BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
July 09 2020
Number of Permits per Day: 2
Elevation: 1865 feet
Skipper & Portage Lakes - 49
Rainy day people
May 28, 2016
Skipper and Portage Lakes
Cross Bay Lake (50)
Number of Days:
Having spent the previous night at Tuscarora Lodges bunkhouse #1, we are up early doing some last minute packing before heading over for the French toast breakfast. Soon after we are loading up one of Tuscarora’s vehicles so we can be shuttled over to Poplar Lake. It’s cool and skies are gray as we push off but, at least it isn’t raining. After a brief paddle, still brimming with excitement, we arrive at our first portage of the day; the 320 rod trail to Skipper Lake.
This end starts with a climb, and there are a number of mud holes and shorter climbs along the way. I find an accommodating sitting rock (closer to the Skipper side) that provides both comforts for my long legs and has a concave depression that seems made just for my backside. Bugs are a nuisance the whole way across but, the landing proves to be even worse! All appearances suggest that Skipper is a lovely lake but, it is difficult to fully appreciate the scenery since the fog and mist are still so heavy.
A bit of luck finds us as we are able to paddle right through the ‘rapids’ that occasionally necessitate the 20 rod portage into Little Rush Lake. It is spring and there has been plenty of rain recently, so I think it’s safe to say water levels are higher than normal. Still, dependent on how particular one is about scratches on their canoes (and getting their feet wet), I think a canoe could be walked through here in all but the driest of conditions.
Our next portage, into Rush Lake, is a winding path that has a steep rocky hill to surmount. Once back in the canoe, we enjoy the beautiful scenery unfolding before us as we paddle west down this long waterway. We paddle past a couple of sites that don't overly impress us. Since our target is the west end of Banadad Lake, we just quickly note it for a possible future trip to the area. At our next portage there is a charning little bridge where the Banadad ski trail intersects this diminutive trail. Since it is so short, there is no confusion as it is obvious which path is the portage; as along with the babbling brook, it helps provide an idyllic scene. There is some fish spawn (eggs) clearly visible in the shallow water here that provide an interesting diversion/learning opportunity for Aurora. There doesn't seem to be a clear cut landing point here, it appears that people take out where ever is convenient. As it is, I take the packs across the bridge and, then carry the canoe right up the creek - bypassing the bridge.
Banadad is a narrow, almost riveresque body of water, and we are all instantly smitten with this little jewel. Unfortunately our spirits are dampened a bit as the ominous sighting of canoes near the western end of the lake indicate that those sites are occupied. Retreating, we paddle back to claim the island site near mid-lake. It is certainly nothing special but, it will have to do. The fire grate/kitchen area is severely sloped, all the tent pads are plagued with large protruding roots, and there is a precipitous drop just a few feet from the front side of the fire grate. Still, we determine to make the best of it!
Its seasoned pork tenderloin, potatoes and rehydrated green beans for supper. Afterwards, Vickie is anxious to give her new Old Scout reflector oven a try. She quickly bakes up an indulgent chocolate cake for dessert. The oven exceeds expectations, and she is happy with the speed and efficiency this method provides. Later on, the increasing intensity of the rain showers chases us to the warm sanctuary of our sleeping bags in the tent.
Poplar Lake, Skipper Lake, Little Rush Lake, Rush Lake, Banadad Lake
The rain continues throughout the night into the morning. We linger in the tent hopeful the incessant pitter patter will subside. It doesn’t. Finally, our sore muscles and full bladders force us towards the inevitable. I get breakfast going as rain persists on and off throughout the morning hours. We hang around camp as I process some firewood for a hopeful fire later but, mostly we’re just a bunch of dead beats sitting around. Finally Vickie suggests we go out for a paddle just to get out of camp.
It is still cold but the rain has mostly stopped for now. There is a little chop out on the lake but, nothing too serious. We paddle for the western end where we find the island site still occupied. We then paddle back into the northern arm continuing our exploratory route around the lake. The campsite there is open, so we decide to check it out. It doesn’t look like much from out on the lake but, once we get past the constricted landing and up to the fire grate a decent site with a couple of nice tent pads is revealed. It’s nothing special but, when compared with ours, it looks very plush. There are even several orchids beginning to bloom on the fringes.
