BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog

August 18 2017

Entry Point 60 - Duncan Lake

Duncan Lake entry point allows overnight paddle only. This entry point is supported by Gunflint Ranger Station near the city of Grand Marais, MN. The distance from ranger station to entry point is 30 miles. Access is from W. Bearskin Lake with a 75-rod portage to Duncan Lake and Stairway Portage. This area was affected by blowdown in 1999.

Number of Permits per Day: 3
Elevation: 1432 feet
Latitude: 48.0709
Longitude: -90.4517
Duncan Lake - 60

Fishing on thin ice....Spring 2010

by Beemer01
Trip Report

Entry Date: February 23, 2010
Entry Point: Duncan Lake
Number of Days: 5
Group Size: 5

Trip Introduction:
Dr. Mark (Vikinfan) had called months in advance. "I'm organizing an ice fishing trip to the BWCA this Spring… interested?" Well….given that my ice fishing experience had, to that point, consisted of a snowmobile fuelled excursion into the Wilds of Canada well West of Quetico - where the primary activities were very high speed runs across very large lakes on very powerful and very fast snow machines …fishing a somewhat secondary activity to smoking cigars and riding these sleds at 90 miles per hour….. I, of course, agreed. Vikinfan had organized a veritable expedition. He had to have spent $3000 on gear for this trip - Cabelas probably saw their quarterly profits spike as a result of Mark's procurement for this expedition. The week leading up to this trip was, however disconcerting. Temps in the BWCA had hovered in the 50s and reports had all the snow in the forests melted. I emailed Mark and he had considered - briefly - cancelling the trip but less sane heads prevailed and we stubbornly stayed the course. The Ice would still be thick enough…. right? And Dr. Mark had all this gear…. And I essentially had nothing other than my summer gear with an extra sleeping bag, my BWCA.com fleece jacket, mittens, long underwear and a fleece vest… and the promise that I could borrow fishing gear and other stuff from the other guys. We're going.

Part 1 of 5


Day One March 23

I left Chicago at 3:00AM and drove to St. Paul to meet Mark.[paragraph break]

Holy Crap. His Toyota Sequoia 4X4 had a trailer attached and a fair amount of gear loaded and ready to go. The last time I went winter camping I had a 30 degree summer bag, a pup tent, an external frame backpack and snow shoes. Mark, however, seemed to have enough stuff out outfit the Minnesota National Guard for an invasion of Canada.[paragraph break]

We drove a bit North and met up with two other brave BWCA.com folks in a suburb North of St. Paul - loaded their gear into the giant trailer and we headed North.[paragraph break]

I personally napped in the far back seat, catching up on the sleep I lost by waking up at 2:00AM and driving 400 miles.[paragraph break]

I woke up somewhere South of Duluth and tried to join the conversations already underway. Dr. Luke was in his residency at the University of Madison and Craig - his Brother-in-law - is a banker. A fifth member - Greg - was going to somehow meet us up there. Where ever that was going to be. Dr. Mark fortunately seemed to have a plan - ice or no ice.[paragraph break]

I glanced out the windows of the Toyota - no snow - anywhere.[paragraph break]

Would there be actual ice in the promised land?[paragraph break]

We stopped at a legendary outfitting store in Duluth where I realized how out of my element I was going to be on this trip. Ice grippers for your boots? Ciscos? Walking Poles? Sleds? I had a CCS portage pack and 40 pounds of gear, including my food. Oh boy.[paragraph break]

I resisted the siren song of buying more gear and figured I'd depend on the generosity of these strangers. [paragraph break]

We reloaded the now near military grade Toyota and trailer (think invading hordes) and hit Highway 61 seeking the promised land. Mark activated his 'in vehicle' movie system and I got to watch a very small screen HD versions of the movies everyone else had already seen as I sat in that far back seat. Eventually we reached Grand Marias in the dark and headed up the Gunflint Trail to the lodge where Dr. Mark has wisely reserved us a heated cabin for that evening.[paragraph break]

We pulled into the essentially empty lodge and moved our personal gear to the warm cabin, then quickly adjourning to the lodge for beer, drinks and strangely enough a 'all you can eat' Crab leg feast. [paragraph break]

[IMG]http://i54.photobucket.com/albums/g96/Beemer10/CopyofP3230012.jpg[/IMG]

At some point during the evening we were joined by Dr Mark's sister and Brother in law. I think I had a salad as Mark, his brother in law and Luke tried to break the Lodge record for crab legs consumed in a single sitting. His sister may have been involved too - I was quickly losing track.[paragraph break]

We settled the bills and I was ready to stagger back to the cabin when Drs. Mark and Luke decided to buy a case of beer to go to bring this rolling party back to the cabin. I think late night poker was involved. [paragraph break]

[IMG]http://i54.photobucket.com/albums/g96/Beemer10/CopyofP3230017.jpg[/IMG]

A harbinger of things to come.[paragraph break]

At this point Mark unveiled absolute killer beer can cosies customized for each member of the group, made from heavy leather and handtooled with our names - courtesy of Dicecupmaker! Wow!

