Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Malberg area basecamp trip
by lindylair

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 07/11/2015
Entry & Exit Point: Kawishiwi Lake (EP 37)
Number of Days: 8
Group Size: 2
Trip Introduction:
Our long awaited day was finally upon us - Doughboy and I were going in for his first real canoe trip and an extended one at that, 8 days in. We picked up our permit at the Duluth Pack store Friday afternoon and made or way to a friends lake home on Lake Superior where we were lucky enough to spend the night. Up early Saturday and drove to the Kawishiwi landing. We entered at Kawishiwi Lake about 9am on a warm sunny morning. Float Stanley accompanied us on this trip as well...more on that later. As usual, a long and detailed report with many warned.
After reading that Kawishiwi to Malberg is a tough day we were open to staying on Polly but I knew that Brian really wanted to make it all the way. The lakes north of Kawishiwi were in the burn area, all the way to the south end of Polly and it was my first extensive travel in that type of area. Desolate and stark and very interesting to see but I must say I do not think I would want to camp in it. The portages in the burn area were particularly cool with the ability to see the forest landscape clearly without the tree cover. Berries were abundant and both blueberries and raspberries were not really ripe yet but you could see it wouldn't be too long. On the way out, 8 days later there were a lot of ripe berries to snack on at landings and on the portages.

We made Polly at 1pm, right on schedule, and still had energy and adrenaline, although the 85 degrees and humid weather wasn't helping. Decided to go further on to Malberg and we made it just after 4pm - our energy and motivation were definitely waning on the last couple lakes/portages. Wasn't real worried about finding a campsite as we hadn't seen many people but were surprised to find Malberg empty when we got there, we had our pick of campsites. I had my preferences but Brian was set on the beach campsite #1051 in the north end of the lake so that was where we set up. It was a nice campsite and we ended up staying there 3 nights but we both found out that the allure of beach campsites is a novelty and not our preference for the future. Convenient yes, but sand goes everywhere you go, and in this case both the fishing opportunities and sunrise/sunset viewing potential was minimal. Got camp set up and took a nice dip in the lake.

Site 1051

Brian and Float Stanley lounging in camp - note the flask in Stanley's hands - he starts early in the day!

Malberg sunset

Sunday was a planned relaxation and recovery day so we lounged around camp and got everything set up just right. Went out in the afternoon to do some fishing and headed down towards the narrows, almost to Cigar Bay. We had some luck with pike and some very nice smallies, particularly around the campsite at the beginning of the narrows. But no eyes. That was a trend that would continue.

Sunday night it rained a good part of the night and continued through Monday morning into mid afternoon. Finally stopped so we went out fishing again, mostly trolling the shoreline and the inlets to the west of our site in the big bay. I hooked a small northern and immediately after Brian got one - he though he had snagged my line. We suspect that this was following mine in and it turned out to be a dandy, probably in the 34" range. Kept him for a possible dinner. We ended up letting him go but not before a hubcap size snapping turtle grabbed ahold of him in camp - Brian lifted him out of the water with snapper still holding on, pretty cool. Started to rain again while we were out so we started to head in but with each stroke the rain got harder and we found ourselves in a torrential downpour on the way back. Soaked to the skin and chilled, we made it back and lounged the rest of the day. If you are in the area, we discovered one of the coolest rock formations we had ever seen in one of the long narrow fingers on the west side of the bay, not sure if it was the middle or southern one. Elevated up on shore was a large flat rock with two slab rock sides and a slab rock roof, looked like a carport and big enough to live in! Looked almost man made it was so perfect, resembled a double car garage with the front door open. Wish I had photos but alas, no camera with me. Worth seeing, or even exploring if you have the time.

We had planned on another lounging/fishing day on Tuesday but realized that we were weary of this site so decided to move. Packed up quick as we could and headed over to River Lake. Many of the portages were quite wet on this trip, several flooded landings and standing water/mudholes in some as well. Nothing real difficult though.

