BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
December 10 2023
Number of Permits per Day: 3
Elevation: 1670 feet
Cross Bay Lake - 50
Krista's Graduation Present
May 18, 2009
Missing Link Lake
Seagull Lake Only (54A)
Number of Days:
Saturday-Sunday, May 16-17, 2009 Let me start with the weekend trip to Tuscarora Outfitters from Virginia via Georgetown, KY. My wife and son drove in a nice car to Georgetown from Richmond, VA while I trailed behind in my daughter’s Jeep Wrangler. A 500 mile trip, arriving late Friday afternoon. Dinner and then a hotel bed. Daughter’s graduation ceremony was at 10 am and then we rushed to her dorm to change clothes and drop her Jeep off at a friend’s house in Lexington, KY. Final packing, and we are off to the Gunflint by 2 pm Saturday, May 16. We traded off driving and arrived in Grand Marais Sunday morning, 1100 miles later. We stopped at the tackle shop to get our leeches and 7 day licenses. On the way out of town, we passed the local Catholic church with mass starting in ten minutes at 9 am, so we stopped in for our blessing. After mass, they had a fund-raising pancake breakfast, so we got our spirits filled, as well as, our bellies. Got to Tuscarora outfitters around lunch time. Checked in and got our food pack and bunkhouse assignment. Unloaded our car of all our gear and started our final preparations and packing. We did not know how the weather would turn, so we brought clothes and gear in the car for most anything. Now we had to fish or cut bait on what we would pack. We went out to the public access point on Round Lake and talked to a group of four coming off the lake. They reported snow on Saturday, the day before. I was expecting the next week to be in the low 40’s to low 70’s with a couple days stuck in the low 60’s. Rain was calling for scattered showers with 30% - 60% chances. We got back to the outfitters and test-paddled two Kevlar canoes before making our pick of a Wenonah Minnesota II with tractor seats. We both decided on wooden bent paddles. Back to the bunkhouse and more final packing. Sleep came easy in our bags on the soft mattresses.
Rise and shine at 6 am. Sue Ahrendt makes some great French toast at Tuscarora Outfitters. We had the dining hall to ourselves Monday morning at 7 am. Plenty of good coffee and we are out to the water to load up. Turns out Andy only has one wooden bent shaft paddle left, so he gives me his carbon-graphite bent shaft paddle made by Wenonah. SWEEEEET! Temps are in the high 40’s with a stiff breeze and overcast skies.
Paddle into the wind 3/4 of the lake before we are in protected cove on south end of the lake. 30 minutes to get across. Canoe rides well loaded down for five days. First portage is uneventful, arriving on Missing Link in 30 minutes. We ended up double portaging all five days. I wanted to single portage, but discretion overtook valor. Enjoyed the bobtail hike back unloaded and ended up carrying the camera on me at all times after missing the BW entry sign and big ice in the creek on the first portage to Missing Link. More stiff breeze and another 30 minutes across Missing Link. Now we face the long and oft-talked about 426 rod portage to Tuscarora. I am not looking forward to this, but figure I can break it up into 3 segments and survive to tell my grandkids about it. Start out with the canoe and get about 40% of the way across, better than I expected. Back for the pack, and we make it all the way to Tuscarora. Now I have to go back and get the canoe and bring it the rest of the way. We make it and have some interesting finds along the trail. Saw a ruffed grouse, but he was camera shy.
While I missed the ice on the first portage, there was some leftover snow and slush on the side of the trail on this portage. Not much, but it was still frozen. Both times we got to the Tusc side of the portage, the breeze was turning into wind. Before getting into the canoe, we decided to take a break for lunch and wait out the wind. Break was needed ,but it did nothing for the wind. There were now small whitecaps. Paddled harder than we had all morning. Got behind the second island and took a break and waited for a break in the wind. No break in the wind. Started around the left side of the island and made little headway. Ended up getting back behind the island, waited 15 minutes and went around the right side. Finally made it to the Owl Lake portage. There would be no fishing today.
Only 68 rods to Owl Lake, but it was eventful with a garter snake in the middle of the trail. Yelled ahead to Krista to see if see wanted to see it. NO WAY! After getting over the surprise encounter, we continue on our way. We saw some beautiful cedars in a grove on the end of the portage, I think on Tarry Lake??? The water was wide and shallow.
Short portage onto Mora and at the end of Mora, we see two bald eagles in the trees. One flies away into another tree and one stays still. We paddle close to the one that stayed and take pictures. It flies away and we look across the cove for the other one. As we are about to leave, Krista spots it on a root ball of a fallen tree. We get very close before it flies away. Turns out the pictures are a little grainy due to the zoom lens. Very nice first day , but we are not done yet.
