BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
March 31 2023
Entry Point 38 - Sawbill Lake
Number of Permits per Day: 11
Elevation: 1802 feet
Sawbill Lake - 38
June 03, 2006
Number of Days:
(Sawbill Lake, Alton Lake, Beth Lake, Grace Lake, Phoebe Lake, Knight Lake, Haze Lake, Phoebe River, Polly Lake)
On day one we packed up our camp and did a final re-packing of our gear before the start of our journey. In a common mistake, the foodbag guy went for his morning relief without locking the foodbag under lock and key. In the time it took him to get back we managed to debate what to add to his pack. We had a small watermelon that was intended to go into the pack but he had all ready seen it and would notice the obvious extra bulk. There was beer, so we slid 4 containers into his pack thinking he wouldn’t be so upset when he found them. As everybody was just starting to take the gear down to the boat launch the foodbag guy did discover the added weight when he was adding some more personal gear to his pack. With only him and I around, he agreed to be a sport and not let on that he had found it.
Thank goodness the blackflies had let up and the weather was calm and sunny for our start. Crossing Sawbill Lake, our first portage, and Alton Lake had been fairly uneventful. We were in a hurry to get to the more remote areas and away from the entry point and the crowds that we were encountering around it. One thing I did notice at this point and several times the rest of the trip were the goose migrations. It seems a bit late in the year for it, but we saw a few hundred geese continuing their migration north in “V” formation.
Once we reached Grace Lake, and were comfortable with the distance we had gone so far, the fishing started to get more serious. Grace and Phoebe Lake proved to be pretty good for the smallmouth. The fish were generally on the smaller side, but there were a quite a few of them.
Once we reached Knight Lake we decided to push on till we reached Polly Lake where we would set up camp. We had high hopes of seeing moose along the narrows after Knight Lake and the Phoebe River. We paddled silently around the many twists and turns of the river but no moose were to be seen.
On Polly we headed to the north of the lake half heartedly fishing along the way. Once we reached the “main” part of the lake we found a point with a campsite and set up camp after we all agreed it was a suitable site.
This first camp let us work the bugs out of our “chores”. For getting the bear-bag ropes over suspended branches we typically tie a stuff sack with a rock or rocks in it, to the end of a rope to make it easier to toss. The rock bag tends to be a little dangerous because usually it is a group effort to get the rope over the branch or branches. We need at least one person throwing the rock with the rope affixed to it and then several hecklers standing around to watch. It usually involves a couple close encounters with the rock as it falls back down. This time Mike brought a racket ball to replace the rocks. Unfortunately the racket ball didn’t cut it, even when we filled it with water to give it a little extra weight.
Fishing from camp that night was better for some than it was for others. We fished floating jigs tipped with leeches off the bottom right off shore in front of camp. While Mike and Greg caught walleye, Chad and I were skunked. We did manage to find a nice lure stealing ledge about 15 feet off shore that several, if not all of us, managed to snag.
The night was finished off with one beer each and a toast to our first day successfully completed.
(Polly Lake, Koma Lake, Malberg Lake, Frond Lake, Boze Lake, Louse River, Trail Lake)
On day two we broke camp and headed north. We didn’t fish much at the start of the day but once we hit the portages and paddles to Koma we tried every hole in the river we could find. To Chad and Mike, these portages were optional and they opted to run the rapids or wade down them with their rental boat. My canoe has been beaten enough so Greg and I took the portages. Fishing wasn’t very hot in the rivers pocket water so we didn’t spend much time there and instead kept moving to Koma. Koma didn’t prove to be much better fishing for us. It wasn’t much of a surprise though, it was just about high noon and the sun was burning brightly over us.
When we reached Malberg Lake our luck changed a little. The portage put us right at the base of the rapids from Koma Lake over a nice hole. We spent a good hour there hammering the smallmouth when we could find them. Jigs and leeches turned out to be the trick. When we got the canoe over a school of them it was just a matter of getting the leech down in the water. They were not very big but still fun to catch. After burning through a lot of leeches I decided to switch to a yellow mister-twister. I put a walleye in the boat shortly after that but that was the only walleye we could manage to hook there. After the fishing started to slow we made our way over to a campsite and had lunch. After lunch we headed east onto Frond Lake and then over to Boze.
