BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
February 08 2023
Number of Permits per Day: 11
Elevation: 1802 feet
Sawbill Lake - 38
Isaac's first trip to BWCA for his 8th Birthday
June 24, 2010
Number of Days:
For Isaac's 8th Birthday (June 23) I decided to introduce him to wilderness camping - my favorite camping place - BWCA. He's been car camping since he was a baby and I don't want him to wait until later in life like I did to appreciate the beauty and wonder of the BWCA. He already loves nature and respects it so it was time to take him.
We booked the same Langford Northwind from Mike @ The Canoeist - an easy tandem with sliding front seat. That worked well to get his weight as far forward as I could and then he was able to paddle without having to reach as far over the sides. He had a nice kid’s size Sawyer paddle and I tried a bent blade one for the first time. I think I liked it. They told me that you lose a little bit of control with it but that it's more efficient.
Originally we were going for an entry date of June 25th. Had planned on camping at Sawbill campground and practice paddling today. But after thinking about it I decided that if we're already going to be there we might as well add an extra night to our trip so I went online and changed our entry date to the 24th. Surprisingly there were no permits booked for that day. He was excited - we'd have an extra night in the B-dub for our trip - and thought it was a fantastic idea.
Wednesday was his actual birthday and of course the night before any trip no one can get a wink of sleep. I think he finally fell asleep around 10:30 and it was almost midnight for me. The alarm was set for 5:00 am. One short night + one long drive = one tired mama by the time we'd get there. We were up at 5:00 on the nose as planned and of course the van was loaded except for a few last things. We got ourselves ready and were on the road by 6:00 am as planned.
A quick stop in Hinckley (a mere 17 miles from home) to gas up and we were on our way north. As I was waiting to turn out of Holiday a dark colored car carrying an Old Town with BWCA.com stickers turned in towards Burger King or Hardees. I'm so curious to know who that was! I ALWAYS look at every vehicle I see carrying a canoe for those stickers but have never seen one. I'll have to post when I get home to see if anyone will answer or admit - I'm so curious - or perhaps just plain nosy :)
After that, Northbound we were with an appointment to pick up the canoe in Two Harbors and to meet up with Dan and Lauren for breakfast at Betty's Pies. We met about 9:30 and had a great visit. The kids fed off each other and got along fantastically. Isaac had his coloring stuff with which he shared with Lauren. She told me that she was going to draw a picture of nature because nature is so pretty - that was so precious. What a dad she has to be guiding her like that - I've said it before, she's one lucky little girl to have a dad like that. In between "shushing" the kids Dan and I were able to visit and go over the Quetico maps for my upcoming trip. I can't believe it's less than a month away! He was so helpful and gave me some great tips on the portages, campsites and optional routes if we decide to not do the entire loop. Thank you so much, Dan, for all that information!
After breakfast we said our good-byes, have fun, be safe blah blah blah and both set off on our northward journeys again. I was headed to Sawbill so didn't have quite as far as they had to go. They were headed to Seagull. There was road construction on 61 that was really pissing me off - I was a woman on a mission and they were getting in my way! FINALLY we got through the construction zone - which was probably about 5 miles but seemed like 50 - and were able to drive a normal speed. Isaac napped almost the whole way to Sawbill. He had slept most of the way to Two Harbors as well so by the time we reached Sawbill he was raring to go.
As soon as I parked the van to get unloaded the first thing he had to do was run down to the canoe landing to check it out. I let him look for a bit as I unstrapped the canoe - enjoying the fresh air as I was "working." Though I don't consider it working. As I was still unstrapping the canoe, a van drove by slowly and a guy said "hi" - he had a BWCA.com hat and stickers on his canoe and van! He didn't stop to chat but it was fun to see another fellow paddler. Two in one day - I was pretty excited.
It didn't take long to get everything unloaded from the van and re-loaded into the canoe. I was a little concerned because there was a pretty stiff north wind blowing. There weren't any big rollers on the lake, but I knew that basically paddling solo in a loaded canoe wouldn't be easy in that wind. We shoved off and my concern was completely warranted - the wind was very strong and it was hard going. Isaac was such a trooper and he tried so much to help out. He was such a little man, doing exactly as I asked him to do, not complaining and paddling his little heart out.
