BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
April 21 2021
Number of Permits per Day: 4
Elevation: 1406 feet
Crab Lake & Cummings Lake - 4
Crab Lake 2 Guys and 2 Dogs
September 01, 2020
Crab Lake and Cummings from Burntside Lake
Number of Days:
We meet in Ely around 3:00 pm the day before our start. Bob wants to get the dogs acquainted so we take them for a walk on the north side of town. My border collie “Luna” is 9 years old and Bob’s “Jake” is a 5 year old Visla. Jake is a working therapy dog. Luna could be one also as she loves people more than playing with other dogs. After the usual smells they seem to be indifferent to each other. Perfect!
I’ve known Bob for a handful of years from a couple of online canoeing forums and have met up with him at the annual Canoecopia paddling expo every March in Madison, Wisconsin. He replied to a post that was an open invitation for someone to join me on a rugged bushwhack type canoe trip into Quetico Park in Canada. Our plans would have to change because of the border being closed due to the pandemic.
We settle on doing a loop in the little visited, far southwest section using Crab Lake as our entry. This would be new territory for me and Bob’s 2nd time here. I had always avoided this area because of the few very long portages between some of the lakes. It’s also known to be an area that a large wolf pack frequents. We would have to keep a close eye on the dogs especially on the portages. I’d be lying if I said this news didn’t make me nervous.
We stay the night at Ely Outfitters in their comfortable bunkhouse. Another forum member we both know from Canoecopia stops by for a beer. Rich AKA "Pineknot" is starting a solo trip the next day about 10 miles to our north. We turn in fairly early as we are tired from our long drives.
After a loud thunderstorm, the alarm wakes us at 4:30 AM. We get to the public landing on Burntside Lake and are shoving off at 6:15 into a sunny morning with a slight breeze. The lake is a large one and the maze of islands make navigation very tricky for us but we manage to locate the Crab Lake portage. At one and a half miles long, it’s not the ideal way to start a trip when the packs are heavy. We double and triple portage the mostly level path to finish 3 hours later.
The wind has picked up and is steady right in our face at the landing. Both of us are tired and decide to look for a site to camp and take the first one on the left. It’s fairly big with protected areas for our sleeping quarters. The only drawback is the small landing.
The bay and islands block some of the wind for us but it picks up as the day goes on.
This is Jake taking it easy. [img]https://i.imgur.com/0k2tK6m.jpg?2[/img]
Luna chilling out. [img]https://i.imgur.com/J0HVJmR.jpg?1[/img]
Both dogs are canoe country veterans but have never gone with other dogs before. So far so good. There's wind and rain forecasted for tomorrow so we decide to layover here. Our bodies need to recover a bit and we have plenty of time. The dogs play fetch with a tennis ball and a stick. It's nice that they don't compete for each others toys. I'll be finding out just how different these dogs are as the trip goes on.
It rains lightly just before dark but the wind has died down and it's warm going down to the 50's overnight. A thunderstorm is in the forecast around midnight tonight. So far it's been a great start.
During the night we had several thunderstorms with blasting gusts of wind. I sleep in a tarp covered hammock with Luna in her own "pup tent" underneath me. She does not like thunder at all but she doesn't make a sound. I'm concerned that a tree or some limbs might blow down. Violent thunderstorms can be quite scary in canoe country.
The morning and afternoon remained very windy. We couldn't go anywhere even if we wanted to. It was 50 degrees and very gusty winds. This made cooking breakfast very uncomfortable. My bacon and egg breakfast and coffee got cold in a hurry.
Bob fares better as he cooks inside his CCS Lean 1. He set it up facing away from the lake and wind so I joined him in there for lunch. Between rain squalls were patches of sun. Not much to do so I play fetch with Luna and read a book for awhile then take a nap. It was all very nice!
