BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
April 21 2021
Number of Permits per Day: 2
Elevation: 1865 feet
Skipper & Portage Lakes - 49
June Cross Bay-Frost River-Gillis Loop
June 12, 2018
Cross Bay Lake
Number of Days:
I woke up in the bunk house of Hungry Jack Outfitters with my gear still in need of sorting, and knowing that before I could proceed to the entry point I would unfortunately have to drive back down to Grand Marais so I could take care of some personal business online. I had foolishly left home without getting it done, thinking I’d just take care of it that evening at the bunk house. I should have known better; that the Internet had not reached that far up the trail. Oh well. I could have gone on, but the unfinished stuff would have nagged me the whole trip, so I bit the bullet end backtracked down to GM to the Java Moose for some coffee and wifi. A short thirty minutes and a long latte later my iPad was off and I was driving up the trail, again.
A mere two hours after I had started my car, I was back where I started the morning which was frustrating. In addition to running behind, the sunny sky I’d seen in GM had grown cloudy and then started to drizzle as I finally turned onto Tuscarora Road. Clearly I should have done the final sort of gear in GM instead of waiting to get to the entry point. I pulled in and parked, and flipped open my hatch to allow me to get the last gear items and food sorted. I found the drizzle wasn’t that bad...compared to the mosquitoes, that is. As I sort and swat, young couple pull in and start unloading. They are going on a quick weekend trip, and though I was almost ready I pulled my gear aside to let them more easily load up and get going. They head off, and I follow maybe 10 minutes later.
In just a few minutes I’m at the first portage and a bit surprised to see they still have another trip to make. There is also an extra backpack sitting at the portage - not mine and not theirs. There is clearly a mouse hole in it, and we both scratched out head about what to do - move it forward, take back to the entry, of just leave it. I go ahead and open up the pack for a clue. There’s snacks, a little cook gear, and a few things that look like day trip stuff, so I hoist it up into a small tree where it can be seen and hopefully at least delay the mice.
At the next portage I again caught up with the young couple. This portage had more room, so I landed and started the first of my two trips across. This was the last time in 10 days that I would share a portage with anyone.
On Ham Lake the young couple zigged around and I paddled straight across the lake and portaged alone over to Cross Bay Lake as light rain started falling again. It was a really beautiful area, and I paddled south past the first site on the right hoping the second would look more interesting. On my left I heard some rustling, and saw a moose cow and calf on a small hillside feeding on alder leaves. They didn’t wait as I fumbled to extract my camera, but seeing them was uplifting as these were the first moose I had seen in a very long time.
It was probably only 1 or 2 in the afternoon when I stopped at the next campsite on the left, a really beautiful site with a big boulder face, protected fire spot, several good tent spots, and a bit of open area for my dog to investigate. The drizzle had stopped but the mosquitoes had not, so as quickly as I could i got my tarp up near the fire grate, then quickly tied under it the bug net that I had just got done sewing a few days before. It was my first trip with a bug net, and in hind sight I think I would have gone home on day two or three without it. I can suffer through some bites and swatting, but can’t tolerate seeing my dog miserable. The bug net was a glorious sanctuary from the bugs.
A little breeze came up and broke off the rain and most of the mosquitoes for a while, so with camp set we explored the large rock face to the south of the site, and even took a few casts. Stepping down from some rocks toward the water I nearly stepped on a turtle who was laying her eggs. I quickly moved back up and away to leave her alone. An hour later I stopped back over to peak at the spot, and was very impressed at how nicely she had camouflaged her next. Saw one group of canoes paddle past and portage on to the next lake.
I got my GoPro out and started shooting a bit of video, but here on the first day I start getting “disk almost full” messages. How can this be? I had just deleted all the files on this card, or at least I thought I had. I sadly figured I’d likely have to limit my video if I wanted to get some throughout the trip. Between this, and the mosquitoes and rain keeping my DSLR tucked away, I would end up with limited video and photographic documentation of my trip. Still, I’ll post what I have.
