BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
January 20 2020
Number of Permits per Day: 4
Elevation: 1406 feet
Crab Lake & Cummings Lake - 4
3 Nights on Cummings - 2017
July 15, 2017
Crab Lake and Cummings from Burntside Lake
Number of Days:
Travel day. Generally I come from the Chicago area with a couple of guys from the Milwaukee area, and we meet the Twin Cities contingent up north. But due to a few weird circumstances, I was in Minneapolis leading up to the trip, so I drove up with those three.
We headed for Wilderness Golf Course on the shores of Vermillion, because that might be my favorite course in the world. We made it up there and had an awesome evening of golf.
After golf we met the non-golfing guys for food in Ely, grabbed some leeches and last minute supplies in town and hunkered down at our bunkhouse at the A Stay Inn on the west side of town, where the Ely Outdoors Company put us up. The accommodations were very good and I think we all slept pretty well.
Up early and we actually took shifts eating breakfast at Britton's, which was just around the corner, walking distance. 3 stayed back and showered/organized/packed, 3 went to eat...then we rotated.
We met up with the outfitter who was providing us with canoes/pfd's/paddles, 2 food packs, gear pack, and a few other miscellaneous items.
This part is always interesting for us. Since we are coming up without our own food & gear packs, we don't quite know what all we're going to be able to fit. So we kind of yard sale everything right there out of the back of our truck, then start putting it into the packs. Slowly but surely most of it ends up disappearing into them, but we inevitably have to make some decisions...often about how much and what type of liquor is actually necessary. It becomes a negotiation....
Anyway, we got that squared away and headed off to EP 4. It's a pretty quick drive. We were taking the tow across Burntside so we got the boats in the water and helped the fellas load our canoes and gear into their boats and off we went across the big lake.
The long portage to Crab awaited us. Feeling strong, adrenaline pumping, I put on a pack AND a canoe and attempted to make a heroic push and save the group some double portaging.
I think I made it about 1/4 of the way. 1/3 if I'm being generous. That sucker is looooong.
So I dropped the pack and continued to the end with the canoe. I think most of the guys tried some version of single portaging as well, with varying degrees of success. In the end, nobody really made it all the way with 2 packs, but we did save ourselves some walking by not having to return all the way back to the beginning on the return.
All in all, it was not bad. It took some time, and there were some muddy feet and possibly sore shoulders, but really not that bad.
On to Crab Lake...finally paddling. I think we pretty much b-lined straight up the lake toward Little Crab, stopping to check out one of the sites in the narrows leading toward Little Crab. We were pretty set on traveling past Crab anyway, so just gave it a look-see to make sure it wasn't something amazing we were passing on. It was not.
The portage to Little Crab can be a carry over. We each put on a pack to lighten the load, then just two-man carried the canoes across. No problem.
Made quick work of Little Crab...the lone site on this lake gets good reviews, but I don't think we even stopped to take a look. I guess we weren't travel weary yet and wanted to get further in.
Paddled up the winding Korb river toward Korb Lake...there is a small portage marked on the way, but we paddled through it. You do need to take it slow and keep a watch for rocks though - we bumped a couple and maybe even got hung up once or twice. Just be careful.
On Korb Lake we did stop to check out the campsite - I had read about how unique it is up on a cliff. And that it is...unique is about the best you can say for it though. It's a steep, rugged hike up to the site, and the site itself is pretty small without a lot of good structure or area to do much of anything in camp. The view IS awesome, so it certainly has that going for it. But putting 6 guys in this site for a base camping trip was not going to be fun. So onward we pushed.
The 75 rod portage from Korb to Cummings was no big deal. On Cummings we were definitely in find a camp mode. We knew there were several highly rated sites on the lake and knew it was known to produce fish. We bypassed the first two sites as you go north because I think we wanted to see the island site first. We climbed aboard the site and pretty much all agreed it was a sweet one.
It's large and open and has an amazing view straight to the west. Sunsets would be spectacular. I was probably the only one with a major reservation, which would be that a strong wind from the west could make the camp miserable. There would be nothing stopping it at all...and that's the prevailing direction of wind in general, so I was nervous about that. I also knew the couple sites to the north had good reviews as well so I kind of wanted to go check them out, but I got overruled and the guys said 'we're staying here'. It is a supreme site, I was just worried about the wind.
There was a garter snake and a squirrel already occupying the campsite upon our arrival. The snake ran off never to be seen again, but the squirrel was with us the rest of the trip...nosy little bugger.
So camp was set up and we spent the rest of the afternoon/evening fishing nearby and took a swim. We caught a bunch of really small bass and one good eater size northern that we filleted and fried for a pre-dinner appetizer.
Evening was met with wine and drinks around the fire and an awesome sunset. Some kind souls left us some firewood that we were happy to utilize.
Headed to bed at some point...alone in my tent! Which was nice. We're usually paired up, but this trip we somehow packed I think 5 tents for the 6 of us? And the site accommodated all of them perfectly fine, so we all had our own bedroom except 2 guys. It's nice being able to spread out a bit (3-man tent) and keep your pack indoors.
This was a fishing/swimming/lazing around Cummings day. We didn't leave the lake, but headed off exploring different bays and sections of the lake, fishing along the way. We didn't even go all the way to the western side of the lake. We only saw one other group of 2 camped on the lake, although it's possible there were others - as mentioned we didn't make it everywhere.