Around 7:00 the wind settled down so we had a fire. Both Bob and myself like to travel in solo canoes so that's what we are doing this time. We each bring everything we need as if on a solo trip. We don't really combine or share equipment but I become the sawyer with my new Boreal 21 saw and Bob is the splitter with his forest axe. Bob says "splitting wood is my jam" and he gets a workout by heating his house in rural Wisconsin with wood.
The forecast is for sun and a cold front moving in. We hit the sacks early as it's dark by 8:00 now. The night gets very windy again but no more rain. It's so nice to be back in canoe country. This is my 20th trip of a week or longer and it's Luna's 5th.
I'm awake at 4:50 but the hammock is so comfortable I lay there until 5:30. I make oatmeal and top it with raw honey and dehydrated apple slices. It then takes me a while to tear down and fill the packs. Doing one trip a year I'm not in sync yet as to what goes where.
We paddle north and it's sunny with a light breeze. We take the 20 rod portage into Little Crab then follow a narrow creek up into Korb Lake without any trouble. We get on the Korb river to our west and this is very scenic all throughout before hitting a 35 rod portage leading to Cummings Lake.
I'm on the trail first and soon come upon a large blowdown at an angle across the trail. This looks very fresh and there's branches out of the trunk making it impossible to cross over. I get out the saw and go to work. About 20 minutes later there's a nice path to portage through. I'm really liking my new saw.
We meet a couple of older guys out on a daytrip. At the rocky landing into Cummings the wind has picked up and is blowing straight down the lake at us. The 2 guys are older locals and, with no real gear except daypacks they shove off into the waves. Me and Bob are not so sure about it.
We talked about going back and entering Cummings from a different portage to the west but retracing our steps and adding more work is something we both hate to do. So, we went for it. Bob steadied my boat as I loaded up off the boulders while waves wanted to push the canoe back into the rocks. I managed fine once off the shore and just needed to keep myself pointed into the wind.
I watched from 15 yards out as Bob tried the maneuver by himself. Once in the boat he suddenly jumped out into waist deep water. Uh oh... Jake managed to stay put but some water came over the side when it tipped. He unloaded and dumped the canoe out then tried again at a different section of shore. All is good now and we are both off into the white caps.
We need to paddle about 1 and mile up a wide arm of Cummings into the white caps before finding a campsite. We stuck to the north shore and really exerted ourselves as we made slow progress against the waves. We round the corner and can see that the nice island spot is already taken. There's another site up ahead on our shore. It's open!
The landing is perfect, a large flat slab of granite with a shallow sandy approach. I'm liking this already. We find a nice fireplace surrounded by sitting logs and even large flat rocks to do food prep. The site is very flat and open behind the pit with camp spots back behind and off to the side in the trees.
My Warbonnet Blackbird hammock with a Warbonnet Superfly tarp. I found a nice protected area to the side of the site.
Luna's little tent gets set up beneath my feet. I put down a foam mat with a fleece blanket on top of it for her. She really likes it in there.
After setting up camp I throw the tennis ball into the water for Luna. She loves this and I have to physically tell her when we are done because she just won't quit no matter how cold and shaking she gets.
Bob took this of me by the lake.
We were going to layover again so wanted to stock up on cut firewood which we did. Bob discovered a path that went way back beyond the site and checking my Voyageur map it shows a system of ski trails coming from lakes to the east.
We got the fishing rods rigged up and Bob fished offshore. I threw the ball in the water AGAIN for Luna. She apparently had a lot of pent up energy from laying in the canoe while I fought the white caps so I obliged her. Then, it was time for a nap!
My dinner was dehydrated elk burger with Hamburger Helper (stroganoff). I did a lot of dehydrating of food for this trip and have 4 meals like this planned. I also dried some ham to add to Mac and Cheese. That is one of my favorite canoe camping meals. This evening we are treated to a spectacular sunset. Photo courtesy of Bob.