Evening weather was looking nicer, but with the bugs coming back out I was happy to sit in my bug net and boil water on my stove for a boil in bag dinner. Lacking fire, I relied on a cup of wine to provide some atmosphere.
I was up at a reasonable hour; my alarm-dog rarely lets me sleep in too much. Back to the bug shelter for a couple cups of coffee and my standard get-going breakfasts of oatmeal, crushed walnuts, dried cherries, a little dried milk and a little bit of butter. After breakfast and clean up, it was time venture up the little path into the dark woods - a task I was dreading given the mosquitoes. Amazingly, my dog who nearly always wants to follow me everywhere decides he is very content to lay in the dirt under the bug net until I return.
Camp is packed up and I’m on the water about 9:30 with the first portage barely 5 minutes away. The sun is coming out and a bit of a west wind is coming up as I cross Rib Lake. At the south end portage I pull into the gentle landing area, step out and start unloading. With my two Duluth packs and food barrel ashore, I reach for my camera bag and get a shooting pain in my lower back. I have no idea why - it was neither an odd angle lift nor even a moderately heavy bag. I’ve never had back trouble of any kind what so ever, so I am surprised, puzzled, and bit spooked by this. The pain settles down and I spend the next 15 minutes or so stretching and wondering what would happen the next time I tried to lift my camera bag, or any of the much heavier bags, or the canoe. It even crossed my mind whether I should continue forward, go back to the last camp, or what. Well, no one was going to carry my bags for me, so I decided to go forward, but very slowly. Normally at a portage I carry one Duluth pack on my back, a smaller one on my front, and my camera bag over my shoulder, then a second carry with my canoe and food barrel. This time, however, I did my first quintuple portage - carrying each bag and the canoe over one at a time. The dog looked at me with disappointment and confusion. The back was still a bit sensitive, but did not flair up again, so onward I go to Lower George and Karl lakes.
Both to avoid the now stronger winds and one 35 rod portage, I chose to paddle around the big central peninsula toward the river. Hugging the shore of the peninsula I waved to a couple campers at the southwest site - these were the only people I had seen all day, and the last people I would see for about 5 days until I got to Mora.
I went down the passage to Gordon and over to the portage to Unload. The portage was buggy and had some very mucky sections - I have to say I was very glad to get through it, and yet more glad to see I could paddle directly into Frost by pulling over one beaver dam.
Though I increasingly find myself worrying about being able to find a site, perhaps from years of experience or perhaps from reading too many frightful stories on BWCA.com, I paddled into the wind on Frost and found the lake was all mine. I passed up the first two site and took the third, middle site which gave some shelter from the wind. It had a nice sandy beach, a decent fire area and tent pads, and a big wide open area with lots of down wood. It was one of the few sites I’ve seen in the BWCA where its easy to find a supply of quality firewood so close to the site.
Even with the wind, the tarp and bug net go up and I do another boil in bag dinner on my stove, then hit the sack pretty early.
When I got up the next morning it was mostly calm, clear, and beautiful. While having leisurely pot of coffee and Denver omelet, I realized I was not going to move forward today. Instead I relaxed, read a bit, processed more fire wood, then went out to fish and explore. I love lakers and made a good effort to learn more about how to fish for them last winter and was eager to try.
I paddled down to the south side of the lake and fished and explored a bit. Hooked a moderate and cooperate northern who provided a nice fight then conveniently released herself right at the boat. I wandered over to scout some of the other sites, then late afternoon set myself to catching some dinner. The winds had picked back up a bit, so it took a bit of work to control the boat. The underwater ridge on the west side near the southern most campsite was holding a good number of fish according to my depth finder, and one perfect sized eater came up willingly.
Back in camp with a nice fillet and supply of wood, I decided it was a good night for paella. I cut up some Boar’s Head dry sausage and smoked cheddar to tide me over while I did my prep work. With the garlic, onion, and peppers rehydrated and chorizo sliced, I lit the fire and let it start sizzling. Then more olive oil, saffron, water, stock, and the Bomba rice to simmer for about 20 minutes. Finally I tossed in the sliced lake trout fillet and let them cook through. I was sorry I forgot to bring dried shrimp on this trip, but it was really good anyway. I moved my chair down to the sandy beach, got a glass of wine, and sat down to eat. I love paella.
