Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Isabella - Kahshahpiwi - Trant - Silence - Agnes - Sunday Loop
by JLockard

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 06/29/2012
Entry & Exit Point: Quetico
Number of Days: 7
Group Size: 5
Trip Introduction:
5 friends, rock climbers from Michigan and California wanted to get out and enjoy nature and take on a challenge. Our original plan was to enter Prairie Portage, paddle through to Burke Lake, then through North Bay to Isabella Lake, through several "no-name" lakes to Side Lake and Kahshahpiwi all the way up to Kawnipi and come back down Agnes to Sunday and back to Prairie Portage. But things happened and things changed.
Left Michigan Wednesday June 28th early evening with Amy and Timi. Got as far as Rockford, IL around 2am. Slept till 7am and got on the road by 8am. Arrived in Minneapolis, MN at the airport just in time to pick up our friends Jen and Jacob. Loaded up and off to Ely. We outfit through Canadian Waters, and arrived early evening. We got setup with Duluth packs and food barrels. Our plan was to take two tandems and a solo, so checked out our canoe options that night.

Day 1 - Friday June 29th. In the morning Dan Waters got us the rest of our gear and listened to our route plans and highly suggested we take a triple and a tandem and abandon the thought of the solo. Knowing things better than us, we went with his recommendation.  Loaded up the van, then off to La Tourell's for a tow up to Prairie Portage. We portage to Inlet Bay of Basswood Lake. Check in with the Quetico Rangers and then we're off. Jacob and Jen are in the tandem, Amy, Timi and I are in the triple. It's windy, the waves are about 3 foot high. We're not in sync, the ride is very tipsy. Timi, my wife, is Hungarian and sees her first Bald Eagle, gets excided and nearly tips us while pointing wildly with her paddle shouting "Bolden Eagle". We get a huge laugh about this and after regaining control of the canoe, and let her know it's a "Bald Eagle". On to Bayley Bay for the portage (84 rods) to Burke Lake. We get the canoes unloaded, Jacob grabs the tandem and I the triple. We arrive at Burke Lake and are surprised to not find the girls behind us. We meet up with them near the beginning of the portage, apparently they took the first possible wrong turn and found a dead-end. We've over-packed, have too much baggage. I recommended everyone repack into Duluth Packs, but Amy, Jen and Jacob each have smaller duffels, this will become much more apparent in a couple days.

Burke Lake is an easy paddle after Basswood. The two portages (16 rods and 20 rods) between Burke Lake and North Bay are easy, though one is soaking wet.  Back into Basswood Lake, crossing the North Bay on to Isabella Creek. We paddle through some weeds, make a few bends and we're at a couple foot high beaver dam.  A little leaning on the tail of the canoe and Jacob pops the nose of his canoe over the lip of the dam. Much easier than portaging. Through some more narrow paths through the grasses we arrive at what we mistakenly think is the portage through to Isabella Lake. We're way wrong. Available portage looks rough and is taking us in the wrong direction. We find that another waterway through the grasses takes us over several more beaver dams to a large grassy area with a very narrow waterway winding through it. Several more beaver dams along the way. These buggers sure are busy. It's threatening to get dark as we eventually find our real portage into Isabella Lake. As we paddle in we realize the first campsite is taken and start to worry that the 2nd campsite and only other campsite is also taken. We're in luck, all is good in the world. We have a small area near the lake for the canoes and pull the rest of our gear up a hill. Camp is about 40 feet above the lake.

While the others get busy setting up camp I start working on dinner, Spicy Thai Peanut Chicken. Jacob can't do gluten, so all our meals are gluten free. Meal planning was a "little" more involved than picking the best from Richmoor, Mountain House or Backpacker's Pantry. I needed to pick backcountry recipes I could convert to gluten free *AND* have them taste good. Spicy Thai Peanut Chicken is a winner. There's hope this trip won't be a complete failure. Camp is setup, meal gone. Time creeps up to 8:30 and the squadrons of mosquitoes come out in full force. We duck into the cover of our tents, exhausted.

