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BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog

June 16 2024

Entry Point 75 - Little Isabella River

Little Isabella River entry point allows overnight paddle only. This entry point is supported by Tofte Ranger Station near the city of Isabella, MN. The distance from ranger station to entry point is 30 miles. Access is a 20-rod portage to the Little Isabella River. Several short portages before you reach th e Isabella River.

Number of Permits per Day: 1
Elevation: 1276 feet
Latitude: 47.7760
Longitude: -91.4885
Little Isabella River - 75

Pictograph Loop ~ Beartrap River ~ Sundial PMA

Trip Report

Entry Date: July 01, 2017
Entry Point: South Hegman Lake
Exit Point: Mudro Lake (23)
Number of Days: 10
Group Size: 4

Trip Introduction:
8 Days. 51 Paddle Miles. 26 Portages (2171 rods total). 16 Lakes. 3 Rivers, 1 Creek. We double portaged the whole trip, so that's 20 miles on foot, 13.5 with weight on our backs.

Day 1 of 10

Saturday, July 01, 2017

8 days: 51 Paddle Miles, 26 portages = 2171 Portage Rods, 16 Lakes, 3 Rivers, 1 Creek, 3 Pictograph Sites, 6 campsites.

~South Hegman Lake, North Hegman Lake, Trease Lake, Angleworm Lake, Home Lake, Gull Lake, Mudhole Lake, Thunder Lake, Beartrap Lake, Beartrap River, Sunday Lake, Beartrap River, Iron Lake, Crooked Lake, Basswood River, Horse River, Horse Lake, Tin Can Mike Lake, Sandpit Lake, Mudro Lake and Picket Creek

I have never written a trip report, except in my own journal. It was a challenge to go back and forth from Beymer's format to Fisher and McKenzie maps to my journal to little scraps of paper with portage tallies and lake counts, additional information from Magic On The Rocks and of course my memory. The real reason I did this is because I like to write my thoughts, and I never felt like there was enough data on the Beartrap River. I really had to ask myself: What do people want to know about the Beartrap River, and what is a PMA experience like in comparison to some of the surrounding areas? We didn't fish on this trip, so I hope the data you find elsewhere is sufficient to locate your walleyes. After said and done, the Horse River was a much larger challenge than the Beartrap River. If you're even close to ready for a PMA trip, or a shortcut to Iron, do yourself a favor. Get a PMA overnight permit and DO IT! It's a blast and a half!

We double portaged everything, so I put on 20+ miles on the portages - 13.5 was carrying 55 lbs on my back. We also paddled 51 miles on this trip. It may seem like a lot, but we had some small travel days in there too. It was a true pleasure to research, plan and execute this trip. This is the first "marathon" trip I have done, and may be my wife's last. I can get intense out there when I get my mind set on something like this. I want to thank her and the rest of my party for accompanying me on my pictograph journey. I will surely never shy away from a portage again! These memories will be held closest to my heart.


Day 2 of 10

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Day 1: 7 Miles, 8 portages (965 rods), 9 lakes, 11.5 hours

~South Hegman Lake, North Hegman Lake, Trease Lake, Angleworm Lake, Home Lake, Gull Lake, Mudhole Lake, Thunder Lake, Beartrap Lake

Entered South Hegman (EP77) after doing a vehicle drop at Mudro. The Hegman lakes and Trease were basically a non-event aside from the vivid pictographs in the narrows between North Hegman and Trease. This is the first time we have seen pictographs in real life. They were cool, but not as special as I assumed they would be. Not these ones anyhow. Trease Portage was pretty killer, with no reward aside from forward progress. Personal satisfaction comes to my mind. I can't speak for the other 3 in my party (I giggle a little in my head). For the record, it took 37 minutes to walk this trail empty, well over an hour loaded, and I am a fast walker. Angleworm to Home was irritating, because from the water, we could see a man watching our arrival, and he quickly disappeared. They were on the other end cooking lunch. Their 3 kayaks were sprawled out in the middle of the trail at various points. I yelled at them. Home to Gull was grueling for me. I got stuck carrying the canoe (55 lbs) and the Seal Line 115 food pack (82 lbs). I was dead, but I lived to tell about it. Some of our party ran into some Forest Service types. They told us water levels are up, gave us a hi 5 for doing Trease Portage, and gave us a nice heads up that the Beartrap Lake site was opening up that day! But the folks at the Thunder/Beartrap portage site might nab it, so we boogied through Mudhole and Thunder to claim the Beartrap Lake campsite. I've heard some stellar reviews of this campsite, but to me, it was just a campsite on a pretty lake. It has all the amenities you look for in a site: good hanging tree, hammock trees, good visible landing, and plenty of tent pads. It just felt like a place to stay.


