Canoeing is a way to sit still and pay attention.

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Canoe Trips

Boundary Waters:

Boundary Waters Campsites

Bois Brule River

Flambeau River

Kickapoo and Mecan Rivers

Menonomee River

Sylvania Wilderness

Wisconsin's Flowages

Wolf and Peshtigo Rivers


Boats & Gear

Boundary Waters Gear List

Bell Wildfire (Royalex)

Blackhawk Ariel

Mad River Independence (sold)

Wenonah Prism (sold)
-cane seat installation
-thwart replacement

Custom portage pads

Seat-mounted portage yoke

Outside canoe shelter

Inside canoe storage



BWCA - September 2011

Page 2: Days 1-2
Island River to Quadga Lake


The Map

A map of the area can be found here (opens in a new window). Leave the map open and you'll be able to follow along on each of the travel days.


Day 1 – Wednesday, September 7 – Island River

At 8:00, after a nice breakfast at the lodge, Ben - the CBO cook, chauffeur, and a fascinating raconteur - and I head out for South Kawishiwi River (EP32) where I lock up the car and load my stuff in and on the CBO van.  Ben drops me off at Island River (EP34) at 10:00.

Here's my boat (a Mad River Independence) and gear just before heading out.


It’s a perfect day – no clouds, almost no wind, temps in the upper 70s.  There are lots of rice beds and floating, tangled vegetation in the Island and Isabella Rivers.  It’s tough going at times, including some double-poling with both paddles.  Who’d have thought skiing technique would come in handy on a river?

The Island River has extensive stands of aquatic grasses that sometimes provide a broad channel and other times converge to make the canoeist wonder if it's possible to get through. Thankfully, the former condition was by far the more common.


The Independence is a good boat for river tripping.  Its maneuverability enables me to pick my way through a few rock gardens and line through a few more; I doubt the Prism would handle obstacles as adroitly.  In this way I'm able to avoid several portages, though at the expense of some scratches.  Thank you, gelcoat. Here's the end of the first non-portage, what would otherwise be a little 3-rod hop:


The device sitting on the gunwales is the top of the Knu-Pac carrier. Below is another picture showing the whole thing. The cupped ends support the boat on a removable metal bar that functions as a carry thwart. The rest of the carrier is an external backpack frame to which I strap bulky items like the tent and chair. The wooden stick lashed to the end of the boat protects the deck plate, which is grounded when lifting the boat up onto the carrier.


The Island River flows into the Isabella River. This is a typical scene:


The Isabella is occasionally narrow, but not here. The haze in the background is smoke from the Pagami Creek fire, which I breathe for the next several days.


I encounter several tight spots caused by the low water levels. I can paddle through this one, though some of the other squeezes involve getting out and either pulling the boat through or lining it from the shore.


I finally get to the portage to Quadga Lake. It's marked as 61 rods, but my body tells me it's longer, later confirmed by the GPS at 84 rods. I'm unhappy that my map doesn't show The Place of Ankle Twisting; if it did, I might have avoided it. Luckily it isn't a bad sprain.

After settling in at site 1 (C1934) I watch the smoke billow, noting that it isn’t bad but will probably continue for a while.  I have no idea of the conflagration that’s brewing.

First sunset picture of the trip. The sun was almost red due to the smoke.


The moon was nearly full and rose early enough to be sunlit in the late afternoon.


The long rock wall had several deep fissures that collected water and reflections.


This is the first of several panoramas in which I try to capture the effects of the smoke on the sky at dusk:


In between pans there was all this scenery just begging to be shot.


More panning:


More sunset:


Dinner is Hawk Vittles’ Moroccan Stew and flatbread, with a sip of Chambord for dessert.

Still more sunset:

More moonrise:


The sky really was this purple.


I sleep well, despite hearing some rhythmic huffing or wheezing around 10:00 pm.  A bear?  I let out a couple of big barks and the sound stops.  After a second round of huffing and barking it stops for good - as far as I know.  I’m reassured by knowing the camp is clean and the food well-stashed.


Day 1 summary:
Total distance 7.9 miles in 6:05
5 portages of 250 rods in 2:08


Day 2 – Thursday, September 8 – Quadga Lake Layover

There are worse ways to celebrate your 62nd birthday than by waking up to perfect weather in the Boundary Waters on a layover day, with nothing to do but pay attention.

Today’s plan is to go hiking on the PowWow Trail, which is accessible on the other side of the lake.  Like other best-laid plans, it goes a-gley in favor of eating, resting, rehydrating, and settling into this new life.  This is Day 2 and I have no illusions about Day 4, that point in the trip (which may come at any time) when the novelty wears off and you just want to go home and sleep in your own bed.

The Pagami Creek fire is still going.  The smoke is a pall over the W/NW sky until the wind comes up.  Then it comes my way and eventually goes up and over.  Yesterday was cloudless and today would be, too, except for the smoke.

This morning provides nice light for shooting:


Lots of loon activity today, especially at dusk and through the night.  Also beaver, possibly an otter, eagles, and ravens, but not many mosquitoes - yet.

Quadga Lake – Pagami Creek Fire

Warm smell of spruce;
the call of the loon,
frogs plunking their escape
as I slowly walk along the shore.
The forest is burning a few miles away.
Animals die in their burrows
or escape, merely singed, if they’re lucky.
I love all natural things
and it’s hard to not to wish the fire away.
I don’t mind the smoke.
It’s the loss of others’ lives and homes
that makes me choke.

Dinner is Mountain House long grain and wild rice pilaf with rehydrated chicken, and a bit of sherry for dessert.


Tomorrow: On to Gabbro Lake


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Last updated November 14, 2011
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