BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
May 23 2022
Number of Permits per Day: 11
Elevation: 1802 feet
Sawbill Lake - 38
Memorial Day Get-Outta-Dodge Trip
May 22, 2020
Number of Days:
After anxiously waiting to see if the USFS would open up permits, we were overjoyed to head north at four o'clock in the morning. Five hours on the road put us at Sawbill at nine, where we navigated pandemic protocols to get our canoes and gear on the water by ten. The weather was looking amazing for an early trip, but we had to wait at the landing while a few other groups put in and we tried to stay apart.
One group, hauling their gear in some nice backpacking gear that made the canoe a bit tippy, loaded into their canoe and called their yellow lab to jump in. He did, physics went to work, and the canoe deposited gear, dog, and canoeists into Sawbill Lake. Frustrated and embarrassed, the group gathered their wet gear and furry companion and tried again (successfully this time).
After the first few months of a tough 2020, it was magical to be on the water leisurely paddling north on Sawbill while birds sang, eagles soared. waves lapped, and paddles dipped. While I've rented from Sawbill before, I've never put in here. It's a lovely, long lake but the campsites were largely full and our journey included a few portages and hopefully a bit more solitude.
After getting a bit turned around in the island maze that is the north end of Sawbill, we were on the small creeks and ponds leading into Cherokee. Cherokee Creek in particular was beautiful. In fact, everything is more beautiful on the first trip of the year when the sun is shining in May, even with a steady flow of traffic including a group of 20-year old guys hauling everything loose in Yeti coolers ("The Yeti Boys"). We were single portaging and left them behind, then turned west after entering Cherokee lake and claimed the second site west of the portage on the south shore, a gorgeous bluff with a killer view. The landing is a bit rough, either scrambling on steep slippery rocks or scrambling up a tight gorge on the backside, but the site is worth it.
Two members of our group were new to the Boundary Waters. This would be an ideal place to introduce them to the glories of this wilderness area. As the wind picked up a bit, I went out fishing with Caleb. This was the first trip I've ever brought a fish finder and Caleb landed a pike and a nice laker after we marked them between the island and the shore. Unfortunately, the only action I got was losing my favorite lure, the beloved firetiger Rippin' Rap. Thankfully, they make more and I'm well stocked for future trips.
Back at camp, the gnats were as bad as I've experienced. Our headsets kept them at bay while we loafed around, enjoyed the sun and the view, and set up camp. It was Joe's birthday and he threw ribeyes on the grill for supper. BW surf and turf of lake trout and ribeyes with a side of rice is about as good as it gets.
It was a great first day of the trip and of the 2020 season, tampered only by Dan's Whisperlite failing and our only fuel source being the forest. There are worse problems. ~Sawbill Lake, Ada Lake, Skoop Lake, Cherokee Lake
Our original plan had one layover day scheduled somewhere. After the early start yesterday, we would use it quickly and loaf around Cherokee. Breakfast was hash browns and bacon and round after round of coffee.
We packed our lunch and explored Cherokee, venturing up to Gordon. Gordon was a quiet, interesting lake, much smaller and cozier than Cherokee. We lunched on the northern campsite and scrambled as the wind took one of our canoes. Thankfully, we had two. Caleb got another laker and a couple pike while my bad luck continued. Caleb also managed to get his lure hooked into his life jacket and net on the portage to Gordon.
Both the sites on Gordon are small, were covered with moose poop, and looked to be unused before our visit. A nice lunch of salami and cheese wraps on the north site preceded our return to Cherokee, where we battled the wind back to our campsite. As we traveled, we noticed a pretty steady stream of canoes and that most of the campsites were filled up.
Around a dinner of trout and mashed potatoes, we made the call to base camp at Cherokee for the whole trip. We knew the Temperances would be busy and didn't desire to scramble for a site or have to keep moving all the way to Burnt or Smoke in one day. It wasn't that kind of trip.
So we stayed up late chatting around the fire, enjoying some libations, and glorying in the wilderness.
~Cherokee Lake, Gordon Lake
With our plans altered and another night on Cherokee ahead, we slept in, loafed around, drank a lot more coffee and headed toward North Temperance for lunch.
The portage from Cherokee was backed up and we had to wait a half hour for The Yeti Boys to get off the landing and head east. During that time, a solo paddler zipped in ahead of us, crowded onto the landing and pushed through The Yeti Boys. After we finally got up the stairs, we started picking up various items like a net, a glove, a bandana. The Yeti Boys were unloading into Sitka and were glad to receive their gear again. Following these guys through the woods wouldn't be hard, but it would be frustrating.
The portage from Cherokee to Sitka isn't easy, but it's also not nearly as bad as some have made it out to be, especially when you're not carrying gear. We made it onto N. Temperance, passing a few other folks, including one elderly couple struggling to move that I was seriously concerned about.
N. Temperance was packed. Every site full, canoes roaming around like it was central park. The Temperances are beautiful lakes, but when they're full, it's just not the same. We found an island in the north of the lake, had lunch, and then headed back to Cherokee.
I went back into the woods to gather firewood after we returned to camp. I've never had so many gnats around me. The swamp behind our campsite was a breeding ground. Thankfully, the hill our fire grate was on provided a nice breeze that kept the buggers in the woods.
The lake calmed down to glass that evening as we enjoyed a lazy evening at camp.
~Cherokee Lake, North Temperance Lake
No lazy morning today. We were up and moving south, surprisingly seeing few people until we were on Sawbill again. Sawbill was glass and we took our time paddling back to the landing.
At the landing, rangers in masked awaited us, checking permits and licenses. This is the first time in six years of tripping that I've seen a ranger. Wish I would see more with all the reports of misuse.
It was a great trip, serving it's purpose of getting us out of our quarantined life. Fishing was slower, but that's Cherokee for you. I love that lake for its beauty, but not it's fishing.
As we paddled back, we were already making plans for the 2021 trip, which looks to target the Shell-Lynx-Oyster area.
~Cherokee Lake, Skoop Lake, Ada Lake, Sawbill Lake