BWCA First Impressions - 8/5-8/14/22 Boundary Waters Group Forum: Wabakimi
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      First Impressions - 8/5-8/14/22     



member (11)member
08/24/2022 12:37PM  
Our group:

Our group of six (my wife and I and our 16-year-old daughter and another couple and their 18-year-year old daughter) looped out of Little Caribou from August 5 to 14, 2022. The details are below. The six of us have paddled together in the BWCA and Quetico almost every summer since the girls were very little. One of our friends had previously twice paddled in Wabakimi more than 25 years ago. Wabakimi was new to the rest of us. My wife and I paddled in WCPP/Atikaki before our daughter was born but had not tripped outside of the BWCA/Quetico since then. When we started this trip, our daughter was just six nights back from a 27-day trip from Red Lake to Bloodvein 12.

First impressions:

Our loop was full of contrasts. On one hand, even recognizing that we chose to take a very well-traveled route, we were surprised at the ways in which Wabakimi felt a little less wild than we expected. As described below, over the course of our loop, we encountered six canoeing groups and a solo paddler in addition to numerous motorboats on Smoothrock, Whitewater, and Caribou. We eventually had a 72-hour period without seeing anybody (if heavy float plane traffic onto and off of Smoothrock is excluded). By contrast, my daughter reports that over her 27-day trip in WCPP/Atikaki in June and July, they encountered just two groups. We understood we would be traveling near several lodges and outposts but were surprised by the how many cached boats we discovered at portages and how many shore-lunch campsites we stumbled across (four I think, but I feel like I’m forgetting one) with picnic tables, propane stoves and grills, skillets, memorial plaques, etc. We also encountered fewer of certain animals than have generally seen elsewhere. Of course, we encountered loons, eagles, waterfowl, seagulls, beavers, squirrels and chipmunks, toads and frogs, etc. but all at lower densities than we are used to seeing. We did not see any otters or turtles.

On the other hand, in other ways, Wabakimi’s wildness exceeded our expectations. There is a bigness about this wilderness that is beguiling. The Ogoki river’s wide tumble into Whitewater Lake is truly majestic and paddling the open water of Whitewater with a stiff wind and building swell at our backs was an unforgettable experience. The swifts, rapids, and falls of the Berg River also impressed us in this high-water August. We had gone years since our last encounter with a moose, so it was wonderful to see three of them on this trip. My fleeting glimpse of a caribou was icing on the cake. Needless to say, I am already considering options for our next trip to Wabakimi.

Details of our loop:

For our group, the Little Caribou put in was the obvious choice for a first trip in Wabakimi. With three canoes and looming college tuition, access by float plane was out of the question. As the primary trip planner, I also knew our group would have little patience for the vagaries of the train schedule, or a middle-of-the-night drop off.

Friday August 5, 2022 – We paddled 24.8 km from Little Caribou to a campsite on the Caribou River outlet of Caribou Lake. We had good weather and a moderate-to-strong crosswind/tailwind on Caribou Lake. A mild thunderstorm rolled through around dinner time and quickly passed. We didn’t see anybody all day until we passed a small group camped about a mile before we stopped for the day. Another canoe paddled past as we pulled up to our campsite and gave us some helpful information about the Berg River.

Saturday August 6, 2022 – Another canoe paddled past headed east while we were still eating breakfast, we paddled 15.6 km down the Caribou River to Caribou Bay of Smoothrock, all in a fierce headwind out of the west. The wind and waves at the relatively small open crossing at the intersection of Caribou and Funger Bays were hairy enough that we were only able to safely get across by ducking around the north side of the large island there. We camped about halfway down Caribou Bay after fighting the wind for every inch of progress west. A canoe passed us heading east in the evening. Sunset was spectacular.

Sunday August 7, 2022 – We paddled 22.9 km on mill-pond smooth water across Smoothrock to a small island site on the north end of Outlet Bay. In the morning, we passed a medium-sized group camped on the second site east of the main body of Smoothrock. The main body of Smoothrock was teaming with motorboats (at least 4-6, trying not to count the same boats twice) as we passed through. We stopped on an island site for lunch and picked about a liter and a half of blueberries to eat for desert that evening. We didn’t see anybody the rest of that day after we headed up Outlet Bay. We enjoyed another really good sunset that evening.

Monday August 8, 2022 – With perfect weather, we ran the Berg and Ogoki Rivers to Whitewater (24.7 km) where we camped at the site just north of the southern mouth of the Ogoki. We ran into a two-canoe group as we put into the Berg, but otherwise did not see anybody all day, although there were sounds of mechanized life at Whitewater Lodge on the western end of the lake while we camped. We saw two cow moose on the Berg. River levels seemed high for August, with few sand beaches and no sandbars exposed on either river.

