BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
March 21 2019
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
Late and a Wrong Turn 2018
June 20, 2018
Missing Link Lake (51)
Number of Days:
Wednesday, June 20, 2018
~Round Lake, West Round Lake, Edith Lake, Brant Lake, Gotter Lake, Flying Lake, Green Lake, Bat Lake, Gillis Lake
We woke up at a decent time, got everything in the car and headed to the grocery store for the brats we both had been under the impression the other was getting. While there we also picked up some single serving mustard and soy sauce packets. Yes, we made sure all packets and pieces of them made it back in the trash bag.
Turns out that this was the day that President Trump was coming to Duluth so traffic and police presence was worse than usual. We got to Duluth Pack at about 9:20, watched the video and answered the questions with another group that was there as well, then got back on the road and I think we were leaving Duluth around 10-10:15. This late departure was frustrating and road construction made it worse.
Eventually we made it to Grand Marias and had lunch at Dairy Queen before heading up the Gunflint. We got to the EP at about 2:00 and got on the water around 2:30. The frustration bled off pretty quickly after getting on the water.
It was nice being on the water, but we didn't enjoy it for long. We portaged from Round to West Round, the water level was high so we put in about 30 rods early and pushed though the swampy stream to the pond of West round and quickly hit the portage to Edith. The burn in the area was pretty noticeable. There was a lot of underbrush, burnt stumps and trunks sticking out, and no eagles or turkey vultures. Portaging through the dense underbrush was a pain, I would much rather have old growth where we could see further and didn't get everything hung up on the underbrush. This was the case for most of the portages on this day and the next, but there was a stark contrast between the burn area portages and the ones not in the burn area.
The portage to Edith had a lot of boardwalk, not fun but better than walking in the water or tripping on rocks, which we did do too. Edith was even smaller than West Round but Adam forgot his lit cigar on a stump and we had to turn back to get it, both because it would be litter and because it could have started another fire. The portage to Brant was another short one and more of an annoyance in the hot sun, no shade because of the burn, and 80+ degree weather. At least we were finally entering the Boundary Waters. 3 portages in we finally launched the canoe into BWCA waters.
Brant was nice, pretty cliffs and lots of boulders. One side of the lake was burned, the other not so the contrast was interesting. We made a wrong turn down the bay to the south west and didn't figure it out until we got to the end. The portage from Brant to Gotter sucked though. It was steep up and down and very rocky. I had to stop for a bit to rest while carrying the canoe (about 60lbs aluminum) before we did the downhill portion because we were double portaging and I didn't like the look of it the first time.
Gotter was a half marsh lake. We almost missed the turn and headed towards Crag but I learned to trust my gut after the wrong turn on Brant. The water was high so we bypassed the first landing and didn't have to go far.
Flying was another quick paddle but the lake went further and looked nice with cliffs and a lot of exposed rock. The Flying to Green portage was another rough one. Only about 80 rods, similar to the Brant to Gotter portage, but this one had a lot of vertical again and was our 6th portage of the day. It was getting into the evening by this point and we were worried about getting to our campsite. We were low on water too because we didn't want to fill our bottles in swampy water. Adam is tough though and not nearly as exhausted as I was. The first day is always rougher for me because I only do this once a year, but he makes this look easy.
Green was another nice lake. Finally we stopped to pump some water, and we needed it. On the far end of the lake there were a pair of loons that let us get really close, maybe 15 feet. They seemed as curious of us as we were of them. After they left we continued on through the marshy area to find the portage to Bat.
Green to Bat portage was not bad but we were tired and it was around 7:30-8PM so I remember it not being fun, but we also didn't take it in at all either. Bat lake itself looked like a nice lake and if we weren't the one 20 rod portage from our destination then we would have stayed there., but we were eager to push on and found the portage to Gillis.
The portage was downhill and harder on our tired bodies (or at least mine, I need to get in shape) than it should have been, but with that done we hurried to the campsite. Gillis is a big lake. It felt even bigger when you are tired, hungry and worried that the sun is going to set on you. We made it all the way across the lake to the 5 star site on the southeastern shore just to find out that it is taken. The disappointment. So we turned around and headed north towards the bay to the west of the portage where we entered. There were 2 4 star sites on either side of the bay that I remembered seeing so we went for the closest one. Being empty we took it and set up the tent, gravity filter, and bear rope before the sun completely set on us. I think it was around 9:00 when we got to the site.
