High Adventure Boundary Waters Trip
Written by Mr. Doty
Canoeing in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness of Minnesota
Travel distances given here were measured two ways and are probably accurate to better than 1/4 mile. The portage distances were read off of the maps.
The weather during the entire trip was warm and mostly sunny. In each of the last two days we passed through a small squall that rained on us, but it was great weather before and after the storms.
Day 1, Tuesday, June 15, 1999
We arrived at the scout lodge at 4:30 to leave for northern Minnesota. Going on the trip were
We drove to Cut Rock State Park near Rockford, Illinois and spent the first night sleeping under the stars. A few of the boys noticed a flock of turkeys walk through our camp.
Day 2, Wednesday
We finished our drive to Ely (pronounced eelee), Minnesota. After checking into the campground at Bear Head Lake State Park, we went to Ely to check on our outfitter and make sure that we were ready to go the next day. Our outfitter was a company called Canadian Waters. They assured us that they were ready for us and we should show up at 8:00 am the next day to start our trip. They gave us our packs for the trip so we could packs our gear the night before. At camp we transferred our equipment from our bags and backpacks into the canoe packs. Their packs were large green rucksacks with shoulder straps.
Day 3, Thursday
We arrived promptly at 8:00. Dan Waters, the owner, marked on our maps a recommended route that included campsites, fishing spots, moose areas and interesting sights. They also provided three plastic barrels with food and another canoe pack with cook gear and eating utensils. We bought some fish bait consisting of two containers of leeches and two containers of night crawlers. Once the trailer and van were loaded with gear, four canoes and 8 travelers we were driven by our outfitter to our put in point The drive took about 45 minutes.
From our drop off point we had a short portage to the spot where we entered the water. The insects were down due to a late season freeze, so little insect repellent was required at this point. After a little instruction on PFDs (personal flotation devices) and paddling we set out on Mudro Lake. It was decided that canoe partners would switch every day. Also at some point during the day, the front and rear paddlers would switch. This allowed everyone to get experience at both ends of the canoe and work with people of varying strength and experience.
Mr. Doty started drinking the lake water. The rest of the team watched and waited for gastric side effects. After three hours and no apparent illness, we decided that the lakes were safe to drink from. During the entire trip we got all of our drinking water from the lakes. We did however, only drink water collected far from shore. Lake water is the color of weak iced tea. The tint is probably due to decaying vegetation in the water.
We traveled from Mudro Lake to Fourtown Lake and then on to Boot Lake and easily found the first campsite. Travelers must camp at predefined campsites that are clearly marked on the maps. Each camp site has a rock fireplace with a fire grate and a latrine located some large distance from the camp site. There were usually several large logs propped up on rocks to make benches around the fireplace. The sites are utilized on a first come basis.
There was excellent fishing on a little rock point at this campsite. Many fish were caught, but Mr. Shurboff caught the only keepers by casting a leech to the bottom of the lake. We had steak and fish for dinner. We also cooked dehydrated hash browns, green beans, and lemon pie. The first night’s steak was fresh food. From this point on, we would eat dehydrated main courses.
Day 3 Travel – Total distance 5.5 miles
30 rod portage to Mudro Lake.
30 rod portage on river
140 rod portage on river
10 rod portage from on river to Fourtown Lake.
35 rod portage from Fourtown Lake to Boot Lake.
Camp on Boot Lake.
Day 4, Friday
We had bacon and eggs, the last of the fresh food, for breakfast. We slept a little late and after the large breakfast we got a late start. This day was extremely tiring with the longest portage (about one mile), and six total portages. The portage distances are marked on the maps in units of rods. A rod is 16.5 feet. Portaging is an exhausting process where the canoes and everything in them is carried from one body of water to the next. The canoes weigh approximately 65 pounds and have a special yoke with shoulder pads to allow a person to carry the canoe upside down. They are very well balanced to allow a person to carry the canoe easily. However, after several portages, people carrying the canoes had very sore shoulders. The packs each weighed 60 to 70 pounds and were very difficult to lug around. With no frame or hip belt, all weight is carried on the shoulders. Our goal was to accomplish each portage in two trips and most of the time we made it. The water on Gun Lake was crystal clear. It was the only lake on our trip that did not have tea colored water. The water also tasted better. At one of the lakes we spotted a bald eagle soaring above the water. It was a beautiful sight. We stayed on a peninsula on Crooked Lake. The peninsula divides Friday and Thursday bays. We had trouble finding the campsite. Due to our late start, all of the sites in our area were taken. We kept travelling east checking each site as we went. We finally found the great site on Thursday Bay. It was too late for fishing. Dinner was watery macaroni and cheese with way too much pepper, carrots and peas, and another desert. But we all agreed that everything tastes great when you are camping. We went to bed around midnight when the dishes were done.
