BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
December 10 2023
Number of Permits per Day: 2
Elevation: 1865 feet
Skipper & Portage Lakes - 49
Homage to the Spartans and other paddling friends
May 23, 2021
Cross Bay Lake
Missing Link Lake (51)
Number of Days:
Having been afforded the rare opportunity to personally attend one of Aurora’s soccer games yesterday, (She scored a goal and had a show stopping assist, which I thought was the play of the game, in a 4-1 victory.) and a brief visit with some good friends who happened to be watching their son’s baseball game in Woodbury (which was sort of on our way home.) Today we participate in the Holy sacrifice of the Mass at Holy Spirit parish where Father Brandon’s typical inspirational, and timely, homily speak about how the Holy Spirit will rain down graces upon us – if we are willing to ask. (Luke 11:13) It was by happenstance that we landed here several years ago but, I've been so grateful to have had this vibrant parish to call home during that time. Which has proven to be a bottomless wellspring of 'living waters' that has provided cherished access to a Covenantal/Sacramental relationship with my Savior who has been a constant aide in me faithfully navigating the troubled waters in my life. God knows what He's doing. Even if I don't! "Jesus I trust in You" is more than a catchy feel good mantra - it has become my way of life.
After Mass, we swing in to the Eveleth Subway to grab a quick bite to eat before heading off to the Gunflint Trail. The drive up is mostly uneventful; only highway 61 through Grand Marais still being ripped up is the only cause for concern and, we turn off early to avoid the worst of it.
The plan for later tonight is to meet up with our friend Jodi at the Poplar Haus. But, after checking in at Tuscarora Lodge & Outfitters, we have some leisure time between now and then. I was hoping to use this time to hike back to Magnetic Rock but, Aurora wants to try some fishing out on Round Lake.
The fish being uncooperative, we instead settle on the hike that starts near cabin #2 and winds around the east side of Round lake. It’s a well-worn trail and there are a few nice overlooks along the way and, a rope ladder hanging down to the waterline in one spot where the hired help must swim after a long hot day.
Afterwards we motor to Poplar Haus to meet Jodi. Along the way we spy a chunky beaver just off the Gunflint Trail on a miniature island in a small pond and, stop to watch him munch on a fresh branch. Once at Poplar Haus we soon discover that Jodi is running a bit late so, wanting to try a new drink, I order a Foggy Geezer IPA; which proves to be very tasty.
Jodi eventually arrives and we have an enjoyable reunion and visit. She recently returned from a trip in through Hog Creek, and regals us with exuberant tales of the great time she had, and how good the walleye fishing had been. We recall the sordid details of her very first BWCA trip and how she sat in front of my canoe and squealed with joy exclaiming, “this is like riding a roller coaster!” as one gigantic wave after another continually washes my apparent bow paddleless canoe back from whence it came. And later escapades like the big storm we 'survived' on South Temperance, cliff jumping on the Granite River and many other fond remembrances. The torch is definitely being passed to a new generation of paddlers as Jodi now has her own YouTube channel and, several excellent & informative short videos about wilderness adventures in the area clearly indicate her passion for wild places. Next year she even hopes to start guiding women into canoe country! Sounds like she has a well conceived detailed map to follow for her future and it’s great to catch up. After our visit, I wish Jodi well as Aurora and I linger to play a couple games of pool before we head back to our bunkhouse for the night.
Aurora & I didn't make it back to Magnetic Rock today but, I thought I provide a link to Jodi's excellent mini-documentary about the trail.
It’s a gray and somewhat gloomy morning but, it is quickly clearing off and warming up. The Black Pearl is loaded, and we officially push off into the Cross River. Aurora is excited to use her new Bending Branches paddle and calm conditions greet her as she takes her first meaningful strokes of forward propulsion. Before developing any rhythm, we spot our first portage just ahead, as the long run of stairs can be contemplated from out on the water as we approach the rocky landing.
I reveal the good/bad news about this portage to Aurora. It is certainly the most difficult portage on the main route between here and Cherokee Lake. We are only planning on getting to Long Island today so, once we get this one behind us the rest of the portages will be easier. (barring a downed tree or something of the like.) Aurora immediately notices a large cray fish at the upstream landing and, is on high alert for frogs or toads as well. I tell her to keep an eye out for pink lady slippers along the trails as well. The wonders of wilderness adventure have already enraptured my curious girl this morning!
As we work our way to Ham Lake we share in a nice conversation; talking about a previous trip several years back when we exited through here. Aurora doesn’t remember too much from that trip so, for her, the awe & wonder factor is essentially at peak. Much as if we are visiting a totally new area.