It is getting close to 7 pm and we still need to make it to Little Sag to make camp. Last portage into Little Sag is challenging with the steep drop at the end. In addition, the current keeps wanting to pull the canoe into the rushing rapids at the beginning of the portage. We make it and Krista is still hanging in there after 11 hours on the trail our first day. We make camp at the first site on southeast end of Little Sag, finally! Campsite #540 faces the southeast and is right on the water. Someone was kind enough to leave some split firewood behind, as well as, kindling. The wood is damp, but lights up. Tonight it’s steaks and hashbrowns. Wood burns fast and is hard to get steaks cooking over good coals. Have to set pan of hashbrowns directly on the wood to cook hot enough to brown. Rain comes after dinner, but the tyvek tarp over the tent works well.
We try fishing across Little Sag, but nothing is hitting. We try deep, we try shallow, we try the bank and we try trolling….. nothing. Navigation is a little tricky with all the islands and coves. Make one wrong turn up a cove and can’t tell if narrow ways on the map are passable on the water. No problems, plenty of scenery. Have brought the compass and the GPS, but map alone is sufficient for now. We see a campsite occupied and see one canoe across the lake on the water. Forgot to mention that on Monday we saw no canoes until we were in camp about 8 pm. We get to the day’s first portage of 30 rods at Rattle Lake.
Next portage is 25 rods into Gabimichigami. The portage is quite wet, but short. We actually see fresh moose tracks where the moose came down the trail and went back. We stop on the Gabi side of the portage where it is wide and decide to eat lunch here as there is no traffic evident today. Krista filters water for black bean soup. She also picks several ticks off her. None for me. The weather is warm and sunny with a little breeze. Boy, that would change quickly for the worse by the time we get across Gabi and onto Agamok.
After lunch, we get on the open part of Gabi with a stiff breeze behind us from the southwest. Much better than the day before on Tuscarora. As the afternoon progresses, the sky gets cloudier and the breeze picks up. The temperature seems to drop too, or maybe it’s just the wind chill factor??? We make the portage from Agamok to Mueller and the sky is still cloudy, but no thought of rain is on my mind. Our plan is to make our first portage, with canoe and food pack, across to Mueller and stop at the Agamok bridge on the Kekekabic Trail on the way back to take pictures from the bridge of the falls. Good idea, bad timing! We leave the two gear packs sitting beside the portage on Agamok, uncovered. We leave our raingear in the packs as it is not raining. Before we get to Mueller, the rain starts. We drop the canoe and food pack at Mueller and make our way back. We decide to make the side trip to the bridge and take pictures in the rain. Moose droppings, tracks and wild geologic formations in the rock. What’s with all the triangles in the rock? Aliens?
[paragraph break] The rain steadily picks up as does the wind. When we make it back to our packs, the back of my hands are cold and wet. We get our raingear and gloves out and make haste for the end of the portage. Hiking with full packs warms us up and we get on the water and make way for the next portage to Ogish. Even with the wind at our backs, I am getting cold and start considering options for making camp early. We pass the eastern campsite on Mueller and I start seriously thinking we need to stop at the western site close to the portage to Ogish. I’m worried the weather will worsen and we will get chilled to the bone. Krista says she thinks the weather will pass. With her willing to press on, we continue to the portage and make our way to Ogish. There is some old wolf (???) scat on the ground near Mueller, but I don’t want to stop to take pictures with the rain. Sure enough, we reach Ogish and the rain breaks. We go back for the packs and I get pictures of the scat. I may be wrong, but feel sure it is wolf, but old.
We make our way to the first campsite (#785) on Ogish and hope it is empty. It is empty, but the site to the northeast is occupied. We make camp around 4 pm and none too soon as we are hungry, cold and wet. The wind is still blowing and setting up the tarp is a challenge. The clothesline is filled with wet clothes and we are changed into dry ones. Dinner is good with 3-cheese lasagna. After dinner, I explore the island and get some sunset pictures from the high rock. Later that night, I got up to go to the bathroom and the northern sky was literally aglow with lightening from east to west. INCREDIBLE!
Wednesday morning is absolutely beautiful at 5 am. Cold, but beautiful! Make some hot water for coffee and go fishing from the bank. Catch a northern on a Johnson silver spoon. Krista is sleeping in after a long two days.
