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April 13 2024

Entry Point 47 - Lizz & Swamp Lakes

Lizz and Swamp Lakes entry point allows overnight paddle only. This entry point is supported by Gunflint Ranger Station near the city of Grand Marais, MN. The distance from ranger station to entry point is 34 miles. Access from Poplar Lake by 51-rod portage to Lizz Lake and 100-rod portage into Swamp Lake only. This area was affected by blowdown in 1999.

Number of Permits per Day: 3
Elevation: 1864 feet
Latitude: 48.0420
Longitude: -90.4998
Lizz & Swamp Lakes - 47

Poplar Loop - Quick, relaxing trip

by TominMpls
Trip Report

Entry Date: August 08, 2019
Entry Point: Lizz and Swamp Lakes
Exit Point: Skipper and Portage Lakes (49)
Number of Days: 4
Group Size: 2

Trip Introduction:
When an intended trip to introduce some newbies to the BWCA unraveled, M and I made the most of the permit and the time available to get into the woods for a quick break. At 32 miles single portaging, it was our shortest trip in a long time but a nice break nonetheless.

Part 1 of 5

Day 0 - Grand Marais and Judge CR Magney SP [paragraph break] M and I both had very busy summers, and since she starts high school this fall her time was very constrained. We'd both (separately) already done our long treks for the summer, both backpacking - she'd gone out to the Bob Marshall for two weeks, and I'd taken a week to hike the northernmost hundred miles of the Superior Hiking Trail. Our plan for this trip had originally been a super-easy three-night introduction to the BWCA for my sister and her partner, but when they canceled, M and I decided to set aside our usual planfulness, and use the time to paddle a loop and relax before her busy fall schedule started. [paragraph break] Leaving the Cities in late afternoon, we had dinner in Grand Marais and headed for a "civilized" campsite for the night before entry. On short notice I had managed to get a site at Judge CR Magney State Park for the night before our entry; we've both stayed there before while backpacking the SHT, and it was fun to see it as car campers the night before going into the wilderness. While I don't usually like car camping, CR Magney feels positively luxurious with backcountry gear, and it brought back great memories from the SHT.


Part 2 of 5

Day 1 - EP 47 to Henson Lake, 10 miles [paragraph break] Since the goal of the trip was to relax, we took our time getting up and going, arriving in Grand Marais just after the ranger station opened at 8 to pick up our permit. After some coffee at Java Moose and a short drive up the Gunflint Trail, we unloaded and put in on Poplar about 10. It was a surprisingly windy morning, with wind from the west at a good 10 mph. With Poplar being our only "big" water for the day, I wasn't nervous, but since we only had one 45-lb bag and the two of us in the canoe, I was glad that our hastily-made plan didn't involve big water. [paragraph break] M and I had 1.5-portaged on our last trip together, and before that it hadn't been practical not to double-portage on trips with her, so she really loved the single-portaging experience. Especially on portages with lots of others, she loved cruising through without leaving a yard sale at the portage ends. She says she doesn't want to go back to multi-portaging. [paragraph break] The paddling on this day was pleasant and uneventful, despite the wind, and the portages were all pretty straightforward. We stopped for the day at site 621, which was a pretty good site, and we spent the afternoon playing cards and relaxing. We'd intended to stay up and watch the stars, looking for the northern lights, but briefly slipped into the tent to set things up a little while after dark when it unexpectedly began to rain, so we called it a somewhat early night instead. Unfortunately, as I often do, I failed to take any pictures on this day. [paragraph break] ~Poplar Lake, Lizz Lake, Caribou Lake, Horseshoe Lake, Allen Lake, Pillsbery Lake, Henson Lake


