BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
January 21 2020
Number of Permits per Day: 4
Elevation: 1864 feet
Lizz & Swamp Lakes - 47
The Gunflint Shows Its Beauty, Again
August 30, 2009
Lizz and Swamp Lakes
Number of Days:
Mike's directions and compass headings to the portage are dead on and as we approach the far side of Poplar Lake an Eagle flies low over our heads. We take this sighting as a good omen. The portage is easy to find. It is an easy take out and our first portage (50 rods) to Liz Lake is a quick climb and then a nice level walk to be enjoyed. The put in at Liz is easy as well. As we paddle along this narrow little lake we have two otters cavorting 20 feet away, just enjoying themselves and basically ignoring us. A muddy landing greets us, but things are off to a great start, the sun is out and we are alone, except for the wildlife, so far. We take the portage (70 rods) to Caribou Lake, again, a nice walk, a few muddy spots but nothing to fret about or slow you down leading to a fine put in at Caribou. We are immediately struck by the beauty of this lake as we sit and enjoy the pastry Lin provided. We understand now why so many choose to make this lake their destination; it is beautiful. Paddling off, we notice a site directly across from the portage. It is empty, as are the next three sites, all decent looking sites. We decide to look for the Swamp Lake portage as our site exploring has taken us in that direction. We find it, a little hidden by our angle, but findable. So far we see only one site occupied, and suspect from all the footprints going in the opposite direction on the portages that the heavy rains of Friday and Saturday took their toll. We continue to paddle to the 25 rod portage to Horseshoe Lake, another easy take out and put in.
Another BWCA gem unfolds from a wide to narrow lake that shallows out in many sections, making it a moose attractor, with a lot of aquatic vegetation and a few long arms to explore. No wonder the moose like calling this home. We pass four campsites on our way to Vista Lake, three are empty and the fourth is occupied by a noisy group of guys; heard them yelling in conversation hundreds of yards away, glad we are continuing on. The sun is getting stronger, we are going along just fine and another eagle flies by, this is almost surreal. We find the portage to Vista and have our first rocky take out. Although short (21 rods), it has a lot of rocks to step over and work around. It is an equally rocky put in on Vista so I wet-foot the canoe out a little deeper. I know we are starting to sound like a broken record but Vista is a pretty lake, so many seem to have there own character and identity, they just beg to be paddled. All loaded up, we head to the southerly arm to check out an often mentioned preferred site. As we paddle to the side of an island my Bow Partner uses her monocular to confirm some disappointing news. Trippers are walking around on the site so we quickly go to plan B and head over to the western site in the same arm. Well, lets just say we are not impressed. It has a so-so take out/put in, a steep walk up to the fire grate, an unimpressive view and nothing to savor for a tent pad site. We have a quick snack and develop plan C, which has us going back to Horseshoe Lake where I have heard of a great one pad site that is seldom used. As we get into the canoe and paddle over to get behind an island to block a little wind we notice that a canoe has left the other site. My Bow Partner glasses them and confirms that their packs are in the canoe . I make a direction shift and as we come to voice distance, their bow paddler yells over that if we are indeed looking for a site they are leaving and "it is a good one". We thank them and head over to it. We agree completely, site #771 is a keeper, it has a good landing, great view, a sunning rock, great tent pad and wood left at a nicely set up fire grate. Sometimes it pays to be lucky for if we had awoken on time and had no fog we would have been much earlier and probably never have gotten this nice site.
Camp set up goes quickly and well. I like the Mountain Alps tent that Rockwood Outfitters provide, it goes up easily, affords us plenty of room and proved its water shedding abilities on last years trip. I locate two suitable trees for the food bag hanging and we don't bother with the tarp since the weather and forecast are next to perfect. We gather some more wood for our steak dinner, along with butter potatoes and corn. A great meal to end our near perfect first day back in the BW. The anticipation of returning is already satisfied, and with smiles, we are in the bags by 9:30PM. [paragraph break]
We eventually work over to the lone campsite on the lake and decide it is time to lunch, the site has a decent canoe unloading/loading area but that's about it. The fire grate is a ways off the water and affords no real view, the ground had a lot of roots and rocks and it would have been a challenge to find a tent pad. The site had an unkempt feel about it and nothing of noteworthy mention. We question, are we getting a bit fussy or does the question of how sites are chosen continue to need to be questioned and examined? In our trip around this lake we found 3 other areas that seemed to offer greater potential for a lone site. While it is easy to see why the majority of sites are chosen and the Forest Service has done a good job with the majority, but why they don't review, renew or relocate more sites each year baffles me. It could be a more utilized tool to disperse the crowd and the pressure that many visits bring along with lessening overuse. Well enough of the analyzing. We leave the site and search for the portage to Little Trout Lake which we find easily, but we are not tempted to take this portage as it's reputation has earned our respect. We continue to troll, unsuccessfully, for a while longer and work back to the portage to Vista Lake. I was dealing with a rare but bothersome sinus headache that I occasionally get from flying and find that all I want to do is sit and deal with the discomfort. We do get back to Vista about 4:00PM and collect some firewood and read for awhile before dinner when we realized that we had seen no one else today. In fact, while we saw many foot prints on the portage while going in at Entry 47, we have seen none on the portage going into or returning from Misquah Lake. Solitude for us is enjoyable and has been achieved while traveling in the BWCAW. While traveling on popular routes certainly lessens that experience, another characteristic emerges that for us is also appealing. As long as trippers respect the space around us all, it is an acceptable reality. Enough speculation, did I mention that we did have a hummingbird nearly land on my Bow partner's shoulder and a large dragon fly landed on my hat which caused her to LOL as she said it appeared that I was wearing a hat with a whirly.