From my perspective it was 11:30 and I was beat. I drank one beer using my new cosie and quietly retreated to my assigned bunk. Fortunately I can sleep thru almost anything. And did.

 



Part 2 of 5


Day Two. March 24

I awoke at 6:00AM and started the coffee, after stepping over bodies and coats on the floor. There was a single beer left from the case. Groans were heard when I flipped on the light in the cabin - dimmers weren't part of the décor. Coffee perking, I tried to awake the sleeping bodies - Dr. Mark was the last to stir, draped as he was across two adjacent chairs with a blanket tossed across his frame. [paragraph break]

"Rise and shine Ladies" I called out turning on the rest of the lights. We ate something for breakfast and somehow the rest of the crew staged out to the vehicles in the muddy parking lot. We'd arrived in the dark, but the lodge hosts thought that there would still be ice in the lakes we were headed to. For a while, anyhow.[paragraph break]

We headed to our designated entry point and began to unload the impossible pile of gear onto the EP parking lot. OMG.

[IMG]http://i54.photobucket.com/albums/g96/Beemer10/P3230003.jpg[/IMG] Duffles, packs, a wood stove, 5 gallon pails, racks of rods, sleds, slabs of plywood, more duffels. We moved this pile down and started to load the sleds. We must have had 600 pounds of gear spread out if we had a pound.[paragraph break]

I had a portage pack that weighed 40 pounds including my food rations for 4 days. My head was spinning as we loaded the sleds on the slick ice. Thanks to borrowed ice grippers I wasn't slipping as I moved around on the polished ice trying to be helpful.

[IMG]http://i54.photobucket.com/albums/g96/Beemer10/CopyofP3230025.jpg[/IMG]

Temps however were a pleasant 40 or so degrees with bright sunshine.[paragraph break]

I discovered that in these conditions a 300 pound loaded sled could be pulled with a single finger. Cool. But only on ice.[paragraph break]

[IMG]http://i54.photobucket.com/albums/g96/Beemer10/P3230027.jpg[/IMG]

I hiked very carefully across the lake, my pack on my back, examining the ice step by step as my band of slightly hung over companions pulled their sleds noisily across the endless frozen lake. Too soon we arrived at a formidable and utterly bare (and steep) portage.[paragraph break]

Almost without a pause the crew began to drag their loaded sleds and sledges up and over this rocky barrier - I made three round trips hand carrying some of the gear that would have toppled out of the sleds as my companions put their shoulders to the lines and like the huskies of the Iditarod Race mushed their loads up, up and over this portage.

[IMG]http://i54.photobucket.com/albums/g96/Beemer10/P3230036.jpg[/IMG] [IMG]http://i54.photobucket.com/albums/g96/Beemer10/P3230037.jpg[/IMG] [IMG]http://i54.photobucket.com/albums/g96/Beemer10/P3230035.jpg[/IMG]

By the time we finished, the weather had warmed up a bit more. And we had warmed up a lot more. Greg and I struck out for what looked to be a good place to pick out a site for the ice bound base camp on what we hoped was the highest and hopefully the most sheltered part of the lake.[paragraph break]

Who knows. Anyhow the sun shone and the ice seemed to have enough traction and thickness to walk on more or less safely.[paragraph break]

We selected a spot and began to set up the Cabelas Tent system, wood stove, chairs and cots that Dr. Mark had bought. This took no fewer than four hours. I began to see what all this weight had been about. We drilled holes in the ice and twisted in threaded tent stakes covering each of them with piles of ice chips.

