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June 17 2024

Entry Point 49 - Skipper & Portage Lakes

Skipper and Portage 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 28 miles. Access is a 320-rod portage from Poplar Lake or a 230-rod portage from Iron Lake. This area was affected by blowdown in 1999.

Number of Permits per Day: 2
Elevation: 1865 feet
Latitude: 48.0517
Longitude: -90.5366
Skipper & Portage Lakes - 49

2009 BWCA Trip a New Beginning

by Corsair
Trip Report

Entry Date: July 05, 2009
Entry Point: Cross Bay Lake
Exit Point: Lizz and Swamp Lakes (47)
Number of Days: 7
Group Size: 3

Trip Introduction:
2009 found me with my 5th foray into the BWCA. I had heard so many wonderful things from the members on BWCA.COM about the eastern side so I decided to have a new beginning in the BWCA and go in at Grand Marais. We decided to head in around the 4th of July weekend this year as we heard it’s a slow time of year and we will encounter less people. We also know we will enjoy some days of long sunlight. Joining me this year again is my good friends Bill and Brian. Bill has made every trip with me to date, Brian is joining me once again as he hadn’t been since our maiden voyage in 2003. We are trippers and like to keep moving. I do use a GPS for my travels. It allows me to track speed and distance. I know the purists out there scoff at this, but to me it’s a toy that I love to use. The maps are always our primary method of navigating. I also keep a journal with me that I try to write in everyday. This helps me remember all the details of the trip for this report as well as take notes as to what worked well for us as well as not so well. We have our usual rules for food. Everyone takes a night to cook dinner for everyone. Breakfast and lunch is everyman for himself. We added a twist this year, no freeze dried for dinner. So I am curious to see what everyone brought. Based on the recommendations of BWCA members we are going with Rockwood Outfittersfor our permit and canoe. We are using a Souris River Quetico 18.5 as we want to be able to move quick and far.

Day 1 of 7

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Sunny mid 70’s

Unfortunately due to a previous commitment, I wasn’t able to go to bed untill midnight, still slept light as my alarm got me up right at 5:30 without any snooze bar slams.

I grabbed my marinated steaks from the freezer and headed up north to I-90 and Randall to meet up with Bill and Brian. We load Brian and Bill’s gear in the van on-top of mine and head up to Chippewa Falls for the Liene’s Lounge. For some reason the GPS sent us up north on 39 instead of taking us 90 to 53. I wasn’t paying attention and it cost us 45 minutes. We did get a side trip through Amish country which was interesting.

We hit the Lounge at 12:50 grabbed our free samples and took the tour. We decided to hit the BK before hitting the road, but I think they were out killing the cow first, took a while to get going. We hit 53 and don’t look back. Once we hit Duluth we made the turn towards Grand Marais. The trip along the shore was pleasant. Lots of nice scenery and overlooks. Next time I think we will leave early just so we can stop at some of the scenic spots.

We hit Grand Marais at 6pm and begin to look for Sven and Oley’s. Not a bad place at all. Pizza was a little hotter than I had expected but still good. We hit Rockwood Outfitters at 7:30 and Lynn comes down so I can put my steaks in the freezer. We check out our bunkhouse its basic but surprised as it has a full bathroom with shower. We head up to the Trail Center and grab an Ice Cream and head back. When we get back I made a decision that will affect every BWCA trip I take in the future. I decided to try out a Duluth pack instead of using my internal frame. I grab one from Mike and start to move all of my gear to it from my internal frame. I packed and repacked about 5 times till I got it balanced. I am very skeptical at this point as I start to miss all of the separate compartments, but I know that 3 internal frames will not fit well in our Souris River 3 man Canoe.


Day 2 of 7

Monday, July 06, 2009

Sunny upper 70’s with gentle gusts out of the west.

