May Mudro Loop
For some reason, the Mudro Lake entry point off the Echo Trail was calling to me. I did some research and decided a loop from Mudro up to Basswood Falls, through Crooked Lake and back out again at Mudro looked like a good trip. It has a mix of smaller lakes, rivers, streams, waterfalls, and one big lake. On the other two trips we moved every day. With this route I left time for a couple of layover days in case of weather issues and allow for exploring the area a bit more.
I decided on a late May trip thinking that the area would be less crowded before the youth groups descended on the Boundary Waters. We got the permits for a Mudro entry for the date we wanted. It was only later that I realized that May is the fishing opener. Not being a fisherman, this never occurred to me. There are only 8 permits available for the Mudro entry point each day and when I looked at the reservation system, all of them were reserved for the time we were planning to be in the Boundary Waters and the surrounding weeks. So much for less crowded.
I looked at options for outfitters and decide I would use one in Ely. I had never spent much time in Ely and thought it may be fun to spend some time looking around the town. I ended up going with Voyager North Canoe Outfitters. I contacted them the fall before the trip to make the reservations for a canoe, portage pack, food barrel and a night at their bunkhouse. We would bring most of our own camping gear and food. They also took care of the permits which turned out to be a blessing given how poorly the new permit reservation system performed this year.
I am a planner. I enjoy planning almost as much as the trip. I had all the food, gear and plans in place well before the trip. For some reason toward the end of April and early May I started to get nervous about the weather and water temperature. I started second guessing about wet footing (stepping into the water to get into the canoe) and if the boys would bring the appropriate clothing for the weather. The message board on the site calmed my wet footing fears and I tried not to pester the boys with questions about their clothing choices, they are adults. I figured if we get to Ely and they were not prepared, we could always find what we need in one of the stores.
I was planning to try a few new things this year. I downloaded a GPS app for my phone and left my GPS at home. I purchased the new cloth map that was available to go along with the traditional paper map. I brought along a reflector oven to cook some different food options. I also dehydrated some ground beef and ground breakfast sausage to add variety to the menu.
May 19 Elijah and I left central Ohio at 7:30 and headed east to Indianapolis and north through Chicago arriving in Madison in time to pick up Ryan at the Airport at 4:00. After a stop at a Culver’s in Dells for dinner we made our way to hotel in Chippewa Falls in time to watch the Game of Throne finale and get some rest. We drove 726 miles today.
May 20 We woke at the hotel in no hurry. We ate the breakfast at the hotel and started the drive north. As we drove through Wisconsin there was snow on the ground. It made me start to wonder if I had made the right choice on the date. The snow was gone by the time we reached Lake Superior. We stopped at a park to look at the big lake and then continued the drive north. We reached Voyager Canoe Outfitters around 12:30, picked up our permits, the portage pack and food barrel, and checked into the bunk house. The bunkhouse was very comfortable. The staff sat us down with our map and marked the good campsites along our route, places to explore, and unmarked rapids.
We had lunch at the Boathouse. We drove out to Moose Lake to look at the lake and walk around the BSA base.
We stopped in the Forest Service office to get a permit for the Tick Lake PMA in case we wanted to explore in that part of the Boundary Waters. We stopped by the Wolf Center but we were not willing to pay the $14 per person for the tour. We shopped for last minute food supplies and a couple of clothing items. We had dinner at the Ely Steakhouse and went back to the outfitter to load the canoe and get ready for the morning. Ely seemed dead on a Monday evening. We drove 267 miles.
May 21 We woke and had a simple breakfast at the bunkhouse. We got our gear in the car and started the drive up the Echo trail to the Mudro Lake entry point.
We were on the water by 7:00. It took a little while to get our paddling rhythm. A three-person canoe is a bit tougher to steer through the creek leading to Mudro lake. Once on the lake we were fine. Mudro is a small, pretty lake. There is one campsite on Mudro and from the lake it looked like a nice site. We reached the portage from Mudro to Sandpit pretty quickly. There was one other group on the portage when we arrived. The portage was a bit harder than I was expecting but that could have just been the fact that it was the first portage. The portage was not long and we were able to get most of the packs across the portage in one trip. One of our party would have to go back for a second pack. This was the case throughout the trip.
