BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
January 20 2020
Number of Permits per Day: 1
Elevation: 1276 feet
Little Isabella River - 75
Quintet finds Quiet solitude on Quadga
July 07, 2016
Little Isabella River
Number of Days:
Spirit of the Wilderness has been our go to outfitter on the Ely side for many years and they get us off in their usual fine fashion once again this trip. We motor east down highway 1, then north up the Tomahawk Road, and finally winding our way down the narrow spur road to the Little Isabella River EP landing. There isn't exactly a lot of extra space here, perhaps room for a half dozen tightly parked vehicles & very little area for maneuvering. We decide to get our vehicles pointing out, so we don't end up having to back out a long distance if other group(s) show up later.
As expected, the trail down to the river is well worn but, a little rocky. Encouragingly, I find a few ripe blueberries along the way. The landing is constricted but, soon enough we are on the water winding our way down the river. There is a large downed tree across the path very near the landing of the first portage which makes this one more of a chore. Later, a jack pine stretches precariously across the length of the river forcing us to warily paddle under & through this natural impediment. Our next portage is a bit longer (32 rods) and offers a moderate climb, the following 16 rod trail is flat but, the downstream landing sports a few cumbersome boulders that prove problematic as Vickie ends up a little wetter than she would've hoped.
Before reaching the Isabella River, there is a large expanse of wild rice to paddle through. Fortunately there is a narrow channel leading to the big river. Once out on the Isabella we instantly encounter the first dramatic evidence of the Pagami Creek fire on the north shore of the river. From here on, mature 'green' trees will be few and far between. As we paddle up river, the areas of swift water prove to be fairly shallow. We are able to paddle through them but, do end up scraping our canoes a little. The portage to our hopeful final destination (Quadga Lake) begins at the base of a scenic set of impassable rapids, of which there are portages around on both sides of the river.
A narrow, but adequate, rock ledge serves as the landing here. The trail climbs up to a decent overlook of the Isabella River. Along the way to an unoccupied Quadga Lake there are a few downed trees to crawl over/around, and while the blueberries appear to need another week or so; there is an abundance of ripe strawberries just off the path. It's been gray & gloomy all day but, the clouds now seem to be getting even darker and the wind is picking up; so we hastily paddle over and claim the site in the SE corner of this diminutive isolated lake.
Fortunately we dodge the rain for awhile and are able to get this largely unsheltered camp setup without the everything getting soaked. While exploring around the perimeter shortly afterwards, Uncle Clay happens upon an interesting find. It's a mud turtle shell that he gives to an enthralled Aurora. Later, shore fishing produces some action in the way of northern pike. As night begins to fall the rain finally lets loose. Uncle Clay & Dan have a less than stellar night of sleep as they find out, the hard way, why Dan got such a great deal on his tent. At least they 'mostly' stay dry.
It's still overcast & gray this morning but, there's no rain. After a hearty breakfast Dan & Uncle Clay try to dry things out as best they can while also re configuring their tent. meanwhile Vickie, Aurora & I hit the water. Paddling counter clock wise around the lake, we hit something of a hot spot (fishing wise) near the northern most site. Everyone gets in on the action as both bass & northern are easy to come by. We also notice a posted sign indicating that this site is still closed. As we're returning to camp, we notice Uncle Clay & Dan also having success fishing in the nearby bay and, the sky is beginning to open up.
Back in camp, it's hard to discern what the weather wants to do. Brief rain showers are intermittent throughout the afternoon as, most of the time, we lounge beneath the relative safety of our CCS tarp. In between we gather firewood, as there is an abundance of premium dead & downed trees in every direction. We keep busy processing the spoils of the Pagami Creek fire.
Later we all head out for an evening paddle. Uncle Clay & Dan stay out until nearly dark. Upon returning, they report that, once again, fishing was awesome. Clay even pulled in (what they estimated to be) a 10-12 lb. northern pike. They said the loons serenading nearby made it a magical experience & making it tough to leave. Not bringing bug spray with was what ultimately forces them back to camp. Although, there's little reprieve here as the bugs & mosquitoes are particularly ravenous this evening compelling us all to retreat to the sanctuary of our tents.
