BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
October 03 2023
Number of Permits per Day: 5
Elevation: 1498 feet
Missing Link Lake - 51
A Passion (Re) Awakened
June 22, 2013
Missing Link Lake
Cross Bay Lake (50)
Number of Days:
After months of planning, searching the BWCA.COM website, reading trip reports, calling outfitters, making lists, packing, unpacking and then re-packing, I think we were ready to go. We have an older Alumacraft Canoe (USS Wisconsin) that was purchased by my father in 1954, and has been to the BWCA and Quetico several times when I was younger. Being that I am not as young as I used to be, we opted out of hauling the old battleship with us and decided to rent a light weight kevlar canoe from Tuscarora Lodge and Outfitters. We leave Central Wisconsin at 8:00 in the morning and head West towards Eau Claire, then turn North towards Superior. The weather is overcast and cool. By the time we reach the bridge between Superior and Duluth it is so foggy, that we can't even see Gitche Gummee and I am down to 15 mph in fear of hitting someone or driving into the side rails. Today was also the day for the Grandma's Marathon in Duluth, so we were re-routed with a couple of detours and could not drive on Scenic Highway 61 along the lake as it was closed for the runners. Not a problem, we press on. We decide to catch some lunch and pick up one or two more snack items in Two Harbors. We also took about two hours to check out Gooseberry Falls. If you are coming up 61 and heading to the Eastern Side Entry Points, I strongly recommend that you take some time out to view this beautiful area. We continue on and finally get to Grand Marais about 4:00 pm, stop at the Ranger Station to update my maps and head up the Gunflint Trail. It has been 27 years since I traveled the trail. The last time I came around a corner too fast on my motorcycle and almost ended up underneath a Mama Moose. This time I drive a little more cautiously, enjoy the scenery and arrive at Tuscarora a little after 5:30 pm. We love it. Peaceful and serene. It stirs my memories from long ago when I was just a bit older than Isaac. We check in, go through the video, pick up our permit, purchase our fishing licenses and get our cabin (bunkhouse) for the evening. There are several places to have supper, but we choose to head up to the end of the Gunflint and check out the campground there for future reference, and then caught supper at the "Trails End Cafe" at the Way of The Wilderness. Once done, we do some meandering to look for moose and other wildlife and then head back to Tuscarora to make final checks and preparations for tomorrow. We are asleep by 10:30.
We are up at 6:00 am and the day is overcast and damp. We move all our gear down to the dock on Round Lake, move the car back to the visitors parking lot and get ready for breakfast. The waffles, strawberries and whipped cream are amazing. We talk to a couple of other groups that are heading out this morning as well, but we are the only team starting from Round Lake and entering through Missing Link. Our ride for the next few days is a 17' Wenonah Escape. Compared to the USS Wisconsin, this is a Cadillac. Plenty of room, light weight and stable. Isaac has been in a canoe a lot, but this will be the first extended tour of duty for him and Andy from Tuscarora thought this should be a good fit for us. I will admit as we are loading the canoe and getting ready to get underway, that I am a bit nervous. Like I stated before, when you are young, bulletproof and invincible, you usually don't have a lot of fears. I am older now, have lived through many things and learned that fear is not always a bad thing, especially when I have another, younger person to watch out for. We are prepared. We camp a lot. We are involved in Scouting. Both of us are first aid trained and CPR certified. I can read a map well and Isaac is pretty fair. We will be running two sets of maps on this adventure, one with him (he is going to be the navigator) and I will either confirm or reject his suggestions about where we are and which way we should be heading. It is just after 9:00 when we board the boat and away we go. Round Lake is still and silent as we head off on a Southwesterly course looking for the portage to Missing Link. As we are approaching the portage, another group of guys is coming out from Missing Link. This is their last day of a week long trip, and they have already done the long, tough Tuscarora portage earlier this morning. The landing on the Round Lake side was a bit rocky. The 143 rod portage in general was very beautiful. Isaac loaded up his pack, grabbed the fishing poles and away he went. I decided to just take the canoe to start with and then come back for our food pack, paddles and other small items. As I said, the portage was pretty nice. It rises about a 100' in elevation over the 1st half, had some twists and turns, and then was downhill past an old beaver pond on our way to Missing