BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
April 21 2021
Number of Permits per Day: 4
Elevation: 1500 feet
Brant to Tuscarora via Little Sag Route:
Bat - Mud
Gillis - burn area is evident:
Peter - first lake trout:
Little Sag - green trees again!
Mora - gorgeous divide of burn and green
Tuscarora - second lake trout!
Missing Link - with lighter food pack, the portage is OK
Seagull -> Thunder Point -> Saganaga loop
August 11, 2008
Saganaga Lake (55)
Number of Days:
The day before we leave for the Gunflint. This day had originally been our desired day for driving until a friend decided to have a sunrise wedding that day. The wedding could have worked fine with our plans to travel on Saturday had one of our trip partners not been brewing 60 gallons of beer for the reception....
Reception was nice and the beer was tasty. Left early, however, so I could spend the night at Joe's house and get the car packed up and ready for a 5AM departure.
Alarm goes off at 4AM so we have time to wake up and pick up Ken before 5. Clocks just turned 5 when we merged onto I-94 in Kenosha to start our long drive to Voyageur Canoe Outfitters. Made good time through Wisconsin, got slowed down some on MN-61 after it goes down to two lanes around Two Harbors (I think). Very beautiful scenery driving up the North shore of Superior. Its been several years since I've been 'up North' and even longer since I've been this far North. Once we're on the Gunflint, excitement takes over and it seems to take ages until we finally hit Sag Lake Trail and eventually pull into Voyageur's parking lot at 5:30PM.
A quick check in and visit with Mike & Sue Prom and minutes later our Seneca is at the end of the dock waiting for us. Before heading across the bunkhouse we head over to Way of the Wilderness for pizza and beer. Back at Voyageur, we grab our stuff from the car, carry it down to the dock, and get the boat loaded up so we can paddle across to the bunkhouse.
After dropping the bags off across the Gull River Ken and I grab our poles and we all paddle down to Gull Lake to try out some fishing. No real action tonight, but we don't care because we're finally here...
We head back to the bunkhouse and discuss packing strategies and other things pertinent to the following day's start to our paddling adventure before sleep.
Wake up to paddle across for breakfast around 7AM.
Immediately after unloading its obvious Ken's fishing pole has an issue - the crank on his reel won't stay on! We can still fish like that but the crank not staying on will be a serious drag on this trip. He takes it off and heads in to the trading post to see if they may have something to fix it. Mike Prom, one of the owners of VCO, happens to have a couple parts reels for situations just like this and takes a look at it. Unfortunately, none of the parts reels screw for holding the crank arm on is threaded the same as his Shakespeare reel. Mike does have, however, a lost & found reel that hasn't been claimed yet and lets us take it on the trip.
After a breakfast of decent pancakes, coffee, and sausage that was very bland we get our last few items out of the car and get the shuttle loaded up with our stuff for the short drive to the boat landing on the North bay of Sea Gull Lake.
[paragraph break] We all get in, and off we go! Got turned around a bit to begin as we were all concentrating on the sights and not on landmarks for navigation and ended up in the next North bay to the West of where we put in... A couple minutes with the GPS got us headed back in the right direction. Once acclimated we didn't use the GPS for navigation during the remainder of the trip. The beautiful weather on our first day in really allowed us to take our time and enjoy the sights of Sea Gull.
[paragraph break] A short while later we're at the Alpine portage. We decided to give single portaging a try, and once on Jasper it was agreed we didn't want to do that again. I could see single portaging working later on during a trip when the food bag is lighter.
For the first half of the trip we're in burn areas, mostly from the fire in 2007. I wasn't sure what to expect to see as I hadn't knowingly seen an area after a forest fire. It was cool and eerie at the same time - eerie to see burned stumps and dead trees still standing, cool to see how much has sprung up in such a little time.
[paragraph break] We're on Ogish and looking for a campsite around 3. Ran into a couple rangers, the only time we saw any and they didn't even check our permit, as we were portaging into Ogish and they said the lake was pretty full. Checked out a couple sites early on the lake but decided to press on and see what the SW half of the lake had to offer.
