BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
March 24 2023
Entry Point 38 - Sawbill Lake
Number of Permits per Day: 11
Elevation: 1802 feet
Sawbill Lake - 38
Journey into Sunlow
October 10, 2022
Number of Days:
The day before. Very little planning has been done up to this point. Most of my gear is always ready and I almost always take the same stuff on every trip. I sent my dad a list of items to get ready and I figured he might need some help with the canoes since he is now 74 about to be 75. So I go up to my dad’s house and make sure he has everything that he was supposed to pack including food, tarp, canoes, life jackets, and paddles. After that is all done we then load the canoes. I head back home to pack my stuff and we all await day 1.
Included a shot of my pup that I am eager to take next year. Also a little hesitant but only one way to really find out. She already does great in a canoe though.
Plan is to leave Duluth at 7am. My dad is supposed to meet us in Two Harbors around 7:30-7:45. None of this goes well and the meet up happens at 8:30 but its not a huge rush for us as day 1 is about getting to the campsite on either Wonder or Sunhigh and preparing for a long day 2 of adventure. Onward we make one last stop at the liquor store on the Sawbill Trail Road and buy one more liter of alcohol as we are not sure we are bringing enough. Total alcohol now at 4.25 liters. A few last minute phone calls are made before we start down the trail as reception ends quite quick.
I believe we arrived to Sawbill Lake around 1130 AM. Load the canoes and we are off. Hardly any wind so it is easy paddling to the highway portage. Once on Alton the wind was also hardly there so another easy paddle to the south end. Make quick work of this portage as well. A lot of wolf scat on this portage was noticed.
At this point we decide it is probably easiest to camp on Wonder so we head to the south end for that site. This was we don’t have to go through the tiny river fully loaded.
Once at the site we set up shop and get everything ready. One brother (Zac) gets a little antsy and wants to see what the river is going to be like tomorrow. Also noticed the tape/JB Weld on one canoe was starting to leak so we added some more tape to fix that issue. We head over to Sunhigh with lightly loaded canoes. Water is extremely high in there thanks to a decent sized beaver dam. I think there were 3 areas we had to kind of pull over or at least move about within the canoe but overall it was quite easy to get to Sunhigh. We kind of cruise around the lake a bit casting with little to no luck and then eventually head back for dinner.
Dinner tonight was Venison backstraps with mashed potatoes and country gravy. Washed down with our traditional drink hot chocolate and Rumplemintz. It was amazing as it always is.
So this is the day! We make pancakes and grill salami for breakfast and then get ready for the departure. Fly through the river and get to Sunhigh again. I choose the southwest side and plan to walk straight west and hope to hit the top of Sunlow…pending the river which I assume is bog. It is discovered at this point that no one brought a compass :/ Slightly annoying because I cannot remember a time that I didn’t have mine in my personal drybag that I bring almost everywhere in the bwca. I had my phone so I checked to see if it was reading our location with any decent accuracy. Turns out it was pretty spot on so long as I could keep the battery life decent. We crashed onto the shore and pull everything a decent ways into the woods just in case someone came by we didn’t want them to see anything.
So in the middle of the river there appears to be a pond and that was the direction we aimed for. First walk in we did not carry anything. Had to make sure we could do this. I took a couple decent falls annoyingly as that is uncommon for me but everything was like a sponge so it did not hurt except when my one leg went through the moss into a hidden hole. That was a tad bit scary but still unscathed. Outside of the uneven squishy terrain it was fairly easy to walk through all this stuff. We made it to the pond and it is complete bog. Not a great way to go in cold weather. We follow what is some kind of shoreline to the southwest end of the “pond”. Once at that spot the river is quite wide and the beaver dam that is holding it in is about 2 inches wide and also not a great idea to cross. But we are almost 3/4s there I estimate and we all decide it is time to get the gear. My father is a little worn out so we tell him to stay in the area and we will be back with poles, paddles, canoes, and most importantly water as it is a ton of work walking through the sponge woods. Feels like 2 feet of snow.
The three of us grab everything that we think we need and just one canoe and plan to take turns carrying it through the woods. I lead the way with the phone and try to choose the best path for Zac who is carrying the canoe. My other brother Tony has to help at times find passable areas as its near impossible to take the same route. WE make it back to the southwest end of the pond and put the canoe in to cross the river. My dad has wandered on the wrong side of the river and is a long ways away. The river paths do not extend to him and it appears he is waist deep in water. So I drop Tony and Zac off on the west side of the river and then I push the canoe as close to my dad as possible. He is drenched but he is having a great time. Also the temps must be hitting 50s by now… or at least it feels like it.
