BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
March 28 2020
Number of Permits per Day: 14
Elevation: 1381 feet
Trout Lake - 1
Crab Lake/ Joining The Solo Club
June 11, 2008
Crab Lake and Cummings from Burntside Lake
Number of Days:
I flew from Pittsburgh to Minneapolis, then Duluth, rented a car then drove to Ely. When I left Duluth it was sleeting (Yuk). I arrived in Duluth to slightly warmer weather (50’s) but windy. I checking in at the VNO and pulled a Prism for a test paddle. The staff at the VNO have their act together. They had the canoe tied to my car in a matter of minutes and off I went. I put in at a public launch a few minutes away in a heavy 20 Mph wind. The first thing I notices was the lightness of the canoe and it’s reluctance to turn easily in the wind. I pushed hard for a few hundred feet and was in a sheltered bay. These boats are fast and light. This was the 1st time I paddled a true solo canoe and I was thrilled. It was stable and tracked well. As with any canoe it was tough going in the heavy wind but after getting my sea legs in the canoe I surfed back to the car. Good 1st impression. I was later to learn how stable and easier it was to handle when loaded (as anticipated). I reviewed my route with John from VNO then discussed my food pack with Dave the equipment lead. The bait shop guys had some geed advice as to what was hitting and where. They were on the money. I had a good dinner at the Ely Steak House and chatted with lots of folks who were coming out of the woods. Eat at the bar; you get to talk to everyone if you want. I retired to the VNO bunkhouse that night and made my final packing of my equipment.
I ate a hearty breakfast at Britons in Ely (excellent) at about 5:20am. I gathered my equipment and was off from the VNO to take the tow across Burntside at 6:20am. The tow drivers are very colorful and good guys. The weather was in the low 50's with a breeze and we crossed Burntside without incident. There were less waves than I anticipated which was a good sign. As Joe the driver pulled away in his boat the gravity of the situation hit me. I was alone (relatively) in the expanses of the BWCWA. Interesting. I strapped my rods and PFD to my equipment pack (# 4 Kondos) and headed down the trail. The Crab Lake portage is really not that bad. There are a few elevation changed and rocks to climb up and over on the 1st part then it becomes smoother and rather scenic over the next ¾ mile. The 420rod portage took about 30 minutes to walk each way. It skirts some swampy areas but I did not get wet feet yet. The entire double portage took me about 1 hour and 45 minutes with rest breaks. I realized half way in that I may have overdone it a bit with the equipment and food items as far as weight. The price of a few luxuries…
I loaded and was off up Crab Lake in a matter of minutes and crossed with an east wind at my back. What luck? The portage into Little Crab was very smooth and easy and I met 4 canoes coming the other way. They were coming from Cummings and when I said I was on my way to Buck they gave me an interesting look. Hmmm. I entered the creek which connects Little Crab with Lunetta. This was a very pretty paddle with lots of beaver huts on the shore. I really like small lakes and intimate streams and rivers to paddle. I will psyched and making remarkably good time. The Prism was very fast even loaded. Lunetta is a pretty little lake with supposed good pike fishing. I paddled through.
I entered Schlamn creek which Schalmn lake was my destination for the day. The wind was still a breeze at my back and I moved along as the clouds gave way to patches of sun. I arrived at and traversed the first short portage which bypasses some of the creek. I was back into the creek and paddled for a bit until the creek choked down again. After combing the left shore for 20 minutes I finally found the portage which was hidden in the high grass. I started the 1st of several muddy and mucky portages for the next few days. The initial few rods were dry but I soon encountered sections of mud and fallen logs in the mud making for a tricky hike through.
I finally reached a section of old logging road which someone else wrote about in a previous report. The road was nice for the few rods until I came to a 2 foot deep by 15 feet wide gushing stream. I thought about wading it in my bear feet and actually tried (stupid) for about a foot. The stream bed was too rocky and the black flies hatching were enjoying my exposed legs. I resigned myself to having wet boots and jumped in. The carry to the actual put-in on the next part of the creek was not too far and I could paddle the remainder of the way out into Schlamn.
Schlamn lake is beautiful with abundant wildlife. I paddled up to the only campsite on the lake and a deer was standing at the site to greet me. This was 1 of seven I saw around the lake that afternoon and evening. The site is up off the water on a hillside but is generally level. If affords a nice view of the low lying fields across the lake. This is where I saw most of the deer. The campsite is a nice site with 1 good and another fair tent site. I would rate it a 3.5 out of 5 stars.
