BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
October 04 2023
Number of Permits per Day: 15
Elevation: 1184 feet
Saganaga Lake - 55
A little of everything looping thru South Arm Knife!
June 26, 2022
Number of Days:
I don't think I will forget this date for a long time as it was a 3 on the fun scale!
But first...we picked up my eldest from the Duluth AP the morning before, ate lunch at the Black Woods Grill in Two Harbors (awesome by the way), stopped in Grand Marais to check my wife and daughters into their place, then headed up the Gunflint to Voyaguer Canoe Outfitters. We visited with the staff who made sure we had all we needed, grabbed a large tarp at the last minute (thankfully), transfered everything into their GGPs and bear barrel, then bade our girls farewell. My oldest and I enjoyed a Brule River Blonde Ale on tap as we watched the sunset from the lodge, then hit the rack in our bunkhouse for the night.
We awoke early in our bunkhouse that first morning to the sound of a NW wind howling but excited for our 7am tow and hopeful paddle to Ester where we would stay our first 2 nights. Just before heading out, the outiftters suggested we put on our raingear as Sag may be a little rough. Well, that was an understatement...our tow to American Point was directly into the wind which now included spurts of rain, and constant water spray over the bow. By the time we reached American Point, we were all completely soaked and cold. We said adios to the outfitter and had to plan our next move. Initially, we thought we would paddle, right??? Wrong. The waves were huge and blowing right onto this point from the NW with more rain. My younger son began chattering and we all began loosing some dexterity in our fingers. What was the first piece of equipment we used...the tarp strung between trees as a windbreak so we could change into new clothes, put on a base layer, and fleece top. We contemplated our next move and fortunately decided it was too dangerous to paddle as there was no protected bank to reach as my son was still very cold. So we pitched a tent, made some coffee, and played cards trying to get a signal on the weather radio (another item we did not plan on bringing). Two more parties attempted to drop at AP - one had 7 with a teenage girl in shorts and a tank top who was shivering misserably - both parties decided to return to the outfitter or a protected campsite on Sag. The last one from VCO stayed with us and game planned a strategy as they said the weather would not break that day...either take us to another site on Sag, or look at reaching a further campsite just around the corner. We decided on the later as we did not want to backtrack. Campsite 2071 looked reachable, but we had to put our canoes into the waves across AP (Rocky Point) and navigate into the windblown cove...then hopefully find a trail into the backside of this site. We doned our wet cloths again (just in case), and left our gear on AP, then set off. With a quick trip and some prayers, we made it across the 100 yards, found a trail, and the site open! Now, to get the gear and return...my younger son and I made it back fine (waves crashing into the rocks were we had to land on AP), and then watched my eldest in a solo canoe with a kayak paddle head our way. As he was making the turn to head in with the wind, his paddle acted as a sail and flipped him instantly (glad we put our wet clothes back on). He managed to get himself and canoe to shore...albiet soaked and cold again. We packed up quickly, and tried to walk our canoe and gear as far down the windy shore as possible but we could not go any further than belly deep water. Finally we stuck our bows into the wind, and pushed off. With more prayers we made it across fine. We quickly unloaded our gear, set up camp before the next rain, and changed into camp clothes. Who knew socks and Crocs were so amazing! The sun peaked out, and my boys found/cut some semi-dry wood and amazingly made a fire. They are some pretty awesome Eagle Scouts by the way - I am thoroughly impressed with the men they are!! We grilled ribeyes, asparagus, and potatoes for supper followed with a smore! My eldest even caught the first fish of the trip from the bank. By 6:30 we were exhausted, it started raining again, and the wind still howling...we said a DMC, and turned in for the night to the erie sound of wind, blowing rain, and loons in hopes that day 2 we could reach Ester. What a first day in the BWCA!! ~Saganaga Lake
It was a colder night than expected, woke at first light with a migraine, took some good meds, then noticed the silence :)! No wind, no rain, and clear skies! After breakfast, coffee, and dividing rations for the day, we said some prayers then paddled out the glassy cove that provided us much needed protection. Within minutes of paddling SW down a smooth Sag, a bald eagle flew over us, and we knew this is what we had come all this way for! We passed a few wearly travelers who I hoped were not returning a day late to worried loved ones. The water clarity was amazing and as we stopped for a snack to take it all in, my oldest son (who has a degree in W&FS with an emphasis in fisheries, aquaculture, and aquatic sciences) just could not stand how fishy everything looked so he rigged up a weightless fluke. Within a few casts he landed a nice smallmouth...naturally, we followed suit and quickly landed our first fish. We could have fished the narrow passes from Sag into Swamp all day, but decided we would stop anytime something looked too good - which was often as we caught fish regularly. We arrived at Monument Portage - be careful on that dock as one of them flips up when stepped on. We had decided to single portage the entire trip so this was a good test - it was pretty cool walking in Canada, but longer than we thought it would be. Ottertrack was beautiful