Family trip Stuart River Entry 19
I purchased two Cooke Custom Sewing #4 Traditional portage packs and we were quite satisfied with them. Very tough and durable and they held up fine with each one loaded with 50 pounds of gear. These packs are a good value and well designed. My daughter bought a Gregory Women's Amber 60 backpacking style pack. This was filled with 35 pounds of food and cooking stuff.
We upgraded our water filtration with a MSR 10 liter autoflo gravity filter. It worked great but definitely slowed down by the fourth day. I think the algae started to plug up the internal screen and filter. Back flushing was necessary and even then it took about 30 minutes to filter the ten liters.
At 53 years old sleeping comfort has become more of a priority and I purchased 2 Big Agnes Air Core Ultra sleeping pads. 25 x 78 for me and 20 x 72 for my wife. We also bought the inflation bag that also doubled as a shower bag. I could not be happier with these and they were a big improvement from our 28-year-old Thermarest 20 x 48 x 1 pads! One of my kids already had a Big Agnes Ultra and the two other kids used Thermarest.
We headed out from Bemidji, MN on Thursday morning at 5 am for the 3 hours trip to Ely. Drove north to Northome, MN and took the very scenic and extremely sparsely populated drive east on state highway #1 to Ely. The drive is an adventure in itself and I highly recommend it. Stopped at Piragis Outdoors to pick up our entry permit and Fisher map and then headed down the Echo Trail to Stuart River Entry # 19. We unloaded the truck, assembled our gear, ate roast beef sandwiches and set out on the initial 480 rod (1.5 miles) portage at 10:30 am. I carried the Old Town Penobscot 17 along with a 25-pound backpack and 10-pound fanny pack. My 2 sons took turns hucking the Grumman 174 and the 50-pound portage pack. I know there are lighter canoes available but as long as I am able I will keep these canoes around. I have always felt that if you are trying to save weight, the best place to start is with your gut and butt! My daughter carried the other 50-pound portage pack and my wife took the 35-pound food pack. We were able to single portage with 3 short rest breaks to the Stuart river.
There were 6 shorter portages to Stuart Lake. On the third portage we met a party of two coming out and they said there was a party of 9 ahead of us heading north. We wondered how there could be a party ahead of us as there is only one permit per day issued for the Stuart River and no marked campsites on our map until Stuart Lake. My sons were dead set on pushing the pace to catch up with the group in order to get first dibs on a campsite we wanted. I said there was not much of a chance of catching up but we did overtake a boisterous Outward Bound youth group at a beaver dam. They were not moving very fast or straight and one of their leaders said they had left the entry point the previous day and spent the night on White Feather Lake. They were on 22 day trip. I thought to myself that the leaders of such inexperienced and rambunctious kids must have the patience of Job and a bunch more calmness than me. Thank God for people and organizations that allow kids to experience the wilderness. The Stuart River is not particularly scenic by BWCA standards and there were many small beaver dams to cross with not too much difficulty. We arrived at our campsite on the northwest side of Stuart Lake at about 3:30 pm, set up camp, went for a swim and basically relaxed until we had a supper meal of freeze dried Mountain House lasagna. My older son and I fished a bit but only caught 1 small northern on a Rapala. I had big intentions of catching fish to eat but that did not work out. I had packed a small fish finder, battery, 3 rods and way too much tackle. I think I will save the weight and hassle and leave the fishing gear at home next time unless there is a layover day planned.
We took another swim and were in the tent sleeping at 9:30. After a very strenuous day and 4 hours of sleep the night before, we slept like rocks.
Day 2: We got up at 7:30 AM, took down the tent and repacked all our gear. We ate freeze dried breakfast skillet meals and set off at 10:30 AM on the 280 rod portage from Stuart lake to Fox Lake. I mistakenly thought this was about a half mile portage and that I could make it without stopping with the Penobscot. However, it is close to a mile long. I can manage the physical effort just fine but the discomfort in the shoulders forced me to take a rest. We then proceeded to paddle Fox lake, portage 65 rods, paddle Rush Lake, portage 70 rods, paddle Dark lake and then portage the final 90 rods into Iron Lake. We started looking for a campsite as soon as we entered Iron Lake and did not find an open site until we got to the far north east corner. It looked like most of the parties were camping in one spot for multiple days and fishing. We marveled at all the stuff people had brought in as many of the sites had screen tents, coolers, lawn chairs, etc. After setting up camp, we refreshed ourselves with a swim in the lake and then took a short paddle around the point and hiked the portage to Curtain Falls. What a beautiful area with the rushing water, rocks, and big pines! Back at camp we dined on delicious freeze dried beef stroganoff and dried apples. After another unsuccessful fishing attempt we swam at the sandy beach next to our site and were in the tents sleeping at 9:30 pm.
