called the boy scout camps in Ely, no luck finding the owner. Posted a note for the lost paddle on bwca.com. That did the trick. Fellow member PinkCanoe owned the lost paddle. The paddle had not been abandoned, rather it was cherished. It had accidentally been sat on while laying across the thwart.
The first attempt to ship the paddle via UPS was stopped by a $40 shipping charge and a $30 packaging charge. Had no idea it would cost that much. A trip to the local canoe/camping outfitter with an explanation about returning the paddle to it’s owner scored a used box and bubble wrap made for the job for free. (Thank you Hoigaards) Then a box modification at the post office dropped the price from an oversized package to “normal” sized one, dropping the overall shipping/packaging price of $9. Finally (three weeks after our first exchange, the paddle was on it’s way back to it’s rightful and appreciative owner. PinkCanoe generously sent $25 to cover the cost of shipping and what not.