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June 20 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

2019 Long Island Lake Basecamp Solo

by petzval
Trip Report

Entry Date: September 23, 2019
Entry Point: Cross Bay Lake
Number of Days: 5
Group Size: 1

Trip Introduction:
This was my third trip to the Boundary Waters and my first solo. My previous trips were in 2010 and 2011 – both out of the Ely area. I’ve been excited about the trip since I first conceived it in November of 2018. I planned for a base camp trip, and I lucked out with absolutely amazing weather and an equally-amazing moose sighting. I'm really grateful for all of the contributors to this site who have provided insight, information, and inspiration. Hopefully, something written in this report will be useful to someone, somewhere!

Part 1 of 6

Day 0: Sunday, September 22, 2019

I departed my house in the east Twin Cities metro as planned at around 9 AM. I stopped at Panera to get a tuna sandwich for when I was ready to stop and eat which I did just before I got to Duluth at around 11 AM. I stopped at the Thompson Hill rest stop off of I35 to hit the head, stretch the legs, and admire the view of Duluth and Superior as I enjoyed my lunch. I then made my way up to Grand Marais where I made another stop to get gas before heading up the Gunflint Trail.

Though I had spent a few days this past July in Grand Marais with my family, I had never been up the Gunflint Trail, and it proved to be every bit as pretty a drive as I had imagined. My heart raced a few times at the scenery of low-lying ponds, lakes, and creeks amongst the rugged forest. By the time I got to the turn for my outfitter and entry point, I was fit to be tied. I stopped at the parking lot of the Cross Bay Lake entry point and got out to see where I would be putting in on the Cross River. It was a stunning view, and I was super-excited.

I then made my way over to meet Andy at Tuscarora, and he had me watch the video before we went over all of the equipment that he was outfitting me with. He sent me to the bunkhouse with my equipment pack and told me I could pick up the food pack the next morning after breakfast (to maximize time in the refrigerator for some items). I began adding my equipment and luxury items (camp chair, tarp, whiskey, etc.) to the pack and had a few items remaining for the food pack the next morning.

After a walk to admire the entry point again, I set back out in my truck for dinner at Trail Center. The burger and beer were delicious, and the service was friendly and speedy. I drove back to Tuscarora and fell asleep shortly after 9 PM or so.

"The Gate" sculpture at the Thompson Hill rest stop overlooking Duluth, MN and Superior, WI

My accommodations at Tuscarora the night before the trip.


Part 2 of 6

Day 1: Monday, September 23, 2019

I got up at around 6:15 and made my way over to the dinning hall a little before 7 AM to enjoy some coffee before my breakfast. There was one other group slated to have Ada and Andy’s breakfast of French toast, bacon, and fruit, but they didn’t show up while I was there. I met a couple of gentlemen at one of the other bunkhouses who were going to be doing some fishing on Missing Link Lake for a few days. They offered some much-appreciated pointers for packing and steering the solo Kevlar canoe and provided some other general advice.

I finished packing up my stuff and parked my truck before getting Andy to give me and my equipment a lift up to the Cross River put-in. I really appreciated that Andy dropped me off and left before watching me load up and paddle off which I knew would be awkward. The solo canoe seemed “tippy” as Andy had warned, but I was off and into my paddling stride within a matter of minutes. I was using a kayak paddle, and it felt very natural.

I quickly arrived at the first portage and was already overwhelmed with just how beautiful everything was. The clouds were beginning to burn off, and it was shaping up to be a lovely day. I already felt very lucky. That first landing is a bit tricky, but I took my time as I figured out a system for unloading, portaging, and re-loading. I carried my gear pack and the canoe with strapped-in paddle on the first trip, and then I carried my food pack and camera pack (on my chest) for the second trip with my map bag in my hand. That system worked well for the duration of the trip.

My plan was to make it down to Long Island Lake, potentially stopping sooner if I was finding the paddling and portaging to be too much. By the time I was done with the first portage, I was fairly certain that I could achieve my goal.

I spent the next few hours paddling, portaging and snapping a few photos along the way. I brought my DLSR camera, but that equipment was packed in a dry bag as I traveled. I bought an additional point-and-shoot type of camera with a long equivalent focal length to keep in my pocket as I traveled, and that worked out really nicely. In good light, modern point-and-shoot cameras are incredibly capable, and this prevented me from having to acquire and carry a super-long lens for my DLSR. I was happy with the decision.

