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

Deadly storm of July 2014 trip

By Bradford Print Icon Print Report View/Leave Comments (2)
Dates:July 18-25, 2014
Entry Point:16 - Moose/Portage River North of Echo Trail (BWCA)
Lakes:Agnes, Iron, Lac La Croix, Nina Moose

Our trip began in mid July on the moose river with good weather and bad bugs. This was the year of the bugs in north eastern Minnesota. Normally by this time they are somewhat subdued but due to the constant rain and high waters they (all of them - mosquitoes, black flies, deer flies, horse flies, noseeums and those ankle biter flies) were all very, very plentiful. We spent a good deal of time every night after getting into the tent just methodically killing as many bugs as we could before bedding down. alright, that's a strange beginning to a trip report but now that's all I'm going to say about the bugs - just picture them always present on the portages, in camp, at meal times and so on.

we followed the moose river as it lazily makes its way to Nina moose and then into Agnes. This section can be a little frustrating because there is a portion of the river where you have to portage short hops frequently - unload, portage, put in, paddle for less than five minutes, unload, portage etc. and there is now an added portage on the moose due to a downed tree across the river. By the time we got to boulder bay on lac la croix we had done nine portages. After entering LLC we paddled thru boulder bay up into tiger bay hoping to camp at one of the nice sites there but all were occupied. We continued on checking each camp along the way and finally found the last one open. This is the camp on the north end of the island in the bay facing bottle portage to the east.

We enjoyed this site. Nice landing for the boat, good swimming off same landing and a nice view of the surrounding bay and Canadian shore. It is a heavily used site so a lot of exposed roots and some trash, hacked trees, little to no wood to gather. The tent pad was decent. From the site in the morning the paddle over to bottle portage takes only a few minutes to cross the bay and get on yer way.

After crossing the portage on the high trail the next day (the low one was still very muddy and rough) we paddled our way thru iron lake toward the portage to curtain falls. Our destination was a prearranged rendezvous point with a friend of ours that was on a month long solo trip. She was half way thru the trip and coming out of the quetico via crooked lake to meet us. We had designated three possible camps and then the portage itself as places to meet - in the event that spot A was taken then proceed to camp B, if taken then to C and so on. As it turned out my wife and I arrived at camp A and found it unoccupied so we established camp there a day in advance of her arrival. This campsite is the one nearest the curtain falls portage on iron lake. A very nice site with a huge rock slab jutting into the lake and a couple of decent tent pads back in the woods. Again, very over used site with evidence of over zealous boy scouts hacking down trees and live branches, leftover food tossed into the bushes, trash, trampled ground and so on. Unfortunately this is typical of many campsites in the high traffic areas of the bwcaw and there's not much you can do about it except clean it up and leave it in better shape than you found it. We are always amazed at the amount of junk people leave behind in camp sites and jettison at portages - chairs, pfd's, shoes, clothing, bags of trash, bits of rope and fishing line everywhere, food wrappers, food, etc. I think some of it is intentional, some desperate, some thoughtlessness and some accidental i.e. not paying attention to the pack it in pack it out ethic. The bwcaw is being used to death. Okay, off the band wagon. Back to the trip.

the next day our friend came paddling across the small bay from the portage trail extension at about noon. We welcomed her into camp, caught up on her exploits up to this point and helped her settle in for the night. The weather was very warm as it had been for the past few days. We swam and visited and enjoyed a day of rest.

the following day we pulled up stakes and paddled down iron lake to the south end checking for a new camp site. Some of the better ones were occupied and others we eliminated as undesirable so ended up making a tour of the south and west shore of the lake until we arrived at the very last site before we would have been forced to go thru the narrows and over bottle portage into LLC. This site turned out to be a beautiful one with a view down the bay, good swimming, beautiful stand of youngish red pines and a couple of tent pads that were pretty good. For some reason there was a horrible smell in some bushes down near the water and the fire grate/kitchen area. We thought maybe previous recent visitors had brought large dogs and decided to do away with their dog's shit by throwing it into the brush there. It was a strong smell - especially baking in the hot sun we had. We did our best to stay away from it. (By the way, our solution with our dogs was to pick up after them and carry it to the latrine and deposit it there. When no latrine was available - on portages or exploring around, we removed it and deposited it far from where people would come across it).

after setting camp we paddled to Rebecca falls to tour it. We walked the circle trail around the island seeing the falls and rapids in their glory. On the far side we ran into a group of young boys and their leaders from a Canadian youth camp that were on a 36 day trip which would culminate in portaging over the grand portage on the pigeon river - a 9 mile portage! My wife cajoled them into singing the Canadian national anthem (in French) which they obliged us with - all standing proudly with their hats off and hands over their heart. I was surprised they all knew the words and song so well. They said they sing it every morning as a group in camp!

