Loop: Moose to Insula Lake (Pagami Creek fire)


By Randy.Pfeifer Print Icon Print Report View/Leave Comments (1)
Dates:September 15-21, 2012
Entry Point:25 - Moose Lake (BWCA)
Type:Canoeing
Lakes:Adams, Alice, Ashigan, Beaver, Bonnie, Boulder, Ensign, Fraser, Hatchet, Ima, Insula, Jordan, Kekekabic, Kiana, Knife, Moose, Newfound, River, Roe, Sagus, Thomas, Wisini

Introduction:

This is my 3rd trip of the season (1. Quetico in June with Boy Scouts, 2. Algonquin in August with family, 3. Boundary Waters with friend). I left my job on 9/14 (after 32 years in the telecom industry) to seek new and interesting career opportunities elsewhere. But before any focus on a new job, I needed a vacation! My first day of unemployment was spent driving to and getting into the wilderness (the place I love the most in the entire world). My paddling partner for this trip, Suz Stillinger, is a good friend of our family. She's an avid and very capable paddler who loves the outdoors as well. This is the 2nd trip I've taken with her. Our goal for this trip was to visit the remains of the Pagami Creek fire. Last year (2011) in September when we were here we were unable to do this loop because of the Pagami Creek fire and ended up doing a loop through Pipestone, Fall Lake, 4-Mile Portage, Hoist Bay, Wind Lake instead. This was our chance to take the trip we had planned the year before and add-on a view of the fire damage as well. During the days just before the trip, there were several fire closures which threatened our route again but thankfully they had all been extinguished before we left home.
I provided all the gear for the trip. Suz did a great job gathering up the food. We took my used 17' Souris River kevlar canoe (purchased a couple years ago from Canoe Country Outfitters at the end of the season). We used two lightweight paddles I built over the winter. They feature hollow shafts and weigh about a pound each. We carried just two packs: 1. A food pack (Kondos Outdoors) which included the food, a cook kit, a bottle of fuel and misc gear, and 2. A #3 Duluth Pack which included a 2 person tent, one 20 liter drysack each, 150' bear bag rope, 10' X 10' tarp, fuel. Suz always got the heaviest pack. I also carried a waist pack carrying Polar Pure (for water purification), sunblock (used it once), mosquito repellent (never used), a harmonica and some parachute cord. We each carried two 1-liter bottles for water.

Day 1 (9/15)

We drove to Ely and picked up our permit at Canoe Country Outfitters. When we picked up our permit, we were informed about a new fire in the area (on the Canadian side north of Knife Lake) which blocked part of our intended path (Knife and South Knife were closed east of the branch between Knife and South Knife). We devised an alternative route which I had previously considered in case we were behind schedule. This new route however depended on cutting through a very small portion of the closed area. The folks at CCO advised against this route and proposed another route which required additional paddling and 6 additional portages. This path would most likely put us behind schedule very early in the trip putting us in "catch-up" mode for most of the trip. I like to be ahead of schedule most of the time so I don't feel rushed. We stopped at the Ranger Station in Ely and asked about our possible short cut (Knife lake into Bonnie Lake). They thought it was a reasonable request but could only suggest that we ask the ranger they had out in the field in that area. Only he could make the call.
After a quick dinner in Ely, we were on the waters of Moose Lake (Entry Point #25) by 4 PM. Our plan was to paddle in a short distance and camp for the night. The weather was great so we paddled on to Birch Lake. Here are a couple pictures of and around our campsite:
Birch Lake Campsite
Birch Lake Campsite
Our tent (Birch Lake)
Our tent (Birch Lake)
View from campsite
View from campsite

Day 2 (9/16)

When we got up in the morning, there was a nice blanket of fog on the lake. It looked beautiful:
View from campsite
View from campsite
View from campsite at sunrise
View from campsite at sunrise
One of the paddles I built this year
One of the paddles I built this year

After a quick breakfast we were on the water. It was cool and calm. We did a few quick portages and found ourselves on Knife Lake:
Portage to Carp Lake
Portage to Carp Lake
Portage to Carp Lake
Portage to Carp Lake
A calm Knife Lake
A calm Knife Lake

I've never seen Knife Lake this calm. It was wonderful to paddle across. We made a quick visit to Robbin's Island and the nearby rock of interest:
"Bacon" rock
"Bacon" rock

