Boundary Waters Trip Reports, Blog, BWCA, BWCAW, Quetico Park

BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog

July 21 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

Solo Base Camp Horseshoe Lake

by Makwa90
Trip Report

Entry Date: September 13, 2022
Entry Point: Lizz and Swamp Lakes
Number of Days: 5
Group Size: 1

Trip Introduction:
While I’ve done about 8 trips to the Boundary Waters with family, this will be my first solo adventure. So, my nerves were a little high heading into this trip. While I usually plan trips around moving every day and traveling fairly long distances between camp sites, I will instead be base camping on Horseshoe Lake for 4 days. I knew before heading in that I was in for a ton of rain, so I figured that this would be the best plan of action. In any case I was super excited and anxious to experience the Boundary Waters solo! After a beautiful 6hr drive north, I rolled into Rockwood Outfitters and found my lodgings for the night in the bunkhouse. I spent nearly the whole evening packing and repacking my bags as I wasn’t sure what would fit into my canoe the best. I strolled down to the shore to take in the calm waters and listen for loons on the dock before retiring for the night.

Day 1 of 5


Tuesday, September 13, 2022 I enjoyed my morning coffee and oatmeal on the deck overlooking Poplar Lake then triple checked the room for any gear and headed down to grab my canoe from the outfitters. Thankfully, it was a calm morning and I had no troubles making my way through the maze of islands blocking the outfitters from the lake proper. Ravens croaked in the distance and Canada Geese honked as they flew in formation heading south. The sun was right in my eyes making it hard to see the target shoreline and I had to overcome my mild panic that I wouldn’t be able to find the portages. But sure enough, a stretch of clean cobbles came into view…portage found!

I will officially enter the wilderness half way down the next lake - Lizz. I smiled as I passed Canada Yew, White Cedar, Bluebead Lily, and Beech Fern. These plants have always greeted me on previous trips and I welcomed their presence like old friends. Lizz ended up being a narrow boggy lake with much appreciated plank docks at either mucky end. I did a quick stop at the border sign and paddled on into the glass calm waters. Caribou Lake was next and it felt like I was properly in the Boundary Waters. Campsites looked fairly full which made me worry about finding a spot to camp to camp tonight.

All the portages have been pretty easy so far. The landings have been a tad rough so I’m glad I had them to myself so no one else had to see the awkward portage attempts that are inevitable on the first few lakes before you get the swing of things.

Finally, I made it to Horseshoe lake which I had all to myself! I was picky about my camp locations since I knew I was in for soaking rain and wind a few days from now. I ended up choosing site 674 on the south side of the lake. It had everything I was looking for: a nice open rocky front porch, easy landing, and good shelter for wind and rain.

Before I set up anything else, I went to work doing the task I was most worried about: hanging my food bag. I was relieved to find a perfect branch and after several hilarious attempts, I at last roped the branch with the throw bag. Getting a solid bear hang out of the way eased a lot of my initial fears and I set up the rest of camp worry free.

I spread out on my rock and ate lunch marveling at the view of super canopy pines which poked above the forest with twisted, gnarled, and missing tops from harsh weather. I gazed at the map and chose a short paddle for the afternoon - south to Vista Lake.

I let the breeze blow me down the channel hoping to catch sight of a moose. I hugged the shoreline finding white water lilies and otters. I spooked up some eagles who were swooping low on the hunt. The streams heading into the lake are fairly dry now with only the slightest trickle. A tricky portage landing next to a dry creek bed lead to me taking a booter! No! On the first day and everything. I grumbled as I wrung my sock out once again glad that no one was there to witness my clumbsiness.

The Vista lake landing turned out to be 50’ of boulders which I picked my way very carefully through especially with a canoe on my back. I don’t need a twisted ankle now! The Misquah Hills came into view and I could finally appreciate the ruggedness of the shoreline. Mergansers preened on rocks while the wind pushed me south. I relished the warm sunny t-shirt weather! I floated all the way down listening to fiddle music from a nearby campsite- at least it wasn’t banjos…

I decided to turn around and the paddle back into the wind was definitely more of a workout! But I got very comfortable with my Northstar Magic and had no problem making it back to Horseshoe. I watched a loon chick beg for meals making soft mewling noises at the adult, spied the eagles lunch rock furnished with a huge fish carcass, and made it back to camp with the afternoon sun shining low.

Time for a snack and firewood hunting! The downtime until dinner made me uneasy for some reason. Reading a book and journaling helped. It’s very quiet! Evening came and I finally relaxed with food in hand, a crackling fire made, and a warm belt of scotch in the tummy. Clear skies and calm winds eased my mind even more. I layed down on my rock to stargaze (the Milky Way swept overhead and Cassiopeia kept me company) before heading to bed.

