Paddle - BWCA, Quetico, Sylvania, and other paddling places

Ice Breaking

By Riley Smith Print Icon Print Report View/Leave Comments (3)
Dates:November 2-3, 2019
Entry Point:30 - Lake One (BWCA)
Lakes:Brewis, Fire, Four, Horseshoe, Hudson, One, Three, Two

A few weeks back, we took a trip through the Brule Lake area. The snow and fall colors were so incredible and unique compared to any trip either of us had ever tried before. After a few weeks of trying to readjust back to the normal routine, we both found ourselves aching for another trip. As long as the water was open we could still canoe right? I was dealing with a hamstring injury yet, so we planned an easier route and it was off for another weekend of adventuring.

We woke up early to another light dusting of snow (why is this becoming routine on our canoe trips?) It was a good laugh in the pre-dawn darkness at how expansive the Lake One landing is compared to the Bower Trout landing we went out from a few weeks back. It was quite strange as neither of us had ever been to Lake One without a single other other person there (this place is usually quite the traffic jam.) We brought our gear down to the water only to realize that the first 30 ft or so were locked up in a thin glaze of ice. Not ones to be deterred, we broke our way through with the back up paddle, and we were on our way. It was good to be back on the water again.

We paddled south across Lake One with a decent wind already starting from the West. It was a pleasant thought that we may get a tailwind through the numbers chain. There was not a single other group out, and we reveled in the quiet. The portages went quickly, despite more ice blocking the entrances and exits, and the fresh snow that blanketed the trail.

It was a quick paddle through Lake Two as we reminisced on memories from our guiding seasons, and the nights spent on this lake. We made the corner into Lake Three as the snow started up again. The wind was really starting to blow, but thankfully we had a tailwind. There was a pretty good chop starting on the lake, and snow blowing into our backs, but it was so good to be out again. We stopped in at the northern island site on Three for a snack break, and then headed on to Four. We waved at one of our sentimental campsites on Four that we had both stayed at while guiding, as an Eagle passed low overhead. He was probably wondering why people were out canoeing this time of year. We headed up into the more remote Northern bay of Four which neither of us had visited in the past. It is really pretty up in that part of the lake, especially with the fresh blanket of snow. We had to break through a good 100 ft of slushy ice at the landing, but no bother. Glad we got here while we did. Another week or so and none of these lakes would be available to us. It was amazingly pretty on the portages through to Fire, and we stopped for a little bit to enjoy the serenity of it all.

Once reaching fire, we surveyed the challenge ahead: ice as far as the eye could see. We decided to try our luck and, if the ice proved too much, we'd turn around. This was something neither of us had dealt with before, at least at this extreme. I guess, 'tis the season! Each canoeing season has a price. Instead of mosquitos, there's ice for the November canoeist! We used the handle of the plastic, back-up paddle as an ice ax to pull ourselves through the half inch thick ice; sometimes breaking through, other times we found ourselves gliding on top of the ice sheet. The ice continued until about the first campsite when the lake opened up again. We didn't find the first site, but stopped at the second site for lunch. Pretty area. We both agreed, we would gladly come up here instead of the normal traffic jam on the numbers.

We took the short portage into Hudson, and straight into our biggest challenge yet. The northernmost part of Hudson was locked up tight with snow frosting the top. We had a tough choice to make, neither one would be easy. We could turn around and fight our way back where we came, or break through an unknown amount of ice to get to open water. We decided to start working our way through, and see if we could make progress. Some of the ice in this section was nearly an inch thick, and it was very slow progress. The lake was frozen past the second campsite until, finally, we hit open water. There were sporadic sections of ice in the narrowest sections as we headed South towards the main body of the lake. Thankfully the sun was starting to peak out from behind the clouds.

Our original plan, once we got to Hudson, was to head down the creek towards the not-often-visited North Wilder. We knew this section would be rough, but we both had long wondered what it looked like. The wind was really rough on Hudson as we pulled into the mouth of the creek. The whole pond at the start of the creek was iced up as far as the eye could see. We tried breaking through as we had before, but there was no progress to be had. The ice was over an inch and a half thick, and the bog alongside wasn't solid enough yet to walk on. Thus, discouraged, we turned around. We had our choice of sites on Hudson, and ended up picking the second one East. As far as burn-zone sites go, it really wasn't a bad place. The rock outcropping helped shield our tent from the stiff West wind, and I got a fire going with one match. A nice, warm dinner and an early bed time were in order. Another fun day lay ahead.

We woke up to a pretty phenomenal sunrise on Hudson. Without being able to make it down the creek, our new plan involved heading back to the numbers chain directly. However, we still wanted to see some of the Southern chain if we could, so we planned on heading down Lake Four and Three to a short day trip into Horseshoe. After a quick breakfast, we were off. The portages into Four went quickly, despite the icy slick that covered the landings. We headed South into Three and stopped at one of the more remote sites on the lake. It surprised us how incredibly scenic this site was. We sat and enjoyed the view and a snack before heading for our day trip.

We found the entrance to the Horseshoe portage fairly easily. We both had heard this chain referenced as the "Hell chain", and that there was a "Welcome to Hell" sign down here somewhere. There was no such sign today. However, if this was indeed that place, it seemed Hell in fact froze over, at least partially. It was pleasant to take a little stroll through this unburned stretch of the Pow Wow trail, despite the ominous "no-maintenance" signage of the burn zone ahead. There was a lot of ice to pound through before getting out onto Horseshoe lake. We found the northern site as we passed on by. We headed across the lake and took the portage into Brewis. The portage steadily climbed the hill, and there was 6-7 logs to step over, but nothing was as hard as we assumed it would be. Someone did a very nice job of cleaning up in here post Pagami. Despite the cold, the Brewis side of the portage was a slushy, muddy mess. Even the fox tracks we saw led off the trail for a minute to avoid the muck. Brewis itself, on the other hand, was completely frozen over. There was no hope of making it through with the amount of time we still had in making it back to the entry, so we surrendered. The secrets of North and South Wilder would have to wait for another year. We hiked back out the way we came, and paddled over to one of the rock outcroppings on the lake. We climbed up to the top to eat a lunch and enjoy an incredible overlook of Horseshoe Lake.

We paddle back out through Horseshoe and into Three. We stopped at a "tiny island" site in the Southern part of Three that intrigued us. Then we paddled North through Three and back into Two. It took a good while to get back across One, and it was getting into mid afternoon before we started closing in on our exit. There was a pair of swans swimming around the Kawishiwi, as we paddled by, although no other groups were in site as we pulled back into the landing. There was one car there, so at least one other soul got out to enjoy the last week or two of open water before the freeze. We posed for one more picture with our canoe planted upon the ice pack, before loading up and heading home. It was an incredible season with so many more memories made in this wonderful place. I never thought I would get the chance at a November trip through the BWCA, but I was so glad this adventure worked out the way it did. Winter is coming sooner than I would like, and soon the snowshoes will be back out, and the paddle will be tucked away. Hopefully plenty of grand adventures lay ahead.

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