Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Leisurely Semi-Novice Trip & lessons learned
by fromtheplains

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 08/10/2014
Entry Point: Meeds Lake (EP 48)
Exit Point: Lizz and Swamp Lakes (EP 47)  
Number of Days: 10
Group Size: 4
Trip Introduction:
In at Meeds, out at Lizz – traveled to Caribou, Horseshoe, Swallow, Pillsbery, Henson, Omega, Otto Lakes, Kiskadinna, Winchell, Gaskin, Jump, Allen, Lizz and had a look down the Muskeg and Davis portages off Kiskadinna. [paragraph break] Four 30-somethings, good fitness, canoe novices, backcountry & water experienced, two dogs, casual fishermen. Found we preferred days in camp relaxing to daily breaking camp and setting up elsewhere.
Lessons learned:

**Probably worth getting a second map. We did fine sharing, but paddled at different speeds. A second map would have allowed a bit more independence, but perhaps creates a “where did they go?” issue?!

**A little bit too much “group” in the group food. We planned out meals and snacks for everyone. Left all with little autonomy of being able to eat as much as they wanted whenever. Next time we’ll do group meals and leave everyone responsible for their own snacks.

Route: 1) Poplar to Meeds

2) day paddle to Caribou, Horseshoe & back to Meeds

3) Meeds to Swallow to Pillsbery to Henson

4) in-camp day at Henson

5) day paddle to Omega

6) Henson to Omega

7) day paddle to Kiskadinna, hike portages to Muskeg and Davis

8) day paddle to Otto Lakes

9) Omega to Winchell to Gaskin

10) Gaskin to Jump to Allen to Horseshoe to Caribou to Lizz to Poplar

Day One: Poplar to Meeds

Left Poplar before noon. There’s a reason Meeds entry was still available in mid-July when we booked our permit! Three weeks before departure, I’m guessing right after [cowdoc’s trip] (, a big windstorm came through. The portage goes through a burn area, and the wind knocked down lots of trees onto the track. This is a tough first portage, as you’ll have fully-loaded packs. We wouldn’t do it again. My Australian partner described it as “the hardest he’s ever done it.” Getting up over the blown down trees with loaded packs when inexperienced with canoe carrying was… a superb challenge. Many of the bridging planks were rotten or overgrown. We managed! The August berries made it bearable. Just. Looking back, this was the best berry patch of our entire trip. So good we considered paddling over to it at the end to pick some more. Didn’t take advantage going in as we were anxious to get our first camp staked out. Had our pick of Meeds campsites – island #2 (farthest from Poplar/Meeds portage) gets our vote! Plenty of space and options for our two tents.

Day Two: day paddle from Meeds to Caribou to Horseshoe & return

Rained in the morning so we slept in. Portage between the unnamed swamp after Meeds and Horseshoe was full of nearly un-navigable boulders and mud. We didn’t like it, but four guys we met later that afternoon (with proper Duluth packs and all!) absolutely hated it. A bit of misery, but short-lived. Got stuck on a just-hidden rock off an island in Caribou coming back in the afternoon. Sailing along and then pretty firmly stuck with nothing around to push off of and two dogs in the boat. We didn’t stop laughing for the next hour!

Day Three: Meeds to Swallow to Pillsbery to Henson

Didn’t find the portages either difficult or pleasant. We didn’t like the first Henson camps we checked out, settled on the cove site on the central south side of the lake. Site was hard to identify at first, just crawled out onto the rock and went wandering up the hill. Found space for two tents – enjoyed this spot! Fewer mosquitoes than expected. Fisherfolk caught lots of Northern Pike here.

Day Four: day paddle around Henson

Laze in camp. Hummingbirds seen in morning. More Northern Pike and a shooting star in the evening.

Day Five: day paddle to Omega

Confirmed that our Henson site was the best-of, checked out all the Omega sites and picked a favorite. We picnicked at the site on the eastern arm that runs north – our runner-up choice. Really didn’t like the central northern site – it was back in a ravine with little to no ambiance, poor lake access, etc. The westernmost site we found to be a cute spot for a break, but very exposed. Our pick was the only spot on the southern side of the lake, on a point with a fantastic view. Great swimming rock.

Day Six: Omega to Henson

This was a Friday, and we’re glad we got to our favorite Omega site early! More people than we saw the whole trip paddled by until late afternoon hopefully asking if we might be vacating our spot. No luck in the fishing department.

Day Seven: day paddle to Kiskadinna, hike portages to Muskeg and Davis.

Omega to Kiskadinna portage was steep getting down to the water at Kiskadinna end. Were glad, upon hiking Muskeg portage, that we weren’t having to carry packs and canoes… it’s as steep as everyone says! The portage to Davis was difficult to access (locked in by logs) and seriously overgrown… to the extent that two life-long hikers kept hesitating and repeating to each other that… “Surely this must be the trail… right?”

Day Eight: day paddle to Otto Lakes

Pretty average portage. Ran into some rangers! Didn’t love any of the Otto Lakes camp spots or the lakes themselves – okay for a picnic.

Day Nine: Omega to Winchell to Gaskin

Disappointed that “cliffs” at Winchell were a far cry from what we were expecting. Big, slightly exposed hills, we felt, would be a more accurate definition. Serendipitous waterfall find along the south shore. Finally saw our first moose – a mother and baby duo – upon arrival at Gaskin. They swam across, exited the water right in front of us, and disappeared into the woods. We nabbed a Gaskin site on the western half of the lake – south side. It’s on a point that faces three islands. Was magic for us! Huge site! Others told us it wasn’t their favorite Gaskin site, but we sure enjoyed it.

It must have been upon arrival at Gaskin that one of the more confident members of our group walked beyond the logs in the portage lead-up to the lakeside and sank quad-deep in mud.

Day Ten: Gaskin to Jump to Allen to Horseshoe to Caribou to Lizz to Poplar

We meant to go Gaskin to Horseshoe to save a few portages. We’d rather paddle farther – especially on a flat day like the one we got. Navigating errors had us launched on Jump before someone else grabbed the map and figured out what had happened. Had a hell of a time finding Rockwood Lodge upon return to Poplar. We sure found ourselves wishing we had turned around and looked at the shoreline before heading out ten days ago. We more or less bumped into it… the way you find your keys on the counter right where they should have been.

Hope that helps! Happy to answer other questions. Am not familiar with this forum (but so grateful for trip planning help provided!), so a bit out of my depth as to how things run here. The campfire version of our trip, including whose map-reading skills need testing and what Boyfriend got instead of help, is here: