Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Kawishiwi Lake to Malberg Lake to Fire Lake and Back (1998)
by CIIcanoe

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 06/29/1998
Entry & Exit Point: Kawishiwi Lake (EP 37)
Number of Days: 4
Group Size: 1
Trip Introduction:
INTRODUCTION: This was my first BWCA trip of the year (1998). I have been taking two to three canoe trips a year for the past few years. I had just picked this entry point a month earlier and I hadn’t made any travel plans on where I might go. In 1997, I took this entry point (Kawishiwi Lake) and once I got to Malberg Lake then I went to the NE to Kavaniva Lake, Anit Lake, Pan Lake, Panhandle Lake, Makwa Lake, Elton Lake, Little Saganaga Lake, Gabimichigami Lake, Mueller Lake, Ogishkemuncie Lake, Kek ponds, Kekekabic Lake, Strup Lake, Wisni Lake, Ahmakose Lake, Gerund Lake , Frazier Lake, Sagus Lake, Roe Lake, Cap Lake, Boulder Lake, Adams Lake, Beaver Lake, Kawishiwi River, Malberg Lake and back south and out to the entry point.. This took me 5 or 6 days ( I need to find my notes) to do 68 miles with around 56 portages. This was a tough trip but there was some nice scenery and very few people. I spoke to a friend of mine, Todd, who I’ve done some prior canoe trips with and he told me he was going to enter Lake One a day later than I was going to enter Kawishiwi Lake. He was going to take his girlfriend to the BWCA for the first time and that they would probably go in and base camp on Fire Lake. I looked at the maps and determined that it was possible for me to meet up with him on Fire Lake. I now had my route planned.

Monday, 06-29-98

Lakes traveled: Kawishiwi Lake, Square Lake, Kawasachong Lake, Lake Polly, Koma Lake and Malberg Lake

Distance: 9 miles/ 6 hours

Mileage from home to Tofte Ranger Station: 236 miles / approx. 4 hours

Tofte Ranger Station to Kawishiwi Lake: 32 miles

I worked until 2200 hours last night, 06-28-98, and was in bed by 2300 hours. This morning I got up at 0330 hours and out of the house at 0445 hours.

It was a beautiful, clear, warm morning in the Twin Cities when I left but by the time I got to Duluth it was cloudy. It had been raining up around Beaver Bay but it had stopped a couple miles south of the Totfe Ranger Station.

I arrive at the Tofte Ranger Station at 0845 hours and picked up my permit. I also spoke to Donna and Dean who were there. I used to work with the US forest Service out of the Isabella Ranger District in the early 80’s. Donna and Dean both used to work in Isabella when I worked there.

Next stop was the Holiday Gas Station in Totfe to get some gas, extra toothbrush and a floating Rapala before heading up the Sawbill Trail at 0915 hours. It rained on and off the next 32 miles to Kawishiwi Lake. I was on the water at 1105 hours and there were still a couple light sprinkles.

I had just past a campsite on Lake Polly that I had camped at the year before around 1430 hours when it really began to rain. I had to go a shore and put my rain pants on. I looked up at the sky and noticed a large black cloud that was moving to the northeast. It didn’t look like it would rain too long and it was too early to stop paddling for the day. It stopped raining after about an hour.

I got to the campsite on Malberg Lake at 1700 hours. This is the campsite in the narrows that go to the west in section 8. I immediately put up the rain tarp and tent up due to the rainy weather. I put all my gear under the rain tarp before I began to filter some water. I was filtering water when it really began to rain again. I’ve only been to the campsite about a half hour.

I was cooking my chili for supper under the rain tarp while avoiding the heavy flow of water that was streaming by my Peak One stove. This heavy rain lasted about another half hour and eventually stopped. I finished eating my chili, protein muffin and I had a pear for dessert.

I cleaned up the dishes, washed my face and brushed my teeth while making some coffee. I eventually got the food pack up into one of few ideal trees to hang a pack from.

I didn’t take my camera out all day until after dinner when I saw a large beaver swim by the campsite. The beaver then got out of the water on the far shore and posed for me. Well, it looked like it at the time. I also took some pictures of the campsite.

My body felt good today although my right foot / toe area hurt where I had stubbed my toe at home in the middle of May. I’ll have to see how it feels tomorrow. I did take some Ibuprofen…hopefully that’ll help. If it continues to hurt I guess I better go and have it checked out.

I didn’t see a lot of people today. Coming in on a Monday makes a big difference. I wanted to get to Malberg today which I did. I looked at the maps and it looks like its 15 or 16 miles to Fire Lake with maybe 5 or 6 portages but they appear pretty short.

It’s possible to make it to Fire Lake tomorrow but I’ll have to see how the weather is. I have to go through Insula and it will slow me down if it’s real windy. It was quite windy earlier today but it died down when the rain began.

It’s now 2007 hours and the wind is starting to pick up and it’s getting cool. I better go and get my polypro top soon.

I saw one loon when I arrived at the campsite but I haven’t heard any calls yet.

