BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
May 16 2021
Number of Permits per Day: 3
Elevation: 1497 feet
Summary: A 5-day loop from Baker up the Temperance lakes to Cherokee, and back through Sawbill and Smoke lakes back to Baker. A fairly difficult trip.
Day 0: We drove up from Stillwater in the morning and camped at one of the 5 walk-in campsites at Baker Lake, and it was nice.
Day 1 (Baker to S. Temperance) - A beautiful day, we decided to paddle all the way to South Temperance the first day which was a great paddle with easy portages except for the last one. We picked the campsite on top of a huge rock that was close to the middle of the lake. Tried fishing some but no luck
Day 2 (Rest) - In the night, we encountered the worst storm of the entire season. While we were there 19 people had to be rescued from the BWCA. We had about 50mph straightline winds, and I'm still surprised that the huge tent we had stood up to it. We slept in and took a rest day because of the intense winds. Amazingly beautiful sunset.
Day 3 (S. Temperance to Cherokee) - We left as early as we could to beat the heat, but it was no good. The lengthy, hilly portages were challenging and by the last portage we were pretty beat. We overpacked and single portaged which led us to speedier exhaustion. Still amazing weather. North Temperance was a beaut- I wish we had stayed there instead of South. We took the southeasterly facing campsite on Cherokee on the southeastern skinny island. Neat little site.
Day 4 (Cherokee to Sawbill) - Left a little later in the day but it was ok. We took our time going down the river letting out of the southwest part of Cherokee and it was a great area. BEWARE: The area between Ada and Skoop Lakes appears to be floatable, but a dam built recently has made the portion impossible to float. Be prepared for a long portage through muck and water. A guy that we saw there said he had been going to the BWCA for 40 years at least once per year and it was the worst portage he had ever seen. By the time we got to Sawbill it was pretty hot. We paddled all the way down to the site next to the portage onto Smoke.
Day 5 (Sawbill to Baker) - Cooler, cloudier weather for the first time on the trip. We were pretty hungry (I underpacked food a little and I felt really bad) and we were taunting each other with vivid descriptions of the burgers we were going to eat ASAP after getting out. We paddled back to Baker and returned our gear to Sawtooth outfitters.
Overall great route.
Solo Leisure Loop
August 16, 2019
Brule Lake (41)
Number of Days:
This was something of a last-minute trip, so my planning and packing was not up to snuff. However, just sort of winging it on these leisure trips is more my style, and adds a sense of adventure and joy.
So, I left La Crosse at about 8am, stopping in Eau Claire for foodstuffs and last minutes, Two Harbors for gas, Tofte for permit, Lutsen for bait. I didn't arrive to the entry point until after 5 pm, but was greeted with a calm, sun speckled Homer lake. I missed my last summer's BW trip, so seeing the pine studded hills cradling that tiny water was a true balm and blessing for me.
I intended to park at the first available site, as I was in no hurry and am never fussy. However, all three sites on Homer were occupied, so I portaged through Whack and onto Vern. Easy little portages but not pullovers. Interestingly, at the end of my trip, a group shared with me they had camped on Whack. From what I understand, there are no campsites there, so she may have meant Vern--who knows.
I ended up staying on Vern, which is a lovely little waterway. What was not lovely was the group camped near the portage to Whack, who seemed wholly unaware of how voices carry across water. I could hear every minute detail of their fireside chat, and most of it didn't fit well in that environment. I am a full supporter of letting people live and let live, but not when it impinges on others. I wonder now if that was the same group who shared later they were camped on Whack. I guess it matters not at this point. Really if there is fault it is mine for arriving late on a Friday and hoping for full solitude. If you can't find that in the BW, the responsibility is on oneself.
The Louds finally quieted down or passed out around 11, at which time the near full moon emerged and washed away any resentment. The mosquitoes had also departed, so I was able to watch its ascent in peace. Off to bed.
I am not afraid to admit I prefer my pillow top mattress to my thermarest. But I prefer the wilderness to my bedroom so it comes out even. I envy those who can plop down in a tent and sleep the night through. I am not one of them, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. Strangely, I didn't hear many night sounds. No owls and few loons that first night. Not even the rustling of a pine squirrel or curious racoon. Or maybe I slept better than I thought.
Awakening at dawn, the lake was my own as my neighbors slept (it off maybe?). My favorite paddling time is at dawn or dusk, when the water is like molten glass silently cleaved by canoe. I like to paddle into the mist, relishing a lack of purpose or pursuit. Well, until I want fish.
Although I didn't look hard, I didn't see a lot of fish spots on Vern. I had intended to paddle up the Vern river, where I heard there are some decent spots. I only found one small smallie near my site, not enough to even bother with. Now I love me a fish breakfast, but lets admit it takes some time. A cliffs bar got me on the water road faster, and I knew there would be more fish in my future.
The paddle up Vern lake in the early morning was majestic. The water was still glass, and I saw no one. Scanning the banks, I saw little wildlife, but I knew my eyes had not properly adjusted from the urban tunnel.
