BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
September 20 2020
Number of Permits per Day: 17
Elevation: 1184 feet
Saganaga Lake - 55
A Paddling Partner for Life, Part 2. The Thunder Point Loop
July 09, 2009
Saganaga Lake Only
Number of Days:
Most of the winter was spent fine tuning the gear and packing arrangement. When spring arrived I turned my attention to getting into paddling shape and gaining confidence in paddling the new canoe. Since Lauren isn't much of a paddler yet (she plays with the water more than paddles), I modified the canoe by adding a 3rd seat in the middle for me to sit in. This allowed for the canoe to be trimmed better with a 5 year up front and made it easier for me to control and turn the canoe.
Wednesday, July 08, 2009
The day before we depart! This was a day of double checking the checklist, packing the food, and test packing the canoe! Thankfully, all the gear fit great.
Thursday, July 09, 2009
Yanking a 5 year old out of bed at 3 am is never a good idea, but it was a necessary evil on this day with a 570 mile, 10 hour drive ahead of us. After about 5 miles of driving, Lauren fortunately fell asleep and peace came to the car again. Boy was it ugly there for a while! :)
It remained very quiet in the back for the next six hours at which time we were making our way across the big bridge in Duluth and into Minnesota. We stopped at Betty's Pies for breakfast, Temperance River State Park for a quick hike, Buck's Hardware in Grand Marais for some gas, and finally Trail Center for french fries, ketchup and chocolate shakes for lunch.
We made good time and arrived at Seagull Outfitters around 2 pm. After a nice welcome from Deb, Dave and crew we arranged our tow to Red Rock portage in the morning and rented a satellite phone. We left the exit date for the trip open and agreed that I would call to arrange the tow out from American Point when we were ready in 6-8 days. We then got settled into the bunk house. Lauren thinks the bunk house is the coolest thing in the world. I guess it is like a big fort to her. If she had it her way, we'd spend the whole week there.
After spending some time exploring the bunk house we headed back down the trail for dinner at Trail Center. Great service and a great atmosphere each time I eat there. With our stomachs full we head back to the bunk house and settle in for the night.
We woke up at 0600 and got ready for our 0700 tow. The "Quick Start" breakfast at Seagull is just right for the occasion: cereal, muffins, fruit, OJ and hot coffee. With the gear loaded into the truck, Dave gave us a ride to the Saganaga Landing where the tow boat was waiting.
Saganaga Lake was well behaved on the crossing with a bit of a chop from a west wind. Lauren really enjoyed the tow ride this time and the wind in her face. At one point I looked over to her and noticed that she kept sticking out her tongue. I asked her about it and she commented, "it feels good with the wind on it." Kids!!
We arrived at the portage to Red Rock Lake about 0745. This year the water is lower than last so we were unable to paddle small stream into Red Rock Lake. We instead haul our gear across the 10 rod portage and depart from there.
We paddled across Red Rock and saw only one party at a campsite near the middle of the lake. The portage (48 rods) into Alpine Lake went quick. Lauren was a bit fussy at first before catching her groove. This would be the one and only time she complained the whole trip!
Her spirits were brightened quickly at the landing on Alpine Lake. Splashing her dad and wading around was great fun! She appears to be a natural "wet footer".
The paddle across Alpine was into the wind. The fire damage is still very obvious, but the ground cover is much greener than last year. We had the lake to ourselves except for the several hawks and one bald eagle we spotted.
The 43 rod portage into Jasper lake follows a stream and ends with a pretty waterfall. We took a bit of a break to enjoy the waterfall and to collect some sparkly rocks.
By 1100, we were making our way across Jasper Lake and decided to stop at one of the burned out campsites for some lunch. Daisies were everywhere! Salami, cheese and snacks were on the menu.
