Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Malberg and Back
by wcummin1

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 08/05/2010
Entry & Exit Point: Kawishiwi Lake (EP 37)
Number of Days: 5
Group Size: 2
Trip Introduction:
Couple guys looking to fish, relax, and sing fireside karaoke
Instead of the usual trip report style that follows a sequential order, I am going recount my trip in a stream of conscious, channeling my inner Hemmingway. Pictures will be added later, for I want to write this while the trip is still fresh. Karaoke

The Details:

My friend, RJ, and I departed Superior, Wisconsin on Thursday afternoon with the goal of camping at the Kawishiwi campground. On Friday, we would head for Malberg and base camp for a couple of days. We would stay at Polly or Kawasachong on the way out.

The Outfitter:

Neither of us had ever used an outfitter before, so we weren’t sure what to expect. We had reserved a Bell Northwind and a 30 liter bear barrel from Sawtooth Outfitters. All things considered, it was a great experience. The people were extremely helpful, and I would suggest them to anybody that is entering on the Sawbill. On a side note, the lady at the counter told me a funny story. A man stopped in right before us and asked for his canoe. Not having his name in their reservations, the lady told him to double check his reservations. Upon his review, he realized that he had accidentally reserved his canoe through Sawbill Outfitters…not Sawtooth Outfitters. While this normally wouldn’t be a huge deal, he was entering on Saganaga. His simple mix-up added 200 miles to his trip.

The Trip to Malberg:

We woke up to a very thick fog. We stood at the shores of Kawishiwi, pondering whether or not the fog was navigable. Ultimately, we decided to tempt disaster and dip our paddles in the cool, clean waters. Though we eventually made it across Kawishiwi, we explored a couple of back bays….all part of the adventure, right? The rest of the trip was rather uneventful. Most groups chose not to challenge the fog, so we didn’t see anybody till Polly. We made it to Malberg in a shade over five hours…not bad for a couple young guys in a royalex. In regards to our royalex, the further we went, the more Kevlars we saw. Apparently, they are easier to portage (sarcasm).

Fishing on Malberg:

Before our trip, I did a lot of research on finding a base camp with the best fishing potential. Malberg defentitly seemed to fit the bill-- we were not disappointed. In the day and a half we fished, we caught around 20 eater Walleyes, couple nice pike, two FAT sunnies, and 1,523,294 smallies. All the Walleyes were caught on spinners.

Failed Attempt to Reach Record Lake:

We had our hearts set on fishing Record Lake. The thought of fishing a lake that sees only a couple lures a year haunted us, driving us to paddle faster. When we reached the entrance to Record Creek, we were greeted with a muddy creek bed that could swallow a human. Dejected, we walked back to Malberg, kicking rocks like a couple of 4 years. Trolling back to camp, the million 10 inch smallies we caught compounded our deflation. We decided to fish our “lucky” spot on the north east arm to qualm our frustration. Interested by the sound of rapids, we decided to walk the portage from Malberg to the Kawishiwi River. As it usually goes, things got worse. The dark clouds that floated in the sky broke open when we reached the end of the portage. In a strange twist of faith, our faith was restored. If anybody has been on this portage, they can attest to the beauty of this place. The rapids are flanked by a steep rock face. The cold rain that fell on our face only heightened the awe we felt. We merely stood there, marveling at the splendor.

Leeches vs. Crawlers:

On the way up the Kawishiwi, RJ and I had a friendly argument about the best presentation on a spinner. I bought a pound of leeches, and RJ bought four dozen crawlers. The results are inconclusive.


Water. Water. Water…This was a major element of our trip. This was my first August trip. Before this trip, I had only gone during May. In cavemen talk……cold water-good, warm water-bad. No matter how much water we drank, our thirst was never really quenched. Needless to say, we spent a couple minutes around the fire each night dreaming out loud about the 44 oz Mountain Dew we were going to buy at the Holiday.


After reading the reviews, we decided to bring a liter of Everclear and planned to mix it with some powered cranberry mix. The effects of said alcohol resulted in the quote of the trip…“Dude, EC is sneaky; I’m sucking drunk.”


Before I discuss the food, I have to comment on the bear barrel. I really liked the practicality of the barrel. It was nice not worrying about raising and lowering the barrel. We had plenty of room in the 30 L for all our food. The only drawback was the portaging performance. We had our hearts set on single portaging. The barrel, much lighter than our packs, never really sat right on the front. We were extremely happy about our food selection. We had cheese, salami, and bagel sandwiches for lunch…absolutely delicious. Our decision to take shells and cheese (thanks to Bumabu) was a great one. The best meal of the trip was the Shore lunch wild rice soup we had on our last night. If you see this at your local grocery store, buy it.

Inability to Detach From the Modern World:

People go to the Boundary Waters to get away from the rat race. Sadly, we had a hard time doing this. Please don’t get me wrong…we are not a bunch pansies (PC term for what I want to put). We both grew up in the country, fishing, hunting, and camping. However, as we sat around the campfire, I noticed that we were talking about all the things we were going to do when we got back. When we had a disagreement, I would tell RJ to look it up on his Blackberry. We often thought we heard our phones go off. To be perfectly honest, I was a little disappointed with myself.