Friday, July 15
6 of us friends, all from college, decided it was time to do a full week. We had all been before, together, but never a full week. Taking that extra day or two of vacation can add 4 days to a trip, and that is exciting. We gathered all of our belongings at a parent’s home in White Bear Lake so that we were ready to take off Friday. After a necessary stop at Gordy’s in Cloquet, both vehicles arrived at Grand Ely Lodge packed-full and ready to get after it in the morning, knowing that ep23 is a popular one. We had chosen this with Horse Lake being the goal since we are doing a full week base camp and heard the fishing was fantastic and scenery unreal. The excitement usually makes for a sleepless night with this crew.
Saturday, July 16
Our plan of being up by 4:00 and making pancakes before getting to the outfitter at 5:00 was not in the cards after Friday night’s debauchery. 6:30 would have to do. Got our leeches and permits at Voyageur North and headed to ep23. The short portage from the lot to the landing was along a beautiful river that ended up being the one we will take to Mudro. We had a lot of fun paddling that river which was a great way to start knowing we have some longer portages ahead and we packed for a week.
We lost a man right away to a twisted ankle on the portage to Sandpit - damn. A short paddle across Sandpit and a long search for the portage and we were off to Tin Can Mike. As I was walking into the water at the end of the portage to TCM I went down the rocks and BOOM, SPLASH. One of the boys had turned around and gotten the front tip of my 75lb aluminum Grumman in his forehead and got blown back into the water. While that bloody, scary mess was going on there was a group coming from behind us.
We knew Horse was busy and started kicking it into hyperdrive. As we got to the end of beautiful TCM we saw a very large group (talkin’ 8 or 9 canoes) coming back out of BWCA - a good sign for us.
We asked one of the adults where they camped and he said Horse, and after digging deeper we discovered they were at 1116 – the 5 star on the peninsula at the mouth of the Horse River, our dream site. This ignited a fire under us and we portaged like never before. Horse did not disappoint as we paddled violently towards 1116 - it had amazing topography. We raided the beaches of our site and had a group come by for the site before we had even taken a thing out of the canoe!
One of the first things we noticed was a large livewell someone had built along shore. “Leave No Trace” will have to wait because this was awesome, and we weren’t going to ruin it. We set up camp, had something to eat and then headed out to fish. A nice 18” eater Walleye on night 1 ended up being a very wrong foreshadow to what was ahead.
Sleep was easy after the days’ work.
Sunday, July 17
Today would not be ideal weather wise, as we had known from the weather radio’s prediction the night before, so we got our traditional scrambled eggs, bacon and sausage breakfast going early and headed out for some fishing.
Minimal luck for everyone, and just one eater Walleye. Our goal is to try and understand the patterns for a nice Walleye fry later in the week and no pattern found yet.
The rain came in the afternoon so we played some board games in a tent before toughing it out to cook steaks with pasta salad. Today proved to be a relaxing and slow-paced day.
Monday, July 18
We all awoke excited, for this was the morning we make gullets – essentially donuts where you fry bread dough in oil and put various toppings on them, usually butter/cinnamon sugar, peanut butter or jelly. They are unbelievably delicious in the BWCA.
After our stomachs were filled to the brim with dough we headed out for a long day of fishing to try and get some Walleye. Due to weather forecasts being favorable, we decided that tomorrow would be the day we take our long day trip up the Horse River and we would fish for Bass along the way. The fishing was slow again and the whole group of 6 ended up with just a few northern and some rock bass. We had an easy dinner over the fire of hot dogs and beans and relaxed before getting sleep for our day trip.
Tuesday, July 19
We had planned on leaving camp by 9:00am to get a good start for the day. After all, the plan was to get up to the Crooked Lake pictographs and back, with some rest and lunch mixed in. We headed out around 10:30 and were quickly thrown into the fun of the Horse River with 3 sets of rapids before getting to the 1st portage.
It was fun getting out and figuring out a way to maneuver through the rapids. After a rocky start, the group quickly learned the best ways to get through them. We were very excited to get to the Lower Basswood Falls portage – we saw the giant boulder at the mouth and knew we had arrived.
We spent a decent amount of time wading in the water and enjoying the ridiculously beautiful sights around us. For many of us, this would be our first time “in Canada” which we thought was cool.
Once we got in our canoes we couldn’t help but gawk at the convergence of the 3 waterfalls that you couldn’t see from the top. It was quite a sight to behold and makes one realize how truly special this place is.
We made the short paddle up to the pictographs and made our offerings to the Maymaygwashi in various ways.
On the way back we stopped at the convergence of the 3 waterfalls for some awesome GoPro footage. Well, that GoPro is now taking footage of Walleyes some 30ft down. It had a good run but man did it have some awesome footage - oh well. No one really had the energy to fish for bass on the way back much to the dismay of 1 group member who was insistent on the fact that bass were there. We got back and headed back out for more Walleye now that the Maymaygwashi had blessed us, but his blessings must be coming later. One member got a decent Northern that we kept in the livewell. Dinner of PB&J then some relaxing before bed.
Wednesday, July 20
Thanks once again to the weather radio we had known that today was going to be an awesome lounging day – sunny and hot with some sporadic cloud cover. We had been talking about today being called “Cancun Day” since we had such a nice beach at this site. Before the festivities began, we had one of our favorite breakfasts of pop-tarts toasted over the fire and then headed out for some morning fishing before it got too hot. 3 canoes headed to Horse Lake still in search of the Walleyes that have eluded us the entire trip while 1 canoe went down the Horse River to try for bass. When we gathered back at camp, the 3 Horse Lakers were all skunked but we received awesome news from the Horse River canoe – one of the guys had snagged 2 massive bass that we estimated to be 4 to 5 lbs each, 1 large mouth 1 small mouth.
