Day 1 of 4
Thursday, July 17, 2014 6:00 am start time, as has become my custom, proved to be well worth it as I found Sawbill to be like glass. Just a beautiful morning to set out on a trip that would prove to be equally challenging and rewarding. I paddled North up the length of the lake, taking my time to breathe in all of that good canoe country air. The first two portages, 78 rods in to Ada Creek and 76 rods in to Ada lake proved to be relatively uneventful. The second portage was a little difficult to find, as I had been warned it would be by Bill at Sawbill. He had told me that most people were skipping the portage and going around to the West where they needed to unload and pull over a beaver dam. I was able to find the portage by hugging the east side of the creek. No problem. Yet. The third portage gave me a solid introduction to the adverse portaging conditions one may encounter in the wilderness, and it was very pleasing to get this one behind me. I handled the portage at the same time as a group of thirteen year olds on a church trip, and several of them got their money's worth on this one. One unfortunate lad found himself up to his armpits in loon crap. The problem with this portage is the fact that the water isn't deep enough to float a canoe, but very tricky to walk through or around. I stuck to my standard portaging mantra, "watch every step". I should also note here the fact that this was my first year of double portaging. I'm just not getting any younger and one of my knees is a little iffy. I quickly discovered the joys of doubling: a more relaxed pace, and a leisurely walk in the woods in between loads. Definitely worked well and will be incorporated in to future trips. The 180 rod portage in to Cherokee Creek proved to be not too difficult, other than being about as long as a guy cares for. The footing was pretty good and the trail not too steep. A tad muddy, but that's to be expected. What a glorious paddle the Cherokee Creek is in to Cherokee Lake! Emerging in to Cherokee after floating that pretty little creek was truly one of the highlights of the trip. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to procure the 5-star campsite on the island near the center of the lake, but I found one that I would rate 3-plus, maybe 4 on the island in the northeast part of the lake. I actually had a ranger paddle up to my campsite and spend about twenty minutes chatting with me and looking things over. Nice fella. Set up a nice camp and enjoyed a peaceful evening on gorgeous Cherokee.
Day 2 of 4
Friday, July 18, 2014 Awake at 4:30, as I genuinely feel it's worth it to be up that early in the wilderness. The calm serenity of a morning in the BWCA is unequaled in my mind. I love watching the sun come up! This day would prove to be my most ambitious traveling day of the trip, even though the miles don't look that impressive. Started the day with the little portage out of the northeast end of Cherokee in to Town Lake. Easy enough. Things got rough from there! The 102 rod portage in to Vesper lake threw everything at me: poor footing, sloppy, varying terrain, steep, and swarms of mosquitos. I've carried a head net and little bottle of Ben's 100 for years. Rarely used either. This portage had me using both! The 72 rod portage in to Gasket lake was equally challenging. Very difficult, but oh so rewarding. That little Gasket lake is one of the most awesomely beautiful places I've been on this planet. Towering cliffs to the East, and a boulder-strewn scree field on the West. I would have been happy to stay there forever. Alas, as tough as the 45 rod portage out of there was it maybe wouldn't have been such a bad idea to stay there forever! That little stretch was a real bear. Stepped from boulder to boulder the first half, then waded gingerly through knee deep water while trying to not get sucked in to waist (or armpit?) deep mud. The things we do for fun! That Cam lake is very pretty too, and the 93 rod portage from there in to Brule is a steep ascent/descent but a fairly decent trail. It was pushing noon by now, and the wind had come up stiff out of the South, so my introduction to Brule was a little tricky with small whitecaps slapping up against the bow of the canoe. I paddled around the far West end of Brule, and found all three of the campsites to be occupied. I had thought about stopping at one either for lunch or the night, depending on what sort of site I found. I paddled out of Brule on the west end in to South Temperance, and was a little unnerved as to how close to the rapids the portage is! No danger, just a bit of a white-knuckler. Had a nice lunch of tuna salad wraps and Gorp, before paddling on to South Temperance. Found the 5-star campsite on the giant rock point at the South side of the lake to be open and the absolute perfect place to set up camp for the night. Had all I could do to stay up until the sun went down, as the days portaging and paddling in to the wind had taken a healthy toll on me. I was exhausted, but felt great!