It got cold last night. High 30's (fahrenheit) but the forecast says low 60's and sunny today. This morning I take my time and cook up bacon and pancakes with my coffee. We agree that it's a fishing day and both of us are on the water most of the day. Cummings is a large lake with many arms and bays. It's basically 2 lakes separated by a short narrow channel. We stay in the smaller section and explore around islands and bays and check out a few other campsites that are open. I eat my lunch on a flat slab of shoreline deep in a bay.
I don't have much luck fishing catching only a handful of smallish smallmouth bass losing the biggest one at the boat. Probably 14-15 inches or so. Bob said he cooked up 2 smallmouth on the shore for him and Jake. All in all it was very sunny and pleasant and the wind wasn't much of a factor today. Coming back I had to run Luna. I threw the ball back and forth in the large open area. She's so fun to watch as she dodges around logs and trees to get the ball.
We cooked dinner over the fire then just sat on the rocks by the lake with the dogs as dusk came on. It's a very calm and quiet evening with no bugs. I don't think I've seen a mosquito the whole trip.
We both were up at 5:15 wearing headlamps while making breakfast. While tearing down camp Bob says to listen. Not too far away we hear a wolf pack howling. It didn't go on for very long but it was very cool! It sounds like they are right across the lake but we know how that can be deceiving. I mix some oatmeal in luna's food to try to get her to eat. We all have a big day today. Pic by Bob.
We are packed and on the water at 8:05. Luckily the breeze is quartering us from behind as we cross the large main body of Cummings Lake. It's about a 3 mile paddle to the portage.
This is the big one. It's 480 rods to Buck Lake. There's not much elevation change but it's overgrown is parts and doesn't get a lot of traffic. It took us 3 and half hours to complete and I am wiped out. I think I pushed too hard with the big pack and strained my hip. Bob, at 6'4" takes very long strides and I don't think it was a good idea to try to keep up.
Once on Buck we paddle another 2 and a half miles into a decent headwind to check out a site on the south shore. The landing is bad and I can barely walk once on the site. I'm spent but I don't like it here. Neither does Bob. So back in the boats to double back to a site on the north side.
Yes, much better. The tent options aren't good and there's only one decent place to hang my hammock but it has 2 separate very nice landings and a great high rock face with fireplace overlooking the lake. Bob ends up in a clearing way in back up on a hill. I know I would never have the energy to haul everything up there but he does.
The wind is in the trees here but by the open fireplace it's not bad. After setting up we eat dinner and chat for a bit before trudging off to a blissful, well earned sleep.
The wind howled above me in the trees all night and it got down to 45 degrees. I slept soundly until 7:30. Moving slowly and in no hurry I made bacon, scrambled eggs and added dehydrated onions, red peppers, and mushrooms then topped it with shredded cheddar cheese. I made myself 3 cups of coffee as I overlooked beautiful Buck Lake. Photo courtesy of Bob.
Today is going to be sunny and 61 degrees. We are determined to have a fish fry. Bob is first on the water and I dilly dally until 11:00. I start by catching a nice bluegill on a way too large to eat crankbait. I must have snagged it! I then catch a 12 inch walleye that I also keep. Normally I would have thrown both of these back but we really want to eat fish and there's a serious cold front coming soon which is probably going to shut down fishing pretty good.
I stay out till around 4:00 and find Bob trying his luck from shore. In the boat he had better luck using small twister jigs catching 2 small northern and several walleyes and also a big bluegill.
We put some northern fillets in foil on the fire for the dogs and I broke out my Cache Lake foods fish chowder and we added the walleye and bluegill to it. What a feast it was. My journal says "... and we were stuffed!"
The cold front came during the night. It got down to 35 degrees. It's sunny and very calm with fog out on the lake.
We are not in a hurry today. It's oatmeal and coffee then out on the lake to find some walleyes. I got skunked for the longest time before catching a 16 inch smallmouth which I kept. Then later in the afternoon while using one of Bob's small white twister jigs in 20 feet of water I boated a solid 18 inch eater walleye. That was it for me for the day.
