BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
February 26 2021
Number of Permits per Day: 3
Elevation: 1670 feet
Cross Bay Lake - 50
May 20, 2009
Missing Link Lake
Brant Lake (52)
Number of Days:
The Missing Link portage was easy enough to find. The portage itself was fairly long, rocky, & wet. None of which seemed to bother me much as I officially entered the wilderness on this trail & was already focusing on the next portage.
Missing Link was a pretty little lake, which I was told contained brook trout. I would definitely like to come back and spend a couple nights here. But, for this trip, I pressed on to the fabled Tuscarora portage.
The start of the portage begins on a very nice sandy beach. I grabbed my Duluth pack and The Black Pearl and off I went. Now I have seen on this site where someone only rated this portage a 4 out of 10! I'm not comparing this to Lewis & Clarks' 18 day portage around the Great Falls in Montana, or saying there are not tougher portages to be had in other areas, but, I been around enough to know that as far as the BWCAW is concerned...... I'm here to testify that this portage is DEFINITELY amoung the toughest maintained portages in the BWCAW! Not sure how someone could say that 60% of the portages in the BWCAW are tougher?
When the lake did come into veiw at the top of the hill before the final decent to the lake, I immediately thought of one of my favorite quotes from William Clark upon finally seeing the Pacific Ocean. "O! The JOY!" I had heard the beauty of Tuscarora compensates for the sweat lost on the portage. I think after doing that portage, that any navigable muskeg swamp would look pretty darn nice! That being said, the portage is not a dealbreaker by any means. For the most part it is a dry, very well worn path. In the right frame of mind, even intermediate trippers, packed properly, not rushing, & in decent shape can reach Tuscarora fairly early in the day.
The portage behind me, I had another bigger problem. While it felt very cooling while sweating doing the portage, the wind had really picked up. I couldn't even begin to load up without my canoe crashing on the rocks. So I dug out a book and sat down to wait it out, hoping the wind would eventually calm. After an hour or so a group of five with eyes as big as saucers came ashore. They had just done the 255 rod portage and were now heading for Missing Link. I asked about campsite availability, as there was one just to the east of this portage that they would've passed. They told me they were looking straight ahead the whole time, way too busy paddling to notice. They asked how bad this portage was? I told them it's everything it's advertised to be. To give an indication as to how windy it was. Just as they were heading up the trail with their 1st load, the top of a rotting birch tree came crashing down just missing one of their canoes. It had to be at least 8 inches in diameter. It was partially rotten, but would have obliterated their kevlar canoe upon impact.
At about 6:00 a group came down the hill from Missing Link. They said they were gonna try to make it to Crooked yet tonight. The wind was starting to die down a bit. They said they'd keep an eye on me as I tried to get around the corner to see if the campsite to the east was open. IT WAS! Thank God! Never been so happy to find a site. I waved them on and began to set up camp.
Round Lake, Missing Link Lake, Tuscarora Lake
Had a quick breakfast of oatmeal and was cutting glass across Tuscarora as I headed to the south end. I thought about trying to fish, but a gentle breeze had come up and I decided to get across before things got worse. No doubt the gales of the past few days greatly influenced me.[paragraph break]
As I reached the south end I noticed a group in fully loaded aluminum canoes coming in my general direction. I could see that the site on the peninsula just to the west of the portage still had a tent up. So I guessed these were the folks I had heard last night? Or they had gotten an excruciating early start from Missing Link as it was barely 7:00?[paragraph break]
They were paddling hard towards the Owl lake portage, which was where I was headed. Not that I could've kept up with them anyways? But,I was in no hurry and they paddled by, thus saving me from having to locate exactly where the portage was.[paragraph break]
They lost me on the Owl to Crooked portage. Not that I figured to have any major problems locating portages on this leg? But the last one I figured would give me any trouble, gave me a bit. Tarry was the smallest lake I would be on today and the short portage to Mora got me a bit confused. It's wasn't difficult, I just had my map sideways.....boneheaded mistake. Ten minutes I'll never get back!! lol Ran across a couple guys here who were just coming from the Frost River. Said they had a blast and were now heading for Tuscarora. I told them about the camp I had recently vacated there near the portage. They were happy as that was their favorite site on that lake. We wished each other good luck and were on our way.[paragraph break]
The portage into Lil' Sag from Mora is very scenic. It has steep climbs on bothe ends but is mostly flat and well worn. The amount of traffic here shocked me. No less than 4 other groups were coming out as I was going in and another group was just getting to the Lil' Sag end as I pushed off. I was hoping to linger here a bit and enjoy the scenery, but figured I'd better clear out to avoid the inevitable congestion.[paragraph break]
Andy had recommended northerly sites on Lil' Sag. With my recent experience with the wind, for protection,I decided to try for a site on or near the western shoreline. I found the most southerly site on the western shoreline open, so I grabbed it. It wasn't the greatest & it was obvious I was the first to use it this year, but it would be home for the next few days.