As promised, the portages are getting progressively easier. We take some extra time to enjoy and contemplate the scenic rapids that are noisily churning just off some of the trails. Once on Cross Bay Lake we paddle right past the elevated northern site we had stayed at on our previous trip. We don’t stop but, it looks a little different than I recall. My memory undoubtedly slowly succumbing to advancing age.
One thing I do vividly remember is the small waterfall near the portage to Snipe Lake. While the wind has picked up some since earlier this morning, it’s still possible to hear the faint crashing and splashing of water to guide us in. The water is very shallow as we approach but, we are still able to pole up to the landing. Andy had warned us that the bugs have been horrible recently and, here is this first spot where we get to experience that reality firsthand. After briefly contemplating the beauty of the scene, Aurora dons her head net and we soon retreat to the confines of the Black Pearl where we are now much less critical of the breezes out on the lake. What initially was looked upon as a suffering, is now considered a blessing!
The northern landing on Rib Lake is yet another spot where the memory of the expansive knobby boulder field is recalled with precise accuracy. I also harken back to the struggles of a trip up a very shallow Horse River last summer. That recent ordeal still hauntingly emblazoned in my mind helps to temper this current experience. We pull off at the lone campsite on the lake to grab a snack and recharge before continuing our journey.
Encounter our first other people on the next portage. I take their last pack across for them; and then tell Aurora it’s always nice to help people when and where you can. You never know when you may need someone to do so for you. The sun being unencumbered like it is, serves to illuminate the old rock cribs at a couple of these landings which sparks conversation about ‘the good old days.
By the time we reach Long Island lake the sky has clouded up yet again. Since I want to camp towards the east end of the lake, I choose to take the Karl Lake route, thus avoiding the 40-rod portage. I briefly get disorientated here and paddle around an island before regaining my bearings. This temporary confusion coupled with the cloudy skies & increasing wind serves to hasten us to find a campsite. As we officially enter Long Island, the first couple of sites are occupied. My target site is the southern peninsula site but, as we trace the northern shoreline, we paddle in front of the island site which is currently available. And, after pulling in, Aurora feels this site is more than acceptable so, we decide to make this home.
The bugs are at Biblical plague levels at the lakeshore, but they are not too bad in the main camp area once we apply some spray. Being the firewood freak that I am, it does my heart well to see Aurora dig in and help in this endeavor. There is a large jack pine that recently toppled across the best canoe landing, so we proceed to clean that up and stock our firewood coffers. In a strange twist, with the persistence of the bugs, I think I’m looking forward more to the smoke the fire will provide versus the warmth & ambiance.
Of course, the hammock is a popular sanctuary once we get camp properly setup. This site is spread out, as there are multiple tent pads dispersed around the site. The log seating around the grate is dilapidated and there isn’t a great view from here either but, we have camp chairs and the bugs are nowhere near as bad here as they are by the lake. As we play hide and seek before supper, Aurora discovers a small cave right at the lakeshore. She bravely crawls in to explore and finds it unoccupied. This site already feels like home!
After getting settled in, I realize it is still quite early. I guess I could’ve paddled on and, at least, checked out the peninsula site. Ah well? This is an above average site that Aurora is already enjoying so, things could be worse. I prep Aurora for tomorrows daytrip and ask if she remembers the beach on Frost lake?
~Ham Lake, Cross Bay Lake, Rib Lake, Lower George Lake, Karl Lake, Long Island Lake
Its Ova-easy dehydrated eggs with fresh bacon and bagels for breakfast this fine morning. After filling our bellies, we get packed up for the aforementioned day trip to Frost Lake. After pushing off we circle around to the back (east) side of our island and check out the other site located there. It’s certainly nothing special but has a couple of decent tent pads and, would work for smaller groups. Keeping with that theme, we press on to my original target (peninsula) site and find that it is a very nice site that provides an incredible elevated panoramic view of most of the lake. However, the main camp area is somewhat exposed, there is a climb up to the site and canoe storage would likely be inconvenient. Next, we trace the southern shoreline westward trolling along the way.
Aurora points out what she believes to be a small beach near the mouth of the Long Island River and wants to pull in. Indeed, it is a beautiful little beach which serves as the landing for the well sheltered campsite located here. There is a neat staircase that climbs up to this seemingly little used site. The fire grate area isn’t too well developed but there are a couple of nice tent pads and a beautiful white pine sentinel providing shade and shelter. Really, something of an unpolished gem of a site that just needs a little TLC.
Our visit finished, we paddle into the shallow river and negotiate the 2 short portages there. The landing on the Gordon end being quite cumbersome otherwise they are quite easy. Next, we tackle the long portage into Unload lake. Putting the boulder filled landing behind us we trek down this muddy trail. We hike back a short distance from the Unload end to check out the grove of monster cedars located there. Aurora tries to do the same pose she did several years back on our visit here. Although, she's not quite as enthusiastic this go 'round.
