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June 17 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

First time in the BWCA- 73 mile solo trip - Frost River, Little Sag, Kawishiwi, Alice, Kek, and more

by nlong
Trip Report

Entry Date: May 24, 2014
Entry Point: Cross Bay Lake
Exit Point: Seagull Lake (54)
Number of Days: 6
Group Size: 1

Trip Introduction:
This was a trip nearly 5 months in the planning. Having never been in the BWCA and never done more than an overnight paddle trip and never solo, this was going to be quite the adventure and I wanted to make sure that I was thoroughly prepared. I estimated the trip to take 9-10 days which includes a couple layover days. The trip was completed in 6 due to great weather for travel every day.

Here is the account of my first solo adventure in the BWCA.

Day 1 of 6

Saturday, May 24, 2014

5:00am - I get up early, shower (not sure the next time I'll get the chance), grab breakfast and I'm on the road for my 5 1/2 hour drive to Seagull Outfitters. Having packed my gear and loaded my kayak the night before, I'm all set to get an early start and hope to get a half day of paddling in and make it to Frost Lake for my first night. The drive up highway 53 is quite scenic and I enjoy the sunrise and I even spot what looks to be a large coyote or possibly a wolf once I was near Superior. Upon reaching Superior, I find the bay is full of ice. It is quite the sight. I continue on up the scenic shore on highway 61. I see many vehicles with canoes loaded on top. I wonder to myself if they are headed to the BWCA and what adventures they have planned. Once I reach Grand Marais, I fill up with gas and head north on the Gunflint Trail. Temperatures look to be warming up as I leave the shoreline. I reach Seagull Outfitters at about 10:30am and speak with Debbie and unload my kayak and gear. After parking my truck, paying parking and transport fees, the outfitters load my kayak and gear and we are off to the EP50 - Cross Bay Lake. It's about 7 miles down the Gunflint Trail.

11:15am - We arrive at EP50. It's almost 80ºF and blue skies. I get my kayak and gear unloaded and the outfitter leaves. I'm now alone. It's a weird feeling being miles from nowhere, in unfamiliar land, and alone. Only one way to go now, so I load the gear in the hatches of the kayak, start my GPS recording on my phone to track distance, and off I go. I soon realize that I've started to paddle the wrong way up the river. I check my map, and turn the kayak around. After a short paddle, I'm soon at my first portage.

P689 66 rods - The portage landing is quite rocky. I wonder if most of them will be like this and fear my kayak is going to be a bit beat up after 50 plus portages. I try to pull the kayak in gently. I'm wearing shorts and my Vibram Fivefinger Signas' so I don't mind stepping into the water. Footing is good with the shoes and the water is only mildly cold. I unload a few of the drybags from my kayak hatches and put it in the mesh portage pack and put the pack on my shoulders. I then attach my homemade yoke to the kayak and put the kayak on my shoulders. With over 110lbs of kayak, gear, food for 10 days, and 3 cameras, batteries and charging equipment, it makes for a tough portage. I only get about halfway and have to stop. I've determined it's too much weight to single portage. I let the kayak sit and take the gear in the pack to the end of the portage. I then come back for the kayak and finish the portage. I note to myself that the rest of the portages will be double portaged. Being out here solo, I just can't risk a foot or ankle injury from overloading myself on muddy portages.

Oriole Lake It's a small but pretty lake and I'm soon at the next portage.

P690 37 rods - A rock ledge at the portage entrance was a little challenge, but I'm starting to get a rhythm down on the double portaging. Didn't take long to complete the short portage and I'm now at Ham Lake. 12:30pm

Ham Lake

P072 17 rods The portage out of Ham lake was a little steep at the start but short, and I'm now at the Cross River again on my way to Cross Bay Lake. I pass some rock outcrops that are dappled with a patchwork of bright orange lichens. Once reaching Cross Bay lake, I make my way to the southwest side and get a photo of the small waterfall that empties into the lake. It's obscured mostly by trees, but I still mange to get a photo.

P398 58 rods - The river empties into Cross Bay Lake to the left of the portage. I snap a quick picture before I get out of the kayak. On the portage, I end up meeting a couple from Florida. I pass them and continue on through Rib Lake. Cloud cover is starting to block the sun. No sign of rain though.

P428 35 rods - I meet a dad and his 2 boys from the Twin Cities. They seem to have a good system down with the 2 boys carrying the packs and their dad taking the canoe. I complete the portage and continue on through Lower George Lake.