Day 3 of 10

Monday, July 03, 2017

Day 2: 10 Miles, 7 portages (477 rods), 3 Lakes, 1 River, 11 hours. Yes, 11 hours.

~Beartrap Lake, Beartrap River, Sunday Lake, Beartrap River, Iron Lake.

This will be my most detailed page, since there is still a demand for more information on the Sundial PMA. For those of you who feel you would like to leave some mystery to your Beartrap River trip, do not read on. All else, this is for you. The Beartrap River is a small river that cuts through the midsection of the Sundial Primitive Management Area. It is accessible from the south at the farthest west end of Beartrap Lake, or from the north by way of the southern tip of Peterson Bay on Iron Lake. We paddled south to north, but I am trying to include relevant information for both directions. Water levels were up according to the rangers we saw on the Home/Gull portage. Due to this, I can say we had absolutely no beaver influence aside from some partial dams in the oxbows, and a bit of a wet area on the southernmost portage (40 rods from the east landing). This may or may not have been dry in mid summer. Current on the river was a non-issue aside from some slightly elevated currents near rapids. A recommendation for any who travel this river is to use a wet foot loading/unloading method. I hate the wet foot style, so I suffered some at landings with heavy boulders or landings near the top of rapids. Especially with our 20' MN3 canoe!

For those of you, like myself, without access to antique maps of this area... I will try to keep things simple. We had a Fisher map, AND a McKenzie on this trip. Every place you see an R on the river, expect a portage. The maps we have list some portage locations on the northern end of the river, and these appear to be in the correct locations, except for the portage to Parlay Lake. Never found that one. I will list length and condition individually throughout the trip report. These portages can be said to be in rough and tough shape, but what I found is a bunch of muddy spots due to recent rains, and a whole lot of down trees on the ground, some down trees that were slightly elevated - only on the first and last portages. The portages in the middle were all of normal quality with a bit of extra mud due to rains. Maybe a few down trees here and there. Some trails had Hazelnut brush encroaching over the trail in places to make for poor visibility. Some trails had low branches. Aside from that, the trails are in good shape for being in disrepair for ??? decades ???

Anyone who wants to be rough and tough, as these portages are.. Do it! I challenge you. I double portaged the whole thing in a day with a 55 lb, 20' long canoe and a 55 lb pack.

We got up early, ate our oatmeal and hit the lake. We had a bit of trouble finding the 200 rod portage, because a downed spruce tree was 5 feet off the ground right at the entrance. I cut it out of the way so I didn't have to army crawl a canoe underneath it. After that, it was easy to see this trail, even though the bulk of it was heavily littered with downed trees that span the years. About 40 rods in, regular beaver activity slightly seeps into the trail, but I feel a rocky bottom to all the mud holes. At the west of this wetness, there is a small jump-over creek and a very old section of boardwalk. Some areas of Hazelnut and Alder brush creep across the trail to make it temporarily invisible. Low branches are the biggest issue on this portage trail. At around 140 rods, there is a small path around a fallen spruce. At around 170 rods, there is a large spruce, 4' off the ground with no real path around. I climbed over and regret not cutting it out of the trail for the rest of you. Sorry. This portage is on the North side of the river with good landings on either ends. It's not on either Fisher or McKenzie maps, but if you want a location on this portage, get your map, and find the spot that is furthest west on Beartrap Lake (very narrow, small bay). Draw a line straight west to the river, and that's pretty accurate. The trail goes East-West with very little deviation.

The river from here is quite small, shallow, and shows little if any current. A few oxbows later, Spring Creek joins in the fun and the river doubles in size. This is about the point where the river bends north toward Sunday Lake. It isn't far till you see the current start to ripple ahead. Watch the west shore for a good landing close to the rapids. My info tells me 60 rods, but I'm feeling 75 rods strong on this one. The portage hugs close to the river through light woods. It's in good shape aside from some seasonal mud. Some down trees. North landing is good as well. Both Fisher and McKenzie list an R for rapids in the correct location for this portage.