Today will be a day of rest and relaxation. We plan to stay another night and go day tripping for smallies and northern and walleyes. We get breakfast and clean up around camp and make preparations for our daytrip. Boy, do things (weather) change quickly in the BW. We never even get into the canoe before the wind picks up from the southwest. Exactly the direction we were planning to head into. Oh well, we make do on the island and fish from the bank. No luck. It keeps getting warmer and before long, Krista is in shorts, and I’m peeling my shirt off. Finally, I get the idea to take a plunge in Ogish. My feet are numb, but it feels good to break the heat. Time to eat lunch.
I make my way to the tent, and see food and wrappers scattered everywhere. What is it? A bear? A skunk? I look up and 10 feet above me is a seagull circling the camp. Bagels are missing, biscuits are missing, the pita bread is partially eaten and the popcorn oil is eaten. What a mess. Even some PBJ is gone. Eat lunch and take pictures of the whitecaps to the southwest. Later do some more fishing and take another dip in the lake. This time fully clothed. Want to see how fast my clothes dry with the wind having to be in the 40 mph plus range.
After our tarp bungee straps are ripped apart in wild wind gusts, I tie the ropes directly to the plastic tarp connectors. They hold the rest of the day in spite of the gusts. I am happy with the tyvek tarp the entire trip. 10’ wide would have been a little better than the 9’ wide piece we had. It was 9x14. After dinner, we go fishing once the wind dies down. We get into a cove and go up it to the falls coming from Mueller. We see two guys in a canoe in the fast water. These are the same two guys who stopped in at our camp at lunchtime. They were coming from the west with the wind behind their back. Even still the water was rough. I was sitting behind some bushes waiting for the seagull to return to grab more of our food. While I was quietly sitting, I keep thinking I hear voices coming off the water, but the winds are so loud the voices are muffled. Eventually, I see a canoe pull up to shore with two guys in it. They are getting out and start walking around and finally notice our canoe behind the trees. I think they are a little embarrassed and get back in their canoe and shove off while apologizing. I tell them, “No problem” and they are on their way. I tell them the next site is occupied as well. Anyway, back to fishing. We don’t get any bites and neither do they, so we move over to the inlet in front of the Mueller portage. Krista has a leech about 6-8’ under a bobber and she gets a strike while it is drizzling from the sky. She lands a smallmouth about 3 pounds. It is definitely fatter and longer than one she catches later in the trip that weighed 2 pounds on our scale. Rain keeps sputtering and we catch nothing more. As it gets dark, we paddle back to camp and get in the tent, and then it rains harder most of the night.
Breeze picks up by the time we make Kingfisher, but it is to our back so we make good time. By the time we get across Kingfisher to the take out to Jasper, the wind is stiff and makes unloading the canoe a chore. Shouldering the canoe is a task as well. Onto Jasper and the wind picks up more. We hardly paddle a stroke. I do need to be vigilant on the rudder as the wind wants to turn us sideways. I troll across the lake with no results. We get to the Alpine portage and there are two canoes and four people with a small space for us to take out. We make our first trip and by the time we finish on the Alpine side, there is a father and two daughters taking out. They are starting their trip in the opposite direction into the wind. I feel for them on Jasper as the wind is funneled down the lake. There is certainly quite a bit of burn area as we progress. Jasper was burnt on both sides. The only green was at the campsites. We still enjoy the scenery.
[paragraph break] We get on Alpine and the wind is even worse. It is coming from our left flank and when we get in open water, it is challenging to say the least. We press on and make the last portage of our trip, 109 rods into Seagull. The wind is battering us on the shore and the canoe bobs all over the place. We get about our business and Krista starts counting ticks. We stop on the Seagull side of the portage for lunch as there is plenty of room. One other couple heads our way and we talk about the weather and campsites. They highly recommend a site on the north end of Seagull. He caught a nice laker right from shore. We decide to give it a try as there is a lot of open water to cover to make the site and the wind just gets worse and worse, but still not a bad as Wednesday. The campsite we are aiming to get to is #472. It is to the Northeast of Miles Island. We figure the island will help protect us from the wind. There is still fire damage all around us. Navigating is difficult because we are traveling so fast due to the wind, and my mind is focused on staying upright in the water. We have some serious back chop when we get near islands and make turns. I am not exactly sure where we are on the map, but know we will eventually end up on the north end, so I am not overly concerned about knowing exactly where we are on the map.
