BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
January 20 2020
Number of Permits per Day: 17
Elevation: 1184 feet
Saganaga Lake - 55
Thunder Point Loop
August 24, 2007
Saganaga Lake Only
Seagull Lake Only (54A)
Number of Days:
Matt and I left the cities after work and headed to Gopher’s apartment in Duluth. We had packed all of our gear the night before and had it laid out on the floor, waiting and ready for us to go. Our (Matt and mine) food was stuffed in my old sea-bag, our backpacks were packed, our fishing gear was waiting; we were ready to get on the water.
The drive up to Duluth was uneventful, as always, and we arrived at Gopher’s apartment around noon. We took the packs out of my car and brought them up to the apartment (the neighborhood where Gopher was living at the time was… let’s say, interesting) and we did not want to leave all the gear outside. Matt and I dumped out the contents of the food bag and we started the process of repackaging the food into zip-loc bags. We spent most of the rest of the day just prepping for the trip, excited to leave. We were in bed fairly early (Matt and I were both working the night shift) so falling asleep, regardless of our excitement level, was easy.
We awoke early (5am or there about) with the intention of getting up to Seagull Outfitters (where we would meet up, once again, with a Wenonah Minnesota 3 canoe) and getting on the water by no later than 10am. We hit the McDonald’s in Duluth for a quick fast-food breakfast before making the long drive up to Grand Marais; which is never that long when you are excited about starting your vacation and talking about every topic you can imagine.
We pulled into the Holiday gas station in Grand Marais a little after 8am. I did not want to leave my car at the end of the Gunflint Trail on less than half a tank (not sure what time we would end up coming out and fearing that it might be after the gas stations close) so I filled her up, bought some Mountain Dew, some smokes and some last minute snacks. We did not linger in Grand Marais and were back on the road by 8:30am or so.
We made it to Seagull Outfitters at a bit past 9:30am, said “hi” to Debbie (the owner of Seagull Outfitters) and got our route explained to us before we loaded up their old Suburban people transporter. They already had our canoe waiting for us on the trailer rack so all we had to do was transfer our gear into the trailer and pick out our canoe paddles; which we did in all haste.
Since we were taking a longer route for this trip we opted to start the trip with a tow ride out to American Point (the infamous “Rocky Point” from the year before) in order to save ourselves more than a couple hours of paddling. The ride was smooth as we passed other canoes heading into, and coming off of, Big Sag. There was a Bald Eagle sitting in a tree on the left who seemed to see us off. It was not long before we were dropped off on Hook Island (Seagull Outfitters preferred drop-off point), just off the shore of American Point.
We got the canoe loaded up (with Gopher in the stern, Matt in the jump seat and I once again in the bow), our gear set in so the canoe was balanced, said our goodbyes to the tow-boat driver and started out. The sky was crystal clear blue, the water was calm, and there was hardly a hint of wind; it made for a perfect day of paddling.
Because of the distance we were going to be traveling during this trip we knew we had to put in some miles that first day. We passed through Swamp Lake (the area we had seen the moose the year before) and were surrounded by a group of Loons who seemed not to care that we spent a good 10 minutes taking pictures of them. We crossed the little five-rod portage that puts you into Swamp Lake proper (stopping to snack on some GORP) before taking on Monument Portage. We stopped once again by one of the boundary markers for a cheesy photo op.
We hit Ottertrack Lake shortly after, put all the gear back into the canoe, and hit the water for what we knew was going to be a long paddle down the lake; thankfully, a paddle with no more portages that day. We passed a few other canoes at the end of Monument Portage as we pushed off but otherwise did not see anyone else on the lake.
After an hour or so, while paddling on the Canadian side of the lake, Matt spotted something on the rock face that seemed out of place; a color and shape that stuck out like a sore thumb. We pulled up and found that ist was a plaque dedicated to a “Ben Ambrose”, a person we had never heard of. We snapped a few pictures (including a few of me standing on a shelf of the cliff next to the plaque – the water here, I should note, is incredibly clear and fantastically deep) of old Ben before continuing on our journey.
We hit our campsite, a chunk of land that divides Ottertrack Lake from Knife Lake, in mid afternoon. We set up camp quickly and lounged next to the fire pit as we watched a few canoes come down the lake and take the portage into Gijikiki Lake. Other than those few canoes (seen in the distance) no other people were around to spoil the “aloneness” of our little camp in the woods. Dinner that night was “Damn Good Chili” and rice; it was a delight to skip the MRE’s that we ate the year before. Too much trouble, too much weight and too much trash; repackaged boxed food is much easier.
