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December 03 2023

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

Five days of Clouds, Four Fish, Three Moose, Three Young Guys, One Old Dude, One Great Time!

by bottomtothetap
Trip Report

Entry Date: August 18, 2014
Entry Point: Cross Bay Lake
Exit Point: Lizz and Swamp Lakes (47)
Number of Days: 5
Group Size: 4

Trip Introduction:
I went on a loop from Cross Bay Lake with my friend Kirby, who I had guided on a BWCA trip when he was in high school, my son Stephen and his friend Matt. It was a great trip that hit on almost every aspect hoped for. For the first time, I attempted and edited together a video, trying out my new GoPro camera. Check it out!

Day 1 of 5

Monday, August 18, 2014 After a restful night at Rockwood Lodge (better sleep than I usually get the night before a trip), we awoke to clouds and drizzle. A nice visit with Lynn, of Rockwood, and the quick breakfast she served us, prepared us for the ride we got from her husband Mike who brought us up the trail a bit to our drop-off at Round Lake. On our way there, the drizzle turned to rain so we thought we would have to start the trip by getting wet right away but by unloading time the rain had quit. While the clouds/mist/drizzle persisted the rest of the day, the rain never got heavy enough for us to don our rain gear the whole time we were on the water. Regardless of the weather, I was so excited to be on our way that I was thanking Mike for the ride and telling him goodbye before we had even unloaded the canoes!

Once we were off our progress was a bit slow as I got my bearings and coached Stephen an Matt. They were fairly new paddlers and were creating a lot of "snake wake" though by the time we made it through Ham Lake we were moving along quite nicely. When we reached Rib Lake we decided it was time for lunch and grabbed that lake's campsite for a break. After refueling on fresh fruit and ham sandwiches we continued paddling toward our target for the day, Long Island Lake. Our prospects for finding an open campsite on Long Island seemed good based on reports we were getting from canoes who had been there earlier in the day and were now exiting the BWCA.

When we arrived at Long Island, we indeed found several open sites about mid lake. While Stephen and Matt landed at one that looked promising, Kirby and I decided to check out a few others in the area. After threatening skies all day, a rumble of thunder helped Kirby and I decide that where the other two guys had landed would be good enough so we headed back over there and arrived just as the first raindrops started to fall. We hurried to set up camp and finished with the tent and tarp just as the clouds really broke and the rain started to fall in earnest. While we stayed dry under our shelter, any possible firewood got soaked and our stoves would now be our only means of cooking supper. My Primus trail did OK for the potatoes and carrots while we were able to get four steaks done over Sterno!

After about 45 minutes the rain quit and we still had enough light to do a little fishing. A nice northern that Matt caught and released was all we had to show for those efforts. With all of the wood still wet we decided to pass on an evening fire and turned in just as night fell for a well-deserved rest. We all slept like logs. 


Day 2 of 5

Tuesday, August 19, 2014 The next morning was still overcast but the weather was dry and the clouds did not look threatening. After a bacon and egg breakfast, cooked again without a campfire, we packed up and headed east with a goal of making it to Omega Lake early enough that our chances would be good of snagging a campsite there.

After a pleasant paddle along Long Island Lake we reached the portage to Muskeg Creek. It's not a long trail but what a rock-filled ankle buster! The east end of this portage appears to be on top of an old beaver dam so the put-in to Muskeg Creek is a bit awkward too. After winding our way through swampy, mucky Muskeg Creek the landing of the portage to Muskeg Lake really gave us fits! The creek got too shallow to navigate a loaded canoe well before dry land and getting out to walk the canoe through the remainder of the creek was not much of an option either as the muddy bottom of this creek was ready to suck you in past your knees. We ended up working our canoes and the whole load, pack by pack, to solid ground by carefully stepping along the few rocks that protruded from the water. This all made progress rather slow so by the time we made it to Muskeg Lake it was already about time for lunch.

The lone campsite on Muskeg was open and made a nice place to grab lunch, fueling up for our long steep portage over "The Wall" to Kiskadinna Lake. We were dreading this next portage somewhat as we had heard of its difficulty and believed it would be the hardest one on our whole trip. We made a plan of attack that would utilize our strength as a team and decided we would work this portage slow and steady. And you know what? We did it! It was certainly some challenging work but not the toughest I'd ever done and really not quite as hard as we had anticipated. That being said, it was still nice to have that one behind us.

After paddling Kiskadinna we had at least one more portage we wanted to finish before calling it a day and this path to Omega Lake turned out to be a tester as well. While not nearly as long as our previous portage, this one still had some steep up and down so by the time we reached Omega we really hoped to be done portaging for the day.

The western site on Omega was already taken so we continued on toward a site about mid-lake that we had heard some good things about. It was open! This site's reputation is well deserved as it has some great views, good tent pads and other nice features.

After we set up camp, Matt, our head fisherman on this trip, decided to try his luck but was not able to get anything to bite so that meant a macaroni/cheese and freeze-dried entrée supper. After the hard work we had done this day even that tasted great, as did the roasted marshmallows we had while we enjoyed an evening fire before turning in for the night.


Day 3 of 5

Wednesday, August 20, 2014 This was going to be a layover day so we took it easy in the morning, lingering over a breakfast of pancakes with syrup and dried fruit. Once the dishes were cleaned, we packed our lunch, bait and tackle and headed over to Henson Lake for some fishing with thoughts of trying out Otto Lake as well. The portage from Omega to Henson was kind of a muddy mess but pretty short so we arrived at Henson still quite full of energy and eager to wet our lines. Too bad the fish weren't eager as well.

