BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
December 10 2023
Number of Permits per Day: 2
Elevation: 1865 feet
Skipper & Portage Lakes - 49
Cold Reception at Cherokee Lake
September 11, 2011
Cross Bay Lake
Number of Days:
Sunday, September 11, 2011
DAY 1 – The alarm goes off and all goes smoothly; we are at Cross Bay at 6:30AM. There are about 8 cars in the lot but we feel that we are first today. It is going to be a sunny, warm, beautiful day. As I take the canoe down to the dock area, a young lady is sitting with camera in hand. I instinctively slow down to be quiet as I think she is trying to capture a wildlife photo. She bids me a good morning and says she is there for the sunrise which indeed is only minutes away. My Bow Partner and I continue our canoe loading and shove off. Our early morning photographer graciously wishes us a good trip, we smile and thank her, and she goes back to viewing her reason for being there. We paddle to our first portage and it is as difficult a landing as I remember, compounded by the seasonal low water levels, just so many rocks to avoid or work around. The first portage is over and although an average walk it is one we just don’t care for, due to those types of landings. The put-in at Little Ham is far easier IMHO. The truth is, these portages are really met with enthusiasm, as the realization that the trip that has been anticipated for so many months is truly underway.
The portaging and paddling continue; we pass by the marker from Ham Lake to Cross Bay Lake indicating we are now in the BWCAW. As we shove the canoe off, now officially in the BWCAW, we note with a silent fond remembrance, Amok, then tip our hats and cross paddles. He was a good spirit who left us all too soon.
After checking the sky I am sure our early morning photographer back at the put in has gotten a prized photo, as the day is a beauty; we continue our paddling down Cross Bay Lake, noting its winding charm and variety of views. From large rock outcroppings to low lying marshy moose magnets we quietly paddle, taking it in. The first campsite, while very adequate, is unappealing as it seems to have a tough canoe landing and rock incline to get to the site, better suited, for younger legs. We hear noise ahead and spot a couple of empty canoes then come upon a young mixed gender group of 8 cliff jumping with their PFD’s on. They were having a great time, but we continued on our way not tempted to join them. We passed the 2nd and last campsite on Cross Bay which looks like a very nice spot but in our two times through it has been occupied and we have been unable to check it out. Onto the portage to Rib Lake, nice take out, average walk with one campsite on Rib that looks very adequate; we see an otter and smile at its antics. We paddle to a nice take-out from Rib and portage to a very tough put-in to Lower George Lake, lots of rocks and with the low water I was forced to walk out further than I like on unseen rock (this is however the curse of protecting Kevlar). Lower George is a nice little lake with no campsites to check out and slow us down further, lol. We find the little spur to the portage to Karl Lake with no problem and enjoy this area, as it has character and something different to offer.
As we are about to put-in on Karl two brothers come up from behind us and we insist that they go first as we know we are not that quick, they reluctantly accept due to our insistence. They prove to be are a well mechanized machine; each knew his tasks and quickly did them without any need for verbal instruction or cues. They were both pleasant and quickly shove off for Long Island Lake; they are gone in a flash. As we shove off I realize I have earlier tweaked the side support of my left knee. I believe it happened when I lifted the canoe over rock which was wet and slippery a few portages back; the knee was letting me know it was time to stop. Coupled with the fatigue concerns surrounding Bette, I am suspicious that our enthusiasm has led us to travel farther than we should have on our first day. We inspect the site on Karl, by the portage to Long Island Lake and it had a wonderful single tent pad area, a decent canoe landing and some kind soul left a lot of piled fire wood. Home it was and a nice one to boot. With tent up, air mattresses inflated, sleeping bags out, food pack hung, we begin to realize we have over done it and just have snacks and water and go to bed early. It is at this point I realize a big error that I have made. I have not transferred my meds from my travel pack to my personal tripping bag. I have two meds that the Docs want me on. Well nothing to be done at this time, I will re-examine this blunder in the morning.
The morning arrives on schedule (LOL, what else would it do?) but we are a bit late in getting ourselves going. Boy, we must have been tired, I never sleep that much. I let my Bow Partner know of my forgetfulness with the meds, she listens to my reasons to continue and agrees only if we stay put for the day to see if my knee recovers a bit; I agree to a layover day. I read my book and record in my journal and surprisingly do not fish. During the day we had a few small thunderstorms pass through, we easily found shelter under the tarp, but at night it got quite windy and while lying in the tent a couple of branches came crashing down. This spooked me into getting out of the tent and checking them out. I couldn’t find any downed branches; I guess everything sounds huge and close while you are in a tent in the dark. It has been a nice day and comes to an end much too quickly. Since my knee has loosened up we agree to take off for Cherokee Lake in the morning, paddling out of Karl Lake onto Long Island Lake and avoid the quicker portage to Long Island Lake to save my knee. Later on, I believe this will prove to be an error of choice.
