BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
September 23 2023
Number of Permits per Day: 11
Elevation: 1802 feet
Sawbill Lake - 38
Sawbill to Phoebe and back with a bad back and broken tongue
June 08, 2014
Number of Days:
Saturday. We planned to leave at 5 am for the eight hour trip. We hit the road more like 5:30 but the roads were good and we made good time. I've been on the Sawbill Outfitters website many times and now got to see it in person. I will report that the young folks working there were very pleasant, helped us with all our questions, and even took the camera to help take a group picture. We took campsite #41 and settled in for the night. The two high school boys and I tried our hand at fishing from the shore but had no luck. With the excitement of leaving early in the morning we didn't much care. All went to bed early.
Sunday. I woke up after the first night in the tent with a back ache so bad I could not stand up straight. Great. I was able to pack up with the rest of the group after a quick breakfast. We headed down to the canoe landing and I was nervous that I was not loosening up. Through a cloud of mosquitoes we loaded up and were off. Paddling was not helping to loosen me up but I was able to function and soon we were at the portage into Alton Lake. Wow, a fairly flat "superhighway" of a 30 rd portage got us quickly to Alton Lake. It was a cool clear morning which was great for paddling. I had gotten a BB bent shaft paddle at Canoecopia and found it was working well even though I wasn't putting everything I could into my paddling stroke.
The portage into Beth Lake is reallly scenic as you look back into Alton Lake however the mosquitoes made an audible "hummm" in our ears and crawled into those ears, and nose, and eyes, and anywhere they wanted to as we unloaded and started to trek the 147 rds. One of the group took a pic of me with my pack (this year around 52 lbs) and I had a distinct lean to the left but was able to complete the portage and return for a second load. As we departed the shore into Beth Lake the literal "cloud" of mosquitoes followed us out a little ways onto the water but we were able to escape them and continue an easy paddle. At 64 I realize I'm getting older but I walk a lot and bicycle every chance I get so felt I was in pretty good shape going into this trip. The next portage, 280 rods, into Grace Lake really put me in my place. With the sore back I must have been favoring it oddly because my hip started to hurt worse than the back and by the time I got to the end others in the group told me to sit and rest. They could get the rest of the packs. It was a blow to my pride but I really appreciated the chance to rest up. Thank God we had some young and strong men with us this trip!
By now everyone was ready to stop so we took a site on Grace that was on a peninsula on the east side. I found a really soft pad and was able to set up, help with a few camp chores, and crawl into the tent for a nap. A few others did the same thing because when I woke up I could hear snoring from a couple of directions. After supper I took one of the boys out fishing. All we could muster were 4 rock bass. We did have a pretty large beaver circle the canoe and try to lead us out away from the shore. Anyway that's what it seemed like it was trying to do. Terry, my canoe partner took me out to fish near dark. I caught a bass but we just wanted to sit and watch the day come to a close. We all got to bed early as we planned to travel again the next day to Phoebe Lake
For us we got a really late start, 8 am. We had four portages to reach Phoebe and were ready for them. With the high water we were able to canoe one, we did an "up and over" with the canoes loaded (which I don't like to do and reallly wasn't able to help much anyway). On the 5 rod (third one) we all portaged but the three young bucks wanted to take the aluminum canoe and take their chances going over a nice little falls. I really figured we were going to finish the portage with three wet canoeists but even though they got hung up on the rock they made it over and the smiles were wide and beaming after that. The 88 rod into Phoebe wasn't too bad for me and I was able to double portage which made me feel better.
What a glorious lake! The sun was out in force and we figured there was only one campsite taken as we paddled around and decided on an island site with a fantastic view. The fire grate is pretty exposed but it was a very pretty site and we set up quickly. I was by my tent when on of the youngsters started screaming for me. He had tied into a really nice northern and didn't know how to bring it in. The rest of the group don't fish and didn't want anything to do with the toothy beast so I climbed down and brought it in for him to hold and have his picture taken before we released it and it swam off. It turned out that he caught two more northerns from shore and a small mouth bass that afternoon. I got my gear ready but needed some time to stretch my back and hip and rest a bit. We had scattered showers during the afternoon but around supper time the sun broke through lighting up the opposite shorelines with a brightness that was a sight to behold. My canoe partner, Terry offered to paddle as I fished after supper and I did well with some northerns and small mouth. We stayed on the water until dark. Again, it was a gorgeous night.
