Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Poplar to Winchell
by Kevlar

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 08/14/2009
Entry & Exit Point: Lizz and Swamp Lakes (EP 47)
Number of Days: 5
Group Size: 6
Trip Introduction:
Raingear was very important on our loop trip from Poplar to Winchell and back. We had rain every day, but never while actually tripping. Evenings, afternoon fishing, layover day, nights all had rain one time or another, but the group never got down about it. Our group was made up of two well-seasoned guides, a father / son (13) and a 26 year old woman doing their second trips, and a rookie woman of retirement age.
Our trip started at 6:00 am in Minnetonka, where we all met, put personal gear into Duluth packs, and headed north. Breakfast was at Judy's Cafe in Two Harbors, delicious and inexpensive, as usual. No surprises picking up the permit, and we got reached Poplar Lake abut 12:30, paddling by 1:00. The father remarked within 20 minutes from start that his son was too strong in the I watched. The boy is strong, but he was angling the paddle at a slant, so his every stroke pushed the canoe sideways. A little lesson about keeping the paddle as vertical as possible, and some practice, and things improved a lot.

When we reached Caribou Lake, we thought about camping because it was about 85 and humid, but the lake was crawling with canoes (8 on one campsite!). We went on into Horseshoe, and met a group at the portage. They reported that almost every campsite on Winchell, all on Gaskin, and all on Horseshoe, were taken! We must have hit the last big weekend before the start of school. We decided to head west off the upper arm of Horseshoe, into the lesser used lakes (Allen, Pillsbury, Hensen), and after doing the rough little "watch every step" portage into Allen, we took the only campsite on the lake. We squeezed in, set up, had an early steak dinner, swam, and went meandering or fishing. The fishermen had lines cut by northerns and the meanderers saw ducks and beaver, up close. Then the rain arrived and we all turned in. 

Next day we paddled and portaged thru Pillsbury and Hensen, again rough, rocky lesser-used portages, and saw nobody camped and only one group on the water. We had our choice and took the best campsite on Omega. Again, set up, lunch, fish and meander, rain put us under the tarp and eventually to bed, listening to distant thunder.

Our layover day was very damp in the morning--great for coffee and pancakes, especially since we had blueberries to add. Then we portaged into Winchell and paddled a bit east to the cliff. We found the usual landing but didn't pick the right trail at start, and had to bushwhack up to the top. The view is great on a clear day, and very interesting on a cloudy, misty day. Our three older campers watched their footing very carefully and had no scares. We found the trail going is much closer to the base of the cliff. Just as we paddled away the rain started, and continued off and on all afternoon and evening. Our 13 year old caught several bass and northern late in the afternoon, and we had a great fish and beans and rice dinner.

Next day, we had to reach Caribou or Horseshoe, and we wanted to see Winchell, and the wind was with us. About a 10 mph wind pushed us down the lake in about an hour, and we took a campsite on Caribou. We could have had any campsite but one on Winchell, all but one on Gaskin, any on Horseshoe, and almost any on Caribou. The rain arrived in the late afternoon and really pounded down for a while.

Water levels were high for this late in the season, we saw no big animals but many moose tracks on the back lakes, and many droppings on the back side of the cliff on Winchell, which must be a winter feeding area for the moose. Our group really worked well, participated in all the work and activities, and it was a good rip in spite of the weather.