Mudro Lake on Labor Day- First Time in BWCA
Originally I thought that we would just buy all of the gear and rent a canoe. However, to make sure we did everything right the first time, I decided to use an outfitter. This would give us a good start to know what we would need on a future trip. I think it was June when I finally booked my trip through Cliff Wold's. For the longest time I thought it was Cliff's World but it wasn't until I got an email from them which I thought they misspelled their name when I finally realized I was calling it by the wrong name. While using an outfitter would take a lot of the planning out of the trip, I continued to plan as if I was doing it all on my own. At least once a week I would also check the permit availability to see how many of the 6 daily permits were booked. Throughout the summer I would get excited to go and then lose interest in wondering if everything would go as planned and that we would have a good time. A few weeks before the scheduled trip, I got the menu and final trip details worked out with the outfitter. It was time to go.
We ended up driving the new 1997 Ford Explorer that I bought so that we would have plenty of room for our gear and also have the flexibility to get to and from our entry point. What better thing could you do with a vehicle you just purchased two weeks before than drive it 800 miles to Minnesota and hope you didn't buy a lemon. It would take more gas than the corvette but we wanted the option to be able to stay an extra day and if we had a scheduled pickup time, we wouldn't be able to do so. This would be the first time since my original annual trip 6 years ago that we wouldn't drive the corvette.
We ate at McDonalds in Stuart, Iowa if I remember correctly and headed on our way. As we pulled up behind a car in the parking lot, I had to humor myself. The car had a sticker on it of the local dealership where it had been purchased. I acted like I knew what I was talking about and told dad, ?This is the town where so and so Chevrolet is located.? Dad looked at me like he didn't know how I could know some small town dealership in Iowa. I drove all the way to Ely but we stopped in Minneapolis around 8 that night to stay. On the way up, dad was calling the motels to see how much they would be. After about 20 calls, we found that the Motel 6 in Minneapolis was the cheapest at around $75. Many others were either too high or full because of the Labor Day weekend and state fair. I would have loved to be at the Kiss and Motley Crue concert that was at the fair that previous Wednesday.
Even though we had GPS, dad had me turn off on the wrong street and we were in downtown St. Paul. It didn't take too long and we were back on the correct road. When we got close to the motel, I told dad that the area looked very familiar. When we saw the McCarthy Ford dealership, we knew that we were headed to the same motel that we stayed in last year.
Since we didn't eat much the day before, we decided to go to a breakfast buffet. The Country Buffet was near the motel so we ate there. Once again I remembered this place as one we had ate at a couple times 6 years ago. Dad couldn't remember it at first but once we got in the building, he started to recognize things. The breakfast was $9 but was very good. Nothing beats a good breakfast. I had an omelet, fruit, sausage, bacon, orange juice and a bunch of other food. I was full but couldn't keep up with all the other fat people that were there eating. That's one thing I hate about buffets, the constant reminder of what you will look like if you continue to eat there. From there we headed up the road straight to Ely. Along the way we stopped at a really neat rest area that was almost like a campground. We took a different way to Ely this year instead of going to Duluth and up the Lake Superior highway like we did last year. The new way was a little shorter and passed by towns we went through on our way home last year. We went by the Quad Cities of Soudan, Tower and past Lake Vermillion. This way wasn't as secluded as last year when we took Highway 1 and were practically the only ones on the road.
We arrived in Ely at around 2 with plenty of time left to do some things since I had told the outfitter that we would be there around 4. We decided to go to the Dorothy Molter museum on the east side of town. I read the book about her but it was still interesting but probably not worth the $6 admission since I had read the book. Dorothy was the last person to live in the BWCA and lived there for about 50 years. One interesting thing I learned was that on the 30 mile stretch from Ely to Knife Lake where she lived, there were forty resorts. The BWCA must have really been a busy area before the government bought everyone out and made it a wilderness. The museum consisted of a small welcome center where you listen to a short video about Dorothy and a woman who actually knew Dorothy tells you a little bit about her. From there you go to Dorothy's two cabins which were moved to town. They were cozy cabins filled with many of her personal belongings. It was like stepping back in time and was pretty cool from a nostalgic point of view. The wood stove was even there which Dorothy died beside when she was 77 or around that age. It was said that the people who came to check up on her knew that she had died because they didn't see any see any smoke coming out of the chimney. She died in 1987. The tour took us about an hour and we left through the Ely cemetery which is an open area on a hill near the museum. The Wolf Center is also near the Dorothy Molter Museum but we didn't go to it. Instead we thought we would go to the Ely and Winton Historical Center which is located inside the Ely community college. It was closed because it was Sunday.
