BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
August 20 2017
Number of Permits per Day: 3
Elevation: 1670 feet
Cross Bay Lake - 50
Frost River, June 2006
June 09, 2006
Cross Bay Lake
Missing Link Lake (51)
Number of Days:
"Those Bungee Dealee Bobs are worth their weight in gold", I say to my wife Heidi, as we roll the
Jeep out of her Aunt's driveway and head for the freeway. We had just finished dropping off dog
number two, Aja, with Aunt Helen, and as the well behaved elder Beagle in our household, she is
getting comfortable accommodations while Heidi and I travel up North. Our newest and less fortunate
mutt Katy, on the other hand, is instead getting the kennel treatment for the full eleven days. Heidi and
I just aren't comfortable with the idea of unleashing sixty plus pounds of rambunctious eight month old
puppy on Helen quite yet.
On the way to drop off Aja, the tight straps holding down our green Old Town canoe to the top of
the car had started buzzing in the wind. Before leaving Aunt Helen's, I had dug into my small red day
pack for a handful of the nifty little Bungee Dealee Bob gizmos that we had recently purchased to help
tie loose gear, like paddles and fishing rods, to the canoe. The BDBs were among an assortment of new
gear we would be trying out for the first time on this trip, and their first application would officially
mark the beginning of our latest boundary waters adventure. So I quickly bound together each canoe
strap pair with a brightly colored BDB to prevent them from vibrating, and off we drove. The saying
"those Bungee Dealee Bobs are worth their weight in gold" would become our catch phrase for the trip,
and we laugh over this as we escape the outskirts of the Twin Cities, driving north toward Duluth and to
the BWCAW beyond. Months of planning and anticipation are finally over, and we are very excited to get
into the wilderness.
Heidi and I are relative newcomers to the boundary waters experience. I grew up in suburban
Chicago and did not do a lot of camping when I was younger. Heidi, on the other hand, was raised in
Wisconsin, where I believe camping is a requirement of citizenship. Needless to say, she brings the bulk
of our collective outdoors experience to the marriage.
After moving quite a bit over our eleven year marriage, with stints in Milwaukee, WI; Portland, OR;
and Seattle, WA; Heidi and I have finally settled into the east Twin Cities metro these past five years.
Two years ago we made our first trip into the boundary waters and immediately fell in love with it. Ever
since then, we've made it our wedding anniversary tradition, going every June. Each year we push a little
farther, attempting more portages, exploring more challenging places, and traveling deeper into the
wilderness. Each time we learn immensely more about this amazing place, what's required to travel
within it and a lot about ourselves. With each visit, my desire to return increases many times over.
By far, this year's trip will be our most challenging to date, and along with the excitement, there is
also a healthy dose of nervousness. At forty years old, with the latter half spent mostly in a chair staring
into computer monitors, I'm not exactly at my peak physical conditioning. Our first trip two years ago
was fairly easy, only requiring a few pull-overs on Hog Creek and otherwise consisting of a leisurely
base camp on Perent Lake (until 25+ knot winds made for a rather exciting and difficult exit on our last
day, but that's another story). Last year we made a series of one and two day trips around Lake One and
the South Kawishiwi River. There we got a solid dose of portaging and experienced a taste of the deeper
wilderness when we traveled along Pagami Creek, through the Weasel Lake Primitive Management Area,
while looking to see if there might be a way to Clearwater Lake. Though unsuccessful in our attempt to
find passage from Lake One to Clearwater, this small taste of exploration in the more primitive and
secluded wilderness really struck a chord. Even before returning from the trip, the gears were already
set in motion planning a return trip that would emphasize more of this brand of wilderness experience.
So when the maps came out to start the planning for this year's adventure, I knew just what kind of
place I was looking for. It would be off the beaten trail, secluded, primitive and wild. There would be
small lakes and rivers, creeks and bogs. It would be the kind of place where the wilderness comes right
up to devour the canoe, and where the wild things living within are genuinely surprised to see you. But I
knew getting to such a remote location would be considerably more difficult than anything Heidi and I
had experienced before. To reach a place where few people go usually means taking a route that's
tough to navigate.
I finally found what I was looking for on Fisher map F-12, on the west side of the Gunflint Trail.
Approximately ten miles from the trail's end, a loop extends from the Cross River and Ham Lake south
through Long Island Lake and then west along the Frost River. The Frost River section is long, winding,
sprinkled with small lakes and lined with numerous portages. The sole campsite in this area, about
midway through on Bologna Lake, is a clear indication to me that this is not a heavily traveled route. In
fact, the campsite wasn't even listed on my McKenzie map or in the GPS data I had found online.
The remaining portion of the loop after the Frost River would return us back to our starting point
by way of more heavily traveled areas beginning at Mora Lake and continuing on through Crooked and
Tuscarora. This would hopefully be the more relaxing point of the trip where we could rest a bit after
the many portages and other challenges the Frost River would likely throw our way. In all, we reserved
eight days (seven nights) to complete this loop. We'd plan on making four separate camps along the
way, leaving us with three layover days to use however we'd like. This would give us a good mix of
travel and rest time while still leaving plenty of slack in the schedule to compensate for our
inexperience. The portage total came in at around forty portages, which is roughly four times the
combined total for all (two) of our previous trips. Among those, there would be the over mile long (360
rod) portage from Tuscarora to Missing Link on our final day and assorted others in excess of 100 rods
- all of these longer than any we had traveled before. It was shaping up to be our first real serious
boundary waters trip. By comparison, the previous ones were just warmups, a mere dip of the toe into
So with canoe straps now tightly secured with BDBs, we ramble on toward the Minnesota arrowhead
with spirits high and excited minds focused on the adventure just ahead of us.
Thursday, June 8 - Arrive on the Gunflint Trail
After a smooth trip from the Twin Cities to Duluth, and then along the north shore of Lake Superior
to Grand Marais, we finally make the turn north onto highway 12, the Gunflint Trail. After some miles,
the scenery changes dramatically, but in a way difficult to describe. Somewhere you seem to travel
through a curtain, leaving the familiar highway scenery of contemporary times behind, and emerge on
the other side in a place that feels like it could be a century older. The trees appear wilder and the
vegetation seems to creep closer to the edge of the road. Before long, you begin to pass small lakes
and rivers. Bogs begin to reveal themselves in clearings, and there feels like there could be a moose
behind just about any clump of tall grass. A glimpse of granite peeking out of the ground completes
the transformation, and soon you are surrounded by the signature beauty that defines the boundary
waters and areas north into Canada. The few signs of civilization along the way consist mostly of the
occasional outfitter and canoe or kayak carrying vehicle.