I made camp and went about my chores, tent, tarp, drying boots, etc. I had a nice rib eye over the fire and had an early retreat to bed. The bugs were not much of an issue and the sun was out that evening. I woke up @ 1:00am to the worst thunder, lightning, and thunder I have encountered in a while. The sound of the coming waves of the storm actually sounded like locomotives coming. If you have ever been close to a locomotive, which I have, you will understand the feeling I had while in my tent. Add wind and rain and you have quite an interesting mix of nature being thrown at you! Some will question my judgment but I held fast in my tent as it passed. It actually scared the S#@T out of me! I did make sure there were no widow-makers around the tent site before I setup that day.
I was up early and hit the water at 7:00am. I paddled about 50 yards and a moose came crashing out of the brush to my right and jumped in the water right in from of me! I took several pics as he swam by. He had small knobs on his head so I could tell he was a young bull. I had a tough time finding the portage to Glenmore but after studying the contour lines on the map I homed in on it. The portage (210 rods) was mucky with several logs down over the trail and in the water making it tricky to traverse. When I carried my equipment pack through to Glenmore and returned for the canoe and food pack another moose was standing in the shallows beside my canoe. What a sight as it splashed through the shallow water and into the woods.
Glenmore lake is rather unattractive with low hills and just generally unappealing. I paddled quickly through as the wind picked up and started the next portage (195rods) to Western. This portage was fairly tough with many wind falls and elevation changes. I started to pick up ticks on my pant legs this time as the temperature warmed. They were moving slowly so they were easy pickings from my pants. The wind picked up with the sun out and I paddled into a west wind across Western lake. The camp site on Western is out on a rock point which is very exposed. It was a last-resort type site. Since the lakes on the loop were small with the exception of Cummings the wind was not as big a factor as it could have been. The portage into Buck was wet but it also had a nice little boardwalk over a swampy area. This was unusual since there were so many other worse spots on the previous trails so far. When I was about 2/3 of the way though I came to a spot where a beaver actually built a dam right across the trail. This was comical as I laughed out loud. There was about a foot to 18” of water across the trail and he had numerous trees down all through the water so I could not paddle it in my canoe. John at VNO warned me about this one and I had to bushwhack around to the left. This was interesting as I traversed the jungle like foliage. The mosquitoes were trying to have their way with me but the Deet and Permethrin treated cloths kept them at bay. I finally reached Buck, my destination and flicked off several ticks.
Buck Lake is a long narrow lake which harbors walleyes. I managed to keep my leech stash alive and I was anxious to try them out. I setup camp on the main site on the western side of the lake. The site was up on a small ridge and had a few nice level tent sites. It was actually a nice site as far as layout but the lake itself was not all that attractive. Still, it had its charms. I managed to catch a few walleye off the site on leeches and jigs. I was able to fish the narrows to the east with success as well. Nothing especially large but all eaters. I made dinner and turned in for the night early in anticipation of the ball-buster portage into Cummings in the morning.
I woke very early and was paddling toward the Cummings portage at 5:30am. I wanted to beat the wind when I reached Cummings because it was going to be sunny today. I landed at the portage at 6:00am and had to push my canoe with gear up the landing and up the trail in about 4 inches of water. There was a small stream coming down the trail. I figured all the wetness along this route was due to an unusually wet spring. I pushed the canoe up about 30 yards to a dry spot and proceeded to load up with my equipment pack and paddles. I walked a few more yards and immediately ran into what looked like someone played pick-up-sticks with logs. This was compounded by the fact they were all sizes and laying in about 8 “ of water in all directions. Wow. I took a moment to figure out how to safely traverse this and started slogging though and over the mess. I got the bright idea of trying to scale some of the logs but quickly jumped back into the muck after almost falling off a downed log. A broken bone or twisted ankle would be an issue at this point. I cleared the log section about 100 yards later and proceeded along. The rest of the trail had some smooth elevation changes, more wet spots, lots of bugs and ticks, etc. I carried my equipment pack to about ¾ of the way though and came up on a nice ridge which overlooks a pond on the northwestern side of the trail. Very scenic. I decided to go back for the rest of my equipment. Carrying the canoe through pick-up-sticks was a real treat! What a character building experience. Once I got the canoe and food pack back to my leap frog spot I picked up the equipment pack and pushed the rest of the way. I came to another beaver dam across the trail and it used to hold about 5-7 ft of water. It, luckily, was blown out and I was able to walk the dam then down into the basin and across without incident. After I reached Cummings the sun was out in full force and the wind was up from the west. I rested, picked ticks, and then headed out. Doubling took me about 2 hours and 45 minutes to complete!