As we first started out he said to me, "Mommy, this is just how I imagined the Boundary Waters to look like." That was such sweet music to my ears. I hope that I have another paddle partner for life. The girls are getting so busy with their lives right now with college and such that I fear our trips won't be as often as I like. I like my solo trips but also want to continue paddling with my children - as I wish I would have been able to paddle with my dad.
That wind was turning into a battle that I did NOT like at all. Isaac worked so hard to do his part helping - what a trooper! After we'd been paddling for a while we discussed it and decided that the first open campsite that we found we would take - even if it was the "perfect" one or the one that we were aiming for. We "hugged" the shoreline to watch for those campsites though there aren't many along there. The first campsite that we came upon was the one by the portage to the fire lakes - but it was taken so, onward we battled the wind. The wind was so strong that a few times it spun us around 180* and as we were trying to "hug" the shoreline we had a few shore rubs - I wouldn't call them crashes because we didn't actually hit anything, we just needed to push off with our paddles. There were no hard hits, no damage or anything. It was just pissing mom off - big time - and Isaac heard a few words that he doesn't ever hear mom say.
We paddled onward, and were close to the campsite that I stayed at on my solo last year. We entered the cove and Isaac kept calling out "hello?" with no answers at all. I pulled up to shore, he got out, ran up the campsite and excitedly hollered back to me, "It's open!" He was ecstatic because this was the campsite that he had originally wanted in the first place. I had prayed the whole time paddling that it would be open and, yeehaw, it was. We got the canoe unloaded and as I was in the water getting ready to haul it further ashore, I slipped on those slime covered rocks and down I went. Good grief. Two trips out of Sawbill EP and two times I get wet. At least this time it wasn't a canoe dunk. And thank goodness I didn't get hurt. But boy, oh boy, that water was COLD! BRRR!
It took a while to get camp set up and organized. Isaac was so excited to check everything out. Of course the first thing we had to find was the latrine - he didn't have any clue as to what a latrine was or what it would look like. He's just been used to pit toilets at the State Parks. He wasn't too fond of how it looks and I'll be surprised if he actually will even use it.
Since there was a chance of rain all weekend I put up one of the ugly blue tarps over my tent just because I know that he won't be as careful as I am getting in/out of the tent when it's raining - and I'm glad I did that. I also set up my new Guide Gear rain tarp - it didn't have any directions with it so I improvised. It isn't the best job, but it's up and it'll keep us dry. And, holy crap, it's freakin' huge!
While I was doing that Isaac was busy gathering fire wood - he was so excited to have a fire. I wasn't really paying attention to what he was gathering but he had found a downed pine tree by our tent and was getting dry sticks off there (such a good boy! all that birch bark available and he didn't touch it). He asked me to come look at his campfire that was ready to be lit and low and behold he got a teepee style set up. We had discussed at breakfast that usually the teepee style campfires don't work in the fire grates in the BWCA - he didn't get it that it wasn't a fire pit that he's been used to all these years State Park camping.
After admiring his work I went back to getting things organized and put up the mosquito netting thing I had purchased at REI - it had little key chain rings and i was able to hook those right onto the tarp - it worked perfect - wasn't exactly "square" but it was a place for him to sit without bugs getting at him -he doesn't like mosquitoes and was complaining about them. It was a good $15 spent. And actually the bugs weren't that bad. What there was a lot of were slugs! I don't know why, but ewwwww, they're so gross.
Once everything was set up and organized he decided that he wanted to go for a swim in his own private swimming area. Actually swimming for him there was wading and trying to catch minnows.
So, on went the swim trunks, water shoes and PFD and into the cove he went. The water was crystal clear and filled with rocks. I reminded him that some of those rocks are very slippery and he knew because of my slip earlier. He took a bowl and silently hunted them - standing still and striking just when he thought it would work to catch one.
As he was minnow hunting I sat on one of the rocks and pumped water. But I had to stop just to watch him a take a few photos. The sun was shining on his while head of hair and sparkling like millions of diamonds on the water. Watching him in this setting was so enchanting to me. Hi sun-kissed, brown skin set off his white hair. You'd think by looking at him, as fair as he is in the winter, that he'd burn in the summer, but he doesn't. Gets that from his mama - daddy burns. He had such fun I only wish that I had taken the girls when they were younger. However, I didn't have the confidence that i do now to take such a camping trip.
I'm still amazed at how well he did paddling in that head wind today. He even said to me "I wish we were going the other way so the wind would be pushing us!" My smart boy. I also showed every ounce of my inexperience in that wind, but still learning as I went.
