Winona State Alumni Expedition #1


By Walter Eyed Pike Print Icon Print Report View/Leave Comments (0)
Dates:June 17-19, 2016
Entry Point:37 - Kawishiwi Lake (BWCA)
Type:Canoeing
Lakes:Kawasachong, Kawishiwi, Koma, Malberg, Polly, Square, Townline

June 16th

Excitement got the best of half of our crew of 6; the 3 of us decided to leave for the Northland at 10 AM the day before our journey was to truly “Start.” The 5 hour trek north had begun and we made Duluth our first official stop. This stop proved to be slightly longer than planned as we ended up grabbing a bite to eat and a cold beverage at Little Angie’s, which turned into a walk to the shore to take in Lake Superior and all of its beauty. The town was abuzz as Grandmas’ Marathon was to begin in a few short days and you could feel the excitement of many of the participants in the area. Little did some of us know, but we would be participating in a marathon of sorts ourselves.

Neat anlgle of Split Rock LighthouseSplit Rock Lighthouse-- Looking through the Glass

We were soon back in the truck and winding our way up the north shore to Tofte—along the way, we decided to stop at Split Rock Lighthouse as well as the Temperance River. Much to the dismay of my two counterparts, we bypassed Gooseberry Falls but I assured them that we would make every attempt to take in the site on the way back South. This would turn out to be the best idea--- As we arrived in the big city of Tofte; the fuel gauge read 110 miles to empty….. The thought of fueling up crossed my mind as I not only needed to make it to our entry point, but also make it back. We took a vote, and it was decided that we would press towards our sub-destination of Sawbill Outfitters and hopefully run into a fuel station along the way. As we pulled into Sawbill I thought to myself “Boy, I haven’t seen a powerline in quite some time….” It was soon discovered that all of the residents that call that area home are completely self-sufficient and off the grid. I was immediately envious of this--- that is until I tried to contact our remaining party and found that I too was “Off the grid!” Luckily, Sawbill offers a hot spot so I was able to make a call and discover that they were about 3 hours away and should be in Tofte at 10:30 PM.

With that knowledge we decided to gather all of the necessary gear, run to EP 37 at which time the canoe’s, my two accomplices, and tents would be dropped off and set-up. (Notice I said nothing about paddles, which I was informed of upon my return 3+ hours laterK) With the tents and canoes unloaded, I commenced my journey from EP 37 back to Tofte. This is roughly a 50 minute journey through some beautiful scenery. I was able to make it to the local Gas Station prior to them closing up at 10 PM, here I topped off the tank as well as got some ice and refreshments for when we exit in just a few short days. Around 10:45 the other half of the party arrived—they all had the look of excitement, anticipation and pure joy upon their faces--- and then I told them it would be about an hour further on some very windy gravel roads--- The look of excitement faded slightly, but they were ready to go regardless. We made it back to camp around midnight, and everyone unpacked the essentials and got cozy in the sleeping bags.

The First Morning

Right around 4:00 AM I was awaken by a some of the northlands feathered creatures—with the anticipation of the day to come, I decided I should probably get the last of (or all of) the gear re-packed and into the proper places so that we could embark in our journey right at sunrise. It wasn’t long before the entire crew was up and staggering around. We packed up the gear that was out and was needed and stowed the remaining non-essential gear in the truck and were on the water by about 5:30 that morning. It sure was peaceful canoeing in the early morning hours, with no wind or clouds--- there was a slight chill in the air, just enough to keep the mosquitos at bay. Pure bliss was the feeling that overcame me, and the look that was on the faces of the other 5 brave souls embarking on this journey made me believe they had the same feelings.

As we paddled across Kawishiwi Lake, leaving society and entry point 37 behind us, I could only think of two things—the first being, What did I forget and the second being, World War 3 could start while we are in here and we wouldn’t know a thing about it. To be honest—neither of the things stayed in my mind long as I was soon consumed with thoughts of fishing, comradery and just being as close to nature as I had been since my first adventure, when I was around 13 years old—which at this time was also 13 years away. I kicked myself for allowing it to be that long since returning to this beautiful place and made a private promise to myself to never go that long again—as long as I am physically able at least.