The evening was calm and we were enjoying the cooler part of the day, near sunset, when we suddenly heard something messing with our packs! We all jumped up, not knowing what to expect, and ran towards our packs. In hindsight it was probably not the best idea, seeing as it could have been a bear, but we were pleasantly shocked to see that the animal that was intent on our gear was, in fact, a Pine Martin. I had never seen one in the wild and it took me a few minutes to even remember what the name of the animal was. I am not sure what Gopher and Matt think about this little encounter, but I consider myself extremely fortunate, Pine Martin’s are one of the rarest animals to see in the wild.
Laughing at our animal encounter we went back to lounging by the fire pit. I had scheduled this trip to coincide with the full moon; to which we were not disappointed. The moon, when you are in such a setting, reflected so much light that our need for flashlights and headlamps was almost pointless. You could see every detail in the landscape. The only problem I had with the moon being this bright was in my sleeping; I woke multiple times thinking the morning had come only to open up the tent fly and discover it was still the middle of the night.
Sunday broke the clearest and calmest I have ever seen the BWCA. We ate oatmeal, GORP and cereal bars for breakfast before packing up our camp and setting out. I snapped some pictures of the area just off of our camp because the water was so calm that it was reflecting the trees like a mirror. When we hit Knife Lake, however, we realized that it was not as calm as we thought; just sheltered. The wind on Knife Lake was coming straight at us and we had to paddle the length of the lake to get to our next site.
The going was slow but we made a good time of it. Gopher had us traveling the American shore in order to keep out of the majority of the wind. After a short time paddling Matt, with his apparently “Eagle Vision”, spotted a moose in a bay across the lake. How he saw it I don’t know but it was too far away (and crossing a large body of rough water) to get any good photographs. Two years of BW trips and already three moose under our belt.
We stopped shortly after that for a quick break in order to get out of the wind and to visit one of the toilets (the chili deciding to revisit us) at a remote campsite. This would end up starting an idea in my mind. From this point on out I made it a goal to take as many pictures of the BWCA Wilderness Toilets as I could; a weird but unique goal. It is amazing how many things I have remembered just based on the location of a toilet.
We continued on into the heavy headwind, crossing some areas of water that were a bit sketchy for us. We were still in the process of remembering how to keep our narrow canoe from tipping over and the wind was not helping our situation. After only a few more miles we decided to get out of the wind and take our lunch break at a slightly sheltered camp site on Knife Lake.
The site we stopped at was very unique. Small bluffs on three sides of the side made for a natural watershed where you would pitch your tent. It would be a great site in good weather, but if it rained you would end up taking a bath. The toilet was a surprise as well. Placed on top of one of the small bluffs it offered a view over a huge bay and was decorated with an R.I.P. notice. I took many photographs of it before putting it to good use (“Damn Good Chili”, it was noted, should never again come with us on a trip). We explored the point for 30-minutes or so before pushing off and continuing on our way.
We pushed on, still into the wind, for another hour or more before we finally rounded Thunder Point. My research for the trip had noted that there was a trail leading up the point to an overlook area that offered a fantastic view of the southwestern half of Knife Lake. When we finally found the path the wind was bashing our canoe onto the shore so we had to be careful with our landing. The hike up the hill was loose and unstable in spots but well worth it for the view from the top. We took many pictures before heading back down to the canoe. It was not late in the day but due to the wind we sat on the beach, pulled out the map, and figured that we should choose our campsite for the night.
I wanted to visit Robbins Island (on the south side of Knife Lake) badly in order to see any remains of the “Root Beer Lady’s” cabin but the wind was howling far too much to make the two and a half mile trip (into the wind) worth the effort. We rounded the point, putting us in the beginning of South Arm Knife Lake, and paddled to the first site we came across; which was taking the full brunt of the wind. We pushed on only a few hundred yard to the next site, which was sheltered from the wind, and parked the canoe.
It was a long day (due to paddling against the wind), but still not much past mid-day, so setting up camp was not a priority for us. Gopher plopped down on the rocky ground, pulled his hoodie up and decided to take a nap while Matt and I cast a few lines looking for dinner. It was only an hour or so when gopher jumped up and danced around while yelling, “Tornado of Feet, Tornado of Feet”! Shocked, Matt and I looked on with wonder before Gopher explained that a mouse had jumped into his hoodie and was running around on his face. Matt and I laughed so hard tears were rolling down our faces.
We didn’t catch any fish that night so we ate noodles and rice along with GORP and snacks. The tent pads were stable and free of lumps, but, due to the nature of the site, slanted down hill, which made sleeping (for me anyway uncomfortable. The brightness of the moon also did not help me. Not that I am complaining.
