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June 14 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

BWCA 2012 Autumn Solo

by boonie
Trip Report

Entry Date: September 25, 2012
Entry Point: Cross Bay Lake
Exit Point: Lizz and Swamp Lakes (47)
Number of Days: 8
Group Size: 1

Trip Introduction:
I entered EP #50, Cross Bay Lake, traveled through Long Island Lake to Omega Lake and Horseshoe before exiting through Lizz Lake to Poplar Lake. The route plan was motivated by reports of the beauty of Omega Lake and Horseshoe Lake, especially Bear Bait's pictorial trip report of a fall 2011 trip to Horseshoe.

Part 1 of 3

[paragraph break]2012 Boundary Waters Trip

Overview: I left Morgantown, WV, Saturday, September 22nd, and returned Saturday, October 6th, traveling through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin on the way to Minnesota for my 8-day, 7-night BW solo. It was a 2,550 mile round trip journey.

BW Trip Dates: September 25th through October 2nd

Entry Point: EP #50, Cross Bay Lake

Route: Cross Bay Lake to Long Island Lake to Omega Lake to Horseshoe Lake to Lizz Lake to Poplar Lake. I stayed at Rockwood Outfitters the night before and they shuttled me to the entry point on Tuesday, September 25th. I exited through Lizz Lake and paddled across Poplar Lake to Rockwood Outfitters on Tuesday, October 2nd. You can follow this route on Voyageur Maps 6 and 9 at their website.

Lakes Traveled: Ham Lake, Cross Bay Lake, Rib Lake, Lower George Lake, Karl Lake, Long Island Lake, Muskeg Lake, Kiskadinna Lake, Omega Lake, Henson Lake, Pillsbery Lake, Allen Lake, Horseshoe Lake, Caribou Lake, Lizz Lake, and Poplar Lake. Campsites: Karl Lake #572, Long Island Lake #586, Omega Lake #2012, Allen Lake #638, Horseshoe Lake #672

Weather: Great! No rain, light winds, high temperatures around 55-60 degrees, give or take 5 degrees, and lows around 30 degrees, give or take 5 degrees, varying from mostly cloudy to mostly sunny. There was a very bright full moon on September 29th. The moon made me think of Tremolo.

Fire Restrictions: Fires were only allowed between 7:00 PM and midnight.

Wildlife sightings: Cow moose on Muskeg Creek, bull moose (dead) on Pillsbery Lake, bald eagles, a loon, mergansers, ducks, chipmunks, squirrels, a gray jay, woodpeckers, ravens, grouse, dragonflies, camp mice, and various songbirds.

New Equipment: Jetboil Sol stove: This stove is a light, compact, efficient stove for boiling water. One small canister, which stores inside the pot, lasted from Tuesday through Monday afternoon coffee – 5 breakfasts, 5 dinners, and about 20 mugs of coffee. The stove lit easily and operated without problem in temperatures down into the 20’s. The wind did not seem to have any significant effect on it, although it was not exceptionally windy for that time of year.

Wenonah Prism canoe: Generally the canoe worked well for me – about the same as most solo canoes I can rent from outfitters up there. I did not have much wind on this trip though so it’s hard to make a comparison. It was a little hard to turn and control on the windiest days, especially unloaded. Not as hard as a Souris River solo, but maybe a little more so than a Bell Magic. It was better tracking than the Bell Rockstar from last year, but not as maneuverable. Extra-long double-blade paddle: I rented this from Rockwood Outfitters and don’t know exactly how long it was, but it was longer than any I have used before. I’d guess at least 260cm, maybe 280. It was significantly longer than the one I got last year from Sawtooth Outfitters. It worked well for me. I was able to get into a nice steady rhythm and just cruise along with a low stroke. If I paddled hard with the low angle, the bow tended to move back and forth. I could remedy that with a higher stroke, but that was harder on my shoulders.

New Food: MIO (and Great Value) drink mixes, both energy and regular: This replaced Gatorade and tasted good. It packs a lot smaller, which allowed me to get everything in a BearVault, but lacks the calories of Gatorade.

Starbucks Via: Yes, it’s good. Yes, it’s more expensive. Yes, it’s better.

Hawk Vittles: I bought several dinners from Hawk, partly to test the gluten-free products since my sister has celiac disease, partly because they seemed like they would be more compactly packaged and easier to fit in the BearVault. This was true. The meals are not vacuum-packed and the bag material is not as thick as others, does not have a gusseted bottom, or the zip-lock closure. This makes it more awkward to rehydrate and eat them out of the bag. I used a couple of spring clips to hold the top of the bag closed while it rehydrated in the cozy, which I kept upright between the seating logs, rocks, and equipment. About halfway through the trip I started using the clips to hold the bag sides to the sides of the cozy while eating them. The instructions don’t give the amount of water needed for rehydration, but just instruct you to add boiling water to one inch above the food. I like to boil just the amount of water I need, so it was a little bit of a guessing game.

