BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog

April 25 2017

Entry Point 38 - Sawbill Lake

Sawbill Lake entry point allows overnight paddle only. This entry point is supported by Tofte Ranger Station near the city of Tofte, MN. The distance from ranger station to entry point is 25 miles. Access is a boat landing at Sawbill Lake. This area was affected by blowdown in 1999.

Number of Permits per Day: 14
Elevation: 1802 feet
Latitude: 47.8699
Longitude: -90.8858
Sawbill Lake - 38

The Bear Facts

by sheeres
Trip Report

Entry Date: June 05, 2009
Entry Point: Sawbill Lake
Number of Days: 8
Group Size: 3

Trip Introduction:
On the 17 hour trip from lower Michigan to the Sawbill entry point, we talked about all kinds of things, one of them bear. "They talk about them so much, but they are probably more of a myth than a problem." We found out differently.

Day 1 of 8


Friday, June 05, 2009 – Sawbill to Burnt

We (Kevin, Mike & Stan) had driven 17 hours straight through to the Ranger station at Tofte. We arrived an hour before they opened so we took the opportunity for a quick nap.

We did our business, filled up the gas tank, headed to Sawbill Outfitters and began sorting equipment and food Packs. After 30 minutes of mixing and matching, we were on the water by around 10:30, just in time for the wind to pick up.

Three of us each headed out in our home made solo canoes(John Winters design). We did not think the wind would bother us so much as we would only be on Sawbill for little over a mile.

Over the short portage and onto Smoke Lake. With the wind back on Sawbill Lake, we decided to poke around Smoke a bit. By the time we decided to head for Burnt, the wind had REALLY picked up! When we hit the ‘funnel’ to the Burnt portage, the wind was blowing up whitecaps and we were fighting to get to the portage without dumping!

I had read on one of the posts here that the peninsula site on Burnt was a good one. We did not know which peninsula sight he was talking about, so we took the one straight across from the portage.

Upon landing, we took a quick assessment and decided to stay even though the site was a mess. The previous occupants had left the remains of 6 fish right in the middle of the path to the ‘throne’, they cut at least 5 green trees to use as pokers, canes, etc. and had left bits, used the path as a latrine and left pieces of wood scattered over the entire site.

We set up camp, made dinner and went to bed amazed that it had ‘rained’ at least 20 times since put in. Even though the ‘rain’ was nothing more than a very light mist, followed by sunshine, wind, more mist, replay.   

 



Day 2 of 8


Saturday, June 06, 2009 – Burnt Lake

We woke up late, had a big breakfast of eggs and toasted bagels and hit the water to do a tour of Burnt Lake. While touring the south portion of the lake it was sunny and fairly calm. We took out at the 240 rod portage to Kelly and walked it just to see what it was like. We had no idea which way we were going to go on our trip because one of our group had a recently tweaked knee and another a VERY stiff neck.

The tour of the northern part of the lake turned cold and windy as we had a bit of a fight against the wind getting back to the camp site.

We set out the food packs and began the process of making a dinner of BBQ chicken and a big salad. Just after adding the BBQ sauce, Kevin headed out to get some water. He turned to head out, heard a noise, saw the bear, screamed and a blur of activity followed.

The 6' bear was about 3’ away from a food pack when Kevin screamed. He picked up the pack and ran. We picked up rocks, chased him while throwing them, but he had what he wanted and was not going to put it down.

None of us had seen a bear before in the wild and knew little about them. One thing we DID know was that they were NOT just talked about to add to the lore of Boundary Waters.

We ate our dinner standing, and shaking, cleaned up REALLY good and hung our food.

Just after dinner, Mike needed to use the throne, sat down and decided to go elsewhere when he heard the bear eating our food not more than 40 feet away!

Later we all went back and he was still eating our food, snapping the plastic containers in the process.

We went to bed at dark. Soon we heard the snorting. The bear was in camp again! Not having a clue on what to do we, did nothing except shake and keep swallowing because our hearts were in our throats.

The bear nuzzled my mess kit, knocked it to the ground which made a lot of noise then must have left because we did not hear from him the rest of the night.

 

 



Day 3 of 8


Sunday, June 07, 2009 – Burnt to Kelly

We woke the next morning, assessed what the bear had taken: about 1/3 of our food, all the cheese, all the jerky but one container and most of the spices.

We packed up, without breakfast (we wanted off that site), loaded the canoes except for the food packs which were still hanging, and made the brilliant decision to find the food pack and at least clean it up.

Walking to the area we were laughing and joking about the huge pile of scat about 15 feet to our left. After spotting the garbage, we were just about to step over a 3 foot log when a sleepy eyed bear head slowly raised itself and turned toward us.

The resulting chaos would have made a great comic film. Three guys trying to get out of there, running into each other, loosing hats, running into trees and screaming.

We beat it back to camp, dropped the food packs, loaded them into the canoes and headed out. However, we could not resist running 20 feet from the shore where the bear was and getting the last taunt in.