Our destination for the first night is Tuscarora Lodge and Outfitters located on Round Lake in close
proximity to entry points 50 through 52. Our entry is scheduled for tomorrow morning (Friday) at Cross
Bay entry point #50, just a hop and a skip up the road from the outfitter. We arrive at Tuscarora Lodge
shortly before 5:00PM and head straight to the office where we're greeted by the lodge owner, Andy
Ahrendt. Andy sets us up with our entry permit, bunkhouse accommodations and a discount coupon for
the new Red Paddle Bistro located at the Gunflint Lodge, only a few miles over on the other side of the
Gunflint Trail. We decide to take advantage of the coupon and use it as an excuse to go check out the
Gunflint Lodge, since this is where we'll be staying the following weekend for our anniversary after the
boundary waters spits us back out.
But of course, before we can leave, we must first view the requisite BWCA video. The new version of
this video seems shorter and more to the point than the older one we've seen previously. Heidi
particularly likes the new bear segment. The old version filled you with a certain helpless fear and dread
over a possible attack from a hungry bear. The new video, in contrast, motivates you to action by
encouraging you to take up arms, load up with rocks, and unload a relentless barrage of debris upon
your shocked and frightened nemesis. I only wonder whether the bear in the video got paid extra for
having to endure that abuse and whether multiple takes were required. Those didn't look like foam
rocks to me!
After checking into our spotless bunkhouse, we stop by the supply store for fishing licenses. I
immediately notice Bungee Dealee Bobs hanging on the wall for purchase. We already have plenty, but
it's nice to see them available from the outfitter. Like our bunkhouse, the store, restrooms and shower
facilities are all spotless and in great condition. They clearly run a tight ship at Tuscarora Lodge, and
we'd gladly return on some future trip. All the folks working there are also very nice, and I suspect one
of the Tuscarora cabins might serve well in the future as a home base for a series of day trips in and
around this area.
A short ride from Tuscarora Lodge delivers us to the Red Paddle Bistro located in the main office
and dining building at the Gunflint Lodge. The bistro is essentially a series of tables surrounding a
small bar between the office and the main dining room. Heidi and I settle into some chairs at a counter-
like table by one of the windows and each order a beer and sandwich. We had heard that the food at the
Gunflint Lodge was really great, and we are not disappointed. Everything is fantastic. With the bistro
this good, we can't wait to try the main dining room the following weekend. After a week of freeze
dried pasta, granola bars and GORP, it will be a welcome shock to our taste buds.
While finishing up the meal, my eyes wander up the wall to an enormous bull moose head mounted
above. My imagination fills in the rest of the picture, and I marvel at the sheer size of this giant animal.
My thoughts move to the trip ahead and to the distinct possibility that we could awake some morning
to find such a specimen right next to our tent. With the real sense of scale vividly set in my mind, I
begin to feel a twinge of both fear and excitement. It is clear that seeing a moose from a distance or
from behind a barrier at some zoo is something entirely different than having one towering above you. I
conclude that my fear is a good thing, a healthy dose of respect for a place where animals bigger and
more powerful than myself will abound.
Upon returning to Tuscarora Lodge, we take a quick walk down by the lake to work off some of our
dinner and see more of the lodge. The evening is a bit humid and overcast, and it isn't long before the
buzzing bloodsuckers descend upon us. We decide to make a night of it and return to the bunkhouse
to make final adjustments to our gear. There is luckily no fighting over bunks, as we have nine all to
ourselves to choose from. Fatigue from the day's travel finally trumps our excitement for tomorrow's
launch, and we are soon off to sleep.
At the time we reserved our bunkhouse, we also signed up for the French toast breakfast offered at
the lodge. Even though we had a long first day of paddling planned, we decided a good send-off
breakfast would be more important than getting a really early start. So we head over to the dining
building right at our scheduled 7:00AM time and join a few other groups who are also just starting their
day. One group has a younger member who is about to enter the boundary waters for his first time.
Some of the older, more experienced members of the group are getting him all worked up about their
trip, and the younger boy's excitement becomes tangible and contagious. Heidi and I polish off our
delicious breakfast and ride that air of enthusiasm out the door and all the way to our boundary water's
The Cross Bay entry point parking area is just off of County Road 47, about halfway between the
Gunflint Trail and Round Lake. The lot can probably hold one or two dozen vehicles, and a short
stairway descending down from there leads to the boat launch. The lake at this entry point is the first of
two small unnamed lakes branching from the Cross River that eventually lead to Ham Lake. All three of
these lakes and the three portages connecting them are officially outside of the BWCAW border, but
you'd never know that if it weren't for the signs. All of them share the trademark beauty of the
boundary waters, and Ham Lake itself has four designated campsites that could make for a good
launching point for anyone arriving late in the day or for those who prefer a campsite over a
bunkhouse. A short 24 rod portage beyond Ham connects you to Cross Bay Lake and the official
Back at the boat launch, as we are loading the last of our gear into the canoe, we are joined by a
group of four young men with two canoes. They are heading to Long Island Lake for some fishing and
are traveling very light in comparison to us. They seem to be hauling nothing more than the clothes on
their back and some fishing rods. I look over at our bulging Duluth Packs and large camera bag and
determine we still have a way to go in paring down our gear. Each time we go, we seem to bring half as
much stuff as the time before, and yet it's still twice as much as we really need. I don't think we'll be
quite so bad on this trip, but there will definitely be room for improvement when we plan our next
boundary waters outing.
When the group of four learn we are doing a loop through the Frost River, one of them reveals that
they've also done this very same trip in a previous year. He continues to say it was a very tough route
that left little time for fishing or relaxing, a mistake they would not be making on their current outing.
Another member of the group goes into more detail about the tough portaging we face but also says
the scenery and seclusion are worth it. He finishes by singling out one portage in particular that is a
real beast due to its very steep ascent and even more vertical descent. I have a feeling, from trip reports
I had read, that he must be referring to a portage near Afton Lake, located at the west exit of the Frost
River. For a moment, I consider the younger age and better conditioning of these clearly more
experienced canoers and wonder if Heidi and I are really ready to take this big of a bite out of the
boundary waters. That moment doesn't last long, though. We weren't going to learn the answer to that
question sitting on the boat launch, so we carefully shove off and head across the short stretch of lake
to our first portage.
Within minutes, we are already arriving at the rocky landing of the first portage, a well beaten 50
rod trail leading to the next small lake. To the left of the portage is a rapids, obstructed a little further
up river by some tree debris. The portage itself, led by a series of wooden steps, disappears up a slight
hill. We are just beginning to remove our packs when the group we met at the landing catches up with
us. Even though we will share much of the same route today, it's obvious that they will be moving
considerably faster than us, so we let them go on ahead while I take a few pictures.
