BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
September 20 2021
Number of Permits per Day: 14
Elevation: 1802 feet
Sawbill Lake - 38
Journey to Manhood
May 26, 2006
Number of Days:
We spent last night in the van in the parking lot of Sawbill Outfitters, then got the canoe and gear down to the landing just before the outfitter opened up. We were the first ones on the water . The first portage was no problem. Jaryd did great--he was really pumped. He carried the food pack the whole 80 rods. Second portage was a little harder–more rocks and hills. Third was a brutally rocky 92 rods. Fourth one was brutally long but we made it without incident. Boy, was I proud of Jaryd! He never complained, we both just kept on pushing. Some nice folk from Eau Claire told us about a nice campsite on Cherokee straight across from the entrance to Cherokee Creek. We were happy to see that it was available. Set up camp and ate lunch, which was peanut butter sandwiches because I forgot the jelly. We went out fishing for awhile but had no luck. After dinner we sat by the fire enjoying the sunset and watched the stars come out. It was at that point we had our man to man talk, well I talked he listened. Good first day.
We were up before 6:00. You would think after a tough first day we would have slept longer. Made a great breakfast: egg and sausage bagel sandwiches with o.j. Took our time packing up and were on the water by about 9:00. First portage to Sitka Lake was brutally hilly and kind of long, the hardest one of the day. We leapfrogged it. We met two guys and a boy from Two Harbors who were coming from Brule. Sitka is a beautiful lake; I’d like to come back and fish it. A guy could come in from Brule and North Temperance pretty easily. Portage from Sitka to North Temperance was next–not bad. Next portage was from North Temperance to South Temperance–piece of cake. Jaryd and I both reveled in it after the other ones we had been on. The first site on the north shore closest to the portage was taken by a couple from The Cities with two dogs. The one English Springer tried to hitch a ride on our canoe, nearly causing our first spill. We moved on to the site on the northwest corner. It was a pretty nice site; however, some previous campers forgot their bait bucket or were too lazy to carry it out. I’m guessing it was the latter and if that was you–shame on you! It’s been somewhat windy since we arrived around 1 pm. After setting up camp Jaryd and I thought we’d take a swim. We thought the same thing yesterday with the same results: the water was too cold. So we just waded in and got our heads wet and washed off our pants. Tomorrow’s the big one: the Temperance River portage. I was praying that we could just float the river, but the Fisher map says it’s 240 rods and I assumed the portage was there for a reason. The river must be too shallow or clogged with timber to get through. We went to go check it out. After checking out the river, it looked like it could be floatable, but after talking to the couple with the dogs, they convinced us to just use the portage instead. We went out fishing and caught one bass. Talked to two guys staying on Brule and they said the fishing hasn’t been that good for them either. We had a good dinner of Rice-a-Roni and potatoes, saving some potatoes for breakfast. Man, this is great! Jaryd did very well today for having one of the harder portages–I’m very impressed with his good attitude as he keeps on plugging away. Hopefully we have gotten rid of some more weight foodwise, so each day should be easier. The big one was first thing tomorrow. It’s great just hanging out with my son by the fire, watching the stars come out. What an awesome place!