The portage into Juno is not exactly as depicted on the McKenzie map. It shows a 65 rd which goes south of a beaver pond. This may have previously been used, but now the main route seems to be north of the pond, and then up and over a hill. In any event, a cow moose was browsing at the south end of the pond which I enjoyed for several minutes, albeit from under a canoe. The size and scale of those animals cannot be understood or understated until you are up close with one. To think that a plant diet can be converted to such musculature. Amazing. Equally amazing was the blueberry bounty, which I indulged along the portage route.
I got onto Juno about 9 or 10 am, and had to make a decision. Should I try to grab one of the three sites on Juno, or push onto Brule. Considerations:
* From what I had read and from the looks of the depth and shoreline, Juno didn't appear too fishy
* The wind was beginning to pick up, which meant it could be getting rough on Brule * It was Saturday and Brule was probably pretty full up with weekenders as you there are no portages to access it. I may have to work to find a site, which mean potentially traversing rough waves * This was supposed to be a leisure trip.
So I pushed eastward on Juno, encountering no other paddlers. The first two sites were ok, but not the best. The most eastern was better, so I decided to park it there. A little shade and a good tent pad and a place for my hammock. I didn't need the Ritz.
I got settled in, ate some canned sardines and sausage and cheese, read (Cormac McCarthy) napped a bit in the hammock, swam and contemplated the latrine. Then I decided it was time to do some exploring.
The creek to access Whip and Squire lake is just southeast of my site, so I figured I would take a look. The creek was navigable up to where it splits off to Whip, although there were 3 easy dam pullovers. After the split, neither streams were passable.
So I ditched the canoe, grabbed my rod and tiny tackle box, and started working my way to Whip. I picked my way across the muskeg, once dropping in to almost my waist. I actually wouldn't recommend walking across this stuff, but it was fairly dry. When I got to the cattails, I had to move to higher ground. I should have done this before, as there was some sort of trail along the base of the hill north of the swamp. It took about 15 minutes total bushwacking to get to Whip. It is a lovely little lake without any distinguishing features I could see from my vantage point. However, due to the challenging lakeshore, I didn't venture far from the beaver dam separating the bogland from the lake. I hadn't really researched this lake, so had little idea what, if anything it held. From my past experience bushwhacking into lakes, most likely nothing or little northerns. Just for fun, and because I could cast it the furthest, I tied on a no 5 Mepps Aglia. Hey, maybe there's a musky in there! So I slung her way out there and worked it back, reeling fast enough to hopefully keek it out of snags. Just as I was about to pull it up, the water swirled and a small northern nailed it. In one form or another, this happened every few casts until I determined the "big one" was not out there for me. However, it would be interesting in the spring when you could probably get a canoe in there to check out some more likely spots for larger northerns. One thing is almost certain--you would have a lake to yourself. What a priceless gem this area is! I took the "path" back, which led partway up the hill, and kept me out of the muskeg entirely back to the stream junction where my canoe waited. I scouted around a bit, but did not want to brave the muskeg all the way to Squire. That adventure would have to wait for a different and waterier day.
On the way back over the beaver dams I managed to partially dump the canoe and totally dump myself, answering the question I had long wondered about water depth under beaver dams. Conclusion: not over my head.
I had another swim to rinse off the beaver pond debris, conducted a tick and leech check, and promptly fell asleep in my hammock. I was hungry upon waking, so dug into the food pack. I found some strange meatloaf and potatoes concoction which I just had to heat up. It would not be suitable for more rigorous portagy trips, but for the leisure loop it was all good. Conclusion: anything is tasty outdoors with enough Tobasco.
After dinner the wind had died down, and I though I would try some fishing. As mentioned before, Juno didn't seem to have a Bass Pro reputation, but I love a challenge. I had jotted somewhere that it was supposed to contain Perch, so I checked out some downed trees across the lake from my site. Nothing do. Just for kicks, I tied on a jig with a leach and floated around. Bam, walleye. I turned around and floated past the same spot. Walleye. Well, interesting. I caught several, all about 16", and then I stopped as I had already had dinner. I was only using a 1/8 white jighead with a leach. I never got snagged so it must have been a sandy bottom. Perhaps not the best walley habitat, but it worked. Again, the hole is due south (maybe a tiny bit west ) across the lake from the most eastern site.
I got back to camp after dark and turned in.
Woke up before dawn to red columns in the East. Stunning, haunting. Again the lake was glass and inviting to the boat.
Now I was hungry for walleye so headed back over to the spot. It was so calm I didn't even bother rigging up and anchor. Dropped the same jighead and bam. This was not a 16" er. It took a bit to get him up, and I would estimate him at 24-26". I just gently held him along the side of the boat and worked the jig out with my leatherman. I apologize a bit to him and then watched him slip into the depths, hoping fish don't have memories (sadly I know the truth). Within 10 minutes I had two 15"ers, so headed back to shore. After getting them fileted out, I dug around in my food pack for the seasoned flour. Dig dig, nothing. Now I don't know about you, but I always seem to forget one thing. This trip it was the flour. Time to improvise. Oh look, this broccoli "soup" is actually mostly flour. And this "seasoning" packet from my rice tastes a lot like cayenne and parika. Dump it in, mix it up. Whala. Broccoli soup shore lunch mix! Now you tell me what tastes better than fresh walleye at 7am on your own lake in Northern Minnesota?