Day 2 - Saturday, June 30th We're up early. We've been told the no-name lake northwest of the southern point of Isabella, the one which looks like a large circle and small circle next to each other has two portages out of it and that we should avoid the portage from the eastern part (larger circle) of the lake. We've been told on the north side of the western part of the lake is a much better portage. This was either bad advice or our eyesight is quite poor. The whole northern part of this section of the lake is covered in bog. You step out of the canoe and you're fine for a couple seconds, then you start sinking. There's no way we'd be able to hike through this. After about an hour of hunting we finally give up and head for the "avoid at all cost" portage. We pull up, and see this portage starts with a steepish path up a rock face. Well, we're here, might as well make the best of things. Canoes up, a few switchbacks, this hill isn't so bad.  Actually it's not a bad portage at all. Pleasant, really. Into another no-name lake aimed at another portage we've been told to avoid. The portage we're aimed at is on the Fischer map, but not on the McKenzie map. It's halfway up the no- name lake and links into the southern end of Side Lake. We had a little hiccup with a false portage path. Timi hopped out of the canoe and ran up the trail a little ways and came back saying she was pretty sure this wasn't right and we were quickly back on track. Another portage which isn't so bad. Hilly, muddy, rocky, but not a bad portage. Now we're in Side Lake with the long swampy portage into Kahshahpiwi in front of us.

The portage (184 rods) from Side Lake into Kahshahpiwi Lake lives up to everything I've heard. Long, muddy, swampy, pretty much just a huge suck.  Jacob gets swallowed, up to the hip, and throws his canoe on the way down. We have to scramble up a bit of rock to avoid this. I've been having issues with my yoke, the pads were too narrow and have been pinching nerves in my right arm.  As I portage my fingers go numb, then my arm, then my arm starts to hurt and I can't move it. So, I'm toting my canoe, can't move my right arm and a fly lands on my forehead. My left hand is bracing the canoe and I go swat the fly with my right hand. This does NOT go as planned. My shoulder propels my arm upward and I watch in horror as I follow the trajectory of my thumb straight into my right eye. I hear my contact lens bounce down my shirt and into the swamp. I don't want to believe this, calmly set down my canoe and Timi scans my eye for any evidence of contact lens. Nope. Crap. Without my contacts I'm legally blind.  After some time I pull my canoe up and shuffle my way to the end of the portage.  This sucks. I set the canoe in the lake and take a seat at the end of the portage, waiting for a pack which might have my spare set of contacts. I wait, and wait. Then there's the scream. I get up and hobble my way back up the trail to find Jen with Amy. Jen's slipped off the corduroy and twisted or sprained or broken her ankle. I help get Jen to the end of the portage and gingerly examine her ankle. Pretty sure it's not broken. Pack arrives with my contacts. Yay! I can see again. Jacob tends to Jen's ankle as I head back for another trip. We've all hated this portage. At the end of the trip there is no question among all of us that this was the worst portage of the trip. Worse than the "vomit" portage, the "many, many leaches" portage or the several "hey, this was supposed to be one portage, why is it three" portage.

With Jen's bum ankle we're pondering our options. We all know the quickest way out is to turn around and carry all our gear back across this portage but we all vote that one down without hesitation. We're all fairly certain we won't be able to make it the full length up Kahshahpiwi to Kawnipi and back down in our required schedule with Jen not able to bear any weight on her ankle. We decide to paddle a ways up Kahshahpiwi Lake (about 1.5 miles) and camp for the night and make our decision after dinner (or breakfast). Another group is getting through the portage as we're loading up the canoes. We find a nice campsite and start preparing camp and dinner. Tonight's dinner is Koh Soi. Jen helps me prepare dinner then works on stitching together pads to throw over the blades or paddles to turn them into crutches. As we're eating dinner the group we met at the portage yells up to us that we left a pack back at the portage. Dang. Timi and I volunteer to get up early the next morning and paddle back and figure out what we'd left behind. After dinner there's a little time to fish from shore, but it's getting dark and we're anticipating the mosquito hoards to come rolling in soon.

While at Canadian Waters, Jacob was looking through their store and saw some mosquito nets, the ones you pull over your hat and cinches around your neck.  Asks if we'd like some, there's a little interest and he buys one for each of us. Possibly the best gift I've ever been given.

8:30 comes, as do the mosquitoes. Into the tents, again exhausted.