Day 4 Travel – Total distance 12 miles
15 rod portage from Boot Lake to Fairy Lake
50 rod portage from Fairy Lake to Gun Lake
300 rod portage from Gun Lake to Wogosh Lake
45 rod portage from Wogosh lake to Niki Lake
5 rod portage from Niki Lake to Chippewa Lake
95 rod portage from Chippewa Lake to Friday Bay on Crooked Lake
Camp on Thursday Bay on Crooked Lake
Day 5, Saturday
Learning from the previous day’s experience, we got a very early start so we would be assured of a campsite. To avoid cooking, we ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for breakfast. Our campsite faced east over the water and the sunrise was terrific. This was a long paddle day. Navigation was a challenge. Crooked Lake is large with many small islands that all look alike. Also, we were constantly surprised at how apparently long distances on the map were very short in the real world. We had to make sure that we did not travel too far before checking our landmarks. It is very easy to get confused and get off track. Through careful observation and occasional compass work, we managed to stay on course. We had only one moderately long portage around a waterfall called Curtain Falls and a short stretch of rapids below the falls. We then had a short paddle to Three Island on Iron Lake to our campsite. We arrived early enough to fish, and we caught nothing to speak of. We still did not have the formula. The boys played around in canoes, gathered firewood, cooked, cleaned up, and went to bed early. Dinner this night was mashed potatoes, beef stew, and another pudding type of desert. We all agreed that by this point in the trip we were supposed to be eating fish, not the dehydrated food.
Day 5 Travel – Total Distance 10.5 miles Portage 140 rods around Curtain Falls to Iron Lake. Camped on Three Island
Day 6, Sunday
We stayed on Three Island. A day with no traveling was a great break for us. The group got up very early to try to sight moose on a nearby river. No moose were found, but we saw a deer, otter, and many varieties of ducks. All of the streams are home to beavers. We were continually encountering beaver dams with very large beaver lodges. A couple of the boys thought that they heard some large animals (moose?) in the brush, but did not see anything. On the way back, we stopped at an old abandoned beaver lodge and collected a large pile of firewood. After breakfast we went back to the Curtain Falls and the rapids that we portaged around on the previous day. We went to fish and play with the canoes in the fast stream. Three small bass were caught, and the boys had fun with the canoes in the fast moving water. Matt and Mitchell managed to overturn their canoe. This was the only canoe incident on the trip. Since this was during fun time, not travel. They had no gear so nothing got wet other than themselves. Mr. Shurboff decided to make a science project of photographing emerging dragonfly larva on the large rocks. That is how bad the fishing was. We still did not have the formula. Our trip planner had told us of fun swimming at nearby Rebecca Falls. We had been told that a jump into the flowing water at the bottom of the falls on the north side would be a fun ride into the lake. Two canoes went back to camp to get swimming gear and two other canoes went on to the portage for the falls. We agreed to meet at the end of the portage at the foot of Rebecca Falls. The first crew there would take in a canoe to go to the small island between the two falls. After a very challenging portage that included gong over a couple of downed trees, the first team arrived at the base of Rebecca Falls. On the way to the island the first crew, consisting Mr. Shurboff, Mike, Mitchell, and Matt, nearly swamped the canoe in rough currents. The canoe took in a lot of water. It appears the 700 lb. weight limit of the canoe was exceeded and there was not very much aluminum above the waterline. When the second team arrived the first team returned to the shore and the second team went to the island. The falls were spectacular, but the jump into the flowing water looked a little too dangerous, so we all returned to camp.
All of our activities were 1.5 to 2 miles apart and were reached by canoe. By now all of the boys were very proficient at canoeing and using canoes as transportation.
At camp we swam in the very cold lake. It was refreshing and fun. We started an early dinner since we had skipped lunch. Dinner this evening was to be chicken stew with dumplings. It received better reviews than the previous two dinners.
While the boys were cooking dinner, Mr. Shurboff and Mr. Doty canoed across the channel to a swampy area to fish. At Rebecca Falls, Mr. Shurboff had asked a couple of campers how they were catching fish. They recommended dragging leeches on the lake bottom using a bobber. This was the formula! The two men caught 6-8 very large bass. They returned to camp for their now late dinner. Once the boys saw the fish they decided to try their luck. They caught one more bass and a small pike. Mr. Doty and Mr. Shurboff filleted the fish and fried them using a flour mix provided by the outfitter. The heap of fresh cooked fish was soon devoured. After dishes were done, it was bedtime.