Tuesday August 9, 2022 – We were on the water about 8:45ish with a moderate tailwind out of the southwest which built in intensity as we ran east with it all the way to the northern-most part of the lake. We stayed out in the main body of the western part of the lake until Love Island, at which point, although we were having fun surfing the building rollers, it was beginning to feel like we were rolling the dice. We found calmer waters north of the islands. We ran the wide swift just west of Caribou Island and then paddled into and across the wind straight south down the bay on the west side of Bill’s Rock. We then padded east to a campsite on the southern shore about 2.9 km northwest of the Beckwith cabins. Along the way, I caught a two-second glimpse of a caribou on a small sand beach on the southern shore. By the time I directed everyone’s attention to the beach, it was gone. The wind hammered out of the northwest all afternoon and evening eventually building a sizeable swell with wide breakers. We did not see any canoes all day but did see and hear four motorboats over the course of the day. 20.8 km for the day.

Wednesday August 10, 2022 – The wind was still howling out of the northwest when we woke up, so we decided to take a layover day. After a complicated and satisfying breakfast, as we were discussing whether or not it would be safe to paddle to and from the Beckwith cabins, two guys paddled right past our campsite, hugging the shore just feet off the rocks and told us that around the point just a few hundred meters to the west it was much calmer all the way down the lake to the “center of the universe” and back. Our day trip was about 5.8 km.

Thursday August 11, 2022 – At 30.9 km, this was our longest day. With much gentler winds out of the northwest, we paddled and portaged through McKinley Lake to the campsite furthest west on Lonebreast Bay of Smoothrock. It took us 30 minutes in the tall lake grass and muskeg to find the one long portage (instead of the three shorter portages) out of Whitewater. The portages were in reasonably good condition, with a few downed trees beyond the length of our saws and some closing-in undergrowth. Just after portaging into Lonebreast, we stopped and watched a cow moose, in up to her haunches, munching aquatic vegetation. We did not see anybody all day.

Friday August 12, 2022 – We had a leisurely day, paddling about 16.8 km to a campsite at the narrows west of Funger. We did not see any people on the ground or water all day, although the float plane traffic onto and off of Smoothrock was very heavy in the morning.

Saturday August 13, 2022 – We paddled and portaged 21.9 km to the northern-most campsite on Little Caribou in good weather and calm winds. In the morning, we briefly talked to a solo paddler headed down the Caribou River. We saw four or five fast powerboats on Caribou, but no other paddlers. Slow moving thunderstorms rolled in after we set up camp and had a swim, but just before dinner. The storms gave us enough warning that we were able to string up a couple of CCS tarps and enjoy our last dinner on the trail out of the rain.

Sunday August, 14, 2022 – We savored our last 9.5 km of paddling and took out at the Caribou road bridge a little after 11 a.m. We did not see anybody until we got to the takeout.

Trip total: 193.7 km.

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08/24/2022 02:04PM  
Sounds like a great introductory trip to the area. If you go farther away from your well traveled route on future trips, be sure to bring saws for portages which will need some work before you can pass through. Welcome to Wabakimi.
member (11)member
08/26/2022 12:58PM  
deerfoot: "on future trips, be sure to bring saws for portages which will need some work before you can pass through. Welcome to Wabakimi."


We were carrying three saws, ranging up to 21 inches. The only portages we encountered that needed any clearing were the ones in between Whitewater and Lonebreast Bay, where the circumference of the downed trees exceeded the capabilities of our saws.