After the group of four leaves with their last load, I notice another larger group with four canoes
starting to gather back at the boat launch. The Cross Bay entry point only has three daily overnight
permits in its quota, so it would appear we're all on similar schedules. Heidi and I quickly get ourselves
organized and head off over the portage. This first series of runs is not very efficient, as we work to
find a routine. By the next portage, however, we start to settle into our procedure of unload, double
portage, and reload. The unload step entails removing our packs and securing the paddles to the canoe
thwarts with (you guessed it) Bungee Dealee Bobs. Then I put on my day pack, hoist the canoe on my
shoulders and head out. Heidi follows, carrying the waterproof camera backpack and her day pack. We
take advantage of the return trip to stop and smell the flowers (literally, in some cases), and on our
third time over we each take a Duluth Pack. Finally, with everything reunited on the other side of the
portage, paddles are freed and packs reloaded in a colorful flurry of flying BDBs.
By the time we reach Ham Lake, we're really starting to find our rhythm. I finally relax, feel the
breeze and enjoy the scenery on this beautiful sunny day. In many ways, for me, the trip really begins
Before long, we're looking for the portage out of Ham Lake, and it doesn't appear to be at the point
indicated on our map. I double check with the new GPS unit we bought for the trip, but it also has the
portage landing at roughly this same spot. I recall a previous trip report I had read that warned about
this, so we paddle along the shore until we eventually locate the portage about 200 yards southwest of
where Extortion Creek empties into Ham Lake. On the portage trail, a sign officially welcomes us to the
boundary waters. At the other side, Extortion Creek and beautiful Cross Bay Lake greet us with open
arms, channels and bays.
Cross Bay Lake is one of those signature boundary waters lakes that so many paddlers love. Its
dark waters snake their way through narrow channels of rocky outcroppings and rough forest, opening
up to the occasional creek at marshy bays filled with reeds and water lilies. The ragged and un-
manicured shoreline emphasizes that you're traveling through wilderness county now.
Toward the southern end of the lake, we go looking for and find a pretty waterfall recommended to
us by Bogwalker, an experienced paddler from one of the indispensable online boundary waters
websites. We admire the waterfall from the lake through one of the few windows in the brush we can
find, but unfortunately we can't locate a good place to land the canoe for a closer look.
On the opposite side of the lake from Bog's waterfall sits Cross Bay's southern-most campsite.
Heidi and I decide to stop there for some lunch and to take some photos before moving on. The
campsite is a really nice one, high up on a rock ledge overlooking the lake and in view of our next
portage to Rib Lake. While eating, we realize that we're traveling pretty slow and it's already well past
1:00PM in the afternoon. We'll need to pick up the pace to have any chance of making it all the way to
Frost Lake, our intended destination.
As we're packing up to go, we see a group of four canoes heading for the portage, quite possibly
the same group that had been behind us at the entry point. We put down our packs and wait as the
group, apparently two families with children, paddle by. It takes a while for the large group to clear the
portage, and we start to consider the possibility that we may need to stay somewhere earlier on our
route, like maybe Long Island Lake. I'm hoping this will not be the case, since we are planning to spend
a layover day on Frost Lake, and this would mean a lot more setting up and tearing down of camp. So
after the last canoe jumps up and disappears into the trees, we quickly set off for the portage landing.
From this point, we start to make better time, but the day is also passing quickly. On Rib Lake we
discover that the large family group has taken the sole campsite there, which means we luckily won't
have to worry about bumping into them again at another portage. On Lower George Lake, at the
landing of the portage leading to Karl Lake, our haste results in a half-tipping of the canoe that got
Heidi and me good and wet, but thankfully left most of our gear reasonably dry. As it turns out, the
unscheduled and unexpected dip actually feels good in the day's afternoon heat, and it helps add an
extra spring to our step.
Once on Karl, we now have a choice as to how we reach Long Island Lake. We could take the short
35 rod portage over the northern stem of Long Island's large central land mass, or we could instead
avoid the extra portage and paddle an extra mile around the mass. Hoping to make up some time, we
choose the portage and are rewarded. Shortly after huffing and puffing up the portage's steep ascent
with the canoe, I see a flash of pink hit the corner of my eye. Upon closer inspection, it turns out to be a
pink lady's slipper. On our return trip across the portage we take a longer look and find dozens of the
strange yet beautiful flower scattered all over the portage. For Heidi and me, this is an exciting find. I
had never seen one of these before, and we had both spent time looking for them on previous trips.
Supposedly they were blooming earlier than usual this spring, which may explain why we had missed
The evening sun is now getting noticeably low as we slide into big Long Island Lake from the rare,
but all too welcome sandy beach landing at the end of the portage from Karl. Still three or four
portages away, Frost Lake is said to have a number of these rare boundary waters sand beaches, but we
won't be seeing any of them today if we don't keep moving quickly. We both begin paddling with some
renewed vigor toward the Long Island River, which flows into the lake at its southwest corner. This
waterway will connect us with Gordon Lake where we will make a right turn west toward Frost Lake and
the beginning of the Frost River system.
It is a beautiful evening, and we see a number of canoes on the water with fishing poles extending
out over their sides. I suggest to Heidi that the group of four from this morning are likely among those
happy fisherman out there basking in the golden sunshine, having found their boundary waters
paradise this evening. We discuss stopping here for the night, but I gently push for us to move on in
hopes of finding our own slice of paradise on the Frost River. We agree that if it gets too dark or we
become too tired, we might be able to stop at the one lone campsite on Gordon Lake, assuming it's not
It isn't long before we find the Long Island River opening and leave the bright, wide open lake for
the more familiar narrows, now mostly covered in shade and getting dark quickly. The long day finally
catches up to us, but we still manage to somehow drag ourselves over the next two short portages and
into Gordon Lake. At this point, even I am ready to stop for the night, but as we glide past the one
solitary campsite and look to our left, we first see a canoe out in the water and then a tent up on shore.
Knowing what we now have to do, we steer our canoe instead to the right and head for the 140 rod
portage to Unload Lake and adjacent Frost Lake just beyond that.
Up until this point, Heidi and I had never done a portage over 60 to 70 rods - ever. And after a
long first day of nine other portages (also more than we've ever done), it is not the ideal time for our
initiation into the 100 rod club. But luckily, the long length of the day offers us just enough light, and
with a little second wind and an extra push of adrenaline we manage to grunt out all three trips across
the portage. Once on the other side, we are rewarded with high enough water levels to be spared the
final portage into Frost Lake. Instead, we push and pull ourselves through what seems like remnants of
an old beaver dam, and soon we're following the north shore of Frost Lake looking for the first available
The sun is setting quickly, so we don't even attempt to cross the lake for the three campsites on
the western shore. I'm a little disappointed by this because the sandy beaches and better moose habitat
supposedly lie over there. On the bright side, though, the eastern campsites will get the sunsets and
the last of the evening light, something we'll no doubt find very useful as we scramble to set up camp.
