BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
October 02 2023
Number of Permits per Day: 3
Elevation: 1554 feet
Magnetic Lake - 57
Gunflint to Sag Falls, First Dad/Son Trip
July 31, 2015
Saganaga Lake (J)
Number of Days:
Paddled through the passage into Magnetic Lake, then couldn’t make any forward progress. Literally could not paddle forward, as my 9 year old doesn’t have much paddling power. Even with our gear front-loaded in the canoe to even out the weight, once the canoe turned more than 5-10 degrees away from straight into the wind, the canoe started turning sideways.
We beached and waited at the rocks at the narrow passage for about 2 hours before wind died down a little, tried again, followed the east shoreline, made it about ½ way across Magnetic and wind picked up again. Extremely difficult keeping canoe pointed into the wind with just a 60 pound kid in the front…I think would have been easier with a bigger person, more weight and more paddling power up front.
Ended up getting towed by locals across 2nd half of Magnetic Lake (thanks Mike and Matt!) to the first portage. Locals said they see this happen 3 or 4 times per year, but wind speed and direction were very unusual for that time of year. Paddled then hit the next two portages just fine, but total travel time very slow as portages were all triple portages,,9 year old only carrying some gear, (fishing box, paddles, rods, leeches and crawlers, misc. stuff), I’d usually carry heaviest pack first, then lighter pack and bear barrel, than canoe with whatever was left.
About 5 PM, walked the 100 rod portage with no gear into Clove Lake and hear voices. At end of portage walked about 75 yards down a path to first campsite, ran into a group of 6 girls who had that site for the night, and also informed us the remaining sites on Clove were all taken. Backtracked the 100 yard portage, paddled in reverse direction about ¼ mile and found the first campsite that was on our route, hard to find but high up on a rocky point, beautiful view. Not a lot of ground covered, but wind can't stay this way for 4 straight days, can it? Made camp late, ate, slept well, etc… Next morning triple portaged the 100 rod portage, (ugh), put in and started fighting the wind again, easilly 25-30 MPH gusts, (I later checked the closest weather station that showed maximum 28 MPH gusts). Couldn’t make any paddling progress, so ended up calling it quits about 1 PM and make camp at nice spot on west side of Clove Lake. Again, very little travel progress for the day, but camp-site had a tiny sandy beach area, so relaxed a little, fished a little and read in the afternoon, make dinner, uneventful evening.
Next morning load up and start paddling, run into a lone 60-70 year old scraggly old Canadian guy going the opposite direction in a rowboat, fishing, and asking us what campsites were open heading south. Nice enough guy but a little creepy. Looks like he’s been out here for 3 months. Continued to fight 25 MPH wind in our face. Read the map wrong, hit a small, slower mini-rapid, eyed it up and rode it out in the canoe, but ended up in a bay with nothing but larger rapids ahead of us, and no portage marked on the map. Luckily we were able to actually paddle back up the rapids, as when we reversed direction the wind helped us. Without the wind, probably don’t make it back up and have to walk the canoe back up.
Triple portaged the 72 rod Swamp Portage, not fun but not as bad as I thought. Realized we lost our map, (rookie mistake), but had the foresight to take a spare. Run into a couple of guys at the end of our portage going the opposite direction. They’re on a 15 day trip going west to east across entire Boundary Waters. One guy says he's 95% blind and they’re doing a fund-raising trip to raise money for the condition he's afflicted with, and they’re on their last day. The sight impaired gentleman says he’s glad he’s not us, as they’re heading South and down-wind.
Spare map doesn’t have the Gneiss Lake portage marked up by the outfitters. We miss a short portage, see a small set of rapids and decide to run it. Everything good until wind gust coming through the gap hits us at about 40 MPH, you know what happens next. Canoe turns, flips, dumps both my son and I, one gear bag with the tent, sleeping bags, etc, and our remaining map case. My son makes it safely onto a rock on the bank, (this is why we wear PFD's) I chase down the gear bag and canoe which were only about 20 feet apart. Throw the gear bag up onto a rock, get to the canoe, threw our leeches out and used leech locker to bail out canoe, get in and chase down the floating map case. Reversed course, got the gear bag back in the canoe, then, oh yeah, went back and picked up my son, who luckily never went out of sight. All in all, only thing we lost was 1 of my son’s sandals, no problem as we carried spare shoes. However gear, sleeping bags, etc. get wet.