P436 28 rods - I meet the dad and 2 boys again on this portage and complete the portage before they do. I'm now at Karl Lake. I snap a picture of the rocks to my left and then continue towards the left of a small island. Once I get to the island, I spot a loon. It doesn't seem shy at all. I get some photos and video of it doing some calls.

I continue southeast to paddle into Long Island Lake. I could have taken P107 into Long Island, but It wasn't that much further to paddle to go around and skip the portage. The sun starts to peak out again and I spot a female common merganser. I make my way into the Long Island River and get to my next portage.

P118 10 rods - Short portage, but I can tell I'm getting wore out. I paddle the rest of the way into Gordon lake and stick to the west shore to get to the next portage that will lead me to Unload Lake.

P509 139 rods - Feels like the portage from hell at this point. Steep muddy hills and flat sections are wet and muddy as well. The good part was the landing at Unload Lake was great. Toward the end of the portage was the largest Northern White Cedar trees I'd ever seen, an impressive sight. After completing the double portage, I feel wore out. Unload lake is small with a beaver dam at the end. I paddle up to the dam, step out and easily pull the kayak over the dam. I'm now at Frost Lake and the wind is starting to pick up and so are the waves on Frost Lake.

5:30pm - There is 5 campsites on Frost Lake. I had planned on taking one of 3 sandy beach campsites on Frost. I paddle up to the first one to find it occupied. The next 3 campsites are on the sandy beaches. Next one occupied, and the next. As I approach the 4th campsite, which is the last one with a beach, 2 guys in a canoe are paddling to it from the south and reach the site before I do. I get up to them as they are unloading their canoe and ask if the last campsite is open and they said it looked that way, but if not, they said I could camp at their site if I needed a place. I feel a bit relieved. I get to the campsite and find it empty. No good spots to land the kayak on the south side. Instead I paddle back around to the north side of the point and find where I can pull the kayak in.

C878 - I unload my gear and start to make camp. Tent is setup now and I grab my portable shower bag to gather water. I paddle the kayak out a ways from camp, fill the bag and head back to camp. I then fill my sawyer filter bags and use them with the sawyer mini filter to fill my water bottles. I light my small pop can alcohol stove. Putting my dehydrated tortilla soup in a titanium pot with some water and placing it on the stove, it's not long till it's at a boil. I remove the pot and put it in a pot cozy. While that's sitting, I munch on some dark chocolate and dehydrated fruit. Soon the soup is done and I add some tortilla chips into it and dig in. Tastes so good after a long day's travel. I wash up my dishes and clean up camp, then cut a few small logs from downed trees and start a small fire in the fire grate. Finding a good spot to hang my food pack was a bit of a challenge, but I found a branch overhanging the lake on a tall pine that I was able to loop a rope over and tie it off safely.

As the sun sets, the wind starts to die down. The frogs are noisy and I hear a loon calling as I turn in for bed at about 9:30pm.

12:00am - Awakened to a big spash near my camp, my heart sinks as I fear my food pack dropped in the water from the limb it was hanging from. Raccoons messing with it possibly? Worried that the food pack is in the water, even though it is in a dry bag, I grab my flashlight and rush out of the tent. I point the flashlight at the tree my pack was hanging from, and there it is right as I left it, secured in the tree. A bit confused and not fully awake yet, I wonder what the sound was. Just then I hear a loud SLAP on the water. Beavers. Nothing to worry about, I crawl back into my tent and try to get back to sleep.

1:00am - It seems like I just got to sleep and I'm awakened again. This time by noisy loons having a yelling match across the lake. Where's the earplugs when you need them? Not sure when I actually get back to sleep, but I'm up at 5:30 am with the sunrise.

Day 1 Summary

11.02 miles | 10 lakes | 2 rivers | 8 portages | 389 rods

Cross River, Oriole Lake, Ham Lake, Cross Bay Lake, Rib Lake, Lower George Lake, Karl Lake, Long Island Lake, Long Island River, Gordon Lake, Unload Lake, Frost Lake


Day 2 of 6

Sunday, May 25, 2014

5:30am - Breakfast consists of apple cinnamon oatmeal, dried pineapples, bananas, and apples for breakfast. I enjoy the sunrise over the lake as I packed up camp. Looks to be another sunny day. With all the gear packed and securely loaded in my kayak I leave camp. 7:40am - I notice the guys in the camp to the north are up and about so I paddle over and talk with them briefly. They say they came up from the Frost River which is where I'm headed to. I wish them well on the rest of their trip and then head to my portage. They will be the last people I see for a couple days as I come to find out.

