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June 20 2024

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: 11
Elevation: 1802 feet
Latitude: 47.8699
Longitude: -90.8858
Sawbill Lake - 38


by paddlefamily
Trip Report

Entry Date: September 19, 2016
Entry Point: Sawbill Lake
Number of Days: 7
Group Size: 1

Trip Introduction:
I just returned yesterday from a 7 day, 30 mile solo. It was a great experience and I'd do it again. DETAILS TRIP LOOP: Sawbill - Kelso - Lujenida - Zenith - Fredrick - Wine - Mug - Poe - Louse Lake/River - Bug - Dent - Unnamed Pond - Chase - Mesaba - Hug - Duck - Zenith - Lujenida - Kelso - Sawbill. I rented 16' Prism canoe from Sawbill Outfitters. All other gear I own. I double portaged for safety and ease. Took along 2yo lab (and until she can paddle, cook and set up camp, it's solo tripping) :)


DAY 1 / SAWBILL LAKE I rented a Prism from Sawbill Outfitters, but otherwise, own all my gear. I put in on a very windy day. The wind was 17mph but with steady gusts up to 32mph. I wanting to work out any kinks and make sure our 2yo lab was prepared. I camped on Sawbill Lake the first night. Using rocks for ballast became very helpful throughout the trip in using the solo canoe. Thankfully those are plentiful. :)

DAY 2 / SAWBILL - ZENITH LAKE I got up early to a less windy day and headed up to the Kelso River portage (easy) and into the Kelso River system. The Kelso/Lujenida river/lake systems are very easy to paddle and scenic. The fall bog colors were brilliant and varied. I tackled the 460 rod portage from Lujenida to Zenith. Because I was solo, I decided to double portage. The upside is that I used the time going back after the first drop to eat, drink and take in the beauty around me. The portage took me 2hrs and was moderate in difficulty. It's not overly hard, but it's long and I was tired, but happy to be done with it. I got to the sole, Zenith Lake campsite at 1pm. It's an elevated, secluded site that views of the lake punctuated by a semi-open screen of pines.

DAY 3-4 / ZENITH - FREDRICK - WINE - MUG - POE - LOUSE LAKE/RIVER - BUG - DENT Knowing this would be a big travel day, I got up early, filled my nalgene with protein shake and stuffed a probar in my pocket. The dog carried all of her food in a Ruffwear pack that had extra storage, so some of my extra snacks during the day were stuffed there. The paddle throughout these lakes is stunning. There are many cliffy areas, interesting topography, along both lakes and river. I didn't see anyone and none of the campsites were occupied. Making it to the first 2 portages on the Louse River system, I noticed right away the portage wasn't very obvious. These two portages (headed west) are in really rough shape. Alder and willow choked brush filled the portages as well as downed trees and detours due to an unmarked pond on the second portage cause by a beaver dam. It was bushwhacking at its finest. When traveling, I always took my pack first so that I could evaluate a portage which was very helpful when I got to the Louse River system. But that's apart of the wilderness experience right? So I sang silly camp songs and christened these portages the 'Lousy Portages'. After a really clear portage from Bug into Dent lake I made it to my destination for the day. Because this was my first canoe solo trip and the dog's first trip to the BW, flexibility about route was essential. I decided to shoot for the eastern site on the lake and because of the fall sunlight, I picked sites that were west/sw/south facing. This was a beautiful sight with sloping granite outcrop all along the expanse of it. The site was large and had open parts that I dubbed 'the main eating area', 'the bedroom' and the 'sunporch' (where I hung my hammock. Wanting to include a rest day, I spent a day and a half and two nights there. I was serenaded by loons during the day and barred owls at night.

DAY 5 / DENT - CHASER - UNNAMED POND/BOG - MESABA I got up to yet again a beautiful blue-sky day and fog burning off the lake. The paddle out of Dent is very pretty and river-like. The following portage is easy and around 100 rods (it's not marked on the map). I got confused after this because I didn't look closely at my map and in a small space that covers about a centimeter is a small pond between the portage and the portage to Chaser. I found out later that I wasn't the only person to miss this. The portage from this unnamed pond into Chaser is marked by 1 portage line. It's a miniscule place that caused me a bit of trouble. Because I thought I was on Chaser I went left (or northeast). But right away I could tell there was no definitive watertrail. After searching around for a bit and ruling out that others had done the same thing and quit, I decided I had nothing to lose by checking out the small, inconsequential bog that was to the left of the portage (or south). Starting about 10 ft into that I heard voices. I ran into a couple coming from the way I should have gone. Later I realized that this unnamed 'pond' has now become a bog and the water levels have flooded the original banks making the true water trail to the next portage clogged by willow and dead standing trees. It was messy. After letting this couple work their way through the clog and chatting for a bit, I headed into the mess myself. After almost clearing a fallen spruce my dog decided she'd had enough and stepped out onto the bog next to us, dumping the canoe. Thankfully it was only chest deep and I responded without panicking. Mostly I was ticked that this small section was proving to be challenging when I thought I was going to have a short, easy paddle into Mesaba. Dragging the water filled canoe to the 'bank', I pulled out all of my gear and dumped the water. The bank was unusable and not passable so I drug the canoe carefully through the tangle until I hit a spot that was over my head and got back into the canoe. I was able to paddle the last 25 feet to the portage while the dog made her way scrambling over a beaver dam (that was the source of the changes) back to me. I was chilled and needed to keep moving, but knew I'd be alright. Whew! I took the first south facing campsite on Mesaba, changed clothes, had my daily cup of tea and relaxed. The couple had told me they'd seen a bear on the shore of Mesaba the following day, but I never saw it and it never bothered me.

