5 day loop from Fall Lake (24)
from Fall Lake into Newton,and then I was faced with my first navigational challenge. There is an island in Newton lake, with a rocky channel to the right. I couldn't recall if we could make it through the channel, so took us to the left, around the island. I state this to hopefully let others know -- you can make it through that channel, just take it slow. It will save you probably 10 minutes of paddling. We continued on, up through Newton Lake (nice view of a bald eagle sitting on an old snag) and across our second (and last) portage for the day. Once through this second portage, we paddled on a bit and stopped at campsite 1607 for lunch. After a break, we decided to press on, as the weather was great, and we wanted to make it further on. I showed the others a few campsites we could aim for. We continued on and finally stopped at campsite 1564, at the Lewis Narrows. This was a beautiful campsite -- plenty of space for our three tents and three hammocks. Our group was 4 adults and 4 kids. The kids had plenty of space to run and play and the adults had space to sit and relax. The views from the site were very nice, as the site is a little elevated. Other reviews have said that since the site is at the narrow channel, you'll have lots of noise from passing groups, but we didn't find that to be a problem, since we were later in the season. We didn't have any motor boats go by while we were camped here. (Note: We had good cell service from this site, which was useful, as I was still having to try and work on some of the car trouble I encountered on my trip up to BWCA.) We used the cell coverage to check the weather, too, which helped us plan our next day. Beautiful sunset from camp that night:
Day Two (TU): Weather said we'd get rain starting around 9 in the morning, so we were up and ready to hit the water a little after 8. We had a few sprinkles while finishing loading up, but fortunately had packed everything up while still dry. We had some light rain while we paddled. Our first goal was to head for the gauging station just beyond the end of the motorized zone. (This was the furthest we made it last year, so we were excited to be this far on our second day.) While taking a break at the gauging station the rain picked up a bit, but wasn't so heavy as to discourage us. We had a couple campsites we wanted to check out so decided to keep paddling through the rain. I wanted to check out site 1617, as a review mentioned a nice hike from the site to a higher overlook. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find that site (I'm still getting used to navigating while paddling.) We checked out Hanson's (?) Island, just this side of the border. I was glad we hadn't tried to camp there, as it wouldn't have accommodated our large group. We continued on around the island, so we could make it into Canadian waters -- a bragging point for some in our group. We checked out the sites along the north side of United States Point, but, as it was still relatively early, just ate lunch at one of them and then continued on around the point to find a site for the night. I had read good reviews for site 1624, the first one on the south side of United States Point, but didn't find the site to our liking, so we continued on to campsite 1625. This site was in a small bay, and had a beaver lodge at one point on the shore. We had plenty of space for our tents and hammocks, and there was a nice beach for swimming and skipping rocks. We saw the beaver swimming that evening, and were treated to a few tail slaps in the morning. The latrine at this site, however, is within clear view of the fire grate -- not the ideal setting (or should I say sitting).
Day Three (W): We had a relaxed morning, and didn't get back onto the water until about 10. The wind was already picking up, so that made the paddling a little more challenging. Our plan for the day was to head down toward the portages back into Pipestone bay, as we were pretty sure we didn't have enough time to make it down to visit the smaller lakes (Good, Hula, etc). I traded off navigational duties with another in our group and took up the rear on this day. I found this much less pressure, as when I'm navigating, I often am not sure of our exact position until I've reached, or sometimes even passed, a point on the map. (I have extreme respect for those early explorers who had no maps and were creating maps as they traveled!) We fought some rough currents and winds as we headed south towards Washington Island, and took the channel/inlet to the north of the island(s). It was a nice change of scenery in this section, and nice to be sheltered from the majority of the winds here, too. We saw several loons, one of which allowed us to float right by, within 10 feet of him. Our big challenge of the day was finding the portage into Back Bay. The eastern entry for this portage is difficult to find. We saw another canoe at the end of the narrow inlet, so thought they had come across the portage. Once we got close, though, we asked them, and they said they couldn't find the portage. About 5 minutes later, we managed to locate the portage. The other group (just two fishermen, one canoe) were still close, so we let them go ahead of us (4 canoes, 8 people). The landing was in a very boggy/muddy spot, so getting the canoes in and unloaded took some time. The portage itself had a lot of ups and downs and some rough footings with large rocks. Kind of nerve racking for us while carrying our kevlar rentals (we had a mishap last year which ended with a hole in one). We took our time, though, and made it to the other side and then had lunch before continuing on. Once we were done with lunch, we paddled across Back Bay and took the portage back into Pipestone Bay. This portage was much easier than the previous one. We decided to check out the campsites as we passed, and would take the first one available that would fit a group our size. Lucky for us, that happened to be the first one we came to -- campsite 1591. Landing our canoes here wasn't super easy, but we managed to get all four in (two on one side of the site, and two on the other. The site was a little tight for us, but we made it work for the three tents and three hammocks. The kids found space to run through the trees, too. We encountered a very bold rabbit that evening. The kids were paying flashlight tag, and us adults were sitting around the fire when the rabbit hopped right into camp. It stopped briefly and looked around, and then hopped right past us and sat 2-3 feet behind us. It moved around to a few more locations, but stayed close for quite a while. We did have some carrots, but I managed to refrain from offering him any. I've never seen a rabbit quite so bold and fearless.
Day Four (TH): Woke to a beautiful morning. Lots of fog/mist on the lake.
Day Five (F): We had to be out by 12 pm, but weren't worried, as we knew we had less then two hours total to go. We got up and skipped the hot breakfast, so we could pack up easier. We were on the water by 8, and paddled down through Newton Lake to the final portage into Fall Lake. It was again beautiful weather, making for beautiful paddling. Saw at least one bald eagle soaring overhead. We decided to try the rocky channel (this time to the left, as we were heading south) rather than paddle around the large island, and found our way through the rocks, then just a short ways to the portage. After our final portage it was a short paddle past mile island, waving and saying hello to another group from our larger group camped at the site on the end (we had camped there last year), and then on to the Fall Lake boat ramp to complete our trip. We were the last from our group to hit the water on Monday, and were the first out on Friday, making it out just before 10. That was ok, though, as we new showers and Subway were waiting. Also, I knew I needed to contact the mechanic to confirm that repairs had been made to my vehicle while I was out.
We had a very nice time paddling this loop. While it might have been nice to get down to the smaller lakes, it would have taken a bit more pushing. Also, we enjoyed each site we stayed at, and it can be hard to find sites to accommodate larger groups, especially with three tents and three hammocks. The weather was nice -- no heavy rain, and no rain at night-- and we saw more wildlife this year. All-in-all a good BWCA experience.