[paragraph break]

 



Day 2 of 5


Wednesday, September 14, 2022 I slept surprisingly well despite some first night jitters. No nightly noises and no wind-a perfect first night! It was chilly and clear last night and the lake was heavily shrouded in mist and glowed beautifully in the morning sunlight. My alarm clock was provided by two red squirrels having a furious battle up and down the pine tree I was pitched under. Time for some coffee on my front porch. Then tidied up camp and packed a bag for my day trip adventure. With the wind being calm, I decided to make my way over to Winchell Lake then loop back through some small lakes back to Horseshoe. I paddled through wispy fog and the south arm of the lake stretched away from me with cedars lining the shadowy shoreline of Royal fern and sweet gale. A cheery blue sky appeared as I approached the portage and a loon flew overhead calling wildly. It’s call breaking the silence of the morning.

I am able to single portage now and this 99 rod portage into Gaskin Lake will be my longest of the whole trip! I relished the opportunity to be able to stop for a quick second along the portage and look at moss, cool rocks, and plants. I don’t feel rushed to get to the other side. Gaskin was a beautiful with high shorelines and nice looking campsites. I made my way across the lake to a quiet boggy bay with lily pads and sphagnum bog shores. I had to slop through deep muck to get to the shore! Once on the trail, I climbed and climbed. I’d been to Winchell lake many years ago and suddenly recalled memories of steep portage trails. I think the Laurentian Divide is somewhere in here…

The landing on Winchell was very nice and grassy. No ankle twisting boulders in sight. The south shore of this impressive lake loomed ahead flush with young hardwoods from a long ago fire. I paddled out into the lake and just sat in the middle and took it all in. Winchell is usually windy so I relished the chance to leisurely paddle around and enjoy the long view to the west where I could just make out the transition to towering pines and rugged cliffs. Time to continue my loop though, and I headed back to Gaskin Lake. The portage into Jump lake was difficult to spot due to a blockade of logs, but once you skirt around them, they form a little marina at the very tight and steep landing. Again, I’m glad no one was here to witness this awkward portage attempt around an upturned tree and straight up a steep switchback!

Jump lake proved to by my favorite lake of the trip despite is tiny size. The shores were full of drooping cedar trees and large boulders. A creek ran through the lake on both sides and I spent some time at the portage checking out the pretty little set of small riffles underneath old growth cedars. A very peaceful landing. I had a target campsite on the next lake, Allen, to have lunch at and was happy to find it unoccupied. I quickly spread out lunch fixings on the nice rocky front porch. I was just waiting for a moose to pop up here- it seems like perfect habitat. But everything was very quiet. I had a brief sinking feeling of being all alone since this was the only site in the lake, but I reassured myself that all was well.

Time to head back to Horseshoe, and after another awkward portage I was greeting again by the loon chick and adult. This time the chick got a tasty minnow! They fished a bit more and popped up very close to me as I floated by. I let them be and paddled back to the main part of the lake and I was greeted with civilization. I have neighbors now and I could hear them chatting about lunch options as I paddled by - salami galore or a s#@t load of granola bars. That made me giggle. Isn’t there always a s#@t load of granola bars?

Back at camp at last just in time for some afternoon lounge time and more firewood gathering. I felt less jittery this evening and the fire was a welcome comfort on another clear and starry night. Another belt of scotch to end a perfect day.

 



Day 3 of 5


Thursday, September 15, 2022 This morning started off slightly breezy and I didn’t sleep much due to the pines roaring overhead although at lake level things were fairly calm in my bay. Gloomy morning with low clouds…yup I think it’s going to rain today. I must have repositioned my tarp three times trying to pick the best spot not know if the predicted winds were actually going to happen. I ended up picking the spot near the fire pit so I could at least have a view to the lake while hunkered down. No sooner than tying the last knot did the first pitter patter of rain drops sound on the tarp. Time for some coffee and pancakes. Yum!

I listened to that unique hiss of rain drops on a perfectly calm Lake. That’s right the wind died down to a whisper! So I sat and people watched as the morning crowd of paddlers went by in various states of preparedness. It rained and rained… I got caught up on journaling and read a few chapters of my book and sat listening to the rain. It paused briefly now and then. So I wandered around camp watching warblers glean insects off of the cedar trees and squabbling over territory. Red squirrels ran back and forth carrying mouthfuls of cedar seed clumps and burying them or chowing down on them leaving near little shaving piles everywhere.

I was pretty comfy in my chair and the day went by rather quickly. I wandered out in the canoe once during a brief respite and came across my other neighbor and his sweet old hound doing the same thing. We chatted a bit and headed our separate ways. But before long the light mist turned quickly into a steady heavy rain and I hightailed it back to camp. Now it was an uncomfortable rain. Rivulets started flowing under my tarp and I had to get things off the ground. My extra wood soaked up the excessive moisture in the air and I had to drag my tent slightly uphill to get it out of a puddle forming at its base.

