Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

EP37 to Lake Polly
by BigZig

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 06/20/2007
Entry Point: Kawishiwi Lake (EP 37)
Exit Point: Kawishiwi Lake (EP 37)  
Number of Days: 5
Group Size: 4
Trip Introduction:
A BWCA trip for my two children to remember
Day Zero - Tuesday: I get off work a little early because I still have several things to pack and organize for this trip. This will be my 10-year old daughter’s first overnight trip to the BWCA and I think she is looking forward to it. I know my 12-year old son is eager to go. This trip will include myself age 46, my two children, and my brother-in-law age 58. Uncle has not been in a canoe for a long time and has had only one previous BWCA trip. He does have camping and outdoors experience and I am confident in his abilities. My son has done several BWCA trips and is a strong paddler so I pair him with his Uncle and my daughter with me. Our plan is to head in from Kawishiwi Lake to Malberg on Wednesday and stay for 5 days base camping somewhere. I have estimated it to take about 5.6 hours to travel to Malberg but it has been 20 plus years since I have been on this route and also because of my group dynamics I am keeping Lake Polly as an option. As it turns out this is the best decision I make before the trip. With the truck packed and the canoe tied down we head for Duluth and Grandma’s house about 6:30 pm from Champlin. The 2.5 hour drive passes quickly as I tell stories of past trips and things to remember while camping in the wilderness. Uncle is already at Grandma’s when we arrive around 9:30 pm. and we place his Grumman standard weight aluminum canoe next to my Grumman light weight on top of my truck. As we find out over the next few days the weight difference is very noticeable between the two even though they look identical. I want to repack my Duluth packs and double check our gear tonight. I find out I must of forgotten the leech locker in my boat at home and notice I am low on camp suds. I figure I can buy one tomorrow at the bait store. I get on and off the bathroom scale with my granite gear food pack – 70 pounds. Good thing it has padded shoulder pads and a hip belt. I get the kids to bed and the alarm clock set for 5 A.M. and try and go to sleep. Everyone is eager including me.

Day One – Wednesday Morning comes with blue skies and what is promising to be a very nice day. Everyone is up and ready to go quickly. The drive north to Two Harbors from Duluth goes quickly too as there is very few people out and about at 6 A.M. I think about how busy the Twin Cities roads are compared to the Twin Ports and wish I could live here again. We see several deer grazing along the highway enroute to Two Harbors. We make a quick stop at Al’s Bait in Two Harbors for a pound of leeches. They don’t have any leech lockers here so I figure I will find one in Tofte when I stop for camp suds. We arrive at the Tofte Ranger Station at 7:20 am, watch ‘the movie’, take the test, and are on our way. I stop at the Holiday in Tofte for camp suds and find out they don’t have any leech lockers here either. I resolve to use the Gatorade bottle trick I learned on The drive to the entry point at Kawishiwi is smooth for us and very unfortunate for a road running rabbit. The drive takes about 45 minutes for the 32 miles to the entry point. After unloading the canoes, gear, and parking the truck we begin our journey across Kaswishiwi to the river that will lead us to Square Lake. My daughter is able to get close enough to a painted turtle to knock it off the rock with her paddle. The pairing I selected works well and we cover the river route from Kawishiwi to Square and Kawasachong lakes to our first portage of the day. The 189. This becomes our first portage because the two shorter portages on my McKenzie map we are able to float down. Yes we banged the Grumman’s on rocks but they take it well. After the early morning and long paddle I see its time for lunch break even though it’s only 10 A.M. We enjoy our lunch of PBJ on tortilla’s, GORP, venison salami and cheese, and Slim Jim Beef Jerky on the Kawasachong side of the 189. Excitement mixed with adrenaline pushes us across the 189, Townline Lake (i.e. pot hole), and the 95 rod portage to Lake Polly. I remember the Townline Lake side of the 95-rod portage from my previous trip. It has a dock like landing made up of logs, rocks, and earth.

My son wants to continue onto Malberg but I notice the long portages have taken some uff-da out of Uncle and my daughter. I convince my son we should check out the campsites on Polly that are along the big peninsula. One of the groups we passed on our way in said they just left a nice campsite there with firewood. When we get to the first open area of the lake I find out my daughter is tired of making little tornados with her paddle and the wind wants to blow me into shore without her paddling. We stop behind a small island while I check my map and give her (and me) a much desired break. The first campsite we come to on the big peninsula is the one those guys recommended. I don’t like it because the fire area is sloped and the seating looks poor and the campsite small. My daughter wants to stay here. I suggest we look at the one on the very end of the peninsula but in order to get there in the wind I have to turn around and paddle myself. I am now thinking this is going to be a very long 5 days… The campsite on the end of the peninsula is open! It is flat and has lots of room. Plus it has a wonderful rock dock for swimming and fishing. The strong wind we had to paddle against keeps the bugs away (for now). I really like this site and we get out and all decide this will be our home for the next four nights. Everyone helps out setting up the tent, gathering firewood, finding the latrine, and checking out the surrounding woods. The afternoon is spent exploring, napping, or casting from shore. My son catches several fish right away from shore. One walleye and one smallie. He always wins the first fish-most fish game.

Our first dinner consists of steaks, cheesy mashed potatoes, and peas followed by s’mores for dessert. After a beautiful sunset we go to bed around 10 after a very long day. We discuss how light it is still at 10 o’clock at night and almost don’t need the headlights getting ready. Before I go to bed I place some dried blueberries, cherries, and strawberries into some water to soak overnight.

