BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
January 17 2021
Number of Permits per Day: 9
Elevation: 1653 feet
Kawishiwi Lake - 37
Kawishiwiw Lake - June 2007
June 10, 2007
Number of Days:
Jim and I left Onalaska, WI at 9:30 a.m. and arrived in Tofte, MN at 4:00pm. This included stops for lunch and gas. Onalaska was a good meeting spot for us. Jim wouldn’t need to detour the 23 miles each way to get me at home. We transferred gear from my car to his and my wife drove my car back home (or maybe she went shopping first).
This was Jim’s second BWCA trip of the year. He had been on the portage-clearing trip in May, but this was my first trip of the season. We’ll both be tripping together again in October when we do the “Four Solos” trip with Larry and Steve. Last year we did the same thing – the two of us did a June trip together and the Four Solos in October.
We decided we were going to take a slightly different route up north. In the past we took highway 53 to Eau Claire, but Jim said he though that highway 93 to Eau Clair was faster (and it was). This meant we were traveling through different little towns. One of the first was Arcadia, which has a chicken processing plant, Arcadia Fryers. We saw many billboards and signs about it.
Next came the village of Independence, which was having its "Independence Days". The parade had obviously just gotten over and people were hanging out at the "Chicken Que" tent drinking beer at 10:00 a.m.
Then came Elk Creek, a tiny village that had a tavern with a gigantic, fiberglass Wonder Roast type chicken on its roof.
But the best was yet to come. After Elk Creek we came up on a truck pulling a trailer with something odd on it. I told Jim that from far away it looks like a big, fiberglass chicken! It turned out it was!! As we passed it we saw “Eleva Broiler Days” written on its side. Eleva was the next little town and apparently “Broiler Days” is their community festival and this was their float that had just participated in the Independence Days Parade.
Jim and I had great fun after that telling chicken stories and making up recipes for beer can chicken, comparing thing to chickens, etc. Jim said that this trip was to be known as the chicken trip. You can imagine our reaction to the Two Harbors giant chicken, something we had seen often but not in quite the same way.
We stopped at Sawtooth Outfitters in Tofte where we arranged to pick up our permit. Set-The-Hook introduced himself and his paddling partner, Neil, to us. A great surprise! I knew there was a possibility we may run into them while on the water, but I didn’t expect it at Sawtooth. We had a nice, albeit short, visit.
While at the outfitters I bought a new Granite Gear Bucket. I neglected to bring my el-cheapo, vinyl bucket and took this opportunity to upgrade some equipment. After Sawtooth, we went over to the liquor store for a six-pack for the night’s supper.
We started up the Sawbill Trail at 4:30 pm, and by 5:30 we were at the Kawishiwi Lake Campground. I thought we made great time.
There are only 5 sites at the campground and they were all taken. In fact, we witnessed a few other groups come and go hoping to get a site. It seemed everyone was there for multiple nights, using it as a family campgrounds opposed to a place to stay overnight before entering the BW - pop-up campers, etc. We talked to a guy and his grandson who slept in the cab of their truck in the parking lot the night before.
Fortunately I had heard on one of the websites that there were a couple un-official campsites. Jim and I spotted one right away, so we were all set. Unlike the official sites, our bushwhack site didn’t have a picnic table or fire grate, but did have a stone fire ring. That seemed to be OK. A sheriff drove by while we were there and didn't seem bothered by it.
The campground is very nice and seems like a very popular place. The sites are nice and most, if not all, of them have lake access. It has a very nice outhouse. There is no drinking water, but Jim and I knew that so had brought a large jug of water with us.
We saw many turtles on the gravel roads, and in fact, we got to watch a turtle laying eggs in the gravel parking lot at Kawishiwi. We could also hear grouse drumming in the distance. It was spring up north. I also noticed lilacs in full bloom along the north shore, something we hadn’t seen in a month in my part of Minnesota.
Jim made a wonderful first night supper! At 7:00 pm we had steak cooked on the fire coals, foil wrapped potatoes and baby carrots, fresh tomato, and cold beer. Mmmmm ... Jim is a great cook.
At 9:30 pm the temperature dropped a bit and some clouds rolled in. I though maybe we were in for some rain, but none came. At 10:30 there were lots of fireflies. Shortly thereafter I was in bed.