I hope it’s a nice day tomorrow so I don’t have to worry about putting on my raingear and keeping everything else dry.

My friend, Todd, from work is bringing his girlfriend (now wife) to the BWCA for the first time. Todd and I have done a couple trips together. We both took our own solo canoes on these trips. He has one of the Bell solo canoes and I have a We-no-nah Prism.

Todd and his girlfriend are going to put in at Lake One tomorrow and they plan on camping on Fire Lake. I told them I would try and make it over to see them. I am going to try and make it tomorrow if not then on Wednesday.


Tuesday, 06-30-98

Lakes: Malberg Lake, Kawishiwi River, Alice Lake, Kawishiwi River, Lake Insula , Hudson Lake and Fire Lake

Distance: 15 to 16 miles / 8 hours

Wow! What a day. I paddled for a little over 8 hours.

Last night I was in the tent at 2145 hours. I got up a couple times, the first time …boy, the stars were bright, and it was a clear sky and the second time around 0400 hours and it was now cloudy. I went back to sleep and I woke up again at 0500 hours. It was still cloudy and it appeared it was going to rain. I tried going back to sleep but I decided to start breaking camp at 0515 hours.

I was on the water by 0655 hours. It looked like it could rain at any minute when I left the campsite. The sun tried to come out a couple times as I paddled and by late morning there was a perfect blue sky. I was hoping it wouldn’t rain and it didn’t. I was happy about that.

Now I was starting to warm up while paddling on Lake Insula. I couldn’t believe that there wasn’t even a ripple on Insula while I paddled. The wind was completely absent and it made for a very warm paddle. Just a short while ago there was a strong wind on Alice Lake.

I found Todd and his girlfriend on Fire Lake. They were camped on the west campsite of the lake. I talked with them for about 20 minutes and then I paddled over to the middle campsite on Fire Lake. I got there at 1730 hours and since no one was there I made camp.

It was a long haul today, about 15 to 16 miles. I felt pretty good but my back was a little sore. My foot held up today. The Ibuprofen did a job on my foot, no pain like yesterday.

I pulled everything out of my packs to dry out since everything was still wet or damp from yesterday’s rain.

Everything is all set up, dinner has been made and I had a bath all by 1820 hours.

My campsite is facing east and about 20 feet up off the water. I have a nice view to the east and the trees behind me are blocking the sun in the west giving me a nice and cool campsite. If it stays clear I’ll have a nice east sun in the morning.

Todd told me earlier that they may go for a paddle and stop by my campsite. This campsite really has a nice view to the east. The water is still perfectly calm. I got out my camera and took a few pictures before Todd stopped by around 1900 hours. They brought me a piece of cake that they baked earlier. Todd and his girlfriend left my campsite around 2030 hours. I got in my canoe and went for a half hour paddle. I did take several pictures of a loon and its young that were at the east end of Fire Lake.


Lakes: Fire Lake, Hudson Lake, Lake Insula, Kawishiwi River, Alice Lake, Kawishiwi River and Malberg Lake

Distance: 15 to 16 miles / 8 hours

It got a little cool last night but it wasn’t that bad. I have a habit of not zipping up my sleeping bag and I usually wake up cold because the sleeping bag is not covering my body. I woke up at 0500 hours and I crawled deeper into my sleeping bag. I told myself earlier that I wanted to be up and out of the tent by 0530 hours. Well, I was…its 0515 hours. It’s a beautiful morning, the water is still calm and there is steam rising off the lake.

I was on the water at 0715 hours and as I paddled by Todd’s campsite I didn’t see any movement so I continued on. The sky was completely blue, again.

I am going back to Malberg the same way that I came to Fire Lake. The wind finally started picking up around 1100 hours. I am amazed on how long it was calm, not a single wind caused ripple on the water.

I made it back to the first camp site on Malberg from Fire Lake at 1510 hours. Another 8 hour paddling day. It was also very hot out today. The temperature had to be in the 80’s if not hotter. I was thinking about going onto Koma or Lake Polly but it was just too hot. I had my shirt off most of the day. I was dipping my Tilley hat into the lake and pouring it over my head several times today. The last hour or two I would also get my shirt completely wet and put it on. Oh, boy…was it cold, but it felt good. I was really beginning to overheat.

This is a nice campsite with a nice sandy beach. The problem with this campsite is that it faces west directly into the hot sun and I’m too hot already. I immediately put up my rain tarp to block the hot sun. The sun is blocked but now I noticed that there isn’t any air moving. I can’t wait for the sun to go down and it begins to cool off.

This campsite is the north most campsite in the west bay of Malberg. 

I did go for about a 45 minute paddle around 1930 hours. I got the camera out and took some more pictures of two adult loons and two baby loons. Earlier I walked down the shore and saw some moose tracks. This was after I went for a nice refreshing swim to cool off. The water feels so good after the initial dunk.