I had four different dinners: Beef Stew, Salmon Stir-Fry, Bacon Baked Beans, and Shrimp Jambalaya. The ones which are not normally gluten-free were made that way by substituting quinoa, so I don’t know how that might affect the taste and texture compared to the usual. Quinoa does have the advantage of being quite high in fiber :).

The Beef Stew and Bacon Baked Beans were my favorites, the Shrimp Jambalaya was OK, and the Salmon Stir-Fry was the least liked. I wasn’t very hungry that night and maybe that affected my perception of it. Or it may be better without the quinoa substitution. I couldn’t quite eat all of it.

I will order more of these from Hawk. They were generally quite tasty, although not highly seasoned. I may consider repackaging into some zip lock bags with a gusset.

Peanut Butter & Co. Smooth Operator: I took a couple of packets to try – one peanut butter and one peanut butter and dark chocolate. I ate the peanut butter for a snack and the peanut butter and dark chocolate as a dessert. They were good, although a little messy to eat. I’ll pack more of this next time to replace some of the trail mix. Each packet is just over an ounce and has about 200 calories.

Other food notes: I also used a couple of items from Pack-It-Gourmet which I had first tried last year – their smoothies and the Jamaican Peanut Porridge. I like both of these. The smoothies just require the addition of water to the bag and a good shake. They provide 400+ calories and plenty of protein. The Jamaican Peanut Porridge provides a little over 200 calories, so you need 2 of them or one and a smoothie. I expected the Porridge to be thick like oatmeal, but it’s really more like a smoothie even after drastically reducing the amount of water. I finally just drank the last one right out of the bag like a warm smoothie.

I came out with one small packet of peanut porridge, some drink mix, and a food bar and small amount of trail mix. The food bar and trail mix was my lunch and snacks for the final day which I had not yet eaten. I had made a conscious effort to cut my food back to just what I would eat so I could fit it all in my BearVault. I managed to get the 8 days in there, but it was really crammed full. The dinners from Hawk Vittles took up less space and were easier to pack than the Mountain House and Enertia dinners. I substituted MIO for Gatorade which reduced the bulk and weight considerably, but I also lost some calories there. I divided my nuts/trail mix into daily portions and ate one each day. I did have a lot of extra room in the waist of my jeans when I got out.

Synopsis: Great trip, great weather, beautiful scenery, peak fall foliage, wildlife sightings, rugged portages, remote country, and one exhausting day. I went from mid-morning Tuesday to mid-morning Saturday without seeing anyone. The day from Long Island Lake to Omega Lake through Muskeg Lake and Kiskadinna Lake was a difficult day. Omega Lake is a beautiful Lake – my new favorite Boundary Waters lake. Horseshoe Lake is also a beautiful lake – a close second to Omega Lake. Many of the lakes were long, narrow, river-like lakes, which I really liked. There was a lot of beautiful fall color - the golden leaves of birch and aspen, and golden tamaracks.


Saturday, September 22nd:

I left Morgantown, WV, shortly after 7:00 AM and arrived in Gaylord, MI, about 6 PM. It rained off and on today, but nothing too bad. The fall colors were starting to show as I traveled north.

Sunday, September 23rd:

I left Gaylord before daylight and drove north across the Mackinac Bridge into the Upper Peninsula, west along Lake Michigan, up past Seney National Wildlife Refuge, west along Lake Superior, across northern WI to Superior, and on into Duluth. There was some good fall color, but it was a cold, windy, rainy drive across the U.P. of MI and WI, with temperatures varying between 38 and 46 degrees. I was glad that I wasn’t in the BW today and that the forecast for my trip dates was much better weather.

Monday, September 24th:

I had arranged to meet GeorgeLesley for lunch in Grand Marais around noon, so I had plenty of time to take a little side trip. It was a nice morning as I drove up The North Shore. I took Route 1 out of Illgen City to Finland. A road there took me out by the back side of George Crosby Manitou State Park. Another right turn brought me back to The North Shore. I called George when I got to Grand Marais and in 15 minutes he met me at Blue Water Café to get acquainted over lunch.

A couple of hours later I was on my way out the Gunflint Trail to Rockwood Outfitters. I crossed the Brule River and remembered that sunnybear was planning to exit that way from Horseshoe Lake today. I wondered if he had made it out that way and how it went for him since I had not heard good things about coming out the Brule River.

