Big Water to No Water and Portages in Between
by CIIcanoe

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 08/28/2006
Entry & Exit Point: Mudro Lake (EP 23)
Number of Days: 6
Group Size: 1
Part 2 of 3
I was in luck the campsite at the east end of Three Island was open. The time was 1638 hours. I don’t know when the wind died down today but when I got on Iron Lake there was a light breeze. In my journal I wrote the time is 2024 hours and the lake is almost calm and I just heard a loon. I made the notation I saw the two loons back on Thunder Lake and they never made a sound. I remember seeing the moon in the sky. I had noted it was a quarter moon but it was more like 1/3.

So far I couldn’t have asked for better weather. The sky was blue, warm temperatures during the day and cooling off at night.

I decided to spend two nights at this campsite on Three Island and tomorrow I would take a daypack with some food. My plan was to paddle to Lac La Croix to see the pictographs north of Warrior Hill.

I wrote in my journal about today, “Wow! What a day!”

Total Time: 7 hours 27 minutes

Total Miles: 10

Campsite #: 67

DAY 3

I woke up before 0600 hours, but didn’t crawl out of the tent until 0610 to 0615 hours. It was a nice morning, a little cool but it warmed right up as soon as the sun peeked over the trees.

Today, my plan was going to go take pictures of the pictographs on Lac La Croix. The wind was calm all night long and this morning the wind started blowing out of the SE and it was starting to pick up.

I grabbed enough food for lunch and my rain gear and headed to Lac La Croix at 0838 hours. I put the remaining food in my other pack and hung it in a tree.

I hugged the shores of Three Island, Four Island and Irving Island. I talked to a couple guys fishing before Bottle Lake. He told me he has been coming to this same area for twenty years and this is the lowest he’s seen the lakes. He told me about a pullover near Bottle Lake that he’s never had to do before. Well, I got to the area and pulled my canoe across and headed for Bottle Portage. I saw the portage in the end of the little bay. I got closer and it looked like I had two options. The first one was to the left where it was muddy and the second one was to the right where it was muddy. I went left and went as far as I could go. I wasn’t too sure about this but I thought maybe there would be solid ground past the muck. I kept my left foot in the canoe and step out with my right foot. Well, that didn’t work out as I had hoped. I sunk up to almost to my knee. Good thing my boots were laced up good. I got all of my body parts back into my canoe and pushed the canoe backwards until I could maneuver the canoe to the right. It looked like I was going to have the same result but I had to try. Yep, same result. I now back out further into the bay and made it to the far right near some rocks so I could have some footing. Once I got to the rocks I could see an extension to the portage that was hidden behind some grass.

I made my way across Bottle Portage. I believe it’s about 80 rods normally. I still had some concerns about the SE winds on the other side. Bottle Portage comes out into a little bay and of course it’s calm. I see waves at a distance but I can’t tell how big until I could get closer. I start off in a NE direction and the further out I went the bigger the waves get. I decided to turn around after about ¾ of a mile.

It’s not that I didn’t think my canoe could handle those waves but I didn’t know if the wind would intensify and it might be some time until I got back to the rest of my gear. I found out that I don’t like base camping and then take day trips on big water. I’m more comfortable having all my gear with me and if I have to pull over at any time for any length of time I’m comfortable.

I brought all my stuff back across Bottle portage. On one of the trips across the portage from Lac LaCroix to Bottle Lake I saw a side trail off to my right. I took it thinking it might take me somewhere interesting but all it did was bring me out to Bottle Lake. The best I can guess is that the one portion of the portage can get pretty wet/muddy and this other trail was on higher ground avoiding the lower area.

I had lunch mostly where there would be some water flowing at one end of Bottle Rapids but today it was only a rock field. I paddled the three miles back to my campsite. After paddling on the north side of Three Island back to my site I decided to go south ducking behind a small island to get out of most of the SE wind to the far shore. I wanted to check out the two campsites on the east side of Iron Lake. The most SE campsite has a large sand beach. (Campsite #64) I got out and checked this site. I then paddled over to the NE site. I didn’t get out of canoe on this one. There was a large Red Pine that had broken off and it was in the middle of the site. I don’t know how much use this site gets but the tree probably just recently broke off. I paddled back to my campsite at 1400 hrs. Wow, at a campsite early. I don’t have to put up a tent or nothing. Just cook supper. I did have to put up my rain fly/tarp to get out of the sun. I usually put it up but this would be the only time I put it up this trip.

