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December 10 2023

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

A Paddling Partner for Life, Part 3. A Portaging We Will Go!

by Kiporby
Trip Report

Entry Date: June 25, 2010
Entry Point: Cross Bay Lake
Exit Point: Seagull Lake Only (54A)
Number of Days: 7
Group Size: 2

Trip Introduction:
Lauren and I are back for another adventure on the Gunflint Trail. This summer, we planned to take two trips with this first one being in late June. With the help of our friends at Seagull Outfitters, the plan was for a more aggressive route with longer portages and to camp on Tuscarora, Little Saganaga and Ogishkemuncie Lakes. We would enter at Cross Bay (EP 50). The Planned Route: Ham, Cross Bay, Snipe, Missing Link, Tuscarora, Owl, Crooked, Tarry, Mora, Little Saganaga, Rattle, Gabimichigami, Agamok, Mueller, Ogishkemuncie, Kingfisher, Japser, Alpine, Seagull.

Day 1 of 7

Friday, June 25, 2010

Ham Lake, Cross Bay Lake, Snipe Lake.

Lauren and I were up at 6am to finish packing and to load up the trailer for the shuttle ride down to the Cross Bay EP. I talked with Deb and Dave for a bit about some last minute route suggestions while Lauren talked with her friends in the store. Soon enough, we were loaded up in the Suburban and on the road to the EP. We hit the water at 8am--off we go!

After a short paddle down the Cross River we were at the first portage of the trip, 65 rods. Although rocky at the start and a bit muddy, the portage was easy. A short paddle took us to the 35 rod portage into Ham Lake which was again very easy. Lauren and I were quickly getting our groove on and the mood was great.

The sounds of the forest seemed to fade and time stood eerily still as we paddled past the campsite where the Ham Lake fire started. Only a tiny part of the actually campsite was burned, but across the channel is where the embers blew and the fire really took off.

We observed that two of the four campsites on Ham Lake were taken as we made our way to the 24 rod portage to Cross Bay Lake. This portage was very steep at first, but leveled out and overall was very easy.

Cross Bay Lake is very cool in my opinion. An intimate paddle with rocky cliffs on both shores and tons of lilypads and flowers. After some twists and turns the topography flattens out into a more marshy area. We then made the turn towards Snipe Lake. The stream narrowed quickly and we ended up having to pull over 3 small beaver damns before reaching the portage into Snipe Lake. It started to rain at the landing of the portage into Snipe and Lauren was getting rather upset at the situation and wanted to go back. I was surprised by her reaction, but was able to convince her to press on as we donned our rain gear. Aside from one steep section, the 47 rod portage into Snipe Lake was pretty easy.

Snipe lake is really interesting. Unfortunately, it was raining pretty hard yet, so we couldn't really enjoy the views as we rushed to the campsite that Cowdoc suggested. We got the tarp set up and dried out a bit before we made lunch. It continued to rain on and off all afternoon. During a brief break in the rain, we managed to get the tent up and took a much needed nap.

Around 3pm, the rain finally stopped, so we procured some firewood for making dinner. The menu tonight would be brats and hot dogs. We went fishing after dinner and Lauren caught a little pike. The clouds from the recent rain provided for a nice sunset while relaxing by the fire.


Day 2 of 7

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Snipe Lake, Missing Link Lake, Tuscarora Lake

We woke up at 7am to a beautiful sunny morning. The water was like glass. A strange calm before the storm of what would be today's events on the Tusky Portage. We had poptarts and oatmeal for breakfast as we broke down camp. We hit the water at 9am and headed over to the portage to Missing Link Lake. The 180 rod portage was not too bad in my opinion except for the two challenging spots--a steep rock face near the start and a ravine with steep rocks on both sides near the end.

We hit Missing Link Lake around 11am and the weather was still great. We paddled quickly to the long, 428 rod "Tusky Portage". This would be the longest portage I had done before and with Lauren along I was honestly a bit apprehensive, but ultimately I said to Lauren, "why not?" and she agreed as she happily began skipping down the portage. Given yesterday's rain, the portage was very muddy in spots. It also had many rocky spots, 4 board walks, uphills, downhills, and plenty of length! The first trip across took about 45 minutes and Lauren did great. I agree to carry her back on my shoulders to retrieve the canoe. I think she really enjoys the better view from that vantage point. :)

