BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
January 15 2021
Number of Permits per Day: 14
Elevation: 1802 feet
Sawbill Lake - 38
Cha-Row-Kee (Cherokee) Loop through Davis Lake
August 05, 2013
Baker Lake (39)
Number of Days:
Day 1 – Sawbill to Ada Creek to Ada Lake to Scoop Lake to Cherokee Lake
Our pre-entry night was spent at Sawbill Campground. We had arranged for someone to follow Dave over to Baker Lake (our exit point) so he could leave the car there. That meant we had to have all of gear ready to go at the Sawbill landing before the shuttle left at 8. Because we were a bit on the fence about whether we’d be able to make the trip, our gear wasn’t as organized as usual. It made for a bit of a hurried start. Definitely going to be better prepared for future trips!
A number of groups were preparing to head into the Wilderness, so we paddled off at 9 a.m. and got into a nice rhythm trying to put some distance between us and them. We were fortunate to skip the second 80 rod portage into Ada Lake and to navigate most of the creek between Ada and Scoop. We met some guys coming off the portage into Cherokee. The bugs were tolerable up to this point, and they informed us they weren't bothered by them on Cherokee. Woo hoo! It was a short-lived celebration. The 180-rod portage was up and down. The bugs were fierce. I tied my sweatshirt over my head in a feeble attempt at a makeshift head net. We had decided to do a little gear experiment on this trip – using the mosquito patch and the mosquito repellent wristband. I want a refund! If you like the smell of citronella while being eaten alive, then these are the products for you. And in our hasty packing back home, “someone” forgot the bug spray.
It was around 1 p.m. when we arrived on Cherokee. Dave really wanted an island site, so we checked out the one on the “Big Island” – low and no decent tent pad. We continued on and found a great sand beach site on an east-side peninsula. The camp area is level. The only downside was the camp area was also sheltered from the breeze. Without the breeze we had skeeters to keep us company.
Dave and Audrey paddled over to “Moose Island” – named because it was peppered in moose poop. It also happened to have blueberries. Upon return, we cooked up dinner and realized that in our haste we had also forgotten to pack bowls. Our large drinking cups would have to do double duty. Our eyes stayed open for a quick game of cards and then it was bedtime.
Day 2 – Cherokee – Gordon – Long Island River – Long Island Lake
A quiet night’s sleep meant we were up early and raring to go. We contemplated our next move over coffee and oatmeal. This site is buggy…let’s move on! Portages were crowded on this part of the route. At the end of the portage leading to the Long Island River, a large group had gear strewn everywhere and their boats were blocking the landing. Audrey and I unloaded our gear off to the side and waited patiently for Dave. Several people in the group were walking back on the trail and taking photos. They did not appear to be leaving anytime soon. Dave arrived with the large pack and canoe on his shoulders, but had no way to unload anything. After asking the group if they could make room for our canoe, they all suddenly decided to load their 4 boats and paddle off. So, he waited for another five minutes while they loaded everything. I’m going to chalk their behavior up to inexperience and hope that it was not intentional. Perhaps they felt we were invading their space?
Wonderful family friends and seasoned canoe trippers, the Spangenbergs, had given us a large book of Fisher maps (circa 1952) several years ago. “Spang” (as he was called by his friends) marked his family’s trip route and campsites in this loop in the book. We really wanted to camp on “Spang’s Island” in Long Island Lake. Fortunately, when we located the site it was vacant! The tent was set-up as well as a tarp with perfect timing as the skies opened up. With our gear stored in a dry spot, we were able to relax and have a snack. Dave did some snorkeling while Audrey and I washed up with some cool lake water. As I got a fire started, Dave and Audrey searched for more firewood and blueberries on another nearby island. Dinner was cooked up in four courses and promptly scarfed down. Several canoes came and fished around our island and along the nearby shore. They seemed to be having some luck. After they left the area, we grabbed our rods and set out to fish a small, weedy area to the north. We got some action right away, but didn’t land anything but a tree trout or two. While Dave was fixing yet another snag, I had the fish of a lifetime on. It was taking out drag like crazy. It came off before I could get a good look at it. A bit later I landed a small northern. We didn’t want to stop fishing after the excitement, but with dark upon us we headed back to camp and to bed.