Overnight storms developed, and I woke up to wind, rain and thunder somewhere around 4 AM. Then lightning started with flashes and ground strikes not too far off. Most of the tall trees and tall ground was a little ways behind my campsite, but as a precaution I invited Regent to crawl up onto my sleeping pad to help insulate him as much as possible from the ground. He was happy to oblige.
By morning the worst of the storm had passed but the strong winds and some rain remained. Worse, they were now blowing straight off the lake into my campsite, and there were decent sized white caps on the lake. At times I could not see the opposite shore. The more trips I take, or maybe the older I get, the less interested I am in forcing myself to paddle in bad weather. It takes about two cups of coffee to decide I’m going to wait for better weather. After breakfast I go back to my tent to read and write for a while and then take a nap.
I woke up to the sound of something outside flapping in the wind. I stepped out and found one of the corner guy lines for my tarp, which had been tied to a tree in front of my tent, and untied from the tree and through relentless whipping about tied itself into a complex knot. It looked like a wind knot at the end of my fly fishing leader, and took about 5 full minutes to untangle.
I spent the afternoon wandering the woods behind camp and reading, then fired up my MSR stove for another boil in bag dinner inside my bug shelter. I had planned food for a 10-12 day trip, but had gone a little light on my fuel and was already starting to wonder if I would have enough for the whole trip. I had looked at the Solo twig stoves before my trip but passed, and now wished I’d picked one up as this would be a perfect situation to use one, and right inside my bug shelter too. Spoiler alert - I got one before my next trip and love it.
Went to bed early, hoping for better weather tomorrow.
Today would be a hard day.
The morning was still cloudy and a just bit of wind, but looked like it might be breaking up so I broke camp and started toward the portage into the Frost River, after adequate coffee and oatmeal of course.
About half was across the 130 rod portage I heard a booming sound. Oh please let that have been a dropped canoe. No luck. It was thunder. Again. At least my back has not given me any more trouble. I drop my packs at the end of the portage and dig out my rain jacket in case it starts to sprinkle. The mosquitoes are fierce, and of course when I need it there is nearly no wind back in this more secluded area. I head back over and get my canoe and food barrel, hearing more rumbling thunder along the way.
I shove off and start paddling down the river, thankful to get away from the shore mosquitoes. I feel a rain drop, and before I can even reach behind me for my rain jacket I am in a downpour. I mean it went from full off to full on in seconds. I pulled my jacket on, but was soaked in no time, and would stay that way for the rest of the day. Regent is a water dog, but only when it comes up from below - he dislikes when it falls from above, and he was really not liking this. Nevertheless, we pressed on - there really was no good alternative.
The rain would let up and stop and the clouds seemed to break a little as we paddled and portaged down the Frost River, then it would start over again. The cycle kept repeating. Unfortunately, the low grumbling thunder was gradually becoming louder and crisper.
I crossed a rocky five rod portage just short of Chase Lake and pushed off toward a swampy area and in just a few strokes am passing a rock ledge on the left, behind which was a good sized bull moose grazing in the swampy stuff. I think we were about 30-40 yards or so apart, but after a quick glance at me he decided to retreat back along the shoreline. I hate startling wildlife, but was relieved that he decided to retreat rather than charge as I had no were to back up to. He continued to move around the back of the swampy area as I paddled on. The river channel began curving to the left, and I realized that as I got closer to the next portage I would actually be getting closer to the moose again. Dumb luck. The moose then disappeared from the swamp into the trees to the south, having had enough human/canine contact for the day.
As I pulled up to the 30 rod portage to Chase there was flash of lighting not far away, then clap of thunder. It was getting closer, so I felt more need to hurry. I was clearly not going much further and could only hope the one and only campsite in the area on Bologna Lake was open. I unloaded my packs at the portage, then broke a cardinal rule of solo travel - I did not tie my canoe painter to anything - just pulled the bow up on some gravelly shore. Needless to say, when I walked back to be the canoe, it was floating a couple of yards off shore. My mind races for options. Swim? Why not, Im already wet. Then I thought of a couple downed pine branches just back on the portage. I ran back and grabbed the longest one, about ten feet, which turned out to be just barely long enough to reach out to the bow of my canoe and retrieve it. Thank goodness. Then another flash of lighting. Its getting closer.