Day 3 - Sunday, July 1st Early, maybe 5:30, Timi and I wake up and take the tandem back to the Kahshahpiwi portage. Timi is attacked by a determined deer fly. If not a deer fly, a large black fly, if not a black fly, a toned, muscular, agressive horsefly. It attacks her face. My bow paddler has transformed into a spinning flurry of attack paddle. The boat was rocking wildly, but the flailing ninja could not be calmed and appeared to be losing the battle. She smacked, swung, lurched, parried and thrusted, but that fly was her better. Eventually the fly, apparently, got bored with her and flew off. We got to the portage and found a pair of socks. I guess when they yelled up "socks" we heard "pack"? Jacob was happy to have his socks back. After breakfast we decided to not loop up Kahshahpiwi and down Kawnipi and instead cut across to Agnes Lake by way of Trant Lake, a handful of no-name lakes and Silence Lake.

Jen now has a seat pad which has been cut in half, each piece folded in half and corners tied to each other with some cord. These pads slip over the blade of a paddle and she can use the paddles as crutches. We get the canoes loaded up and head north on Kahshahpiwi Lake. The paddling is nice. No real wind, water's smooth. One bank of Kahshahpiwi looks like it's seen fire recently, some really small trees popping up, but anything tall is charred. We slip the canoes in the narrows betweeen a small island and the main bank, into the bay which leads toward Trant Lake.

As we arrive at the first portage Jacob isn't feeling well, crawls out of the canoe finds a rock and sits down, feeling nauseous. Jen grabs a small pack and hobbles her way toward the end of the portage, I grab the triple. On my way back check on Jacob, he's doing a little better, but not fantastic. Timi pushes some food on Jacob. I grab the tandem. The girls get the rest of the packs.  This portage ends at a LARGE beaver dam, probably about 6 foot high and 50-60 feet across. The high water side of the dam is rather high in leach population.  We pull the triple up next to the beaver dam and load from the top of the dam.  Jen gets to the end of the portage and gets in the canoe and paddles a little way out as there isn't enough room to load both boats at the same time. We get the tandem into the water and get it loaded. Jacob's feeling a bit better and gets into the bow of the tandem. Jen comes in, picks up Amy and Timi and we set off toward the next portage, which arrives WAY too early. Another beaver dam with very little area to unload a canoe.

Timi, Amy and Jen find a place they can unload the triple but there's no room for the tandem. Jacob and I circle the edge of the dam and eventually pull up next to the overflow. From the canoe we place all our gear on the edge of the dam. Once the boat is empty we get on the dam and flip the boat up to the high water side. Get the boat loaded and we're off again. We find ourselves at what is supposed to be our 2nd portage of the day in short order. This is a rocky portage, lots of ups and downs, some slippery, not a fantastic portage, but quite doable. Jen makes her way through the portage slowly on her "crutches" but, as always, in very good spirits. This portage ends at Trant Lake. The put in looks like a shallow stream, with a smooth sandy bottom. There's a sloping flat sided rock out a little way from the shore. I walk out to the rock and sit down in the stream, leaning back on the rock to cool off. Jacob is wading nearby.

There are differing opinions in the group as to what's the worst part of portaging. Jacob and I are fine portaging the canoes, nobody else likes the thought of taking a canoe. Timi doesn't like carrying the food barrels. Amy doesn't like carrying the Duluth packs. Both carry everything like champs. It appears everyone but me hates loading up the canoes. We are starting to get into the swing of portaging. We all unload, Jacob and I carry the canoes. I stay at the end of the portage and get the canoes loaded, everyone else returns for more gear.

The canoes are loaded up and we're off to our campsite on the north eastern end of Trant Lake. It's a short day, wanting to take it easy for Jen's sake and some recovery time for the rest of us. As we paddle through, Amy and Jen are in the tandem and Timi paddles as Jacob and I take turns fishing. We hook a little 8" walleye and let him go. At the campsite we get unloaded and we see weather brewing up to the west. In short order we hear thunder as we hurry to get the tents setup as well as the kitchen tarp. No sooner is the tarp hung than buckets of water start falling from the sky. This lasts for well over an hour as we work on getting dinner. Tonight's dinner is pizza. Gluten free pizza dough, of course. Jen brought her backpacker's oven which makes it much easier to get the dough cooked and toppings melted. It's blowing HARD and we have to hold onto the edges of the tarp to keep if from flapping away. After dinner the weather clears up and we start fishing. This campsite is covered in blueberries. This night, Amy wakes up smelling something awful, and hearing something scratching near her tent, her worst worry is that it's a bear and keeps quiet. Nobody else hears or smells anything and none of our gear is disturbed in the morning.

