Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Big Moose & a little girl ~ A river less paddled
by TuscaroraBorealis

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 09/23/2011
Entry & Exit Point: Moose River (south) (EP 8)
Number of Days: 5
Group Size: 3
Trip Introduction:
The past year had brought about it's fair share of change. Most significantly, the birth of our daughter Aurora at the end of June. So even though this change was quite literally a precious gift from God? My more than occasional "the glass is half empty" selfish attitude couldn't help but get me thinking of the canoe trips that would have to be pushed aside until Aurora grew up a bit. No matter how great the rewards a change will bring about, it seems I always meet it with resistence. Yet another character flaw revealed. It was actually Vickie who had to persuade me that we could still go. Granted the 10 day trips deep into the wilderness would have to wait, but she would be OK with shorter, less challenging trips. She purchased clothes, a carrier, pea pod shelter, & even a new Duluth pack. The wheels had been set in motion. We were looking for something a little different for our annual fall trip. Vickie wanted to try paddling a river route this year. The BWCAW, while renown more for it's lakes, has no shortage of navigable rivers & creeks. Familiar names like Granite, Kawishiwi, & Basswood have long conjured the imagination of many a wilderness adventurer. Though this was to be a late season paddle. We were looking at trying one of the less heralded waterways that would also afford an opportunity to get out of the canoe & do some back country hiking. With direct access to the Pow Wow Hiking Trail, the Little Isabella river entry point seemed to offer everything we were looking for. As fate would have it, there were no permits available for our entry date. Surprisingly Little Isabella & all the surrounding EP's were booked. Only the Snake river was open. And getting to Quadga lake from there in one day was just a bit more than we wanted to bite off. So we turned our attention elsewhere. Looking back, this was a bit of good fortune as the Pagami Creek fire would soon render this area totally inaccessible and we would have been scrambling to find a new entry at the last minute. Using relative unpopularity as one of the determining factors, we narrowed in on Moose river south. In fact it seemed so unpopular that there was far more acclaim given to such remote streams as the Frost, Louse, & Little Indian Sioux south. The only reliable information we could unearth about this area was a back issue of BWJ where Stu passed through on his way to do some campsite evaluations and check out potential hunting grounds. We planned on bringing our 3 month old daughter Aurora, so having an idea of what we could expect was a bit more reassuring. So we grabbed the permit for September 23 to see for ourselves what the, lack of, fuss was all about.
Day 1 of 5
Friday, September 23, 2011

We had driven up to my parents and spent the night before at their place on Lake Esquahgamah just outside of Biwabik. Not getting the earliest of starts; we headed for Ely after a big breakfast. On the drive up Vickie checked the latest fire restrictions & gleefully informed me that the burning ban had been partially lifted that morning. Fires allowed from 6-12 p.m.

It was an overcast gloomy morning, but it was supposed to clear off later in the day. Picked up our permit and some last minute supplies at Spirit of the Wilderness outfitters. Soon we were motoring down the Echo trail where the vibrant fall colors were just starting to hit their stride. Our turn off (FR 464)was south just past the Portage river where the Echo trail finally starts to straighten out. On our way to the landing we passed by the heliport clearing & Big Moose lake hiking trail on a narrow, but very driveable, road.

The Moose river south lot has parking on both sides of the road. Room for about 8 vehicles. There was a lone truck parked there when we pulled up. Shouldn't have any trouble finding a campsite?

We would be bringing our 3 month old daughter Aurora along on this trip. Hoping to impart our love of the out of doors by introducing her to the wilderness experience at a young age. Without getting into the whole debate; we lean more towards the base camp point of view towards tripping anyway's. So that approach should be conducive to us bringing Aurora along. Our great hope was that this route would not be overly taxing getting to, and setting up, our base camp on Big Moose lake. Yet still provide enough challenge to give us a sense of accomplishment and, perhaps, solitude as well.

The landing to the river was just off of the parking lot. While not large, it was servicable for our one canoe. Vickie fed Aurora while I got the canoe loaded up.

Even during this extremely dry period, water levels were more than adequate to float our loaded canoe. The 7-8 yard average width of the river at this point also made it fairly easy to paddle around the turns without continuously bumping off the banks of either shore. The absense of any wind also aided in this regard. And saved us from having to worry as much about Aurora getting chilled. Just before the confluence of Bezhik creek we encountered our first obstacle. A small beaver dam ran across the river. I dropped Vickie & Aurora off on shore while I pulled the canoe up over the dam. From here we pushed on unobstructed to the first portage.

This was one of the nicest landings I can recall coming across. Grassy and open with a few large jackpines providing a quaint cover. Although they were but a mere trickle, the rapids of the river were running nearby. The portage started off with a moderate climb up a rocky hill. Soon it leveled out and became a, somewhat surprisingly, open well worn trail. Also, at about the mid point of the trail, we officially entered the BWCAW. There were a number of precipices along the trail. The steepest dropping some 15 feet or so. At these areas the granite had been exposed along the trail and it seemed like walking along Mother Natures very own sidewalk. Fortunately the trail sloped slightly away from the steep drop offs at these points.

By this time of year we are normally well oiled portaging machines. Or, at least, better than in our current state of disrepair. With the birth of Aurora earlier this year, our portage legs had not been given the opportunity to get "up to speed" yet. I couldn't complain as Vickie had not even done a portage all year. This was not an overly difficult portage. Still, for me personally, I looked within for motivation. Simply walking through a deciduous forest absorbing autumns aromatic indulgence provided all the invigoration that was necessary to get me through. Vickies' main complaint was a fairly minor one. While carrying Aurora, their body heat became trapped in the pouch Vickie used to carry her across in. But it had been reasonably cool so it wasn't a major concern. But, it was good to have this "in the field" test for future trips. Especially for next spring & summer if we have a hot day. The insulated pouch won't be used. Just the outer straps. It was reassuring to get that first, and we presumed, most difficult portage behind us.