Day 6 Sightseesing – Total Distance 8 miles
50 rod portage to the foot of Rebecca Falls
50 rod portage back from Rebecca Falls
Stay on Three Island
Day 7, Monday
We got an early start. This was the beginning of our leg home. On the way we had planned to go north into Canada to view Indian writings on some rocks. This was another very long day of paddling. After portaging to Lac La Croix we paddled north to the Indian writings. The wind was picking up from the south. Several of the team got out rain suits in anticipation of an upcoming storm. On Lac La Croix we were buffeted by motor boat wakes a couple of times. In Canada boats are allowed on the lakes. The Indian writings were very interesting. There were done in red “ink” on flat faces. There were stick figures, symbols, handprints and clear drawings of moose.
After viewing the writings for a long while, we started back south towards the US and our next campsite. The wind really started picking up and the water got choppy. We canoed through a very strong downpour. Once the squall had passed, the weather calmed and the sun came out. We stopped at a campsite on an island to dry out and cook lunch.
After lunch we made our way to Lake Agnes. There were only two short portages along the way. On Lake Agnes the wind was really high. We had to travel into the wind. Those canoes that were loaded more lightly in the front had a lot of trouble making forward progress. The canoes will turn like weather vanes with the heavy end upwind. If there is too much weight in the back it is impossible to steer. Some of the boys had fun battling water that occasionally came over the bow of the canoes. The heavily loaded canoes rode well and were stable in the choppy water.
At our campsite, the boys put on PFDs and went swimming. They had fun bobbing in the waves and swells of the lake. The day was sunny and warm. After the long paddle, several of members of the team napped on warm rocks while others fished a little.
Day 7 Travel – Total Distance 13.5 miles
80 rod portage on Battle Portage from Iron on Lac la Croix
Indian Paintings on Irving Island
65 rod portage on Boulder River
24 rod Portage on Boulder River to Lake Agnes
Camp on Lake Agnes
Day 8, Tuesday
Because of the heavy winds, we decided to get up early and get on the water without breakfast. The winds were usually much calmer in the morning. After an hour or two, we would stop for breakfast. This turned out to be a very good decision. We woke at 5:00 am and it was apparent that a storm was coming. We hustled to break camp and load the canoes. After getting out our rain gear we started south on the lake. There was still a very strong wind from the south. The rain struck while were on the water. We felt fortunate that we were packed and on the water rather than in camp trying to cook breakfast and break camp in the rain. The rain blew past and the sky cleared. At the south end of the lake we sighted two bald eagles perched in a dead tree. Most of our travel on this day was on the Nina Moose River and Moose River. We were out early enough that we hoped to sight a moose, but we didn’t. We saw one very playful otter that swam beside one of canoes for about 30 yards. At the start of one of the portages we found ourselves at a very promising fishing spot. We caught and released a small pike, a large bass and a large walleye. The mosquitoes were finally bad. We donned long sleeves and those that had head nets put them on. Insect repellant did not seem to slow them down.
This was our last day in the wilderness. We were supposed to meet our ride back to Ely at 4:00 pm at our take out point. With our early start, we had plenty of time to spare, so on Nina Moose Lake, we decided to stop and have a large midday meal. Basically we decided to eat all of the food we had left. We had toasted marshmallows, scrambled eggs, chicken noodle soup, and grilled cheese sandwiches. When it was time to leave we continued up the Moose River. We now encountered a small current that made our going a little slower than normal. It was a beautiful meandering stream with several small rapids that we had to portage around. Our sixth, and last, portage was 160 rods to a parking lot where we arrived promptly at 4:10 pm. Our van driver was there with cold beverages for us. We loaded the van and trailer and headed back to Ely. At Ely we transferred our gear back to our bags, took showers and purchased souvenirs. We had dinner in town with most of the crew heading for Pizza Hut.
After dinner we checked into nearby the Bear Head Lake State Park campground for the night.
Day 8 Travel – Total Distance 8.5 miles
Portage 96 rods on Nina Moose River
Portage 70 rods on Nina Moose River
Midday break on Nina Moose Lake
Portage 25 rods on Moose River
Portage 10 rods on Moose River
Portage 20 rods on Moose River
Portage 160 rods from Moose River to parking lot
TOTAL DISTANCE TRAVELED 57.5 MILES
Total Portage 1545 rods or 4.8 miles
Day 9, Wednesday
We drove back to Fort Wayne where we arrived at 9:00pm. The only problem was heavy traffic in the Chicago area.