BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
September 28 2020
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.
Mechanic Chain Solo
September 23, 2019
Baker Lake (39)
Number of Days:
I left the Twin Cities at 5am, arriving at Sawbill to pick up a solo canoe and my permit about 9:30. A short drive later, I was on the water at the Baker Lake EP around 11 headed north. The weather was in the 60s with a westerly breeze but not too bad. I saw one group camped on Kelly and passed a group of four guys on Jack Lake but otherwise didn't see anyone else until I reached South Temperance Lake. All the portages were in good condition, some slightly muddy. I wanted to camp on South Temperance or the west end of Brule so my travel day Tuesday up to Cherokee was pretty short mileage-wise. The southern site on South Temperance was taken so I decided to keep going to Brule. It was almost 3 when I portaged into Brule so I ate lunch in case I had to paddle around looking for one of the three sites to be open on the western end of Brule. The site in the narrows was taken, but I found the site on the island just to the south open and took it. The site isn't great, but for one night on a solo trip it was just fine. My wife got me an insulated growler for my birthday which I had partially filled so I enjoyed a wilderness happy hour. I ate ramen for dinner, had a campfire and then stayed up until the stars were out since it was likely to be the only clear night of the trip. Headed to bed about 10pm.
I got out of the tent around 6:30 in time to see the sunrise which was beautiful. It was a perfectly still morning and mist was present toward the southern shore of Brule. After breakfast and coffee I packed up and was on the water about 8:00am. It was sunny and still, with pockets of mist still in the bays. The paddle up to the bay holding the portage to Cam Lake and the rockslide was incredible. Falls colors and mist on a totally still sunny morning. I paddled slowly taking it all in. The portage into Cam Lake was as advertised: very rocky. You really have to think about almost every step and there are numerous hops between boulders surrounded by muddy water. The landing on the Cam side is a boulder field. But Cam is beautiful. I paddled over to the rock slide then continued to the portage into Gasket. This portage was also very rocky and ends at the base of the rock slide on Gasket. You can walk out onto the rock slide right from the portage. There are also some cliffs on the east end of the small lake. The next portage is probably the easiest of the stretch with some stretches that are normal rather than non-stop boulder fields but there is a decent little climb toward Vesper. The portage landing on the Vesper to Town portage was the worst part of this stretch: you enter a rock field with downed trees and its unclear from the water where the portage starts. Once you find a rock to get out on it becomes apparent you need to get to the beaver dam at the very end of the bay, which requires some interesting maneuvering and rock-hopping. From there, the portage literally starts as a boulder field. It continues on a rocky path which perhaps gets gradually better as you get closer to Town. Because of the landing, I'd say this is the hardest of the four portages, with the Brule/Cam portage being the second-hardest.
I took a little breather on Town Lake before heading to Cherokee. In addition to the 10-rod portage, you need to take another few-rod portage to get into Cherokee.
I was aiming for one of the two island sites mid-lake and was happy to find the site facing west open. In all, it took me about 3-3:30 to get from Brule to Cherokee. It stayed sunny until early afternoon, then turned cloudy in the afternoon and finally rained lightly off and on in the evening. I enjoyed the last of the growler for afternoon happy hour, had a taco bowl for dinner and thankfully had stashed some firewood under the tarp so I could have some s'mores for dessert in the rain.
My plan for today was to travel to somewhere between South Temperance and the entry point but I didn't have a firm plan. The morning was breezy, but patches of blue sky were appearing behind the low clouds so the weather, despite the forecast, looked promising. I was on the water about 8:30 and headed to the Sitka portage. I made the mistake of keeping my fleece on while doing this portage and was a sweaty mess by the end. I took off the fleece and hopped in the canoe for the short paddle to the portage into North Temperance. The sky had darkened and the wind had picked up and you could almost feel the temperature drop so by the time I got to the landing I was chilly again. I headed off on the portage and a few minutes into it out of nowhere it started hailing. Thankfully the hail only lasted about a minute, then it rained for about five minutes. Ten minutes later it was sunny. The constantly changing weather continued throughout the day.
The paddle across North Temperance was beautiful. South Temperance was a bit windy since it's more open from the west, but I got out of the wind on the 240-rod portage along the Temperance River. I enjoyed sunny and windy weather until I got to Jack Lake where a storm skirted just south of me. It rained briefly and I could hear thunder but it continued on south and east. It was again sunny by the time I got to the portage from Jack and Kelly. On Kelly, I turned the first corner south and thought I saw a moose down the shore a ways. It went out of view as I rounded the corner but as I got closer it came back into view and I noticed it was moving. I was sure it was a moose. As a bonus, when I got closer I noticed there was a cow in the river. Unfortunately, with the breezy weather, I had to paddle to keep from getting blown around so once the cow spotted me she climbed out of the river and headed toward the woods. As she did, I noticed a calf (now pretty big) get up and follow right behind. The bull stood and watched a little longer, then headed into the woods himself. I could hear them snapping small trees like twigs and calling as I paddled by. An awesome sight.
When I hit the main part of Kelly the wind really started howling. I had a hard time getting down to the south end of the lake where I looked for a campsite to stay at. In the meantime, it looked like another storm was rolling in. I made it to the furthest south campsite, quickly put up a tarp and ate a late lunch as it started to rain again. While the site is rated pretty well on here (or paddeplanner), I found it quite dismal. Dark, closed in, and when I was there, it was all wet. I had to admit that spending the rest of the afternoon there didn't sound appealing. As if on queue, the wind died and sun came back out. I peered west to see what the clouds looked like and you could tell there was more rain on the way. The weather radio was calling for rain the rest of the day and overnight. While I stared at the now calm lake, I decided to just head out rather than stay in that campsite. While I was a little disappointed to lose a night of the trip, I was planning to head out first thing in the am from there so I figured I wasn't losing all that much given the weather.
I dodged rain again on the way out, navigated through the two low water stretches just before I got back to the portage into Baker Lake and was back at the landing a short paddle later.
This was my fourth solo. While I had to change the trip at the last minute, I still got to see a new stretch of lakes and got to cover a lot of ground while enjoying the fall colors. It was definitely a success.