The saws did come in handy to clear already-established tent pads in a couple of the campsites we stayed in.
distinguished member(2465)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
08/26/2022 09:01PM  
I had a pretty similar experience when I was there 6 or 7 years ago. We only saw a few canoes, but we saw lots of motor boats, shore lunch spots, and "Wabakimi portage markers" (overturned aluminum boats). We were especially dismayed to take a long, grueling portage into Grayson Lake and then watch a plane land and discharge passengers into a large, deluxe lakeside cabin. Ok, maybe it's a delusion, but if you work hard and take those long grueling portages in say the Quetico you're going to be rewarded with a sense of remoteness. It's a different mindset in Wabakimi.
senior member (78)senior membersenior member
08/30/2022 12:14PM  
I can agree with the number of people up there now. We went out from the 6th thru the 17th of August. Started our route (just my son and I) on Burntrock with nasty whitecaps and headwinds and ended on Tamarack 12 days later. From all the talk about how remote Wabakimi is, we started running into people as soon as we got to Whitewater Lake. After paddling all day to get to the "World Class" site on top of Whitewater we were dismayed to find the site taken. No big loss as we paddled east and found a great site on the northern shore just before Whitewater opens up. Saw another couple on the Ogiki rapids into Whitewater and no one else until Outlet Bay and Smoothrock - Think we say 7 people there. Lots of boat traffic on Smoothrock and Tamarack. All in all, it's much less than I've seen in other parks, and glad we did the trip. I envy you going down the Berg and Ogiki. Paddling up those with headwinds was a pain in the butt! Rivers we're running high and fast.
08/31/2022 09:47AM  
Whitewater Lk has at least 2 multi-cabin resorts where we stopped on a trip in 2008. Through 12 yrs of Wabakimi area trips we have come across many outpost cabins. I assume many existed before the park was established and later expanded. What did surprise me was seeing fishing boats on some sections of the Albany Rv in August. But an outfitter told me the Albany is considered a world class sport fishery.

So you will encounter people in the area particularly earlier in the season and evidence of people. We always viewed the fly-in fisherman as a good source of cold beer. Many times they would approach us curious about our trip.
08/31/2022 04:40PM  
I think Wabakimi is very similar to what the boundary waters was like in the 1960s and early 70s. I kind of like that.
2022 could be a bit of an outlier since the demand for North Woods fishing has been pent up for a few years.
We saw 3 other canoes (a solo and a party of a solo and tandem) in our early August trip this year. That is more than I saw in 2011, 15 and 16 combined.
And the fly in resorts on the west side of the park were active this August.
In 2015 and 16 the fly ins were not really active in August.
But I don't think I will live long enough to see a day when one cannot find a campsite on just about any lake in the park.
distinguished member(542)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
09/02/2022 11:33PM  
So your post has me thinking big time! I’m in planning phase now after 27 days tripping this summer and I’m a serious planner!!!

Debating on next years pushing a little deeper into the wilderness trip. I realize Wabakimi is huge. Challenge I have is I can work hard to paddle and portage to a lake with an outfitters cabin and a whole bunch of people that just flew in. That would suck! Upside is we can fly in anywhere and get flown out anywhere as long as we’re willing to pay for it. I plan these trips all year and I’m not exactly frugal when it comes to these trips I just want them to have the best chance of being epic and awesome.

Debating on Wabakimi and Woodland Caribou for next year. Woodland Caribou had a huge portion burn last year though.

Planning on doing one Southern entry Quetico trip next year and one other trip further north. We had an epic Quetico trip this year with 6 solid days of not seeing another Quetico paddling group most likely due to the southern closure.

I’m/we’re going to do both WCPP and Wabakimi at some point just gnawing on what to do next. My exploring push the boundaries trip partner is 17 and will be going into post high school education next summer so I have to work more around his summer schedule. My sense is Wabakimi is easier to reach and easier to enter and your post speaks to what I was sensing.

member (11)member
09/09/2022 11:51AM  
jcavenagh: 2022 could be a bit of an outlier since the demand for North Woods fishing has been pent up for a few years.

I agree.

It seems likely there was increased demand from canoeists this summer also, in light of the slow/late reinstatement of the RABC program and opening of the southern Quetico entry points and in light of the recent burns in WCPP/Atikaki. Ours certainly weren't the only vehicles around Armstrong/Little Caribou with MN plates. Clem Quenville also told us that his business really picked up with the Quetico closure last summer. It seems reasonable to expect that some of the paddlers that made first trips to Wabakimi during the last two seasons will be back in future seasons. So, outlier or the new normal? Maybe somewhere in between.

member (11)member
09/09/2022 12:19PM  
Gaidin53: "So your post has me thinking big time! . . . . we can fly in anywhere and get flown out anywhere as long as we’re willing to pay for it. I plan these trips all year and I’m not exactly frugal when it comes to these trips I just want them to have the best chance of being epic and awesome. Ryan "

Just for planning purposes, you might want to know that as soon as we'd paddled 500m from the put in, Little Caribou felt every bit as wild to us as much of the park, and more wild than those portions of the park much further from any roads, but close to lodges and outposts. Caribou also felt wild on our way in on Friday 8/5, as we saw no motor boats, canoes, or buildings.

Of course, for the last day-and-a-half of our trip, we were retracing the route we had taken into Smoothrock. For a first trip to Wabakimi, we really didn't mind.

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