We got a fire going with the wood left there, thank you to whoever had it all ready to go, and threw the T-bone on the grate after we got it good and hot to sanitize it. We split the (22oz) T-bone and had frozen green beans and instant potatoes as sides and boxed wine to go with it. The green beans had thawed on the way in but everything was cold. It was the best meal I have ever had and we grilled it in the dark.
After eating we hung the food bag and finished our cups of wine while looking at the moon and stars.
~Gillis Lake, French Lake, Powell Lake, West Fern Lake, Virgin Lake, Little Saganaga Lake
We woke up late and sore. Not in too big a hurry to start portaging again because of the previous day, we enjoyed the morning and the view. The campsite seems to be surrounded by burn but is untouched itself. There is a natural ramp to the landing pad where a person with mobility issues could get up there, even though the site itself is a decent height above the water and still close. The biggest feature about this site is the kitchen area. There is a rock table built up where you can prep food and set pans. Also nice was swimming area in front of the site. I took the opportunity to walk out into the water to get my pant legs wet and rinsed my shirt off. It was getting warm by 9 and we decided to quit stalling. We had skipped the oatmeal breakfast and only had tea and coffee so we ate a brunch and packed up, on the water by 10:30.
The portage to French Lake was unremarkable. French lake itself was very pretty and here I was reminded again of just how rocky it is on the Gunflint side and how many cliffs there are. The portage to Powell was into the burn again and pretty steep uphill with lots of underbrush.
Powell was pretty. A smaller lake but big enough. We had lunch at the campsite on top the big rock. The view was amazing. After contemplating jumping off the ledge into the lake but not finding a good spot for it, we continued on. The portage to West Fern was wet and muddy. I wonder if we skipped some of it because it was very short, like 5-8 rods. I slipped and stepped into the stream running through the portage.
West Fern was bigger but similar to Powell. We paddled through quickly. The portage to Virgin was decent with the landing on a big flat rock. Virgin was nice. We saw an interesting point where it looked like we could see downhill from the water so we went to check it out. I think this was by the portage to Peter. Right before we got to the edge to take a look, a mama loon jumped out of some grass sticking out of the water which turned out to be a nest. The baby came out of the nest too but started to come straight toward us as we drifted by. The mama surfaced and called and the little one went to her. Adam said there was another egg in the nest but we didn't stick around to double check. The cool part was the papa loon was trying to pull us into the middle of the lake but surfacing near us and making a lot of noise. It kept doing this after we turned into the main portion of the lake and put some distance between us.
The portage from Virgin to Little Sag was a little longer than the others but not too bad. It was really hot though and the bugs were out again. The flies and mosquitoes were out the whole time but not worse than I would expect in June when we had gotten rain the week previously. Honestly I was most concerned with the bees since I am somewhat allergic and there were quite a few at this landing.
The portage itself was up a bit then a lot of down and a lot of underbrush. Some was taller to provide some shade but not enough. I was looking for the great views of little sag but those were very limited and even by going off trail the top of a boulder on a hill would only give partial views.
Once on Little Sag we went straight for the nice site on the point on the west side of the lake. Seeing that it was available, we took it and unloaded our gear. After getting set up we decided that the weather was quite clear and hot so probably not the best for fishing and we wanted to sit and enjoy ourselves so we broke out the brandy/wine and set up a bucket and chairs under the tarp, leaned a pack against the bucket to block the wind and played cribbage. A couple hours later we make dinner of brats with mustard and slices of bread for buns. It felt like we were eating like kings.
We swam, rinsed our clothes off, fished a little with no luck and played more cards into the evening. It was an enjoyable evening.
~Little Saganaga Lake
This was our rest day. We explored the peninsula, fished, and explored the lake. We didn't get beyond the northwest corner of the lake because we found the trout in front of our campsite where the maps said the depth went from 80ft to 40ft then back down to 80. We had several bites and some were northerns. We got enough in the boat for dinner and kept only 2 trout, 1 each.
I gutted and deboned one of the fish and removed the head and tail, stuffed it with lemon, onion, and parsley from my garden that I dehydrated myself. I rubbed it with oil then sprinkled with garlic salt inside and out. I put it straight on the grill. The other I hung from a metal stringer over the fire to slow cook in the smoke and sprinkled it with garlic salt too.
