BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog

November 18 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

Magic the Paddling: Sawbill, Phoebe, Malberg, Fishdance, Kawishiwi

by Jazzywine
Trip Report

Entry Date: August 08, 2016
Entry Point: Sawbill Lake
Exit Point: Kawishiwi Lake (37)
Number of Days: 8
Group Size: 5

Trip Introduction:
My girlfriend and I organized our third trip for three friends and ourselves. One is pretty experienced and two had never been to the BWCA before. We are all fit young people with some camping/backpacking experience. Two of us fished trip.

Day 1 of 8


Monday, August 08, 2016

We left at about 7am from the Twin Cities and drove up the north shore to Sawbill Outfitters. There we unloaded our cars and then drove one over to EP #37, where we planned to exit. Meanwhile, I questioned Bill (who, you will see later, is our savior) about our route.[paragraph break]

The weather was pretty much perfect, warm and sunny with temperatures in the 70s. It remained that way nearly all week, lucky us! We hit the water at about 2:30pm and paddled across Sawbill lake, down Alton against some wind, and across Beth. The portages were nothing too bad, even though we crossed the Laurentian divide between Alton and Beth. On Beth we camped at site 839, which had room for our three tents and a beautiful eastward view of the whole lake. [paragraph break]

We enjoyed some chicken that we froze the night before and cast leeches from camp into the twilight. A few little smallies bit. For dessert we tried something new, we wrapped cinnabuns (from a tube) around the end of sticks and roasted them like marshmallows, then dipped them in the sugar sauce bucket. The stars were clear and beautiful. A perfect first night.[paragraph break] ~Sawbill Lake, Alton Lake, Beth Lake

 



Day 2 of 8


Tuesday, August 09, 2016

We woke and got on the move, immediately tackling the longest portage of our trip. It was long, but pretty flat – not too bad. After that a short paddle through the southern arm of Grace and then a few short portages put us on Phoebe. The last portage has a fun little waterfall just off to the side![paragraph break]

We loved Phoebe Lake! It is big enough to be interesting for a while, its islands have little rock bars protruding into the main lake, and it has at least a couple nice island campsites. We liked 1031 for its private bay, but it didn’t have enough tent space, so we chose 1026 instead and spent two nights there. We all spent the afternoon lounging in hammocks and swimming as we continued to enjoy sunshine and warmth.[paragraph break] ~Beth Lake, Grace Lake, Phoebe Lake

 



Day 3 of 8


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

My girlfriend and I woke early to a beautiful sunrise and paddled to the north end of Phoebe where I enjoyed the best hour of fishing of my life. When I arrived at “the spot”, I cast a purple taildancer near some lily pads. Before I reeled it at all to give action, a big smallie hit it as it bobbed on the surface of the water. That was the start to nonstop action for the next hour as I got hit on almost every cast. Big smallies and decent pike, everywhere! And then, something else hit my lure and it didn’t fight. It was one of the few walleye I’ve ever caught and the only one on the trip, but she was a beauty! About 18 inches with a deep gold belly the color of the sun at 5pm and a dark back like the tannic lakes we paddle through![paragraph break]

We headed back to camp as it began to rain (I think that was part of fishing magic) and cleaned the walleye at a big rock on the way. Back at camp we set up the tarp and made breakfast while the rest of our friends woke up. It drizzled on and off the rest of the day. We explored the island, sat around the fire, and I took another trip up to the fishing spot with another member of our group.[paragraph break]

That afternoon as we sat around the fire, I mistakenly deleted all the photos on my girlfriend’s camera – including those of my magical fishing expedition! See my sad face below… The delicious walleye mac and cheese helped make up for it a little.[paragraph break] ~Phoebe Lake

 



Day 4 of 8


Thursday, August 11, 2016

This was a big day… we started paddling at about 8am and arrived at our destination around 4pm with a total of 6 lakes and 10 portages.[paragraph break]

From Phoebe, we paddled north to Knight Lake, through the Phoebe River with its many rock gardens with narrow passages, and to the first big portage into Hazel Lake. I was leading the way on this portage with a canoe over my head. The wind was at my back, so I couldn’t smell what was in front of me. Near the end of the portage, all of a sudden, I was standing over a full-grown moose carcass! It looked well scavenged, but also had plenty of fur and well… check out the pictures if you dare. The interesting thing was it looked like it had just collapsed because it was lying on its stomach, rather than its side. When we got back I called the DNR, reported its location and sent them my pictures. It was very sad to see, especially since we’ve heard so much about their decreasing numbers and the fact that we still haven’t seen a live one up there! Well, one step closer I suppose.[paragraph break]