Continuing on, we head for the Sebeka portage trail. I’ve heard this one is a real beast, and figure we can scout it out since we’ll be heading this way tomorrow. The landing is full of chewed up beaver sticks and Vickie & Aurora have a grand ol’ time inspecting them. Vickie even finds a nice diamond willow, while I spot something altogether different. It’s a tiny mud turtle. It could not have possibly hatched yet this year, so it must be a yearling. I hand it to Aurora and watch her play & gaze upon it with fascinated curiosity. When finished, she also freely puts it back where I had picked it up at and tells it to, “Go find your mommy, little turtle.”
Afterwards, we hike the portage trail. I tell Aurora she needs to practice how to safely walk around the big mud holes that are located throughout. Both Vickie & I unwittingly discover some knee deep pockets of muck but, fortunately, Aurora proves she has learned the needed lessons on the return trip.
There is no hurry as we paddle back, as our exploratory excursion continues. We take time to check out the rock wall just west of our site and circle around the back side of our scenic little island before returning to camp. Even though the clouds are finally beginning to break up, it proves exceedingly difficult to get (and keep) a decent fire going with our damp, wet wood. Per usual the bugs are once again a persistent annoyance but, we do enjoy not having to huddle under the tarp for a change.
Of course Aurora has packed in some of her toys, and while she doesn’t totally neglect them; it’s fascinating to note the she consistently seems more enthralled and entertained by the various rocks & sticks that she discovers. A noteworthy item is a chunk of wood that she calls her hammer.
Banadad Lake, Sebeka Lake
Today we get to enjoy a sunrise. It’s a travel day, so we just have a quick oatmeal breakfast. Our portage reconnaissance yesterday pays dividends today as we make it across the tough Sebeka trail without any difficulties. As we approach where we anticipate the landing for our next portage into Ross Lake should be, we are momentarily confused and scan the shoreline for a tell tale sign. Just then a moose cow pokes her head out not 20 yards in front of us, and we simultaneously point out that we’ve located where the portage is. I tell Aurora to watch close because there’s probably going be a calf close behind. Sure enough there is and, while we do get a good look, they move on rather quickly before we can get some good photos. Still we feel blessed, and are grateful for the encounter.
This portage isn’t quite as precipitous or muddy but, it is considerably longer and more overgrown. Fortunately we’re traveling in the right direction and get to travel down the biggest hill near Ross Lake. There are some impressive cliffs on this side of the lake and, as a whole it, is quite scenic and not as boggy or low lying as we expect. The mosquitos are intensifying their attack as we begin our next portage. This trail is similar to the previous, just a little more muddy and it has a short boardwalk. And like the previous trail, it is easily followed but overgrown. The problem we encounter here is that the overgrown branches are right at face height for Aurora and they cause her no shortage of headaches, both figuratively and literally. However, a tiny inch worm helps to take her mind off of her struggles. Cave Lake is a tiny lower lying, boggy lake and we have no difficulty locating our next portage. The plague of mosquitoes reaches Biblical proportions here, especially on the Long Island Lake end. This portage is a bit muddy and has a couple of tiny hills but, really isn’t too bad. But, when you consider it along with the other 3 (that must be done when moving camp between Banadad and Long Island) the cumulative effect definitely begins to add up. Thankfully the water was shallow at the Long Island end and there was plenty of sand for Aurora to play with while Vickie & I took turns finishing up the portage.
We thoroughly enjoy a relaxing paddle across Long Island Lake as we head for the west end in hopes of finding a nice site. Aurora capably shows us where the fire boundaries are and points out various waterfowl and birds as we travel on. Having spent the previous couple of nights at a less than marginal site on Banadad Lake, we are eager to claim a quality camp and find the western most site (#569) much to our liking.
This is a sprawling peninsula site that offers sandy landings at multiple spots and Aurora instantly settles right in as Vickie & I begin to set up. Unlike our previous camp, there is plenty of room to roam here as this is a near 5 star site and Vickie even goes so far as to call the large jack pines providing shade & shelter on the outer fringes, her ‘palm trees’. Traffic & the loooong walk to the latrine are the big detractors.