During the evening we overheard a lone howl, it was followed again a minute later, it was different than anything else I have heard. We wondered if it was a wolf trying to locate other members of the pack? The loons interrupt and take over, sleep comes quickly.
My Bow Partner mentions shortly after this sighting how she would like to see a moose again this year, so I mention that Horseshoe Lake has a great reputation for moose sightings. She looks out at the lake and says "lets check it out", and our focus becomes breaking up camp and getting a site on Horseshoe. As we were finishing our packing chores, a soloist paddles into the arm, he spots us, and turns to the lesser site. I wave my arm to beckon him so he would be aware we were leaving in the next 10 minutes. He saw me, and returned the wave, but I don't think he realized in was an invite. We hope he sees us leave and realize the site would be his if desired.
We pull out and were back at the portage to Horseshoe some 30 minutes later. As soon as you paddle on Horseshoe Lake it has a moosey feel to it. First we check out the site to the east; it is a nice spot, its only draw back for most is that it has only one small tent pad. We wanted to check out another site which had some nice observation points to the north and east , the one with the noisy group of guys that I mentioned earlier, #675. As we paddle by we see it is still occupied, by the same group, one sees us and we say hello, he asks us where we might be headed, my Bow Partner says "looking to stay somewhere on Horseshoe" and we bid a goodbye to each other with a wave. We go down the west arm to two more sites, the first on a point facing west is very nice, but we want to check the site further down. As we paddle near to it we realize it is already occupied, they must be day tripping as no one appears present, it appears to be very nice as well. We turn and quietly make our way back to the previous site, when I ask if this one will be our choice, my Bow Partner wonders out loud if we will be far enough from the loud group; I am not sure. As luck would have it, up ahead at the beginning of this arm we see the two canoes from that site packed and paddling away. We continue on and yes the site is vacant. It has a nice put in, a great fire grate and three pads to choose from and a nice place to hang our food. It indeed has some excellent observation areas and one spot has a improvised bench just made for relaxing and viewing. Boy, do we feel lucky for the second time. It does make me think why didn't the tripper who spoke to us at this site earlier mention they were in the process of leaving? Oh well, shouldn't think negative thoughts, particularly since we ended up at it anyway.
As we were both involved in our separate set-up chores, we heard a close and distinctive crash in the woods and instinctively stopped to listen. We hear it again and look at each other with smiles as we realize it must be a moose coming thru quite close to our camp. The noise is not heard again, nothing is seen and we go back to our chores. About 45 minutes later while we are around the fire grate, 3 canoes with multi-generational ages go by. We wave and the young man in the stern of one tells us they just passed a moose feeding; we mention that we just heard one come close to camp. They continue on their way and we walk to a rock overhang and look to a cove where a large cow moose is feeding loudly and undisturbed. We watch for more than an hour and all of a sudden hear a call from a tree across from us. An eagle is sitting there and has started to call, at first I thought it might be the moose bothering it, but as I looked around I spotted another eagle flying our way. As this eagle flew or I should say swooped the other would call. Soon the eagle in flight quickly drifted away and the eagle perched above us quieted down and sat for another 30 minutes before flying off. Well between the moose and eagles we had a late dinner so we could accommodate such a special day; next the moon is rising and we are mesmerized by how much light a full moon can provide. It truly doesn't get any better than this.
I walk down the lakes edge a bit to try my hand at fishing and find only a couple of over eager small Northern's interested in my offerings, as I return to watch Daisy feed. She leaves about 9:00AM and we set off on another paddle to check things out. As we take off I need to compliment my Bow Partner on her ability to paddle quietly, which I think is more difficult from the bow. From her paddle angle and lift she is very quiet and affords us more wildlife sightings. We often hear trippers before we see them, many act surprised as they notice us. It is a skill worth working on if wildlife spotting/viewing is to be enjoyed. As we are going along, I look to my left and think I might be seeing a baby beaver swimming along. As it nears a log, it climbs up and looks suddenly like a squirrel, which of course it is. Next thing I know, the squirrel hops back into the water and swims straight for the canoe. As it comes by me in the stern I take a picture and talk to him. He checks us out and goes behind the canoe and continues to swim to the other side, gets out and runs into the woods. That was the first time I have seen a squirrel swim and boy he could swim well. We proceed to the North Brule River, the fishing is slow and we just take it all in and enjoy. We enjoy this style of paddling and casually checking things out. Soon we are on the arm that leads to the Gaskin Lake portage, and as there are two nice sites on this arm and the second one is unoccupied this time, we check it out. It is a good warm weather site due to the shade it provides. In fact, we would rate every site on Horseshoe Lake as good to great. The fishing continues to be slow but I am doing what I enjoy most, paddling. We paddle every inch of shore in Horseshoe and get back to camp about 4:00PM. We read a bit and then start supper. Daisy was back eating again; we laugh at her noisy and uncaring antics. What a fun and unplanned diversion she has provided. She left after 45 minutes and we settled into our early evening routine, watching the moon over a nice fire, drink in hand. All of a sudden Daisy is back and right in front of the site eating away and gives us a viewing treat in the moonlight. About 30 minutes later she walks out of the lake and right beside our campsite. We were in awe, but as time would tell we were not to see her again. What a memory, we felt very blessed with this repetitive encounter. We toast this event and the night. Calling it quits is difficult.