Sandpit is another small, pretty lake. It also has one campsite. It looked decent from the lake. We were across the lake in good time and to the portage to Tin Can Mike lake. The portage was flat and easy with some wood planks on the Tin Can Mike end to avoid walking in the muck. We again ran into a couple using the portage. They stopped to take a break on the Tin Can Mike lake end of the portage. I went back to get the second pack and a couple of fishermen had just pulled up to the portage. They were traveling light and moving fast. They got to the end of the portage before I did and were on the water when I got back. I noticed a flying moose sticker on the couple’s canoe and started up a brief conversation and then we were back on the water.
Tin Can Mike is another small lake. It has three campsites and only one of them was occupied. We crossed the lake and were on the portage to Horse Lake. The portage was pretty good. We met the fishermen on the Horse Lake side as they were getting their gear ready to fish. They must have been planning to stay on Horse lake.
Horse Lake is a fairly large lake with seven campsites. The Horse River leaves the lake about half way up the eastern shore. There is a very nice campsite next to the river and if it was open I would have stopped and considered staying for the night. However, it was occupied and we were doing fine so we pushed up the Horse River. Almost as soon as we entered the river there was a set of small rapids. We were able to paddle through them with no problem. Shortly after there were some larger rapids that required us to carry the boat on land around them. We met four guys that were on the river to fish and staying at a site on Horse Lake. They let us pass through but seemed annoyed with us being there. A third set of rapids required us to portage around them again. Another group was coming up river and was able to paddle through them. Once we were on the water again we made our way to the first portage marked on the map. The portage was actually on the eastern shore of the river rather than where it was marked on the maps. The portage was not difficult and we stopped for a lunch of ham or turkey and cheese in tortillas. We felt better having had some food and got on the river again. We paddled through a fourth set of rapids and made our way to the second marked portage on the river. The portage had some ankle busting rocks and Ryan gave himself a small sprain but was able to walk it off. The third marked portage on the river was flat but seemed hard. It could have just been that I was getting tired.
Once over this portage the river widens on its way to the Basswood River. I was getting tired on this last part of the paddle but it was not a difficult paddle and we made it to the Basswood river. The campsite on the peninsula between Lower Basswood Falls and Wheelbarrow Falls was open. This was the site I was hoping for and we took it. The Basswood River marks the border between Canada and the United States. Our campsite looked out across the water to Canada.
We got into camp and rehydrated. Ryan set up his tent near the water. Elijah set up his hammock between two large trees at the top of the site and I set up my hammock in the trees down a little hill. We set up the rain tarp and did a bad job of it. We had hoped to use it as a wind break but the wind blew it almost all the way to the ground. The kitchen area of the campsite was not in great shape. It looked like it had seen a lot of abuse. Firewood around the site was picked over but we were able to find some deep in the woods and start a fire. One of the tent pads had a small tree leaning over it making it unsafe for use.
Here is a link to a video of the campsite: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h-F-zBrI0Jc
We had purchased some frozen steaks from the outfitter and by dinner time the steaks were thawed. Ryan and Elijah cooked the steaks over the fire while I prepared the instant mashed potatoes and instant gravy over the backpack stove. Dinner was very good. We saw another canoe come up the Horse River and head toward our camp but they turned toward Crooked Lake when they saw us on the site. We put the food barrel in the woods and strapped it to a tree. We sat around the fire and played cards until 9:00 and then went to bed. The night was chilly and the wind began to blow. We traveled about 11.8 miles on the day.
