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

2022 Fall Lake to Mudro via Crooked Lake

By collinsm22 Print Icon Print Report View/Leave Comments (0)
Dates:July 4-15, 2022
Entry Point:24 - Fall Lake (BWCA)
Lakes:Basswood, Basswood River, Boot, Chippewa, Crooked, Crooked, Fairy, Fall, Fourtown, Gun, Mudro, Newton, Niki, Papoose, Wagosh

We started from the outfitter on Fall Lake, since we weren't in a hurry. We had rain off and on the first day. We took the usual route through Newton Lake and Pipestone Bay. Our usual campsite (1588) was occupied, so we went another mile northeast and found a very large campsite (1566) open.

We've never seen a BWCA campsite with so much trash. In addition to a regular garbage bag with several days worth of actual trash in it, there were also many packages of unopened food, plus a pound of baby carrots, some strawberries, a T-shirt, a clothesline of regular rope, and a couple of spindles for rope or cordage. There was also more than the typical amount of cigarette butts, twist ties, and torn-off package corners. We took the unopened food, left the rope in a coil, buried the carrots and strawberries, and put everything else in the garbage bag. This was our first night of a 12-day trip, so we really didn't want to haul an extra several days of someone else's garbage with us, but we didn't want to just leave it. Luckily, a group of young people were heading south, and we asked if they would take the trash with them. As a thank-you, we have them several bags of Cheetos and Doritos, which made them very excited, as they had been resupplying some folks on an outward bound adventure, and were missing snack food like that. It was a relief to be rid of it. It was quite off-putting for our first day.

The next morning, we slept in, and had a leisurely day of exploring the nearby campsites and islands. Of the sites we visited, site 1565 was the most interesting, and one we would consider staying at the next time we were in Pipestone Bay. We also hiked across the portage to Back Bay to take a look.

The third day we got up early (having gone to bed early the night before, well-rested), and moved quickly to Basswood Lake, hoping to get to our favorite campsite (1616), in the middle of Basswood Lake on its own tiny island. We were thrilled to find it unoccupied when we arrived around 11 a.m. Two other groups stopped by within an hour, looking for a lunch stop or, more likely, a place to stay for the evening. Conditions were perfect. It was warm, but not stifling, and there were no mosquitoes at all. Someone had left quite a big of firewood near the grate, and even a wizard whittled out of a stick. Such a contrast from the previous site! We got our tent and food gear set up, went for a swim, and took a nap.

We were mostly killing time and relaxing, since we were hoping to meet up with our son's camp trip, which was scheduled to arrive in a couple days, but we didn't know where. We called his camp on the first evening he was to arrive to find out if they happened to know what campsite the group was staying. They split into two groups when they arrived, one starting in Fall Lake, and the other in Moose Lake, andthe camp director didn't know what group our son was in. So, the next day, we took a loop around Basswood Lake to check out the other campsites for future trips, to know what might make good back-ups. We even snuck a peek at an established site in Quetico. After lunch, we checked out Basswood Falls, to make sure they hadn't gone that way. I was starting to get worried that we missed the group, and they were already past us. None of the groups we saw looked like they were from a Y-camp. We took a break for a snack on a tiny island near site 1534, in the hopes that we might see them going by. We ended up falling asleep, so we had no idea if they might have gone by. Disappointed, we returned to our lovely island retreat. It turns out they stopped for their second night at site 1555, at the isthmus not far from the motor limit. So, we had been just over a mile away. It just never occurred to us to check those camp sites on our way back to our island.

The next morning, we went directly to the mile-long portage at the falls. The day was already heating up, but we weren't in a hurry. We made our way to Lower Basswood Falls, remembering past trips we had taken through the area. We chose the Canadian portage at Wheelbarrow falls, which was a mess. It might have been better to take the longer, American portage. The best site near the falls was taken, and the other site south of the falls was quite buggy, and my wife doesn't like the sound of the waterfalls, so we backed off to site 1547. There's not much shelter there, and the bugs ended up being almost as bad there, but my wife was much happier. We even had some exciting nature theater, as a weasel-like critter was waiting to ambush a passing family of mergansers, only to be pounced on by an eagle directly above it. The snatch happened so fast.

Our 7th day started out with some lazy sleeping-in. Eventually, the sun cooked us out of our tent. Luckily, most of the mosquitoes were cooked away, as well. I was bummed we didn't get the camp site below the falls, as it would have been nice to already have our stuff on the other side of the portage. We met a group at the portage that was turned around. We showed them were they were on a map, and they continued on their way. Just as we were launching from the downstream side of the portage, the sky opened up. It seemed safer to return to the portage, and find a more protected spot. We hunkered down under the densest vegetation we could find and had PB+J sandwiches. In hindsight, it might have been worth setting up the tarp. We were completed drenched by the time the storm passed, but it was pleasantly warm, so it wasn't too bad. We figured there wasn't like to be too many folks competing for nice camp sites, so we took our time looking at the pictographs, and enjoying the current. There was a small group that was starting the portage north just as we were launching onto the river, and they shadowed us for the rest of the afternoon. At one point, we stopped for a restroom break, and they caught up to us. They were relieved to find out we didn't intend to stay at that site, as they were looking forward to fishing there for a day. We kept going to site 1857, at the top of Wednesday Bay. Our expectations were low, and we were getting tired, so we didn't bother checking out the other nearby camp site. We got by, but I suspect site 1856 would have been nicer. Mostly what we needed was a play to lay everything out to dry, and a place to put the tent, and 1857 had both of those. What it didn't have was any shade or a good tree for hanging the food bag. It did have a nice place to swim, and plenty of blueberries, which we hadn't seen much of on the trip up to this point.