Crossing Chase and arriving at the portage to Bologna, I took a moment to scout around wondering if I should just bivouac there, but it was all very dense woods and very rocky - no level ground at all. I start the portage and quickly realize its mostly uphill - great - Im actually going higher as the lighting is getting closer.
I felt no good choice but to move forward. I shoved off on Bologna praying the site would be open and the lighting would seek higher targets. Bologna Lake is actually quite beautiful, and has that rare quality of being a lake on fairly high ground meaning you don’t seem many any tall hills or trees in the distance. In a way it made me think of alpine lakes. There were couple more ground strikes not far away as I paddled, knowing these were bad conditions to be on the water, but the shoreline offered very little to land on.
Thank goodness the site was open. Had it been taken, I would definitely either have asked to crash, or just pulled up just down shore anywhere I could as I already had edged past he limit of safe paddling. If most any of us were to pull up at a site like this on any popular lake - Ensign, Knife, Ga-be, Tuscarora - we’d likely say “what a dump”. But given how remote I was, and how hard the circumstances, I felt like I was on the Riviera. Probably faster than ever in my life, I had my tarp and bug net up to protect my unhappy dog, and my tent up immediately next to it. Then a magma-sized scoop of dog food fixed Regent’s worries, and I dug out my dry, warm clothes and settled into my mostly-bug-free zone under the tarp. I am not sure if I have ever been so relieved to get to any campsite. Of course, this was another night to fire up the stove and boil water for dinner - collecting firewood was out of the question. Rain and occasional lighting came and went, and again, I retired early.
Outside my tent, I just didn't have much will to draw my camera.
I wake up to the sound of rain falling on my tent. Regent is already awake as the sun is already up, though he tries to be patient until I stir. Once I move, he knows its feeding time. I get dressed and reach out to undo the tent flap. I’ve set the tent up literally right at the edge of the tarp, so can crawl from the tent directly into the bug net. I wander over a few yards to where I had secured the barrel to a tree and retrieve the dog food, serve, take him for a quick relief and then crawl back into the tent. After yesterday I’m waiting for better weather, once again. We both go back to sleep.
Got up again about 10:30AM. Once again the rain had stopped and it seemed like the weather might be getting lighter. After eating, I hung up my wet clothes from the day before, and Regent and I went to explore the area. There was a big pile of moose poo on the main trail from the fire grate to the latrine. It wasn’t real fresh, yet no one had stepped in it. I realized I was only about 200 yards from where I had seen that big bull moose the day before; this must be his turf. I further explored the shoreline which was really rather lovely, but could not go far without getting wet again. Bologna is really a beautiful lake.
Back in camp I read and write until mid-afternoon, and eventually it looked like the sky was starting to break up. I love those first moments of blue sky. Sadly, they were also the last moments of blue sky, and then it started to rain heavily. Again. I brought in the wet clothes and got out the wine.
Obviously, I turned in early again. I had now had two layover days due to weather, paddled in one light and one heavy day of rain, paddled in one day of wind, and had mosquitoes everywhere. Sometimes its a bit of work to remember how much I love paddling the Boundary Waters.
Woke up with the light thinking I have to push through this if at all possible; not the kind of thing one hopes for as a first waking thought. Got out and saw a little blue sky, then more, then more. Had a quick, standard breakfast and packed up my wet gear to get going. The sky continued to clear, so despite feeling in a hurry (expecting the weather to double back on me) I had to take a paddle around the lake. I really am not sure why, but some BWCA lakes just really look more beautiful than some others. I retraced the portage down to Chase, then a quick up and down portage to Pencil. Across Pencil I was thinking of another trip report I read this spring stating that the maps showed the portage on the wrong side of the river. I was very grateful for this information, as I could easily have spent too much time looking for it in the wrote place.