The next portage, if you can call it that, needs an ambitious bushwhacker with a machete! This portage trail is the only one that sort of bothered me on my trip. It's really more of a bail-trail than a portage. We saw the R on both Fisher and McKenzie maps, and were ready for the rapids. There was no portage landing in site, and only a very small rapids ahead, so we shot it. Turn the corner and BAM! More rapids 3 canoe lengths ahead. We caught the West shore just in time, and from what I could tell, that was the regular landing. A poor one too. The landing on the North was good, and easy to spot. You may be able to line your boat if you don't mind wet feet. This one was 20 rods, and needs a more adequate south landing. Maybe I missed it though. Looks easy to bushwhack through. A good portage to start from the north side.

After the 2 R's on the maps, the river takes a turn. And another turn. And about 20 more turns. This oxbow area south of Sunday Lake was a blast. We were finally challenged with some partial beaver dams in the oxbows. That reminded me a lot of Larch Creek and Hog Creek.

A warning for those coming from the North: The reeds at the south end of Sunday Lake are majorly choking the river entrance. There is traffic through these parts, but it's pretty light, so watch closely for a path through the reeds. It's only as wide as a canoe. The campsite on Sunday... Well, it's there, it looks cool, but it's lacking tent pads, big time. Bring a hammock and you'll do fine. I didn't check it with a compass, but I felt like the distances from river (south) to camp, and camp to river (west) didn't add up. To me, it feels like that site is on the east shore. I may be wrong.

The 17 rod portage to get from Sunday to Beartrap River is not on either Fisher or McKenzie maps, but is quite easy to find. Located on the North side of the river. The west landing is real nice, and the east landing blows, unless you're into the wet foot load/unload. Lots of slick underwater boulders along the shore here. The trail itself was a real pleasure to follow, with no obstacles worth mentioning. We saw a deer fawn swim across the lake very close to the river outlet. We also saw 2 wolves chasing it down 5 minutes later. Our presence deterred the wolves from pursuing the deer any further. For now.

The River is double in size by this point and has very little attraction anymore. We never spotted Sterling Creek, but definitely saw the valley it runs through. Same goes for Parlay Lake. Saw the opening, but no sign of a portage.

Location of the next portage is listed on both Fisher and McKenzie maps. I saw 10 rods on the west shore documented somewhere, and that seems accurate. This dandy set of rapids is bordering the waterfalls category with a swift current at the top. The south landing is dangerously close to the top of the rapids, and quite poor, unless you are okay with the wet foot approach, and your canoe being on the brink of being carried away to kevlar heaven. The portage trail is in real good shape. The north landing is a large slope of granite with a fair/good loading area. May be slippery when wet.

A short way ahead is another portage. Its location is marked and accurate on both Fisher and McKenzie maps. Even though I read 35 rods on our maps, it feels closer to 40 or 45 rods. It is very out in the open grass. A good trail, except for the very slanty granite landing on the north side. It was feeling slick when bone dry, so I'd hate to portage this one when wet. The south landing is real good with good visibility from a distance.

The final portage on this journey is marked on both Fisher and McKenzie maps, and 110-120 rods feels accurate. The south landing was real good, and easy to see from a distance. Now, if you've read anything about this portage before, you will have read that the north landing is "technical." That's accurate, because there is only 2 very small loading areas and they could get quite slick when wet. I would call the one closest to the river outlet the main landing. They are hard to see from the water. The climb is possibly steep for some... Personally, I loved this portage. It is one of the best, and one of the worst I've seen. I bet this portage used to be amazing before all the disrepair and the fallen trees. The landscape here is unbelievable, as is the terrain this path covers. When I walk it, I see the best portage trail I've ever been on, in the worst condition it has seen since its development. It broke my heart. So many trees downed. So much mud. So much brush. If it wasn't illegal for an average Joe like me to tidy it up a bit, I would make this trail right again. People would flock to see it. Rangers would be turning in their badges to be with me. Women would... Oh my! This day has caught up with me. I am turning silly.

We paddled through Peterson Bay of Iron Lake, which is stunning, and over to Three Island. I was hoping for the west site for its central location, and found it to be open, and the best site I have ever stayed at. That site had it all.


Day 4 of 10

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

~Iron Lake

We had a day planned to visit the pictographs on Lac La Croix (east site). We all agreed to take that day and stuff it. Into a 'some other day' sack. We were way too wiped from the last two days, we sat around camp eating and drinking lots of water. I collected some firewood for our pyros. We walked the trails and then some. Saw a bear splash down in the narrows and swim across. It was on our island, and I think it heard us, or smelled us coming so it bolted. We had a problem red squirrel at this site. There was more than one squirrel, but the one was a real dink. Aggressive, unresponsive, possibly sick or blind. Or possibly too many people have given treats to a cute squirrel, and the squirrel finally became dependent on mankind?