We realized on Boze Lake that we had the place to ourselves so we stopped again for a short fishing break. Chad and Mike were working the shore to the south west and Greg and I fished to the north. It was only a few minutes before a fish was hooked. We could sense from the commotion in the other canoe that the fish was a little more than average. As Mike worked the fish to the boat the first time we could tell it was a big fish by the loud thrashing it made in the water. After tiring the fish enough to land it Chad and Mike both speculated the walleye to be in the range of six pounds. I’m assuming that the fish was caught on a Shad-Rap as Mike swears by Shad-Raps. In fact, purchasing stock on Shad-Raps shortly before our annual trip would probably be a lucrative investment. A few more walleye and smallmouth were caught and released before we headed over to the Louse River.
We paddled the Louse River very slowly and quietly in the hopes to sneak up on a moose or any wildlife for that matter. It was a little hard to do this as many parts of the river were full of hidden boulders just under the waters surface, known as rock gardens or asteroid fields by some. It’s definitely not quiet when you collide into a rock with the bottom of a Kevlar canoe. The water was very slow moving if at all as the river twisted its way through the tamarack bog and cedar swamps. Despite being fairly uneventful as far as animal sighting was concerned it was still full of mystery around every bend. I was overwhelmed with an eerie feeling when we passed by where Barto Creek connected with the Louse River. It jutted off to the southwest straight down a hall of pines. It looked paddle-able and almost inviting, but was it really passable? I knew before long we would find out. Our planned bushwacking rout would have us traveling portions of Barto Creek in a couple of days.
We arrived on Trail Lake before too late and managed to get camp set up and fishing lines in the water before dusk. We had the lake to ourselves. As we sat there fishing from shore, turtles were constantly climbing on the rocks around us and meandering around until we’d move fast or look at them too much, which would send them scooting off into the water. It was too dark to see when we finally gave up on fishing and headed up to the fire ring to make dinner and settle down for the night. Shortly after that the turtles made their way further into camp. We’d occasionally here some rustling in the brush, at which we’d shine a light at, only to see a little turtle head starring back at us. That night, as I started to drift off I heard a sound, a sound that didn’t register with me until Greg said “Did you hear that” and I responded “A wolf!” A call we had all been longed to hear for the many years we’d been coming up to the Boundary Waters was almost too much to believe when we heard it.
(Trail Lake, Tool Lake, Noname Lake, Bug Lake, Nibble Lake, Barto Creek, Romp Lake, Barto Lake)
On day three we got kind of a hesitant yet early start. I can’t speak for the whole group, but my nerves run a little over time when we are about to start a bushwhack, especially the first one of the year. This day we were determined to see Barto Lake located just southeast of the middle of nowhere.
We made our way over to the portage leaving Trail Lake and the sky was threatening rain. By the time we made it over the portage to Tool Lake the crew was digging through their packs and getting the rain gear handy. We started across Tool Lake and before we knew it we saw the next portage, or so we thought it was the portage. The trail off into the woods looked just like any other infrequently used portage we’d been on. There was even an old candy wrapper in the mud to add to it. After about 50 yards down the portage there was a downed tree we worked our way around and after that, Chad and Mike veered off to the right ahead of us and Greg and I veered off to the left. I walked what seemed like a quarter mile till I lost the trail right before my eyes. I took off the canoe and my pack and looked around. Behind me it looked like a portage, a little overgrown and rough but still a portage. In front of me was a rabbit path. I did a little scouting down the rabbit path till there was nothing. When I returned, Mike and Chad, whom I thought were ahead of us, were coming up behind Greg. They swore the trail they followed turned into nothing. Then we backtracked down the trail and back up it with compasses and maps in hand till we realized this was in no way a portage, just a moose path that looked even more like a portage now that we packed it down. I guess I feel bad for the next crew that comes through there but its all part of the adventure.
