BWCA 7-10 day Kawishiwi Solo? Boundary Waters Trip Planning Forum
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Wes44
member (27)member
 
08/12/2021 01:20PM  
Hello friends!

I'm a conservation advocate & farmer in rural Oregon. I'm so pleased to be returning to the BWCAW in a few weeks to recharge my soul!

I am planning my first solo trip with a put-in on Kawishiwi Lake a day or two after Labor Day. I plan to spend 7-10 days in a loop or with an exit to Lake One and would like to include a layover/basecamp day or four.

I'm a competent, but not expert paddler, in adequate shape, and willing to do a big portage or two if it gets me where I want to be. I'm confident in my ability to make sound decisions and general wilderness skills.

My biggest priority is solitude/scenery/wildness. I'd love to maximize my opportunities to hear wolves or see moose. I'd prefer to avoid big water. I'd like to catch a few fish, but I'm not picky about size or species and won't judge the success of my trip based on that. Catching a few smallies casting in a weedy bay is just fine with me!

I'm getting outfitted by Piragis and am confident in their ability to plan a good route, but would love to hear what folks suggest to do or avoid. Any good trip reports you'd point me to? Is this the right put-in?

Any thoughts or advice are welcomed. Thank you!
 
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cyclones30
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08/12/2021 08:32PM  
You're getting your stuff from Piragis and then driving all the way around to EP 37? Maybe that's why you'd loop back to Lake One? If they're dropping you off anyway.

Either way...plenty of options from that entry. Polly has been busy all summer, like every summer. Once you're past that it gets less and less. If you head for the Beaver, Adams, etc area you're pretty remote. The Louse river is very remote but will be harder than normal if it doesn't rain a lot between now and then.
Wes44
member (27)member
 
08/12/2021 08:58PM  
Since I'm coming in from out of town, I'm renting a car from MSP. If I do a one-way instead of a loop, I can skip the shuttle from Ely. The shuttle isn't cheap, but given what a special trip this is, I'm prioritizing the experience over saving a few bucks.

I picked Piragis given their conservation advocacy. Then, having spent time with them on the phone, I wanted to honor that with my booking.

Thanks for the suggestions! I'll look into those spots. Other than remoteness (a big priority) are there other things you like about them? All things being equal, would you see a loop or one-way to Lake One offering better opportunities?

Sorry to hear about the dry weather. Sadly, we know all about that here in Eastern Oregon where our town has gotten less than 3.5" of precip all year. It's dire.
08/12/2021 09:46PM  
you certainly could head up through Koma and River to Fishdance. The scenery is really lovely that way, and pictographs are a bonus in my book. Then follow the Kawishiwi River through Alice and Insula and Hudson, on into the numbered lakes- or jump up into Fire from Hudson and avoid the bigger water for the most part. More portages, but should be fewer people.

My son and I went the opposite direction last year, and that section was easily done in 7 days.
08/13/2021 06:31AM  
Wes,

You likely won't find much solitude on the "number lakes" (lake one, two, etc.) which are one of the busy areas of BW. Since that's a priority, I'd suggest doing a loop from Kawishiwi Lake EP #37. First though is just to say that EP #37 is about a 2 hour drive from Ely. It would be wise to get an early start. It's not an area that Piragis normally serves so they won't have current reports from groups returning from there. At any rate, reports are that water levels are very low this year.

There are a number of loop options from Kawishiwi Lake depending on how far you'd travel in a day and how many days you'd like to travel. There are a couple of nice point-to-point routes that involve a short shuttle (~20 miles) from Sawbill Outfitters on Sawbill Lake. You could do an out-and-back trip also. I usually prefer the former two.

From Polly Lake you can E on what's called the Lady Chain of lakes - Hazel, Phoebe, Grace, etc. to Sawbill. That's a relatively short trip.

You can go north from Polly to Malberg where you have a number of options. North of there is the Beaver-Adams-Boulder area already mentioned. You can loop through it going W out of Malberg to Alice (or Insula) to Fraser and around, or going NE through Pan to Makwa, then W to Ledge and around. A considerably longer loop would be from Fraser to Kekekabic-Ogishkemuncie-Little Saganaga to Makwa and out. Any of these loops could be done CW or CCW. I have done the first loop (2016 trip report) and I have also done a point-to-point NE through Makwa to Little Saganaga-Mora-Hub-Mesaba-Zenith to Sawbill (2014 trip report).