While passing the eastern-most campsite, we notice that it appears a bit small, enclosed, and faces
mostly south. We go a little further to the next site and notice that it faces west, is more open, but is
also unfortunately taken. A little disappointed, we double back to the first site only to discover that it's
really much bigger and more open than we had first thought. Once past its opening, Cedars and large
White Pines create a spacious canopy that shelters a large area carpeted with pine needles. Heidi and I
agree that this will be a great place to rest up over the next two nights before venturing further onto
the Frost River.
After quickly setting up camp, we settle in by the fire and dig into some freeze dried Chili Mac and
pasta. An almost full moon rises across the lake as a beautiful boundary waters sunset concludes a
wonderful, yet exhausting first day. Soon after the tree line on the far shore turns to silhouette against
the moonlit sky, we drag our weary bones into the tent and easily drift off to sleep.
I awake early this morning with sharp pain on the inside of my left knee. I had felt some discomfort
the night before, but hadn't thought much of it at the time. I just figured that I had maybe twisted it
slightly on some portage somewhere along the way. But unfortunately, today it is much worse, and I
have a difficult time extracting the leg from my sleeping bag. I get out to walk and discover that lifting
the leg with a bent knee is near impossible, making uphill walking particularly hard. With the toughest
part of our trip still ahead, this must get better quickly. If it gets any worse, it could jeopardize the trip.
Trying not to disturb Heidi, I get out of the tent to walk around a bit and hopefully loosen up the
knee. It's a very crisp, gray, foggy morning as I venture out and begin to explore our campsite. In the
brighter morning light, the campsite looks even bigger. Trails spread out in all directions, and I begin
to limp along one nice path to the west. Before long, all alone by itself among the pine needles, I spot a
pink lady's slipper. Further on, I see dozens more scattered about. We had unfortunately been too
rushed the previous day to get any good pictures of the lady's slippers we found on the portage to Long
Island Lake, so I was excited to get another chance.
I head back to camp to get coffee started, and just as I'm pouring my first cup, Heidi begins to stir
back at the tent. I hand her a cup of coffee as she emerges from our tan, gray and navy blue Kelty
Teton 4. With mugs in hand, we watch the rising sun burn away the morning mist over Frost Lake.
Our original plan for today included the possibility of heading a few portages west to Octopus Lake
on the Frost River and doing some exploration north from there into the Hairy Lake Primitive
Management Area (PMA). But my knee requires rest, and we are still both beat from the previous day's
effort, so we decide instead to stick around camp and relax. It's another spectacular day, and we enjoy
it by resting, taking pictures and eating a lot. At some point, a canoe with a couple of young fisherman
floats by, and they hook something fairly large right in front of our campsite. After they successfully
land the fish into their boat, we exchange cheers of congratulations from across the water. We
speculate that these must be members of the group staying at the next site over.
To one side of our campsite is a perfect sitting rock that becomes labeled my "thinking rock". I
don't recall actually doing much thinking there, but I do spend some quality time on it resting my sore
knee and looking out over the lake. A few yards away from the sitting rock is the camp fire grate with
nice log benches on the lake side and large boulders sheltering it from the other. On the back side of
the boulders we find the skull of some animal that someone has likely placed there. Every camp must
have it's mascot, so we figure this must be ours.
By evening, we wrap up some camp chores and settle in for another meal of freeze dried pasta. For
tomorrow, we decide to take a wait and see attitude about my knee and whether to stay another day to
rest it. I privately determine that somehow or another we will continue on, even if it means wrapping
the knee in duct tape. I didn't come all this way to the edge of the Frost River just to watch a few
sunsets and then turn around. Heidi and I watch as the full moon ascends through the trees across the
lake, and soon thereafter we turn in for a good night's rest, in hopes that tomorrow will be a day of
We are both awake shortly after sunrise, and head down to the shore to take some pictures of the
mist on the lake. Though not a lot better, my knee is certainly no worse than it was the day before, so
we make the decision to continue on to the Frost River today. The portages will no doubt be
uncomfortable, but I hope that by keeping the knee active it will also stay loose.
Unfortunately, due to the uncertainty yesterday over our plans for today, we had made the mistake
of not getting ready for an early morning departure. Even though it's a relatively short distance to
Bologna Lake, there is no guarantee that the campsite there will be available. If forced to move on to
the next site at Afton Lake, we'd be in for a very long, tough day. I was upset with myself for letting this
important detail slip.
Nevertheless, we do our best to get packed up quickly, but we've already wasted valuable hours by
the time we finally pull away from our campsite and point the canoe west toward the portage out of
Frost Lake. It's good to be paddling again, and as we head across the water we pass an unusual "rock"
that sticks up out of nowhere in the middle of the lake. This formation must be the tip of some large
underwater peninsula, and it makes our canoe seem very small as we glide over the presumably
submerged, unseen land mass. Except for this rock, we seem to have the entire lake to ourselves.
Earlier this morning, we had seen one canoe heading out the opposite side of the lake, but now there is
no sign of anyone. We don't know it at the time, but it will be quite a while before we see another
The first portage of the day, though a lengthy 130 rods, is not too bad, and my knee seems to be
holding up well enough. The portage itself is a very pretty one, with various wildflowers lining its path
and lots of paper birch popping out from among the spruce trees. Most of the way, we can hear water
off to the side of us rushing over falls and rapids as it drains from Frost Lake. On the other side of the
portage, we finally reach the spot I had been seeing in my mind on countless nights before while buried
in the region's maps. Before us is the Frost River and a reunion with the secluded waterways we first fell
in love with at Hog Creek, and then later when we paddled on Pagami Creek into the Weasel Lake PMA.
The remote rivers and creeks of the boundary waters hold a special character all their own. There's
a unique intimacy between paddler and the enclosed surroundings that you don't always get on the
larger lakes. The closeness of the natural world on all sides causes one to be less an observer and more
a participant. Each time the canoe skims through a patch of reeds, scrapes past a rock or slides over a
tree, you touch the wilderness and become an active part of it. Don't get me wrong, I love the lakes of
the boundary waters, but these remote river sections are what really keep me awake at night thinking
about that next trip.
Even before our paddles first break the surface of the Frost River, Heidi and I are already looking in
all directions for moose. This is supposedly prime moose habitat, and we don't want to miss a single
opportunity to see one. But unfortunately today, the moose must be off eating the vegetation in some
other part of the river, since we don't spot any.