Once we had cleared the false portage up and put the canoes back into Tool Lake we continued down the lake. Greg suddenly said, “Moose” so I put on the breaks. Sure enough, down a small stretch of bog to our east, stood a bull moose. I backed the canoe up behind some brush and signaled for the others to catch up. Once they caught up and cameras were out we rounded the bend and got into view of the moose. The moose paid us little mind at first as it grazed on the bog. It would catch movement from us now and then and started to spook. It eventually disappeared and we assumed that it headed off into the tamaracks. That was not the case. As we made our way through the bog over to the portage I kept looking for the moose up and down the marsh and on the hillside. Chad and Mike were ahead of us watching for rocks as they made their way through the narrow channel. I decided to take a better look for the moose so I stood up and looked around. It wasn’t till I looked at Chad, sitting in the bow of the other canoe, did I see the moose. As Chad was looking for underwater boulders he had not noticed the moose standing, I’m guessing, a mere six feet in front of him. I gasped for a second, only briefly, before giving a little whistle to alert the others. After the whistle, time seemed to slow down. Mike looked back at me, Chad looked back at me, and the moose looked back at me. I pointed at the moose and they suddenly realized how close they were to one another. Chad and Mike halted the canoe and started to put it into reverse using a “Moose paddle”. The moose, just as startled as Chad and Mike, stood up then stumbled on the rocks in the pool it had been standing in. It stopped for a second and you could see it contemplate what to do next, (fight or flight) either stomp the guys in the canoe or retreat into the swamp. Luckily it chose the flight option and it disappeared into the forest. After we all went through our own versions of fight or flight and the event was over Mike looked back and thanked me for the warning.
We made the portage off of Tool Lake onto a small un-named lake at just about the time the sky opened up and poured on us. As we got the canoes ready and put on our rain gear, we had time to laugh about the close moose encounter. The rain let up by the time we reached the other side of the lake and the portage into Bug Lake was uneventful. Bug Lake was true to its name, there were plenty of bugs although some in the group wanted to call it “Drag Lake”. The lake was kind of hard to paddle across because it was full of water shield, an aquatic lily, which pulled at the bottom of the boat. We eventually made it acrossed Bug Lake and got to the portage.
Before starting the portage we taped the fishing rods inside the canoes and put the reels away to get ready for our bushwhacking detour. We had a little snack, drank a bunch of water, and then filled our water bottles. We started the portage and then a little over half way we headed due south towards Nibble Lake. The travel was a little hesitant at first although it started off fairly easy. We followed a stream and down an open valley for the majority of this hike. Shortly before Nibble Lake we ran into thick saplings which we tried to find the best way through until finally giving up and just crashing straight through. On Nibble Lake we took a short break to catch our breath. From Nibble Lake to the southwest the woods were pretty hard to travel through. They were full of small trees that constantly pushed and tugged the canoe over your head while the alders thrashed at our shins. It was easy to keep on course because we were following a valley. We were a little heart broken when the first set of ponds/lakes shown on the map were now just grassy meadows with a muddy stream in the center. It was a mix of jumbled forest and meadows till we intersected Barto Creek. We took a break and feasted on GORP, meat and cheese, and just about finished off our water. It was here that Mike figured out the true origin of the phrase “Man, I’m bushed”. When we reached the Barto Creek intersection we were filled with hope when we saw a piece of water that was big enough to fit a canoe into. There wasn’t much but at least we could take the canoes off of our heads. The next leg of the journey followed Barto Creek and the incorporated ponds along the way to Barto Lake. It was full of beaver dams, downed trees, thick forest, and the occasional canoe-able water. The bug level had turned from bad to insane, every time we would come to the edge of some water and put the canoes in, we stopped just long enough for every mosquito in the vicinity to zero in on us. You couldn’t breathe through your mouth without eating bugs. We would jump into the canoe and try to out-run them but by the time we got moving and free of the swarm, we were at the other end of the pond or stream and were forced to enter another jumble of forest full of hordes of bugs.