I was a bit nervous about Cummings lake because of the size and my Prism likes to turn when pushed from behind. Cummings lake is absolutely beautiful! I was making good time and being pushed along by the west wind. I was originally going to shoot for the peninsula site just west of the narrows but it was occupied. This was the only occupied site I saw there at the time. I was really enjoying the paddling after the long portage that morning so I kept on moving. I cruised through the narrows and was out of the wind and met a few guys coming the other way. They were shooting for the peninsula site as well and when I told them it was occupied they seemed a little disappointed but pushed on into the wind. I drifted for a while and took in the scenery and serenity of the south eastern part of Cummings. Since I was out of the wind I floated around for almost an hour jut taking it all in. Very relaxing. I decided to make for the 5 star site on Little Crab because I have not seen too many people thus far and figured either it or the Korb site would be open. I did the easy 70 rod portage into Korb and acknowledged that site was open. Pretty lake which is long and narrow. I continued up the Korb river and lifted around the little beaver dam at the entrance to the river. I enjoyed the short paddle up the Korb river as it was very relaxing and the birds were out in full force. The site on little Crab was open and wow, what a site. There are many nice tent sites, good landing, and lots of firewood already chopped! What more could you ask for after a long days paddling and portaging?! I managed to catch a very nice 27-28” pike off the site as well.
I had a leisurely paddle down Little Crab to the portage in to Crab. The portage was an easy and short walk. I figured I would setup camp on Crab and fish the day as my take out tow was due at 10:00am the next morning. I started to check out sites on Crab and the wind picked up. I was shooting for one of the 2 sites in the bay where the portage to Burntside was but they appeared to be taken. I decided to paddle back the long west arm of Crab and see if I could get out of the wind. I checked the first site on the southern shore back the arm and yuk! It had one tent site and it was very exposed to the wind. There was moss pulled up and scattered all over the tent site which turned me off and you could see green bows were cut buy the previous inhabitants. The site was a 1 star site and with the tree and moss abuse I moved on.
The site across the bay towards the Sacca Lake portage was very nice. It had 2 nice tent sites, was sheltered from the west wind, and it had an excellent landing. I gave it 4 stars. I caught lot of smallies, large mouth, and pike around the site and in the back bays. There was a resident beaver which kept coming to the site landing and scoping me out. I napped at around 1:00pm and woke up to the sound of a moose thumping through the woods just outside my tent. There is a marshy area over the hill from the site which is where he must have been heading as he snorted loudly. I had a very leisurely day around camp and fishing while trying to eat up more of my food stash.
I broke camp at about 7:00am and paddled to the Crab Lake portage about 1.5 miles away. This morning was calm and I had an exceptionally peaceful paddle across Crab Lake and was able to reflect on my trip. I tried to drink in all I could before I left and take stock in all the great things I saw over the past few days.
I hit the landing and started down the 420 rod/ 1 mile trail. I met a group of 8 teens coming in who were moving fast down the trail (Ah, youth!). I stopped and chatted with the leader who was probably in his 40s like myself. I watched them load up and take off when I came back for my canoe and food pack then headed back across the trail to the EP. I met up with an interesting group of 4 from the Twin cities area who were coming out and waiting for a tow across Burntside as I was. One of them has been coming for 35 years. It was refreshing to hear from him that not much has changed once you enter the park in the past 35 years (except fees, etc.) I hope I can say that 35 years from now…
My VNO tow showed up right on time and I was greeted with an icy cold beer which hit the spot. He cruised across Burntside I was back at VNO for a shower and regroup my equipment. The staff at VNO are a wealth of info and very entertaining to talk to when you are packing up to leave or coming in for that matter.
I was very satisfied with my performance on this trip because it has been several years since I have done any major tripping. The solo experience was a real eye opener because you look at things much differently when you are alone. I noticed an amazing amount of wildlife since I was paying more attention and listening to my surroundings more. This was a significant difference I noticed compared to tripping with friends/family. The other major difference is the mental factor. You really have to have your act together when you are alone and I think I faired well though. Moving every day was key because it kept me busy and everything takes a lot more time when you are alone. I will certainly trip with others again but I am glad I joined the solo club!
VNO folks were fantastic
VNO Bunkhouse was great and very convenient
Wenonah Prism worked especially well for 1st solo effort (lots of room, stable, and fast)
Rental paddles worked OK but I would bring my own next time
Packed too much food but that is a live and learn thing
Timberline 2 worked well in the storms at night and kept me dry (ground sheet inside)
Campmor 10x10 tarp held up nicely in the excessive wind
My new Vasque lightweight Gore-Tex hikers were awesome
The Coleman Peak stove with the butane/propane mix worked well
LL Bean 20 degree down bag was nice on the 40’s nights. A cotton liner would make it more comfortable thought since you sweat a little next to the nylon
Fishing; I had a spinning outfit and bait caster. The leeches and jigs were the ticket but I used Gitzets (spelling) and tube jigs with much success. I caught a fair number of smallies with floating Fat Raps and jointed perch colored minnows as well