The 65 rod portage out of Pencil had plenty of wet, leafy branches across, so my pants and shirt got pretty wet right off the bat. Hauling my boat across the portage I kept noticing something snagging the overgrowth along the trail. I’d soon find the culprit; the rock guard and a small piece of wood on the blade of my paddle had split loose and were snagging brush as walked. Then as I went to set my canoe in the water, I slipped on the muddy bank and one of my rubber boots went deep and filled with muddy water. I get in the boat and get going, then wring it out. At least it is now sunny, so I can deal with it.
The lower portion of the Frost River seems to have a different, slightly more open flavor to it. I lost track of portages, as some were needed and many were avoidable by pulling over beaver damns. I was able to really start enjoying the paddle now, though the split guard on my paddle was continuously snagging river grass which had to be cleaned out about every five strokes. Still I’d finish out the day with it then switch to my bent shaft. There were a few deer flies following us but Regent was happy too. He is actually quite skilled at defending himself against deer flies, so they were preferable to swarms of mosquitoes. And he liked all the big frogs we’d see when pulling over beaver dams.
Eventually I rounded a corner and the river opened up into Afton Lake, where I stopped at the campsite to filter water and have a quick lunch of a protein bar and some trail mix. By now there were just a few puffy white clouds, and the warmth of the sun felt great as I started to dry out.
I paddled on through Fente and Whipped where I saw another open campsite. Finally I reached the last portage (hopefully) of the day, 100 rods into Mora. I felt like I was crossing an invisible border onto a more well traveled route, a route I had taken from Little Sag through Mora to Tuscarora decades ago. I paddled on to Mora and headed toward the site on the small channel near the island. It was open. I started up the channel thinking I’d scope out the island site too as it was still fairly early, but seeing the channel north of the island was not passable turned back to take the the other site. I pulled into the site and as I set up my tarp and bug I heard the clanking of aluminum and muffled shouts, then moments later came 4 canoes from the Little Sag direction. They moved swiftly past with just a wave. These were the first people I had seen since Long Island 5 days earlier, and were the only people I’d see for a while longer. The sun was still warm, so I spread gear all over the open boulder face like a garage sale, then relaxed a while as everything dried. Thought I had set my bug net up, for the first time in many days the mosquitoes were thankfully minimal.
For dinner I was very much in the mood for something more than boil in bag stuff, but was also not much in the mood to gather fire wood. I had brought along, as I usually do, one meal of pizza which usually do over a fire but decided to try on right on my stove. I was a little worried about how much gas I had left, but I knew this would hit the spot. I mixed my dough - flour, salt, yeast, water and sugar - just as I do at home and let it set a while. I noticed Regent was thoroughly amused playing with something he had found. It turned out to be a small sun-dried moose skull, which I traded him for a couple dog biscuits thinking it best for him not to chew up. Dough ready, I rehydrated sauce I’d made, grated some parmesan, and made stringy the string cheese, separated the pepperoni slices and tossed in some kalamata olives. I separated the dough into two portions, one for the bottom and one for the top. Calzone would be easier to heat and cook properly on a stove. I was surprised it was ready in just about 7-8 minutes; much faster than I had feared. It was enormously satisfying to sit and eat with shining sun and a gentle breeze drying my things.
I willingly agreed with the alarm dog that an early start was in order. It was sunny with a few high cirrus clouds and modest fog rising off the lake. Breakfast was another Spanish omelet with a tortilla and pot of coffee, followed by an early start.
I crossed Mora and did the quick portage to Tarry, crossed Tarry, and pulled into the portage toward Crooked. Its funny, but it suddenly seemed familiar, though I had not been here since I think 1992. I reached Crooked and decided to paddle around the islands rather than the big open area so I could survey the campsites as I passed. In a rare occurrence, I let those islands and channels get me a bit twisted around, and I passed the portage and ended up in the north west corner before I realized I had misjudged my distance. They don’t happen often, but I really hate those moments of realizing you are not exactly where you thought. I backtracked, and quickly found the portage to Gillis. I pulled up and started carrying my normal load as usual. This portage seems to have some options - line or carry to the pond, then rejoin the trail or head west, or just stick to the normal portage as I did. This portage also is notable for having remnants of one of those old trapper cabins which, as one of the few historical buildings left in the area, would deserve a few moments examination on the empty carry back. It really was a lovely spot for a cabin.