Let me know if you have any questions I might be able answer.

dustytrail
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08/13/2021 08:25AM  
Twice I have stayed on the Malberg site closes to the NW portage. Both times wolfs woke me with their howling. Water levels are low right now and the area north of River Lake is affected. Longer portages, lots of wading pulling your canoe and the 2 portages between Boulder and Adams is now one long tough portage thru mud and brush. Still I would recommend that area for solitude. You could always stop on Beaver, spend an extra night or 2 and explore Adams and Boulder, then drop down to River Lake and continue on to Lake One. Beaver has 2 sites but one is not good so you would likely have it to yourself or take the short portage to Fisher. Once you hit Alice you leave the solitude behind. Do not plan on a campsite in the numbered lakes or you may find yourself leaving a day early. Personally I would enter and exit 37.
paddlinjoe
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08/13/2021 02:21PM  
Given your timeframe of 7-10 days I think Kawishiwi is a great entry point for what you are planning to do. One into or around Malberg you should have decent solitude. There are several lakes near Malberg with only 1 or 2 campsites. I'd target those and take advantage of the many day trip loops that the area has. The entire area has moderate sized beautiful lakes. The pictographs on Fishdance are a destination item, and that lake would also be a secluded spot for camping because it only has one way in. I personally love to paddle the rivers and narrow channel lakes and there is plenty of that available to explore in the area.
Lawnchair107
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08/13/2021 09:30PM  
boonie: "Wes,


You likely won't find much solitude on the "number lakes" (lake one, two, etc.) which are one of the busy areas of BW. Since that's a priority, I'd suggest doing a loop from Kawishiwi Lake EP #37. First though is just to say that EP #37 is about a 2 hour drive from Ely. It would be wise to get an early start. It's not an area that Piragis normally serves so they won't have current reports from groups returning from there. At any rate, reports are that water levels are very low this year.


There are a number of loop options from Kawishiwi Lake depending on how far you'd travel in a day and how many days you'd like to travel. There are a couple of nice point-to-point routes that involve a short shuttle (~20 miles) from Sawbill Outfitters on Sawbill Lake. You could do an out-and-back trip also. I usually prefer the former two.


From Polly Lake you can E on what's called the Lady Chain of lakes - Hazel, Phoebe, Grace, etc. to Sawbill. That's a relatively short trip.


You can go north from Polly to Malberg where you have a number of options. North of there is the Beaver-Adams-Boulder area already mentioned. You can loop through it going W out of Malberg to Alice (or Insula) to Fraser and around, or going NE through Pan to Makwa, then W to Ledge and around. A considerably longer loop would be from Fraser to Kekekabic-Ogishkemuncie-Little Saganaga to Makwa and out. Any of these loops could be done CW or CCW. I have done the first loop (2016 trip report) and I have also done a point-to-point NE through Makwa to Little Saganaga-Mora-Hub-Mesaba-Zenith to Sawbill (2014 trip report).


Let me know if you have any questions I might be able answer.


"


I agree with Boonie. If solitude is high on your wish list, I think we all agree the numbered lakes should be avoided. I’d travel north to Malberg and day trip from there. Just my 2 cents.
08/14/2021 09:42AM  
Wes44: "Since I'm coming in from out of town, I'm renting a car from MSP. If I do a one-way instead of a loop, I can skip the shuttle from Ely."
I'm guessing you have this backwards, right? You're hoping to pick up your canoe and drive to the entry, do a loop, and get back to your car? Assuming this....

LOTS of great circle routes from EP 37, once you get up to or past Malberg at least. If remoteness and chance of seeing/hearing moose is important, I'd suggest heading up through Beaver/Adams/Boulder, then doing one of many loops back to Malberg. In a thread a couple years ago, we debated where the most central, most remote area of the BWCA was - and while not all agree - Adams or Boulder were often listed.

On the image below I highlighted several but not all options, with A being the easiest listed and E (Louse River) being the hardest and maybe not recommended given the water levels. Others may not quite agree with that ranking, and I have not paddled all of it myself so some of it is just perception. I didn't mark it but you could also do the Lady Chain back. Again, not sure about water levels. I think they are all paddle able in 5-7 days if weather is good and water levels not too problematic, so should leave some layover days. Or like Boonie said you can head over to Sawbill via several routes and have them shuttle you back to your car - I dont know the cost but that is only a 20 minute ride so should cost less.



As mentioned above, there are often lakes off the main path that dont see much use and can really give the feeling of isolation. On my route "B" I showed one such place at the southern end. Most people follow the Kawishiwi River from Insula to Alice, but you could go up through Carol. The portages are longer and harder, but Carol only sees a couple people a year. You need to be very confident in your own wilderness skills when you get more remote like that though - if you lose your canoe or break an ankle, you may not see anyone paddle by for a week or more. Think about bringing or renting a satellite device.

