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June 14 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

Frost River and Beyond with Bear, Hobbit, and Mountain Goat

by straighthairedcurly
Trip Report

Entry Date: July 22, 2020
Entry Point: Cross Bay Lake
Exit Point: Brant Lake (52)
Number of Days: 9
Group Size: 3

Trip Introduction:
Originally this trip was planned for just me and my husband. However, our 16 year old joined us after his Camp Menogyn Nor'Wester was cancelled due to the pandemic. Our trip was originally going to include the Frost River and the Louse River, but we altered our route after the Frost River. Our group included: Bear = my husband who has a bear's keen sense of smell Hobbit = me, since I like to munch on small meals throughout the day Mountain Goat = my son who seems to levitate up sheer rock faces with a canoe or pack

Day 1 of 9

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

We planned to leave the house at 3am. Everything was on track until the teenager got hungry and had to make toast. So we left at 3:30am instead. We had 2 reasons for leaving that early:

1) We have been avoiding staying overnight in any indoor places due to the pandemic.

2) We were driving my husbands new Chevy Bolt EV. Since this was the first road trip with it, we wanted extra time to check out different charger locations, even if we didn't need to use them this trip. And, of course, needed time to charge at one station.

Our first stop was in Moose Lake and it took us a little bit to find the charging station in the dim early morning light. We didn't need to charge, but tried it out anyway for a bit, while hubby downed his thermos of coffee. Disappointed to find out it was rated for only 50kW when the website had it listed as higher. After 20 minutes, we decided to continue to Duluth. This was the last site we planned to use to charge up before driving all the way to Tuscarora Lodge. We picked up a breakfast to-go at the Perkins on the way into Duluth and then ate it while the car charged.

We didn't stop in Grand Marais since there is no charger there (hmm, missed opportunity Grand Marais? update: they have one planned, just not built yet) and went to Trail Center for some lunch. This year, we decided to rent a 3-person canoe from Tuscarora for the first time. We have outgrown having the 3 of us all pile into our Mad River canoe, especially for a 9 day trip. Our Old Town Tripper would be big enough, but it is just too heavy these days for taking on a trip with lots of portages. Tuscarora also had a basic outlet for us to use for charging the car while out on trail. We were the first non-Tesla EV to charge there. That resulted in a few glitches, but it all worked out fine. Wonderful people at Tuscarora!

After Bear sorted out some gear he hadn't prepped 100%, we got on the water about 1pm. While the drive up had been rainy and misty, the sun came out as we pulled away from the landing. We single portaged the 66 rodder, but that was only because Mountain Goat portaged our yellow Sealline 115L (56 lbs) on his back and the pack basket (30 lbs) on his front. I took the Earthpak 55L (41 lbs) on my back and CCS rucksack (12 lbs) on my front which was a lighter combo than I started with on my solo trip. Bear carried the canoe and quickly discovered how different it is to portage a 20 foot canoe compared to a 17 footer. Tight turns on portages were not his friend.

On the next couple portages, we decided to have one person go back for the pack basket, but on the last portage into Long Island Lake, Bear felt his muscles were warmed up enough to take the pack basket and canoe together so we single portaged again.

Wow! The 3-person canoe is very different. It is wicked fast, especially with all 3 of us paddling, but tough to turn as crisply as we are accustomed to do. As I mentioned, the turning radius on portages also required some adjustments. The seats are much lower than our canoes, but it was nice to have a seat for the center person, along with the option for them to paddle. We adapted pretty quickly.

Did I mention that they gave us a brand NEW canoe. There was only one scratch on it where they had set it on the ground for us at the landing. Big responsibility! We had a lot of boulders just under the surface on today's route, but we successfully avoided them all.

The campsite we wanted on the island on Long Island Lake was occupied, the next campsite didn't meet Mountain Goat's standards, so Bear and I reluctantly agreed to keep paddling to site 566 which was at least convenient for our route the next day. Mountain Goat liked the sandy, not so much. I have a thing about sand on my gear. The main part of this campsite is up a set of stairs. Great tree for hanging our food, a couple good hammock spots and a small spot for me to pitch my 1 person tent.