P520 139 rods - 8:00am - The portage is very long, steep at the start and has some very rocky sections that require careful footwork. The morning sun filters through the trees and the rapids roar down below me to my right. The sights make up for it being a long portage. Being a bit sore, I'm relieved to get to the end of the portage with my kayak and shed the weight off my shoulders. 9:00am Frost River - The Frost river is winding and slow. The map shows a P143, but there is nothing to portage and I continue to paddle my way through to Octopus Lake. P523 16 rods - A short rocky portage along the river. I snap a picture at the portage. It's a short paddle to the next portage.

P144 23 rods - I pull the kayak into the landing and look at the portage trail. Not far down the trail is a huge 5 foot tall boulder in the middle of the trail that I'd have to lift the kayak onto and over. I walk toward the rapids and scope out if they would be runable or not. No strainers and no big drops. A few rocks to maneuver around, that's all. I head back to the kayak ensure my gear is secured. Carefully maneuvering the kayak in a good line, I punch the rapids. I manage the descent easily but I can tell I scraped a few rocks underneath. That was a rush! I excitedly stop the kayak at the end of the portage use my sponge to extract some the water that splashed in the cockpit, and then take a picture of the rapids I ran.

P142? 10 rods? - This portage appeared about 200 yards sooner than it was on the map. It was short and had a cool waterfall that I snapped a picture of. Also spotted a beaver here.

Large rocks seem to be strewn about most likely by ancient glaciers. I continue to paddle down the Frost River make it to P138

P138 29 rods - Portage completed to Chase Lake and I stop to eat. I paddle strait across the lake to the next portage.

P133 23 rods - The portage was a bit steep, especially at the end with a smooth slanted rock face.

Pencil lake lives up to the name as it is long and thin. An enjoyable and scenic paddle.

P136 35 rods - Portage is on the southeast side of the river, not northwest as indicated by the map. A bit mucky where I get back in the kayak and the current is moving decent as the river is narrow. I continue paddling down the river.

P141 16 rods - This portage was about 150 yards down from what the map indicated.

P880 5 rods - No portage. Paddled through.

P149 5 rods - This portage was a quarter mile sooner than the map had shown. I pulled the kayak over the rocky dam instead.

P147 14 rods - No portage. Paddled through. P139 12 rods - No portage. Paddled through.

I make it to Afton Lake. Afton Lake is nice, and I contemplate camping here for the night, but it is only 1:30pm and I still have enough energy to travel.

P131 25 rods - Steepest portage ever. Very steep going up and down. It's a bit tricky to keep the tail of the kayak up when heading down. I'm very careful with my footing as a slip here could be disastrous. The photos do not do justice to how steep the trail actually is.

It's about 2:20pm now and the portage is completed. I'm in Fente Lake. It's alamost a mile to the other side of this long and narrow lake.

P125 15 rods - Nice and short portage that takes me to Whipped Lake.

I had originally planned on possibly going left into Time Lake and then to the west end of Mora to skip the portage, but decided against it as there was no portages and it probably wouldn't be able to be paddled through fully. I instead take the portage.

P474 98 rods - Long portage. Glad that one is finished and only one more to make it to Little Saganaga Lake.

I paddle through Mora Lake and snap some pictures before I reach the next portage.

P451 48 rods - 4:00pm - Steep portage but it has amazing views of the roaring rapids below. A great sight. I snap a few pictures and video.

4:30pm - I stick to the left shore as I paddle Little Saganaga Lake. I end up hitting dead end bay. Check my map and head northeast to get around the point. I paddle towards the island that has 2 campsites on it. I pass the eastern campsite and decide check the one on the west side.

5:00pm - I reach C537. It's a beautiful campsite. The area to the north looks to be burn area with dome rock hills visable but all the islands and everything south is untouched and green. I get camp setup and gather some water in my water filter bags and fill my camp shower up and lay it out on the rocks in the sun. I cook my homemade dehydrated beef stroganoff. It's delicious! I spot a float plane fly over to the north of me. Hopefully nobody is lost or in trouble. It's the only plane I see or hear the whole time in the BWCA. I hang my camp shower in a tree and take a much needed shower. I feel so much better now. The loons start to sing around 7pm and it's still about 83 degrees out. I enjoy the sunset and the island chipmunk comes by to say hi. I get to bed about 9pm and fall asleep to the singing loons.

I wake up around midnight and peek out of the tent. The stars are out so I grab my Canon S100 point and shoot and take a few shots and then go back to bed.