Beautiful, beautiful morning. The sun was up and we were making plans over breakfast. Most of the group were going to head north and find a rapids to play in. The youngster that was catching fish from shore wanted to stay and partner with me to fish during the day. Hey, what could be better? Wait a minute. My fishing buddy changed his mind. Going off adventuring now sounded better. I was disappointed but he had a great time. I was able to sit reversed in the aluminum canoe and fished around the islands for a few hours before the wind picked up too much for me to fish while paddling. It was a real balancing act to paddle, fish, reel in fish, and take pictures all by myself but I had fun because the northerns and a few small mouth were ready to hit my silver and black Rapala. I got back to camp around noon, had a small lunch, washed some clothes to dry in the breeze, did a lot of reading and laid around camp enjoying the quiet and scenery before I dozed off. The first sound I heard was my former fishing "partner" yelling to know how the fishing was. I'll admit I enjoyed telling him his numbers were way behind mine and seeing his reaction. It was fun though to hear their story about lining some rapids and finding a small waterfall where they could actually walk around behind the water. I never did get the exact location of where they were (north of Phoebe somewhere) but maybe some of you know the place. We were all in bed by 8:30 as we were moving out in the morning.
We were easily on the water by 7:30. The first portages were quickly covered and we pushed on. Crossing Grace Lake we talked as we paddled about staying on Beth Lake that evening. The 280 rod portage was more manageable for me as I was able to double portage it and as we paddled into Beth we started talking about pushing into Alton. I said I was up for it and we did just that. Wow, from hardly seeing anyone else the whole trip so far we paddled into Alton and I counted 7 canoes out on the water. Oh oh, had we gone too far and wouldn't be able to find a site? We paddled to the east side and found an open spot on the second site from the portage back into Sawbill. Hooray, we are settled with a short trip back to the EP. The site was well worn but we found adequate pads for our four tents.
When we all got up for breakfast under the tarp the rain had let up but there was a heavy mist and the weather radio was predicting high winds that afternoon and into the next day. We didn't want to but we choose to pack and leave. It was the right decision. We pushed off with the wind strengthening and the misty fog blowing at us like it was a light rain. We easily made the portage. As we started into Sawbill it was like the fog closed in. This lake isn't that large but we couldn't see either shore for a while as we made progress toward the EP. We arrived as the pier materialised out of the mist and we loaded up amongst some of the worst mosquitoes we'd had. Finally we were back on the road again. What we didn't realize was that our real adventure was about to begin. We drove through fog all down the Sawbill trail. When we got on hwy 61 to Duluth the wind really picked up pushing our van and canoe trailer around making for a tough drive. John had the wheel when we entered Duluth and he said the canoes looked "funny" in the rear view mirror. We pulled over as we entered Duluth and checked the canoe straps. All seemed well. As we crossed the Blatnik bridge John kept saying something isn't right so we limped across in the wind and traffic. When we got onto hwy 2 we pulled over and rechecked the trailer. Crap! The weld that held the tongue to the trailer had broken and the whole load was ripe to break loose in any direction and cause a real disaster. Especially if we had continued on out to the highway at higher speeds. We used a couple of ratchet straps to tie each front corner of the trailer to the hitch and went to the interweb for help. We located a muffler shop where we thought we might get some help with a weld. He took one look at it and wouldn't touch it. He did give us an address for Barker's Welding and Fabricating Shop. Of course it was a long way to get there. We limped along at a few miles an hour across Superior, found the shop, and they graciously agreed to help us out. We unloaded our canoes and gear in their parking lot and hung out in the van (the wind was really blowing now and it was in the low 40's outside). After about an hour the shop door opened and they wheeled the trailer out with fabricated steel plates welded into place to strengthen the tongue stronger than it had ever been. The bill was very reasonable and we were please to be on the road again. It struck us how incredibly lucky we had been and we stopped at a Holiday station on the edge of Superior to just take a break and mentally prepare ourselves for the drive home. For Terry and I it would be 8 hours. For the rest they still wanted to make it home to Aurora, IL that night. It was a long and windy drive home but I/we were never so grateful for a safe and happy BW trip under our belts.
Home a day early. Reflections:
* Up early and find a site early is still a good rule. * Pack a few less "in case it gets cold" clothes. Layering what you have works. * Surprising how few people you see after a 280 rod portage. * Permethrin works. Third year in a row with no ticks on me and the others had plenty. * Had thought to bring a back brace and left it home at last minute. Mistake. * We used a Platypus and a Sawyer gravity flow filtration system. Great stuff. * Without a weather radio we would have been stuck in some miserable weather. * Phoebe Lake is a new favorite of mine. * Don't neglect to really look over your travel trailer before leaving. We may not have caught the problem early but then we'll never know. We always maintain tires, bearings, etc. but who checks welds? * The numbers of mosquitoes in early June were high. Deep Woods Off worked very well for me. Had lots land on and fly around me but no bites. * Ran into a father and daughter that had been fishing on Phoebe. They had taken a 22" small mouth on a Vibrax spinner. May have to include some next trip. * While I enjoy the group I travel with I wonder what it would be like to have the whole group be dedicated fishermen? * The back problem worries me about future trips. * Having a landing net would have been helpful. * Others complained about wet gear in their tent after rain. Using an innie and outie I've not had that problem. * I thank God for safe travels and the beauty I was able to experience with good friends.