EP 16 Nina Moose to Agnes Basecamp: A Family Excursion with a bit of fishing
Night before, we stopped at Kawishiwi Ranger station to pick up permit from the nice folks there. Beautiful late summer afternoon drive up the Echo Trail. Arrived at Jeanette USFS campground about 35 miles north of Ely on Echo Trail. Peaceful, bucolic, small campsite nestled at base of a very pretty lake. Lots of longer-term residents there enjoying the last of summer fishing and camp community. Probably 11 or so total sites? Beautiful cool evening with lots of stars. We all slept well. Crawled under my Matrix to retie a banging heat shield from driving through the construction on 169 and the Trail. Bail fail off one of my 3 reels in transit so the Gladding Southbend 725A reel had to stay in the car. Oh well, that leads to LESSON #1 of the trip: ALWAYS pack a back-up reel
Day 2: Saturday August 31, 2013 -- The PUT-IN. Day dawned beautiful, cool, clear with only a few clouds and little to no wind at all. Great to take off. Up at 5:30 to make coffee. Quick breakfast and rousting of our two kids out of the tent. Finally packed and ready to go at 8:30AM (an early start for us!), reached trailhead at Moose River EP16 at 9. Unloaded and ...disaster struck. After trucking the canoe down to the put-in and the family was in-process of staging the rest of the gear, I popped the watch pins out of my sport watch while struggling one of my packs (Lesson 2: Always put the watch in a pocket). Then the spine ripped out of my beloved, 25-year-old “recently repaired” Lowe Alpine internal-frame pack as I was gingerly struggling that one onto my back ( Lesson #3: ALWAYS bring a spare backpack. Luckily we had another large daypack and lots of 55L dry bags to shift gear around in.
Around 10:15AM, we finally shoved off down the river. Beautiful day! Immediately after the first 25 rod portage we found the impromptu sandbar portage of 3 rods which we “lifted over” and then walked the shallow rapids down about 20 yards. Then we came to what would be one of the 6 portages we did this day, another impromptu portage of about 10 rods around a set of half-submerged boulders in a 25 – 30 yard stretch of the stream (on the way back we artfully navigated through these – the hell with portaging that again! ?
Rest of the trip upriver was uneventfully beautiful. We lunched on “the beach” at the north end to the left of the Nina Moose river inlet. A thunderstorm was building to our south/southeast that my son was nervously tracking for us and he rightfully suggested that we take cover! So, we landed, ate, were rained on briefly and then reloaded to paddle on with sun already beating down on us again.
Couple of notes: Nina Moose and Moose Rivers were both a bit high due to recent rains making beaver dams easier to glide over. Also managed to turn my ankle over on the 45 rod portage. Not to worry as I have a habit of packing neoprene ankle braces for just such occasions (still smarted though!). Also want to TIP MY HAT to the young guide from Ely Outfitters and his companion for grabbing our last 3 bags on the 95-rod portage and giving us great advice on campsites and fishing on Agnes! I owe those gentlemen a beer or tow!
So we made it to campsite #1804 per BWCA map by 3:30PM (about a 5 ½ hr. journey with our half hour lunch break and rather lazy double portaging). This is a lovely 5-star on the east shoreline of upper Agnes. It’s located on a peninsula that juts out into the lake. Approaching from the south, the camp is the 3rd in a line going east along that peninsula shoreline.
Storm from Hell: We set up camp, stowed gear and began making dinner while lightning, clouds and thunder built up in the west/southwest. There is no apt way to describe what hit us while we were under our cook tarp prepping dinner. Rain, wind gusts (25? 30? Mph), lightning bursts, ear-splitting thunder and zero visibility across the lake. When the winds picked up our canoe (stowed about 25 yds. on shore) and tossed it into the water, it was time to 1) frantically dash to grab and lash it to anything on shore with the errant mooring line flagging behind, 2) dash for the tent (God bless our Kelty Salida 4!) and 3) comfort our poor kids who were very brave but more than just a bit unnerved.
A lesson or two I learned: ALWAYS tie down your boat, even on shore (came through with only a minor pin-prick puncture). Check your weather radio with “stuff” rolling in. NOAA wasn’t kidding about the “violent thunderstorm” that we heard after-the-fact”. We did however congratulate ourselves as a family on competently tying down our tent, tarp and stowing our gear (nothing was lost!) as well as planning on the correct foul weather clothing to pack and wear. Tie down the Boat!
Day 3: Sunday September 1, 2013 – Dry out and Recover. The rest of our trip in comparison is rather anti-climactic given what happened on the first day! We spent the morning hitting the reset button in camp. ). I started the day at 5:30 by doing a bit of jigging from shore, trying out the TGO, and flinging the husky-jerker into the saddle between us and the island across from the site. But no luck (think I caught a clam on the TGO-method!). Making coffee and exploring our camp, I found my socks on opposite sides of the site: one had been left on the line and remarkably had only blown around camp (and not out into the lake) and the other was near the fire pit. With a bit of misty rain and overcast in late afternoon, my wife suggested we catch some fish for dinner so we paddled out into the lake, scooped water for our gravity filter and then I plied the small bays with jigs, Mepps (little too mid-summer still for that) and the jerker. Having no luck, we skirted the rocky points with a #11 blue/silver deep shad rap. Bingo. Pulled up a 14” walleye that we released. Paddled north around other points into the north bays, crossed the lake to the west and came back the way we came. Rounding the final point in front of camp site 2 (1803), we picked up an 18 in pike. Not a stellar fishing outing by most standards but then again, we only fish for that “one fish” we need for our meal. So it’s usually a once-and-done adventure which is fine for us.
Day 4: Monday September 2, 2013 Labor Day --- Pancakes a plenty. Bacon. Fruit. Rivers of dark coffee (adults only ?). Packed up by 10:30AM which was also quick for our family. Sun peeking through this morning with water smooth as glass. An eagle on the rock across from our site where we left the pike carcass the day before. We can see the way out of the lake to the south peeking through the mist. A slow graceful paddle with lots of memories. The storm-of-the-century taking its place in our family’s shared legacy and dominating the conversations. Sun’s out, rivers are up. Break again at “the beach” on Nina Moose where we met a group of 3 canoes heading out after a long trip (in #14, LLC, out #16). Finding Nina Moose (river entry for Moose actually) by sight navigation a bit of a trick. Pushing a bit harder upstream to glide over beaver dams, we find the portages easier and quicker to navigate. Finally, we land at the 160-rod trailhead take out that I silently nickname the “160 rod Zen Walker Canoe Portage”. It’s 4:15PM. I find this portage easier to stroll up than it was to put-in. Happily fatigued and weary, we load up and drive down the Echo Trail to Ely for Chinese takeout in Ely is in order before the 4 ½ hr. drive back to the cities. Arriving home in SW Minneapolis at 11PM, everyone is toes-to-the-ceiling shortly thereafter.
EPILOGUE: In hindsight, it was a fantastic trip. Expectations were adjusted based on the energy level of the group, particularly the shorter ones. We knew going in that we would “get as far as we could get” and that “it would be beautiful” wherever we landed.