BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
November 20 2019
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.
Baker lake Loop
July 19, 2007
Number of Days:
Left school about 8:15 and headed up HWY 93 to Eau Claire and HWY 53 to Superior. Group consisted of two 15 y/o girls,(one only 85 lbs ) two 17 y/o girls,one only 94 lbs one heavier, but not in good condition) one 18 y/o male,(strong and tough) one 27 y/o female,(petite, but proved to be extremely tough) and myself (old, fat guy). We stopped in Superior for lunch and leeches. We also stopped at Gooseberry Falls for a stretch and look at the falls. Not much water, so they weren’t as impressive as other times. Stopped at Tofte to get our permit. Seems they are adding on to the ranger station. There were 5 groups in the station during our time there. One of the groups was overheard discussing whether or not they really needed maps. I mentioned that, “Yes, you really need maps.” So they bought two, an extra if the first was lost. We then traveled up the Sawbill Trail to Baker Lake Campground. Campgroud is advertised as having 5 sites, I only saw 4. A very intimate campground, the 4 sites are rather close. But, it is right on our entry point , so it is very convenient. Many bloodsuckers enjoyed us for dinner. We spent the time getting to know each other better, playing Uno, and discussing the next day’s travel. The plan was to make South Temperance Lake. A couple of brief showers had us eating under the tarp. During the night, another rainstorm and the wind never let up all night, not a good sign.
Day 2, July 19 temps 54, 75, sunny and wind from the north
Baker lake to South Temperance Portages- 10 rd, 3 rd, 65 rd, 12 rd, 80 rd, 240 rd
Up at 5:30 and on the water by 7:00. There was only 1 other car in the parking lot. Wind from the north, why do I always have to paddle into the wind? Short paddle to the first portage (10 rd) rocky landing (typical of this trip) and a rather disorganized group we were. Finally got the process organized by the 3rd portage. The narrow end of Peterson Lake was rocky and we had to wade through the rocks and water to get through. More scratches on the new canoe. We head north up Peterson into a BRISK wind. An otter gives us the once-over on Kelly Lake. The wind makes getting a photo impossible. We stop for a quick snack at the campsite right before the 65 rd portage into Jack. Whether or not to change the distance to be traveled today is discussed. They all wish to continue to South Temperance. We do some switching of paddling partners. These young ladies have strong spirits, but not a lot of upper body strength. So far today we haven’t seen a soul, not even an occupied campsite. This will change when we hit the 240 into South Temperance. At that landing is a huge pile of gear, on both sides of the landing. At first I believe that there are two groups, on heading north, the other south. But, I am mistaken, just one group heading north and another group of 4 guys coming up to the landing behind us. The group ahead of us was certainly taking their time, sitting down and resting at the landing. The other group and I decided to not wait and the first group said to come in and start the portage since they were going to be awhile. After a day of seeing nobody, we suddenly have a traffic jam, but we all manage to get all of our gear across the portage and onto South Temperance. All are tired after this long portage. We find two of the four campsites open and take the NW one. It is an OK campsite, especially since it is 4 PM and everyone is tired after paddling into the wind all day. I usually make camp at 1 PM, so this has been a long day. We enjoy a swim, a rest, and a good meal (chicken breasts, mashed potatoes, carrots, and oreos. Group consensus that tomorrow will be a layover day. With one exception, I was extremely proud of the group today. The 3 rookies worked very hard and more than held up their end, the 18 y/o male went beyond anything I had expected, one 17 y/o that had been up before with her dad did great paddling and portaging, but one young lady really slacked and let others do her work.
Day 3, July 20 Sunny and calm, temps 49, 78 Layover day, no travel
Up at 8 AM, leisurely breakfast of pancakes. After eating and cleaning up, Joe, Gina, and I go fishing. After a short time of fishing three in a boat, Gina asks to be dropped off on shore on a nice, sun-warmed rock to fish and read. Joe and I continue fishing, catching several smaller smallmouths. After an hour or so we go back to pick up Gina. She has been hearing noises in the woods behind her and is a little scared. She has a beginner’s fear of bears. I mention that in 30+ trips, the only one I’ve ever seen was at a campground. We go back to camp for a light lunch. The rest of the group has been swimming and relaxing. I mention that brats taste best when cooked over the fire, so an enthusiastic crew goes to explore and hunt up wood for the fire. This group has not been one to sit idle in camp, they enjoy being off doing things. Some groups never move from a campsite unless it is a traveling day. After a trip to the latrine, Gina asks about an animal she saw. After hearing her description and a few questions, we decide she has seen a martin. She feels lucky to have seen it and the otter so far this trip. After dinner, Joe and I go out again fishing. Not much luck, but it is just great to be out on the calm lake. It is beautiful and quiet. As the sun sets, we decide to head back to camp. An evening fire has be lit and welcomes us back to the campsite. A chill has definitely made its presence felt. After a pleasant time around the fire, it is extinguished, and we all head for the sleeping bags. Before retiring, I put on a lightweight set of long johns in anticipation of another cool night. The loons were especially vocal this night.
