Fall Trip Journal: Mudro-Crooked Loop by
What follows is an account of our annual, late September canoe trip
to the BWCAW. Al, Bill, Paul and me, were the regulars, Steve had been
here once before, six years ago, and this would be Jeff's first trip.
The six of us had been eagerly anticipating this trip for months, and
now the week we had waited for was finally here.
After the nine-hour drive from Central Iowa, the ranger at the
Kawishiwi Wilderness Station dropped a bombshell on us. He pointed out
that the Horse River was un-navigable due to low water; now we would
have to modify our route. We had chosen the route last winter so we
hadn't planned on this! If we couldn't get through the Horse River we
would potentially miss out on some of the best scenery and fishing of
It was decision time; we opted to start our trip as planned and check
out the river. If it was impassible, we would spend the week on Horse,
Fourtown, Boot and Gun. With the decision made we continued on to Ely to
pick up fishing licenses and last minute supplies. Then to the Fenske
Lake Campground, which is just a few miles from our Mudro Lake entry
(Author's note: Recent Minnesota DNR regulations do not allow
keeping smallmouth bass after September 10 .)
Our Travel Plan: Mudro, Sandpit, Tin Can Mike,
Horse, Horse River, Basswood River, Crooked, Friday Bay, Papoose,
Chippewa, Niki, Wagosh, Gun, Fairy, Boot, Fourtown. Total portages: 18
(distance 1376 rods). Total distance: 38 miles.
Clear skies and 35 degrees at sunrise as we woke up at the Fenske
Lake Campground. After a quick meal of oatmeal, english muffins and hot
chocolate we made the six mile drive to the Chain Saw Sisters parking
area. We talked with a group that just came from the Horse River. They
told us we could make it through but it would take a couple of hours
longer than normal. That was great news for us!
We were on the water by 8:00 a.m. Al and I spotted a pine martin
hunting along the rocks while maneuvering our way through the narrows
into Mudro. The 80-rod portage between Mudro and Sandpit tested our
out-of-shape muscles by climbing, then descending, an 80 foot hill. We
made camp at midday near the narrows at the south end of Horse Lake.
The site had a protected fire grate, three good tent pads, and a
decent canoe landing. After lunch, Bill, Steve, Paul and Jeff went
fishing. The day was sunny and breezy and by mid-afternoon it was a very
comfortable 66 degrees. While fishing along shore Al and I actually
witnessed a 12-inch diameter birch crash 50 feet down shore from us. I
went to investigate and saw that a beaver had just finished chewing
around it. After waiting a few minutes the beaver came back and swam
along the shore a couple of times; giving me some great photo
Our supper consisted of fish, rice with chicken sauce, peas, carrots
and blueberry cheesecake. As the breeze was just letting up at dusk Paul
and Steve went fishing again. They caught two bluegills and a 16-inch
smallmouth bass. I experimented with some time exposure photographs
around the campfire. Just before turning in Paul and Steve heard a
commotion in the water by where they had secured their stringer of fish.
With flashlights, they went down the shore to investigate. A couple of
otters were making a meal out of the fish on the rocks. Paul and Steve
quietly approached; close enough to hear the crunching of fish bones.
It was slightly breezy, 47 degrees and clear at sunrise. No fish for
breakfast this morning; thanks to the otters. We broke camp and headed
for Horse River by midmorning. As expected, the water level was very
low. It was necessary to lift the canoes over many rocks between Horse
Lake and the first 50-rod portage. During one of the liftovers, Al sent
the water splashing while attempting to catch a fish in the rocky
shallows; the rest of us enjoyed the entertainment.