Really battle the wind the next couple hours, again having to follow the shoreline. Every time we come around a corner, wind pushing boat sideways/backwards. Almost get dizzy from spinning around so many times. Manage to get around Devil’s Elbow, finally turn south for a short stretch, come around a bend and see a bald eagle perched on a fallen tree just above the water. Find open camp site on south site of Marebeouf. Make camp, hang gear on a line to dry out, eat, etc., go to bed hoping the wind shifts or dies down tomorrow, as we have about 5 mile paddle left in the morning, supposed to get picked up by the outfitters at 11:00 just past Sag Falls. Listen to the wind howl all night long. About 5:00 a.m., wind dies down and is suddenly silent. Get up, break camp, skip brushing teeth, wind picks back up again, 25 MPH out of the north again, of course, as that’s the direction we’re headed. Making slow progress again, when we run into a family of 5 with 2 canoes from Minneapolis breaking camp. They see us having a difficult paddle, and their dad, (Thanks Chad!) suggests we team up to make it easier. They put my 9 year old in the middle of their 3 person canoe, and "lend" me one of their older sons for the front of my canoe. Paddling is now much more efficient.
Make slow but improved progress, following shoreline, come around a corner and surprise 3 bears about 40 yards in front of us and 10 feet from water’s edge, eating blueberries. We’re about 20 yards off-shore, and my son thinks this is the coolest thing ever. Bears might not have seen us at first, we’re able to watch them for about 2 minutes, when they see us they don’t run, just kind of amble back off into the woods. Can’t figure out the family structure on the bears, would have thought mother and 2 similar sized cubs, but there appeared to be a small bear, medium bear, and one large bear, just like the story.
Keep paddling, paddling, paddling, nearing final destination, Sag Falls. First portage short, but very rocky right up against a rock wall on our right side, so kind of tough. Make it, re-load, get to Sag Falls portage. Get to the other side, (our final destination and pick up point), about 12:30, approximately 1 and ½ hours late, so our pick-up ride is not there. We're actually quite proud we're only a little late after battling wind for 3 days. Our new found friends still supposed to paddle west then south on Sag to their pick-up point and have another 8-9 miles to paddle. Sag has whitecaps on it, wind from north-west, there’s no way. We recommend they get picked up with us and driven back, they agree.
Our outfitters show back up to pick us up about 1:45, we arrange for them to make 2 trips and take us and our new friends, who are very thankful. We make it back to Seagull, our new friends get a ride to Gunflint Lodge to pick up their vehicle. We all made it!
As we’re late getting back, not going to make our flight tonight leaving Duluth. No problem, the ever-hospitable Debbie at Seagull Outfitters lets me use phone and computer, we change flights to Tuesday night, shower, drive to Duluth and spend the night at Fairfield Inn. Tuesday visit the Maritime Museum, watch a couple freighters come into port, hit the Great Lakes Aquarium and fly home. Of course last flight is delayed, we land in Cleveland just after midnight. What we learned and experienced: • My son still had a blast, what fun watching him do about 2 years of growing up in 4 days, with not one complaint. Despite the difficult trip, we have no regrets and will do it again. Sort of proud of the fact that we were only 90 minutes late on a fairly difficult trip. Our main contact at Seagull, a guy named Terry who put us in and took us out, was pretty surprised we made it that quick. I know the trip we made can be done in a day trip, but not into the wind, triple portaging, making camp, etc.
• A little disappointed we had almost zero time to fish, as traveling took up most of our time.
• Next time, no shooting the rapids, no matter how small. I guess that's why portages exist
• Next time, at least 2 adults. What a pain to triple portage, and have to pretty much make camp, break camp, cook, and do all the heavy lifting by yourself. Made my son work and carry as much as he could, but he’s still only 9 years old.
• Next time, need to leave more time and be flexible. My biggest anxiety resulted from telling my wife not to worry about us unless she didn’t hear from us by 6 or 7 PM on Monday night. I managed to call her before that, but getting that call completed in time stressed me out. Next time I’ll leave an extra day or two in the schedule. My son and I couldn't have cared less if we spent an extra week, as long as no one was putting out a search party for us. Outfitters packed enough food we could have stayed another month. • Next time, watch and mark the map a little more often.
• Didn’t take enough pictures
• Could have cut out gear down a little bit, but all in all not too much. So….eventful, exciting, fun and hard. And now we’re not rookies anymore!