Bob had good luck jigging and got a 19 inch northern and 2 nice bluegill. I offered to filet our fish while Bob went back to camp to start a fire.
Ooh baby! I knew it would be cold so wore all I had including my rain pants. It got down to 32 bone chilling degrees last night. We are both moving slow this morning. It's coffee with my oatmeal and I share some with luna. Todays another big travel day. We both came to the agreement that we like to find good camps to layover on then spend a whole day traveling. It beats moving every day like we both did when we were younger. There's so much time taken up with setting up and tearing down camp. We like this way better.
We shove off from our site at 10:10 and just have a short paddle across the narrowest part of the lake to our 80 rod portage to Western Lake. Photos of me and Luna coming into the landing courtesy of Bob.
Bob has a different way of portaging. He's a traditionalist in some respects. I call him a "Traditional Hybrid" because he uses some old school methods like sleeping with a wool blanket instead of a sleeping bag and he has a a canvas duffle with a tump. A tumpline wraps around the high part of your forehead to help carry heavy loads. He likes the old ways and keeping it simple. I find it very interesting.
After crossing Western Lake we take a 195 rodder into Glenmore Lake then it's 205 rods to Schlamm. Then we need to portage into Glenmore Creek. Bob is nervous that the low water (drought) this year might be big trouble on the creek. It could be a mudfest and it's about a half mile long with a 60 rod portage in the middle. Here goes nothing!
Here's the landing after a nasty 60 rodder that breaks up the creek. Once we launch it's fairly muddy and takes some poling to get going. The creek has water and is covered with lily pads except for a narrow open channel of water to follow.
There's a few small old beaver dams to lift over. We would just tell the dogs to stay and we would drag the boats over.
We found the take out landing with a bit of difficulty as it's down a separate arm of the creek by a grove of trees on the west side. Then it's a 60 rodder into Lunetta Lake. We both are pretty whipped by now and are hoping the one site on Little Crab is open for us. Out of lunetta is another creek. At over a mile long and very winding and narrow we come out onto Little Crab and I immediately see someone in a white long sleeved shirt walking around the camp across the lake. Rats! Too tired to think, there's only one thing to do.
It's 6:00 now with the sun getting low. There's a short paddle to the portage going into Crab Lake. Thankfully it's only 20 rods but the packs seem to be very heavy now. We are running on fumes as we pass up the first 2 sites in hopes for the better one on the point. Yes, It's open!! It's huge and perfect for us. It has a shallow sand beach landing for luna to swim and nice spots to set up in a large area of big pines. The fire pit has seating all around although the grate is falling apart. The next day a tandem team of forest rangers visited the site to inspect the broken grate. It later will be replaced. The views are fantastic being on a peninsula jutting out in the middle we can see all the arms of the "Crab" from here.
I get the water filtering and it's almost dark as I finish setting up the tarp, tent, and hammock. I'm too tired to eat but use Bob's twig stove to heat water for hot chocolate. I brought some good brandy along and give a generous pull into my mug. Bob breaks out his Penobscot 12 Rye Whiskey. Yeah, that's good stuff! We worked like the Voyageurs of yesteryear today and we allow ourselves to relax. We will be here for 2 nights.
It's calm and clear and the forecast is for 30 degrees again. Lucky for me, sometime during the trip I found another fleece hat in a pocket. So I double up my 2 hats, put on my wool wrist warmers and layer up. I set up my tarp so it's just over the top of my hammock with steep sides. It's called "storm mode" but I like to think it protects from the wind and hopefully holds in my heat better. I'm set up in a low gully surrounded by trees. Bedtime is 8:30.
It was the coldest night for us. To make it worse for me, my underquilt kept slipping off to the side exposing some of my back. I adjusted it too tight and it kept slipping during the night. I had a hard time sleeping.
The morning is very cold, calm and clear. I cook up bacon and eggs and down some hot coffee. Afterwards I find Bob and Jake sitting on the east side facing the sun. I join them with Luna and it was really nice to take in that warmth with our dogs.