As we're heading towards the island sites near the Annie portage we look over to the left and see two canoes heading in the same direction. Look over again, and see that we're all headed for the island.... Canoe race!!!!! We dig in, they dig in. Our inexperience as a group in the boat lost the race for us though, but it was pretty funny to think about racing for a site. We get to the island at about the same time only to discover the campsite is taken. The people at the site tell us that they thought maybe the bay site to the Southeast is open. One boat turns that way, not sure what happened to the other boat, and we press on. Paddling and portaging Annie and Jenny was simple, I think the portages may have taken longer than it took to paddle the lakes. We decide to check out the out of the way campsite on Jenny on the East side of the lake. Its open. We're home for the night. Site #2034.
Its pretty obvious this site doesn't see a lot of traffic as its off the main travel route, but what it lacks in space for our tent it makes up for in BLUEBERRIES! The whole site was covered in them.
You'd think that after paddling for 8 hours with no real lunch break we'd be able to eat 4lb of steak and mashed potatos, however in the end we couldn't finish it all and sadly put it into the trash bag. Tried to bury it but our shovel broke right away.... Now we have to portage a broken shovel the rest of the way.
We stay up watching for meteorites and chatting till 11, weary and ready for sleep.
~16 miles traveled today, 6 portages.
Saw 4 loons, 3 bald eagles, and 1 deer.
Awoke to winds out of the South and West today, skies were overcast but not threatening. Breakfast consisted of coffee, oatmeal, and scrambled eggs. Once the dishes were done and camp struck, we loaded up the canoe and bid farewell to our first camp. Hit the water at 11, hoping to make it around Thunder Point today.
Very windy on the lakes. No whitecaps but still choppy. Portage into Eddy Lake was uneventful. Paddled across Eddy to the portage to Knife. I knew this was a busy portage because of the falls, but didn't expect to see 5 canoes and about 15 people. When we got close they told us to hold off as there were 3 more boats coming up the portage.... The larger of the groups turns out to be a Scout group and they're having lunch at the portage! After hanging out offshore for what seems like an eternity one of the smaller groups realizes we're patiently waiting (although frustration is mounting) and clears out so we can land. Done portaging we head over to the landing to check out Eddy Falls.
After sight seeing a bit and a snack of granola, jerky, and gorp we turn West and head towards Thunder Point. Wind is pretty stiff in our faces and makes progress slow. After a couple hours of this the sounds from my companions tell me we won't make it past Thunder Point today and we should find camp soon...
We end up landing on the island site SE of Thunder Point, camp #1454. Its a decent sized island with one site, looks like it was involved in the fire last year but parts were spared the flames. As we're putting up the tarp a couple drops of rain fall, these will turn out to be the only rain we see this week. Its so windy at this campsite we have to run extra lines from the tent to keep it from collapsing in on itself. Once the tent is secured and everyone's had a snack we check out the island.
We paddle around a bit, do some fishing. We drift around the South Arm letting the wind push us as we fill the water container. Once back at camp Ken tries fishing the channel between the island and main land and ends up with a smallie. None of us have filleted before so I give it a go. I'm sure I left a lot of meat on the fish, and my first attempt ends up giving us enough meat for an appetizer. Had planned on making jambalaya for dinner anyhow, so once we've had our couple bites of fish we put the Zatarains on and mix in some pepperoni. After we're all stuffed and the dishes are done we hang out around the campfire enjoying the calls of the loons and the absolute darkness of the cloudy night. At least the winds have died down a bit.....
~4 miles traveled today. Saw more loons.
[paragraph break] Breakfast today consists of coffee, oatmeal, and toast with peanut butter on it. Once we're done & the food is hung we head out for our day trip to Thunder Point.
[paragraph break] Wind is in our faces again today, so it takes about an hour to make it to Thunder Point. After a nice hike to the top we were greeted by this Inukshuk: [paragraph break] I've seen pictures of the view from up here while planning our trip, but I can honestly say no pictures do it justice.
Here's our crew with the camera facing West: Joe, Ken, Al [paragraph break] After we get back from the day trip Joe goes searching for firewood while Ken and I take the boat around the island to do some fishing. I luck out and catch a pair of smallies: [paragraph break] Had a Northern on the line and almost had it in the boat when it rolled on the surface and cut the line. That'll be the only Northern that I see all week.