We begin our paddle to locate a camp site. The first campsite passed is taken, so we cross the lake in an easterly direction, to an island area and I realize that the wind has built up here to a harsh level in the more open water. We have to work way too hard to check out a reputed nice island site and as we finally crawl to the side of the island to view the site I see canvas and realize this site are also occupied. I glance to an easterly spot on shore that looks like it could be a site; I show it to my Bow Partner, and we agree we should check it out. I realize at this point I only need to rudder the canoe as the wind is pushing us right along. Due to the power of the wind I realize we are going to land harder and faster than normal; although I yell over the wind to my Bow Partner to back paddle in an effort to soften the landing, it was a bit ineffective as waves are then coming over the stern. We did miss all large rock and very luckily landed fairly soft. I implore my Bow Partner, well actually I yell so she can hear over the wind to vacate quickly so we can both pull the bow brace and get the canoe out of harm’s way. That is accomplished nicely and a sigh of relief is exchanged between us. The site is thankfully empty (not that we could have gone anywhere for a while). I grab the packs to get them out of the water in the canoe. We feel lucky to have landed on this unoccupied site and realize we are not going back out today, so a campsite is set up. We are semi-protected by an island out front so the wind is partially deflected. We eventually turn on our weather radio which confirms that a Canadian cold front was in the process of coming into the region. Expecting winds and gusts in excess of 35 knots and a low temperature in the high twenties, we are ready to dress differently for bed tonight. The weather for tomorrow is predicted to again be cold and windy with a 50% chance of precipitation. My Bow Partner is wiped out and has to rest from the tough paddling. It has drained her badly of her limited energy. A fire is out of the question with the continued wind, so it is PB&J sandwiches and we hit the bag early, hoping for some energy recovery for tomorrow’s day on Cherokee Lake.
Then it started snowing so hard I could not see the West side of Cherokee Lake, all the while my thermometer never reads above 47’ for the entire day. This is not impressive nor is it what we came here for. We survive the day (thank God for fleece) and I never once see one canoe being paddled; I do however notice some of the largest cloud formations that I have ever observed. Basically traveling from West to East, I hope the picture I took does it justice.
I can see in the distance another campsite, what is humorous is that at various times the sun will briefly shine through and I all but run to the rock by the water’s edge to capture as much sunshine as I can with my black rain suit on. Each time I run to the rock I see a body come down to the water at the other site in the distance, obviously with the same idea, Warmth! The wind makes a fire impractical and dangerous; I would feel uneasy tending it. Bow Partner spends a lot of time in the bag staying warm and trying to gain back some energy. The weather radio calls for another sub freezing night, less precipitation and more sun, less wind and 5 degrees warmer. When I go to tell my Partner the good news she looks at me and I know by the look that she is hurting. We will start out in the morning to get her back in, with smaller travel increments each day to less strenuous conditions; she has pushed beyond her limited strength. It is disappointing that we are cutting our time short on Cherokee Lake by one day; it is not going to get much better weather wise so the decision is easily accepted. We do regret being not being able to explore this gem of a lake more than we were able.
We load the canoe and head to the portage from Cherokee Lake to Gordon Lake; once there, we meet two gentleman from the South (yes, the accent was unmistakable) they had come out of Sawbill and had gone up Weird, Temperance, Brule, Davis and Kiskadinna Lakes. They indicated that they hit the Kiskadinna portage after the snow and it was an interesting walk. We bid them a warmer day and we each continued our separate journeys. We did not dilly dally and made our way to Long Island Lake in decent time.
I mention to Bette that we could push and be out before dark but she thought it would too much for her to handle in one day. This time paddling across Long Island Lake the wind there is a gentle breeze, the sun is out and the lake shows its beautiful side. We paddle leisurely to the Karl Lake portage which is easily found and done. We spot our 3rd Eagle of the trip and note the abundance of Loons we have seen on both Cherokee and Long Island Lakes; we’re impressed and pleased, as we love their nightly vocal presence. Immature Loons on Long Island Lake
Once on Karl, the site by the portage is again available, we claim it and have the tent up quickly; supper was Backpackers Pantry Spaghetti, a tad spicy for me but it was warm and tasty. My concerns about my Bow Partners strength are making the trip into a less than enjoyable time. We have over done her exertion limits. Her resolve is incredible and her desire to go and get it done is unbelievable. Whatever it will take is how hard she is going to give. We did have a SPOT with us for daily OK messages and tracking, so in a dire situation we had our backs covered. One nice report to give is that our sons received every SPOT message we sent as well as the tracking feature. We continue to be pleased with this device.
Resting before getting to Cross Bay Lake.