As we approach the next portage leading into Octopus Lake, it becomes apparent that taking it
won't be necessary, presumably due to high enough water levels. Instead we slip through a narrow
rocky channel and into spectacular Octopus Lake. If there had been a campsite on this lake, I could
have stopped on the spot and spent the rest of our time right here. But with no such luck, I paddle on
with mouth agape.
The next portage out of Octopus Lake returns us once again to the Frost River and is the first in a
series of five short portages that all arrive in rapid succession before ending at Chase Lake. This
relatively short one mile stretch of river is likely the slowest one mile of progress we will make the
entire trip and is a prime example of why traveling light can be oh so important on trips like this. The
constant loading and unloading of packs soon gets tiresome, and the roughness of the portages begin
to wear us down. One portage in particular ends at a boulder field with no real landing to speak of. One
slip here could easily end our trip in an instant, so we take extreme care, balancing every step.
Further on, at a bend in the river, we discover a portage bypassing a beautiful little waterfall that's
not on any of our maps. We had thought we were one up on the game after slipping by the portage into
Octopus Lake, but this one evens the score. It's a quick up and down to the other side, and as we're
moving our gear we notice that someone's shoe is apparently marking one end of the trail, and a hat
the other. We wonder whether these are voluntary donations to the forestry service or evidence of
someone's failed attempt to navigate the falls. Either way we leave them to help draw attention to the
otherwise unmarked portage.
On the other side of the portage, we notice a number of disturbances in the water just beyond the
falls. At first we think it might be some beavers, but as they move closer it looks more like a group of
about five otters playing together. They appear to watch us pack up our canoe with some curiosity, but
don't seem all that concerned about our presence. As we shove off, an eagle, who must have been
watching us from a nearby tree, jumps loudly from its perch and soars off down the river. It left with
enough force to dislodge a feather in the air right above the water in front of us. We watch from the
canoe as the feather spirals down into the water, and then paddle over to have a closer look. As we
move away, I look back and capture one of those mental images that stick with a person for a very long
time. There, placed before a beautifully front-lit boundary waters backdrop, framed by the falls, was
this eagle feather rocking gently on the water. The image only lasts for an instant, not long enough to
extract a camera from our bag, but I'm not sure a photo would have accurately captured the feeling of
the moment anyway. It feels as if we are crossing over from one region of the wilderness to a deeper
more spiritual one, and it seems I may have finally found that place I have been trying to reach since
the planning of this trip first began many months ago.
A few tough portages later, we finally arrive on Chase Lake. It's late in the afternoon, evening is
fast approaching, and we're both very tired. The campsite on Bologna Lake is just one more short
portage away, just off the main river route to the south. Since another grueling stretch of Frost River
stands between us and the next campsite ahead on Afton, Heidi and I appeal to the wilderness to
forgive us our late start and let the site on Bologna be vacant.
The portage to Bologna begins with a tricky little rocky landing. It's clear from the heavier than
normal brush along the way that this is not a well traveled path - at least not by humans anyway. We
find ourselves dodging plenty of wolf scat along the way, and some of it looks rather fresh.
After our usual double portaging drill, we slog through the muddy landing at the other side and set
off onto Bologna Lake. Heidi thinks she hears voices coming from somewhere across the lake, but we
hope she's either just hallucinating or maybe hearing bullfrogs instead. In the wilderness, it's very easy
for people to think that they hear voices traveling on the wind, especially for those of us who live in
urban areas. Absent the rush of the freeway, one's ears become sensitive to all sorts of sounds that
would otherwise be drowned out. These sounds have become so foreign to so many of us that it's all
too easy to mistake the simple whistling of wind through the trees with the voices of far off campers.
I have my fingers crossed as we steer around the final bend to the campsite. There's an audible
exhale of relief from both bow and stern as we discover that the site is empty - or mostly so, anyway.
As we drag the canoe up onto the small granite shelf in front of the campsite, we notice a painted turtle
next to the fire grate apparently laying eggs. Upon further investigation, we see another dozen or so
turtle holes dotting the campsite, some still with hatched egg shell remnants lying nearby. The
campsite doubling as a turtle hatchery suggests to me that it doesn't see a lot of human visitors and
maybe also explains why there aren't any other sites around for miles. One thing is for sure, though.
Landing here has helped me attain another of my trip's goals by reaching a place where one wild thing,
at least, seemed genuinely surprised to see me.
The assault from the day's portages has taken its toll on my knee, and as we wind down in front of
the campfire it begins to tighten up significantly. We use this as an excuse to cash in another layover
day tomorrow so we can really maximize our time here at this most remote and secluded point in our
route. It's been another amazing day of experiences, and consistent with the pattern, the weather has
remained dry, sunny and warm. From across the lake, hidden somewhere among the trees now set
ablaze by the setting sun, a grouse rhythmically thumps away in hopes of attracting a partner with
whom he can share this magnificent evening. I am grateful to have Heidi sitting here beside me in this
unforgettable place and for our opportunity to share this special evening together.
I awake just before sunrise and grab the camera bag to go out and take some pictures. It's another
crisp morning, and the usual mist has collected over the lake. After taking a few shots from out in front
of the campsite, I head back behind camp and along a western facing stretch of shore that's elevated by
a long rock ledge. This vantage point offers a great view of our nearby island that's gradually becoming
exposed to the rising sun. At the brightest end of the island a loon couple is fishing in the mist for
breakfast, alternately disappearing from view and reappearing again in unpredictable locations.
I return to camp to start heating water for coffee, and while I'm rinsing some dirt from my hands at
the lake's edge, I notice a large snapping turtle approach from one side. I continue to watch until his
mouth opens and it becomes apparent that he's heading straight for my fingers. I quickly pull back my
hands, and "Buzz", as I affectionately call him, stops cold, pops his head out of the water and looks
right at me as if to say, "Hey, where'd you go with my breakfast?" He doesn't seem to be the least bit
phased by me and continues to patrol the shoreline for much of the morning.
The Bologna Lake campsite itself is not a very large site. There are two reasonable spots for a tent,
a modest campfire area, and just enough room left over for the canoe and unloaded packs. The site sits
on a fat, round point that sweeps out a north to south view, and it is primarily covered by black spruce,
balsam fir, paper birch and plenty of my favorite old raggedy jack pine. The rocky ledge along the
western shore is covered by thick, beautiful, gray and white reindeer lichen that carpets most of the
slope. At the corner of the landing in front of the site is a large bunch of blue flag iris that look so
perfectly placed that you might think they were intentionally planted there. In general, the campsite
seems a tad overgrown, but not in a sloppy or messy way. It just feels a bit more wild and a little less
beaten down than the typical site you might find in some of the boundary water's better traveled areas.