After a quick break and snack we loaded up the canoe. At long last it looked like the sun would be accompanying us. Vickie implemented our redneck sprayskirt (tarp taped over the front)on the canoe to shield Aurora from the sun. And, once again, we were on our way.

There is a large, long standing, beaver dam maintaining paddleable water at this end of the portage. In fact there were some sizeable trees growing out of it. Upstream the river was slowly narrowing as we paddled & there were now lily pads and various aquatic vegetation choking the water. But there was sufficent depth to get through. The occasional mud turtle plopped into the river just ahead of us as we paddled along.

The river narrowed still further, to about 4 yards. Looking at the expanse of marshy grass that lay ahead, we still had a fair distance to paddle. For now the water level was enough to float our canoe. But, we were gonna need some help from the industrious wilderness engineers if we hoped to be able to paddle all the way to the portage. Came upon a small dam that was more of a hindrance than anything. Just high enough that we had to get out & pull over. But, it did very little to raise the water level upstream. Apparently that one was just for practice? A short paddle later we came across one that undoubtedly took quite a bit more effort to construct.

After crossing over this monstrosity there would be more than enough water the rest of the way.

Even though there was still paddleable water ahead; we came to an area that looked like a landing. I got out and surveyed the situation. There was clear evidence that people had been here, but this trail was no where near as well worn as the previous portage. I walked on ahead and made an interesting discovery. Apparently the large beaver dam just downstream raised the level of the water to the point of submerging the early portion of the original portage trail. This new branch of the trail hooked up with the old trail after about 10 rods & proved to be quite the slalom with the canoe going through the pines. Then an option of either using a steep 2-3 foot drop, or take a more gradual drop and have to walk through a portion of the old trail which was very mucky with standing water. Once past the mud on the old trail, it proved to be an excellent path all the way to the shores of Big Moose lake. I tripled this one. Saving Vickie from having to cross back over this tricky section with Aurora.

The local squirrel population had absolutely polluted the trail with freshly cut pine boughs & cones. There was also some wolf scat clearly visible as well. While at once it would be neat to see a wolf, with Aurora along, it would be a little unnerving as well. As we approached Big Moose lake there were several large rocks deposited about the shoreline and just beyond. The lake itself harbored quite a few as well. In fact, we found that a constant vigil had to be maintained watching for them just below the surface whenever we paddled near shore.

According to the information we'd gathered; the site just north of this portage was supposed to be the cream of the crop on Big Moose. As an added bonus, at least for our minds being able to relax as much as possible, it was the closest to the portage back out to our vehicle. Just in case we had to make a quick exit? We could avoid, or at least minimize, having to paddle across a large expanse of open water in possible adverse conditions.

While the sun had finally popped out earlier, it was still a bit cool out. Even more so once we hit the open water of the lake versus paddling up a narrow stream. Basically a nice typical fall afternoon. Fortunately our target site was unoccupied & we pulled up to the excellent landing to get out and investigate further. We both quickly agreed that it would serve us well as our base camp for the next few days.

The first order of business was to make sure Aurora was warm & comfy while we set about unloading the canoe, then setting up camp. The site was littered with boulders (as were all sites we stopped at on this lake) making finding a premo tent pad a bit of a quandry. Had to be a little creative, but we found a serviceable spot near the rock shelf at the back of the site. Later, we discovered there were a few very nice pads back aways from the firegrate area just off of the trail to the latrine. In fact walking back into the woods revealed a terraced type of condition. Every so often there was an abrupt 2-3 foot rise then it would flatten out again. A unique phenomenon.

After camp was setup I noticed a couple of peculiar things right off. Even though it was late September there were still a few stubborn flowers hanging on.

Red pine was the predominate tree of the surrounding forest. But, white pine, jack pine, maple, birch & the usual various small underbrush were also prevalent. Furthermore I couldn't help but notice this entire area was devoid of a BWCAW trademark tree. The cedar. But what really caught my eye was a small oak tree right in camp. At first I thought that someone had transplanted it here. But later, while scavenging for firewood, I noticed several other oak trees back away from camp as well. All were small trees and I did not come across any mature, acorn bearing, trees. Which contributed to my puzzlement of how they got there. Perhaps squirrels??? At any rate, in my experience, it was certainly a very uncommon occurence to run across these trees in canoe country.

This was by no means a fishing trip. But I couldn't resist bringing the poles along. I had grabbed a small container of leeches at Spirit of the Wilderness and figured once camp was setup It wouldn't hurt to throw out a slip bobber from shore. Maybe I'd get lucky? Unfortunately it wasn't meant to be? As I had no luck fishing on this trip.

Before entering we had checked the web to see if anyone had reserved the permits for the preceeding days for Moose river south. They hadn't. The relative unpopularity of this entry point, only one vehicle in the parking lot when we arrived, and knowing the fact that Big Moose lake was well guarded with long tough portages from other lakes..... I had visions of complete solitude dancing in my head. Those hopes were soon dashed. A canoe coming from the east end of the lake was headed for what appeared to be the northern most campsite. Ah well? We'd enjoy our time here regardless.

With supper time at hand we kinda kicked ourselves for not picking up some steaks in Ely once we found out the fire restriction had been lifted. Never the less, the brats we had along proved to be very tasty. For dessert, my Mom sent along a loaf of banana nut bread. And since it was my birthday? It served as my cake as well. Afterwards we would be afforded an incredible view of the chain of small islands just out in front of our site. It was a very calm, peaceful evening. We just lapped up the serene atmosphere, and let the wilderness tranquilty we'd achieved work it's magic, soothing our souls.

Big Moose Lake