Trip Report: BWCA – Fall Lake to Basswood Falls (August 2017)
Day 0 (August 2nd – Wednesday)
I loaded up my Wenonah Minnesota II canoe on top of my 2012 Honda civic, which looks exceptionally funny with the canoe being significantly longer than my car. I also loaded up my primary dry bag, snack foods for driving north, and my going home clothes.
Day 1 (August 3rd – Thursday)
At 330am I woke up, put the last of my gear in the car and met Scott at his house north of Minneapolis at about 415am. When we set out it was relatively dry, but as we drive north toward Duluth Minnesota we encounter exceptionally heavy rain. We only stopped for about 5 minutes en-route to Ely, and stopped off in Ely for gas prior to arriving at the ranger station.
We got to the Kawishiwi ranger station at around 915am and were able to quickly get our permit and head to the Fall Lake entry point at the Fall Lake Campground.
While there was evidence that it had rained that morning; we did not encounter any rain while padding on
We were on the water shortly before 10am paddling on Fall Lake heading toward Newton Falls – it probably took us less then 15 minutes to complete that easy 84 rod portage (no doubling back – one trip portage). The nice thing about the Fall Lake entry point is that it ‘feels’ like you are in the BWCAW rapidly because you hear the running water at these falls and do not see any houses or cabins after passing the Mile Island.
On on the Fall Lake to Newton Lake portage we encountered a family (Father, Mother, 2 daughters around 8 and 10 years old) — The father was using a kevlar solo canoe with the younger daughter and the mother had a Tandem Northstar kevlar boat; as we approached the portage we saw the Father had already loaded up his small light solo canoe and his wife was struggling with the solo canoe, I helped his wife load up her canoe (…I speculated that they were off to a bad start for their family trip once we were in Newton Lake). While we were on the portage we noticed that most of their gear was spread across normal backpacks and those big ziplock storage bags, they were dropping their gear all over that easy portage (Hopefully, they had a good trip – but, it looked like they were off to a bad start).
I initially mislead us to the south west side of Newton Lake and then we got our bearings quickly and shot toward the narrow spot between the first island heading north of the Newton Falls portage (47.978902, -91.722783) we encountered a group heading south to exit the BWCA at that narrow point, with one guy in a 12′ solo canoe who must have had a 65″ waistline and must have weighed well over 350lbs — it was amazing to see someone who was so heavy out paddling around in the BWCA.
We quickly made it to Pipestone Falls and completed that portage rapidly (no doubling back).
Pipestone Bay was a blur we stopped for a moment in a cove to drink some water — this whole trip we didn’t really struggle with any wind while paddling. We closed the paddling distance from the portage to Lewis Narrows. more quickly than I had ever done on previous trips; I got a little turned around as we passed Caribou Point and I misidentified Gary Island and New York Island. which added to my confusion until we were able to get our bearings at the Lewis Narrows. Previously, the Chruch group that I have gone to the BWCA with has camped at the island to the north east of New York Island.
While I have been to Pipestone Bay previously, I have never understood the significance of the idea of pipestone to the Native Americans, or what pipestone is. After my wife and I’s trip to Grand Portage National Monument earlier this year I know know what pipestone is — Essentially pipestone is a type of rock that chunks off easily into rectangles and then are easily carved into ceremonial pipes by the Native Americans (checkout this Wikipedia article about pipestone for more info).
We started searching for a campsite around 3pm as we got above the motor line in the BWCA. The first campsite was BWCA#1573 when looking at the peninsula to the south east of the campsite there were alot of mature cedar trees there, but the site itself was pretty buggy, muggy, and muddy. As we were leaving and passing past campsite when we were leaving there were some people camping out on the peninsula (which I think the rangers would frown upon, but it would be an amazing view, and with the rock outcroppings the disturbance to the surface would be minimal).
There was a point of interest across from campsite 1531 called a gauging station, apparently there is some electronics in a porapotty sized cement box that tracks the level of Basswood Lake there. This gauging station is located roughly at these coordinates (48.082327, -91.652519).
Getting our bearings was a little difficult in this area of Basswood Lake, we underestimated the size of the island at (48.088448, -91.641740). And our voyager and fisher maps indicated that the feature located at (48.090636, -91.645376) was a island, whereas it was more of a peninsula.
We then went to the island that contains BWCA#1534 and BWCA#1535 which were both amazing campsites; campsite#1535 being a nice site with mature cedar trees around the camp, good tree coverage, but totally open to the east allowing a breeze into the site.
We then went over to the campsite located on shore west of the island (BWCA#1533) this was a great campsite, paddleplanner had it listed as a 2 star campsite, but Scott and I found two good tent pads – one of which was protected with large trees where I was able to hang my hammock and set it up in “porch mode” for the duration of the trip, Scott and I took shelter Thursday, Friday, and Saturday for the brief rain shows that passed through each day.
Gathering wood at campsite#1533 was easy, and we had found some pre-cut wood and split wood at #1537 that we put in the canoe and brought over to this site. There was a downed and long dead jackpine north of the campsite on a short trail that started near the fire grate that Scott used my Sven saw to chunk up into smaller pieces.
The view from our campsite wasn’t the most amazing view as from our fire grate and tents you could only see across the cove that was sheltering our campsite from wind & waves.
