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distinguished member (309)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
06/08/2018 09:49AM
Hi all, my daughter and I are going from Sawbill to Lake One at the start of July, taking about a week. I've already arranged the transportation. I spent the whole winter and spring scouring maps, and it looks like we're pretty set on the more southern route:

Sawbill - Alton - Beth - Grace - Phoebe - Knight - Hazel - Polly - Koma - Malberg - River - Alice - Insula - Hudson - Three - Two - One.

I'm not worried about long portages, and none of these look too long. I am a bit concerned if any of them are especially hard - I've heard that the long portage from Beth to Grace is a better choice than the two short portages. Any other advice on when to prepare for one of these to be tough would be appreciated.

I'm also curious about navigation in the middle section, from Polly up through Malberg and on to and across Insula. It doesn't look too tough, but suggestions through there would also be appreciated. We've never had navigation issues but I like to go in prepared.

Anything else about this route that I should know? We've done a lot of trips both paddling and hiking out of the Ely entry points, but this will be our first paddling entry from the east side.
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distinguished member(1020)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
06/08/2018 11:37AM
Check out this chain from last summer for some info about the lady chain portion of your trip. Click on the link of the google map screen shot that cowdoc posted in the thread. It helped us a great deal... piece of cake to go through the canal in the boulder field and it was great to know which stretch of the river it was on.

Water levels were really high last year. Sawbill should have info on it before you leave this year, it is normally lower in July.

Have a great trip... sounds like it'll be a good one. We loved the lady chain, especially Phoebe and Grace. Beautiful lakes and very quiet.

Lady Chain info from 2017
distinguished member(520)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
06/08/2018 12:10PM
Getting from Koma to Mallberg is pretty easy. The portages to Koma are medium length but not terribly brutal. A little up and down, but nothing steep. I've never been to Alice, but went that direction toward Fishdance and it was pretty simple from Mallberg to there.

My biggest concern would be the big water on the last half of the trip, if you're going to be on them later in the day, but that's just my own anxiety - I'd probably stick to minimize the wind if I could.

Really sounds like an excellent trip.
member (19)member
06/08/2018 12:39PM
Did this route (River to Sawbill, anyway) last year. I've done it a few times and always enjoy it.

Sawbill to Alton is the easiest portage in the world. Just be careful when crossing Alton - it's a well documented dangerous lake.

Alton to Beth is an "up and down" that is pretty easy to traverse. Once on Beth, enjoy the cliff-like feel of the lake.

I've done both portages out of Beth (north to Ella, west to Grace). If you're in a hurry, head to Grace over the long portage. It's not terrible. If you want to see more country, head to Ella. Watch your footing when stepping out of the canoe at the Beth to Ella portage landing.

From Grace to Phoebe it's a couple of small portages through a waterway with nothing difficult about it. Phoebe is gorgeous and you'll find yourself wanting to return someday.

North out of Phoebe into Knight, it's hard to tell where Phoebe ends and Knight begins. Knight is shallow but easy to paddle. The river to Hazel is in the far west bay near the small rapids (good smallmouth fishing right there).

From there, the route to Hazel is a few winding waterways with one tough section (47.8756859,-91.0325249) but there's a path through it.

Hazel into Polly is one of my favorite portages, especially when it opens into Polly after walking through the pine forest.

Paddling up Polly's east arm is gorgeous and one of my favorite lakes. Good walleye fishing along the shoreline and a nice campsite on the east side of the lake.

Polly to Koma is a series of small ponds/waterways/portages and it's easily navigable. Just gets frustrating after a long day of travel to keep loading/unloading the canoe.

When paddling Koma, head to the west shore then up the west side to the Koma to Polly portage. There's shallow rocks in Koma lurking and you want to be cautious. Don't get caught into the rapids at the portage mouth, but enjoy them as you hike down the path.

From Malberg to River Lake, the portage is short but has a 150' section that is under about 1' of water and unavoidable. Be prepared to walk through it. Otherwise the portage is easy and straightforward. River Lake has good pike fishing and great walleye fishing near the rapids.

This is a great route and one you'll enjoy a lot.
06/08/2018 01:46PM
I can tell you about Polly to Alice (see my 2016 trip report). There's really nothing hard about it at all.

After you portage out of Malberg, there may be a little mud to work around at the end depending on water levels. There's a short portage on the river before Alice - don't take the obvious landing on the left to a semi-bushwhack portage like I did. Go on down to the rock for a shorter, easier one.
distinguished member(1410)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
06/08/2018 06:06PM
I've paddles almost all that route, though on different trips. Great advice above, so I can add only a little. I have not done the Beth to Grace portage, but have done Ella to Grace twice. I found it one of my lesser favorite portages in the BWCA, as it seemed fairly overgrown, and plenty of basketball size rocks on the trail. Had to constantly watch my step. The landing area on Grace was also not easy - lots and lots of larger, beach ball + size boulders made it a bit more effort, but on the other hand very interesting and unique. I also really liked Ella lake and camped there one night. Beautiful site with lots of blueberries all around in mid July. Won't say it's worth avoiding - just some effort and a bit different.

Your list of lakes shows you going so close to Fishdance I'd say be sure to stop by there for the pictos. It's such a cool lake.

Have a great trip.
distinguished member(849)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
06/09/2018 09:32AM
I've done all of this route (not one same trip however). Some notes:

Consider taking the northeast portage out of Malberg into the river. A lovely stretch. The portage along the river north of Malberg is one of my favorites with rapids and a huge white pine.

I also love the river stretch from Malberg to Alice. Be sure to detour into Fishdance to check out the pictographs.

A few gem campsites in the northern large bay of Insula.

Your hardest tripping will be the Lady Chain but none of it should be too bad. I did it coming the other way a couple days after ice out so we were the first people across some of the portages and they all had nice paths and just a few downed trees which shouldn't be an issue when you're going.

06/10/2018 12:00AM
I think the most difficult part of that trip will be the navigation paddling through Insula.
distinguished member (309)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
06/12/2018 02:29PM
This is awesome, thanks all. I'll note the caution on Alton, especially as we'll be at our heaviest and we won't be in our rhythm yet. Sounds like I'll stick to my plan of taking the single longer portage from Beth to Grace. We'll look for the channel between Knight and Hazel, that's some excellent advice there. We'll try to get over to Fishdance to see the pictos. I am a little concerned about navigating Insula but I've certainly navigated worse with less capable tripping partners, and in the same vein, I'm not too worried about the relatively bigger water late in the trip as I've paddled that stretch before M was born, with significantly less experience myself and with partners who had much less idea what they were doing, without big issues.

I really appreciate the collective wisdom of this forum. We're super excited to get going on this trip - not quite three weeks to go!

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