Later in the day, somewhere in between meals and camp chores, Heidi and I manage to get out in
the canoe for a tour of Bologna Lake. The lake is bigger and the shore more irregular than we had first
thought, but its bays, islands and rocky shoreline is a real feast for our eyes. At one point, Heidi thinks
she sees a moose, but it turns out only to be a bright orange coloring on a rocky outcropping at a far
side of the lake. We've been seeing plenty of evidence of moose all around us, including in camp, but
sadly there have still been no sightings.
Soon after returning to camp, we begin preparations for tomorrow's next leg of our trip. This time
we hope to be off shortly after sunrise so that we have plenty of time to complete the Frost River and
get as close to Mora or Crooked Lake as possible. Considering the difficulty we had with the first half of
the river, we decide to approach this second half very conservatively. Our weather radio is predicting a
good change of rain and storms tomorrow, so it appears our streak of great weather may be close to an
end. Traveling in bad weather tomorrow could slow us down significantly. Also, even though my knee
shows some signs of improvement, it could become a factor as well.
As evening falls, Heidi and I load up on a filling dinner of freeze dried eggs and potatoes wrapped
in tortillas. As we're eating, we notice a painted turtle eyeing the rock ledge landing just a few yards
away. Soon there's another, and another, and then another. Like something out of a Hitchcock movie,
the invasion of the turtles has begun! Assuming the turtles are simply eager to tend to their eggs, Heidi
and I finish up quickly and prepare for bed. After tonight, the turtles will have the place back to
We slip into our tent just as clouds are starting to obscure the mostly full moon that lights up our
secluded wilderness lake tonight. And as we're lying there in our sleeping bags, off in the distance to
one side of the lake, we hear the howl of a wolf. It's a hair-rasing sound, but beautiful, haunting and
even a bit melancholy all at the same time. Moments later, the one howl is joined by a louder chorus of
howls, all coming from the general vicinity of the portage in from Chase Lake. Soon after that, the
howls spread further to the other side of the lake, and now there are two groups of wolves calling back
and forth across the moonlit lake. Positioned in the middle of this exchange, Heidi and I lay motionless
and quiet, cherishing every moment. It may have been the single most beautiful thing I have ever heard.
I can't say how long the baying continued, because the cries soon carried me off to sleep. But if for
no other reason than for this one moment, all the effort in getting to this wild place had instantly
become worth it.
Emerging from the tent this morning feels a little different than on previous mornings. The sky is
overcast, and the air is heavy with the smell of approaching rain. It's a little past 5:00AM as we pull on
our rain gear and race to pack things up. But unfortunately, the rain arrives too fast and catches us
before we can finish taking down the tent. It rains hard for a while, and we wait hoping it will subside.
Not wanting to delay our start any longer than necessary, however, we finally decide the tent will be wet
no matter what we do, so we quickly take it down and prepare to head out in the rain. About half way
across Bologna Lake, the sky starts to lighten up (of course!), and by the time we complete the portage
into Chase Lake, the rain has stopped.
At the very next portage to Pencil Lake, the sun begins to peek through the clouds. The portage
from Chase to Pencil is a steep up and down with a slippery rock face on the down slope. Heidi and I
work together to get the canoe over these inclines, and soon we're heading down the aptly named, long
and narrow Pencil Lake. The lake is a very pretty one and no doubt great moose habitat, but as usual,
the only evidence of moose we see is yet more droppings on the portage at the other end. This portage
out of Pencil Lake, at approximately 50 to 60 rods, is the longest of all the marked portages along the
Frost River between Frost and Mora Lake. It leads to the next long stretch of river and actually runs
along the opposite (south) side of the exiting waterway from the location shown on all the maps.
Perhaps the portage was rerouted at some point in the past.
Upon reaching the other side of the portage with my first load, I step to the river bank to put down
the canoe, and one leg immediately sinks past the knee into the muck. It takes me a few moments
before I realize that it's going to require some real effort to extricate myself from this awkward
position. I don't have much to support myself against, and every attempt to pull the leg free is met with
an equally formidable counter-force that sucks it back down. I could pull just my foot out, but the last
thing I want to do at this point in the trip is lose one of my new Chota Trekker boots. Heidi is still back
on the portage somewhere, leaving me alone in this comic predicament. I chuckle to myself as I
imagine the headline, "Man Stuck in Muck Trampled by Thirsty Moose". But just before Heidi emerges
from the portage, I do manage to wiggle the leg free. I tell her we'll be loading the canoe a little further
down the river, preferably by some rocks.
The following section of river proves to be the most difficult. After a short distance of paddling
between boulders and scraping over rocks, we decide to walk the canoe instead. I discover that walking
a canoe down a river, past rocks and through rapids, can actually be kind of fun and very convenient. I
was already wet from the day's rain, so wading waist deep in the cool water was no longer a big deal. I
remember back to some other times when we've struggled to move the canoe, and I think about how
much easier it would have been if we had simply gotten out and walked it. I learn that a paddler's life
can be so much easier if you just resign yourself to getting wet.
Toward the end of this little river water adventure, we begin to see dark and ominous clouds
gathering around us. We approach a small portage just as the first rumbles of thunder begin to roll
down the narrow river valley. We quickly cover the gear with the canoe and drape a tarp over some
nearby saplings. It's about half past noon, and for the next hour or so, we sit under the tarp, eat some
lunch, and listen to the thunder, rain and bubbling rapids cascading beside us. Heidi and I love storms,
but we usually don't make a habit of sitting out in the middle of them. Being forced to do so now
reminds me of what a peaceful and even romantic experience it can actually be, assuming the storm
isn't a violent one.
When we are confident the lightning has finally past, we collect our gear and slide ourselves back
onto the Frost River. The water on this side of the portage is more open with fewer rock obstructions,
so we are now able to paddle more freely. As we navigate this winding stretch of river, our main
obstacle becomes beaver dams. Beaver dams are both a blessing and a curse, as I see it. The blessing is
on the dammed-up side where the water is high and still. The curse, however, is having to lift over, or
in some cases portage around, these sturdy structures.
At one particularly large beaver dam, we decide that the drop on the other side is simply too steep
for a safe lift-over, and we'll need to portage. But a thorough search of both shorelines fails to turn up
a path around the obstruction. We pull off to one side and I begin to look for a way through the brush.
It takes a little while, but I finally manage to bushwhack a clumsy path through to the other side. I know
we're not the only one's to have come by here this spring, so I figure we must have missed a lift-over
spot somewhere. But the effort was not a total waste. There is something memorable about blazing
your own trail in the wilderness, no matter how small it happens to be.
A few more beaver dams and a couple of portages later, we finally reach Afton Lake and the end of
the Frost River. Leaving the narrow river banks for the wide open lake makes me feel as if we've finally
reached civilization again. Look! There's even a campsite across the way. But that feeling doesn't last
long. Aside from the vacant campsite, it soon becomes clear that we still have a long way to go before
the wilderness surrenders to anything remotely resembling civilization.