Sunrise 5:09, Sunset 9:01

Total Miles Traveled: 12.2

Lakes Traveled: Cross River, Ham, Cross Bay, Rib, Lower George, Karl, Long Island Lake and River, Gordon Lake, and Cherokee

I have learned from my previous trips and brought 2nd sleeping bag for the night in the bunkhouse. Bill failed to remember the past and I knew he would regret it. Sure enough I woke at 7:30 to see Bill trying to keep warm with T-Shirts he pulled out of his bag. Of course I had to grab a picture so he will never forget! We head down to the outfitting building and load up in Mike’s big cargo Van, while Mike loads the canoe onto the trailer and straps it down. And we are off to EP 50 (Cross Bay Lake) It’s a 35 minute drive and Mike keeps us entertained the whole way. He is a wealth of knowledge as we discuss the Ham Lake Fire as we cross through the burned out area. We pull up to the EP and I walk to the back of the van when I notice Mike has a weird look on his face. He is holding the strap for the canoe in his hand when I then notice the canoe isn’t there. Mike is in total disbelief as he knows he tied it down (I saw him do it too) so we pile back into the van backtrack down the Gunflint Mike is absolutely beside himself as this is a 3k canoe. We travel for about 5 minutes and find the canoe lying in the ditch on the opposite side of the road from our initial travel. You could clearly see it bounced across the road and landed in the ditch. We are all in disbelief as not one of us heard it come off. We inspect the canoe it has a nice gouge in the side and Mike asks us if we still want it to which I said of course, I mean what more could we do to it. As we strap it down, Mike discovers one of the cams on the straps had failed and that’s how we lost the canoe. We begin our trip back up to the EP and Mike is so apologetic, but we are not concerned or upset in the least. Bill, Brian, and I are laughing and all agree that we all have a good story to tell and that if this is the only thing to happen wrong in our trip, it’s going to be a good trip.

We load up the canoe and I like how the Duluth Pack fits in the canoe. Mike grabs a quick picture of us I grab my usual back seat and we are off. We head down the Cross River into our 2 first portages a 50r and 40r. I single portage and I have to tell you using that Duluth pack vs. the internal frame while portaging the canoe is absolutely wonderful. I begin to wonder if I will ever use an internal frame again. We head down through Ham and are surprised at how little the damage is compared to the area along the Gunflint. This is due to the fact that it started on Ham on the East Side and grew as it traveled east pushed by the westward winds. We come across a father and son from Green Bay, they would prove to be the only others we would see all day.

We cross through the actual EP50 on Cross Bay Lake and then portage into Rib Lake and stop for lunch. One of my resolutions this year is to limit the amount of MH (Mountain House freeze dried food). So I grab my cup of instant noodles (Roman Noodles and Shrimp) and chow down. Bill and Brian split a MH Chili Mac.

We head down through Lower George and Karl Lakes. The wind is more or less at our back, the trip is smooth.

As we hit Long Island Lake I let Brian get some time in the rear seat and I coach him through the J-Stroke. He is a lot better than our first trip in ’03. I have to tell you it sucks being a regular rear seater and then having to sit in the middle of a 3 man. But I put out my fishing line and troll a bit as we move down the lake. Didn’t catch a thing. We continue on down through Gordon and into Cherokee Lake and begin to look for a site. We find a site on the 2nd island due south of the portage camp site #891. I love island sites and this one didn’t disappoint. Nice shade as well as large boulders on the shore to dry out our equipment. The first thing I do is dig out a pair of dry socks. Nothing beats that feeling. We set up camp as I get the fire going.

It’s my night for dinner; I am for the first time trying Rib eye steaks with corn on the cob. I marinated the steaks in Italian dressing 3 days before I left and froze them. They thawed nicely through the course of the day. The only problem was they were too tender at this point. The USFS grill at this campsite gaps were wide and they started to break apart and slip through. I had to finish cooking them in the frying pan. Still meal was wonderful. Looking back the marinade did make for a mess. I will have to try a dry rub next time.

We sit around the fire till about 11:30, there is a full moon so the stars are not as bright. One of the things I learned last year is to bring a book. This year I brought a Tom Clancy novel, The Teeth of the Tiger. I read for about an hour with my headlamp and then turn in.


Day 3 of 7

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Sunrise 5:10, Sunset 9:01

Low 70’s and Sunny

Total Miles Traveled 7.68

Lakes Traveled: Cherokee, Sitka, North and South Temperance, and Brule

I wake up at 6am and move about while the others are still sleeping. It’s really chilly and I search Brian’s bag but can’t find the stove so I start a fire cook my fresh eggs and hash browns. I season with a little too much tobacco, but oh well beats freeze dried eggs any day!

