BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
September 23 2023
Number of Permits per Day: 3
Elevation: 1406 feet
Crab Lake & Cummings Lake - 4
Life is good in the BW - 2011
July 26, 2011
Crab Lake and Cummings from Burntside Lake
Number of Days:
Note to the reader: one of my jobs in camp is to keep a record of the daily happenings. This report is essentially a reproduction of my handwritten daily journals. I (Jenni) apologize for being long-winded.
We spent the night before our trip at Fall Lake campground. We had a nice lakeside site and a hot shower before entering the wilderness. As we get older, we are changing our hardcore ways. We would typically get up early, have a simple breakfast and get on the water a.s.a.p. This year we took our time breaking camp, then stopped in Ely for lattes, muffins and scones. Gone are the days of simple rations eaten hastily while packing our gear. We've gone all soft! I admit I really enjoyed this kind of start.
Burntside Lake is gorgeous. We had a nice four mile paddle to the portage into Crab. I love all of the islands on Burntside; it seems like most people have made an effort to blend their cottages into the scenery. I must admit I'm jealous of those who have a place on the lake. Ah well...we're blessed in a lot of other ways!
Arriving at the portage, we saw two motor boats belonging to the conservation corps. We decided to piggy back the long portage. Dave had the Alumacraft Quetico Lite, I had all of the food, sleeping pads and misc. gear in a 40+ pound pack. We left "big blue" (clothes, sleeping bags and toiletries) and the fishing rods at the portage. Audrey (my mini-me) had her own small pack with clothes, books/games and her "Lamby". The portage trail was in good condition and well worn, but the loaded down pack was digging into my collar bones something fierce and I was not lovin' it. Dave left the canoe just past the swamp, which a passing group said was about half-way. The portage crew was repairing the trail by putting chipped rocks into some rough spots and covering them with dirt. I offered to trade spots with the supervisor, but he didn't want any part of hauling my pack. I just kept moving and glancing up for signs of water at the end of the portage. Somewhere after the swamp, I experienced a strange "Blair Witch Project" kind of scare. I could hear something crashing through the brush to my left and behind me. Loaded down by my huge pack, I couldn't quite pivot and see the full view behind me. I kept glancing over my left shoulder into the brush, but I could see nothing. Whatever was coming was coming right at me full speed, but I had no idea what it was! Just as this thing was upon me I let out a pitiful half-hearted girly scream (well, I am female!), yet I didn't know what the heck I was screaming about. Aside from that, no one was anywhere around to hear it and I knew that, so the scream kind of died part way. I winced expecting a moose or bear to slam me into the brush. Just as I prepared for the worst, a female grouse flew out of the underbrush, nearly taking my legs out from under me. No wonder I couldn't see anything! I was looking 4 or 5 feet off the ground. This grouse was not too pleased with me...she made some noises at me and I got the heck out of there! I dropped my pack at the end of the portage and felt like I was floating without all of that weight. I quickly walked back to meet Dave and collect "big blue" and the fishing gear/paddles/etc. Not only did I run into mama grouse, but this time her brood was on the trail, too. They all made noises at me and scrambled off in every direction. No wonder she was crabby - she was protecting her young.
Audrey, our princess, did a commendable job crossing the long portage without any sniveling. We were all overheated, so we drank some water and put on our "chill-its" - a scarf with absorbent beads that cools the neck when it's been soaked in water. That provided instant relief.
From our paddle through Crab Lake, we only spotted one campsite taken. The 20 rod portage into Little Crab Lake was a breeze and the one site there was empty from what we could tell. The Korb River gave Audrey her first chance to see pitcher plants up close. The 1 rod portage shown on our Fisher map was avoided. The 70 rod portage into Cummings also seemed fairly easy when compared to the entry portage! As we paddled the southwest section of Cummings Lake, we saw a deer wading in the water. It watched us briefly and trotted into the woods.