After finishing the portage between Rib and Lower George Lake, I stopped on the Lower George Lake side to have lunch and recharge the batteries. The summer sausage, cheese, and apple were wonderful and prepared me well for the final push to Long Island Lake. Lower George Lake was, in my opinion, the prettiest of all of the pretty lakes I had traveled, and the falls at the portage trail to Karl/Long Island Lake were spectacular.

I made it in to Karl Lake and planned to paddle to Long Island Lake rather than take the short portage on the western side because of the campsite I had selected (based on its potential view of the sky). I ended up getting a bit turned around and think I went pretty far east on Long Island Lake before turning around. I ended up at campsite #2010 at about 2:30 PM. Not knowing exactly where I was or which site I was at, I investigated it a bit and really didn’t like it very much. There didn’t seem to be a level place to put my tent, and the tarp options were pretty limited. Also, the site has an eastern exposure (with a really nice rock for sitting and star gazing), but I had really wanted views of the west and south if possible. I stood on the shore and tried to determine which camp site I was at based on the shoreline features that I could see. Looking east, I could see a fairly narrow channel, and I could see what looked like it could be a landing about 300 meters away. I figured I’d give it a shot, and, sure enough, it turned out to be my target camp site (#561). And it was fantastic! The island to the south was a bit taller than I had surmised from the map contours, and it blocked more of the southern sky that I really wanted, but it was perfect for me other than that.

The weather was still perfect, and I set up my tent and tarp. I was pretty well bushed and retired to my tent shortly after dinner and sunset and tidying up the camp site.

My gear at the Cross River put-in to the Cross Bay Lake entry.

The first portage on the Cross River.

Cross River side of the portage between the Cross River and an unnamed pond.

Unnamed pond side of the portage trail from the Cross River to the unnamed pond.

Unnamed pond side of the portage trail from the unnamed pond to Ham Lake.

Put in to Cross Bay Lake from the Ham Lake portage.

Rapids at the Rib Lake side of the portage trail between Rib Lake and Lower George Lake.

Lower George Lake side of the portage trail from Lower George Lake to Karl Lake/Long Island Lake.

Rapids at the Lower George Lake side of the portage trail from Lower George Lake to Karl Lake/Long Island Lake.

View to the south-east from Long Island Lake campsite #561.


Part 3 of 6

Day 2: Tuesday, September 24, 2019

I woke up before midnight with my left knee throbbing. It felt fine the entire day before, and I’ve never had problems with it. It ranged from uncomfortable to excruciating depending on my leg’s position. It was really only tolerable with my leg perfectly straight as I lay on my back. I quickly realized that I had left my supply of ibuprofen in the food pack, so I tried to just ride it out. The only thing that came to mind was that I was sitting cross-legged for a good portion of the time in the canoe that day. Perhaps that combined the rigors of portaging were enough to stress my knee to this point.

I finally got up and out of the tent at about 2 AM to search for the ibuprofen and try to get a little relief. The good news is that it was the perfect night for star gazing. The bad news was that I was in no condition to lug out my photography gear to try to do some astrophotography. I downed some pills and hobbled down to the landing rock. I was able to sit with my leg out-stretched and really admire the view. I saw a shooting star right when I sat down, and the Milky Way was nicely visible. After about an hour of star gazing (and massaging the muscles around my knee), I retired back to the tent – this time with my supply of ibuprofen. I caught a beautiful view of Orion rising in the east as I went back to my tent.

I finally fell into a deep and relatively comfortable sleep after about 4 AM and awoke to the sound of some kind of honking bird and sunlight around 8 AM. Nice. I never sleep that late. My knee was still hurting pretty bad, and I knew that I would not be taking a day trip that day. I hobbled out of my tent and got my simple breakfast ready. I made some coffee with my new Aeropress maker, and it was strong and delicious.

I then went back down to the waterfront to enjoy the morning sun. After a few minutes, I heard a giant splash off in the distance. When I looked closely, I could see antlers in the water. My cameras were about 150 feet up the hill, and for a moment I considered just watching and enjoying the moose. That moment passed as quickly as it was conceived, and I scrambled up the hill to put the 200mm lens on my DLSR (my longest lens) and the 720mm effective point and shoot. I managed to get a few snaps of him in the water and then finally getting out, but just experiencing the moose was an absolute thrill and one of the highlights of the trip.

I spent the rest of the day relaxing around camp and exploring some of the cool trails. I heard the sound of a canoe landing at about 1 PM and saw two people poking around the camp site that I had landed on the previous day. I was a bit surprised that someone would take that site given the relatively small number of people in the wilderness, but then I realized that they were stopping there just to have lunch. They departed a little after 2PM right after another group of four (in two canoes) passed by my site headed west. The weather remained perfect for most of the day, but clouds rolled in at around sunset. I stepped out of my tent a couple of times that night to see about star gazing, but it was cloudy both times.