The day was hot at around 85+ so instead of sitting around, we decided to go to Cliff Wold's Outfitters. When we got there, a younger guy, Ryan, in probably his mid twenties, greeted us at the counter. Our gear was the only gear set out so I knew that we were the only customers from the day. Ryan had the gear all ready and neatly packed for us and reviewed some things with us. We also added a water filter and left out the cooking stove. The only reason we got a filter was because I asked how we were supposed to get clean water. Ryan said that most people just drink it from the center of the lake and that it is never much of a problem. The filter just filtered out all of the larger particles and was more of a peace of mind item to have. We then watched the short video on the BWCA while Ryan got some final paperwork ready. When we went over our route, I wanted to make sure that it was ok that we stayed an extra day if we felt like it. Ryan said that it was no problem and that we wouldn't be charged. This kind of puzzled me but then he said that he owned the place. It turns out he had worked for Cliff Wold since high school and bought the business from him before he died. Ryan was a really nice humble guy who is the kind of person you would want to be friends with. Once we had all of our gear loaded and the canoe on top, we headed to Rock Wood Restaurant. We ate at this place last year too. It is good food but a little pricey. The building used to be the old Hardee's in town. There aren't really too many fast food restaurants in town except for Subway as most of the eating places are regular restaurants. I had a mushroom swiss stuffed burger and dad had another kind of stuffed hamburger. They were very good burgers and fries but cost $12 each.
From there, we headed to the outfitter's campground which was about 4 miles east of Ely. It was a really nice campground with plenty of parking and some neat bunkhouses. We stayed in one that had four bunk beds in it. The shower and bathroom facilities were really clean so either they keep them like this all the time or we happened to be there just after they cleaned them. Since the showers were community showers with no stalls, I took a shower while dad got some of his gear organized. I did the same when he took his shower. We went over our gear one last time and sorted through what we thought we would need. It turned out that we should have gotten rid of a bunch more personal stuff because we would not use it. The lights went out a little after 9 and we planned to get up around 6:20 to leave. We didn't have any bedding for the beds so we just slept in our clothes. I actually slept pretty well but woke up around 5:45 and decided that we just as well start going. We thought that we were getting a good jump on the morning and would get the first big portage out of the way while it was still cool. Too bad this wasn't the case.
After a few fig newtons and granola bars, we hit the trail to Mudro Lake entry point 23. The map we had showed that we were to head north at Winton but we couldn't find it. We asked a guy how to get to the correct road and he told us to go north at Sam'z Place Bar. We were on the trail and ready to get going when all of a sudden we reached the end of the road. The map looked like we should be able to go farther north but the road was at a dead end. We figured that we had just missed the entry point and drove back to find it. Still nothing. After driving back and forth about 4 times, we were really frustrated. I even picked up a signal with my phone to pull up the satellite map to see where we were actually at. My phone also showed that we should be able to go north further. I had studied the satellite photos plenty of times before and knew that we shouldn't miss the parking lot because it was right along the road. I was just plain mad at this point and we decided to head back into town. Along the 6 mile or so trail back to town, we saw a guy jogging and asked him for directions. He said that we really were lost and that our map was old and incorrect. The man said that we needed to go all the way back to Ely and get on the Echo Trail to head north another 20 miles to the trail. It turns out that the road we thought we could get through on was left to grow back up to trees and a new road was cut to Mudro. By now it was getting warm and was about 10:00. So much for getting an early start. This would be a sign of some things to come.
