BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
October 03 2023
Number of Permits per Day: 15
Elevation: 1184 feet
Saganaga Lake - 55
Wind, Waves, and Karma
August 08, 2020
Seagull Lake (54)
Number of Days:
Saturday is drive day. We leave home in Wisconsin around 8:00am, have an early Culver’s lunch near Chippewa Falls and head north through Superior/Duluth. As we follow the North Shore, the inundation of people looking for outdoor outlets due to Covid restrictions is impossible to miss. Every tourist area parking lot along the North Shore is jammed full of people. It’s always busy in August, but this was nothing like I had ever witnessed before. The long drive was filled with lots of planning and questions about our route, as well as reminiscing about Jaden’s first trip last year. Only one year later, he is a much more confident and mature kid, and even he laughs a bit at how nervous he was for his first trip last year.
We hit the Gunflint Trail around 4:00 and head to Trails End Campground to relax, get into the right mindset and hopefully sleep some before our entry in the morning. After eating dinner and setting up the tent, I have my first “dumb Dad” moment. I had promised my wife that we would use the inReach to check-in from Trails End after we were set up. I went to turn it on, and it won’t work. Oh shi...did I forget to charge it? Oh shi...I don’t have the charger cord? We are over an hour drive from cell service with a dead inReach, about to start a 7 day trip where we send “all clear” messages once a day to keep the “mom anxiety” low, and I have no way to communicate. Great.
I swear about it. A lot. I fume, pace, swear some more. I’m about to pack the car and drive back to Grand Marais, but first sheepishly approach the neighbors in the site next to us to see if they have a charger that will work. They do! The day is saved! I get the cord, go to plug it into my car, and then realize I am a complete and utter moron who just spent the last 30 minutes experiencing brain lock. I decide to actually push the correct button (this is not a complicated device, it only has 4 buttons), and to no ones amusement, the unit powers on at 100% battery life. Hey look at that, pushing the proper button makes it work. Brilliant. I bring the power cord back to my confused neighbors. I make some dumb excuse about the battery having been loose- not possible, it’s built in, but hopefully this guy doesn’t know that. He smiles, takes the cord back, and we part ways. Good to know I would have been able to charge it if needed, better to just remember how to use it in the first place...
After the inReach fiasco ends, we get our gear ready for the morning, then lounge around our site until well after dark, cheerfully noting the complete lack of mosquitoes. I finally drift off to sleep around 11:00 dreaming of the trip we are about to begin.
Entry day is usually a pretty early morning, but with Gull Lake being so close and an easy paddle from there to get into Sag, we decide to sleep in all the way until 6:00 AM. We are on the water by 7:15 and paddling past the rental cabins through a dead calm Gull Lake and into the river like area that heads north into Sag. We could hear and see the occasional outfitter moving people into and across Sag, but otherwise it was a peaceful and calm morning. Our goal was to find a site in the Long Island/Gold Island area, so we headed west upon hitting the lake and followed the map around the many points and islands as best as possible. It was my first time on Sag and I doubted myself a few times- a GPS would certainly have come in handy for navigation here, but we found our way without too much issue.
As we made our way around Sag, we kept passing campsites. Every site we passed on the south end or that we could see out on Munker Island to our north was occupied. We were going to have to get lucky to find a site where we wanted. We headed across open water from the more southerly areas of Sag and towards Long Island, only to see those eastern end of the island sites full as well. He headed into the narrows between Long Island and Gold Island, and saw what looked to be an open site. The canoe landing was empty and we could see no gear set up anywhere! We were 100 ft from shore when a woman comes walking over to the landing with a fishing pole. Our spirits are now crushed, knowing the next sites; while close; are also likely to be occupied. Rain is definitely on its way and we want to be settled in before it arrives. Thankfully, the woman calls out to us and asks if we need a site. She tells us her group is loaded up at the other canoe landing and just about to push off, and the site their group absolutely loved was all ours. Amazingly, luck is on our side this morning, something that will happen later this trip more than once.
We settle into what turns out to be an amazing campsite (#395), get set up in the misty rain and then fish until lunch. No luck there, but at least all our gear was ready to go. The rain picked up from 1:00-6:00 and we spent most of the time in our tent. We were then blessed with a beautiful evening and night sitting around the campfire and talking about plans for the next few days.
We woke up Monday morning to a steady wind, which was only forecasted to get stronger throughout the day. We headed to the large bay well south of Gold Island where the portage into Roy Lake is, and fished that area for several hours. I caught a few smaller pike and a smallmouth, but the action was pretty slow and Jaden didn't get a single strike. Even in this fairly protected area, we could tell the winds were getting strong, and we decided to eat lunch at site #402 (not a site I would have wanted to stay at) and head back towards camp.