~Ham Lake, Cross Bay Lake, Rib Lake, Lower George Lake, Karl Lake, Long Island Lake

Travel time: 1:00pm-4:30pm 3 hours


Day 2 of 9

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Slow getting Mountain Goat out of his hammock this morning. He was really tired after the early start yesterday. Quick breakfast of oatmeal loaded with dried fruit and nuts, and we were on the water at 10am. We made quick work of the first short portage since we were camped right near it. On the 140 rod from Gordon to Unload Lake, a young couple arrived at the start just after us. They were double portaging so we were able to finish well ahead of them the rest of the way to Frost Lake.

On Frost Lake, we treated enough water to fill all our bottles so we wouldn't need to refill on shallow Octopus Lake or the Frost River stretch we planned to complete today. Note that the 10 rod portage shown right after the 130 rod into Octopus doesn't exist. You can just paddle right through. We ate lunch on the 15 rod portage out of Octopus. After the men took their after lunch snooze, we finished the 15 rod.

The next portage was supposed to be 5 rods, but the river was much too rocky at the end of the 5 rods so we followed the path another 10-15 rods. After that portage we pulled over one beaver dam. Then we did the next 5 rod which bypassed a beaver dam and what Mountain Goat dubbed a "water tumble" (too small to be a waterfall, too big to be a stream).

After this, the river went by quicker than we thought so we were never exactly sure where we were until we reached the 30 rod into Chase Lake. We never saw anyone else after we left the couple behind earlier in the day. We did the portage into Bologna and were pleased to find the campsite open. Bear advocated for a layover day, but the campsite on Bologna is not great for that. It is a small site. I had a small grassy patch for my tent, Mountain Goat found a distant hammock hanging spot, while Bear found one closer in. But it was nice to have a lake to ourselves.

There was a moose skull nailed to a tree. Butterflies were sucking off the skull. We found the remaining moose skeleton (minus the legs) farther away and wondered about the cause for its demise. We decided to move the skull back to the rest of the bones. Lots of wildlife so far on this trip. Otter, eagles, lots of mergansers with their babies, wood frogs, and garter snakes.

Chicken noodle soup with dumplings for dinner followed by Mug Cakes cooked in silicone muffin cups in a water bath. Played some rummy and took a long swim.

~Long Island Lake, Gordon Lake, Unload Lake, Frost Lake, Octopus Lake, Chase Lake, Bologna Lake

Travel Time: 10:00am-3:15pm 5.25 hours


Day 3 of 9

Friday, July 24, 2020

We managed to leave the campsite about 10 minutes earlier today (9:50 am). This is so different from my 7 am departures when I solo. The portage back into Chase felt so much shorter in the morning. Quick portage into Pencil. Lovely paddle down Pencil. It took longer than normal to find the portage out of Pencil, because Bear thought it should be before the end of the lake, but it is actually very close to the end. The path branches about one-third of the way. Stay left, but then go back and walk the other path as it leads to a beautiful stream that flows over a continuous rock slope in a pool and drop. Very fun to walk around and would have been a great lunch spot if we hadn't just eaten breakfast.

The river west of Pencil is very narrow and winding. Difficult to track your exact position. We kept a compass out just to track the big trends like the SW and NW straight aways. The portages just appear in obvious spots, but can be tricky to be certain which is which. We had one beaver dam pullover before lunch and then walked a boulder garden section after it.

We ate lunch on one of the 5 rod portages. We had not been seeing signs of people, no footprints in the mud or anything. However, Bear said he kept sensing people behind us. After lunch the stream was very winding. It was mostly a deep channel except for the 11 beaver dams that required a pullover. Some spots were shallow and you could see evidence it had been a beaver dam in the past. The 3-person canoe is fast on the straight sections, but a beast to turn tightly in the winding sections. We got to use our bow draw and cross bow draw strokes a lot.

The weather report had been for lots of clouds and a 50% chance of rain. But when you travel with the Hobbit, you are more likely to end up with the hot, sunny weather we had. With all the in and out, we were getting too fatigued to feel comfortable or safe doing the long portage to Hub. So we decided if the Afton Lake campsite was open, we would take it. It was open. We pulled up and unloaded. Thirty minutes later, the young couple we had seen on the portage yesterday popped out of the river mouth. I guess Bear was right, there had been people on our tail today. They had left Frost Lake at 8am and were exhausted, especially the young woman. The Afton site is too small for a second party and so they debated heading to Hub or Whipped, finally deciding on Hub since they were planning to head back to Sawbill eventually. Their parting words were, "The Frost River was more than we bargained for."