We served the first trout with rice and soy sauce (in the rice). The onion mixed with the rice make for excellent fried rice and was perfect with the oilier fish.
It was a good day.
~Little Saganaga Lake, Mora Lake, Tarry Lake, Crooked Lake, Owl Lake, Tuscarora Lake
We got a little later start than anticipated. The weather report said rain, but the sky was clear. We started packing up fairly early, but this wasn't a hard day. When I went back to double check the site, I kicked up a grouse that was dusting itself in the middle of the site. We fished on the way out and caught one trout on the way towards Mora. We had not been to this part of the lake and it was beautiful. I think I will have to go back here.
We finally saw some eagles when we got closer to the portage. They must be avoiding the burn area.
The portage was great. It runs parallel to rapids and makes for great views. We climbed out onto the rock in the middle for pictures.
Mora was nice but Adam's map showed that the large portion in the middle was an island. It is not. We pulled over the rocks anyways because we did not want to turn around. The weather that we thought we were lucky on had started to shift for the worse. The wind was picking up and sky quickly became overcast. I put away the camera at this point and didn't really take pictures for the rest of the trip.
The upstream portion of Mora was half blocked with logs and rocks. Very difficult to navigate.
Mora to Tarry was a quick rocky portage and the landings were getting more rocky and difficult to navigate as we went. Tarry went by quick since we were focused on the weather. We heard a lot of rumbling, at one point the rumbling turned out to be a forestry plane, but for the most part it was thunder.
Tarry to Crooked was not too long but rocky again. We also started getting a little concerned about he fish since it was clearly dead and the gills were getting lighter, but we didn't have time to stop because of the weather. Once on Crooked the rumbling only got worse and so did the wind. As we were coming up to the last campsite on the point before the portage we saw the front coming in and it did not look good. As we were assessing our options it started to rain so we landed at the campsite.
Right as we got all our gear unloaded the rain stopped, and we were left confused. We decided to gut the trout so it wouldn't go bad and continue on to Tuscarora, our destination for the day. I had barely made the belly cut when it started to pour on us and the lightning started up again. We threw up the rain fly quickly, made sure everything was under it and decided that we probably weren't going anywhere that night.
I finished gutting the trout and since we weren't getting in the canoe with the storm, I was forced to hike inland until I thought I was about 300 yards in to dispose of the head and guts. When I got back, Adam was set up under the tarp with our gear drinking wine. We took the time to go over all of our options but it was pretty clear that we had to stay, we just didn't want to admit it. So we decided to make the most of it by smoking some cigars and playing a movie on my phone, downloaded from netflix.
It stopped raining somewhere around 5 and we decided that it was the best time to set up the tent a while after that. While the movie was playing I had put the 5 gallon pail under one edge of the tarp where the water was draining and before the movie was over it was overflowing. I decided to pump our water from there that night and it was cool and crisp. It tasted like bottled water.
Dinner was spaghetti noodles with butter, garlic salt, and packets of Parmesan cheese I had grabbed from Domino's served with the trout in cajin breading and fried. The breading was very hot and I drank my whole bottle of water and then some. We got to bed fairly early and watched another movie as we fell asleep. I turned it off not even half way through.
*Revised~Little Saganaga Lake, Mora Lake, Tarry Lake, Crooked Lake
Planned~Tuscarora Lake, Missing Link Lake, Round Lake
*Revised~Crooked Lake, Owl Lake, Tuscarora Lake, Missing Link Lake, Round Lake
This morning was damp and overcast. The wind was not fun either. I had slept wrong and my shoulder was hurting so I didn't wake Adam up when I was awake. Instead I tried to work the pain out of my shoulder and took some advil. A while later we were up and moving around. We had breakfast and enjoyed the view plus the fact that it wasn't raining. I think we left the site around 10 or 11.
It wasn't far to the portage, not enough to get warmed up, so at least I was moving a bit slow for this one. Owl was another smaller lake but we were paddling into the wind and that was slightly concerning since Tuscarora was next and we would be going across the entire length of the lake.