Pumping water at this campsite was easy, not too much sediment in the water here.
Bugs were not as bad as I thought they would be, though I had treated my clothes with Permethrin for this trip. Scott did have some troubles with bugs, but not as bad as our issues with bugs on the following night.
Slept okay in my Clark NA hammock with my 20 degree sleeping bag and with a +20degree sleeping bag liner.
Day 2 (August 4th – Friday)
Great morning hanging out at the campsite.
Getting to Upper Basswood Falls was easy from our campsite, it probably took us less than 20 minutes of paddling to get to the portage that leads to the lower falls. We first walked on foot to the falls which was a quick stroll from where we left our canoe.
We spent some time taking video of the upper falls and taking pictures at the falls and then circled back to our canoe and started the portage that goes past the lower falls and the subsequent rapids that head north and west of the lower falls.
We saw a group seeming intentionally capsize their canoe, it seemed like a goofy place to attempt to intentionally capsize a canoe and try to right it though given it was still in the midst of the rapids to the west of the Upper Basswood Falls.
Both directions the portage around Upper Basswood Falls was brutal – even with a minimal gear load out and with a kevlar canoe it still was brutal. We were able to pick some wild blueberries along the trail and fortunately the bugs were not too bad along the portage (there were some thick patches of mosquitoes, but nothing too terrible). There were some muddy spots along the portage, but this portage is traveled enough that there was either corduroy or strategically placed rocks and wood to navigate without having to slip around.
If i remember correct on the USA portage around Wheelbarrow Falls on the south side of the falls there was some unpredictable water to get to the portage landing; we had to paddle through water that was flowing rapidly south, then the water abruptly was flowing north, with then a still area next to the shore; this caused the canoe to turn pretty quick and put us up against the shore. The portage around Wheelbarrow Falls was short and slightly rocky, though it was clearly well traveled.
Lower Basswood Falls the volume of water moving through Lower Basswood Falls was amazing,
Lower Basswood Falls is a little deceitful, if you were not paying attention the water is exceptionally smooth up until the point where the water is pouring through the falls.
This evening the bugs were terrible, to the point where we were talking about leaving Saturday (we didn’t); but it was pretty discouraging even with Permethrin and DEET the mosquitoes were finding a way to bite us while sitting around the campfire. I was able to escape the bugs with a head net, long sleeves, Permethrin treated gloves, and a head net; but Scott was not so lucky.
I slept great this evening, between all of the paddling and portaging — along with adapting to the sleeping outdoors (I am always on edge a little bit the first night sleeping outside).
Day 3 (August 5th – Saturday)
We at breakfast and hung out around camp Saturday morning, once we got motivated we headed north-east of our campsite along the shore of Basswood Lake. We found a old site where someone in the 50s? was dumping their trash, lots of glass liquor bottles, tin cans, and oil cans. This was roughly located here (48.090647, -91.646753). It was really interesting to see the old trash, but at the same time kind-of discouraging that people took this area for granted in past years, not packing out their litter. I do wonder at what point litter becomes artifacts, (…I imagine it takes a couple of generations).
We continued walking out to a lagoon(ey) cove located here (48.091445, -91.646840). While this does not seem to be a feat to reach this point of the shore, for people who have never been to the BWCA it is hard to describe how thick the underbrush is to move on foot where there is no trail.
We also walked out onto the island located at (48.090636, -91.645376) via the rock peninsula that went out from there; likely this island was a campsite at one point and was retired. Also, this site was likely the place where the people who were dumping their trash were camping. There was a really nice slow incline up to the island on the north side of this island, making canoe landings or swimming really nice. The glacial scoring on this island was really interesting to look at.
We took a couple of pictures out on the island and hung out in the great weather there (few clouds, moderate temperature, no bugs).
After lunch we set out for another attempt at crashing through the forest, this time we headed mostly north and sightly west. On our maps we could see that one of the highest points of elevation near us was behind our campsite. We set out roughly walking toward this high point of elevation (48.091658, -91.651635). With what amounted to basically 900 feet of distance (as the crow flies) resulted in about 1.25 hours of crashing through the Forrest to get to the high point. Ironically the Forrest going in was not as thick as the route we followed leaving.
We got to the high point near our campsite and snapped some photos.
While walking along we found a massive boulder that was deposited (likely by a glacier) on top of multiple smaller rocks, this was on the down slope from the high point, about 100 yards.
We found multiple piles of Moose Poop near our campsite.
Getting back to our campsite from this hike was difficult, we just started heading toward the shore with the intention of then following the shore to our campsite. Ironically, after crashing through thick Forrest for what felt like 30 minutes we ended up walking out into the small clearing where our food bag was hanging on the shore. Again, this Forrest is thick, we had no idea where we were going to end up.
Day 4 (August 6th – Sunday)
Packing up was quick, we were out on the water by 730am.
Last photo at our campsite:
Our paddle out of the BWCA took us about 4 hours, both portages were the same easy portages that we entered on. This time we were bogged down with less fuel and food coming out.
Packing up the car was quick and we changed into our going home clothes.
We had lunch at the BoatHouse in Ely, Minnesota. Which is always a great meal.
Drove home, dropped Scott off and began drying out my gear.
This was a great trip, and with perfect weather.