We settled in for naps and cards. Just after 5pm we started prepping dinner (Pad Thai). Looked up and 2 more canoes were paddling out of the river. Couldn't tell if they were one or two groups since they didn't paddle near each other or stop to chat.

~Bologna Lake, Chase Lake, Frost River, Pencil Lake, Afton Lake

Travel Time: 9:50am-2:50pm 5 hours


Day 4 of 9

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Mountain Goat was willing to get up earlier to accomplish our goal of reaching Dent. We did cook blueberry-chocolate chip pancakes plus bacon, which slowed us up a bit. We still left around 9am, our earliest yet. Mountain Goat revealed that he hadn't been sleeping well in his hammock due to the heat, so we revoted about what route we wanted to take. We decided to skip the Louse River and head for Little Saganaga.

The portage from Afton to Fente is as steep as everyone says, but we had our secret weapon, the Mountain Goat. He raced the canoe up one side and down the other. Bear and I proceeded with more caution. We headed to Whipped, then Mora Lake. None of the sites we saw were particularly great for our planned layover day. The portage from Mora into Little Sag has some steep parts at the start and at the end, but the middle section runs above a beautiful stream. Lovely overlooks.

Mountain Goat had stayed at the first site on Little Sag a few years back and wanted our layover day to be there. It was really a great spot. Swimming has some shallow areas (Mountain Goat's favorite) and some deep drop offs (Hobbit's favorite). There is a tiny island nearby with a large resident frog who was undisturbed by our visitation of the island. Lots of clams and freshwater sponges. The landing area has a nice gravel patch. There is a lovely rock face for hanging out to dry feet. Great trees for a kitchen area tarp, good tent pad, and decent hammock hanging. The latrine spot is delightful and there are good food hanging trees.

~Afton Lake, Fente Lake, Whipped Lake, Mora Lake, Little Saganaga Lake

Travel Time: 9:00am-12:00pm 3 hours


Day 5 of 9

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Layover Day. I got up early and watched the minnows feeding and the white-throated sparrows drinking from the lake. Everyone else slept in. We had biscuits and peppered bacon gravy and lots of bacon slices for breakfast. I did a top fire for the biscuits and they were perfect. Mountain Goat made the gravy and it was delicious.

We swam and lazed around reading. We did a lot of swimming out to the little island and investigated the beautiful freshwater sponges. I had never seen these before and they are amazing, but very fragile. Hopefully, future visitors will treat them with care and respect.

About 2pm, we paddled back to the portage to Mora for a picnic lunch. Beautiful spot with a lovely breeze. Mountain Goat and I swam and explored the stream, while Bear fished from shore. The water level had been a lot higher the day before due to some overnight rain, but was at a reasonable level today. The stream has some really cool spots with big boulders, deep cavern/crevasses. We found someone's long lost paddle jammed in some rocks and decided to carry it out of the BW. Then we paddled around the east end of Little Sag while Bear trolled. Got back to the campsite around 4 pm. Dinner was wild rice soup with cheesy biscuits...a family favorite. We still haven't decided where we will head tomorrow.

~Little Saganaga Lake


Day 6 of 9

Monday, July 27, 2020

Adrenaline day today. We had a quick granola breakfast and headed toward Gabimichigami. Mountain Goat really wanted to stay on Gabi and the site he wanted was open, but Bear and I were pumped up for taking the longer route and going to Ogishkemuncie. The winds were strong today, and hindsight would verify that we should have listened to the youngster and stopped on Gabi despite the short distance.

The crossing on Gabi was very windy and we never would have attempted it if we hadn't been 3 very experienced and strong paddlers. We worked really well as a team on the portages and single portaged most of them. Agamok Lake had no one camped on it. Hindsight is we should have stopped there, but sometimes your goal blinds you. As we arrived at the Ogish end of the portage, we were hit by a wall of wind. There was ugly weather to the north and south of us. The skies were extremely unsettled. We quickly headed up the east side of the lake looking for an open campsite. It was only just after 1 pm so we expected to find something. First one full, 2nd full, 3rd was empty but one of our maps said it was a closed site so we didn't stop. Next 3 sites were all full as well, and we could see the last 2 sites across the lake were full. WTH?! It is 1:30 pm on a Monday and everything is full!