The portage to Tuscarora was about 60 rods and rocky but I don't remember much else. Tuscarora is a beautiful lake. I just wish we could have enjoyed it instead of paddling straight through while struggling a little with the wind. It wasn't bad, but enough to take a little shelter behind the islands. We pushed on for the final stretch before the long portage and finally the wind let up in the more sheltered bay. It was here that Adam made the observation that the lake was not bad for the amount of wind and depth, and he thought the taller terrain, with the hills and cliffs, might be keeping a good portion of the wind off the water, especially closer to shore.
The portage to Missing Link was full of brush and mud. Halfway through we had to put the canoe in the water and load it up to cross the swamp. The food bag was pretty much empty by this point so we swapped who was carrying the canoe. Missing Link was smaller than anticipated. Nice cliff on the west side.
When looking for the portage to Round we ran into some issues... There was only 1 other portage on this lake and it was going to the east, not north. After staring at the map for a while then cursing, Adam passed it up to me and said he had some bad news. This was not Missing Link, this was Hubbub. That 360 (Adam's map said 420) rod to Missing Link we took was really the 280 to Hubbub. We made a wrong turn, again. We must have aimed for the wrong point when we came around the island and had our heads down in the wind (we were worried we would lose our hats ), not noticing that we entered the wrong bay. This was at about 2:30 and we were expecting to have an easy exit. After quite a bit of talking, we decided to continue along the route we were on with 3 mid sized portages rather than doing the 2 long portages in a row and backtracking. At least we would see a new area.
So we landed on the portage to Copper and began a grumpy portage. Copper was a long narrow lake that we were a bit too sullen to take in very well. At the end of the lake, after getting caught up on rocks where we both had to get out to let the canoe float over, we found the portage. 30 ft and 2 bends later there is a landing and we were thoroughly confused. We thought that maybe that was just a pull over not on the map so we went further looking for the portage. We came up to a beaver dam and realized this was not the right way. As we turned around a big brown beaver dives out of a bush and escapes into the water. This was about 5 feet from us and pretty cool.
We went back and found the portage down a small channel through the weeds. Looks like it was flooded because of the beaver dam and Adam's map is just old. This portage wasn't bad but after crossing the bridge it was a steep up hill. By the way, I mentioned earlier that there was a lot of underbrush in the burn areas, this was much worse. These portages between Tuscarora and Snipe were not used much at all and there were many times that we had to check to see if we were still on the trail. It was so thick that we could not see our feet. At least the down trees had been mostly cleared or it could have been impossible to do the portages without setting down the canoe. As it was, I did have a down tree on this portage that I had to go under and was practically on my knees with the canoe on my shoulders to get through.
After loading the canoe at another difficult landing on Snipe and trying to navigate through the islands without hitting submerged rocks, we did miss the channel once but only a 5 min detour, we made it to the portage to Missing Link, for what felt like the second time. This was a boulder hopping muddy portage that one point where there was a 5 ft boulder/wall we had to climb up. There was a convenient log there that made it possible but tricky. Along this portage we saw moose tracks. There appeared to be a cow and calf walking down almost the entire portage. Fresh tracks after yesterdays rain. Cool to see but we didn't see the moose at all.
We finally got to Missing Link for real and it was about 6:00. Our wrong turn was a 3-3 1/2 hour detour. Good thing I planned the last day to be so easy. If not then the ground we had to make up because of the rain and the detour would have made exiting that day a fantasy. Glad that I learned that lesson when our route just happened to work out like that for us.
The last portage was a little long, rocky, buggy, and muddy. I carried the canoe the last time and it was hurting to haul it. I was glad to set it down after as long as that day was.
It was before 7 when we got back to the truck, so we loaded up, changed and tied the canoe down. The plan for the day had been to drive to the end of the trail just down the road and maybe see the museum too, but we just settled for the Tuscarora gift shop. We got a beer each, a beer glass with the Tuscarora log, and I grabbed some stuffed animals for the kids. We drank the beers on the shore by the dock and enjoyed the evening sun.
On the way back we got Dairy Queen again and got back to Adam's place around 10:30-11.
That shower felt so good. So did the thought that I had taken the next day off (Adam hadn't or we probably would have stopped for another night).
Actual route ~Crooked Lake, Owl Lake, Tuscarora Lake, Hubbub Lake, Copper Lake, Snipe Lake, Missing Link Lake, Round Lake