Overall this was a great trip. Very strenuous and the fishing was slow but it wasn't crowded like the reports we were hearing earlier in the summer. We heard wolves howling on 3 separate mornings and saw their scat on several of the portages. One pile near a landing was so big and fresh it kind of spooked me. It looked dark green and like something that would come out of a St. Bernard. On that same trail we found a fresh mini pile. Same color but it could have been a weasel, just not sure. I like to think we were following a wolf pack with pups. Who knows, they probably saw us and we only heard them.
The dogs got along great and I think Luna might have actually play chased with Jake at this site. They are very different dogs. Jake will chase sticks and play tug of war. He'll just take off running with a glove in his mouth and has a lot of energy. He's also a stone cold killer.
At this last site we had a lot of big pines in our camp and as soon as we heard a squirrel, there was Jake under the tree looking up at it. The squirrel would jump from top to top to get away from Jake. He never gave up. I doubt a squirrel ever stepped on the ground at this site.
Then one day I was making lunch or something in the fire pit when "ZOOM"! Jake flies past me and pounces on something outside the fire pit. Apparently a mouse was either coming or going and Jake saw it from probably 20 feet away. Bob might know where Jake was when he saw the mouse. I just saw a blur of a dog fly by. He got it alright!
Another funny thing Jake does is vibrate his whole body and tail when excited to see someone. One early morning Jake was roaming around outside my hammock. I had just woken up and he was sniffing the hammock so I started to unzip so I could say hi. Well, I got it open 10 inches and suddenly this vibrating head flew inside the hammock and with his head flailing back and forth he began to lick my face. All I could do was howl with laughter. He would go and wake up Luna too. He was the cheerful morning welcome wagon. Good time Jake! BTW, Jake is being held a lot because he gets cold very easily. He constantly had his coat on and Bob says when sleeping he will burrow under the blanket.
Now Luna has quite a different temperament. She doesn't chase wildlife or sticks. Won't play tug of war either. She's very calm and controlled around camp and likes nothing better than getting a belly rub. Then, when you show her a ball or a frisbee (which I don't bring anymore) or just say the words, she is instantly ready to go. She's quick like lightning and very agile weaving around rocks and trees at top speed. I don't bring a frisbee because I'm afraid she will get hurt while looking upwards trying to make the catch.
Why she doesn't chase wildlife is a mystery to me. She seems curious of rabbits and squirrels but won't chase them. She will just stare at deer if she sees one in the woods by our house. A few years ago on a trip she was laying in an open area watching two squirrels chase each other round and round our site. They then ran right past her! Like 2 feet away and she just watched them. Strange collie.... Here she's doing what she loves. Photo by Bob.
Bob's Lean One tent.
After hearing the weather forecast for rain Friday night into Saturday we decided to come out tomorrow on Friday and cut it a day short so we won't be packing up a wet camp on Saturday.
It got cold again but I had my underquilt adjusted and slept good and warm. I'm up early and the sunrise is gorgeous. We paddle across Crab and retrace the mile and half portage back to Burntside. There's lots of people on the long portage today. We share it with a solo guy from Texas, another solo guy from the east coast and a couple of guys from Minnesota. Bob blows my mind by taking his small pack and canoe all the way in one trip. I usually stop halfway to drop my pack then come back for it. Bob is crazy strong. Could be a bit of a Paul Bunyan with all the chopping he does.
The wind is down and it's beautiful and sunny as we paddle Burntside back to the cars. We get a room in town and chill out in Ely for the rest of the day. I really like paddling with Bob and Jake and hope to do it again sometime.
The next morning we had plans for a 6:00 AM breakfast at Brittons with Lawrence "Magicpaddler" and Ben "Nctry". The place was packed, the food and coffee great as ever and a perfect way to end our stay in Ely. Lawrence was packing calories in preparation to start another exhausting 200 mile solo for the Watertribe Challenge of paddling the border lakes to Lake Superior.