When we got to the entry point, we had to park up the hill in the overflow area because the parking lot was going to have some work done to it. The lot had about 20 cars jammed in it and I found about the last spot that was available. We unloaded our gear near the start before I parked the vehicle. At the same time, there were another couple groups going in and coming out. It turns out that 10:00 is the busy time to get going. We dropped all our gear at the trailhead and I was concerned at first about it being in the way. I had read that you shouldn't just drop your gear out of respect for everyone else. I was probably just paranoid since we didn't know what we were doing. We weren't really in the way. Anyway, dad grabbed a pack and took off before I hardly even knew where he went. I was kind of ticked off because our packs were heavy and it would have been nice to have him help me get one on and lift the canoe up. I told him when I met up with him to wait up until we get things figured out. Normally you would just have to walk about 20 yards down the trail to put the canoe in but the river was so low that you had to walk it another 20 yards.
On that first small portage I was already wondering how we would survive the trip. It was 85 degrees, hot and the gear was heavier than what I had thought it would be. Where we put in was a guy about my age and his girlfriend. He said that he had been to the BWCA 7 times before but this was the first time with a girl. With the river being low I knew that our feet would be getting wet and I just jumped in the water to load the canoe. The river only had about 6 inches of water in it and we had to pull the canoe about halfway down the river until we were able to get in and push our way to the end. It wasn't paddling, just pushing because it was so low. The river was also very muddy because everyone was stirring it up because it was so shallow. Along our way, we passed a few groups who were on their way out. In one canoe was a man and woman probably in their late 20's. This woman was looked amazing. As good as she looked after being out in the woods for a week, I would like to see what she looked like all fixed up. I'm not sure if the guy in the canoe was her husband or boyfriend but he is a lucky man. I guess it should make sense that there are good looking women in the BWCA. Any woman that is going there needs to be in shape and is probably fit and in shape. I noticed a few other women on the way in and out that were pretty good looking also. Maybe I should hang around Ely for a summer.
Towards the end of the river near Mudro Lake, there were about two rocky pinch points where we had to get out and pull the canoe over. When we got to Mudro Lake, I was tired but we followed the two canoes in front of us to the next portage. This portage was 30 rods long and not too bad except it was rocky. There wasn't much elevation change though. After another short paddle of about 200 yards, it was time to take on the long 141 yard tough portage that I had been warned about. We each took a pack and went on our way. From the start there was a steep incline and from there it continued up and down elevation changes with some other steep areas. If it would have been wet, I'm not sure how you would safely have made the portage. Along the way I unknowingly twisted my left knee. I actually think it was my LCL ligament that is on the outside of your knee. It wouldn't completely start to bother me until later in the day. At the end of the portage is another steep decline. It actually didn't seem as long as I had expected although it was long enough. It probably took 10 minutes to pass it. On the way back, we passed a guy who was carrying a 24 pack of beer. As long and hard as this portage was, I can't figure out why anyone would want to waste time packing in a bunch of beer. On the BWCA message boards it surprises me how many people do take beer into the BWCA. Dad was still way behind me so I headed back and got another pack. I had originally thought we would be single portaging but there would be no way we could do it with all the gear we had. After I had returned the first pack, or maybe I carried two at once, both of us went back for the canoe. On the first portages I had been the one to carry the canoe by myself but as tired as we both were, we decided to both get under the canoe and carry it. This proved to be almost more difficult than doing it solo. The thing seemed just as heavy and you had to made sure the both of you went at the same pace which was hard with the rocky steep trail. The hot weather had me almost completely worn out by now. Again I thought to myself that this was going to be a miserable trip because I wasn't in as good of shape as I had thought I would be. I'm only 30 but after working in a bank for 8 years, I'm not as strong as I used to be growing up on the farm. When we finally got all of our gear to the end of the portage, we took a short 5 minute break which I was happy to do. We probably would have stayed longer but there wasn't much room on the landing and there were three other groups there. It was about noon by now but we still had one more portage to make before we would get on Fourtown Lake. Unfortunately, we would have another portage after paddling about 50 yards. The next portage was maybe 10 rods but did have one steep incline. The landing was congested with other people as well so when we got there, we just kept going. I had read that this short portage had a steep drop off where people have to lower their canoe into the water. Maybe it is different when the water is high but I don't see why you would need to drop in to the east of the landing where it is steep. On the way back out we did see a couple guys going down this slope but again, I'm not sure why.