The sun is still shining with a few clouds brewing and there's thunder in the distance. I think it'll probably rain later, but for now we'll enjoy the sunshine. We both got quite warm paddling in that wind so a swim for him was a good thing. He got cooled off and burned off some energy from sitting so long. And, now, FINALLY, success - he caught his minnow. There's just something about not needing any toys to be entertained. He is so good at that. This time it was a bowl, lake water, "fishies" and the thrill of the hunt - that’s all it took.
Supper was Mountain House Spaghetti. It's labeled as serving for two but it would feed three. Between the two of us we only ate half the package. It was pretty good but next time I'm going to look for meals that serve one. Of course, I know that he'd also been snacking so I suppose that didn't help matters either. He loves his Gobstoppers! We did light the campfire that he built after supper was cleaned up - I couldn't deny him a fire on his first night in the BWCA even though I was dying to go to bed. He really did a great job getting it ready to be lit. Added a fire starter and it took of great. We sat "around" and I let him have free reign with it - though watching him closely. It wasn't a big fire and didn't make enough coals for marshmallows, but he was so full from supper he wouldn't have been able to eat one anyway.
For most of the late afternoon and evening we heard thunder off in the distance though it was sunny for us - with a few clouds. I couldn't tell which direction it was coming from or if it was coming towards us. I hoped that it wouldn't storm as I knew that would make him so afraid - he doesn't like thunderstorms and being in a tent in one will NOT be a good thing for him. Time will tell.....
Isaac is so busy and enthralled with everything there is to see - rocks, trees, detritus, bugs, plants, even water - just nature in general. If he can handle camping without his bike, friends and numerous toys then we'll be doing good. I should have someone teach me how to fish, clean and filet because he does like to fish. I just don't. He would spend hours casting from shore I bet and have fun just trolling along in the canoe. Only problem is I hate raw meat and guts and such. Icky.
Just as our fire was dying it started to sprinkle and though it was still plenty light out he headed to the tent. The thunder kept rumbling in the distance but it never did reach here. As we were getting ready to head tothe tent we could hear wolf howls far in the distance - that was cool! There was rain off and on all night long, no downpours, just nice soft rains.
In the tent we played cards and I taught him how to play Yahtzee the real way (he's played it on the hand held game).
We read (or I should say I read to him) a book. Then we decided that we would make up and write our own story. We took the Doodle Pad and he made up the story with just a little help from me. I wrote it down for him and then after a few paragraphs he would add the illustration. We did this for quite a long time - he really enjoyed that.
As it got dark out I pulled out the glow sticks that I had purchased for him as a surprise. He played with those as I journaled. I’m glad that I got them - he really had fun with them. He strung one of them up to use as a night light - it was so cute. By then it was dark, not sure the time - I tend to not look at my watch much when on trips. We were both bushed and ready for bed. One last potty and off to dreamland we both went.
I slept fitfully last night, waking up several times and I’m not sure why. Once was from being cold and I needed to add a layer of clothing. I such a cold baby lately! I was also so tired last night that I forgot to put in my ear plugs and didn’t use them until the birds were so loud in their early morning singing. Perhaps that’s why I didn’t sleep well. At one point when I was up, the sky was clear and it looked to be a sunny day. I hoped that it would be a nice warm sunny day. BUT, it was too early to get up yet so I crawled back in my warm bag and slept for a few more hours in blissful silence thanks to my ear plugs.
I finally awoke to my body screaming, once again, at me to move. And, bummer, it was raining….again. Not a hard rain, just a nice soft rain, but rain none the less. I was hoping it would be a passing shower. Isaac was already awake and raring to go for the day - he has so much energy in the morning and I’m sooooooo not like that. It takes me a bit to get moving. We got dressed and headed outside to our little shelter to make breakfast. As I was working on that he went and got the bear vault and claims that something moved it in the middle of the night. I don’t think anyone did - I think that he’s telling me tall tales. But no matter - if it makes the trip adventurous for him then I’ll let him think what he wants. I also didn’t hang the bag with the rest of our food in it - there weren’t any good trees for hanging. I double pack bagged it and covered with the rest of the gear so that if anything large did try to get into it there would be a racket. The only evidence of intruders was mouse turds and a little area on the stuff sack where it tried to chew through - couldn’t do it - only some snags in the material. I don’t have a clue how to hang the bags like they have set up at Sawbill Outfitters. I just took my chances on the double bagging and we were fine . . . this time . . . I don’t have delusions of that always being safe.
