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January 19 2022

Entry Point 38 - Sawbill Lake

Sawbill Lake entry point allows overnight paddle only. This entry point is supported by Tofte Ranger Station near the city of Tofte, MN. The distance from ranger station to entry point is 25 miles. Access is a boat landing at Sawbill Lake. This area was affected by blowdown in 1999.

Number of Permits per Day: 14
Elevation: 1802 feet
Latitude: 47.8699
Longitude: -90.8858
Sawbill Lake - 38

Lady Chain Louse River Loop

by mkematt
Trip Report

Entry Date: July 21, 2014
Entry Point: Sawbill Lake
Number of Days: 5
Group Size: 2

Trip Introduction:
I told my nephew that I would take him to the Boundary Waters for his high school graduation. This was his first BWCA trip, but he has been back packing in the Porkies with me, so I knew he would be good in the back country. I picked the Sawbill entry because I knew we could plan a number of different routes. After looking at a map and doing some on-line research, Nick told me he wanted to try this loop. I was trilled as I have also wanted to try this route. We driving up from Milwaukee, so we stayed at the Sawbill campground the day before we went in and the night after we finished the trip.

Day 1 of 5

Monday, July 21, 2014

Up early, on the water by 6:30. Sawbill to Alton, Beth, Grace, the river and camped on Phoebe. We were packed light and were able to single portage the entire trip. The portages in this section were well maintained and presented no real problems. The 285 rd portage from Beth to Grace was long, but very manageable. The hills were not too steep and there was minimal mud. We were at Phoebe by noon and stayed on the campsite on the south end of the lake facing east. This site is on a hillside, up a ways from the lake and the landing is a little tricky in that the rocks are somewhat slippery. The kitchen / fire pit is a large slab of rock. What I liked was that the tent pads were level and grass covered. The weather forecast called for a storm on Monday night, so I was looking for good drainage and having the hill behind us offered at least some protection from the wind. One more thing - one of the tent pads had quite a pile of Moose scat near it.  We spent the afternoon preparing firewood and fishing. My nephew caught a 20" Walleye (green jig and leach drifting over deep water just east of the islands), so dinner was fish taco's. We had a small campfire and spent the rest of the evening preparing camp for the storm. As it turned out, the weather forecast was right - it was a strong storm on Monday night - more about that on the Tuesday section of this trip report. Lots of lightning and it rained buckets. As I suspected, the tent pad was well drained and the hillside did help block the wind. The worst of the storm passed before morning.


Day 2 of 5

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Up early, we were heading for Koma, so we knew we would have a longer day ahead of us. It was raining lightly and quite cool compared to Monday. It turns out that the rock slab for the kitchen area can be very slick when wet, so we had to be careful moving around. Same thing for the climb down to the landing. We paddled up Phoebe to Knight lake which is full of Lily pads. Then the river, Hazel, more of the river and on to Polly and then up to Koma. The portages here seem to be much less used that what we saw between Sawbill and Phoebe. The paths are more narrow and a little overgrown, but otherwise not too difficult.  One exception was the 97 rod portage into Polly. The storm on Monday night had knocked down several trees that were blocking the path. Someone had come through before us and had cut some of the branches so we could at least climb over or push under most of them. We were very thankful that we were single portaging. The landing at Polly was also blocked by a downed tree. The trunk of the tree was parallel to the shore about 4 feet off the ground. Again, someone had cut a few branches to make a small hole to access the water. We were able to load the canoe one end at a time and off we went on Polly. Hopefully, it won't be too long before the Forest Service will have this cleared. The wind had picked up by this time and seemed like it was coming straight out of the North, so we had a tough paddle up Polly to the portages on the North end of the lake. The portages between Polly and Koma are well used, wide and in good shape. The paddle up Koma was another fight against the wind.  We stayed lined up to the wind in the open water and followed the western shoreline up the the site on the Northwest nearest the bay where the portage to Malberg is. This a a great site, sandy landing, open, breezy and lots of trees to rig a tarp. We had a very late lunch, set up camp and started drying gear.  The wind really died down around 6 so we went fishing. We only caught small walleyes, but a couple of Northerns provided at least some action. 


