BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
December 10 2023
Number of Permits per Day: 2
Elevation: 1865 feet
Skipper & Portage Lakes - 49
1st Daddy Daughter Trip
September 11, 2020
Cross Bay Lake
Meeds Lake (48)
Number of Days:
Up at 6:30. Ate Cliff bars and an apple. Tuscarora shuttled us the short trek to the Cross Bay entry point just down the road. They helped us carry our gear to the water, and we chatted for a few minutes. We were off by 8:15.
I bought a SpotX gps tracker/satellite communicator to help put my wife’s worries at ease. She’s be able to track us as we move, and we could call for emergency services if I were to break my leg (see below) or have a heart attack carrying a pack across the Muskeg/Kiskadinna portage. Of course, it appeared to have frozen right as we shoved off. However, I now suspect it was user error. It was tracking us fine, and we were able to send messages later that night. I was worried I’d have to find another group with a communicator just so I could send a message to my wife not to rely on the Spot. Right away, we could tell the water was really low. This was a portage between the ponds before Ham Lake. I’m assuming water is supposed to be flowing down this creek bed. We had to get out several times to pull the canoe off submerged rocks. The portages through this stretch were pretty rocky, so I ended up carrying R’s second pack. She paddled her butt of, though, even making sure she kept paddling while I took snack breaks. (Travel day snacks were home-dried apples and bananas and homemade beef jerky).
Our goal for today was the eastern island site of Long Island. Most of the sites were taken up through Cross Bay, so we were wondering if Long Island was going to be full, if we made it that far, and whether to stop at the first open site we found. On the Cross Bay/Rib portage we ran into a family where one member was carrying another on his back. She apparently had fallen on a portage and possibly broker her leg. I really hope their group got out ok. And it reaffirmed by happiness to have the Spot with us. To our surprise, the sites on Karl were open, as well as the first several sites on Long Island. Then, the 2 island sites and the peninsula site in the middle of the east end of LI were taken. We were starting to get really nervous. It was already 2pm and we were really running out of gas. But, to our surprise, Site 585 was open!
We had a quick lunch (summer sausage and cheese on a tortilla), got camp set up, and then relaxed in the hammock for a while. Then R wanted to explore the island. We followed the numerous trails for a while. This is a pretty big island to have to ourselves. Site 585 has kind of steep climbs from the water up to the main area, which was also very open. The best tent pad was also lacking any real cover from the NW winds. Latrine was a short hike into the forest. With the cut trees and large rock behind it, it really felt like a throne.
Later in the evening, we decided to get back in the canoe and do a little trolling – another first for me in a canoe. Lure of the day was a Rapala Taildancer in Purplescent. We paddled around our corner of the lake looking for the lakers that are supposed to be in LI. I have yet to catch one, and that would have been another first, but no luck. We did get several pike to bite, so we counted that as a win. ~Cross River Lake, Ham Lake, Cross Bay Lake, Rib Lake, Lower George Lake, Karl Lake, Long Island Lake
We spent the morning close to camp. It was a pretty windy day already, and I was not sure how well we would paddle in these windy conditions. So, we went across the channel and gathered a bunch of firewood. I finally got to try out my pocket chainsaw. It worked great, but I definitely could tell I don’t use those muscles much. A couple of loons kept close to our canoe every time we were out.
After processing firewood, R says she wants to check out the Wall portage I had told her about. If we do have to leave, she wanted to at least walk it. So, we set out in the wind, trolling our Taildancers again. She picked up a few pike before we reached the portage into Muskeg. Two gentlemen pull up to the portage shortly after we do. They looked much more efficient that us, so we told them to go ahead of us. They quickly leap frog us. Then we work our way through the bouldery mine field that is the Long Island/Muskeg portage. This is the one time this trip that the low water helped us – all of the rocks were exposed making it easy to plan our next steps. There is a beaver dam at the Muskeg end of the portage that you load from.
There is one small dam pullover at the other end of the creek leading in to Muskeg. It might be float-able in higher water. We then walk the Wall portage into Kiskadinna. We were of course doing this unloaded. It was pretty intimidating even without any packs.
We meet the other guys on the far side of the portage and talk for a while – mostly about fly fishing. I believe they were staying on the island (564 or 563) with a larger group. They head out fishing, and we hike back across the portage where we have lunch on the big rock in the middle of the path near the Muskeg shoreline. The wind has picked up significantly now, so the paddle across Muskeg was a challenge, but R was really pulling her weight. She proved that she is a reliable paddling partner is some nasty winds.