It has been a pretty tough day, so we take full advantage of the remainder of the gorgeous weather. Aurora swings in the hammock while we kick back with cold drinks and savor the eminent beauty and tranquility basking under the radiant illumination of starlight well into the evening as the seeming silence slowly transforms into a cacophony of a wilderness orchestra.
Banadad Lake, Sebeka Lake, Ross Lake, Cave Lake, Long Island Lake
Today is about a 180 of yesterday. It’s windy, cold, and threatens rain at any time. The temperature never even makes it to 50! With gusts of up to 30+ mph predicted, we decide to forego our day trip to Cherokee Lake and stay close to camp. I process plenty of firewood while Vickie does some baking (blueberry scones). We also have plenty of time for exploration and even discover, much to Aurora’s delight and amusement, that we have a friendly rabbit sharing camp with us. Really there isn’t too much to say about today, as Vickie & Aurora eventually take a long nap and I do a little reading. At least we stay warm and comfortable, while we hope for better weather tomorrow.
It’s still cool and overcast but, today’s weather promises to be more forgiving. After breakfast we load up a day pack and venture out, with Frost Lake as our hopeful destination. The Long Island River is straight south of our site, and after negotiating a couple of beaver dams and the 11 rod portage we are quickly on Gordon Lake where the 140 rod portage to Unload Lake is located.
After the rocky landing, this trail has one decent hill (down to Unload) but for us the primary obstacle(s) are the long stretches of slippery mud and water. A pretty decent landing greets us on the Unload end but, I’d noticed a nice grove of cedars just up the trail a bit; so, after setting the canoe down, I hike back to scope them out. While not quite on par with the monster located below Johnson Falls, there are some very impressive sentinels on display here. Vickie has also finds & collects a nice cache of birch bark for use as needed later in the trip.
The bog laurel is beginning to bloom, and adds a splash of color to the gloominess of the day as we paddle across Unload Lake to the large beaver dam just before Frost Lake. The wind starts to kick up as we head for the beach. While this obviously makes for tougher paddling, the tradeoff is that it is beginning to blow in little splotches of blue sky and glorious sunshine.
Frost Lake is deserted, so we have the place to ourselves. We pull into the camp nearest the beach and check it out before walking over. Aurora’s eager excitement is hard to contain as we near the sandy expanse. Upon officially arriving, Aurora immediately drops down and starts making sand angels. For the next couple of hours we’re all happily occupied building any number of sand creations as, gratefully, the sun graces us with its presence. Spending time here at the beautifully expansive beach definitely helps make up for yesterdays forced lethargy.
We take a little time to explore Long Island Lake on our way back. In keeping with the theme of this trip, the threat of rain chases us back to camp. It’s only a short shower that eventually treats us to a beautiful rainbow. Later, Vickie bakes up some muffins for a delectable bedtime snack, as I begin to pack a few things away.
Long Island Lake, Gordon Lake, Unload Lake, Frost Lake
Yet another gray morning, although it’s nice to see the wind is calm. Not wanting to paddle all the way around the large peninsula, we opt for the 40 rod portage just NE of our site. There’s a nice beach here and then a narrow (for getting the canoe through) passage through a couple of pine trees before the trail climbs then drops back down to a rocky landing. As we work our way towards Cross Bay Lake, the portages are all fairly short and level but, exceedingly muddy & wet with a few boulders thrown in for good measure . Fortunately Aurora has overcome her fear of puddles and now charges ahead with confidence! The landing on the Rib Lake end of the portage to Cross Bay deserves special mention as a boulder infested mess.
Once on Cross Bay, Vickie checks out the southern site and isn’t overly enthusiastic about it so we paddle on. Along the western shore where the tiny creek comes in from a no name lake, we hear rushing water so we paddle over to investigate. Once we penetrate the initial shrouding brush, a stunning waterfall is revealed. Vickie is particularly enthralled and we linger here basking in this magical atmosphere.
Continuing on up the lake, (actually Cross Bay is more of a river) we spy the next campsite up high on the western shore. The landing is a bit tricky but, there are a couple of nice tent pads and I’m able to situate the tarp so that the hammock is partially underneath it. It’s a bit grassy (buggy) but, does offer a commanding view in both directions. Aurora even has a playmate here as a grouse keeps her occupied while Vickie & I put the finishing touches on getting setup.