Jaryd and I were both up early and weren’t very hungry, so we broke camp and were on the water by 6:15. We paddled to our first portage of the day, which was the longest of the trip–240 rods. It actually wasn’t that bad, just long. I mentioned earlier that we thought about trying to float the river, but decided the portage was there for a reason. Definitely the right move. The portage parallels the river and you can see that even at high water it’s shallow and clogged with timber, and has a series of small, staircase-like rapids. Weather that morning was beautiful, but we would see later that it can change in a hurry. There were one or two more portages before Weird Lake–no problem. We wondered how that lake got its’ name...do weird things happen here? We arrived at Jack Lake and still hadn’t seen anyone...just a canoe on a site at the north end of the lake. Paddling down Jack Lake and just before we could make it into the portage into Kelly, a nasty thunderstorm hit. We were just a few hundreds yard from the portage we would find out later, but we had to get off the water fast and throw our rain gear on and wait it out. Thunder, lightening and, of all things, hail (pea to superball size) came down on us. Jaryd and I just laughed. We were experiencing all that the BWCA could offer. After getting bonked on the head by some big ones, we threw our lifejackets over our heads and waited about an hour till it stopped. We were once again on our way. I thought that in my hurry to get to shore before the storm hit I had missed the portage, but after closer inspection of the map I could see it was just around the corner. We portaged into Kelly and by the time we were halfway down the lake it was getting hot and muggy. Jaryd tried some fishing here, but it was more an exercise in frustration. Back on our first day, Jaryd had lost his pole in the lake on the first cast. Poor guy–he was miserable. He was so looking forward to catching some fish and using his new floating pliers to unhook them. He must have just sat there for about twenty minutes in silence. That left us with just my two spinning outfits, which Jaryd doesn’t do well with. He had trouble keeping the line from tangling. It was also pretty shallow and he kept hanging up lures. We paddled down Kelly to the portage into Burnt...”the big one”. Yes, I know I said before that the Temperance River was the big one, and it was the longest. This one was actually ten rods shorter, but very narrow and somewhat hilly. Since it had rained earlier, half the portage was a running stream. No fear! My man, Jaryd, kept on encouraging me that we could make it–and we did. We leapfrogged this portage as well. This technique works great on long portages. We were packed efficiently: two personal packs, one food pack, paddles, lifevests and fishing poles. My lifevest has a lot of pockets, so I eliminated the need for a tackle bag by putting all my fishing gear in it. We made it through to Burnt, then the 90 rod from Burnt to Smoke, so tomorrow we’ll have just one 100 yard portage to Sawbill and we’re back where we started. We took the first campsite closest to the portage on Smoke. This is a very spacious site, but somewhat abused. There were woodchips scattered everywhere, halfcut logs. We tried to clean up a little bit anyway. The bugs, in my opinion, haven’t been bad at all, but this site was definitely the buggiest of all. You could hear a constant hum of the hordes of mosquitos. It was like being in a production plant and hearing the constant buzz of machinery. But we were good...just wore a bug net and a BuzzOff hat that I got for Christmas. (Thanks, Jon!) We set up camp and since it had rained most of the wood was wet. Dad decided to show Son how to build a fire when all the wood’s wet. We found some nice pieces of cedar and pine to split up to get to the dry part of the wood. I split the cedar into kindling, shaved off some tinder the slick way Cliff Jacobson does. The fire started going and so Dad says, “See, Son, that’s how you do it.” However, the fire just couldn’t seem to keep on going. It would burn good and then just die out. The only way I could keep enough heat to cook was to feed it birch bark. We got most of dinner cooked, but I finally broke out the stove to finish up the job. We had eggs and sausage for dinner because Friday Jaryd had knocked our shells and cheese into the dirt while it was cooking and we had to use an extra meal. It’s funny now. After dinner Jaryd read his Gentle Ben book while I did dishes and put away the gear. After dusk we went down to the shore since the bugs had abated and watched the stars come out. I just sat there in silence stargazing and asking my Lord, “Why is this place so compelling to me?” There’s something about the wilderness that can’t be explained. When I look at these stars tonight, Psalm 19:1-2 come to mind: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.” What a beautiful last night!
Jaryd and I were both up early. We packed up camp and headed for the portage between Smoke and Sawbill. It was sunny and beautiful. Knowing this was our last portage and we’re back where we started was plenty of motivation to breeze through the 90 rods. From the portage to Sawbill landing we saw several other groups heading in. There were two rangers headed out on patrol. We exchanged hellos. That was the first time in four years that I have seen forest rangers in the Boundary Waters. We arrived at the landing around 8:30 am. I bought Jaryd a t-shirt, we took some pictures, and we’re off down the Sawbill trail. One interesting note: a few miles or so from camp was a depression in the road filled with water. Any of you who have been to Sawbill probably know what I’m talking about–it’s like a small pond. Anyway, I was caught off guard because my attention was drawn to the little red flags on the four corners marking the pond. Splash! At about 35 mph, it was like the log ride at an amusement park. It was only then that I remembered seeing the pond on the way in. The difference was that it had been dark and I was already driving slow. It was a “unique” experience. We made it through.
So that’s our trip. I took a boy to the wilderness and brought back a man, well a small man, but a man none the less. We were headed home down the North Shore to I-35 and all the holiday traffic waiting for us. I love the North Shore drive–it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. Happy paddling!