A Million Dollar Mosquito Net
We are an “outdoor family” who enjoys backpacking, but canoeing is not something we had any experience with. Despite our lack of canoeing experience, I “googled” Boundary Water and found this site. My wife and I read dozens and dozens of trip reports, gear guides, route descriptions, and watched videos on how to pack, and portage a canoe. We were hooked! We wanted to go without a guide, but needed to rent Canoes. I decided on Jordan’s Canoe Outfitters. Mark Jordon and his wife were great to work with, and helped us select a great route to give us a good taste of the BWCA. Our route started at EP 24 (Fall Lake) and went up to Basswood Lake down by Basswood Falls, up to Crooked Lake, and then back up the Horse River to Horse Lake then out Tin Can Mike, Sandpit, to Mudro to EP 23. We had 5 days which turned out to be perfect.
Day 1, Tuesday After staying the night at Jordon’s Outfitters we were up early and on the lake by 7:00am. I had read some reports that raised concerns about the motor boat traffic on the first part of the route from Fall Lake to Basswood Lake, but it wasn’t bad at all. There were not many boats (especially compared to boats or should I say yachts on the lakes around Chattanooga, TN where we’re from). We made great time and were able to single portage. By 12:30 we made it to a nice campsite overlooking the lake just before the left turn to Basswood falls (C1536 on the GPS Marked sites from the JMU site http://w3.cs.jmu.edu/arch/maps/bwca/). The mosquitoes were not bad that night. I did use a Thermacell which made a noticeable difference. We caught several bass and northern off the rocky point in front of the campsite. We saw several eagles that afternoon which was a treat for my wife who had not seen a bald eagle.
Day 2, Wednesday A thunder storm came in late that night and continued to rain until about 9:00am. I was so mad at myself for not covering our packs with a tarp or trash bag. I knew better than to trust that a clear sky at night meant no rain. This little slip-up added about 10 lbs of wet pack weight that we had to carry on the 320 rod portage around Basswood Falls. Oh well, that won’t happen again. The 320 rod portage was not bad. We single portaged it, but I must say it was hard with the wet packs and a full supply of food for our 3 teenage boys – they can eat a lot!
There was still a slight drizzle when we portaged around Wheelbarrow Falls. The mosquitoes were out in force so we donned our head nets before hitting land. On this portage my wife met a lady portaging in the opposite direction with her arms full of gear, sweating, with red dots on her face, trying to swat mosquitoes with her shoulders. This is when the lady offered my wife a million dollars for her head net, which I thought was a fair price, but my wife graciously turned her down. I would certainly suggest stopping by VNO and picking up some of their special head nets, so you can help fund your next trip.J Four dollars is a small price to pay for the comfort they provide. We began putting our head nets on before exiting the canoes on all portages. Our guide had suggested slinging a lure below Wheelbarrow Falls. My youngest son had a nice smallie on before we even got the canoes loaded from the portage. We fished there and soon caught several smallies and a couple of northern of which I’m a little gun shy now. I did recall reading that one should grab them by the back at the gill plates which does work wonders.
We then headed down toward Lower Basswood Falls with the hopes of getting the campsite on the point a half mile east of Lower BW Falls (C1547 on the JMU maps). Our guide had circled it as a great location, but warned us that it is very hard to get. I remember praying on the way down that by some miracle it would be open. You can see it out on the point for a good ways off and I could tell no one was there – thank You, God!
Just before dusk, by middle son, Grant, howled like a wolf. To our surprise a wolf immediately answered straight across the lake from our camp. He howled a couple of long howls.
Lessons of the day: 1) put tarp up before the storm, and 2) cook dinner before dusk unless the wind is strong enough to move the mosquitoes out of camp.
Day 3, Thursday We woke to beautiful day and I soon had blueberry pancakes ready to feed the teens. I brought a double batch of pancake mix thinking we may have it two days, but when all was said and done all the pancake mix was gone in one sitting, oh well it will be oatmeal tomorrow.
