BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
October 04 2023
Number of Permits per Day: 3
Elevation: 1864 feet
Lizz & Swamp Lakes - 47
Bubba Slow-Step’s excellent adventure
September 11, 2017
Lizz and Swamp Lakes
Meeds Lake (48)
Number of Days:
Saturday Sept 9th
I meandered my way to Duluth from the East Metro for a wing night Boonie organized at the Duluth Grill. A stop at my garden east of Hinckley provided about a quart of fresh green beans. I would now have to deal with that before the trip began.
The parking lot was full and people were waiting outside to be seated. The first person I saw was Pswith5 (Pete). Boonie (Steve), Hawbakers (Karen), and PuffinGin (Ginny) got there shortly after. The food was good, and the company spectacular. Pete needed a place to stay that night before heading in for a solo trip at Lizz the next morning, so I offered my hospitality. It was another 50 minute drive to my place, due north of Two Harbors.
Dropping d’s in Grand Marais
Sunday Sept 10th
Pete left shortly after sunrise, and I began to process those beans. I was to meet Steve, once again, at Flood Bay wayside by 11:00am. We picked up the canoe and permit at Sawtooth Outfitters, and arrived in Grand Marais in the early afternoon. Not much is open on Sunday in Grand Marais, although the restaurants are. The Beaver House bait shop was also open.
The late lunch at Gunflint Tavern was very good. The house beer I ordered with the meal was too. Around 2:30pm a vehicle carrying a canoe with a Flying Moose decal drove by. We looked for it as we walked back to our cars parked down by the Coast Guard station. Hello to whoever you were.
We checked in at Nelson’s for the night and I began packing my personal gear into the CCS portage pack Steve lent me. He also had lent a tent, sleeping pad, water filter, and a bear vault for my food on this trip.
We ate dinner at My Sister’s Place, and I saved some of my sandwich for breakfast the next morning. It hadn’t been long since eating lunch so I really wasn’t very hungry anyway. I was really tired so we went to bed shortly after sunset.
Day 1 Monday Sept 11th
The plan was to wake around 5:30am. It seems both of us tried to extend courtesy to one another by laying in bed awake, waiting for the alarm. As we ate breakfast a gray fox trotted through the grounds. Perhaps that explains the small fenced in doggy area behind the proprietor’s house.
We got to the public launch at Poplar Lake around 8:30am. In addition to our vehicles and Pete’s displaying the Flying Moose, was a car in the lot with Wisconsin plates. We were off and paddling well before 9:30.
Arrival into the BWCAW was marked with a sign about half way down Lizz Lake. We made good time toward Vista as the wind was rather calm and the portages to Caribou, Horseshoe, and Vista relatively short. The landings in the area tend to be rocky however. It pays to have at least one wet footer in the canoe for this area.
We started looking for Pete’s canoe once we got to Horseshoe. He said he would be staying at a campsite there his first night. Of the sites we passed, only the one directly across the portage from Caribou seemed occupied. When we approached the islands in the narrows of Vista we saw that our campsite of first choice was occupied. We quickly checked out the alternate site, which was located very high on a steep shore, then paddled toward the other. The occupier was non-other than Pete. He had got there earlier in the morning. We landed there a bit before 11:30am. Pete asked if we wanted to stay there for the night, and since it had the space for our tents we said yes.
We passed the afternoon setting up camp and visiting. At dusk, we made use of the wood Pete prepared. He told us he had heard that the Aurora Borealis might make an appearance by 9:30pm. Well, for old dudes used to getting up in the wee early hours of the AM, it was pretty hard staying up that late. I was the last to enter my tent at just after 9:30. I hadn’t put the fly on over the tent so I could scan the sky as I slowly fell asleep. I’m not sure when I did, but I never did see them. Steve, who had to get up in the middle of the night, didn’t either.
A day without aid
Day 2 Tuesday Sept 12th
Steve and I were going to stay another night at that campsite so we could explore the Misquah Hills area further. Pete said he really didn’t have any plans. First on our agenda was to explore the Morgan Lake loop. Because of the simplicity of that loop we left the maps and compasses at camp. I don’t recommend to travel this way generally, as even a simple one as this can sometimes be disorientating. Pete decided to part ways near the east arm of Vista in which we were about to enter for our loop.