Soon we are rounding the horn of Frost lake, past 2 occupied campsites. As the beach comes into view, we also see a couple of guys lounging there on the extreme eastern end. I endeavor to pull in on the other end of the beach. We get out and relax ourselves. The water being unseasonably warm, Aurora eventually does a little swimming riding the waves with her PFD still on. Some sand villages are constructed, and we are having a grand time here. However, clouds are massing, and rain eventually starts falling causing the temperature to drop. Fortunately, I’ve got a dry change of clothes for Aurora and help her change into them just back behind the shoreline trees while we wait out the precipitation.
A short time later the rain stops and, blue skies can again be contemplated. We load up and start heading back to camp. Once out on the lake the wind changes direction and starts pushing the dark clouds back our way. I had hoped to try some fishing here but, an unmistakable peal of thunder providentially convinces me to head for the portage. We don’t quite make it to the Unload lake beaver dam and, are given a free ride for the last 30 yards or so as the storm blows in – fortunately at our back!
I try to rudder the canoe around the obvious shoreline boulders the best I can. We hastily hop out and I drag the Black Pearl into the cattails and flip it over, while we scurry part way up a nearby rise where some jack pines provide some shelter while we hunker down. It’s white out on the lake and we marvel at the trees across the channel which are violently swaying. After 20 minutes or so it’s all over. We paddle across Unload meeting one group as we do so and another one still waiting at the landing. Apparently, Frost is the place to be today?!
While not very impressive as a campsite, the northern most site on Gordon provides a convenient spot to take a pose as we watch yet another group paddle towards the Frost lake portage. Blue now dominates the sky and, it seems almost unreal that we had a severe storm not an hour ago.
After working our way back to Long Island lake, the wind is getting a little pushy. It is our good fortune that it is generally at our back and we get a mostly free ride back to camp. Once there, Aurora hops into the lake and allows the waves to wash up over her and spends some time searching for cool rocks.
It’s nice to see that our site provides a well sheltered sanctuary from the wind. Our weather radio tells us that the weather will be changing tonight and really cooling off with high winds expected late tonight. Fortunately, prior to that, things calm down so we can have a campfire tonight, where I instruct Aurora how to build a one match fire. Apparently, she is paying attention as one match is all she needed to get it going. Proud papa.
As promised, the wind was howling all night and is continuing into the morning hours. I had hoped to head for the Omega lake area for our explorations today but, those plans are immediately scrapped as we prudently determine to hunker down in camp. I finish cleaning up the fallen tree at the landing and an enormous half rotted but, dried out cedar stump so, we will have plenty of firewood tonight (If we can have one?)
We take turns lounging in the hammock, as I put away a few chapters in my book. Hide and seek, I spy, along with some other games help pass the time and, it’s cool enough that we occasionally retreat to the tent and play some rummy. It also gives us a cherished opportunity to just sit, talk and spend some quality time together. Another opportunity to turn a perceived curse into a rich blessing.
It should come as no surprise that spending time in canoe country is one of my deepest passions. And, as I try to do with all aspects of my life, I make deliberate effort to intimately incorporate my Savior into this activity. For example, when I read in Exodus about how the Israelites were sent out in the wilderness to be tested, it conveys an obviously relatable profound spiritual aspect to all my trips. And Jesus’ own words in the Gospel of Mark, “Come away by yourself to a lonely place and rest awhile.” (Mark 6:30) is, in my mind, nothing short of marching orders to visit canoe country!
And, while the ambiance of a warm campfire, the tug of a chunky trout (or, really any fish), basking in the glorious aura of a sublime waterfall, panoramic overlook, majestic old trees, seldom seen plants or animals can all be treasured moments; I believe the purest pleasure is allowing myself to be enveloped into the silence and, like my Blessed Mother, ponder things in my heart. (Luke 2:19) While this can, and should, happen just about anywhere. I think doing so while in an area that has been minimally trammeled by man, provides a closer connection to The Creator. As Robert Cardinal Sarah exclaims in his book, “The power of silence: against the dictatorship of noise” Silence is sacred.
While Aurora is keeping herself entertained, I take this opportunity to deeply reflect on my life. Most especially the past few years and the heartache associated with the unfortunate happenings in that time frame. And the hazy uncertainty that seemed to perpetually hover over me while trying to move forward with my life. Not that it’s really something to celebrate but, by the grace of God, after 2 and a half years my divorce was finalized earlier this spring.
While there were (and are) many different resources that I’ve been utilizing in my continuing spiritual journey; one important resource has been music. And, to that end, one of the songs that has really spoken to my heart recently is actually a canoeing song by Jerry Vandiver (One Match). It’s titled; “The morning fog has lifted” and, like all truly great songs, it can be easily applied to many different stages of life.