Off to the 240 rod portage to Kelly. On the portage we ran into a group who said the fishing was good at the falls at the end of Kelly Lake.

By the time we hit the end of Kelly Lake, the sun was just coming out from behind the clouds. We decided to stay at the camp site and do some fishing.

Mike and I set up camp while Kevin settled in to an afternoon of fishing. About an hour later we heard a scream (a good one) from Kevin who had landed a lunker of a walleye. Later came a pike and a smallmouth bass. Dinner would be provided tonight!   

 



Day 4 of 8


Monday, June 08, 2009 – Kelly to South Temperance

Morning broke sunny but cold which was a switch. Each day had been cloudy and then sun sometime later in the day.

However, the farther we headed, the more clouds filled the sky. By the time we ate lunch at the end of the 240 rod portage to South Temperance, the rain began.

We decided to split up to scout sites. Mike took off one way and Kevin and I the other. We shouted across the lake at each other and decided to check out the far east site.

Kevin and I decided to wait for Mike on the calm side of an island (the wind had also picked up making it a cold, driving rain). As Mike got closer, we asked him what in the heck he was doing. He had his poncho over his pack and was NOT wearing any protection! He was soaked!

He was determined to check out the east site (about ¾ mile away). It was occupied. Kevin and I decided it was time to get Mike to a site and into a sleeping bag.

We paddled hard to the northern most site, near the portage. It looked like a nuclear disaster. Trees down everywhere like giant pick up sticks. However, there was a perfectly spaced group of small pines we used to put up our tarp and tent and get Mike into a sleeping bag.

We figured it was 5p.m. when we got into the bags.    

 



Day 5 of 8


Tuesday, June 09, 2009 – South Temperance to Cherokee

The rain stopped early morning and was barely misting when we broke camp. Mike promised us he was beginning to warm up. We figured paddling would help warm him up, so we took off.

Again, the day slowly got less and less cloudy. That last 140 rod portage to Cherokee kicked our butts! There was a small silver lining as we found 6–8 beefsteak mushrooms for dinner.

Three years ago we base camped at Cherokee on an island site. We headed straight for that site only to find it occupied. Continuing on, we found a great site on a peninsula, set up camp and watched the sun come out.

We now needed to get creative with our meals. Zatteran’s soup with potatoes, carrots and garlic hit the spot.

One thing Cherokee is known for is eagles and we saw one right off the bat.  

 



Day 6 of 8


Wednesday, June 10, 2009 – Base camp at Cherokee

Day trip to Frost Lake. Originally we had planned to do the Frost River loop but decided it was a bit risky with the potential physical problems we might face.

Leisurely breakfast of pancakes with syrup made from brown sugar, water, raisins, dried pears and dried cherries, blueberries and cranberries. Not bad in a pinch.

Then it was off to the short portage to Gordon, the sloppy and wet (with moose prints) 140 rod portage and…no portage into Frost. Just a pull over a beaver dam.

Onto Frost, around the bend and WIND. We pulled off at the first camp site and walked around. We planned to head out to the big rock and Kevin was going to fish for Lake Trout. While at the site drying out (Mike dumped, I will not tell you how), we saw a 3 person canoe come around the bend acting like they were looking for a site. We yelled to them that we were just stopping at the site and they could have it if they wanted it.

Turned out it was a Boy Scout Troup of 3 canoes and 8 people, 2 of the boys had never been in the wilderness before. We talked and shared stories for 45 minutes before deciding it was too windy to stay on Frost and headed back to Cherokee.

On Gordon, Kevin was just heading around a bend when he raised his hand signaling for us to be quiet. We heard loud stomping and splashing and immediately knew he had seen moose. What he saw was a moose and her calf. By time I got to the point the mother was gone and the calf was bawling and just crawling out of the lake.

Back to camp just in time for a dinner of salad and hash browns with lots of ketchup.   

 



Day 7 of 8


Thursday, June 11, 2009 – Layover day

Sunny and lazy layover day watching eagles, at least 3, on a perfectly calm lake.     

 



Day 8 of 8


Friday, June 12, 2009 – Out

We had planned on leaving Saturday and driving straight thru again, but, due to no more food, we decided to head out early Friday morning.

Up at sunrise to a beautiful mist over the lake. No breakfast, we got right on the calm water. Just before turning into Cherokee creek, we saw an eagle nest with both eagles in it on the left.

Turning down the creek, we were hoping to see moose, but it was not to be so.

On our last portage (to Sawbill) we ran into an interesting group we had a lot of fun with. We were double portaging and they were making a lot of trips back and forth. It was a church youth group and none of them were afraid of work.

On the trips back and forth, we swapped stories, found out all kinds of stuff about each other and left with them telling us to yell loud if the Red Wings won game 7.

On the way out we had to stop at Duluth Pack a great outfitter place.

Another trip to Boundary Waters done: One bear, 3 times One beaver Many beaver dams Lots of eagles Cow moose and her calf One or two (thousand) mosquitoes, they really were not bad Very scary hypothermia Sun Rain Sun Rain Etc.

Memories….PRICELESS       

 


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