At Rockwood I arranged for tomorrow morning’s shuttle to EP #50, got my bunkhouse assignment, and headed up the hill for some last-minute gear organizing and packing before heading off to Trail Center for dinner. I was unloading gear from the car when a voice asked, “Would you be Steve”? I was pleasantly surprised to meet sunnybear. Earlier in the trip planning forum, we had discovered that he’d be coming out from his trip the day I was arriving at Rockwood. He had said he might stop by Rockwood in the afternoon, but I really didn’t expect that to happen so I was quite surprised. We had a very nice, but way too short meeting as he still had miles to travel. It sounds like he had quite an adventure and I’m looking forward to his trip report detailing it all. Shortly after that, I was off to Trail Center for dinner and then back to the bunkhouse for final preparations.


Part 2 of 3


Tuesday, September 25th It was a frosty, foggy morning that would later become a partly sunny day with a high around 50 and light winds. I took my gear down and put it in the van while Mike scraped frost off the windshield. He shuttled me over to EP #50 and I was on the water about 8:15 AM. It was a very short paddle to the first portage, which was a decent little climb.

[paragraph break] 1st portage

The portages today were not overly long or difficult, but there were a half-dozen of them. I found that it saved time and energy to unload the large pack and place it off to the side with the PFD and paddle, then put the yoke on the canoe, pick up the small pack from the canoe and put it on, then pick up the canoe and portage that across first. It avoided lifting things multiple times.

[paragraph break]

Cross Bay

I did not see anyone until mid-morning, when I saw some campers on the NW site on Cross Bay Lake. They were the last people I saw until mid-morning Saturday on Omega Lake. I reached Karl Lake about 12:30 PM and stopped at the campsite there for some food and drink. It was a fairly nice site and I decided to stay there instead of taking the nearby portage to the northwest bay of Long Island Lake and one of the campsites there. It was another cold night.

Wednesday, September 26th:

It was a cool, cloudy morning with little wind. The afternoon would be sunnier, in the low 50’s, and windier. I decided to paddle down Karl to Long Island instead of portaging over to the NW end. Long Island intrigued me and the day was nice with little wind so I took my time paddling slowly around Long Island.

[paragraph break] Long Island Lake

I rambled around Long Island for a while, paddling up Banadad Creek a ways before taking the campsite nearest the portage to Muskeg. I saw the only loon of the trip On Long Island Lake today.

[paragraph break] Loon on Long Island Lake

I knew tomorrow would be a long, hard day and I tried to organize things and pre-pack so I could get a quicker start in the morning. I prepared my drinks for tomorrow and left out enough water for coffee and breakfast in the morning, then packed away the water filter. Wednesday night was quite chilly - probably the coldest of the trip.

Thursday, September 27th:

I stayed snug in my sleeping bag longer than I intended and arose to frost-covered gear and ice in my water. I eventually got packed and on the water. I made my way around the point into the bay where Muskeg Creek was located. As I paddled closer it was obvious the creek was impassable, but there was no sign of a portage. I paddled as far as I could and realized that was the portage - a jumble of large rocks, roots, and a downed tree.

[paragraph break] Long Island Lake-Muskeg Creek portage landing

The Long Island to Muskeg portage was a very rough trail - a true ankle-breaker requiring careful foot placement.

[paragraph break] Long Island Lake-Muskeg Creek portage trail

I methodically made my way across to the far end, which was flooded out by a beaver dam, necessitating a carry across the creek below and up onto the dam for a launch.

[paragraph break] beaver dam @ Muskeg Creek end of portage

It wasn’t bad now, but would be worse in wet weather. I was rewarded with a cow moose sighting there in the beaver pond - only my second one in the BW.

[paragraph break] cow moose on Muskeg Creek

Another small beaver dam flooded out the last 4-rod portage on Muskeg Creek and only required an easy beaver dam pullover into Muskeg Lake. It was a short paddle to the Muskeg-Kiskadinna portage with the infamous "Wall". The portage is 195 rods and gains nearly 200 feet in elevation before dropping slightly to Kiskadinna.

[paragraph break] Muskeg Lake-Kiskadinna Lake portage trail

[paragraph break] Muskeg Lake-Kiskadinna Lake portage trail looking down the "Wall"

I walked a ways and then went up a fairly steep section, at which point I thought, "The "Wall" wasn't that bad". Then I came to the "Wall", a very steep and aptly named section of the portage. I put the canoe down, carried the pack up, across, and down the other side.