I would have been much happier to take all my gear this morning and to be on the move, but that’s me.

Around 1600 hours 7 people in 3 aluminum canoes came by looking for a campsite. I told them about the two open ones on the east shore but they were looking for an island site. Less chance of having a bear at the campsite. They told me they had a permit for Quetico and the last I saw of them was rounding the east tip of Three Island heading north. Before they left I told them I was leaving in the morning. They asked me what time and I told them 0830 to 0900 hours.

A couple hours later 4 guys with 2 aluminum canoes pulled into campsite #64 with the sandy beach.

Tomorrow is a paddling day, hopefully!

Total Time: 5 hours 22 minutes

Total miles: approximately 10

I’m still trying to find my flashlight for reading in the tent. (I still don’t know that I left it in my vehicle). I did get to read this evening before it got dark.

DAY 4

I started getting my gear ready at 0600 hours. I wanted to get an early start in case or when the wind comes up and to cover as much water as I can. The wind was starting to come and it was out of the SE again. I have to cross some big water today on Crooked Lake. It was another nice morning with blue skies. I was on the water at 0755 hours.

The 139 rod portage at Curtains Falls was less than a mile away. I could hear the sound of the Falls when it was calm out while I was at the east campsite on Three Island. I had to get out and track my canoe up some swift moving water just prior to the actual portage.

Again, the 139 portage wasn’t a big deal since I had done the 200 rod a couple days ago. It’s amazing how to fool the mind into thinking the 139 rod portage is no big deal. I remember on Day 1 that the 140 rod portage between Mudro and Fourtown was a somewhat big deal since it was the first and longest one up to that point. This portage took me 13 minutes on one trip and the second trip took 12 minutes.

I took several pictures at Curtain Falls before getting on my way up Crooked Lake. Crooked Lake is a fairly large lake with many islands. This is definitely a time to be able to read a map and compass. For the most part I would be following shore lines but I will also have to cross open water in spots. Normally, I don’t wear a PFD but I do so in big water when there are waves. Today, I would be putting on and taking off my PFD depending on the conditions of the water.

I was going east on Crooked Lake and on the south shore I saw a big eye bolt sticking out of a big rock. Maybe it was left from the logging days or in the past I believe there were a couple resorts on Crooked Lake. I didn’t bring my camera out to take a picture because I was in some waves.

I followed the shore lines, darted behind islands and made my way. I had lunch on a campsite about 6 miles from Curtain Falls. I knew that Friday and Thursday Bays would be coming up and I didn’t want to be hungry while dealing with any potential big waves. The only real concern I had was when I had to cross about a quarter mile of open water after rounding a peninsula in section 17 just before the opening of Thursday Bay. I’ve been in bigger waves but when I’m by myself and there’s any type of big waves and there only open water all around me I always have to have respect and can never assume or take things for granted. There is no one around to help me. Once I got in front of the land on the Canadian side I could relax some because at that point I knew if I went over I was pretty close to shore and my canoe and gear would be pushed to shore. I saw the first canoeist in a cove on the east shore about this time as I was crossing Thursday Bay. I continued north through the narrows that go directly north along the border and I lost sight of this canoeist. I couldn’t tell if it was a C1 or a C2.

I continued to follow the border and I was now going east when I spotted a solo canoeist using a kayak paddle heading south into an unnamed bay to the east of Thursday Bay. He never saw me. I now started going south between two island that were along the border. I stopped and talked to four guys a little after 1300 hours who ere sitting on a rock at a campsite plotting where they were going to head for the night. They showed me the campsite where they stayed last night which was only about 1 ½ miles away in Wednesday Bay. They told me they were taking it easy today.

I didn’t know how hard it was going to find a campsite the closer I got to Lower Basswood Falls so I thought I would check out the campsite these guys showed me on a map. I got to Wednesday Bay and I could see both of the campsites free. I decided to take the campsite that is less than a half mile SW of the Table Rock campsite. I arrived at this campsite between 1400 to 1415 hours. I would have gone further if I knew I would find a campsite.

