BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
December 10 2023
Number of Permits per Day: 2
Elevation: 1865 feet
Skipper & Portage Lakes - 49
A trip is changed, then cancelled, and a new focus is created
September 01, 2010
Cross Bay Lake
Number of Days:
In January 2010 we received our lottery choice/permit for Entry #47. We had determined that a trip to Gaskin would be very child friendly, especially after reading “Ducks” enjoyable trip report. Everything was proceeding nicely, and then we received a phone call from Jeff and Sara with wonderful news. Sara was pregnant and due September 12, a week after our planned trip. So we kid them about how even thinking about the BWCA puts them in a child bearing way as they are now two for two with trips and pregnancies at the same time. Because Sara cannot change her vacation, the trip with the 5 of us is scrubbed, our 1ST entry cancellation ever. My Bow partner and I go into planning “our” next trip, a bit disappointed but you plan around what you have control over.
For ourselves we chose Entry #64, East Bearskin Lake, in large part because we wanted to see the Johnson Falls that Spartan 2 so beautifully captured in her photos.
But another huge wrinkle unexpectedly entered the picture. At my wife’s annual physical a concern surfaced, which required further examination. Further examination led to the discovery of a cancerous tumor and major surgery was quickly scheduled and performed. Removal of the tumor was to be followed with both chemotherapy and radiation treatments over the next 6 to 7 months. The prognosis is guarded, but hopeful, however our planned late August entry into the BWCA was not to be, due to Doctor’s concerns. They were correct, as the chemotherapy treatments brought the issue of fatigue which we have addressed continuously.
Another purpose in writing this report is to hopefully encourage all to take care of ourselves by having a yearly physical. My wife had no symptoms that made her feel even slightly ill; she had two weeks earlier completed a demanding canoe trip in the Adirondacks without any side effects. Unfortunately, going so long w/o any symptoms for earlier detection can be one of the insidious aspects of the disease.
Now, for this year’s trip report to the Gunflint Trail. So we cancelled our Entry #64 permit (2nd entry point cancellation this year) and instead rented a lakeside cabin for a week from our outfitter at Rockwood Lodge. We were fortunate that although wilderness canoe camping was out of the question due to Doctor’s orders, Bette was still able to maintain her chemotherapy schedule and manage to travel. We had been to the Gunflint twice before but due to time and travel restrictions had only traveled the Trail on a very limited basis, and virtually had not seen anything north of Poplar Lake. We knew that there is a lot to explore, so our plan became to see as much of the trail as possible, check out some Outfitters/Entry Points, go to the end of the trail and visit the new museum. We even dared to hope for a possible day trip into the Boundary Waters if Bette felt strong enough.
ARRIVAL - Saturday, August 28, 2010 Our flight from Hartford, CT to Duluth, MN went as planned. Alamo had given us the best car rental deal online once again and we received an upgrade when we arrived. They also provided written directions to avoid the traffic issues that construction has created around Duluth. The directions were spot on; I actually prefer the detour route. I will be keeping these directions for future use. The ride through Two Harbors and into Grand Marais goes nicely. We enjoy this drive, and it is a bit therapeutic with its views and overall scenery. We make a stop at Buck’s for gas and leeches but no luck with the leeches as they indicate they may be out till next spring. We stop at Gene’s IGA for groceries and are on the Gunflint Trail by 4:40PM and at Rockwood Outfitters by 5:20PM.
Mike and Lin were outside the office area and we had a warm reunion, catching up on many fronts. They look great, a bit tired, but that is from a happily busy summer. A larger cabin had become available and they had graciously upgraded us, which was a pleasant surprise. We finally left them to unpack the car and put things away, and then it was off to the Trail Center where a great meal was had by both of us. It was the same staff we have seen for three years; Tiffany from Jamaica, our hostess, was her usual funny and entertaining self. I had my first Moosedrool in just about a year; I find it’s an enjoyable brew. As we head back to the cabin our mood is a bit down, knowing we would not be entering in the morning as originally planned. But we quickly reminded ourselves that we were on vacation, back in MN and right next to the BWCAW and that got the smiles to return. At the cabin, a beautiful sunset is viewed from the porch as we listen to Corrine Bailey Rae in the background. It is good to be back.