On the last stretch of Barto Creek, paddling soon replaced all of the portaging and the travel was easy. We all felt a wave of relieve when we hit Romp Lake and knew we were past the hard part of the day. Romp Lake was calm and quiet and its shores were green but devoid of most trees. We figured a fire had been though there in recent years. Barto Lake was much larger and only a small portion of its shoreline was treeless. On Barto we started looking for old campsites or potential campsites to stay for the night. We checked the main island and around the shores but didn’t see anything that looked promising. As we headed up the lake we noticed a flat area up off the water on the western shore so we checked it out. It was a rock outcropping that was open and nice n’ flat. We constructed a small fire ring and set up camp. As Greg and I were gathering firewood Greg stumbled upon a moose shed. It was the first one we have ever found but after some deliberation we decided to leave it there sitting by our fire ring.
That night we heard the wolves again. The first time was brief but then at about 4:00am and 4:30am they howled again. Greg and I sat and listened to them for a while. One wolf was calling from the far end of the lake and the other was on the opposite shore from us. It was a little unnerving when I realized that nature was calling for me too. I finally couldn’t take it any more so I unzipped the tent and made my way to the edge of the woods. I tried to hurry because I was a little bit spooked by standing out in the dark while the wolves were howling around me. I don’t know what I would have done if one would have howled real close. After a little bit though I was able to relax and enjoy the situation. I actually believe I was able to translate what they were saying. Wolf 1 was saying something like, “Man, these bugs are relentless” and wolf 2 would answer, “I hear you brother”.
(Barto Lake, Treat Me Lake, Pie Lake, Frederick Lake, Zenith Lake, Duck Lake, Hug Lake, Mesaba Lake)
This morning started out with the sound of thunder and rain patting down on the tent. I laid in my sleeping bag on that hard rock and enjoyed the sound. If I wasn’t going to get out of the tent and face the rain, neither was anyone else. That was only partly true, as soon as the rain let up a little bit, Chad was up and moving around camp. I got up shortly after and started to boil water for breakfast and coffee. Chad and Greg went for a paddle around part of the lake for some fishing while I caste from shore. The only thing we managed to catch was a few bluegills. We had our pancakes with applesauce for breakfast and then packed up camp.
At the end of Barto Lake and the beginning of our next bushwhack our spirits where a ready for another crash through the tangled forest. Treat Me Lake wasn’t much more than a grassy swamp that we didn’t bother to put the canoes into. The next hike was through open forests full of enormous trees and then patches of nearly impenetrable sapling and down into cedar swamps filled with soft sphagnum moss, extremely fragrant Labrador tea that was in full bloom, and the occasional bottomless mud hole. This portage/bushwack was pretty long and soon the mind and compass would contradict one another. The compass would point the way but the mind would say, “But the lake HAS TO BE right over that ridge”. Fortunately we didn’t get too far off track and eventually found Pie Lake. We took a short break on Pie Lake before heading over to Frederick Lake. We had hopes of seeing old trails or portages here to make the travel easier but none were visible. We followed along the side of the bog towards Fredrick Lake till the stream from Pie to Fredrick was just big enough to fit a canoe into, then we paddled the rest of the way.
On a campsite on Fredrick Lake we spent a little time eating lunch and recuperating before we headed on. We were not sure what we were going to find on the way to Zenith Lake. The map didn’t indicate a portage and the little blue line on the map didn’t look very promising as far as it being canoeable but I had heard there was a way through there. When we reached the stream to Zenith lake there was an obvious portage there. It was surprisingly short and we were able to paddle down most of the stream to Zenith. As were made our way through the stream and bog we kept our eyes open for moose but didn’t see any. What we did see was a patch of little pink flowers in the bog I had never seen before. After being home and checking some references we were able to confirm that they were Calypso orchids.
On Zenith Lake we broke out the fishing rods and rigged them up. Fishing on Zenith was not very good for us so we headed up the portage to Duck Lake. The portages seemed like a walk in the park after having bushwhacked for a full day. Every time we saw some constructed steps, a bridge, or even culverts on this particular portage we had to laugh at just how much easier life is on a portage.
The rest of the day we fished our way across Duck, Hug, and Mesaba Lakes till we stopped to camp for the night. The campsite was on the northern part of Mesaba Lake that was on a point and looked like it would be good for fishing. After setting up camp and chasing off a snowshoe hare we started fishing and pumping water. Hours seemed to go buy as nobody was getting any bites. Soon our interest faded from fishing and we went to make a fire and dinner.