We continued past Hazel Lake on the Phoebe River with a series of short portages and beaver dams until we arrived at Polly Lake. We stopped for oatmeal lunch and continued on the three portages up to Koma. At this point we started seeing people again, and ended up sandwiched between two groups. We were trying not to rush the ladies in front of us, but we were also trying to get out of the way for the group of men behind us! However, we were the only group that continued past Koma and on to Malberg.[paragraph break]

On the last portage of the day, we took some time to enjoy the north-facing view from the big rock and the rapids pouring into Malberg. When we were ready for the final push, we paddled up through Malberg and turned west into the narrows. My goal site 1053 was open and we gratefully accepted the end to a long day. This site is just as good as all the reviews: the fire grate is on a flat rock space overlooking the narrows and the tent pads are like private “bedrooms” off to the sides in the shade of the trees.[paragraph break]

That night I experienced another foul smell – worse than the moose and anything else I’ve ever smelled! Apparently, we hadn’t eaten the broccoli we brought in time and it had gone very bad. One of our friends had mentioned this once or twice throughout our long day of travel, but I didn’t understand her pain until I opened the bag myself. The odor was staggering, gag-inducing, and clung to your nostrils, hands, or anything the broccoli touched. She had endured this all day in the canoe and every portage, when she wore the food pack in the front, it sat just inches away from her nose. We built a very very hot fire and carefully burned the rancid vegetables piece by piece. What would you have done?[paragraph break] ~Phoebe Lake, Knight Lake, Hazel Lake, Polly, Lake, Koma Lake, Malberg Lake

 



Day 5 of 1


Friday, August 12, 2016 [paragraph break] ***Life happened and I left off here for eight months. Forgive the lack of detail in the remainder.***[paragraph break]

Exhausted after the long haul of the day before, we all slept in and relaxed – complete with a fire show and facemasks in the evening. We explored the peninsula our campsite sat on and I found some excellent rocks that dropped off into deep water on the western end. I caught a nice smallie with the TGO method just off one of these rocks.[paragraph break]

In the afternoon three of us paddled out to explore Malberg. We headed up into the northern arm where we’d heard there was a beach. We found it and I dropped off the other two while I paddled around trying out the basketball-net anchor and fishing the basin of that northern arm. No luck. I picked them up and we paddled through the smaller fingers on the northern arm. I caught a pike or two and we saw a very large rock formation that has been pointed out by lindylair on this forum.[paragraph break]

That evening we experimented with some just-add-water pasta… We had brought tomato sauce packets, though we hadn’t read the instructions, which called for tomatoes! We just combined it with water, added our summer sausage and plenty of parmesan cheese. The result was a gooey mess which confused our taste buds, but after someone called it “Pizza Soup” we just imagined the taste in slice form and it was delicious.[paragraph break] ~Malberg Lake

 



Day 6 of 1


Saturday, August 13, 2016

We woke up to a beautiful morning, packed our lunch, and headed out for a day trip to see the pictographs at Fishdance Lake. This turned out to be one of the most beautiful, exciting, and awe-inspiring days I’ve ever spent in the BWCA.[paragraph break]

While my girlfriend paddled, I trolled a diving rapala as we headed into the western arm of Malberg. Just before the portage, I hooked a large pike. This fish wasn’t epic, but it’s my biggest yet and the fight was exciting. Once I got him in the boat, I reach for his throat and made a big mistake. Somehow the pad of my thumb pressed up against his sharp gill plate. He thrashed and cut open a big flap of skin. I pinched it closed and held it over the water, feeling blood drip from my fingers. The shock and pain and blood made me feel faint and woozy.[paragraph break]

Luckily, my four companions were all in nursing school. During the mayhem, the other canoe had paddled over and fixed themselves to ours. My girlfriend ripped a piece of her shirt off and peeled gorilla tape from her water bottle. In less than five minutes, she had wrapped my thumb tight and stopped the bleeding – while this pike flopped on the boat with a lure still buried in its toothy mouth. Even once I was bandaged I still felt like crap, so, as our companions in the other canoe fed me M&M’s picked out of the trail mix, my girlfriend took the lure out. (Can you tell why I’m with this woman?! What a badass!!) At that point he was brutally banged up from his thrashing and so we decided to clean him for dinner.[paragraph break]

We portaged into the muddy inlet where Record Creek empties into the Kawishiwi River. After that, we had a long a beautiful paddled (with only one other portage) all the way down the Native American pictographs on Fishdance Lake. The weather, scenery, and varying width of the river was so beautiful it distracted me from my throbbing thumb the rest of the day.[paragraph break]