Link. It was a bit slippery in some places, but overall not bad. When we arrived on that end, I stored all our gear off to the side and left Isaac to do some fishing while I made my way back for the rest of the gear. I made the round trip in about 30 minutes. The put in on Missing Link is pretty good with not a lot of hazards. We loaded up and Isaac kept us along the North shore as we made our way to portage going to Snipe Lake. The takeout was a bit rocky. The portage is interesting. About 15-20 rods in you come to a 6' drop off into a trench. I set the canoe down, jumped into the trench, picked up the canoe and placed it on the other side of the trench and scaled the small 5 to 6' wall there. Isaac had a bit more difficultly as he is under 5' tall and had a pretty heavy pack on. With some assistance, we got him down, across and up again to continue on our way. The portage was gently rolling and then downhill into Snipe. The Snipe side was a bit rocky as well. We headed Southeast on Snipe and looked around for various campsites to see what they looked like, made it through the narrows and then headed East towards the portage into Cross Bay. It started raining while we were heading through the narrows, but we decided to skip the rain gear and just paddled along silently listening to the rain hitting the still waters of Snipe Lake. It is amazing how much we miss in our ordinary life because we either have so much going on and don't stop to enjoy it or listen to the sounds. My fears of going back into the wilderness were receding and I was beginning to really enjoy this trip, even though I was wet and the bugs were pretty thick. The take out on Snipe kind of sucks. Very rocky and difficult to get out of the canoe. The trail is pretty short into Cross Bay (47 rods), but it was a bit uphill in slick mud to start. It follows a bit of a crick (there is a difference between a crick and a creek) coming out of Cross Bay. The put in on Cross Bay was very gentle and easy. We were originally hoping that the campsite on the Southeast end of Cross Bay would be open, but it wasn't, so we continued on to the Rib Lake portage. The portage is about 58 rods long, uphill to begin with, very wide and well maintained. It follows the river coming out of Rib Lake and the music from waterfalls at the South end of Cross Bay can be heard along a good portion of the portage. The put in on Rib is difficult because of the amount of rocks. We found it best to walk through some thick marsh grass to the South of the portage and load the canoe up from there. Rib Lake has some pretty cool rock structures on the North end. The lake itself is long, fairly narrow and not very deep for most of it. The rain had stopped awhile back and the clouds seemed to be wanting to burn off. We had no trouble finding the only campsite on Rib (560), and pulled over to the sand beach. There is a rather steep climb up to the camp site from the lake. We toured the site, found some messes from the previous occupants that we cleaned up and decided we would call it home for the next two days. We ate a quick meal of trail mix and then set up camp. We went fishing after all was in order. Isaac hooked a pretty decent sized Northern Pike along the West shore and he ended up breaking his rod!!!!! I usually never, ever purchase a warranty agreement on things, but luckily for him, we had one and Gander Mountain would replace this once we got back home. (Note to self, on future trips, bring an extra rod in case one breaks). Well, I guess I was done fishing for the trip. I would just be the mode of transportation while he fished!!!!!! He caught several small perch as well and then we decided to head back to camp and make supper. After supper (Mountain House Beef Stew)we paddled down to the portage between Rib Lake and Lower George Lake. There must be an old dock or pier in Rib that was used in the past and the remains are very visable as you approach the portage. We left the canoe on the landing and walked over to check out Lower George Lake. We kind of just hung out and laid around on the rocks for over an hour while enjoying the smells of the woods and listening to the sounds of water lapping at the shores and the wind blowing through the trees. Once we headed back to camp, we looked at the maps and I let Isaac choose the route for tomorrows day trip. We built a small fire and sat around talking for awhile. Once the fire was out, it was off to bed. I found it interesting how bright out it was. At 10:30 at night, I could actually read in the tent without my lamp. I am not sure if it was a combination of being much farther North than where we live in Central Wisconsin, being so close to the actual date of the summer solstice, or just because my eyes adjusted so well without having artificial light. The only people we have seen all day are the initial four guys coming out of Mising Link and one canoe with two people that was Southbound on Rib Lake while we were making supper.
