BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
April 18 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
First Solo: Seagull to Ogish
September 06, 2014
Number of Days:
The drive up Friday was picture perfect and fairly uneventful. I received a lot of looks from passing motorists and people when stopped about the beauty of my stripper canoe. It really did look nice and shiny up on the top of my truck and its perfect arches and considerable tumblehome look nice on an elevated mount. Many hours of work were put into this boat and I have been thinking about this trip since I first studied the drawing of the stations. Road construction on 61 along the shore was quite backed up (is it me or are they always working on that road?) With the detour up Hwy 1 to Finland I was getting nervous about missing the 4:30 closing of the Ranger Station in Grand Marais. Not wanting to chance it any more, I swung into the station at Tofte and made up my mind that I should always pick this as my pickup location. The employees there are very nice and I love the small personal atmosphere of the place. I also had the great fortune of talking with a couple moose researchers for the U of M who were there getting a permit to study aquatic vegetation near Poplar Lake. They are a couple guys in a large army who are studying every angle of the moose decline and these guys knew their stuff!
Permit in hand I headed for Grand Marais and stopped at My Sister’s Place for a moose burger before heading up the trail. I had just received my food when in drives a couple with a flying moose on their roof mounted canoe. It was Retired55 (I may have this wrong, please correct me if so) and they had tried to get onto Seagull that day but the high winds were keeping everyone off the lake. We had a nice discussion and the guy even offered to give me the leeches he wouldn’t be using! I hope he and his wife still had a great vacation. Next I headed up to Trails End campground for the night to allow me an early start the next day. About 10:00 PM the wind just died, wow was I ever happy. All fears of the wind melted away and I slept well.
Saturday morning hardly a cloud in the sky and it was blowing again, a steady 5 -10 mph breeze from the west, not bad I thought. My plan was to simply skirt up the west side of the lake, stay out of the wind, no problem.
Headed out about 8:00, I didn’t see a single other person moving in the campground, at the landing or at the beginning of the lake. Weird since 6 permits were reserved for that day, once again I wonder if many of these “reserved” permits are held by outfitters in case of a last minute customer. Lining the rapids coming into the landing channel went well, although I did put the first small ½” scratch on the hull when I sat too long admiring my great job of lining and re-entering like a pro, no big deal either way, it was going to happen.
It was a bit breezy out in the lake and even though I stayed close to shore it was rough at times. I had messed around with trimming the canoe and almost had it where I wanted it. The canoe is 15 feet long and has 2” rocker bow and 1” stern. I ended up with my one big pack (38 lb.) all the way in the front, day and camera bag (12 lb.) slightly in front of center and my adjustable seat in its full rear position against the rear thwart. It was trimmed slightly too heavy front but there wasn’t an easier way except to put the day bag behind the seat which made access to it difficult. Either way, it tracked well but still turned easily, although too easily in my final thoughts.
I headed down the lake only really struggled when rounding the point at the palisades. It wasn’t too bad, just hard work to get to the west shore again. Solo tripping lesson 1 sank in at this point, it is WAY more work than in a tandem canoe. Stop to rest, take a picture, look at the map, take a drink whatever, you have no one else to keep you going. Simple concept I know but for me I didn’t appreciate it until I was in the moment. Once the glide is over it is over and you are at the mercy of the wind. About half of the campsites on the west side were occupied, I thought this was September, way more people there than I thought. They were probably trapped there by the wind the day before and were taking a well deserved rest.
After about 2 and a half hours I was at the portage to Alpine. I had stopped to check out a couple of campsites and didn’t really hurry at all. First trip over the sidewalk to Alpine with big pack, paddle and life jacket was done and on the return trip I met a group standing and admiring my canoe. They were a nice bunch of guys including a father-son team and relative from upstate New York. Alpine was a mess, probably 15 mph steady west wind hammering right into the portage. OK new plan, I am probably not crossing this lake today and will stop the first nice site I see. This happened to be the 5-star island site right by the portage. Due to the wind I had to land on the SE corner, kind of a tough deal.