I'm sad we skipped the Lac La Croix Pictographs, but comforted at the same time. The wind got a bit strong at 11AM. That lake size, to me, is scary in a canoe.


Day 5 of 10

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Day 4: 17 Miles, 2 Lakes, 1 portage (139 rods)

~Iron Lake, Crooked Lake.

Today was a big travel day, and the plan was to portage across Curtain Falls Portage and paddle to... somewhere between Friday Bay and Thursday Bay. When we got there, it was only lunch time-ish, so we just ate and kept going. We sort of went way farther than we wanted to, but by the time we passed Thursday bay, we didn't like this or that about all the campsites. We finally settled into a site just north of Wednesday Bay on the US side. At that moment, I wanted to continue paddling, but I was out-voted. We stayed put.

I need to backtrack a lot. One lake I have always wanted to get to is Iron. Its location is central to so much. Well, we made it to Iron, and sadly we had to leave. We never tried to paddle up 'The Chute' below Curtain Falls. We don't do fast current, and I dislike swimming. We hit the long portage and the trail was breathtaking after exiting Trease Lake Portage and the Sundial PMA! Every time I heard rapid water I thought it was the Falls. But then I heard the thundering sound up ahead. Curtain Falls! Apparently I was really excited to be there because I got a little emotional when I first saw the Falls. It was sensational to be there! We lunched a bit, took pictures and video, and moved on before the wind kicked up on Sunday Bay.

We shot over to the West Pictograph site on Crooked. There wasn't much to see there, but interesting. The information I have previously read said little about the drawings. Mostly, I agree with my research that there is not much to see, let alone describe. For sure there is a lot of red wash, especially on the left 5/8. Just right of the wash, I see a canoe with a single occupant standing up, holding a net, an axe, or a paint brush. To the right are some more drawings that are... not quite red wash... but not quite figures or specific shapes. Possibly they are fish, and the man in the canoe is netting them. If memory serves, there are two fish blobs and either more red wash or tally marks on the far right.

Moving across Crooked Lake was a pleasure. I look forward to the parts south of Wednesday Bay the most!


Day 6 of 10

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Day 5: 6 Miles.

~Crooked Lake, Basswood River?

Not a boring day, but a short one. We had iffy weather moving through at breakfast time. Just after eating, we saw lightning and heard thunder to the south. We set up my brand new CCS 1.9 oz tarp. One guy had a leaky tent, so he tore his tent down and sat under the tarp for two hours while the storm passed. The rest of us tented it. We didn't want to sit there all day, so we packed up and boogied down the lake, or up the river. That's up for debate once Crooked turns south. There is certainly current coming around the islands at that NE corner of the Lake. It subsided until south of Table Rock. It got to be quite a current in the narrow areas! We stopped at the cliffs and looked at pictographs for over an hour. Oh! what a site! I'm sure there's a lot that has already been said and shown in regards to these pictographs, so I'm not going to comment much. I will say I had the clearest connection to this site. There was something very sacred here.

More strong current on the Basswood River. No wait - Crooked Lake, my mistake. We camped on a high hill with all the Lower Basswood Falls chutes in plain view. It was a great site. Use the landing on the south side. It's a longer walk to the site, but safer and easier. We chilled by a fire this night waiting for the stars to shine. We were sent to bed by worsening skeeters. =[


Day 7 of 10

Friday, July 07, 2017

Day 6: 2 Miles, 1 Portage (12 Rods) 1 River, 1 Lake

~Crooked Lake, Basswood River

We haven't used our layover/rain day yet, so I opt for a new campsite and a trip up the Basswood River to see Basswood Falls and glimpse Basswood Lake. We pack up, hit the portage, and find the open campsite in the back of the bay straight across from the Lower Basswood Falls Portage.It is a good campsite, but I have a feeling it is used least of any in the vicinity of the Falls. There must have been some high winds 'round these parts within the last year. Lost of small trees snapped off 1-4 feet off the ground. The site has a great latrine path with a newer latrine. Fine open area out front, and nicely shaded in back. There is a nice waterfront trail going toward the back of the bay with a large rock that could be used as an elevated tent pad if one wanted supreme privacy. There was something about that rock.. Familiar? Like there was a presence there. I saw the trail widen and keep going. I think an old portage that would exit near the Horse River, but I never found out. There was a foul smell, so I stopped walking. It was a dead crow in the trail. It felt like a barrier. I know it sounds odd, but after the feeling I got at the rock, the dead crow in the path could have been predicted. Especially after visiting the pictographs the day before.