Breakfast was Mountain House scrambled eggs and bacon - says serving for one. Even with both of us starving we still didn’t eat the entire package. Of course we each had a fruit cup along with breakfast, but still, those packages really do have a lot of food in them. They’re really made for hungry men and/or teenagers IMHO.
After breakfast was done we kinda sat there and looked at each other - it was still raining and neither one of us wanted to go out in the canoe in the rain. He asked if we could go back into the tent so we did - must have been about 10:30 - not sure though as I said, I don’t usually keep track of the time. We read some more and worked on his story some more. We played silly games and then I got sleepy. I tried to stay awake, but I just couldn’t. I “rested” my eyes - for about 3 hours! Woke up at about 2pm. I remember once looking over at him and he was napping as well. When we were both awake, it was STILL raining - that was such a bummer because I really wanted to do some day trips with him today. As we sat there he asked, “Can we go home? I miss Daddy.” Awwww, that was so sweet, but I wasn’t going to pack up in the rain if I didn’t have to and it was so late in the day so I told him that we’d go home in the morning and he was okay with that.
We went back out to our tarp shelter and had some snacks, made an early supper and visited. I organized the packs and he made a stick dinosaur out of sticks and duct tape - duct tape is good for anything and he can make a dinosaur out of anything - he’s so inventive and creative!
Finally about 6:00 it stopped raining. We got our clothes changed and took the canoe out for a paddle on the lake. We didn’t go too far as the clouds were still looking heavy and I didn’t want to get stuck in the middle of a downpour or a thunderstorm so close to evening. As we paddled around I pumped water into the water jug - that thing works pretty slick though it does make my arms sore. The water was nice and calm and there wasn’t much of a breeze so we just kind of floated around. I let Isaac paddle us wherever he wanted and only ruddered a bit if we needed it.
There was a family of four fishing out on Sawbill and they came into OUR cove - how dare they - to fish. I’m so territorial and I felt like they were intruding on our trip and our solitude - we chose that spot specifically for that. I think they stuck around for about 15 minutes maybe a little longer. Isaac and I must have been too loud and were scaring the fish away so they finally left. We were friendly and said “hi” but just didn’t try to be very quiet. We had chosen that particular spot for the solitude and privacy.
We finally tired of paddling, pulled the boat ashore, tied it down again and headed back up to our shelter - our spot for the day. There would be not campfire tonight everything was way to soaking wet. If I’d been thinking I would have covered some of the wood with a garbage bag, but I didn’t. Oh well, he would have complained about the mosquitoes anyway. They weren’t to bad down in the campsite but holy moly they were bad up by the pot. And, as I predicted he didn’t once use that pot. He peed in other places - such a boy.
Another thing that totally shows his adolescent boyishness is his fascination with bodily functions - namely farting. It’s so funny. Okay, I’m not too much of a girl to admit that I fart just like anyone else. With my pancreas issues it creates a lot of gas and so we started calling them “stink bombs.” He thought that was great. I cannot put into words the laughing and fun he had with that! And of course he had a few of those himself, lol. Good times with my son!
Finally about 8:30 pm the sun came out. Of course. I asked Isaac if it was nice like that tomorrow does he still want to go home and he was torn. We decided to wait until morning to see. We hit the tent, played some more games, read, wrote his story and he played with the glow sticks. For as much sitting around we did that day he really did well and had a lot of fun. It was nice to have him all to myself with no interruptions - phones, TV, games, friends, computer etc. But, I knew that he was really missing his daddy.
We goofed around in the tent until it was dark, took one more potty break and went to sleep. Not much to tell for the day other than we really enjoyed spending quality time together. Like they say, it’s not quantity, it’s quality that matters. In this case I got both.
Again, we both slept in. I slept better last night. I know that both nights he didn’t have any troubles sleeping at all. He never does - especially when he’s tired. We woke to sunny skies and a calm lake - it was gorgeous but everything was still soaking wet and there was no breeze to speak of.
We snacked for breakfast - Isaac had cocoa, chips, crackers and candy - that’s why I’m “da bomb” as a mom. I wasn’t really hungry - but we both ate up the rest of the fruit cups as well. We debated on whether to go home or not - he was really torn but in the end he decided that he wanted to go home today because he really wanted to see dad.
