Ely, MN Chamber Of Commerce
By Chris Ellerbroek:
I have taken many BWCAW trips in my lifetime. Most of them were in the spring and summer months or the occasional ice fishing day-trip in the winter. This past September, I took my first “late fall” camping trip with my two cousins and their spouses. It was their very first canoe camping trip in the BWCA so I served as the guide and the “Duffer” in our three seat canoe.
Earlier in the summer, my cousins had asked me to help plan the trip. The were all physically fit and used to backpacking, back country skiing, biking and other physical outdoor activities so I chose an aggressive route for our three and a half day trip. Our trip route mapped out at almost 60 miles of canoeing and portaging! The night before we departed, we had dinner and wend over the route plan, food list, gear and general questions about the upcoming trip.
The next morning we enjoyed a hearty breakfast at Garden Lake Resort before driving up the Echo Trail to our entry point at Mudro Lake. The weather on our first day was wet, cloudy and cool. It was a typical late September day. The water levels were extremely low due to the severe drought all summer. This made some of the portaging more challenging.
Our first day route took us through Mudro, Fourtown, Farie, Boot and Gun lakes. All the camp sites on Gun lake were taken accept the last site on the far north side. We were relieved to find a site because the next portage was just over a mile long (not the kind of portage you want to end your day with). Our campsite was a beautiful rock point and the tent area was tucked back into the trees for privacy and protection from the elements. As the sun set for the day, we were blessed with a view of the beautiful pink sunset in the west. Before bed, we enjoyed a hearty meal of cheese ravioli and chicken in a pesto sauce.
Day two of our trip was ushered in by a beautiful sunrise and clear sky. We quickly broke camp and were eager to tackle the hardest part of our day right away....the 1+ mile portage. Fortunately, it was easy terrain and we had packed light for easy travel. On shorter portages, I usually take a heavy pack and a canoe in order to eliminate multiple trips over the portage. However, on a long portage like this, we used a “leap-frog” technique which consists of one person going the full length of the portage and the second person going half way, leaving their pack and doubling back for the rest of the gear. By the time the second person gets back to the half way point, the first person has made it to the end and back to the half way point for the second person's first pack. In this fashion, each person walks half the distance that they would have if everyone carried each pack or canoe all the way to the end and then all the way back to the beginning for remaining packs.
The rest of our second day consisted of paddling and easy portaging through a beautiful bog & river system to Friday bay of Crooked Lake on the Canadian border. Crooked lake was like glass almost the entire day which allowed is to cover many miles with great ease. We stopped several times along the way to do a little fishing, sight seeing and observe the local wildlife. We ended our days paddling on Wednesday bay of Crooked Lake. As the rest of the group set up camp for the evening, my cousin Josh and I decided to try our luck at a little fishing. We were able to catch a few fish in time for the evening meal and I treated my group to a true north woods shore lunch! It was a big hit after a long day of paddling and portaging.
Although we were tired from the long day, we decided to stay up and watch the sun set and the stars come out. Now if you have never experienced the night sky without ANY light pollution, you are really missing out. The stars were so bright, you could distinctly see the Milky Way.
The morning of our third day was overcast and cool. We ate a hearty breakfast and quickly packed up our gear with the excitement of what lay ahead of us on our last full day. Day three would take us by Indian petroglyphs or “pictographs”, the breathtaking Basswood falls, and historic Basswood Lake! By lunch time, the sun was shining and we had portaged all the way to the top of Basswood falls to Basswood lake. With many miles of paddling left in our day, we set out down the lake for Pipestone Bay. Again, the water was like glass and we began to get very warm. By late afternoon, several of our party decided to go for a swim at our last resting point before finding a camp site for the night. As we made camp, I decided to do a little more fishing which yielded a few more fish to feed the group. We were put to sleep that night by a pair of loons calling to each other.
We awoke on our last morning to a heavy fog and a bright sunrise trying to break through the mist. As the sun rose higher, the mist broke and we experienced some of the most beautiful paddling of the trip. Our final morning's paddle lead us down the remainder of Basswood Lake, over Pipstone portatage into Newton lake, and then to Fall Lake where we exited the BWCAW. That was not the end of our journey however. We had decided that it would be a great ending to our trip if we could paddle right back to Garden Lake Resort on Garden Lake so we made our final portage on the Kawishawi hicking trail to Garden lake and returned to our starting point just in time to drive to town for a hearty lunch at the Chocolate Moose restaurant in Ely.
It was a great ending to an amazing fall canoe trip. My soul is at rest on those quiet waters. I will see them again soon.......