I've officially become the fish filleter of the trip, so with yesterday's practice under my belt I get to work. A short time later we're eating our fill of fillets pan fried in parkay, salt, and pepper.
By this point the skies have cleared and whatever threatening weather off to the West has moved on. While Joe and I are hanging around the campfire, Ken is trying various settings on his camera to get a good shot of the moon. It eventually pays off:
Planning an early for us start tomorrow as we want to try to make up the lost time on Tuesday's paddle due to the wind. We put out the fire, crawl into our sacks, and I'm instantly asleep.
The day starts warm, sunny, but quite windy out of the East. After breakfast of coffee and oatmeal we strike camp and continue on our journey. With the wind at our backs for once we make good time to Thunder Point, but things change as we round the bend and start heading Northeast. This is going to be another grueling travel day with the wind pushing us back as we try to cover some miles. We're targeting the campsites just before Monument Portage for tonight. After a little while we're at the portage from Knife to Ottertrack:
[paragraph break] A short while later we're fighting the winds and waves on Ottertrack as we try to hug the semi-protected shoreline. We still have to cross open stretches, however, and there are some moments where I get a little concerned as I see whitecaps. All in all, however, we make it to the sites we're interested in only to find they're taken.... We have to portage again today. While we were on ottertrack we were able to see more gorgeous scenery and I happened to get another smallie while trolling a Gulp shad minnow on a white jig head.
[paragraph break] Pretty soon we're at Monument Portage, which I think we would have appreciated more if getting there hadn't been so tiresome. Still kinda neat to see the big monuments here as well as the little markers all along Ottertrack. [paragraph break] It was right around here that I realized that my promise that Monument was indeed not our last portage. The McKenzie map's marked portage from Swamp into Saganaga is almost buried in the border marker. My companions weren't terribly happy to hear we'd have to portage again today. Happily this was the easiest kind of surprise portage to encounter... just a 10' stretch of land we had to pick up and drop the boat across. Once we were on Saganaga I trolled the same setup as on Ottertrack and in short order got another smallie. We scouted out the first two sites on Saganaga and eventually took site #339, which is the 2nd site on the lake. Its situated behind an island with an active beaver lodge. The site itself was very hilly and had lots of old growth on it, however there was an abundance of downed trees nearby that provided an ample supply of firewood.
Once the tent was up and the clothesline strung, thoughts turned to lunch and the fish on the stringer. They were filleted in short order and soon we had a shore lunch. While we were eating we noticed that this site had by far the most wildlife visible of all the sites so far.... There was at least one loon family hanging out, the beavers across the channel, and other animals we'd soon see. [paragraph break] After we were all fed we paddled out away from the beaver lodge to fill up our water container. Once back in camp we searched out a supply of firewood for the night and followed some of the trails.
Ken and I wet a line to keep occupied. This site was about 6' above the water with the bottom falling off quickly from shore. We were discussing what to have for dinner when dinner decided itself - I had our largest fish of the trip on the line, a nice lively almost 18" smallie. While it was on the stringer and we were trying to catch another one Joe noticed the fish starting to go crazy in the water.... 'Dude, Al - a turtle's trying to eat your fish!!!' [paragraph break] We look down at the stringer and a HUGE snapping turtle is inches from our dinner. As soon as we stood up it moved off, but came back two more times to get the stringer. [paragraph break]
Had no other luck with the fish so we fried this guy up and had dinner. We're going to have a decent amount of food left if we keep catching fish...
After dinner we took the maps out and discussed what was left of the trip. Decided as a group to instead of push ourselves to cover the remaining 10 miles we'd take an extra day and camp by American Point tomorrow. That decided, we hang out by the fire while Ken tries to get more sunset pictures. [paragraph break]
Our bellies full, the bag is hung for the night and camp is cleaned up. Not getting an early start in the morning but we want to get a camp secured early so we're not searching around again. Fell asleep to the calls and answers of many loons.