Brian gets up and we dry our tents on the rocks as the sun is beginning to warm things up. Bill finally drags out of his tent at 8am and we finish breaking camp.

We hit the 140 from Cherokee lake to Sitka as we approach the portage we know this one will be more of a challenge. Brian takes the canoe and we double portage. The landing is tight with a steep incline also we encounter 2 men in a Mad River are coming down the trail. It’s tight but no issues. The portage has strong elevation changes up and down the whole way. It’s a challenge, but no big deal, I have seen far worse. As we load up on Sitka we run into a group of 6 from Rochester MN.

We head to our next portages a 105r from Sitka to N. Temperance and the 55r from N. to S. Temperance. I single portage these both along with the 105 into Brule with no problems.

We have the winds at our back on Brule and make about 4mph avg. with no effort. We come close to a USFS canoe with two large boxes in the middle. We call to them and ask what they are and they reply “latrines” I then remember about a post with people describing new square latrines. I hadn’t seen them yet. But they looked big to me, thankfully I didn’t have to portage them and dig the holes!

We pull into the island site just east of Fish Box Island (I would love to know how this got its name) on campsite #954 fairly early. The campsite is nice, lots of options for tent pads. I found a small concrete footer with a bolt in it that was bent over. There used to be a lot of logging camps up here before the BWCA. We hang out and I grab a nap for about an hour and do some more reading.

It’s Brian’s turn for dinner tonight and he begins to gather up fire wood and needs to cut some logs up so he pulls out this really cool saw that his wife had gotten him for his birthday. I have to tell you I was impressed, basically it’s a chainsaw chain with two nylon loop handles at each end. You put it under the log you are cutting and pull it back and forth. Very smooth, beats my hatchet any day. I pulled out my 35mm camera and discover for some reason the pictures won’t focus, everything is fuzzy. I try cleaning the lens and no luck. I was a bit disappointed in this but oh well. Brian makes pasta with tomato sauce and homemade Italian sausage. This is the first time I have had anything but the store bought variety, the casing on the sausage is a little tough, the spices got stuck in my teeth, but I have to say, I really enjoyed it.

After dinner I do some casting from shore, but no bites at all. I saw a couple of jumps from the fish, but not much. We watch the moon rise and it becomes a beautiful orange moon. Sure wished my camera was working. Oh well. We all turn in around 10pm. I read another chapter in my book and fall asleep.


Day 4 of 7

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Sunny 80’s

Sunrise 5:11, Sunset 9:00

Total Miles Traveled: 12.3

Lakes Traveled: Brule, Cone Bay, South, Middle, and North Cone Lake, Cliff, Wanighigan, Winchell, and Gaskin

I wake up to a less chilly morning as our site is facing the east this time. I pull out the stove and cook up some more of my fresh eggs and hash browns, with a little less Tabasco this time they are perfect. I start to realize I eat breakfast better in the BWCA than I do at home.

I pull my rain fly over to the rocks to get rid of the early morning dew. After about 2 hours we are packed and ready to move on. The wind is blowing strongly out of the east as we leave the shelter of the Island.

We head north and float through the 30r from Cone Bay to S. Cone Lake, not too bad; we had to get out a couple of times to avoid any scraping of the Kevlar. We decided to float the 25r from S. Cone to Middle Cone Lake and ended up having to walk the muddy bottom and lifting the canoe over several rocks. We quickly regret our decision as it was a pretty difficult as we kept sinking in the mud. I did take solace in the fact that the rocks where very pretty, lots of green, red, and blue paint transfer from others who were just as foolish as us!

We end-up having to portage the 5r of all portages due to rocks into North Cone. We move to the 160r into Cliff Lake. The map shows a lot of elevation on this one so we decide to double portage. Brian grabs the canoe and off we go. About half way through Brian is in the lead and doesn’t see a tree fallen over the path at about 5’6 off the ground and hits it hard with the canoe knocking it off his shoulders. Bill grabs the canoe and finishes the portage. Overall the portage wasn’t difficult, a bit overgrown, but this is how we like it, the road less traveled.

