BWCA Kawishiwi Lake or Sawbill on 5/24 Boundary Waters Trip Planning Forum
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      Kawishiwi Lake or Sawbill on 5/24     
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05/19/2022 10:17PM  
I have a permit to enter at EP 37 Kawishiwi Lake next Tuesday. My original plan - you know, back in February - was to head up through Adams/Boulder to Ledge to Makwa and back out through Kawishiwi. However, having been through this EP and up to Adams before, I'm having second thoughts about tackling this with the high waters.

As of this evening, there are permits available for entry at Sawbill on Tuesday. So now I'm debating between keeping Kawishiwi or swapping to Sawbill.

Any thoughts (or updates on?) on the high water paddling between Kawishiwi Lake and Polly and then north of there?

Thoughts on swapping to Sawbill and hanging out in Alton, Kelso, and Sawbill?

I'm a low-key tripper: paddle, explore, read, watch nature, and nap. I had hoped for a more physical, moving every day, trip this time, but I'd be okay swapping that for a safer experience.

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distinguished member(1265)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
05/20/2022 07:51AM  
You will definitely find less moving water throughout the Sawbill, Kelso, Alton area. You might consider even heading to Grace or Phoebe Lakes. The falls heading out of Grace to Phoebe should be spectacular. (The portage end on Grace headed to Phoebe is kind of close to the lip of the falls. Carefull here.)

I am thinking through the Kawishiwi loop you planned. You will find lots of moving water there. Your trip from Kawishiwi through Square lake should be unremarkable. There is a beaver dam as you leave Square Lake heading north. You might be able to paddle over that one. There were a couple other beaver dams to pull over before you reach Kawasachong Lake. There is a large one only a few hundred yards before you reach Kawasachong. You used to be able to portage either side (river left had less mud the last time we were through). High water status? Don't know. It may act as a low head dam in very high water so caution is warranted.

Travel from Kawasachong through Lake Polly should be OK. High water will help you on the small pond in between I think. Lake Polly should not be a problem.

High water on the ponds between Polly and Koma should help matters. Although you may find portions of these portages underwater. There is a little section of river as you enter Koma Lake. This may be more problematic on your way out. There is normally current in this spot heading into the lake. The normal portage end has a nice rock shelf, but most of it must be under water now. In very high water, it may be tough to get in an out of the boat here due to currents.

The portage ends between Koma and Malberg are the most worrisome to me. The upriver one is very close to the lip of the falls. The down river side will most certainly be raging with no choice to avoid some very strong currents into Malberg.

The west portage out of Malberg has had a beaver pond in the middle for the last many years. You could walk it with water between ankle and calf depth. You may need to float that small section now. The River Lake side will be much easier with high water. It is usually very muddy in normal to lower water levels.

I can't speak to your route to Adams/Boulder or over to Makwa.

From Makwa to back south to River Lake should not be a problem. The only part I haven't covered coming back south is reentry into Malberg from the northeast. Normally, the little canyon is kind of tricky with a strongly tilted rock face to use for exit/entry of canoe. Now with a lot more water rushing through there and not much rock face to use, this could be a very tricky spot. I am not sure about paddling around to the southwest portage on River Lake as there is another portage around a rapids in there that I have never traveled.

Could your original loop be done? Probably. But with some high caution a particular spots. Maybe some bushwhacking to start portaging away from a few strategic portage ends.

Normally, I would suggest the Lady Lakes route instead, but I am pretty sure there are spots in that route that are impassable now. (e.g. There is a narrows between Knight and Phoebe Lakes that will have too strong a current to travel up.)
05/21/2022 07:13AM  
Thanks, Michwall2. The Koma-Malberg and Kawishiwi River areas are definitely the places that I am most concerned about, and I had not considered the possible changes south end of Koma. I appreciate you thinking through the route with me!
distinguished member(3895)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
05/21/2022 12:20PM  
Should be no big deal to Polly other than beaver dam maybe.

Between Polly and Koma is along the river/stream but shouldn't be too bad. Same with the short one from Koma to Malberg. It'll be rushing around the giant boulder in the river but you should be able to put in into an eddy there and be fine
member (18)member
05/23/2022 12:08PM  
I went from Kawishiwi Lake to Polly on 5/14. The high waters allowed us to skip the two portages out of Square, but the flow over the beaver dam before Kawasachong was absolutely rocking. It was about a 4 foot drop down on the other side. We couldn't go around on the south side due to the flooding so we ended up having to bushwhack around on the north side (unless we missed something). Wasn't easy, but doable. Hopefully the water has dropped a bit and you could just go around on the south side like normal.

Can't speak north of Polly, as we headed east back to Sawbill through the Phoebe.
member (18)member
05/23/2022 12:16PM  
Michwall2: "
Normally, I would suggest the Lady Lakes route instead, but I am pretty sure there are spots in that route that are impassable now. (e.g. There is a narrows between Knight and Phoebe Lakes that will have too strong a current to travel up.)

This was the most troublesome part of our trip that we did on 5/14-5/17. The flooding in that area didn't give us an opportunity to line the canoes through this. We also couldn't find a decent spot to bushwhack around it, since it's very thick forest right there. We ended up wading in the thigh/waist high water and pulling the canoes through for a small portion of it. Otherwise we were able to paddle through most of it without any trouble. We didn't seem to have any other option at the time and thankfully we just took it slow and everything worked out.
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