[paragraph break] Muskeg Lake-Kiskadinna Lake portage trail @ bottom of the "Wall"

I returned for the canoe. I was tired now and I still had to get the large pack. It took me about 20 minutes to walk back to the beginning and 35 minutes to carry the large pack up and over the portage. I carefully picked my steps between the roots and rocks. Rest stops were frequent. The Muskeg to Kiskadinna portage was a killer.

I loaded the canoe and paddled down Kiskadinna, a long, narrow lake about two miles long with a rock cliff on the south shore. At least I had a tailwind. I stopped at the last campsite, had some water and food. I was very tired at this point, but decided to move on since it wasn't a nice site and I really wanted to be on Omega for the next couple of days. The portage was located near the east end of the lake a short paddle away and was only 35 rods. How bad could it be? It didn't look bad on the map.[paragraph break]

[paragraph break] I headed for the low area and the portage at the eastern end only to discover that it started at the base of the cliff on the other side and ran steeply up alongside it on a narrow, rocky path before descending steeply on the other side.

[paragraph break] Kiskadinna Lake-Omega Lake portage

That was the last straw. I was exhausted when I finished the portage. The first campsite was open and I took it. I wanted to take a nap, but I was afraid I wouldn't wake up until after midnight. I still had all the camp chores to do. I filtered water and made coffee. Then I set up camp. When I was done, I made a second cup of coffee, sat down on the rock by the lake, and took off my boots and socks.

I stayed 2 nights on Omega. Omega is a beautiful lake.

Friday, September 28th:

[paragraph break] Here comes the sun, morning on Omega Lake

I circumnavigated Omega Lake. It's a beautiful lake with long arms and bays, rock cliffs and outcrops, and a large island in the middle.

[paragraph break] Omega Lake

I paddled along the shoreline, in and out of each bay, and every nook and cranny. I stopped at the northern campsite there for some lunch. It sits high atop a rock with a nice view.

I did not see the portage to Phalanx Lake, which I had considered as a day trip, but did not get out and look for it. I was still tired from yesterday. At any rate, it was not obvious from the water. It is probably little used and perhaps obscured behind some of the deadfall in that area. Saturday, September 29th:

Saturday I paddled down Omega to Henson, and on to Pillsberry, where I saw three moose hunters with a moose. When I reached the portage to Allen, they were paddling down the lake behind me. I set my large pack, PFD, and paddles off to the side well out of their way and started across the portage with my canoe and pack. Almost immediately I was confronted by a large tree which had fallen across the portage.

[paragraph break] Pillsberry Lake-Allen Lake portage tree blockage

There was no way around it and it was too large and too high to step over. I couldn't go under it either. I basically had to half-climb, half-crawl over and through the roots and base of the tree with a pack and canoe on my back. It was very awkward.

Otherwise, the trail was level, although it was filled with roots and rocks. On the way back for my second load I passed the three moose hunters sweating as they carried moose parts across the portage. They had a tough day ahead of them. I paddled on towards Allen Lake.

[paragraph break] paddling into Allen Lake

I took the campsite on Allen for the night with plans to leisurely make my way to Horseshoe tomorrow for the last two nights. I figured if I got there around noon, people would be leaving after the weekend and others would arrive a little later, so it should be relatively easy to find a campsite.

Sunday, September 30th:

I took my time getting to Horseshoe since I didn't have far to go. I paddled onto Horseshoe and stopped at the first campsite on the point across the portage to Caribou.

[paragraph break] paddling into Horseshoe Lake

It was a nice site and I claimed it for my final 2 nights. The site is well up off the water above a large granite outcrop and the tent site I chose was up in the trees well back of the fire grate area. Horseshoe Lake was quite busy compared to the rest of my route, but the traffic diminished mid-afternoon Sunday. A few groups paddled by on their way in and out. Horseshoe is a beautiful lake and I spent some time paddling it, although it was limited a little by the wind in the afternoon.

[paragraph break] Horseshoe Lake

The birch and aspen leaves were almost all golden now, as well as the tamaracks. It was very beautiful. I didn't get to see all of Horseshoe that I wanted, but I did see the golden tamaracks and a lot of bald eagles. I'm going to have to get back to Horseshoe and Omega Lakes.

[paragraph break] Horseshoe Lake

Monday, October 1st:

It was a cool, cloudy, windy morning and I paddled around Horseshoe until around noon when gustier winds made paddling the unloaded Prism awkward at times. I checked out the little pond just east of Horseshoe. Bear Bait’s autumn 2011 pictures of the golden tamaracks there were the genesis of my visit to Horseshoe.

[paragraph break] golden tamaracks east of Horseshoe Lake

Afterwards I wished I had taken the canoe over and paddled this puddle.