Bright warm sunshine wakes us today! Although, we make a startling discovery upon exiting our now grotesquely bug covered tent. Finally having an idyllic weather day motivates us to get out of camp early. Vickie, Aurora & I paddle back over to the Isabella River portage to explore & play in the rapids on the other side. We also check out the portage trail on the south side of the river. It has a pretty decent hill & is slightly overgrown but, we are rewarded for our efforts with ripe red strawberries & the occasional raspberry that are peppered along the path. From there we hopscotch down along the large shoreline boulders to find a nice spot to lounge in these tumbling rapids while a cedar waxwing provides free entertainment fluttering to 'n' fro in the nearby cedar trees.
On our way back to camp Aurora & I harvest the bountiful strawberries on the Quadga portage. Of course non of them actually make it back to camp. Fishing continues to be exceedingly rewarding on the return paddle as well. Uncle Clay & Dan are still out on the lake, so we have camp to ourselves upon our return; and we take full advantage of the empty hammocks.
After Uncle Clay & Dan return it's time to try swimming. Aurora does pretty well, although she doesn't quite completely trust that her PFD will keep her afloat. Never the less she has a grand (although relatively brief) time frolicking in the water. Afterwards she even thanks Dan for helping her by letting him nap with her little stuffed black bear. If it accomplishes nothing else, at least this nap gives his damp sleeping bag a chance to air/dry out.
After supper, as evening draws near, we all head out for a leisurely paddle. This time we locate the closed site just to our NE. While the closed site we seen yesterday looks like it could re-open soon, this site appears to be doomed; as it was almost impossible to locate and leaves little hope of reclamation. Yet again excellent fishing keeps us from making steady progress on our exploratory paddle. (Not a bad problem to have.) Eventually we do pull up to the NW site. Harebells with a tasteful intermingling of daisies cloak the grassy shoreline. While the best landing area is a bit west of the fire grate area, this site is expansive and provides direct access to the Pow Wow Hiking Trail. We attempt to hike a short distance but the bugs chase us back towards the lake & windier locales. They have been bad enough at our rocky site, we dare not imagine what they would be like had we stayed at this swampy grassy plot. There is, however, a neatly sawed log seat here & the nicest allotment of (still) living trees at any site on this lake. Overall it's a pretty decent site but, overall we still prefer ours.
We soak up the quiet ambiance of Quadga Lake on our last night. Fortunately, the bugs aren't nearly as bad as the previous evening, so Vickie is able to do a little baking and we have a tasty evening snack before calling it a night. No rain tonight so Uncle Clay & Dan can sleep easy.
Gray overcast skies rejoin us yet again this morning. Fortunately we are able to get breakfast in and camp packed away dry. As we work our way back to the EP, the sky slowly begins to open up and let some sunshine through. Once back on the Little Isabella River, just as we are finishing the 16 rod portage, we encounter the first people we'd seen in 4 days. There aren't really any surprises on the way back, just had to quickly pull through a couple of the beaver dams we had easily paddled over on our way in. Back at the parking area, we load up and drive to the Ely Steakhouse for burgers & drinks. Afterwards, we stop in Virginia and visit Grandma at the nursing home. Aurora proudly gives her a copy of the latest issue of the 'Boundary Waters Journal' which features a story (w/photos) of her catching her first fish.
Of course Dan needs a new tent, at least if he wants Clay to camp with him again! Thankfully we didn't get heavy, soaking rains or there may have been a mutiny. As it was, they got a little damp and only had one tough night of sleep; it certainly could've been a lot worse. We brought the turtle shell home and varnished it up for a nice keepsake. I know we were a little early but, I was hoping we'd run into some ripe blueberries - unfortunately we didn't find any substantial quantities. While we didn't catch any walleye, fishing was absolutely fantastic for bass & northern. Considering we visited this area on what was essentially a Fourth of July weekend, we were all ecstatic to have a BWCAW lake entirely to ourselves for 4 days. Especially when you consider the relative ease from which Quadga can be accessed via the Little Isabella River EP. While the fire damage is extensive, there was enough foliage & green trees around to give the woodsy feel. And, obviously, that will only improve with time.