I had just come back from an eight day Quetico canoe trip with John three days before and here I was going out on another trip! This one would be just five days and would be the “Ladies Only” excursion. We would be short a paddler this year. Kaitlyn had hand surgery just 2 weeks or so before and was not able to join us. So it was just three of us; Deb Hanson, my daughter Amber and me. Our goal was to start at Lake One, paddle to Hudson and basecamp. We were planning on exploring the North Wilder loop, the Fire Lake loop and perhaps get over to Insula for some walleye fishing.
Day One – Monday
On September 20th we drove out to Lake One. Of course, as usual, we didn’t get a very early start. The wind was about 10 mph at 10:00 am and Lake One was not bad to paddle in. Lake Two was not too bad either, but when we entered Lake Three you would have sworn that the wind had to have increased another 10 mph! The wind was coming just about directly from the south. This meant we couldn’t safely paddle eastward towards Lake Four so we headed south towards one of Lake Three’s larger islands.
The waves were at least 2-3 feet high and every other wave broke over the bow of our kevlar Minnesota 3. Deb did a great job keeping us steered into the waves so we wouldn’t get broadsided and Amber & I paddled like crazy! It took quite a while just to get over to the island. Once there, protected by the wind, we took a breather and calculated our next move.
It looked like the waves were now coming from the south but with a bit of an eastern wind. We headed northeast and hit the southern shore of Lake Three where it intercepts with Lake Four. We weren’t directly with the waves, but it was still safe. We were SO happy to see Lake Four and find that the south wind had subsided here and the eastern part of the wind was blowing just a bit. We took a short break again then headed towards Hudson. We did the first 15 rod portage and met a woman traveling the opposite way. She was solo paddling with a lovely narrow cedar strip canoe. We were empty handed going back for our second load, so we grabbed the rest of her gear for her. We asked about open camp sites and she responded that the site in between the next two portages was open as were a few on Hudson.
After doing the next 25 rod portage and then the last 10 rod portage, we met a couple who were had been out fishing and were pulling in to their site at the mouth of the North Wilder River. We asked them about sites. They informed us that the third site ahead of us was where they had spotted a bear and two cubs. We thanked them for the valuable information, crossed our fingers that the island campsite was still open and paddled on. The next three sites, all on the left shore, were all on the same peninsula of land. None of them had any people camped there, which made us worry even more about the availability of the island.
It only took a little while to get near the island and we breathed a sigh of relief, no campers were visible! By now, it was almost 5:30 pm and we were ready to set up camp, eat dinner and call this island home for the next four nights! Deb and Amber set up the tent and got the tarps hung up and I got dinner ready. Our ribeye steaks were still frozen so we browned up the ham slices and made some mashed sweet potatoes and some fresh broccoli Deb had picked out of her garden that morning. We agreed that the dinner was incredible though the potatoes were a little sweet for Deb. We were all too full (and tired) to even attempt dessert! At 7:30, it was raining fairly hard and blowing sideways so we retired from the tarps to the tent, climbed into our sleeping bags and read the books we had brought along. It wasn’t long before we were all sleeping soundly.
Day Two - Tuesday
We were so worn out from the paddle the day before that we all slept in late. It was a rainy day anyway so it really didn’t matter. Deb & Amber got up about a half hour before me and were chatting under the tarps when I climbed out of the tent. They had already brewed the coffee so when I got up, I started making the eggs and bacon we had for breakfast. We spent the next couple hours under the tarp, talking and wondering if the rain would ever end. The rain slowed down around 1:00 pm and Deb and I decided to try our luck at some fishing. We decided to try the Ahmoo River which is just south of the island. John had marked this area as being a good spot for walleye. We caught a few bluegills, a couple tiny smallmouth, a couple even tinier perch but not a single walleye. We tried a number of other spots in the lake but the fishing was even less successful, so we headed back “home”.
Amber had laid out the materials for dinner that night. We were having the ribeye steaks, covered with grilled bell pepper strips and onions, and even some tasty, fresh green beans that Deb’s garden had also provided. It began to rain again, so we retreated back under the tarps, finished dinner and had some after-dinner nightcaps consisting of hot lemonade and Tequila, mmm! Soon we made our way to the tent, read our books for a while and then it was lights out.
Day Three – Wednesday
Another day of sleeping in late, eating breakfast late but we didn’t care! We left the site around 10:00 am and headed out to explore the Horseshoe – North Wilder Lakes loop. Since the wind had been coming from the west so far on this trip, we chose to head towards Lake Three first and then head down to the loop that way. The wind was calm but we figured if it kicked up, we’d be better off coming out the narrow river which was closer to our site on Hudson.
We got to Lake Three, paddled the eastern shoreline down to the 20 rod portage into Horseshoe. Horseshoe was quiet and very beautiful. Near the end of the next 85 rod portage into Brewis Lake I was surprised to meet Heather Mondei and her husband heading the opposite direction. Heather and her husband are better known to me as “Wilderness Mama and Wilderness Papa” from the CanoeCountry.com message board. We spoke for a little bit and all of us went on our way. This trail had a swampy area in the middle. The ground under the water was mostly hard sand so other than getting wet feet, we were fine.