I know there were a number of permits issued as I had to keep checking permits as our entry date changed due to medical appointments. Where could everyone be? As we got to the end of the portage to Cross Bay Lake we saw that the last site on Cross Bay Lake was most likely available. We paddled over to confirm and yes it was free and open to us. It is a neat site with a number of rock levels and a good tent pad. We claim it for the night. No rain forecast for tonight or tomorrow so no tarp needs to be set up. We have camp set up and then have Richmore’s Stroganoff and Beef for dinner, it a good meal. My Bow Partner takes a walk to one of the rock outcroppings while I busy myself with hanging the food bag. She calls me over as she hears a commotion in the woods to the North. Low and behold doesn’t a big racked bull moose emerge, swims by our camp (75 yards) and promptly gets out and walks very noisily into the woods. We could hear him minutes later; he wasn’t running or sneaking up on anything, it was his home, his backyard. Just awesome. Unfortunately not enough light for a good photograph to be taken and shared. Another warming fire was enjoyed tonight and a special day it has become due to our last minute visitor. We note the clarity and sheer numbers of stars and then are quietly off to bed. Sunset on Cross Bay Lake.
We have made it. I can see that it is our car and a Forest Service vehicle in the lot. I bring the canoe up and as I return for our packs I see caution tape all around the kiosk; as I walk close to it I see that Entry #50 has been closed since Tuesday. The Pagami fire has been a major concern creating a lot of issues all over the Boundary Waters and beyond. Now we know why we haven’t seen that many people. That huge cloud formation that I viewed on Cherokee was actually a smoke plume created by the fire. All of this is of minor importance in the face of our accomplishment - we made it to Cherokee and better yet made it back to Entry 50 intact.
Back at Rockwood Outfitters, Mike tells us that Lin’s operation has gone well. He then asks how we hid from the forest service as they have been kicking people out all week from our entry. He expected to see us back at Rockwood from Tuesday on. I of course tell him that we are such great paddlers that they probably tried to catch us but couldn’t. Ahhh delusion, I love it. Mike is no fool as he quickly notes that seeing how slow we were they (FS) figured we didn’t have a chance anyway. Why do I feel like Rodney Dangerfield?
The trip was a good one despite Bette’s fatigue and the cold windy weather. We are very pleased and proud to say we got to Cherokee Lake. While by itself it is not a major accomplishment it was a momentary victory over the cancer and all the intrusions it was brought into our lives. Every trip teaches us something so we can become better trippers, which I wish to. I learned a bit more than I wanted to about my physical limits. By triple portaging to help Bette conserve her strength I found a good gauge to plan future trips. My first portage trip was with the canoe and food pack, with the canoe add- ons,(map cases, Crazy Creeks) it totaled about 85lbs total, 2nd portage trip- Bette’s pack and my guide pack, about 65lbs total , 3rd portage trip- my pack about 50lbs. On day 1, I put in 720 load carrying rods; this left me with little energy left to set up camp, collect firewood, food bag hang, fishing, water collection, etc. Losing Bette’s help on each of those tasks is felt quite a bit. I will shorten the number of Rods to no more than 500 load carrying rods max. a day. Build in one layover day after each move day that totals over 250 rods. Bette’s ability to help and assist with chores varied greatly day to day. It is her nature to “get her done”, it just cannot be counted on while she is on the treatments. If multiple maps are required for a particular day’s canoe tripping, piece them together ahead of time. Good grief I have Voyageur maps on-line, waterproof paper and a laminator, what’s the issue. We were covered for a range of temperatures and we had them from about 80’ when we went in, to the high 20’s at night thrice. Layering was key and having multiuse gear, like raingear very helpful. Not sure how to prepare for high winds other than have some paddling skills and knowledge and if on big water build in a holdover day or two. Meeting BWCA.com friends gives the trip out to MN greater depth. We met up with Boonie (Steve) and OneMatch (Jerry) for lunch in Grand Marais and had a great time. They are special people and we enjoyed sharing our tripping passion with them. We really wish we were closer to share time with more of you. Meeting up with BWCA.COM friends at The Gunflint Tavern. Left to right, OneMatch, Boonie, BowPartner, Boppa.
Lastly, if we are able to trip next year it will be a much kinder and gentler journey, you can be assured. Thanks for reading. Boppa
UPDATES: After our trip and upon our return to Sloan-Kettering we learned that the trial drug’s effectiveness has stopped. The cancer has re-emerged. While this was extremely disappointing, we knew the trial drug had begun to take a bigger toll than the cancer upon Bette at this time.
We are presently back in Hartford, CT where traditional chemotherapy treatments are being administered. Bette is stronger as she is off of the trial drug and its tough effects, but unfortunately the traditional chemotherapy isn’t doing much. The search for a treatment is still part of our hope for the near future. We do laugh however, as Bette is upset that she may lose her hair yet again. She knows I don’t care; she is still the prettiest woman I know.
Yes, we are planning our next BWCA trip, we cannot help it.