Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Nina Moose to Iron Lake
by overthehill

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 06/03/2007
Entry Point: Moose/Portage River (north) (EP 16)
Exit Point: Other  
Number of Days: 6
Group Size: 4
Trip Introduction:
Four men;3rd trip for 3;2nd for 1. Met 2 at MSP Airport at 11:30 AM Saturday June 2nd. On schedule! Wrong! Rods lost from Louisville. Said try Duluth at 4:30. Fenwicks and St. Croix, so the two in our party insisted on waiting. Killed some time and to make a long story short,we hit Ely around 8:00 PM Saturday night. Outfitter closed at 9:00,so we rushed thru everything and finished up at 9. Went for a stroll of town and had dinner at C-Berries. Grocery was closed,and two insisted we must visit before leaving. SUNDAY JUNE 3rd DAY 1- Hit grocery store around 8:00 AM (nobody dreamed it opened at 6) Hit EP16 around 9:30 AM and by the time we double portaged and loaded up we knew we were in for a treat. Not enough editing of gear the night before. Probably near 250 lbs. per canoe besides passengers. We went 215-240 apeice. Cant remember all the portages and their lenghts,but it seemed like the first 1/2 of our day was paddle 10 minutes and portage 30 plus. Much traffic all the way to Agnes both ways. Most of us hadn't been there in 15 years or more and had taken different routes, so traffic came as bit of surprize to most of us. "I echoed the necessity of an early start". Wind was in our face all the way up, but just a stady breeze except a storm on Agnes. Caught us in middle and we dug in for shore with no time to dig for raingear. Arived NW corner of Agnes at portage somewhere between 5 and 6:00. My goal (initially) had been to at LEAST make NE Tiger Bay first day. We portaged out of Agnes and went due Noth or NE to one of three camsites on Saddle? Boulder?-any way, South of Tiger a bit. (Just acroos from NW Portage out of Agnes 65 rod?) Made camp Had fresh ckicken for supper. (Mutiny / Griping subsided) DAY 2 JUNE 4-- Up at daylight,Bacon and eggs,and off to Ranger Cabin/Boathouse Portage .Moose across from end of portage and Ranger cabin on our left. Took a break for1/2 hr. Neither me or my partner had EVER been in the BOW of a canoe, but we made out ok. Constantle waiting for 2nd canoe. We were both still pretty fair paddlers. I spent most of my time in all mid laked on my knees digging in. The paddle from Ranger Cabin to Bottle was into a stiff breeze and we just missed getting soaked again. Partner insisted I not take the time to shoot a compass bearing at entry gaps to next portage. I think the lakes were on a much grander scale than he thought. I like to beeline across instead of zigzagging around "Just past this next point) I used the compass anyway at it does not lie over USGS and Fischers . This can save as much as two miles paddling per day if you will just trust it in new territoryto you. We hit All portages within 150 yards after learning to trust it. Things can look much different from the ground than on a map. Him being an ex Airbourne Ranger should have realized this. Anyway,TRUST YOUR COMPASS in new territory across big water especially. Hit Bottle Portage around 9-9:30. Saw someone on bank with fresh clean shirt and said he had just been dropped off by a tow from LaCroix. I basically planned the trip/route alone , so took a beating for that. Money was no object THEN! WE portaged Bottle in 1 1/2 style and were getting portage system down pat. Met some guys coming off Argo and they told us there was a nice campsite open at Curtain Falls. WE debated and decided to skirt West Bank of Iron for one of the first three campsites since we finally had the wind quartering at our backs. They were all full and it was 11:00 AM .Wind picked up DRAMATICALLY aand we let it take us to a 3-4 acre island due West of the third site down from Bottle on the west bank of Iron. The site we could see from our Gilligan's Island was due West of us about 1/4 to 1/2 mile and was on a south facing point . We beached like baby whales on the warm rock while I paced,explored,and planned options. No consencus,just napping and unison replies of "Let the wind die down" and "take a break". Explored/pillfered island and found what looked like square cut loading docks or "cutouts" on both the north and south ends. Suppose they were natural formations, but felt like I was tresspassing on Holy ground for some reason. Also found a Boundary or Reference or Benchmark square pointed spike cemented into the rock on the NE corner. Everyone wanted to lay there and let destiny force us into bivwacking on this island (except me) I was pacing and preaching "S**it or get off the Pot!" I went fishing off SE end of island out of the wind a bit and caught 4 wallies off the bottom as far as I could cast with 5/16 jigs (orange bucktail Copper bladed spinner combo tipped with gulp brown leech) ended up just deadlining it until it ran abit. Cleaned fish and put fillets in ziplock between semi-frozen steaks deep in pack. They kept until next morning. Didn't tell anyone as they were all asleep and we had a dollar on the first fish.About 6-6:30 pm they decided to skirt SW corner of Iron for a site after I strongly suggested we couln't stay there and we didn't warrent an emergency. We left Gilligan's as wind backed off a bit and all SW and South sites were taken much to everyone's surprize ezcept mine. Beached/bivwacked on a point south central. Cold camp,just tent and bags and salami sandwiches. Left at daylight and JUST around corner some one had just left a campsite a 1/4 mile east of us. We grabbed it. Teusday morning and we finally had a base camp! It had a parkbench made from stones and logs, 6' behind the firegrate and we were in Heaven. Someone had left some fairly freshcut slim poles about 7' long and rather than cutting them up for green wood, we used them to hang our dining fly. Wood was in fair supply, but a ways back. We made a trip around in canoes at high water mark and had good luck at finding driftwood out of canoes. We didn't leave much on Friday, but more than when we found it. Anything