Round Lake, Missing Link Lake, Snipe Lake, Cross Bay Lake, Rib Lake, Lower George Lake
We were up to the call of a loon around 6:00, but just laid around in the tent as we could hear the mosquitos buzzing. It felt like it could be a hot day, as it was very still out and the sun was shining. After a breakfast of (Mountain House) eggs and bacon wrapped in Tortilla Shells, we loaded the canoe with our one remaining fishing rod, light tackle, snack food (trail mix and dehydrated banana chips) water bottles and filtration system, and we head out towards last nights portage going into Lower George Lake. The goal today is about 4.5 miles South, Cherokee Lake. Once we navigate the waters on Lower George, we make our way across a very nice, short portage (28 rods) into Karl Lake. A quick paddle across the upper portion of Karl finds us on the portage into Beautiful Long Island Lake. The takout on Karl isn't too bad, but the portage starts out going up a pretty steep incline and then levels out after a few rods. The rest of the portage is great as you wind through some large growth forest to suddenly find yourself on a very nice sand beach on the Northeast side of Long Island Lake. We hadn't noticed much wind before this as the other lakes were fairly sheltered, but now we have a pretty good wind coming out of the West. We pointed the bow to the Southwest and stayed pretty close in to the shore to avoid the wind. Just before we got to the entrance to the Long Island River, we decided to pull over at Camp site 566 and take a breather. The site is just North of the river entryway, has an excellent sand beach and a super view looking East down Long Island, but is very overgrown. The grass was over knee high and doesn't appear to see much use. You could probably fit one tent in there, and would have a lot of canoe traffic in front of you all day. After resting for an hour or so (eating snacks and replenishing water bottles) we continued to head South down the Long Island River. There was a small beaver dam that we just did a quick pullover on and then another 5 rod short portage a couple of hundred yards ahead. After another quick paddle (1/2 mile) we hit another 28 yard portage that skirts some quick water and thick brush. The portage itself sees abit of use and is well worn, but muddy. Once on Gordon Lake, the wind shifted from the West and was now coming out of the South directly into our faces. Paddling was a bit tough, but we plugged on. We stopped to check out various campsites on Gordon for future reference and eventually made it to the portage going into Cherokee. The portage is only a hop, skip and a jump in length. We decided to pull the conoe up onto shore and just make the walk to Cherokee. On the Cherokee side of things, the wind was really blowing and the whitecaps were being driven right up the Northern bay. We took off our footgear and stood in the water and proclaimed victory at making Isaac's goal. Now we only had to return to Rib Lake. We retraced our route going North. With the wind at our backs, I could handle the canoe on my own and it allowed Isaac to cast at will. Once back on Long Island, we pointed the bow to the East and made it to island campsite just before the narrows going into Karl Lake. I had seen this campsite in a YouTube Video and wanted to check it out. It is a pretty cool site and I would definately camp there in the future if I every stay on Long Island. After a layover of an hour or so we pointed the canoe to the Northeast and Karl Lake. Once on Karl, we slipped past the big island and turned Northwest heading back to our campsite on Rib. We arrived back to camp about 4:00 and were pretty tired. I had a slight headache, so we decided to rest and take a nap until it was time to eat supper. We had a nice breeze blowing through camp and the tent was sheltered from the sun and we quickly fell asleep. Around 7:00 I awoke and went to get the bear bag down from the tree to begin supper prep. Isaac was still crashed out. As I was lowering the bag, I heard a huge snort and a blow. The wind was still lightly blowing and I wasn't sure where it came from. Thinking the worst, I immediately ducked down behind a large tree, and was looking around for the bear who I thought was about to eat me. Again I heard the noise but couldn't place it. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a quick movement to my right on the lake. There was a huge Bull Moose standing neck deep in the water about 80 yards out in front of our camp. The wind was still coming from the South and we were to the East of him. I snuck back up to the tent and woke Isaac up from his nap. For the next 90 minutes, we watched this massive beast feed right in front of us. He finally drifted off to the North and came ashore about 30 yards from our tent and disappeared into the swamp below. I believe it was because we were not upwind from him and that we were sleeping that he thought he was alone on the lake and we were blessed with this great show. Isaac built the fire and I got our MSR stove going to boil water for tonight's supper (Mountain House Chicken Breasts and Mashed Potatos). If you haven't tried this one, I would recommend you try it out. After cleaning up and getting things ready for the night, we sat around the fire and discussed the events of the day. We stayed up pretty late and finally turned in before midnight. We probably saw a dozen people today. Mainly on Long Island Lake and Gordon Lake. After we got out of the BWCA, we found out that it was about 90 degrees today. The headache was probably from not drinking enough water. (Note to self..... keep pushing fluids!!!)