GUNFLINT TRAIL EXPLORATION - Our plan for the week was to drive the entire length of the Gunflint Trail, check out Outfitter locations, Entry Points and places of interest that we will share in the photos. Also to try some fishing on Poplar Lake, etc. Some points of interest were captured by the attached photos.
Let’s just say the week was special. Although, we note that the wind was strong most of the week, being non-paddlers we enjoyed a number of areas like The Paulson Mine, The Laurentian Divide, Entry 50, and The Tuscarora Lodge. A really enjoyable visit was to the Chik-Wauk Museum. What a wonderful tribute to the people over many generations of this special area. We were there so long I think they thought we were looking for a job.
One afternoon, while driving by Loon Lake, a plane flew very close over us on the road. I could see some smoke to the South and realized it was a fire; in fact we saw a couple of orange flare ups. We also notice a sign indicating that it is the Lizard Lake fire, started 7 days earlier by a lightening strike. The plane is skimming water off of Loon Lake and depositing it on the fire. The water drops were indeed having an impact, and it was very neat to watch this drama for awhile. Rain was predicted and came that night and we hoped it would be enough to end any spread of the forest fire.
BWCAW ENTRY POINTS EXPLORATION - We focused on the southerly section of the Gunflint at the start and in two days visited the following entry points:
• Entry #43 – Bower Trout Lake • Entry #44 – Ram Lake • Entry #45 – Morgan Lake • Entry #47A – Lizz Lake • Entry #47B – Swamp Lake • Entry #48 – Meeds Lake • Entry #49 – Skipper Lake • Entry #50 – Cross Bay Lake
Entry #50, Cross Bay Lake At this point my Bow Partner said she really wanted to try a day trip into the BWCAW, and agreed to a few ground rules: no carrying of anything and paddle only when she feels strong to avoid fatigue. So I talk to Mike at Rockwood about a canoe rental and we loaded a Wenonah Boundary Waters Kevlar on blocks with straps, along with a couple of paddles and PFD’s. Early next morning we got an early start after breakfast at Windigo Lodge, which was excellent. Windigo opens at 7:00AM, not 8:00AM like The Trail Center. We were unloaded and paddling by 8:15AM at Entry #50 Cross Bay River after doing a self-issued day permit.
Embarrassingly, we do have trouble finding the first portage. I am quick to blame the adrenaline rush from the excitement of trying this day trip as well as the low water conditions which help to obscure the portage start. With excuses exhausted we realize that we just overshot it, so we backtrack, find it and finally get on our way. This portage has an initial climb up some erosion steps and then a level walk to a decent put in at what some call Little Ham Lake. We paddle into Ham Lake, and stop at the first site to explore. I like it more than my Bow Partner; it had been right on the edge of the Ham Lake Fire and interestingly, some trees were affected while others right beside escaped. We continued down Ham Lake, pass the unusual rock in the water, to the next camp site, which is also nice with a fine view. The next site is occupied so we stop at the fourth site to inspect and take a water break. We are still outside the BWCAW boundary but it feels like we have made it in already. We spot the portage to Cross Bay Lake and paddle over to it, it has a nice take out area and a few climbing steps and we are soon at a muddy put in at Cross Bay Lake. The low water at the entry to Cross Bay Lake has put MANY rocks as threatening obstacles -my Bow Partner shows her skill in pushes, pry’s and draws along with route selection for the next 70 rods through this maze. This was a delightful highlight for me. Once clear and back to some depth we leisurely paddle down a very interesting piece of water. Oh, I failed to mention we are now officially in the BWCAW. YES! We go by the first camp site on Cross Bay Lake; it looks quite nice but has a tough landing and climb up to the fire grate, so we pass. We continue down to the next site which is nicer and easier to access, but we continue onto the portage to Rib Lake which has an easy landing. With no one around we stop for a lunch break knowing if anyone shows up we can move out of the way quickly, but no one shows up. Lunch hits the spot, tuna sandwich, trail mix and water; we decide to return as everything has gone so well. We see a wood duck sunning on a rock who vacates quickly when an Osprey flies overhead (I believe Osprey only eat fish, maybe the duck wasn't going to take any chances?), a few turtles, one beaver and two Loons. We arrive back at Cross Bay River landing, load up the gear and head back to Rockwood Lodge very pleased with our small accomplishment. We were able to leave our concerns for long periods of time taking in the peace and beauty of this haven.