The big part of Jasper Lake was starting to whitecap now with 1 foot rollers. We would have to paddle directly into the teeth of this west wind. It was slow going and we did pretty well. The Northwind is a great canoe and was easy to keep straight and felt very stable. We arrive on Kingfisher Lake by 1230 after a quick and easy 24 rod portage over a little hump in the middle. Fire damage is still prevalent in this area, but green things and flowers are everywhere. Kingfisher was a quick paddle and soon we are on the 41 rod portage into Ogish. This portage was just a short climb to start and then went gradually downhill as it followed another stream. All the lakes we paddled today are connected via small streams as the current flows downhill from Ogish to Alpine.
Lauren did all the portages very well today. She walked the 2 trips over while I carried her back on my shoulders for all the trips back except one. She insisted on doing all three trips across the portage between Kingisher and Ogish. I just smiled.
We headed out into Ogish around 1330 which was good as we planned to camp here tonight. The wind still persisted, but we made good time. About a third of the way down Ogish the fire damage stopped. It was nice to have no fire damage for a change. The camps on the east side of the narrows were mostly taken as was the site at the narrows. The west end of the lake has several island campsites. None of them were taken so we had our pick. After scoping them all out we decided on the camp on the far west island. We arrived around 1530 and got camp set up.
The rest of the afternoon was spent exploring and fishing. The resident turtle was our entertainment. The crazy thing even took a 10 foot dive off a cliff.
Several ducks and a bald eagle passed by as well. A nice sunset greeted us for dinner as we made steaks over the fire. The wind finally died down as the sun slid below the horizon and the bugs started to come out. We had not seen any bugs all day. We fell asleep quickly to that "Hum".
Lakes Traveled: Saganaga, Red Rock, Alpine, Jasper, Kingfisher and Ogishkemuncie. 10 miles.
5 Portages: 10, 48, 43, 24 and 41 rods.
Today would be a planned layover day on Ogish. It rained in the middle of the night and we awoke to a sunny morning with more wind and a bit of a chill in the air. Pancakes are bacon were for breakfast. We spend most of the morning drifting around the west end of Ogish fishing with slip bobbers and leeches. Several smallmouth bass were caught including one that was 3-4 pounds.
We returned to camp around for lunch (salami, cheese and snacks) and spent the early afternoon relaxing and fishing around camp. We caught a few more bass from shore. While I split some firewood Lauren was busy exploring camp and playing with her pet rocks. She discovered all sorts of creatures in her travels this day: caterpillars, crows, loons, and ants.
The day remained windy but by mid afternoon it died down enough for us to go exploring on the water. A few more bass were caught. All the books say Ogish has walleye, pike and lake trout as well, but we can only vouch for bass! We took another look at the surrounding campsites and agreed that ours was the best one. It has a nice canoe landing, ample tent pads (3 decent spots), a nice fire pit, and a nice elevated view of the lake. All the camp really lacks is a good spot to hang the tarp and a view of the sunset.
Dinner was brats and hot dogs over the fire. It was turning out to be a great night without cloud in the sky. Apparently, the day was a little much for my daughter as she found a relaxing spot on the rocks next to me while I fished. Kids! Busy, busy, busy and then crash.
We woke up early today at 0600 to pack up camp and head towards Knife Lake. We hoped to find a good site in the South Arm of Knife Lake. Poptarts and breakfast bars were for breakfast and by 0730 we had camp packed up and were heading over to the first portage to Annie Lake. It was a sunny morning with temperatures in the 60's and just a breath of wind.
The first portage to Annie Lake (16 rods) is flat and easy. Similarly, so is the portage (14 rods) from Annie Lake to Jenny Lake. If you had to rate them, the 17 rod portage from Jenny to Eddy was probably the hardest only because it is a steep down hill. All three of these lakes were quick paddles and very pretty. We saw one party ahead us briefly along the way. They were heading to Kekekabic Lake.
We always double portage, so the deal I made with Lauren was if she carried her backpack the first trip and just walked the second trip, I would carry her on my shoulders for the trip back for the 2nd load. Lauren continued to be a good trooper on the portages and ended up walking all of them today and insisted that she was "a big girl and could do it all by herself".
That was an enormous help to me as I twisted my back lifting a pack on the portage from Jenny to Eddy and began having back spasms off and on again for the remainder of the trip.