Even though evening is approaching, Heidi and I pass up the nice looking campsite on Afton and
decide instead to press on to the campsite two lakes further up on Whipped Lake. We are soon
reminded that the wilderness is still in charge, as we land at the short 20 rod portage to Fente Lake.
This is the one we had previously been warned about in numerous trip reports and by the group at the
boat launch on our first day. As we look up the steep slope, it becomes clear that the descriptions are
no exaggeration. The path up is very steep, and the other side is an almost straight drop down a 50
foot granite cliff. Heidi and I let out a groan as we study the way down off the top of the portage, which
also overlooks an impressive rapids further below and to the side of the "path". It takes a little while,
but together we successfully manage to move all our gear over the portage, contributing only a minimal
amount of canoe paint to the existing reds, greens and silvers that adorn the granite cliff and
The remaining trip through Fente and onto Whipped Lake is a breeze in comparison to the previous
"cliff portage". Bisecting the long and narrow Fente Lake is a small rapids that we easily pull through,
and except for this one disturbance, the lake is otherwise very still and smooth like glass. Heidi is
particularly taken with Fente Lake, and I understand why. As the sun lowers on this dark gem of a lake,
the side-lit shoreline produces spectacular reflections on the water. The dark and closed-in feel of the
lake gives it a kind of mysterious or even magical quality. This would be a wonderful lake to stay on,
but perhaps appropriately, there are no campsites here.
Our full day's journey finally comes to an end as we pass in front of the vacant campsite on
Whipped Lake and turn east toward a suitable landing spot. We have little daylight left, so we scramble
to set up camp and set things out to dry. Clearing skies bode well for tomorrow, and after a quick meal
of warm potato soup and some photos of the sunset, Heidi and I pour ourselves into our damp tent for
In the morning, we awake a little later than planned. The sun is already up, and my opportunity for
a beautiful misty lake sunrise photo has already evaporated. As Heidi prepares freeze dried blueberry
cheesecake to go with our breakfast (hey, what can I say, we had a taste for it), I spend some time
photographing the campsite and surrounding scenery.
The Whipped Lake campsite is located at a really nice place on this very pretty lake. It's on a point
at a narrows across from a varied landscape that includes rocky shoreline and marshy bog. Again, it
looks like an ideal moose hangout, and the usual evidence of their recent presence in and around camp
would seem to back this up. The campsite itself is a little cramped and somewhat overgrown, and
finding a nice flat tent spot that does not lie in the direct path of one of the many moose trails can be a
challenge. But there's a rock ledge out in front of the site, at the very tip of the point, that provides a
wonderful panoramic view. I can imagine spending an entire day here bathing in the sun or casting a
fishing line. In fact, just last evening, the fish were jumping so much right off this point that I fully
expected to have one land in the pot sitting on our fire.
It's too bad we can't stay here longer, but today we need to make enough progress toward our exit
point so we can enjoy a final layover day without the worry of being surprised by bad weather and
possibly having to travel long distances on our last day. As we pack up and head out, I'm already
thinking ahead to a possible future trip that could include another visit to this remarkable area.
Today's route to big Tuscarora Lake will include five portages and four intermediate lakes: Mora,
Tarry, Crooked and Owl. The first 100 rod portage to Mora goes very smoothly, as our portaging
efficiency continues to improve and our muscles learn to ignore the now ever-persistent aches and
fatigue. Reaching the next portage to Tarry requires walking the canoe past some rocks and over
submerged tree limbs, but by now this is beginning to seem routine. At the third portage to Crooked
Lake, we see something we haven't seen in quite a while - people!
Yes, emerging there at the shoreline are four young men with two canoes. As we wait for the group
to clear the portage, we calculate that it's been well over three days since we've seen anyone. We knew
we'd begin seeing people again today at some point, but the moment still catches us a little by surprise.
As we're watching the group, it becomes apparent that at least one of the canoes is stuck among some
boulders. "Great!" I think to myself. "Another boulder field." After some uncomfortable sounds of
groaning and scraping aluminum, the canoe is finally freed and the group departs, but as we approach
the boulder field we realize that the correct location of the portage is actually about 75 feet up the
shoreline to the east. We breath a sigh of relief as the real portage turns out to be a fairly unremarkable
one. When we eventually pass the boulder field on our first trip over the portage, it appears that it's an
extension of the river bed that we're portaging around. Heidi and I guess that the group had either tried
unsuccessfully to run the rapids or maybe just took a wrong turn off the path.
Once on Crooked Lake, we begin to see a lot more people, both on the water and at campsites.
Crooked had originally been a place where we had planned to stay, but after spending the extra day on
Bologna Lake and with some weather concerns about the next two days, we decided instead to head for
the far east side of Tuscarora Lake and get as close as possible to our final day's portage out.
On the portage from Crooked to Owl, we are joined by a group of scouts who are also headed to
Tuscarora Lake. Luckily, we have enough of a head start and they're a large enough group that we don't
slow them down. After a quick paddle across Owl Lake and a final 63 rod portage to Tuscarora, Heidi
and I finally set off onto the largest lake in our entire loop. Shortly after getting under way, we're
greeted by an eagle who watches us pass from a nearby treetop. This must be his lake, and he appears
to be keeping a very close eye on things.
Fortunately for us, the lake is reasonably calm this evening, and the wind does not cause us a lot of
problems. We travel the full length of the lake, following the southern shore from west to east, hoping
to find one of the eastern-most sites vacant. As we approach the east side, we notice that most, if not
all, of the sites to the north are occupied. In stark contrast to the seclusion we've enjoyed up until this
point, it's clear that tonight we'll be sharing the wilderness with a lake full of people. We head around
another peninsula toward a campsite in the southeast corner of the lake, and after some searching back
and forth, we finally locate it. We're relieved to find the site both vacant and facing the setting sun.
The campsite is perched atop a large rock outcropping, and you must first climb a steep little slope
to get up to it from the water. Down at the water's edge, long slabs of flat rock equip the shoreline with
a really nice platform that drops off sharply into very deep water. This arrangement makes for a
particularly attractive swimming area. Up above, on the large rock outcropping, is the fire grate and a
log bench. For some reason, we have trouble keeping a good fire going in this grate, and after
unsuccessfully trying a number of fixes, we conclude that maybe there's a draft seeping up from
beneath it, possibly from a crack in the rock slab.
