EP16 Loop - Oyster, Ge-be-on-e-quet, Lac La Croix, Nina Moose
Day 1 - July 22 We got to the EP about 6 am after staying at the Spirit of the Wilderness bunkhouse the night before. This was the first time we had stayed there, previously we have slept in our car at the EP or camped at SNF campground. I would highly recommend it. We were triple portaging on this trip, day one was a long day. Portages were dry and winds were calm. One of the big challenges of the day was the low water levels. We were scraping grass and rice on the rivers for much of the way. The 200 rod portage out of Agnes had two trees down across the portage making it more challenging.We arrived at Oyster lake about 1:30 pm. We were lucky to score the nice peninsula campsite. The skeeters were terrible but we still had a great night on Oyster. We had Rib-eyes on the fire with a growler of Beer Belly Stout from Boathouse in Ely. We accidentally froze the beer solid on the way in by having it too close to the dry ice! It thawed perfectly and was as delicious as the steaks. My son caught a decent pike fishing from shore. We were able to see the comet at about 11 pm, the dark BWCA skies made this truly a once in a lifetime experience.
Day 2 - 4 July 23, 24, 25 We got an early start and were traveling by about 7:30 after coffee, oatmeal, and packing up camp. Travel today was much easier with shorter portages and all lake paddling. The low water levels made getting in and out of the water at the portages a fun challenge. We did not see any other people on the portages on this day. We checked out the pictographs on Rocky lake on our way through; these spots are always awe inspiring. We arrived at our campsite on Ge-be-on-e-quet by about 11 am. I think all the sites were open when we arrived. We selected site 118 (BWCA.com map) on the western shore on the North end of the lake near the portage to Oyster Creek. We thought this was a fantastic site, a description of the campsite was added to the BWCA.com map. We caught lots of smaller bass along the shorelines having no trouble getting enough for two fish dinners. We had one day of rain which turned out to be a great day of fishing the shorelines. We took a break from fishing when we reached the ‘rockers’ to have a seat and take some pics. We spent lots of time in the hammocks each afternoon. Remarkably we had no bugs during our stay. Inspired by the Boundary Waters Journal we bring lots of fresh food on our trips. Our suppers at this campsite included bratwurst, pork kabobs, and grilled fish with mashed potatoes, red beans and rice, and stuffing as side dishes. Breakfasts included pancakes (sadly without the blueberries we hoped to find this time of year) and scrambled eggs. Brats are boiled in beer and frozen before the trip. The pork and egg beaters were also frozen. We use a small styrofoam cooler inside an insulated food pack and a combination of water ice in a ½ gallon milk jug and dry ice keep things cold and frozen. The nice weather, great campsite, lack of bugs, and virtually no other people on the lake made the three days we stayed very relaxing.
Day 5 - July 26 We got another early start, getting on the water about 8. Our destination was Lac La Croix with a couple possible campsite targets. Once again the grass and rice in the low water on Oyster and Pocket creeks made paddling extra tough. Finding the portage from Pocket Creek onto Lac La Croix was an interesting challenge. Busy beavers had built a dam all the way across the creek and entry point. After some searching and getting out to check we found the portage on the other side of the beaver dam. Due to the dam, water was flowing along the first part of this short portage. Other than finding the portage, getting across was easy. Like our stay on Ge-be-on-e-quet, this was our first time on Lac La Croix. This was the first time in our travels in the BWCA a compass played a critical role in navigation. Most of the time the location of the portage out of the lake you just entered is pretty easy to locate. With the vast water and many islands, Lac La Croix requires close attention to your map and ensuring you have the correct bearing with a compass. We reached Fish Stake Narrows by 11. After exploring local sights we settled into Campsite 171 (BWCA.com map). This is a small, sloped site. The two best options for tent pads are very small and have a lot of slope. Along with being in an area with possible motor boats (not the ideal BWCA experience) and the less than great campsite we decided we would only stay one night. Though the campsite was less than the nicest we had, the views were spectacular. We had a clear view to the East that included the Canadian shoreline and the cliffs that have the pictographs, the South toward Tiger Bay and unique to this site, West into a pretty bay. The sunset was spectacular with great color to the West and East. We caught a couple nice bass from shore as well as a couple pike. Water was low with lots of shoreline exposed. We were able to walk a long distance from camp on the rocky shoreline. We found a complete wolf skeleton along the high water line, another once in a lifetime BWCA experience!
Day 6 - July 27 Once again an early start with coffee, oatmeal, and packing up camp. Our plan was to stay on Nina Moose lake one more night leaving us an easy travel day back to the entry point and getting us back to our homes in the Twin Cities and Rochester at a reasonable time. Along the way to the first portage toward BWCA Agnes we met a couple who were spending 8 weeks in the BWCA. That sounds like a great way to spend a summer! We used the more eastern 65 and 25 rod portages rather than the river and the 115 rod portage. We have used the river route before and know the LLC end of the 115 rod portage to be a giant mud hole. Portages today were all dry. We had company on every portage today, not surprisingly in both directions. Everyone on the portages were friendly and respectful of each other's space. The river paddles were still low with grass and rice slowing our progress. We haven’t traveled in late July before and were pondering if this was unusually low or normal for this time of year. We reached Nina Moose about 1 pm. We settled on Campsite 1787 (BWCA.com map) which is the first site on the left when you enter from Nina Moose River. This would be the third time I have used this site. My son and I stayed here one night in 2017 on our return from Iron Lake. Just like that trip, we chose this as a last night in the BWCA offering a short trip to the entry point the next day. I also spent 4 nights here with my daughter and her high school friends in 2018. I chose it then to provide a good destination for a group of 4 novice BWCA travelers. Also, on two previous trips through this area we encountered a large group of otters in the North end of Nina Moose lake. When staying on the site in 2017 the otters were just feet from shore while we were fishing from camp. Unfortunately we did not see the otters this year but did in 2018. This is a big site with 3-4 good tent pads. One tent pad is in the trees with a sand floor, very nice. This site has trails that run to the North end of the peninsula making the site seem huge. The kitchen is very exposed with no shade and no protection from West winds. There is Poison Ivy in several areas of the site, keep an eye on the ground! By 1:30 winds from the West were getting pretty gusty. We set up tarps and hammocks in the trees to get some shelter from the wind. By 4 pm winds were strong and thunderstorms moved past to the North and South but missed hitting us directly. We spent time in the hammocks and playing cards sheltered from the wind by our canoe. Per usual July weather, winds calmed as sunset approached and we had one last very quiet, very pretty sunset to enjoy while on our BWCA adventure this year.
Day 7 - July 28 Final camp breakfast of coffee, pancakes, and packing up camp. Pancakes with maple syrup really make an excellent BWCA breakfast. Hopefully on a future trip we will hit the peak of blueberries and have blueberry pancakes. As expected, the portages were busy in both directions but fortunately we didn’t wait too long at any of the portages. Rivers were still low. Portages were still dry. We made it to the parking lot at 10:30 and back to Ely a little after 11:30. After lunch at the Boathouse we were on our way home after another excellent BWCA trip. Happy Travels Everyone!