Moose in Long Island Lake between campsites 561 and 2010.

Moose exiting Long Island Lake northwest of campsites 561.

Moose exiting Long Island Lake northwest of campsites 561.

Mushrooms around Long Island Lake campsite #561.

Moss near Long Island Lake campsite #561.

Lovely trails from campsite #561 on Long Island Lake.


Part 4 of 6

Day 3: Wednesday, September 25, 2019

I slept well that night and woke up around 7 AM or so. There was a decent breeze blowing into my site from the west, and there were some intermittent rain showers throughout the day. The showers were comfortably waited-out under my tarp, and I spent another day bumming around camp and relaxing. My knee was feeling better and better, but the intermittent rain and wind motivated me to, once again, stay out of the canoe for the day.

A group of four showed up to campsite #2010 at around noon, and I wondered if they were just having lunch. They actually ended up staying the night at that camp site. I could occasionally hear that they were having a conversation, but I couldn't hear the contents of those conversations, so that was fine with me. It was kind of nice knowing that I was not the only person getting to experience this majestic place.

Riding out some mild weather under the comfort of my CCS tarp.


Part 5 of 6

Day 4: Thursday, September 26, 2019

Originally, I had potentially planned to move back up toward my exit point on this day to make for a shorter day on my final day. But the weather was so nice, and I was so-enjoying my location, that I opted to hang out one more day. The weather was nicer than the day before, and I had another lovely and relaxing day. The group at 2010 left at around 10:30 AM, and I felt, once again, like the lake belonged to me.

I started to become a bit sad when I put my stove away for the last time after dinner and coffee, but I didn't let myself wallow in that. Instead, I focused on how great the trip had been and how lucky I was to experience it. There was going to be rain that night, so I got my equipment pack inside the tent to be ready for packing in the morning in the event it was raining.

Enjoying my final full day in the wilderness with sunshine and strong coffee.

Playing with my 14mm wide angle lens around camp.

My lakeside vacation home for four nights.

Southern (left) and Western (right) landings to campsite #561.


Part 6 of 6

Day 5: Friday, September 27, 2019

It had started raining pretty hard at about 11 PM the night before, and that continued for a few hours. Magically, the rain stopped by the time I got up at 6 AM. I packed up the equipment in my tent, had a quick and easy breakfast, took down the tarp, and did my final packing. I pushed off from the site at about 7:30. Clearly, I'm no speed demon when it comes to breaking camp. My knee was feeling 100% when I left the campsite.

A stupid navigational issue (really, just not paying attention to the map) had me miss the channel into Karl Lake, and I (instead) paddled to the western side of Long Island Lake. Not knowing exactly where I was, I paddled all over that western portion of the lake. Finally, using campsites as my reference, I made my way to the portage trail between Long Island Lake and Karl Lake (I had actually been at that landing about an hour before). I was thankful to finally find myself, but I was pissed at myself for wasting about two hours. Again, I didn't let myself wallow in that emotion, as I still had a lovely day of beautiful paddling ahead of me. It was definitely colder than it had been, and the wind was blowing in from the north. I later learned that there was a frost that night.

I arrived back at my original put-in on the Cross River at about 2:30 PM. I had seen two other two-person groups on Cross Bay Lake, but they were the only people I saw that day. I pulled all of my gear up to the parking lot and walked down to Tuscarora where Andy was available to come grab my stuff in his truck. After a shave and a shower, I departed Tuscarora a little before 4 PM and arrive home and into my bed at about 9:30 PM.

Upon further reflection, I was really happy with just about every aspect of my trip. The CCS tarp, Aeropress coffee maker, Helinox chair zero, and Platypus 4 liter water filter were all worthy purchases that really enhanced my comfort and enjoyment. I used all of the clothes that I brought (excluding the rain gear!), and my footwear choices (rubber rain boots for paddling, tennis shoes and flip-flops for camp) were perfect for me. I had ended up losing about 15 pounds in the eight weeks before the trip via diet and riding my bike over 100 miles a week, and I'm glad that I did. I think for next time, though, I'd really like to shed another 30-40 pounds and work some strength training into my routine -- both of which should help out with whatever is going on with my knee (which started hurting again about half way through the return voyage). I have really good motivation now, and I'm already looking forward to planning my next adventure.

Thanks to anyone still reading, and thanks to everyone who makes this site such a fun and useful source of information!


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