Woke up around 7 today. Got the coffee going then noticed the fog that had settled in over the water during the night. I quietly fish while watching it burn off. Joe came out just as the coffee started to perc. Ken was out soon after.
We're on the water around 10 today once breakfast is done and camp taken down. Finally, the wind is at our backs as we paddle out into the main body of the lake. We passed many other canoes, all were headed in. Lots of smiles, nods, and waves were exchanged as we passed them.
After about an hour we had reached American Point and started looking at sites. We were most interested in what looks like an island just to the West of the paddle only line.
Turn into the bay and its immediately apparent that the first site is taken. We paddle past and check out the far side campsite. Its open but doesn't look very appealing - there don't seem to be much shade and its rocky. We paddle towards the small inlet to the bay and check out the third site, #2073.
This camp is awesome! Its on the protected side of the island with a sandy beach on either side of an almost land bridge connecting the island to the land. The firegrate area is open and spacious and there are lots of tall pines for putting up the tarp, hammock, and clothesline. There are at three, maybe four tent pads and all are in the shade.
We quickly unload the canoe except for the filter and container then head back out into the lake to get water. It turns out to be a good thing that we left camp this morning when we did. As we're filling the water container we watch several canoes enter the bay the same way as we did, only this time to find the two best sites taken. A pair of ladies did briefly stop at the rocky site to discuss their campsite options then later left.
Spent the rest of the day lounging around camp, exploring the island, gathering firewood, and trying to do some fishing from shore. The North side of the island is exceptionally windy while 30 feet away in our site you barely hear the wind, let alone feel it. We didn't get a picture of it, but while we were fishing from shore Ken suddenly tells us to look in the bushes to the left. We watch and then a small, weasel-looking creature appears and casually heads towards us. It stops right in front of me and checks us out, then continues on its merry way. Not sure what kind of animal it was though... I know Pine Martens are supposed to be brown in color and this guy was jet black.
The cheese tortellini and ragu for dinner has been on everyone's minds since we got to camp late this morning. Joe puts a pot on to boil while I casually cast and reel in a baby torpedo. Before long I'm getting missed strikes and concentrate on finding the right speed for the lure. Pretty soon I'm fighting a smallie! Now we have fish and pasta for dinner! Decide what the heck, I'll cast a few more times before it gets too dark. Two casts later something big explodes on the lure and the fight is on. As I'm wrestling with it, Ken also gets something on the line but his fish manages to break free. A couple minutes later this guy came on shore: [paragraph break]
The biggest catch of the trip, it measured over 21" and weighed close to 6 pounds. After a brief debate of do we let it go or do we eat it, we decided to keep the pasta for dinner tomorrow. =)
After dinner was done and dishes cleaned we relaxed by the campfire a bit then headed out for a quiet evening paddle in the bay. Joe pumped water while we all gazed at stars and listened to the noises of the area. [paragraph break]
Stayed up late tonight trying to absorb as much as possible before exiting tomorrow.
We sleep in a bit today, partially from being up so late the night before and partially because we know what's happening in a little while. Once everybody's up and fed, we start slowly taking down camp. After one last check around the areas we've been to make sure nothing was left behind we load up the canoe and shove off.
Its a quiet, easy paddle around the islands as we head towards the Sag corridor. Joe takes out the GPS for a while, mostly to check our speed. Even with none of us really paddling all that hard we're still averaging over 4mph. Many of the canoes we pass that are headed in the other direction make comments about the head wind they're fighting. We only smile and agree, with the memories of a couple days ago and our own struggles against the wind remain fresh in our memories.
Before long we're in the Sag corridor and having to watch out for motorboats. Most slow down when they see us and try not to create a large wake. One doesn't and we have to react quickly to turn the bow into the wake. Once we're done cursing the driver of that boat we're turning in to the Gull River. Voyageur's docks are in sight....
We pull into an open spot on the dock and its immediately a chaos of our gear and other people's gear. We quickly unload and prevent our stuff from getting mixed in with other bags, but somehow in the chaos of being so close to other people Ken's sunglasses disappear into the Gull River.
Our wilderness adventure, planned for so long, has ended.
