Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Solo Base Camp Horseshoe Lake
by Makwa90

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 09/13/2022
Entry & Exit Point: Lizz and Swamp Lakes (EP 47)
Number of Days: 5
Group Size: 1
Trip Introduction:
While I’ve done about 8 trips to the Boundary Waters with family, this will be my first solo adventure. So, my nerves were a little high heading into this trip. While I usually plan trips around moving every day and traveling fairly long distances between camp sites, I will instead be base camping on Horseshoe Lake for 4 days. I knew before heading in that I was in for a ton of rain, so I figured that this would be the best plan of action. In any case I was super excited and anxious to experience the Boundary Waters solo! After a beautiful 6hr drive north, I rolled into Rockwood Outfitters and found my lodgings for the night in the bunkhouse. I spent nearly the whole evening packing and repacking my bags as I wasn’t sure what would fit into my canoe the best. I strolled down to the shore to take in the calm waters and listen for loons on the dock before retiring for the night.
Day 1 of 5
Tuesday, September 13, 2022 I enjoyed my morning coffee and oatmeal on the deck overlooking Poplar Lake then triple checked the room for any gear and headed down to grab my canoe from the outfitters. Thankfully, it was a calm morning and I had no troubles making my way through the maze of islands blocking the outfitters from the lake proper. Ravens croaked in the distance and Canada Geese honked as they flew in formation heading south. The sun was right in my eyes making it hard to see the target shoreline and I had to overcome my mild panic that I wouldn’t be able to find the portages. But sure enough, a stretch of clean cobbles came into view…portage found!

I will officially enter the wilderness half way down the next lake - Lizz. I smiled as I passed Canada Yew, White Cedar, Bluebead Lily, and Beech Fern. These plants have always greeted me on previous trips and I welcomed their presence like old friends. Lizz ended up being a narrow boggy lake with much appreciated plank docks at either mucky end. I did a quick stop at the border sign and paddled on into the glass calm waters. Caribou Lake was next and it felt like I was properly in the Boundary Waters. Campsites looked fairly full which made me worry about finding a spot to camp to camp tonight.

All the portages have been pretty easy so far. The landings have been a tad rough so I’m glad I had them to myself so no one else had to see the awkward portage attempts that are inevitable on the first few lakes before you get the swing of things.

Finally, I made it to Horseshoe lake which I had all to myself! I was picky about my camp locations since I knew I was in for soaking rain and wind a few days from now. I ended up choosing site 674 on the south side of the lake. It had everything I was looking for: a nice open rocky front porch, easy landing, and good shelter for wind and rain.

Before I set up anything else, I went to work doing the task I was most worried about: hanging my food bag. I was relieved to find a perfect branch and after several hilarious attempts, I at last roped the branch with the throw bag. Getting a solid bear hang out of the way eased a lot of my initial fears and I set up the rest of camp worry free.

I spread out on my rock and ate lunch marveling at the view of super canopy pines which poked above the forest with twisted, gnarled, and missing tops from harsh weather. I gazed at the map and chose a short paddle for the afternoon - south to Vista Lake.

I let the breeze blow me down the channel hoping to catch sight of a moose. I hugged the shoreline finding white water lilies and otters. I spooked up some eagles who were swooping low on the hunt. The streams heading into the lake are fairly dry now with only the slightest trickle. A tricky portage landing next to a dry creek bed lead to me taking a booter! No! On the first day and everything. I grumbled as I wrung my sock out once again glad that no one was there to witness my clumbsiness.

The Vista lake landing turned out to be 50’ of boulders which I picked my way very carefully through especially with a canoe on my back. I don’t need a twisted ankle now! The Misquah Hills came into view and I could finally appreciate the ruggedness of the shoreline. Mergansers preened on rocks while the wind pushed me south. I relished the warm sunny t-shirt weather! I floated all the way down listening to fiddle music from a nearby campsite- at least it wasn’t banjos…

I decided to turn around and the paddle back into the wind was definitely more of a workout! But I got very comfortable with my Northstar Magic and had no problem making it back to Horseshoe. I watched a loon chick beg for meals making soft mewling noises at the adult, spied the eagles lunch rock furnished with a huge fish carcass, and made it back to camp with the afternoon sun shining low.

Time for a snack and firewood hunting! The downtime until dinner made me uneasy for some reason. Reading a book and journaling helped. It’s very quiet! Evening came and I finally relaxed with food in hand, a crackling fire made, and a warm belt of scotch in the tummy. Clear skies and calm winds eased my mind even more. I layed down on my rock to stargaze (the Milky Way swept overhead and Cassiopeia kept me company) before heading to bed.