I’ve had the enviable pleasure of meeting Jerry once at a bwca.com wing night several years back. Of course, he sang songs around the campfire while he was there. But the fact that he helped me jump start my van that day spoke loudest about what kind of person he was/is. I believe one of the violinists he used was also from Albany, MN (a town I lived in and by for several years!) It’s amazing how God intertwines these special people into my life – for however briefly and yet, their impact is lasting.
This is turning out to be a bizarro day. Strong winds gust most of the morning but, by early afternoon, they are beginning to ebb. And seeing a couple of other canoes out on the lake we decide to head out ourselves and explore the eastern end of the lake. It is still quite chilly, but the sun is out, and the waves are manageable. Aurora is non too enamored with the fishing here as things are very slow. However, I can manage without her help paddling so, she can enjoy the ride.
There is a small little back bay landing near the eastern most site that seems to be inviting us in so, we oblige and pull in. This is an elevated peninsula site that provides an exceptional view. Although, there are a few large downed trees sprawled across the site that block convenient access to one of the tent pads and serve as a stark reminder that wind will likely be an issue at this site. Still, it’s a welcome diversion and, Aurora enjoys exploring while tossing rocks over the precipice into the lake.
We also stumble across a note left in a small Ziplock bag about a lost dog. The incident appears to have happened last September so, hopefully there was a happy resolution. I seem to recall something about this on bwca.com but don’t recall the particulars.
Eventually we start to work our way back to camp. As we approach the back side of ‘our’ island we are afforded complete protection from the light breeze and will have calm waters the rest of the way. Astutely realizing the favorable conditions, Aurora requests to paddle by herself the rest of the way. I quickly acquiesce and rest my paddle across the gunnels. Naturally, it is difficult to maintain a straight heading with a bow paddler only and I tell Aurora as much as we zig-zag towards camp. While this will certainly take us longer, she stubbornly persists her solo endeavor. However, there is no discernible cause for concern as we are in a well-protected channel and, the realistic worst-case scenario is that we may get a little too close to some overhanging tree branches. Yet, almost uncontrollably, I feel the irresistible urge to offer an occasional stealthy correction stroke from the stern. Upon discovery of this treachery, Aurora vociferously rebukes me! “I want to do it myself!” My natural instinct is to help her as she struggles but, upon reflection, I know she needs to do this by herself – even though I fully realize there will undeniably be frustrations encountered. It’s actually a watershed moment (pun intended) as I step back and realize my little girl is growing up. And, as much as I want to protect her, I realize that it truly is in her best interest to work through some of these tough situations on her own. Still, the interior mental battle I have with myself is probably a greater struggle than she is having steering the canoe. In the years ahead, I'm sure relinquishing control is a lesson I’ll need several reminders to willingly accept. Hopefully, I’m not too hard headed in my discernment when those opportunities present themselves.
Predictably we arrive safe at camp where we enjoy fresh F&D polish & fried potatoes with “stinky” cheese. (This is our moniker for asiago cheese.) And, it has been a long-standing favorite on our camping menu. Aurora doesn’t care too much for the polish but devours her portion of the potatoes and has some of mine as well. A good thing too, as it sounds like we’ll need full bellies tonight as the temperature is expected to drop severely. A beautiful pinkish hue dramatically illumines the evening skyline as we enjoy the warmth & ambiance of a crackling campfire and each other’s company before retiring to the tent where a few more games of rummy are played before bed.
It’s a very cold morning but, having layered up, we are no worse for wear once Aurora gets the fire roasting. I’d bought Aurora some wool clothing prior to the trip and after, the first few balmy days I was beginning to wonder if she’d even need it. Sprouting like a weed lately, she may outgrow it if she doesn’t use it this year. However, it’s frigid mornings like this that make those expensive items invaluable trip savers. (SIDE NOTE: Upon our return, Andy informed us that he had 21 degrees this morning at Tuscarora Lodge)
In getting camp torn down & packed away, I discover that I didn’t pack as much hot chocolate as I thought I did and, there are only a few packets left after breakfast. Aurora is not happy with the news but, realizes she will need to ration going forward. Still, she continues to take great pleasure in helping with camp chores - like putting the fire out.
It’s a gloomy gray morning which ironically kept things warmer than they would be otherwise. Methodically we proceed to work our way towards Cherokee Lake. Covering familiar waters, we quickly make our way to Gordon Lake. The southern most site is vacant and seems like a good spot to take a break before our final portage of the day.