Tomorrow I will check out Table Rock, the pictographs and Lower Basswood Falls before tackling the Horse River.

Yesterday, I figured I was approximately 30 miles from Chainsaw Sisters. I figured it out because I didn’t know how busy the week-end was going to be and if I would be able to find a campsite. It would be possible to make my way out tomorrow if I had to but it would really make for a long day.

There were some clouds today but the sun was shining most of the day. It was warm but it would have felt hotter if not for the strong wind. I’ve been putting on my #30 suntan lotion a couple times a day everyday. Even with that my arms and face got red today.

Total time: approximately 6 hours

Total miles: 14

Campsite #:27

DAY 5

I woke up at 0547 hrs and started getting things ready. I was on the water at 0759 hours. This day was a mixed bag. The day started off nice an easy from Wednesday Bay down to the second portage on the Horse River then it was rugged. I put in my journal, “This was another helluva day.”

My first stop was at Table Rock where I took some pictures and walked around the area. Next I paddled about 3 ½ miles to the pictographs. This is a very nice area to paddle and view the surroundings. I did talk to 4 guys that were fishing but they were camped at the second campsite south of Table Rock. They came in at Mudro Lake on Wednesday but will probably leave early as one of the guys had pink eye. They told me that it took a while to get up the Horse River. They said there were four more additional portages in addition to the scheduled three and many more pull-overs over rocks. They told me the water was low!

I got to the pictographs and talked briefly with a couple from the State of Virginia. The guy has been here before but it was the first time for his lady friend. They told me the water level was very low on the Horse River. They showed me where they camped on the Horse Lake on a map the night before going up the Horse River. I didn’t ask him how long it took to do the Horse River but last night they were camped near Lower Basswood Falls.

I took a lot of pictures at the pictographs and at Lower Basswood Falls. Then I looked to the south from the portage toward the Horse River with the low water. I began the Horse River at 1030 hours. Everything was going fine and I had enough water up to the first portage. I took the portage and decided to have lunch at the end of the first portage. I took about a twenty minute lunch and I was on my way.

Things were going pretty smooth up to the second portage. I believe there were one or two rock obstacles. From that point on it was blur. The people were right when they said there were four extra portages. There were places were I could get the canoe over the rocks without taking out my gear. There were several more places I had to take my gear out and walk it a ways further down across the rocks. To me that is a hard, short portage not a pull-over. I would like to describe the Horse River better but I stopped trying to remember what I did and just did what I had to do to get down the river. I got to Horse Lake at 1430 hrs. It took me approximately 3 hours to the Horse River with the low water level not counting my lunch time.

I checked the first two campsite sites on Horse Lake north of the Horse River. They were both taken. The guy at the second campsite saw a canoe come going south so he though maybe one of the campsite further north would be open. I decided to head south to check the two campsites that were on the Horse south of the narrows. I wanted to head south in case I had to continue out today. I checked the first campsite past the narrows. It was way up off the water. It reminded me of having to be a goat, again. Anyways I found the fire grate surrounded by all trees and brush. It was so enclosed that I couldn’t see the water. I want to be able to look over the water when I camping so I didn’t like this site.

I looked over at the area where the next campsite would be but it didn’t appear obvious to me so I didn’t go check it out. I took the 90 rod portage from the Horse to Tin Pan Mike Lake. This is a very nice looking lake. It has some high cliffs and rock outcroppings. I immediately saw that the campsite on the east shore was taken. The NW campsite was open and upon a high rock outcrop so I decided to check the SW site first. I decided to make camp at the SW site at 1515 hours. This latrine showed it was campsite #2. No double digit number.

I could see that this site has been use extensively. I also didn’t like that it was all dirt surrounding the immediate area of the fire grate. If it would rain it would make for a muddy mess but I was going to take a chance. There was an area further up the hill where there was grass to pitch a tent but it seem so far from the water and the cooking area. I guess if one had a big group or were base camping it would do just fine.

I read some more of the book I brought along after setting up camp. I was pretty tired so when it got dark I went in my tent. I was going to read some more but I still can’t find that flashlight. This campsite is on a high rock outcrop point with water going back to small bays on either side. Before heading to my tent I was watching the beavers going back and forth.