At Fishdance, the pictographs were time-stopping and the view from the top of the cliff they’re painted on was breath-taking. We relaxed and ate lunch. Then, after carefully swimming around the bottom of the cliff, four of our party took the big jump from the top! Exhilarating! Just before we started our journey back, a squall passed over us. From the top of the cliff we watched wind and rain move across the surface of the water. As we got back in our canoe, the sun came back out to guide our way back to camp.[paragraph break]

That evening, we enjoyed an incredible sunset from camp. We ate the pike in delicious burritos. I got a very professional dressing complete with antiseptic ointment and Steri-strips. Over the dressing, I wore a long latex glove that went half-way up my forearm and kept the wound completely dry for the rest of the trip. (Nearly a week later, the doctor told me he definitely would have stitched it up, and that he was amazed the skin flap had stayed attached and healed so well. Again, what an amazing woman!)[paragraph break] ~Malberg Lake, River Lake, Fishdance Lake

 



Day 7 of 1


Sunday, August 14, 2016

Knowing that we’d allotted two days to exit, we kept our paddling casual as we headed back through Koma, Polly, and the burned area including Kawasachong and Square. [paragraph break]

A day or two ago, we had realized that we would have some trouble on the way back: We had accidentally left the keys to the car at our exit point on Kawishiwi Lake in the car at our entry point on Sawbill Lake. As we paddled, we were extra sociable to passers by, asking each group we met if they had a sat phone. No one did, but we met a group of two fathers and their daughters who told us they were headed out and back to Sawbill Lake that evening. We wrote a note to Bill and the Sawbill staff. The note outlined a plan wherein the Sawbill staff could retrieve the missing keys from the vehicle parked in their lot, deliver them to the Kawishiwi entry point, and hide them (but not too well) for us to find the next day. Entrusting our fortune to the kind gentlemen and their daughters, we exchanged contact information and passed them our note and remaining set of keys (to open the car at Sawbill). [paragraph break]

Despite some key-based anxiety, the weather was again perfect and we enjoyed a leisurely pace. My thumb felt better enough to portage and the only excitement was a mud hole at the end of one portage, which claimed a Keen sandal.[paragraph break]

That evening after dinner, as the sun was setting, we fit all five of us in the old Grumman. This canoe was a beast and stayed fairly stable even when overloaded with us all. It was a fun, silly ride in a beautiful, solemn twilight.[paragraph break]

That night was clear and the moon was nearly full. I fished from the sloping rock face that made up most of our campsite. No fish, but the calm water, moonlight, and silence were more than an ample substitute. It felt like cool daylight. I could see to the far shore of our campsite's bay and make out each lily pad and reflected tree on the smooth silver surface of the lake. It was absolutely peaceful; a perfect last night.[paragraph break] ~Malberg Lake, Koma Lake, Polly, Lake, Kawasachong Lake, Square Lake, Kawishiwi Lake

 



Day 8 of 1


Monday, August 15, 2016

Our last morning was one of the most beautiful; with mist rising off the waters of Kawishiwi and brilliant sunlight evaporating it almost as quickly. We paddled across Kawishiwi and beached at the take out point near the Forest Service campground at about 10am.[paragraph break]

Now the real key-debacle began. We searched and searched around all the major signs (as was indicated in our note), but we could not find the keys anywhere. All we found was a little glass shooter of tequila. We wandered around the campsites looking for folks who might be heading out, and found a couple who not only offered one of us a ride to Sawbill, but they also plied the rest of our group with their remaining beers! Such wonderful people! So one of us got a ride with them on the hour-long, dirt-road trip to Sawbill Outfitters. He found Bill, who said that he had gotten the note and passed it on to one of his staff; he believed the keys were at Kawishiwi. Bill and my friend managed to jimmy open the car door and indeed, the keys were gone! So, Bill drove my friend another hour back to Kawishiwi. Upon arriving, Bill started to look for the keys and in a matter of seconds he found them five yards into the woods behind a sign and tucked under a piece of birch bark. Incredible! Now we had both sets of keys. Three of us rode back with Bill to retrieve our other car, while my girlfriend and I unpacked and sorted the gear. Our friends in Bill’s car offered to pay him his normal rate for the taxi, but he wouldn’t take it. We are sooo grateful to Bill and the rest of Sawbill Outfitters, we hadn’t even rented gear from them![paragraph break]

By the time our cars were both back at Kawishiwi and we had backed everything up, it was near 4pm. Let this be a warning to all paddlers who attempt a fancy car operation to escape a small pickup or drop-off fare.[paragraph break]

Overall, this trip had the best weather, best fishing, and best scenery of the three that I have taken. I can’t wait to get back to the BWCA, and now that I’ve finished this report, I can begin planning for the next trip![paragraph break] ~Kawishiwi Lake

 


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