Kawishiwi took a little longer than expected as some of the paddlers were still perfecting the craft of keeping the canoe straight, or perhaps the just wanted to take in all of the views from different angles ;) As we paddled through the river between Kawishiwi and Square I kept thinking that I should take out a fishing pole and see if I could pull a northern or two from the lilies that surrounded me, but my better judgement decided that we should focus on the travels ahead and try to make it to our goal lake of Malberg. We made the short paddle through the Eastern side of Square Lake and came to our first portage—this is a very quick up and down portage so we opted to leave the gear in our We-No-Nah 18.5 Kevlar canoes—this proved to be a good idea and a fast way to conquer a short portage quickly.

Through the river to Kawasachong we go--- the next “marked” portage was no longer needed as the remanence of a beaver dam was all that gave sign of what used to make it necessary. However, we soon came upon a new beaver dam that proved impassable by water; it also proved quite challenging to pass as the banks were both boggy and deep. We ended up deciding that the eastern side of the beaver dam was our best option, so we bush-wacked our way around on a path that seemed to be used previously. This short portage took up an unexpected 30 minutes, but we safely navigated it and commenced towards Kawasachong. We paddled through Kawasachong and just snuck past the second island when I began to see exhaustion in the eyes of some of our party--- between a short night and the paddle to this point, I began to realize that Malberg was a lofty goal for a rookie crew.

We arrived at Kawasachong’ s North portage, which was our “big one” for the day—this roughly half mile portage to Townline proved to be quite difficult for the majority of the group. Needless to say, I withheld a little information from them until we reached the shores of Townline—this information was soon discovered however as one of the members made note that this lake wasn’t very big…. I agreed with him. Then the next question arose “How long is the next portage?” I was honest with the group when I told them that it was shorter than the longest one, but longer than the shortest one--- this answer was not received with open arms. Regardless, We paddled across Townline, but not before a member of the group successfully caught a nice northern which I told him to throw back as I was hoping to portage a few more times that day—he reluctantly agreed and whole heartedly agreed halfway through the next portage.

We arrived on Poly, and that slight look of exhaustion was slowly turning toward a full-fledged look of defeat—after passing through the center of the lake I decided to ask the question I had been withholding—“Do you guys want to stop for a bit and try to recoup some energy before continuing?” This question was welcomed by nearly all and we decided to stop at campsite # 1076, which is actually located right next to the two very small islands (you can see them on satellite images) North and West of the location where it is currently at on Paddle Planner Maps. Regardless, this campsite was “ok” and looked much better to the group as time passed. We ate a quick lunch and it was soon decided to make this home for the next two nights.

Camp SelfieI'm missing one from this picture-- Not sure where he was at the time.

Duties were distributed and everyone had their tasks—2 people on firewood, 2 people on tents and 2 people on unpacking/organizing. The firewood gatherers discovered that firewood was hard to come by near camp, and this would have to be sought out from separate locations. There is one large tent pad northeast and is clearly visible and another smaller pad strait east—there is also a good set-up of trees for a hammock, which is where one of our members decided to make his home. Camp was set and we decided to go out and try to catch a few fish—after all we were 3 casts in and already had one nice northern retrieved—how much effort would be needed to catch a few more for a fish fry this evening. 3 hours later, we arrived back at camp defeated. Much to our gratification and my own personal “Fisherman’s pride” all other individuals on the lake were also having similar issues, or so they told us.

A fire was started and water was boiled for our BackPacker Pantry food—this proved to not taste awful (less the mac & cheese which was, truly, awful). Regardless, we all had full bellies, and the members that really needed some hydration were now rehydrated. Prior to this adventure, I had purchased a 2-liter Sawyer Gravity filtration system per the recommendation of some of the members and contributors of Paddle Planner—boy did that thing sure filter fast and effectively. I was very impressed and would recommend that unit to all.

View from Camp

Three of us jumped into a canoe and decided to set-out and watch the sunset--- my goodness was that beautiful… Pure jealousy is the only way to describe the mood of the three that decided to call it a night. I am one of those people that figures God only grants you so many sunrises, and so many sunsets--- and I’ll be damned if I plan on missing any more than I absolutely have too. Upon arriving back at camp and hoisting the bear bag (which we placed near the water between two tall pines, right north of camp) we called it a night.

