Posted by: esimula | June 23, 2009

Mississippi River to Bigfork River 5/28/09 – 6/10/09

5/30/09     Day 39     Big Winnie     40-65 o F     NW Winds 5-15 mph     Sunny/Clear

Left the Mississippi River (high water and very powerful current) and crossed the height of land between Lake Winnibigoshish and Bowstring Lake.  Travelled down the upper Bigfork River from Bowstring Lake to Dora Lake.  High water allows many rapids to be run.  Much swift water and fast, downriver current.  20-mile day.  Many hawks and eagles.  Visited with friend Frank Sherman at Winnie Dam.  Thanks for the fresh walleye, Frank!  


5/31/09      Day 40     Bigfork     40-55 o F     Steady Rain     Clearing in evening

Covered 26 miles through town of Bigfork to Busticogan campsite (named after Ojibwe Chieftain Busticogan).  Wolves howled nearby at dusk.  The canoe hull bottom bark continues to split and leak more each day.  Plan major repair job next day.  Rapids continue to be challenging.  


6/1/09     Day 41     Canoe Repair     40-70 o F     Sunny/Clear 

Worked 12 hours at replacing 10″x 20″ birchbark patch bottom center of canoe.  This entailed removing ribs and planks, cutting out bad section of bark, replacing with repair bark patch which I carried from Grand Portage, stitching with spruce root, pitching inside of stitching, replacing planks and ribs, and pitching outside of hull.  It went well.  Two deer approached in middle of night and snorted at about ten feet from tent!


6/2/09     Day 42     Muldoon Rapids     50-60 o F     Cloudy     W Wind Gusts 10-20 mph

Eagle in tree above camp.  Poison Ivy nearly everywhere along riverbank where there is sunshine.  Saw several raccoons on riverbank, several beaver swimming in river, one big beaver dragging a small tree down a steep bank which sounded like a bear-sized commotion.  Canoe leaked badly.  Made 9 miles and camped at head of Muldoon Rapids, a 1/2-mile series of class I-II rapids.  Mental low-point of journey, feeling lonely for home and family (and all that it means): “The Muldoon Rapids Blues”.


6/3/09     Day 43     Amerian Falls      30-60 o F     Clear/Calm/Sunny

Waited until 9 a.m. for canoe bark to thaw and dry, then repitched.  After scouting, portaged around first section of rapids, and ran the remaining series of rapids thanks to high water.  Saw big black bear swim across river in front of canoe, several otters, and lots of waterfowl and birds.  Camped at American Falls, a six-foot drop with serious water flow, with fellow solo-canoeist Mark Witman.  Made 10 miles.


6/4/09     Day 44     Easy-Half Campsite     55-65 o F     Cloudy     W Winds 5-25 mph

Beautiful bald eagle guided me downriver most of morning, fishing from trees until I paddled close.  At one encounter, the eagle flew and a plume feather floated down right into the canoe!  Made 23 miles.


6/5/09     Day 45     Johnson Landing     40-45 o F     Cold/Cloudy     S Wind Gusts 15-35 mph

Rained all night.  Still feeling severe tingling pain in arms, hands and fingers each night and into early morning.  Many lovely birdsongs in early morning.  Saw two yearling black bears on riverbank.  Drizzled most of the day.  Saw two trumpeter swans as well as many ducks, geese, ravens, kingfishers, pileated woodpeckers, blue jays, magpies, and a bright red songbird: beautiful!  Made 15 miles.


6/6/09     Day 46     Big Falls     30-50 o F      Cool/Calm/Cloudy

Up at 4:30 a.m., on water by 5:30 a.m.  Beautiful cold morning with heavy fog over river.  Saw a big grey timber wolf on shore, and a fisher.  Curious otter very close to canoe, dove, and swam directly under me, surfacing on the other side.  Saw first bedrock since leaving lower St. Louis River near Cloquet, just a mile above Big Falls.  Portaged around Big Falls and made camp at the foot of the portage.  Visited with Rod Fougner, Betty Hollan, Lea Pritchard, Karen Baird and guide Frank Nelson.  Made 15 miles.


6/7/09     Day 47     Keuffner’s Landing      50-65 o F     Cloudy/Sunny     S Winds 5-10 mph

Early morning coffee with Frank and Betty, with send off below Big Falls.  Hit several submerged rocks while running rapids and swift water shallows.  Stopped at Sturgeon River mouth and pitched canoe.  Huge Muskie lunged out of water, its wake rocked canoe.    Saw 4 separate deer along river, and a big raccoon which fell 15 feet down on overhanging bank making a loud scream, only to scramble back up.  Made 22 miles, the last 6 miles averaging 4 m.p.h., the fastest of the trip, due to near constant class I rapids and swift water.


6/8/09     Day 48     Bivouc on Lower Bigfork River     Rained All Day     50-60 o F     Calm/Cold/Wet

Saw Osprey with 14″ long fish in talons fly from tree over river.  Also saw two eagles and a big red-tailed hawk.  After hearing a loud noise on shore, and being only about 10 feet from the bank, Kitigan and I both saw a large black bear.  As I was concentrating on the bear, and slowly steering into deeper water, I hit a submerged rock which cracked pitch and the canoe leaked significantly.  Heard a wolf pack howl at 3 p.m., and again after making camp at 9 p.m.  The lower Bigfork River was at mild flood stage, two feet or so above the riverbank.  With dark approaching and no designated campsites for 20 miles, we bivouced (makeshift camp) in the brush.  Made 18 miles.


6/9/09     Day 49     Rainy River     45-60 o F     SW Winds 5-10 mph     Cloudy/Cool/Light Rain

Otters on Riverbank, one old-timer with grey fur, and another which flew off the bank, lunging 6-feet out and 6-feet down in mid-air to dive into the water.  Saw first white pelicans.  Paddled to mouth of Bigfork River and entered Rainy River, turning east, paddling upriver.  The Rainy River was also at mild flood stage and was about 1/4-mile wide and very, very strong current.  I stopped at the Laurel Mounds, an ancient burial site, and put out tobacco in respect for our ancestors.  Made bivouc camp at dark.


6/10/09     Day 50     Littlefork River     50-70 o F     W Winds 5-15 mph      Clear/Sunny

Ferried across Rainy River to Canadian shore and back effortlessly (canoe at 45 degree angle to current) to cut inside corner of river bend and save distance.  Paddled and poled up river bank using all available eddies, sweepers and flooded trees to block current and proceed upriver.  The current was so strong it was very difficult to make headway directly against the current.  Found dead bald eagle in water on American shore just downriver of the confluence of the Littlefork River.  Huge beaver on shore reminded me of the ancient Giant Beaver which once thrived here.  Portaged around International Falls and Boise Cascade Paper Mill Dam with help from Big Falls Guide, Frank Nelson.


Travelled 610 miles, 390 remaining.



  1. I paddled the Big Fork years ago with one of Bill Hafeman’s birch bark canoes. It was a treat I’ll never forget. See you in the BWCA area.


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