I single portage the two 14r’s to get us into Winchell Lake. It’s just so easy to do with the Duluth pack. We get into Winchell and the wind is blowing strongly out of the SE. Paddling is a bit tough and we avg. 3mph with effort. Winchell looks to have had either a fire or controlled burn in the past couple of years as the trees are burned but there ground cover is really green as the area is returning to life.

I grab the canoe to single portage the 60r from Winchell up to Gaskin. The bugs are bad at the landing so Brian and I grab our bug nets. Bill laughs as he realizes he has been using his for his dirty laundry and can’t get to it. I take the lead and the portage is easy and going fairly well, Brian is a bit behind me with Bill brining up the rear. I get with-in sight of the lake’s southern shore when I hear the sound of snapping trees and crashing through the woods very near to me. I freeze as I know it is a moose. I elevate the front of the canoe a bit to see if it was heading towards me when I see the back end of the moose about 15 yards in front of me running away. I was a bit relieved after that one. I continue on to the portage and discover it is a mess. It is 10’ wide and 12’ long of pure mud with 4 logs running at 90 degrees from the shore to stand on. I slowly make my way to the end of the logs and right when I am 3’ from the water my right leg slips off the logs and with the weight of the canoe and my pack I sink my right let up to my belt. I crouch down as much as I can and throw the canoe off of my shoulders and it lands in the water. I am able to through my pack into the canoe and work myself out of the mud and check for leaches.

We decide with the Moose around the Island site is more preferable, we head to it and find it occupied. We start moving back west along the north shore looking for a site, as we approach the first site we see a cow and her calf drinking from the lake. Curse my camera! Brian snaps a couple of shots with his disposable camera and we decide to head further down to stay away from the pair. We keep going about 2 miles down and I get out to check out a site and come running back to the canoe when I hear more crashing in the woods! Boy the amount of Moose in this area is amazing!

We finally settle on campsite #634 at 4:20 and set up. I rinse out my socks and pants from my muddy encounter with portage. I slip on my dry socks; again the feeling of dry socks is wonderful.

It’s Bill’s turn for dinner tonight and he makes cheese tortellini with spinach. He mixes in some portabella mushroom and bacon, boy was that good. We talk about next the next day’s travel and realize we are getting closer to the edge of the BWCA and may have more trouble finding sites, so we are going to take off early. I read for a bit and update my journal and crash for the night.


Day 5 of 7

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Sunny & Windy with scattered showers,

Strong winds out of the NE, Mid. 70’s Sunrise: 5:12, Sunset: 9:00

Total Miles Traveled: 8.17

Lakes Traveled: Gaskin, Jump, Allen, Horseshoe, and Caribou

I wake up at 5:30 and finish the last of my hash-browns. I look at the package of freeze dried eggs (fresh ones are gone) and realize I just can’t bring myself to eat them.

Bill and Brian are up early and we break camp at 8 with our goal to base camp all of Friday and get out of the BWCA early on Saturday. We head through a 33r, 24r, and a 50r with no problems at all as I single portage them all. We get into Horseshoe and are challenged by a beaver who kept slapping its tail at us as we pass by. CURSE MY CAMERA!

We make Caribou at 11:15 and begin to look for sites, after circling the entire lake, all but 3 are taken by base campers and the other sites are not worth staying 2 days on.

After debating our options, we end up portaging back into horseshoe and found a really nice site on the east shore near the portage campsite #677. The site is elevated from the shore with some good tent pads. It even has one of those new fancy square latrines with a lid! We are camping in style now! We set up and relaxed. I continued to write in my journal and read a couple of more chapters of my book.

The wind picks up and begins to snap around my CSS tarp. I lace the windward face of the tarp down and that seems to help. The sky begins to cloud over just as Brian starts to make his jambalaya. It rains enough to put out the fire out so we move the stove to under the tarp and finish our dinner. The rain stops and we all relax reading our books and watching the sunset behind the grey clouds. It turns out to be a comfortable night with the cloud cover holding down the heat of the day.