Owl Lake, Crooked Lake, Tarry Lake, Mora Lake, Little Saganaga Lake
The wind once again just started to pick up as I made to the bay leading to the Rattle portage. The portages to Gabi weren't too bad save for the fact they were wet. Once on Gabi the wind mercifully died down and I stopped at a beautiful site just east of the island. An immature bald eagle was overhead apparently fishing? Looked like he was having about as much success as me? The fire just ate up the entire north end of the lake. Fortunately this site was spared. A 5 star that I'd like to stay at a few nights some time.[paragraph break]
Headed towards Peter. A nice overlook of Gabi from just off the portage trail. And man for woodticks! Would've liked to have spent more time on Peter but the wind was picking up again so I headed towards Virgin. Had a little trouble locating the portage, as it obviously doesn't get alot of use. There were a couple of trees blown across the trail that were just big enough aand at just the right height that I could neither go over or under them. Virgin, like Peter, was totally devastated by the fire. Looked like a bomb went off. I was getting hungry so I decided to pull off at the campsite on Virgin. WOW! Without a doubt the worst site I've ever seen in the BWCAW. It worked for cooking up my rice, but I don't see how anyone could stay here? No landing, no seating, & all bare rock with small trees and shrubs growing close enough together so as to provide no room for a tent. It did have the Cadillac of latrine boxes. The nicest, by far, I have ever seen. No doubt recently replaced after the fire melted the original. [paragraph break]
As I made it back to Lil' Sag I tried some fishing again with the same result. Ran into a couple who said, "nobody's gettin 'em on Lil' Sag. Ya gotta go to Peter." Figures.
Elton is a pretty lake. Checked out the 2 southern sites. Both were pretty nice 3.5 star or better. I paddled around the lake and unwittingly paddled into the creek from Makwa. I seen a faint trail from the creek and it lead to the portage tail between the 2 lakes. Effectively cutting out about 3/4 of the portage. Like I said, water levels were high so this may not always be possible? I hiked the entire trail for curiosity sake. Ran across a ruffed grouse, watched him for a bit then headed back.[paragraph break]
Stopped at the middle site and had my dinner. Potatoes, onions and sausage. With a little trail mix for dessert. While there I noticed what sounded like running water just across the lake. After finishing up I paddled across, and sure enough there was a very small waterfall running down the hill. Kinda cool. Headed back to Lil' Sag.
As I found out on my daytrip, the portage into Virgin was going to be a tough one. While only 80 rods long, it had a very steep climb. There was a nice overlook of Lil' Sag at the top though. There was no chance of me staying at the site on Virgin so I pushed on to West Fern. Didn't like the looks of those sites so onto Powell. Powell was the first lake to actually have some green patches along its shoreline. Likely protected from the 30-40 ft knob of rock running along it southern shore. The campsite on the southern side was a pleasant surprise so I decided to call it home. It wasn't raining yet but the temperature was dropping.[paragraph break]
I think this site would be a great spot in the summer as the grate is exposed on a high knob with a nice overlook of the lake. Most of which was devastated like Virgin & West Fern. I tried to get out fishing, but the wind kicked up and it started to rain. I was close to the portage to French so I hiked that trail, hoping the rain would let up. [paragraph break]
The rain died down and I went back to camp to build a fire to warm my bones. While the scenery in this burn down area may not be the most pleasing? One benefit of it is that there is ample dead and downed firewood. It sprinkled on and off for the rest of the night. I had a nice fire and was entertained by a pair of loons in the middle of the lake calling back n forth doing their water dance.