The four lakes in this loop had somewhat technical, rocky landings. And even though very short, the north to south portages are steep. Morgan Lake, the biggest in the loop, is also the most picturesque. You can see Lima Mountain on it’s east end.
After stopping back at camp around lunch time, we proceeded toward our next destinations. Misquah Lake lived up to its namesake with high hills, and cliffs off the east shore in the distance. The landings between Vista and Little Trout Lake also proved to be very rocky, and more than once we had to use a painter line to position the canoe. We left the canoe in an out of the way spot and walked the portage to Little Trout Lake without burden. That portage must be one of the most difficult in the entire BWCAW. It has everything; steep inclines, boulder gardens, and length. Just before reaching Little Trout, a small forest fire created an overlook that provided a scenic peek at the lake. On the south shore of the lake we spotted a canoe being paddled solo.
We got back to camp feeling pretty spent from the day. After supper, and very close to sunset, we saw that solo canoeist heading towards the other campsite in the narrows. He seemed to hesitate, then proceeded to land his canoe there. We went to bed soon thereafter.
Day 3 Wednesday Sept 13th
Steve and I decided to take a shorter loop up to Meeds. So instead of going though Winchell, Omega, and Henson Lakes, our route would take us through Jump and Allen Lakes. This meant today would end up being a shorter travel day. We still wanted to check out Winchell Lake however, so our destination today was going to be a campsite on Gaskin.
We backtracked up to Horseshoe Lake and traveled west in its southern arm. We had been hoping to see a moose, but it wasn’t to be. The shores of Horseshoe have many tall White Pines and dead snags that seem to be perfect Bald Eagle habitat. I’m not sure if their migration had already begun, but there were no eagles to be seen either.
We reached Gaskin Lake well before noon. It appeared we had the whole lake to ourselves so we decided we would stay at a campsite that suited us best. The first campsite we checked out was the island site on the far east side of the lake. This campsite is not marked on the Voyageur Map that I had purchased the prior Sunday. It is a huge open site, and although it was acceptable to us, it had a rocky landing area. We moved toward the Redeye Fire scar to check out a few more campsites. I didn’t take notes on this trip, and my memory is a bit fuzzy, so the campsite locations may be mixed up. The next site we checked out had a great landing and stairs leading up to the fire grate. Unfortunately, when the lid of the nearly full latrine was lifted, a cloud of flies came rushing out. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want flies bouncing off my bottom and giblets while tending to my morning constitutional. A third campsite not only had a full latrine complete with a brigade of flies, but also part of cook kit was left by the grate. We didn’t want to linger to see what else may have been left behind. We quickly decided to take the island site once we saw another canoe on the lake. It was the solo canoeist we saw from the day before.
After settling in in our campsite we headed off to see Winchell Lake. Since our time was limited we were going to return to camp after a predetermined amount had passed. We never did make it to the waterfall, yet it was an enjoyable paddle none the less. The high points include the loon Steve almost got a picture of, the huge flock of Canada Geese, the high hills on the southwest shore, and the lone green Balsam Fir amid the Redeye burn zone.
The island campsite provided exceptional views of the sunset that night. The distance between the fire grate and tent pads we selected didn’t matter to me. The two large boulders located by the pads had flat spots for placing my single burner Coleman stove. I only need to boil water for my meals anyway. To my misfortune, the 21-year-old stove failed that night just as the water began to boil. The whole burner assembly became engulfed in flames. Good thing I wasn’t on a solo because I didn’t have a back-up.
Day 4 Thursday Sept 14th
Our destination for the day was Meeds Lake so our exit Friday would be accomplished by noon. Our chosen route was through Jump and Allen Lakes, hoping once again to possibly sight a moose. Jump is a small nondescript lake. I barely remember passing through it. Allen reminded me a lot of Horseshoe, into which it flows. It narrows considerably before the portage. Once again, no moose sightings. We knew they exist in the area because of the many tracks they left in the muddy sections of the portage trails. Steve’s hearing aid batteries died one by one during this this paddle.