Everyone awoke at their own speed and time the following morning, I had started a fire to cook some pancakes and as soon as everyone awoke the pancakes hit the skillet—the wood collected wasn’t quite of the right variety to get a good coal bed going, so the pancakes cooked very slow, and never quite obtained that perfect golden brown color, even when they were thoroughly cooked. Despite this, there were no complaints and everyone ate their fill. As soon as breakfast was completed and camp was re-tidied we embarked on our adventure for the day—it was decided to still try to make our goal destination of Makwa and do a little cliff jumping and trout fishing. Oh--- I almost forgot, we finally caught a walleye that morning, on a green, two blade reef runner bass spinner of all things…. Couldn’t believe it would hit that, but was sure happy it did. We put that ‘eye on a stringer before leaving and we were all looking forward to it hitting the fry pan that night for dinner.

We paddled away from camp towards the first portage, the three canoes were slightly separated, which proved to be a downer as the lead canoe caught a glimpse of a Momma Moose and her Calf, what a sight! Unfortunately for the rest of us, excitement took over and “Moose! Moose! Moose!” Escaped the mouth of one of the individuals in that canoe—as Momma Moose wasn’t so sure what was going on, she quickly ushered her calf into the woods. Fortunately for us, the group in canoe #1 was able to catch a picture of the pair prior to their escape, so we all got to “see it.”

As we crossed the many portages between Polly and Koma, I often heard the echo of a “Boy am I glad we didn’t try to do this yesterday” pass from the other canoes—needless to say, adaptation is nature’s way, and it sure seemed to be the fan favorite that we adapted our original plans! Regardless we made it through Koma, but not before catching a few small Snot-Rockets (northerns) and a smally or two. Koma also proved to have many slightly below the surface rocks that also claimed quite a few lures of mine, as well as many other fishermen’s I’m sure. We passed a group here that said they had done very well on Malberg the day before, catching around 30 walleye—this encouraged the crew to try to get there as soon as possible. Although, something seemed a little fishy about the story to me J

We fished the falls coming from Koma to Malberg, but were unsuccessful in pulling anything from them—this surprised me as I’ve always done well fishing below any type of rapids. Regardless we pressed on to our newly decided destination of Fishdance (Makwa had too many portages to conquer)—where we were hoping to catch a glimpse of some pictographs. After paddling across Malberg, fishing the whole way, I soon decided to just hang out and fish Malberg. This proved to be successful as we ended up with another ‘eye and a couple eater sized snot-rockets. The part of the group that wanted to get some swimming in found a small rock formation that they could jump off of—the water wasn’t overly warm, but that didn’t stop them from jumping on in.

Clouds started to form and I decided it would be best to head back to camp—we did so slowly, stopping along the way to fish. I told my amigo in the bow of our vessel to fish the whole way as I truly wanted him to catch a few of those walleye, but fate was not on his side that day. As we got back to the rocky shore of our campground it was soon discovered that our coveted meal for that evening was also a coveted meal for a snapper. I had heard many times in the past that if you put your stringer out, you better watch it, or the turtles will take care of it for you. I guess that warning was not a tall tale--- unfortunately; I had to learn that lesson the hard way. Regardless, we had a successful day of fishing as far as a meal was concerned and we all ate a few samples of BWCA fish.

The lack of fish may have been a good thing as we surely over-packed food—and we made it our mission that evening to eat all of the food that was brought, less anything essential for breakfast. To my astonishment, this goal was met, however it came at a price as camp was not cleaned up prior to sunset, and we missed being on the water to witness all of the colors and that so sought after calmness that happens just as the sun retreats for the day.

The Last Night

Regardless- we paddled around trying to see what we could see that night—it was very bright out and so calm it was almost eerie. This calm was quickly interrupted by the lovely Mrs. Mosquito and 10,000 of her closest friends. As we arrived back to camp, there was a mad dash to get in the tents as soon as possible. After everyone was cozy, we heard some distant thunder—I decided to make a quick check of camp to ensure that all gear was properly stowed under the rain fly.Turns out the weather never turned for the worse that night-- but as they say, an ounce of prevention is worth not carrying 70 lbs of wet gear, or something like that.

Morning came quick on the exit day—we promptly packed and retreated back to Entry Point 37. The exit from this beautiful serenity was, luckily, uneventful. God graced the crew with a wonderful first adventure for many, and fantastic second adventure for me. I am already longing the return visit—and I am definitely looking forward to a trip that allows for more than 2 nights in this legendary land--- Until next time—Safe travels!