In my original notes I wrote,” The sun was hot, hot until it went behind the trees”, “this campsite faces west”. I continued to write, “I think I’m going to walk down the shore. I heard some sounds; maybe it’ll be a moose. Hopefully, not a bear! Well, here I go with camera in hand.” “Back, ...only a loon to be seen.” 

In my journal I continued to write that I really love to paddle in the wilderness. “I was walking across a portage today thinking that it’s a good thing that I work out as much as I do otherwise these trips of mine would not feel so good.” I continue to reflect on these trips and I ended my journal on that day, “I hope it’s another nice day tomorrow!”


Thursday, 7-02-98 (written on 7-3-98)

Lakes: Malberg Lake, Koma Lake, Lake Polly, Townline Lake, Kawasachong Lake, Square Lake and Kawishiwi Lake

Distance: 10 miles / 6:10 hours

I sat on a rock last night and watched the moon after I got done writing in my journal. The moon was half full and it was very pretty. I walked to my tent after 2200 hrs and I saw two bright stars in the sky. My campsite is full of trees so I didn’t have a very good view of the sky from my tent.

I woke up after sleeping for three hours. I got out of the tent and walked down to the shore of the campsite and watched the sky for about 5 minutes. I saw the Big Dipper and the small Dipper. I saw a lot of other stars but I don’t know their names. The moon was blocked by some trees and the water was still calm.

I woke up at 0500 hours to a blue sky and steam coming off the water. I won’t be feeling the warmth of the sun for some time because this camp site faces west. If possible, I try to find a south or east facing campsite for the morning sun.

I was all packed and on the water by 0700 hours. I was about a mile from the campsite where I stayed Monday night. I know that I go about 3 miles an hour if I don’t have any portages. So I knew that I was 20 minutes away from this campsite and it took me 6 hours to reach it on Monday. I knew I should be at the landing at 1320 hours. I was close to that time; I was there at 1310 hours.

I didn’t see anyone on Malberg. I saw a canoe (someone probably fishing) in the far NE corner of Koma Lake. I also saw a couple on the tip of the peninsula. I continued south on Koma toward the first of three portages. I knew it would take me about an hour to do all three portages and I thought I would see someone on them but I didn’t.

I got in my canoe on Lake Polly after doing the third portage and paddled a few strokes when I decided to put on some sun tan lotion. I took off my hat and my prescription sunglasses. All of a sudden I heard a loud noise by a small island in front of me. I was looking toward the sun which was very bright and there were shadows from the tree line on the island down to the water. I could see something big swimming but I couldn’t make out what it was. This animal continued swimming to shore and got out and began to shake to get the water off. I was still having a problem looking toward the sun and trying to get my camera out but now I saw it was a very large moose. I then slowly paddled over to the spot where the moose got on shore. I saw a huge moose on top of a small ridge about 20 yards from me looking directly toward me. I got a few pictures and we both went our separate ways.

There are quite a few campsites on Lake Polly and I did see several camp sites taken. There were two guys camped on an island site where I camped the year before. I was going to stop and look around but that was before I saw that they were camped there.

I made the first trip across the portage to Townline Lake I saw the couple in the red Dagger canoe doing single portages. I had seen this couple on Koma Lake. On the second portage, the 189 rod portage south of Townline Lake, I saw two groups coming in. The wind started picking up but nothing terrible. I saw a few more groups on the stream connecting Kawasachong Lake and Square Lake but they didn’t appear to me that they would be going very far.

I got back to the landing at 1310 hours and the couple with the red Dagger canoe was securing their canoe to their car bearing Wisconsin license plates. They told me they were in for four days.

It was beginning to get warm again. While driving to Ely the temperature was 82 degrees.

I stopped in Ely and the first thing I did was stop at Dairy Queen for a double hamburger, fries, onion rings and a large Pepsi. Afterwards, I went to Piragis’ and looked around. I left Ely for home at 1625 hours and got home at 2045 hours.

I wrote a couple notes:

Canoe 3 miles per hour with no portages

Portages: 90 rod (level) approximately 10 minutes one way

        189 rod (level) approximately 13 to 15 minutes one way

Overall, it was a good trip. I really didn’t see that many people. The ones I did see were just coming in when I was leaving or they were camped closer to the entry point. I didn’t have to worry about finding a campsite but of course you don’t know until after the fact. Except for the rain on Monday the weather couldn’t have been any better. I take that back it could have been just a bit cooler. There wasn’t that much wind to content with except about a half hour on Alice Lake on Day 2.

Well, this was another trip where I never took out my fishing gear. You may recall earlier that I even stopped at the Holiday gas station and bought a floating Rapala. I’m not quite sure but this may have been my last trip to take any fishing gear.

I normally don’t do any trips like this one where it’s an out and back type route. This was different because I was going to see a friend, so I drove 268 miles by truck and paddled another 25 miles one way. Of course, he lives about one mile from me but the only times we see each other is when we cross paths in our jobs or go canoeing.

I usually do a circular route. 

Total approximate distance: 49 to 51 miles