By now the wind is getting crazy strong. As we turned southwest into the wind, a big cold gust front hit us. We kicked it into high gear with all three of us paddling at race level speed. We could see lightening forking between the clouds and should have been off the lake. As we passed a group of Scouts at their campsite, we heard "You sure look like you know what you are doing!" We saw them zigzag on Jasper the next day, so I can see why they thought we looked like pros with our in sync, straight line paddling. The thunder and lightening were getting too close. We pulled up to the site we suspected was closed and indeed it is. It is a huge site and is really close to another site. However, with the rain now coming down in sheets and the sky lit up with insane amounts of lightening, we had no choice but to stay. Shortly, a father and daughter pulled up. We talked with them about pulling off here too. They decided to try to hug the shore and continue, but quickly changed their minds and came back.

It was clear that this site still gets used regularly which tells me, Ogish is rather short of campsites. We found a full roll of toilet paper and a really good science fiction book in plastic bags that had recently been left behind. The weather remained unsafe well after dark so we minimized our impact as much as possible and left early the next morning.

~Little Saganaga Lake, Rattle Lake, Gabimichigami Lake, Agamok Lake, Mueller Lake, Ogishkemuncie Lake

Travel Time: 9:00am-1:45pm 4.75 hours



Day 7 of 9

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Gobbled granola for breakfast so we could leave quickly. We made quick work of the all the short portages on the way to Seagull. They are all very wide, relatively flat, and easy. Tons of traffic on all the big lakes. Large groups going both directions. This is nuts. Hopefully, our plan to take the long 515 rod portage to Paulson will pay off. We ate lunch at the first campsite on Seagull right as we exited the 97 rod portage. This ends up being the last empty campsite we see on Seagull. Crazy busy!

We ended up with a perfect tailwind from the NW which zoomed us into the bay for the big portage. We were definitely at the canoe's limit for roller size, so it was a bit nerve wrecking.

For the big portage to Paulson we started out with Bear carrying the canoe and pack basket, Mountain Goat carrying the Sealline 115L, and Hobbit (me) carrying the Earth Pac 55L and daypack. Once we hit the first deadfall, Mountain Goat took the canoe for awhile and we started a system of alternating who carried what. At this point, we would sometimes single portage, sometimes have one pack that would need to be retrieved. It was hot, so we would stop for regular water breaks and trade off with the canoe. It is nice to have 3 people who are all comfortable carrying it. This portage has an overall elevation change of 200 feet from Seagull Lake up to Paulson Lake. It is mostly uphill, but has some very steep downhill sections as well, and the final drop down to Paulson is quite steep and treacherous, especially when wet. As I went back 100 rods for the last pack, the skies opened up and it started pouring! The portage turned into a river. Glad it didn't rain the whole time. We also saw piles of bear scat, so the Seagull Lake bears don't only eat lazy camper food.

This portage is unrated on the Voyager map. However, after comparing it to other rated portages, taking account of the streams, mud, rocks and the steep ups and downs, our opinion is it rates an L9 or L10. However, the views are stunning. And there are loads of blueberries and other edibles along the way to lift your spirits. This portage is best done with a sense of teamwork and a "we're in this together" attitude. It took us 2 hours, which is much slower than our typical pace, but this portage deserves respect, and has views worthy of stopping to enjoy.

Paulson is a pretty little gem of a lake. We had hoped we might have it to ourselves, but the island campsite was already occupied by a solo paddler. We took the other site which is a lovely open, rocky site. We set up camp and an hour later, a couple arrived from the south. They stopped and contemplated camping illegally, but then headed off over the long portage to Seagull. An hour after the couple vanished over the ridge, another group arrived from Seagull. Thank goodness we started out early from Ogish this morning. We never expected this much traffic through Paulson.

We had falafel and rice pilaf for dinner. The weather was unsettled, but no major thunderstorms developed like yesterday.