Being so close to a busy portage; the small bay provides a sense of privacy while the towering, nearly sheer, cliff just across the bay provide a stark change scenery. A gently sloping rock face landing provides an inviting scene. The fire grate has a dirty feel to it and it quite lumpy, there are no tent pads within eyeshot. However, just up the trail to the latrine, a lush flat field is unveiled that will easily accommodate 3-4 tents. Don’t know that I’ve run across this before in the BWCA. Almost like a city campground!
While certainly nothing severe, our last portage of the day is an uphill affair. It’s a short trail and there is an expansive landing on the Cherokee side that provides a dramatic panoramic view of the north end of this fabled lake.
Not having run across too may other people earlier in the trip, we now can see several other canoes plying the waters here and, soon discover one of my target sites (the northern most island site) is currently occupied. We exchange friendly hellos with the occupants as we paddle past.
Tracing the profile of this long island in a south west direction, we paddle within eyeshot of the southern site on the island and quickly determine to move on. I swing the Black Pearl east towards the extended peninsula where there is supposed to be a site.
This is a very scenic area as multiple islands are peppered about the surrounding waters. A diminutive, but shallow water, landing at the point of the peninsula calls us in. Aurora excitedly hops out and instantly hollers back that, “It’s a really nice site and nobody’s here!” If she’s happy, I’m happy.
Situated in an expansive grove of mature cedar with some bushy balsam trees interspersed, this is a sprawling though well sheltered site. Fresh wood shavings indicate that the log seating around the fire grate has been recently improved and will provide some good fire-starting chips. There’s a neat bench just off the landing to sit and contemplate the outstanding scenery as no less than 5 islands surround the local horizons. There’s only really one good tent pad (which we claim) but, there is room for several others and good tarp & hammock options abound. Safe to say, we are both immediately enamored with our new home.
While it certainly has warmed up from this morning, it is still quite cool as we finish getting camp setup. So much so that I feel some warm chicken noodle soup will be a most appropriate supper. Of course, I add some foil pouched chicken pieces to the broth & noodles and, pull out a sleeve of Ritz crackers. Astonishingly, this quick, simple supper quickly becomes the meal of the trip and we devour all the soup and another sleeve of crackers!
This site is blessed with an abundance of downed cedar which, in my opinion, is the best firewood there is. However, someone has recently snapped off some smaller live trees and branches and left them near camp. It appears they didn’t have a saw or, implement to properly process firewood. Aurora occasionally throws the cedar boughs into our fire to clean things up. She calls this her snap, crackle & pop and thoroughly enjoys how the fire comes to life when she does so. I figure it’s a win win.
Afterwards, we lounge on our shoreline bench and watch as a couple of loons and a few beavers are swimming around just out from shore, providing free entertainment. Prayers, and then a few games of rummy have become our nightly ritual and it’s no exception tonight as we thank God for this beautiful camp, friendly wildlife and safe travels today before turning in this evening.
It’s another cool & crisp morning but, there’s barely a cloud in the sky as we crawl out. Aurora has wanted to try for some walleye but, were not in an area that has many lakes that harbor that species. I had planned this trip before confirming that she would be coming along so, unfortunately, I didn’t get any pre-trip intel from her. Wanting to try to make up for this egregious blunder, I tell her North Temperance is supposed to have some but, we’ll have to do a few tough portages to get there. She agrees to give it a whirl.
Before committing to those goat paths, we paddle into the southernmost portion of Cherokee lake. One of the primary motivators for doing this trip was to finally gaze upon the famed (to me) ‘Spartan’ site located here on Cherokee Lake. We’d planned on visiting Cherokee a few years previous but, the weather conspired against us and we were forced to spend that day in camp. So, still being on my bucket list, this was an opportunity to check that one off.
I have never actually met the Spartans and, may not ever do so. Yet, they have garnered, and hold, a special place in my heart. Perhaps more so than any non-public figure I have not met. Having been something of a bwca.com junkie for the past dozen years or so, over the years I have inevitably come to ‘know’ many of the colorful cast of characters that frequent the site. While they are two separate people, certainly Spartan2 has provided most of the color commentary on bwca.com but, as with most successfully married couples, they are so tightly intertwined I consider them as one. And have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know them through the forum and the many excellent trip reports that have been shared.
Here’s a link to the wonderful trip report where they spent time at this site. https://bwca.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=trip.report_view&sel_trp_id=5657
Without going into extensive detail, I would say the primary reason I want to visit this site is simply to walk on the same paths, gaze upon the same views and possibly experience similar feelings as these 2 extraordinary people. Something of a canoe country pilgrimage if you will.