Fishing was not great but not terrible. We again were reeling in some really tiny bass. I'm talking fish that were barely bigger than the lures they were hitting on. Kinda bizarre. When all was said and done by evening time, we had another good size northern and I think 3 or 4 filet-worthy smallies that we fried up for a proper fish fry. Delicious as always.
Fishing was also a little bizarre on Cummings because we were catching fish in spots you'd never really think to target. Trolling across open water, nowhere near shorelines or islands, we'd catch a fish. Then get skunked for two hours working an island with plenty of weeds, trees, rock beds, etc. A little weird from what I know about fishing.
Another night by the fire with a killer sunset. We were not doing great on firewood - it was not easy to find on our island and no one had taken the time to go elsewhere for it. We had a good stack, but for various reasons it wasn't burning great (soggy, wrong species of wood, etc). One of those fires that you're constantly feeding and enjoying 2-minute bursts of flames in between 10-minute periods of fading embers...
This was our last full day and we had a day trip planned - over to Korb River and Korb Lake, back around to the south end of Cummings and back. Just an easy loop - we wanted to fish Korb and then have a happy hour up on the clifftop campsite with a box of wine.
So we took our time making breakfast in the morning and doing things around camp. At some point in early afternoon we headed east from our site to the portage from Cummings to the Korb River. It's a fairly rugged portage with not so great landings, but we didn't have our gear with so it wasn't a problem.
As we got on Korb we started fishing (not catching) and working our way southwest down the length of the river, then into the lake. I like these narrow lakes - very pretty. At some point we saw clouds from the south begin to form. They came upon us quick and before we knew it, it was misting hard, then raining. We pulled into the clifftop campsite on Korb and it was a scramble to stash the canoes and find some semblance of shelter at the site.
This set off a pretty hilarious hour in the boundary waters. It donned on us that we had left every piece of rain gear we had with back at camp. AND, that we hadn't necessarily secured camp...and when I say "necessarily" I mean "at all."
A couple of the guys realized they had probably left the rain fly's open on their tents. We all realized we did not put the food or gear packs under the tarp we had set up. Seriously, we had taken the time to set up a really good rain tarp, but didn't put anything under it when we left camp. We weren't expecting rain and weren't really expecting to be gone all that long. Lesson learned!
All we could do was laugh. It wasn't worth trying to get back to camp in this weather. So we did exactly what we had planned....although we did not bring any rain gear, we DID bring six camp chairs, six camp cups, and a full box of wine (perfectly prepared in my opinion). So we hunkered down under a tree in camp, took a seat and passed the box around!
We were definitely getting wet...some of us cold as well. But the rain finally let up at about the same time we killed the box of wine, so we lumbered our soggy butts back out onto the lake, through the portage back to Cummings, and fished our way back up to camp.
In camp, we had some soggy gear and yes, some soggy tents (mine was all good though!) The sun was back out though so things were drying out nicely. We did watch (and hear) another storm form and roll south of us. We could see lightning and some crazy cloud formations, but it never got to us. It turns out that was actually a pretty severe storm with some high winds and, like mentioned, plenty of lightning.
Evening was dinner and some fun fishing from shore...I still had leeches left and finally found a little hole off shore where I could catch fish basically at will once I dialed the slip bobber to the right depth. Throw it out to that spot, start a little countdown, and by 10 I was getting a bite every time. That was pretty fun catch and release fishing.
Our campfire this night was even more pathetic than last night...because of the rain now our wood was even more soggy. We just never made it a priority to go out and find good firewood so we paid the price at night. Not a big deal though, we keep each other plenty entertained, fire or not.
Pack up camp and get out of the woods day. We traveled back the same way we came. Ended up on Crab Lake with too much time to spare before our arranged meeting time with the outfitter back on Burntside. So we squatted in a camp and killed some time playing stick & rock baseball and resting up for the long portage back.
The portage definitely did not get shorter, but we got through it and back over to Burntside with all our gear in perfect timing for the outfitter to meet us. They brought some cold sodas for us and ferried us back across Burntside.
Back at their shop we unpacked and returned everything we had borrowed. We had hotel rooms waiting for us in Duluth so we saved the showering for there.
We headed to Duluth and enjoyed some excellent food at Canal Park Brewing, then hit a few other Canal Park spots throughout the evening.
In the morning we parted ways, with the two Milwaukee guys heading that way, and the rest of us in one car to the Twin Cities.
All in all, it was really a phenomenal trip. The weather cooperated and even provided us with a great story about being stranded without rain gear. Fishing was so-so, but we have been known to strike almost completely out, so it was much better than that.
When I mentioned at the top of this report the "weird circumstances" that led to me being in the Twin Cities leading up to the trip, what I was alluding to was the very unexpected death of my brother and best friend at age 41, just a couple weeks earlier. He died on July 2, and his funeral was just a week before we were supposed to head up for this trip. Although he was not planning to join us on this particular trip, he had done it with us in previous years, and loved the woods and camaraderie as we all do.
So it was a very rough period of time, planning a funeral and getting through all that, but having this trip just around the corner. But my trip partners were some of his best friends, and I was determined to still make it happen. They all agreed, and my work and family helped accommodate me so that I could still get away.
It was very cathartic, and emotional at times, but I can't think of a better way to try to put something like that in perspective, reflect, and begin the healing process. I'm so grateful to have been able to take this trip, with several of my brother's closest friends. The stories about him are one of a kind, and telling them is the best way I know of to bring him back with us for those periods of time.