Day 4 - Monday, July 2nd This day is a mixed bag, some good, some bad. The portage (96 rods) from Trant Lake is just across the bay from us, so we are pretty much loading up our canoes and unloading it almost immediately. This portage is incorrectly marked on the McKenzie maps and is just left of the stream. This portage leads to another creek system like the previous day. The lake on the map is not so much a lake as it is a combination stream, bog, beaver pond. This day involved a lot of paddling through narrow streams through grasslands, leading to one beaver dam after another. There was one section which looked like it'd been very recently flooded. There were bushes, which I'd guess would have normally been at least 6-8 feet tall, which now only the top 2 or three feet were exposed. We couldn't so much paddle through this area as having to use our paddles to propel our canoe forward by pushing off the top of these bushes. It was in this section where I used my paddle to push off of a "chunk" of boggy grass, which burped and let off an incredibly noxious gas. This hit my nose (and stomach) to ill effect. I started gagging and trying to regain my composure. We continued paddling (pushing) our way through. Jen and Jacob arrived at the other end of the bog and there was only room for one canoe. They got out and started unloading their canoe. I got the nose of our canoe to their broadside and Timi and Amy climbed forward out of our boat, across theirs and helped unload their canoe. I stayed in the back of the triple and continued smelling the bog, hiccuping, trying to calm my stomach. Once their boat was unloaded they were able to pull me up to the "shore" where I got out, grabbed a barrel and carried it the 20 feet to the next bit of water, turned around and fell to my knees at the base of a tree and proceeded to lose my breakfast of oatmeal. Amongst the group, this has become known as the vomit portage. We still weren't to what should be our second portage and we'd already completed three. The next pond was uneventful, leading past a beaver home and open (though) grassy waters.  This took us to a shortish portage/walk-around/canoe-fling which ended in a little lake with yellowish/orange water.

At this point most of us were out of water and filled up. We'd been filling up in the middle of the lakes we'd been through to this point with the exception of the marshy section yesterday and today. I took one drink here and realized this lake was no good. Should have dug the Steripen out, but figured we could fill up at the next lake. 23 rod portage to the next lake, which, indeed, had good water. Our portage (22 rods) was at the end of this longer lake we unload the canoes and stop at the start of the portage to have lunch. Timi (ever energetic) decides to scout the portage for us. We're scarfing down sandwiches, hudson bay bread and beef jerky. At around 20 minutes we start wondering where Timi is. A few minutes later she comes back with tales of a path that runs out, a swampy area and moose and bear prints. She's also dropped her pack, figuring that if she actually was on the right path she didn't want to carry her pack over the portage 3 times. Amy goes with Timi and soon comes back confirming the moose and bear tracks and that this is most likely not our portage. Jen and Timi launch a canoe and look for another possible portage. They find one almost immediately and Timi runs up the trail and confirms they've found the right trail. It's a muddy portage, but quick.

Into another no-name lake with a quick paddle to another no-name lake (39 rods) and again another quick paddle to another no-name lake (32 rods). We're now in Silence Lake, it's a longer lake, much longer than we actually paddle, but we find a wickedly nice campsite just across from tomorrow's portage into Agnes Lake.

We're here early enough that we're able to take a swim and do some fishing.  Some of our more manky clothing gets a good rinsing in the lake. Dinner tonight is Chicken Curry with Dump Cake for dessert. After dinner we do a little fishing (nothing caught). Faithful as always the mosquito swarm launches from the woods at 8:30pm.

Day 5 - Tuesday, July 3rd We're up early. Breakfast of Angry Chipmunk Scrambled Egg Hash. Canoes loaded and we're off. Quick paddle to our portage (8 rods) to Agnes lake. Easy portage. Now in Agnes Lake. Lake. Big Lake. Jen and Amy are in the tandem and Jacob, Timi and I are in the triple. Jen and Amy take a quick stop at a little island. Soon after we paddle down the southeast leg of Agnes we find a beautiful campsite on the east bank and stop for lunch. More paddling. Much more paddling. We're about half a mile north of Louisa Falls and hear thunder rolling in. Timi, Jacob and I are quite a bit ahead of Jen and Amy. We pass a couple campsites on the east bank but pass by them as Timi says all we'll get there is wind. We're nervous because we know there will probably be a bunch of people around Louisa Falls, so we're aimed for a campsite on the west bank just south of Louisa Falls.

