Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

My first trip to the BWCA
by dixiepaddler

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 06/12/2015
Entry & Exit Point: Mudro Lake (restricted--no camping on Horse Lake) (EP 22)
Number of Days: 5
Group Size: 2
Trip Introduction:
Trip was a Christmas gift to me from my daughter
WHO WENT: Just me and my daughter. I am a reasonably fit semi-retired 72 yrs old; she is 37, reasonably fit, and my best camping buddy. Both of us are avid canoe/kayak campers and fishermen.


Thursday June 11: Flew from DC to Duluth; rented a car and drove 2 hours to Ely; Checked in with the outfitter, and then the Adventure Inn for that night. Nice family owned place; very comfortable beds. Ate pizza at Sir G's. Great pizza and super cold beer in frozen mugs. Did some last minute unexpected shopping at Piragis', and some planned shopping at Zups & a liquor store that evening.

Friday June 12 : Back to the outfitters; they had all our gear loaded on a van and ready. We left Ely about 9:15 and got to our entry point at Mudro Lake around 10 AM. The short portage into Mudro was easy, and I thought "this won't be so tough". Two hours later, after the series of three portages over to Fourtown I knew better!

We paddled around the shoreline to the portage into Boot Lake and crossed over. By this time I was tired and ready for camp. We stopped at the second site on the east side and set up camp for our first night in the boundary waters. Heard my first loon ever that evening. That made the whole trip worthwhile. We broiled some ribeyes over the fire, and baked potatoes and onions wrapped in foil in the coals. Scorched the potatoes, but they were great anyway. We turned in about 9 PM and enjoyed a beautiful sunset from the tent. During the night my Thermarest developed a pinhole leak. Slept well despite lack of cushion.

Saturday June 13:  Cooked breakfast (bacon and eggs), broke camp about 9, and paddled to the portage into Fairy, paddled Fairy, portaged into Gun Lake, and found the 5* campsite we wanted was open. Set up camp a little better, as we were staying here two nights. We put up the tarp, hung a clothesline, set up the Sawyer drip setup. Had a nice lunch and then went out fishing, caught a couple little smallmouth and released them.  

On the way back to camp I stopped and gathered a good load of firewood. Made it back to camp early, about 4 PM; rested some more, and I found the leak in the Thermarest by submerging it while I was rinsing off in the lake. After it dried I put a patch of Gorilla Tape on it, and hoped for the best. Got a small fire going and then cooked pork chops with scalloped potatoes. Ate and turned in about 9-ish. Still light. The Gorilla Tape worked until about 3-4 in the morning.

Sunday June 14: Got up about 7 and fixed coffee, ham and eggs for breakfast. After eating and cleaning up I re-patched the Thermarest. This time I cleaned the spot with an alcohol swab from my first aid kit, and super-glued a new piece of Gorilla Tape on it. Then we went fishing. Paddled down the "barrel" of Gun Lake fishing along the shore, with no luck. Checked out the portage to Bullet at the end and then started back. Just as we turned around we heard a group of young guys whooping and hollering over on the north bank. They had just finished the 327 rod portage into Gun from Wagosh! Made me tired thinking about it.

Heading back towards camp I trolled a big deep-diving lure. About half way back, a nice northern grabbed it and gave me a great fight.

I put him on the stringer for just-in-case. We continued to fish along with no more luck. Paddled over to a point across from our camp and I switched our lures to jigheads with white Zoom super salt flukes and we started bouncing off the bottom. Daughter caught two beautiful walleye within 10 minutes, and I caught another, smaller, pike. We were thrilled. Decided to call it a day, and headed back to camp. I fileted the walleye and the small pike, and released the large one I had caught earlier.

About 6 a big windstorm blew out of the northwest, so we battened down and sat it out in the tent. After about 45 minutes it cleared up, and we made dinner. Fried up the filets that night and had them with Knorr pasta side. Delicious!

We cleaned up and turned in at sunset - the wind died a bit and the mosquitos showed up. Happy to report the superglue worked, and I had no more issues with the pad.