After an hour or two with little luck, our thoughts again turned to Otto Lake. The portage looked a bit steep so I decided to scout it out before attempting it with any gear. After walking its entire length and back I convinced the others that it was difficult enough that Otto Lake probably wasn't worth it and that we should stay on Henson. We decided to try fishing again after a lunch break.

The western-most campsite on Henson was good enough for lunch but did not appear good for much else. We did not find a decent tent pad here and the site seems little used. Getting to the latrine requires a long, steep hike. We did try a few casts from shore here and were able to find that a northern or two hangs around so that is a plus.

Once we were re-energized with lunch, fishing resumed in earnest. Kirby and I would try for some bass near a deadfall hanging off shore while Matt and Stephen were going to check out a promising bay for northerns. After a couple casts, I got a big hit and my rod was bent 180 degrees! This fish was a beauty and certainly did his part to bolster the smallie's fighting reputation. After a few minutes I managed to get this trophy-sized bass to the canoe and I reached down to pull it aboard. Then, with one last flip, it spit the hook and was gone!! So close and yet, nothing! Oh well, try again and on the next cast I hooked another one that felt just as big. This one was also quite the fighter and I got to watch it breach to put just about a foot between its tail and the surface. I did not let this one get away and measured the fish at 19.5 inches. About that time, Stephen and Matt paddled up to us showing off their success with a couple of nice northerns on the stringer. We were eating fish for supper! We decided if we ate just a bit early, we would have time to check out the waterfalls on the south shore of nearby Winchell Lake so it was back to the campsite on Omega for our fish feast.

After our early meal, we did head out toward the falls on Winchell and one short portage from Omega brought us to this big beautiful lake. Thankfully, the breeze was very light providing for flat water and we were able to find these hidden falls after a quick, scenic paddle to the southern cliffs on Winchell. These falls are a thin, pretty little series of cascades and you can climb right up them to the top for a great view of the lake. After a few pictures and snacking on some wild raspberries that Stephen found, we headed back to our Omega Lake camp so we could get there before dark. Again, this evening we enjoyed a nice fire before calling it a night.


Day 4 of 5

Thursday, August 21, 2014 Again, as we had every day, we awoke to clouds. An oatmeal breakfast made for a quick getaway and after one more slog through the slop between Omega and Henson, we were headed east hoping to make the eastern part of Gaskin Lake by lunchtime and to settle there for the last night of our trip. The paddle down Henson and the portage to Gaskin went smoothly but by the time we got to Gaskin the breeze had picked up and would be in our face for the rest of our trip east. This slowed our progress a bit but mercifully the waves were reasonable and the wind didn't make us work too hard. On the east end of Gaskin we found all of the campsites to be full so we were going to have to continue on to Horseshoe Lake. Before tackling the portage from Gaskin to Horseshoe, we decided on a quick lunch of peanut butter and jelly tortilla roll-ups--always a BWCA favorite of mine!

When we got to Horseshoe Lake we found the first campsite there also taken but the second one we saw was unoccupied and it looked like a keeper. It even had a pile of firewood ready (Thank You, cycle003!). About this time we saw our first sun of the trip! Our last night was going to be a good one!

After setting up camp it was time to try more fishing. Soon after, we watched the clouds return but long after that we still had not seen any fish out of Horseshoe. Then the clouds started leaking so it was time to retreat under the tarp and finish off some of our freeze-dried food for supper. The rain intensified and then lingered to well after dark but because of the ready-made pile of firewood, we were still able to have a nice fire in spite of the wet weather. Once we were convinced that one more chance at BWCA stargazing was just not to be on this trip, we hit our sleeping bags for the night. 


Day 5 of 5

Friday, August 22, 2014

Our last morning greeted us with flat water and heavy fog. While we welcomed the easy paddling, I do a lot of map-and-landmark navigating so the fog was going to make our trip out to Rockwood Lodge rather interesting. The previous nights rain had left everything soaked so we packed it all up wet, knowing there was going to be a lot of gear drying when we got home.

We finished up the last of our food with another oatmeal breakfast and were on our way. By now the fog had lifted a bit and I did not have to rely on my compass so much after all. The water remained calm and after a couple of relatively easy portages we made it to Poplar lake in pretty good time. It was a change to hear motors and see structures again.

Just before passing through the islands on our way to Rockwood Lodge, Kirby spotted what he thought was some birds swimming a few hundred yards ahead of us. I could see them too, but it still was a bit foggy and it was hard to make out what kind of birds they were. It looked like they were flapping their wings but we were still unable to identify their species. As we got closer, they looked less like birds and we thought maybe it was a family of beavers. Then, imagine our amazement when, as they neared an island, we watched these "birds" come up out of the water attached to big bodies and go crashing into the trees. It was Mama Moose and two of her young ones! What we had seen through the fog was the top of their heads and the "wing flapping" was the moose wiggling their ears. What a way to finish the trip! Kirby and I could still hear them crashing through the woods as we passed by the island.

A few minutes later and Mike was greeting us as we pulled up on his beach at Rockwood Lodge. He was glad to hear of our moose encounter since he had also seen them previously in the summer--but not for awhile--and he had wondered if they were still around.

After an awfully refreshing shower, clean clothes and some mighty tasty burgers at the Trail Center Café, we hit the road home concluding another awesome trip.


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