So, Aurora and I work our way down the lake, passing several occupied sites along the way on this gorgeous cool morning. Providentially, the Spartan site is open, and we turn into the convenient little lagoon and pull up. I think the Spartans themselves would say that this is not a true 5-star site and, I wouldn’t necessarily rate it that high either as the fire grate area is lacking. But it’s immediately understandable why they grew so fond of this site. The view to the north is breathtaking and there are 2 separate rock walkways jutting out into the lake, which provide great sitting spots and/or fishing piers. There are numerous trails spiderwebbing around camp, some leading back to a neat overlook of the creek behind camp.
Aurora enjoys taking advantage of the amenities this site provides and, to my amazement, spots some well camouflaged leeches while exploring the shoreline waters. I tell her if we had a container, we should keep them for walleye fishing. She seems quite pleased to learn this little nugget of information for her advantage on future trips. Speaking of walleye fishing… Contented; we leave this special site behind and paddle out way back up to the Sitka portage.
This landing is pretty much a hole in the wall here on Cherokee. However, there is a nice staging area a short climb up from the lake. The adjective I’ve heard thrown around the most when describing this portage is “roller coaster”, and I’d would have to concur that is a most fitting description. There are a few spots that twist and climb all at once, where foot placement is critical. Glad were just on a day trip. Also, I tell Aurora in no uncertain terms that she shouldn’t be afraid of taking a break if she gets tired – just let me know. I feel she’s doing a great job as we make it across without any serious complaint on her part.
It’s a short paddle to the next portage, which is about as long but much more forgiving as the previous trail. The bluebird skies continue to grace us as morning gives way to afternoon. While this makes for an enjoyable outing in the paddling sense, I believe it’s detrimental to our success enticing the walleye to bite. And our results (or lack thereof) bear that out.
The northern island site is vacant, and we pull in there to take a break and grab a snack. Just behind camp there’s a neat overlook of the northern part of this breathtakingly scenic lake as we gaze upon the lush, green, rolling hills of the Laurentian Divide while we lounge in bug free comfort.
Fishing remains slow but, Aurora is delighted to find a forgotten new pair of fishing pliers at the southernmost site as we take a brief rest stop here. There’s a ton of downed trees downed trees just outside of camp and, visibly discernible just across the lake. I wonder to myself if these are still remnants of the ’99 windstorm? Aurora requests that on our next trip, we camp on a lake that has a good population of walleye. I concur.
Having made it back to Cherokee, we paddle up the east side closer to shore than we had on our trip down. Eventually we happen upon the well concealed campsite there. It offers a beautiful sandy beach with a large area of shallow water stretching out from shore. The campsite itself is nothing to write home about but, there is a tremendous old cedar tree sentinel a very short walk down the shoreline. It’s not quite on par with the ones at Johnson Falls, The Enchanted Forest portage or Basswood etc. but, it is still quite awe inspiring to see such a furrowed old fellow still going strong.
Back in our camp, with all the cedar chips & dried out branches, Aurora easily gets another one match fire going to grill our steak. It’s a comfortable night around a warm fire with the occasional snap, crackle & pop flame up before we flame out for the evening.
Cool weather persists again this morning. Aurora has gotten pretty adapt at properly building a fire and does so again today. Yesterday was a fairly busy travel day and, being a little tired and sore, Aurora says she just wants to stay close to camp today. Since she wasn't properly involved in pre-trip planning I quickly concede to this course of action. So, I proceed to process some of the downed cedar around the site.
Aurora had received a new flint & steel this past Christmas. Since we're spending the day in camp I decide to work on some outdoor skills with her. Initially she gets frustrated, as there is a protective coating on the flint that needs to be scraped off before it will spark. But, eventually she gets the hang of it. Also, there is a compass on the end and it has a whistle too. I tell her if something where to ever happen to me on a trip that she should blow the whistle until somebody comes to help. So, always keep this tool close by.
Later, I leave Aurora to her own devices and retreat to the cozy confines of the hammock. I continue reading my book (from Word on Fire) about Joseph Ratzinger. It feels good to just enjoy the silence of this beautiful day and relax into the moment.
As the afternoon wares on, I succumb to the increasing weight on my eyelids and eventually doze off for awhile. Upon crawling out a couple hours later I am both astonished and extremely proud to discover that, while I was resting, Aurora had been able to boil her own water, prepare her own lunch (Mac 'n' Cheese) and keep herself responsibly entertained without any assistance. The wonders of wilderness!
The Ritz crackers were such a hit the other evening, I'm surprised they've lasted this long. I dig out the remaining sleeve and serve them with some cheese and summer sausage slices as a tasty afternoon snack. We keep ourselves entertained playing several different games throughout these afternoon hours and I note that Aurora hasn't changed out of her pajamas all day. Definitely a lazy day!
We never even make it out on the water today. Still, it was a great day of enjoying each others company and recuperating from the tough portages yesterday and resting up for a busy travel day tomorrow. The temperature has been increasing slightly the past few days and the weather radio says we may get back to the balmier conditions in the near future. We stay up and do a little star gazing tonight before retiring for the evening.