Part 3 of 5

Day 2 - Henson Lake to Long Island Lake, 8 miles [paragraph break] When I'm backpacking or paddling alone I never bring a real cook kit, and breakfast consists of oatmeal, so it was really great to take a leisurely camp morning to fix eggs, fry bread, spam, and coffee. After a delicious and leisurely breakfast we hit the water about 10 under much calmer conditions than the day before. [paragraph break] The Omega to Kiskadinna portage had a Forest Service crew building a boardwalk that looked suspiciously like a dock, but they told us not to call it a dock because their supervisor was swearing it wasn't a dock. Since they were working we decided to unload a little to the side, and I managed to showcase my amazing skills by swinging the canoe up onto my head and promptly stepping into a mud sinkhole up to my thigh. To salvage my pride I did manage to get myself out of it without setting down the canoe, and in that moment I was especially glad I was single portaging so I wouldn't have to go back there. Clearly their non-dock will be useful when completed. [paragraph break] The Kiskadinna to Muskeg portage, at 180 rods, isn't all that long but the elevation change is significant. Many people report it as easier going east to west because it's downhill, but personally I would have preferred the other direction - going up hill with a canoe requires strength and aerobic condition, but going down hill requires dexterity and the ability to control the weight over the drops, and I found this drop to be tricky. We didn't have significant issues with it - M hardly even noticed any challenge to it - but I was definitely glad when it was done. [paragraph break] The Muskeg to Long Island portage has been dammed up by beavers since the maps were drawn, and I expect it would have taken us several minutes to figure out that we were supposed to go over the dam instead of finding an actual portage landing, if it hadn't been for a recent thread on that described it. As committed wetfoot portagers we didn't have any issues with the sometimes thigh-deep water on this portage, but it did require some careful footing. It's a portage that demonstrates the dynamic, changing nature of wilderness, and we both really enjoyed it for that reason. [paragraph break] We decided to try for site 564 on the east end of an island in Long Island Lake because of the wind protection it would provide, but when it was taken we took site 563, the west-facing site on the other end of the same island, which turned out to be a surprisingly great site. With great water access, several possible tent spots, good wind protection, and nice views, it was our best site on this trip. Since so many entry points dump paddlers onto Long Island Lake we did have a fair amount of traffic in front of our site so it wouldn't have been good for seclusion. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] We had a clear sky and managed to stay up to look at the stars, with a nice rock face with northwestern views from the site. Unfortunately we didn't see the Northern Lights (which I've somehow still never seen) but it was a beautiful night for watching the sky. [paragraph break]  ~Henson Lake, Omega Lake, Kiskadinna Lake, Muskeg Lake, Long Island Lake


Part 4 of 5

Day 3 - Long Island Lake to Rush Lake, 10 miles [paragraph break] After another beautiful morning and delicious breakfast we got on the water about 10 again on an already warmer day. M decided to take the canoe on the first portage, an uneventful but strenuous 100 rod job to Cave Lake. [paragraph break] I took the canoe on the 180 to Ross, which turned out to be quite a bit more eventful. M with the pack is a good deal faster than me with the canoe so I was surprised to come upon her about halfway through the portage, to discover she was almost up to her waist in a mudhole. I was trying to figure out how to set down the canoe to help her when she managed to extract herself while staying vertical, without taking off the pack. We realized the middle of this portage was *full* of these mudholes, with uneven rocks, sticks, moss, and other biomass providing unstable and unpromising routes to avoid the holes. M, being flexible and agile on her feet, went slowly ahead of me, identifying a route for me to take the canoe through this part of the portage. It was slow and tedious, but neither of us went in again, so it was a success. [paragraph break] The Ross to Sebeka portage was dry and easy, and both lakes made for beautiful and quick paddles. Just as we reached the Sebeka to Banadad portage a huge group and their dog emerged onto our side of the portage and we expected to be waiting for them to load, but it turns out they were walking the portage for fun (?!?) and had left their unladen canoes on the other side. They warned us about how muddy and difficult the portage would be, which was almost comical given the Cave to Ross portage we'd just done. This was also a muddy portage, but not anywhere near as difficult as that one had been, and even with our gear we were to Banadad long before they got back to their canoes. [paragraph break] Banadad is a shockingly gorgeous lake; I'd visited it for the first time last year on a very long one-way trip across Quetico-Superior with a friend and his son, and in my opinion Banadad feels like the long, narrow lakes of Quetico more than any other lake I've been on in the BWCA. I'd been excited to show M this Quetico-like chain, and Banadad definitely lived up to my memory from last year. [paragraph break] In retrospect we probably should have stopped for the day on Banadad - since we were leaving the next day anyway and we only had about seven total miles to our car left, it didn't really matter which day we put the Banadad-to-Rush portage on, but we both liked the idea of getting a bit more mileage on this day, leaving the exit day for short mileage. We left Banadad, with its beautiful sites, for Rush, which has four sites. I don't read up on sites before trips even when I am planning carefully because it doesn't matter that much to me, and this trip was a minimal-planning event, but Rush demonstrated why sometimes that's not the best strategy. Rush, while not as pretty as Banadad, is a nice lake, but its sites aren't so much. We passed 584, which wasn't taken but looked pretty crappy, to aim for 613, which looked nice on the map, but it was taken; so we cut south to 612 and agreed we'd stay there unless it was unworkable. [paragraph break] M jumped out of the canoe at 612 pretty confident we'd stay there, but she came back to the canoe about two minutes later and said we should find a different site. I've literally never heard her declare a site not good enough for out little two-person tent so I was surprised but figured she had to be overreacting - we've stayed at plenty of mediocre sites that met our needs just fine. So I had her hold the canoe while I took a look, and I can say 612 may be in the running to be the most miserable site in the whole BWCA. The fire grate is perched on a tiny rock outcropping that isn't even flat enough to properly hold the grate, which is attached in three places instead of four; there's a tiny sideways-leaning quasi-cleared spot on the same rock outcropping that *might*, in an emergency, kind of hold a freestanding single-person tent precariously. There's scrub bushes everywhere but nothing over four feet tall. No issue, I figured, there's often a crappy common area at sites that have tent spots tucked back in the woods, so I headed back the latrail. I'd gone less than fifty feet back when I came across the latrine leaning sideways and exposed in a crack between a couple rocks, completely surrounded by more scrub bushes and a couple dead tree trunks. There were no tent spots whatsoever, and no trail leading anywhere beyond the latrine. An impressively miserable site. So we decided to pass. [paragraph break] Psychologically it's hard to backtrack, but after Rush the only remaining site before our car was an isolated site on Skipper that we figured was too close to the entry not to be taken. We didn't like the looks of the other available site we'd passed, so we decided to backtrack to site 583. This was a mile the wrong direction, but a mile of paddling wasn't a big deal, and we found the site to be available and not too bad. Tucked on a ridgeline, the site was narrow with a small common area and only two very small tent spots, but it made an interesting and scenic place to set up our tent. Hilleberg owners love to post photos of their tents in ridiculous spots, and by that standard this site seemed almost spacious. We had to both use one door on the tent as the other was hanging onto the edge of the drop toward the lake, but the tent pad itself was pretty flat and nicely tucked into the trees. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] After our last dinner we had our traditional apple crisp to mark the last night of a trip, watched the sky for a bit, and called it a night. [paragraph break] ~Long Island Lake, Cave Lake, Ross Lake, Sebeka Lake, Banadad Lake, Rush Lake