[IMG]http://i54.photobucket.com/albums/g96/Beemer10/P3240045.jpg[/IMG] [IMG]http://i54.photobucket.com/albums/g96/Beemer10/P3240044.jpg[/IMG] [IMG]http://i54.photobucket.com/albums/g96/Beemer10/P3240046.jpg[/IMG] [IMG]http://i54.photobucket.com/albums/g96/Beemer10/P3240050.jpg[/IMG]

Assembling the cots was a bit of a puzzle, but eventually two, two man cots were positioned in the tent with a single man cot in the vestibule, a steel wood stove with an attached water tank for hot water in the corner and …. two ice fishing holes in the 18" thick ice in the corner. (Mark had the tent extensively customized too). Wow.

[IMG]http://i54.photobucket.com/albums/g96/Beemer10/P3240062.jpg[/IMG]

This looked like a distinct improvement over my previous winter camping trips of huddling around tiny fires with blackened ice and snow, cold sleeping bags, frozen boots, spare food rations and warming up frozen Pop Tarts on a stick over the sputtering fire.[paragraph break]

Now the quest for wood - still a nonstop activity when winter camping - and this time the wood sources were hundreds of yards away across the frozen lake. Craig and Luke went to the near shore and labored with a saw to glean a sled full of wood, Bryan and Greg went to an adjacent campsite and found quite a bit of wood already cut and split to order. We quickly filled our sled with solid quality wood and returned to the base camp, handily beating the other team in quality, speed and quantity of wood for the hungry stove.

[IMG]http://i54.photobucket.com/albums/g96/Beemer10/P3240052.jpg[/IMG]

Obviously Team A cried foul - but we did get that heavy steel stove fired up and the interior of the tent was quickly at a toasty 70 degrees![paragraph break]

Dr. Mark also had an ultra secret plan and he disappeared across the lake and into the forest with a saw in hand. 45 minutes later he emerged from the forest with a 35 foot limbed pine trunk over his shoulder. Looking more than a little like Paul Bunyan.

[IMG]http://i54.photobucket.com/albums/g96/Beemer10/P3240054.jpg[/IMG]

This was to be a flag pole - to which Dr. Mark quickly affixed a pulley, rope and three flags including a custom made flag that our Packer Friends may not find as fully funny as we did.

[IMG]http://i54.photobucket.com/albums/g96/Beemer10/P3230043.jpg[/IMG] [IMG]http://i54.photobucket.com/albums/g96/Beemer10/P3260092.jpg[/IMG]

Craig used the Ice auger to bore a hole perhaps 16" deep into the 18" ice - and acting like the team at Iwa Jima erected the pole… and the flags snapped noisily and proudly in the building West wind. This - we suspect - was a first ever in the BWCA.

Speaking of that razor sharp ice auger - the team quickly began to drill holes all around the camp, setting complex tip ups and even radio controlled tip ups with a receiver back in the warm tent.

[IMG]http://i54.photobucket.com/albums/g96/Beemer10/P3240059.jpg[/IMG]

That sharp West wind carried in a storm front - soon blowing snow and rain pelted our tent - however we were snug, warm and cozy in our basecamp tent. I drifted off to the sounds of cracking lake ice that sounded like a distant artillery battle. That would change in the days ahead…..

[IMG]http://i54.photobucket.com/albums/g96/Beemer10/Copy2ofP3240072.jpg[/IMG]

 



Part 3 of 5


Day three March 25

Overnight several of our tip ups had popped and we had Laker filets for breakfast - Luke and Mark did the filleting honors while I refired the wood stove and brewed coffee.

[IMG]http://i54.photobucket.com/albums/g96/Beemer10/P3240068.jpg[/IMG] [IMG]http://i54.photobucket.com/albums/g96/Beemer10/P3240067.jpg[/IMG] [IMG]http://i54.photobucket.com/albums/g96/Beemer10/P3240063.jpg[/IMG]

Craig and Greg were dispatched to fetch more wood. (Fetch wood became a catch phrase)

The tip up pattern showed that the best fishing had been in 14-18' of water. Pop - out of another duffle came an enormous ice shelter - roughly the size of a one car garage. Six holes were bored and a slick Ice saw (I'd been wondering what that was) was produced - we connected all six holes and withdrew the blocks of ice. The now erected shelter was positioned over this open water trench and the effect was amazing - with the shelter over our heads we could clearly see the bottom and our various lures and could watch the Lakers cruise by slowly examining our offerings.

[IMG]http://i54.photobucket.com/albums/g96/Beemer10/P3260089.jpg[/IMG]

Chairs were set up around the 2.5' x 9' rectangular opening and we amused ourselves watching the occasional Laker attack our jiggling lures. Who needs HD TV?

After a while we decided to head to the far side of the lake and the open rapids - hiking up on the high bluffs to catch a glimpse of Canada. I will say that walking miles across open glare ice uses different muscles than you use in everyday city life!