Day 3: We got up at 6:30 am, took down our camp, ate another freeze dried Mountain House breakfast skillet and set off for Bottle lake at 8:30 am. Iron Lake was flat calm and we made good time paddling. At the west end of Bottle lake, we took the Canadian Bottle Portage into Lac la Croix. At the landing we met a big party of fishermen with a huge bunch of gear being dropped off by Anderson Outfitters. My wife was very relieved that there was no wind as we crossed a big open area of Lac la Croix back into Minnesota and into Boulder Bay. My son Riley was the chief navigator and I was quite impressed with his map and compass skills. I did periodically verify our location using On X Hunt ap on my IPhone. My kids thought that was cheating and not in the spirit of the BWCAW. I made note for future trips of some beautiful camp sites in Boulder Bay. We took the Boulder river portage into lake Agnes, scouted out several open campsites and lunched on tuna and mayo on tortillas. We set up camp on a nice site on the south west point near the entrance of the Nina Moose river. This was a large site with several tent options. We had covered about 15 miles and a quick swim had us feeling refreshed quickly. We fished from shore off a rock ledge with no luck. The evening fare was very tasty Mountain House chicken teriyaki with rice and vegetables. We took another swim and went to sleep at 9:30 pm. I answered natures call in the middle of the night and was amazed at the brightness of the stars. The BWCA has to be one of the best places in Minnesota to star gaze with virtually no light pollution.
Day 4: We began our final day by being up and out of the tent at 5:30am. Our morning routine was getting more organized. The boys paddled out to fill the filter bag. My wife and daughter packed up the sleeping bags, pads, pillows and took down the tent. I boiled water with the whisper lite for our oatmeal and coffee. I discovered that our spare bottle of fuel had mostly leaked out. It was an improvised metal water bottle and the plastic cap seal had failed. We had enough fuel so no problem and I’ll buy another MSR bottle for next time. The other issue I had with the burner is that a tab broke off on the fuel pump allowing the plunger to pop off if pulled out too far. It still functioned fine though. It probably got broken off in the pack and I will find a better way to protect it in the pack. I think I read somewhere that a pop bottle cut in half works. We set off down the Nina-Moose river towards Moose Lake. Lots of wild rice growing along the river. We had to get over a few beaver dams but nothing too hard. The two short portages before Nina-Moose lake were very scenic with nice rapids to view and some huge white pines along the portage. Here we started running into several groups heading out on their first day of adventure. We got a kick out of a party of young ladies sporting full bug nets and as we suspected they were from the east coast. Bugs were really not a problem for us anywhere other than a few on the portages and in the evening before sunset. Both the deer flies and mosquitoes are much more prolific at our home in the woods near Bemidji and we have learned to tolerate a few bites. The boys stopped at very muddy landing and climbed a huge bed rock outcropping and said the view was amazing. After crossing Nina Moose lake, we continued on our final river section on the Moose. A couple of very short portages and then we arrived at the final half mile portage to the parking lot. The boys set off right away from the river for a seven mile run back to the truck at the Stuart River entry. They both run cross country in college and were in need of a run after three days off of their normal training. That made this the only portage we had to double pack as I made two trips for the canoes and my daughter and wife made two trips with the packs. We organized our gear and had everything ready to load when the boys arrived with truck. We drove back down the echo trail to Ely and had a great lunch at the Rockwood Bar and Grill. All in all, it was a perfect trip for us. The weather was hot and a bit muggy but no rain, storms, or wind. We drank a ton of water and even then it was difficult to stay hydrated. As we drove home, my mind was already working on the next BWCAW adventure and hope to convince my wife into making it another day or two longer.