Luckily, we didn't plan to stay, so we got going as soon as the sun woke us up the next morning. We didn't have far to go, so we kept a relaxed pace, and explored Thursday Bay a little. The day was cool and misty, and some rain rolled in, so we got off the water for a bit at site 1875. The takeout there was unpleasant, but the site had really nice views of Thursday Bay. Had I known no one had reviewed it yet, I would have paid more attention and taken pictures. After lunch #1, we paddled to the ruined car, which we had only recently found out about. It was easier to find than we expected. We also stopped by the camp site where we got engaged back in 2003, and even found the rock ledge where I had placed candles to pop the question.heart

To try something different, and since we had plenty of time in the day, we checked out the next camp site to the west, which has a spectacular view all the way down Friday Bay. We took some time to rig a tarp over the fire grate, which worked out very well, since we had off-and-on rain for the next day. Site 1867 has a very nice tent pad, and plenty of shady cedars to escape the heat, if necessary.

The next day we had planned to paddle to Curtain Falls, but the weather conspired against us. A large thunderstorm rolled in right at lunch time. We were fairly close to site 1876, which was a nice enough campsite to wait our a storm. Unfortunately, our tarp was back at our campsite, so there wasn't anything to do but stand in the rain and hope we didn't get hit by lightning. Every fifteen minutes or so we thought we might be able to get on our way, and more thunder and lightning would show up. This went on for a couple of hours. I was getting tired and cold, so we bailed on the plan to go to the falls and try to find the airplane frame in the woods near the old resort site, and instead headed back to our campsite via the scenic route to check out other campsites along the way, and to poke our heads into Saturday Bay. When we were almost back to our campsite, the fishing line my wife was trolling behind us caught a nice large walleye. It was almost too big for the two of us to eat. We were stuffed, but we weren't going to let it go to waste.

Day 10 took us south through Friday Bay, with stops at the other three camp sites. The first one was a complete nope, with no shade, and just rock, rock, rock. The middle one looked small, but the other reviews suggest it's nice for a very small group. The southern-most site was quite interesting. The fire grate had no shade, but shade could be found nearby. We had lunch there, then continues down the chain of small lakes and channels to Gun Lake, checking out the campsites along the way. None of them was particularly impressive, and the one on Niki Lake looked almost impossible to get to, with such large rocks all the way around the tiny site. Eventually we reached the second mile-long portage of the trip. After my first trip across (with the boat), I noticed the food pack left behind by the teenagers we saw going the opposite direction. Thinking I could do them a favor and carry it part way, I picked it up and started walking back to get my second (much lighter) load. I kept expecting one or more of them to show up to take it off my back. I was getting pretty tired, sweaty, and probably dehydrated when I saw the other end of the portage come into sight, and the entire group was just sitting around talking, with no sense of urgency in getting their last pack. They expressed the appropriate amount of appreciation and awe that I carried what was probably their heaviest pack, saving them a 40-minute round trip. I grabbed my other pack, checked to make sure I had everything, and just turned around and finished the portage. I was so relieved when we made the short paddle up the barrel of the "Gun" and found the desired site unoccupied.

I was last at site 1083 back in 1985. I didn't remember much about the site, but the memory I did have matched up with a mostly-rotted log I found on the path to the latrine. The afternoon sun was quite hot on the kitchen area, but a quick dip in the lake took care of that. The sunset was pretty, but the mosquitoes soon had us fleeing into the tent for the night.

We had a headwind for most of Day 11, which made for a long trip down Gun, Fairy, and Boot Lakes. I was surprised I didn't remember more about this leg of the journey, as it was certainly the identical route we took in 1985. We had lunch at the portage to Fourtown Lake, and set about finding a camp site. We ended up circumnavigating Fourtown, only to return to the campsite closest to the portage into the lake that had initially been dismissed as probably ruined from the fire the previous summer. I was exhausted by the time we made it back around (back into the wind). The site was surprisingly good, even if it was pretty small. There was a place to hang my hammock, a place to put our tent, and a nice place to swim, so I was happy. We had lots of food left, so we had a bit of a smorgasbord, so we wouldn't be carrying as much on the final day of portaging.

We got going early on the final day to try to avoid large waves on Fourtown. We ended up with a slight tailwind, which was a relief. The portages were hot and dry, and very busy. At one point we saw a young kid playing in a huge patch of poison ivy, and offered up our Tecnu, but the family didn't seem interested. Perhaps they would just wash their kid off when they got back to wherever they were going after taking out. I hope he was okay. We were moving more slowly, since we had to double portage.. When we arrived in Mudro, we discovered that there had been a major change to the water level, and the lake formerly known as Mudro basically didn't exist anymore. Instead, it was a narrow, muddy channel with very high mud banks with impossibly tall grass where someone had knocked down a path to the real take-out and final portage. It was rather a mess. We don't plan to go back to Mudro until we know for certain that it has been fixed, or miraculously returned to normal.

Speaking of miracles, the final improbable event was when the driver of the outfitter's vehicle stepped out, and I recognized the leader of the trip I took into Quetico from 20 years prior. Hugs ensued, and we spent the entire drive back to the outfitter catching up on what had happened in our lives. His story was, unfortunately, rather tragic.

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