We thought we might camp on the first island site, but the second site from the portage trail (on the peninsula) had a shallow sand swimming beach. We stopped and checked it out. I was ready to set-up camp, but Dave wanted to see the island. We paddled over and checked it out. The fire pit area was more open. The landing was a sloped rock - more of the traditional BW campsite. It certainly would do, but I lobbied for the sand beach and the softer tent pad nestled in the pines. I explained the simple principle to Dave that if mom's happy, everyone's happy. He saw the light! Back we went to the sand beach.
We started setting up camp at 3:10 p.m. - a five hour travel day. Dave offered to set up the tent while Audrey and I swam. The brown-stained water was like bath water! Dave later joined us and snorkeled around our camp area. After tidying camp, Dave prepared a dinner of Cache Lake's chili and fryin' pan bread. Audrey had to bow out of the chili due to it being fairly spicy...she had beef jerky instead. Dessert was banana cream pie. We stuffed ourselves! Dave cooks, so I do the dishes. While I cleaned up, the anglers fished the narrow area at the tip of the peninsula. Audrey had a smallmouth on, but lost it. Dave caught a small smallie. The chorus of mosquitoes drove us into the tent - it was 9:30 p.m.
Storms came in around midnight – a soaking rain that lasted all night and into the morning. Dave reported hearing thunder while Audrey and I slept. Sometime after sun-up, we ladies had to make a mad dash to the toilet. We all caught a few more winks before the rain ended around 10:30.
Dave started cooking breakfast immediately while the ladies groomed and primped. It’s truly a vacation when all I have to do to get ready in the morning is wash my face, put my hair into a ponytail and throw on a hat! We drank some instant coffee while Audrey sipped her kiddy coffee (hot cocoa). Our meal this morning consisted of Cache Lake’s Western Omelet and hash browns. No, we don’t work for Cache Lake! We just like their stuff. Dave and Audrey chased that down with some cup o’ soup while I started on the dishes.
The anglers went back to their prime spot on the peninsula to fish from shore. I joined them after chores were done. Dave caught another small smallie on a Rapala crank bait. I caught a monster bluegill (approx. 9 inches) on a pink Rapala. Dave had used the pink Rapala on a recent Canadian fishing trip and apparently it was a hot bait. The wind out of the west made for prime drift fishing, so Audrey and Dave took the canoe out and fished the narrows. Audrey caught two "monster" smallies (13-14"). Dave caught 5 smallies, the longest being approx. 12 inches.
Three loons were also fishing the same area. They approached the canoe and gave Audrey a close up look at their markings. She commented on how BIG they are. Audrey also started imitating their calls. She made a drawing in the camp journal showing her view: the tip of the canoe, fishing rod hanging over the side, and loons in the water.
Meanwhile, back at camp, I had started reading “The Shack.” I could not stop reading it. Too bad I didn’t have a box of tissues with me, because I cried off and on through the entire book. I didn't want to use toilet paper because God forbid we run out of that! When Dave and Audrey returned to camp, Audrey told me I looked like Rudolph because my nose was so bright red! However, I did finish the entire book and therefore did not have to extend the crying jag into another day of reading.
Due to our late breakfast, we just snacked on jerky and gorp for lunch. Dave and Audrey made rafts out of bark and twigs and raced them along the beach. A canoe with 3 people went by around 4 p.m. – the first people we had seen all day. The sun finally came out after a cloudy day that seemed to threaten rain. It really was a lazy day at camp – the kind of relaxation that we come to the BW for. Before we knew it, it was 7 p.m. and time for dinner. This meal was Turkey and wild rice with a dessert of freeze-dried ice cream and hot cocoa.
As we prepared for bedtime, determined to beat the mosquitoes, Dave spotted a jumping mouse on a downed branch. We checked the little critter out and watched it scamper around, but he didn’t want to jump for us. We also heard a pretty bird calling, but couldn’t figure out what it was. Dave thought it might belong to the robin family or be a warbler of some kind. Once again, the hum of the woods ushered us into the tent quickly. We used a headlamp to light things up enough to play Moose Farkel. Dave kicked our butts with some insane high point rolls. Tomorrow we day trip!
After cleaning up breakfast, we packed the rods, some baits, our trail lunch (granola bars, gorp and summer sausage) and headed toward the 35 rod portage at the east end of Cummings. Destination: Coxey Pond. Along the way, we spotted an eagle’s nest on the south shore. A juvenile eagle was calling from the nest while another bird (presumably an adult) perched on a branch next to the nest.
