BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog

July 14 2020

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

Sawbill Loop Solo Adventure

by Portage99
Trip Report

Entry Date: June 01, 2020
Entry Point: Sawbill Lake
Number of Days: 5
Group Size: 1

Trip Introduction:
This was my first solo trip in the Boundary Waters. I decided to use a map & compass only. I decided to rent a Prism from Sawbill Outfitters, rather than bring my trusty Yellowstone from home. I wanted this trip to be challenging, yet not overwhelming. I accomplished this mission! My primary concerns were anxiety being alone for the first time and the challenging portages.

Day 1 of 5


Monday, June 01, 2020 ~Sawbill Lake, Flame Lake, Smoke Lake, Burnt Lake

I headed out of Sawbill in the rain. It felt good to get out on the water and feel prepared for the trip. As I headed North, I realized the Prism and the Yellowstone are different animals. I had to adjust my paddling style and I missed my old friend the Yellowstone. I had crafted a portage plan at home and it worked well going into Smoke and Burnt. I was worried about portaging the canoe, but the Prism was a dream to portage.

 

A storm was brewing as I finished the portage into Burnt. I felt confident I could make it to a campsite before the storm blew in. However, the first two campsites I had chosen were taken. As I headed to check out the third, the storm hit with rumbling of low thunder and quick flashes of lightning. I was still learning control of the Prism and felt a little like a kite on the water. I decided to take a break to regroup. I let the wind drift me to shore near a nice landing area. I had a Cliff Bar, got a drink, and took some deep breaths. By that time, the storm was already gone-just a quick puffer.

Unfortunately, all the campsites on Burnt appeared full (didn’t check the far SW site). So, I ended up on Flame, which was super! Set up camp and practiced my tarp and knots. Kind of jimmy-rigged, but functional. After camp was set, I realized I was freezing. Warm clothes and a hot meal. I was asleep before sunset!

 

Lakes Traveled:   Sawbill Lake, Flame Lake, Smoke Lake, Burnt Lake,


Day 2 of 5


Tuesday, June 02, 2020 ~Kelly Lake, Burnt Lake, Jack Lake I woke up to a gorgeous morning on Flame. Low fog mixed in with morning sun. It sure takes longer to break camp when you are solo. I kept looking around for my Wabi buddies…where are they? Napping? Ha. Eventually, I was all packed up and ready to go about 9am. Later than I planned, but the coffee tasted great.

The plan was to make it to Jack Site 928. Crossing Burnt, I wanted to practice my compass skills and boost my confidence. I tried to find the portage without looking at the shore for clues, using only map and compass. I looked up about ten feet from shore, and the bow was pointing straight at the portage. I needed that boost of confidence. I also felt a humble exoneration for those constant messages of inferiority: I may not be good at cooking, baking or acting like a lady, but I know my way around a compass.

I was apprehensive about the portage from Burnt to Kelly. In the end, it was not that bad because I was still fresh. I fought a strong headwind up Kelly, but I started understanding the Prism. However, by the time I arrived at my planned campsite, I was beat from hard paddling. From that moment on, the theme of the trip was WIND.

 

I noticed the site had a lot of animal activity and lots of moose poop. I set my tent out of the way and put everything but my food under my tent rain fly. I felt like it was the respectful thing to do. I wasn't afraid, but more feeling like an animal had recently been active there, so trying to stay tucked away on the site.

We've had a lot of death and tragedy in my family. That is always a part of being in the wilderness for me. It helps me come to terms with it. A beautiful rock ledge on this site is perfect for this type of contemplation. I had a wonderful evening on the site. I went to bed early for an early start. I wanted to make it to Cherokee the next day, and planned to have a day off on Cherokee on Thursday. I knew it was going to be tough, but thought I could do it.

 

 

Lakes Traveled:   Kelly Lake, Burnt Lake, Jack Lake,


Day 3 of 5


Wednesday, June 03, 2020

~Jack Lake, Weird Lake, South Temperance Lake, North Temperance Lake, Sitka Lake, Cherokee Lake

About 5am, I woke to some animal noises I could not identify. I knew it was not a clunky bear. It didn’t sound like a beaver. It sounded a little like dancing. I tried out all the animals I was familiar with, but couldn’t place the noise. I wanted to get an early start, so I just got up. I did not see what was making the prancing type sound. I made some coffee and oatmeal quick. I really wanted to know what the animal was! I accidentally dropped my Pelican box which made a loud noise. I heard a big splash! Ah-ha…my culprit. I waited awhile for safety and gingerly went down the hill to the shore. A moose was just getting up on an island close to the site. I could not believe it was a moose! The whole time I was loading the canoe, the moose stared at me like the interloper I was. Quite intimidating! A really cool experience.