Fishing improved however and dinner that evening - our last evening - was to be Turf and Surf - filets, baked potatoes and filets of the Lakers we'd been catching all day. Wine and merriment ensued with some very stimulating discussions on recent works by Jared Diamond like Collapse and Guns, Germs and Steel. (BTW, Dr. Mark is also one of the smartest people I know and had gathered a pretty cerebral bunch for this trip).

These books were to be required reading prior to the trip in, however it wasn't clear to me that everyone got that memo.

That evening I was drawn (dragged) into the evening poker game. I don't play poker, I don't like games and I worked really hard to play dumb and lose my $5 stake as quickly as I could. Unfortunately, to my frustration I kept winning. Eventually the gambling gods tired of me, allowed me to lose and I wormed into my lower bunk and dozed off.

At about 3 in the morning the fire had gone out and my colleagues were slumbering deeply when that distant artillery fire struck close as a crack suddenly appeared directly below our bunks. Everyone woke up with a start at the sharp sound - no danger - but what a wakeup call!

 



Part 4 of 5


Day Four March 26

I noted with a little alarm that there was a persistent and growing pond of water beneath the wood stove - the frequent heat was having a predictable effect and melting that end of the tent slowly into the lake. Mopping it up didn't work. For more than a few minutes.

[IMG]http://i54.photobucket.com/albums/g96/Beemer10/P3260098.jpg[/IMG]

Add to this the fact that it was clearly getting warmer outside. The evening before had us in a steady rain which was pooling on the ice… and an early Spring continuing it's relentless advance. I walked over to the shelter and our fishing trench - I might have imagined this, but it looked like the previous 18" thickness was a lot closer to 12" thick now.

[IMG]http://i54.photobucket.com/albums/g96/Beemer10/P3270102.jpg[/IMG] [IMG]http://i54.photobucket.com/albums/g96/Beemer10/P3270101.jpg[/IMG]

The flags flew strongly, the water got deeper on the lake (and around our stove) and we kept fishing. Greg and I are not big ice fishermen but he brought his cross country skis and discovered he could skate across lakes and really build up speed. I think he covered 19 miles one day out there! I puttered around and occasionally lifted the poles out of the paws of sleeping anglers or tugged on their line just to see them wake up with a start and a shout!

That ice was definitely looking thinner - what was that safety limit? Did having 8 billion gallons on water on top of the lake ice make a difference? How much did that weigh?

Another crack boomed and went right through our icehouse bisecting our trench. That woke the fishermen up!

Yep, Spring was coming early this year!

The evening before we'd dropped a couple of Ciscos onto the lake floor below our fishing trench - gone by morning. By golly we were chumming for Lake Trout - Lakers are certainly not above free meals off the bottom!

This actually seemed to have little effect on our catch, fishing was clearly slowing down.

That evening someone thought it would be a brilliant idea to walk the several miles back to the vehicles and go to a lodge to watch the March Madness games, eat pizza and drink beer.

Who was I to argue?

We left our basecamp and splashed across the lakes and portages like Jesus walking on water - jumped the open water now clearly visible at the shore (That wasn't there a couple of days ago….!) and found our vehicles. The lodge was happy to have paying customers after a long winter with little snow and less traffic and for our part we were happy to have beer and their frozen pizzas.

Leaving the Lodge in the moonlit dark was another matter.

The standing rainwater on top of the ice was now glazed over - every step involved icebreaking and splashing in the dark. The distant rumble of cracking lake ice was now seemingly all around us. Even with an uncounted number of beers consumed, there was a focus as we followed our earlier tracks through the darkness.

I - of course - slipped and fell, soaking myself to the bone in the icy surface water. Good thing we had all these medical resources - unfortunately I was trailing the group at this point so it was probably a moot point. But I'm sure they would have eventually missed me and probably tried to find me.

Right?

I was rather chilled when I stumbled into camp, noting with growing dismay that we appeared to now live in a life raft, not a Cabelas tent. Poker chips were again deployed and after removing everything wet I wiggled into my bunk and dozed off.

 



Part 5 of 5


Day five March 26

Fortunately the weather broke and within a few hours so had our little cramped camp. Dr. Mark lowered the colors, though we left the flagpole fully in place.

We loaded up the sleds, tackled the portage and returned to the vehicles. The rides back were uneventful, thought the Pizza at Svens in Grand Marais didn't quite match Chicago standards!

 


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