Day 3 – Long Island Lake – Creek – Muskeg Lake – Kiskadinna Lake – Davis Lake
Up until this point, my hip was holding up well. Dave was shouldering the burden of the heavy packs and the canoe so as not to take any chances that I would fall or overtax the healing bone. We knew we would encounter a lot of people on this popular route, but we were longing for some solitude as well. We examined our maps and decided to take a little detour to Davis Lake. We hadn’t researched anything about the portages or the lake itself, so things could potentially get interesting…and they did.
We ate our lunch for breakfast so we could get packed up and on the way early. The plan was to cook breakfast for lunch when we made camp a few hours later. From our maps, we knew that first long portage had some elevation change and the second portage was looooong. The 20 rod portage out of Long Island Lake was rocky and rugged – an ankle buster. There was an easy pullover on the creek. Muskeg Lake is pretty and its one campsite was open. We pushed on to the 185 rod portage. That was a rapid uphill climb with a couple of “I think this is the top” false peaks. The final climb was brutal.
On the way down and near the end we met a group of four guys from Madison. One commented on how tough this part of the portage was. I was thinking the worst was coming from the other way going up. Dave tackled the portage in steps, starting with carrying both packs. He dropped one pack half way and continued on with the other to the end. With the portage scoped out, he went back for the canoe and planned to rest part way and pick up the other pack for the trek down.
It was a short paddle across Kiskadinna to the 305 rod portage to Davis. Audrey and I set off on the portage ahead of Dave. It was muddy and rocky, with two crossings of the same creek. Dave’s plan was to take one pack and canoe about half way and leave both, returning for the second large pack. Audrey and I bumbled on as the trail seemed to close in around us. We navigated piles of moose poop on the trail. I started to think we had taken a wrong turn somewhere. We waited in an open spot and listened for Dave. After a while, we moved on without hearing him. Soon enough we spotted shoe prints in the mud, so I knew we were on the right trail. Dave caught us and passed us about 2/3 of the way. We were thrilled to see the end of the portage, but it’s tough to celebrate when you know your partner has to head back and get the canoe and a heavy pack. While Audrey and I waited, she constructed wish boats out of birch bark from downed trees and sticks - a skill she learned at Girl Scout camp the previous week.
It was another hour and half before Dave arrived with the canoe and the final pack. He was spent – completely exhausted. In reflection, this was one of the tougher portages we’ve been on, made even tougher because I was not able to carry more of the load. All we could think about was making camp and getting some food! We prayed there would be an open site because Dave didn’t think he had another portage in him.[paragraph break] The first site on Davis on the peninsula was taken. We forged on to the only other site we knew about from our map – the eastern end of Davis was off our map, so we didn’t know if there was another potential campsite. The second option is in the western end of the lake in a burned over area (we later learned it was the Famine Lake fire of 2006). The site is wide open with one okay tent pad. The fire grate area has no sitting logs, so it was time to pull up a rock. The latrine was brand new and a fair distance from the camp. Food hanging tree? There were only a handful of trees in the whole campsite, so we’d have to make something work.
What this site lacked in the typical comforts of a BW camp it made up for in wild raspberries. They were everywhere! Looking at the time, we couldn’t believe it was already after 4. Our plan to eat lunch in camp around 1 was obviously an unrealistic one. We underestimated the difficulty of these carries into Davis given the need to double portage all of the gear. Once we rehydrated and had dinner, everyone felt better. Despite this site’s openness, we could not escape the mosquitoes. After jumping into the tent, I commented that “all sites look the same from inside a tent.” [paragraph break] In reflecting on this day, it ended well and we had a nice evening, but everyone was exhausted. We were proud of Audrey for toughing it out on what was a rugged and long travel day.