May 22 We woke to a chilly, windy morning. Everyone seemed to stay warm in the night. This was planned to be a layover day where we would keep the campsite but explore the area. I had hoped to paddle to Wheelbarrow falls and then up the Basswood River to Upper Basswood Falls. We cooked breakfast on the backpack stove on a rock back in the trees to give ourselves a wind break. We warmed up precooked bacon and made scrambled eggs from fresh eggs we purchased from the outfitter. When we got to camp the day before and unpacked, the three plastic bowls we brought had broken during transport. I originally planned on fried eggs today but without anything to eat them on we scrambled them and put them and the bacon on the left over tortillas from the day before. We rehung the rain tarp with a better hang for the day. The wind was strong from the east so we scrapped our plans to paddle today. We all took naps in the morning and it began to rain. We had a lunch of PB&J on bagels under the rain tarp. It was cold, rainy and windy and I could tell Elijah was starting to get depressed. His hammock got a little wet so we adjusted his tarp to keep the wind from pushing it against his hammock. Ryan was still in good spirits. We saw a couple of groups come up the Horse River and cross the Basswood River to the portage to Crooked Lake. The rain stopped around 3:30 and Elijah built a fire and this seemed to lift his spirits. We had a dinner of Zatarain’s Jambalaya with foil packed chicken for dinner. We ate straight out of the pot since we had no bowls. The wind finally stopped after dinner and we hung out around the campfire. We went to bed around 9:00 and could hear the waterfalls and birds as we fell asleep.
May 23 I woke up around 1:00am to more rain and slept poorly until 5:00am. The rain stopped and I packed up my hammock. I retrieved the food barrel and woke up Ryan and Elijah. We made pancakes and bacon but without the bowls we did not bother trying to put syrup on the pancakes. We just ate them with our fingers. We packed up the rest of camp and placed all the wet tarps in a separate trash bag so they would not get the rest of the gear wet when packed. We were on the water by 7:00am and made our way over to Lower Basswood Falls. The portage around the falls would be our only portage of the day. The portage entrance is a little closer to the falls than I like but we found it with no problem. The portage is short and pretty. This portage would be our only footsteps in Canada.
We got the gear across and then stopped for some pictures by the falls. There is a campsite on the Canadian side next to the falls. The American campsites around the falls area all appeared to be occupied. Here is a link to a video of the falls: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3goBzQ1RK90
We got back on the water and started to make our way up Crooked Lake. Crooked is a very large lake the winds along the Canadian border. The lake feels like a series of smaller lake and rivers until you get to the large bays. We stopped for some pictures of the Native American pictographs on a cliff on Crooked Lake. We almost paddled right past them.
We stopped at a campsite near table rock for a break. Table Rock is a large slab of granite rock with four smaller rocks under each corner that elevate it like a table. We never did identify the table as I think a portion was under water. Near the bay by Table Rock was the entrance to the Tick Lake Primitive Management Area (PMA). Although we had the permit for the PMA we did not even consider going in. We continued north and got a little lost in a bay where you turn west toward the larger bays of Crooked. We got our bearings again and made our way through an area named little current. We were caught by surprise by some small rapids in the area and nearly flipped the canoe. Elijah and Ryan got their paddles caught between a rock in the water and the canoe and nearly lost them. I was able to grab them as we passed. One of our wooding paddles now has a small crack in it. We decided that this would be a good place to stop and take a break.
We looked at the maps and identified a campsite on the west side of Thursday Bay that we would shoot for. I got out the binoculars and looked along the shore and could not find any sign of tents in a campsite. There was one group camping on the Canadian shore of Thursday Bay. We paddled across the open water of Thursday bay. The wind began to pick up and we had some waves to contended with. We made it to the other shore and found the campsite empty. It was not a great campsite but we took it as we were tired. We paddled around 9.6 miles this day.
Once in camp we had a lunch of summer sausage and cheese sticks. We also finished off the remaining bagels and PB&J from the day before. We got camp set up but it was a little challenging. A wind storm had come through the area and there were several dead or leaning trees near the good tent areas. Ryan eventually set up his tent on a rocky area and had to get creative to secure the tent without being able to put stakes in the ground. Elijah had to hang his hammock near the shore. I hung my hammock deep in the woods. A video of the campsite can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dfhWSrVJc6w&t=41s
We began to hear a strange thumping noise that had the same rhythm each time. It sounded like someone was trying to start a motor that would not start. Knowing that motors were not allowed we thought maybe someone had a drum or was drumming on a canoe or barrel. It did not sound like someone seeking help.