Day Two – Thursday Our first morning is another beautiful morning with almost no wind and blue sky. The skeeters are noticeable without the wind from yesterday. The morning is cool enough to warrant polar fleece and long pants. These are gone as soon as the sun comes over the tree tops. Breakfast is pancakes with berries, bacon, and drink of choice. Coffee for me. We find out that leeches can squeeze through very small holes in Gatorade bottles as most of ours are gone. We put a fine mesh bag over the bottle for the rest of the trip. After breakfast I turn on my Lowrance i-hunt GPS and it says I am on Lake Polly. I turn it off and never use it again. Why did I bring this? Today we plan on making a day trip up to Malberg. It takes us about 1 hour and 45 minutes to paddle the river route and portages through two noname lakes, Koma, and into Malberg. The pool at the base of the rapids from Koma into Malberg looks inviting so we begin to fish from the rocks. My first three casts produce three smallies. Over the next hour or two the four of us catch and release about 20 fish from this spot keeping 4 nice eater size fish for our dinner.

We eat lunch on the Malberg end of the portage, fish a little longer, and decide we want to head back to camp to swim. On the route back we spot a doe and her fawn along the shore. They are both reddish in color and the fawn has spots. They walk off as we approach. My daughter names one of the noname lakes Moko Lake after our dog. We find someone’s lost sandal on the portage. On the next portage into Koma we find someone left a blue water bottle. We leave it where it is figuring one of the groups who passed us might return for it. When we return home we find the swim very refreshing. We have fried fish, my Maytag griddle is working out very nicely today, with brown rice with peas for our dinner followed by s’mores around the fire.

Day Three – Friday Another blue sky morning in the BWCA. Our plan today is to stay on Lake Polly and not make any portages. Uncle’s standard weight canoe is getting heavier evidently. We spend the morning around camp fishing, swimming, and exploring. We walk over to the campsite to the south of us. This is the one I didn’t like from the water on our way in. While it is on a slope, it is much bigger then I thought. The tent pad has been built up and made level and there is a secluded little area under some cedars next to the water. The landing is really nice too. I decide I do like it but ours is still better because it is flat. After our lunch we decide to head down to the inlet of the Phoebe River. Here we catch many smallmouth and northerns during the afternoon. The biggest fish is mine with a 16.5” smallie.

Uncle catches a huge snapping turtle. Actually he snags it by the front flipper. I paddle over to help him get it off using my paddle without thinking about my fish on the stringer. Once released the turtle chomps down on the northern and my daughter begins to cry as I try to pull in the fish and beat the turtle off the fish with my paddle. I win! I take my daughter back because she is now afraid of the turtle and we later learn that Uncle and my son have to battle the same turtle again with their stringer of fish. It’s like he stalked us. Back at camp we tell the story over and over again and contemplate evil plans to catch and eat the turtle. Of course we are only talking big because really we are all afraid of it. Later we take a refreshing swim and cook the fish using the foil method. We all agree that foil cooked fish is better then fried.

During the evening dish routine I discover that a mesh bag works great for drying dishes and preventing them from falling into the dirt. Tonight we make chocolate chip and blueberry cakes in the reflector oven from muffin mixes. They turn out wonderful.

Day Four – Saturday Today is a repeat of yesterday. I convince my daughter to go back to the Phoebe inlet by taking her to shore and hiking and exploring the portage. We don’t keep any fish today but catch and release several nice fish. The vote was to have foil pouch chicken tonight – imagine that, tired of eating fish. After getting back to the camp site and a swim we are leisurely sitting on our rock when we see a dead fish floating past us. I stand up to get a better look when I see a large snapping turtle come up from below, grab it, and disappear again. Needless to say we did not go swimming any more. We had disposed of our fish remains on a small wooded island north of our campsite and away from the shoreline. Today there are two bald eagles and a vulture sitting in the trees of this island. Occasionally an eagle will drop to the forest floor on the island and disappear for awhile. Later on we see the eagle walking on the island. If you have never seen an eagle walk before it is quite funny looking. Not as bad as a loon, but you can tell eagles were made to soar, not walk. I make the foil pouch chicken and pasta meal and add in a few strips of the pre-cooked bacon. We also make reflector oven fresh corn bread. It was delicious. Later on before bed we make jiff-pop popcorn for a snack.

Day Five – Sunday We all wake up around 4 A.M. when the thunder, lightning, and rain begins. It passes quickly however and my fears of spending an extra camp bound day vanish around 4:45 A.M. I don’t like packing up and leaving the BWCA at the end of trips and I really don’t like it when the tent is wet. I have no options today. We are able to leave camp at 7:20 A.M. and begin our return trip south across Polly, Townline, the 189, Kawasachong, the river, Square, and Kawishiwi Lake. Uncle and I each got out and walked the canoes up the small portions of river around the two smaller portages before Square Lake. We met a large group of six young guys at the entry point who are heading in for 7 days with no particular route in mind. They were from all over the US, New Mexico, Pennisylvania, and Michigan, and only one of them had been to the BWCA before. I mentioned our great site and showed them where we fished but I don’t think fishing was their primary purpose. I saw guitars in black cases, hot dog roasting baskets, and paperback books as part of there gear. We leave the Kawishiwi entry point about 1:30 P.M. and immediately see two Spruce grouse feeding along the dirt road. Funny little birds slightly smaller then a ruffed grouse but distinguished by there markings. We chowed down on footlong hot dogs and blizzards at the DQ in Two Harbors. Our first taste of civilazation since Wednesday. The traffic in Two Harbors and the north shore of Lake Superior is busy this Sunday in the summer of 2007 with tourists and people on vacation. I point my truck towards Duluth and head for Grandma’s house, hot showers, and clean clothes. What a great trip we had and my daughter says she wants to go back with memories of fish, food, turtles, and the BWCA. Now I’ve got three of us to persuade Mom to go next time.