It isn't long before I try my luck at fishing and with only a couple of cast I hook up with a 32" northern, he makes a good battle and as I get him close to shore I see he is false hooked by the side of the head, I unhook and return him. Two casts later a 27" Northern is enticed, boy things are looking up and this one is also caught from the shore of the site. AHH, my reputation is saved as being the "provider". We take to the canoe to secure firewood and water for the night. My partner finds some easy pickings among some down cedar and I continue to be impressed with how well the Corona razor tooth 21" pruning saw makes short work of his find. I believe thanks goes to Suko from this site for sharing this equipment find. I protect the teeth of the blade with a guard I made from a piece of vinyl tubing 1/2 " OD, and slit it. It is held on with 4 or 5 bungee loop ties I made. My daughter-in-law is in the process of making me a sheath with a buckle and tie in loop so I can secure it to my pack when portaging. Many thanks to Dan Cooke of CCS for the cloth.
Firewood and drinking water secured we take to the sunning rock for a much needed swim. Refreshed, I find myself going to the fishing rod again. This time I switch over to a bare hook and leech with a slip bobber set at about 8 feet of depth. The smallies cannot resist and I land a number of them between 13" and 17" over the next 45 minutes. Finally the fishing justifies the portaging of all the fishing gear. I do not catch any walleye this trip, just can't seem to locate them.
I do have one embarrassing equipment admission, I brought a newly purchased 2nd hand camera along for the first time, a Pentax Optio and when I pressed the button to take a picture, it made a noise that I assumed meant the picture was taken, but not so, wrong assumption. I believe the noise was confirming that all the settings were fine and if I kept the button down a smidgen longer the picture would be snapped. So about 1/3 of my pictures, of otter, moose, eagles never happened, so the memories of those pictures will be frozen in our minds digital memory. I did get a great shot of the swimming squirrel and another harsh lesson to try out equipment beforehand.
On another equipment note I tried out Marc Bates' suggestion of placing a piece of nylon hose over the coffee filter which I already place on a gravity feed filter. After a minor knot adjustment this is the way to go to maximize the life of the filter. Thanks Marc, certainly better than using elastics.
The moon on our final evening was out in full glory, we had a wonderful fire going and enjoying our final libations so we would not have to carry out as much. Oh the sacrifices we make. We end up talking and conversing much later than usual, unwilling to end our last night in the BW for this year.
We have the equipment separated and ours boxed and ready to return by UPS to our home. We take our showers, put on fresh clothes, boy does that feel good. We settle our bill and say our good bye's with a "hope to see you next year" and we really do, in fact I have a couple of plans in the works...But for the moment, it is off to Grand Marais!
POST NOTES and THOUGHTS: Again, a concern we had going into this entry was, would the exposure to more canoe trippers diminish our BWCAW experience? It has not, although I will admit that the people we encountered were for the most part "like minded" in what they were there for. I guess we could compare it to the fire bans that we have gone in under the last two years. Did we miss not having a fire, absolutely, but is it a "deal breaker", no way, it affords a slightly different experience and for us that is always worth it. It is the quiet sounds of nature, not solitude that we enjoy most. There were always campsites available and options to consider, for these reasons, this time, this entry was a winner and will be considered again. After more years than I am comfortable to admit, there are a few absolutes: 1) Portages vary a lot. Length alone is not the the most important criteria. Steepness, rock/boulder strewed, put ins, take outs, loose gravel or firm surface along with wet or dry conditions are often more important than length. 2) The single most consistently difficult attribute to find at most camp sites is more than one level tent pad with little or no ground obstructions. We count ourselves quite lucky in that we only require 1 pad. 3) We have in the BWCAW, The Adirondacks and Allagash, to mention a few, gifts from past generations and often the foresight of a few special individuals. We need to continue to support, protect and cherish with sacrifices, if necessary, to ensure there longevity. 4) Equipment continues to improve, often while getting lighter. Food's taste and variety continues to make advances. 5) This site and its members, more than any other source, has contributed to our overall tripping knowledge. Doing so while often providing laughter and enjoyment, we are beholden and grateful to you all, but especially Adam for creating this special site. Thanks,
Boppa and Bow Partner