Somewhere around Weird Lake, I had my first kind of lonely feeling. I had planned for this, as I knew it would happen. I felt very alone and vulnerable. I think I was missing having tripping companions. I followed my plan to focus on everything in the moment only and shut down those thoughts. The beauty of the morning soon took over.

The portage to Temperance was challenging but doable. I met a fellow traveler from the bwca.com website on the trail, going the opposite way. So, that was super cool. At the end of the portage, I had a decision to make. I felt like it was too early to stop for the day, but thought going on to Cherokee may max out my physical capabilities. On the other hand, I thought I could do it.....So, I pressed on....

The weather was amazing, except for the WIND. I had success with my “map and compass not looking at shore” trick in South Temperance to boost my confidence. By the time I arrived at North Temperance the wind was a good pace. I battled it hard and felt like the Prism and I were becoming friends. During a few gusts, it was dig in deep and don't give up. I stopped for a snack before the portages to Sitka and on to Cherokee. I saw some fellow travelers going the opposite way. We visited briefly. It is nice to see people sporadically when you are alone!

The portaging to Cherokee was *brutal, I ain’t gonna lie. On the portage into Sitka, I hit my right toe on a rock. I felt a sharp burst of pain in my toe and ankle, but then it subsided. Being solo, I had to double portage everything. I had my packs at the end of the portage into Cherokee. Once I went back for my canoe, I would be done portaging for the day. When I arrived to claim my canoe, I had this overwhelming thought, “I can’t physically do this anymore.” I stood there for a moment looking out into Sitka...then, picked up my canoe. I found a cadence, like a military-march cadence that really, really helped me push through to Cherokee. My parents used to complain that I was stubborn, but sometimes stubbornness comes in handy!! I was determined to finish that &%$# portage. Luckily, the first campsite NE of the portage was open. I was exhausted. It was sunny and nice out, so I set up camp quick. I laid down on the warm rocks and kind of dozed for about an hour. Heavenly! The day had busted my bum, but it was a great sense of accomplishment lying there in the sun. Is there anything better than lying on those warm rocks?

When I woke up, I noticed a throbbing in my toe. I took my shoes off and I had bruised my big left toe and the nail seemed to be coming off. It was really throbbing, so I taped it and took some Naproxen. Tomorrow will be my “free” day, so I can nurse my toe. I could bear weight, so I knew I could make it out. My only concern was the pain level and how much it would slow me down.

It was a perfect evening. I made potato soup which made me a nice kind of tired. I snuggled in my sleeping bag to study my map and fell asleep on my map!

 

Lakes Traveled:   Jack Lake, Weird Lake, South Temperance Lake, North Temperance Lake, Sitka Lake, Cherokee Lake,


Day 4 of 5


Thursday, June 04, 2020 ~Cherokee Lake

I woke up to the patter of rain on my tent. It seemed like an all-day rain. I could not believe it was only Thursday. It seemed like I had lived triple time in the past three days. So far this had been a great challenging adventure. I was wrong about the all-day rain. It cleared up fairly quickly. I made some coffee and oatmeal and thought about checking out the lake. But, my toe was looking very gnarly. All swollen, blue with somewhat detached nail. Before taping it, I would rate the pain an 8 out of 10. With taping, a 5 out of 10. I did toe soaks in the icy water, Naproxen, and stretches throughout the day. The stretches really hurt in the beginning, but made things better as the day went on. The pain subsided to a 1 of 10.

Amazing campsite; amazing day. Thursday was a gorgeous, sunny day on the rocks of my Cherokee site. The temperate was perfect. About 10:30 the wind really picked up. The wind was violent, cleansing, invigorating. Cherokee put on a cloud show for me, with amazingly beautiful cloud formations changing swiftly. I had a Captain Dan moment with the Universe which was very cathartic. Watching those clouds for hours will be a special moment I will never forget.