We now finally had enough fish to have a decent meal for all of us (even though this was likely just a bit too much now, but no complaints here).
We decided to fry them all up since the fishing was so tough we figured this would be our only fry. After an amazing fry we drank (Jameson and squashed blueberry cocktails), smoked and hungout around camp all day and it was heavenly.
No dinner was necessary tonight so we relaxed by a fire a bit after preparing camp for a nasty storm that was supposed to hit in the morning.
Thursday, July 21
At about 1:30am we awoke to a massive, massive storm. We have all been through storms in the BWCA before, and this one was just different. The sides of our tent were shaking viciously and the rain was absolutely hammering everything. Our tent has a vestibule coming out one end where you can put shoes on and what not without being in the tent. We have been keeping this open because we have had it open during rain before with no issues seeing as it is about 4 or 5 feet long. We watched through the open vestibule as our Kelty Noah 16 outside looked as though it was attempting to take flight. One end of the Noah was tied around a very large boulder which was being pulled across camp. We thought for sure the Noah would be gone in the morning. A change of wind happened and rain/water started coming into the tent so 2 of us got up in our underwear to keep the vestibule flap down. 1 ran out in the middle of camp to grab the hammer to put the stakes back into the ground and then we had to hold the tent down by hand to keep it from blowing out of the ground. We held on for 30 minutes or so until the wind died down to a point where at least the tent didn’t seem as though it would blow away and forced ourselves to sleep, which we would later agree was a huge mistake and lesson learned. Waking up in the morning to 1 member already out fishing who didn’t return until 10:00. We scouted all of the down trees at camp from the night before, which there were roughly a half dozen very good sized trees down. We lounged most of the day since it was hot and very windy still but we did decide to go fish the Horse River in the afternoon and still be protected from the wind.
We ran into 2 forest rangers who were in quite a hurry to get up the rapids of the Horse River. We spoke to them as they were rushing at the end of the portage and found out that the storm was indeed massive and they were on a loop to look for down trees in campsites, but trying to make their way to ep23, where we had went in. They said this area we are in was hit the worst (we later found out there were 70-74mph winds clocked in Ely) and the ep23 parking lot is currently inaccessible from anyone coming in or leaving, and this was Thursday late afternoon, wow. They estimated that no one would be able to come in or out of that ep until Saturday, which is when we were planning to head out thank goodness but at this point we were hoping everyone was OK. The rangers did not know of any serious injury but they did say the emergency plane was deplored which is not a good sign. As it turns out, we had heard and seen that plane but didn’t think anything of it and it turns out that the airspace above BWCA is restricted so if you see a plane it must be an emergency one, good to know! After the eventful day we lounged around camp after fishing and relaxed before bed. [
Friday, July 22
The morning was a bittersweet one, as we had a full day ahead of us still but it was our last one. Since it had been put off due to exhaustion or perhaps laziness, today was our last chance to cliff jump off the awesome spot directly across the lake to our West. We had seen a group using this spot a few days prior and knew it was suitable for jumping. 3 members went out fishing while the rest of us stayed at camp and lounged a bit, enjoying our last day at this awesome camp. After no luck fishing the group assembled and got ready for the trip over to the jumping rock. We did some thorough testing of the waters and after it was deemed suitable, we had ourselves an awesome afternoon.
We made our way back to camp to enjoy the final evening here with a fire and great company.
Saturday, July 23
Normally we come back on a Sunday to maximize BWCA time but with a full week trip this year we decided to leave on a Saturday to have Sunday as a day of rest and also not be rushed to leave since we didn’t care if we got back to Minneapolis at midnight. We ended up leaving early around 9:00am due to the anticipation of car troubles from the massive storm. The storm damage on the very 1st portage was absolutely horrendous. Multiple times you had to set the canoe on the ground and drag it around or under trees.
Our friend with the heaviest canoe opted to not help with his canoe – something we decided he must do each portage from now on. We met 2 people on the portage who mentioned 2 people had passed away on Basswood Lake in the storm, which was very close to us. This was a very sobering moment to realize just how wild this beautiful place can be. RIP and deep sympathy to their families.
After 3 grueling portages in and around major storm damage, we made it to Mudro Lake and stopped on shore for a quick wash before the last small portage to the lot. We had an engaging discussion about the very real possibility that our vehicles were smashed by trees or that we would not be able to leave due to trees in the road.
We found out that our vehicles were fine and the parking lot was just cleared for entry and exit this morning…we could not have been any luckier. The way out was stunning to see our vehicle barely get through the road. The storm damage was shocking.
We stopped at the Chocolate Moose for 2 entrees each and headed back to Minneapolis. Until next time Boundary Waters, we will miss you dearly.
Things we learned:
-Drinking heavily the night of the hotel is always a bad idea. Cap drinks to avoid misery.
-Get the Kelty Noah tarp much, much tighter to avoid parachuting. It can handle some pressure, so make it much tighter.
-Rent Kevlar canoes instead of cheaping out using our 75lb Grumman’s.
-You don’t need as much fishing gear as you think you do.
-During a major storm, for heavens’ sake do not stay in the tent. This place is wild and there are no guarantees.