Day 4 – Davis Lake – North Cone Lake – South Cone Lake – Brule Lake – S. Temperance Lake
With the west wind at our backs, we set off for the 165 rod portage into North Cone. We had the tough portages of the previous day fresh on our minds, so this portage didn’t seem difficult; the steepest part was a downhill for us. Dave was able to avoid the shorter portages today by walking the canoe through the rapids. The last set of rapids wasn’t safe for walking, so the 30 rod portage into Cone Bay couldn’t be avoided.
Cone Bay looked like a nice spot to camp in – 3 of the 4 sites were taken. We were paddling into that west wind on Brule. Our legs took the brunt of the work on the previous day, so now it was time for the arms and shoulders to do more of the work today. We found a nice island site on the northwest end for lunch. It was so nice we considered staying there, but decided to continue on and cross the 10 rod portage into S. Temperance. The east end of the lake was a bit swampy. The available campsite there was decent, but a bit closed in. We decided to gamble and go for a site further down the lake. The northern and southern sites were taken and looked like they would be really nice. The final option was the northwestern most site. If that was taken, we’d be paddling back to the first site we passed up. Fortunately, it was open!
This site has a great view of the lake and the islands. It has sunny spots and shady spots, a great sitting area around the fire and a place to hang a hammock. We can barely see the other people camping across the lake at the southern site. There isn’t too much activity; we didn’t run into anyone on the portages today. It finally feels like we’ve gotten away from the crowds.[paragraph break] Dave cooked up some pancakes for lunch before we set off to drift fish the center of the lake. We discovered that a small island is inhabited by hornets while trying to retrieve a snagged lure. We made it out with the lure and no bites. Audrey taught us several camp songs: “This is a repeat after me song!” That one was easy to remember.
Since we didn’t catch any fish, we had to rely on our freeze-dried meals for supper. The wind died down and the lake was completely calm. As the sun went down, the east side of the lake was lit up. Who would have thought we would finally get that feeling of solitude only six miles from our exit point at Baker Lake?
Day 5 – Layover day on S. Temperance Lake
With relaxing on the agenda, we didn’t roll out of the tent until 9. We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast of beef stew (yep – dinner for breakfast) and observed a couple of canoes heading to the portage on the south shore. Audrey and I washed our hair while Dave fished. After grooming, Audrey and I decided to join in the fishing. We had some follows, but no fish on. The clouds blew away and we had sunshine and wind. Thankfully, the breeze kept the mosquitoes at bay. Back at camp, Dave and Audrey did some raspberry picking. There is a gigantic patch of berries adjacent to the sitting area. What luck! For dinner that evening, we had raspberry pancakes. Delicious! While I cleaned up the dishes, Dave and Audrey went out fishing. Audrey caught a 16” northern on a pink Rapala.
As we sit by our fire, we can see the glow of another campfire from across the lake. The loons are calling. After days of tripping, especially that long day into Davis Lake, we take some time to reflect on how much we appreciate a layover day. Being completely unplugged and away from it all, picking berries, fishing, playing cards, lounging in camp, surrounded by natural beauty…that’s what makes the BW so special.
Day 6 – S. Temperance Lake – Temperance River – Weird Lake – Jack Lake – Kelly Lake – Peterson Lake – Baker Lake
We woke to a gorgeous day – our last for this trip. While packing up camp, Dave spotted a spruce grouse on the trail to the latrine. It flew up in a tree and sat looking at us. Dave tells us they are pretty uncommon, so we should get a good look at it.
As we head south toward our exit point, we encounter more people. Audrey is facing backwards in the canoe and tries her hand at backwards paddling. She says it’s too weird. How appropriate that we were on Weird Lake at the time. Paddling the river was relaxing. Jack Lake looked to be a nice spot and we thought we might see a moose, but no such luck. Upon arriving at Baker Lake, we go for a quick dip to cool off and clean up. With the car loaded, we head to Grand Marais for mini-golf and Hawaiian Za at Sven and Olie’s. Already looking forward to next year’s trip!