DAY 6-7 / MESABA - HUG - DUCK - ZENITH - KELSO I considered staying at this site another day, but decided that I really like a little travel each day. I had brought books and was enjoying them and doing some photography, but I love seeing what's around the next bend. I was getting comfortable with camp set up/take down that lasted about 30 min. I enjoy oddly shaped lakes and Mesaba didn't disappoint. The lakes throughout this trip were very interesting to paddle though. Knowing I had the 460 rod Lujenida/Zenith portage ahead, I packed plenty of snacks and took my time. The day was gorgeous and because I was hitting the long portage in the afternoon, it took on a new and different appearance from when I had tackled it my first morning. I ran into a couple of men at the end of the portage who mentioned that there was rain in the forecast for the next couple of days so I decided to spend my last night on the second site coming from the north on Kelso Lake. I had checked out the first site back in a northern bay, but it felt dark and cavelike and had heavy use. The site I stayed at had 5 star views but I'd give it a 2 star due to heavy use. It took me 20 min to find the latrine trail due to so many established trails. There was some garbage in the grate and bulky chopped (and unusable) large logs for campfire wood. Many trees had axe scars on them. :( I cleaned stuff up as best as I could but it will take many people and years before the site returns to the gem it deserves to be. The next morning I was able to pack up dry and head a few miles back through the Kelso River system to Sawbill Landing.

THINGS LEARNED / TRICKS FOR TRIPPERS Though I've been doing the BW for 18 years as well as other remote hikes, I still always learn more and try to keep an attitude of learning new things. Maybe these will help you.

SLOW SOLOING. Traveling solo is slower. At least for me it was. I averaged 1.5mph, but I really wanted to savor and enjoy my time.

AUTUMN IS BEST. Fall is still my favorite season in the BW. I saw 6 people the entire trip (3 days in between some). Campsites are empty and I had whole lakes to myself. The weather was perfect...70's daytime/40's nighttime, but fall can be unpredictable.

PACK SIMPLY. I also ultralight hike and so am used to packing simply and lightly. I had one 45# pack and one canoe. I wore the same shirt and zip off pants the entire trip (I did change my undies, thanks for asking). I strap 25' floating rope to the front (for emergency, lining, tracking, tying up canoe at night, etc). I use tried and true vendors that have great tasting dehydrated meals (yay - no dishes) and always include chocolate. Someday I'll getting around to making my own meals. I have a waterproof seat pack that stores a small container of bug dope/sun block, steripen, tp and monocle. My extra carbon fiber paddle stays bungied (Bungie Dealy Bob's) to a thwart the entire trip. My fishing rod is also broken down and bungied to a thwart.

PORTAGE SIMPLY. I don't like any dangling stuff from my pack/canoe or carrying stuff in my hands. My primary paddle gets bungied to a thwart in the canoe. I mostly used my iPhone on this trip which was zipped in my PDF in a waterproof case. My PDF and map are clipped by caribeaners to my canoe pack D rings. My collapsible water bottle is bungied to the side of my pack. My ditch kit is zipped in a separate pocket on my PDF. Along with the basics, my SPOT is carried in there as well. I personally find it's safer and easier to be hands free. Plus it keeps the portage 'garage sale' from getting out of control.

BRING A DOG. My dog did really well which was great. I didn't want to rely on her for anything other than to carry her food and provide entertainment. I have no idea what she'd do in an emergent situation, so I never wanted to 'rely' on her for that. Hopefully she'd alert me to something, but you never know. She didn't always love the getting in/out of the canoe but was fine while paddling. Special treats helped. She was great about carrying her Ruffpack. I just divided her food and double zip-locked everything. It all stayed dry even with her jumping in a portages and swimming. She listened very well and through this forum, I read tricks to getting her comfortable being in a canoe. She was also great in camp and liked to follow me when I moved around. Otherwise she was beat and slept in the sunshine. I brought along a thermarest that I put in a sling chair for around camp and it became her bed at night. I used my hammock top-quilt for warmth as it's lighter and more compact than bringing another full-sized bag. Plus I didn't want to invest in a special dog blanket if future canoeing trips with her were going to be a bust. For her place in the canoe, I cut a cheap yoga mat in half that she sat on. It became a mat for wiping off feet in front of the tent each night. I did have her off leash on the portages. My feeling is that because I was soloing, it would risk injury to me should she suddenly bolt or pull on a leash attached to me. We never had any issues (and I only ran into 2 people). I brought her leash in case I needed it. She was also off-leash in camp and did great. She never barked on the trip, however, the red squirrels were endless entertainment for her.

CHALLENGE YOURSELF. Because this was my first canoe solo, I knew flexibility was key. I knew that I may stay in one place the whole time, but I also was open to trying a loop. I made travel plans but took things day by day. Just doing a solo is getting out of your comfort zone - you have nobody to rely on. Then again, you make the decisions, you decide when to eat and where to camp. Weather, physical stamina, mood, etc can change things, so being open to whatever is helpful.

Lastly, if you've been contemplating a solo. DO IT. It was a rewarding, enjoyable, peaceful and exciting, experience.


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