Pictorial Trip Report - Lake Agnes in October
by Ho Ho
I got to take several canoe trips in 2013. But they were all short. Most of the trips were for the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas. I agreed to take "ownership" of two "priority blocks" in the Boundary Waters - one centered on Big Moose Lake, and the other on Vera and the east end of Ensign - to complete the atlas survey in those areas in the fifth and final year of the project. So I took five overnight bird surveying trips (including a couple solos) to those two areas, ranging from two to four days, plus numerous day trips into Big Moose.
David, Piwi and I also headed to Quetico for a five-day trip in early July, joined by our friend Banksiana the first several days. It was a great - though warm and buggy - little jaunt. But we thought of it as an appetizer for our long Quetico trip later in the summer.
Unfortunately, that long trip never happened this year. Commitments at home on the Echo Trail kept forcing us to defer our tentative late-summer trip plans, until it finally became clear that it was not going to happen.
So when the forecast called for a stretch of nice weather in early October, we were determined to get out for at least one last short trip. This would be our first October overnight trip. It seemed like a good time of year to go somewhere in the Boundary Waters that would probably be too busy or booked-up during the main season. After thinking it over, we decided to head northbound on the Moose River, a popular area we had never been to before.
And so on a Tuesday in early October, David, Piwi and I left home a little after 8:00 in the morning to get started on our autumn adventure.
Day 1 (Tuesday, October 8, 2013) -
We pulled into the Moose River North entry point parking lot right around 9:00 a.m. We knew we would not have the place to ourselves, but there were more vehicles in the lot than we expected, given the time of year. Apparently we were not the only ones taking advantage of the good weather. After a few minutes organizing our gear, we started on our first trip across the half-mile entry portage, which is a pleasant downhill amble past some really big pines.
When we got back to the parking lot for the rest of our gear, we found a younger couple with a dog who had arrived in the meantime and were getting ready to start their own trip. Piwi excitedly greeted her three new best friends, and we talked for a minute. They were more locals, from Babbitt, seizing the moment for a quick fishing trip up to Lac la Croix. They were single portaging, so after we carried the rest of our gear across the portage, we let them load up first to speed ahead of us double-portaging slowpokes.
Ho Ho and Piwi take a breather while the other group loads up -
Water levels were pretty low coming through the rapids above the portage landing -
Once we started paddling, we quickly encountered some new obstructions in the river. It seems that a beaver dam burst on a side stream, dumping lots of muck into the Moose. As a result, we were repeatedly getting in and out of the canoe for short carries at the beginning of our excursion, until the unobstructed stream opened up for us again. From there the river flows through apparently endless expanses of alder before passing a much-used rocky sentinel (which we bypassed without stopping) and opening into grassy marsh flanked by birch-and-aspen forests leading to Nina Moose Lake.
We paused to take some pictures in the open marshy area. The morning haze had given way to mostly blue sky -
A largely submerged beaver dam guarded the final approach to Nina Moose Lake. We had get out of the canoe to pull over one or two other dams along the way, but not this one -
Cliffs line the west side of Nina Moose, as seen from the mouth of the river-
Zooming in a bit -
The author and Piwi, getting ready to paddle across the lake -
The treetops had been swaying in a south by southwest wind all morning, but we were largely protected from it on the river. Now, as we moved away from the shelter of the southern shore to cross Nina Moose, the waves gathered size and force as they rolled across the lake, hitting the canoe at a 45 degree angle between the stern and the right side where I was paddling. It was nothing we could not easily handle, but I was mindful of how cold the lakes already were this fall. So we were content when we arrived at the opposite shore without incident. From there we followed the Nina Moose River to Lake Agnes. Along the way are two easy portages, which weigh in at a quarter of mile and a third of a mile, respectively. We stopped to eat sandwiches at the end of the first portage, then continued on to the second, where Piwi and I checked out the scenery -
On one of these portages we crossed paths with a group of guys heading out to the entry point after several days camping on Stuart Lake. (Why they used the Moose River entry instead of the Stuart River entry to get there wasn't clear.) They had just passed through Lake Agnes, our destination for the night, and told us they had seen only one of the many campsites occupied. We would have lots of options for setting up camp, as we expected in October.
The southeast wind continued to pick up as we neared Agnes, so we were thinking it would be great to find a campsite without venturing too far out into the lake. As we emerged from the river, we noticed a nice looking campsite just ahead on a point jutting out from the west shore. Then we noticed canoes at the site, and a closer look through the binoculars showed tents set up there too. Crossing that option off the list, we paddled along the sheltered south shore of Agnes toward the east end of the lake, where several sites had been recommended to us.
Before we got there, though, we noticed a nice looking site on the lee side of the broad point that bisects the south shore. We stopped to check it out, and liked the look of its firepit - where we planned to spend some time during the long evenings - as well as the nice lake views in multiple directions and the surrounding open forest we could move around in.
It seemed like a great spot. But given the short days, we thought we would probably basecamp this trip. So we wanted to make sure we made the best choice now. And we were still wondering about the sites that had been recommended to us. Since the wind was blowing on the other side of the point, David suggested that we bushwhack from the site where we were across a very narrow isthmus to reconnoiter the east end of the lake from shore. It turned out that was easier said than done, but our bushwhack made for a fun little adventure. As best we could tell scanning through the binoculars to the east, the other sites there were unoccupied. But they didn't look any better than where we were already, at least from a distance. So we bushwhacked back and set up camp on the point.
This is the fire ring at our site. It was very comfortable, which was a real plus when the sun would set early and we figured on long evening hours sitting around the fire -
The view from the site's "front porch" -
And the view of a pretty back bay -
Piwi contemplates the scene -
We got to our site around 2:30, so we had several hours before the sun went down around 6:30. After setting up camp, we explored the forest around the campsite and gathered firewood for the evening, then lazed around until it was time to grill steaks for dinner. On summer trips, we usually try to make sure we've finished dishes and other chores before the insect hordes emerge at sunset. But that was not a concern in October - even though we were enjoying warm Indian summer weather. So after eating, we took a break to enjoy the sunset before cleaning up -
Later we sat by the fire for a couple hours, the ambiance enhanced by some Maker's Mark. After we put out the fire, we spent a few minutes at the lakeshore gazing at the stars, then hit the tent for the night.
Distance traveled on Day 1 (including double portages): 12.3 miles.