From Malberg to River Lake

Nice Blue Flag Iris on the portage

River Lake is nice and we planned on staying on one of the island campsites. As we were approaching the northern site I realized I had left my PFD at the end of the last portage (DUH) so we checked out the sites with plans to return shortly after claiming a site. The northern site is okay but we went further and checked out the next site #1969 and we were glad we did. Excellent site, high up off the lake with nice rocks for lounging and diving into the lake, very nice tent pads and a nice cozy kitchen area. It is not on the southern point of the island as shown on the map but partway up the west side of the island. We set up camp and put Float Stanley to use as I wore him on the return trip for my PFD. This was to be our home for the next 3 days. Didn't see another canoe the first night so we thought this must be a somewhat quiet area but that was proven wrong the next day as we saw several groups, all 3 canoes and 9 people. Not a big deal. We thoroughly enjoyed this spot and did a mix of lounging and fishing over the next couple days. Still didn't have much luck fishing, some pike and smallies and only a few small eyes from shore. Our luck would change though...

River Lake site 1969

Kitchen area

View from site


and a cigar

On Thursday we took off for a day of fishing and I wanted to go to Amber Lake and check out that site. Another sandy beach site but much nicer than the Malberg site - would stay there. We had lunch there and met up with a couple guys who were out for a longer trip like ours in the same area. They had wanted our site on River Lake but saw it occupied, then when they saw us at Amber were going to move on. We waved them in and assured them we were just leaving, the site was theirs. Had a nice chat with them, comparing experiences and equipment. Turns out we would see them a few more times on the way out.

Amber lake site

It was getting to be early evening by now and with a nice southwesterly wind, we decided to just drift back to camp, jigging with a leech along the way. Picked up a few small walleyes until we reached the "honey hole" where we spent the next hour or so pulling out about 35 walleyes. may be the most fun walleye fishing I have ever had - nothing big, mainly 11-17 inchers but sure was fun. We kept a few for dinner and although we hated to leave, we had to get back and clean and cook our catch. We were already pushing dusk and indeed, I cleaned and cooked them while fighting the sunset onslaught of mosquitoes, but it was worth it.

Friday we were to begin our trip heading back towards the entry with the plan of staying on Polly Friday night and heading out Saturday morning. Stopped to admire the huge rock in the river between Malberg and Polly for a bit...

Brian's GQ pose...

Yours truly...

Spent an uneventful evening on Polly at a nice site # 1078

Float Stanley particularly enjoyed the view from the Polly site...

Only guy I have ever tripped with that had his name etched on his Nalgene...

Headed out Saturday morning for our last portage "landing" on Townline from Polly

We met up with the two guys from Amber Lake on this portage - they single portage and decided to check out what double portaging is like...went back and carried our second load for us! Thanks gents.

On the way out I took the time to take some photos of the burn area we were passing through

Kawaschong Lake landing

The last stretch of our trip was a long river like paddle with a couple portages and a few unexpected beaver dams. We were able to pullover one of them on the way in but not on the way out. The water lilies had begun to explode while we were in and there were hundreds of them in full bloom along the way making for a scenic journey.

We got to the Kawishiwi landing early afternoon and we had planned to camp somewhere along the north shore that night. Poor planning though, everything was full, both campsites and hotel rooms so we drove home after a quick stop at the Castle Danger taproom in Two Harbors.

All in all an excellent trip. Despite only one night and one day of rain although with a few occasional sprinkles, the weather was mostly cloudy much of the time. Between that and not having good sunrise/sunset exposures from camp, I took many less photos than usual. Also we did not fish as much as we expected to- I would say other than the hour on River Lake at our honey hole, the fishing was mediocre. But we spent a lot of time relaxing and exploring and accomplished our goals. Did not see much wildlife, many loons and several bald eagles, vultures and an osprey. Seeing the burn area was pretty neat, now i don't need to purposely see it again. It was my longest trip ever at 8 days and Brian and I both agreed that more is better, we are thinking 10-11 days next year.

I have two more trips planned yet this year, one taking some newbies up at the end of August for an easy trip, and one around October 1st with my normal tripping buddy. This trip was more physical than I am used to with 8 portages the first day and although they were easy as portages go, there were still a couple long and challenging ones. Can't say I would want to do anything harder, gotten kind of used to more leisurely trips. Malberg area is awesome, glad we got there and I would definitely return. I get the feeling you could do quite well fishing in that area with a little more perseverance than we showed.

Couple more miscellaneous pics...

River Lake view from our chairs...

Looking north to Malberg

River to Malberg portage...solid bottom in the middle but I stepped off the edge and went knee deep in muck

Lakes Traveled:   Kawishiwi Lake, Square Lake, Kawasachong Lake, Polly, Lake, Townline Lake, Malberg Lake, River Lake, Amber Lake, Koma Lake,