During the night at this camp we were woken by a violent storm at around two a.m. The winds were fierce - blew the solo canoe across the camp, intense rain, and lightening that was non stop. We became concerned but had to simply wait it out. Fortunately the stand of norway pines we were in were just the right age to be flexible in these winds and bend without snapping off. The next day we observed float planes and helicopters in the area and were perplexed what they were doing in the vicinity. Two days later we found out.

we spent another night here at this site and then moved on over bottle portage into LLC where we snagged the glorious camp site in tiger bay on the small island with the north facing view and a huge rock slab jutting out with big boulders on it. This site is quite nice for swimming, landing the boats, tent pads, open stand of pines, nice kitchen area and access to warrior hill, the pictographs and other sight seeing areas of LLC. The weather was good and the winds were low.

we took a tour over to warrior hill which we hiked up - beautiful view, then over to the pictographs along the cliffs on the Canadian side. Very impressive rock art. The next day we paddled a day trip over toward lady boot bay and along the way we began seeing the devastation! Huge old growth white and red pines along with other species of trees snapped off about 15 feet above the ground. I mean tons of trees everywhere down. It was like the big blow down of 1999 but restricted to a smaller area with pockets of down bursts rather than a 16 mile slash thru the forest. Very bad. We came across a camp site with trees crashed down helter skelter everywhere with tents between them. The party camped there was fishing nearby and we asked them if they had been in camp when these trees came down all around. They told us they had pitched camp the day after the storm and reported that there were numerous serious injuries in camps throughout the area and people had to be rescued. As it turns out this storm was the worst since the 1999 blow down. Huge amounts of trees down and severe damage throughout the region including in towns and so on. Several campers in the bwcaw had to be evacuated when trees fell on them in their tents breaking bones, puncturing lungs etc. One man in the quetico was killed.

We had come thru this storm thinking it was pretty intense but ignorant of its devastation at the time. Less fortunate people out with their friends and family, sadly, found themselves in a nightmare. A father and his son were crushed in their tent. They had a satellite phone with them and were able to call for rescue. A group of three women down the bay however spent the night trapped in their tent pinned under a giant tree with broken pelvis, dislocated shoulder, broken legs and arms until they were located the next day by rescuers scouring the area looking for just such a scenario.There were areas on iron lake near our camp that experienced destruction similar to what had occurred in LLC. We paddled back to our camp that afternoon knowing we had survived a close call in the wilderness.

the next day my wife and I paddled out from our camp on tiger bay to the take out on the echo trail. Our friend continued on her solo trip for another couple of weeks. Other than the one very bad storm in the middle of the night our trip had been graced with good weather and good times. The one downer was the bug factor but hey, it's all part of the experience.

gear used:

Big Agnes 4 person tent
mountain hardware down bags
kondos and ccs portage packs
Big Agnes and Exped inflatable sleeping pads
thermarest fleece lined stuff sacks for pillows (turn it inside out and stuff with clothing)
MSR reactor stove
keen sandals for wet footing
bug shirt - "the original bug shirt elite" made in Ontario
fit-over sunglasses
spare pair prescription eyeglasses
1st aid
titanium spoons - extra long model for getting cleanly into the freeze dried food bags
gsi cups
rat sac
Katadyn camp filter
suunto compass
thwart mounted suunto compass designed for mounting on a kayak - modified to strap onto thwart in front of me
survival reflector mirror
Swift keewaydin 17 canoe
gillespie bent shaft paddles
spare paddle - custom paddle made in ely

Fresh sandwiches for the first couple days
boiled eggs for first three days breakfast
instant oatmeal
dried polish delights from koshars meat market in Gilbert
various freeze dried meals (commercial, not home made)
assorted "energy bars"
wasa crackers
string cheese
peanut butter

the rat sac by "outsak" - this item is unusual up here but handy. I got it originally for hiking in the Grand Canyon and the surrounding canyon lands/desert because it is needed to keep rodents and ravens from tearing into your food stuffs. It is very likely your food will be scavenged if you do not take this precaution. Since I have had mouse/rodent problems in the bwcaw with them gnawing thru packs and such to get to food I now use this metal mesh bag. It seals with large Velcro at the top and is lightweight. They sell an ultra light version and different sizes.

opsaks - these handy bags are both 100% watertight and 100% odor proof. They come in various sizes. I use the stash your food rather than hang it from a tree method so I am rather methodical about keeping odors to a minimum. These do the trick.

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