As we stood around the fire we all talked a little trash about our superior fishing skills. We had planned to have a fishing tournament day on the trip. Tomorrow would be that day and we were all eager to put the others to shame. It was decided that the winner would get to pick a lure out of everyone else’s tackle box at the end of the trip.
Chad still had his line in the water at dusk when Mike and I heard his rod get pulled off the ledge and into the water. Mike and I rushed to save the rod, almost falling off a ledge into the water, but once we managed to get it, the fish had all ready snapped the line. The rest of the night Chad tried in vane to catch the fish that broke his line.
(Mesaba Lake, Hub Lake, Fente Lake, Whipped Lake, Time Lake, Mora Lake, Little Saganaga Lake, Virgin Lake, West Fern Lake, Powell Lake, French Lake, Gillis Lake)
The beginning of our fishing tournament day started off pretty serious. We agreed that we only keep two fish per boat and the longest fish would win. Everyone had their rods ready and the camp packed up for travel in no time. As soon as we were on the water we were fishing. Unfortunately Mesaba Lake skunked us for the second day.
On Hug Lake we experience another “first time since we’ve been coming up” happening. As we were making our way across Hub, fishing of course, I noticed a large black object on shore that caught my attention. Sure enough it was a bear. We changed course and headed toward it. The bear didn’t notice our approach until I hit a rock with the canoe. We continued to follow it along shore until it finally disappeared into the brush then we headed to the portage.
The portage to Fente Lake was a long one that we were dreading. Greg and I typically played rock-paper-scissors to determine who got the canoe on the long ones. Luck was with me the whole trip (sorry Greg!) so Greg had to take this one.
On Fente we fished very briefly before making the portage to Whipped Lake. So far the fishing tournament was going pretty well. Nobody had caught anything so just catching a fish could win it for you. Well, Whipped Lake wasn’t going to win the tournament for anyone today. As we headed north on Whipped lake we were thinking of taking a shortcut across an unnamed lake and Time Lake to Mora instead of the portage. I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye when we passed the bay that went toward the unnamed lake. We stopped the canoe and paddled back so we could see down the bay. It took a minute to see it again but there was definitely movement in front of a downed tree in the water. We decided to head down the bay and check it out. Before long we could tell it was a moose swimming across the bay. The moose was pretty quick to see us and wasted no time getting onto shore and back into the woods. Since we were all ready up the bay we decided to check out the shortcut. After making our way across the unnamed lake it was apparent that we were not the only ones to have done this. The tell tale sign of aluminum and paint scraped on the rocks gave it away. It was a bit of work but we managed to get the canoes through the rapids, across Time Lake, and over to Mora Lake.
From Mora Lake we hit the portage to Little Saganaga Lake to fish some more. Before putting the canoes into the lake we made plans to fish till lunch time and meet on an island campsite we had been to once before. The wind was up on Little Sag and getting across the lake was a chore. We zigged, we zagged, we snagged, but we couldn’t catch any fish. When we met up with the others at the designated lunch spot we found that they had not caught anything either.
After lunch we headed to Virgin Lake. The portage to Virgin Lake was a long one but not bad. I think they had to re-rout it a little bit since the blowdown. This area was hit pretty badly. Virgin Lake left us all skunked again. This was turning out to be one of our worst days fishing.