The 2nd trip over with the canoe was going fine, but became harder on the shoulders even with the cushy Bourquin Pads I had just purchased. About 2/3 of the way across DISASTER strikes as the portage yoke snaps! #$%&!! I had never heard of this happening before. I had just taken a big step down off of a rock and snap! Now what?! Well, since I was closer to Tuscarora Lake, I decided to continue that way. I dropped the canoe and finished the trip with the food pack. At the landing, I grabbed a repair kit (duct tape and plastic ties) and headed back for the canoe. Using the plastic ties, a stick, and the duct tape, I managed to rig the yoke, so that I could carry the canoe again. I was very skeptical of my field repair and near the end of the portage, my repair failed. Well, at least I was on Tuscarora Lake now. It was now 2pm. I don't think Lauren understood the situation, so on the outside I tried to keep a positive outlook. Inside, I had no idea at the time how we'd get back home with a bad yoke. I decided to focus on finding a campsite for now and get that set up while I contemplated what to do.

The first camp on the left past the portage landing was thankfully open and it was a very nice site. Not wanting to take any chances, we take this site and have a late lunch. Reflecting on the portage (aside from the portage yoke deal), Lauren did a great job except for that part when she fell up to her waist in mud. At first that was rather upsetting to her, but soon enough she forgot about that and continued her happy skippy jaunt down the trail. What a trooper!

After lunch, I mananged to set up camp (tarp, tent and fire wood) in a bit of a daze while I fretted about the yoke. While Lauren enjoyed exploring the camp, I rigged up a "better" repair to the yoke with 2 sticks, more duct tape and rope. I fashioned the sticks to just the right size using my axe and saw. Hopefully it works!

Dinner would be brats and hot dogs again at Lauren's request. We fished from shore after dinner and enjoyed another great sunset before heading to bed.


Day 3 of 7

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Tuscarora Lake

Today we rose to a cloudy day. We must have slept well as we didn't notice the rain that had fallen during the night. While making breakfast (pancakes and bacon) it started to downpour and we ended up having a nice stream running across the ground under the tarp. Some tarp modifications made the situation better, but then when I looked back at the tent, we discovered that it was standing in a 1/2" deep puddle. Grrrr. We moved the tent to a dryer spot. In my daze yesterday after the portage yoke debacle I obviously didn't pay attention to the drainage situation of camp. Alas. Live and learn.

We hung out in the tent for a couple hours playing cards and reading books until the rained stopped. Around 11am, the rain finally stopped and we had an early lunch. Then, we explored the lake and checked out the other camps sites on the lake. Tuscarora Lake has many nice camps--several with beaches. The island site in the middle is huge with sprawling rocky shores. We appeared to be the only ones on the lake. We fished a bit with no luck and made it back to camp just before yet another downpour! What a wet trip!

The afternoon became windy as the sun came out. We went swimming and lounged around camp for the rest of the day. More fire wood was cut. I also tested out the yoke by carrying the canoe around camp. The repair seemed to be OK, but I was still rather concerned about it.

Lauren and I then turned to the maps to consider our options. I really wanted to finish the loop we had planned to do via Little Sag, Gabi, Ogish and back Seagull, but I was concerned with getting further away from civilization and having the yoke fail again. I had 428 reasons not to go back the way we came, but it seemed to be the easiest way out. I actually did the math for all the various ways to return to Seagull Lake and the Tusky Portage route would be the shortest distance portage-wise. It was decided to head back to Round Lake tomorrow and to have Andy at Tuscarora Outfitters call Debbie for a pick-up. That would still leave four days for us to basecamp on Seagull Lake and eliminate the portage yoke concerns.

Dinner was Mac n Cheese and mashed potatoes. Lauren really enjoys the campfire time and the one-on-one time that canoe trips provide. You can see by the pictures that she is very comfortable in canoe country! :)

We could hear thunderstorms in the distance as we enjoyed the fire. We were chased to the tent around 8:30pm with YET ANOTHER downpour! Wow, is the Tusky portage gonna be muddy tomorrow.


Day 4 of 7

Monday, June 28, 2010

Tuscarora Lake, Missing Link Lake, Round Lake

We woke up at our usual 7am and began packing up a very wet camp. We laid the tent and tarp out on the rocky beach to dry while we ate breakfast (poptarts). By 9am, we were on our way to the Tusky Portage.

