BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
February 06 2023
Number of Permits per Day: 11
Elevation: 1802 feet
Sawbill Lake - 38
Sawbill Mini-Loop (Daytrip)
July 28, 2021
Number of Days:
I quickly realized one of the beauties of a solo trip (even if it's just a day trip) is that it's completely up to you when you want to leave. I wanted to get an early start since I only had a day, so I took off from 'somewhere north of the Twin Cities' at 4 a.m. and I was off for the Sawbill Trail.
I also booked a campsite at Sawbill Lake campground as a backup if I was too tired to drive back home on the same day.
I arrived at this new for me area (I've only ever been to Ely and E. Gunflint Trail) around 7:30 a.m. I was a little disappointed I didn't time it right and missed going to CoHo for some coffee & breakfast treats. Oh well, Holiday will have to do, for my second cup of Joe.
I enjoyed the drive up Sawbill Trail, and quickly set off for the mini-loop I planned.
I arrived at Sawbill with no fanfare The wind started out pretty calm as I paddled towards the portage to Alton. I procured some Keen Venice H2 sandals before my trip so that I wouldn't mind wet footing it. I absolutely LOVED Sawbill lake, and it was more narrow than I thought from the maps.
I easily found the portage over to Alton, hopped off my paddleboard, and in one swift move, grabbed the handle and my paddle and portaged across. The handle is a little low for my tiny arms, so it was a bit of a strain to reach, but after a break or two, I was to the other side of this very short portage. I will need to engineer something if I plan to keep doing little solo trips on this paddleboard to make the reach easier, but otherwise, it was a breeze as my SUP only weighs 21lbs.
Soon I was on Alton heading north hugging the eastern shoreline (maybe 50 feet out). It was a nice paddle but hazy from the wildfires. I saw a few planes fly overhead, and wondered if they were off to throw water on any of the fires. It was a little choppy but nothing I couldn't handle, in comparison to White Bear Lake down in the cities with lots of motor boats.
Towards the north end of the lake however there were big rollers and white caps on Alton, so I kneeled down which gave more stability. The wind was coming from the south, so I knew I didn't want to paddle back that way via Alton, and figured Sawbill was more narrow and to just complete the loop as I had planned.
Soon I found the Kelso portage and walked on over. I wondered to myself if I would see any wildlife as I spotted a chipmunk gathering some bits from the forest floor.
Once I got to Kelso the wind was a completely different story. It was dead calm and I could hear myself think. Right away my back fin got caught on something in the water that almost looked like train tracks. Throw a comment in this trip report if you know what it is. I found it interesting but had to hop in the water thigh-deep to push out a little further to get free of them as I had my bigger fin on my paddleboard.
I sat criss-cross-applesauce on my paddleboard, and let the current/wind take me north while I munched on some snacks in my dry bag. It was so awesome being gently carried up the lake and just taking in the sights. This is what I came for. Relaxation at its finest.
LOL, "This forum that I follow", (i.e. bwca.com). Hey and sometimes you just have to experience things for yourself.
While relaxing on my 'cruise' adventure I spotted a large animal coming out of the trees about to head into the Kelso River. It was a light caramel color, and I couldn't believe it. My first moose....!!!???
Ha! It was a little cinnamon bear. In hindsight, it was super cool to see this (hopefully you could see it swimming from my video). It wasn't that I was really too scared, except for the fact that I was on an inflatable paddleboard should it decide to come swim over near me, but I was more nervous about the fact that I had to paddle up that river, and just hoped that the bear would go back into the forest, and that this wasn't its little territory that it would get fussy about if I went paddling up it.
I continued up Kelso river until I got fully north, just for a chance for the wee bear to get back into the woods, and not surprise it before I went down the Kelso River back to Sawbill.
Once I started down the river my head was on a swivel and I was singing out old songs like "Land of the Silver Birch" and "My Paddles Keen & Bright". I know I had nothing to fear, but it was my first 'solo', and had just listened to the Boundary Waters podcast episode about the assertive bear up near the Rose Portage on my way to the BWCA today. Haha.
Finally, I started feeling calm and suddenly my paddleboard stopped dead right as I took a big stroke, and I went flying head first into the river. I touched bottom, and hopped right back on my paddleboard and started paddling hard. Luckily it has an ankle strap so we stayed connected. I eventually looked behind me, and laughed to myself because obviously my fin just got caught on a branch or something. These nerves are making me really laugh at myself, but imaginations can run wild.
I had a nice paddle for the rest of the Kelso River when an old couple appeared on the Kelso/Sawbill portage. They shouted, "Are you out here all by yourself"? It must have seemed strange to them since I'm so petite, perhaps I looked like a kid to them, plus you probably don't see too many paddleboards in the BWCA. I said, "Yep", and told them about my bear sighting. They thought it was pretty cool and I marched over to Sawbill where there was a yard sale of a portage unloading happening.
I kept my cool while a family/group took lots of time getting situated with really little kids and unloaded their crap everywhere. Eventually, I got back on the water and now had to paddle into a heafty headwind back to Sawbill landing. Kelso and the Kelso River sure were protected from this wind.
If I ever stopped paddling it just brought me right back to where I was, and with the way the wind was blowing, I could only paddle on one side to track properly. My upper back was DEFINITELY getting a workout. The beauty of being alone though is that I could complain aloud all I wanted and nobody could hear me. I also gave myself loads of pep-talks like, you've got this... dig... I took a little moment to snap this picture on Sawbill looking north. You can see how hazy it is mixed with what appeared to be an impending Thunderstorm.
Eventually, I got back to the put-in and headed to my campsite. Insert total downpour, thunder, and lightning. Perfect timing to throw on a sweatshirt, and sit in my car.
The campsite I chose was really more of a shared campsite, and definitely not conducive to hammock camping, which is all I brought, and I decided I wouldn't have much privacy so I ended up packing up and heading back home all in the same day.
In 2022, I'd like to do another solo, whether it's another day trip, a hybrid, where I paddle the BWCA, but stay at a forest campground, or maybe a true paddle and camp in the wilderness. I just got myself a SpotX, so I would feel more comfortable, (and a new tiny tent) but I'm glad I got my feet wet so to speak in the solo tripping, and I see what all the fuss is about.