Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Moose River to LLC and Iron, near-tragedy on Agnes
by Kevlar

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 06/17/2010
Entry & Exit Point: Moose/Portage River (north) (EP 16)
Number of Days: 6
Group Size: 9
Trip Introduction:
Account of trip to LLC and Iron, with description of macho-men trying to drown on Agnes.
Our group of 9 met at Minnetonka City Hall at 6:00 am: two men guides and one camper in their 60s, a father and 15 year old son, and four women from late 20s to mid 40s. Four had tripped with us before and three were rookies. We had breakfast on Hy 53 at the cafe in Cotton (good food-big servings-cheap), picked up the permit, and were at the Moose R. north parking lot at 1:00. Did a bit of instruction on picking up packs (ears and big straps) and canoes, and hit the portage. On the water did some demonstrating of the draw stroke, due to so many tight turns on the river. Reached Nina Moose Lake by 3:15, and made for Agnes. The weather was muggy and a storm finally caught us, just short of Agnes. We spent 1.5 hours waiting out thunder-lightning-wind, moving a bit hugging shore, sitting it out, emptying the canoes of water--quite the intro to the rookies. We took the first open campsite on the west side, just past the first point and just north of the portage to Oyster...a slab landing with boulders lined up on it. There are two good tentsites and we found two other flat spots, and set the tarp up among the way to do so over the kitchen. Then we skipped on the fire and fried our steaks in the pan...very good dinner at 8:30. The rain continued.

The weather channel on our walkie-talkie said sustained winds of 30 mph on Friday, with gusts to 45...later upped to 55. They were right. Whitecaps were marching down the lake, south to north, by 8:00 am...only 3 kayaks and one canoe made it out going south. Only one group went north, at about 8:30. It was a warm, sunny day...we read, ate, napped, hiked a bit until the big tree fell across the latrine trail. And then about 2:00 the macho men arrived...three canoes came around the point to the south, riding the whitecaps right down the middle of the lake. Agnes is about 3.5 miles long, and they weren't more than .5 miles down the lake when two of the three capsized. The third knew they couldn't help, and headed to our shore. One swamped pair stayed with their canoe, but the other pair split, one with the canoe for a while and one swam off, chasing a pack as it turned out. We watched them try to swim their canoes and pack ashore for over 1.5 hours...three had life jackets on now, but pack rider did not. We knew we couldn't help them...another canoe out there would have meant two more people swimming. They finally all made it to shore...pack rider was a skinny/wiry 16 year old who was suffering from beginning hypothermia. We put him on a warm rock, got his shirt off, and made him drink some hot chocolate. His father, the leader, was so hyped about the event he and the other men couldn't seem to understand the kid was in trouble. They had seen people walking their canoes along Nina-Moose Lake, but said "Let's go for it!" and when they reached Agnes, with NO LIFEJACKETS ON, tried it again. The kid recovered, they found the lost canoe, and only lost one pack with a tent and sleeping bags. For over an hour I thought we would watch somebody drown and be helpless to save them, and I am just amazed at their stupidity.

The rest of our trip was fairly uneventful...took a great campsite in Tiger Bay on Saturday, daytripped about 20 miles on Sunday, seeing Iron Lake, very muddy Bottle Portage, lunching at Curtain Falls, and seeing the pictographs in the evening, after a swim and dinner. Fishermen at the falls told us of catching a 28" and a 30" walleye that morning, just below the main drop. They took pics and released them. Our 15 year old caught a walleye and northern, providing us with a fresh fish dinner...and Dad was proud.

Our last night we camped on the poison ivy campsite on Nina-Moose...from the north, the first campsite on the east. Tent sites for five tents, poor landing, lots of erosion, lots of poison ivy, two resident deer, and no longer an eagle nest tree in back. And it rained off and on from 2:30 to into the dark. Next day, 2 hours and 15 minutes from camp to the parking lot.

Several general points: Water levels high on Moose River, but low coming over Curtain falls. Campsites were available on Iron and in Tiger Bay...not too crowded yet. Every member of the group portaged a canoe at least once, and one young woman took one nonstop on the 160 rod. The pictographs seem even more faded. And the one otter we saw did not put on a show. It is still a thrill to see someone enjoy the BW for the first time.