The three of us grab everything that we think we need and just one canoe and plan to take turns carrying it through the woods. I lead the way with the phone and try to choose the best path for Zac who is carrying the canoe. My other brother Tony has to help at times find passable areas as its near impossible to take the same route. WE make it back to the southwest end of the pond and put the canoe in to cross the river. My dad has wandered on the wrong side of the river and is a long ways away. The river paths do not extend to him and it appears he is waist deep in water. So I drop Tony and Zac off on the west side of the river and then I push the canoe as close to my dad as possible. He is drenched but he is having a great time. Also the temps must be hitting 50s by now… or at least it feels like it. My dad and I park the canoe where I dropped the other two off at. Luckily we are on some game trail highway. Almost like walking a trail in a Duluth park. Super easy and nice. I give a shout to find out their location and it is way farther north than anticipated. I try to cut west but it is immediately clear why they did not choose that direction. It is all bog and tons of water. So we head north. Zac meets us right before we turn west. He tells my dad the direction to Tony and he tells me we have to go get the canoe and gear. So back to the pond area to load up. He again carries the canoe while I get the leftovers that Tony didn’t take. Cut back to where Zac met us right before I was about to cut west to the lake. This was by far the hardest part to walk in. I have zero idea how he even did it with a heavy canoe. It felt like 100 yards of walking through 4 feet of snow… it’s the only thing I can compare it to. Every step was a nightmare and wet and you sank in the moss. But we made it! The lake. We all load into one canoe and paddle around. I grab a rock and take depths every so often. I also caught a pretty nice pike. My brother also had a decent sized pike he pulled in. So definitely fish here. The deepest depth I took was about 9 feet. I am sure some areas go to about 12 feet but I am not sure if it goes deeper than that. We did a circle and then found an island where we all laid down on. Sun was out and it was a perfect day. We decide we can stay until 4pm and then we have to head back before it gets too dark as no one brought a flashlight outside of my phone which is already getting low on power. We paddle around some more and then depart.
Tonights dinner is fish and rice so once on Wonder we have to start fishing for our food. We pull in a ton of smaller pike. We decide 3 will probably be plenty. Drinks and then bed.
Should note that the weather for Thursday looked to be strong north winds with rain and snow. I do not want to paddle Alton in that so made the plan to depart Wednesday morning and set up camp on Alton near the highway portage. I have always wanted to stay at the beach site on the point so that was the goal. I wake up and start breaking camp. Everyone else is moving incredibly slow but its all good as I find peace in breaking camp and kind of get lost doing it. We decide that salami and cheese sandwiches is quick and mess free so that is breakfast. Once on Alton it is a cold wind and it is starting to pick up. It isn’t terrible but it isn’t amazing either. My dad and I take a risk and cross a decent size gap just north of the rock pile to get near the shore and out of the wind. My brothers take a safer but longer route staying near cover. Turns out the site that I wanted was open… in fact we still haven’t seen another group out camping outside of some day trip kayakers on Sawbill when we started. As soon as we hit shore the rain starts. We rush and set the tents up. Then we split up into some people gathering dry wood and the others were on tarp duty. We get everything up including a fire right as it starts pouring. We now see a canoe directly in the middle of the lake and it is pouring and windy. They are fully loaded and it is pretty clear they are not great at paddling. I feel a tad scared for them and wished they would at least get out of the middle of the lake. They eventually head to the western shore and disappear from sight. Pretty sure they made it. The rest of the night we huddle by the fire and cook wild rice soup and add kielbasa chunks to it. Completely out of alcohol and its cold and wet and really dark. We estimate it is time for bed but as we look at the time it is only 7pm…. None of us want to sleep and wake up at 2am but we are just worn out. I think we make it to 730 roughly and then we all decided sleep is best.
Wake up and break down camp again. Snow is starting to fall. Everyone is well rested and for breakfast we just eat leftover snacks like mozz sticks, granola bars, cheese, and salami. It is cold but the rain is done and it is not very windy. It is an easy trip back to the cars. On the way home we stopped at Tracks N Racks in Beaver Bay. The burgers and beer were simply amazing. It was a new restaurant to us and I would recommend it. It was the perfect end to our trip.