Day 4, July 21 Sunny, not much wind, temps 47, 81
South Temperance to Cherokee, portages 55 rd, 105 rd, 140 rd
I wake up at 4 am with a migraine, take my medicine and am able to cope. We get going about 7:30. This will be a short, but rather difficult day. North Temperance is a beautiful Lake, I’d like to spend a night there sometime. The three portages seen to come very quickly. On one, Molly slips and puts a deep, inch long gash in her calf. A quick disinfect and Band-Aid and off she goes, we’ll do more later. The 140 into Cherokee is a little daunting. Many ups and downs with 3 to 4 foot rock slopes to negotiate. There are some slips, but only one fall. At the end of the 140, I wade into the water to set the canoe down and then wade the rest of the way in, right up to my neck. It is getting too warm for my liking. We find a nice campsite on Cherokee at about 11 am. It’s the second campsite directly east of the portage. It was recommended by the last group. Shaded, but open, with many places to put tents. It also has a supply of firewood. We all lay done on the rocks to rest. I irrigate and swab out Molly’s gash, put neosporin and butterfly closures on, and cover it with a large Band-Aid. When tents go up, everybody naps, including me. The migraine has sapped my strength. After a 2 hour nap, swimming and more relaxing is the order of the day. Some of the girls go explore the lake more. Cherokee is a stunning lake, I see why it is so popular. The one young lady was slacking again today, even after I had made some “suggestions” that she do more. The rest of the group is doing a fantastic job. We only saw one other group today.
Day 5, July 22 Cloudy and a strong wind from the south, the direction we are heading today. 52, 75
Cherokee to Smoke, portages 180 rd, 12 rd, 80 rd, 10 rd, 100 rd.
We paddle east out of Cherokee on the Cherokee Creek. I love paddling on the creek. We see pitcher plants and lillies, but no wildlife. On the portages out of Cherokee we begin to meet many people. If remember correctly, we ran into 4 or 5 groups coming north and 2 or 3 traveling south with us. Needless to say, the portages were a zoo. I did run into Bannock and friends on one of the portages. We had a brief chat. Ken mentioned that due to the wind,our trip down Sawbill will be tough. He was right. Gina wanted to try the stern, so we gave it a go. We stopped for a lunch break at about 1 pm on the 3rd campsite on Sawbill’s eastern shore. The girls were tired and we again discussed options. One I mentioned was to stay where we were for the night, and exit at Sawbill tomorrow. I would get a shuttle to Baker to get the van. They all wanted to finish the route, tough kids. We switched canoeing partners around to give a rest to Molly, who had been stern paddler for the whole trip so far. Gina took her place in the stern with two of the other girls, Joe, a strong paddler, was with Molly, and I was with the slacker. She had been better today since being pointedly told to do her share. She turned out to be a fair paddler, though she had been the duffer most of the trip. I just don’t understand how some kids can just sit and let others do the work. She certainly hurt the moral of the group. The trip down Sawbill was long and hard. The sky cleared as we portaged into Smoke and it became rather warm. We finally got to Smoke about 3:30. There was one other group on the lake. Joe checked out the three other campsites and decided on the eastern one. It had nice rocks facing the west, beautiful log couches on two sides of the firegrate, and a large, shaded area for the tents. These actually were like couches, they had arm rests and backs. We were treated to the sight of 5 eagles, one or two of which were young. Mom and Dad seemed to be giving instructions to the young as they flew. Their Skreeeing calls went on until dusk. A family of loons were feeding junior not 20 feet from our rock. Junior still had the fuzzy brown feathers on his back, but his breast was the smooth, white feathers like his parents. The sunset was magnificent this night. It went from golden to a pink to a red. Later, an owl serenaded us most of the night. It was a wonderful end to a hard day.
Day 6, July 23 sunny and calm, 60 and 93
Smoke to Baker, portages, 90 rd, 230 rd, 3 rd, and 10 rd.
Up and going by 7:30. It is already warmer and more humid than I like. Most aren’t looking forward to the 230, though it isn’t too bad. Some elevation at the beginning, but not too bad after that. About halfway down the portage see a cement slab with a hole in it . According to Beymer’s book, there was an old logging road there. Once on Kelly we head for the two short portages and Baker. When the landing comes into sight, the canoe with the three girls decided to race to the landing. Unfortunately, two of the girls dig really hard on the same side and over they go. It was really rather funny as they had been told this could happen. No gear is lost, though some poles need to be dug out of the muck. The girls quickly change in the latrine at the landing, we load everything up, and head to Sawbill to shower. As always, Sawbill Outfitters is a great place to stop. While the kids are showering, I do a little shopping. I buy Gina the Singing Wilderness and Joe a Sawbill t-shirt. This is Joe’s 4th trip with me and he was so much help I wanted to thank him. I also buy each group member commemorative patches. This is a holdover from my Boy Scout days. We decide to head home that afternoon as we are ready to go by 2 pm. We stop at Pizza Hut in Two Harbors, then head home. Two bathroom and snack breaks later, we are home.
It was a tough trip for most of the group. Wish I had had a different entry point for this group. But, they proved to themselves that they could do it and are talking about where to go next year. As in many trips before, I am amazed by the strong will of these young ladies. One person will not, however, be a part of any group next year.