Well, on top of all this stress, guess what I see up in front or the canoe on the water? A snake making his way to the east on our right side. I am not sure what he is, but he appears to be 3 feet long or more. I don’t say a word as Krista is not a snake’s biggest fan, and we are doing enough rocking and rolling in the water without her excitement. As soon as we get along side, the snake decides to reverse course and hitch a free ride on our canoe. He lifts his head and gets within a foot of the side when I decide to take matters into my own hands. Krista is still unaware there is an attempted hijacking taking place. I paid good money for this Kevlar canoe, and I’ll be durned if a freeloader is getting on board this train. Well, I am not the most deft paddler to begin with, and when it comes to snakes and canoes, I leave much more to be desired. Krista half turns around and wants to know what the heck am I doing back there? I don’t know where the snake went, but he did not get in. Now, Krista keeps looking back to see if Mr. Snake is following us. Needless to say, no pictures were taken of this serpent encounter. This is the second time this has happened to me. The first was a water moccasin nearly thirty years ago.
We make the campsite around 2:30 pm, our earliest arrival at camp all week. I am relieved to get off the lake with all the wind. The site is as nice as the couple said it was. There are tent pads galore. The latrine is well hidden up high and takes some navigating to get back. Our last night out is a memorable one. After dinner, we try bank fishing and Krista hooks into a northern. It looks to be about 4 pounds and she is grinning from ear to ear. She caught it on a blade dancer by Berkley, in ¼ oz Perch body. I get something too, but it gets off. After the wind dies down, we get in the canoe and try our luck. Krista gets into a 2 lb smallmouth just below the rock face to the east of camp. She hooks and loses some more. She has a couple really strip the line and go deep before they get off. One finally broke her line. I’m just playing photographer as I am getting no action. After she loses my only perch blade dancer, we get no hits. We fish til dark and Krista hits the sack.
I stay up and catch a satellite streaking across the sky. This is the only cloudless night we have. Stars are abundant and bright. I finally call it quits around midnight. Many memories to cherish.
Last morning comes fast enough. I slept in until 6 am today. Latest I’ve gotten up all week. I get up and go down to the water after making coffee. The wind is still. UNBELIEVABLE!!! The only time all week there is no air movement at all. The lake is pure glass. Absolutely stunning. But it only lasts a short while, because as soon as we get breakfast and make plans to fish, the wind picks up. At least I got the camera and took lots of pictures so we could remember there really was a short period of time with no wind in the BW that week.
We take our time around camp as we do not need to make the takeout on Seagull until after 11 am. We leave about 10 am and have some chop to deal with until we make it to more protected waters. The best is saved for last on the open water to the landing. The northern end of Seagull has little fire damage. There are relatively few campsites and we have seen no one since the first camp coming from Alpine yesterday. Once we hit the motorized waters, we start seeing canoes, kayaks and motorboats. Back to civilization. The last stretch of open water has a stiff breeze from the southeast and we have to modify our course to keep from waves coming over the side. We make landfall and get unloaded. Krista goes to the payphone to let Tuscarora Outfitters know we are ready for our pickup. I’m hoping Andy sends lilcowdoc as we have conversed online about the BW. Sure enough, Lindsay shows up in a Suburban to take us back to our car and a hot shower. Andy, I am sorry about the hot water. It wasn’t me. It was Krista. She goes to the shower while I unload and reload the compact car for our return home. It takes me, I know a half hour. Then I go get my shower and worry Krista will think the car is locked and I have the keys. Not to worry. When I get out of the shower room, Krista is only now emerging from her watery cave. Post-Trip Assessment What went well? What went poorly? What would we do different next time? There was very little that went poorly other than the weather, and let me tell you, the weather, as bad as it was, was not the worst we’ve experienced. We were well-prepared for the weather we encountered. We were hit with rain unexpectedly in the middle of our portage to Mueller with all our rain gear still in our packs on the wrong end of the portage. The first day was longer than we anticipated with the headwind, and there was little time to relax fishing. Krista put up well with the ticks and we could have had bigger problems with the seagull on Ogish robbing us of some of our food. I will be more vigilant with keeping our food put away. I wish I had spent time teaching Krista map and compass. I wish I had spent more time talking with her about her and less about the trip in general. I feel we handled the 428 rod Missing Link-Tuscarora portage well for first timers in the BW. I could have prepared better physically for it though. I actually lost 5 pounds that week, in spite of all the good food we ate. I definitely took way too much fishing tackle. I’ll know better next time, even with more time for fishing. I would also take more pictures. Of food we ate, of each portage, of the night sky. And I would take more video clips. The clockwise course over five days of travel worked very well for us in light of the wind speed and direction. In the future, I’d like to do a west to east course with a sail and never have to lift a paddle. ?