The portage from Eddy Lake to Knife Lake (30 rods) is supposed to be the hardest of the four today and I suppose it is if you are going the uphill direction. It is steep the whole way. We were thankfully headed downhill and the portage was not bad at all.
With the series of small lakes behind us, we looked upon the South Arm of Knife and it looked huge. Figures the wind would be blowing from the direction we were headed. We took a short break to rest my back and allow Lauren some kid time. Amazing how kids adapt to having no toys in the wilderness and make use rocks and sticks to entertain themselves.
Before heading out to find a campsite we checked out Eddy Falls. Because the waves were crashing hard on the rocky landing for the short trail that leads to the falls, I decided to be content with a brief distant view rather than risk having the canoe slammed against the rocks. The wind was really picking up as the afternoon approached. It made crossing the large expanse unsettling for me. But we took one paddle stroke at a time and slowly made our way across. It really was not so bad as long as I kept the canoe pointed straight into the wind and did short, frequent strokes rather than longer ones.
After crossing the large expanse we arrived at an area of the South Arm where several campsites exist. I chose to focus on this area because of its reputation as a good fishing area with many good campsites. The first two sites to the north and south of the narrows were occupied, so we turned to the north around a large island and headed for the next one on the map. This camp was open and was very nice. We arrived at camp around 1100. It had a huge rock beach for a front porch with a 270 degree view. The fire pit and tent pads were down a short path in a grassy area tucked in the trees. A very nice spot to spend a couple nights.
After having some lunch I struggled to set up camp. I guess my back was worse than I thought. While sitting in the canoe and paddling it did not really bother me, but with the walking, bending, and reaching required to set up camp I really noticed the pain. It would just spasm at almost any movement. Realizing that there was not much I could do about it and not wanting to Lauren to sense my stress, I decided to spend the afternoon in camp relaxing on the rock face and enjoying the view of the water while Lauren played and explored. I prayed that my back would be heal enough allow me get me and my daughter out safely in a couple days. The realization that her fate and mine rested literally on my bad back was a huge mental stress for me.
Later on we fished from shore catching several rock bass with the good old leeches and bobber presentation. I noted how different the rock bass are than a smallmouth in appearance. They have a lighter green coloration and reddish eyes. They are just as much fun to catch as a smallie!
That evening we had Cache Lake spaghetti and Italian fry pan bread for dinner. Both were very good. Despite my efforts to conceal my back problems, Lauren seemed to sense something was up and was very helpful in drying the dishes and picking up camp. I was very proud of her and having a good afternoon together helped take some of the stress away. Staying positive and relishing the good aspects of the moment really helped my outlook on the situation.
We spent the rest of the evening perched on our rocky front porch and enjoyed the breeze, the view and the fishing. We probably caught 15-20 bass that night. It was another fabulous night in the boundary waters. It had been a challenging, yet rewarding day. Calling the wife on the satellite phone helped reassure me that things would be all right. She gave me some back stretches and exercises to try. They did help. However, note to self--bring some good prescription drugs along next time!
Lakes Traveled: Ogishkemuncie, Annie, Jenny, Eddy, and Knife. 7 miles.
4 Portages: 16, 14, 17, and 30 rods.
We slept in today until about 0800 and awoke to another beautiful sunny day. Even this early in the morning the sun felt hot. It would be a warm day. The back felt a little better, which was a good thing since we had some exploring to do.
After pancakes and bacon for breakfast we paddled around a point and headed north to explore the channel and bays between the large island and mainland. I decided to do a small loop for our morning paddle. We portaged from one bay of Knife to another (55 rods), paddled some more and then took another portage (39 rods) back to the bay we were camped on. These back bays on Knife are intimate and looked to have several nice campsites. The highlight of the morning was discovering a beaver lodge. We then headed back to camp for lunch and to rest a bit.
For the afternoon paddle, we decided to head down to Thunder Point. Paddling felt better on the back than sitting in camp did. Heading out was against a slight breeze down a long channel. About halfway down the channel we skirted through a small channel, so that we could circle "Thunder Point Island". This part of Knife Lake looked to have been burned recently. After coming out of one of the back bays, we were on the large part of Knife Lake. Across the way was Canada and you could see for miles in either direction. We suddenly felt pretty small. Well, at least I did. Lauren enjoyed the view so much that she fell asleep for a while.