Just as I was washing up, the clouds rolled in and the rains came down. I either forgot or just didn't car about bringing a tarp, so into the tent I went. It rained hard for 4 or 5 hours with wind. And I got wet. My trusty REI nitelite from 1996 had finally got tired. That tent has been with me on trips from Nepal to the Torres del Paine. And now it was leaking. Or at least the rain fly was. I can figure that out when I get home. So it was a leaky nap, but no biggie. I have been re reading Cormack McCarthy, whose prose I find unmatched by modern writers. I hadn't read All the Pretty Horses for many years since I taught it in AP Lit and found it rather immature for him. However, I decided to re-read it, and am finding it more nuanced than I remember. I enjoyed it througout the trip.
Upon emerging from my tent, a bald eagle was working on the fish remains I had laid on a rock, maybe 10 yards from the tent. His immensity and grandeur so close was otherwordly. Interestingly, he flew across the lake, perching right above my fishing hole. He remained there until I paddled over for my evening fish, at which point he flew directly back to the my site to finish the fish. How marvelous!
By 3 the sun was shining again so I strung about a 25 ft clothesline and hung everything to dry. The wind was still blowing so I gave up the idea of moving on to Brule. I had seen one canoe come past me towards Brule. 40 minutes later it came back past. My guess is they portaged to Brule, saw the waves and came back. Wise choice.
Went back to the same hole to catch a few more walleyes for supper. This time I anchored, using an old trick of a tiewrapped basketball net with a rock and nylon rope. Got a couple small eyes quick and called it quits before the mosquitoes emerged. Walleys and tobasco and off to bed.
Was up early and packed. No breakfast per my usual on leaving day. I took stock and realized city brain had only left me yesterday. Sad to have to leave just when it was getting good. But I was also missing my wife and dog. So it is what it is.
The little push up to the portage to Brule was lovely.
Easy 60 rods into Brule. From there, it was just a short jaunt east along the north shore to the boat landing. Figured I'd be there by 8. Well I thought wrong. Along the shore were just beautiful small boulder patches I hadn't seen on any lakes this trip. The wind was just perfect for drifting in my direction so I couldn't resist! I tied on my favorite drift rig for the BW. Snake sinker above a swivel, with about a 2-3' leader, corkie, and no 6 walleye hook in pink or orange tipped with a leech. The best way to use the corkie is with a knot and bead above it, but usually I just jam the eye of the hook onto it. Not the best I know, but it has always worked. An alternative would be a floating jighead, but this setup has outperformed so I stick with it. This is no news to anglers more serious than me, but for newbies (as we all were once), the advantages are this: when drifting, the snake sinker will move in and out of the rocks, snagging infrequently. The corkie keeps the hook and leach up off the rocks, imitating the movement of crayfish. It is simple and easy to use when fishing alone. It will produce walleyes and smallies and the occassional northern. The wind was going pretty good, so I used a 3/8 snake in place of the 1/8 I prefer. Got a nice drift going and bam! This wasn't a walleye! I bet that smallie didn't go over 3lbs, but what a fight, him pulling me against the current, diving, bombing, out of the water, nose down, back and forth, and all in water so clear I could witness it all. I made a few passes up and down the shoreline (about 15 ft out) and caught probably 5 or 6 smallies, keeping one nice one for my breakfast. I paddled around the point into the bay, but found that site occupied. So I settled for a flat rock at the end of the bay, butchered the bass and had my breakfast. Whoever says they don't like bass has never had a fresh caught smallie from those hallowed waters. Case closed.
Whitecaps were whipping across the bay but I chanced it and enjoyed the brief paddle challenge. Unloaded and stashed the canoe and made the easy 2 mile walk back to my car at Homer. A group of seniors were loading up, and one woman asked me if I was alone. I said yes and she asked me what it was like and if I was scared. I admit I was a bit glib with her, which I regret. However, I pondered her question. I have been coming to the BW both alone and with dear friends and loved ones for years. Here is what I concluded. When you go with people, the trip is mostly about the people. Yes, you experience the bounty and majesty, but you do it together. It is a shared experience. Hence, your communion is more with each other than the natural ecosystem. It is glorious yes-sharing this magical place with someone you love is the ultimate experience. But there is little solitude in the true sense, as you are never alone (unless you count the latrine or a difficult solo paddle in a tandem canoe). Therefore, the connection with nature is fragmented through other's presence, and thus diluted (only my opinion). Alone, especially when a lake is yours alone, there is a purer twining, especially if you practice sound wilderness habits. For the first couple days, the noise of society is still in your brain. But after a couple days it will fade, and you can tune in with the sights, the sounds, and most importantly the energy of the place. There was a time way back when the earth was happy to have us on her. That time has probably passed, but I feel like when alone out there, there are moments when mother earth starts to open her arms to me again--and that feels very nice.