Day 1 of 6
Sunday, July 14, 2013 Day one, our group met up in Indianapolis in the afternoon with the plan to drive straight through to the Outfitter. Long drive, very long drive. At one point we stopped at a rest stop to sleep for a few hours. All the drivers were too tired to go on. Some in the group had worked a full day before we hit the road to drive all night. I slept in my seat in the van, others slept on picnic tables and park benches. When we arrived at Sawbill lake, we spent the first night camping on their camp grounds so we could have an early start the next day. The ground was softer then the park benchs. First day on the water, the morning looked like it was going to rain and it did. We entered at 37- Kawishiwi Lake our group was excited to start. When I was finally on the water I couldn’t believe I was here. All the challenges to make this trip happen finally paid off. Our route took us through the 2011 Pagami Creek fire area. New growth is back in the area but you can still tell was fire. One of our longer portages of the day we ran into a couple portage angles. Two young women traveling the opposite direction carried a couple of our packs back when they headed back to pick up their remaining gear. Didn’t learn their names, but I will think of them as a couple angles. It rained most of the day and some of the portages the mosquitoes were so thick we either had to portage in our bug nets or end up with a mouth full of bugs. Our first day ended on Koma Lake. The camp site we picked was not big enough for our group. The 8 of us used 6 tents and 2 hammocks. Half of our group picked another site on a small island. [paragraph break]
Kawishiwi Lake, Square Lake, Kawasachong Lake, Polly, Lake, Koma Lake
Day 2 of 6
Monday, July 15, 2013 The next morning the fishing crowd decided to check out Malberg Lake. My canoeing partner became Tim. He was an avid back packer with some experience in a canoe. Tim and I decided to get out of our campsite and explore north to Malberg Lake. We checked out a couple camp sites, one was taken by a couple that passed us the day before. The other was a beautiful spot, but would have been too small for our group. Had lunch there, I had humus with pita chips and a bottle of filtered lake water. At that moment I felt I was living the “good life”. When we headed back to our camp site on Koma, the group decided to break camp and head to Polly Lake. Glad we did, found a wonderful site. Great view and enough room for all of us. The guys sleeping in hammocks found trees on the water to set up on. They had a wonderful morning wake up view. Decided to spend two days on Polly. The only negative on this site, as soon as it got dark the mosquitoes swarmed. It was like a cloud. We all headed in for the evening.
Koma Lake, Malberg Lake, Polly, Lake
Day 3 of 6
Tuesday, July 16, 2013 Decided to spend two days on Polly. The only negative on this site, as soon as it got dark the mosquitoes swarmed. It was like a cloud. We all headed in for the evening. N 47 54.674 W091 06.257
Day 4 of 6
Wednesday, July 17, 2013 Hoped to catch the sunrise but slept in. It rained during the night and everything was calm. The sky was clear and the morning water was like glass. Had a cup of tea over looking water, it was the most relaxed I felt in years. One of the Bills asked me what I was thinking. I realized I wasn't thinking at all. Not a care or worry was in my mind. I was meditating without being in the lotus position. The day’s plan was to paddle to Phoebe Lake. Most of the route was upstream on the Phoebe River. No problem, little current and the portages had some small waterfalls. Only incident was one canoe in our group was hung up on some rocks at a put in point and overturned. I went in the water to help, they were our most seasoned team. A few bumps and bruises but everything dried out eventually that night. Small beaver damn and slippery rocks made for a tricky put in location. [paragraph break] We reached Phoebe early enough to check out our camp site options. We settled on a small island that didn’t seem like it was used much. Great spot, few mosquitoes, had to deal with the large ant colonies on the island. Don’t know how they got here but they have been there a while. They didn’t bother us, we did our thing and they did theirs. As the sun began to set I watched a large bald eagle checking out a canoe from our group that was fishing. The group were catching very small fish and were tossing them back. The eagle decided that was a waste of good fish and snagged a couple from the water when they were tossed back in. Wish we could have stayed on this camp site a couple days. Only complaint was no good tree to hang our bear bag. Instead we went to plan B and found a spot in the woods away from our camp site to put the bags under a tree. N 47 51.427 W091 00.711
Hazel Lake, Knight Lake, Phoebe Lake
Day 5 of 6
Thursday, July 18, 2013 We had heavy rains during the night. Had to pack up the tents and other gear wet. The morning discussion mostly focused on the portages we were facing that day. A 285 rod portage from Grace Lake to Beth Lake and another 140 rod portage from Beth Lake to Alton Lake. The plan was to find a camp site on Alton and have an easy last day. The 285 rod portage tested all of us. We planned to portage half way, lay down our gear and go back for the second load. I drank lots of water during and after that portage. I would need to pump some more during our lunch break. We stopped on Beth Lake for lunch and began the discussion. Should we go with the original plan and stop in Alton Lake, push on and camp at the Outfitter and get an early start to get home. Even the suggestion came up to push to the end, take a shower and find a hotel somewhere near Duluth. Just as we were about to push off it began to rain. One of the hardest storms I have ever been in. My rain gear was in my pack. I just stood behind a tree with my head down into the wind. My Tilley hat did a great job in the rain but I was soaked. During the middle of the storm the decision was push to the end and find a hotel. Had about 3” of rain in our canoes after the 30 storm. Glad it didn’t last much longer. Worrying about another storm rolling in we pushed hard across Beth Lake to our last long portage, 140 rods. As we were pulling into the portage take out, a family on a day trip was sitting there. There canoes were on the Alton side of the portage. We must have looked like group of drowned rats. The adults each grabbed a pack and carried them over to Alton. Of course they didn’t take mine, it was the heaviest pack. Alton was large open water lake, lots of camp sites but what we could tell most were filled already. Just before we reached the last portage our canoe hit an underwater rock and we were stuck. I couldn’t believe that we were going for a swim so close to the end. Lucky we freed ourselves and onto the take out point. The portage to Sawbill Lake was a short 25 rod trip. We were through the portage and at the take out point in no time. [paragraph break] Hot shower and on the road home. All our soaked gear was just tossed in the van and we were on our way. We stopped in a small town north of Duluth to eat.
Phoebe Lake, Grace Lake, Beth Lake, Alton Lake, Sawbill Lake
Day 6 of 6
Friday, July 19, 2013 Checked our electronics and noticed we missed a massive storm that night in the BWCA. That was good news, then some bad news. All the hotels in the area were booked for a convention in Duluth. We eventually found a small motel in central Wisconsin around 1AM. Have to admit, the bed felt good all 7 hours of sleep.
[paragraph break] Final thoughts – during the toughest portage I thought of work and said, this is better than sitting in front of a computer screen. I plan to go back soon, hopefully next year. My last trip to the BWCA I took my DSLR and was afraid I would damage it and never took it out. This time I had an inexpensive ($50) water proof digital camera. Didn’t have a worry about keeping it in my pfd and took lots. By the way, did I mention I over packed… definitely rethink that next time.