When we finally got to Fourtown, there was quite a bit of vegetation in the water but it didn't slow us down much. Where the lake opens up is where I realized that these lakes would be much bigger than what I had been studying for the past 6 months on Google maps. We were running in a pack with a couple other canoes trying to make it to the first portage on the west side of the lake. I know we were making pretty good time but with the lake being so big, it seemed like we weren't going very fast. The 150 pounds of gear didn't help either. It was past noon by now and while we were hungry, we wanted to keep going to get to our camp and then take it easy. Lunch was supposed to be ham and cheese sandwiches. The landing we came to was a wide one with plenty of room for canoes to park. This was a neat area of Fourtown because looking back east were three small islands. I'm sure that I have seen plenty of other pictures posted from this exact location. The north island looked like it had been burned. I would like to know if it was from lightning or from a person. The portage from Fourtown to Boot lake was 48 rods but didn't seem like it was nearly that long. Perhaps this was because it was a flat easy portage compared to the ones we had just done. It was also easier on me because I let dad carry the canoe because my leg was so stiff now that I could hardly walk. The packs were much easier for me to carry. I would carry one on my front and one on my back from here on.
On Boot Lake we canoed beside a guy about my age who was in a kayak with a dog. He was making pretty good time but he wasn't sitting in the water near as deep as we were. Before I forget, I couldn't believe how many people bring their dogs into the BWCA. I bet we saw 4 groups of people with dogs just that morning and would see a few more by the time the trip was over. A dog isn't something I would want to take along but I guess if you weren't in a hurry it wouldn't be as big of deal. It did get on my nerves though when we were trying to portage and there would be a pack of dogs running around your feet. I like our own dog but other people's get on my nerves. On Boot we were trying to get to a camp site that the outfitter had marked on the map. Unfortunately the group ahead of us had already claimed it and this was where the guy with the kayak was also going. It was a large site facing the west and I didn't really see what was so good about it. Just to the south of this campsite, I thought we might upset our canoe after getting hung up on a rock. We got high centered and couldn't get off of it. I think we were only is 4 or 5 feet of water so it wouldn't have been as bad as if we were in the center of the lake.
After another long paddle on Boot, we got to the portage going to Fairy Lake. This one was 15 rods and started with a steep climb. Dad carried the canoe again while I strapped on two packs to save time. Fairy Lake was more the kind of lake I was looking for. It was smaller with an island to the north and only had two campsites. In looking at the map we planned on going to the east campsite. We found the one on the north side by the portage first and decided to make this our home for the next 3 nights. From this site, we could tell that someone was already at the other site. Our new home had a nice rocky slope heading up to the tent and cooking area. It was easy to unload our canoe here and the rocky area was nice to have to dry off and not get dirty. There was a nice flat tent spot and another flat area on a large rock where you could camp if you didn't want to stake down your tent. This spot had about an inch of moss covering the rock which would make for a soft place to sleep. I was plenty happy with our campsite but the kitchen area was a little small and there weren't any flat rocks around to sit anything. Someone had stacked some rocks up to make two small monuments. I read a trip report where someone else mentioned something like this but I'm not sure if it was this campsite or not. Who knows how long those rocks have been stacked up. They are still there if anyone else happens to camp there. I would guess that it was about 5 in the afternoon by now and we were completely shot. We both just wanted to take a nap but we needed to get camp set up and fix supper. The A frame tent went up very easy and camp didn't take too long to get set up.