We grabbed our fishing gear and some snacks and headed up to Crooked Lake to see the Indian pictographs. Our guide had warned us to approach the Lower Basswood Falls portage by hugging the Canadian bank, and being careful to not get too close to the quick moving water at the head of the falls. It worked out fine. That was great advise.
Seeing the pictographs was a bit like stepping back in time. – I wondered what they were wanting to communicate, who was allowed to do the drawings, what did they use to stain the rocks, did they stand on the Ice?? I’ll have to do some research on this later. Portaging without packs was really a nice change. We fished below the falls, and my wife quickly hooked a nice northern. After pictures of the big fish I learned that my pliers don’t float. In my haste to unhook the precious Storm Thin Fin, I dropped the pliers in the water. My oldest couldn’t help but laugh when he saw the look on my face as I made one last swat at trying to grab them as the sank into the tanic, brown water. With some careful handling I got the hook out unscathed.
We ate a snack and lazily let the wind drift us back toward the falls. We fished some more and then portaged back toward camp. We decided to stay at this site another night. We had another downpour that afternoon, but I had taken time to put up a tarp to cook under. I cooked dinner under the tarp of spinach/cheese stuffed tortellini with butter and parmesian and romono cheese.
We had a late afternoon storm, and it really let go – those good tent pads I had identified earlier now were small rivers. Thankfully, our tents did a good job keeping our gear dry – I was also smart enough to keep our packs covered with a light tarp. The rain stopped about two hours before sunset. The boys and I headed out and fished until almost dusk while my wife read in the cozy tent.
Earlier that day my wife caught this nice smallie:
As I’ve said every day is an adventure and learning experience – today I learned pliers don’t float and placing a Thermacell close to the privy about 15 minutes prior to your visit is a good idea. Day 4, Friday My wife has always wanted to see the northern lights and with clear skies she stayed awake half the night looking out our tent window every twenty minutes or so. She knew the chances were slim, but several people in Ely had seen them the week before.
We awoke to a gorgeous morning with clear skies a low fog on the lake and great coffee – it doesn’t get much better.
We made it to Horse Lake by noon, and quickly settled on the first campsite on the right as you come into the lake from the river (C1116). My wife made sure I faced the tent Northwest so she could watch for the northern lights.
The sky was dotted with puffy white clouds on the deep blue background. We had a great time just hanging around camp being lazy, fishing, swimming (there’s a great sandy beach there), and eating. With only one day left, the boys decided to eat everything they could hold so they wouldn’t have to carry it out which meant they really packed away some food that afternoon.
Through the entire trip we have enjoyed watching and listening to the loons. At this site we saw a mother loon with several young ones. We loved watching them.
That evening was so beautiful we decided to sleep with the flies off the tents. It was wonderful to see the stars, and made it easier for my wife to watch for the Northern Lights, which unfortunately didn’t show that night.
The boys have had a great time, haven't complained at all and have worked hard to make single portages.
The lessons for the day: 1) rivers are not always rivers, rather they range from rice and lily filled mashes, to narrow rocky creeks; and 2) relaxing around camp in a hammock is a must do on a sunny afternoon.
Day 5, Saturday We were up early, and on our way out by 6:30 to meet our guide at EP 23 by 10:00. We made it to Mudro by 8:30 and planned on fishing until about 10:00. That’s when we realized we were missing a fishing rod.L Our two oldest sons went back to look for it. They first jogged back the steep portage to Sandpit, but it wasn’t there. They then came back to Mudro Lake, grabbed a canoe and started back at 8:40. They portaged back to Sandpit Lake, paddled across it, ran the 160 rods back to Tin Can Mike Lake and found the rod in the water (it must have come un-bungeed from the canoe). They made it back to Mudro at 9:20. That was pretty fast!
We took our time out to the EP and met the guide at 10:00 as planned. What a great trip!
God’s handy-work was evident throughout this trip: in our getting great campsites; in the scenery; in the power of the thunderstorms; the flight of the eagles; the call of the loons; the howl of a wolf; the abundance and variety of the fish; and most of all in providing me a great family to enjoy this beautiful area with. Although, when I get to heaven, I am going to ask what on earth the mosquitoes were created for.