Part 5 of 5

Day 4 - Rush Lake to EP49, 5 miles [paragraph break] With the long drive back to the Cities looming, we always start our last day a bit earlier than the others, but this time we still enjoyed our morning first, having a proper breakfast before hitting the water at 8:30. [paragraph break] The Rush to Little Rush portage is tiny and quick. Last year going the other way, my group had come to the opinion that there really isn't a portage from Skipper to Little Rush, believing it to be meant to be a lining job through the rocks of the channel, but had found it to be a pretty rough lining; both the maps and the GPS track had reinforced that idea. This time, approaching the same area from the other direction, we were about to try and do the same when we noticed a landing to the north of the bend in the channel, and discovered a very straightforward little portage. Coming out on the Skipper side, I completely understood the confusion of last year - there's a little bay away from where the map shows the portage, and the portage really goes from there, but from the Skipper side you can't see the portage landing when you have to make the choice, and the map appears to send you toward the channel. I'll know this in the future, and will share the tip that there really *IS* a proper portage from Skipper to Little Rush, and it's easy. [paragraph break] The long portage from Skipper to Poplar is a really easy and pleasant portage despite its length, yet again confirming to me that usually hard portages are short and long portages are easy. I'm sure that's not a universal rule, but so far Quetico-Superior has let me think that. We got through it very quickly, loaded for the last time, paddled to the exit, and were done. We took our time with a nice lunch at the Angry Trout in Grand Marais, then headed back home. [paragraph break] M and I have done a lot of BWCA trips and while it's always a little melancholy to reach the exit, we usually have the feeling like we're ready to leave, like we've accomplished what we wanted and can head home. This time, neither of us wanted to leave. We're accustomed to longer trips, and I think four days simply wasn't enough time. We were lucky to be able to squeeze this trip into a very busy summer, but we definitely both could have used another couple days in the woods. [paragraph break] ~Rush Lake, Little Rush Lake, Skipper Lake, Poplar Lake


Lakes Traveled:   Rush Lake, Little Rush Lake, Skipper Lake, Poplar Lake,

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