We check in with Mike and Sue, get my car keys back, and are given towels for the showers. While we take turns in the showers we're also going through the gear somewhat to determine what we want to have accessible in the car and what can go under the trunk floor. I keep myself busy by breaking down the fishing poles, packing up the car, and returning Voyageur's loaner reel. Once in the trading post I start looking for souvenirs and other things to bring home to my family. I find a book I think my son will like and a cute little t-shirt for my daughter. Pick up a t-shirt for myself that just happens to have the route we took screen printed on the back. I also get an ice cold coke for Ken, Joe, and myself. After we're done browsing in the shop we say our final thank yous and good byes to the Voyageur staff, then get into the car and pull out of their parking lot around 2:30.
We stop at Trail Center for what could possibly be the best cheeseburgers we've ever tasted. It could also just seem that way since its the first meal we haven't had to cook for ourselves in almost a week...
A little while later we're in Grand Marais filling up the car. Soon we're headed towards Duluth and all points beyond on 61. Joe naps while Ken and I quietly take in the spectacular views of Lake Superior as we head South. Before long we're back in Wisconsin and turning East towards Ashland. Our new destination is High Bridge, WI and the 5 course disc golf mecca and campground set in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. We pull in to the campground around 6:30 and after a short tour of the available sites we pick one next to a large pile of split wood. [paragraph break]
This site is quite a change to what we've become accustomed to while in the BWCAW... There's bits of trash and broken glass everywhere, a clothesline already hung with a clothes pin still on it, random frisbees nailed high up in the trees above, a picnic table, and weirdest of all to us - the fire pit area seems large enough to park a subcompact car in and has no USFS fire grate!
We get the car unpacked and the tent up, then have a snack. We decide to head back towards a gas station we saw a few miles back to get some fresh supplies and maybe beer. Once we get to the gas station we're dismayed to find out they don't sell beer..... but we still pick up some chocolates, a 12-pack of coke, and some marshmallows - they didn't have graham crackers, so no s'mores... Head back towards camp, and totally blow by the turn to get to the campsites. We pass by a bar - maybe they sell beer to go? We stop and go in. The Packers game is on so practically nobody acknowledges our presence except the bartender. She confirms that they do in fact sell beer to go & we pick up a 12 pack of MGD.
Back at camp the next order of business is getting a fire going for dinner. After a couple beers the pasta and sauce are ready to eat and we dig in. Once dinner is cleaned up we build up the fire and soon its so hot we have to sit several feet away just to feel comfortable. We sit around the fire, sometimes talking, sometimes quietly meditating while watching the flames.
Before too long we're all getting sleepy, so its time to douse the fire and hit the sack.
Alarms are set for 7AM as we want to try to play two rounds today before making the long drive home. Everyone gets up slowly and its 11AM by the time we're done with breakfast and at the first tee. Its a hot day with not a whole lot of breeze to keep us cool. We played Blueberry Hills for the first round and I was dismayed not to find a single blueberry on the course. Our first time up here, it was a little difficult to navigate but the course itself was pretty decent. Ken and Joe both lost a disc or two in the rough and in a scummy-looking pond that nobody wanted to wade into. Finish the round around 1:30 and decide to head back to the campsite and take the tent down and pack up. Maybe Northwoods disc golf is too much after a trip in the BWCAW? Have to reconsider this for next year.
We're on the road a couple hours later and we're headed towards 53, then towards the Interstate. Soon we're passing Madison, then we're in Milwaukee. Before too long we're in Kenosha county getting off on our exit. We pull in to Ken's place at 9:45 and go inside so we can copy the pictures off of his camera. Next stop is Joe's house so we can tell his girlfriend the story of our adventures and go over the pictures. Joe and I unpack the bags and divide up whats left of the supplies.
I head home around 11, oddly enough this is the first time I've felt tired at all through the whole trip... I pull into my driveway a little while later and unpack the car. Tired, happy to be home, yet at the same time already missing canoe country.
1500 miles driven, 45 miles paddled. 13 lakes traveled, 11 portages. Longest portage was 100 rods. Shortest portage was 2 rods.
The journey is complete.
I'm already thinking about a trip for next year...