The morning was overcast and slightly drizzly when I awoke (an hour before Matt and Gopher, as always it seems) but the wind was finally in our favor. We were going to be traveling with the wind this time and, because it was still blowing rather strongly, I took the time to cut some dead trees down and fashion them into a makeshift sail for the boat using one of our camp tarps and a slew of the camp paracord rope that we always bring.
We ate a breakfast of pancakes (the only day we did not eat oatmeal) before I showed off my sail invention. Matt and Gopher both seemed excited for my idea to work, but slightly dubious that it would. Happily, the sail worked fantastically and we took off down the South Arm of Knife Lake at a fairly fast clip. We passed a camp or two who spied us and they gave us a hearty wave; no doubt jealous of our rig.
Our paddles hardly ever touched the water; save Gopher’s, who was in charge of steering the canoe. Matt and I were in charge of trimming the sail so we could take full advantage of the wind. Since I did not have to worry about paddling I made sure to take a bunch of photographs of the landscape as we passed by. For an overcast, drizzly day, it was by far one of the best days I have ever spent on the water.
We didn’t realize how fast we were traveling at first (when you are not paddling you tend to loose track of the distance you travel) and in no time at all we were nearing the portage that would take us into Eddy Lake, a place we did not want to be yet, so we left our sail up and kept to the north part of South Arm Knife Lake before taking a break on a small, tucked away campsite.
Because of the speed we were traveling I decided to put my mission of “toilet pictures” on hold for a while, even though we passed eight or nine sites that would have added nicely to my catalog. Our break site however contained some other interesting things to shoot. There were old tires, battery boxes, wood crates and other assorted trash that was no doubt left by loggers for who knows how long ago. We snooped through all of this junk before getting back in the canoe and continuing on.
We were very near to the Eddy Lake portage at this time (though it was on the other side of South Arm) so we decided that we would take camp in the next site we came to. The site was tucked in a small bay flanked by large hills so that when you looked out over the lake from the campsite it appeared you were in a sort of land based fortress. It was still drizzling so we set camp right away before going back out to try to catch some fish.
For the most part we got skunked. I did have a large Northern Pike attack my line but (due to the fact we had no net) we had to paddle to the nearest shore to pick him up. Upon doing so, however, the damn fish popped off of the hook, flopped into the water with a “OMG” look in his eye and swam off before I had a chance to grab him with my hands. Dinner again consisted of noodles and rice. Oh well.
Because of the clouds that night the moon was blocked and I slept very well. We all woke later in the morning than on other days and we ate a late breakfast before piling into the canoe once again and continuing on our journey. The wind had died (finally) so I had to untie the sail and pack the tarp away. We were not too sad about that though since our journey this day was going to be very short (less than three miles).
We crossed the remaining part of South Arm Knife Lake quickly and came to the Eddy Lake portage. From my reading on the Seagull website I knew that there was a pretty cool waterfall that we could explore. We humped our packs and the canoe over the portage and placed everything off to the side before we grabbed our cameras and started climbing around on the rocks that make up Eddy Falls.
We spent perhaps an hour climbing down, and then up, the falls; taking many photographs along the way. In the falls Matt found a peculiar thing; a length of bamboo (presumably from a fishing pole) with a small “ullu” style knife blade attached to the end of it. Unsure of what to make of it we decided that it was a spoil of travel and we took it with us.
Eddy Lake proved to be glassy as we paddled across it. We made it a point to visit all of the campsites so I could continue my “toilet” pictures. We took our sweet time in exploring this area because we were so close to our destination (Jenny Lake). On the portage into Jenny Lake we actually decided that we were too close, so we unpacked our lunch (summer sausage, cheese and crackers) and ate it right there on the Jenny side of the portage.
Gopher decided that he was a little tired of seeing other canoes (we had encountered at least one group of people on every portage this trip and more than a few on the water) and he wanted to get away from any traffic. We looked at the map and discovered that there was a small portage that crossed into Colice Lake (no campsites) which in turn, crossed another portage into Barter Lake, which contained only one site. With hardly any hesitation we took it.
Once at the site on Barter Lake we discovered that the site was long overdue in any usage. Judging by the amount of overgrowth no campers had been to the site all year. We set about getting the camp up (there was only enough room to set up one tent) and took some time with our new found “ullu” stick to clear away some of the ferns and weeds that covering the site and trails to the toilet. After a few hours we got bored with our cleaning job, laid a tarp down by the fire grate and started a fire; which we stared into for the rest of the day.