Supper that night would be fresh hamburgers, vegetables and a desert. We got the fire going in no time and before long we were enjoying our first meal looking out over the lake. The only people we saw the rest of the day were our neighbors to the east. The meal tasted so good especially since we hadn't eaten all day. I can't remember all of the side items we had to go along with the burgers but we were more than full. Food was a concern of mine going into the trip and we brought along plenty of granola bars, nuts and other quick foods to eat. This would turn out to be mostly unnecessary because of how much food Cliff Wold's sent along with us. Next time we won't be taking along ? of the extra food we brought. It ended up just being extra weight. By now we had drank up all of the water we had brought along and needed to filter some. Our filter was just a gravity bag filter that you fill up in the lake and then take back to camp to let filter on its own. The water had a little bit of a taste to it but it wasn't too bad. We got used to it and water wasn't an issue. I think I casted a line a few times before it got too dark just to see if I could catch anything but I didn't catch anything. I was tempted to canoe over to our neighbors and see what their story was but ended up deciding not to bother them. It's hard to say if some people want to be bothered when the goal is to get away from people.
We turned in for the night around 8:30 knowing that we would need all the rest we could get. Both dad and I slept surprisingly well. The sleeping pads that we were given were definitely worth it. I am going to buy one for future camping trips. Normally I don't sleep very well on hard ground because I'm thin and don't have much padding between me and the ground. Total distance on portages for the day was about 274 rods or 1507 yards and 7 miles of canoeing.
The next morning we woke around 7 or whenever the light started to come up. I actually got up a bit earlier because I wanted to enjoy the fresh cold air and take some pictures. The sun was just coming up and I got some good pictures of the lake. I wish my camera was a little better so that they would have looked a little sharper. There was no wind at all this morning and the lake was smooth as glass. Things couldn't be much more peaceful. I also got out my fishing pole to try catching some of the fish that were flopping around in the water next to camp. Breakfast that morning was fresh eggs and sausage links. There were three eggs apiece and plenty of bacon. It didn't take too long to get the fire going and we were having breakfast in no time. A breakfast never tasted so good. It would take a few days before we would halfway get on to the most efficient way of cooking with the fewest amount of pots and pans to use. We also needed to learn where all of the food was in the pack. It seemed like we would lose things as soon as we set them down. Another problem we had was that our pots were completely black from soot when we cooked over the fire. Supposedly you can coat them with soap to make it wash off easier but we didn't have very good luck with this method.
After getting camp cleaned up, we decided to canoe to the east of our lake near the other campsite to fish. Our neighbors had left early that morning so we were now the only ones on the lake. The place we fished was between an island and the shore and looked like it would be a great place to catch fish because they would be halfway trapped. We couldn't get a bite. At least it was still calm and nice out. After fishing for about an hour, we decided to move on. The portage to Gun Lake was 50 rods and was about average as far as elevation and obstacles. Dad carried the canoe this time and most of our portages this morning because my leg was bothering me still. Gun Lake was also much bigger than I had expected. We paddled almost straight north to the portage that goes to Gull Lake. Near the portage I saw a northern pike in the water swimming around which was nice to see if nothing else to let us know that there were fish around. One thing I remember about this portage is that it was easy to spot because a tree was turning bright red right near the portage. This portage was 32 rods and had a good incline at the start and then descended but at a much more gradual pace.
Once on Gull Lake, we paddled along the south shore and fished in the shade until the sun came up higher. Along one rocky cliff I decided to switch to a 5 of diamonds spoon and on the first cast I caught a small pike. On the second or third cast I had another hit by what I think was a smallmouth bass. He really fought but got off when I started to reel in. This seemed like the place to fish so we drifted the shore a couple times. The wind was blowing 10-15 mph so it was much harder keeping our distance from the shore. Dad did most of the paddling while I fished. We drifted a little farther when dad got a strike. He didn't get him reeled in though. At the same spot where dad had a hit which is at the west end of Gull near the marsh was a large boulder where someone placed another large rock about 20 inches in diameter. The rock would have been really heavy to move there but somewhere are a couple guys who are still probably talking about the time they moved that large rock to the middle of the lake.