A chance of showers was in the forecast for the afternoon/evening, so I set up the tarp for the first time this trip. By mid-afternoon, the wind had lessened and a few patches of blue sky were showing, so I headed back out.

[paragraph break] Horseshoe Lake

[paragraph break] bald eagle on Horseshoe Lake

I took a short evening paddle and returned to camp as the setting sun cast a glow on the trees across from camp.

[paragraph break] evening on Horseshoe Lake

I built my first fire tonight. The dry wood burned easily and threw sparks everywhere. I soon decided it was more trouble than it was worth and extinguished it. It was a clear, chilly night with a bright moon that rose in the east about 7:30.

Tuesday, October 2nd:

Tuesday was a beautiful morning.

[paragraph break] Figure 34 - morning on Horseshoe Lake

[paragraph break] Figure 35 - morning on Horseshoe Lake

I got an early start Tuesday morning as the winds were predicted to increase by late morning and I wanted to get across Poplar before they picked up too much. I took the portage to Caribou Lake.

[paragraph break] Figure 36 - Caribou Lake

I paddled across Caribou enjoying the golden foliage on another beautiful autumn day and took the portage to Lizz Lake. A short paddle and portage put me on Poplar Lake.

[paragraph break] Figure 38 - Poplar Lake

I wasn't exactly sure where Rockwood Outfitters was located on the map, but Mike told me to paddle between the islands. I found my way there without too much difficulty, arriving back about 12:30. Then it was on to Grand Marais after talking with Mike for a while. I made a quick stop at Pincushion for the view of Grand Marais (GM), the foliage and Lake Superior.

[paragraph break] Figure 40 -view of Grand Marais from Pincushion

Next it was Java Moose to satisfy a craving - a large ice cream and double espresso. Then I headed to Wedgewood Motel for more coffee and the post-trip cleanup. Dinner was scheduled for 7:00 at My Sisters Place with George and Mocha. Mocha forgot all about it, but George and I ate anyway.


Part 3 of 3


I have gotten in the habit of allowing myself a day or two extra on the return to ramble and see things on the way home. And there's a lot to see on The North Shore and in the Superior National Forest around the BW, as well as in Wisconsin and the U.P. of Michigan. I timed it just about perfectly for the peak fall foliage this year. I took my time coming home and saw a lot of beautiful scenery and fall colors.

Wednesday, October 3rd:

On Wednesday George was gracious enough to drive me up to Judge Magney State Park to see the Falls and Devil's Kettle there and then back out through the country on a back road to his house.

[paragraph break] The falls at Judge Magney State Park

Judge Magney SP was one place I had not been to yet and was well worth the visit on a beautiful fall day.

[paragraph break] Grand Marais harbor

Afterwards I had lunch at The Crooked Spoon in Grand Marais and then rambled out past Devil Track Lake, Two Island Lake, and Eagle Mountain across The Grade, then down the Caribou Trail enjoying the day and the scenery before heading on down The North Shore to Duluth for the night.

[paragraph break] Superior National Forest

Thursday, October 4th:

Thursday I drove into the U. P. of Michigan and up through the Porcupine Mountains, along Lake Superior, and then east and south to try to find the Sturgeon River Gorge Wilderness. Due to inadequate maps and road signage, I chose the wrong one out of the maze of back roads, logging roads, ORV, and snowmobile trails, but still had a nice drive through what I believe may be locally known as "The Baraga Plains" on another cool, beautiful fall day. [paragraph break] [paragraph break] Golden aspen and birch in WI

[paragraph break] Porcupine Mountains waterfall

[paragraph break] U. P. of MI

On the way to Marquette, I made a mid-afternoon detour to the McCormick Wilderness to take in more beautiful fall foliage. Why spend an hour of daylight on such a beautiful day in such a beautiful place sitting in a motel room?

Friday, October 5th:

Friday I headed south out of Au Train on H03 and then decided to try to drive down through Big Island Lake Wilderness.

[paragraph break] On the road to Big Island Lake Wilderness

I remembered Beaverjack had said he would be there in early October and I thought I might find him. I did find Big Island Lake Wilderness but not Beaverjack.

[paragraph break] Big Island Lake

I stopped at Minerva Lake for a lunch of apples, peanut butter, and dark chocolate.

[paragraph break] Minerva Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, U.P. of MI

It was another beautiful drive on a beautiful day, finally ending in Saginaw, MI, for the night.

Saturday, October 6th:

Saturday was just about getting home to Morgantown, my life, and my wife. I really liked the area I was in, especially Omega and Horseshoe, which I'd like to see more of, but other places beckon too.


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