We continued paddling east toward the fork between Knife and South Knife. In the distance we spotted a power boat with two occupants. Concluding that this must be the ranger, we paddled out to talk with them. They informed us of the closure (which we already knew about) but were agreeable to letting us breach the closed area just long enough to take the portage to Bonnie Lake:
Portage to Bonnie Lake
Portage to Bonnie Lake

On the portage from Bonnie to Spoon Lake we came across a plastic bag full of bowls and pretzels presumably left by someone ahead of us. We picked them up and carried them along with us. As we approached the portage from Pickel to Kekekabic we saw two solo boats apparently with their owners half way through a double portage. They were indeed the owner of the bowls and pretzels (and quickly offered half of the pretzels to us - we declined). We stopped for lunch on a small island on Kekekabic Lake just south of the portage. After lunch we continued on across Kekekabic Lake, over the portage to Strup Lake and then on to Wisini Lake.
There is a campsite on Wisini that I've been thinking of camping at for a couple years now. It is on the east side of the narrow channel on Wisini that separates the north and south portions of the lake. The campsite is high above the lake and it takes some effort to haul all your stuff up there but once you're there it's wonderful. In the BSA guidebook provided to the Interpreters (Charlie Guides), it's called the Wisini Hilton. Here are a few pics of the site:
Wisini Hilton
Wisini Hilton
Trying out my new hammock
Trying out my new hammock
A glance down from the hammock
A glance down from the hammock

Suz reading
Suz reading
Interesting rocks
Interesting rocks
A view from below
A view from below

Day 3 (9/17)

The last picture above was actually taken on the morning of 9/17 as we were getting ready to leave the Wisini Hilton. It was a bit of a chore getting everything down to the lake. In windy conditions, it's difficult to enter or exit the water at this site. But we managed just fine (it was less windy in the morning that the afternoon before. As we paddled down the lake toward our first portage of the day we noted some beautiful rock formations on the left side of the lake:
Wisini cliffs
Wisini cliffs

Given the favorable weather so far and the short cut we needed to take through Bonnie, Spoon, Pickel Lakes due to the fire, (rather than original route down the South Arm of Knife and approaching Kekekabic from the east via Eddy Lake), we were now a day ahead of schedule. We started thinking of ways to extend the route to consume some of our excess time we had accumulated. My conservative bias would have been to bank the extra time for later in the trip but Suz came up with a nice detour we would need to start very soon. I had never been down the path she proposed so we decided to go for it. Three portages later we were on Fraser Lake. Our planned route was to paddle on to Thomas (my youngest son's name) and portage to Alice (his girlfriend's name). But instead we decided to paddle east out of Fraser and take the 65 rod portage to Sagus Lake, the 42 rod portage to Roe and the 140 rod portage to Cap Lake. If I remember correctly, we paddled a good portion of that 140 rods to Cap Lake through a marsh.
According to the Fisher map, the way to get from Cap Lake to Boulder Lake is to take the first portion of the 200 rod portage toward Ledge Lake and then take a right turn and follow the trail to an unnamed lake that looks like a worm (I'm not sure what the total distance is but it looked long to me considering the "crow flies" distance we would be covering looked to be less than 50 rods). Then we would cross that little slice of unnamed water and take the 135 rod portage to Boulder Lake. As we approached the portage I decided to take a look at the area just to the south of the portage. Upon inspection there appeared to be a trail there. I walked it to see where it went and sure enough, it takes you to the unnamed lake. It is certainly not a well used portage (at some points I was wondering if it was just a moose trail). We loaded up and made our way through this alternate unmapped portage. The sliver of lake on the other side deserves a much less prominent representation on the Fisher map! It's about 10' wide in most places and much narrower in others. It's almost non-existent. But we were able to find out way down the "lake" to the portage to Boulder. The map shows the 135 rod portage to Boulder to be lined up with the portage from Cap/Ledge. It is actually a bit to the east (5-10 rods east, maybe more).
Once on Boulder, we were ready for lunch. We stopped at the island campsite on Boulder. It's a beautiful campsite. After lunch we paddled down to the 20 rod and 10 rod portages that took us to Adams Lake. Portions of these paddles reminded me of the river/marsh areas of Algonquin I paddled this summer. The two portages shown on the Fisher map to get from Boulder to Adams are deceivingly small (20 rods and 10 rods). The first of these portages was a real challenge. Because the water was low, we exited the canoe and loaded up much earlier than the map would suggest. We slogged through mud well above the knees. At one point, we needed to crawl under a downed tree (which with a canoe and a pack on your back is tricky). I ended up leaving the canoe behind and taking 2 trips for a bit of this portage. I was exhausted by the time I got to the point where the portage actually began. Being covered in mud is generally no big deal but when the water is cold it's a bit uncomfortable cleaning up. It's a portage I'm sure we both will remember for quite some time. The 10 rod portage onto Adams was no big deal. Luckly there was plenty of wind to dry us off before bedtime (I only use 1 set of clothes for a trip and sleep in them when it's cold).
Lunch on Boulder Lake island
Lunch on Boulder Lake island
Another paddle I built - 3rd trip with it.
Another paddle I built - 3rd trip with it.
Boulder to Adams
Boulder to Adams