This is a good point to mention one of the challenges in solo tripping (if you are trying to avoid excessively scratching your canoe). There is no one to hold the canoe and if you are a wet footer like me who loads and unloads in the water, you will be short some hands. Unloading wasn’t bad, pull up, hop out in the water, pull close to shore holding boat with one hand and putting light stuff on shore with other. The big pack takes two hands but the canoe is close and was able to unload pretty fast. Loading is a whole different deal but accomplished much the same way. A couple times I cheated and laid a stick down in the water and sat the front end of the canoe up on top of it to keep it in place while I loaded. To each his own, I prefer to minimize scratches, others rent or don’t care and let ‘em grind. This site is huge, not really a lot of good tent pads, just lots of space and places to sit etc. Ate a PB&J sandwich (using dehydrated PB, try it, it is awesome) and set up camp. Next solo experience really set in here, you need to do everything. Pump water, set up tent, plan and execute meals, do dishes… However, the flip side also really sunk in, no debate about where to put the tent, what to eat, when to eat... like someone said, no talking required. Funny, I sat for a while after doing all the chores and started to wonder if I have been talking to myself. I don’t think so, just thinking it out in my head but not really saying the words. Time to go get firewood…
Now the first interesting part of the story. No matter how careful or experienced one is, stuff happens. I was walking around back on the exposed rocks of the island picking up wonderful sun bleached dry cedar trees left from the fire (for those that don’t know, Alpine completely burned in 2005). Walking briskly down the rock through the head high aspen regrowth and WHAM I walk right into a black burned log about as pointed as your elbow. It hit me right in the chest off to one side about three inches and knocked me to the ground. I couldn’t breathe at all and it seemed like minutes before I could. Well, I was carrying my InReach and wasn’t sure if I would need to press the SOS button. A few minutes went by and I felt OK but totally disappointed with myself. I was so very lucky and my chest was sore but didn’t feel like anything was broken.
Back in camp I started making a pizza to cheer myself up. It turned out perfect, my first time making one this nice. It tasted good too although too much to eat the way I felt. A little later quite a crew came sailing by, note there are three canoes jammed in there, wow what a deal. A little later the super moon showed itself and was quite bright in the tent all night. The wind also quit and it was crazy quiet. Many of the sounds of the night came out but I kept all my coaching in mind and had no issues with anxiety, I have never been afraid of the dark but was prepared to deal with it just in case.
Sunday morning my chest was pretty sore but I had full range of motion and decided to do a little test paddling. It went OK and I made the decision to keep moving west. The lake was like a mirror and I was excited about enjoying the day.
Took the time to paddle around Alpine and look at stuff, too bad it couldn’t always be like this! The portage landing to Jasper was not the best, the water is low and not enough over the rocks field to float with me in it. Hop out and line in, no problem. The landing is steep but the portage was pretty easy following the stream between the lakes. There is a nice little falls at the Jasper end, followed by a few cascades down to Alpine. Talked to some nice guys in an aluminum canoe at the portage who were headed to Knife to do some fishing.
Jasper was totally burned also but was a little different in that it doesn’t have the rocky structures that Sea Gull and Alpine have. It also doesn’t have much regrowth and a lot of small standing dead trees. Actually the campsite close to the portage is kind of neat, elevated high above the water with a wide sweeping view of the whole lake. It doesn’t have any rock, just a flat dirt campsite but the view is nice. The portage on to Kingfisher is easy and uneventful. Kingfisher must have once been a private, beautiful lake, it is now an unmemorable pass through lake that gets little thought. Hopefully someday it will be that nice little hideaway again. The portage to Ogishkemuncie is fairly easy with a section of mountain goat path along a hillside above the stream between the lakes. Easy portage, but watch your step.
Finally made it to Ogish where I planned to spend a couple days enjoying the lake. Once again not everything went as planned. Seven years ago I broke my back in a car accident and just standing there unloaded at the portage the thing flared up and felt like a knife into my spine. Dang it, what a terrible time for this to happen. This has happened in the past and I know it gets worse so I quickly loaded and headed for a campsite. Luckily the first site on the east end was open and it was also really nice. Paddling was possible, just not easy. During that time getting to the site I started to feel my chest tightening up, probably from working it more to compensate for the back issues. Either way, I made it to the site and tried resting and stretching, but no luck. Back to being prepared, it was time to get out the emergency pain killers.