The 35 rod portage was reasonable with a swampy/rocky put in on the Korb River side. The river was full of vegetation – spatterdock, water lilies and a football shaped leaf with a small red flower called watershield. We also spotted the flowers of pitcher plants on the boggy sides of the river. There’s something about paddling the river that makes us go silent. I’m always expecting a moose to be just around the bend. We could see the broken path through the vegetation, but it was thick. We refer to this type of paddling as being in a “salad shooter”.
As we worked our way to the northeast, we noticed the landing for the 45 rod portage into Silaca Lake. The river seemed to be navigable up ahead, so we forged on. SEEMED is the word to take note of. Just around the bend we ran into a beaver dam. Princess Audrey stayed in the canoe while we pulled over. We didn’t go far and then it was a downed log requiring a pull-over. I stepped out onto the log and started to pull, but lost my footing and one leg slipped into the river. I sunk into the muck up to my butt cheek. Thankfully I ended up in a sitting position with one leg still on the log and I didn’t lose my shoe pulling my leg out.
The bog seemed to invade the river and close in on the channel. It made paddling very difficult. Just as we could see the opening to Silaca Lake, a boulder garden appeared before us – a final obstacle. Dave navigated the canoe through the boulders while Audrey and I took the high road. Let me just say, that 45 rod portage was there for a reason. Hindsight is 20/20 and at least that little excursion gave us something to write about.
Back in the canoe, we were able to appreciate the beauty of Silaca Lake. The only campsite was occupied – it’s easy to see why. It was around this time that I got that sinking feeling in my gut. I realized that in our haste to start our day trip, we forgot to hang our food pack! Worst case scenario, we return to a ripped up mess and have to pack up and head out early. No sense worrying about it now. Audrey threw out a line and trolled the lake, but no luck.
The 45 rod portage into Coxey Pond started out muddy and swampy. Dave scouted out the portage to give us the report as Audrey was apprehensive and mom did not want to carry her. The report was that the worst of the trail was right there in the first 5 rods. He also talked with a young couple sitting at the end of the portage, presumably the people camping on Silaca. Audrey and I put on our big girl pants and started the trek over the rocks and mud. Someone had cut an alternate path to the left, up an abrupt hill, to avoid a large puddle on the trail. Dave somehow managed to get the canoe up and down the hill through the brush. Once we got to Coxey, we realized it was definitely worth the trip.
Dave and I were surprised by these two lakes – both are a mix of large rocks, hills and some lowland areas. We ate lunch at the portage and enjoyed the breeze. The couple Dave had met was paddling the eastern section of the lake and was completely out of sight. After lunch we drift fished the western part of Coxey. The wind had picked up quite a bit from earlier. Dave caught a 12” smallie using Gulp Alive. Audrey and I got skunked. After fishing, we paddled the eastern section, checking out some large boulders that looked like someone had stacked them on shore. Who and how, we can only guess. The stronger wind made the paddle back to the portage a bit tougher. We stopped at the only campsite on Coxey (basically it’s next to the portage) to check out the facilities. This would be a great spot to return to and camp someday!
We had our gear assignments down to a science now. We each grabbed what we needed to carry and made our way toward Silaca. This time, Dave decided to forego the path up and down the hill and just trudge through the giant puddle. He said that was definitely the way to go and the water was only up to his mid-calf. This trip was also his first using a tump that he rigged up. That weight on his head really helped him since it took the weight off his shoulders and he felt more in control of the canoe while portaging. The 45 rod portage from Silaca to the Korb River was definitely the way to go.
On the river, we noticed an interesting plant that seemed to thrive on the edge of the bog and especially on the exposed tops of submerged logs. It’s red with spiky stems holding small yellow flowers. If you know what it is, please post a message. If the technology cooperates, there will be a photo of this plant here somewhere!