The common guidance on travel from Adams to Beaver Lake is to take the 40 rod portage into Smile Lake and then the 60 rod portage into Beaver. One of the "features" that attracted Suz to this detour in the first place was the dense elevation lines on the 90 Rod portage from Adams directly into Beaver Lake. We decided to take a crack at this portage. I've read that this portage is not cared for and should not be used. It's absolutely beautiful. The trail was excellent and the scenery is awesome. I almost never double portage but one benefit of doing so is that you can get a better look at the scenery on the trip back. We didn't double portage this portage but I did take the opportunity to hike back up the portage trail about half way to take a few pictures.
Adams to Beaver portage
Adams to Beaver portage
Adams to Beaver portage
Adams to Beaver portage
Adams to Beaver portage
Adams to Beaver portage

By the time we finished the portage on to Beaver Lake, it was getting time to start looking for a campsite. Given the days are short in September (and getting shorter every day), we took the campsite about a mile WSW of the portage and set up shop putting our tent in the woods for some shelter from the cold wind with the bearbag hung high. We were in bed before 8 PM.
Campsite on Beaver Lake
Campsite on Beaver Lake
Campsite on Beaver Lake
Campsite on Beaver Lake
Campsite on Beaver Lake
Campsite on Beaver Lake

Day 4 (9/18)

We had now used up much of the "ahead of schedule" condition we had accumulated early in the trip. But though cold, the weather was still cooperating. It rained most nights but we only got wet a couple times during the day. We packed up our campsite on Tuesday morning and headed south. Two portages (30 rods and 60 rods) took us to the Kawishiwi river. This is a beautiful river. We paddled down the river (with lots of shelter from the wind). Portages along the river were pretty good:
Trapline Lake
Trapline Lake
Kawishiwi River
Kawishiwi River
Kawishiwi River
Kawishiwi River

We snaked our way down the river. Eventually, we entered the very south end of Alice Lake. We no longer had benefit of the land to our north to protect us from the wind. The waves on Alice were high (for me). We skirted along the south shore of Alice less than a mile before we were back in the Kawishiwi River and the protection its narrow width afforded us. I was really glad that we didn't have to paddle the full length of Alice in that wind (our original plan before Suz invented the detour). We continued down the river (traveling now NNW). This took us to the final (10 rod) portage before reaching Insula Lake (our destination for the day).
Last portage on Kawishiwi River
Last portage on Kawishiwi River
Last portage on Kawishiwi River
Last portage on Kawishiwi River
A family of ducks watch us as we leave portage
A family of ducks watch us as we leave portage

Once we got back on the water we passed a blue heron and a family of mergansers who watched us cautiously as we passed. We passed through a narrow channel and turned south into Insula Lake. The wind was strong out of the north. We saw a few paddlers heading north (we were glad we were heading south). We started looking for a campsite for lunch. The first one we came to with lots of shelter from the wind was taken. The next campsite down the east short of Insula was beautiful with a sandy beach but wide open to the wind. We decided to continue on southward into Insula. We landed on the south east end of a large island that separates the north end of Insula from the larger south end (just south of Williams Island). This campsite was well protected from the wind, had a nice beach and flat tent sites. We decided to stay here for lunch and camp for the night as well.
Campsite on Insula
Campsite on Insula
Campsite on Insula
Campsite on Insula

After lunch, we still had plenty of daylight left (even for September). We were a now a bit ahead of schedule. We decided to paddle further south into Insula to the area burned by the Pagami Creek fire. I was humbled by both the scale of the devastation and progress of the recovery. Mother Nature has been hard at work beginning the repair process. We stopped on the north side of the very large peninsula on Insula (but for a small bridge of land it would be the largest island on the lake). It was interesting to see the charred remains of the trees but even more interesting to see the ground cover plants that had sprouted and were thriving in the area. It was especially heartening to see a few tiny trees beginning to grow up from seeds. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves:
Insula Lake burn area
Insula Lake burn area
Pagami Creek Fire impacts on Insula Lake
Pagami Creek Fire impacts on Insula Lake
Fire Damage to trees. Some still standing
Fire Damage to trees. Some still standing
Other trees fallen
Other trees fallen
Some shouldn't still be standing
Some shouldn't still be standing
A view back to the canoe
A view back to the canoe

New growth!
New growth!
This little guy was worth the trip all by itself.
This little guy was worth the trip all by itself.
These vines were all over the place
These vines were all over the place
More new growth
More new growth
Lots of flowers
Lots of flowers
The variety was amazing
The variety was amazing

This one is well on his way..
This one is well on his way..