We fought whitecaps as soon as we hit the main part of the lake while trying to head north across open water back to our site. Without a strong bow paddler, this was tough work. We eventually slipped around the point of Gold Island and found a slight break from the wind. Hoping to catch some fish for dinner, we took a few casts at a downed tree that reached well out from shore over some deeper water. We went in closer, marked quite a few fish and had lots of nibbles after switching to jigs, but nothing that we could hook. Seemingly out of nowhere, a huge wind gust pushed our canoe back into the limbs of the downed pine, and I watched helplessly as the pole I had hanging out the back of the canoe snagged a branch, bent heavily, and then quickly snapped. In retrospect, it was just another "dumb Dad" move; we should have just gone back to our site instead of battling the wind and waves.
After returning, we gathered lots of firewood and fished unsuccessfully from shore for the rest of the day. We also followed a short path through the woods to the north shore of the island, and took a quick look at Canada. I made Jaden point at it for a photo op, mostly because I know he hates it when I do things like that. Since it was still too windy to head back out and our fire grate area was well protected from the wind, we enjoyed a rather long campfire that evening and night. The forecast for Tuesday was for another day of heavy wind, so we decided to pack camp and head to Red Rock first thing in the morning to try and beat the winds.
With camp packed up early and a good breakfast of oatmeal and hot cocoa inside us, we hit the water towards Red Rock by 7:00am. One would think it should be fairly easy to get from Gold Island to the portage to Red Rock, but we somehow got turned around in one of the last bays before the portage. The wind was already fairly strong, but with it coming out of the southwest, it wasn't a huge issue now that we were down in the more protected bays. After a quick nav check and some improved map reading skills, we found the right passage to the portage and were quickly on our way to Red Rock Lake. When we hit the other side, we were greeted with 25-35 mph gusts straight into the portage, and a view as far as we could see of whitecapped water.
Picking our way through the shallow bay near the portage while headed straight into the wind, we could see that the first 2 sites to the west were occupied. We headed SSE after passing the narrows while swells of water battered the right side of our canoe, always keeping close to shore in case we dumped. We were slowly moving towards an empty looking site (#410) when another canoe, riding the waves and moving infinitely faster than us came out of the center part of the lake and started heading towards the site as well. We did not want to have to fight the waves where they had just come from, and we were ecstatic when we noticed they were not in a loaded canoe. They paddled past the site and into the bay to the south, which meant we had found our home for the next couple of days.
Once again, we had lucked into a very nice campsite, but with the wind coming the direction it was, the landing was very tricky and the fire grate was wide open to the wind. We stayed in camp the rest of the day and finally got back out to fish around 7:00pm when the winds had died down. Jaden quickly nailed his first two fish of the trip- a 19" and a 20" smallmouth within just a few casts of each other. I managed to catch a couple smaller bass, but his two fish turned out to be the best fish of the trip. We stayed on the water until dark and finished the day with a campfire until 10:30, after which we did some stargazing from an exposed rocky area in camp. I pointed out several constellations while we watched the occasional passing satellite and caught quick glimpses of shooting stars. Jaden told me later that was the first time he had ever done that, and while he always thought star gazing would be "kind of lame", this time is was "pretty cool Dad". Ah, sweet victory!
Wednesday was our day to explore Red Rock, so we hit the water early and spent some time casting around the weed beds near the islands in the skinny part of the lake. We caught a few pike and bass, but nothing of size. It looked like it would be an amazing place to fish in June. We continued south and swung around the point, following the lake to the northeast into a very shallow, muddy bay with sparse weed cover. It was amazing how different the water clarity was in this part of the lake, but the small river like area that connects it to the main lake almost disconnects this area from the rest of Red Rock. The bay seemed to be full of 10-12 inch smallmouth bass as well, which was a fun little bonus to our exploration efforts. The campsite there looked like it would be ok in a pinch, but was otherwise not noteworthy. We eventually returned to the island area, ate lunch, and fished until mid afternoon without much trouble from the wind, catching a few more small bass and pike.
After a short break back at camp, we did some swimming from our site, got some firewood ready, and headed back out to the bay south of our camp to fish. We didn’t catch much, but we did get to watch as a huge beaver worked it’s way along shore chewing on small branches and pulling them into the water. We were close enough to hear its teeth working while it chewed. Eventually the beaver swam away from shore and went right underneath our canoe, giving both Jaden and I an excellent glimpse of just how big it actually was.
After fishing, we went back to camp and ate dinner, followed by a short campfire. Two notable things happened at that campfire which will definitely be talked about in future trips, those "remember the time..." kind of moments. First, Jaden was quietly singing a song and I could just make out the words. I recognized the tune right away as hey sang the words a few more times- “Jimmy Dean, is not my lover”. I tried not to laugh too much when I told him the song was called Billie Jean and that Jimmy Dean made breakfast sausages, but at least he knew it was a Michael Jackson song. We also distinctly heard a bear across the bay from us on two different occasions where it made a sort of grunting or roaring noise. I knew what it was right away and Jaden definitely heard it, but I didn’t tell him what had made the sounds until the next day. I figured if he knew that he might not sleep well that night. He told me the next day that I had made a good decision. Another victory for Dad!