Back at the cabin, we have a cook-out of smoked sausage, sautéed onions/peppers and asparagus with ice cream for dessert. After dinner, we walk down to the dock where I cast a jointed shad rap and quickly land two medium smallies. A beautiful sunset finishes off a wonderful day and back at the cabin we listen to Ben Harper and Jack Johnson and with drooping eyelids call it a day; a special one to be sure.
The next morning, our last day on the Gunflint, we have a great breakfast at the Trail Center (I really do enjoy that dish-covering pancake) and then decide to visit the Arrowhead Trail, to explore Entries #64 - East Bearskin, #68 Pine Lake and #69 John Lake. As we drive there we note the change in topography, which is much like sections of our area in New England. It has appeal for a future trip.
Later, we have a nice dinner at the Windigo Lodge, where both the view and meal were enjoyable. At the cabin, we listen to Donovan Frankenreiter and as a special treat, Bette enjoys a glass of wine (though her doctor will never be told). Another great day in canoe country is in the books.
Our time on Poplar Lake comes to a regrettable end, with good-byes to Mike and Lin at Rockwood Lodge, who are more friends than owners for us. We then spend a couple of nights in Grand Marais before returning to Duluth for the flight home.
In reflecting upon this week on the Gunflint, I recognize how I appreciate the beauty of the forest and the sense of adventure it provides. I found the diversion it provides to be very helpful in dealing and coping with Bette’s treatments and the day-to-day realities of her fight. Time in canoe country is therapeutic for me. It allows us to enjoy each other and divert our attention away from the cancer. We were allowed to forget for lengths of time and live new experiences, which we enjoy tremendously. That is also what this forum offers and provides me on a daily basis – a diversion to focus on canoe related topics as well as keeping me connected to a place that I look forward to returning to, year after year. While both diversions have helped, nothing substitutes for the prayers, encouragement and understanding of family and friends. This is when you know how lucky you are. Our focus and hope is for a full recovery, one way for us to celebrate this will be a trip to Cherokee Lake next September.
2011 - TRIP PLANNING BEGINS IN AN UNLIKELY PLACE - It was a beautiful mid-July morning and we were sitting in a treatment room in Hartford, CT where Bette was to begin her first treatment of chemotherapy. She looked over to me, where a large picture hung behind me, and says “Rick, look at that picture. It looks just like a scene from the Boundary Waters”. I looked and quickly agreed; it looks just like a lake shore in the Boundary Waters. I examine the picture and notice the title “Moon Over Cherokee Lake” by Craig Blacklock. This is a special, almost surreal omen for us, and we are both amazed by this coincidence; it took on special meaning to us. You need to realize that the Boundary Waters are not well known in Connecticut, so to find a particular lake which my wife had previously selected for a future trip, takes on the status of a “sign”. It speaks to Kiporby’s July/August thread, “Do you feel his presence”, and we did at that moment. Although I have essentially planned our past 5 trips, I had asked Bette to choose a lake she would like to visit and her choice was Cherokee Lake; she made this selection over 2 years ago, we were stalled by which way to enter and get to this lake.
Needless to say we have made Cherokee Lake our destination for 2011. As we begin planning our trip to Cherokee Lake we plan to enter thru Entry #50 and depart out of Entry #47 thru Poplar Lake. We will be asking for some portage information. Of course I will rely on all of you for that planning assist.
Bette is now more than 2/3rds thru her treatment regiment and is keeping her positive focus every minute, I am very proud of her.
Thank you all,