Several loons and bald eagles were in the area. We stopped for a rest at the rocky beach landing where a trail leads up to the Thunder Point viewpoint. I did not dare attempt this trail with my back, so we just enjoyed the view from below and had some fun skipping rocks.
Paddling back to camp was with the wind this time, so we took our time and trolled along the way. Not much was biting, but I did manage to catch a decent sized pike.
We were back to camp in time for dinner and had Mac 'n' Cheese. While fixing dinner, Lauren noticed several animals around camp: an owl, a rabbit and a mouse. The rest of the evening was spent sitting out of the rock, fishing and enjoying the sunset. This camp was sure a great spot to catch those rock bass. Like the night before, we caught one after another. It was a very still night with hardly a hint of wind.
Lakes Traveled: Knife Lake. 10 miles.
3 Portages: 55, 39, and 5 rods.
We woke up at 0700 today and tore down camp with the intention of heading to Ester Lake. Yesterday my back held up while paddling, but I was anxious to see how I would manage on the 120 rod portage to Hanson Lake. Breakfast was pop tarts and breakfast bars that we ate while packing.
It was a another sunny day albeit breezy with several clouds looming in the west. The weather forecast before we left indicated rain today and tomorrow. We will find out soon enough if they were right.
The paddle to the portage to Hanson Lake takes a couple hours. Knife Lake is lined with steep cliffs along the north shore here which explains the lack of campsites in this area. Lauren is fascinated with the various colors on the cliffs and especially orange. I am glad that she is chatty today as it keeps my mind off my back.
Near the portage we paddle past a group that had left Ester Lake this morning. They had left the north island site which made me hopeful of getting that site. I had read it was one of the two nicer sites on Ester Lake with the south island site being nice as well. Arriving at the portage we meet another group that had just left the south island site on Ester. Now my hopes are really up as rain seems to be approaching. The group was led a young couple with a bunch of adolescents along. It turns out the leader is "Marshall Prime" from BWCA.com.
Lauren and I head across the portage. My back seemed to be OK aside a few spasms when lifting the pack on my back. The portage felt long as it is a gradual ascent the whole way. A stream and a neat waterfall greeted us about halfway across. About 100 yards after turning back for the second load I discover two of the teenagers carrying my canoe and one of them carrying my other pack. I thanked them as much as I could, but I am not sure they realized how grateful me and my back was to them. What a great bunch of kids! I thought is was very admirable that Matt (Marshall Prime) and his wife would do such a trip. They seemed to be having a great time. All I could offer them was some fishing and campsite tips as they were headed the direction I came.
Parting ways, Lauren and I headed across Hanson Lake. If rain had not been looming I would have liked to explore this pretty lake some more, but my mind was on finding a camp on Ester and getting the tent set up.
Hanson and Ester Lake are connected by a small weed filled stream. Once on Ester we find a group setting up camp on the south island site. RATS! Well, we continue around the island and find the north site open. YES! The site is very nice, but a tad overused. It has a nice elevated view of the lake and a huge fire pit and seating area. The only drawback was that all the grass had been worn down to dirt from overuse. We manage to set up the tarp just as the rain started to fall. It would be the first time we needed the tarp all trip. After a quick lunch we set up the tent in the rain.
We spent the rest of the afternoon in the tent reading books, coloring and looking at maps. It rained hard all afternoon. I guess we were both tired from the trip as we both took a nap. Obviously my back could use the rest as well.
The rain stopped briefly for dinner. Spaghetti and bread were on the menu again. The rain started again as we did dishes and we ran back to the tent around 2000. Sleep did not come easy as my mind was racing about whether to stay here tomorrow or press on and get past the last of the portages. The two longer portages that lay ahead could be a challenge. On the satellite phone, the wife informed me that the forecast for the next several days was wind and rain. So much for enjoying the day tomorrow in camp. I made the decision to push on and get the stress of portaging with a bad back behind me.