On West Fern Lake our luck changed. Mike and Chad were cruising the southern shore so Greg and decided to fish the northern shore. As we came past the point of an island, Greg’s rod bent and the fight was on. I reeled in my line to prevent any line tangles. As I reeled in, I was getting strikes and a laker followed the lure right up to the boat. Greg fought the fish while I turned the cane to make another pass over the point of the island where we got the first hit. Greg soon flopped a healthy sized laker into the boat. As he was trying to get the hook out of the fish, he, or more so the fish, managed to bury a hook into his finger. I could tell it was serious because I heard him cut the hook off the lure and maybe, just maybe, there was a little cursing added. As he tried to push the hook through his skin I realized maybe he needed some help. I offered to land on shore and provide some assistance. If he passed out in the boat we’d be sure to flip. After he made another attempt to push the hook through his finger, he was ready to go to shore. While all this was going on, the inner-fisherman in me had paddled the canoe around for another pass over the hole and my line was out. After passing over the hole and getting a hit but missing the fish, I started to reel in so I could put us on shore. As I was reeling the lure in I could feel a fish hitting. When the lure reached the boat I could see the laker right behind it. I let the lure float to the surface and gave it a couple twitches. It was enough to tempt the fish to strike again and it smashed the lure off the surface and caught the hooks. I tried to horse it in for a while but then realized it was a bigger fish so I took it easy. When I did get it into the boat I was sure I was still in the competition. I took us to shore so Greg could figure out what to do with the hook in his finger. I got out my first-aid kit and was digging around for some things I though Greg might need when I heard some more profanity. Greg managed to push the hook all the way through and get it out. We fixed up his wound and then went to catch up with the others who were long gone by now. Before heading off, I had to measure the fish to see who was in the lead. His was 23” and mine was 24”.
We caught up with Mike and Chad when we reached Powell Lake. They had both caught a laker each on Powell but we couldn’t see them. We fished a little on Powell then headed to French Lake. On French Lake we hugged the shore dragging lures only to get a few hits but not land any fish. We portaged south into Gillis and started hunting for a campsite while fishing along the way. Before we got out of the first bay we were getting hits and catching lake trout. None of the trout we were catching compared to our first catch and I was feeling pretty confident with my catch winning the tournament. When we passed by one campsite that was vacant and were swinging around to give it another look everyone started getting hits and catching fish. We were using a mixed bag of crank baits, some shad-raps, rattle-traps, hot-n-tots, and thunder-cranks. The fish weren’t real deep and once we realized that, we started catching more fish. It was hard to quite fishing but it started to get late so we headed into an empty site to set up camp. Before setting up camp we had to measure the fish so we laid them all out. It was immediately obvious that mine was the biggest. Greg’s and my fish dwarfed the others (sorry guys). I took it upon myself to start talking smack and eyeing up their tackle boxes immediately following. I continued talking smack for the rest of the trip.
We set up camp and cleaned the four fish. The meat on these trout was as red as salmon. I had never seen lakers so good and red. I was really considering sushi for dinner. Our dinner consisted of strictly fish, the four fish we had was just over “too much” so we agreed that the new limit was one fish per boat. We tried to mix it up a bit and had at least 4 courses of differently spiced trout. We were going to make a side dish but ruled that out about half way through the fish. The end of the night we were blessed with a brief show of northern lights.
(Gillis Lake, Crooked Lake, Owl Lake, Tuscarora Lake, Hubbub Lake, Copper Lake, Noname Lake, Noname Lake, Noname Lake, Sora Lake, Din Lake, Mass Lake)
We didn’t hurry too much this morning as we worked our way across Gillis Lake. The fishing wasn’t as hot under the bright sun and there was a bit of chop on the water. A few fish were caught as we crossed the lake. We portaged on to Crooked Lake and fished some more trolling on the “scenic rout” around the lake to the portage to Owl Lake. I caught one laker before we reached the portage but let it go. We made short work across Owl Lake and portaged into Tuscarora Lake.
On Tuscarora we made plans to fish until lunch time and meet at a campsite for lunch. Greg and I trolled lures around an island and over deep water but we couldn’t manage to find any fish till we were just about to the campsite/lunchsite. Greg hooked into a laker and got it into the boat. Of course we had to fish over that hole again but were unable to get any more fish for lunch.
After lunch we headed toward the portage to Hubbub Lake. Again, Greg lost the rock-paper-scissors so he had to carry the boat. We had been on this portage before and dreaded the boardwalk across the dry “Howl Lake” in the middle of it. If you had the canoe while crossing the boardwalk in the past, it was a real treat, especially if there was a good wind. Well, it turns out, the boardwalk is now underwater and it appears that beavers made this stretch navigable with the canoe. Greg was sure to point out that it was officially a new portage when we reached the other side so I got to carry the boat.