seasoned was wet when we left. We set up camp and cooked the wallies and fresh steaks for brunch. Best pan cooked sirloin I've EVER eaten. Sauteed the wallies in butter and steak grease. Didn't do them justice but theye were still good! Fished bays and points close to camp and did well on smallies and a couple 2' northerns. Cooked supper of fish and mac&cheese around 5. Our canoe wasn't scheduled for dishes that nite, so we headed for peterson and points just west. Lindy techniglow and yellow case plastic leeches with crawdad scent and had wallies for midnight snack. Didn't get back till 11 or better , but the NW sky and the full moon helped with enough light to navigate. Slept like a baby! DAY 4 WED. JUNE 6. Got up late about 8-8:30, made bacon ,hashbrowns etc. and went fishing. Did fair, but not as good as before. Ate smally for late lunch and wound up radio and heard fireban was lifted. I think it rained off and on that day, I can't remember, but we lazied about camp , and milled , fish the banks of our shallow bay. Caught a few smallis none over a lb hardley. That night while huddling around the fire under our fly just before dusk, we were visited by Forest Rangers. They chatted for an hour or so and paaled off NW in a stady drizzle at dusk. The calmest I'd seen the water yet. They made that little Bell Fly and had some nice laminated wood bentshafts with cream colored plastic/rezin tips. They made it looke easy and made a good team as they shot the gap off four island. WE went out again and wallies co-operated on a reef north of us. We got wet, but they bit. Had midnight snack again! Out of oil and breading. Went to bed! THURSDAY DAY 5 JUNE Awoke to wet conditions and steam floating off "Our BAY" Topwater chugs,torpedoes,dying flutters,and origional Rapala floaters, zara puppies, and Bromel's gold/black J-9 yielded the pans full again although no size worth mentioning except a couple 2-pounders. Everyone had joined the party by 6:30 and we ventured forth carefully and not far from camp. Debated whether to leave for pickup at EP16 FRIDAY 6:00 PM or to call to arrange tow from Bottle. Bottle won out with tow. The wives of our group had jokingly labeled our trip as "The Deliverance Trip" and we all could imagine them laughing as we called our outfitter to see if he could arrange a tow out from Bottle. Our excuse was that it would give us an extra fishing day,although it was the double portaging South that motivated us. He hooked us up and said be at The Rock by 3:30. (WE were there 2 hrs early). We fished a bit,went to Curtain Falls and back and saw the campsite we COULD have gotten Monday morning day 2, and laughed at ourselves in hindsight. Caught a few around Curtain and Paddled back to camp by late afternoon. It was windy.We paddled to the westernmost campsite on Three Island and turned straight South a mile or so to our "Parkbench Bay" I would give it 4 stars with 2 drawbacks: 1) It is not centrally located near Bottle,Curtain< or Peterson (Beartrap) but yet it is I guess. (WE wanted to fish Bottle more) 2) It looked like it may be buggy in hot weather;maybe not. The bench was great though, and was built at a comfortable angle. Seats 4 and 3 Very comfortably. Got back to camp late afternoon after a brief shower ( I think. Showers were frequent an it all runs together now.) WINDY,WINDY WINDY!!!! Just before dark, our umbrella 4 man tent laid FLAT and we were off shore 100-150 ft. in thick pines. Tied off to a tree and went to bed early. Felt like staedy 40 mph plus all night out of NW. Tent flapped all night and Shoreline gurgled and lapped heavily. All I could think of was " Can we make Bottle in the morning?" If the wind hadn't died down after daylight Friday morning, I don't think we would have tried it! DAY 6 FRIDAY JUNE 8 Awoke to VERY STIFF BREEZE at Daylight. Laid back down until around 8 am. Wind backed off a bit and we broke camp and headed nearly straight into what I guessed as a 15-20 mph wind out of NW or WNW. Quartered, tacked, and Island hopped to mouth of Bottle River and the wind seemed to lessen. Caught some smallies north of gap in Iron and had shore lunch on north bank about a mile east of Bottle Portage. By 1:30, we were on The Rock hoping the "Tow Arrangements" had worked out. We just missed a Zupp boat hauling a two person party at the beginning of our double portage out of Bottle. Around 2:30 ,Zupp showed up and we were relieved especially on such a windy day and Airline tickets and obligations etc. (Secretly, I guess I'm glad my buddy carries a sat phone constantly) Took a (Kidney Bouncer East across La Croix to a big lodge who's outfit used to own Curtain Falls ? Then took break,switched boats and took another kidney bouncer thru two railroad track portages (boat and all) out the Loon River? to Crane Lake Marina and thru U.S. Customs. Waters was there to meet us and took back Echo Trail Road (a 30 mile gravel road ) home to Ely. Motel room, hot shower and late Ribeye at Ely Steakhouse really makes a man appreciate civilization ( Despite what he always thought in the past; his younger years especially!) In Conclusion: I'm a Rookie who just got his feet wet! Planning a trip? Plan on EP16 to Iron as a day and a half. If you beat that, then you're ahead of the game. Plan on: Wind,Rain,etc. Especially WIND. You ARE at it's mercy at least to a moderate extent. Don't set an agenda that has to be strictly adhered to so you have plenty of time. Personally,I'd like at least ten days to do 16 to 14 next time. It is still the closest a person can get to God,Solitude,and the way things were long ago. The ride down the Loon River was probably the most beautiful boat ride I've ever taken. Besides the scenery and tranquility in the BWCA,it made ALL the portages worth it. And my new motto? : If you don't HAVE TO HAVE IT : DON'T BRING IT!!! "The Eye of the Needle" Look it up. It is Truly sound advice. Thanks for everyones help and advice on this site, and if ever I hit the lotto I WILL retire up there. Sorry, I didn't have a digital camera, but if I can find out how, will post some beautifull pictures! God Bless, oth