Every map we had with us showed the portage from Pillsbury Lake to Swallow Lake located in Pillsbury’s narrowest part. Since we trusted this to be accurate, we didn’t even start scanning the shoreline until then. Once we determined we had to be too far west, we slowly backtracked. We found the small overgrown western campsite and thought we might be close. Because that campsite was near the creek, and there seemed to be a vestige of a landing at the mouth of the creek, we made an assumption and went to shore. We also unloaded. The false trail quickly petered out. After getting past a fallen tree, which was barely under water, and back out on the lake, I noticed a canoe coming from the southwest. We saw another possible portage landing in the narrows. We learned our lesson and was going to check it out before removing any gear from the canoe. This false portage went a couple hundred feet before disappearing. The other canoe seemed to be hanging back trying not to make the same mistakes. As we located the true portage, which is located about 700 feet to the east in a bay, I realized my map had been left behind at the creek. We turned around to retrieve it and pointed out the portage to the couple in the other canoe. It didn’t take long to get back, and we caught up to the nice couple from East Bethel on the Swallow Lake side of the portage.
It is a very short paddle across Swallow, and at this time I began to wonder about the availability of campsites on Meeds Lake. Both the other couple and we intended to camp there that night and there are only three sites. There were also fresh Vibram FiveFingers footwear prints in the muddy spots on the portage trail. On Meeds we encountered two canoes, whose occupants were fishing, and asked them if they knew if any of the campsites there were vacant. They told us the eastern island campsite had been open that morning. They were staying on the other island site and didn’t know the state of the third. I asked them that if they saw the couple, who at this point were behind us, to convey that we intended to take the eastern site. Steve and I were up for sharing a site with this couple, yet we never discussed it with them on the trail. I assume they took that far western campsite since we never saw them pass by on their way to Caribou, which has at least eight campsites.
Someone that used the site in the previous week or so must have had some type of latrine anxiety. There were several places around the vicinity that had clumps of toilet paper sitting on the ground. This type of thing would normally have me move on, but the circumstances of the day prevented that. I would just have to be very careful in the placement of the bear vault this night.
The western sky and distant rumblings hinted at what was to come. Steve and I put up his ridgeline tarp in preparation. While in his pack he found the extra hearing aid batteries, just in time for the storm. I could see the shelf cloud approaching, which is usually indicative of straight line winds. The strong winds didn’t last that long. The lightening however persisted. We went to our tents realizing the storm was not going to end anytime soon. The rain finally stopped just before sunrise.
Three boardwalks and one sore hip
Day 5 Friday Sept 15th
Packing up on your last day is not pleasant when everything is wet. We did our best with shaking the fabrics and using a chamois cloth to remove some of the moisture. I’m guessing we gained more weight in water than what we had lost in the consumption of our food. I wondered how Steve was going to deal with wet gear since he was to re-enter the BWCAW on a solo two days later, and the tents and packs were all his. Nevertheless, we paddled the short distance and crossed the portage to Poplar Lake.
My first crossing went fine with the realization that this one was more difficult than average. My second, with much less burden but without paddles that helped with balance, didn’t go so well. There are many obstacles on this trail, and when it is damp some of them get very slippery. It was the boulder field located about halfway across that had it in for me. I slipped and landed on my PFD, which resulted in a broken zipper rendering it useless. My hip became bruised from the fall. Perhaps the PDF lent some protection. After all, you should look on the bright side. Otherwise you might end up in a nursing home much too early.
We paddled across Poplar Lake quickly, separated our gear, and pack our cars. I returned the canoe to Sawtooth Outfitters and made it to Duluth as planned. Steve was going to try for a bunk at Rockwood and eat at Trail center, so I still owe him for his generosity. (No cash machines or banks mid trail.) I also need to send him a link to the Wiki page for the movie Bubba Ho-tep. “Thank ya. Thank ya very much and goodnight.”