~Ogishkemuncie Lake, Kingfisher Lake, Jasper Lake, Alpine Lake, Sea Gull Lake, Paulson Lake

Travel Time: 8:30am-2:30pm 6 hours



Day 8 of 9

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Today we saw Kingfishers, loons w/ babies, and plenty of adorable of chipmunks. The portages out of Paulson all climb up steeply. This is definitely Mountain Goat's home territory. We would pull up to a landing and Bear and I would say, "Another one for the Mountain Goat to carry the canoe!" In reality, we did each take a turn on carrying the canoe and we were able to single portage all of these, though sometimes we had Mountain Goat take it up the initial incline.

The portage from Glee to Bingshick follows the Kekekabic Trail for awhile and it was really, really muddy. We reached Bingshick and both campsites were empty. The first site was hard to see, and the 2nd site look nice but we didn't stop. Both short portages out of Bingshick were flooded from beaver action. All of the mentioned portages would be very challenging to find if coming from the other direction. You have to travel through very narrow, long channels in the Labrador Tea to reach them.

As we popped up top of the 15 rod portage into Flying Lake, 2 canoes appeared...first people we had seen since leaving Paulson. Beautiful little wood/canvas canoes. The folks in them had come from Brant and had been struggling to find the 90 rod portage into Fay Lake. The sea of Labrador Tea was making it impossible for them to spot. They finally gave up and opted to drop into Green Lake instead.

All of the lakes through this area are gorgeous with stunningly beautiful cliffs. But the portages are steep, rocky and muddy. The staircase portage into Gotter actually had a tiny gravel landing spot because water levels were so low, but we were still very happy we didn't meet up with any other groups on that portage. The portage from Gotter into Brant is listed as 88 rods on some maps and 103 rods on the Voyager map. Voyager map is more accurate. The portage starts out nice but then gets to be very steep with lots of twists and turns which were a challenge with the 20 foot canoe. Then it drops steeply into Brant. But it was still better footing and path than the earlier portages of the day.

Brant was empty when we arrived so we were able to get the cliff campsite on the east that Mountain Goat had wanted. Twenty minutes after we pulled in, a group came from the east hoping for that site. Glad I had gotten everyone up early this morning. We had a lazy afternoon of swimming, reading, and napping. It was a mostly cloudy and breezy day so not as hot as it had been. There is a beautiful deep swimming spot. The walk to the latrine is quite scenic. However, this is an overused site and has been abused by axe happy campers cutting live branches.

We had a beautiful final evening. A beaver swam by the campsite. A loon family was out with a young one. The baby was practicing looking under the water and trying to dive. But it would just come up spluttering with its wings flapping like mad. Mom and dad were catching small fish and feeding the baby. This site had 2 resident chipmunks. One was a full grown, well fed critter. The other was very young and tiny. The little one lives under a rock on the cliff face and would keep peering over the edge staring at us, hoping we would get sloppy with the food bags. We also had a rabbit come hang out with us and nibble grass through the evening hours.

Mountain Goat was the chef for the evening and cooked his specialty, mung dal. I paddled Bear around as he fished a bit. Caught a northern, but it raced under a log and broke the line so we called it a night.

This has been a really great trip and I feel so lucky the 3 of us had this opportunity. Next summer, the teenager will be off doing his Nor'Wester trip (hopefully) and then leaves for college the next fall. The years fly by.

~Paulson Lake, Glossy Lake, Elusion Lake, Glee Lake, Bingshick Lake, Flying Lake, Gotter Lake, Brant Lake

Travel Time: 9:15am-12:30pm 3.25 hours



Day 9 of 9

Thursday, July 30, 2020

I woke early and was able to enjoy a classic foggy morning. Incredible view from this campsite. We relaxed and enjoyed our last morning before heading out. Just took us an hour to paddle out even with some long waits at crowded portages. We returned the canoe at Tuscarora, took some much needed showers, and picked up our fully charged car. Then we headed to Trail Center for some burgers and shakes. Yummy! Uneventful drive back to the Cities.

~Brant Lake, Edith Lake, West Round Lake, Round Lake

Travel Time: 1 hour


Lakes Traveled:   Brant Lake, Edith Lake, West Round Lake, Round Lake,

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