By now it was about noon so we decided to find a camp site for lunch. There were supposed to be a campsite nearby but we couldn't find it. If it is there, it isn't used much because the grass was tall everywhere and we didn't see a fire grate. Instead, we pulled up on a landing which turned out to be where a 272 rod portage to Home lake is. We ate our lunch meal which was the ham and cheese that we were supposed to eat from the day before. We also had a Butterfinger I think. Dad wanted to take it easy for a few minutes so we laid on the rock for about 15 minutes. I was in an adventurous mood and wanted to keep exploring but dad said that he would be happy just taking it easy. He gave in and we decided to go exploring more. Our next portage was a 43 rod portage to Mudhole Lake. It was a fairly flat and easy portage. This lake would have been a nice sized sandpit sized lake in Nebraska but looked like just a small one in Minnesota. It took maybe 5 minutes to paddle across it to reach the 61 rod portage to Thunder Lake. This portage had a few more elevation changes and I could tell that dad was tired after carrying the canoe on all the portages for the day. Thunder Lake was exactly the kind of lake I think of in Minnesota. It was narrow in places with some fingers, had trees, cliffs, islands and lots of character to it. I would have loved to camp at this lake. We also hadn't seen anyone else since Gull Lake. Beartrap lake was just a short 5 rod portage from Thunder so we walked over to look at it. We couldn't see much except an island from the shore and took a few pictures of it. I wish all portages would be this short. Since it was about 4 in the afternoon, we decided that we had better get going. I wanted to fish Thunder Lake but it wouldn't be possible because it looked like a storm was rolling in. On Thunder was a neat boulder that was sticking up out of the water that we got out and took a few pictures on. Dad took some nice panoramic pictures but I had my pants cuffed up really high and look like a dork in them. With the clouds getting darker, we headed on our way. Something we found out later was that there would be a fire on Beartrap Lake from a lightning strike that happened that day. It only burned a few acres though. Looking back we should have realized there was a fire because planes kept flying overhead. We thought they were just taking people into Canada but later found out that they planes have a large scoop on them and they pick up water in the lake to dump on the fire. We even saw a helicopter which I assumed was pulling someone out of the woods who got hurt. This was actually more likely someone scouting the fire.
The clouds and wind seemed to be rolling in faster so when we got the the end of Thunder on our portage back to Mudhole, I told dad that I would carry the canoe the rest of the portages. From here on, I would carry the canoe while dad carried the heaviest pack and then I would go back and carry the remaining two packs. One thing that I should mention is that bungee straps are very useful for tying fishing poles and other gear to the canoe when you portage. It frees up your hands for carry other things. The whole way back to camp we were paddling as hard as we could. It would start to sprinkle which gave us more motivation to paddle harder. A couple times I got on my knees to paddle even harder. I don't know how hard dad was paddling but I was putting everything that I had into every stroke and even though my muscles were on fire, I kept going. Even if dad was paddling at half my speed, he had to have been just as tired as I was. When we got on Gun Lake it seemed like we were almost home and that there wouldn't be as much to worry about. It was here that the rain started to cut loose on us. The wind was only blowing slightly and the rain wasn't that cold so we didn't bother to put our rain gear on. We just got to the west end along the shore and tried to wait it out. The whole time, some people camped nearby were probably watching us and wondering why we were just sitting there in the rain. After about 5 minutes we decided that there was no point just sitting in the canoe getting rained on when we could be paddling. We continued to the portage back to Fairy Lake when the rain stopped. The rain made this portage much more difficult and I was surprised how wet the portage got just. The rocks were slick so I took my time. It was good to be back at camp and even though we knew we had to get supper ready, I felt relaxed already. I estimate that we paddled 6 miles and portaged 186 rods in an hour. That may not seem like much but that canoe was flying through the water.
Mudro Lake, Fourtown Lake, Boot Lake, Fairy Lake Mudro Lake,Gull Lake, Mudhole Lake, Thunder Lake, Beartrap Lake