Although it has been a short travel day, we don’t stay up too late tonight as the bugs, once again, prove to be a nuisance. Like it had throughout the day, it rains on and off until morning. We hear noises into the night but, rightly figure it’s just the grouse.
Long Island Lake, Karl Lake, Lower George Lake, Rib Lake, Cross Bay Lake
The sun makes an appearance today! I had aspirations of making it to Tuscarora Lake but, considering how tempestuous the weather has been, decided to keep it simple and forego the long portages and just check out Snipe Lake. While larger bodies of water hold their own special appeal, in my humble opinion, Snipe Lake is one of those rare boundary waters jewels much like Agamok, Cherry or Gogebic. With several narrow fingers, rock walls and tinyislands; its beauty and mystery are configured in such a way as to make intimate knowledge of these wonderful facets easily attainable and discerned - and always close at hand no matter where you are on the lake.
The portage in from Cross Bay isn’t too long (43 rods) but, requires a significant climb up a boulder laden path. Of course the current moisture levels also add slippery mud and water to the equation. While the full throated roar of the nearby rapids beckons, we opt to paddle out onto the lake without investigating.
After exploring much of the lake, we paddle to the unoccupied campsite at the entrance to the NE bay. There is a couple eating lunch at the nearby tiny island, so we follow suit and grab some grub and stretch out for awhile too. Afterwards, we paddle over to hike the portage trail to Missing Link Lake.
This is a fairly tough trail but, without the burden of our packs, it isn’t too bad. We all enjoy these forays into the woods, always eagerly anticipating what we might find. Of course spring is always a good time to see flowers and we are treated to a few pink lady slippers as well as several other colorful varieties in bloom.
Both Vickie & I are impressed by the relative ease with which Aurora scales the 5 foot rock wall in this trail. A break is in order as we reach the other end, and many a rock are thrown/skipped out into the lake. We are even temporarily joined by a large bullfrog. The breeze off the lake is invigorating and we linger here soaking it in (while finally not getting soaked ourselves) before retracing our route back to camp.
Once back on Cross Bay, we paddle over to the shoreline just across from our camp to gather some prime firewood. This side of the lake was hit by fire not too long ago so, consequently, there is an abundance of excellent dead firewood. It also appears there may be a decent crop of blueberries in this area. We load up our canoe with several logs and paddle back to camp to finish processing it - getting distracted by a mallard along the way.
Back in camp, putting our firewood to meritorious use, Vickie once again bakes up tasty treats for us. Par for the course - gray clouds move in before nightfall but, by this time, we've grown so accustomed to them that we scarcely notice. This will be our last evening in canoe country (for this trip) whichs helps us to enjoy the quiet relaxation afforded here all the more.
Cross Bay Lake, Snipe Lake, Missing Link Lake
Of course there is a light rain as we begin tearing down, which continues on & off throughout our journey back to Tuscarora Lodge. Once we leave the wilderness the last few portages seem more cumbersome than they should. I don't know maybe there really is something magical that happens when crossing that imaginary line? After arriving back at the lodge, our hearts sink when Andy tells us that they're out of propane (no hot water for showers). The continual cold & dampness we experienced throughout this trip have put a hot shower much higher on the priority list than usual. Gratitude isn't a big enough word to describe how we feel after Andy allows us to use the staff showers. So even though the owners have changed since last year, the great customer service continues on. A stop at Trail Center for food & then we're on our way home.
I can't recall a recent trip where the bugs were consistently so bad. Nor where the weather was as cold & rainy for so long. Bad site on Banadad. But, that's why I titled the trip the way I did; because the people I spent this time with make it enjoyable regardless of how crummy the conditions are. Even though we had to deal with all these obstacles I still confidently claim that we had a very good trip. (of course it could've been better - taking these things away) :) This was a challenging route (by BWCAW standards) that provided what we were looking for in solitude, scenery & special moments. In particular, further exploration on Rush Lake is what may eventually draw us back to this area.
Our new gear served us well. I've already spoken of Vickie's Old Scout reflector oven. We all also brought new Helinox chairs. The pack-ability of these very light weight, yet sturdy chairs make them indispensible. New CCS packs for Aurora &myself also lived up to their rugged reputation. Also, a few Camp Chow desserts that we tried were pretty decent.
Cross Bay Lake, Ham Lake