We crossed Hubbub Lake and portaged into Copper Lake. On Copper Lake we took our time to investigate the rock face on the north shore. Soon we spotted the blue of copper in the rocks and could see evidence of primitive mining activities. We snapped a couple of pictures and headed off to the south.
We had reserved a PMA (Primitive Management Area) permit for the “Hairy Lake PMA zone 2” for our next bushwhack. We turned due south and found the stream that marked where we were to start our bushwhack. To our surprise there was an old portage there. The bushwhack to the first noname lake was an easy one. The trail was pretty easy to follow except for a few downed trees here and there. On the other end of the first lake we were able to find the start of another old portage. Unfortunately the condition of these old portages started to rapidly deteriorate. After a while the portages all but disappeared and it was usually in a thicket of nearly impassable saplings and the very determined little pines. The saplings will usually push out of the way but those little pine trees typically push back with enough force to stop you in your tracks! By the time we reached the third noname lake our spirits were getting beat and the lake wasn’t worthy of putting a canoe into, so we simply walked around it. I believe it was around here the Chad made the profound statement, “Here, portage is more a verb than a noun.” Maybe you had to be there for it to be funny, but we got a good laugh out of it. The brushcrash into Sora Lake was full of all the bad stuff you come to appreciate during a bushwhack. The hills and valleys to go over that never help the orienteer leading the group. Thick patches of tag alder surrounded by ankle sucking muck filled the valleys and the hills were a mix of fallen trees, thick pine saplings, and enough ground cover that you couldn’t really see where your feet were going. To top it off the mosquitoes had found us and there was no escape. It was here I started talking to the bugs, Chad was haphazardly spraying DEET into the air around him, but Greg and Mike seemed to be hiding their bug insanity pretty well.
Sora Lake was a long and beautiful lake. There was no wind, no people, and no noise. We took our time making our way down the lake being sure to take the bends slow and quiet to see if there was any surprises around the next corner. By the end of the lake my spirit had been lifted and I was ready, willing, and able to take the next bushwhack into Din Lake. Din Lake and Mass Lake are connected by a short stream and it was there that we saw a fire ring. It didn’t look like much of a campsite so we paddled around Mass Lake looking for a suitable spot. After about an hour of checking different bays and rock outcroppings and not finding anything that looked like a good campsite we decided to head back to the fire ring. There wasn’t much for a flat spot to put a tent but we made due and cleared a small area. We fixed the fire ring, made dinner, and were basically delirious till we finally hit the sack.
(Mass Lake, Ell Lake, Iris Lake, Fetters Lake, Octopus Lake, Frost Lake, Unload Lake, Gordon Lake, Cherokee Lake)
We had breakfast and packed up camp fairly early. We paddled down Mass Lake to where we planned on heading off toward Ell Lake. Unfortunately there was no evidence of any old portages but the bushwhack was through open forest which is almost easy. Ell Lake had a lot of nice rock cliffs on its shore which were interesting. The portage out of Ell Lake turned out to be a tough one. Going out of Ell Lake wasn’t very easy because of very tight twists and turn that had to be made with a canoe and when we reached Iris Lake we were on top of a cliff looking down at it. It took a while to find a spot that we could climb down with packs on and then slide the canoe down to the person waiting below. Once we got down we were greeted by another nice lake. Iris Lake had more rock cliffs and rock structures that were worthy of being photographed. On Iris we started to see more evidence of old campsites and fire rings and they all seemed more appealing that that rock I slept on the last night.
The next bushwhack into Fetters was another difficult one. We were unable to find any old portages which are probably around somewhere. We hurried across Fetters Lake and brushcrashed off of into the woods but soon found an old portage in good shape and then had an easy walk onto Octopus Lake.