Around the pond the path was pretty muddy, and past the pond it was worse. There was one of those little swampy sections where rocks and a few logs have been strategically set to help portageurs across. Your eyes look down and your mind starts picking targets 2, 3, or 4 steps ahead so you can maintain your gate. I started right but with a midcourse correction I decided to swing left, requiring me to plant my left foot in some mud to reach a long log on with my right, but the mud was deceptive and my boot went down and down and down. I was wearing rubber boots that came almost to my knee, and they were almost tall enough to keep the mud out as I swung my right foot and found the log. Having a Duluth pack on my back, another on my front, and my camera bag swung over my right shoulder, I was far too top-heavy to have my momentum suddenly stop, and reflexively I let my left foot abandon my boot and find the log. A modest amount of arm swinging was then necessary before balance could be achieved. For my next acrobatic feat I would have to unsling my camera bag followed by each Duluth pack and drop them in some grassy stuff that looked like it would support them, all while trying to maintain my place on this log. In reality the consequences of failure were not severe as one of the two clean socks I had put on that morning was already slathered with wet black ooze and one boot is already stuck deep enough allow in some of that ooze. With a few minutes of twisting, swinging, and pulling, I got my boot back. In hindsight this would have been a fine photographic opportunity, but in the moment it really did not feel that way so words and imagination will have to do.
At the end of the portage I rinsed my formerly clean sock and boot and paddled out onto Gillis. It was not even noon yet, sunny, and just a modest breeze. I’m wondering how busy it will be as this lake is fairly easily reached in a day and a key point on several loops. I paddle directly north past the island and pause with my binoculars to see if I can detect which campsites might be available. Binoculars can save a lot of paddling in this type of situation, but I am not seeing anything. No canoes on the water, and no tarps or tents visible in the direction of any of the campsites.
I continue mostly north passing the large cliff faced island and pull up a the next campsite. I liked what I could see from the water, and once I pulled in I liked what I saw up close even more. Jumping ahead, this is just exactly what I like in a campsite, and would find it’s place in my mind as one of my favorites in the BW. This site had a sheltered sandy landing, a flat rocky point, several grassy tent pads with commanding views of the lake. The fire pit was protected from south and wests winds but the rocky ledge, and from direct east winds coming off the lake by a cluster of northern white cedars. And oddly, the fire grate was elevated somewhat so it was not necessary to bend all the way down to the ground to reach it. It would be a wonderful place to cook, so this was definitely a day to gather fire wood. I also was having that deja-vu feeling again. I know I’d stayed on Gillis in the early 1990’s on my first BWCA trip as an adult, but in my memory that site was located closer to the portage. Still so much of it seemed the same, and the only things it seemed to be missing were my old paddling partner and a picnic table.
I set my tarp up, more for protection from the sun than the rain or wind (thankfully), and for the first time this trip felt confident leaving the bug net packed. I set my tent on a nice spot where I will be able to look out and see mostly water. Then I hop back in the boat with my saw and paddle over to the backside of the island to look for firewood. I very rarely wander back from a campsite to look, as it almost always seems to be picked over for a long ways, and I like quality firewood. Paddling just 5 minutes (instead of walking 10-15) usually finds good wood in abundance, and the backside of the island delivered the goods and proved an interesting place to explore a bit.
Back in camp as I start processing wood my aged Sawvivor folding saw fails me. The screw dealy-bob gets stuck in the “not quite tight” position. I can just barely get the blade holes over the little knobs that hold it in place, but every few saw strokes it wants to pop off. After some mucking around with hand positions and drawing technique, I find a way to get a reasonable amount of wood cut with only occasional blade pop-offs. But I realize this is likely going to be this saw’s last trip. I processed quite a bit of wood, as I already knew I was likely to stay in that campsite the next night as well.