Rib Lake, Lower George Lake, Karl Lake, Long Island Lake, Gordon Lake, Cherokee Lake
This was our last full day in the BWCA and we slept in late. We took our time breaking camp and once everything was loaded in the canoe, we did one last police call of the area before heading North. Our goal today was not very far. We only had to make Ham Lake before nightfall. Isaac continued to soak a line while I slowly moved us along the Western shore of Rib Lake. It was a very peaceful day and once on the water, we had no need for headnets to keep the bugs at bay. We ghosted along, neither of us talking, just absorbing the beauty of our surroundings. There is a point as you head North on Rib where you have to make a quick zig zag turn to the West and then it turns quickly North again. Because we were moving so quietly, as we rounded the bend going West, we came within 50 yards of Mr. Bullwinkle!!!! He was definitely huge and I am not sure who was more surprised, us or him. He quickly made for the shore and went crashing into the brush. Way cool. We ran into a large group of people on the portage from Rib to Cross Bay. They were on their first day of a trip that would eventually end at Poplar Lake. We made our way through Cross Bay and reached the portage into Ham Lake. Our goal was the campsite located on the point. The portage across was fairly easy and we made it into Ham well before noon. The last campsite toward the East end of the lake had a tent in it so we made towards our destination. As we pulled up and got out onto shore, we found the sight occupied. There was a hammock it the trees, but not visible from the water. Not sure what the most Western camp site would look like (the 2007 Ham Lake Fire started there), we choose to head back toward the East and check out the remaining camp site. It was not good. Huge ant mounds were at several places and I was not going to contend with them. We had two choices... Check out the last Ham Lake site, or go back to the last camp site on Cross Bay. We headed West as we were already on the lake. After six years, the camp site didn't really look too bad. It was a real trick to land the canoe there though. Once ashore, we made a quick survey of the camp. There was a very nice place for our tent, about five feet from the water, and it had some good shade. It was very spooky standing there and realizing that one of the most destructive fires in the BWCA started there only six years earlier. It gave both Isaac and I a new respect for the power of a fire and how quickly it could start and get out of control. The fire actually burned only a small portion of the camp site, but sparks ended up jumping about 50 feet of channel at the narrows to begin it's destructive march. Needless to say, when we built a fire that night, we made sure it was completely out. We just fished from shore, laid around soaking up the sun on the rocks, relaxing in the breeze and watching a beaver who appeared to be annoyed that we were in the camp site. After awhile, we could here the sounds of aluminum canoes being smacked into rocks and a bunch of loud voices. We knew it would only be a short while before we would have company coming through the channel. Within an hour, three canoes carrying six college buddies came past our site. In a way, it reminded me of myself all those years ago. I really hope I wasn't that obnoxious and loud back then. We could hear them all the way to the portage going from Ham into Cross Bay. Wow! Isaac and I stayed up late that night and enjoyed the evening before putting out the fire very well and turning in.
Rib Lake, Cross Bay Lake, Ham Lake
We were up and at it early. I think we had eaten breakfast, broke camp, did a thorough police call on the area and heading towards our exit point by 7:30. Two short portages brought us to the dock on the Cross River. We unloaded the canoe and then hauled the gear and the canoe up to the parking lot. Isaac was beat, so I let him sit on a pile of gear while I walked back to Tuscarora to get our ride. Once we were picked up, we unloaded back at the parking lot, got our go bags together and took much needed showers. We settled up our bill with Sue and then bought some really cool Tuscarora T-shirts commemorating our Big Bull Moose sighting.
This was a very great trip. It was a re-awakening for me of the beauty that God has created for those willing to work hard and seek it. I regrets that I missed out on 27 years of the BWCA and Quetico. For Isaac it was an awakening of a passion that I hope he continues for the rest of his life and that he will eventually share with his family as he grows older. I know we both look forward to more trips together. Hopefully we can get the rest of the family to do this some time in the future.
Arrived back home in Central Wisconsin after spending the night at Split Rock Lighthouse and exploring the shores of Gitche Gummee!!!!!