The power in the waters of the Basswood River is not to be taken lightly. There is an extremely powerful current here. We never made it to Wheelbarrow Portage. We were too uncomfortable with the boiling current here. We saw 4 canoes go upriver and never return, so it must be passable. We didn't want to risk it. I would consider going downstream in the future, but that was the end of the line on this journey.

Back at camp, the first thing you may notice about this site, if you've been here in the past is the lawn furniture around the fire grate. It looks like a 30 year old rotted pile of rubbish. I saw some straight Jack Pine laying on the ground by the Mystic Rock. I'm going to improve this site! I cut a 10" diameter log about 10 feet long and got it to camp by flipping it the long way, over and over. The second log was only about 8" diameter and I shouldered that 10 footer back to camp. I saw a 12+" diameter Jack standing dead, so I pushed it over and cut off a couple of 2' chunks for end risers. I notched a riser and set up 2 old bench logs on it. Perfect fit. A little low, but an improvement from the last benches. Now for the second bench. I set up the second riser and test fitted the two 10' logs I cut. Notched them and set it back in place for the perfect BW double log bench. We thought we could do better with the rocks around the grate, but.... Well, I sure hope there's someone out there that is as good with rock as I am with logs! We did our best.

A nice fire from the pyro team to break it all in, and off to bed for a big day tomorrow. Noises in the night... Squeaky chewing noises by the stashed Seal Line food pack made me think of a bear chewing into the rubber pack. Something slaps the water the full length of the bay. At the end, a loon reveals itself with an eerie call. Twigs snapping in the woods. An enlongated splash at the camp landing. Something getting out of the water. That was a strange night for wilderness noises.


Day 8 of 10

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Day 7: 6 Miles, 7 Portages (319 Rods), 2 Rivers, 2 Lakes

~Basswood River, Horse River, Horse Lake, Finger Lake, Tin Can Mike Lake

When I planned this trip, I should have done 2 things: More research on the Basswood River, and more research on the Horse River! I wasn't prepared for either. It may be because of the higher water levels, but it seems like the Horse river has a great big lack of adequately marked portages. The first one or two were fine. It all went awry at the 58 rod portage. McKenzie map says right shore, Fisher says left shore. The portage was fine and had a stellar boardwalk. At the end was a group hogging up the landing for an hour while they repaired their canoe, and another party coming our way from the other side. We had to boogie across some rapids. Why were there still rapids? Why wasn't the portage extended to accommodate the remaining rapids? It would have only been 10 or 15 rods longer. Anyhow, we got through with a fistful of gripes. The rest of the River went just like that one. Rapids with no marked portage. There were portages, so I suppose all is okay. The final rapids were kind of cool. It was the first time I lined the canoe. Accomplishment!

Horse Lake was not very nice to us with its wind and waves, but we made it safe to the other side. The portage to Tin Can Mike was muddy and rutted, but easy. We chose the camp site on the south shore for the cool breeze and a shady backdrop. It was a crummy site with a crummy landing and a crummy latrine and a crummy hanging tree and a crummy tenting area and a set of crummy benches and a crummy fire grate with no legs. USFS needs to get on that site like now!


Day 9 of 10

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Day 8: 3 Lakes, 3 Portages (270 Rods) 1 Creek

~Tin Can Mike Lake, Sandpit Lake, Mudro Lake, Picket Creek

It's exit day. The 160 rod portage goes fast. It was my wife's favorite portage on the entire trip. It was a nice one. It has a rugged boardwalk that we both liked. Sandy bottom with water flowing past old tree roots was a cool site. It was a wet portage, but a good one. The portage between Sandpit and Mudro was up there on my favorites list. The big hill was quite the workout. At the top of the hill, there was some trees that were recently downed - an aspen and a spruce. When I crested the hill, I smelled them and immediately thought of Hobbits and Wizards. I can't remember if it was Lord Of The Rings or The Hobbit, but one of them mentioned the smell of the trees as they approached Rivendell. Mudro is a nice lake to pass through. Picket creek was fun! It had just the right amount of current to make things interesting. And then it was all over.


Day 10 of 10

Monday, July 10, 2017

Unused Layover Day. Went home to get some extra time with family.


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