We found some artifacts from past use in the woods. There were also some cool rocks near the shore.
Dinner that night was pizza. I brought a reflector oven and we built a fire which we also used to dry our boots and socks. We rehydrated pizza sauce, onions and peppers. We each made two six inch pizzas with cheese, pepperoni and vegies. It was a nice meal in the wilderness.
We made peanut butter cookies in the reflector oven. The weather was nice and the black flies came out. We were in bed early.
May 24 I did not sleep well and woke early. I kept having dreams about losing the boat or the food out here and having to get these guys back to civilization. The other two woke and we had a breakfast of granola cereal. The water was calm so we packed up quick and got on the water before weather was supposed to hit. Elijah was not feeling well today. We paddled through Friday Bay to the portage to Papoose creek. We stopped at a campsite just before the portage for a bathroom break. It was a decent site but it looked like the number of tent pads was limited.
I came to the conclusion that I do not like the big lakes with the open water. The portage to Papoose Creek was mucky but the creek was very pretty. This was probably my favorite part of the paddle. Once we were on the creek we saw a bald Eagle up close. We rounded a bend in the creek and startled him and he took off right in front of us. We made our way through Papoose and Chippewa lakes along the creek. Papoose has no campsite and Chippewa had one. I heard the strange thumping noise again along the creek. We crossed a beaver dam on the creek and made our way to Niki lake, another small lake with one campsite.
The portage from Niki into Wagosh lake was more difficult than I expected. There was a steep incline out of Niki lake. Ryan saw a Pine Martin climbing a tree. It ran off when we approached on the portage. Once we were on Wagosh we decided to look for the one campsite on the lake rather than take the one-mile portage into Gun Lake. We paddled 7.2 miles.
The campsite was tucked away on a corner of the lake. It was elevated above the lake with a nice view facing east from the kitchen area. There were a lot of blown down trees around the campsite so finding firewood was not a problem. The site did not look like it received much use. We were limited in our tent and hammock placement options and all ended up setting up fairly close to one another. Here is a link to a video of the site: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JWtsSRvucog
We had a lunch of macaroni and cheese with tuna. Wind and rain started again. Elijah and Ryan built a fire and Ryan took a nap in the afternoon. I laid down for a little bit but could hear Elijah out by the fire. He was sitting in the rain keeping the fire going. I decided to get up and see how he was doing. He was cold and a little depressed. We had a dinner of Knorr Chicken flavored noodles with foil packed chicken. The rain let up and Elijah changed into some dry clothes and his spirits seemed to lift. We had Oreo cookies for dessert. We had not seen another person all day. We were in bed fairly early.
May 25th We slept well and woke to have a breakfast of granola cereal. We got camp packed up and made our way across the lake to conquer the one-mile portage to Gun Lake. We decided leap frog the portage. Ryan would carry the food barrel to Gun Lake. I would carry the canoe to Gun Lake. Elijah would carry one bag half way and go back for the second bag. Once at the Gun Lake side I stayed with the canoe and food while Ryan went back half way and picked up the bag Elijah dropped. It seemed to work out well and we got across the portage. We took a break at the hallway point and it looked like this area was used frequently for rest. The portage has some persistent incline coming out of Wagosh but it was not steep.
Gun Lake is shaped like a gun. The portage came out on the eastern end or the end of the barrel portion of the gun.
We started to paddle west along the narrow portion of the lake and ran into some high winds as we got closer to the main portion of the lake. We passed a campsite and saw our first person in two days. It looked like one other campsite on the lake also had campers. We started to get white caps on the water and stopped at a campsite near the “trigger” of the gun to take a break from the wind. The campsite was not a good site. All the ground was soggy and there was not a level place for a tent. We stayed until the wind died down and got back on the water and made our way down the “grip” of the gun.
