BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
January 18 2020
Number of Permits per Day: 11
Elevation: 1205 feet
Seagull Lake - 54
A Good Time with a Good Friend - Seagull, Alpine, and Ogish September 2016
September 16, 2016
Number of Days:
On the morning of September 15, I drove out to Hayward, WI to pick up Camden where he had been spending some time with his grandmother. We then picked up Interstate 53, drove to Superior, WI, and crossed over to Duluth and up the North Shore as usual. Cam had never seen the big lake or the North Shore before so he enjoyed the drive immensely. We grabbed some gas in Grand Marais and headed up the Gunflint Trail, stopping at the Laurentian Divide scenic overlook to stretch a little on the way up. We arrived at Seagull Outfitters at about 3 PM, and I settled up with Deb. Cam got his first baptism into the world of canoe tripping with the Leave No Trace video!
We got our things organized and drove back down the Gunflint Trail to Trail Center where we enjoyed a burger and malt. I highly recommend the maple syrup malt. We saw a black bear by the side of the road as we were driving down to that night. Back at the paddlers’ lodge, we hit the hay after a few card games.
After we had crossed most of the open water, I got a little bewildered as to where we were and passed the map up to Camden, who immediately figured out where we were and had us to the Alpine-Seagull portage in about ten minutes. He promptly became the trip navigator. As we were unloading our canoes at the portage landing, another party of two that was just pushing off told us that their outfitter had informed them of bear problems on Alpine. Apparently a bear had been swimming between the islands and checking out the campsites. We thought about it and decided to stick to our original plan of camping on Alpine, since Deb had told me nothing about any bear issues, and these guys had been out for five days already. If any bear problems materialized we would just move. It worked out okay and we didn’t see any bears for the rest of the trip. We just made sure to keep a clean camp.
We grabbed the second site up from Jasper-Alpine Falls. It was obviously a heavily used site but it had a good view and was closer to the falls for better access. We would have been better off taking the site that looked right at the falls since it was open as well. After setting up camp, we headed over to the falls where Cam promptly caught a nice pike on a buzz bait.
With summer sausage sandwiches under our belts we headed in for a nap. I was struggling with a caffeine deprivation headache (skipped my morning coffee) so it felt good to sleep for a bit. We managed to find some dry wood and lit up a campfire to cook hot dogs for dinner, which we downed with a can of Pringles. The sky cleared and we were able to enjoy a relatively clear evening and beautiful sunset. Despite the fact that we were in the burn area, the forest was still beautiful with tinges of fall color in the birches and aspen. The area has come a long way since my first pass through the area back in 2013.
We were originally planning to head for Ogishkemuncie this day, but as the rain wore on we decided to take our layover day on Alpine instead of on Ogish as we originally planned. So after the rain stopped, we headed off to the falls again and fished the bay immediately in front of the falls. When that didn’t produce anything, we headed into the bay on the other side of the falls, where Cam caught two bass on an artificial minnow setup. One of them was about eighteen inches and was close to his personal best smallmouth. Cam also missed a very large pike that followed his lure right to the canoe.
We had lunch and spent some time around camp drying things out. After that we headed up to the northern end of Alpine and unsuccessfully tried a few spots for walleye. My outfitter told me they were in thirty to thirty-five feet of water, but jigs, twister tails, and leeches failed to find where they were. A large flock of geese passed overhead, calling loudly and reminding me that fall was in full swing. It was pleasant outside but I could see developing fronts all around us, so we headed back to camp as a dark line of cloud came down across the north end of the lake. We pulled the things off the line and headed into the tent as the rain began to come down harder and harder. For about ten minutes we waited in the tent as the rain came down as hard as I’ve ever seen it come down. It rained so hard that raindrops were hitting the tent and misting through on the inside. The noise was so loud that we had to yell to each other if we wanted to talk.
The rain moved out as quickly as it moved in. We headed back out fishing by the falls. I caught two small pike on a spoon and Cam caught another small bass. We returned to camp for a dinner of ramen and pringles as a large double rainbow formed in the sky to the east of us. It was a pleasant reminder of God’s promises to us. We fished the falls area one more time as dusk fell but were unsuccessful.
As we headed out of the burn area on Ogishkemuncie, Cam got the first glimpse of the untouched Boundary Waters. We grabbed a five star island site that Deb had recommended for us near the west end of the lake and got camp set up. This site had a wonderful fire grate near the water and a nice tent pad higher up on the camp site. After we set up the tent, Cam headed in for a swim while I set out our gear on a tarp to dry in the warm September sunshine. I set up our stoves and made our lunch of pancakes and bacon, which we enjoyed with coffee and blueberry crisp Clif bars (delicious!) After we did the dishes, Cam took a short nap while I rinsed some of my clothes in the lake and took a swim. The water was surprisingly warm for mid-September.
We headed out into Ogishkemuncie and fished several of the bays and shorelines on both sides of the lake but didn’t catch anything at all. A very large smallmouth was able to shake Cam’s lure out of its mouth, giving both of us a rush, and we tried the same spot again later on with no success. The wind picked up, so we headed back for our campsite and shore fished for a while. Cam caught two tiny pike that way. Fishing was sporadic for us the entire trip due to the late season.
The previous occupants of our campsite had left a good stash of cedar so we got a good fire going and kept it up for several hours. As we enjoyed it, I got our dinner together, which included Mountain House freeze dried beef stroganoff with noodles, beef jerky, and coffee and cider. It was delicious. The day ended around the campfire with music, small talk, and the ever present wind out of the west. Rain started to fall as we fell asleep.