Brewis takes only a couple minutes to cross and then a short 40 rod portage and we were in Harbor Lake. Harbor Lake is about ¾ of a mile long and has two campsites. The northern site was taken and looked like it was quite nice. Just a few minutes across and we were at the next 81 rod portage into North Wilder. The Pow Wow trail crosses the portage here. Deb needed to make a potty stop and stepped back off the end of the portage. Little did she know that the Pow Wow hiking trail crosses the portage there and that the hiking campsite very close by was occupied! The campsite directly across from the portage was also occupied as was the only other site on the lake. We were amazed that this had so many people camping in this area that we figured would be more remote. I guess we weren’t the only people who assumed that!
At the end of North Wilder there is a 35 rod portage that leads to the Wilder River. We had one beaver dam we had to lift over, but with an empty canoe this was easy to do. The river looked like it promised a moose sighting, but alas, none were spotted. The river would wind back and forth; narrow in some spots, wider in others. The river landscape was gorgeous and the warm scent of the autumn leaves was like a soothing balm to our senses. By 6:30 pm, we were heading east on Hudson and back to our campsite.
We substituted tortillas for all of our bread and had saved a lot of space in our pack. We used some cut up chicken filets, cheese, and grilled what was left of the onion & peppers we had brought and made some tasty “quesadillas” for dinner. We talked for a while about our plans to visit Fire Lake the next day and then the rest of the night was spent in the tent reading and then to sleep.
Day Four – Thursday
We woke up a little earlier Thursday but poked around more, so our outing didn’t begin until around 10:00 am. We gathered up our fishing gear and headed northward, across the lake. I think this narrow area leading to Fire Lake is a part of Hudson though I’m not sure. John had marked a couple narrow areas on it as being good walleye spots. The first spot has two square cribbings in the water. These are logs which are staked together and filled with large rocks. They appear to be the footings for something, perhaps a long ago bridge?
At this narrows we caught a few small bass, a couple perch, and a bluegill. We tried there for a couple hours and then moved north a bit to the next narrows. We didn’t have much success there either so after an hour or so we moved back down. Since fishing was so slow, we decided to explore the two campsites in between the narrows. The site just north of Hudson one the left side is a nice one, it has a nice eating area around the fire grate. The next one, on the right side is sort of hidden from view. We spotted it by noticing a pile of small rocks, about 6 high, on the rocky beginning of the peninsula. This site has a lot of blow down wood in back of it and the latrine is quite far back, way up a hill. This site feels very private and the wide inlet of water almost seems like its own lake.
We didn’t have enough fish for dinner, so we ended up with some huge hamburgers topped with cheese, grilled onions, a bit of salsa and wrapped in tortillas. We couldn’t finish the six burgers we had made so wrapped the remains in a Ziploc and kept them for morning.
Day Five – Friday
We had a quick breakfast of oatmeal and leftovers. The radio was on that morning and we heard that there was going to be some wind coming in but this time it was coming out of the northwest. Of course, I thought! Of course the wind would be in our faces again.
We may have had a quick breakfast but we didn’t start out very early. Just after we left our island we passed by one of our employees, Kevin Marolt, who was on his way to Insula with his dad. When I yelled out, “Hi”, he said, “not too early of a start, eh Lynn?” Smart aleck, but he did say it with a bit of a grin. He knows I am not a morning person.
The wind wasn’t too bad until we got past the three portages leaving Hudson. When it had the bigger water to rush over, it hit us full in the face. Halfway through Lake Four we stopped on the north shore and took a bit of a rest. We headed back out and were met by even more fierce winds in Lake Three. Paddling the narrow area between Lake Three and Lake Two was a bit easier on us. But then we hit the wide, open water of Lake Two. The waves in Lake Two were relentless, we paddled halfway across and then took refuge in between a couple islands, taking one more break and eating a bit of a snack. By the time we hit the two portages to take us into Lake One, we were actually glad to see a portage!
The south end of Lake One was no better than Lake Two. The wind continued and the waves were over a foot high but at least didn’t come over the front of the canoe this time. We were going to take a short cut around the northeast side of Lake One, trying to cut behind a large island. Unfortunately with the water levels being low, the island was now a peninsula and the portage we saw was a crummy one. We paddled back around the island and hugged the shoreline as best we could. The wind finally tapered off a bit as we paddled up towards the more narrow area of Lake One where it runs northward, towards Kawishiwi Lodge and the entry point. We missed the narrows at first and had to turn around again and paddle back a bit. Luckily we hadn’t gone far when Amber noticed the error.
As we started to empty our canoe at the landing at Lake One we noticed that there were two other groups exiting at the same time as we were. One had been in back of us just about 20 minutes and the others were coming in from the Kawishiwi River. All of us looked wet, tired and glad to be back. I ran down to the parking lot and got the Suburban. Before long we had it loaded and the heat was cranked up, warming our cold hands and wet feet. We found a cooler in the Suburban, left earlier that day by Kevin, full of cold Pepsi and other things. What a welcome thing, even if we were wet and cold! Driving home we talked about the last five days and what fun it had been, laughing at the times we got “misplaced” and our not so great fishing. And before we arrived back in town we were already discussing where next year’s trip would be!
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