We retraced our path back to Cummings and paddled harder now against the west wind. We arrived back at camp to find our food pack in one piece. Whew! A swim in the lake cooled us down. Audrey and I played in the sand. She and I constructed critter houses by burying our feet in the sand and then shimmying our feet out, leaving caves behind. She used found materials to decorate them and rocks to shore up the water side.
An early dinner was in order so we could spend more of our evening time fishing and relaxing. Dave cooked up turkey casserole with mashed taters, pan-fried summer sausage and fryin’ pan bread. We topped it off with coffee/hot cocoa. After letting that settle, we devoured a Mountain House raspberry crumble (probably the easiest and best tasting dessert we’ve ever had in the BW).
Tonight, after cleaning camp and fishing, we were a little late getting into the tent. Somehow we managed to brush all the skeeters off before getting in the tent. Our headlamp game of Moose Farkel ended with Audrey spanking her parents. She had some hot little hands rolling the dice. Just as we settling into our sleeping bags and turned out the light, something came out of the brush behind our tent. It didn’t really have any vocalizations, but it seemed to be lumbering around and circled our tent. Dave said it sounded like it was dragging our pack through the camp. It quickly moved off in the direction of the lake and was gone. We grabbed the lamp and checked the campsite. Nothing was disturbed. Whatever it was, it wasn’t interested in our food or anything else. It wasn’t really a land animal because it seemed to struggle to get around. It was dragging something (a tail). The fact that it disappeared so quickly led us to reason that it had to be a water animal of some type. Otter? Beaver? I quote Dave: “Never a dull moment in the BWCA.” The next morning, Audrey drew a picture of me looking out the door of the tent.
I was up bright and early. A canoe with three went by around 6:30. I think sometimes people don’t realize how much their voices carry when on the water. I’m sure we are guilty of being too loud ourselves from time to time. Audrey and Dave slept while I walked out to the tip of the peninsula, sat on a log and updated the camp journal. As I was writing, two more canoes went by, heading toward the portage to Korb Lake. Both of these were loaded with gear – looks like people heading out of Cummings. I was also visited by a duck, who seemed quite startled to see me.
Audrey fetched me from shore for breakfast – simple oatmeal today. The loons called while we sipped our coffee. Audrey’s mastered the art of the loon call; she had the loons engaged in conversation for a few minutes. Following a brief discussion, we decided to paddle to the west end of Cummings and cross the 5 rod portage into Otter Lake. We also wanted to check out some of the other campsites on Cummings.
Our area of the lake was protected from the wind, so we didn’t have to paddle hard until we hit the west arm. There were some white caps, but we paddled vigorously. We took a bathroom break at the campsite on the south side of the lake at the narrowing. The site looked like it doesn’t get much use. It’s very open and exposed. The upside of this site are the BLUEBERRIES! We picked and picked and picked. There were many berries left behind, not quite ripe enough.
At the 5 rod Otter Lake portage, we decided to carry over the large rock separating two small waterfalls. It wasn’t too bad and I’d say it was approx. a 2 rod carry. The right-side waterfall was not a good put in, but there were some rocks on shore at the base of the left side that were decent enough to put in the canoe. I’m notoriously unstable on wet rocks, so for me I’d rate it an ankle buster. We paddled over to the campsite on the north shore and found a high rock in the shade that gave us a great view of the lake. We sat and ate lunch, talking and laughing for 45 minutes. Back in the canoe, Dave trolled as we paddled to the portage. No luck. We opted for the five rod carry this time and it was easy.
Back on Cummings, the west wind helped blow us back toward our campsite. We trolled the entire way and had much success. We caught ten smallmouth, mostly in the narrow channels, with the largest being 14 inches. We observed two campsites occupied, one we had noticed had campers previously and the other was vacant just a few hours prior. This day trip made for a 9 mile paddle round trip.
In camp, Dave noticed a couple of HUGE red pines in the woods behind the tent. Dave and Audrey combined could barely get their arms around them. After all of the tree hugging, Dave cooked up another fabulous meal – chicken and wild rice soup, garlic mashed potatoes and garlic fryin’ pan bread with fried summer sausage. Dessert was an encore: banana cream pie. Something about all of the paddling and fresh air that makes me so hungry! We always eat well in the BWCA.