We then paddled around the area a bit more to see other parts of the burned area. It was much the same thing. It was interesting to see some islands within the burned area that were spared. We saw portions of the burn area which were skipped presumably due to the wind currents at the time. Generally though, the edge of the fire line was fairly crisp. We paddled back to our campsite for dinner and an (as usual) early bedtime. Before bed, I took a walk along the shore of our island between our campsite and the only other campsite on the island (it was vacant) and saw a large variety of rocks there.
Rocks on the shore of campsite
Rocks on the shore of campsite
Rocks on the shore of campsite
Rocks on the shore of campsite
Rocks on the shore of campsite
Rocks on the shore of campsite

There was a ~5' square depression in the woods. Not sure what it was. Too large to be the result of an outhouse. Too small to be the remains of a house/building... We had a beautiful sunset that night.
What was here?
What was here?
Sunset at Insula campsite
Sunset at Insula campsite

There was a fire ban at the time we were there which only allowed campfires between 8 PM and midnight (or something like that). It was dark well before campfire time and I generally don't light a fire anyway (maybe once per trip even without a ban). We didn't have any fires on this trip (all cooking was done over a small camp stove). We used just 1 bottle of iso-butane on the trip (less than I had expected). It had been a great day.

Day 5 (9/19)

The north wind had not abated when we woke up but the whitecaps on the lake were gone. After a quick breakfast, we got back on the water and paddled north to the 180 rod portage to Kiana Lake. This is the longest portage of our trip but among the easiest. It is quite flat and the trail is very good. We breezed through the portage in 12 minutes.
Portage from Insula to Kiana Lake
Portage from Insula to Kiana Lake

As we entered Kiana Lake it looked like it was going to rain at any minute (it looked like it could storm at any time during much of the trip). The north and south portions of Kiana Lake are divided by a small stretch of land (not shown as land on the map) which is probably under water when then water isn't so low. We pulled over this piece of dirt and continued to the portage to Thomas Lake.
We skirted along the west edge and between islands of Thomas Lake as it began to rain. We found the portage to Thomas Pond and hopped it. A series of three more short portages crossed the Kekekabic Trail and took us to a narrow channel which passes by Hatchet Lake. The terrain between these portages was gorgeous:
Small fall
Small fall

On one of these portages was a sign warning dog owners to watch their dogs because the forest service has an active wolf trapping/tagging program. The notice included instructions on how to free your dog from a trap should they be so unfortunate to step in one.
The channel up to Hatchet Lake is beautiful. The 50 rod portage to Ima Lake is easy to find and short. Ima Lake was windy (as expected). We charted a course straight west to the northern tip of an island in the lake and then another course to the west side of Ima and behind a few islands to provide some shelter as we looked for the portage into Jordan Lake.
Along the channel between Ima and Jordan Lakes, there are some very interesting cliffs and several pictographs (north/west side).
Pictographs
Pictographs
Cliff face - looks like an up-side-down canoe.
Cliff face - looks like an up-side-down canoe.
More cliffs
More cliffs

We paddled across Jordan Lake to a campsite on the west side about 1/3 mile south of the next day's portage. The campsite was great (but windy and cold). We worked to stay warm and went to bed before we got rained on.
Campsite on Jordan Lake
Campsite on Jordan Lake
Campsite on Jordan Lake
Campsite on Jordan Lake
Suz being warm
Suz being warm

Day 6 (9/20)

The weather on Thursday morning was about the same as every other day. Overcast and gray with wind and a threat of rain. The wind was of little consequence while we were on the small lakes of Jordan, Cattyman, Gibson and Ashigan Lakes but once we hit Ensign Lake it was a whole other story. Our goal was to exit the boundary waters early on Friday morning because I needed to pick up some northern white cedar in Duluth on Friday PM for a new boat I'm building. That meant that we needed to get to Moose Lake (or close) today. The distance between Jordan and Moose isn't that great but as it turned out, it was quite a challenge due the westerly wind we had to contend with. The portage to Ensign was beautiful (including the foam that had whipped up on the shore at the end of the portage):
Portage to Gibson Lake
Portage to Gibson Lake
Portage to Ensign
Portage to Ensign
Portage to Ensign
Portage to Ensign