Since arriving in camp I had been routinely scanning the lake for other travelers. I found it strange that I had not seen anyone all the way up from Mora, no one on Gillis when I arrived, and no one had come onto the lake since I had. And the day before I had only seen that one group of four canoes heading out and in some hurry. My imagination started up. I started to wonder if it was possible that the BWCA had somehow been closed? Could some disastrous event have caused people to cancel their paddling plans? Perhaps some digital rogues had shut down our electrical grid, or caused mass currency crisis? Hmm. It all seemed a stretch, and yet where was everybody?
With the wood done, it was time to clean the sweat and sawdust off with a swim, then organize my gear for fishing. I’m far from an expert on fishing, but it seemed like the lakers were deeper than I would have expected. I was very glad I to have my depth finder I had just picked up this spring before my May trip to Knife. Like days before on Frost, the Gillis lakers were adequately cooperative, though a bit on the small side so I kept two. Then FINALLY, I hear a canoe hitting rocks in the direction of the Bat portage, and about 15 minutes later see two fellas paddling in. They were heading toward French Lake . I was in the north bay so they paddled right up, and were quick to assure me, with some slightly amused smiles on their faced, that electricity was still flowing and our currency was still stable.
Back in camp I cleaned the fish, marched their remains back into the woods about 300 feet, and set my trail camera to see what might be drawn to them. It was very nice to sit back in my chair under the bug-net-less tarp and enjoy a bit of whiskey and appetizers of dry salami and smoked cheddar. Then the fire was lit and fish fried in a cajon-y coating I had concocted and served with garlicky mashed potatoes. I cleaned and secured camp for the evening, and happily crawled into my tent early to read, leaving the awnings drawn open to occasionally look out over Gillis. About an hour later as the sun was finally setting I noticed something both interesting and welcome: a complete lack of mosquitoes resting on the mesh trying to find their way in. What an enormous change from 48 hours earlier.
I did not note what time I woke up, but the sun was out and it was gorgeous. My tentative plans had been to head from Gillis to Bingshick via Flying Lake, but that was surely not going to happen today. Nothing was going to make me rush from this lovely bugless campsite with ample fire wood, fine swimming spot and cooperative lakers.
I got up and fed Regent as is required first thing every day, then leisurely set about the business of building the fire and making pancakes. I had been quite pleased with the mix I had come up with over the winter of 2 parts coarse, whole wheat pancake mix, 1 part whey, and 1 part quick-cook oatmeal. These pancakes just stuck with me longer than others, and I love doing pancakes over an open fire. I coated them in pure maple syrup and a slab of butter. Foolishly I had packed my preferred unsalted butter, which by day 9 was starting to smell just a bit funky. It did not ruin the pancakes, but I would not use any more of it after this breakfast either. For the next warm weather trip it will be either salted butter or ghee for anything past day 5.
The rest of the day was also quite leisurely, and mostly a repeat of the prior afternoon. Processing a bit more wood, a swim, then in the boat for some more fishing and exploring. I wandered over to investigate a couple of the other sites along the north shore. One more modest laker was taken and cleaned, and back in camp his remains also taken back to where I’d taken them the day before. I was surprised to see the remains from the day before were undisturbed. I added the new one and went back to camp. Dinner and the rest of the evening followed almost exactly as the day before. I had not seen any people today, but did see the FS beaver flying over twice; once nearly directly over me and then later further south. It was as lovely an evening as it could be on Gillis.
It was another beautiful morning, and there was another pancake breakfast - although without the butter today. Somewhat reluctantly I packed up and started heading east. I had people food for 2 more days, dog food for 3, and was confident in my ability to get lakers, but felt I should push on. I honestly wasn’t sure, though, whether when I got to Flying if I would turn north and spend one or two nights up on Bingshick or if I’d turn south and paddle out. It was actually a sort of enjoyable uncertainty. In the back of my mind - from what I had read about Bingshick - I expected a lesser used, more overgrown site like back on Bologna, and my imagination was supplying the bugs.