Later in the evening, the wind dies down some. R is tired, so I suggest we just troll – she doesn’t have to paddle then. After catching a few more pike, we have a short campfire to roast marshmallows and get to bed before it gets fully dark. ~Long Island Lake, Muskeg Lake, Long Island Lake
We woke up at 6am to crisp air and foggy views. At first, we couldn’t see across the channel. My wife had messaged us to stay in the BWCA. After seeing the Wall yesterday, R decided to wanted to accept the challenge and continue on with our trip as originally planned. So, she cooked up our powdered eggs and pre-cooked bacon with hot chocolate while I broke camp. We were on the water by 8:30am with sights on Omega.
We knew what to expect with the first 2 portages, but that did not prepare us for carrying gear across the Wall. At the steepest points, even R’s lighter pack was too much. So, I would carry my load to the top, and then go back for her gear. She did carry her 1 pack up to the hill, and then all the way down, along with the tackle bag and rods which are normally strapped into the canoe. It took us about 2 hours to complete this 180 rod stretch.
We decided to troll Kiskadinna, as I heard there are decent pike in there. Plus it would slow us down and save up energy for the portage into Omega, which I read was a nasty one even if only 37 rods. Well, Kiskadinna was a disappointment. Just a few snags. But we were somewhat rested by the time we reached the east end, and we filled up on Cliff bars, jerky and dried apples. The portage into Omega was just as bad as I had read, especially after the 2 prior portages.
Up until this point, we had not seen anyone all day. Both sites on Kiskadinna appeared empty. We had hoped Omega would be empty too. The first site on the west side was vacant, so we knew we could fall back here, but we wanted to check out the ones closer to the Winchell portage. As we passed through the channel, we encountered 1 canoe with 2 guys. They were heading for Kiskadinna. The south site was also taken, so now we were getting really worried about the north arm site. It was open! We readily claimed it. Unfortunately, the site kind of stinks. It’s high off the water, with no real protection from the SE wind that we were experiencing. The only good tent pad was in the middle of a path and visible from the latrine. Moreover, the kitchen area was quite odd. The log benches were down to 1 log, and the fire grate was exposed and on a high rock ledge. It paled compared to our Long Island site, but we were too tired to go back to the western site. It’ll do for 2 nights.
We stayed on land the rest of the evening - rested in the hammock, listened to the weather, ate dinner, explored the site, had a fire and roasted marshmallows. I think we were in bed before dark. ~Long Island Lake, Muskeg Lake, Kiskadinna Lake, Omega Lake
The plan for the day was to visit the cliffs on Winchell. Of course it was forecasted to be the windiest day of the trip. We got up early again, before 6:30, but we were moving a little slow after yesterday. We still got on the water by 8:30 again after enjoying another north woods sunrise.
However, we were not going to find much solitude today. One group was coming out of Winchell as we were approaching the portage. Then, after we crossed, we encountered 2 more groups heading towards us.
The cliffs are just south of the north bay into Omega, so we only had to battle the winds for a relatively short distance. This was the truest test of the trip for R’s and my paddling skills. I was quite nervous. Luckily, the wind wasn’t too bad. We quickly found the landing to hike to the top of the cliffs. Our legs were still weak from yesterday’s portaging, and the trail is not as easily followed as I had expected. Nonetheless, we made quick work of the hike up and were overlooking Winchell’s vastness in no time. However, even in the short few minutes we were on top, we could tell the wind was picking up. We could see some whitecaps building. So, we had our mid-morning Cliff bar, took a few pics and headed back down.
Looking back, the paddle north across Winchell wasn’t as scary as it was in the moment. Once again, R was a rock star paddling. We met 3 more groups paddling/portaging into Winchell. Once on the other side, we decided to finally fish Omega. We casted around the south arm. R had a big pike hit her lure (orange and brown twister tail grub on a jig with a hairpin spinner) right at the canoe. A small one followed. We then drifted some crawler harnesses on the east side of the central island, where we came across a couple folks that were staying at the south site. They weren’t having much luck either. So, we went back to camp for lunch, hang in the hammock, and to regroup. Several canoes had come by to see if our site was open.
After lunch, we casted white 5” Powerbait minnows on jig/spinner combos around fallen logs in the north arm and had decent luck on pike. We then decided to try our luck on the lakes to the north of Omega. We located the portage into Phalanx pretty easily. However, it looks fairly unused, so we decided to walk to the portage before taking gear. We were glad we did. Some fallen trees and thick brush would have made carrying the canoe a pain. Someone had been through there recently though, as we saw fresh footprints in the mud. After admiring the lovely ferns and fall colors, we went back to Omega where we caught more pike and one solid smallie.
