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

June 2020 Kawishiwi River Loop through Pagami Creek

By Bohemeian Print Icon Print Report View/Leave Comments (0)
Dates:June 6-13, 2020
Entry Point:29 - North Kawishiwi River (BWCA)
Lakes:Bald Eagle, Clearwater, Gabbro, Kawishiwi River, Little Gabbro, Ojibway, One, Pagami, Triangle, Turtle

June 2020 Kawishiwi River Loop through Pagami Creek

Ojibway & Triangle Lakes - Kawishiwi River Entry 29 - Little Gabbro Lake - Gabbro Lake - Bald Eagle Lake - Turtle Lake - Clearwater Lake - Pagami Creek - Pagami Lake - Lake One - Kawishiwi River Entry 29 - Ojibway & Triangle Lakes

Days one through five we quite nice, relaxing, & pretty darn fun. Day six was pretty much survival training, day seven was restful, & day eight was a little rushed.We were paddling an Old Town Guide 160, an indestructible hunk of plastic.

We started out from Ojibway Lake outside of the BWCA near the Northwind Lodge on Hwy18 outside of Ely. Paddles in the water at about 8am. We went South through both Ojibway & Triangle lakes fairly quickly as the portage between them is only nine rods & has rollers! Portage #705 was long, but there were no downed trees & we got through it pretty quickly in the morning. Headed Southwest down the Kawishiwi River to portage #622 & #644 which were deep enough we could get through without portaging or even leaving the canoe. We got out & portaged at #648 & then took the next campsite we found, #1129. We stayed there for three nights & explored South to Little Gabbro Lake & North to Clear Lake. Very nice area lots to discover & enjoy.

Day four we headed South towards portage #657 & our first minor mistake, more like inconvenience & time suck. There are some small rapids to the east of the portage & they are small enough that you can push your canoe through them without much trouble. We did so & got to portage #217, which is pretty beautiful if you have a chance to go without all your gear. #217 is easy & short, if a bit steep. The next segment of the river is kinda rough. It’s shallow & we were paddling upstream. Lots of rocks & not many channels.

We had some trouble finding portage #218 & had to drag ourselves over the rocks which wasn’t too bad on a hot morning. There is a portage there & we were pretty sure we found the trailhead, but we were already committed & in the water so we skipped it & pulled the canoe through a deeper channel. At the end of this section, there's some type of man made dam made of iron rebar & wood planks in the river that we had to drag the canoe over too. The time we spent getting through this section was probably the reason we weren’t able to secure a campsite on Gabbro Lake like we had planned. Other than that we eventually & uneventfully made it to campsite 1719 on Bald Eagle Lake where we spent a great night four & waited out a windy & rainy day five. Day six is the crux of the trip.

We had planned to make a loop of Kawishiwi River by portaging from Bald Eagle Lake to Turtle Lake & then on to Clearwater Lake. Depending on how late it was when we reached Clearwater Lake we would either camp or continue down Pagami Creek. We got up early on day six & started our portage at #660 to Turtle Lake. It was very nice lots of flowers & no surprises. Turtle Lake was nice & uneventful as well. It was great to see the regrowth after the Pagami Creek fire on the East side & to see original foliage on the West. We were able to cross in good time & start at portage #805 to Clearwater Lake. Portage #805 was uneventful, but long. We finished up, took a break, decided that the time & weather looked favorable for us to start heading down Pagami Creek.

It was about 3PM when we started from Portage #805. From Google Maps & Paddle Planner recon, we figured there were at least four problem sections on the creek where we’d have to get out, portage, & bushwhack, then approximately 3 major beaver dams we’d have to traverse. Starting at 3PM & sun down at around 8:30PM we figured five hours was more than enough time to travel the three miles to Pagami Lake. Needless to say, our estimates were off.

The first half mile of Pagami Creek from Clearwater Lake is completely navigable & would make for a great half-day trip if you’re staying on Clearwater. Then, it abruptly stops at a pretty inspiring beaver dam. There is a fork in the creek as you head West & the southern fork leads to a rocky outcropping & a pretty shear & steep drop down the dam. There is no way to portage from this southern fork. The northern fork will take you to a rock clearing & that’s where the “portage” is. It’s hard to see from the water, but as you go West past some trees, you’ll find a clear-ish path. The creek after this dam is pretty non-existent, you’ll hear running water, but you won’t see any till you come out the other side about 300 feet West of the dam. The portage was bushwack-lite, doable without a machete, but only just. This portage portends the rest our trip on Pagami Creek.

Once through, the creek was only a trickle, but enough for us to load our gear, but not paddle. We walked & pushed the canoe for the next half mile southwest in knee deep muck & had to lift the canoe over several rocky areas in the creek all the way to the bend where the creek runs North again. I wore closed toed neoprene diving boots for this & they were the real MVPs. My partner had regular hiking boots & halfway through switched to Keens & ended up getting leeches. If we weren’t able to float the gear through this section, I would have turned around & gone back to Clearwater Lake. This section was hard but not impossible, plus we were already a third of the way through! How bad could it be?

At the bend northward there was a short section, about 100 yards, of navigable water, but then the beaver dams started. We knew we would run into them but in the next half mile of creek, there had to be 13 distinct dams. These dams were some of the largest I have ever seen! One was at least 15 feet tall & they all were just a bear to go around. This section of the creek was really demoralizing. We would get around a dam, there would be about 20 yards deep water, then another dam with little to no water at the bottom, 20 yards of muck, then another dam. It kept going like this till we truly lost track of how many dams we crossed.

The next mile of creek was fairly uneventful, navigable, & very similar to first half mile near Clearwater, but we now had a time limit as the sun was rapidly setting. Using some printed satellite maps, triangulation, dead reckoning, we figured we were still about a mile from our intended camp site. Not knowing how bad the creek ahead was going to be, we started looking for a primitive camp location. This is marshy area, but there are a few rock faces that would make okay places for a tent. We setup the tent, made sure to dry our wet clothes best we could, secured our food & trash in our bear canisters, & attempted to put our cold, wet, demoralized selves to sleep. Thankfully, there was very little wind & no rain. Had we been in higher spirits, it would have been the perfect time & place to do some stargazing.

Day seven was better. We only had to traverse four more, smaller, beaver dams & we were at Pagami Lake. All in all, the three miles from Clearwater Lake to Pagami Lake had taken us about eight hours travel time. We had lunch at the Pagami Lake island & continued down Pagami Creek to Lake One. I think there were seven or eight beaver dams on the lower two mile section, but these were small & we were dam pros now so we made it to Lake One by 4PM & stayed at Campsite 1677 for a well deserved night seven campfire.

We took our time & it was about noon before we got started on day eight, but we were rested and ready for our longest-by-distance paddle of the trip. Luckily, the wind was at our backs & the Kawishiwi River flows downstream from Lake One. We had a great time seeing all the day paddlers out on Lake One as we made our way to the entry point 30 launch. After that it was portage #924, #601, & then #599 & we were back to entry point #29 & portage #705. We saw the most wildlife in this section & really enjoyed our time on this part of the river. There had been some pretty intense wind on day five & there were several downed trees on portage #705, having a saw was useful here. We got back to the Ojibway Lake launch at about 8PM on day eight, packed up the car, & set off on our next adventure, the search for a good pizza!

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