BWCA Insula-Adams-Thomas-Ensign considerations in high water? Boundary Waters Trip Planning Forum
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technically_rugged
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05/18/2022 11:16AM  
** title edited to reflect actual route, with post at the end of the thread with updates of this area **

Hey all, I've got a trip coming up in a little over 2 weeks up to Insula, Adams, Little Sag, and SAK. I'm wondering what we can expect in high water conditions in the Adams to Little Sag area. This is all based on what I've read, but I might be misremembering certain areas-

* Adams to Boulder can be a swampy slog in low water, but in high water we should be able to float right through most of it, right?

* The portage from Boulder to Ledge includes a pond of some sort - I can't remember if you're able to trudge through it in normal water levels or if it always has to be floated. Will we definitely be loading up the canoe and paddling a small section before unloading and finishing the portage?

* There is a beaver pond between Vee and Fee, but it seems like you normally don't have to paddle it, you just have to skirt the edge of it? Or does it normally have to be paddled? Are we also going to be paddling this one in high water?

* As for Agamok Falls and Eddy Falls, will those landings be hard to hit with high water? I know the Eddy side of Eddy Falls doesn't have a particularly large landing and we obviously want to make sure we don't go down those falls, so if we need to pull off early that's fine, but it might almost be tough to spot the landing if most of it is underwater (based on my memory of it). Same for Agamok but I haven't been there so I'm wondering if there will be any issues with the landing or if we just hug the west shore (going from Agamok to Mueller) and we won't have any issues?

Thanks for any and all input! -JD
 
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Michwall2
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05/18/2022 05:03PM  
If you are going from Insula through Alice to the River Lake, you are going to have problems before any of your questioned areas above. The Kawishiwi River Portages from Alice to River Lake are going to be hard to navigate to/find. At least the middle one has a small landing with no landing spot higher up and the water will be ripping through there. The little bit of normally quiet water in the middle, is not likely to be very quiet. The landing at the River Lake side will also likely be completely covered with water rushing by over the falls. Launching here could be treacherous.

The portage just up river from there will also likely be tough to navigate. You will want to look for a spur trail to take you well upriver from the normal put in. I have been through here in just a normal spring high water situation and it was not an easy spot to use on the up river side.

I also think you will want to take the longer portage into Little Sag from Elton Lake. Those two portages out the north end will likely be inundated with water.

You should have no trouble getting from Agamok to Mueller Lakes, but if you are going to visit Mueller Falls from the Kek Trail, I would be extremely careful. I have seen both high(er) and low water conditions on the falls and there is usually plenty of space blow the falls, but all bets are off this year. But there is no telling whether the bridge structural integrity has been compromised.

At Eddy Falls, there is not much difference between the level of the land at the portage and the edge of the falls. If there is water going over the portage, you may have to find a different way to SAK. (Kek ponds?) The SAK landing for that portage is not very high off the water either and may well be underwater and/or the water flowing over the portage edge will also flow out over the landing.

Given all that, you may want to skip the trip to Adams/Boulder and go north through Thomas and Fraser and head east through Shepo, Sagus and Roe. Or just head north through Kekakabic Lake to SAK.

The other thing to think about is the status of the beaver dams that keep the water levels high enough to paddle in many places. High water events like this tend to rearrange many parts of the landscape including those dams.

So many variables here.

technically_rugged
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05/18/2022 11:04PM  
Wow, thanks for the detail! Not what I wanted to hear but glad to have some more info to chew on. Here's the rub... Adams _is_ the destination. If not for Adams, and ideally Little Sag as well, we wouldn't be doing this route. We have already seen the Thomas area. Now if someone comes out of the Adams area a week from now and says it's a complete disaster, that would probably change our plans drastically.

Since we're ~2.5 weeks away, as long as there isn't a ton more rain, do you think there is potential for the water levels to drop a foot or so as all of the snowmelt dissipates? I feel like that isn't a realistic expectation but I would hope they would go down at least somewhat in that time period.

Maybe we will get to Insula, then check the portages from Alice to Fishdance and see how they are. If the landings are a mess and we're concerned about being able to launch without getting swept down the rapids, maybe we could just base camp on Alice. I mean, there are tons of low elevation landings all over the BWCA that would be much different in terms of appearance and logistics, if water was super high, so it's not like we'd be safe from high water problems going from Alice to Thomas/Ima/Ensign either.

I will make some notes for my friends and I and hopefully someone can chime in when we get closer to our date. I will also call some outfitters in the area to see if they have heard reports from paddlers on the state of our target area. Again, I really appreciate the information - at least with some better expectations we can devise a more informed plan.
05/18/2022 11:26PM  
Hey TR...good intel already provided, especially regarding the number of variables making it impossible to predict. Hopefully you reach your Adams/Boulder destination and have an awesome trip. Would love to hear how it goes as I plan to be in the area in late June. Safe travels!
technically_rugged
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05/31/2022 12:20PM  
Bumping this in case some folks have gotten back from this area and have some intel!
cyclones30
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05/31/2022 01:23PM  
Call some nearby outfitters or the ranger station(s) and I bet you'll get some current info. Pun intended
straighthairedcurly
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05/31/2022 01:33PM  
I didn't pass though your specific areas, but in general water levels have been dropping steadily though the latest rains are slowing the drop. Portages are much muddier than I have seen them in years. If traveling familiar areas, expect landings to look a bit different.