Day 2 Summary

12.36 miles | 9 lakes | 1 river | 12 portages | 384 rods

Frost Lake, Frost River, Octopus Lake, Chase Lake, Pencil Lake, Afton Lake, Fente Lake, Whipped Lake, Mora Lake, Little Saganaga Lake


Day 3 of 6

Cross Bay Lake - 50


Day 4 of 6

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

7:30am - Felt good to sleep in. Temperature is already 65ºF. The air is calm this morning. I end up finding a couple wood ticks crawling on me at this site. I guess it was bad site for mosquitoes and ticks. I eat breakfast get camp packed up. I'm on the river a little at 9:10am. It's only a third of a mile to the first portage of the day.

P580 19 rods - It's a short portage and I'm now in Fishdance Lake. The pictographs are on my agenda, so I paddle my way down to the rock cliffs. The pictographs are easy to spot and I take some pictures. The striped rock cliff reminds me of the one on Makwa Lake.

I then head back north and round the bend to the left towards the 2 portages that will take me to Alice Lake.

P587 95 rods - 10:00am - It's a long portage but has some very scenic and powerful rapids. I wouldn't attempt trying to run these. The next portage is less than a quarter mile down the river.

P589 24 rods - Not much for a landing at this portage. I park the kayak and scramble up the hill to check out the the rapids. I spot a couple of guys in a canoe at the bottom fishing. I see that the rapids are not much of a challenge and no strainers, so I feel they are safe enough to run and within my abilities. I head back to my kayak and paddle up the river and out to the left hand side of the river to avoid the downed trees. I run the rapids easy enough and slow the kayak to where the 2 guys in the canoe are fishing. They said they noticed me on the portage and then I disappeared. They then knew what I was up to when I came down the rapids. They said the fishing has been great and they've been catching their limit. I leave them to their fishing and continue into Alice Lake.

Alice Lake is quite large and the first few campsites are occupied. I stop at the next one (C1166) which is empty and has a nice sandy beach. It's about 11:00 so I stop and eat and also use the pit toilet while I'm there.

I get some photos of a loon and also talk with a large group (8 or 9 guys and 4 aluminum canoes) at the next campsite. They said they also came in from Lake One, same as the other fishermen I met. I paddle on north and up the narrow top of the lake.

P888 9 rods - It's about noon when I reach this short portage. It's a steep but short portage into Cacabic Lake. I paddle the length of the lake to the next portage.

P537 205 rods - My longest portage. As I pull the kayak in I see bluegill right by the shore. Could probably scoop them right out of the water if I was quick enough. I start the portage at about 12:30pm. There's some boardwalk sections, some of it deteriorated slightly, so I have to pay attention to my footing. I get my pack and paddles to the end of the portage and then hike the 2/3 mile back to get my kayak. By the time I get kayak to the other end and gear loaded up, it is 1:40pm.

Thomas Lake is so clear and pretty. It's a long paddle to the narrows but the clear lake reveals some huge rock slabs under the water near the rocky islands. It's quite mesmerizing looking down at them that I have to be careful to keep my kayak upright. I reach the narrows and it's a cool sight to see the 2 big lakes connected by a narrow and deep rocky channel. I find the channel is loaded with 24"+ suckers. Over 1000 of them in the channel I estimate.

Fraser Lake is a very long paddle, about 2.25 miles. I see one campsite occupied in the distance as I make my way to the portage.

P460 18 rods - Short portage into Gerund Lake. I stick to the right side of the lake to get to the next portage.

P452 28 rods - Very steep and rocky climb up to Ahmakose Lake. It's about 3:30pm now. It only takes a few minutes and I'm at the next portage.

P442 98 rods - I find a grass snake at the landing of the portage and get a picture. This is a long portage that has some slanted cliffs on the portage trail. I start to hear some voices and shouts from the Wisini Lake area as I'm portaging my kayak. As I reach the landing, 4 guys in 2 canoes are coming toward the portage. I quickly load up and clear the portage for them. I ask if the campsites on Wisini are open and they said all of them are. I quickly spot the awesome rock cliffs to my left and put the camera to work.

I paddle on toward the campsite on the east side of the lake that's up on the cliff. On the point to my left I see a large boulder propped up by some smaller rocks and get a picture of it.

5:00 pm - There isn't much of a landing at the campsite, so I tie up the kayak to the tree that's growing in the rocks there. I lug my gear up the rocks to the campsite. It's a beautiful campsite!