Well, at about 2100 hours it’s dark outside and I’m in my tent. I hear a loud noise as if something is crashing through the woods behind me. The noise is coming toward my direction. I thought I better get out of my tent and confront the situation to divert its progress toward me. I immediately though it was a bear but I’ve bear hunted before and I know they don’t make that much noise. The second thing I thought of was a moose crashing through the woods. What ever I though it was I knew I needed to get out of the tent. I grabbed my other little flash light and tried looking in the direction of the noise but I couldn’t see anything. Now the crashing noises seem to be in slow motion as it just kept coming forward. Then I heard the distinct vocal sounds beavers make. What a relief! Then I heard the familiar flap of their tail against the water. The noise I heard was the beaver dragging a tree through the woods.

I was glad that I figured this noise out but it made it hard to hear any other noises. This went on all night long. The noise came about every hour and then there would be silence when they would swim with their prize to wherever they were going and then it would repeat. I got up before 0600 hrs the next morning and watched these silly beavers going back and forth. I guess the ole adage, “Busy as a beaver” is true.

Total time: 7 hours 15 minutes

Total miles: 11

DAY 6 

I did get up early and watched those silly beavers and I took some pictures of the sky before the sun came up.

I seemed to be taking my time getting things ready and I still got on the water at 0818 hours. I only have about three miles and three portages before Chainsaw Sisters parking lot.

I saw two canoes go by my campsite as I was preparing my canoe. They were just starting the portage to Sandpit Lake when I was a short distance away from the portage. I wouldn’t get a chance to speak to then because they did a single portage. This portage is 160 rods but is flat. The first portion goes over a low area and this part of the trail is a board walkway. What was discussing about this beautiful lake was that someone had sprayed some graffiti with red paint on the rocks at the portage of Tin Pan Mike.

I was on my second trip across the portage with my canoe when I saw a couple with a dog going toward Tin Pan Man. It appeared they were just in for the day to do some fishing.

I saw a large group at the campsite on Sandpit Lake and a big loon on the lake. I got to the portage between Sandpit and Mudro in no time. This portage seems to go up in two steep sections and that on the backside of the portage it only drops half as much. It kind of reminded me of a 185 rod portage between Muskeg and Kiskadinna that I did in 1998. Here‘s what I put in my journal about the Muskeg to Kiskadinna portage. “This 185 rod portage between Muskeg & Kiskadinna is one tough portage. I have to say this is the toughest portage for me this far. It went up & up & up & up in stages –but you definitely knew you were going up. It was like stairs in some places.” This short 90 rod briefly reminded me of the longer one but this one really wasn’t that bad. Easy to say when it’s pretty much the last portage and I didn’t have anymore tough ones to do. I was now on Mudro Lake for the final strokes. I knew there were about three points to take out. I knew not to take to one furthest from Chainsaw Sisters as I knew if I couldn’t paddle that I would be able to track the canoe up stream to the second point. And that is exactly what I did. Why portage any further than you have to!

On my first trip across the portage a couple guys were just getting ready to head out so they had some questions. They told me they were from North Dakota and they were headed to Tin Pan Mike to fish. The one guy told me he might take his buddy up the Horse River to go and see the pictographs. You can probably guess what I told him. Yep, I told him the water is really low on the Horse! I filled them on my experience on the Horse so I don’t know if they changed their minds or have to check it out themselves.

I made sure my Suburban started before this group of guys left for their trip.

I made my second trip across the portage and my trip was done at 1042 hrs.

I was back in Ely about lunch time so I had to stop at Dairy Queen for a double hamburger, fries and a pop. He called it the full meal deal. Just about the only time I go to Dairy Queen to eat is after a canoe trip. Oh, I also got a Butterfinger Blizzard.

CONCLUSION

Overall, this was a great trip. I couldn’t have asked for better weather. I enjoy this time of the year when it warms up during the day and it cools off at night. There was no rain. There were mostly blue skies the entire time.

I didn’t see any larger animals but the animals I did see spiced up the trip… those silly beavers!

This was the first trip where I found a suitable tree at every campsite to hang my food pack.