and we caught more nice smallies on the way to the portage to Ester. Part of us wanted to continue down Ottertrack and into Knife, but Ester was calling. So, we loaded up and took off UP the portage into Ester - WOW...that was a portage. As one of my boys remarked at the end, "Dad, you sure can pick the portages! Those two were probably worse than any I did my first time here. I never thought we would stop going up." Arriving in Ester was amazing though - high cliffs, clear water, laydowns everywhere! The wind was just starting to pick up which made us nervous after yesterday's humbling experience. So we decided to push hard and hope the island campsite 2009 was open...much to our delight it was! This was an awesome site with amazing 180 degree views northward of Ester, and good spots for a hammock and tent. We made the decision to camp two nights here, and only one on SAK. We set up, ate snacks, hung a clothes line to dry our clothes/gear from yesterday, and then the boys headed out for fishing (the wind stayed light). I decided to enjoy the quiet views and take it all in doing a little fishing from the bank. We caught a lot more fish and filleted some for dinner! The evening was capped with a great fire (of which a snake tried to make its home), smores again, Old Fashioneds, and a DMC! This was a pretty perfect day! ~Saganaga Lake, Swamp Lake, Ottertrack Lake, Ester Lake
Another cold night gave way to glassy waters, loon calls, and the excitment of just fishing today. Oatmeal and coffee were the perfect breakfast on the rock face of this site as we watched the sunrise! The plan was to fish Ester, Hanson, and the Primative PMA. Paddling out with a prayerful blessing, we were greated with another bald eagle flyover and loons swimming beside us. We caught more smallies in Ester, some good bronze backs on the reefs in Hanson, and a couple in Link lake (much smaller fish though). The portage to Link was much more difficult to find but Link was nice and looked very moosey...unfortantely, we didn't see any. We made our way to the portage to Gift but decided to just walk to it as the skies were turning darker, sprinkling started, and winds picking up. All took a brief nap at the entrance to Link (lifejackets make a pretty good ground pad). After returning to camp, the boys headed west in Ester and took a look into Rabbit as they caught our dinner again. The weather turned great again, and my youngest built another good fire, cooked blackened fish tacos, used a stone to warm the tortillas, and finished the evening with some good fellowship! We probably had a 50 fish day on weightless flukes, Texas rigged craws, shaky heads, and spook jrs. Prior to bed, we picked up the weather forecast which was calling for thunderstorms the next afternoon/night and then winds to blow out of the W/SW 10-15mph with gusts to 35mph in the afternoon the following two days. This changed our plans again - originally we wanted to head into Cherry, Topaz, and Amoeber as we dropped into Knife/SAK - but with this forecast we decided to head directly into SAK and stay closer to the portage into Eddy the following day. ~Ester Lake, Hanson Lake, Link Lake, Gift Lake, Rabbit Lake
Cold nights were definitely the norm, and I guess my sleeping bag, liner, and pad were not rated high enough (boys were great though) - sleeping in base layer, fleece, and beanie was the only way to go :). However, this morning's sunrise was amazing over Ester with fog lifting off the lake and loons calling to each other! We had another hot breakfast enjoying the views and solitude (we only saw one other party since entering Ester two days ago), then packed up camp, and pushed off as we thanked our Lord. Another bald eagle kept watch over our paddle as we said goodbye to Ester, and with light winds we made a smooth trip to the Enchanted Portage on the south end of Hanson. What a cool portage and waterfall halfway down the trail! On SAK the wind began to pick up from the SW and with strong thunderstoms likely in the afternoon/overnight, we decided to cut through Toe Lake on our way to a campsite near Eddy Falls. However...there were some awesome reefs just prior to reaching Toe and they produced a handful of healthy smallmouth! Toe also produced some fish, so at this point we had caught fish on every lake. We found campite 2037 open - it had a nice landing, perfect rock out front for fishing/viewing SAK, and you could hear Eddy Falls roaring in the distance (however, there were not a lot of good options for tent pads). Just after we set up camp, strung a tarp, and ate lunch, light rain started to fall. We played some more cards, and my older son decided to go out fishing as the rain was still light while the rest of us napped. He returned a couple hours later boasting of the quality of smallies on SAK! Meanwhile, I found the weather radio signal calling for strong t-storms that night and winds still gusting to 35mph the next two afternoons. Fortunately, the skies broke long enough for a simple Mountain House supper, another campfire, and best sunset of the trip! The t-storm did move in from the west just after dark and put on an impressive lightening display - luckily, the wind/rain was not too bad and we had a good night's rest. ~Ester Lake, Hanson Lake, South Arm Knife Lake, Toe Lake