Monday June 15: The wind picked back up during the night, and it got cooler. This was a travel day, so we tied all our gear down well, and wore our PFD's for the first time. We paddled back eastward on Gun to the short portage into Bullet; crossed Bullet into Moosecamp, and over into Moosecamp River. It was still cool and overcast, and would spit a bit of rain from time to timer, but not drenching. When we got to Fourtown the wind had picked up again, and all three of the campsites close to the portage were taken. Fought the wind down the lake till we found an open site. We set up and cooked freeze-dried behind the tent out of the wind. I slept like a dead man due to fighting the wind most of the day.

Tuesday June 16 : Woke to beautiful weather again. We slept in till about 8, and had a quick breakfast of oatmeal and hot tea. Packed up for the last time, and headed leisurely towards the far end of Fourtown and the portages back to Mudro. Met the outfitter's driver about 5 PM and rode back to Ely. We turned in our gear and checked in to the Grand Ely Lodge, a great place to stay. We repeated our first night by having pizza and cold beer at Sir G's.

Wednesday June 17: Drove back to Duluth, flew back to DC.

THE WEATHER Perfect; low to mid 70's each day, low 50's most nights. No rain or wind except Sunday evening wind storm and all day Monday. Monday night temp fell to mid forties.

THE BUGS Virtually none. A few mosquitos each evening at dusk. No worse than down south. A few black flies at our first campsite on Boot. Mosquitoes seemed to be thickest at the latrines. No problems. Permethrin treated clothing & Deet worked great. No deer flies or ticks.

THE WILDLIFE One whitetail doe, ducks, loons, one beaver, gulls, eagles, one mystery bump in the night noise ??

WHAT WAS THE SAME AS USUAL: The "camping" part: setting up, camp life, cooking, cleaning up, firewood issues at campsites - (go across the lake for wood). This is usually the case at frequently used campsites everywhere I've ever been.

WHAT WAS DIFFERENT FROM USUAL: Worrying about getting a campsite. You must pick a campsite early. I have to confess this is the one feature that I am really not fond of.

Kevlar canoe. If you have to carry a canoe, it's the only way to go. But I did obsess over rocks at landings, and got in and out in much deeper water than I probably had to.

Scenery: limited tree/shrub varieties & smaller trees. Virtually no hardwoods; clarity of water, big sky, variable weather/wind; loons. No long green tunnels like on many rivers.

Quiet, no people except random sightings (Fourtown was the exception, somewhat crowded); no sounds of tractors, trains, trucks, chainsaws, like usual on southern rivers

Filtering water; the Sawyer mini is the bomb. Never really used it much before, normally carry it as a backup. Drip is the only way to go, vs pump or squeeze. I took two of the Sawyer 64 oz "dirty water" bags and they worked great.

Having a latrine at the campsite is great, if you must use designated campsites.

No cooler, hence no ice (and no beer)

Using a bear barrel vs hanging a food pack like I normally do. A cooler also serves me normally as a "table", not having one on this trip I took an REI FlexLite table. Very handy.

Portaging = backpacking while carrying a canoe!

WHAT I LEARNED OR WOULD DO DIFFERENTLY: Take all my own gear; only rent the canoe, paddles, & PFD's from an outfitter; plan and pack as if backpacking vs "camping". I can easily stay under 40 lb of gear for two people (not including food) for a week-long trip.

Hang/hide food pack; a bear barrel is too heavy/cumbersome, and the barrel itself doesn't get any smaller or lighter as the trip progresses. Although it does make a decent stool. Take hammocks vs tent: quicker, more comfortable; or ultra light tent, and better (thicker) sleeping pads. If I go with a buddy, or solo, it'll be hammocks; if I go again with my daughter, a tent - it being more companionable.

Take a smaller, lighter tarp.

When you change batteries in a cheap Go-Pro clone it loses the day/date/time stamp

Lighter (in weight) food menu; less fresh food; eat fish more often (if I'm lucky), freeze-dried for the rest; do oatmeal for most breakfasts

Duluth Trading Co. "Dry on the Fly" pants really do! I bought them just for this trip, and they are great. I especially like the side zips on the cargo pockets.

Use two smaller packs vs single large one. Carry some items by hand vs pack - seems to make the load lighter. I'm always going to double portage anyway.

Take less fishing tackle

Take more videos & pictures; especially videos

Longer trip: three more days would have been really nice; spend two nights on two different lakes, with one night on travel days in between. Two weeks would be even better.