I headed back to the tent to start packing things up and gave him the chore of putting our wet stuff out in the sun to try and dry some of it out before having to pack it all up - everything was absolutely soaked. I was still freezing, had my long johns on under my fleece pants - what a baby I am. However, as I started working on packing things up I did get warm, and the sun was shining in the tent - it felt so good. I had to lay down in there for a little while to enjoy the warmth of the sun - it felt so wonderful. In the mean time I could hear Isaac down by the water tossing rock in - the big kerplunks of bigger rocks and the littler splashes of smaller ones he found. He loves to do that and could sit and toss rocks into the water for hours. Like I said - he doesn’t need much to entertain him. In fact, he only brought two dinosaurs on this trip besides his coloring stuff. And he barely played with the dino’s.
After lying there for, probably too long, I noticed that the wind was coming up. Isaac came running up to the tent and told me that it looked like the waves were going in the the direction that we needed. I explained to him that we wouldn’t truly be able to tell the direction of the wind until we got on open water because we were protected in that little cove and the wind kind of swirled all about in there. I didn’t cherish the thought of fighting an head wind once again, but he really wanted to get going so we moved quicker and got the gear all packed up. It actually didn’t take long. I was surprised that I could get the guide gear tarp back into the original bag WITH the mosquito netting - so often those things don’t fit well. However, it worked and we were packed and ready to go.
I had him do a final canvas of the campsite to make sure we didn’t leave any garbage lying around, made one last trip to the potty, loaded the canoe and shoved off. Paddling through the cove, of course was an easy paddle as it is protected.
Once we got out into open water it was very apparent that we’d be fighting a stiff south wind - a head wind - once again. Ugh I was so frustrated and this one was stronger than the one on Thursday. We struggled a bit, but were able to make it. We were treated to two loons real near our canoe. Because I didn’t want to stop paddling due to the wind I didn’t pull the camera out to get photos.
We stopped at the Island that marks the entry into the BWCA.
It was a nice place to land; we tied the canoe off on a downed tree and took a few photos. He had fun with that as did I. As we were getting ready to get back in the canoe, Ducks and his party stopped/paddled near and we visited for a few minutes. That was fun and it’s always so nice to put a face to a name. They paddled on as we continued to “play” with our cameras. I wasn’t in any particular hurry to be getting home now that I knew we were close to the campground and canoe landing.
We shoved off from shore and hugged the eastern shore line on the way back. We once again ran into Ducks, this time we stopped and visited a bit longer and asked where each other was from etc. Isaac is so social as well - he thought it was really cool that we met someone from BWCA.com there and he asked if I ever talked to Ducks. I reminded Ducks that he should join us in chat some time. Isaac was surprised that he wasn’t in there - he thinks that all BWCA.com members are chat-a-holics like some of us are. He was cute in his thinking.
Eventually we made it back to the landing, as we saw it in the distance, he actually noticed it first. Isaac hollered “I see it!” he was so excited. We pulled up, unloaded and I portaged one of the packs with me up to the campground to get the van. Again, he was such a trooper helping me out carrying what he could. He helped balance the heavy packs as I got them on my shoulders, helped straightening out the straps if they were crooked. I should have weighed the packs before I left. The gear pack, on the way in, was the heaviest and I almost did a turtle going up the hill towards the campsite. That would have been bad. Anyway, we got the van loaded and I got the canoe up on top of the van all by myself - again, he was a strong little trooper and helped me hold it up so I could walk it to my shoulders. What a little man.
As I was organizing the van and strapping down the canoe he changed into his swim trunks and went swimming in Sawbill at the canoe landing - I’m glad he did that as it was a bit warmer today than it had been. He needed that relaxing fun.
Once I got the van all loaded up, I pulled it off to the side and went down to sit and watch him play and took a few photos. He was too chicken to get all the way wet at first, but finally he did dunk his body, not his head though, and I think there was some shrinkage - you can tell by the look on his face in the photo!
Not sure what time it was when we left, but we made one last trip to the potty and off we went. We stopped several times along Sawbill Trail to take photos of flowers, blow down and the Sawtooth Mountains and at the one overlook.
Overall we had a fantastic trip and I think that I have a new paddle partner for many years to come. Now we just need to convince his daddy to join us. That's our goal for next year!