I carried the food pack, camera and fishing poles over on the first trip. Because it was so muddy and Lauren needed help wading through the slop the trip took 1 hour. The walk back took only 30 minutes. I decided to try a leap frog technique for the equipment pack and canoe. I carried the canoe 1/4 of the way, then the pack about 1/2 way, then the canoe to where I dropped the pack. Did the 2nd half of the portage much the same way. I really took my time and babied the canoe. We finally arrived with the last load on Missing Link lake around 1pm. WOW, we made it. We had lunch at the camp closest to the portage into Round Lake.

The portage into Round Lake was muddy as well and very rocky! We arrived at the dock at Tuscarora Outfitters at 2:30pm and arranged for a shuttle ride back to Seagull. Thanks to Andy and Sue for being so helpful.

Back at Seagull, I told Debbie and Dave the story of our ordeal. We also got a permit for Seagull Lake the next morning and some leeches. We showered and got recharged relaxing on the deck in front of the outfitters. One good thing about today is that I wouldn't have to cook dinner, because we were headed to Trail Center!


Day 5 of 7

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Seagull Lake

I was up at 7am and got the gear in order and the canoe loaded while Lauren slept in. She was very grumpy when I woke her and fought me at everything I tried. Very out of the ordinary for her. I am sure she was still exhausted from walking the Tusky Portage 5 times yesterday. She also did not want to leave the friends she had made with the staff members at the outfitters. I don't blame her as they are very kind to her there.

We paddled away from the dock around 8am to start the second leg of our trip. we stopped at a camp near the palisades for a break and a little fishing. We meandered around the north bay before passing the palisades and arriving at the beach site just NW of them.

A group was just leaving the site, so we quickly grabbed it and it was awesome. Lauren built sand castles while I got camp arranged.

We spent the afternoon fishing and exploring the NW corner of Seagull Lake. The tally was one bass each with Lauren's being bigger of course! We hiked to the top of the palisades and took in the great views. Lauren said, "Daddy, I can see forever! I love the beautiful views."

After dinner, we fished the bay in front of our camp with no luck. Oh well, at least the camp fire was warm and the conversation was good. Can't beat a camp fire with snacks, stories and quality time with the kid.


Day 6 of 7

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Seagull Lake, Paulson Lake

We slept in until 8am today. It was sunny, still and hot! Breakfast would be pancakes, bacon and pop tarts. We explored the woods behind camp for a while and built more castles on the beach. After a couple hours, we headed back out onto the lake to explore. Seagull Lake was glass today with not a hint of wind.

We checked out the campsite on Shirttail Point, which had bee closed due to the Cavity Lake Fire a few years ago. The privy and the fire grate were back now, but the camp had zero trees. The trail up to the brand new privy was rather steep, but boy were the views great. Lots of fallen trees and lots of wonderful wild flowers. This must have been a great site before the fire.

Next, we headed over to the 515 rod portage to JAP (Paulson) Lake. Why not, right? Because it is there. We started the trek just hiking around 1pm and reached Paulson Lake an hour later. The trail is a great hike, but would suck to portage. It follows a creek / swamp the entire way and is a combination of walking up high on ridges and down along the creek. High up above the creek are no trees and down along the creek it is still very green with mature trees yet. Up on the ridges you can see forver and the views of Seagull Lake and the surrounding area are stunning. The portage is mostly uphill the entire way with some flat spots along the ridges. The portage ends with a ravine / boulder field just before you reach Paulson Lake. The lake itself is all fire damage. I hear the fishing is good for lake trout. The trek back downhill to Seagull Lake took about 45 minutes.

We took our time paddling back to camp and tried fishing again with no luck. I think all the rain the days before and the front changes really stimied our efforts. We stopped for a quick picture in front of the pallisades.

Dinner would be Mountain House spaghetti. After dinner it becase rather windy, so after another brief attempt at fishing we headed back to camp for the night.


Day 7 of 7

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Seagull Lake

Today, we would paddle towards home. I didn't take any notes today in my journal as I don't recall any major happenings that last day. Seagull Lake is always a treat to paddle and I find myself slowing down the closer we get to the dock. Before we left camp, Lauren wanted a picture with her creation from that morning.

Despite all the rain and the yoke issue this was a great trip. I was very proud that we perserved and didn't just quit and head home the day the yoke broke. We made the best of the situation and now have a great adventure to remember. Lauren again amazes me with her comfort in canoe country. She did great on the long portages--mud, rocks, rain and all. Why not, right?

When we get home, I have a portage yoke to replace. I must make haste since in less than a month we shall return for another trip. My paddling partner and I have more exploring to do!

Our previous episodes....

A Paddling Partner for Life
A Paddling Partner for Life, Part 2


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