We crossed the short portage to Fairy Lake. Fairy is a small lake with two campsites. A campsite near the portage had campers in it. We were getting into the more popular fishing areas. We crossed Fairy and took the short portage to Boot Lake. We had a lunch of Hudson Bay bread with peanut and apple butter on the Boot side of the portage.
We made our way south on Boot and came to the first campsite on the eastern shore. It was a really nice site so we decided to take it. We had paddled 6.1 miles.
The site had a really nice kitchen area overlooking the water. Ryan put his tent up on a nice tent pad near the kitchen. Elijah hung his hammock near a tent pad on the southern shore of the campsite and I hung my hammock in the trees. Here is a link to a video of the site: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q4ItTalQ3Bg&t=49s
We saw many canoes as this was Saturday of memorial weekend. Some were going north in search of other lakes or campsites but many were fishing along the shores of the lake. We set up the rain fly but it was not needed, the weather was nearly perfect. We gathered and cut wood for the fire.
Ryan discovered a vein of quartz running through the granite rock near the lake shore. We decided not to mine the quartz.
While walking through the woods Elijah came across some sort of large ground bird or pheasant. The bird flapped its wings making the thumping sound we had been hearing. It ran off as I approached.
For dinner we rehydrated some hamburger and mixed it with a Mexican flavored hamburger helper meal. We had way too much hamburger and not enough flavoring. We sat around the fire and talked and spent our last night in camp with an adult beverage.
May 26 We slept in. When Elijah and I woke we packed our hammocks. I started to rehydrate the breakfast sausage while Elijah started a fire. When Ryan woke we began making biscuits in the reflector oven and sausage gravy. Since we had no bowls or plates I put the cooked biscuits directly into the pot of gravy and we ate out of the pot. Once we were all fed, we packed up camp and were on the water. Surprisingly we saw no other canoes on the water on Boot lake. The other campsites on the lake were occupied. We paddled south then east toward the toe of the boot. There we took the short portage to Fourtown lake. The landing on Fourtown was not great as there was a deep drop off.
We crossed through the west bay of Fourtown and turned south through the southern bay toward the creek to Mudro. Here we passed one canoe coming in. They asked where we came from, I think to see where open sites would be.
The first small portage on the creek was on the east side and was nothing but rocks. After the portage we loaded the canoe and made the 100-foot paddle to the next portage. This portage is a steep climb and a rocky path through the gorge. It would be a beautiful hike if you were not carrying a canoe or packs. A large family that look like three generations was coming into the portage for a day paddle. They were very nice. At the end of the portage we paddled another couple hundred feet to the final portage. This one was flat but rocky. I tripped on one of the rocks while carrying the canoe. I cut my hand and bruised my knee but it could have been worse.
We got across the portage and began the final paddle out of Mudro lake. We passed a group of canoes in Mudro that appeared to be in for just the day fishing. We passed a couple in a canoe that were planning to camp on a lake. In the stream at the end of Mudro we passed another group of two canoes coming camp and fish. Memorial weekend is definitely a busy weekend.
We loaded all our gear in the car, strapped the canoe to the top and headed back to the outfitter. We were all a little tired and I was a little irritated for some reason. We got back to the outfitter and they unloaded the gear and canoe and offered us showers and a beverage, which were a welcome relief. After cleaning up, we went to Rockwood’s for lunch started the trip south. After a dinner at a very odd Arby’s in Eau Clair we hit the hotel in Chippewa Falls for the night. We drove 267 miles.
May 27 We ate breakfast at the hotel and drove to Madison to drop Ryan at the airport. On the drive through Chicago we hit severe weather; hail, wind, rain and the threat of tornados. Once we got south of Chicago the weather cleared. We ended the long drive that evening. We drove 726 miles today. The severe weather then hit Ohio around 1:00am.