Hopefully someone can report on your specific route soon. I will be through there but not until mid-July.
Peregrine
 
05/31/2022 07:22PM  
Just got back from Little Sag on Saturday via Seagull-Ogish-Mueller-Agamok-Gabi-Rattle. You'll be fine now. We went in on the 21st and it was quite the adventure. But when we came out 6 days later the water levels had dropped tremendously and no problems at all. We couldn't reach the bridge on the Kek trail on our way in but we checked it out on our way back and it was fine and scenic and worth the side trip.
technically_rugged
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05/31/2022 10:47PM  
Peregrine: "Just got back from Little Sag on Saturday via Seagull-Ogish-Mueller-Agamok-Gabi-Rattle. You'll be fine now. We went in on the 21st and it was quite the adventure. But when we came out 6 days later the water levels had dropped tremendously and no problems at all. We couldn't reach the bridge on the Kek trail on our way in but we checked it out on our way back and it was fine and scenic and worth the side trip."

That's awesome news!! I was really looking forward to that area and seeing Mueller Falls so I'm glad to hear it's possible/safe now. Thanks so much for sharing!
technically_rugged
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06/13/2022 12:41PM  
Got back yesterday! We ended up adjusting our route to go west to Thomas instead of east to Little Sag.

We did not do a Fire Lake detour around the rapids from Lake Four to Hudson, and it was fine. They were moving, and there was a longer portage to take around some sort of double-rapids. A canoe from a Boy Scout troop swamped when trying to go past the inflow of the second rapids (after we warned them and told them to take the longer portage around), and the older guy in the canoe got stranded on a small island 50ft from shore. I think this might be the place that a BWCA.com member was separated from his father and had to be airlifted out. I was able to tie a rope to the kid who waded across the rapids to get the paddles and gear the older guy saved, but he slipped on the way back and we had to pull him until he was able to get footing again. He wanted to wade across without the rope... I wasn't having any of that and told him I would be tying the rope to him. Good thing I did. He went back for the guy and they both safely waded back. Somehow they didn't lose any gear and didn't get sent down the big rapids. Could have been a lot worse...

After this, on one of the two portages between between Alice and Fishdance, there was a sketchy landing where the inflow was so fast and close to the landing that you had to come right up on shore, fast, and quickly turn the canoe to avoid rocks and logs. You could also have gotten out in roughly thigh-deep water and lined the canoe up more safely if you aren't confident in your ability to quickly maneuver.

We were able to paddle past the first portage from River to Trapline, with a simple pullover, and wanted to try it for the second portage, but it was getting late in the day so we just portaged, thinking there might have been some log jams we couldn't see.

The Adams-Boulder area was passable. The first short portage was paddled past, but there was an extra little hop we had to do. The final portage into the creek section before Boulder was super muddy, like boot-stealing foot-deep muck. My friend almost lost his sandal in it. We paddled hard to get the canoe as far up to shore as possible, but ended up still having to pull the canoe another 10 feet in that muck. I've heard this area can be a slog in low water, and I believe it. It already wasn't exactly fun in high water.

The Boulder-Cap portage was not bad at all in terms of conditions, and the "intermittent water" in the middle of the portage is easy skirted around, with a well-worn trail on your left (coming from Boulder) once you get to the water. Once you cross the creek, DO NOT continue down the game trail - there is a steep rocky slope you will see on your right very soon after crossing the creek, which is the path to the T with the portage between Cap and Ledge. There is also a USFS sign heading to Ledge that says due to a wildfire/prescribed burn, the portage is closed, but I figured it was from the John Ek fire last year. I called the USFS this morning to confirm and let them know they really should take it down. The sign is not dated so you have no idea when it was put up, but we didn't see or smell any smoke and knew of the fire from last year, so if we had planned on going to Little Sag, we probably would have continued on.

The landing on Roe from Cap and the ensuing floating/suspended bog was a mess. We were dragging the stern in the silt/bog for a good quarter mile, lurching forward as we pushed as hard as possible to get free of it. I can't imagine what this would be like in a low water year.

All of the portages between Sagus and Splash were easy and straightforward. We were able to run the baby rapids from Ensign to Splash, specifically the right rapids (northern side) as they had less rocks, with only one to avoid. There was a clearly inexperienced group at the Splash side of the Newfound portage that took about 15 minutes to clear their canoes because their leader did not want them going near the outflow of the rapids. It's really not bad, you just need to stay right near the rocky shoreline and then cut left to avoid rocks and a submerged log on the left, to pull up on the bright beachy shore.

Bring a head net, plenty of picaridin, and a healthy dose of patience! The high water has generally made most things easier, I think, though some landings might be a bit smaller than normal.
06/13/2022 02:14PM  
Thank you, Technically Rugged, for the update and intel. Very helpful and gives me some insights into planning for my trip through the area next week. Glad you had a good trip!
technically_rugged
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06/13/2022 05:30PM  
YetiJedi: "Thank you, Technically Rugged, for the update and intel. Very helpful and gives me some insights into planning for my trip through the area next week. Glad you had a good trip!"

You bet Yedi! Hope it's a great trip!!

-JD
 
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