Night fell and with it we decided to take an early bed time. The cloud cover once again kept us from watching the stars and the moon so we played poker for a while before turning in for the night.
The clouds cleared over the night and the morning was bright and clear. I awoke first so I took the time to grab my camera and take some pictures of the morning. The dew had covered everything and I started to notice the massive amounts of spider webs strung in a fallen tree in the site. It reminded me of the movie “Arachnophobia” the webs were so thick. We ate breakfast before once again packing up the canoe and heading off for new and unexplored areas.
We made the portages back into Jenny Lake, then Angie Lake, before crossing into Ogishkemuncie Lake (Ogish). We knew now how far we could travel in a day so we decided on another super small paddle day and made our way to a island campsite in the middle of the south side of Ogish Lake. We unpacked everything (which was all damp from the two days of drizzle), hung clothes lines and all of our gear, including the tents, and jumped back into the canoe (it was barely past 10am) for some exploring and fishing.
We paddled around for a few hours, visiting the portage to Spice Lake (nice view) and the waterfall / rapids area (where I slipped and scrapped up my ankle pretty badly while trying to get a photograph of a Bald Eagle that was sitting in a tree) that flows from a small, unnamed lake, near the portage to Mueller Lake. We visited sites on the south side so I could continue my “toilet” photograph series and stopped at a rocky area in the middle of the lake where I set up my camera and took a group shot of us standing, seemingly, on nothing but a few rocks (which we were).
The rest of the day was spent swimming, relaxing, and generally doing nothing. Our gear dried quickly in the light breeze and hot sun so we set up the tents and got the rest of the camp squared away before making dinner and watching the sun set. Because of the shortness of the day we stayed up late into the evening. The moon had started to rise much later in the night so we were treated to an amazing view of the stars.
The wind had started back up when we awoke so I once again fashioned a sail using found, dead trees, and one of our tarps. After breakfast we loaded up the canoe and hit the water. Again we were viewed by other people who were no doubt jealous of our BWCA skills (yes, that statement is a joke), and we hardly dipped a paddle as we traveled the length of Ogish Lake to the north.
We entered the burn area (from the Seagull Lake ‘07 and Cavity Lake ‘06 fires) on the north side of Ogish Lake. I find the burn areas intriguing; they have a unique beauty that I find fascinating to look at and photograph. Matt and Gopher on the other hand; no so much.
We had a bit of a time trying to find the portage into Kingfisher Lake. With all of the fire damage in that area that year all of the shoreline looked the same. It was not until we spotted what looked to be another canoe (it ended up being a canoe pack) that we discovered the portage trail. The pack at the end belonged to a person who was taking a week long solo trip with his dog and he let us know that pretty much all of the rest of our journey was going to be in burn areas.
After Kingfisher Lake we entered into Jasper Lake. What was once a fantastic lake (I am sure) was now a burned out shell. I made it point to take pictures of the toilets on two of the campsites as we passed. The Forest Service is apparently in the process of installing a different style of toilet because in all of the burn areas the “shitters” (as we referred to them) were square and had a flip-down lid; as opposed to the round, lidless type that we had been seeing and using.
We hit the portage into Alpine Lake early so we decided to eat our lunch on the portage while exploring the small waterfall / rapids that connected the two lakes. After lunch we decided, since we could see the top peak of a nearby hill (due to the loss of the trees) that we would climb up to the top of the highest hill and take in the view of the surrounding area.
Nothing but burn for as far as the eye could see; save for a strip of green on the horizon far to the south and west. It took us some time to climb up in all the detriment of the area but it was relatively easy. At the top of the hill Matt decided to start pushing rocks down the hill, laughing at the way the tumbled and smashed into dead trees. For some reason we all found this funny and spent a little while doing the same. At one point we were aiming for a particular tree, seeing who could knock it down first. If I remember correctly, Matt won.
We pushed on. Once on Alpine Lake the wind decided to change direction again and was blowing straight into our faces. This did not make our journey on Alpine Lake, which is a maze of islands and dead-end bays, easier to navigate. We skipped from island to island, bay to bay, in order to keep out of the wind. We visited a few sites, so I could get some more “shitter” pictures, before hitting a weird shaped bay on the northeast side of the lake.
We had hoped to be as close to Seagull Lake as possible (which would make our final day a short trip indeed) but all of the sites in that area of Alpine Lake were taken. We considered paddling into Seagull Lake via the little river that connects the two lakes but when we arrived we saw that the water level was too low to make that possible. We turned around after walking that little river and went back the way we came, took the first site that we found open (which ended up being very close to the Seagull lake portage) and set up camp.
