BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
December 10 2023
Number of Permits per Day: 7
Elevation: 1653 feet
Kawishiwi Lake - 37
Three Dudes and a Chinese Lady
May 31, 2012
Sawbill Lake (38)
Number of Days:
Yao and I were ready yesterday, Scott was not. We planned to take the bus and meet Joe, traveling from Nebraska, at the Greyhound station in Minneapolis, but yesterday Scott told us he was not prepared at all, so he would drive Yao and I to Duluth where we would all meet. First, Scott has to get his gear from his parent's and grandparent's house. Why, you may ask, is Scott's gear in two different locations, and why isn't he prepared? These are questions only Scott can answer, and I'm not patient enough to get a straight answer, nor can I give away his email address in case you wanted to ask him yourself. Scott has a nice car, a good sense of humor, and is a great fisherman and camp cook so I'm not irritated. We meet Joe in the parking lot of Gander Mountain an hour before they close. We could all use some last minute gear, so this is a sensible meeting place. "85 dollars for a wide-brimmed hat?!? Excuse me, where is the Wal-Mart?" We sleep at a hotel in Two Harbors where I talk the proprietor down to 55 dollars for a double (30 less than the hat at Gander Mountain). Everyone is excited, even Joe who loses the coin toss and has to sleep on the floor.
We pick up our entry permit and get the third degree from the ranger manning the counter. She must have asked us ten questions about rules in the BWCA. I'm grateful for this because it shows Yao exactly how serious Americans can be about protecting wild places. We then get our fishing licenses from the gas station in Tofte - one cashier and four people who need licenses. Behind us, the line is ten people deep and none too happy. One lady is definitely trying to murder me with her stare. "Excuse me," I say, "can that lady in bait run a register?" "Yes, but she's working on bait." "Well can she not?" I feel bad. I say, "I don't mean to be a jerk."
We pick up our canoes from Sawbill. They are genuinely excited to know that we will be gone for ten days. "Do you guys need fishing licenses?"
On the ride to Kawishiwi Joe, Yao, and I talk to the driver about our experience teaching in Thailand. The driver has an Ed. degree but no job (not surprising right now), and he seems excited about possibly teaching abroad. He drops us off and snaps our picture. I'm so excited I don't even bother to contain myself and it's backslaps and high fives all around. I've done some good trips before, including BWCA, Glacier National Park, The Porcupine Mountains, Myanmar, and Laos, but I've never been gone for ten days and I've never been responsible for three other people for that long.
I have the maps, and paddle us right into a small bay of a small island. When we get into the river Yao can't believe the stillness and says that the trees and clouds reflected in the water is like a dream. I tell her that there will be a lot of beauty, and I hope that she can open herself up to nature and feel the peace within.
Very windy today, so we decide to stay put. Had eggs and bacon for breakfast. This will be our last meal with fresh foods beside the fish we catch. I found a pile of garbage in the forest about 50 yards from camp. I can't decide if it was dragged there by an animal, or if some campers just tossed there garbage. The pile looks so...neat. The garbage is in a pile about 3-foot square. It contains toiletries and food wrappers including a hair pick, manicure brush, toothpaste, six packets of individual serving crystal light, and a big freezer container like a cooler. I keep the manicure brush to clean my pots, and the CrystalLight.
I'm eager to get going and to see as much of the park as possible, but the mood of the group is changing to staying put and relaxing more. The tent I share with Yao is right on the water, the entrance is only a foot from the shore.
We start late today. I really want to get up early, but in the morning twilight when it's still so cold out, it's easier to sleep in. We went through Malberg and caught a couple northerns for dinner. We stayed at a beautiful island campsite. Joe, the other newbie, is deeply impressed by the place, and we get a good photo of him fishing as the sun is starting to set. There is a beaver spanking the water, so Yao and I go to investigate. Yao has been a real good camper so far. She dives into any chore whether it be making the fire, or doing the dishes, or cooking, and she fights me on every portage to carry two bags while I carry one and the canoe. She's determined to prove herself with the guys. She's from a rural part of China, so I think she's used to roughing it. There was no indoor plumbing where she grew up, and she cooked on a wood-fired stove. The bugs are brutal with her though, and the fly bites make the area swell up a bit more than on the rest of us. We are taking proper precautions, but they find any area of unprotected skin, and like I said, they seem more violent with Yao.
Alice Lake is our first big lake and everyone is duly impressed. Off in the distance storm clouds and accompanying thunder suggest that we find a nice campsite, and the spot we choose is a real beaut. It's not on a point but it has a sand beach and well spaced pine trees asking us to pitch our tents underneath. It rains a little, but not to hard.
Tough morning. Yao's eye has swollen from a fly bite and she is pretty upset. I try to soothe her worries while we sit in the tent. She bucks up, puts on a brave face, and we get out to start the day. Instant coffee tastes good only on camping trips and we, the boys, relish our morning coffee as we discuss our plans.
