2006 BWCA Kawishiwi Lake to Fishdance Lake Pictographs
Put in on Kawishiwi Lake (EP37) a little after 9 am and it was clear but pretty windy for so early. We were self-outfitted and paddling the Souris River Quetico 16 canoe that I bought used from an Ely outfitter. We paddled up Kawishiwi at a good pace and then encountered low water in the marshy river section before and after Square Lake. (Water levels were LOW everywhere on this trip and made for some difficult paddling in weedy water channels, many troublesome put-ins and take-outs, and some portage “extensions.”)
With only six days to work with, this very slow-going start was disappointing, since I had hoped to push all the way to Malberg Lake – or at least Koma – on day one. It was sunny all day with lots of clouds around midday. We only saw one group of four while we were on the move through Kawishiwi-Square-Kawasachong -Townline. The roughly 180r portage from Kawasachong to Townline was an up then gradual downhill carry that was no problem. Townline Lake (pond) was a 10-minute paddle.
Saw wolf tracks in the mud north of Townline Lake. The heavily worn 90r portage, which can have mud holes, was dry from end to end, so you only had to worry about the rocky decline at the Polly end. We saw others around as we paddled, but had no trouble finding a campsite at around 3 pm. (Site 1074, I think.)
By around 8 pm the sky was perfectly clear and the water calm. This site was nice, with three tent pads (one private), easy docking, a place to bath or swim, fishing from shore, and almost perfect tarp-rigging trees/logs. Joe fished and we had supper and a small fire this evening. Today was a tiring one, but on the plus side, we saw several eagles, one loon(close-up), gray jays, and very few bugs.
Day 2, Tuesday, August 22:
Early skies were clear at Polly, it was quite cool and I needed my vest briefly. Left just before 9 am after some slow packing. Got a little confused in north Polly, missed the exit and had to backtrack. Saw lots of wolf tracks at the (nominally 9r) portage north to Kawishiwi River. Met four guys from south Wisconsin on the portage into Koma Lake. Portage was up and down and seemed longer than marked on map, but not difficult.
We paddled up Koma Lake where I’d read that the Malberg portage “follows an interesting rapids” with a huge glacial erratic in it. The rapids were dry and the huge boulder the size of a garage called out for a photo to be taken. After pictures and a snack break, we paddled up Malberg Lake past an unoccupied campsite that sits high on a rock ledge and on to second to the last campsite and ate lunch there. Four people in two canoes headed north and one other canoe came by while we were eating.
Had to carry our stuff past the normal take-out at the northwest Malberg exit due to low water. (More on this later.) Saw a fisher on the shore past the Kawishiwi River put-in. We stopped to look at a campsite on the right, heading west, but decided to go on and took the open site on the point where the river bends south and an arm goes north toward Trapline Lake.
This was really nice site with large glacial boulders at back of main area and a great view to south and good views to east and west. (Site 1037, was rated 3.5 stars in the Fall 2008 BWJ.) Saw more eagles and loons again today. Joe fished from shore again here, catching some small stuff. Again we had no bug problems.
Day 3, Wednesday, August 23:
Got up at about seven on another beautiful morning. We decided to take a layover/side trip day here, rather than moving on. I was concerned that with already losing almost half a day we should go no further than this. Left camp at 9 am for Fishdance Lake to see the pictographs. We had calm water and easy paddling most of way. We passed a solo paddler, but otherwise enjoyed complete solitude.
Arriving at the pictograph area, there were several other canoes paddling nearby. After paddling up close and taking some photos of the pictographs, we found a shady spot for a floating snack. We thought about paddling on down Fishdance to my 1995 solo campsite, but it was getting pretty warm so we headed back north.
We had solitude again paddling back to camp, but I wrenched my lower back at the one short portage. (Had been having lower back issues before leaving home.) We arrived back at camp a little after noon and I fixed a clam chowder recipe using Knorrs leek soup mix. (See recipe at end of report.)
After I had tried unsuccessfully to take a nap, I paddled Joe up the arm towards the Trapline portage to fish. His rod tip, which was already cracked, broke completely. No Fish. It got breezy and we started seeing some weird gray skies so we collected some water and hurried back to camp. We expected rain, and were prepared for it, but none came our way.
After treating some water and getting rehydrated, I cooked chili-mac with turkey wieners added – messy, but good. Cleaned up, and put on a heat wrap for back pain. Joe continued to fish, left-handed, using my gear. Thankfully, it got cooler towards evening. Saw another bald eagle and more loons today. Later, the skies cleared and we decided to stay up late. We sat by the water and were wowed by the Milky Way – an awesome experience! Great day!
Day 4, Thursday, August 24:
Broke camp on the Kawishiwi River site and headed east back towards Malberg Lake. As we approached the take-out for NW Malberg, I forgot that when coming the other way we had carried far past the normal landing because of the shallow water and mud. So, we paddle too far and got stuck and had to get out of the canoe in muck that we could hardly move in! We were probably less than two canoe lengths from solid ground but had to struggle, sweat (and swear) to get there.