The wind never let up from 1030am until early evening. I mean, never let up. Even blowing my life jackets around. I was happy my tarp held and was happy I finally did my knots correctly (I’d been practicing for a couple of years). However, even though I love wind, I can only take so much wind! I could not believe it never let up. About 5pm or so, the wind started really bugging me and making me anxious. This obviously wasn’t a normal day wind. Relentless and becoming drier. It made it impossible not to think about wildfire, which I was trying super hard not to think about. I didn’t feel comfortable using the camp stove.

I had a decision to make. I thought the campsites closer to the Cherokee River might be more protected from the wind. I would have to battle the wind to get there, with the potential of having the sites taken. It sounded like a lot of work. I could just go in my tent and take a break from the wind. In the end, I decided to try for a more protected site. I battled the wind to the second campsite from the portage.

After being in the wind for so many hours, it was SO QUIET. I was struck by the quiet and the stillness. The campsite had beautiful rock formations, and everything was SO still. I had my late supper and noticed the full moon in the daylight. I sat there and watched it become brighter until I could no longer stay awake. GORGEOUS!

 

Lakes Traveled:   Cherokee Lake,


Day 5 of 5


Friday, June 05, 2020 ~Cherokee Lake, Skoop Lake, Ada Lake, Sawbill Lake

I woke up early to a light, steady rain. I decided to get an early start knowing I might be slow on the portages with my bum toe. I wrapped my toe well, and took off down Cherokee Creek. I was quite taken with the river. I found it really beautiful. The rain quit shortly after take-off.

I wasn’t going to share this…but, I guess you can have a laugh at my expense. This is the stupidest thing I did on my trip. I thought I saw a blaze on a tree along the river. In Wabakimi we are looking for old blazes. I had plenty of time and it was a beautiful morning. I thought I would see if there was an old trail. Seemed like a good idea….I brought the canoe in and went to step in the two feet of water…. and sunk up to my hip in muck and tumbled out. Luckily, I had everything secured but my water bottle. The canoe tipped and I pushed it back up. The only thing floating was my water bottle, but I had several inches of mucky water in the boat. I had to take everything out and drain the canoe. Fish out my water bottle. Since I was on shore, I did a little exploring and it reminded me of Wabakimi, so that was really cool. I crashed through the bush for awhile just for fun. There was no way back into the canoe without some type of balancing act. I could only enter and load from one end. Staying low and center, I loaded the gear and climbed in. Feeling victorious, I happened to look over and there sat my camera on the bank. Ugh. How bad did I want that camera? I almost left it there. I had to redo the balancing act, climbing over my gear to get the camera with my paddle. Whew, all in and off we go to the portage. 

The portages from Cherokee to Ada were muddy and challenging. On one of them, I missed a rock and went into mud up to my knee. It happened to be my bad toe side and…ow….I had somewhat of a panic attack in the middle of either the 180 or the 110 rd portage (I can’t remember). I was trucking along with my canoe, when I had this thought that there was a fire in the area. There was no rational reason to think this, but it got stuck in my mind. I fended off the thoughts with some rational thinking…but it really lingered. I thought, “What if everyone has been evacuated but me?” I was feeling pretty isolated on the portages with my bad toe and my mind was playing tricks on me. I finally just told myself, “Okay, you’ve been totally forgotten. That doesn’t change the fact that you need to get to the other side of this portage!” I intentionally picked up the pace in the physical effort and focus on the portage and the panic left me like a fever breaking, and I was glad to see it go.

After Ada Lake, my worries were squashed completely as I meet multiple groups coming in (all smelling and looking much better than myself). I usually don’t like to see people, but I was SO glad to see people.

Canoeing Sawbill back to the dock where I started was an amazing experience. The sun was dazzling on the water. The Prism and I had made friends. The wind battered me a little on the Northern crossing, but I learned how to manage her better.

It was exhilarating coming into the dock. It was a great experience and lots of life lessons learned. It's interesting how fast things change. When you are solo you realize how everything is on you. All of a sudden, you have a car, a soda, a radio....It wasn't really a good feeling to have all that stuff, and I had trouble putting my compass away. Until next time!

 

Lakes Traveled:   Cherokee Lake, Skoop Lake, Ada Lake, Sawbill Lake,

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