I agree that the pictos on Fishdance are worth the paddle, and I can also recommend the campsite on Amber for isolation. Its a wonderful site with a moose trail running right through the back of it then out onto the beach. I always see moose prints there, and once had one walk into camp and sniff my tent. With the numbers down, seeing a moose will not be easy, but you also may hear them. Rut usually starts about mid September so you are a bit early, but if the testosterone is building up they might be starting to get randy. Last year in late September I did not see any, but heard three bulls calling and thrashing around in the woods.

straighthairedcurly
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08/14/2021 02:58PM  
Jaywalker, what year is that map image you used? I noticed Makwa Lake is labeled Bear Lake. Makwa means black bear in Ojibwe so it makes sense, but just wondering...

Wes, jaywalker gave you some great options and I certainly won't argue his ranking. Personally, I plan to go back to this area and explore a lot more after some trips there this summer. I did a solo trip through the lady chain and then through the Louse River (with a side trip to the Fishdance pictos). Then my husband and I traveled from Little Sag down through Makwa (I want to camp there next time!) into the Kawishiwi River then to Alice and back up through Thomas, Fraser, etc (another area I want to stop and camp). I am working on the trip report for the trip with my husband, but below is the link to my solo trip report with notes on low water this year.

Lady chain and Louse River solo trip
08/14/2021 04:29PM  
straighthairedcurly: "Jaywalker, what year is that map image you used? I noticed Makwa Lake is labeled Bear Lake. Makwa means black bear in Ojibwe so it makes sense, but just wondering..."
Not sure, but the price tag on the back says I got it at Burger Brothers and it cost $4.50, if that helps any.
Wes44
member (27)member
 
08/16/2021 06:22PM  
Thank you everyone! My maps should be arriving in another day or two, I'll compare that to this info and imagine I'll be back with more questions!

I'm increasingly liking the idea of a 10-day trip returning to EP#37 and spending most of my time in one or two base camps. I'm also seeing lots of consensus to stay away from the numbers.

In the meantime:

~ Other than Malberg is there a lake folks would suggest for a good base camp from which to explore?

~ When do loons stop calling?

~ Is lake turnover a consideration from 9/7 to 9/16?

~ This trip is a big deal for me and hard to re-create. I'm thinking of getting a backup permit in case fires become a problem. Is that ethical? If so, what would folks suggest?

Hope that's not too much. Thank you to everyone who has responded already! Double thanks to Jaywalker for the map!
mjmkjun
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08/17/2021 05:22AM  
Hi, Wes44. Just want to advise that you pay special attention to fire updates on the Greenwood Lake fire--posted on this site. If it persists or gets out of hand your access to EP 37/Kawishiwi might be hampered, or worse, road closures.
Wise of you to have a plan B in mind. Hope you are able to realize your expectations unhampered but with fires here and there it's becoming a challenge for firefighters to keep up & canoe trippers to adjust to closures. The air quality will not be as stellar as you remember--depending on which way the wind blows. Not wanting to discourage but to prep you for possibilities.

Use the Search (active link) featured at top of page for your query on 'Kawishiwi Lake entry trip reports'. Kawishiwi Lake entry trip reports.
08/17/2021 01:39PM  
You can also get a list of trip reports from an entry by clicking "maps & entry points" at the top of the messageboard, then entry points from the drop down menu, then the entry point. You'll get some basic information about the EP, a list of trip reports, and recent forum discussions. Clicking on the "view all trip reports" at the bottom of the list will give you a list with the publish date which may be useful.
08/17/2021 01:53PM  
mjmkjun: "Hi, Wes44. Just want to advise that you pay special attention to fire updates on the Greenwood Lake fire--posted on this site. If it persists or gets out of hand your access to EP 37/Kawishiwi might be hampered, or worse, road closures.
Wise of you to have a plan B in mind. Hope you are able to realize your expectations unhampered but with fires here and there it's becoming a challenge for firefighters to keep up & canoe trippers to adjust to closures. The air quality will not be as stellar as you remember--depending on which way the wind blows. Not wanting to discourage but to prep you for possibilities. "


+1. And not just the Greenwood Fire which is a ways off, but the John Elk and Whelp fires are in the BWCA. The FS is going to close the Louse River, so that route on my map is off for now. John Elk is in the area of some of those routes too. Unfortunately with so many resources being thrown at the Greenwood fire, they may not do as much as they otherwise would on the W and JE fires. No one knows what the situation might be like in 2 weeks. I can’t even remember what was happening 2 weeks ago with all these fires popping up and going out.
 
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