BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
September 27 2020
Number of Permits per Day: 14
Elevation: 1802 feet
Sawbill Lake - 38
6 day solo Frost River Loop
May 21, 2018
Number of Days:
I single portaged the first two 80 rods portages into Ada Lake. The Ada to Skoop portage proved to be difficult. I sank up to my knees twice and had a difficult time finding any good footing. 80 rods of it is boulders and mud. There was another group of consisting of some teenagers and a 50 year old and already some of the kids weren't having a lot of fun. I hope it got better for them.
I single portage the 180 rod into Cherokee and had now passed up all the groups. Cherokee Creek is a beautiful paddle with one beaver dam pullover. I now had a small southerly tailwind pushing me north. I stopped for some lunch on the north side of Cherokee for an hour of so and continued on.
I paddled up thru Gordon Lake and double portaged the 140 rod into Unload Lake. This is one of the coolest portages I have ever been on a I highly suggest everyone go walk it. I saw several moose tracks, lots of trees growing out of boulders, and at the end there are a bunch of cedar trees. I really enjoyed this walk.
I was able to paddle the 40 rod portage into Frost and I took the campsite on the west end of the lake closest to the Frost River portage. I was happy to find a fellow camper had left some firewood as I was pretty tired from the long day. It took about 7 hours to get to Frost from Sawbill with an hour or so stop for lunch.
15.5 miles 590 rods Note: miles are from my Garmin GPS. It includes any backtracking, double portaging, and canoeing in circles. Rods are from the map and do not include double portaging.
Frost river to Afton Lake
So here it is. The big day. The mighty Frost River. I got started around 9 am or so and double portaged the longest portage of the day. As I paddled the Frost, I was watching the map and I breezed right past the first 10 rod of the day. I looked as though the water would of needed to be about 2 feet lower to actually need that portage. So far so good. I passed through several more beaver dams and was able to see bottom of the river all the way until Chase Lake. I honestly don't remember what portages I did or how many beaver dams I passed but it was a nice paddle with a wide river.
Upon reaching the western end of Pencil Lake I could not find the portage. It turns out the portage is on the south side of the river and not the north side like my map showed. Apparently I wasn't the only who had this problem. Either way, the rapids were a really nice place to lunch at.
Once I got done with the Pencil Lake portage the river really narrowed. On this last section, my map was essentially worthless. I'm sure this section changes every year with beaver dams. It became frustrating at times because of the constant unloading and loading of the canoe. Rarely did I paddle for more than 5 minutes.
Eventually I reached the Afton Lake after about 7 hours of travel. It was a challenging but rewarding day. Sometimes frustrating, but overall, take your time and just enjoy the journey. Its not a day to try and speed thru and rush yourself.
A group came by at 8 pm. I heard the "Oh no" as they reached the lake. I asked if they wanted to stay with me but I turns out they were a group of 8 with 4 canoes. They paddled on and I hope they made it to a sight before dark.
9.5 miles 290 rods
Afton Lake to Mesaba Lake The day started with the 10 rod up and over the cliff and into Fente Lake. The 340 rod portage to Hub was uphill for the first 8 minutes or so but fairly smooth after that with good footing. I took my time coming thru Hub and it looked to be a real nice lake that probably deserved more exploring.
I got to Mesaba after about three hours, scouted all three campsites, and settled on the northern campsite which I now refer to as tick point. I probably had no less than 15 ticks on me at some point during my stay and after 2 days with little or no bugs the mosquitos decided that they would make an appearance. Other than the ticks it was a great little campsite. Someone had left some moose antlers and it seemed like the fishing should be great from shore although I had no success.
A short but hot day with not a lot of cooling at night. It would remain this way for the rest of the trip.
Mesaba to Wine
I woke up again to another gorgeous but hot morning. I singled portaged again coming out of Mesaba lake and after tweaking my neck and shoulders I would be done with single portaging for the trip.
Around the corner in Duck Lake I finally saw my moose. He was about 30 feet from me chopping on grass by the shore. His antlers were already outside his ears so he may be a big one. Every now and again he would raise up his nose to smell me. He wasn't startled, probably just thought something dead was floating down the river. I'm guessing I don't smell the greatest at this point. I watched for him for about 20 minutes before he finally walked up the hill.
I reached Wine Lake with about a four hour travel day. The only real challenge being the portage into Wine. Think up, down, up, down. Good footing but no level ground.
I took the campsite closet to the portage and chilled out for a bit while weather passed by. It turned out to be only light drizzle. I then went after the lake trout. I drifted across with a red and white little cleo and caught one almost immediately. My first lake trout!! I caught several more drifting across the same 40 foot hole.
This turned out to be one of my better days in the BWCA with moose and trout. I would really like to return to Wine and spend more time here.
5 miles 273 rods
Wine to Kelso
I started off the day and had to tackle the 90 rod up, down, up, down, out of Wine. I'm 10 minutes into my day and I am already in a full sweat.
Now on to tackle the portage I have been dreading. 480 rods. Yikes. I started off with the pack and walked for about 30 minutes and dropped it by the river crossing. The walk was challenging. Lots of mud, rocks, hills, etc. On the hilly sections the portage has created a ravine which floods the trail so lots of wet rocks and slippery footing. I survived and went back and grabbed the canoe. Had some lunch by the stream and decided to try and paddle it. That was a no go. It appears there is a huge beaver dam which made the river impassable.
After wasting about 30 minutes or so, I tackled the southern section. It took about 20 minutes more. They are several false endings as you see ponds thru the trees created by the beavers on the river. I kept thinking these were the end of the portage but no. The southern section was flatter and drier than the northern section however and soon I was paddling along the Kelso.
By this point I was getting pretty tired and thirsty but I wanted to get to camp quickly. Several storms were in the area, the wind had kicked up, and I could here thunder and see rain off to the south. Luckily, it all passed by and I took the peninsula sight on the north end of Kelso Lake.
I went out fishing for walleye later on but all I could catch were 15 inch northern. The storm would come thru at about 4 am soaking everything for my packing up the next day
9 miles 585 rods
Kelso to Sawbill
I packed up about 530 am and was back at Sawbill at 730 am. There I saw the first people I had seen since day 2.
I had a great time with great weather (a little on the hot side). I saw 3 occupied campsites in 6 days. After Cherokee creek on day one, I would see 4 canoes in the water. Days 3-6, the number of moose out numbered the number of people. (1-0).
My recommendations if you decide to do this route. -Enjoy the Frost Lake portage. One of my favorites, I can't really explain why, I just liked the walk. Pack light or maybe bring 2 small packs instead of one large one, loading and unloading the canoe takes its toll. Don't look at your watch or your map along the river. Both are useless. Layover on Wine Lake And finally, rent a helicopter for the Lujenida portage.
Trip totals 51 miles traveled 2231 rods portaged