I setup my tent on the nice grassy area. I lay my camp shower on the rocks to heat up and I cook up supper. I enjoy my supper on the rocks overlooking the lake. A nice breeze on the high campsite helps keep the bugs away. After supper, I clean dishes, take a nice warm shower, and also do laundry. I finish my journal entries at about 7:15. It is still about 75ºF. I enjoy the sunset and am in bed at about 9pm.

Day 4 Summary

12.71 miles | 8 lakes |1 river | 8 portages | 496 rods

Kawishiwi River, Fishdance Lake, Alice Lake, Cacabic Lake, Thomas Lake, Fraser Lake, Gerund Lake, Ahmakose Lake, Wisini Lake


Day 1 of 9

We began our journey flying out from the East coast after work on Tuesday. Thankfully, no major traffic delays getting to the airport and this was probably one of the smoothest trips through airport security that we’ve ever had. Apparently Tuesday evening is the time to fly! The stress of trying to get everything tied up at work and packed slowly began to recede.

After an uneventful flight and successfully retrieving the luggage, we picked up the rental car and headed off to the hotel. Priceline turned up the AmericInn Bloomington, which was perfectly fine for one night. Given the late hour of our arrival and time change, we quickly drifted off to sleep. Wednesday morning awoke bright and sunny. Attempting to avoid rush hour in Minneapolis, it was a relaxed morning. We made a pit stop at a local grocery store to pick up most of our last minute provisions and found a Lands End Inlet for a couple non-trip items. Our shopping was curtailed when ran into a computer outage at another store and didn’t feel like waiting around for the cash registers to return to service.

With traffic dying down, we started our journey northwards. We quickly cruised up to Cloquet and made a pit stop at Gordy’s Hi-Hat for lunch. The onion rings and shakes were delish. Feeling totally stuffed and finally at vacation relaxation levels, we took the scenic route north out of Duluth heading on for Grand Marais.

Sadly, World’s Greatest Donuts was already sold out for the day, but we did manage to snag some boxed wine. Also picked up steaks for our first night’s dinner and Subway for breakfast/lunch the next day. Fully provisioned, we turned up the Gunflint Trail keeping an eye out for wildlife. Sadly, the only variety we saw was of the two-legged variety.

Upon arrival at Rockwood, we quickly got checked in and dropped our luggage in the bunkhouse. We’d reserved a partial outfitting package and Mike took great care ensuring we had everything we’d need for a successful trip. We got some advice on recommended campsites, current conditions reports, and some ideas on places we might want to see on our route. Fully loaded, we headed back up to the bunkhouse get everything packed for the morning. The weather had turned greyer, windier, and a bit damp as we headed north. Forecast for Thursday morning was also a bit drippy, so we made sure the leave the raingear out for the morning. Settled and repacked, we took a quick jaunt down to the Trail Center for dinner. Upon returning, we grabbed our last shower for a week and turned in for the night.


Day 3 of 9

Thursday, May 29, 2014

6:30am - Looks like a calm morning. I eat breakfast and pack up camp and hit the water at 8am.

P314 38 rods - The portage to Alpine Lake followed some powerful rapids. I paddle across Alpine Lake and take the first portage to Seagull Lake

P308 101 rods - I see an older couple doing a double portage with their canoe. Plenty of room at the landing so I pull in my kayak and start my portage. I chat with them for a while and find out they are from Fort Wayne, IN.

It's about 9:30am when I start the long paddle across Seagull Lake, nearly 6 miles. The rocky islands are picture worthy and I snap a few shots along the way.

I reach Seagull Outfitters at about 10:50am. I get my kayak and gear loaded up and chat with the outfitters for a while. I leave the outfitters and head south on the Gunflint trail to the Magnetic Rock Trail, part of the Border Route Trail.

Once I reach the trailhead, I grab a water bottle and camera and start the 3 mile round trip hike to the Magnetic Rock. This area is burnt from the Ham Lake Fire of '07, but it is still quite beautiful with the multi-colored rocks everywhere. I reach the Magnetic Rock and it looks totally out of place. This tall rock just standing upright on the top of a hill looks like a giant placed it there. It's a 60-foot tall glacial erratic. >

I finish my hike and start the long drive back home. I can't wait to plan another trip up here again.

Day 6 Summary

8.78 miles | 3 lakes | 2 portages | 139 rods

Jasper Lake, Alpine Lake, Seagull Lake

Also a 3 mile hike on the Magnetic Rock Trail.


Total Trip Summary

72.98 miles | 50 lakes and ponds | 4 rivers | 54 portages | 2122 rods (double portaged for a total of 19.9 miles of traversing portage trails)


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