It's starting to rain. We pull up, ditch Timi with all the gear so she can get the tents setup and head back up the lake to get Jen and Amy. We find them unloading at the campsite a bit north of Louisa Falls. As we pull up, Jacob tosses packs into our boat and tells Amy to go with me and gets Jen into the tandem and we paddle furiously toward our campsite. In the meantime, Timi is going through packs and finds that the only tent she has is Amy's. Timi just finishes getting Amy's tent setup as Amy and I pull up. We get the canoe unloaded just as Jen and Jacob pull up. Canoes flipped on top of packs, Jacob rushes to setup his tent as Timi and I do the same with ours. Just as I get the tent setup (no fly yet) the rain starts coming down in buckets. We quickly throw the fly over the tent and stake down the corners and jump into the tent.  We lay on the floor of the tent waiting out the rain, when after about 45 minutes Jacob taps on the tent and says the kitchen fly is up.

Tonight's dinner is Hamburger Veggie Cheese Soup. Rain comes down hard for at least another hour. Then it clears up, Amy and I launch a canoe and spend a couple hours fishing. No luck. Timi joins us for a little bit and we get ready for bed. We can hear Louisa Falls in the distance.

Day 6 - Wednesday, July 4th Breakfast is Farmers Omelette Frittata and Apple Corn Cakes. We pack things up at camp and canoe up to check out Louisa Falls. We hike up to Louisa Lake and come back down to soak in the "bathtub". Back down to camp, load up and on the the infamous Meadows Lake portages. I've seen so many people talking about the Meadows portages, how awful they are and how they're in the top 5 or top 10 bad portages in Quetico. The first portage (140 rods) is long, but it's really not a bad portage. It's muddy, it's rocky, but it's not steep. We get to meadows and pull out some snacks. Jacob plays with a snapping turtle for a while, then it's on to the next portage (193 rods). This one is also long, but there's nothing really seriously wrong with it. There's a downed tree about halfway along. Jacob shakes the canoe and slides it under the tree. When I get to the tree I squat down and shuffle my way under the tree. Again, not a bad portage.  We kick back and eat lunch then we're into Sunday Lake. We found a nice campsite on a point on the south side of the lake. Lots of flat space for tents, big cooking area. Amy and I head out for more fishing. Nothing. Back in to make dinner. Tonight it's Chili and Corn Meal Soda Bread. I screw up and make the Chili WAY TOO SPICY. Jacob and I fish from shore, again nothing.  Timi, Jen and Amy play Yahtzee. Again to bed around 8:30. I'm late, putting my fishing gear away and still need to find the latrine in the woods. The mosquitoes are vicious.

Day 7 - Thursday, July 5th It's a late morning, we know we only have to paddle Sunday and Basswood Lakes with a pickup at Prairie Portage. Unfortunately we're only a little way into our late morning and we aren't liking the weather. It starts raining. Rain gear on. We load up and head out. We unload the canoes and I'm switching from sandals to my boots and find a rather nice sized leach on my foot. Nice. So far we've had dozens of leaches and 6 ticks. Jen has been the unlucky host to 5 ticks and Amy had one tick on her clothing. Jacob had a foot full of leaches as did Amy. This is my second leach. The portage (134 rods) out of Sunday Lake is muddy, rocky, wet, a little more muddy. Sunday Bay smells a bit like the "vomit portage". As I'm tossing a barrel into the canoe I either slip or lose my balance and go into the water head first. I'm soaked. Amy and Jacob pull me out and we get on our way to Prairie Portage. It's still raining and it's not letting up. We're about halfway to Prairie Portage and we hear thunder. We paddle quicker as if we'd just heard banjo music.

Arriving at Prairie Portage we get our gear to the other side and realize we have about 4 hours before our scheduled tow comes for us. We talk with the Quetico ranger. She says she doesn't have a phone there, but in their bunkhouse they have a two-way radio where she can call their base and request they call La Tourell's to get an early tow back. Thankfully she was able to get through and our tow showed up about 30 minutes later and takes us south. We wander the store at La Tourell's waiting for our ride from Canadian Waters, who shows up bearing gifts of beer and pop.

Fantastic trip.