The fire hit this area pretty good too. But as I scanned the shoreline I noticed something even blacker than the manycharred stumps scattered about. It was a black bear. He was just minding his own business up on the northern shore of the Chub river. I tried to get a decent picture. I tried several times but don't think I accomplished the task?[paragraph break]
There was now a steady driving rain. At the Glee portage, as a bald eagle took off, I pondered heading for Jap lake. Instead I opted for Bingshick. The portage from Glee to Bingshick was also a bear. Most of the problem stemmed from the very wet conditions. The tough initial climb out of Glee couldn't be avoided no matter the weather. After that the trail leveled out, but was very wet and spongy. The portages all along this route intersect with the Kekekabic hiking trail at various points and someone had left ribbons tied to trees every 20 yards or so. I wondered if this was in compliance with the leave no trace ethic? The Bingshick side of the portage was a real challenge. I sank knee deep in muck before catching myself. Thankfully there was a tree that would support my weight nearby. I gathered several downed limbs etc. throwing them down to provided a somewhat firm footing to get across the quagmire to the lake. I felt like Indiana Jones in the last crusade taking that "leap of faith". I sank ankle deep, but it mostly held me up.[paragraph break]
I contemplated fishing, but I was cold, wet, and tired. Naturally the wind was right in my face as I had to paddle the length of the lake.[paragraph break]
After getting dried out setup and situated. I felt a mid day nap was in order. I was just starting to nod off when I heard someone yelling, "Hello! Hello! Anybody home?" He called a second time so I knew I wasn't dreaming. Turns out it was a man who had hiked the Kekekabic Trail(which intersected with both sites on this lake) all the way from Ely. He had his own website for tracking his progress. (I think he was headed for Wisconsin?) I saw that man .com???? I was too tired to remember. Asked me if I knew where to get a good burger on the Gunflint Trail? A really bizarre ordeal. He left, and I was quickly back to sleep. Powell Lake, French Lake, Seahorse Lake, Warclub Lake, Chub Lake, Fay Lake, Glee Lake, Bingshick Lake [paragraph break] Here's a link to isawtmans blog page. http://sites.google.com/site/isawtman/Home/northern-minnesota-hike-2009
I've seen the movie A River Runs Through It. So I knew enough that my tactics would make any purist roll over in his grave. I had a few crawlers and decided to try that first. It didn't happen right away, but after about a half hour I boated my 1st ever brookie. (nearly 15 inches) When I ran out of the little bait I had I switched to a small minnow rapala. My biggest fish was nearly 17 inches and the smallest being 14. I released all but the 1st one I caught and seasoned him up and baked him up over open coals. Unfortunately this was only my second trip with my new digital camera. Being solo, I was constantly figeting around with it looking at pictures each day. My battery when dead before I caught these fish. Likely story right?![paragraph break]
The paddle back was very enjoyable. Only the Gotter to Brant portage, with it's 2 significant hill climbs, was disagreeable. Being in no rush, basically I just took it all in and enjoyed my last hours in the wilderness. A trip I wont soon forget.[paragraph break]
Just to comment on the drop in seat. I only used it when I was fishing or on a daytrip with most of my gear back at base camp. It took a little getting used to but all n all it worked superbly for me. For others looking to convert their tandem to a solo. I hasten to add, that being about 6'2 and not having fully evolved, with long arms of a primate. This might not be the best option for other people who don't have such freakish limbs.[paragraph break]
Bingshick Lake, Flying Lake, Gotter Lake, Brant Lake, Edith Lake, West Round Lake, Round Lake