BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
May 29 2023
Entry Point 49 - Skipper & Portage Lakes
Number of Permits per Day: 2
Elevation: 1865 feet
Skipper & Portage Lakes - 49
Float Stanley's Snipe Lake Adventure
July 21, 2012
Cross Bay Lake
Number of Days:
We did a "Marathon" drive, stopping for an hour in Wausau, WI. I had to take my friends by one of my old "Haunts," Angelo's Pizza. As always, it was well worth the stop. Driving through the night, we pulled into the little park on the Lester River about 3:00 am in the morning. Tried to take a little nap, but the adrenalin in my body in anticipation of the trip wouldn't allow it. An hour later, I was taking pictures of a beautiful sunrise and rainbows over Superior. This would be the day Duluth would get torrential rains that would wash out Hwy 61.
We continued on up the shore and stopped in at the Gunflint Ranger station to check the "Bear board" and continued on to the Beaver house to visit with Ty and buy a few odds and ends. The "Plan" was that I would take my friends to a few Brook Trout streams that I've fished. Unfortunately, monsoonal rains ensued and the brookies would have to wait until another trip. But that was o.k., spending the next couple days catching up with my old friends Ted and Barbara at the Poplar Creek Guesthouse, taking my friends to Chik Wauk Museum, and sampling the fare at Trailcenter while pestering my favorite waitress in the world would suffice. The water in Sag was so high that it was in the right lane of the parking lot!
Day One Entry at Cross Bay Lake
Barbara at Poplar Creek "Experimented" with a wonderful new dish on us and gave us the honor of naming it! "Barbara's Cheesy Egg Boat." After this sumptuous breakfasts at Poplar Creek, we headed up the Gunflint Trail. As we drove down the road I got a glimpse of the Cross River as I'd never seen it; it WAS a river, not a sleepy little rivulet trickling down to Gunflint Lake. We had a bit of current to paddle against heading upstream on the Cross. The only time I'd ever paddled this route, was coming out on my first trip in 1984. This trip, I had wanted to see some new country. Our plan was to head south to Long Island, maybe Cherokee.
As we arrived at the first portage, I was thankful that my old #3 Superior pack had been lightly and judiciously packed. I was a bit dubious about picking up that #4 with the food barrel and my friends' behemoths. I needn't have worried, my little buddy practically RAN those portages! He's the toughest teenager I've ever seen! He earned the nickname "Portage king." No pack was too big or portage too rough to wipe the smile off his face!
These portages seem to get steeper and rockier each year. It was kind of funny, in some areas the water was running down the portages like little waterfalls. Float Stanley took it easy, just hanging around while we did all the work on the portages! Arriving on Ham lake, we struggled to power past the current and make it around the point. If...we...can...just...get...past...this...point..., ahh, now the wind will give us a hand. Unfortunately, about 2/3 of the way down, the gusty winds got real ugly. My friends were struggling to keep upright. Thankfully, the big Langford Prospector they were paddling was made to handle big lakes and big water. We decided to pull off the water and wait it out. Unfortunately, it got uglier and my little buddy started to shiver in the cold drizzle. We decided the campsite on Ham would have to be our first night's camp. It was a nice campsite with a great view. The only thing wrong was we wanted to make it in further, but hey this is about having fun, not keeping schedules!
As we loaded our boats, a couple canoes pulled up asking if we were leaving? We told them we were headed for Long Island. The one guy says "You don't want to go there, too many people." "We just came from Snipe, and saw no one there." Snipe was the last lake we stayed on way back in 1984. I remember not being very enthused about it, but we had been through Sag, Knife, Ogish, Gabi, Little Sag, Tuscarora, et al prior to Snipe. Tough competition! After getting wind bound on little Ham Lake, my friends liked the prospect of a smaller lake like Snipe with several narrow arms. So, destination now Snipe Lake!