Once we were on Jasper the wind really picked up, and foot-high waves pushed us across the lake. It was uncomfortable to see about two or three inches between the top of the waves and the top of the canoe, but I managed to keep the canoe pointed straight and we made it across Jasper without taking on any water. Alpine Lake was worse. We made it to the portage landing again without taking on any water. Cam handled the conditions like a pro. He was a former Sea Scout, so wind and waves didn’t rock his boat, so to speak. We made a perfect landfall onto the portage. Someone was definitely looking out for us. If the waves had been any higher it may have been a different story. We were both grateful for God’s protection.
Despite the stiff wind out of the west, it was actually a nice day with sunny skies and puffy white clouds, and none of the portages gave us any problems. Both of us knew that the wind and waves would be awful on Seagull, and indeed they were. The entire lake was a sea of whitecaps. Seeing that the site right next to the Alpine portage was open, we claimed it at about 11 AM and stayed there for the rest of the day. We spent time reading, playing cards, and playing music. Camden shore fished (unsuccessfully) and made a small raft out of twigs and grass while I worked on organizing my gear and tackle box. One party with four canoes lashed their canoes together to make two catamarans and paddled by us, heading off into Seagull Lake singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” in a round. Cam and I just looked at each other and laughed. Those people really were ingenious.
The wind continued almost without abating all day long. I have to admit that that afternoon I was ready for the trip to be over. I was nervous about the paddle we would have to take the next day. We had seen plenty of people throughout the trip and did right up until we left, but the fact that it was late September and not many people would be passing through after this kept my alertness level very high. However, I continued to keep myself busy while praying that the next day would produce good paddling conditions so we could make it across Seagull. Slowly I began to feel better as God’s peace began to fill me.
We enjoyed more ramen and some leftover bacon for dinner along with a couple cups of coffee. Cam then scrounged up some firewood and we got a fire going as the wind slowly died down. The wind had blown away all the clouds so we had a perfectly clear night. The stars came out one by one, and visibility was just about perfect, bringing back memories of seeing the starry host from a campsite not far from ours on my first trip back in 2013. I could even see traces of the Milky Way if I looked hard enough. We enjoyed a wonderful conversation about how God was working in our lives as we enjoyed watching the stars.
The outfitters had told me that there was a good northern lights forecast on the trip, and I had looked every night of the trip. That night, as we surveyed the heavens, we could definitely see a hazy light across the northern sky, and as we both looked we could see pulses of light. We were both happy to have seen even this small trace of the northern lights, and huddled closer to our fire as the moon rose and the temperature dropped.
All of a sudden, Cam and I both turned to see the aurora out in full force across the northern horizon. Strong lights shimmered in a curtain as a ring of greenish light formed around the northern horizon and continued revolving and pulsating, slowly withdrawing as the moon rose higher. The spectacle was strong and beautiful despite the moonlight, without which I’m sure the show would have been really amazing. At that moment, I realized that God was completely and totally sovereign over the weather that day. Had the wind not been blowing, we had intended to camp on a site that faced south, and moreover the skies may not have been clear for the display. It was an incredible faith-building moment for both of us as we realized that. There is no such thing as an accident in God’s way of doing things.
Still filled with the wonder of what we had seen we headed for bed. The night was chilly, and I was thankful for my warm sleeping bag, wool shirt, long underwear, and stocking cap.
Cam got up at about 6 and we both enjoyed a cup of coffee and a few Clif bars. We broke camp but stayed long enough to watch the sun rise on a perfect canoe country morning. We headed into a beautifully calm Seagull Lake and I paddled as Cam fished. Fish were feeding all over the bay near our campsite, but we couldn’t get them to strike our bait. The wind slowly picked up and soon foot-high waves were once again cruising in from the large stretch of open water. We had decided to hug the north shore of the lake to stay out of the wind, and thankfully it wasn’t long before we were in the shelter of the islands. Cam took one or two waves in his lap when we had to turn briefly into the wind, but we didn’t take on any water.
With Cam navigating we wove through the web of islands and stayed out of the wind, paddling through beautiful stands of timber and under the shadow of the palisades. I somehow had wrongly assumed that the north end of Seagull was burned in the same way the south end was. It actually was more beautiful and scenic than Saganaga. I may come back to this area with Grandpa next summer.
We emerged from the islands and re-entered the line of waves rushing from the stretch of open water northeast of Three Mile Island. At just the right moment, we turned and rode the waves into the channel and all the way up to the dock at Seagull Outfitters. Cam couldn’t contain his excitement at being able to shower again. As we unloaded the canoe, I noticed that a cold front was starting to move in. We enjoyed a shower and headed back to Minneapolis. Cam ended that day at Target Field enjoying a Twins game with his aunt and uncle. How’s that for a reintroduction into civilization?
This was a wonderful trip for me. I was able to spend some time with a good friend, catch some fish (although that canoe country walleye still is waiting for me), see the northern lights for the first time, revisit a different area, refine my canoe tripping skills, and experience fall in the Boundary Waters. Since my trips with Grandpa are usually more laid back and relaxed, it was nice to take a more aggressive trip and cover some more ground. I don’t know if I will ever take a fall canoe trip on the big lakes again because of the unpredictability of the wind conditions. Overall I am grateful for God’s protection and the little displays of beauty He put on for us: the sunrises, the sunsets, the beauty of untouched wilderness, the light from our campfires, the fall colors starting to unfold, the rainbow after the rain, the stars, and the Aurora Borealis. I’ll be back.