The middle sections were OK for paddling. After the 75-rod portage,
we pulled rainsuits out of our packs as it started to rain lightly; and
we welcomed any additional water to add to the river level. Nevertheless
we had to use our paddles to push the canoes through the shallow muddy
river all the way to the Basswood River. We portaged around Lower
Basswood Falls, then made camp in late afternoon, in the middle of some
From camp, we could watch the water rushing out of Lower Basswood
Falls, and the area was dotted with picturesque islands and rocky
bluffs. There were lots of places waiting to be explored. It stopped
raining shortly after setting up camp. I took photos of the guys fishing
at the base of the falls. A couple of the guys went fishing around dusk
as the sky was just beginning to clear. Steve returned with a 36-inch
northern. Later, while sitting around the campfire, we listened to a
pack of wolves; they were barely audible over the sound of the
At sunrise it was 34 degrees, clear, calm with heavy fog. There were
fantastic photo opportunities everywhere I looked. I shot four rolls of
36-exposure slide film during the next two hours. I photographed
everything from an eagle, silhouetted in the foggy scenery, to early
morning sunlight hitting the fall foliage. Bill caught three small
northern below the falls.
We broke camp just before noon. I could have stayed at this spot much
longer. We were able to view the pictographs and granite cliffs along
Basswood River. While fishing at the base of the pictographs, Paul
caught a three-quart bucket and we all had a good laugh. A little later,
Al caught a 40-inch northern. It was so big it didn't completely fit
into the net. I finally helped him land the fish by partially lifting it
with the net and partially lifting it with my free hand.
In the canoe the northern managed to flop around enough to give me
five small puncture wounds to my left index finger and to cover my
camera bag with that infamous northern pike slime. We were able to get a
quick photo before releasing it. It was sunny all day with a high of
about 65 degrees.
Our group made camp on the east end of an island in Crooked Lake just
before entering Thursday Bay. We had fish for supper; a small walleye
and a three-pound northern. We saw some bear tracks in the mud just
below camp. At dusk we watched a bald eagle swoop down several times to
clean up the fish remains that we placed on the rocks across the
channel. It was 48 degrees at bedtime.
It was partly cloudy with a westerly breeze and 52 degrees at
sunrise. As we broke camp before midmorning, the weather was turning
sunny and windy. A small island provided a perfect lunch site just
before entering Friday Bay. While on the island, we visited with a
couple of guys from Ohio on their first visit to the BWCAW and headed to
Iron Lake. The first thing they asked us was "Have you guys been
seeing lots of mice around your campfire at night?" They went on to
tell us about when they entered their first camp and were greeted by the
sight of fifteen dead mice hanging from their tails. Apparently, the
previous campers had a morbid sense of humor.
(Editor's Note: Hungry mice, fattening up for the long winter
months, are fairly common on late fall trips. Keep your packs and your
tent buttoned up snugly and these friendly critters will be no more than
a curiosity. Harming any animals, especially in the wilderness, is not
acceptable behavior; even though mice make most of us cringe a little.)
After lunch we put on our life jackets and headed into Friday Bay
where we were met by a stiff wind out of the southwest. Our intention
was to camp in the southern part of Friday Bay. We planned to cut across
the lake and check out the two campsites on the western shore but
quickly realized that the waves were getting larger than we felt we
could safely manage. Just as we started to turn back toward the eastern
shore, a large wave and gust of wind hit us and nearly swamped the
canoe! Our canoe took in about a gallon of water but of more concern was
Al's paddle; he lost his grip on it as we were on the crest of a wave
and the paddle found nothing but air. While the paddle drifted away, I
ruddered the canoe the rest of the way to shore. Luckily Paul and Jeff
were paddling close enough to us to give us the spare paddle.
All three canoes in our group pulled into a protected bay along the
eastern shore and waited for three and a half hours until the winds died
down enough to continue. While windbound, Al caught and released a
26-inch northern, Steve caught a smaller northern and Paul caught a
couple of bass from 12 to 17 inches.
By late afternoon, the wind died down just enough for us to make it
to a nice campsite on the south end of Friday Bay; a scenic spot but the
fire grate was unprotected from the wind. It was 73 degrees. We enjoyed
a quick refreshing dip at a small sandy beach a few hundred feet NE of
camp. The seafood chowder, fish and rice for supper tasted especially
good that night.
