BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
April 03 2020
Number of Permits per Day: 14
Elevation: 1802 feet
Sawbill Lake - 38
Sawbill EP38 to Phoebe (the lazy route) - August 2014
August 20, 2014
Number of Days:
After a quick paddle on smooth waters across Sawbill Lake, we were greeted by a straight, flat 30 rod portage into Alton. Nothing better than getting to a portage and being able to see the water at the other end before you even start!
We had read lots of stories about Alton and its winds so we were very happy to find calm waters, and even a little tail wind to bring us down to the 140 rod portage into Beth Lake.
The 140 rod portage is a nice, flat trail until crossing the Laurentian Divide where it picks up a little elevation change, but still a very nice trail. I was surprised to find the portage trails so narrow yet so smooth. Being our first long portage of the trip, we were ready to be done by the time the second trip across the portage was completed.
Beth Lake is a very neat little lake, one we considered staying on during our trip. Another calm water paddle and our biggest portage was in front of us. The 285 rod portage had us a little concerned because of its length. We met a few other crews along the way and were happy to find portage courtesy was the standard on this trip. We made the first trip across with our gear then returned as a crew to pick up the remaining gear. That was a long walk! The portage itself is very nice; few rocks, a little mud, minor elevations, and a very nice grassy drop off point at the half way mark for taking a break or breaking a double portage into half trips.
Once on Grace we were relieved that our big portages were done and what lay ahead was river portaging (our favorite). Once again we had calm waters on Grace and enjoyed a quick paddle to the river portages.
The first 15 rod portage required a portage as there was no way of getting through the rapids either running or lining them. But the portage trail was a typical 5 rod (up and down).
Back on the river, we enjoyed the scenery as we paddled to the second 15 rod portage. This portage trail was completely flat, but the river rapids were such that we were able to line our canoes through the entire length. Many people had obviously paddled them, but having kevlars, we do not paddle rapids. We had a lot of fun working our way through the portage length while keeping our canoes safe from the rocks just below the surface.
Then it was back on the water for another calm river paddle with more of our favorite type of paddling and scenery.
The next 5 rod portage was a little different kind of fun. The portage landing that is developing is not really a good portage trail as it is more of a bushwhacking and not very canoe friendly. After walking it to check it out, we discovered the actual portage landing that been completely blocked by a very well-constructed beaver dam. Ok, no problem, just paddle up to the large rocks creating the rapids entry point, unload, and walk across the rocks. Perfect portage! At the other end of the portage, we put our canoes in directly at the exit point of the rapids “waterfall” and enjoyed the view of a sunken old dock section (?maybe?). Once back in our canoes and some navigation to get around a few rocks amongst the current, it was back into the river for a short distance before the final portage of our day.
The final 85 rod portage was also fairly flat (wow how lucky can we get!). We had read of a waterfall along this portage trail, but that will have to wait for the return trip as we need to get to our campsite before it gets too late.
Once on Phoebe, the search for a campsite began. It took longer than we anticipated, so we spent the next hour scouting the sites to find an open site. The first site we found on the north side of the largest island was definitely not somewhere we wanted to stay. There were no tent pads and it was super small. Since there was no other canoe traffic, we continued on to check out the other sites (the ideal site we wanted at the south end was discovered to be full immediately upon entering the lake). We ended up at the site on the south short just south of the islands.
The site was small, but held our two tents. One tent ended up being in the path to the lat and at the edge of the main campsite area. The second tent was set back a little bit on a pretty rocky path. But a very neat flower(?) was discovered right next to our tent. There was another area that was probably intended for tents but the rocks were so bad there was no way a tent could be set up. However it did make for a good area for the bear hang. The only place to store our canoes was up in the campsite right next to the fire area; making our site even smaller. The lat path was very short and the landing was definitely not a swimming area. But the site worked for us.
This was supposed to be the lake we would stay on for three nights but given our site and the amount of time it took to get here, we are replanning our route a little bit.
All in all, it was a great day. The forecast had been for rain and thunderstorms to move in but we were spared all day and the night looked to be nothing worse than sprinkles. Sawbill Lake, Alton Lake, Beth Lake, Grace Lake, Phoebe Lake What flower is this? [paragraph break] Phoebe Lake campsite [paragraph break] 5 rod river portage entry from Phoebe that has been blocked by beavers
This time we were able to take time on the 85 rod river portage to enjoy the waterfall and play in the river (our favorite activity)
We enjoyed our time on the river and on the portages since they were all so different from each other.
Once on Grace, we decided it was close enough to noon that we would look for a lunch site and if we liked the site, we would consider staying for the night rather than pushing on for the long portage and risk not finding a site on Beth.
We found the second site on the southern shore open and loved the site, so we called it home for the night.
The site was large and very spread out, with lots a tent pad options. The grate area was nice with trees close enough to allow us to put of our rainfly since we were still anticipating the storms would catch up with us. The lat was an average distance and there were wonderful rock slabs along the shoreline for sitting and relaxing. The water was a little weedy so probably not a high demand swimming area. We did have privacy as we were in a little bay that looked out at a series of islands on the lake. There were also great hammock trees right along the shoreline; making for a great afternoon nap!
We have had two great days of calm waters, fair skies and virtually no bugs. Not sure what we did right, but we'll take it! [paragraph break] Waterfall along 85 rod portage between Phoebe and Grace Lakes [paragraph break] Nemo! Our rainfly/bug shelter which fit perfectly over the fire grate/sitting area (no fire tonight)
We were up at 5:30, made oatmeal, and broke camp to make our way across calm waters (again) to the 285 rod portage. We had decided this time two of us would take the canoes all the way across while the other two brought two packs half way then went back from the other two while the two who took canoes returned for the two packs at the half way point. Even the best laid plans are subject to change! We made it just short of half way and my partner and I decided to put down the canoes and return for two packs so we could have a break. Our other two partners went from one end to the other with the two large packs. Either way, the portage went very smooth and didn't feel so long (ok, yes it did).
Once on Beth, we saw that all of the sites were full, making us feel better about our decision to stop the day before. We continued our calm water paddle to the final portage of the day. Once again my partner and I grabbed canoes and headed across the portage. This time, we both went all the way without stopping; wow! This portage seemed so much easier today!
Once on Alton, we decided to head over to the east shore and work our way north and we scouted out the "perfect" site for the remainder of our days in the wilderness. The lake was once again calm and quiet.
We found the third site up the shoreline to be open and inviting. We stopped to check it out and fell in love with it for our home! The site has 3 landing areas, although only one of them is really one I would recommend. The site was huge and spread out, giving us lots of room to explore. The tent pads were elevated from the rest of the site, with three sets of steps created up to the "bedroom". We could have easily set up 4-5 tents in that area alone. Plus there were other areas off this area that would make good tent pads as well. The fire grate had a bonus couch made from logs which was oh-so-comfortable!! The south side of the site had good trees for the bear hang as well as hammocks. The north side also had access to the little bay. Both sides of the site were good for swimming (unless you are looking for a beach setting). The lat trail ran from the "bedroom" and was an average distance. We also found several trails to explore and loved this site!
First up once we unloaded the canoes for a swim/bath for all of us! [paragraph break] The couch at our campsite! [paragraph break] The steps up to the "bedroom". Our tents are set up on one side of the large tent pad area.
There is something about coming to your final portage and knowing it is the end of your time in the BWCA for another year. This year, we leave the BWCA in a blanket of fog and light mist. We have experienced virtually no bugs, all of the predicted storms have stayed away from us, the lakes have been calm, and once again our friendships have been strengthened.
Until next year....