Day 3 of 4
Saturday, July 19, 2014 Another beautiful morning! Had the pleasure of surprising a raccoon that had ventured in to my campsite. They're fun critters. Started the day with the 240 rod portage out of the south end of the lake, and it was in very good shape. Just long. The next portage, in to Weird, was a little tricky. There is a beaver dam slightly above the portage landing, and I found the safest thing to do was to unload above it and walk the canoe over. So I actually unloaded, loaded, and unloaded in the course of about fifty yards. Better safe than sorry, and it's not like I'm carrying hundreds of pounds of gear. I travel with one large Duluth pack, and a small food pack and fanny pack, so not too much. My fishing rod and spare paddle stay lashed to the thwarts until needed, so they are no trouble while traveling. I quietly paddled through Jack Lake, as I was hoping to see a moose. Seems like moose sightings have become almost routine on this stretch, but I wasn't so fortunate. On the 72 rod portage in to the Temperance River I ran in to a family of five from the twin cities, including kids of probably 15, 12, and 10 years old. They commented about how cool they thought it was that I was soloing, and I commended them for exposing their kids to the beautiful BWCA. They were heading up to South Temperance, and I hope they got that great campsite I had vacated hours earlier. At this point of the trip, I did drag my raingear out, put it on, and took it off ten minutes later. This was the only rain of my trip, fortunately. I paddled down in to Kelly, and finished my traveling for the day with the 230 rod portage in to Burnt. Again, as with the 240 rod portage earlier in the day, this one was in excellent shape but did have a little slope to it and a couple of large downed trees across the path. Really no trouble at all, especially at this stage of my trip. I was grizzled by now! I paddled in to Burnt with the idea that I would camp on the Northwest side of the lake to take advantage of the nice breeze coming out of the South. On my way over I decided to paddle by the swampy island campsite, and was saddened to see the condition of the site. Some people have no idea what it means to peacefully coexist on this earth with other humans. There was food packaging, string, rope, a broken paddle, and chunks of rotten birch just strewn about the area. This was the first campsite I ever stayed at by myself in the boundary waters, a few years ago on my inaugural solo trip, and to see it in this shape was a real downer. But I trudged on, and got the nice site on the point at the North side of the lake. There were a couple of fellas out fishing when I arrived on that side of the lake and they showed a nice stringer of walleyes. I set up camp, relaxed a little, went out to center lake for some water filtering, and then enjoyed some fishing success myself. I managed to catch two nice walleyes, probably 18", on a diving shad rap. I retired early again, same reason as above! It looked like it could storm a bit, but nothing ever developed.
Day 4 of 4
Sunday, July 20, 2014 Managed to sleep in until 7:00, as I had a lazy morning planned with just two portages left in my trip and not a lot of paddling. Goofed around camp, did some more fishing but no catching, and packed my gear one last time. I loaded up the Wenonah Prism (32 pounds!) and set out for a leisurely finish to my trip. The 90 rod portage in to Smoke was as easy as I remembered it being from previous trips, and posed no trouble at all. I was hoping to catch a Smallie or two in Smoke, but couldn't muster a strike on a plastic twisty tail or a silver rattle trap. As I embarked on the portage in to Sawbill, my last of the trip, I met a young girl on the trail, she was maybe nine. Looked like she was carrying about all she could handle! As I got to the other side of the portage I discovered the rest of her party including at least two other kids. Love to see them out there! One of the members of the party is a regular on this site, Wallorthern, we exchanged compliments and went our separate ways. As I got in to Sawbill, I realized that I may not have such an easy go of it after all. The wind was blowing strong, probably 20-plus, straight out of the South and right in to my face. I paddled hard from the portage to the first campsite inside the BWCA at the southern part of the lake and took a lunch break. That's a great campsite too, and I've always just paddled right past it since it's right near the landing. Maybe one of these years I'll camp there either on my way in or out. I set out again for the last little stretch of the trip, and needed to paddle with all my strength just to keep the bow from getting pulled around by the wind. There were no elegent J-strokes at this point, just brute side to side digging! Fun stuff. Of course, as I paddled up to the landing at Sawbill there were other parties just getting ready to embark on their trips. The end of a trip is always sad and satisfying at the same time. Many of you know exactly what I speak of. I packed up my gear, and had a very nice conversation with Bill at Sawbill Canoe Outfitters. What a great, and friendly, source of information he is. There's talk of my brother and I taking a trip next Summer, and I really look forward to that. We've never tripped together. But I'll tell you what: I could see myself taking a solo trip every year for the rest of my life. I'm hooked!
Driving down the Sawbill Trail towards Tofte I had the pleasure of watching a wolf walk down the gravel road in front of me. I followed slowly for a while, then after probably a quarter mile she slipped in to the ditch and woods. It was still early in the day, 2:00, so I decided to re-enter the BWCA and climb Eagle Mountain, Minnesota's highest point. The last time I did that was eight years ago, and my son and I brought our one-year-old Golden Retriever with us. After completing that seven mile round trip the other day I decided that if I was going to try to bring our now nine-year-old retriever up that rugged hill I'd likely be carrying him back!