Little did we know, while I was cleaning up and Dave was lying in the hammock, Audrey was collect ammo (pinecones) for a covert bombing of the enemy (her parents). She snuck up on us by hiding her petite profile behind pine trees and treading softly on the pine needles that littered the ground. It wasn’t long before we were onto her and bombing her right back. As the sun set on our last night in the BWCA, Dave got a roaring fire going while Audrey and I broke down and put on some bug dope. The biting flies were really bad this year. Maybe it was the wet spring? Maybe it was the timing of our trip?
While I finished the dishes and updated the journal, the master anglers took the canoe out to fish around our peninsula and some rocks just off our camp site. They promised to return in time to avoid the attack of the bloodsuckers. It kept getting later and later and there was no sign of them. I walked around the peninsula and saw them fishing to the north. Dave noticed me watching and said, “We’re catching fish on every cast!” I prepared our camp for bedtime and got the food pack ready to hang. Sitting by the fire, I hear the wings of a loon as it taxis down the lake. It’s peaceful and quiet and all is right with the world.
Just then, I hear, “POW!” echo across the lake. It sounds like a gunshot, but I know that can’t be right. When the anglers return I ask about the loud noise. They report that the noise was actually a beaver slapping its tail at them while they fished. Ah ha! Two beavers were swimming near our site. That pretty much confirms our suspicions that the mystery creature who circled our tent was a beaver.
Up with the sun, I was feeling a bit anxious. The weather report called for thunderstorms, some severe. I was anticipating that long paddle across Burntside and not wanting to have any close calls. Let’s just say, after two close calls with lightning (one in the BWCA), I did not want to take any chances. Dave disagreed with my desire to get a move on. He wanted to cook a nice breakfast and leave at a leisurely pace. Since there was only a 30% chance of showers, he wanted to “play the odds”. Tensions were running a bit high – it was the girls against the boy. Despite our protests, Dave started cooking breakfast and insisted that we were being Nervous Nellies. It was one of those moments when I thought to myself, “We’re going to pay for this.” We very quickly ate the hot breakfast and got busy packing up. Despite being up before 6 a.m., we didn’t break camp until after 8 a.m. – all because of that hot breakfast. Argh! The weather held as we retraced our path back to Korb Lake, the Korb River, Little Crab and Crab. As we approached the portage back to Burntside, our paddling urgency increased due to the thunder rumbling. The storm was coming, so we had to kick it into gear and get off the water quickly.
I decided to carry everything I possibly could on the long portage, so I could avoid backtracking or piggy backing. Dave decided to carry “big blue” and the canoe and figured he’d stop and rest along the way. Audrey had agreed to carry a few more things as well. The air was thick and still. Lightning was flashing all around us. Sweat was dripping from my face and the fishing rods I had in hand were just irritating me beyond all belief. We passed several people on the portage carrying canoes and packs into the wilderness. Near the Burntside end of the portage, there’s a pretty decent hill. It was at this point that I lost my patience with the gear I was carrying in my hands and I threw it to the side. I knew I was close to the end. I figured I’d be going back to help Audrey and Dave and I’d pick the stuff up then.
A shuttle boat was parked at the end of the portage. Hmmmm…this could be our lucky day after all! I started back down the trail to help Audrey along. Not long after, a man came toward me carrying “big blue” and encouraging Audrey. He was the boat driver from a local outfitter who had just dropped the two groups off that we saw on the portage. He was kind enough to insist on helping Dave with the pack and coaching Audrey who was out there somewhere in between the two of us. Audrey once again impressed me with her toughness. Dave was not far behind, but we were stuck at the portage. The storm was fully upon us now. We huddled under the canoe, which Dave had propped up between two trees. The shuttle driver was also stuck, so we chatted with him. The storm moved off to the south fairly quickly. Once the rain let up, the shuttle man offered us a ride back to the boat launch. We negotiated a price and away we went.
If we had packed up and gotten an earlier start, we may have missed the storm or made it to the boat landing in the nick of time, or we could have been out on Burntside Lake somewhere. Thankfully, the good Lord was looking out for us and we had some help bringing a happy and safe ending to our trip.