After supper, Paul and Steve went fishing north of camp along the
shore. Suddenly, Steve arrived in camp running and out of breath. He
said that Paul had hooked into something really big and needed the net.
Steve quickly retrieved the net and headed back, but Paul had already
landed the 23-inch small-mouth bass. Nice fish! We took quick photos and
then released it. After dark we were entertained by watching meteors and
satellites overhead. To bed around 9:30; it's already been dark for two
Clear, 56 degrees with a light breeze out of the north at sunrise.
With the low water, we were unsure of what we would find along Papoose
Creek and the other creeks between Friday Bay and Niki Lake. Thanks to
the beavers, the level was fine; we just had to carry over a couple of
dams. The 45-rod portage between Niki and Wagosh was tough; 80 feet
nearly straight up.
We started the 300-rod portage to Gun Lake around noon. The trail was
extremely scenic with lots of fall colors and only a gradual climb;
relatively easy for a nearly mile-long portage. We had lunch at the far
side of the portage. It was 68 degrees and clear. Gun Lake was also
brilliant with fall colors. Steve and Bill thought it would be nice to
push to Fourtown and buy ourselves a layover day there.
Even though we paddled rather quickly through Boot Lake (Paul called
it jet-ski mode), we noted that it was scenic, with more rocky
outcroppings and hills, but slightly fewer maples than we had
experienced in the previous lakes. We made camp on the east shore of the
large peninsula in the center of Fourtown. It was 70 degrees at
suppertime. Lasagna, along with a small northern that Steve caught,
really hit the spot.
Clear and calm with just a few clouds in the east and 42 degrees at
sunrise. We heard wolves again last night. The oranges and reds in the
sunrise created some great early morning photography. A gray jay
entertained us during our breakfast of pancakes, applesauce and fish.
While the other guys went fishing, I had fun photographing the gray jays
and chipmunks, and exploring the bluffs north of camp. They came back
with three northern, a perch, walleye, and smallmouth bass. We saved the
two largest northern (for breakfast tomorrow) and had the rest for
At mid-afternoon it was still mostly sunny with a light breeze and 73
degrees. The sky started to cloud up by evening, but it was still warm
for a fall trip. After a good fight, Al lost a 30-inch northern at the
boat (Steve and Paul had the only net in their canoe). Steve and Paul
came back to camp at dusk with five nice walleyes that they caught with
Lindy Rigs (they would have been back sooner, but Paul kept trying for
number six). For supper, we fried up the tasty walleyes, and even though
we had to clean up the dishes by flashlight, it was worth it!
It was 57 degrees and overcast with a light breeze at sunrise. The
last day of our trip is always a day of mixed emotions; we are anxious
to get back home to see our families again but it is hard to leave the
beauty of this place! We broke camp early, after having fish (northern)
with our oatmeal for breakfast. The 140-rod portage to Mudro was steep
and rocky but the fall colors were incredible. It seemed that the water
level had gone down even more; the 30-rod portage back to the Chain Saw
Sisters parking lot had increased to closer to 50 rods.
We were at the end of another great fall canoe trip. For the
photographer in the group (me), I'll never forget the foggy
morning camped at Lower Basswood Falls and the brilliant colors of
the maples, aspens, birches and ashes. We hit the colors very nearly at
their peak. And, for the fishermen, there were personal records for
northern, smallmouth bass and some very good eating.
We saw an average of about two other parties each day and the
campsite occupancy rate was around 10% ; maybe 30% on Fourtown and
Horse. We had many lakes completely to ourselves.
As for the weather, we had unseasonably warm temperatures and lots of
sun. We wore our rainsuits for less than three hours the entire week;
not typical for a late September trip, but we're not complaining! Now,
I'm already anxious to pull out the maps and start planning next year's
trip; complete with a backup plan!