I spent the evening resting and keeping my mind occupied and not worrying about the pain. The weather was wonderful and not a person around, totally peaceful. Using my InReach I wrote home and tried to put together the best plan for getting out and avoiding bad weather which I might be able to paddle through. My wife sent the forecast back and I was able to get the wind hour by hour and I decided there was a window early in the morning where I could catch a light tail wind. It appeared there was enough time to get somewhere on Sea Gull by the time the wind got to 15 mph and since it was from the south I could ride it up the lake for the most part. The wind was going to ramp up to 30+ from the NE on Wednesday and there was no way I could do that. My other option was to wait until my pain was better but that was risky. I decided to sleep on it and make a final decision in the morning. Spent the evening watching the super moon and enjoying the great view.
Monday morning finally came after a restless night spent mostly sitting up as laying down was impossible. It was 5:30 and the wind was perfect, time to pack and go, I could still paddle.
Hit the water at 6:30 with an angry morning sky and headed for Sea Gull. It actually wasn’t a bad paddle, nice breeze toward my back and I was able to manage it just fine. Crossing Jasper with a south wind required a zig-zag approach but that was good also. It helped that I knew the way and zipped right through it. Once on Alpine I made a decision to take the route through Rog and get myself more toward the east so I wouldn’t end up in the middle of Sea Gull. If all else failed I could stay on Rog and still be close. Alpine to Rog is an easy portage but Rog to Sea Gull is pretty nasty, wet, steep and a terrible landing on the Rog side. Of course there was someone at the site and the wind starting picking up. Had I to do it over again, I would have turned around and headed back into Alpine.
It was really nice on Sea Gull out of the wind, all I needed to do was hug the shore and get to a campsite. It was so windy around the first long finger I could not get south back to the shore and was pushed out into the main lake. Working with all I had I made it to the island with two campsites on it, crossing in the open where I had no right to be but could not get myself back south. The little island south site was impossible to land at and there were people at the other site. I tried to get around to the protected side of that island and ask the people if I could stay for a while but was unable to turn at all. I have to admit I was getting scared but the canoe would handle the waves beautifully as long as kept it into the waves. There is a fair amount of flare at the ends and it performed exactly as expected. I turned to the east and made it into the long east west bay and found quiet conditions where I rested and thought. No place to pull off and make an illegal site even if I wanted to.
No choice but to head back out and turn the corner north around an odd kidney shaped point. Doing so blasted me way out into the lake and I was unable to get to the campsite on the point close by. Working with all I had, I worked my way east and landed on the shore of the double island with a campsite on each. I headed out to the west island and the wind was murder so I turned around. If I missed the site I would be pushed right into the middle of the lake. Why are all the sites facing south on this side of the lake? The east island has a long point extending south that would require too much paddling south to get around to the site. I could see the narrow point between the islands was very small and I decided to try and cross it. My prayers were answered when I got there to find someone has moved the rocks and made a single canoe width channel between them, it was a sandy bottom and I shot right through!
From this quiet windless area I decided to head for one side of Threemile Island or the other and follow it north. My east side plan would allow me to stop at the Blankenburg landing and hitch a ride. Looking at the conditions, the white caps were far worse on the east side so I went west. It was pretty nice most of the way, a nice tail wind but no big waves and a chance to hug the shore. One of the bays was filled with geese and my presence made them explode into the air. There is a nice osprey nest close to shore where two adults were feeding some young. I stopped at the south campsite on the west side of Threemile Island and kissed the ground. I ate my first meal of the day at 1:00 and was very happy. The wind continued to pick up and at 6:00 gave up on continuing and set up camp. This site is an ugly loose rocky pile and not good for much except for the great views.
Tuesday morning was nice and calm with solid gray clouds. I packed up early to avoid the rain and headed very gingerly toward Trails End Campground landing. The weather was cool and the lake completely quiet. There was not another canoe seen, no campsites occupied and no activity in the campground, I had the whole place to myself! Thankfully I brought a shop stool with which helped me load the canoe without lifting the canoe so high which was tough for me. Stopped at Trail Center for a great breakfast and headed for home.
Lessons learned on the trip were many and I think I passed my personal toughness test. I ended one day early but given the circumstances I was satisfied with the experience. I enjoyed the personal peace and ability to have the trip be truly my own but the extra work is quite a tradeoff. Had my chest x-rayed today and there are no breaks obvious so it is only bruised ribs. The spine pain is being managed with drugs until I decide what to do. It hurts to move at all right now, not sure how I paddled like that. Wind conditions will forever be my number 1 concern for solo trip planning in the future. My stripper may never see Sea Gull again.
Thanks for reading.