I was up at 5:30 a.m. The night was on the cooler side. As it turned out, it was coldest night of the trip. Up north the sun sets later and rises earlier this time of year than back home. I woke at 3:50 a.m. to birds chirping at the first gray light of pre-dawn. By 4:20 a.m. we had full daylight.
At 6:30 a.m., we started the day with our normal breakfast – oatmeal and hot chocolate. Then proceeded to get ready to launch. It took a while to pack up my tent, roll the sleeping bag and pad, get the canoe off the car, park the car, and generally just get organized. By 8:30 we were paddling.
This was a "two solos" trip, so Jim was paddling his Bell Magic. I had sold my Wenonah Encounter earlier in the year and had not yet bought a new one, so I was paddling a Wenonah Prism that I rented from our local canoe shop in La Crosse, WI. It was a Kevlar flex core, which according to Wenonah’s website, is 44 pounds. It felt like that was accurate.
I paddled a Prism many years ago and didn’t like it. Well, I have changed my mind. I like it a lot. It handled well, was rock solid, and had great glide. I thought maybe it was because I was paddling with gear this time, but later in the trip I paddle it empty and still liked it a lot. I wonder if the gel coat makes a difference. I paddled a skin coat before. I wonder if the gel coat stiffens the hull?
Today we paddled down stream through Kawishiwi Lake, the river, and across Square Lake where we reached our first portage, an easy 20-rod. That was soon followed by an 11-rod portage that we lined through. This second portage was not on my 15-year-old map but was on Jim’s newer one.
I love that kind of paddling, that is, those intimate rivers and creeks between the lakes. The Sawbill area has many of them and I have paddled many recently. Last year one of my trips originated at Baker Lake and another at Sawbill Lake. Those trips included the Temperance River, Ada Creek, Kelso River and others. Another trip from last year included Little Indian Sioux River. I do like the rivers.
After Kawasachong Lake came the 189-rod portage, the pond called Townline Lake, and then the 95-rod portage to Polly Lake. The portages were fairly easy, although they had a bit of length and were a little muddy. It didn’t matter to me, but dry footers would not have been happy.
We reached Polly at 12:30 p.m. – four hours from when we launched. I thought that was pretty good considering we weren’t in a hurry at all. In fact, often we were just drifting with the current looking for wildlife, etc. At one point I floated right up to a deer. At first I didn’t see it and Jim, who was behind me, had to say something so I’d notice. She still had her winter coat -- that gray color opposed to the reddish brown coat they have in the summer. She looked big, too, like she was still carrying a fawn. Spring happens later here.
We began looking for a site on Polly and decided to take the island site in the middle of the lake (#2013). It was a nice, wide-open site big enough for a large group. We had lunch, set up camp, got water, gathered wood, and took a quick dip in the water to cool off. The only down side to the site was that the water was shallow, which made it tough for swimming and fishing from shore.
The day had turned hot. By 3:00 p.m. the wind had started, and by 4:30 p.m. it was blowing hard. The wind continued to blow for the rest of the trip. Also, the temperature got hotter. For the rest of the trip the daytime highs neared 90 degrees.
Jim is da man! He makes just the best meals on our trips. He gives a lot of credit to his wife, Rachel, so I tip my hat to her, too. That night we had a Knorr Sides Plus dish called Roasted Chicken Rice to which he added a foil package of chicken (more chicken stuff). Yum!
OK. Here is the moment you have been waiting for ….. after supper, about 8:00 p.m., I caught a fish! A smallmouth bass to be exact. Yahoo!
At 10:00 p.m. it was still light enough to read the writing on my coffee cup. It has big letters granted, but I could still read them. Let’s see, it was light before 4:00 a.m. and light until 10:00 p.m., so that is 18 hours of daylight and it is not even solstice yet!
I went to bed at 10:30 p.m.
Up at 7:00, but, boy, was I stiff! Everything was tight and I had a hard time getting up off the ground. I popped an Aleve and was better within 15 minutes.
Since we had such a nice site, Jim and I decided to turn this into a base camp trip. So we had breakfast, packed our day packs, and left for Hazel Lake at 8:00 a.m. The Phoebe River is beautiful. The portages were easy and not too long. In fact, they seemed shorter than what the map said they were (How often does that happen?). All the portages were around beautiful rapids. What a great, little river to paddle!