We stopped on a nice rock shore for a snack and some water, then paddled leisurely on Malberg, heading for a campsite that I had heard about to check it out and have lunch there. (Fall 2008 BWJ 4.5 stars rating) This is a really nice site with a nice beach and we enjoyed it while we stretched and then had our lunch. After our foil-packaged tuna and mayo on pitas, we headed south for the portage out to Koma. The weather began to change, getting windy and looking threatening. After portaging into Koma where the wind was kicking things up, we decided to head for one of the nearby campsites (1062 or maybe 1061).
We landed there and decided to stay rather than paddling on. This ugly campsite had no amenities and not even a decent view. After we put the tent up the weather started looking better and this was good because the site had NO trees that could have been used for a kitchen tarp. After our supper, I searched for a long while before finding a barely decent food-hanging tree. (I may have blocked out any other memories of this campsite, and mentally kicked myself for not staying on Malberg.)
Day 5, Friday, August 25:
Fitting the mood of this campsite, the day dawned gray and gloomy. We slept late, had breakfast and then broke camp and leisurely paddled and portaged south. We actually could have paddled all the way in from here, so there was no real hurry. Leaving Koma, the portage seemed even longer that it had a few days earlier. Polly was not very pretty today, and it seemed like folks had either left, or were hiding as we passed through.
Even the wildlife seemed to be hiding as we saw very few compared to other days. We did see a grouse just off the trail on a portage south of Polly and were able to get a picture of it, though. I guess it thought its camouflage made it invisible. Even though it was overcast and gray, we got a few more pictures along the way in an area that we had more or less ignored coming in. Before long we had arrived at Kawasachong, which seemed like a good place to make our final camp, since that would leave only the weedy "river" and tiny Square Lake to paddle before Kawishiwi and our exit.
We found a decent campsite and set up. This low, open site spans a point with the main lake in front and a small cove behind, and rocks for sitting or fishing from. (This site – 1017 – had had bear problems, but I did not know this at the time.) After getting the tent up, I took a nap while Joe fished and caught some small pike.
After we had eaten our supper and cleaned up, a canoe came by heading south and we wondered if they were heading for a campsite or going to portage out. It did not appear that they were just out fishing, and it was very late to be without a place to sleep! Joe made a small fire and as we sat and watched it die we heard wolves howl somewhere in the distance behind camp.(south) Later there were answering calls across the water and far to the north! Again, staying up until after dark, the bugs did not bother us.
Day 6, Saturday, August 26:
We broke camp with the weather clearing up again, and headed south on our final day. I enjoyed the leisurely paddle back through the low water and weeds towards Square and Kawishiwi Lakes, because this time we were in no hurry. (It’s all in your attitude, as they say.) Kawishiwi was beautiful this day and again we got very close to a loon. Surprisingly, for a Saturday there were few folks around on this last weekend in August.
We arrived at the landing all too soon (except for the wind beginning to pick up). By now, the sky was a deep clear blue. After we had loaded our gear – you can drive your vehicle right down to the water – and tied on the canoe, Joe contacted home to let folks know we were “back in the world.” We drove over to Sawbill Lake and bought a hot shower from the outfitter. Finally, we drove down to the north shore and stopped for real world food (bacon cheeseburgers, I think) at the Northwoods Café in Silver Bay.
The low water we encountered everywhere was a real drag (pun intended). Overall the weather was nice, bugs were not a problem, and winds were mostly favorable. We saw lots of wildlife! (eagle, grouse, martin, gray jay, loon) Polly Lake was beautiful and is a real jewel and you can see why it is so popular. What we saw of sprawling Malberg Lake was nice also, and seemed considerably less busy.
The Kawishiwi River from Malberg all the way to Fishdance is underrated, really more like a long skinny lake than a river, and we had it all to ourselves. The campsite on the point was great, and I guess the night we watched the stars is my fondest memory. (The memory of wolves howling is a close second.) My least fond memory is of being crotch deep in mud. I’d really like to do this trip (adding a few days, if possible) again when the water is higher. I could then go further, into the Trapline-Adams-Boulder area.
Note: This area has historically had off-and-on problems with bears (or with unclean campsites that attract them?) including 2006, but we saw no bears during our trip. On 08-16-2009 Sawtooth Outfitters reported that bears had been a problem on Square and Kawasachong lakes. On 05-29-2009 they reported that a large bear had been visiting campers on Lake Polly and they recommend you secure your food in that area, even on the portages.
Northwoods Café: http://local.yahoo.com/info-24335462-northwoods-cafe-silver-bay
Here is one variation of the recipe, which we were able to make using foil-packed clams. Later, in 2009, we were unable to find the foil clams and substituted crab.
Campfire Clam Chowder:
1 package Knorr Swiss Leek soup mix
2/3 cup instant potatoes
2/3 cup powdered milk
5 cups water
1 foil pouch of clams, including juice (original recipe said “canned clams”) Bacon bits (optional)
Mix all ingredients except bacon bits and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes or until done. Sprinkle bacon bits on top, if desired.