Our site is blessed with a shallow water landing so getting the Black Pearl loaded up this morning is almost a joy. The sky is gray and the air is heavy with humidity so, we suit up with our rain gear before officially pushing off.
The lake is quiet this morning and we don't notice anyone else out and about. Retracing the route we followed when we entered the other day, the north island campsite is now vacant and Aurora wants to jump out and see what we may have been missing. There's a nice landing here right in front of the lumpy sloping main camp area. However, there are some nicer tent pads back away from the fire grate area including one back up the high hill where there's an incredible panoramic view of the north part of the lake. Never the less, after a thorough inspection, we both feel the site we had was better.
From here we methodically begin to work our way back to Cross Bay lake. Opting to favor the western route into Lower George Lake we take the 40 rod portage where Aurora lingers on the beach and plays in the sand while I finish the portage. There's a family grabbing a snack at the landing to Lower George and, they tell us they're heading for Frost and plan on doing the Frost River tomorrow. Apparently this is todays bottleneck area as a few canoes are patiently waiting just out from shore as I bring our last load across. Once I push off, the bwca.com sticker on the Black Pearl compels someone to call out and asks my screen name. It's fellow board member Canoe42. After exchanging hellos I quickly clear the area so the pileup of canoes can begin unloading. Always a special thrill to meet fellow bwca.comer's in the wilderness!
After the log jam of other canoes at that portage, it remains pretty quiet until we pass past the now occupied Rib Lake campsite. So far no rain today and, the air still being quite heavy and wanting to cool off, we remove our rain gear. The southern site on Cross Bay is also occupied and we watch as they land a fish as we paddle past. Finally, we paddle up the long arm of Cross Bay to the landing for the portage to Snipe Lake. It's somewhat shallow but, we're able to make it all the way to the landing without having to hop out early.
This portage is fairly challenging especially at the end of a long day and traveling in this direction. Aurora admits she's pretty tired climbing this hill and I tell her to rest at the Snipe landing I will get her last pack. Once getting all our gear it feels like rain is imminent so, we suit up with our rain gear yet again. And, after pinballing the Black Pearl off of the jumble of barely submerged boulders near this landing, the sky does start to spit a little.
Being familiar with Snipe Lake, we paddle past the first campsite without stopping, hopeful for something better than that severely sloped fire grate area. A couple minutes later the dreadful rumble of thunder makes me rethink that decision but, holding my resolve, I put my noodle like arms into overdrive.
For the second time this trip we don't quite make it before the weather hits with full force. Literally a couple of seconds before pulling into a vacant campsite the sky lets loose with a pounding rain. I scurry to bring our packs up the hill where there is, mercifully, an exquisite tent pads under a canopy of balsam & spruce branches. I throw the unneeded packs ashore and drag the canoe up to a safe spot. There aren't really any good tarp options so, I decide to get the tent up ASAP. In the midst of all this I momentarily loose track of Aurora and yell for her. She startles me with her response as she's actually right behind me, wisely hunkering down under natures balsam tree umbrella. I quickly get the tent setup, haul in our packs, we duck out of the rain begin the drying out process while we play some rummy waiting for the rain to subside. WHEW!
After about an hour or so the rain moves on and we crawl out to assess the damage. Things are definitely wet but, I don't see any downed branches or anything like that. I better situate the canoe and our other packs and start organizing camp a little. Of course, Aurora is finding frogs and toads to beat the band so she's happy.
This site would not be good for larger groups but, for the 2 of us it is actually quite nice. It's perched up about 15 feet off the water and affords some nice views across this narrow lake. It also sports about the neatest rock table I've run across up here. I pull out the weather radio and find out that the worst of the storm is moving just south of us and we marvel at the ominous clouds rolling across the sky while we make our late supper.
I've been to Snipe Lake on numerous occasions. Even in the winter! Yet, I've never actually camped here. It's always been just a pass through lake on other trips. After reviewing yet another top notch photo trip report by ghamer, (which highlights this area) I felt I needed to remedy that. So, here we are ready to spend a couple days on this overlooked gem.
While I've known of Gary (ghamer) for quite some time, I only recently happened to meet him in the unlikeliest of places. As I was about to push off from the island camp on Boulder lake he pulled up and we proceeded to have a (much needed for me) conversation. I was on a long solo and was getting fed up with the long stretch of cold rainy weather and Gary was a blessed ray of sunlight to boost my spirits when spirits were low. Like with the Spartans, I wanted to be, walk & see where he had been and this was my attempt to do just that.