Day 6 of 7

Friday, July 10, 2009

70’s Winds continue to be strong out of the NE

Sunrise: 5:13, Sunset: 8:59

Base Camped

I woke up to the biggest surprise I have encountered in the BWCA to date. I got out of my tent and discovered a large snapping turtle staring back at me! She was 24” long from head to toe and 13” wide. She didn’t budge either that’s when I saw her digging a hole with her back legs. It was amazing I knew she was laying a nest. I wake the others up and grab Brian’s disposable camera to snap some shots. I grabbed my camera and hoped it was just the view finder that was fuzzy when I realized what the problem was. I just needed to adjust the diopter (little knob that adjusts the view finder). I couldn’t believe that was the problem the whole time.

I took a bunch of shots of the turtle then made my breakfast of blueberry pancakes while we watched her lay her eggs (5 from what I could see). After about 2 hours she covered the nest and began her slow march back to the water. Brian and I cleaned up and tried our luck at some fishing while fighting the wind on the lake with no success after 2 hours we gave up. Saw 4 other canoes in the area. We went back to camp and relaxed for a bit, caught up on my journal and reading. We headed back for some more fishing in the afternoon on the northern side of the lake, same results, zip. We came back to camp in time for Bill’s dinner of cheese stuffed ravioli with bacon and pesto mixed in; rather tasty. After dinner I took down the tarp and packed up a good portion of our gear so we can move quickly in the morning. We all caught up on some reading, I wrote in my journal and took some picutres of the sun seting for the last time on this trip.


Day 7 of 7

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Sunny Strong winds low 70’s

Sunrise: 5:14

Total Miles traveled: 4.7

Lakes Traveled: Horseshoe, Caribou, Lizz, and Poplar

We broke camp around 7am and headed back into Caribou fighting the NE winds until we rounded the point. We hit the 73 rod portage by rather quickly and I once again quickly single portaged it. We moved up Lizz Lake and past EP 47(Lizz and Swamp Lakes). I think it was at that point that I realized I hadn’t seen 1 eagle the whole trip. I always saw loads of them on the western side.

We Hit Poplar Lake and fight the white caps slowly making our way over to Rockwood. We averaged 2.5 mph fighting that NE wind. At this point I am glad we didn’t decide to do a 2 man and a solo. We hit Rockwood and unload and hit the showers. I run into Mike and ask him how his week was, to which his reply was something to the effect (Jokingly) “Great once I got rid of you 3 jinxes” I had to laugh. We talked for a bit, told him about our poor fishing skills. But felt better when he told us the cold weather had affected everyone fishing, no one was catching anything.

I have to say that my experience with Mike and Lynn from Rockwood was outstanding, their knowledge and helpfulness, and genuine hospitality was beyond my expectations. Mike will keep you entertained. Granted we had the lost canoe incident, but that created a memory I will laugh about for years to come.

We loaded up I grabbed a pop tart and headed out to the Trail center for breakfast. I order the flapjacks and am shocked to get two flapjacks that are over a foot across and 1” thick each. Wish I had brought the camera in for that picture. I tried but I just couldn’t do it. 10 years ago no problem, I left about ¼. Maybe if I hadn’t eaten that pop tart but oh well.

We walked outside of the trail-center and talked with the Gunflint Volunteer Fire Dept. who was raffling a roylex MN II from We-No-Nah. I planned on donating anyway, but they said they would deliver it to Chicago if I won, so I entered. Didn’t win, but It was a good cause.

We then headed out to Minneapolis to see an excellent baseball game between the White Sox and Twins. Went back and forth but the Sox won the day in the end! Then we wandered downtown Minneapolis ending up at a sidewalk bar drinking and enjoying the wonderful sights. The next day we headed home thinking about the trip in 2010.

Wrap up: In total we traveled 45.05 miles across 29 lakes/rivers. I think I am going to look at buying a CSS pack to replace my internal frame. The ability to single portage can’t be beat.

The steak and corn on the cob is a definite item to bring next year. I need to bring a small grill top that I can strap under the seat to cook the steaks on so they don’t fall through. Also try a dry rub. And maybe a plastic bottle of beer!

Need to encourage the others to try something else than pasta, while good, having that all week was a bit much. Need to get that saw from REI (or swipe Brian’s) if he doesn’t come. My “New Beginning” this year won’t be an end that’s for sure. I will also be going in at Grand Marais again next year!


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