As we started our paddle west on Ensign it became clear that the wind was going to be a challenge. We paddled the entire length of Ensign and saw nobody going the same direction. We saw a few people paddling east and a few people standing at campsites looking west with a frown on their faces (they apparently weren't in a hurry). We kept paddling hard and finally made it to the "portage" to Splash Lake. We did this portage (instead of the pull-through that everyone else was doing heading east). It started to rain while on Splash Lake. I don't mind being cold. I don't mind being wet. But being wet and cold is not my idea of fun. But hard work is always a good remedy for cold. We did the portage out of Splash into Newfound Lake and headed toward the south side of Horseshoe Island hoping for some wind cover. No luck, the wind was raging. We paddled across Newfound Lake to the portage to Found Lake. We rested there for about 10 minutes and paddled on down the north shore of Newfound Lake into the wind. As long as we hugged the north shore the wind was manageable. Crossing into Moose Lake exposed us to the wind again until we turned the corner along the north shore of Moose. We followed the edge all the way down to the tip of the narrow peninsula just north of the Boy Scout Base. There we made a sharp right turn and headed straight north to the excellent campsite there. As we turned this corner, I noticed a couple guys in a canoe also (apparently) heading to this same campsite. Even though we were exhausted, we poured on the coals and beat them to the site. I think we surprised them a bit. I'm guessing they assumed we were exiting the boundary waters (most people paddling west on Moose in the mid-afternoon are exiting, not looking for a campsite). By the time we turned the corner and started paddling hard the race it was already over. There is no way they could have caught up with us. They sat in the water somewhat stunned as we hauled our gear up the steep incline to the campsite and pulled the canoe out of the water, flipped it over and tied it down. They slowly paddled their way to campsite about half a mile to the west of us (not nearly as nice a spot but usable nonetheless if you know where it is - it's about 200 yards east of the Fisher maps designated position).
All that was left now was to set up camp one last time and relax, have dinner and go to bed...
Campsite on Moose Lake
Campsite on Moose Lake
Campsite on Moose Lake
Campsite on Moose Lake
Adding up the miles (80 w/6 mi portages)
Adding up the miles (80 w/6 mi portages)

Day 7 (9/21)

We woke up with the sunlight (as always) and got our gear all packed up for the last time (at least until we got home where we would pull it all out, wash & dry everything to get ready for the next trip). One last crew photo at the campsite and we paddled (against the wind) the mile from the campsite to the public parking lot where my car awaited.
Cook kit
Cook kit
Gilligan, the skipper too...(I ain't sayin' which is which)
Gilligan, the skipper too...(I ain't sayin' which is which)
Fun with foam... (back at launch)
Fun with foam... (back at launch)

After lugging our goods back up the stairway to our car, changing our boots into dry shoes, we drove into Ely where Suz bought a used Wenonah Minnesota II canoe from the folks at Canoe Country Outfitters. We put it on the top of my car rack (which has ample room for 2 canoes and then some). We left Ely before 10 AM and headed for Duluth to pick up my lumber. We stopped at Northern Waters Smokehaus for lunch (and picked up some smoked fish - awesome). We picked up my lumber (2 16-18' long planks of northern white cedar) at a mill and were ready for the drive home to IL. On the way from Duluth, we stopped at Norske Nooke in Osseo for pie.
Suz's new boat (passenger side) & lumber
Suz's new boat (passenger side) & lumber
Brown Trout (leftovers)
Brown Trout (leftovers)
Norske Nook pie
Norske Nook pie

Summary

This was an excellent trip. As ususal Suz was a great partner. The weather could have been nicer but this time of year, you take what you get (the week before our trip and the week after were both nicer - temperature-wise). We met all of our goals for the trip (1. Spend a week paddling together. 2. Survive and return safely, 3. Secure quality lumber for next boat build). We paddled 80 miles which included 6 miles of portages (44 portages). Suz ended up with a new (to her) canoe to keep her thinking about canoeing over the winter. My lightweight paddles performed great. My kayak construction is well under way. I'm ready to go back!
While this report includes many pictures, you can see ALL the pics I took on this trip at the facebook link below (you need not be a facebook user or my facebook friend to see them):
Pictures on Facebook