Much to my relief, Aurora is completely fascinated with our new site. As mentioned it's by no means a destination site but, it does offer some pretty neat amenities. And nature seems to be cooperating here too as we have a loon diving right out in front of camp and the bumble bees are busy pollinating the blueberries scattered around camp.
I had hoped to make it to Missing Link and/or Mavis lake to try some fishing today but, Aurora would like to take it easy today and, "Not have to do any portages where we have to haul stuff." I do, however, convince her to go out for paddle around Snipe Lake and see what there is to see.
Of course we paddle through perhaps the most scenic of spots on the lake - the narrows just north of our camp. Aurora confirms its a "cool spot." Really one of the neatest things about Snipe Lake is that while it is a small lake; there are so many little channels, fingers and islands that is seems so much bigger than it actually is. And, its fun to explore all these nooks & crannies. Next we paddle back to the recently vacated island site and check it out. While we do try some fishing, predictably we don't have any luck. I tell Aurora that is why I wanted to go to other lakes to fish. Finally, we paddle over to the landing for the portage to Copper Lake.
A mess of knobby boulders comprising the landing and then there's a decent hill to ascend before descending steeply down to a neat little footbridge. The trail then works its way away from the little creek on mostly level ground before rejoining the water at the edge of a swamp (which could be wet/mushy during wetter periods) before terminating at a long standing beaver dam which is currently a well stocked bone yard of old beaver sticks. A large group of yellow butterflies are inhabiting the area as we approach. Really a nice walk but, portaging will likely be a challenge for most.
Once we return to camp, Aurora reveals she has been saving her last Honey Stinger snack and hot chocolate packet for tonight (our last). I am impressed with her self imposed fasting and tell her that is definitely a quality that will serve her well in her spiritual journey. There's no shortage of visitors around our campfire this evening as Aurora constructs a new home for her new friend, a toad named "Magnet". She also notices a jittery mouse who pop's out from time to time as well. Another star gazing evening and we take extra time in prayer of gratitude tonight for an excellent trip.
No big rush this morning as we pack things up. Surprisingly everything is completely dried out, save for the bottom of the tent floor. Aurora tries a few lasts casts from shore before we push off but, has no takers. I tell her we only have 2 portages today but, they are both fairly long and tough. I make a point to paddle through the Snipe lake narrows one last time as we work our way to the Missing Link portage.
Somewhat surprisingly, we hadn't run across any pink lady slippers anywhere on this trip. However, I do recall seeing some along this portage a few years back (see my trip report - Rainy Day People) so, i told Aurora to keep a sharp eye out. As promised, the portage was a good workout. I still had to retrieve our last pack back at the Snipe landing and, even though she wouldn't have to haul anything, Aurora wanted to stay at the landing and rest. Of course, this is the time I spot the pink lady slippers back off the trail. I take a few pictures for Aurora.
As I return to Missing Link Lake, I discover that Aurora is no longer alone. There is a friendly family of 4 that has just pulled in and they are heading for Snipe. I share the latest intel about the portage and campsite availability, ratings etc. We both linger a bit seemingly enjoying each others company and have a nice visit.
I seldom fish with a fully loaded canoe but, since fishing was a priority for Aurora and; we haven't do so well in that regard, I help her get a line in the water soon after we push off. Almost instantaneously, she claims she's got a snag. I let out a heavy exasperated breath. And then, I see her pole jerk even though were not moving. That's not a snag! She pulls in a nice 15" brook trout. WOO! HOO! It's her 1st ever brook trout and she marvels at the coloration of the pink & blue spots and how smooth the skin feels compared to a walleye. We pull off at a nearby campsite to get a picture and get it back in the water - thankfully it survives. Afterwards, she catches some more and the action is actually so crazy that I can't even fish as I loose several legit bites because I'm trying to help her. What a fantastic way to end this trip!
It pains me to do so during this frenzy but, we do need to get going so we paddle for the landing of the portage to Round Lake. Another Father/daughter come across just as we're pulling in and we let them know of the cooperative brook trout. Aurora has a little more spring in her step as we complete this portage. Not sure if it's the brook trout, neat rock walls, underground creek or, if she's just hunkerin' for Trail Center.
While out on Round Lake the massing large puffy clouds almost seem like a gathering of Superstar Destroyers from Star Wars. Soon enough Tuscarora Lodge comes into view and we give us the needed extra zip to paddle the home stretch.
Tuscarora is buzzing with activity and we pull off to the side to make way for people. I walk up and share a brief rundown of our adventure with Andy and then enlist to get a ride to pick up my van at the EP 50 landing. Upon our return, it's a refreshing hot shower and then we're off to Trail Center for hot food & cold drinks. Another great trip in the books.
A big thank you to God & everyone mentioned in this report. They all played a part in making this trip (and report) happen successfully.