On Octopus Lake we rigged up the fishing rods again and were determined to have fish tacos at least once on this trip. Well, nobody did very well fishing here so we pushed on toward Frost Lake. The portage from Octopus should have seemed easy after the first half of the day’s bushwhacking but it wasn’t going to let us off that easy. It was all up hill and even the guys without canoes were hurting by the end of it. We put the canoes in the water and started rigging up for big lake fishing again. Again we designated a campsite to be our spot for lunch then split up and went fishing. Greg and I circled around an island to the south with no luck, just a couple of snags. We then headed toward the big sporadic boulder that is sitting in Frost Lake, sticking out like a soar thumb. Right after we passed the boulder my road bent over and the fight was on. I had visions of fish tacos dancing in my head but then I realized I had a pike. It wasn’t huge and we’ve given up eating pike for the most part so I let it go. We met up with the other guys at the campsite closest to Unload Lake and had lunch. This campsite was full of giant white pine, it had a nice fire ring against a boulder, and plenty of flat spots for tents. It was a really nice site but we had further to go so we packed up our gear and headed on.
The portages from Frost to Unload and Gordon Lake were much nicer. Wild roses in bloom lined the trail along the way and they weren’t all up hill, actually fairly flat. On Gordon Lake we started fishing hard again. I believe it was here that Greg rigged up one of the most obnoxiously colored lures I have ever seen. He had been having bad luck with lures not swimming right and some were missing hooks so I guess he was running out of gear. Well, there at the bottom of his tackle-box was this lure. It was a “Wally Diver” that had a pink belly and a rainbow back. I had to make fun and I couldn’t wait to point it out to Mike and Chad who later, also had their fun with Greg. Still, I had to think of my wife when I saw it. I’ve recently been introducing her to fishing and she always seems to go for the brightly colored, sparkly, or flashy lures. I knew she would get a kick out of this one. I decided that when the time came to pick out lures, I knew which one I would be taking from Greg’s tackle box. We trolled and cast all the way down to the portage to Cherokee Lake without a fish. We portaged into Cherokee Lake and began looking for a campsite while fishing. We found one that was kind of on a point that we thought might be nice to fish from. The site was nice because it was full of pine trees tall enough that you could see under them but not much bigger than that. The trails and tent sites were kind of carved out very cleanly. We set up camp and started fishing but were unable to catch a thing. We gave up and cooked another fishless dinner. While cooking I heard one of the bags rattling so I picked it up and there was a mouse pulling it away from me. I scared it off but it didn’t really go away, a second later it was after the bag again. This time I put a little more effort into rooting him out and scaring him off. Still, the mouse returned again and again. It was when I was cooking on the griddle and it was right at my feet that I got frustrated with it and decided to dispatch of it. I know some people may be upset with that since I was in its house but I feel animals should have a healthy fear of people and this one obviously didn’t. I was also concerned that gear would be chewed up by morning. After that ordeal and dinner was over we stood and talked around the fire. Bats were very active at this campsite. As we stood by the fire a bat would circle the pine tree between us and the lake zooming in ever so close to feast on the swarm of bugs around us. When we went down the path to hang the food bag the bat or bats would fly down the hallway between the pines and practically run into us then circle around and do it again. It was a little unnerving to see the flash of the bat getting caught in the light of our head-lamps just inches in front of our face.
(Cherokee Lake, Cherokee Creek, Skoop Lake, Ada Lake, Ada Creek, Sawbill Lake)
Ah, the last day is always so bitter-sweet. Part of me is ready to get out and join the rest of the world while the other part screams “turn back, you still have plenty of bait!” We had breakfast then packed up our gear and headed down Cherokee Lake. The paddle along Cherokee Creek was interesting. We took it slow and easy all day as nobody was in a hurry to leave. On Skoop Lake we had a close encounter with a loon. It was either very curious or trying to ward us off. It would swim right beside the canoe under water. I wished I had a camera ready but I never do so I didn’t get a picture of it. Through Ada Lake and Ada Creek we ran into a few guys coming in with their kids. At one point while Greg was in the lead, we came down to a portage and there was a man getting ready to start the portage with his kids. Greg walked down the shore a little ways past them on what looked like solid ground. He slipped into the muck over his knees and I burst out laughing. We must have been ready to come out of the bush because when I looked back to the man and his kids, they just had a look of horror on their faces. The paddle down Sawbill Lake was a slow and long one but we eventually made it out and carried the gear back to the car. I had one last laugh as picked my fishing derby prize out of each of their tackle-boxes, one ridiculous-rainbow walley-diver, one teeny floating rapala, and one large jointed rapala. We ended the trip with a hot shower and then we were on our way home.