As we finished that last portage into Snipe, we struggled to paddle away from the outlet, lest we have a wild ride downstream. All the portages had their own waterfalls and whitewater on this trip! Not far from the portage, we explored the first campsite. Nice fireplace rock, decent landing, one good tent site. With rain threatening, we decided "Good Enough." As we brought our gear up, the rain began and we threw up my CCS tarp in a hurry. The rain, thwarted by Dan Cooke's wonderful piece of nylon, decided to go away and rain on someone elses parade!
We settled in, and despite my assurances, my friends were very skeptical of drinking the tannin stained water from Snipe "Straight" as I did. Of course, after finding 2 beaver lodges and seeing beaver every day, I decided maybe their filtered water was fine with me (LOL)! Nice campfire that evening, but don't stand on the back side of the fire grate, it's straight down into the water.
Slept in, had more rain during the night so we slept late. Beginning to have more difficulty with the zipper in my old Big Agnes tent. I love this tent, but I know her days are numbered. Had to duct tape some pulls in the mosquito mesh. Skeeters IMHO were not that bad for June. I've seen much worse.
After a big breakfast, we headed out to explore every nook and cranny of the lake. Saw a couple parties, but had the whole lake mostly to ourselves all day. Tried trolling for Lakers in the deep area near the missing link portage to no avail. The blue flags and Indian paintbrush were abundant, but the fish were scarce!
Fished the shallow bays with inlets and caught nothing but one northern. My friends, never having eaten northern, were hungry for a fish dinner. As I looked through my tackle bag, I couldn't come up with my fillet knife. Last time I remembered seeing it was on the back seat. Hmmmm, I hate cleaning northerns, but cleaning with a pocket knife is a REAL challenge. But, I have to say, it was worth it. I'll put my northern nuggets with fried onions up against most shore lunches! Another beautiful evening and sunset after dinner.
Cool night and mist on the lake this morning.
Time for my special pancake feast. I use spiced cider mix and it gives them a funnel cake flavor. Everybody loves 'em! Cleaning up the breakfast dishes we were treated to show I've never witnessed before. I said "Listen, there's an osprey." A few seconds later, I hear an eagle. Then both. We watched the osprey chase the eagle in circles for about 5 minutes. I never thought about getting the camera and taping it; we were too mesmerized by the "Show!" A friend later told me that the eagle most likely raided the Osprey's nest.
After cleaning dishes, we decided to fish, concentrating on northerns. They were marginally cooperative. Maybe, since I had to clean them with a pocket knife, that was a "Good thing?" At least my buddy Mason caught his first northern! One more beautiful evening and one more fish & onion dinner.
That evening, Mason and I paddled 'till dusk. I soloed their rented Langford Prospector and Mason paddled my Courier. Unfortunately, drama was in store that night at bedtime. Big Agnes had been "Zipped" her last time. After almost an hour's battle, we duct taped ourselves in! I wish we had taken a picture (LOL)!
Another cool night. My sock cap and goose down bag sure felt good! Once we got to the Cross River, we saw a few parties on the way in as we headed out. Shame on me, but I bit my tongue trying not to laugh at the one group whom were so well dressed they looked like they stepped off the pages of a Piragis or LL Bean catalogue (LOL)!
The water had come down a bit on the trip back, but we still had it a bit easier going downstream. We actually "Saved" someone's trip on the Ham Lake portage. They said they had given up on finding the portage until they found us coming out. Their map actually had it on the opposite side of the inlet. We even did a little surfing in some of the rapids on the Cross River.
Every trip ending is bittersweet, especially this one. It was my last paddle in "Sunny," my old Mad River Courier and possibly my last BWCAW trip. Increasingly my health has been deteriorating as a result of past cancer treatment. If this trip WAS my last, it was a great ending!
Post Trip We were treated to a day on Gunflint lake with my old friends Trailrat and his pal Roc-C. He took us to Bridal Veil Falls and Little Rock Falls. Both were the highest level I had ever seen.
We also got to meet another BWCA.com member, amhacker. What a great guy, it's good to know "Sunny," my Mad River Courier went to a good home! Nick put Float Stanley in the mail for me; Float Stanley's next adventure to be scout camp in Northern WI and the Sylvania.