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July 06 2022

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: 11
Elevation: 1802 feet
Latitude: 47.8699
Longitude: -90.8858
Sawbill Lake - 38

How low? Solo

by Ioway
Trip Report

Entry Date: September 19, 2021
Entry Point: Sawbill Lake
Number of Days: 7
Group Size: 1

Trip Introduction:
My second solo trip. Trying to make the same mistakes from the first one. My mantra was "do no harm" not to myself or the environment.

Part 1 of 7

Day 1: Left my favorite outfitter in Ely, VNO. with rented canoe around 6:00AM (still dark). Drove the 2.5 hours over to Sawbill landing. I triple portaged, three over two back, remember the "do no harm" thing. Made it to Burnt found the wind had picked up and allowed it to blow me to the north end of the lake, Happily I found the campsite behind the island empty. Made camp, took a nap. About 4 or 5:00PM two canoes with children riding mid ship came around the island out of the 2.5 ft. white caps. they saw me and the light went out of their eyes. It was late, I had two unused tent pads, I invited them to stay. Nice people, they had driven all night from Peoria, IL. and had gotten stuck behind a massive group of youth (3 groups of 4 boats each) out for a day trip from Sawbill to Smoke and had to wait hours to portage. They were tired and didn't stay up past sundown. I stayed up for the rising full moon, it was little cloudy but moon rise in the wilderness is always special.


Part 2 of 7

Another great day in the BWCA. Partly sunny, cool and breezy. Coffee & Oatmeal. The guests (can't remember any of their names) sent the two younger members off to find an open campsite leaving grandma and grandpa with the two young boys 4 and 6 maybe. I slipped down the shore to the west to try my luck fishing. The contours on the map looked promising maybe deep close to shore, I did catch a few smallies and a small walleye. that would turn out to be the fishing theme for this campsite "small fish problem". The young couple came back and had found a site open by the portage. They packed up, we shook hands and they were off right back into the same 2.5' white caps that brought them to the north end of the lake the night before. After watching them struggle to get around the corner, into the wind and start moving, I was glad I offered them a spot the night before, it would have been cruel to send them back out given their obvious lack of canoe experience . If I'm ever late and can't find a camp site open I hope karma will pay me back.


Part 3 of 7

All by my self! It had rained the previous afternoon after the famlily had left. There is something pleasing to be out in a rain storm with great equipment, properly set up. Sigurd Olsen was right, there's a certain beauty in the sound of rain falling on your tent or in my case the fly covering my tent. As I came down the hill from the box in the morning there was a grouse standing in the middle of camp. I stopped and watch it and it watched me. Slowly it made its way down to the lake and I followed into camp. After a few minutes I figured the bird would have moved on so I went down to get coffee water. When I turned around to go back up to camp the grouse was standing behind me not 4 feet away. Saturday was the opener for grouse and the road to Sawbill was covered in orange men, I told the grouse how lucky he was and that he should be more careful this time of year. Started reading Walden by Henry Thoreau, there's a reason its a classic.


Part 4 of 7

Flat calm last night all night. This evening the most quiet, calm noiseless experience I think I've ever encountered. The wind didn't blow for maybe 18 hours. I think the other campers on the lake took reverence in it as well. Mid morning I tried my luck fishing from the boat (North Star, NW Solo a fantastic canoe). Had one large/heavy fish on for a moment but, had the drag set to tight and boom, bang ,boing, he gone. The wind was so none existent that I didn't drift, so I was using the paddle to slide myself along. Looking up I noticed that my ripples had filled the whole lake. From my location all the way to the north and south end of the lake. My mediation for the day was " let my practice be of benefit to all mankind" The ripples on a smooth lake illustrated that very clearly. In everyday activity (traffic, work, home) you don't see your ripples but, they are still there and they do matter. our intent, thoughts and action all play a part.


Part 5 of 7

Flat calm again last night frost on the fly when I came out of the tent. I had to dig out long underwear in the night, wore my sock hat all morning ever while doing sun salutation yoga to get warmed up, I love coffee. As I was eating breakfast a snowshoe hair came into camp. Hopped right down the trail from the box and stopped in the middle of camp not 8 feet from me. BIG rabbit maybe twice the size of an Iowa cottontail. Grey fur with white tuffs on it's ears and big white paws. He turned away from me and hopped toward the tent, stopped looked back and kind of gave me a shoulder head nod, like follow me, come on, this way. He then hopped under the tent fly and headed to the tent door then out and away from camp. Sooo I guess I was supposed to go down the rabbit hole today.


Part 6 of 7

Day six, last day in the BWCA. I love this place all my troubles fade away. everything is so much clearer and life has a purpose again. The wilderness has a magical power to restore your soul and challenge you beliefs and give you space and time to think and reflect. I love my wife, kids and friends but being alone in the woods is one of my favorite places to be. The grouse came back for a visit in the morning. There was nice rain shower for a few hours in the afternoon. Feel asleep to the lonesome call of the last loon in MN. He called every night when it was calm but, no one ever answered. One day he/she swan by camp. It was smaller and more grey then the black with white trim ones you see in high summer. Last night in my baby's arms.


Part 7 of 7

Up and out, early wind was out of the west, first time all week, it had been out of the south or calm all week. When your going from Smoke to Sawbill stay on the nice planks at the Smoke end of the portage. If you step off even on dry looking grass in a very low water year you will sink very quickly into smelly, muck mud, moose bog. I know this because I watch a fellow traveler do that very thing right in front of me. Back to Sawbill landing no harm done. finished the last shot of Sambovca in the parking lot. Bought a cup of coffee from the store and took a slow easy drive back to Ely and the shower at VNO enjoying the fall colors, thinking about the next time I get to visit my old friend.


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