I awoke before my boys and just had to throw a spook from the bank as the sun was beginning to rise...within a few casts, a nice bronze back blew up my offering and soon came to hand! Given the wind forecast and our plan to be back to our outfitters by tomorrow afternoon, we decided not to stop/camp in Ogish for the night, but to push further into Alpine. The morning was awesome - we caught numerous fish around Eddy Falls including a northern on topwater, visited with an amazing family who had 3 middle aged boys, a 4 year-old daughter, and their grandmother from Florida, and made quick work of the portages/lakes into Ogish through Eddy, Jenny, and Annie. Our fishing luck ran out in Jenny as we couldn't land any of the few we hooked; however, we had caught about 100 fish up to this point so no real complaints! Once in Ogish, we stopped at the first campsite 783 for lunch - my youngest found a perfect rock to jump from so we both took a leap and quick swim (COLD water). The winds were beginning to pick up, and we probably made an error in paddling the south bank of Ogish instead of the north...about a quarter of the way down, the waves were large and pushing us into the bank. We would duck into coves for protection, only to fight our way out and into the next. At one point we stopped to discuss if we could even go any further - we saw one canoe passing west to east down the middle and decided we could do this as well. So, with some prayers and perseverence, we headed out with a plan to reach the far NE corner of Ogish. We finally made it passing many full campsites with some quick conversations. At that point, we thought the worst was behind us. Kingfisher and Jasper lakes were a relief as well as different views since this was the first burn area we had seen. The waterfall from Jasper into Alpine was a cool sight as was seeing my son jump out of his skin as he spooked a family of ducklings next to the falls :)! Alpine was a gorgeous lake dotted with islands, but who knew the wind uses them as breezeways! Our plan was to reach the NE corner and hope campsite 350 was open, then use the shorter 23 rod portage into Sea Gull the following morning. As we paddled NW into Alpine attempting to tuck behind the first island, the wind was literally pushing us backwards into a point...thankfully we were able to break free and find calm water behind the first island. Regrouping and studying the map, we still had 4 more jumps to make between islands with the wind blowing across our bow. Each campsite we see in Alpine is occupied as we are still the only ones paddling...finally we make it through the last pass and into the NE portion hoping our final campsite is open. Initially we pass it as #350 is actually a little south of its map location and tucked into the cove a bit...but with great relief and a few Aggie Whoops it is was open! There was no real landing, and only one good tent pad, but it was a great last home for us. My son found a trail which led to a large rock behind the site giving amazing views, we enjoyed chicken tacos, our last smores and old fashioneds, beavers swam back and forth in front of our site, as well as a final campfire treated with a rainbow which ended approximately where our girls were spending the night (a cabin at VCO they had arrived at today and where we planned to stay the following night)! What a crazy day (8 lakes, 9.5 paddling miles) - we decided with the size of Sea Gull, we better paddle early and make sure we avoid the high winds we saw today as our exit is VCO; so, we set an alarm for 4am and hit the sack. ~South Arm Knife Lake, Eddy Lake, Jenny Lake, Annie Lake, Ogishkemuncie Lake, Kingfisher Lake, Jasper Lake, Alpine Lake
We were greated by another one of God's blessed sun rises, enjoyed some hot oatmeal & coffee, and lazily pushed off into glassy waters by 5am. Within 30 minutes we arrived to the short portage from Alpine into Sea Gull...there is a reason few people use this one: first, it begins after the rapids start; second, the vegatation is more narrow than the canoes; third, there is a 12 foot boulder you must scale over half way down (the only time we had to unload our packs and two person carry the canoes the entire trip); and fourth, the portage ends before the rapids end (which made for some fun paddling though). Sea Gull was an awesome sight dotted with numerous islands making navigation fun - in fact, this was the only time we used a compass as we verified which island was which. The winds were about 5 mph out of the SW, but this still put little waves across the main body of the lake...I could not imagine being out here if gusting over 30. A beaver on one of the little rock islands was are only company as we made our way towards Miles Island. The bluffs and channels between Miles and the adjacent islands east were breathtaking in the morning sun! We passed many full campsites beginning to stir with breakfast, and started to see others canoeing as we paddled by the sign marking the BWCA and approached the Sea Gull River. My oldest stopped to fish a little in the river, but our eagerness to see the ladies pushed us onward. We choose to portage through the Trails End Campground from the south boatramp to the north one - simple, but walking on the pavement & seeing vehicles was strange. We reentered the Sea Gull River, passed a few loons, islands, cabins, and spied the docks of VCO. We stopped before exiting and said some prayers of thanks for this amazing time together and safe trip! As we unloaded our canoes and pulled them ashore, we wondered how suprised the girls would be as it was only 9am...we made our way to the cabin and surpsised them as they happened to be walking out breakfast at the main lodge. Hugs were awesome and short due to our wonderful smell but excitement abounded as everyone wanted to hear about each others adventures! The North Shore did not disappoint as they hiked to numerous waterfalls and enjoyed the charming hospitality of Grand Marais. They planned to hike Magnet Rock that morning and my 4 year old insisted we go...so we cleaned up, shared some stories, headed to The Gunflint Lodge for an early lunch, and then hiked Magnet Rock. We returned to the cabin at VCO for a nap, shared stories and laughter with each other (and their staff), played some games, and enjoyed one last beautiful evening/night at the end of the Gunflint! ~Alpine Lake, Sea Gull Lake