One thing that definitely sets this campsite apart is the wilderness latrine. Unlike most of the bug
infested rat's nests where the latrine is usually found, this one is instead surrounded by beautiful wild
roses. I've never seen such an organized arrangement of wild roses in a camp before, so I'm guessing
this is the product of someone with a good sense of humor. The rest of the site is not all that large, and
there's really only one or maybe two places for a tent. But the site is attractive, well suited for two
people, and Heidi and I are very pleased with it.
As the sun sets, it soaks our entire campsite with a warm golden light that gradually blends into a
soft rosy pink. Our site provides a great view down the full length of the lake toward the setting sun,
and we sit out on our rock above the lake admiring the sky as the pink turns to purple and then dark
With a layover day tomorrow and the most difficult portion of the trip behind us, we stay up a little
later tonight and watch as the stars increase their numbers. Somewhere off in the distance, singing
erupts from one of the lake's nearby campsites. Heidi and I are "treated" to a tonally challenged and
somewhat disorganized rendition of Joan Jett's classic, "I Love Rock n' Roll". The wilderness is starting
to become a little less wild tonight, but that's okay with us. We're still having a great time, and a little
dose of civilization is not totally unwelcome at this point.
Heidi and I are up at 7:00AM this morning to more sun and clear skies. We feast on a big breakfast
of potatoes and eggs before digging into camp chores. The weather radio suggests that we might be in
for some rain and storms later tonight or tomorrow, so our decision to exit via the more direct route
through Missing Link Lake remains a sound one.
There are two portages out of Tuscarora Lake to the east. At the northeast corner is the over one
mile long (360 rod) portage to Missing Link Lake which exits the boundary waters by way of a 140 rod
portage to Round Lake. Round Lake has a public boat launch with a road that leads back past our
original entry point about a mile away. The other portage out of Tuscarora heads straight out to the
east, and is just around a point to the north of our campsite. This lengthy 250 rod portage travels
through Howl Swamp and leads to Hubbub, Copper, Snipe and eventually Cross Bay Lake, where our
trip loop joins back up with our initial day one route. This latter course includes a total of seven
portages and would require a much longer day of travel, especially in bad weather.
Our original trip plans had us exiting by way of the Howl Swamp portage and included a one night
stay on Snipe Lake. I had really wanted to see this area after reading about it in trip reports, but our
journey through the Frost River has taken its toll on us. We are both tired and do not feel like playing
chicken with the weather, so the decision was made to take the route through Missing Link Lake
instead. Unfortunately, there is only so much one can fit into a single boundary waters trip, and a visit
to Snipe Lake will have to wait for a future one.
Heidi and I spend most of the afternoon taking pictures, fishing and napping. I manage to get
caught up on my journal while Heidi catches up on some rest. Late in the afternoon, clouds move in and
we get a few light showers. We retreat to the tent to keep dry, and before long the rain stops and the
clouds begin to break. We devote some time preparing for tomorrow's trip out, and after a final freeze
dried dinner of macaroni and cheese, buttery herb pasta and Nick's Couch Potatoes, we retire for our
last night's sleep inside the BWCAW.
Our final day starts at 6:00AM. The skies look threatening, so we pack up camp in a hurry. Unlike
the day we left Bologna Lake, though, the rain luckily stays away this time. We scarf down a couple of
granola bars, top off our water bottles and prepare to head out.
I'm a little nervous about our upcoming monster portage. It's three times longer than any of the
previous ones we've crossed, and I'm not exactly sure how my shoulders will respond to carrying a
canoe over a mile. Since we double portage, the total distance we'll be walking is about four miles, with
two thirds of that lugging heavy gear. Clearly we'll need to stop for breaks along the way and not push
too hard. On the bright side, however, the advantage to this route is that we'll only have two portages
to cross and two small lakes to paddle, so we can afford to take our time.
With the canoe now fully loaded, Heidi and I slip onto Tuscarora Lake and head north for the
portage to Missing Link. The water is calm and we make quick progress. The portage itself is located on
the other side of a point that extends out into the northeast corner of the lake. Approaching this point,
we notice that it happens to host a campsite that's occupied by a group of young men and women. As
we paddle by the site, a couple of the nice young men drop their shorts and flash us with a friendly
gesture we can only interpret to mean "safe travels". Perhaps these are the same talented folks who
entertained us last night with their impressive singing voices.
Soon after passing the moons rising over the point, Heidi and I arrive at the portage landing. Andy
back at the Tuscarora Lodge had described this portage as a "highway", and I had optimistically
construed this to mean "wide and flat". Heidi, however, had a different interpretation. She thought he
meant to imply "congested". Well, I think Heidi got it right. The portage is anything but wide and flat.
There are plenty of ups and downs with a healthy dose of rocks, mud and other assorted obstructions.
No one particular stretch is all that bad, but when spread over such a long distance, all the little things
become magnified. To make matters worse, every time we stop for a break, the mosquitos descend
upon us. The portage is also plenty busy. We pass a number of groups including a team of two adults
and two children, a family of five with a dog, and another couple about our age. It isn't pretty, but some
three and a half hours later, Heidi and I are finally pushing off onto Missing Link Lake and are waving
goodbye to this portage.
Unfortunately, our celebratory paddle across Missing Link does not last nearly long enough, and
before we know it we're off again onto our final 140 rod portage to Round Lake. On the Round Lake
side of the portage, we meet up with a nice group of four younger men who are just starting their trip.
We stop and talk a short while and learn that they're heading to Little Saganaga. Three of the members
are on their very first boundary waters trip, and the one experienced member is helping them get
organized on this first portage. As they head off, Heidi and I wish them well and hope the weather
continues to hold for them. Upon returning for our second load back on the Missing Link side, we again
meet up with the group and find a couple of them starting back over with our Duluth Packs. We thank
them for the very kind thought, but tell them they'd better save that energy for the next portage,
because they're going to need it! We transfer the packs, and after a wave and a "thank you" we head
back over for one final time, leaving the group and the boundary waters behind.
After one last tough paddle against the wind to the boat landing on Round Lake, I head off on the
mile-long walk back to the Jeep over at the Cross Bay entry point. I return shortly, and we load the gear
into the car. While tying down the canoe, I notice that it has collected quite a few new bumps and
scratches since it was lifted off the rack eight days ago. Heidi and I have also collected a few of those
bumps and scratches, and it's finally time for all three of us to have a rest. Heidi and I drag ourselves
into the car and head off down the gravel road for the Gunflint Lodge where we'll recuperate for the
next two days and celebrate our 11th wedding anniversary.
The next day, while driving up the Gunflint Trail on our anniversary, Heidi and I finally see the
moose that we have been trying so hard to find during our three trips into the boundary waters. It is a
subtle reminder to us that we have only just begun to scratch the surface when it comes to
experiencing the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. There's still so much left for us to discover,
and I can't wait for the next trip to begin.