We had decided the night before to push into Seagull for the last couple days of our trip, so we hit the water early and quickly made our way to the portage into Alpine. I had been describing the "burn area" we would be travelling through to Jaden for a couple days, but he still couldn't believe what Alpine looked like once we got there. He told me he felt like we were on another planet. I tend to agree, the stark difference between Red Rock and Alpine as far as tree cover goes is somewhat astounding. The winds were already fairly strong, as we knew once we reached Seagull it would only be worse, so we passed through Alpine as quickly as possible.
While loading the canoe after portaging from Alpine to Seagull, I realized our fishing net wasn't in the canoe, so I hiked back to Alpine. It wasn't there either. That meant I had left it on the Alpine end of the portage from Red Rock. I am a strict LNT kind of person and an absolute tyrant when it comes to making sure nothing is left at a portage, but this now makes dumb Dad mistake number 3. We decide we can't take the time to undo the portage we just did, paddle back through Alpine twice, and then reportage. So I bid my net farewell, hoping another fishing group will find it and put it to good use. I wasn't happy about that decision at the time at all, and it put me in a pretty bad mood for most of the rest of the morning.
When we arrived on Seagull, the wind was pushing whitecaps to just outside the bay where the portage from Alpine enters. We could see the closest site was empty, but we didn't like that one, so we pushed to the next site (#460) on the long rocky point leading to that bay area which also was empty. We landed, took a look around, and liking what we saw, decided to make this our last site for the trip.
Some notes about this camp- its is huge, has a lot of open space, has great rocks for sunning or for jumping into the lake, probably has great shore fishing, and has a toilet area that must vie for the title of longest bathroom walk in the BW. It is literally 1/4 mile away up the rocky point, which was a bit of a surprise the first time we went looking for it.
We set up camp and then headed out to fish for a bit, but were confined to the small bay near our camp as the whitecaps everywhere else made trolling, jigging, or drifting impossible. After about an hour, a group of 2 canoes approached our site while we were on the opposite side of the bay. They landed at our canoe landing, went ashore and had a lengthy look around. When they didn't leave upon seeing our gear, I got a bit concerned and we paddled back to camp to see what they were doing. They were a very nice group, 2 couples in their 20's, and they just wanted to place to eat lunch. I wasn't a huge fan of the fact that they didn't leave right away when they found our tent/gear, but we told them to go ahead and do so, and we went back out fishing. After about an hour, we came back to the site. They had been there the whole time, making lunch, taking a few casts, and just relaxing. We were tired though, so we came into the canoe landing and talked with them for a while. We asked how their fishing was going (slow, like ours), how they were dealing with the wind (they had cut their trip route down significantly because of it), and where they were headed (further into Seagull for another night). I told them our experiences as well, and mentioned leaving my net at the Red Rock-Alpine portage. One guy almost laughed, and asked me to describe the net. He smiled, walked over to his canoe, and pulled out MY NET! He gave it back without delay and then joked about how lucky it was that they came to our site to have lunch. He was right. And to think that an hour earlier I almost asked these people to leave because I didn't like them at our site. I'm glad I didn't judge too harshly and that karma took over from there. I don't know who they are or remember where they are from, but they sure changed the vibe of that entire day for my son and I.
After eating lunch we did some cliff jumping from the rocks around camp, fished a little from shore, and lounged in the sun. It was a beautiful but windy afternoon, with rain forecast overnight. More wind was in store for Friday, and then a repeat of both the rain and the wind for Fri night/Sat AM. Jaden and I talked it through, and we made the hard decision to pack up the next morning and leave a day earlier than planned. That decision was like a huge weight lifted off my son's shoulders. He seemed to have not enjoyed the last couple days as much as I expected, but after he knew we would be leaving a bit early, he was about as energetic, cheerful, and talkative as could be. Another victory for Dad to help offset my not so good moments of the week!
We woke up pretty early on Friday, sometime around 5:00am and just shortly after the rain had ended. We packed a wet camp, something I don't really like to do, and hit the water by 6:30. We needed to make some progress before the winds picked back up, and that's exactly what happened. We had mostly smooth paddling all the way back to EP 54. I did have another navigational issue in the islands to the west and north of Three Mile Island, but it was corrected quickly and only set up back about 20 minutes. I did get to explore an area of Seagull I had never seen before though, so BONUS!
We got back to the entry point, packed up our gear, and started the long drive home. 9 1/2 hours later, we pulled into our driveway, tired, hungry, and already missing the solitude, scenery, and allure of the Boundary Waters. Every trip is its own remarkable story, and I'm beyond happy to be creating and experiencing those stories with my son!