Jim and I spotted the healthiest, largest fox I have ever seen. I don’t think either of us got a good picture, but this fox looked like it had its winter coat still and appeared to be the size of a dog. The foxes in my area are skinny little things the size of a house cat. This was a beautiful animal and it looked like a classic fox, except big. There was no doubt it was a fox. Spring comes late and the animals are big up north.
We got to Hazel at noon and grabbed an empty campsite to have lunch. There are 3 campsites on Hazel. All appeared to be vacant. We were on the western-most site (#1068). Hazel is a nice lake, but doesn’t appear to be popular.
The wind had kicked up as we reached Hazel and we fought it all the way back to Polly. The Prism handled the wind great, so it was still a very enjoyable paddle for me. We were back to camp at 4:30 pm.
The day was, again, very hot, way too hot for June! There were no bugs, however. We saw no other people on our entire day trip to Hazel and back.
We had Jim’s Damn Good Chili for supper (Excellent) along with some marginal corn bread I made in the reflector oven. The wind was causing problems with the oven (I think). One down side of using a reflector oven in the BWCA is that there is only one place it can be used – the opening of the fire grate. Other places you can move the oven to take advantage of the wind, but not in the BWCA. The wind was just too strong and from the wrong direction. It was blowing the heat out of the oven. However, this was the only trip I had problems with the oven. The corn bread was still edible, just a bit crumbly.
When 10:30 pm rolled around, I was off to bed. This time I took a bottle of water and an Aleve with me to stash in the tent’s vestibule.
Again, I was up at 7:00 a.m., but was much better than the day before. I woke at 6:00 a.m., took an Aleve and went back to sleep to let it work for an hour.
We had our normal breakfast of oatmeal and hot chocolate and hit the water at 8:45 a.m. We headed to Malberg Lake for a day trip. I know I sound like a broken record, but this was another beautiful river to paddle. The Kawishiwi River has short portages around picturesque rapids and falls.
At the end of our very first portage we ran into a father and son going the other way. I did a double take. I know that guy. “Lee?”
Lee Retzalff and I went to high school together, went to the same college, and now live in the same town. We have other things in common including hunting, building canoes and taking BWCA trips. I run into him occasionally around town, but was surprised to see him on the 17-rod portage out of Polly. Small world. Ran into both Lee and Set-The-Hook un-expectantly on this trip.
The butterflies were out in force on this trip. Migrating? Mating? At any rate, there were lots of them.
We reached Malberg at 10:30 a.m. It only took us an hour and 45 minutes to reach it from Polly and we were traveling slowly in solo canoes. We toured around the lake checking it out. We went up the eastern arm of the lake and I stopped to inspect the first campsite (#1054). It stunk to high heaven!! I quickly returned to my canoe. Something was dead at that site. Turkey vultures were circling and I could hear hundreds of flies buzzing. . I don't know if someone cleaned fish at the site or some poor critter met his end there, but it smelled horrible and I wasn't going to investigate further.
At the end of the eastern arm of the lake are three campsites. All were vacant and appeared not to be used very often. The northern site (#1059) was very poor and should be used only as an emergency site. It looked as if it wasn't used this season.
I didn't get a good look at the site furthest east (#1058). I saw it only from the water and from a bit of a distance. If I had to guess I'd say that it was the best of the three in that part of the lake.
Jim and I stopped for lunch and an extended rest at the southern site (#1057). It was pretty decent though only had two small tent pads. The latrine has a plant growing in it. Guess it's not used much.
We lounged around for a while. Fished from shore but caught nothing. It was another hot and windy day, the hottest and windiest of the trip. There were a few fluffy clouds but none of them held rain. Not a drop of rain on the trip.
We made it back to Polly by 4:30 pm. As we approached our campsite, we could see something on the water. It was a large flock of Canadian geese. Jim counted 30 of them. We tried not to disturb them but they were right out in front of our campsite. They moved on when we got close enough.
Our trip back from Malberg was upstream and into the wind. Yep, all the wind we were having was from the south. I guess that explained the heat. I took a full submersion dip. That was hard because the water in front of camp was so shallow and rocky. I kept banging my feet on rocks.
Tonight’s supper was Lipton Chicken Noodles and Broccoli side dish with foil pack chicken. Yummy.
Bedtime was 10:00. I took the water and Aleve with me again.
We left at 9:00 a.m. It was another very hot and windy day. We would be traveling upstream and into the wind all day.