Lakes Traveled: Knife, Hanson and Ester. 6 miles.
1 Portage: 120 rods.
We woke to a cloudy morning on Ester Lake. It had rained most of the night and really dampened (no pun intended) my spirits. It made me really determined to reach Saganaga Lake and potentially call for a tow pick up. As much as I did not want the trip to end, I realized that despite feeling better at times, my back was not truly getting better. Knowing that the forecast was deteriorating only solidified my desire to get out now. Had I been full strength or on a trip with the guys it would have been a different story. But my young daughter was with me and totally dependent on me making a sound decision now. Despite a wonderful trip, I was mentally and physically beat. It was time to go home. We had a quick breakfast together, explored the camp a bit and then packed up to head out.
We reached the portage to Ottertrack Lake in no time. The portage was downhill and very muddy from the rains. About halfway across the sky let loose and we were drenched. That is what happens when the rain gear is with the packs back at the start! We slogged through the mud back to the other side and got our rain gear on. Figures that the rain would stop now. :)
The trip across Ottertrack Lake to Monument Portage went by fast. This portage is mostly uphill heading towards Swamp Lake. We both did pretty well and completed it in no time. I guess we were on a mission. As you can see from the pictures you can tell why it is almost impossible for your spirits to get too low when you have a sweet smile like that to inspire you. I was very relieved to have the last of the hard portages behind me.
Swamp Lake goes by fast and soon we were at the small stream that connects it to Saganaga Lake. The water was too low, so we had to carry the gear across the 5 rod portage. I called Debbie at Seagull Outfitters on the satellite phone to inquire about a tow out. It was about noon and she had pick-ups already scheduled at 1300 and 1400. There would be room for Lauren and I on one of those if we could make it there in time. Otherwise, she would send another tow out after that. We agreed that I would call when I got closer to American Point and decide from there.
We paddled past the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd bays on Saganaga and then my jaw dropped as we caught a glimpse of what lay before us. Huge rollers! 15-20 mph winds! I considered going back to one of the smaller bays we just passed, but then I remembered the wind forecast that my wife had told me from the night before. I guess the weatherman was right and we would have one more challenge to go. Fortunately, the wind was out of the west, so if I could just keep the canoe steered right the wind would push us home. The paddle was a wild ride and the Northwind handled great. Lauren's naivety of the situation made the big waves fun for her. I, on the other hand was just a wee bit stressed. I hardly paddled at all aside from steering and we made it to American Point in less than an hour.
We paddled out of the wind behind an island to call Debbie to check on the tows and she said they had just arrived at Rocky Point right around the corner from our location. Sure enough they were there and we joined another party of two for the tow out. We made it and we were safe.
Back at the outfitter Debbie was amazed that Lauren and I were able to paddle across Saganaga. Apparently, the winds were so gusty that the tows were having a rough time getting out there. Part of our fortune was the wind direction. We were paddling with the wind and the tows were coming out against it.
After sharing our trip stories with the crew at Seagull, Lauren and I got cleaned up and headed to Trail Center for some fries and ketchup. After a week in the wilderness that is what Lauren wanted. She earned it.
Lakes Traveled: Ester, Ottertrack, Swamp and Saganaga. 7 miles.
3 Portages: 90, 78, and 5 rods.
Waking up to drive home always takes me longer. Although I am relieved that Lauren and I had a safe trip, I am also saddened that the trip is over. Part of me wishes were could have stayed out there for the full eight days. My mind soon changes when I look outside. It is rainy and windy again. :)
We say our goodbyes to the Seagull Crew. I will be back in August with my brothers and plan to return with Lauren next year. After breakfast at Trail Center we are on the road and headed home.
What a wonderful trip we had. The weather was great until the end, the campsites were nice and we really enjoyed the route. It was just the right combination of easy and challenging. I think the back injury was a blessing in disguise. The memory of it will always keep me grounded, but also confident that I can overcome challenges on a trip.
My paddling partner and I really bonded on this trip. She amazes me with how much she grows up on these trips and I cannot wait until next year's adventure!