Dinner and marshmallows over a fire, and into bed early. Tomorrow was going to be a short move day – Pillsbery the destination. ~Omega Lake, Winchell Lake, Omega Lake, Phalanx Lake
We were going to troll Henson, but the wind was pretty gusty, so we decided to just paddle across and get our butts to Pillsbery. Since we were only going to be a couple lakes from the entry points, I was getting nervous about site availability. The portage into Pillsbery is nothing really to remember. Once on Pillsbery, we are greeted by a bald eagle (first of the trip) and increasing winds.
We checked out both sites on Pillsbery. While they could be perfectly nice for hammock campers, we couldn’t find any acceptable tent pads, so we had a decision to make. Do we try for Meeds with 2 ~100 rod portages in and 3 sites, or take the 1 95 rod portage into Allen, with only 1 site. The Allen site would force us to exit through Lizz. With the Meeds site, we could take the mile lone one out or the several through Lizz, depending on the wind. However, nearly all of the permits for Meeds and Lizz were booked for this week. If we couldn’t get a site on Meeds, Caribou would probably be full too. With all this in mind, R decided that she wanted to try Meeds, and if it was full, we would just exit. Just then, it started to rain, so we donned the rain jackets for the first time this trip. Before we could make it to the portage out, the skies cleared. The portage towards Swallow/Meeds is mismarked on this site and my McKenzie maps. It is in the NW corner of the bay east of where it is marked on the maps. This portage is also more up and down than the maps lead me to believe. At the Swallow end of the portage, there is a giant tree that had started snapping. You could hear the popping and cracking with each gust of wind. Luckily it was leaning away from the portage trail. We cross the 100 yards that make up the width of Swallow Lake and have a quick lunch of tuna packets with mayo on tortillas on the north shore. We run into a couple single portaging south towards Pillsbery or Henson. The next portage wipes us out again. The wind is still whipping pretty good on Meeds. We decide we will take the first site available.
This was the western most site. It’s a huge site with lots of trails. The best tent pad was westward down a trail to a clearing. Lots of moose poop. This site is definitely more used than any of the other sites we stayed, but there was a pile of branches collected for the campfire. It’ll do for the night. After setting up camp, we hand in the hammock some more and explore the trails. R catches some more frogs. We enjoy the Fall colors, which appear to be increasing every day, and I fish from shore for a little while – 1 small pike. We try to eat as much remaining food as we can. Other than running out for water, we don’t leave camp.
Exit Day! It was a cold morning. The gear we left out had some frost. R stayed warm curled down in her sleeping bag. I survived, a little cold. It was hard to get moving that morning, but we were up around 6am, and having hot apple cider by 6:30 or so. Another beautiful sunrise.
We had camp broken down and were on the water before 8:30 – we had gotten good at this. I packed as much weight from R’s packs into the blue barrel as I could. We rigged up our rods and decided to troll our way to the mile lone portage out. The western island site appeared empty, which was a surprise to me. The eastern island was occupied. No fish were caught, but we got plenty of snags. No lures lost though!
Soon enough, we were at the Meeds/Poplar portage. The plan was to leap frog with our gear in about 1/3 mile increments, resting during the stroll back to our prior drop off point and munching on Cliff bars and the last of the jerky and dried fruit. We also made sure to leave water with each set of dropped gear. This portage’s hills were a little more vertical than I was anticipating, but they really weren’t too bad. There were a couple spots, either due to hills or boulder fields, where I had to carry R’s packs, but she was able to carry her loads over 90% of the time. She liked the several boardwalks. Some of them had to have been recently repaired, as they still had the tags stapled to the end of the boards. We completed this challenge in 2 hours. 1 group of 2 or 3 canoes was starting their trek as we were on the finishing end.
A quick paddle across Poplar, and we were landing at the Poplar Haus and waiting for our shuttle back to Tuscarora. The menu at the Poplar Haus looked incredible, especially after 6 days in the woods, and that Meeds portage. We got the fried chicken sandwich – AMAZING! We chatted with the new owner of Poplar Haus, really nice guy. His staff was friendly too.
Back at Tuscarora, we enjoyed their new shower house and were on our way back down the Gunflint by 3pm. The original plan was to camp north of Grand Marais for the night and meet up with a friend from Duluth to fish the pink salmon run along the Superior shoreline. We did check out the Brule River, and didn’t see any live pinks, but did chat briefly with a fly guide. Given the death of the family member earlier, the lack of pinks and the forecasted freezing temps that night, we decided it would be best to just go home. I drove through the night, arriving home at 3am to a sleepy wife and over-excited lab. R immediately asks if we can do it again next year, but try hammock camping. Looks like I have to research new gear. ~Meeds Lake, Poplar Lake