The portages were a circus. Very busy. Where did they all come from and where were they going? We decided to have lunch the eastern campsite on Kawasachong Lake (#1017). We were thinking about staying there for the night, though we considered it marginal. It was a bit small.
When we arrived on the lake, one campsite was occupied. We watched as the other two were taken. Just as we were about to leave a group of 8 college-aged guys showed up. We could hear them talking out on the water. They were upset all the sites were taken, but got excited when they thought perhaps we were leaving. We obliged.
They practically cheered when we paddled away and anxiously took the site. I thought it was small for two of us and those guys were going to cram eight on it. It was still early, but I suppose they didn’t want to do the two portages to Polly nor backtrack to Square. We paddled the Kawishiwi River to Square Lake. That river is really nice to paddle. We checked the sites on Square. Both were vacant. However, the southern-most site (#1015) was low laying and next to a swamp. It looked buggy to me, so I didn’t want to stay there. The other (#1014) was on top of a hill, and Jim didn’t want to stay there, so we decided to move on.
The first campsite on Kawishiwi (#1006) was open, but Jim suggested we check out the island site (#1007) first and if occupied we’d come back to this one. Well, it was occupied but as we came back to the first site someone else pulled up to it and took it. Darn! We were too picky!
A side note about the island site: I’m convinced that site was not occupied but rather it was being saved. There were two Timberline 4 s pitched on it and nothing else – no food pack, no packs, pans, no tarp, no clothesline, etc. Furthermore, the tents were pitch right next to each other and right next to the fire grate. To me it looked like someone went there and set up only the tents in an obvious place to be seen from the water.
We checked out the other 4 sites up at that end of the lake and all were taken. Now what!? We had been fighting a strong wind all around this lake and were pretty tuckered out. We certainly did not want to go back to Square. So we decided to head for the campgrounds. We didn’t have much hope of finding a vacancy there either.
Then to add to everything, I got us to where we didn’t exactly know where we were on the map (not lost though). Jim had a mental lapse for a moment by relying on my navigational skills. Never do that! But Jim pulled out his compass and got us righted again.
As we approached the campground Jim made a comment about the sand beach just east of us, and how it would make a nice campsite. Jim had good eyes because it was indeed a campsite (#1013) and it was vacant. It was probably mere feet within the BWCA borders, and we occasionally could hear people in the campgrounds, but it was an official BWCA campsite. We were luckily. It was 4:00 pm, the first site from an entry point, and it was open.
It was an interesting site. It had a long sand beach with lots of animal tracks. Obviously the turtles had been laying eggs there, too. Also there were no log benches around the fire grate. I think this was the first time I have seen that. The site on Petersen Lake has a short 4-foot long log as a bench, but this is the only site I remember with no bench what so ever. I was glad we had chairs.
Supper tonight was Knorr Teriyaki Noodles with Vegetables with dehydrated hamburger added and some bannock. The wind had died down so the reflector oven was performing well again.
The wind had died down during the night and we got a little morning dew. This was the only moisture to speak of during this trip. I guess we couldn't go home with dry tents.
Up at 7:00 and on the water by 8:30. It was an absolutely beautiful morning. Jim commented that this would be our shortest paddle out of the BWCA ever. It couldn’t have been 300 yards. We just loaded up the boats and just drifted to the exit. We wanted to take as long as possible.
We loaded the canoes, packed the car, changed our clothes, drank the final two beers from the cooler, and were on the road by 9:45 a.m.
We were a half hour down the trail when I suddenly remembered I had forgotten my new Granite Gear water bucket! Jim graciously offered to turn back, but I declined. To retrieve it we’d have to drive back, launch a canoe, paddle to the site, return, and then reload the canoe. That wasn’t worth it.
I had hung the bucket upside down in a tree to dry out. Both Jim and I made a final sweep of the campsite, but the gray-green bucket must have blended in too well and we didn’t see it. My wife has made me blaze orange bags for my saw and my reflector oven so that kind of thing wouldn’t happen. I think I’ll get some blaze orange ribbon to tie on the handle of the next bucket. I hope Bucky finds a good home.
We pull into Tofte at 10:45 a.m. and there is a thick fog over Lake Superior.
We stop in Duluth for gas and Superior for lunch. The bank says the time is 1:15 and the temperature is 65 degrees when we leave Superior. It is much cooler along the lake than further inland. I bet there is a 20-degree difference.
Jim drops me off at my house at 5:30 pm.
What can I say? It was a great trip.