Day 3 of 5

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The weather was cool in the morning, low 70's the rest of the day. The path took us from Koma through Malberg then east to Fente, Boze, the river and out to Trail lake. The water levels here were high enough that there was no need to portage the 16 rod out of Malberg. The big challenge for the day was the 190 rod portage heading east out of Boze. About halfway through, we passed a landing on the river, with a path continuing the portage to the east. After some discussion, we decided to follow the map and continue down the portage path - big mistake. We soon found ourselves in a knee deep, shoe sucking mud hole.  This went on for about 30 yards. Nasty, but we made it through. Then a funny thing happened - instead of being bummed out by all the mud in our shoes and on our clothes, we were feeling like we really accomplished something. The rest of   the river was very pretty and secluded. I was almost surprised that we didn't see a moose. After a number of short portages, we were at Trail lake around 1 PM and took the campsite on the North. This is another great campsite - good landing, very breezy to keep down the bugs and a number of good spots for tents. One unusual thing is that the site has a large step coming up to the main area and the fire grate is built on the lower side so the grate itself is even with the ground on the main part of the site. There is not a lot of room to sit in front of the fire.  After a late lunch, we set up camp, rested in the shade and preped firewood. We fished the early evening, but only managed to catch a few pike. After a late dinner, it was time for a campfire. The day's clouds broke up and the sky really cleared up so we decided to stay up and look at the stars.  All I can say is that the sky was spectacular. What a great day.


Day 4 of 5

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Today's destination was Mesaba. My nephew wanted to see if there were really big pike there. The portage coming east out of Trail presented the biggest challenge of the day. Right away, the portage crosses a very steep ravine that required us to inch along with the canoe moving from foothold to foothold.  Repeat with the portage pack. Steep and slippery, but we got through. The day took us out of Trail, over to Tool, Bug, Dent, Chaser and before we knew it we were at Mesaba. We were the first ones of the day to get there so we were able to grab the campsite on the point. All I can say is wow. Good landing, good fire pit, plenty of tent pads, and a large open breezy area. There are also quite a few blueberry bushes right in the site. Too bad none were ripe yet, from the looks of things there will be plenty later in the summer. We had lunch, rested in the shade and decided on a nap. Later in the afternoon, we found good downed tree to cut up for fire wood. We got in such a groove that before we knew it, we had a giant pile of split wood. After dinner, we tried shore fishing. Right away, my nephew go a 20" pike. An hour later, he caught a 30".  That made his trip. Again, the sky cleared up and we had another night of stargazing. The sunset was also very pretty with some blues and purples in the sky.


Day 5 of 5

Friday, July 25, 2014

Last day of the trip. Mesaba, Hug, Duck, Zenith, Lujenida, Kelso, Alton and back to Sawbill. The portage out of Mesabe to Hug was a little bit of a climb but not too bad. Duck Lake is shallow and full of lily pads to the point where is was a very slow paddle. The portage out of Duck was a little hard to find.  The map made it look like it was on the west side of the creek. There is also a false landing with a path visible from the water away that fooled us. The path ended about 20 yards in and we had to turn around that get back on the water.  We eventually found the real portage on the east side of the creek. The path crossed the creek right away and the rest of the portage is on the west side of the creek, just like the map says, it's just the landing that is mis-marked.  Other than that, it was another manageable climb up to Zenith, a short paddle acros Zenith and on to the long portage to Lujenida. This one looks alot like a state park hiking trail - wide, well maintained, stairs in some places, even a rest area on the side where you can set down the canoe and gear and not block the path. It seemed like this would be an easy, if not long portage. Then we hit the south 50 rods. A swampy section had flooded and the board walks were floating in several feet of water. We had to load gear in the canoe and walk it down to firm ground. Then we hit the landing a Lujenida. It looked like the lake had dropped a foot or two leaving a mud flat between the end of the trail and the water. No choice but to slog through knee deep mud.  That was the last challenge of the trip. The paddle through Lujenida, the Kelso river and Kelso lake was pretty easy. We went through Alton and spent some time fishing for smallmouth but no luck. Back at Sawbill by 3 for a shower and a cold one.  Overall, it was a great trip with plenty of challenge, great scenery, decent fishing and spectacular stargazing. My nephew is hooked and we will be back again soon.


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