It’s hard not to get a little grumpy when you are now starting to get damp and the latrine trail is turning into a river. Thankfully by dinner time it let up a little and I made a nice hearty meal with fry bread. Days under the tarp call for a more “gourmet” meal. The scotch came out again as I stowed everything away for the night. I retired to the tent early with the rain picking up again.

 



Day 4 of 5


Friday, September 16, 2022 It continued to rain all night with damp patches showing up in the corners of my tent, but that could have been from my wet rain gear. It was a fitful nights sleep and I was woken up in the wee hours by a flash of lightning and rumble of thunder. The steady rain picked up force for a bit as the cells rolled through. I had to keep shimmying uphill since I pulled my tent off cantered yesterday. Finally, the gloomy morning light greeted me and I sluggishly tried to pull my wet rain gear on in my tiny tent vestibule without getting too many other things wet.

Ahh, nothing like a chilly damp evening to lift the spirits. I gloomily sipped my coffee and ate my oatmeal wondering briefly what the point was being out here in such miserable weather. I had been giving serious thought to packing up and leaving, but I really didn’t want to wimp out on my trip just because it was raining. I was warm, safe, and had plenty of food. I wanted to prove to myself that I could deal with some bad weather if need be. Luckily, during the time I was having gloomy and anxious thoughts, the rain actually stopped and I decided to go out for a paddle to see other sights and stretch the muscles.

Doing so did me a world of good. Moving around kept me warm and the lake was beautiful in the cloudy mist. The slight yellow tinge of the Royal ferns and birches really popped and I actually relished the feeling of being cozy and bundled up in layers. I did a slow tour of a few back bays and headed down to the far eastern finger where a remote campsite sat unoccupied. The loon chick popped up close to me and actually started approaching me like it thought I was its parent returning with food.

As I approached the campsite through the water lilies, it started raining again. But I wasn’t ready to be stuck back at camp and I pressed on and explored the site and the surrounding bay…no moose yet again darn! The wind was in my favor going back and I felt it pushing me onwards. I made it back just in time for the water to start collecting in my canoe-I was ready for some hot tea and some lunch. So back under the tarp I went.

Not much wildlife to watch, just a camp vole, warbler, and a nuthatch or two, and some croaking ravens. The puddles have reformed around camp and there’s a mini waterfall coming off of the face of my front porch rock going into the lake. I swear the lake level rose a few inches based off of my canoe landing “beach.” It keeps getting darker and lighter, and darker and lighter as each wave of rain passes through. A few drips of water are now coming through the surface of my tarp. Almost 30 hours straight of rain so far. Wow!

I’m looking forward to leaving early tomorrow morning, but I’ll survive the night with another hearty meal, chocolate, and scotch. I crawled into my tent at 6:30pm and bundled myself into my sleeping bag for some evening journaling and reading. Things are going to seem so quiet without the constant sound of rain on the tent!

 



Day 5 of 5


Saturday, September 17, 2022 I ended up completing my whole book and started on the second one before finally turning in last night. Voles or mice were scratching at my packs that I had stashed in my tent vestibules which woke me up periodically in the night. But guess what? The rain stopped! I peeled my damp self out of my sleeping bag and was finally able to sip my morning coffee out on my rock front porch again. The lake was dead calm and the sky a dark and moody gray heavy with fog. Humidity was very high! I briefly worried about being fogged in this morning, but I pushed that thought out of my head. There was more than plenty visibility out there to travel. Packing up camp was a dirty chore…my poor tent was so muddy and plastered with pine needles. Shove it in a bag to deal with it later.

I ate a quick oatmeal breakfast and off I went. Once out on the water, I was in no rush to get back. The paddling was superb - calm lake, dry skies! The tiny trickles of creeks into the lake now practically roared with life and I stopped at one along the portage to explore the waterways. I took my time floating on Caribou Lake taking the long way around a few islands watching soaring eagles and wailing loons. Lots more traffic here!

The boardwalks on Lizz Lake were practically underwater now! The portage trails have turned muddy and I was grateful for my knee boots. The large leaf asters are now in full bloom and the mountain maples now just starting to turn golden yellow. Back at Poplar Lake, I paused by the flowing creek exit for one last time soaking in the fog, pin cushion islands, tall cliffs with dangling moss and lichens. The sun tried to show its face through the silvery gloom. It was an easy coast back through the barrier islands to the outfitters. I could now clearly hear truck traffic and civilization.

I was proud of myself for overcoming bouts of anxiety and happily accepted some fresh coffee from the outfitters when I returned my gear. I hiked up the road to my car and reality, or was I leaving reality? I enjoyed the trip but I think my next solo adventure will be planned around moving every day. I think that might help with my anxious need to constantly be doing something. Haha!

 


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