I had originally intended to do a large loop through Kekekabic, but Joe and Scott want to shorten the distance and relax more. Scott has picked an isolated spot on the map called Boulder Lake that we can use as a base camp for a few days. I like to move a lot, but given Yao's condition I think that a rest is a good idea.
It's a tough day, eight portages one of which was the wrong one. Scott took us north out of Cap Lake not south. He thinks that the wrong portage must be a new one that goes all the way to Boulder lake. We think he's crazy and wrong. Joe and I take one look at the map and tell him as much. Scott is upset by his mistake, so we give him his space, but I make him carry Yao's bag to make up for the error. Yao is getting exhausted, and I tell her that we have two more portages to go and then we can rest for a few days. The portage from Cap to some unnamed stream is punishing, I end up slogging through knee-deep muck, and realize too late the portage is along the stream not in it. To tell the truth; I love it! It makes me feel alive, and the boots were falling apart anyways. I'll be doing the rest of trip in sandals and wool socks. By the time we get to Boulder, we're spent. We set up our tent and pass out.
Nothing to do today and not much to report. We idle away, washing our clothes and laying on the rocks. We go fishing or exploring in silent contemplation as the day drifts away. A northern actually broke water to strike my lure. Yao wanted to bash in the head dinner like she saw the fishmongers do in her nearby town's market. We steamed it with salt and plenty of lemon. We watch a loon noisily take off across the water in front of our campsite and are pleased by the distraction.
Lazy day number 2. We really needed this break. We slept for ten hours last night. We catch a couple more northerns for lunch. We are going to get going tomorrow, and Yao and I decide to leave tonight and get a hard start. We've been chasing Joe and Scott all around the lakes, and it can be a bit annoying. We copy part of the map to Malberg and leave around 5:00PM. The portage between Boulder and Adams goes through a king beaver's tri-level pond estate. The island site at Adams is remarkable. There is a moose skull at this site. Between the skull and the solitude and the silence and the late arrival, Yao is a bit freaked, but the whip-por-will call is strangely comforting. We drift off to sleep talking about our future in China and plans for the rest of our American summer.
Yao and I get an early start. It looks like it's going to rain. Our map and Scott and Joe's overlap at this point, so there's no concern about getting separated. The bugs are bad, and I realize that we have all the bug repellent. I leave one container of dope on a rock at a protage with a note for Joe and Scott. It starts to rain at a later portage, so we hide out under a tarp, protected by trees. It comes down hard for a few minutes and passes. We are going to exit at Sawbill through the Louse River, and the boys catch up to us just before the start of the Louse River. After not having seen anyone for three days, this lake seems downright crowded.
The Louse river is tough, and the bugs are horrendous. The mosquitoes are tolerable but the ticks are everywhere, each time we end a portage we do a tick check and we all find three, four, five or more ticks each time. We go as far as we can, and camp at Post(?) Lake. We are all exhausted, but in good spirits. I could stay eight more days. Yao is ready to get back to civilization. She's been tremendous this trip, but I don't think that she'll be coming back anytime soon. She's not weak, but this trip has taken a good deal out of us all. Yao was met with shock and consternation when we told female friends about our BWCA plans. "That's really long", and "I'm sure you can do it, but ten days with three guys" were some of the things we heard. They have no idea who they are talking to. No doubt about it; this has been a heck of a trip, and Joe, Scott and I are convinced that she has set the record for the longest trip to the BWCA by a female Chinese national. Indeed, in preparation for the trip Yao looked for info, and only found one trip report from Chinese, and they didn't portage in.
And done. The long portage out of Zenith lake was a killer. Joe dropped his stuff with about a 1/4 mile to go, and just gave up. He had been carrying at least 100 pounds the entire trip and he finally broke. Yao and I help him with the stuff. The wind on Sawbill was absolutely brutal, but we paddled on with images of ice cream cookies and a steak dinner in our minds.
Leaving the canoes was bittersweet, as I'm sure it is for most everyone that leaves the back country. The stars are brighter, the water sweeter, the sweat purer, and the food tastier 'out there'. It was hard to go back to civilization, but how long can you stay in the wilderness? We clamber into the car, all hotels are packed between Tofte and Two Harbors, and we stay in the same place that we stayed in on the way up. A shower has never warmed me so well, a bed has never felt so soft.
Yao said BWCA is an awesome place; beautiful and peaceful the most serene place she's ever been, but it's tough too. She's amazed at how well it's protected and how every visitor seemed to be on board with its protection. We'll be back (Yao says in ten years) and we know it will be exactly the same. It's good to know that as I finish this report half way around the world in Shanghai that there is a peaceful campsite on a beautiful lake in the BWCA waiting for our return.