Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

My solo on the Isabella River
by VoyageurNorth

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 09/17/2010
Entry Point: Island River (EP 34)
Exit Point: Little Isabella River (EP 75)  
Number of Days: 4
Group Size: 1
Trip Introduction:
Enjoying my third solo trip
Lynn’s 2010 Solo Trip – Isabella River

I was so pleased with my last two solo trips that I started to plan my 2010 trip way back in June. When John & I took the April day trip to the pictographs on South Island River, it got me thinking about taking a solo trip down the Isabella River this year.

I would start at #34 Island River and end up at my exit point at #75 which is Little Isabella River. This would be a nice, leisurely four day trip route.

Friday, September 17 - I drove John’s Suburban to my exit point, Little Isabella and met my driver, Laurel, who drove me over to my entry at Island River. I took a solo Wenonah Kevlar Prism last year but this year decided to try out our newly acquired Wenonah Vagabond solo, a 14 foot Kevlar.

This was only the second time it was out on the water. The first time, a friend, Trix, took it out so I didn’t have to worry about being the first person to put a scratch on it, whew!

I placed one pack in front of me, one larger one in the back, stepped in, waved to Laurel and was on my way. Start of the trip at Island River Bridge

I wanted to take the second day and go try to find the second set of pictographs on Island River south, so planned on camping on Rice Lake the first 2 nights and Quadga Lake the last night. As I paddled west, with a NNW wind hitting me, I decided to camp on the river, just two portages in, east of Rice Lake, so the next day it would be quicker to get over to the pictographs. Campsite

This was a nice place to store the canoe

I picked the second campsite west of my #34 entry. The site was very comfortable, had lots of tent areas, good fire pit area, nice canoe landing and had a fine view of the river. Facing east from the campsite on the river.

If during the summer, you’d probably have a number of people passing by, but since it was late September, I spotted only a few.

Facing west from my camp site on the river.

I built a fire and grilled my Fraboni polish sausages, then wrapped them in a tortilla, for dinner. Afterwards I sat near the river’s edge & read my book until it was time to retire for the night. Walking back to the tent, I stubbed my shoe on a root, and put my hand out towards a large boulder to steady myself. Good & bad idea because I stayed upright but I jammed my left thumb a bit on the rock. Halfway through the night the winds picked up and by morning it had increased a bit, swirling in several directions on the river’s path.

Between the winds and my now swollen thumb, I decided to just hang around camp for the day. After a quick breakfast I scouted the area for firewood and found a large area of downed trees. I spent the next 3-4 hours loosening some branches from the area, dragged them back to my site and cut them up in sizes for the fire grate. I tried some fishing but didn’t get any nibbles, unlike the group at the site just down the river from me, who were whooping across the water about the nice northern pike that they were catching. I went back to the shoreline and read by book which was a historical novel about 1949 Ireland. About 6:00 p.m. it was time to finish off the polish, do the few dishes and get as much gear packed up as I could so I could leave the next morning for Quadga.

Sunday morning I grabbed a quick breakfast of salami & cheese wrapped up in a tortilla and a Nalgene full of hot coffee then finished taking down camp and headed back on to the river. Saturday was a lot less windy. Less wind and putting the heavier pack in the front of the canoe instead of the back made much easier paddling. A short paddle down & there is a 126 r. portage which was fairly easy to walk. On the other side of the portage I spotted a few mergansers.

There are 2 more short portages before the Quadga portage. If going into Quadga it is better to take the portage before the rapids because the trail meets the one from the other side and you can walk right to the Quadga shoreline.

As I paddled up to the landing I spotted a nice ledge to step on. But the rock ledge was not as stable as I anticipated & while exiting the canoe I lost my footing and landed in the river with my canoe leaning sideways towards me.

Now, I’ve never dumped a canoe & never practiced it so I would be prepared, so I was surprised at how calm I was when it happened. All my gear floated under the canoe & I grabbed it and tossed it up on the shore while keeping a hand on the canoe. Up on shore, I was soaking wet but my gear was safe & so was I. I thought about how “goofy” it must have looked and began to chuckle to myself, being glad no one had actually seen me do it. I pulled out a dry shirt, changed that but left the wet pants on, then grabbed the two packs and carried them to the end of the portage and went back for the canoe. rapids just after the portage into Quadga.

I packed the canoe up again & headed east to the first campsite on the right. This was the same campsite John & I had camped at with our granddaughters several years ago. You can see a high rock ledge with a vertical crack in it that they nicknamed, “Butt Rock”.

First thing I did was to string up a clothes line & hang all my wet clothes. The day was quite warm with a nice light breeze and it all dried within an hour or so.

The site is very nice with lots of tent areas but by that time of the year, it didn’t have much wood around that I could use for a fire. Next to the site is a small bay that is a little swampy and could be buggy in the summer, but not the fall. There were two beaver lodges in the bay & beaver swam by my campsite all evening, back & forth, slapping their tails with each turn. I think there must have been some sort of wood they wanted nearby & they weren’t too happy I was “in their way”.

I set my Thermarest chair up on the rock cliff where I could look over the lake & have dinner. I grabbed a pouch of tuna, mixed it with some mayo & ranch dressing and then put it in a couple pita bread rounds and added a bit of sliced cheese. A Nalgene of hot tea was prepared and I had my meal watching the sun slowly go down. Between 4 and 5 pm I was surprised to at least 3 groups enter Quadga, looking for a campsite, which seemed a little late in the day to be searching for a place to camp for the night. Two of the groups had to turn around because all four campsites on the lake had been taken. Evening sunset on Quadga, facing southwest

Monday – September 20th – I had a late breakfast/lunch and left my campsite about 10:30 a.m. The portage back to the river turned to the right & ended just after the rapids, so I didn’t have to maneuver the shaky ledge again. The first part of the Little Isabella River was full of tall, thick grass and had low water levels so for the first 20 minutes I did a combination of paddling and pushing through the grass. The river finally got deeper and had less grass so it was easier to paddle. This river twists & turns even more than the Snake River and the actual distance is almost twice what the map shows.

                                         Notice how the Little Isabella "wiggles"?

On the 35r portage I met two brothers from Morgantown, West Virginia who were on their way in. I talked to them for a bit and then kept on going. I spotted a couple eagles soaring over the river and tried to get some video with my Pentax. I was pretty sure that what I would end up with would be a lot of blue sky with a couple black dots, but I took the pictures anyway since I’d remember it all when I watched it later.

Just before the last portage out, I spotted a canoe with 2 women in it, pulling their canoe up & over a hill and yet the map had not showed a portage yet. Then I spotted a huge beaver dam that was quite high, blocking the rest of the river. I noticed that the spot where they were pulling their canoe up had been used by others and pulled up behind them to wait my turn. Less than 20 yards after getting back into the river, one more twist of the river & there was the 25r portage to the parking lot.

As the ladies & I made our way up the portage, they noticed a number of piles of wolf scat (some fresh & some older) plus some areas of the moss on the side of the trail that had been torn up. One of the ladies wasn’t sure what kind of scat it was & I verified it was wolf scat (you could see rabbit fur in it), but wasn’t sure about what had torn up the moss.

As I loaded the packs into the Suburban and put the canoe on top, I thought about the last four days and how much I enjoyed being out by myself once again. Then I headed back home to enjoy a nice long, hot shower!

Lakes Traveled:   Rice Lake, Quadga Lake,