I portaged into Bat where I had ice fished two winters ago, and then on to Green. The portages definitely had more bugs than the campsite I had just left. Then I did the portage to Flying, up and over that hill, with still more bugs starting to pop up, especially on the Flying side. I pushed through some muck and out into the lake, looked both directions, thought of mosquitoes, and turned south. The brookies would have to wait. I portaged on to Gotter and then on to Brant, where I paddled over to where I had set up my Snowtrekker a two winters ago. To my surprise, the small stack of split firewood I had left tucked in the trees was still there, though I guess there is no reason for it to have been disturbed in such an isolated spot.
I stopped on the island to filter some more water, as I it was getting hot out and I had already gone through my nalgene. Well hydrated and snacked, I paddled one to the south east bay to have a quick look at where I had camped for 6 days last January in a black spruce swamp, though I could neither se much from the water nor go into the swampy shore. Then on to Edith and West Round and Round, with the mosquitoes getting substantially worse at each portage. I was starting to feel glad I was heading out. Regent and I have feed enough bugs for this trip.
I pull up at the entry point on Round Lake, and though he has never been there (he is not a big winter camper) Regent somehow just knows this is the end of the trip, and is eager to get out, get up the hill, and wants to start wandering the lot looking for our Escape, which is actually still over at the Cross Bay lot. Note: this is about where most trip reports end, right? Hmmm.
I lug the boat and bags up the short hill, have most of the rest of the water (that nalgene went fast!), and start digging into my camera bag for my car key. No key is found. I look in other spots in my camera bag. No key is found. I look in the wet bag that the camera bag sits in. No key is found. I go through my under-seat bag, my fishing bag, my camera bag again. No key is found. I check the inner, inner pocket of my life jacket - nope. I am usually so meticulous about this - there are only two places I EVER keep my car key - in my camera bag’s inner pocket or, when kayaking, in my life jacket. I’m at a loss, and Regent seems as annoyed with me for failing to produce our ride as he is at the deer flies circling him. I can’t think of anywhere else it would make sense to look, so start wondering if I had either dropped my key at the other landing or had somehow left it in the car? I call Regent and we start walking the half to three quarter mile over to Cross Bay in the now hot sun, my mind racing trying to figure it all out. I’m trying to remember every step I can of the day we set out. It was drizzling. We were late. Mosquitoes were terrible. And as I get to the Tuscarora Road, it hits me! When I unloaded, my camera bag was already secured in a dry bag because of the rain. The last bag I handled before closing the car had been Regent’s backpack - a Mountainsmith product just like my camera bag - and I had put the key in the inner pocket of THAT pack!! I turn Regent around and we head back up the road to the Round Lake lot where I dig out Regent’s pack (I had put it inside a Duluth pack for the last couple of days instead of making him carry it). There is the key! Relief!
We walk AGAIN up the road to the Tuscarora Road and over to my car in the lot. Regent jumps eagerly to the back and I drive over to Round Lake with the AC on full. I decide to leave the car running for a few minutes while I finish getting the gear ready to load. I leave Regent in there there to cool off and avoid the deer flies. I’m always a bit worried my dog will accidentally step on the door lock button, so I leave the car running with the ignition key but take the rest of the key ring with a door lock fob and set it on the hood where I can’t lose it.
Once the gear is organized I open the back hatch and side doors and get everything in its place, then the canoe strapped down up top. We head down the road toward Grand Marais and stop for some tacos and a cold pint before heading south. It was much, much cooler by the big lake, and more than safe and comfortable to leave Regent in the car with the windows down briefly, in fact I felt like digging out a wool shirt for me. About five hours later near downtown Minneapolis I pull up to the garage door of my building, pause, and wonder “where’s my garage door opener fob?” Ah, its with the other keys that I put on the hood back at Round Lake. Thankfully my front door key was also separate so I could get in my door and settled for the night. Amazingly, the next day Andy from Tuscarora Lodge was weed whipping by the Round Lake road turn off and guess what he found in the dirt over half a mile from where I had loaded up my gear.