Camping in the burn areas is a strange feeling. The view is so foreign that it makes you feel like you are camping on a different planet. We made due however and passed the time by cooking up dinner, eating more GORP and generally talked into the evening before hitting the tents. The site we stayed on had the flattest tent pads that I can recall and it made that night one of the best I have ever spent while sleeping on the ground.
Friday morning was perfect! Hardly any wind, fantastic temperatures and a crystal clear bluebird sky. After breakfast and packing up the camp we took to the water and the short paddle across the lake. We hit the portage into Seagull Lake and crossed it in no time. Such is the advent of a depleted food pack. We had decided to hit the north side of the lake so our final day of paddling would be as easy as possible.
There was wind on Seagull Lake however. But it was not at all that strong and we cut through the waves easily. We zigzagged between the islands on the west side of the lake, stopping at a few sites to scope them out (and to take “shitter” pictures) before we lazily continued to the north side of the lake. We passed a few islands that are noteworthy due to them being nothing but huge boulders covered with seagull droppings. They looked so out of place; treeless, but not burned.
We finally reached the north side of the lake and proceeded to look for a campsite. We struck gold! The site we found, just north of Miles Island on the mainland, had a long, expansive beach and was sheltered on three sides from any wind. We threw our tents up, tossed a tarp on the ground and enjoyed a lunch of GORP, snacks and as many of the noodles, rice and mashed potatoes that we could eat (no point in carrying it out, right?). While we had our experiences with chipmunks and Gray Jays in the past, this site seemed like their haven.
While sitting on the ground we were visited first by a pair of Gray Jays who knew exactly what to do in order to elicit us to feed them. We spent an hour or so taking pictures of them perched in the trees, sitting on the ground and eating out of our hands when we noticed that some chipmunks had been viewing the spectacle from the sidelines and wanted in on the action.
Bold. Those chipmunks were obviously used to people feeding them. There where three of them but one was the adrenalin junkie of the group. He would climb onto the tarp between us and just sit there, stuffing his mouth with the GORP that we would place in a little pile. At one point I placed a few nuts in my hand and attempted to coax the little guy to climb up; which he did. It was really funny to see.
We went a step further though. We wanted to see how bold he really was so we placed a large zip-loc bag on the ground, put a few nuts in it, and baited it like a trap. It did not take long before he went for it! Once inside we quickly zipped him in. At first he was scared but upon noticing the food in the bag seemed not to care any more. He chilled out quite a bit and ended up being our “camp pet” for a few minutes. We let him out but he did not want to leave right away. All the free food he could want; who would want too?
Our games with the chipmunks and Gray Jays over (they got bored of us) Gopher and I decided to go for a swim as Matt took a quick nap. The beach sand of our bay was soft, shallow and warm. Gopher and I spent some time just outside of our bay stacking rocks on a boulder that was sticking just out of the water before he wanted to go fishing.
By this time Matt had woken up. I was not ready to be done swimming so, as Gopher headed off in the canoe to do some fishing, Matt and I continued to swim in the bay. Matt, at one point, stumbled on a large flat rock (about a foot across and less than an inch thick) which he discovered would skip like any other flat rock. Well, this certainly got our attention and we started throwing it at each other; skipping it across the water. We must have spent two hours just throwing that rock back and forth before Gopher came back with a few Bass.
That night we cooked up more noodles and rice and fried up the fish that Gopher had caught. The evening was great and we climbed up a hill beside the campsite to take full advantage of it. It was another night spent talking into the dark before we all decided to hit the tents.
Saturday was another beautiful morning and after breakfast we piled into the canoe, in route for Seagull Outfitters. By this time I had gotten sick of being the map reader so I handed the duty off to Matt who was surprised how annoying it can be. We made it back to the outfitters before noon, pulling up to their docks. Debbie met us and asked us how the trip was (awesome!) and helped us get all our gear out before we hit the showers and changed into new clothes (which we kept in my car). We wished the Seagull crew fair well and hit the road back to Grand Marais.
We were quite this time on the drive back. I was thinking about how awesome the trip was and how soon I could get back to the BWCA. I am sure Matt and Gopher were thinking the same thing. Once in Grand Marais we decided to once again go to Sven & Ole’s for a pizza and beer (it was only about noon) before going back to Gopher’s apartment in Duluth.
Once back at Gopher’s we unloaded the car, took a bit of break, then went out and hit up the bars. Sir Benny’s, Red Star, Fitgers, they were (and are) our favorite haunts. We really hit the town that night. I would share more, but like the year before, I cannot remember much of it. Another year down, many more hopefully to go! So ends the BWCA 2007 Thunder Point Loop trip.